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Archive for the ‘WHO-DUN-IT’ Category

I Wake Up Screaming

18 Mar

I Wake Up Screaming – directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. Who-Dun-It. 82 minutes Black And White 1941.

★★★★

The Story: A young waitress is fostered by a promoter, and she rises into café society until she is murdered, leaving her sister to find out who did it.

~

Gary Giddens of The New York Sun called I Wake Up Screaming one of the most beautiful black-and-white films ever made. The photographer is Edward Cronjager, perhaps the most prominent member of a family of Hollywood cinemaphotographers (Seven academy Award Nominations). At this stage of his long career he is at Fox, and this is one of the first film noirs ever made, and, if you are to judge by its photography, it would be a film noir, with its strong use of dark lighting, angles for dramatic effect, rich shadows, and so on.

But I do not define film noir solely by the way a picture is filmed. My definition of film noir includes that but also must include certain subjects and two sorts of character must be in them. Either a leading male character, who is so troubled and angry he must move outside or beneath the law to realize his destiny. Or a leading female character who is disempowered and must also move outside or beneath the law. And it must be in black and white.

These films emerge from 1941 through just after The War until 1951 or so. In the case of the male character, think of them as written for returning soldiers who have seen in the war a life that lay outside all law. It has made them cynical, hard, pessimistic, bitter, cold, and almost ruthless. The same is true for the female character. She has been on the home front in power to run businesses, work in factories, or mastermind all aspects the home. At The War’s end, all this is stripped from her. She moves into something for which the word crime is a euphemism.

Very few films fill these strictures for content, characters, and filmed treatment. One of them is Murder, My Sweet starring Dick Powell one of the two seminal film noir actors, the other being Alan Ladd in, say, This Gun For Hire, The Glass Key, The Blue Dahlia. These men engage in relationships (sexually highly charged because of their coldness) with un-marriageable blonds, such as Lizabeth Scott, Veronica Lake, and the great Claire Trevor.

Few people will agree with this careful view of the matter. Actually I am the only person who has to agree with it and I do. And it has nothing to do with I Wake Up Screaming which is noir only in its remarkable photography.

Betty Grable’s career started two films before this, both  musicals, both in color. But this year, 1941, she was to make one color musical, and two black and white films – one a comedy, A Yank In The RAF with Tyrone Power, and Wake Up Screaming, a drama.

I mention all this not just because she was to become the biggest grossing female star of her era and one justly loved by audiences all her life, but because, having made these two black and white films, Zanuck, the head of Fox, said, because of her Technicolor coloring, he would never put her in a black and white film again, and he never did,. But he wanted to. He wanted her to appear as the tart in The Razor’s Edge, a part Anne Baxter won an Oscar for. Grable refused on the grounds that she didn’t have the acting chops for drama and that the public would only accept her in sequins with her legs showing.

It’s a great example of actor-folly in believing that what the fans wanted should rule. Carole Lombard had the same failing. She never made another serious film after George Stevens’ Vigil In The Night, in which she is very good. Grable also fouled up on getting to play Miss Adelaide in the film of Guys And Dolls, a part she was subsequently to do a number of times on the stage. Grable is perfectly fine in I Wake Up Screaming. She’s responsive, game – a good dramatic actress. And she’s Betty Grable, which means she is sympathetic and you immediately care about her.

Grable is top-billed but the story is really that of the Victor Mature character, and the focus falls rightly on him. People dismissed him for years as a hunky lower-class Italian, which he may have been, but boy is he vivid when he shows up, and he has no trouble carrying the film. He is actually an excellent actor, particularly playing lightweight scalawags. He’s alive, susceptible, and full of fun. Look at his eyes. Delightful performance.

To help him we have no less than Allan Mobray, Allyn Joslyn, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Carole Landis. But supporting them all is the remarkable Laird Cregar as a sicko detective. He is an actor worth seeking out wherever you can find him – Hangover Square, Blood And Sand, Heaven Can Wait, This Gun For Hire, and Charley’s Aunt. Very few parts but remarkable. Dead at 26.

So this is a particularly rich collection of talent, and the story because of them is worth digesting. These are the days before Elmore Leonard. But this is the sort of thing he would do, particularly as regard the Laird Cregar character. Dwight Taylor (Laurette Taylor’s son) adapted the novel for the screen. I say see it. It’s beautiful in its way, and, when you do see it, tell me, why does it have that title?

 

 

 

Where The Truth Lies

25 Apr

Where the Truth Lies – directed by Atom Egoyan. Who-Done-It. A pretty biographer falls into the hotel beds of famous comedian-partners. 107 minutes Color 2005.
★★★
I am going to discipline myself. I am no longer going to idly grab a movie at the library for any other reason but that I believe I will enjoy it – grab it out of curiosity or to fill a gap in my education or after saying, “Oh, here’s a minor Bop Hope comedy I never heard of.”

Not that I dislike Bob Hope; I don’t; but I am not interested in being an omnivore of movies; I reviewed over 600 movies in the past two years; I am stuffed.

Or rather, what I am interested in is the truth of acting. The craft of acting, which I myself have practiced a good many years – although mainly on the stage – is what I wish to offer here, insofar as I can perceive it. For I am not An Acting Mogul. I was only my own sort of actor. There are many other sorts. Almost as many as there are actors. I am humble before the craft, its difficulties, its delights. And I watch films because certain actors are in them. I love actors and acting.

Beyond that, I am interested in the work of certain directors: Raoul Walsh whom I am fond of; Elia Kazan whom I surrendered to when young; George Stevens, in the beauty of whose work I still become lost. There are many others, modern directors whose work brings a slant on and a veracity of life to my life. It is foolish of me to think that I should watch films to keep abreast with the past or the present. I don’t care about that. I watch films as I have always done, to save my life: as scripture. And to have a good laugh, which is sometimes the same thing.

This picture is beautifully executed. It is good to see Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon in roles so far outside their usual realm, and their imagination and vitality count a lot in the carrying power of surprising us here. Bacon is particularly effective in certain scenes, evincing a virility in seduction one has never seen before. He’s a hard actor to watch, however, because what lies behind his face is always so volatile, and because his eyes don’t match. I have always liked to see him, though. But one cares not a rat’s buns about the fate of him or of Firth or of any of the people in this picture.

The two comedians performing fund raising marathons on TV are dead-hearted pros. And the writing of the young college girl who is murdered betrays her character by having her ask for money for having witnessed a compromising scene between Bacon and Firth. It would be better had she been murdered simply for seeing it.

I suppose the film might have engaged one, if it had adhered to the regulation set down for us by Howard Hawks in The Big Sleep and had the female lead investigating the crime been played with the insolence required to shoulder her way into the lives of the comedians, and the wit to figure out who-dun-it at the end. But the actress cast is of a vacuous temperament. I suppose someone thought that her innocence and her naiveté would draw us in. But, you know, innocence is not very interesting. It is interesting in a child, but only because in a child it is inextricably and intimately aligned with a child’s imagination to improvise. Innocence lends infant improvisation its gas. Innocence is catatonically boring without its moment-by-moment inventive power. As Oscar Wilde said, “It is always wrong to be innocent,” and as Borges said of Oscar Wilde, “He is never wrong.”

I picked up the film because of its wonderful title. Somehow I’d heard of it, hadn’t I? The director had such an unusual name. Hadn’t I heard of him? Yes, but none of that is enough to spend time on a dime. I must watch myself. Loving watching movies as much as I do is a vacuous reason to watch anything that comes to hand. Forgive me.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, Colin Firth, Kevin Bacon, WHO-DUN-IT

 

The Thin Man Goes Home

18 Jan

The Thin Man Goes Home – directed by Richard Thorpe. Who-Dun-It. The city sophisticates in a small town offer murder and detection to it. 100 minutes. Black and White 1945.
★★★★★
This series was not really murder mysteries. but pleasing charades in which the audience colluded – which is why they were so enormously popular. The murders are inconsequential. But the poise of Myrna Loy carries everything forward. Or you might say that the terror-tone of the pictures was really determined by Asta, the faithful trick dog of William Powell. Or it might be set by Powell’s cavalier suits.

Or it might be that we are always reminded that we are watching a movie. Which is really what we came to the Bijou to do. We are in on the joke of Nick and Nora Charles. Flippancy was the comedy of the age.

Anyhow, we the audience certainly feel we are part of a marriage which is sexy and affectionate. And we also feel, although she rags him something fierce, that the wife really supports the husband’s work to a degree that she becomes really part of it. But everyone keeps his temper, until the wrap-up, when the dastardly killer is unwrapped in a series of explanations impossible and not even desirable to grasp. And we are all part of that too.

As we are part of the banter between Loy and Powell, here written by Dwight Taylor (son of the great Laurette Taylor), so we always feel part of the party. Yes, these two are New York Sophisticates; and we are not; yes, they drink more than regulation allows, and we do not (although not here; here, only cider), but we go along with their ride as to the manner born. MGM let’s one peek into a world that never existed. That is the MGM style in its heyday, which this is.

And MGM’s huge stable of fine actors is corralled into this piece to give it depth of talent if not of profundity. Harry Davenport, Edward Brophy, Lucile Watson. Minor Watson, Anne Revere, Leon Ames, Gloria DeHaven, Lloyd Corrigan, Donald MacBride, and that tiny mushroom of bashfulness, Donald (O rightly named) Meek. I look upon him with wonder. Year after year, in film after film, he played exactly the same part. Fumbling, uncertain, apologetic, timid. With his appealing Jiminy Cricket face, he performed perfectly, an actor whose skill we enjoy but do not explore. A cartoon. I wonder what his life was like. He could not possibly have been the thing he portrayed. But what? He died the following year, but not before having made three more films.

Along with the movie, on the extras, is an MGM cartoon. I only remember Warner Brothers Cartoons at that time, but here is a brilliant one (the Warners manner, true), so good it has the imaginative power of a nightmare, if a nightmare could be very very funny. It is The Type For Cartoons. Don’t miss it..

It affords a pleasing chaser to our visit with the Charles, in this their penultimate of seven excursions in the form.

 
 
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