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Archive for the ‘MILITARY’ Category

Fury

18 Oct

Fury – written and directed by David Ayer. War Story. 134 minutes Color 2014.

★★★

The Story: Tank warfare in World War II against Germany is the challenge which five tank members face.

~

The word cliché has become a cliché. For respect must be assigned to it as describing something importantly human. Important because humans use and become clichés so readily. For clichés are based on thoughtless, automatic repetition. Just as our heartbeats are. And so perhaps there is that in them which assures our safety and our immortality.

It is a case of a writer directing his own script – always a perilous thing to do – for a director cannot distinguish what should be cut, or what should be de-emphasized, or what is not so hot.

What’s not so hot in Fury is the power the director ascribed to what we have all heard and seen before, as though we could only entertain what reassured us. Fill in the cliché:

A: The stalwart leader of the troop, perfect in all his strategies.

B: The beardless recruit who will develop five o’clock shadow.

C: The beastly bully who turns into a cupcake.

D: The ethnic type, braver than Ajax

E: _________________________________________________

F: __________________________________________________

G: __________________________________________________

The result is that one feels nothing for this group of males. One feels everything for the situations in which they find themselves and the blistering, bewildering jump of war. But of the main characters? – nothing.

This is a shame for the subject is fascinating, and the workings of tank warfare a novelty. At least I had never seen a film devoted to a weapon so confined. All that is very good.

And the actors are very good too. Their regional accents are too thick, but who could surpass them? Michael Peña as the Mexican driver, Logan Lerman as the raw recruit, Shia LeBoeuf as the cannoneer, and especially Jon Bernthal as the bully. Brad Pitt at 51 is excellent as the sergeant in charge of them. It’s interesting to see him in a mentor role. He is so good a playing fools, that one hopes he does not have to abandon comedy for the gravitas of such parts – at which he is, here, nonetheless, excellent.

There is an interesting scene in the movie, in which he and the raw recruit intrude into the apartment of two young ladies. And into which the other men also intrude. The effect is overdone. But it’s too late now, isn’t it? War isn’t fought like that any more. It isn’t fought for love or for hatred. It’s valor wasted on oil. Monotony of emphasis is also a cliché. What we need is maybe this director. And maybe Leo Tolstoy to give truth and human humor and the particularity of actual war experience to the poor soldiers before us, instead of these holdovers from the days of Paramount Pictures of 1945.

 

The Railway Man

30 Apr

The Railway Man – directed by Jonathan Teplisky. BioPic. 116 minutes Color 2013.

★★★

The Story: A middle-aged couple’s new marriage is about to be sabotaged by the history of the husband’s prisoner-of-war experience under the Japanese.~

It is excruciating.

In two senses. One is that the film shows the screaming brutality of the Japanese, their demented rage, their maniacal beatings, their sadistic torture. I lived through that era and remember well “those dirty Japs,” and I wonder now how it was possible for a whole people to behave this way. Now that I say this, I must also say that I got this information from what I have seen in war movies at the time – and this one. But still, inside the Japanese then was the capacity of wolverines. A viciousness so extreme it may be, as suggested by one of its perpetrators here, that it came from their being told that the Japanese could not lose – a lie that triggered the chaos that comes from a sense of unbridled power.

It is excruciating also in that all this is prolonged by a narrative style that asks us to fill in blanks, which we do not have sufficient identification with the characters as given to do. But the real excruciation is the way it is filmed, which is in a sort of perfumed haze, so that nothing is quite immediate. It is as though the whole thing had been slipcovered in makeup like Joan Crawford. It is very pretty and you can never quite get to it.

The story tells of Eric Lomax, a young British radio operator taken when the English army surrendered Singapore. He becomes a car mechanic but conspires with his fellow prisoners to assemble a radio to listen to broadcasts. When the Japanese discover it, he takes responsibility. They torture him to tell what he was broadcasting. He is caged, water boarded, beaten. Over and over. That he survives is astonishing.

A back and forth narrative works well. The corny staging of the resolution does not work well, but is still affecting, and a great moral lesson inheres in it. But it does not inhere in the movie, because the movie lacks internal life. The structure does not correspond to the outer story. The marriage is set aside as a narrative force, for one thing, and for another Nicole Kidman as the wife is miscast. The wife needs to be more ordinary. Kidman, of course, is good, but the part needs to be played by an actress with a broader foundation.

The young Eric Lomax is well cast and played by Jeremy Irvine; he has something of the mouth and the speech pattern of the older Lomax. But, as the older Lomax, Colin Firth is a dead hand. I do not see anything in Colin Firth. He is an actor who just stands there and expects you to do something about it. I do not find him permeable. I do not find his face interesting or sensitive. I do not understand what others see in him or why he should be up there before me. I cannot be for him; I cannot be against him; I find him inert.

And I do not gladly fill in his blanks, nor the enormous spaces between speeches, nor the narrative lacunae in this remarkable story of a moral, brave, and resilient human being.

 

The Monuments Men

09 Feb

The Monuments Men – directed by George Clooney. War Drama. 118 minutes Color 2014.

★★★

The Story: A WW II mission to save works of art destined for destruction should the Nazis loose.

~ ~ ~

If ever a movie sank more solemnly under the freight of its miscasting, I have yet to see it. Art museum directors, curators, scholars, educators, archivists — George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Bill Murray, thou never wert.

If John Goodman was not obviously such a good actor, he might be convincing as a sculptor.  And if Jean Dujardin were not so helplessly charming one might root for his loss from a profession we never grasp. This leaves Bob Balaban, who might pass for an academic in the world of world art, Hugh Bonneville as a former drunk, Dimitri Leonidas as the German-speaking Brooklyn Jew, and Cate Blanchett who is thoroughly convincing as the Jeu de Paume curator who kept a record of the stolen pieces.

All the others, wonderful actors though they are, exercise their noble craft as best they may, imagining that the good will which backs our affection and admiration for each and every one of them will supply the deficiency of their being in the wrong parts entirely.

George Clooney is the main culprit. For he is producer, writer, actor, and director. It is as a writer he is first to be stripped of his medal. For he has given the men the most routine of male chat to move things forward. Silent strength – you know the sort of thing – stalwartness in red, white and blue. I once worked in the high-testosterone History Of Art Department of Yale in the early ‘50s, and the chat was not that.

As director he lets his actors go where they will, as they will, each of them basically falling back on their star masculinity to perform their roles for them. As an actor, Clooney reverts to his casual, laid back, insouciant manner, and lets tacit charm muscle a job which has no place in it. Damon falls back on his Everyman quality, Murray on his piquant personality; both are irrelevant.

As producer, the picture cost 70 million – although how so blandly round a figure is come at one wonders – and it made what is essentially a small movie about a large subject, into a large movie about a subject which is invisible.

For Clooney sermonizes that these works of art must be saved from destruction and returned to their owners because they are the golden fruit of Western civilization. Everything we are fighting for! A great “accomplishment” which must not be lost. What vulgarity! What nonsense!

The only reason these works of art should be saved from theft and destruction, much less returned to their owners, is their priceless and inherent beauty. All these rescuers were chosen for their dedication to beauty. But “beauty” is a word never uttered by Clooney nor by anyone else. It is as though the word “beauty” were unmanly. The entire adventure operates under the cow pad of this omission.

 

 

 

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

08 Dec

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo – directed by Mervyn LeRoy. WWII Drama. Four months after Pearl Harbor, Jimmy Dootlittle’s B-25 squadron mounts the daring bomb attack for which the airmen know they do not have sufficient return fuel. 138 minutes Black and White 1944.
★★★★★
What you have is a script by Dalton Trumbo who hypothesizes every scene into what he ideologically wishes it to be, so the script always floats slightly above the actors’ heads. They have to reach back into their Sunday School pageants to play it. But it does give Trumbo leeway for the scene where two men discuss whether they actually hate the Japanese and what it feels like to kill civilians. It’s good the scene is there at all, since it would have been a matter of discussion among troops. So “Anti-American” though; so Dalton Trumbo; so HUAC. After all a War is on! Loose lips sink ships! As usual with Trumbo, it feels at once startling and pat. An honestly acted liberal rant.

Not to be missed are terribly acted romantic scenes of Phyllis Thaxter who grinds every scene to a halt by her sparkle; she narrows her eyes and just glimmers away. You want to slap her. It’s a wonder Van Johnson can perform opposite her at all. You look at him being convincing and crown him with a halo: that he could act opposite Phyllis Thaxter and not gnashed his teeth once.

Spencer Tracy walks through the Doolittle role with his commanding presence merely. When you see him in the cockpit of his bomber in leather flight jacket, you want to laugh, and put him back in his suburban easy chair where he belongs and never left, not once, to do a little research about how it feels being a pilot.

But he has little to do, save deliver a few gritty speeches, and the film is well worth watching for the actual bomber training of these men, at the actual airdrome they did it in, and the tiny practice runs they performed of those huge wretched bombers in preparation for taking off from the minute flight deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. So quickly after Pearl Harbor too!

And we see the actual takeoffs on that day, for it was filmed at the time. They’d been spotted by a fishing boat and had to leave many hours too soon and farther from their targets, thus reducing the return gas in their tanks. We see the actual approach to Japan. We see them see Fujiyama. We see them skim low over the paddies. We see the actual bombing raid. All of this is thrilling and valid. For we are seeing the actual footage of it

Then we see how they had to fly to a base in China, which only one of them actually made. China was Japanese occupied at the time, so when the bombers landed or crashed, their crews were either taken by the Japs or hidden by the Chinese and spirited away to secret airfields where lovely and ever-resourceful DC3s flew them off in the nick of time.

The story focuses mainly on Van Johnson’s crew, among whom we find the refreshing face of Robert Walker, a terrific actor here and elsewhere. A big team of Oriental and American actors ably acts it, including Don DeFore, Robert Mitchum, Leon Ames, Benson Fong, Hsin Kung, Ching Wah Lee, Ann Shoemaker, Stephen McNally, Bill Williams, Scott McKay, Selena Royle, Alan Napier. Most of these appear in the adventure and escape in China. Harold Rosson and the great Robert Surtees filmed it. It is action/adventure as its most documentarian and thrilling.

 

Battleground

05 Jul

Battleground – directed by William A. Wellman. WW II Drama. A platoon experiences The Battle Of The Bulge. 118 minutes Black and White 1949.

★★★★★

Paul C. Vogel won an Oscar for photographing it, and Robert Pirosh’s script won one too, and they both deserve it. For this is a wonderful war picture in just those ways, the outlying ways, rather than the performance ways or the direction ways. Whoever was assigned the mise-en-scene deserved one too, for the snow and dirt and fog and filth are convincing and important in determining the grand irony of the Tolstoyan story which tells of a platoon of men in a great battle, none of those men knowing that it is a great battle, none of them knowing if it is a battle at all, none of them knowing even what country they are in. They move in one direction and lie down and fire their guns; they dig foxholes; no sooner are they dug-in than they have to get on their feet and move in another direction. They have no sense of a plan, or who is giving these orders, or why. They shoot at the enemy without patriotism and they lie back in the snow for a flicker of rest without repose. A great deal of the time is spent waiting, scrounging, scratching. I don’t know the time-line of this piece, but it was released in 1949 or 1950 depending on where you look, and this was six years after the events described, which is The Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne in World War II. The principal players are excellent, with Van Johnson as the loud playboy, John Hodiak as a GI with some breeding, and James Whitmore as the Sargeant. (Whitmore never breaks stride with his frost-bitten limp once he adopts it, which is a tribute to his craft.) But the little moments of the picture are as telling as the characters. One wants to know what is going to happen to them rather than who they are, which is just fine, but their walking around a dead body without comment, the disarray of their combat clothes, the pile of galoshes that don’t fit — these make the film a wonder and a reward. I have been in a war and carried an M-1, and the attitudes of survival shown here are real. Besides that, it was a big hit.

 

Reflections In A Golden Eye

14 Jun

When it first came out I hastened to it and saw it shown with Huston’s famous color correction for it meant for us to see the film as through a golden eye. This version was immediately withdrawn and regular Technicolor imposed. It still failed. Why is the eye gold to begin with? Because Anacleto, the fairy houseboy of Julie Harris, theatricalizes a peacock’s eye through a drawing made to correct everything grotesque – meaning we, the audience, are meant to be witnessing the story as grotesque and, through a golden eye, forgive it…I guess. Because that is not what happened to me. What happened to me was that I saw Brian Keith be the only sympathetic character in the piece, and Marlon Brando deliver one of the greatest acting scenes in all motion pictures. This is still true of that scene. At the time I also felt Huston was more interested in the equestrian scenes than in the story itself. I feel this is less true now, because what I did not consider at the time was that this material is not suited to Huston’s temperament and so the film lacks body. Everyone in the film is unfaithful. A highly puritanical, non, drinking, non smoking virgin enlisted man/stable boy, played in his screen debut by that wonderful actor Robert Forster, exercises the horses bareback and bare-ass in the woods where he also sunbathes nude. But he also creeps into the house of the Major played by Brando to ogle his wife as she sleeps, hardly an act of fidelity to the pure. Julie Harris is unfaithful to her husband by favoring her houseboy. Marlon Brando is unfaithful to his wife by lusting for Forster. His wife is unfaithful to him. Brian Keith is unfaithful to Julie Harris. But what the film may really be about is the human lens through which people see and do not see one another. I don’t know. I would say the film is thrown by the playing of Elizabeth Taylor, an untrained actress but one of great experience and one who is sensational in roles suitable to her natural instinct. Here she serves up Martha’s leftovers. She is shrill and technically broad, and a woman that beautiful does not have to be either of those things to get her way. The result is that it is a performance without repose. She throws the fact that her horse is a stallion in Brando’s face to cut him, just as she takes a riding crop to his face in a party after he has abused that horse. It does not convince. Gathering that her part is that of a bitch, Taylor lays it on thick. The result is over-painted. Elizabeth Taylor got what she wanted in life without gesticulating for it, and with her, lifting a finger would have constituted a gesticulation. Of course, the difficulty for Elizabeth Taylor would have been that in real life she didn’t know anybody. Unlike Patricia Neal, who would have been perfect in this part, who had a big Southern family, Elizabeth Taylor was jailed by her fame and so never met the sort of woman she had to play here. Her performance is not based on anything. Neither is her accent. Her performance is thus amateur. It would have been more interesting if she had played it against type, recognizing she did hot understand her husband, Brando, but still tried to. Julie Harris, on the other hand, is a treat. Watch her focus. Her ability to sustain attention is infallible, and Huston has the goodness to show it to us. The same is true of Brando, whose performance is somewhat garbled by his Southern accent, but even that seems justified by the primness that he cannot help but seek refuge in. It is a remarkable characterization. And he has this scene. Don’t expect a great movie, but expect great moments. It’s worth watching for them.

 

Objective, Burma!

06 May

Objective, Burma! – directed by Raoul Walsh. Action/Adventure World War II Drama. A company of soldiers after completing its demolition mission must walk two hundred miles through the Burmese jungle while tracked by Japanese intent on killing them. 142 minutes Black and White 1945.

★★★★★

Nominated for three Oscars, George Amy for editing, Alvah Bessie for writing, and Franz Waxman for the score, any one of them deserved it, but, apart from Raoul Walsh, the key genius in all this is James Wong Howe who filmed it. One of the great film artists, he brings a raw look to every shot, and every shot tells. Particularly in light of the fact that we always believe we are in a jungle in Burma, when, in fact, it was shot at the arboretum in Los Angeles and at a California ranch. The uniforms and equipment are authentic, not props and costumes, and the combat footage is actual footage from the China-Burma-India Theatre. So we get real parachute jumps and actual glider landing operations of that period, with tanks and trucks and troops pouring out of them in Burma, and takeoffs, too, which Howe’s footage and Amy’s editing match perfectly. Again Errol Flynn is Walsh’s star, and, with all the guns going off, and the peril of the jungle, the sweat, the hunger, the polluted water, he plays the leader of the slogging men quietly, modestly. The subtle shift in his eyes as he sees the dismembered bodies of his men is so great a film moment that we never have to see the bodies at all. Of course, while the other men grow beards during the long arduous trek, Flynn’s jaw remains shaved – but at least it is dirty, sweaty, and drawn. Walsh made many war films, and this is one of the most commanding World War II films by anyone. His supporting cast is admirable, with George Tobias as the company clown, Mark Stevens as the rescue pilot who cannot rescue them, Richard Erdman aged 19 playing a 19 year old, Warner Anderson as the young Colonel who must abandon them to their fate, James Brown as a doughty sergeant, William Prince in his first film, Frank Tang marvelous as the translator, and Henry Hull who speechifies his lines grandiosely, alas. (“All right, boys, no Hamlets in the jungle,” Walsh told them, but Hull didn’t listen. He was always that way, though; after all, he’d acted with Barrymore.) If you like action/adventure films, Walsh was the top director in his day of them. This is one of his best.

 

 

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin

23 Jan

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin. Documentary. The only color footage of The Allied Expeditionary Forces in the European campaign. 46 minutes Color Filmed 1943-45.

* * * * *

In early 1943, after Stevens finished the delightful comedy The More The Merrier, about the housing shortage in Washington, he enlisted. He entered the service as a major, went to North Africa with a crew towards the end of the fighting there, briefly went to Persia, and then to England, where Eisenhower assigned him to film the European campaign. He was in charge of a group which included writers already established such as Irwin Shaw and William Saroyan and a group of master Hollywood cameramen and technicians. All these proceeded to produce the black and white footage, which was then sent to London and made by Frank Capra in to the black and white movie documentaries with which we are still familiar as the film records of the war in Europe. It was clear to Eisenhower and to everyone else that the signal corps was incapable of doing a proper job of this. So Stevens and his “Stevens’ Irregulars” did it. However, for his own purposes, Stevens took along a 16mm home camera with non-fading color film, and these reels he sent home to his wife Yvonne in California as each was shot. They remained in Stevens’ attic until his son, George Stevens junior, translated them into this 1994 documentary. The D-Day landing is filmed as he came over to Normandy. He filmed the big surrenders of the generals, the liberation of Paris, the capture of 500 German prisoners, the largest underground factory in the world at Nordhausen where the V-2 rockets blitzing London were made, the entry into Dachau where the crematorium bodies lay in piles and drifts, the meeting of Bradley’s Twelfth Army with the Russians, Berchtesgarten Hitler’s mountain retreat, and then Berlin. Just as Stevens had made True Glory with Carol Reed and Garson Kanin in London which won the Oscar documentary that year, so he also stayed until the end of 1945 in Europe to make with Budd Schulberg the documentary The Nazi Plan which was used as evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. But all that is in in black and white. All of this is in color. There were over 38,000 prisoners at Dachau, 6,000 of whom were dying of typhus. Stevens saw it and filmed it, and when he came back to Hollywood never made a comedy again.

 

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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Run Silent, Run Deep

18 Jan

Watch what Clark Gable is up to in the opening scene and in the office scene which start this picture. In scene 1, complete application to the task at hand brings the character and the actor to fully believable life. In Scene 2, see how it is that the moment of bitter reflection that he choose as his opening move drives and authenticates every shift he makes in the scene that follows. Count the shifts. In one short scene there are 6 of them . This is a remarkable actor. Why did we take him for granted? Because we were used to him. Because his male beauty, because his mountainous masculinity, because his eventful facial features, and because his gravelly voice were so hypnotizing that one could not look past them to see the excellence of craft he brought to the work and to us.

This picture was made at the end of his career. He had four more pictures to make before his death aged 60. A smoker and a hard drinker (you can see the scotch in his watery eyes), he looks every inch his age but still he carries it well. Set against Burt Lancaster here as rival commanders of the same WWII submarine, it would take someone of Burt Lancaster’s particular immovable rock-deep foundation to stand opposite Gable’s authority.

Lancaster knew everything about film acting, but that is all he knew, for he was not a good actor. Like Cary Grant, from his early teenage years, he had been a professional acrobat. Through a chance coincidence he was cast in The Killers and at 32  became a superstar immediately. But he had the circus performer’s aesthete in him and it drove him: that inner and outer smile that hopes to please and to have pleased and that has nothing to do with acting. Still it would be silly to assert that he he not have a strong physical presence.  It holds him in good and easy stead here.

This film, as Kate Buford says in her brilliant biography of Lancaster, did not make a ripple at the box office. It was one several concurrent flops his production company, Hecht, Hill, Lancaster had in the can at the time — Sweet Smell Of Success, Separate Tables, Bachelor Party, and The Devil’s Disciple — all of which brought the company to its knees. But it’s still worth seeing. It was directed by Robert Wise (The Sound Of Music, West Side Story, The Sand Pebbles) who lets the tension build without dialogue, and then release. The acting of the supporting players tends to be WWII corny, and the failure of the film may be because that style had been supplanted by The Method, or because it came 12 years after the end of the war; as a memoir, it would have been fine, but film is always in the present, never in the past. Film, even costume film, is always now.

Black and white makes it look like the newsreels of the era, which is good. It was also shot on a set built to the exact proportions of a submarine, which make the men look as cramped as they really were when in one.  It is made, that is, to the highest professional standards, and it worth seeing how Gable makes his own strong contribution in meeting those high standards.

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A Yank In The RAF

24 Oct

A Yank In The RAF – directed by Henry King – a WW II romantic adventure story in which an American joins up in England, competes for a pretty dame, and saves the day on a bombing mission in Europe. 98 minutes black and white 1941.

* * * *

The power of the personalities of Betty Grable and Tyrone Power makes for romantic suspense and super entertainment. He plays a rogue with a roving eye, and she plays, as she often did in films, the lady of talent who is a sucker for a cad. They’re both up against Bruce Cabot the actor whose eyes are as evil as his moustaches. Because it was made during the war and is a bit of a hodgepodge, the picture is endearing and fun. Betty Grable was the star I most identified with at the time. Like me, she was open, blond, big hearted, hard working, and not loved as much as she deserved. Power is especially fine as the gum-chewing flirt, a different take for the actor who in that era was the most beautiful male in films. Here he’s a rascal who never takes it back. Usually cast in romance, action-adventure, or drama, he’s up for the necessary finesses and impenitence of light comedy. I wish he had done more of them.

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The Loves Of Carmen

17 Oct

The Loves Of Carmen –– directed by Charles Vidor –– tragedy when a naïve soldier falls in lust with a slatternly factory girl. 1948 color.

* * * * *

Spanish to her beautiful long and graceful fingertips, Rita Hayworth is the greatest Carmen ever to be filmed, in opera or out, the Carmen of Carmens. She could kill you with a click-clock of a castanet. Her opening appearance, teasing with an orange, is bravura acting at its best, easiest, and most fluid. This was the last picture she made before marrying Ali Kahn, her last picture as a young woman. The production is, of course, a Hollywood pastiche; the setting has nothing to do with Spain, or even with Mexico, where it is supposed to be placed. But so what –– with this provocative, saucy, witty, unpredictable, fiery, and bold woman brought to life with force, subtlety, and brazen confidence. There was nobody like Rita Hayworth. You couldn’t take your eyes off of her, and it’s still true. She made five films with Glen Ford, but he said he felt out of place in this one, and he does look foolish in his regimentals, but as soon as he gets out of the soldier suit he’s fine. Don Jose is gauche, awkward, inexperienced –– and Ford conveys all that and brings to his scenes a bandanna of terrifying violence and cruelty once that uniform is exchanged for a highwayman’s rig. Victor Jory is a drooling monster, and Luther Adler sound as the wise thief. But it’s Hayworth in full force whose radiant and astonishing femininity make this picture a treat. Look at her bearing as she moves. Absorb her intensity when she is still. Surrender to her when the music starts. For it is quite apparent that no one in films ever enjoyed herself so much as Rita Hayworth when she danced.

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Carve Her Name With Pride

17 Oct

Carve Her Name With Pride — directed by Lewis GIlbert — a bio-pic in which a young WW II widow leaves her daughter and parents in London to risk great danger to help the French resistance. 1 hour 58 minutes black and white 1958.

* * * * *

A big star in her day, Virginia McKenna was not in possession of a great talent but rather of a popular one. Facially resembling Lizbeth Scott and with the vocal placement of Grace Kelly, in this piece she remains fixed within the virtues of its confines, and this serves the script very well. The story is told with cinematic economy and discretion, so doors close when they should, and the camera moves away from torture scenes better imagined than seen. Her steadfastness in the role is without neurosis or particularity, so it tells the story of a heroine rather than the story of an individual to whom these things happen. I do not complain. That is a legitimate mode of cinema acting-narration and, if not time-honored, certainly time-tested. Violette Szabo was a real English spy in France and did what we see, so when we witness her wipe out German after German, we have been well prepared by the fact that she was already a sharpshooter before she began, a veritable Annie Oakley. Her spy-partner is the redoubtable Paul Scofield. He had the most commanding presence of any actor on the English-speaking stage. And this is certainly in evidence here. Whether he was a great actor was obscured by his opacity and by his inveterate physical and especially vocal masculinity which carried all before it. I do not know whether he was a master actor because he was such a mysterious one. I saw him three times on the stage: King Lear in which he was effortfully boring; A Man For All Seasons in which he was effortlessly righteous; and Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing with John Gielgud, Diana Wynard, George Rose, Dorothy Tutin, in which, magnificent in furs, he dropped jaws of all beholders. Here he has already developed one trick of his personal trade: the secrete smile useful for passage work, such as getting across from the dance floor to the balcony. He has his moments: his face when she leaves;watch for it. Even when he is terrible he is just wonderful, and he’s far from terrible here in this simple, honest and well-told tale.

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They Came To Cordura

17 Oct

They Came To Cordura – directed by Robert Rosen – Period Western drama in which an officer must chaperone a pack of renegade men and a treacherous woman across the parching desert. 123 minutes color 1959.

* * * *

A better picture than it was thought to be at the time, the actual story of internal human values supervenes in our interest in the arduous trek. Rita Hayworth was a good screen actress and a knockout. The sight of her elegant dancer’s carriage sitting in a saddle in a wide-brimmed hat shading that incredible jaw-line is alone worth the price of admission. In support are a pack of first class stars, Richard Conte, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter. Gary Cooper is close to the end of his work in films. He seems too old for the part, at least he looks too old –– for the simple reason that the efficient cause of his being given this assignment would only obtain to a newcomer. The grueling haul of seven individuals of dubious character across the spectacular desert ranges of the Southwest is stunning. Robert Rossen of All The Kings Men wrote and directed, and the script demonstrates a gripping moral debate, the constituents of cowardice and courage, Cooper’s home territory. Better now than before, this film may grow into its proper audience. It was, and still is, the sort of picture no longer made by Hollywood: one with adult themes, made with adult stars, and intended for adult audiences. Well worth watching.

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Soldier’s Girl

15 Oct

Soldier’s Girl — Directed by Frank Pierson — a young soldier garrisoned in the South falls in love with a transgendering nightclub performer and pays the price. 112 minutes color 2003

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Ladies and Gentlemen, raise your hands to applaud! We have before us in Lee Pace one of the great actors of our time. Here he plays Calpurnia a male not yet female. At first, I thought, “Oh dear, he’s too tall, his face is too long, he’s too this, he’s too that,” but this stopped almost at once and never returned. For the actor has found what this woman wanted for herself, and in doing that, the character comes alive and never falters. That’s just the actor’s job, you say? Not quite so, for the realm of discovery for an actor may enter depths unfamiliar to him and generate truths unexpected in him. And that’s what we are in the presence of here, I believe, an actor taken over by another human being and being the vehicle for her. What Calpurnia wants is to be alluring at all times, to be fascinating at all times, to promise sexuality at all times. She may have sacrificed her life for this, that we may not judge, but she does it by displaying female helplessness always. The pitch is Take Care Of Me And All This Femininity Will Be Yours. Indeed, she is a night club performer of it, but in a triumph of shyness — shyness not brazenness — for this is not a camp performance, neither in Pace nor in Calpurnia. We are in another realm. Spotlights blaze on demureness. What a paradox! But that’s just an actor’s job, right? Here we have an actor whose natural gifts are so obvious, the main one being his eyes. Looking into them, both as he plays Calpurnia and as he remains in character in the interview of him, one can see how connected he is — and this is everything. What a gift for an actor to be born with! I first saw him in Miss Pettigrew with Frances McDormand, and was stunned, by his willingness to show male love for a female outright. His performance was true as true. Just as it is true here.

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