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Archive for the ‘Jane Darwell’ Category

The Bigamist

29 Apr

The Bigamist — directed by Ida Lupino. Drama. A man falls into marriage with two quite different sorts of women. 80 minutes Black and White 1953.

★★★

The story is told as voice-over, rather than as drama, which means that the scenes which the actors engage in do not reach beneath a conflicting narrative mode. The story is just a Hollywoodization of the subject of Bigamy anyway, which means the subject has no recognizable human content, only an approval rating. We are supposed to see that these are all just very nice people in a pickle. The only female director of her era, why was Lupino involved? Maybe because the movie is anti-heroic for the male. It’s her penultimate picture as a director; she does a beautiful job with The Trouble With Angels, but that’s it. As an actress Lupino was common without having the common touch, unlike, say, Stanwyck. As wife # 2, she is by turns hard-bitten and sentimental in her choices, and never less than neurotic. So, as an audience, we are supposed to believe what is said about her here rather than how she really appears to be, and we feel cheated. “Damaged goods” is a good description of her ambiance. And true enough, no one could make the romantic utterance, “Ya kill me,” and actually land the line without making one laugh. As an actress, she’s an odd presence in films. Confine your attention to her brilliant performance in Roadhouse or in High Sierra. As wife #1, Joan Fontaine, who once won an Oscar in a leading role, is a sympathetic performer — or, perhaps one should say a pathetic performer. One usually pities her rather than one feels for her, but here she is asked to play the part of a competent, smart, business woman, very much in charge of herself, and she does a pretty fair job. Two more Oscar Winners star here: Edmond O’Brien, who walks through the part, and Edmund Gwenn who overacts the inspector sadly – but then he is given dismal lines. We are supposed to approve of his disapproval of the bigamist, and I don’t, for I do not accept Santa Claus as my moral compass. So it is a B-picture without the energy of vulgarity that often gives B-pictures vitality. One hoped for more, but this is the era of studio collapse; they move towards competing with the lowest common denominator TV had to offer, and it finished them.

 

Up The River

11 Mar

Up The River — directed by John Ford. Farce. A swaggering con and his moron sidekick bust out of the slammer to help a pal with his goil. 92 minutes Black and White 1930.

★★★

Fox had to make a gangster picture fast, so they sent John Ford to look for a new face in New York, giving him tickets to five Broadway plays. The first one he saw was The Last Mile, and instead of going to the other four, he went back four times to see Spencer Tracy who was the star of it. Ford caught a matinee of another play while he was there, and found his supporting player. So both Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart make their screen debuts in this film — which is not a gangster film at all but a comedy set in and out of a Utopian prison, where all the inmates are gutter roses and weep when reminded of their mothers and whence Spencer Tracy may make a break whenever he likes. The problem with the film is that its director celebrates what is dumb – and this seems to be the basis of Ford’s popularity. Ward Bond, uncredited turns up as a dummy bully, and all the prisoners are witless. Tracy’s sidekick, Dannemora Dan, played by Warren Hymer, is so stupid that when he comes out of an IQ test listed as “moron,” he is proud of the denomination, and we are supposed to think this is funny. This prison has females in it, and one of them falls for Bogie, who is a society boy who accidentally got on the wrong side of the law. Actually Bogie was a society boy, and it’s also interesting to see three other things one was not often to see from him again. One was how tiny he was, short and slight. This feature was adjusted by not shooting him in full in future films, or not shooting him in contrast with much taller people and things. He makes the mistake of chewing gum in his opening scene, but stops it soon. And he walks with that bowed-arms stride of his already. And when he is angry he is really frightening, Duke Mantee in the making. The second thing is that his basket shows, as does that of Hymer. Well, these are pre-code films and the guys hung loose, I guess. The third thing is his sunny smile. It’s radiant – who’d a thunk it? Tracy plays the know-in-all BMOC, smug and deceptive, and honest to his marrow. It fit right in with Ford’s Irishness in all things. Ford talked down to all his characters and to his audiences, just as much as those do-gooder society matrons distributing the benison of their contempt do. Everyone in Ford films is treated as dumb. The least common denominator is Ford’s whole orchestra, both on the screen and in his audience. I am not fooled: I do not mistake it for the common touch. Everything Ford does is backed by the inherent bully in him. The film was a big hit, and Fox signed Tracy to five-year contract, and he was on his way.

 

 

Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

* * * * *

It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

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Love Is News

29 Jul

Love Is News – Directed by Tay Garnett. Screwball Comedy. An heiress double-crosses a feisty reporter who has double-crossed her. 77 minutes Black and white. 1937.

* * * * *

What fun! What fun to see Loretta Young and Tyrone Power in their early twenties at the peak of their skills and beauty. Of the various blooms in the Hollywood bouquet, the values expressed by this sort of film are one of the most alluring still. You want to look at these two. You want to admire them. You enjoy them, and you don’t want them ever to grow old. You praise all the artifice around them because you know that such a wonderful fuss is right for them. You cannot begrudge their smashing clothes. You’re glad they get the lighting they deserve, and you wish them entirely well in all things. For you want love to be beautiful and to prevail, and never has this last want been so perfectly realized on film as it was in the comedies of the 30s. The story is a combination of Front Page and It Happened One Night, and its first class farce script offers the platform for comic relations between these two stars that are a treat to behold, and must have been a treat to perform, for they move together beautifully. As actors they free one another, they dare one another, and, most important, they argue with one another with complete conviction. The chemistry is artistic, a rarer thing in film acting than buffalos on the moon. While so young, they both had lots of experience as teen-agers, he on the stage with Cornell and she, already a big star in movies. They are Loy and Powell ten years before. They’re just simply talented as all get out. I love ‘em. You will too. So just pick up your white telephone. Dial Love Is News.

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