RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Phyllis Thaxter’ Category

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

08 Dec

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo – directed by Mervyn LeRoy. WWII Drama. Four months after Pearl Harbor, Jimmy Dootlittle’s B-25 squadron mounts the daring bomb attack for which the airmen know they do not have sufficient return fuel. 138 minutes Black and White 1944.
★★★★★
What you have is a script by Dalton Trumbo who hypothesizes every scene into what he ideologically wishes it to be, so the script always floats slightly above the actors’ heads. They have to reach back into their Sunday School pageants to play it. But it does give Trumbo leeway for the scene where two men discuss whether they actually hate the Japanese and what it feels like to kill civilians. It’s good the scene is there at all, since it would have been a matter of discussion among troops. So “Anti-American” though; so Dalton Trumbo; so HUAC. After all a War is on! Loose lips sink ships! As usual with Trumbo, it feels at once startling and pat. An honestly acted liberal rant.

Not to be missed are terribly acted romantic scenes of Phyllis Thaxter who grinds every scene to a halt by her sparkle; she narrows her eyes and just glimmers away. You want to slap her. It’s a wonder Van Johnson can perform opposite her at all. You look at him being convincing and crown him with a halo: that he could act opposite Phyllis Thaxter and not gnashed his teeth once.

Spencer Tracy walks through the Doolittle role with his commanding presence merely. When you see him in the cockpit of his bomber in leather flight jacket, you want to laugh, and put him back in his suburban easy chair where he belongs and never left, not once, to do a little research about how it feels being a pilot.

But he has little to do, save deliver a few gritty speeches, and the film is well worth watching for the actual bomber training of these men, at the actual airdrome they did it in, and the tiny practice runs they performed of those huge wretched bombers in preparation for taking off from the minute flight deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. So quickly after Pearl Harbor too!

And we see the actual takeoffs on that day, for it was filmed at the time. They’d been spotted by a fishing boat and had to leave many hours too soon and farther from their targets, thus reducing the return gas in their tanks. We see the actual approach to Japan. We see them see Fujiyama. We see them skim low over the paddies. We see the actual bombing raid. All of this is thrilling and valid. For we are seeing the actual footage of it

Then we see how they had to fly to a base in China, which only one of them actually made. China was Japanese occupied at the time, so when the bombers landed or crashed, their crews were either taken by the Japs or hidden by the Chinese and spirited away to secret airfields where lovely and ever-resourceful DC3s flew them off in the nick of time.

The story focuses mainly on Van Johnson’s crew, among whom we find the refreshing face of Robert Walker, a terrific actor here and elsewhere. A big team of Oriental and American actors ably acts it, including Don DeFore, Robert Mitchum, Leon Ames, Benson Fong, Hsin Kung, Ching Wah Lee, Ann Shoemaker, Stephen McNally, Bill Williams, Scott McKay, Selena Royle, Alan Napier. Most of these appear in the adventure and escape in China. Harold Rosson and the great Robert Surtees filmed it. It is action/adventure as its most documentarian and thrilling.

 

Sea Of Grass

21 May

Sea Of Grass — directed by Elia Kazan. Western. A husband and wife wrangle and separate because he is more devoted to the great plains than to her. 123 minutes Black and White 1947.

★★★

Conrad Richter, whose works I read at the time because of this movie is not much read any more, I’m afraid. His take on this old walrus material of the settlers vs. the cattlemen is a beautifully written, sub-heroic, that is to say, a personal non-formula version of the material and the characters. It rustles like the grass itself. Alas, the only rustling done in this movie is the theft of the book as vehicle for its two stars, Tracy and Hepburn. For, instead of a location shooting, the backlot at MGM is the prairie, and the whole venture looks like the settings for a musical in which you might expect a chorus of girls led by Jane Powell to leap over the fence in poke bonnets and pinafores, singing thrillingly. Indeed, the story might make a good musical, but a good western it does not make. I didn’t think this way at the time I saw it, aged thirteen. I was taken by compassion for the infidelity of the wife, and the romance at stake in that deed and its consequences. Kazan was earning his chaps in Hollywood, for this was his second film, but the entire production was already manufactured for him by the time he arrived on the lot. Katherine Hepburn’s costumes by Plunkett are multitudinous and inexplicably fancy for the setting. She looks like she had never lived in any one of them before the particular scene. Sydney Guilaroff does her hair beautifully, but he also must have lived on the ranch. Harry Stradling’s camera registers the impeccable dust impeccably. Kazan’s direction is flaccid, for he admits he gave up after the first day. He liked them, mind you, but he felt Hepburn and Tracy and Melvin Douglas, as The Other Man, were miscast, and I suppose they are. Here’s what, in various places, he says about Spencer Tracy as the cattle baron: “He looked like a comfortable Irish burgher in the mercantile trade. He wasn’t an outdoorsman in any sense of the word. He wasn’t a man who liked to leave Beverly Hills and the comfort of his home. His shoes looked like they had just been shined. I never could get him to stretch himself. Do you know Irishmen? They have this great inertia. Indifference. A man can have a way of making himself unapproachable. He’s a male and not to be tampered with. The man was absolutely commanding when he acted on a simple level that he understood. Where the confrontation was direct, Tracy was tremendous. When the thing was right for him, he was absolutely believable.” As to Hepburn: “She’d committed herself to a particular tradition of acting. Personally she was a marvelous woman, but she aspired to be like Katherine Cornell. Stars of that ilk had a duty to their audience to uphold, a certain image of glamour, heroism, and bravery. A star never did anything wrong. Essentially it’s the tradition of the 19th Century, carried over, milked down, and transposed.” (Kazan was a Virgo). By this time their off-screen relationship was like an old shoe. We sense no fragmentation, no newly weds getting-used-to, no sexual attraction. We sense they are technically collusive with one another. Individually she is highly reflexive, he weighty. They are good in some scenes, off-base in others. Better in comedy than drama. Harry Carey, Edgar Buchanan, Russell Hicks give fine support. Phyllis Thaxter plays the daughter, and her technique is to play an emotion, rather than a moment, so the voice is pitched to a twinkle when she is supposed to be endearing, or a constant yearning when that is the tone targeted. The film comes alive only in the third act when Robert Walker appears as the rapscallion son. It’s a super part, well written, and played with a swift indifference to the conventions of the role. Suddenly the entire screen comes alive with the juice of an actor’s imagination. Sea Of Grass is worth seeing because of him.

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button