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Archive for the ‘WOMEN”S WEEPER’ Category

Winter Meeting

29 Jun

Winter Meeting – directed by Bretaigne Windust. Melodrama. A WW II hero courts a well-to-do spinster and breaks down her barriers to love. 104 minutes Black and White 1948.
★★★★
In its day, the picture was not successful, in the sense that other Bette Davis vehicles had been, which does not mean it lost money. It was concurrent with Davis’s huge salary boost to over $10,000 a week, and she is worth every penny of it if quality of performance is any standard. She is wonderful from beginning to end. It is not one of her bitch ladies, such as she crowded out her career and her talent with by playing for the last 40 years of her acting life. It is a quiet performance of a subdued intelligent woman; her transitions from mood to mood, from reception to speech, are an acting lesson to behold. She is always present and she is always free.

She talked about this film as the turning point of her career. One wonders what she meant. Did she mean she no longer looked young enough to hold the screen to a romantic possibility? She certainly looks great, though: she has lost the weight from her pregnancy. Davis had her first child when she was pushing forty. She was a tiny woman and extra weight showed on screen. Here she is svelt and limber. She walks with elegance and ease. Her training with Martha Graham shows in every move she makes, both physically and emotionally.

The top-of-the-line Warner’s staff backs her: Max Steiner does the score; she is beautifully dressed, and Ernest Haller once again masterfully lights her. Janis Paige and John Hoyt and Florence Bates support her.

But Davis said later that she should have gone to Hal Wallis and told him to shelve the production because it wasn’t working. What she meant by that may have related to James Davis as her leading man. They couldn’t get the actors they wanted, so they used an unknown. But, seeing it now, James Davis works OK. He’s not a conventional Hollywood handsome guy. He’s massive; his eyes are dark, recessed, and unreadable. He looks like he’s going to off the deep end, and that works fine, for indeed he is playing a troubled soldier hiding more than one bad secret.

In the course of their association, they have long talks, and these are intelligent explorations of their lives both now and before. Her tiny figure next to his mass is arresting. She is a much better actor than he could ever have become, or rather his style is that of a cowboy, so that you know that they would never really mate well, even had it all worked out between them, which I hope I do not betray your expectations by whispering to you that it does not.

But here she is at the peak of her powers, which in her case was very close to the end of them, and she is grand to watch, an honorable practioner of her craft.

 

Forbidden

19 May

Forbidden – directed by Frank Capra. Drama. 83 minutes Black And White 1932

★★★★★

The Story: A small down librarian heads for the high-life and finds true love.

~

Imperturbably soigné is how we usually see Adolphe Menjou, tailored so perfectly you don’t even notice it – except here we peer under the togs and find an actor of chance.

He had moved from playing betrayed and betrayer of husbands in the Silents, and now in the Talkies, we find a character with perfect diction and a well placed voice. All of which is to the good when his tuxedo gives out to a warm heart inside it. Surprise, surprise!

An unusual love story, pre-code, in which that heart is given to his mistress, played by Barbara Stanwyck, whose heart is also true. But Menjou can’t marry her, or won’t, he says, because he is already married to a woman he is indebted to. Perhaps it is the case that he can’t divorce and remain a successful politician. In any case, what we have is a story that rings true in its execution at every turn. All I know is I care for both these people and have not a single word of advice for either of them. All I can do is watch.

A triangle is completed by Ralph Bellamy as a muck-raking journalist, with a mean streak that gets wider as the years elapse. It’s not his usual thudding part, and he is very good in his crudeness, energy, and drive for Stanwyck’s hand. Surprise, surprise!

The story takes them through the years. They age. And things get worse for all of them as they do. Surprise, surprise!

Each scene is beautiful Their romance at night horseback riding on the beach is one of the most stunning scenes I have ever seen in a film. And the big confrontation filmed outside in a downpour is emblematic of the hardship true lovers will put up with to be with one another. Again – no surprise –  because all of it filmed by Joseph Walker.

And, also no surprise, it is written by Capra’s standby Jo Swerling.

Stanwyck is interesting, vulnerable, raw. When speech fails, Capra uses her as Silent actress, and she never gets it wrong, too big, too broad, too much. Always just right. She was one of those actresses who was greatest when young. Here she is 24. Her name is now above the credits. It will never find itself anywhere else.

She and Capra made four films in a row together. Then, years later, Meet John Doe, a collaboration of masterworks, as fresh and true in their execution and playing as a glass of milk at dawn.

 

 

Penny Serenade

11 Jul

Penny Serenade – directed by George Stevens. Women’s Weeper. A married couple try raising a family and are met with internal and external obstacles. 119 minutes Black and white 1941.

★★★★

If you can prepare yourself to suffer through the insufferable Irene Dunne and through this gluey soap opera, there are splendid rewards. Edgar Buchanan as the crusty sidekick and family friend has such perfect timing and governance of his instrument that none of it is noticeable. What a treat he is! And there is the beautiful Beulah Bondi as the adoption official. She hardly moves a muscle, but boy does that project itself as the truth of movement of each situation her character is in. Finally there is Cary Grant in another of his skillful light hearted rapscallion roles. There are movies Grant has not been particularly notable in, but this certainly isn’t one of them. He carries the film on the shoulders of his believability. You go along with it because he brings validity to every scene, a validity already in him. A true cinema actor, whose instrument defined screen acting for his era, modest in its effects, attentive, and personal. He plays in this film probably the greatest scene he ever played in movies. We do not think of Grant as an emotional actor, but it is a long scene, of great emotional power. Despite the fact the writing is banal, his sustainment and modulation of the emotion of this scene, which culminates in an enormously long speech is one of the greatest I have ever seen in film. Watch his body. It scarcely moves. Think of how Sean Penn would have over-miked it, good as he is an actor. In his life, Grant never won an Oscar, but was nominated twice; this was one of those two times. Dunne is 6 years older than Grant, and isn’t convincing as a 20 or even 30 year old. Grant and she had had two big successes together before this, and it must have been hard for her. She was at this moment in her career at the peak of her popularity, as a result of those two hit comedies. In her day the age of certain actresses did not necessarily count as determining their casting, once their hold on the public was secure. Dunne was never a jeune fille; she was a woman, in the way that Susan Sarandon always was a woman and Julia Roberts never has been. So, she was already a grown-up and could be cast as one, her real age being irrelevant. There is something to be said for her as a screen presence. Not having much of sense of humor helped her in being a foil for the rapscallions playing opposite her. She sometimes condescended to be lady, which was both ghastly and futile: Greer Garson had seized the throne. But, as here, she was one of the few stars who could actually play a good woman; Colbert could do it too. Loretta Young could not. Think about it. Meryl Streep could do it; Glenn Close could not. But Glenn Close could play a saint, and so could Loretta Young. If you want to see Irene Dunne at her best, see Showboat or, another George Stevens film the wonderful I Remember Mama, a perfect role for her, suitable to her age and stolidity, a part in which she is simply superb. She is a very good example of a hard-working actress who took her craft seriously and was sometimes moved by the tides of studio casting into waters where she could barely swim. If in this film she suffers too daintily, that may be as a corrective to the lugubrious nature of the material, a weeper, like her famous one with Charles Boyer, remade many years later with Grant and that other lady actress Deborah Kerr.

 

Adam Had Four Sons

31 Jul

Adam Had Four Sons – Directed by Gregory Ratoff. A governess raises four motherless sons happily until one of them marries a minx. 81 minutes Black and White 1941.

* * *

Fay Wray, who plays the mother who dies, said of Bergman, “Her heart was so in the film.  She treated the film as though it were the most important one ever done. I knew this was a girl who had to be an actress or her heart would surely break. She wasn’t working for the money, for fame, for success, even for fun, but because she had to be an actress.” And this Bergman said of herself, and it is certainly to her credit. But it is odd to contemplate how often she was seen as the same sort of actress, that of a stalwart milkmaid who is much put-upon. In role after role this is the character she plays. Ratoff directed her first American film; this is her second; the pattern is in place. And I wonder why? Why did people see only that in her? The role is not an inheritance of the females in film before that, for from Mary Pickford on most major female stars were powerhouses. Bergman, however, is always servile. Her endurance is there to carry her through many reels of her being abused. And her radiant smile is there to attest to her beauty. But just as she is almost always photographed three-quarters from the left, we only see her as hard-done-to, always only Joan of Arc. Here she is quite good in a film that is not. Two sets of four young males clutter up the screen with false exuberance and Warren William presents a stolid bourgeois father for romance. Bergman’s heartfelt relations with the boys is lovely to behold, but the story crumbles through too many of the same ingredients, the last being the introduction of Susan Hayward as a slatternly wife of one of them. She’s full of herself and very good. So is Bergman. You’ve got to hand it to her.  You may lament her casting, but her heart is in it.

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All This, And Heaven Too

23 Jul

All This, And Heaven Too – Directed by Anatole Litvak. Women’s Romance Drama. A mismatched royal couple takes into their palace a governess, despite all warnings to her not to enter therein. 2 hours and 23 three minutes. Black and White. 1940.

* * * *

She enunciates every syllable as though her tongue were pinking shears. Jack Warner sent down messages to her to cut it out. She didn’t. But he was right. No one talks that way. And such antics bring into question not what sort of an actress Bette Davis was but was she an actress at all. She had very little training when she left John Murray Anderson’s drama school to go off to play stock. She had appeared in lots of movies by the time this film was made and won the two Oscars she would ever win. She was 35. She was in her heyday, which would end with a triumphant clang in 1950 with All About Eve. She had come into films in the early 30s and made her way to Warner Brothers where she made a series of films that enraged her. She was always enraged. Sometimes it was hidden, as here. But it is still implicit. In the clipping of those clipped syllables. Was she an actress, or was she someone who was just so mad it carried a force-field around her that others called stardom. Was that anger what her female audience actually wanted to see, acting be damned, for she surely was a woman’s film star, and as such made a mint for Warners? Here she plays a governess of four children, and she says she loves them, and everyone says she loves them, but it looks to me that she is just doing a favor by being nicer to them than their dreadfully neurotic mother (a Bette Davis role), played with all out saliva in an Oscar-nominated performance by Barbara O’Neil, who had just come off playing Scarlet’s mother in Gone With The Wind. Davis has opposite her here one of the few strong male actors ever to appear with her, the great Charles Boyer. Davis never has a real moment in the entire film. Except one. Watch for it. It comes at the end of the long candle-snuffing scene. Litvak said this film, got lost in the decor, gagged by too many candelabra. I don’t think that’s the trouble. All Bette Davis’s films of this era are like this, like Hamlet. They are dramas about a single person; when Hamlet is not on the stage, everyone is talking about him. So here. Underlying everything, an ego swollen by anger mobilized to hide the fear that her own natural talent was insufficient to the task. All her fabled confidence is bravado.

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Under Capricorn

11 Jul

Under Capricorn – Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Costume Melodrama. An early 19th Century rake from Ireland is sent to Australia where he cleans up the marriage of a childhood friend and noblewoman now married to a rich peasant landholder. 117 minutes Color 1949.

* * * *

Not a suspense story, but rather one more along the lines of Rebecca, the story of a marriage threatened by a dark past, it is a film which rewards study. It was filmed, as was Rope, in long takes, looping through rooms and circling around and around, and it also involved the longest monologues you’ve ever heard, and it is good to hear them. The great Jack Cardiff filmed it, so it is velvet in motion. Looking wonderful in Regency costumes, Michael Wilding plays the playboy younger son out to make his fortune if he does not have to raise a sweat to do so. His long face moves so curiously that it’s rather hard to understand his craft as an actor, particularly when so many of his lines are rushed, as is the way with English actors of that era. It has five principal roles, three English, one Swedish, one American. Cecil Parker, Margaret Leighton, Wilding, Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman as his drunken wife. And it becomes obvious what is wrong with that mélange. Joseph Cotton is what is wrong, and it throws the entire film. He is miscast. He is supposed to be an ex-Irish stable boy who has married a milady, Bergman, well above his station. In the film, he is the one who suffers most, because of this class difference. But we never believe for a minute that he is a peasant. His opening moment is wonderful, as he enters a bank with a well-earned ruthlessness that has given him character. But he looses that thereafter, and ends up being just a middle-class American. Neither he nor Bergman tries for an Irish accent. Bergman always felt the public liked her Swedish accent, and she was right, they did. And Cotton just speaks American. Class accents are enormously important in distinguishing caste; Margaret Leighton is the only one who knows this. But the problem is that Burt Lancaster is not playing the part. (Of course there were no Michael Caines or Sean Connerys at that time.) Bergman plays her usual put-upon dame. She has no fight, she has no moxie. She never evinces the dash attributed to her. Being a victim was also what she figured her public wanted. She brings her peerless complexion to the character and a world-class charm in scenes with Cecil Parker. But the rest of the time she is making pastry. She brings a steady emotionalism of the role to bear, but was she ever deeply engaged emotionally in any part she ever played? In a way, I’ve got to hand it to her. There was something in her limited artistic imagination that allowed her audiences’ imaginations to fill in the blank. However, I found the film fascinating as a study of Hitchcock’s story-telling devices. Under Capricorn has been much maligned: notorious for not being Notorious. Instead, think of Rebecca and enjoy.

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Between Strangers

18 Mar

Between Strangers — Directed by Eduordo Ponti — Melodrama. Three female artists cold-cocked by three hateful men. 95 minutes Color 2002

**

Pete Postlethwaite in a perverse but effective choice plays Sophia Loren’s mean husband in a wheelchair, not as a weak character but as a strong one. This does not help the drama, however, for nothing can help the drama. There is Loren in a grey wig and a housedress and no makeup, a turn she has done as a young woman and certainly does well by now. But the script is flaccid.  Sunk under oceanic pauses, it crawls on. The camera stares dully at everyone and the actors valiantly attempt to supply the deficiency which means all they can think of to do is to hold back manufactured tears. What could be worse? The Loren Postlethwaite marriage is inexplicable, and its eventual explanation does not explain it. All the men are swine and all the women long-suffering weaklings, and there is no hope in them, miserable offenders. Mira Sorvino, another Oscar winner, is drained of interest by the one-and-the-same-person-director-and-writer, a master of inert direction, and also by the want of a tempered script and also, presumably, by Klaus Maria Brandauer, who is her father and who bullies her. All the fathers here bully the daughters, either into artist- careers or out of them. Brandauer is a wonderful actor and makes no bones about it. But Malcolm MacDowell, who looks the wreck he is playing, has nothing to work with except a series of wordless meanderings through the back alleys of Toronto. The actress opposite him, though she wears a witchy coat and hair-do, never convinces you that she hates him, though she certainly convinces you that she plays the cello, but that may involved a head substitution, as it did with Natalie Portman’s head on the body of Sara Lane, the ballerina who actually performed the dances in Black Swan. If you thought Black Swan was bad, see this, and if you thought Black Swan was good, also see this. It’s the same story of bullying male mentors and their wishy-washy daughters. While, as actors, the male mentors as actors come off far better than the women as actors, I personally would like to pull the trigger on every single one of them. John Neville and Gerard Depardieu also find themselves in this monotonous gallimaufry. The terrible mistake actors and writers and directors make is to believe that actors are actually something. They are usually not. They are usually not Edward G. Robinson. So you mustn’t ask them to appear and just be themselves. Either they can produce a star energy (such as Loren can generate, although, of course, not here because it would be out of place here), or they need a strongly written character to play — but to play themselves? — no. In acting the truth is never enough. If it were, we would not need to go to the drama for what only the art of the actor can provide.[ad#300×250]

 
 
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