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Archive for the ‘Aldo Ray’ Category

Miss Sadie Thompson

20 Nov

Miss Sadie Thompson – directed by Curtis Bernhardt. Drama. Quarantined on a South Seas island a dance-hall girl and a man of the cloth battle it out for their souls. 93 minutes Color 1953.

★★★★

It’s stupid of me to suggest that the screenplay needed to be rewritten from scratch. For here it is 60 years later and the wench is dead. But do you ever get the feeling of a lost opportunity that must be corrected, and you know exactly how to do it?  Somerset Maugham’s story Rain was done on Broadway by Jeanne Eagles, and then in a silent with Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore, a talkie with Joan Crawford and Walter Huston, and this with Rita Hayworth and Jose Ferrer.

The original story begins with a long introduction of the missionary. The stage play starts with scenes with the owner of the Pago Pago hotel and his native wife. This version begins with a bunch of rowdy Marines, bored and hard up for female companionship. It plays like a stock version of South Pacific. You never believe them for a minute. They bray. And they pray. And they bray. The problem is that the director establishes no balance, pace, or variety with these men nor is it afforded to Rita Hayworth when she arrives as a tourist off the freighter that is to carry her to a job on a farther island.

You never believe the reformer/missionary and his cortege either, because they are not given enough screen time. They are interesting people, and Maugham knew they needed to be revealed first and fully. For the story is the conflict of two passions, one for perfection and the other for pleasure. Each passion contains a flaw fatal to it as they play themselves out against one another. In the Swanson version, the missionaries are established (by Raoul Walsh who directed, wrote, and starred in the role now played by Aldo Ray) as a bursar collects their entries for his autograph book, and we learn immediately from the pieties they indite therein the intensity of their persuasion.

This version is actually filmed in Hawaii, which brings a proper tropic to it, and which Charles Lawton, who filmed it, sustains in the interiors shot at Columbia. “The Heat is On” which Hayworth dances is beautifully filmed in the atmosphere of sweat, tropical rain, and the mist rising from hot male bodies watching. Her dance, her very presence in a film is worth the price of admission and the time. And I wanted her to be directed better, this is true for the film itself, which was a bowdlerized version cut down to fit the Hays office, women’s clubs, the Catholic Church, and other groups who crossed their legs about it. Didn’t work. Hayworth’s dance is so steamy that the film was banned.

Swanson brought to the part her long skills as a film actor in serious parts (which Hayworth did not have) and her abilities as a natural soubrette, which is how Maugham wrote her. Hayworth is no soubrette, but she unleashes herself on the part admirably, and, being Hayworth you care about her, even as you recognize how her beauty and joie-de-vivre will get her into trouble. Hayworth is the most subtle of the three actresses who played Sadie, she is the most sexually powerful, she is the most convincingly flagrant. In her performance is a performance greater than the one the director had the talent to give her. Maugham said she was his favorite of all the Sadies. She’s mine too. And why? Rita Hayworth is that rare thing, an actor you actually automatically want to root for.

 

Pat and Mike

26 Jul

Pat and Mike – directed by George Cukor. Comedy. A third rate sports promoter takes on a multitalented female athlete, who has a jinx. 95 minutes Black and White 1952.

★★★★

Two things must be remembered about Katharine Hepburn. The first is that she is the type for the personality actress. The second is that, as Mildred Dunnock said of her, her talent grew with time. Indeed, she is the only film actress of her era of whom this can be said. It is not just that she was a careerist par excellence, or that she became an American institution and went on acting into her eighties; it was also that she became interested in developing her gift; so that she took on the great classical roles, Hecuba in Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Desdemona in Othello, Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Mad Woman of Chaillot, Shaw’s The Millionairess, and Albee’s A Delicate Balance. No other film actress of her era entered or even touched upon the classical drama. Bette Davis performed The Night Of The Iguana badly, but that was it. Hepburn performed The Glass Menagerie badly but she also performed Suddenly Last Summer superbly. She made relatively few movies considering her longevity, for, unlike all the other female film stars, she never left the live theatre. Just before making this picture, she launched into her series of Shakespeare comedies with the longest female role in the cannon, Rosalind in As You Like It. In it she showed off her terrific legs and they are well on view here as she plays a twin-threat athlete. Hepburn had been a champion golfer as a teenager and took up tennis when she came to Hollywood. She was a natural athlete and physically fearless. She breezes across the campus with a change of clothes in her hands and leaps across the back of her boyfriend’s convertible and ducks down to change her duds — remarkable! But she is deeply co-dependent to this boyfriend, who jinxes her whenever he appears at her competitions, although one senses it was part of her nature, a substitute for sex, in which she was not interested. So she weeps and it plays as self-pity, and is an error she makes throughout her career. When she is supposed to fall in love with a man, a very entertaining Spencer Tracy in this case, she gets gooey, another error. Or she gets dreamy, as Alice Adams. She is not only repellent, but worse, she is unconvincing. Their screen duets were, except for the first, Woman Of The Year, not based on sex. In fact sex was probably not an important ingredient in their relations off-screen either. Their chemistry is the chemistry of perfect human dove-tailing. And you find it, not in their romantic scenes but in their playing. In actual life they spent relatively little time together. She was off on her career, coming back to him for occasional rescue operations, but spending most of her time on the East coast. (She never had a Hollywood home.) But she is a great personality actress. She had a peculiar voice and accent and a face like none other. She had a strong sense of delivery and physical ease and authority. She had too many identifiable traits for her ever to be called a character actress, but there is nothing wrong with that. She had an honesty and forthrightness that was admirable and appealing. She could level with you like no one else. She was the top flight high comedienne of film of her era. She was too particular and too peculiar to be able to submerge herself into parts that required strong disguise, accents, or traits not her own, as evidenced in Dragon Seed. But she was a great and unique energy, with a talent that she sought to develop all her life. She never sought to play heavies or villainesses. She chose roles with noble outcomes. She was aware of her public in terms of what she was willing to bring to them, and not bring to them, and the public respected her for it. It is idle to complain that she is only playing herself. It would be more correct to say that she is playing herselves. She was not a great actress at all, but in acting she was great many times and many times over. She was always what she set out to become, fascinating. She was a great Thing. She was the only one who lasted.

 

 

God’s Little Acre

01 Jul

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

* * * * *

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

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