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Archive for the ‘Claire Trevor’ Category

Born To Kill

30 Apr

Born To Kill –– directed by Robert Wise. Noir. An ambitious sociopath charms his way into high society where he comes up against the fatal lady. 92 minutes Black and White 1946.

★★★★★

Hollywood Crisp is a style of acting which most of the actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood employed. In this style, emotional action is internalized and stilled, as is bodily tension; cues are picked up; lines are generally delivered without breaks or hesitation; actors with unusual voices prevail; subtext is rare.

Hollywood Crisp actors often monotonize lines; Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Joel McCrae, Barbara Stanwyck do this. The range of Hollywood Crisp actors is usually narrow, but effective within that range.

The Golden Age (1930-1950) of Hollywood Crisp was called the age of the Personality Actor, but when Marlon Brando appeared in A Streetcar Named Desire, a new era in human consciousness is born along with a new era in histrionics and craft. Method acting, however, in its insistence on lower class dramas, encouraged actors of a limited range and vocal type. Kim Stanley and Karl Malden are personality Method actors; what they are doing is identical from role to role. As a rule, the Method Actor also comes into the craft of acting and practices it lifelong with no vocal training, whereas Hollywood Crisp actors have well trained listenable voices, some of them, such as Joan Crawford’s, actually studio-confected.

The craft of Method acting is also identical to Hollywood Crisp in that in any scene the actor enters, he must know where he is coming from and what he wants.

In all periods and styles of movie acting, certain actors appear who belong to no category at all. Some because they are forces of nature, such as Anna Magnani and Katina Paxinou. Others because their talent lies in the ability to allow personalities not their own to inhabit them: Daniel Day-Lewis is one such; Meryl Streep another. As Personality actors in leading roles, they have no power. Lacking an arresting particularity, they are uninteresting as leading lady and leading man. Daniel Day-Lewis has no sense of humor; how could he be Cary Grant? Meryl Streep has no inner resistance; how could she be Jean Arthur?

The Hollywood Crisp actor had the ability to play characters of all classes. The Method actor, no: only working class. So Katharine Hepburn could play Alice Adams and also Tracy Lord. Kim Stanley could not play anything above the waitress-class. Both Julie Harris and Geraldine Page could play a range, but neither had voices trained for the classics. And, after all, think of it: would you really want to see Steve McQueen as Macbeth?

In any case, these categories are not hard and fast, and there are actors who are just actors who are just actors. Some come from the stage, like George C. Scott and carry the big animal voice and temperament of the stage actor onto the screen. Others wander into film from TV, like Clint Eastwood, and bring to film the necessities of the miniaturist which TV work generally fosters: whispers, minute facial registration, and single simple intent. And then there are the English actors, and so on and so forth.

But it’s fun to consider these categories for what they reveal about the craft these actors pursue, the craft that movies demanded of them. And certainly, more than any other category perhaps, the Hollywood Crisp actor was deliberately at the service of the story: here to tell a story, be part of a story, and there are many anecdotes of the generosity of these actors helping novice actors do just that. Watch Katharine Hepburn in the exposition scene with Judy Holiday in Adam’s Rib, just listening in order to focus attention on a newcomer and her story. In movies, the audience’s drama consists of the tension of the division of loyalty between how this story will turn out and what the actor is. Actor and story — that’s the task and danger for the innards of the audience. For the Hollywood Crisp actor, essence and response to essence is everything; for the Method actor what the actor is is not everything; what the actor is driven to do is.

Claire Trevor was an actor of the Hollywood Crisp style, and, boy, was she good. Her voice, a low alto, has a catch to it, a vibrato in the interstices of which you sense a vulnerability impossible to resist. You always want to side with her. And you always understand how the hero would be drawn to her even when, as in this case, she is more deadly than the male. Her face is a visage, across whose steady surface a breeze of doubt or uncertainty will twitch from rare time to time, so that you know, because you can see, the suffering she cannot help but endure: a crack, a weakness; it is very endearing. It is an acting strength. She brings to all her parts an inherent ambiguity – not an ambiguity of performance, but something already belonging to her – with which she is at home – along with a capacity for secrecy and humor, to confound all who behold her.

All this holds us in good stead as we watch her in this film, originally titled, More Deadly Than The Male, and these qualities ground the suspense of the tale in character rather than in action, movement, plot. We never know what she is destined for until the fadeout. Because of her, we never know how this movie will end.

She is playing opposite an actor of no ambiguity at all, Lawrence Tierney, who brings to the screen a mien of menace unique in movies. I found him terrifying. He is the only actor I have ever seen who actually made me want to leave the room. Not because of what he did or said, but because of his personal emanation. Of course, he does the cruelest things, and if we have never seen them before, we have seen them since, and they are not what is so frightening about him.

We know from his notorious personal life that he was a maniac, violent, drunk, frequently jailed, and that he beat up his brother, Scott Brady, and that he was out of films soon enough. But we also know that he had to have his personal portable toilet brought to the set because he was so frightened of acting he could not make it to the common stall. He’s a good actor — and a trained one — but too difficult to be around: he went on in smaller and smaller roles, belligerently, until age 82. Here he is 26 and just starting. His face is a mask of sensitivity about to be violated. Just don’t be the one to do it.

So we can see in these two performances, Trevor and Tierney, the subtle gradations of a flat affect and how well they serve the material, Noir. That is to say, it is the story of so many disempowered post World War II women who cannot make a living one the men came back, and so seeks riches without love by lust without love. Pulp film was perfected by Hollywood Crisp acting, and pulp is what most Golden Age movie drama was.

Highly entertaining if you love pulp  – and I do – which is what Noir is, and Born To Kill  a first class example of one.

 

Dark Command

22 Apr

Dark Command — directed by Raoul Walsh. Western. All Kansas is saved from the dread Will Cantrell by an illiterate con man. 94 minutes Black and White 1940.

★★★★

Shall we consider the matter of John Wayne? Here he is ae. 32, handsome as all get out, slender of hip and tummy, tall in the saddle and looking good there, and with that brow even out-furrowing Gable’s. This director, Raoul Walsh, discovered him in 1930, changed his name from Marion to John and from Morrison to Wayne, and in his early 20s put him, in white buckskins, as the hero of one of the greatest Western ever made, The Big Trail. Now The Big Trail was shot in Cinemascope, or a thirty-years-too-soon wide screen version like it, but movie theatres refused to install the screens, so the film, although popular never remade its nut, and Wayne was relegated to B Western for ten years — until Stagecoach, after which he was an A-list star. Another ten years would go by until Red River when John Ford recognized that Wayne could actually act. But with Dark Command in 1940 he is re-united for the first time since The Big Trail with Walsh, and he is also reunited with Claire Trevor his costar in that hugely popular movie. She plays a lady of property, and Wayne plays the grifter sidekick of George Hayes who runs an itinerate dentistry. Wayne’ voice sidles through the film so unobtrusively that he steals every scene he is in. He really knows his business by this time, and is no longer the callow youth in buckskins. He has not yet become the taxidermied version of himself he sometimes arranged to be later nor has he developed that walk of a pigeon-toed panther. He is an extremely passive actor and a very good one. You can still see how beautiful his mouth is. He is sexy because he is sexually innocent. He’s a young man and a happy actor. Opposite him Walter Pidgeon, of all people, has been brought in to play the sociopath Will Cantrell. In a way it’s smart casting, because no one in town suspects that mousy schoolmaster is the dread raider. However, a vigilante is still not a part Pidgeon can craft, but fortunately the story takes care of him. It’s a role that succeeds by the reputation of what people say about him. His mother is movingly played by Marjorie Main, and Walsh gives full value to her. And the wonderful Claire Trevor, fresh from her success in Stagecoach, plays the mettlesome and sharp society girl who is the love interest of both men, another of Walsh’s terrific independent women. A young Roy Rogers with his beautiful mobile face plays her brother, and it’s fascinating to watch him at this boy-stage, although he is 29. Porter Hall plays the dithering foof who fouls up the denouement beautifully. Watch what happens when an actor simply lets his mouth hang open. Anyhow, it’s Wayne’s movie and an interesting one from the hand of Walsh, who knows exactly how to set up a shot, how to direct scenes of panic and mayhem so you think people are really going to get hurt, and how to ravish you with the sight of midnight horses.

 

 

Second Honeymoon

18 Jul

Second Honeymoon – Directed by Walter Lang. High Comedy. An argumentative formerly married couple meets again and flirts. 84 minutes Black and White 1937

* * *

Tyrone Power is 23 when he makes this upper crust pastry. He’s so beatuiful that he is more attractive than Loretta Young. And, just as important, he has a wonderful comedic sense. He is charming, good-natured, fun, ready, and real in the quick-take wit of a comedy that might have been written by Noel Coward, and, indeed, once was written by Noel Coward under the assumed name of Private Lives. Looking at it one wonders how the Depression audiences could stand the goings-on of these spoiled folks; they indulge in a vicious deep sea fishing party at one point, which makes one’s hair curl. Anyhow, the film is a perfect example of costumes making the character, and Power and Young and Claire Trevor, who plays a funny married friend, wear their threads with a difference. The rube Stu Erwin plays a virginal nerd as Power’s valet, of all things, and introduces a lower-class invigoration as does Marjorie Weaver who is refreshing and altogether excellent as a voluble and principled cigarette girl. At one point Power asks to kiss her, is granted the privilege, and when she asks him why he wanted to, he says, “I just wanted to know what it felt like to kiss an honest woman.” So the script does have its pleasant byways. At this point in his career, which was to establish Power as the only major male star at Fox, Power was being groomed as a matinee idol, which he became. But there are two types of matinee idol. The first type, the one here, is the idol women are attracted to. That’s what he became at first, and women went to see him. The second type is the sort whom both women and men want to see, thus doubling his box office draw, and this came about when Power was put into a series of swashbuckling roles, starting with The Mark Of Zorro. Power was one of the few male Hollywood stars who could wear period clothes. Here the period is contemporary, and he looks smashing. All his films as Fox made lots of money. This one looks like it deserved it.

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Texas

01 Mar

Texas – directed by George Marshall – Western. A pair of ex Confederate soldiers drifts west where one goes wild and one goes good. 93 minutes black and white 1941.

* * * * *

What a trip to see William Holden young.  He was never young. He was always the drained, middle aged, bourgeois-hearted one, without zest, without joie de vivre, without spontaneity and bounce, often cast in parts he was too old and inwardly defeated to deliver (Picnic, Sabrina), although, to tell the truth, these very qualities led to parts in which he was very successful, such as Sunset Boulevard. Yet here he is, before the war, in his early twenties, almost unrecognizable, full of the ready improvisation of the actor and the fluid responsiveness, full of inherent hope. Hope?  Can you believe William Holden ever knew such a thing?  But here it is. Lovely. Here he is with a young Glenn Ford, a couple of years older, and with his puppydom in full display and also his earnestness, as the lesser of the two points of interest —  the real point of interest in this picture being the style of the director George Marshall, which you can also see in full display with When The Dalton’s Rode, and that style is both romantic and humorous and comedic and cowboy. So all the story moves are worked out in terms that are commented on with humorous asides. For instance, the spectacle of a terrible stampede through town is given a momentary aside by a cow walking into a room with a man taking a bath. Marshall directed Destry Rides Again his most famous of these cowboy/comedy larks. He has strong supporting people headed by the jalopy-voiced Edgar Buchanan and the massed authority of George Bancroft. Claire Trevor is present as the love interest in an underwritten role and an over-written hair-do. When such movies came out, parents could not afford baby sitters, so they brought their kids along. We kids stayed awake or not, but if we watched the picture, we saw a show that offered entertainment without sordidness — nothing wrong with sordidness but we kids wouldn’t have known what we’e looking at. Likewise, families today can sit down together and watch this tip-top, beautifully produced and written western. It’s in black and white which spares us the color of blood, but affords us the greater color of George Marshall’s fun.

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Desperadoes

01 Mar

Desperadoes – directed by Charles Vidor – Western. A former gunman tries to go straight. 86 minutes color 1943.

* * * * *

Desperadoes is a curious name for this un-desperate story. We have the always-dubious presence of the inestimable Edgar Buchanan with his sly eyes and crumbly voice. Which centralizes the picture as a musical comedy, especially in view of the gaudy women’s costumes, worn elegantly by Claire Trevor and Evelyn Keyes. However, young Glenn Ford plays a hell-bent gunman. His sidekick is called Nitro because he is always blowing up places unexpectedly, and this comic personage takes the edge off how seriously we should take Glenn Ford’s plight. Randolph Scott gives us another of his easy gentlemanly sheriffs, but his role is submerged by the attention afforded Ford. Scott is never out of humor, and even stranded in the desert, he meets with his rescuer with blithe nonchalance. Charles Vidor directed this pleasant mishmash, and the Technicolor is beautiful; Technicolor was notorious difficult to use; this was the first Technicolor film Columbia released. There is a splendid wild horse stampede and some sensational chases through what is supposed to be Utah and may indeed be so. There is a funny dustup in a saloon — twice — and a comic bartender. Let’s see. What else? If Cyd Charisse had played the Claire Trevor part, and if Jane Powell had played the Evelyn Keyes parts and if Ford and Scott could sing, and if Edgar Buchanan could dance — nothing else would be needed to bring this do-dad into the classic western musical category, if such a category actually exists.

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