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Archive for the ‘Directed by Robert Rossen’ Category

Body And Soul

01 Nov

Body and Soul – directed by Robert Rossen. Sports Drama. 104 minutes Black and White 1947.

★★★★★

The Story: A poor young man, to be a boxing champion, risks his soul and almost his body in the attempt.

~

The earliest great boxing film, it is a good picture raised to a masterwork by the genius of James Wong Howe: he took a hand-held camera into the ring and followed the grand-finale fight on roller skates. The film has a gritty, realistic, newsreel-in-the-streets quality, which creates a world, the Bronx, from which the fighter fled by means of one seedier, the ring.

At first one wonders what the German actress Lili Palmer is doing in it as the good woman, except soon it is plain that she really is a good woman and a voluptuous one too. On the opposite side of the fighter stands his mother, Anne Revere, with her stoic, modest probity. And Art Smith as his kindly dad.

All around the fighter hover a swarm of trainers and promoters and pals, men and women of mixed motives. Williams Conrad plays his guilt-ridden trainer, Joseph Pevney plays his chum, and Canada Lee the boxer he defeats and then befriends. Lee, himself a boxer, executes his final scene in a flare of intensity.

Behind these ignorant, greedy, devoted souls stands the chill person of the American powerbroker, played with ruthless élan by Lloyd Gough.

The film was a huge hit in its day, but its day was the same day as the HUAC. When you look at the film today, you can see that it presents a perfect model of capitalism at its most ruthless, thoughtless, and cruel. The boxer is thrice a commodity. He is worker, product, and buyer. All are a commodity – never human – each a thing to be manipulated into great profit. The boxer himself does this. He is the worker who transforms himself into a moneymaking machine and he buys into himself as popular merchandise. It is a powerful dramatic construction, and one never surpassed in film to my knowledge.

Whether or not this was understood by the Un-American Activities Committee, it dragged in John Garfield, who plays the boxer and produced the film, as a Communist. He was not one, but he was forever blacklisted from work. So were Anne Revere, Lloyd Gough and his wife, Art Smith, Robert Rossen, and scenarist Abraham Polonsky. Their careers were destroyed; they were impoverished and publicly shamed. Canada Lee, the greatest of all Negro Rights Activists, was hounded to his death by it at the age of 45. He was not a communist either.

Nor is the film Communist. Just because it is not Capitalist, does not mean that it is Communist. It is not a polemic either, so advise yourself to see it. As you would see any beautiful work of art. As you would see any picture filmed by James Wong Howe.

 

They Came To Cordura

17 Oct

They Came To Cordura – directed by Robert Rosen – Period Western drama in which an officer must chaperone a pack of renegade men and a treacherous woman across the parching desert. 123 minutes color 1959.

* * * *

A better picture than it was thought to be at the time, the actual story of internal human values supervenes in our interest in the arduous trek. Rita Hayworth was a good screen actress and a knockout. The sight of her elegant dancer’s carriage sitting in a saddle in a wide-brimmed hat shading that incredible jaw-line is alone worth the price of admission. In support are a pack of first class stars, Richard Conte, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter. Gary Cooper is close to the end of his work in films. He seems too old for the part, at least he looks too old –– for the simple reason that the efficient cause of his being given this assignment would only obtain to a newcomer. The grueling haul of seven individuals of dubious character across the spectacular desert ranges of the Southwest is stunning. Robert Rossen of All The Kings Men wrote and directed, and the script demonstrates a gripping moral debate, the constituents of cowardice and courage, Cooper’s home territory. Better now than before, this film may grow into its proper audience. It was, and still is, the sort of picture no longer made by Hollywood: one with adult themes, made with adult stars, and intended for adult audiences. Well worth watching.

* * * *

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