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Archive for the ‘COSTUME DRAMA’ Category

Bardelys, The Magnificent

27 Sep

Bardelys The Magnificent – directed by King Vidor. Silent Swashbuckler. 90 minutes Color Filters 1926.
★★★★★
The Story: A philandering blade, on a Cymbeline-bet to marry a certain lady, falls for her on sight and is almost hung for his pains.
~
What we see here is John Gilbert as a quite good actor.

Good?

Really?

Watching Queen Christina, who would have guessed? There, he looks like a high-strung ham.

Here, however, everything he does is geared to bodice-ripper style but played in the lowest key. He simply lets the tinpot gesticulations of the plot zoom around him, while he stays real. Smart actor. Too much makeup on his eyebrows does give their whites a gluttonous glare of intensity, perhaps, but otherwise he is light and easy, convincing and fun.

He rescues himself at the end with a series of spectacular aerial acrobatic feats, ala Douglas Fairbanks, worth waiting for. In the meantime, he has the fair Eleanor Boardman, (soon to marry King Vidor, the director). She is lovely, real, unusual. Worth seeing her acting and her spirit.

In a different way, the same can be said for Roy D’Arcy. Now there’s a villain for you. The eye makeup astonishes. Covering his eyebrows with flesh-colored tape, he pastes tiny upward slanting brows and below them the suspect balcony of a moustache, and below that the poisoned stiletto of a goatee. In silents, even in late and technically advanced ones like this, actors sometimes still used stage-makeup. What terrifying teeth! What a loathsome smile he generates with them! What a captivating gift is his! Repulsive. Silent films were his onion. Don’t miss him.

The story, of course, is tosh. But it is wittily over-costumed, and the sets, which look like sets, are hyperbolic – just what this sort of material requires. Amid a flurry of unconvincing duels with sabers, the film contains a number of famous scenes. The love scene in the punt with the swans floating past the weeping willows is justly renown.

This is MGM at its most expensive. The great William Daniels, who photographed Garbo and right up to Elizabeth Taylor in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, lavishes the talent of his lighting on every scene.

Check it out for your revision of Gilbert’s gifts. Gilbert almost married Garbo. He married Ina Claire for fifteen minutes. Marlene Dietrich saved his life in her usual manner. Dead at thirty-eight, alas. His daughter by actress Leatrice Joy, whom he also married, talks about him movingly, and the extras include two well informed commentators.

It’s a King Vidor film, so it has the power of true sexual attraction in it. The film was thought lost until recently. Its discovery and reconstruction is a wonder and a treat.

 

Washington Square

13 May

Washington Square – directed by Agnieszka Holland. Costume Drama. 116 minutes Color 1997.

★★★

The Story: Is the swain of the homely heiress a fortune hunter, as her father thinks, or is he something else?

~

I’m exploring the acting of Maggie Smith with you today and for a little while to come.

Yesterday, friends crabbed about The Lady In The Van. They made long faces, said they didn’t like Maggie Smith at all. Sounded like they would never go see her again if they didn’t have to. Stuck out their tongues.

 

Perhaps they make a mistake.

I haven’t seen the film, but the mistake they perhaps make is to confuse Maggie Smith with the character she is playing. Perhaps the character she is playing is unlikable, selfish, and cruel.

But, if the character is supposed to be these awful things and Maggie Smith convinces you she is those things, then Maggie Smith is a brilliant actor, to be admired, commended, enjoyed, and advanced in our affection. If she creates it without eliciting your sympathy, well that may be her job.

 

It used to be said that John Wayne was a bad actor. But that was because he played cowboys, and the snob in folks thought Westerns were lowbrow so you could not find good acting in them. Entertainment, yes, good acting, no.

John Wayne was a good actor. Of course, he could not play King Lear. But to scold an actor because he cannot play a role his particular instrument is not suited to is plodding. And not being Lear does not mean the actor is not a good actor in his way.

Wayne’s instrument was not of a classical nature. Wayne’s instrument could play in costume legend, which is what Westerns are. For Wayne’s particular instrument to be effective it had to be in costume, which in Western  would be jeans and which in modern dress would be military uniform, captains’, admirals’, marines’ and such. This was true from the moment he started, in The Big Trail, where he is in fringed white buckskin. Put him in a suit and tie and you have a problem. He is or became a performer of ceremonial plots with dialogue spoken with the ritual intonation of a doxology. He was successful at it. As King Lear he would not have been successful, and Paul Scofield would have failed as The Ringo Kid in Stagecoach.

 

Maggie Smith’s instrument is of a classical nature. And it is one of the quirks of such an instrument that the noise it makes, whatever else it may be able to do, is generally not endearing, John Gielgud being an exception to this rule.

On the other hand, it also seems true that actors who are not classical actors are often quiet endearing. Lady Macbeth was not within Marilyn Monroe’s reach, but she was very endearing.

 

So it’s a good idea to try to see the whatness of an actor’s instrument before responding to their performance. Try to see what they are and what they are not before making up your mind.

John Wayne?

Really, who could have been better?

 

As I say, I have not seen The Lady In The Van, but considering that Maggie Smith is essentially an actor seldom cast in heavy drama but more often cast in comedy, we might consider what experienced theater folk say of her: that comedy is where the essence of her talent lies.

In which case, from that lady in the van we might expect her to be nasty, sour, and unlikeable, and all those things we mentioned – plus funny.

If you look at her work in Downton Abby, you must observe that, except for Daisy and Mrs Patmore belowstairs, Smith is the only source of comedy, and the only upstairs version. Why does she make you laugh?

(Those who know her say that as a person Maggie Smith is inherently funny!)

The Dowager Countess is funny because she is wickedly funny.

And how does that work? How does she do it?

Why isn’t it just malicious?

It almost is.

She’s funny because she makes her Dowager funny to herself.

She is not saying these things because they are mean. She says what she says not to hurt someone. She simply says it to them anyhow! And because it is delicious to her.

How does the Dowager get away with it?

She gets away because she directs her cracks towards those we already dislike. Which is also the way it is written.

This is quite different from her performance as Lady Trenton in Gosford Park. The Dowager is not malicious. Lady Trenton is. She is inhumanly thoughtless to servants, whereas The Dowager is tolerant of her servants, and indeed pretends to let them believe that they rule her life. When Lady Trenton says, “Me? I haven’t a snobbish bone in my body!” you laugh at her behind her back, for she is so ridiculously unaware of herself. But, when an obnoxious suitor to the granddaughter of The Dowager says, “I’ll never come to Downton Abby again!” and The Dowager says. “Do you promise?” you laugh not at her but with her, for she is never ridiculous and always well aware of herself indeed.

Partly what’s funny is that Smith makes The Dowager so completely selfish in this that you have to laugh.

And the screenplay grants her license to be so. Still, how does she get away with it?

She gets away with it because The Dowager tells the truth and it is always out of place, except that no one can put her in her place because being a countess she has the highest title, because she is the principal forebear, because she is old, because she is rich, because she holds maternal power, because she is beautifully spoken – all of which are givens with the role which do not have to be acted and which Smith does not need to act – but all of which allow her to tell the truth out of place. She is privileged as a child who cannot be spanked. What the rest of us have in mind but dare not say, she blurts.

And, of course, she is given lines which ask her to do so.

Such characters as The Dowager and Lady Trenton in Gosford Park have riches, power, position,. They have everything. And so they are characters free to speak their minds.

Another character who could freely speak her mind would be one who had nothing. Such as a child.

Or a baglady in a van.

 

Other actresses admired Maggie Smith when she first started. And other actresses are very chary and very near and very keen in perceiving excellence in a rival, and to all actresses all actresses are rivals. It was not because she played likeable characters, attractive characters, entertaining characters that she was admired by actresses. It was because she acted what was there. She played godsbody to Orson Welles in The V.I.P.s and a paid companion to Bette Davis in Murder On The Nile. She didn’t play glamorous roles. And not doing so, she has won 57 competitive acting awards in 158 nominations, and it would be wise to observe that these were not from roles that made her universally popular like Bette Grable or John Wayne. For as anyone can tell, if she is a movie star at all she is not a star of that sort.

She is not a star of the universally admired forces: The Heroic (such as Katharine Hepburn); The Endearing (such as Elizabeth Bergner); The Trophy (such as Elizabeth Taylor); The Sex Kitten (such as Brigitte Bardot); The Tough Dame (such as Barbara Stanwyck) or The Striver (such as Joan Crawford).

Those women gave fine performances, but Maggie Smith is not an actor of such universal sort. She is not an actress of the great forces that drive us. That is not her whatness,

If Geraldine Page were not in a class by herself, you might want to put Maggie Smith in her class. But Maggie Smith does not possess Page’s power, which is why Page is in a class by herself.

So you don’t go to Maggie Smith for a character to be nice or popular or kind or beautiful or vulnerable. Those are very big things. You might find that a certain character she plays might include those things. But you’d best not count on it. If you want bittersweet chocolate, Carole Lombard will grant it without fail. Carole Lombard was the most loved actress in Hollywood. She was also of the order of actress who could give the audience bittersweet chocolate reliably every time. Sweetness with a bite. It’s a fine order of actor. Maggie Smith is not of that order. She does not possess universal consistency. Or rather, A Consistent Universality.

 

So you’d best not say you don’t like Maggie Smith when what you may really not like is the character she is playing. You’d best not confuse the actor with the character she is acting.

The actor will use herself to do the acting. She can play a beast and a bitch because those things are in her and because they are in everyone. She may be amusing or not.

But do not expect her to be always decent, as you do Henry Fonda, or emotionally pretty, as you do Marilyn Monroe.

As I say, the only thing you might expect of Maggie Smith is that, within the realm of the character itself, she might be funny.

But her Desdemona in Olivier’s Othello, could be, but is never funny. So there! Best not expect anything.

 

Maggie Smith is now just over 80. Leading roles for actors of this age are few. And, if they are written, do audiences come to see someone old?

So actresses always take what is on offer at the time as they have always done, and if character leads are also fewer, even an actor of renown may find herself pinched into the corset of a supporting role.

That seems to be the case with Washington Square, a TV adaptation of Henry James’ novel of that title. It had previously been done from a Broadway Play in a film called The Heiress.

It’s about an upper class girl with no confidence who is wooed by a good looking worldly young man with no money. Her father acts as though the young man must want to marry her for her money and tries to put the kibosh on the wedding.

The hard thing is find the right cast.

In New York, the heiress was played by Wendy Hiller and the father by Basil Rathbone. Outwardly a good combination. In London it was played by Peggy Ashcroft and Ralph Richardson, another good combination. Cherry Jones won an Emmy in it 1995.

This version, which is a different take on Henry James’ story from The Heiress, returns us to something nearer to his novel Washington Square. As a version it is more interesting, as a performance questionable.

The question arises as to how to play Catherine Sloper.

Her father sees her as unmarriageable – awkward, charmless, dull —  and calls her so.

But how does an actress do that?

For real.

Because the play, which has been successful many times, is about one thinking one is not lovable.

I think that’s what it’s about. “Nobody will ever love me,” is the mantra behind all of us that makes us want to prove this story out and stick with it

But unloveability cannot be acted.

Shyness might be acted, but it doesn’t get one far.

Physical awkwardness might do something, but it’s external. And it doesn’t work here, because it’s exaggerated in a dance scene where she looks at her feet and counts beats. Doesn’t ring true.

Besides, doing that would make Catharine Sloper an idiot, and if she were retarded, she probably could not be pursued for a wife legally by anyone.

She has bad taste in dress?

She wears one which is hideous, true, but that’s not enough to make one unmarriageable in the eyes of all the world.

The character lacks self-confidence.

It seems to me, that’s the heart of it, but in and of itself that is also unactable. That is, technically an actor cannot act such a thing as lack of confidence.

Lack of self confidence can be worked as someone who tries to be someone else or someone better or other than she is, which would make her a hypocrite and a phony. Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams does this.

But she’d have to be a very small hypocrite for a suitor to get past it.

 

The key to the part lies in her father’s behavior towards her. Her birth killed his wife, and so in his mind Catherine’s very existence deprived him of love and sex. So he in turn denies her both. It just comes out of him that way. When she is little, he treats her as his devoted spaniel. And no more than that. We later learn what in his eyes her life should be: a spinster and permanent household companion. Obedient. Faithful. Fawning. He never wants her to leave the house. He never wants her to marry. He always wants her kept on a leash. He wants her faithful to him. He wants her to be a dog.

So, we see her as a child tearing down the stairs and jumping up on him like a clumsy puppy, and there we have the foundation for Catherine’s character.

How would it feel to be treated like a pet dog but wanting to be treated like a human?

Dog into human, human into dog. Now there is something actable.

Perhaps Catharine’s failing is that she approaches life and others like a puppy.

Or, perhaps, she refuses to be petted is stand-offish, until she finds someone who can love her without scratching behind her ear.

“Do people think I’m a dog? That I’m a mammal but not human? I don’t want them to. But so what! If that’s what they think, then I’ll be an Afghan Hound!”

 

I’ve seen this part done by Julie Harris, Olivia De Havilland and now by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Jennifer Jason Leigh has always been a problematic actress. She usually plays creeps.

We see something unstable in her as she does this. This not so much in evidence here, but the actress, here as elsewhere, deliberately makes herself technically unmoored. Her characters are all gaga. This makes her into a loose canon, such as she so brilliantly was in The Ugly Eight. And this is what she uses to show why Catharine Sloper is taken to be unlovable. Meaning unattractive. Meaning so odd no one can get a fix on her long enough to court her. It doesn’t work.

Jennifer Jason Leigh does not get to the heart of anything here, but still she is a professional actress playing a part for which she is suited.

And she fails because in the end we know we do not want her suitor to love Catharine any more than her father does.

 

Maggie Smith plays her in-house chaperone, Aunt Lavinia. It’s a marvelous role, successfully played by Miriam Hopkins in the William Wyler movie in which Olivia De Havilland won an Oscar.

De Havilland is a pretty a woman if ever there was one, so that Catharine is supposedly plain doesn’t work. Instead, her Catherine is supposed to be ordinary, which is not quite enough either. But Ralph Richardson turns his opaque eye upon her to good effect. Montgomery Clift as the penniless suitor is beautiful enough to make up for all the other qualities which the suitor Maurice Townsend is meant to possess: brilliance, charm, and a well-travelled sophistication, in all of which Clift is completely void.

None of these does Ben Chaplin possess either. He has lightless eyes and not even great beauty. So we have to simply take on credit that he is her dreamboat.

The argument that the suitor could make a good husband as well as being a fortune-hunter does not enter into the Wyler film, but it does so here, and it is cogent. It would make of this piece a considerable tragedy were there any appeal for us in the two actors themselves.

 

Another American actor, Judith Ivey, is excellent.

The costumes are superb and are of the ugliest period of women’s clothes in the history of the world. Urban crinolines topped by sausage curls. Hideous. But accurate.

The interior settings are the most brilliant I have ever seen for this period. The movie is well worth watching just for them.

 

What Maggie Smith does is have a grand old time – strictly within the bounds of the size of the part. Aunt Lavinia, poor woman, is as much in a passion over Maurice Townsend as Catherine Sloper is. Smith’s sexual dabbing on him, her brazen and fake-bashful rendezvous with him in a bordello, her interloping and go-betweening actually capsize the affair. Having so little business of her own, she noses into others’ business like mad.

Smith has a sound American accent in the sense that she rounds her Rs, a letter which, except at the beginning of words, the British never pronounce. Her mistake is that she has no specific American accent. Everyone in American came from somewhere; in 1850 they would have sounded as though they did. Albert Finny as Dr. Sloper is also supposed to be American. Ben Chaplin also is, and is also English. So we have three English actors having vacated their native tongue and one American actress who has vacated her technique. The result is a dead axle.

 

Moreover, Maggie Smith, even with her American accent partly in place, still does not convince in the role.

Watch what she does. Everything she does is on the money. But…

But her speech patterns are English. They are of English Modern Comedy, in which she excelled. Restoration comedy, in which she excelled. Shaw, in which she excelled. Oscar Wilde, in which she excelled. Comedies of Shakespeare, in which she excelled.

The energy behind them is not of an American from Boston, a widowed Aunt living on the charity of relatives. The energy is British. The sort of person she gives us is someone who never crossed the sea.

 

To do my friends justice, their response to The Lady In The Van was that the character Smith played was so obnoxious that it made them gag, and, if they made of that a condemnation of the way she played her, their condemnation may be right. I haven’t seen it.

But if you look for the whatness of an actor at work you may find in you elements for judgment with which you can weigh and distinguish what you’ve seen or are seeing. That way, you are more able to avoid saying that you hate an actor, that such an one is a bad actor or that so and so gave a bad performance.

It’s hard to distinguish one thing from another in human beings. Or in oneself.

Still, it’s more fun to look a little deeper. Not much deeper, just a little.

It may help make one more forgiving.

 

 

The Bridge Of San Luis Rey

07 Feb

The Bridge Of San Luis Rey – directed by Mary McGuckian. Drama. 120 minutes Color 2004.

★★★★

The Story: In a trial for his life, a 17th Century friar presents his findings on the coincidence of seven people plunging to their deaths when a suspension bridge collapses.

~

The presence of Robert De Niro as the archbishop of Peru disqualifies the story. He does not have the acting instrument to perform the role, which requires Shavian mentation of inquiry and debate. Nowhere in this piece does he seem feasible.

The others do just fine, and their good work validates our presence before them. Geraldine Chaplin is excellent as the kind Mother Superior who connects all of them. Gabriel Byrne touches one as the soft-spoken friar on trial for possible heresy.

Kathy Bates, an actress difficult to cast correctly, finds herself well placed as the richest widow in Peru, but clearly a parvenu from the shopkeeping class. She moves through the vast structures of cathedral and palace like an elephant in full regalia. Dressed like a pavilion, she performs one rich scene of unexpected eccentricity after another, and the script gives her the only fully realized character in the piece.

As her relative, uncle Pio, our beloved Harvey Keitel is perfectly cast as a theatrical entrepreneur, a man who owns nothing, and loves fixedly.

F. Murray Abraham has, as the vice-ridden Viceroy Of Peru, a part he can finally sink his sharp teeth into. This is the sort of play that actors like better than audiences. There is grand argumentation. Elocution is required. Wit is a priority. Intelligence of style is appreciated. Abraham is an actor of classical gifts, and what a treat it is to see him perform with them.

Dominique Pinon is excruciatingly exact as the Viceroy’s fop. He brings a surge of comic vitality to the film whenever he appears, shrewd, quick, and big hearted.

Pilar López de Ayalaila speaks perfect English, and is a very good actress, but lacks the high temperament, unique sexual personality, and special feminine voice of the actress La Perichola. It is the key role. She unites them all, drives them all, kills them all. But she is not able to convince us of what others see in her. The not-to-be-topped Anna Magnani played a version of her in The Golden Coach of Jean Renoir in 1952. Nazimova, Joan Loring, Blanch Yurka, Akim Tamiroff, and Louis Calhern played it in the 1944 film. There is a 1929 version, part-talking, with Lily Damita.

The original is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Thornton Wilder, which may be still readable today, who knows? I have read it and liked it, but it wasn’t yesterday that I did so.

 

Frozen

14 Feb

Frozen – Disney Cartoon Fairy Tale. 102 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

The Story: A crown princess’s hands emit destructive cold that nearly kills her sister, who is quarantined from her, until both are released at great peril and cost.

~ ~ ~

I seldom see cartoons. I loved the old ones, Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, but the drawing went off and the music declined, and, although there were always a few interesting monsters, I stopped being interested. Except as a dutiful father, I seldom went. But people said I should see this one.

I can’t say that you should see it. Mind you, it certainly has remarkable sequences, which I shall forebear from describing lest I spoil them for you. But animation does many things superbly. It can conjure like nobody’s business, and it can produce spectacles of three dimensional perspective that ordinary film cannot touch.

What is remarkable about this film is its fidelity to its theme. And its surprise ending. (Although I shouldn’t tell you there is one. For then there will not be such a surprise.) It keeps the cold coming in icy displays of imagination. It never warms up. And we like it that way. In fact, it gets colder and colder.

Like most such full-length cartoons it is a bring-em-back-alive story, a most satisfying genre. And it has parties of minor characters that certainly give full value for a cuteness you would not abide in a regular film. It has a delightful mascot snowman. It has a comic Norwegian shopkeeper and a gaggle of gnomes, an endearing reindeer, and a Nordic setting full of curious detail including a castle of dreams and a palace of gelid power. The songs are undistinguished.  But all the parts are well written and acted especially by the younger princess who is quite brilliant and real. Moreover, it is a story in which two young women take the leads, so what it lacks in innocence it makes up in drive.

The facial animation is shockingly real. It is an amazement to behold. The mouth and the cheeks operate in character all the time. The only difficulty is the eyes, which are like Keane portrait eyes, pop-eyed with the pitiable. Why this decision was made, I cannot tell. It is so grotesque and off-putting to me that I fear to recommend the film for fear you will come over here and punish me as much as I was punished by it.

However, if you are curious about what animation is up to these days, you will be entertained and informed while you are both.

 

 

 

 
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Posted in COMIC FANTASY, COSTUME DRAMA, PERSONAL DRAMA, SERIOUS FAIRY TALE

 

Intolerance

05 Oct

Intolerance – directed by D. W. Griffith. Epic. Four stories in four historic eras interleave one another. 3 hours 10 minutes with intermission. Color-tinted Black and White. 1916.

★★★★★

Once we get over that, except for the historical figures, none of the main characters have a name, but are called The Belovèd Princess, The Boy, The Dear One, The Musketeer, The Mountain Girl, we are willing to go along for the ride. The ride is given a perpetual flat tire by the gestural style of the performances. “Performance” rather than “acting” is what is on view, and hardly anyone spares us the hysterical gesture of the arms thrown up in the air, at all dances, Bacchanals, battles, and anything involving multitudes.

It is strange that this director, for all he brings to us, and it is plenty, was not able to devise a rubric of acting suitable to filmed melodrama. Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson and Valentino certainly discovered the rubric of film acting for us soon enough, and Lillian Gish may have done so even before that. She is present here, but simply as a woman endlessly rocking a cradle. She never gets out of her chair. Also characteristic of the style is the habit of responding to everything four times when one will do. That is to supply the deficiency of sound. I don’t mean the deficiency of words, for I have never read so many placards in a silent picture. However, both Mae Marsh and Constance Talmadge in close-up are quite good. Griffiths evidently allowed his actresses to do as they pleased, and both of them hop around as though they had St. Vitus Dance. But presently our hearts go out to them.

The four stories also all go off the rails in the theme of Intolerance. We are involved instead in three last minute rescues, two of which fail, I won’t tell you which one doesn’t. We are really involved with 1,2,3 Melodrama, or I should say, 1-10 melodrama since each one is long. The Epic style refers to its length and to the interleaving of the periods. And this eventually has its impact, for Griffiths ends it with the chaos of War – and one was raging (one is always raging) in Europe at the time it was made. The Persian (aka the Iranians) invade Babylon, and one sits there in one’s own time and sees the same.

The version (and there are many) I am speaking of is the new Coen/Thames version, with the new score by Carl Davis. There are a number of reasons to see it but one of them is the siege of Babylon. It’s one of the greatest passages ever filmed. It goes on for a good while. It takes place in sets the size of which has perhaps never been matched, with forces that have never been so numerous again. The sets have not dated in their impressiveness. The costumes are so detailed one cannot quite see them, and there are thousands and they are sensational. The expense of the wigs for the men would pay for a modern epic.

But the real reasons to see it are to witness Griffith’s sense of spectacle, which is infallible. And his placement of camera, which is beautiful and gripping – Billy Bitzer filmed it.  And finally to be present at the display of the imagination of Griffith, which seems ceaseless, overwhelming, superabundant. One goes to such films as one goes to visit a pharaoh’s tomb, for its historic curiosity and impressiveness, not for its modern application or vivacity. In this case, however, the last two pertain. I saw it in a picture palace, and that is the place to see it, so catch or schedule it as soon as you can. The picture palace at my matinée was well attended. Join them.

 

 

Kagemusha — The Shadow Warrior

16 Mar

Kagemusha – directed by Akira Kurosawa. 16th Century Japanese Warlords find themselves deceived by the greatest of them being replaced by a hobo impostor. 180 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★★

Of course it could be said that it is too long, for the same reason that any film is too long, because the last part of it is full of detail which by now we, as the audience, telling the tale as we go, alongside Kurosawa, take as understood.

And, it could be said that the film was never meant to be viewed on a home screen but on a huge wide movie theatre screen, where I first saw it. What this means is that the power of the great troop and battle scenes is lost because they were designed as spectacle.

Of course that is not to say that the rest of the film is not spectacle. For it is. The interiors are all staged as spectacle, even when there is only one person present, even those scenes close-to, although Kirosawa here is not involved in close-ups, but in groups, or in a single player playing out his role full body. The staging of every scene is highly theatrical, perfectly organized, with nothing left to chance for our mistrust to fix upon.

And then there is the playing, which is Japanese in its style, not Noh, of which we are given a stunning sample, but cinema-Noh, which means a minimum of movement combined with the greatest intensity of content. The Noh actor, virtually static on stage, uses his voice for this; his craft is the craft of intonation. But in a movie, the actors must do most of it with their bodies and in such a way as that each movement will tell the tale required to be told, and no more. Unlike stage Noh, where the words themselves have a studied constant operatic force, in the film the actor speaks more physically than verbally. So, the movie is told as a feat of physical narration. An actor executes the necessary telling movement and immediately shuts down, and the story is told.

This is good for a fairy tale, which is what this is.

Once upon a time, there was a family, a great warrior grandfather and his devoted twin brother, the two sons of the warrior, and his four year old grandson. The most feared warrior in all Japan is this warrior, and his purpose is to protect his clan.

He is ruthless and valuable, and to protect his own life, his twin brother has played his double. However, the brother finds this role vexatious to his spirit and one day shows his brother a bum who looks like them both. An impostor is needed to give the head-brother the mysterious power of ubiquity, but this man is a wandering thief, a low-life, a vulgar ne’er do well. The two brothers train this thief to become the second impostor, a shadow warrior, which is what the title means. Or does it?

Does it not perhaps mean, when he dies, the warrior whom the peasant impersonates? Is he not the ghost warrior? Is not the person imitated the ghost?

As I sit here writing this, I do not know whether all three parts are played by the same actor. It would seem impossible, since the cantankerous and flaky thief and the warrior are so different in temperament, for the warrior brother is a mountain of immovable resolve, cunning, and wisdom. Nonetheless, this what the thief eventually becomes. How is it possible?

Everyone who reads this blog regularly knows that sometimes I like the history of movies and actors, but that I am not interested in theoretical or hypothetical or philosophical or sociological matters as regards movies and the entertainment of acting. But if I were, I might say that this film would be Kurosawa’s tribute, on the grandest possible scale, to the genius of acting and its craft.

For here we have an histrionic and cinematic masterwork about creating an histrionic and cinematic masterwork. It is the backstage story of all time.

Everything about the movie is stupendous. The costumes are stupendous, the battle arrays are stupendous, the volume of extras is stupendous. This is in order to stupefy us. And if we are in our right minds, we will be so, for the long, tense layout of each scene is of a pace important to impress. We must be silent, we must be respectful, we must bow down before this narrative style or the story will not register in us. We must wait out the tension in the room. That is our job. That is our story-telling. Around a campfire, the counselor begins a ghost story. We  allow ourselves to be riveted. There is no human alternative.

What is the moral of this story?

The moral arises in us as we watch, for it is the same that arises in the bum learning to becoming a shadow warrior – devotion to the master’s mastery, one-and-the-same thing, the master and the mastery – devotion to the warrior-master, which the shadow-warrior learns, and by an inevitable osmosis becomes; devotion to the mastery of the master, and devotion to being told the telling itself. All: one and the same thing.

One-and-the-same thing.

One-and-the-same thing.

 

Lincoln

16 Nov

Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg. Docudrama. President Abraham Lincoln is surrounded on all sides as he presses to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment forbidding slavery. 149 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

I was thrilled, stirred, gripped.

I thought beforehand I would not be, for the coming attractions are ill advised.

But, once there, everything about this film surprised, entertained, informed, and moved me.

My first fear was that Daniel Day-Lewis would simply dress himself up in a top hat and shawl and, in the voice of Henry Fonda, perform The Lincoln Memorial.

But what Daniel Day-Lewis has done with Lincoln, is to give him a posture which is stooped, which we know he had, and a short gait, which we couldn’t know he had, but which keeps him in the contemplative present when he moves.

Day-Lewis’s figure is tall and thin, as was Lincoln’s, and his face is long, as was Lincoln’s. He has, as Lincoln had, cold eyes. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice, and that is what the actor contrives for us. The impersonation is beyond exception.

The actor also has the ability to negotiate Lincoln’s remarkable diction, so he is able to manage Lincoln’s speeches and his raconteurism –– everyone said Lincoln was a most entertaining individual, and folks gathered around him to hear him tell jokes and stories –– and this is given full play as is his play with his little son. But the weight of the matters that concern and confront him and how he faces them are the story.

The political shenanigans environing the passage of the 13th Amendment are the setting here, and in this he is beset by his foes and friends alike. Among the foes is Lee Pace, an actor of signal clarity of attack, who leads the Democrats of the day who, like the Republicans of our own, have no agenda but to oppose, in all matters, the person who holds The Presidency.

The complex backstairs bargaining and bribery and bullying to get the amendment through is exciting and involves a lot of first class actors to bring off. Kevin Kline as a wounded soldier, Jared Harris as U.S. Grant, Bruce McGill as Secretary Stanton. We have James Spader as the foul-mouthed operative sent to influence the undecided with sinecures and cash. Hal Holbrook as the peacenik operative whose truce-making might arrest the entire effort. John Hawkes as Robert Latham.

But the big difficulties at the time were two people who were in favor of the amendment. The first was Mary Lincoln, unbalanced by the loss of a previous child and exhausting and distracting Lincoln by indulging herself in grief because of it. This is an astonishing piece of work by an actress who has grown over the years: daring when young, even more daring now: Sally Field.

The second problematic character was Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist so radical his extreme fundamentalism bid fair to upset the applecart. A formidable politico and vituperator, it required an actor no one could out-wily, out-cunning, out-sly. And such an one we have to hand in the person of Tommy Lee Jones. He’s killingly funny and powerful in the role. It’s one of his great film turns.

The filming of story and the direction of it are exactly right, established at once by Janusz Kaminski with a Brahmsian color palette and a scenic arrangement that gives us a view from under the table of the White House goings-on and political dealings that never fall into the staid tableaux of Historical Documentary or the expected or the pat.

But the great credit of all the great credit due is to Tony Kushner who wrote it. He alone of modern playwrights could negotiate the elaborate rhetoric of 19th Century invective, without which the telling of this material would be incomprehensible. Instead of taking out your gun and firing at an insult, you had to stand still to hear it long enough to mount a more suitable riposte than a bullet. Congress in those days was messy, rude, and volatile. We see it all.

Kushner frames the picture with two speeches, and each one is given to us in a surprising way. Historical events with which we are familiar are gestured when they are not integral to the strife within. He knows how to write a scene with lots of words, and the material needs them and welcomes them. You have to lean forward and keep your ears alert, just as these men and women did in their day. You want to. It’s part of your engagement, your learning, your joy, and your satisfaction.

Up close and personal with Lincoln, if you ever imagine yourself so lucky as to be, you sure are here. You give full credence to this actor’s Lincoln. You watch Lincoln, yes, he is available. You still admire him, you are touched by him, you know him as well as you ever will, save you read his letters. A man of great depth of reserve and great humor. Torn, pure in two, but one. Because fair and honest and kind. Smart because he understands human language from aint to art. When has his party put forth for president a person of one tenth his character? Will they ever do so again?

 

Distant Drums

23 Jun

Distant Drums – directed by Raoul Walsh. Historical Adventure. A lone settler heads a raid on a Florida fort, then leads his men back to safety. 101 minutes Color 1951.

★★★★

How did Max Steiner get a symphony orchestra into the Everglades! Oh, those Seminoles, they sure take a beating from him, as do we watching this very watchable, if over-scored, Raoul Walsh action/adventure story. Actually it’s incorrect to call Walsh’s films action/adventure, when many of them are, and when he is at his best, are tales of a journey. Up into the high Sierras in High Sierra. Through the Burmese jungle in Objective Burma. Across the Oregon wilderness in what to my mind is the greatest Western ever made, The Big Trail. For some years his films were being scored by Max Steiner and filmed by Sid Hickox, and, I always feel that both of them diminish them through overloading the color. But it is also true that Walsh by now took less trouble with the scripts; the stories and dialogue tend to the banal, and Hickox and Steiner may have just been trying to jack them up. Walsh always tells a story superbly; that’s not the question; the question is how good is the story? And then thee is Gary Cooper. I don’t like Gary Cooper. There is something phony about him. He is an actor incapable of an emphasis. I almost asked Patrician Neal once, “How could you fall in love with such a bad actor?” but at the time the lady was smitten, and that counts for a lot that doesn’t count. I watch Cooper to see if I believe him. And in this film I pretty much do. I believe he has an ear cocked for those sly Seminoles, although the costumer has them tricked up in such gaudy war paint and deer skin, you could hardly miss them. I believe his thought processes. I believe there is an inherent morality playing in him. I believe in his stalwartness, his pertinacity. I don’t believe the faces he makes, that curling down of his lower lip and that balance of his voice with his lines, which I also believe coming from him, which, considering their utilitarian nature, do demand no more than the slightest life lest they be betrayed as having so little. And this he has to give: he is an actor without temperament, of course. I believe in his masculinity. I believe in his slightly bow-legged stride. I believe in his command – which the other characters have to believe in too in order to follow him with the gaitors and cotton-mouths slithering after them. I believe in the role he plays, but not the character. He is the sort of actor males in the audience would like to be one day, and wake up when old to realize they have failed to become. Perhaps. What we know of Cooper is that he was a consummate lothario, was vain, and never would play a character who died at the end. I do not believe what others believe about him, but I can understand why others do. In real life a voluble talker, in film, though,laconic and quiet, to me he is so soft spoken he is odd. Here he is not young but he still has his fine slim figure, and he is photographed so the bags under his eyes don’t show. He is a great star because males and females equally want to carry his arms or be in his arms. He looks good, but he is good looking in a way that does not interest me. And he is American in a way that does not interest me. That is to say aloof. Even disdainful. A loner it is called. Someone who never asks for directions. He never played a part opposite a character more noble than himself. And he very often wastes the other actors’ time and cues by hemming and hawing and making cute. However, in this film, despite that you know he going to survive (for he always does), you do believe in his sense of peril, the fear and necessity that motivate him, his urgency of the story – which Walsh tells with unerring economy as usual – and right in the Everglades itself, at Silver Springs, and into the astonishing ruins of Castillo San Marcos. The qualities that define a star shine on a list that is never complete, but one thing all of them have, which is that they all belong up there in those huge moving photographs of them. Like him or not, Cooper belonged there.

 

Snow White And The Huntsman

17 Jun

Snow White And The Huntsman – directed by Rupert Sanders. Fairy Tale Escape Action Adventure. A ghoulish queen strives to eat her fleeing stepdaughter alive. 127 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

The problem with live-action fairy tales is that they sink under the specious particularity of the naturalistic, to which by temperament they are alien. A fairy tale is like a very important dream. It is an external narration of an internal contraption. It is parsed out into characters, such as the queen, the witch, the dumb third son, the cunning daughter, the dragon in the gold, the prince, and so forth. Reading them or listening to them we know we ourselves are these things. Even though not externally, our identification is absolute and therefore hypnotic. These are the inner paths, the inner adventures and floorplan of the psyche. They are wise and cautionary stories, and they are absolutely true in the largest sense of the word, since they must be embarked upon and lived out, but they have nothing to do with realism as a style – and realism is a style which live-action cannot avoid. That is why the true film medium for all fairy tales is animated cartoon. In this picture, for instance, which is very well done, beautifully cast, expensively made, very well played, directed, edited, filmed, and scored, we at one point witness Snow White with dirty fingernails, a completely unnecessary and, in fact, counter-productive detail for the meaning and carriage of the fairy tale of Snow White, but inevitable since she has been slogging through the wilds and falling down in mud before our eyes. So there is a sense when watching such films of a remoteness forced upon us by an incorrect medium. When there camera rises high above her collapse in The Dark Woods, we see her lying screened behind the tall branches of the trees far below, and we see that, despite their cruelty, her vicissitudes protect her. That is because we are at that moment witnessing the scheme of cartoon. With fairy tales, live-action rules out identification. There’s too much unelectable detail. Disney’s version was correct. The theater would also be correct. Opera would be correct. Aside from this failure which is nobody’s fault and everybody’s fault, the pictures is beautiful in every scene and sense, rare in its display of nature and anti-nature, by which I mean the queen’s costumes. Charlize Theron plays her, and her character is given many scenes. Set before the days of face-lifts, her step-queen’s political and magical powers depend upon the retention of her looks. With her oceanic beauty, Charlize Theron really is the fairest of them all. But she is also the older sister of a brother who is clearly in his fifties, while she herself is Charlize Theron. She’s wonderful in the part, and her playing of her death scene is imaginative and unusual. The film never fails to interest and never succeeds to fully interest. It is extremely intelligent and completely obtuse. But it is not a waste of time. And as set forth it certainly supports the activism and the vitality and the cunning and the stamina of the female of the species, right along with the males who help her escape and eventually come to follow her.

 

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.

 

Becoming Jane

02 Mar

Becoming Jane — directed by Julian Jarrold. Romantic Drama. Desperate pressures to get her married beset a lovely 18 Century bluestocking eventually to become Jane Austen. 120 minutes Color 2007.

★★★★

Set here in Ireland acting as Berkshire and perfectly cast as a late 18th Century place, one feels absolutely at home in the rough, peeling-painted, rectory-cum-farm of the film’s landscape, which never fails one second of this film’s footage to look right. What does fail is the sound and sound editing. The music, which is excellent, is always too loud, never more so than in the ballroom scene early on when not a single sentence of the dialogue can be heard above it. The actors do not help, either, for they believe, perhaps, that wit depends upon speed of utterance, and it does not. The elaboration of syntax, upon which much of the wit of Austen and the age depends, requires a careful mouthing. A tasting. A lingual pondering. Like wine. And dare I say it? – a drawl. It cannot be spit out like shot. Oscar Wilde was not at all like Noel Coward. And this is the age of Byron, behind whose drawl massed the power of his position and the greatness of the style of Don Juan. Ian Richardson knows the truth. His buffalo brow of disapproval looms like a dark eave over his enunciation of sentences of death. American actors think wit requires speed. Sometimes it does. But only for arrows. Austen’s zingers even when brief are instinctually weighted, tremendously elaborated shafts sent over the immense distance of a banquet table. These the actors tend to pipe or whisper. Not good. Certainly Maggie Smith understands this as she pecks apart her opponents with her chicken head beak and eyes wider than judgment. Her character relishes speech. For her, for the English, not just language, but speech is a consummate and delicious sterling silver tool. Perfectly cast, the film is also beautifully arranged for our enjoyment by the director and costumer. Anne Hathaway could not be bettered in the role of Jane; she has the intelligence, the strength of a love of independence, and no sense that she is using her looks to land a mate. She never flirts. She also understand speriod style. James McAvoy, on the other hand, is required to use his looks, and he is suitably combed and brushed and decked, and plays the part with no frippery extras but with great earnestness. (One wonders if he will ever graduate out of the category of jeune premier.) You quite believe the attraction between the two, which counts for a lot, although it does not directly feed the real plot of the film, which is how this enforces a literary imagination in the making. Julie Walters is grand as the mother of the daughters, particularly in her big scene hoeing potatoes, and James Cromwell as the minister has just the right looseness of attention to suggest his failing bank account. It is a film whose ending does not work. It needs the same ending as Splendor In The Grass: two lovers see one another after fifteen years, and it should break your heart. Instead of which it dissipates into the sentimental distraction of his having named his daughter Jane. Responsibility to historical accuracy shoots it dead in its traces. But by that time, a pretty good film is over.

 

Rashomon

03 Feb

Rashomon – Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Drama. Four participants in a violent criminal deed, each tell it from their particular point of view. 88 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once you leave the theatre. I remember when it first appeared. It was, with the early films of Vittorio De Sica and S. Ray, the opening stroke of the introduction of international film to American audiences. They all were startling, indifferent to Hollywood style, profound, gutsy, and beautiful, none more so than Kurosawa. The acting style was Japanese in that it was intense, raw, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized, and firmly and deeply lodged in voice production; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. How he got the part is extraordinary: a friend of Kurosawa told him to come to the stodgy institute’s auditions because someone was tearing the place apart; Kurosawa came and saw that one of the greatest actors in he world, although completely unknown, was before him. He inveigled the institute to accept Mifune. Watch him: he’s the fastest actor in human response ever to appear in film. He can turn on a yen.  There is no one like him for contained anger but Brando. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the sets completely imprisoned. Does it hold up? Masterpieces do. This time round all these years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.

 

 

 

Albert Nobbs

31 Jan

Albert Nobbs — directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Drama. A waiter in a second tier Irish hotel is actually a female in mufti, which leads to difficulties and revelations for all. 113 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Master actor Glenn Close has co-written a screenplay of a short story of the Victorian writer George Moore, so it is curious that she makes the error she does in creating her own part. She is remarkable in it, mind you, and the film is worth seeing for two other extraordinary performances in it as well, the celebrated Pauline Collins playing, with Dickensian relish, the old trout of a hotel owner who rules her roost with the high hand of hypocrisy. And Janet McTeer. It’s wonderful to see for the first time an actress of genius whom one has never come upon before or even heard of. Once Janet McTeer enters the screen you do not want to forsake her company no matter what. You want the camera to be on her perpetually. She is not a scene-stealer or a virtuoso actress. She is simply present wholly as the character in the moment before her. To reveal more would be to betray her part in the story and the brilliant and heartful way it is played out by her. But back to Glenn Close, who is a virtuoso actress and whom we want to steal all scenes within reach. Will she get it right this time?  Or will she fall into her usual trap? But – wait, what is clear almost from the start is that the part as written by herself is virtually unplayable, by which I mean that it can’t go anywhere. First, she has chosen the name of Albert, which no other name can exceed in tedious respectability.  She does not try to make the character masculine. She does not imitate a male. She simply presents Albert as a person without gender of any kind. Also she makes him hysterical, but with an hysteria completely lidded down by fear of exposure. That is to say, Albert is forbidden all emotional life. Also she makes Albert withdrawn, an introvert’s introvert. He is shier than shy, a person without repartee. At the staff meals in the hotel kitchen we see how he is accepted by everyone as Mr. Nobbs and taken an interest in by no one. Which is as it should be, for he is so without affect that he is entirely without mystery, even the mystery of how come he is without mystery. An automaton of self-effacing efficiency, he offends no one. The creation of this human being right before our eyes is a major treat. Here is the great Glenn Close doing the impossible, and the first half of the film gives us really one of the great performances of modern times. But the thought crosses one’s mind: where can she go, having set it up as a person so frozen there is no melting possible, no calving of a glacier? Albert has one ambition, which is to open a tobacconist shop. And that is probably the direction the story should go, but it doesn’t. Instead it goes in the direction of her trying to marry a cute housemaid at the hotel. If this worked in the original story, I don’t know, but it does not work here. First, because Albert is a watcher and a listener, and it is obvious that the housemaid is involved with the sexy cad handyman. This is known; everyone says so. So Albert loses our sympathy because she is rank stupid. Secondly, the cause given for her lesbianism is the routine TV reason that she was gang-raped when young, as though every lesbian had to be likewise to become one, whereas the fact is she has no notion about sex or love whatsoever; she is a sexual anorectic; she has no drive, not even a lesbian one. She is clueless. Her desire to set up housekeeping with a woman is not sexually based; it is commercially based: she would have a shopgirl in the tobacco store. So the character loses more and more identification as the film goes on. And Close falls into her old trap of making the character she plays holy with happiness in a beach scene in a dress. Setting all this aside, the film itself is a deep and vital investigation of hypocrisy in action in us all. And worth seeing for the three great actresses at the top of their bent in it. Don’t miss it.

 

Come And Get It

06 Jan

Come And Get It — directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler. Romantic Drama. A proto-lumber-tycoon deserts a girl and twenty years later falls for her daughter. 96 minutes Black and White 1936.

* * *

When Sam Goldwyn recuperated from his operation and saw the footage Hawks had shot of Edna Ferber’s novel he hit the bedpan, which flew into the fan, and Hawks walked out. So Wyler filmed the last quarter of it, and you can’t really tell, because the great Gregg Toland was filming it, and he controlled the art of the thing. What Goldwyn didn’t like was that the first of the dual female roles had been turned from a mousy barkeep to an impudent chanteuse with a mind of her own, a Hawks type, and Goldwyn had given Ferber promises. The girl is played beautifully in her first major role by Frances Farmer. She’s a cross between Maria Schell and Jessica Lang (who later played her in the movie Frances), and she is very good indeed. She’s a glorious milkmaid, as both the mother and the daughter. As the mother she ends up with Walter Brennan, an actor of great imagination, in the first of his three Oscar winning roles. As the daughter she ends up with Joel McCrea, who, as always, is excellent in the comic scenes. The one she does not end up with is Edward Arnold who has the lead, in what would have been Hawks’ King Lear. But Arnold does not have the latitude for a role this size, and his performance illustrates the weakness of perpetual determination as an acting method. He has his guns and he sticks to them; the problem is that they are guns. He plays out the role, but we never sympathize with his folly, as we should if we are asked to witness it. (Hawks originally wanted Spencer Tracy, who might have been marvelous.) Remarkable and famous scenes in this picture make it worth seeing and studying. Robert Rosson who was Hawks’ frequent second unit director went to Canada, Wisconsin, and Idaho and took the amazing logging sequences with which the picture begins. And there is a spectacular branagan in a saloon with round steel table trays being skimmed into mirrors and clientele. And, of course, Toland’s camera work is a study in itself.

 

 
 
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