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Archive for the ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’ Category

The Memory Of Two Mondays

09 Jul

The Memory Of Two Mondays – directed by Paul Bogart. Drama. 88 minutes Color 1971.
★★★★★
The Story: A teen-ager starts a job to pay his way to college and finds himself in the company of co-workers who, by the day he leaves, have changed radically.
~
It’s the 1930s and everyone is holding down his job for dear life, even though work may be soul-searing and dull. Arthur Miller who wrote it about his youth gives us an introduction to it, for it’s a memory piece, like The Glass Menagerie, and all the better for that.

Everyone is stirring and interesting, and some of the characters seem fated and are not and some seem not and are. But the deliciousness of it is the acting by all these New York actors at the peak of their gifts. One saw them on the New York stage in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and one found them again in film and tv, and what wonderful actors they were.! How they always surprised! How they always delighted! How generous they were in their technique.

Estelle Parsons as the blowsy accountant sets the show in motion. Jack Warden, perfect and rich in one of his died-in-the-wool crudes roles. Bernard Hughes, a magical actor at all times, as his drunken crony; we saw him in Shakespeare In The Park in those days in big leading roles. And there was J.D. Cannon whose dark male voice held the stage as Shakespeare’s heroes, here playing an ossified drunk, whom his co-workers try to save from self-destruction.

George Grizzard plays the sales manager with every single car part’s place in the warehouse tragically memorized along with every part for every car ever made. Harvey Keitel is listed as prominent in the cast, but his part is minute; 45 years ago, this would have been right. Tom Hamilton is lovely as the Irishman who wants the dingy windows cleaned, and then is horrified when he gets his wish.

This is an immaculate cast and one is grateful to see its immaculate preservation. It’s part of the priceless Great Performances TV Series, among which we have Lee J. Cobb and Mildred Dunnock and George Segal in another play of Arthur Miller, Death Of A Salesman.

Every film in this series is worth exploring. And this one is particularly for the big-hearted work of those fine New York actors in their heyday.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, DRAMA, Jack Warden, Kitchen Sink Drama

 

12 Angry Men [Henry Fonda Version]

26 Aug

12 Angry Men [Henry Fonda Version] – directed by Sidney Lumet. Courtroom Drama. A hung jury unhangs themselves. 96 minutes Black and White 1957.

★★★★

Three years after the Robert Cummings original TV version, Fonda produced this film, and it didn’t do well – except in Europe where it took off. One wonders why it did not do well here. It was a small film put into huge release, and well publicized with a big star. Perhaps the American public had seen it done quite well on TV already in the Robert Cummings version, and, without subtitles, the Europeans hadn’t. It caught on later.

One trouble, might be Henry Fonda in the Robert Cummings role. Fonda is not an ambiguous actor. He is a good guy actor, so the audience would expect him to win out over this bunch of sweaty bigots, and this would undercut the suspense., Or perhaps Lumet’s treatment of the jurors as individuals, rather than as a mass grouped against Fonda worked less well.

At any rate, we do have Jack Warden stealing every scene by his clever and apt use of props. As to the other actors, Lee J. Cobb, as usual, eventually overplays his hand, which Edward Arnold in the same role, for once, did not.  Jack Klugman is a study in actor-attention, Joseph Sweeny is even better than he was in the first TV version, Walter Abel was more rich and active in reserve than E.G. Marshall who sulks.

The sopping heat of New York City in a summer downpour is not followed through, and is, in any case, a superficial outside pressure. None of them play a frantic desire to get out of that sweltering, un-air-conditoined room.

I did see it in 1957, and I was mightily impressed and moved, partly because of its grimy, paint-peeling setting and un-Hollywoody, Method-type actors,  and the theme of common justice. When critics say a picture has not weathered well or stood the test of time, that probably means that the critic has not. Have I lost my ideals? If so, blame it on me that I now see the fault lines in the piece. How did Fonda buy that knife? How could they calculate that elevated train ride? Why would they notice the glasses line on that woman’s nose?

Well, the charm of the piece is that it is actually a detective story, with Robert Cummings and Henry Fonda and Jack Lemon (in a later TV version) all playing Sherlock Holmes to eleven prejudging Dr. Watsons – while never leaving the room. As a detective story it’s a pretty good one. As a young idealist of 24 I rejoiced to see justice done. Now I am more interested in the truth of the casting, so while there is something to be said for each cast, I prefer Cummings in the leading role over Fonda. Fonda has a beautiful face, but the emotional affect of a small town druggist. I find him flat, dull, and slightly self-satisfied. So his is a prescription rather than a performance. We shall see what Jack Lemon brings to the role. Then we shall know all there is to know, shall we not?

Henry Fonda, Lee. J. Cobb, Robert Webber, George Voskovec, Ed Begley, Joseph Sweeny, Edward Binns, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, John Fiedler, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman.

Robert Cummings, George Voskovec, John Beal, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold, Joseph Sweeny, Paul Hartman, Bart Burns, Lee Philips, Norman Fell, Larkin Ford. 

 

 

Whistle Stop

06 Mar

Whistle Stop — directed by Léonide Moguy. Drama. A femme fatale returns to the small town she came from and plots gather around her. 85 minutes Black and White 1946.

★★★★

George Raft was the stupidest person ever to become a movie star. Here he is again with his mausoleum eyes, mask of monotone, and tie-tucked-into-the-belt paunch. His constant implacability made him a star. Here he plays a small town moocher whose girlfriend returns from the big-time and he finds he still can’t live up to her. But who in the world ever could? She is Ava Gardner after all. Ava knew she could not act, and I imagine she was seldom wrong about anything. She wants the big time, and, goodness knows, a girl like that deserves it, indeed can hardly avoid it. Gardner is very well cast. There is often a girl in every generation or so in every small town, who drives men crazy with lust. She can’t help it; she was born that way. I won’t name the one who was mine, but I would offer her my hand to this day. Such was Ava Gardner and such does she play, and not play badly either. Granted you can see her pause to remember her lines, but then so does George Raft. And it is true that they goddess her up with smashing clothes, which she wears like a dream. They alone are worth the ticket of entry. Victor McLaglen plays Raft’s dumb buddy and he has sensational scenes, which I won’t spoil for you by previewing. He had already won an Oscar for The Informer, and looking at him you wonder that he is an actor at all, but he is, let us say, a type of actor. A thing. Wallace Beery’s follow-up. We have Charles Drake and also Carmel Meyers, famous silent film vamp, excellent as the madam. The picture also gives us Florence Bates in a homey mother role, and it’s nice to see her out of the tiaras of society dowagers and in an apron making stew. She’s very good. Tom Conway is the villain with the mustache and that killer look of destruction in his lower eyelid, possessed also by his brother George Sanders; he is Raft’s vile competition for the favors of Gardner. And, well, it’s all a stretch, as you can see, but absolutely watchable. It was a B-film, but her presence in it led immediately to The Killers, which made Gardner a superstar. Before that she had tiny parts or walk-ons from 1942 on. The fact was that once on the screen, here, in a great big part with her hair like that, there was no watching anyone else whatsoever, bad actress or not. It was clear that with Ava Gardner acting was immaterial. Even trivial. And, ah, she is 23! She was just starting. Looking at the woman, you knew right then she was never never going to play mothers. When her career was over 45 years later she said she had never done anything in film to be proud of. Too bad. In that she was wrong. For she was, if ever there was, the very thing we always wanted from someone: The Proud Beauty, her chin lifting just so as she enters a room with an expectation for delight as she crosses it. Someone we can admire from afar; someone who was made for that.

 

Enemies, A Love Story

05 Mar

Enemies, A Love Story — directed by Paul Mazursky. Drama. A widower who has remarried and taken a mistress finds himself predicamented with the reappearance of his first wife who has not died after all. 119 minutes Color 1989.

★★★★★

I have not seen all Paul Mazursky’s movies. But they all have the ring of truth in them, even such appalling nonsense as Tempest. Do I make myself clear, then, when I say that I have seen enough of them to want to see them all, but nevertheless do not look forward to seeing any more of them because the one at hand here must be his masterpiece. I have three complaints about it. The first is that I do not understand how any of the characters make a living. The second has to do with the fact that the relation of these characters to the concentration camps, which all four characters have survived, never works, never happens; in the novel it probably does. And the last is that Ron Silver is gravely miscast, for he is a cold actor. He would be perfect for Mamet which Mazursky discovered him performing in New York, but not here. Inside him is complete ice. This does not make him a bad actor, for he is a very good actor, even here, and I have always enjoyed him in other parts, playing those ferocious lawyers and intellectuals at which he was so good. Here he has passionate relations with three women, and he relates to each of them sexually and to each as a predicament, but never to any of them as women, as human, not once. You don’t even know that he actually likes women. The story, the script, has to tell us that he cannot make up his mind; it is never revealed in him. He is always on remote. Or rather, since he is not telephoning in his performance, he is always removed. The film achieves its greatness because of all the female actors, which include Judith Malina, Margaret Sophie Stein, Lena Olin and The Great Anjelica Huston, the last two of whom were nominated for Oscars for this film. Huston has the greatest scene in the film; I won’t tell you what it is; you will have no trouble recognizing it once it is before you. Lena Olin brings into being a woman so sexually vibrant she drives men crazy – because she is actually crazy. It is a performance remarkable for its explosiveness and for the unwavering courage of the actor to bring her to us. In her power, talent, and smile, she reminds me of the great Judy Davis.  What first struck me about this piece was how exactly right the director and designer got the period of 1947 over forty years later in 1989. I lived in Queens in the 40s, I knew those dingy apartments, those fire escapes, those laundry-draped streets, the cramped shops with their smells and the sidewalk life, and the God-awful summer heat. I remember Coney Island well from those days. In the extras, Mazursky tells how he did it, and this was fun for me to see. His production designer, Pato Guzman, deserves highest marks for the interiors. They are exactly right. They don’t look like sets. They don’t look like settings. I remember every one of them. They were 1920’s places actually, for none were built during the Depression, of course, and none, of course, during The War. Anyhow the story pinballs the Ron Silver character around between the women, all of whom he can sexually gratify but none of whom he can satisfy by finally choosing. That is the comedy and the tragedy of the Isaac Bashev Singer story and the actresses and the director, the photographer, the editor, and the scorer have made a masterpiece. Is this a recommendation? You choose. Me? – I’ve said enough.

 

 

Clash By Night

21 Oct

Clash By Night — Directed by Fritz Lang. Kitchen Sink Drama. A woman who has married a decent dullard falls for a hunk of trouble. 105 minutes Black and White 1952.

* * * * *

It is not film noir; it is kitchen sink drama of the kind that Chayefsky was writing and that was all over live TV at the time. It’s by Odets, and later even the great Rita Hayworth appeared in one of these KSDs, Story On Page One, also by Odets. This version is excellent and Bogdanovich and Lang himself do the Extra Features voice over, which is an education and a treat. We have here a strong story, well acted by Robert Ryan as the cad and Barbara Stanwyck, although not by Paul Douglas who plays it for pity – never a good idea. Marilyn Monroe as a small town girl is wonderful in all her scenes and different from the lollypop she often was shown as later; here she’s a fish-scaler in a Monterey cannery; she’s wonderful in a scene where her boyfriend tells her off. Kim Stanley, Lloyd Bridges, and E.G. Marshall made a TV version of this a little later, and it’s interesting to compare the scripts and performances. For one thing, Kim Stanley is better at playing a mother than Stanwyck because she was closer to childbearing age. But here Stanwyck is wonderful as the beaten-down, been-away-for-years failure. And why is that? Because Stanwyck is the least beaten-down person on the planet. In both versions the false naiveté of the husband stretches our gag reflex. But the piece has its power. In the case of Kim Stanley it is the power of a woman whose sexual capacity is stifled by her circumstances and has no way out but toward the arms of a rotter. In the case of Stanwyck, it is her natural power that is stifled with the same tragic result. Odets was a master at dramas of humans with no natural outlet. The ignorant armies are inside us. We are in the land of lower-class melodrama here, and in this case, I can think of far worse places to be. Fritz Lang’s work is always worth seeing.

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God’s Little Acre

01 Jul

God’s Little Acre – Directed by Anthony Mann. Tragicomic rural drama. A farmer spends fifteen years digging for gold on his farm instead of farming while all his children go to pot and pieces around him. 118 minutes Black And White 1958.

* * * * *

Celeste Holm had seen The Misfits the day before at the Roxy. “You coulda shot moose in there,” she said to me. (Gable and Monroe were dead before it opened; no one wanted to face the ghosts of gods.) “She can’t act,” said Celeste Holm. If you wonder what she meant (she had been in All About Eve with her) take a look at Monroe in the clip in Roy London’s film where it is obvious that what she brings to a simple scene of buying a train ticket has nothing to do with acting but everything to with being. Listen to what London says. She brings something enormous onto the screen, but, no, she cannot act. Robert Ryan really falls into the same category, and one can see why he was cast, in place of Walter Brennan, a much greater actor. Aside from Ryan’s good looks and his ability to foist a certain eccentricity off on us, one sees an actor always pushing his effects, sometimes slightly, sometimes hugely – but one also sees something awkward and helpless in him. Something touching, just as there was in Monroe, and such a quality can carry an entire film, and this Ryan does, whereas Walter Brennan (three-time Oscar winner) might not have been able to. As to the material, Erskine Caldwell is the greatest short story writer this country has ever produced, and Faulkner and Hemingway and Dos Passos, all name him the great novelist. Commercially more successful than all of them combined, his work, scandalous in his day, is not much read nowadays, but modern Southern literature is unthinkable without it. It ought to be read: it’s very very funny. It’s the ashcan school of writing, the Southern poor – and, boy, are they comical sticking their tousled heads out of those ashcans and pursuing their comic obsessions to and beyond the limit! I would never have dreamed of casting Buddy Hackett as Plato, the man-who-would-be sheriff, but he is superb. Aldo Ray, going to fat and perfectly cast as the going-to-fat lecher for Ryan’s tasty daughter, brings lust to the point of tragedy. The scenes between him and Tina Louise are inconsolably sexual and steamy. But Aldo Ray is really lower class; Ryan isn’t. He’s best as a criminal in a business suit. So the whole enterprise would be just slightly off if it were not directed by Anthony Mann (director of Jimmy Stewart’s fine Pie Westerns) and beautifully filmed by Ernest Haller (Mildred Pierce, Gone With The Wind, Rebel Without A Cause), and scored by Elmer Bernstein. And so instead, we have a masterpiece of cotton gin art, one to be seen and, surely Ty Ty, heard!

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Somers Town

10 Mar

Somers Town – Directed by Shane Meadows – Comedy. Two 15 year-old boys, one a runaway scamp from Scotland, the other a shy Polish photographer, fall in with one another and fall in love with the same pretty waitress. 71 minutes Black and White and Color 2008.

* * * * *

This highly acclaimed film brought the work of this director to the pleasure of my attention, and I can do nothing but say, Check it out. The style is old-fashioned kitchen-sink, and at first I found it, as I do a lot of kitchen-sink drama, tedious. It also seemed to be played by two kids whom the director had dragged in off the street – we don’t want any more Andy Warhol in our lives, do we? But as soon as Perry Benson showed up as a scallywag street vendor and as soon Ireneusz Czop showed up as the father of the Polish boy, I had to revise my attention of the boys, for both older men are experienced actors of the first class, which is to say they are accomplished improvisationalists and, from the background of their own characters, can respond fully to the situation and persons around them. Thomas Turgoose plays the runaway as a lad of shrugging indifference to any feelings about his lost state, and Piotr Jagiello as the Polish boy is too ingrown to have any feelings. But is what is really true is that neither young actor is operating on a ground of back-story. They are simply operating on a ground of present being, which is why they appear flat and dull and apathetic at the start – which is exactly what they are supposed to be. When they join up, it is not their acting but the strangeness of their relationship at all that keeps one watching. How can these two people have a single thing to say to one another? Yet they do. For the plot dictates that they must. Their doings and their truancies become quite droll. And I soon realize that I am in the hands of a director who has considerable skill in achieving his ends. Improvisational acting usually dooms actors to falling back on their shtick. That simply means that in the long run the performers are too hardened in their response-capacity for anything actually to happen to them; they are not really playing characters; they are not really playing themselves, either; they are playing something that, in real life, is merely socially useful. And without imagination acting is useless, crass, and dull. Art, as always, lies in the imagination. What the director Shane Meadows has imagined is an arena in which imagination can take place, and that freedom grants the film its charm, its humor, and a place in which the audience can meet up with what is going on and respond. Elisa Lasowski as their light o’ love, and  Jane Dickie as a kindly acquaintance complete a perfectly cast and realized short film. Somers Town is a London ‘hood.  This is a tiny, telling vision of it.

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All Or Nothing

28 Feb

All Or Nothing – directed by Mike Leigh – Drama. Neighbors in a London project come to grips with their futures. 2 hours 8 minutes Color 2002.

* * * *

Don’t you love Mike Leigh’s films? Such a storyteller, isn’t he? In this one we have Timothy Spall and Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville and a bunch of other fine actors giving us full value in a beautifully directed story. It’s the story of a group of people stupefied by their circumstances. It’s one of those pictures you cannot put down – until … Until the crucial event which takes it into the realm of the lachrymose. Of course, Leigh has great tolerance for sobbing women. Brenda Blethyn was the champ sobber. And in this film he lets Lesley Manville start to cry in the last reel and never stop.  There’s two things wrong with that decision. The first is that weeping is quite out of character for the woman we have watched for an hour and half, a woman absolutely dumbstruck by the barriers of her life, a woman staring into desolation; she’s in a state too deep for tears. Her instinct might be to grow ruthless; her instinct would not be to drench everyone in sight.  To dissolve into the piteous, is not the way she would go. The second thing wrong with it is that Timothy Spall has a crying scene at the same time, and you can’t have two people crying at once; they cancel one another out. But there’s a missing washer in Manville’s tap; she never stops dripping, and it fouls Spall’s scene. She can be a great actress and is so in the early part of the film, but it’s an example of an actress turning on her technique and losing her character. It’s really the director’s fault for allowing it. The scene also is badly edited. It should not be edited at all; the camera should remain entirely on Spall, and then let’s take a look at the wife’s response. I think Leigh loses his way with this material; he wanders into a sentimental rapprochement, and somehow I don’t think that’s the road to trudge here. But until then it is a heavenly picture, a cast beautifully rehearsed and free. Spall is Humpty-Dumpty after the fall, a wonderful performance of a brained man. The extraordinary Sally Hawkins is also fully present as the locale slattern, and what could be better than what Ruth Sheen has to offer? Nothing that I can think of. See it. Make it part of your Mike Leigh collection.

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