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Archive for the ‘Arthur Miller: MASTER PHOTOGRAPHER’ Category

Tobacco Road

18 Feb

Tobacco Road — directed by John Ford. Rural Comedy. Will the old folks be shunted out of their shanty on Tobacco Road? 84 minutes Black and White 1941.

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Does John Ford think we’re all stupid? I have never understood the eminence into which this director fell – or perhaps he always belonged there – as a sub-popular entertainer. His sentimentality, his crude humor, his encouragement of excess in his performers, his delight in the sound ethics of a fistfight. It’s all here, Ward Bond included, playing a love-silly hick whose infant wife has run off to Atlanta. The whole thing is directed as though it were a Warner Brothers cartoon, with violence and improbability at every turn. Charlie Grapewin and Elizabeth Patterson play the old folks, and Grapewin is as supercharged as Paterson is American Gothic. Society-bitch actress Gene Tierney, smeared with hog-dirt, skulks behind the shrubs like Moonbeam McSwine in L’il Abner. William Tracy as a rageaholic nitwit does not bear looking at as he creates mayhem wherever his nasty nature drives him. The Broadway play was the longest running play in the history of the American theatre. The novel on which it is based is a trove of rich humor, funny in and of itself, written by America’s greatest short story writer and the finest novelist of his day, as Faulkner and all the others admitted, Erskine Caldwell. But Ford thinks Caldwell needs improving, as though Mark Twain needed slapstick to entertain. The material was supposed to be salacious. Which meant that these hillbillies got married and unmarried without ceremony, but in Caldwell that is not dirty, it simply a piece of the human comedy. And then…and then…you find Ford taking a picture of Elizabeth Patterson’s sad face as she faces homelessness And then Ford places them on the long walk to the poor farm pressed against a hard sky, two old people who have no place to go but down and a hard walk to get there, and you can forgive much. And then you realize that it is all being shot by Arthur Miller a great cinemaphotographer. And that whatever is being given us is in a very meritorious partnership. And that whatever it is, it is professionally done to the maximum. For essentially Ford is a storyteller’s eye. Then you remember Stagecoach a masterpiece. Then you take a star and you add it to the two you sourly accorded it, and you say no more.

 

 

Johnny Apollo

09 Dec

Johnny Apollo – Directed by Henry Hathaway. Drama. The son of an embezzler becomes a gangster to spring his dad from prison. 94 minutes Black and White 1940.

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Apart from certain story anomalies and inconsistencies, this is an unusual entertainment, since it actually allows full and extreme value of the relationship between a father and a son and also of a senior gangster and his up-and-coming righthand man. Edward Arnold, who is usually annoying because of his monotonous force of voice and movement, relents in his scenes with the son here, and thus their relationship becomes fully emotional and realized. Likewise, the adoration and admiration of Lloyd Nolan for his henchman is carried to its full flower right to the final scene when he is to murder him. Henry Hathaway’s direction of the picture sets up scenes in long horizontal shots like a rifle aiming. Take for instance the scene where this son/henchman first appears, virtually naked, in rowing togs with the victorious crew in the back throwing the coach in the river at exactly the moment when Lionel Atwill reveals to the young man that his father is a crook. Followed by the scene seen from the back of the father in the foreground as he sees his son come home and at a distance walk upstairs without speaking to him. The story, which is not well written on the level of plot, is very well written on the level of scenic content, and Hathaway highjacks it to develop and give importance to nice long scenes of relationships between interesting people, such as those with all the characters with a drunken, shady lawyer played beyond perfection by Charley Grapewin. Everyone is given permission to go for it, from Nolan to Eddie Mars as his henchman, and everyone jumps at the chance. Scenes played behind the mesh of a prison visitors table and behind the rungs of a stairway have a telling impact, because Arthur Miller filmed them. The film staggers to a halt when Dorothy Lamour sings her nightclub numbers, and staggers to a close when we are led to believe that she and the leading actor could possibly end up as a couple, for the lady has no class and the gentleman is class incarnate, Tyrone Power. At age 26 Power, as he had always done, shines right through his incontrovertible beauty to hold the screen and the story together by the generosity, naturalness, and flexibility of his acting. He was clearly the most accomplished male star of his era, and given no credit for being so. But just look at his eyes as he responds to other performers, and look at the absolute rightness of how he plays his scenes and his clarity in doing so. He was the top male star at Fox. He wanted better parts, but he never got them: there were no better parts in those days. This was it.

 

 

This Above All

19 Jul

This Above All – Directed by Anatole Litvak. Wartime Romance. An upper crust girl falls for a man with a past in WWII England. 1 hour 50 minutes. Black and White 1942.

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Young Joan Fontaine had a habit of marrying handsome suspicious neurotic men. She had that year won the Oscar for Suspicion with Cary Grant and had Rebecca to her credit. It brought out her skill as a good-hearted victim-girl. She is quite lovely in this, with that same sweet smile that graced her sister. Fontaine’s talent consists of a vulnerable charm and a humorous, good natured femininity, so characteristic of the female actors of that era, and quite welcome to one’s eyes here. You can see what she can do well, in her big early speech, when she tells off the formidable Gladys Cooper: “When you and Uncle Wilfred talk, I seem to hear words oozing from the holes of a moth eaten sofa,” which is a pretty good line. She delivers all the meaning, and holds back all the meanness — which is correct for this character and situation. And you feel for her difficulty in having to do that interminable speech later about How We British Must Soldier On! She lyricizes it into The Far Horizon, which is a mistake: she should simply deliver it right into Power’s eyes. But who can blame her; a speech of that length would daunt the doughtiest actress, which she certainly was not. Tyrone Power is another matter. He had remarkable eyes, and a face completely animated when speaking, so that his inner life moves invisibly through it. I say “invisibly” because he is not “doing his face”. Rather his inner spirit passes through his face, without grimace, without movement, and that genuineness is what people are really picking up from him, reading without eyes. Myrna Loy said of him: ‘He had a very strong sense of other people, heightened by a kind of mysticism, a spiritual quality. You could see it in his deep, warm eyes.”  And so the handsomest man in Hollywood never uses his looks to get what he wants. That’s not the way he was wired. When she asked him what he would like to be if he were not Ty Power: “‘I would like to be the wind, so I could be light and free and be anywhere I want at any time., I could go all around the world and look in people’s windows and share their joys and sorrows.’” It make him a highly sympathetic, responsive and fluid actor. Good for him. Young actors who want to learn film acting would do to watch him.

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