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Archive for the ‘Susan Hayward’ Category

Beau Geste

13 Jun

Beau Geste – directed by William Wellman. Action adventure. 112 minutes Black And White 1939.

★★★★

The Story: Three orphan boys grow up together, join the French Foreign Legion together, and act nobly together.

~

In a neck-and-neck race with George Steven’s Gunga Din at RKO, Beau Geste is a scene by scene adaptation of the 1926 silent film starring Ronald Colman. As such it is slow going. Until it isn’t.

For nothing happens until the last scenes, in which Brian Donlevy, the nasty sergeant in charge of the garrison, literally mans the battlements by stuffing its crenellations with the corpses the marauding Arabs have made of his men – which scares the Arabs off.

This is a super-duper and justly famous battle scene, worth waiting for. It inspires the star of the picture, Gary Cooper, who hates the sergeant, to admit Donlevy is a great soldier. Donlevy, however, is perhaps ill-cast, for he does not have a mean streak, which is needed, but a wicked sense of humor, which is not. He plays the part well, nonetheless.

It’s all well directed by William Wellman, who made sure not to leave out his favorite, a rain-scene, even though everyone is indoors. Those indoors enclose the three adopted boys of the lady bountiful of the house, who possesses the famous infamous “blue water” sapphire which figures into a plot that frames the action of the boys once they join the French Foreign Legion. Is that clear?

I hope not, because to distract us from this plot, we have various young to-be stars trickling through the desert sands, Broderick Crawford, for one. Alfred Dekker, J. Carrol Naish for two more. And for another, Susan Hayward, the most strictured of all actresses, who is the fond focus of Ray Milland.

Milland is the only one of the three English boys to have an English accent. Gary Cooper, who was schooled in England, does not assume one. Wonder why. Nor does Robert Preston as the third of the boys. Preston with his Dennis Quaid grin and zest is the most welcome of energies always, and who could be more convincing than he to save the day at last?

The story is a long-winded set-up for the final scene. You keep wondering when something is going to happen as we lumber through the boyhoods of these boys.

Gary Cooper as a child is played by Donald O’Connor, of all people: O’Connor the most spritely, Cooper the least spritely of actors? Is this because Cooper looked older than he was and O’Connor’s youth was supposed to correct it? Here Cooper is 38, too old for the part of a runaway youth in 1939, the miracle year of American Film. Robert Preston is 21, which is more like it.

Cooper had written into his contracts that he never play a character who dies. Perhaps because as an actor he is already dead, so if he did die how could you tell? He used his inertia to act. He is never one to pick up cues before sucking attention towards himself. Sloth and sluggishness stole whole scenes.

His stardom has always annoyed me. In real life he was shy, elegant of dress, and had an enormous penis – an infallible combination for female appeal – but on the screen, I don’t get it. I suppose people felt that a taciturn male must be more profound than a talkative one and more attractive and more masculine, which, with Robert Preston on the screen is proved pure baloney. I knew that when I was six years old and saw this movie when it first came out.

If you can wait for the finale when it comes it’s an entertaining show. And you won’t have wasted your quarter. Or your 17 cents, which is what a matinee cost me in 1939.

 

Beau Geste

03 May

Beau Geste – directed by William Wellman. Action adventure. 112 minutes Black And White 1939.

★★★★

The Story: Three orphan boys grow up together, join the French Foreign Legion together, and act nobly together.

~

In a neck-and-neck race with George Steven’s Gunga Din at RKO, Beau Geste is a-scene-by-scene adaptation of the 1926 silent film starring Ronald Colman. As such it is slow going. Until it isn’t.

For nothing happens in the film until the last scenes, in which Brian Donlevy, the nasty sergeant in charge of the garrison, literally mans the battlements by stuffing its crenellations with the corpses the marauding Arabs have made of his men, which scares the Arabs off.

This is a super-duper and justly famous battle scene, worth waiting for. It inspires the star of the picture, Gary Cooper, who hates the sergeant, to admit Donlevy is a great soldier. Donlevy is perhaps ill-cast, for he does not have a mean streak, which is needed, but a wicked sense of humor, which is not. He plays the part well, nonetheless.

It’s all, of course, well directed by William Wellman, who made sure not to leave out his favorite, a rain-scene, even though everyone is indoors. Those indoors enclose the three adopted boys of the lady bountiful of the house, who possesses the famous infamous “blue water” sapphire which figures into a plot that frames the action of the boys once they join the French Foreign Legion. Is that clear?

I hope not, because to distract us we have various young to-be stars trickling through the desert sands, Broderick Crawford, for one. Alfred Dekker, J. Carrol Naish for two. And for yet another, Susan Hayward, the most strictured of all actresses, who is the fond focus of Ray Milland.

Milland is the only one of the three English boys to have an English accent. Gary Cooper, who of course was schooled in England, does not assume one. Wonder why. Nor does Robert Preston as the third of the boys. Preston with his Dennis Quaid grin and zest is the most welcome of energies always, and who could be more convincing than he to save the day at last?

The story is a long-winded set-up for this final scene. You keep wondering when something is going to happen as we lumber through the boyhoods of these boys.

Gary Cooper when little is played by Donald O’Connor, if you can figure: O’Connor the most spritely, Cooper the least spritely of actors. Is this because Cooper was an actor who looked older than he was and O’Connor’s youth was supposed to correct it? Here Cooper is 38, too old for the part of a runaway youth in 1939, the miracle year of American Film. Robert Preston is 21, which is more like it.

Cooper had written into his contracts that he never play a character who dies. Perhaps because as an actor he is already rather dead. If he did die how could you tell? Cooper is an actor who used his inertia to act. He is never one to pick up cues before sucking attention towards him. Cooper’s sluggishness stole scenes.

His stardom has always annoyed me. In real life he was shy and had an enormous penis – an infallible combination for female appeal – but on the screen, I don’t get it. I suppose people felt that a taciturn male must be more profound than a talkative one and more attractive.

I knew, when I was six years old and saw this movie when it first came out, it wasn’t necessarily so.

Still, it’s an entertaining show. And you won’t have wasted your 17 cents, which is what a 1939 matinee cost me.

 

The Lost Moment

14 Aug

The Lost Moment – directed by Martin Gabel. Turgid Melodrama. 83 minutes Black And White 1947.

★★

The Story: An American publisher inveigles his way into the lives of an ancient woman and her niece in order to make off with a literary treasure.

~

A curious inert version of Henry James’ The Aspern Papers, it holds one’s attention through its photography by Hal Mohr and the gothic atmosphere of a haunted palazzo in Hollywood’s version of Venice.

The script collapses around its own improbabilities, but it might have worked if the story had started later in the telling than it does. The romance needs to begin in the first reel, not the fourth. The publisher needs to be already inside the house. Who he is and what he is doing there should also be a mystery.

It also has two actors destined not to work opposite one another, born to clash.

Robert Cummings is too mealy-mouthed to play a ruthless and mendacious publisher sneaking into an old woman’s house to filch her love letters from a famous dead poet. As an actor he is not insensitive, but he is also nothing else.

Opposite him is the redoubtable Susan Hayward. Her stride is martial. Her voice deep. Her air draconian. She is an actor feasting on tension. Never a relaxed or spontaneous moment comes near her. All is calculated. One wonders she gives herself permission to breathe.

Agnes Moorhead is so covered with latex, her face never actually appears before us. She is evidently 105. And her voice never claims our ears with Morehead’s belovèd hysteria. She speaks with an English accent, so all is lost.

Almost from the start one is tempted with rewriting this film into a workable version. The story appeals to the writer in one, because it is about a priceless relic, such as every writer ambitions to leave behind to confirm his immortality.

Perhaps it has to remain the novella James made of it.

 

 

I’ll Cry Tomorrow

29 Mar

I’ll Cry Tomorrow — directed by Daniel Mann. Drama. A young stage performer takes her first drink and all is lost. 117 minutes Black and White 1956.

★★★★

As singer Lillian Roth, Susan Hayward flails about in the first half of this film and then comes alive in the second as a charming drunk. Hayward was one of those repulsive actors — Shelley Winters, Jack Palance were others – who are grating in everything they do, especially in parts in which they are called upon to be sympathetic or endearing. If you want to see what endearing really is, take a look at the Story Conference short in the Special Features which brings us Lillian Roth herself in 1933, a delightful beauty with good clear eyes a fine voice and a spirit you can fall right into. Hayward physically is stiff as an actress and gesticulates rampantly and meaninglessly as she sings, whereas Roth, when she sings may use the same bold gestures, but they suit her and are natural to her.  You can always see Susan Hayward reaching her marks on the soundstage floor. She is never motivated; she is always driven. She is perpetually locked for a fight. In fact, her energy is so pronounced it is masculine – despite the fact that she has a good figure and a pretty face. Both these are enhanced by Sydney Guilaroff, whose perfect hairstyles for her bring a great deal to the character – as they do for Jo Van Fleet, another repulsive actor, who plays Hayward’s stage mother. Of course, Jo Van Fleet is a very good actress, and just how much better than Hayward is determined perfectly in the great confrontation scene between them. Our belovèd Margo and Eddie Albert, Ray Danton, and Richard Conte support the actress, who improves as the drunk scenes loosen her up, invite her to be flexible and less actory, and even funny. Much head tossing goes on as she hits and rises from the skids, but there are other scenes – especially those in AA – which are simple and moving. Daniel Mann directed actresses toward Oscars – Shirley Booth, Anna Magnani, Elizabeth Taylor – and there are times here which justify Hayward nomination for it that year. Hayward would have taken as her cue to play unpleasant characters onscreen that permission given by Bette Davis who mastered the art and paved the way. There are times in this gritty performance which must bow to her powerful predecessor in thanks.

 

 

Adam Had Four Sons

31 Jul

Adam Had Four Sons – Directed by Gregory Ratoff. A governess raises four motherless sons happily until one of them marries a minx. 81 minutes Black and White 1941.

* * *

Fay Wray, who plays the mother who dies, said of Bergman, “Her heart was so in the film.  She treated the film as though it were the most important one ever done. I knew this was a girl who had to be an actress or her heart would surely break. She wasn’t working for the money, for fame, for success, even for fun, but because she had to be an actress.” And this Bergman said of herself, and it is certainly to her credit. But it is odd to contemplate how often she was seen as the same sort of actress, that of a stalwart milkmaid who is much put-upon. In role after role this is the character she plays. Ratoff directed her first American film; this is her second; the pattern is in place. And I wonder why? Why did people see only that in her? The role is not an inheritance of the females in film before that, for from Mary Pickford on most major female stars were powerhouses. Bergman, however, is always servile. Her endurance is there to carry her through many reels of her being abused. And her radiant smile is there to attest to her beauty. But just as she is almost always photographed three-quarters from the left, we only see her as hard-done-to, always only Joan of Arc. Here she is quite good in a film that is not. Two sets of four young males clutter up the screen with false exuberance and Warren William presents a stolid bourgeois father for romance. Bergman’s heartfelt relations with the boys is lovely to behold, but the story crumbles through too many of the same ingredients, the last being the introduction of Susan Hayward as a slatternly wife of one of them. She’s full of herself and very good. So is Bergman. You’ve got to hand it to her.  You may lament her casting, but her heart is in it.

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Canyon Passage

05 May

Canyon Passage. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Gold-rush Western. A successful entrepreneur defends his friend against all odds. 92 minutes Color 1946.

* * * * *

What a gorgeous picture! It is the result of the Technicolor process which was tricky to film with and required the services of  Natalie Kalmus who ran the always-rented cumbersome Technicolor camera. But the results are phenomenal here, rich, deep, and satisfying. The outdoor sequences are done in the Gold Country of the California Sierras, in view of lakes and rivers and forests of supernal beauty. And the film itself unfolds with all this casually moved through, in unemphatic episodes, which seem barely to constitute a story but hold one’s attention for that very reason. Its woodland mountain setting is going to prohibit the big action scenes of open-plains Westerns, and in this it’s going to be similar to Allan Dwan’s later film Tennessee’s Partner with John Payne and Ronald Reagan, that is to say, it’s going to be a homo-bonding story. In this, the far more interesting one, the male romance is between Dana Andrews and Brian Donlevy. Donlevy is a funny actor, short, build square, with a large handsome head and a big masculinity to throw around, he nonetheless is curiously sympathetic as the banker who steals deposits. His morning ritual upon arriving on the set: 1) insert dentures; 2) don hairpiece; 3) strap on corset; 4) lace up “elevator” shoes. This may have given him the stuffed look he always possessed, that of a little lunk who did not move well, but moved impressively, and it also probably formally framed a character who is going to be weak and yet sympathetic. One of the great shots in the movie is taken from below in profile, his left eye gleaming with doubt as to whether he should go and murder someone. In both pictures, that someone is a drunken prospector. Another similarity circles around two females and the hero’s resistance to marriage. In both instances, the females are red heads, here Susan Hayward in her leading lady days. She has marvelous carriage and a bold attitude in every scene, which makes her monotonously redoubtable, but effective. The star is Dana Andrews who moves through the picture, here, as always, retaining his secrets. His naturalness on screen is remarkable. The quietude he carries and the interesting timbre of his voice when he speaks and the mobility of his face when he responds make him a fine film actor, one of a few who look okay in suit-roles, as here, where he plays a merchant prince in the making. Andy Devine and his actual sons are in the picture as is a young, sexy actor doing good work, Lloyd Bridges, but the astonishing performance is that of Ward Bond as the bully ogre. What with his pre-fab performances in John Ford films, we never imagine he could act, but see him here (and also in On Dangerous Ground), and you will be moved and amazed by the way he seizes the opportunities provided by the script — which is a really quite good and eccentric one. In brief: a richly visual, beautifully directed, and unusual Western entertainment.

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My Favorite Blond/Star Spangled Rhythm

23 Jan

My Favorite Blond/Star Spangled Rhythm —  director Sidney Lanfield/George Marshall – Mystery Farce in which a coward gets involved with a WWII spy ring. And A Hollywood WWII effort Variety Show.  Black and white 1942.

* * * * *

The Ghostbusters is a better Hope film of this era, but this one has its moments, as a mock spy caper, with Madeleine Carroll as The Hitchcock blonde she was. Star Spangled Rhythm is a Paramount varsity show and far more fun, with Hope as a cameo, spouting in-jokes about Crosby who is also in it. In a huge cast of Paramount superstars, the main attraction is Betty Hutton. You might say, if fact you would have to say, she “propels” the plot, for she had pop-eyes in every cell of her body. Here she throws herself into each scene as though onto a trampoline. This was her way, and if you can stand it, you can stand anything. But boy do you have to give her credit for total engagement, and she is superb in one scene with two men attached by the hands, trying to get over a wall. It’s a very funny scene, brilliantly played by her and by the other two, who were avid contortionists. Ray Milland, Franchot Tone, and Fred MacMurray are amusing as three men playing bridge like three women, a sketch written by George S. Kaufman. And there is Rochester doing a superb zoot-suit number with Katherine Dunham, young and great. Boy, do they rock! George Balanchine’s choreography of a jazz ballet with Vera Zorina is fascinating, not least because of Zorina’s amazing figure — yikes! Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote the music for the film, and the score includes That Old Black Magic and Dick Powell and Mary Martin singing Hit The Road to Dreamland, the latter of which is taken over by a quartet of black male singers who are just wonderful! So there is really a lot of jam on the thin piece of toast this picture is, which was a War-effort effort. The toast may be stale by now, but the jam — especially as regards the black singers and dancers — is still fresher than fresh!

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