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Archive for the ‘Jennifer Jones’ Category

Duel In The Sun

17 Sep

Duel In The Sun. Directed by King Vidor and William Dieterle. A half-breed girl is taken into a King Ranch type family in Texas and drives the boys wild. 2 hours 28 minutes Color 1946.

* * * *

It isn’t beautiful but it is gorgeous. Never have you seen Technicolor used so lavishly, or actors throw themselves, not exactly into their roles but all around their roles. You would think Gregory Peck would be miscast as a sexy male, and he is, but he’s surprisingly good as a prick. And Pearl Chavez, played by producer David O. Selznick’s wife, Jennifer Jones, you would think would be written shrewder, but she’s not, she’s just dopey. She throws herself around like a bag of onions and never really proves to the watching world why she was so sexy that Selznick ran off with her into the chaparral. So we take the lickerousness for granted, although she does convincingly writhe on the floor in an agony of sexual conflict. Lionel Barrymore consumes scenery by the platter, and he’s really wonderful as the grandee rancher because the character is so rude, but Lillian Gish as his wife is unable to overcome the character’s failure to get Pearl out of those slouching blouses and into a proper dress, which would have ended the picture right there. I saw it when it came out. I thought it was going to be a dirty movie, but it was just silly. Of course it’s greatly silly. And not sexy, because Lewt is mean, which Peck does well, and Pearl is stupid, which Jones probably was. The film is supposed to vindicate the itch between them, and so achieve a Phaedra-like stature, but its lust falls in the dust flat. Joseph Cotton’s easy-come-easy-go style as the good brother provides no sexual competition for Peck’s bad brother. Charles Bickford is touching as one of Pearl’s swains. Walter Huston makes hay of the fire and brimstone preacher (Huston is sexy, though old, because sexuality seethes through him; Peck isn’t because it doesn’t.). And Herbert Marshall is lovely as Pearl’s doomed father. The film is written like a Perils Of Pauline serial, in chapters and chunks, none which liaison into each other. It proceeds with a very badly written scene of misidentification, which is beautifully directed and shot, and so it goes, with one badly written scene after another beautifully presented. Selznick was so intrusive, reshooting everything, such that the film cost a lot more than his Gone With The Wind (Butterfly McQueen has a much larger part here); Selznick even has his name as the sole screen credit. So King Vidor quit when it was three quarters done, and the film was finished by commonplace director William Dieterle. But never have you seen such sunsets, as though the sun were having the duel with itself. King Vidor’s strong sense of things puts it on all four burners and a pot bellied stove besides. Why are you holding back? You must see it. It is the greatest bad movie ever made.

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Portrait Of Jennie

16 Sep

Portrait Of Jennie – Directed by William Dieterle. Ghost Story. A bum artist becomes a genius through visitations from a long-dead girl. 86 minutes Black and White 1948.

* * *

An actress of minute talent, Jennifer Jones loomed large in the films of the 40s, and my tendency is to dismiss her, as it is to dismiss Gene Tierney, as an actress without content, and it’s not fair to what talent they do possess. I always felt Jones was rather dopey, and yet she’s pretty good here and perfectly cast for two reasons, because the girl, after all, is a ghost and has no content, and because the picture was produced by Jones’ husband David O. Selznick. Selznick was a producer, but he was actually an auteur. He was a man of robust energy, great charm, appeal, generosity, honesty, experience, fun, and skill, but once a picture was in train he became a horror of intrusiveness.  Interfering, writing, rewriting, reshooting, redirecting, memoing up the wazoo, riding his people like a slave driver, with no consideration for anyone – what was he up to? In every case what he was up to, without knowing it, was making the picture about himself. He did not want to make a picture, he wanted to be the picture. His most famous example of this is Gone With The Wind: Scarlet O’Hara is exactly like Selznick himself – charming, ruthless, sexually without morals, ambitious, overwhelming, fun, attractive, in love with the wrong person, and so deserving you can deny nothing to him. Scarlett’s story is Selznick. Each of his films was like this, and Portrait Of Jennie is another one still, although by the time it is made Selznick had come to the frayed end of his stories. Each human being has more than one story in him, and this one is the story of a man who creates an ideal girl and how she in turn makes him creative. This is what he had done in his actual life. Moreover, Selznick casts as the girl the woman he had stolen from her husband and made his magical mistress and muse and movie star, Jennifer Jones. Here he even sets her up with a story with her very own name, Jennie. Jones has to travel in a year from age 12 to age 25, and she does it well right up to the clumsy finale. She uses the trick of keeping her mouth open to suggest ingénue appeal, but she does it good. A supporting cast of astounding strength is asked to atlas-up this edifice of a feather: Ethel Barrymore with her voice of pained patience, huge eyes, and old amusement, the greatly lively Cecil Kellaway as the art dealer, David Wayne as a bright mick, Lillian Gish as a nun, Florence Bates as a heartless landlady, Henry Hull and Felix Bressart. They’re all just fine. Selznick often used Joseph Cotton in his films, an actor of deeply suburban genius and no rival sex appeal whatever. He is most carefully miscast as the artist.

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Indiscretion Of An American Wife

04 Dec

Indiscretion Of An American Wife – directed by Vittorio Da Sica – drama of a couple of grownups having to say goodbye in a railway station. 63 minutes black and white 1954.

* * * *

De Sica has an infallible comic sense. The entire picture takes place in a railway station, and he fills the canvas with absurd wonderful vignettes and intrusions. From the twelve year old boy to the 90 year old voyeur to the band marching to hail the arrival of The President to the ridiculous woman with the packages and the poodle. All this is spread before us as counterpoint and choral context to a tragedy. Unfortunately the tragedy does not ensue, for the simple reason that the passion necessary between the two characters burns only in the male. He is played by Montgomery Clift with complete conviction and intensity. You believe he loves her. You never believe she loves him. Oh, she is discomforted, she is upset, she is apologetic, she is various things, but she is never on fire for him. Jennifer Jones is the lady. And she remains The Lady, the wife of a producer who stole her from her husband and the father of her children, Robert Walker, with the promise of making her a big star. He then cast her as hot temptresses, women with names like Pearl and Ruby, whose illicit love-skills would drive even Gregory Peck to destruction, make even the righteous Charlton Heston’s stiff neck wobble. Naturally she is not going to play the thing she was: a two-timing wife, which is what she is cast as here. What she does here is a matron in a Dior suit. She is never indiscrete. Her uncertainty as an actress is touching. But pathos is insufficient for grand passion. Here as elsewhere she acts as though in a vitrine, holding herself as precious object to be gazed at behind glass. We know there is a longer version of this film, 90 minutes, with the original title, Stazione Termini –- Terminus in English, and the right title instead of this dreadfully wrong one. This is a version which was cut for American audiences and which failed to find them. Truman Capote wrote the English dialogue.

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