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Archive for the ‘WARTIME ROMANCE’ Category

The Pacific

16 May

The Pacific – various directors – produced by Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg. 10 episode mini-TV series – drama 8 hours 15 minutes 2010.

★★★★★

The Story: Three marines and their comrades fight disease, filthy weather, bullets, burial, and the fanatic Japanese in the Pacific theater of combat of WWII.

~

I was 12 years old when The War ended, and I remember it well. But I remember mostly the European theater, because my parents were from England, and because Hitler, as an Aryan, was, to me, a more defined monster than the Japanese Hirohito, and because I lived on the East Coast nearer Europe.

But we certainly heard about the Pacific War, both on land and sea, as the troops stepping-stoned from atoll to atoll until they finally hit Japan on Okinawa.

I cannot recommend this series more highly than to say it is so convincing a picture of the guts and gore of war you may find it difficult.

I served in the Army during the Korean War, shipped there during the armistice. So I knew one ghastly feature of it – its tedium. The close quarters with other males for long periods of time has its merit and its murder. It brings out the worst and the best. And none of it is really anyone’s fault. It’s the situation that makes men nasty, hard, cruel, and violent as well as, in those same men, loyal, gentle, humorous, and true.

I knew none of the cast, but I was glad to see, once again, how wonderful our American actors are. I believed every one of them. I believe all I saw and could not imagine how the film-makers managed to recreate the massive landings and battles on those islands. But it sure gave me a picture of what those battles were like and what those men had to do to survive and prevail.

I take the series as a part of my education. And it is also a documentary drama of real soldiers, whose actual names are used, whose reflections we hear from them, and whose stories gripped me from beginning to end. I recommend it without reservation.

 

Marketa Lazarova

18 Oct

Marketa Lazarova – directed by Frantisek Vlácil. Historical Drama. 162 minutes Black And White 1967.

★★★★★

The Story: Clans feud in the dark ages in Czechoslovakia.

~

What does the word “great” mean?

What does it mean when it means nothing less than the most it can mean?

Let’s put it this way: this film is on the order of Beethoven’s 9th.  King Lear.

It is on the level of the best films of Tarkovsky, Rossellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizogichi, Satyajit Ray.

I don’t think I need to go on any further about it.

Great is the comprehending of that which is beyond comprehension.

I like that kind of thing.

The sublime. The profound.

The Grand Canyon.

Marketa Lazarova.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Know Where I’m Going

12 Sep

I Know Where I’m Going – written and directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Romantic Drama. 91 minutes Black And White 1945.

★★★★

The Story: A young British lady sets off to a Scottish island to marry a millionaire.~

It’s a very famous movie, highly popular world-wide, and one of a series these partners would bring out over the years, among which are Stairway To Heaven and The Red Shoes.

Wendy Hiller in her early glory plays the young lady, and she is an actress always easy to root for, because she’s so open-book and easy to read.

She is supported by a cast of interesting English and Scottish actors – for much of it was shot around the islands which it is about, and with a number of down-to-earth locals, plus a strong dash of English stage talent, among which is the startling young Pamela Brown.

I won’t tell you the story, because it is a fairy story dealing with a young lady who fancies herself to be a princess, and you know you have to experience such tales yourself and in person, or they don’t count.

But as you watch, you might take note of Roger Livsey who plays a Scottish laird. He is what in casting terms is called a leading man. And what a leading man does is support the star. The story is not about the leading man; it is about the star, in this case Wendy Hiller.

But just watch what Livsey does and does not do. From the moment he appears he presents himself in those aspects of the male which are perfect, which have no flaw, and which the star must awaken to. That is to say, he presents himself as loving her. And he does that by emanating the male courting energy – lyrical, attentive, caring, protective, devoted. He does not say anything, he does not do anything. He does not roll his eyes or gesticulate. He does not grab the dame unfeelingly like John Wayne, and he does not ogle her meaningfully like Clark Gable. They are stars; they can what they like. But Livsey is a leading man. He is masculine, is decent looking and has an interesting brown voice. His is a demonstration of male love evinced without a word. It is how men love women. It is a way that women seldom notice.

Because women are always looking for something else, something they have read about, or something their father didn’t give them, or something they have seen in the movies. But what a male really has to offer a female is just this, just what Livsey brings to the role, and all subsequent male love offerings partake of and come from this.

In doing this Livsey does only this. So that, as an actor, he is without eccentricity, defect, quirk. And that is what he is supposed to be, because those would interfere with the focus on the female star and her transition and her story. She has them, not he. He has character, wit, humor, grace, and the calm to act in a crisis. But all of that is only to support the story of the star. It is a true leading man performance, and a model of the type.

 

The Bitter Tea Of General Yen

15 Jan

The Bitter Tea Of General Yen – directed by Frank Capra. Drama. 88 minutes Black and White 1933.

★★★★★

The Story: A girl from a nice New England family is kidnapped by a Chinese warlord.

Nils Asther is certainly one of the more fascinating actors of motion pictures. The actor he puts one in mind of is Garbo. Like Garbo he was Scandinavian, and like Garbo he was very beautiful, and unlike Garbo he was called The Male Garbo – although in a way she was also the male Garbo. In any case, he is a power of subtlety as General Yen (oh, rightly named!) hankering after Barbara Stanwyck. He wears a brilliant make-up, achieved by shaving his eyelashes (which caused his eyes to bleed) and a viperish mustache. He smokes a cigarette so you know exactly what six things he is feeling at the moment, and you presently come to care about his soul, which is his main resemblance to Garbo after all. His eye make-up is so severe he never blinks.

For we are in the arena of miscegenation, and there is no doubt about the story playing upon our inner horror of mating outside our race. We wait out the story to see if it will take place. Oh, horrors! Can a white girl from a proper old New England family actually give herself to An Oriental? We are not dealing with preaching what is Politically Correct here. The film starts with the fine actress Clara Blandick laying it out flat: “They are all tricky, treacherous, immoral. I can’t tell one from the other. They are all Chinamen to me.” So we are immediately thrust into in the underground of our own natural prejudice.

The great character actor, Walter Connolly makes his film debut here in a ripping role, that of a scallywag financial wizard finagling the General’s power. His acting, his presence, and the writing of his part keep tipping the scales not just backward and forward but everywhichway, so our expectations are all a-tumble.

The great cameraman Joe Walker, who filmed many of Capra pieces, brings glory to the screen. His camera placements and lighting are a university education in camera craft.

The only difficulty is that Stanwyck is miscast as a girl from an upper crust New England family, for she is nothing of the kind and does nothing even to suggest that she is. She is common. Stanwyck brings her fabled honesty to the part, which she did all her long life, but that is not enough. But sometimes it was just enough, as here, but she never played deeply with accents, never learned character work. She brings herself at the moment. She started as a dancer so she brings physical certainty to her roles. There are never two things going on. If she says yes and really wants to say no, the “Yes,” will sound like “No.” She is without ambiguity, uncertainty, or subtext. But she is steady on. She has a fine voice for film and a face camera ready in any light and under any conditions. And, a rarer thing than you might think, she is an actor with the common touch. She never blinks either.

The film is magnificently produced. It cost over a million to make. It was the first movie ever to play at Radio City Music Hall (where it failed), and Frank Capra said it was his favorite film. The material is surprising and real, and the treatment unforced and free. It certainly is one of the most interesting films of the ‘30s.

 

Lust, Caution

28 May

Lust, Caution – directed by Ang Lee. Spy Drama. In the Japanese occupation of Japan a group of students become resistance workers determined to assassinate a high ranking collaborator. 157 minutes Color 2007.
★★★★★
After making Brokeback Mountain, the angel director Ang Lee returned to China to film this account of the late 30s occupation of Hong Kong and Shanghai. He avows it was to honor the history of the period, which was his parents’ time, and which would he feared be lost if some record of it was not made. But the movie is far more than ancestor worship.

As with all his films (The Life of Pi, et al.), it is an exposure of human nature under huge pressure, danger, and duress. I am loath to recount even the beginning of this story, because each episode is precious and unusual.

Rather let me speak for a minute about the cast, which, along with Joan Chen, boasts the highest ranking Chinese actors of our day.

Wang Leehom, the international Asian singer superstar, plays the young leader of the troupe. A beautiful young man, he captures the intensity of the boy, including his fatal lack of humor linked to a sexual restraint such as to make of them a plot device in and of themselves.

The great Chinese superstar Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays the collaborationist magistrate who is the target of the troupe. You would suppose you would respond to him as a villain. But the intensity, pain, love, perspicacity, fear, cruelty, and desire he evinces forbids any such condemnation as the full human being arises before our eyes.

The power and delicacy and sensuality of his playing take the story to excruciations of lust and fear – to a point almost inhuman where neither of them obtain. And with him rides Wei Tang as the femme fatale of the troupe, out to seduce and betray him. She is an entrancing female, subtle, lovely to behold, true, believable, and interesting in and of herself.

I say no more. I have said too much.

It is beautifully filmed by Rodrigo Prieto and has an infallible sense of period.

I saw it on DVD, which offers an uncensored version, It seems to me that the film would make no sense without the full bore sex scenes. Or at least insufficient sense. After all, the film is not a candy apple.

Highly recommended for grown-up viewing.

 

The Diary Of Anne Frank

28 Nov

The Diary Of Anne Frank – produced and directed by George Stevens. Tragedy. Eight people hide in an attic while vicious enemies roam the streets to find them. 180 minutes Black and White 1959.

★★★★

As a film it has lost nothing to time; indeed it takes on power by its set decoration and photography, for both of which it won Oscars. And these are the important Oscars for such a film, since they give to it the feel of documentary. Shelly Winters also won one, and Joseph Schildkraut, who had won one in 1937, who is marvelous, was not even nominated. Lou Jacobi and Gusti Huber, as Mrs Frank, had done it with him on Broadway, and their performances are fresh and strong. Diane Baker and Richard Beymer play modest characters with modesty; every moment tells; we never lose them; we never stop caring about them. With Winters, as an actress, her uncertainty tends to push her art. This makes her always intrusive, and so she is often cast as a pushy woman falling apart.

The use of the Cinemascope camera here in cooperation with a three-storey set, divided by verticals like bars, and the use of full eight-person ensemble scenes bring great strength to what is a director’s movie, which it had to be, since it had no stars and since the material is plotless and storyless, which it had to be, since it actually is a diary. So the direction is purely presentational and as such brilliant beyond expectation. We are never aware of “the direction;” nothing is showy; everything in honored that ought to be.

The difficulty is that one cannot identify with the actor playing Anne. She’s inhumanly pretty and she’s too old. She is never thirteen. In fact the actor was twenty, which is an entire time-zone away from thirteen. And there is something else wrong in that she looks like what she was, a young fashion model. Anne Frank was not a cover girl, but this young woman is a glamor-puss. (To see the part perfectly cast, see the television version.)

I don’t know what Stevens had in mind – a combination of Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn? Did Stevens think to draw focus to her because of her looks? Did he see her as a great new discovery? The problem is you don’t know what you’re getting when you hire an unknown inexperienced actor. Anyhow, the problem is not that she is a fashion model, but that that she relates to a camera in a fashion model way, a way quite different from a movie camera relationship. She knows exactly how to present herself “beautifully,” but that talent is irrelevant to Anne and disconsonnant with her as well. She is so pretty that she has long known how to use the charm of her looks to get what she wants and to get away with behaving as she wishes. Anne Frank was always “behaving” but to do so she had to summon something deep within her defiant nature quite different from the easy victories of a fashion model. Anne Frank was not “pretty,” and the scene where this beauty-actress has to fish for a compliment about her looks is preposterous.

Besides, Anne Frank was a truly funny person; this actress is not. Mind you, the young woman who plays Anne does everything well; she has a right to be proud of her contribution and her work, but, through no real fault of her own, the result of having her in it at all, is that, instead of what we do with the Anne Frank of the book, we have no one to get behind as a human, no one to identify with.

Tremendous vitality pressing outward from inside a difficult girl is the inner truth of the outer truth of the vitality of these eight people caged just because they are Jews inside that loft. Inside a tiny diary is hidden away, as are hidden these eight, the right to live! The injustice of the closet is the mark of this story’s greatness; the movie captures it and us. It is the greatest movie about being closeted ever made. It has not dated. It will never date.

 

Mrs Miniver

08 Jun

Mrs Miniver — directed by William Wyler. Drama. An average upper-middle class English family encounters WW II in their own back yard. 134 minutes Black and White 1942.

★★★★

The films of William Wyler won more Academy Awards for actors than any other director, two of them for this picture, which won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinemaphotography. Teresa Wright won it for Supporting Actress, and Greer Garson for Best Actress. She didn’t want to do it, and didn’t get along with the director, at least at first. But the fact is that she won the award more for the role she plays than for her playing of it. For neither the film nor her work in it hold up much any more, despite passages here and there. But it was an enormous hit during its day, and rightly so. Helmut Dantine, who rather looks like her twenty-year-old son in the film, is the vicious German, and despite opposition by Mayer, Wyler has him as a very nasty piece of goods indeed. (Mayer was afraid of losing the Axis market, if you will.) Dantine does a good job, but it is for the audience to play the scene where he appears in Greer Garson’s kitchen. Garson is merely moon-faced, unreadable, and this could be said of her performance throughout, except for a moment of humor here or there or the look in her eye when she cajoles Dame May Whitty into relinquishing a rose prize to Henry Travers, a lowly fancier. Garson always acted as though there were a powder puff in her mouth. She is always A Lady doused with English Lavender. My gracious, how gracious!  So her performance, here as elsewhere, is generalized, lacking in punctuation or particularity. Eccentricity is not hers. (One wonders how she ever got to replace Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame on Broadway.) But at the time this did not matter. She stood for something! And it worked. What she stood for was the ability of everyday people in the Allied home front to engage in the war bravely and positively. She was The War Effort. It was not just a case of The British courage; it was the courage of all people everywhere to endure the hardships of that time and win through. I lived through that time, and Mrs Miniver was the iconic film for it. Looking at it now, one sees how forced the humor is, and how false the Hollywood settings look, and how unquestioning the script. In it, Garson is a portrait, but not of a person. Her work is less than simple. Teresa Wright does just fine; Richard Ney’s performance is every excuse for his big-toothed smile to be promoted. Rhys Williams, Reginald Owen give good, useful supporting performances. Wyler and Henry Wilcoxon, who played it beautifully, wrote the sermon by the rector which is the film’s famous coda. But the only principal performance that stands up over time is that of Walter Pidgeon as Mr. Miniver. With his easy earthiness, his graceful humor, his physical practicality he grounds every scene he is in, keeping them from floating free in a story that does not exist, but which depends everything upon narrative liaison, in which, at least, Wyler is superb. Still it is Pidgeon one thanks. Watch him: he is always acting. He holds everything together. With the merest of means, he brings possibility for joy and real exhaustion and a witty taciturnity to the mise-en-scene. The passage in the home bomb-shelter in the garden is a stunning scene, that still works today; and his authority in it, that is to say, his deliberate modesty of means, contribute immensely here, as they did throughout his long and beneficial career. He was the most deft of actors.

 

Without Love

15 May

Without Love — directed by Harold Bucquet. Romantic Drama. An inventor looking for a place to work on an important WW II oxygen mask marries his landlady because neither of them are in love with one another. 111 minutes Black and White 1945.

★★★★

“Perfectly believable as an actor, “Elia Kazan said of him, “completely unbelievable in the scene.” So the time has come to call into question, what sort of an actor Spencer Tracy was and just how good was he.  Without Love is a good context to raise these questions in, and to raise the matter of whether he was really a better actor when he was not acting with Katharine Hepburn. This last is hard to tell, because she exerts a fascination of face, voice, and bearing that is as freakishly special as his is commonplace. Which means she draws focus whenever the two are on the screen together. So you don’t look at him. If you had to answer just What Is He you could say Just an ordinary American Joe, but if you asked the question, What Is She, you’d have to venture lots of answers. An actress and being of any depth would not be among them. And because she is not, she does not offer an occasion for depth in Tracy. He simply follows her suit, plays to her hand, defers to her gifts and lack of gifts, perhaps so as not to show them up and certainly also to level out with her into a balance of style and treatment of the material they shared. Here he plays a man who has been betrayed by a frightening floozy and has sworn off women. But do you ever feel his feelings have been hurt by this? Do you ever feel he is carrying around a wound? Do you ever feel what his relations to women might be, that he fears for himself in involving himself with one? No. You don’t. If he had supplied such a subtext, would that have defied the tone of Philip Barry’s play? What directs his choice to play the piece on the level he plays it – and he has a good many solo scenes particularly at the beginning? Does his swearing off women, off love, really ever cause him to wrangle inside himself, does it cause an interesting difficulty? Nope. He plays the story well he does not play the drama well. Perhaps he considered it beneath him. Was he just lazy? He is charming, fun, convincing, but he has nothing at stake. Katharine Hepburn made three movies of Philip Barry plays, all three of which she had already played in on Broadway. This was the last. Her experience with Without Love was an unhappy one, although it had a run. We find her good in some scenes, and not so hot in others. That she wears polka dot culottes is sometimes more interesting than her acting itself. And she a tendency to tremble that fine chin of hers and to confuse tears with depth of feeling, a habit that remained with her all her life. But she does a great monotone monologue in the proposal scene, and whenever she must be in command she is admirable. More than Tracy, she needs a good director and she does not have one. Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn, support them, and  Felix Bressart is all an actor should be in the role of Tracy’s mentor. Without Love is a curious story for the two of them to engage in, for their relations were non-sexual by this time, and they remained without love for the rest of their intermittent lives together. Is this Film As Unconscious Memoir? This is the third of their pictures. After the first and best of them, Woman Of The Year, they were never sexual again on screen and, in eight more films, never kissed once

 

 

Waterloo Bridge – 1931 version

17 Feb

Waterloo Bridge – 1931 version — directed by James Whale. Romantic Melodrama. A streetwalker finds true love in the devotion of a Yank soldier in WW I. 83 minutes Black and White 1931.

★★★★

Here is an actress one has never heard of – Mae Clarke – and she is giving one of the greatest film performances by an American actor you have ever seen. As I watched I though What a fabulous Blanche du Bois she would have made – far better than Vivien Leigh as the final faint flutterings of a burnt moth, or Jessica Tandy with her put-on airs of serial condescension – both of them English – whereas Clarke would have been a once-strong wounded bird really fighting for her life, and you would have known it. And you would also have known that Blanche was American, and so her mannerisms would have seemed all the more atrocious. Here she plays a chorus girl out of job in London, and she meets up with a Yank from Canada who has joined the British Army and is about to be sent overseas. For him it’s love at first sight. For her it’s love at last gasp. Clarke’s command of the set, a little room without bath in a boarding house, is a little masterpiece of the actor’s craft. She knows where everything is and how it works and what it does. Her choice to be natural and at ease when she is walking the street is smart, for she is torn apart in her scenes with the soldier. There is no ambiguity about this, for the choice itself is of ambiguity. She is electric with tension. And you can experience, as she does, the balance of being not yet hard-bitten. The story is from a stage play by Robert Sherwood, and it was to be made into another more famous film eight years later with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, and you will have to decide for yourself which is more powerful. I know where my vote goes. This version is pre-Code and more raw. James Whale (Frankenstein, The Bride Of Frankenstein, Show Boat, Gods and Monsters) directed it and Arthur Edeson filmed it, and all the setups reflect the bias of the time for shooting talking films as though they still were stage plays, straight on with a fourth wall missing. Actually it’s a system I prefer for stage plays. I do not hold with the fashionable notion that movies must be primarily about moving or about pictures and not about what people say. I believe pictures are exactly about what people say. All the rest is decor. Camerawork and movement may give narrative fluidity to those exchanges, but they are the oil, not the automobile. Douglass Montgomery is very good opposite her, and has a fiery scene opposite Ethel Griffies, terrific as a biddy cockney landlady. Griffies went on acting on the stage and in films until she was over a hundred; I saw her on the Broadway stage in Madwoman twenty years later, and twenty years after that in 1960 you can see her in The Misfits; here she seems already over a hundred. Frederick Kerr is very funny as a deaf English major, and now for your surprise and satisfaction, ladies and gentlemen, in her third film is Bette Davis in society girl frocks. What the film brings to us is what is left over from the mechanism of sex, the thing that won’t go away, which is the lost charm of love’s exchange. The film is a period piece, but, with Mae Clarke, a piece of art nonetheless.

 

Night Train To Munich

17 Dec

Night Train To Munich — Directed by Carol Reed. Boulevard Thriller. The daring rescue of an important Czech scientist brings his daughter and their rescuer into close shaves. 95 minutes Black and white 1940.

* * *

Carol Reed directed four great films, all fairly early on in his career, and so I saw this to see if this early film of his would add itself to this category. It does not. The great films are The Fallen Idol, The Third Man, Odd Man Out, and the greatest of them all: The Outcast Of The Islands, a film that I have watched many times, each time adding to its mystery and power. Later on Reed directed big Hollywood films of no particular distinction of content, such as Oliver, which is a lot of fun, and Mutiny On The Bounty, which is an albatross. But this piece is a War Film. War Films tend to fall between two stools: propaganda to raise one’s spirits and a story to harrow them. This divided energy is apparent here, and is understandable. But Reed, who even here is a great technician, stalls the story with Basel Radford and Naunton Wayne, popular from The Lady Vanishes by the same screenwriters, in flat comic interludes whose pauses drain them of humor and dampen the momentum. And Reed also offers us a gunshot finale that beggars credulity. It stars the pretty and accessible Margaret Lockwood, and the mercilessly highfalutin Rex Harrison, who brings his mastery of querulous irritability to play three separate parts, none of them convincingly but all of them entertainingly. He’s not what we would call a responsive actor. Feed him a line and he will wait it out for the next opportunity to attack someone, at which he is a genius. He’s gin and bitters every time. He tips the picture into being a Boulevard Thriller, such as we later so enjoyed being led through by James Bond. Felix Aylmer and Roland Culver make us happy, as do all the British character actors on display. Brilliantly acerbic as a light comedian, Harrison is overshadowed in all his scenes by Paul Henried, who is really good as the antagonist. Watch Henried; look at his attention, his emotional foundation, and his carving of the character he plays into a believable human being, which Harrison, for all his personality, never is. Harrison was not a great actor but a great entertainer, and as such earns a high place in our admiration of human sacrifice. (The exposition by the biographers of Reed and the screenwriters is helpful, kind, and delightful.)

 

 

Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

* * * * *

It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

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The Reign Of Terror [The Black Book]

31 Aug

The Reign Of Terror  [AKA The Black Book] – Directed By Anthony Mann. Costume Thriller. A resistance member infiltrates Robespierre’s inner circle with a mind to save France. 88 minutes Black and White 1949.

* * * *

Should be called The Reign Of Error. I saw it when it came out, the bottom half of a bill that played Wednesday only, and I thought it was a lousy movie. I thought Robert Cummings a consummate silly and completely miscast as a swashbuckling hero. His big worried eyes – no. What got me in ’49 was Arlene Dahl, and she does so still, 21 years old and astounding. She had a beauty spot and she was a beauty spot. Anthony Mann, for once, gives the female a strong leading role, at times more proactive and more in charge than the males, and Arlene Dahl meets the acting challenge like the movie queen she is. (In profile, her face has, like Garbo, a recessed brow. Check it out; see what it does for her face.) Certain of Mann’s crew such as Charles McGraw and Arnold Moss turn up here and do darn fine work. The story lacks focus, or rather it has the wrong focus, or rather it has a mixed focus. Are we focusing on Freedom, on France, on deposing Robespierre, or on his little black book? The black book looks like a McGuffin with too much screen time. But we have Beulah Bondi to rivet us to any scene she’s in, and Richard Basehart, another Mann actor, as Maximilien Robespierre, and he always looked crazy, so why not? He is never out of his pasty white wig.  The picture lacks Mann’s big final chase scene down a narrow passage, and that wouldn’t have worked anyhow because the costumes are so capacious. Actually Robert Cummings now does not look as silly as he seemed then and plays his scenes with considerable interest and skill. The whole piece is Costume Pulp, but John Alton who filmed it makes every scene striking with camera angles that skew the point of view, just for the sake of it, and you feel Alton having a better time with the material than anyone else. Though Alton filmed it, it is not noir. At the heart of it, I guess it is still a lousy movie. I wonder what I expected in 1949. I know. A swashbuckling costume French Revolution picture filmed by anyone but the confining John Alton. That is to say, an Action Adventure quite the opposite, with the big open spaces of an Errol Flynn show. But to do that, you also actually had to have Errol Flynn.

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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.

* * * * *

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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