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Archive for the ‘Brian Donlevy’ Category

Beau Geste

13 Jun

Beau Geste – directed by William Wellman. Action adventure. 112 minutes Black And White 1939.

★★★★

The Story: Three orphan boys grow up together, join the French Foreign Legion together, and act nobly together.

~

In a neck-and-neck race with George Steven’s Gunga Din at RKO, Beau Geste is a scene by scene adaptation of the 1926 silent film starring Ronald Colman. As such it is slow going. Until it isn’t.

For nothing happens until the last scenes, in which Brian Donlevy, the nasty sergeant in charge of the garrison, literally mans the battlements by stuffing its crenellations with the corpses the marauding Arabs have made of his men – which scares the Arabs off.

This is a super-duper and justly famous battle scene, worth waiting for. It inspires the star of the picture, Gary Cooper, who hates the sergeant, to admit Donlevy is a great soldier. Donlevy, however, is perhaps ill-cast, for he does not have a mean streak, which is needed, but a wicked sense of humor, which is not. He plays the part well, nonetheless.

It’s all well directed by William Wellman, who made sure not to leave out his favorite, a rain-scene, even though everyone is indoors. Those indoors enclose the three adopted boys of the lady bountiful of the house, who possesses the famous infamous “blue water” sapphire which figures into a plot that frames the action of the boys once they join the French Foreign Legion. Is that clear?

I hope not, because to distract us from this plot, we have various young to-be stars trickling through the desert sands, Broderick Crawford, for one. Alfred Dekker, J. Carrol Naish for two more. And for another, Susan Hayward, the most strictured of all actresses, who is the fond focus of Ray Milland.

Milland is the only one of the three English boys to have an English accent. Gary Cooper, who was schooled in England, does not assume one. Wonder why. Nor does Robert Preston as the third of the boys. Preston with his Dennis Quaid grin and zest is the most welcome of energies always, and who could be more convincing than he to save the day at last?

The story is a long-winded set-up for the final scene. You keep wondering when something is going to happen as we lumber through the boyhoods of these boys.

Gary Cooper as a child is played by Donald O’Connor, of all people: O’Connor the most spritely, Cooper the least spritely of actors? Is this because Cooper looked older than he was and O’Connor’s youth was supposed to correct it? Here Cooper is 38, too old for the part of a runaway youth in 1939, the miracle year of American Film. Robert Preston is 21, which is more like it.

Cooper had written into his contracts that he never play a character who dies. Perhaps because as an actor he is already dead, so if he did die how could you tell? He used his inertia to act. He is never one to pick up cues before sucking attention towards himself. Sloth and sluggishness stole whole scenes.

His stardom has always annoyed me. In real life he was shy, elegant of dress, and had an enormous penis – an infallible combination for female appeal – but on the screen, I don’t get it. I suppose people felt that a taciturn male must be more profound than a talkative one and more attractive and more masculine, which, with Robert Preston on the screen is proved pure baloney. I knew that when I was six years old and saw this movie when it first came out.

If you can wait for the finale when it comes it’s an entertaining show. And you won’t have wasted your quarter. Or your 17 cents, which is what a matinee cost me in 1939.

 

Beau Geste

03 May

Beau Geste – directed by William Wellman. Action adventure. 112 minutes Black And White 1939.

★★★★

The Story: Three orphan boys grow up together, join the French Foreign Legion together, and act nobly together.

~

In a neck-and-neck race with George Steven’s Gunga Din at RKO, Beau Geste is a-scene-by-scene adaptation of the 1926 silent film starring Ronald Colman. As such it is slow going. Until it isn’t.

For nothing happens in the film until the last scenes, in which Brian Donlevy, the nasty sergeant in charge of the garrison, literally mans the battlements by stuffing its crenellations with the corpses the marauding Arabs have made of his men, which scares the Arabs off.

This is a super-duper and justly famous battle scene, worth waiting for. It inspires the star of the picture, Gary Cooper, who hates the sergeant, to admit Donlevy is a great soldier. Donlevy is perhaps ill-cast, for he does not have a mean streak, which is needed, but a wicked sense of humor, which is not. He plays the part well, nonetheless.

It’s all, of course, well directed by William Wellman, who made sure not to leave out his favorite, a rain-scene, even though everyone is indoors. Those indoors enclose the three adopted boys of the lady bountiful of the house, who possesses the famous infamous “blue water” sapphire which figures into a plot that frames the action of the boys once they join the French Foreign Legion. Is that clear?

I hope not, because to distract us we have various young to-be stars trickling through the desert sands, Broderick Crawford, for one. Alfred Dekker, J. Carrol Naish for two. And for yet another, Susan Hayward, the most strictured of all actresses, who is the fond focus of Ray Milland.

Milland is the only one of the three English boys to have an English accent. Gary Cooper, who of course was schooled in England, does not assume one. Wonder why. Nor does Robert Preston as the third of the boys. Preston with his Dennis Quaid grin and zest is the most welcome of energies always, and who could be more convincing than he to save the day at last?

The story is a long-winded set-up for this final scene. You keep wondering when something is going to happen as we lumber through the boyhoods of these boys.

Gary Cooper when little is played by Donald O’Connor, if you can figure: O’Connor the most spritely, Cooper the least spritely of actors. Is this because Cooper was an actor who looked older than he was and O’Connor’s youth was supposed to correct it? Here Cooper is 38, too old for the part of a runaway youth in 1939, the miracle year of American Film. Robert Preston is 21, which is more like it.

Cooper had written into his contracts that he never play a character who dies. Perhaps because as an actor he is already rather dead. If he did die how could you tell? Cooper is an actor who used his inertia to act. He is never one to pick up cues before sucking attention towards him. Cooper’s sluggishness stole scenes.

His stardom has always annoyed me. In real life he was shy and had an enormous penis – an infallible combination for female appeal – but on the screen, I don’t get it. I suppose people felt that a taciturn male must be more profound than a talkative one and more attractive.

I knew, when I was six years old and saw this movie when it first came out, it wasn’t necessarily so.

Still, it’s an entertaining show. And you won’t have wasted your 17 cents, which is what a 1939 matinee cost me.

 

Canyon Passage

05 May

Canyon Passage. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Gold-rush Western. A successful entrepreneur defends his friend against all odds. 92 minutes Color 1946.

* * * * *

What a gorgeous picture! It is the result of the Technicolor process which was tricky to film with and required the services of  Natalie Kalmus who ran the always-rented cumbersome Technicolor camera. But the results are phenomenal here, rich, deep, and satisfying. The outdoor sequences are done in the Gold Country of the California Sierras, in view of lakes and rivers and forests of supernal beauty. And the film itself unfolds with all this casually moved through, in unemphatic episodes, which seem barely to constitute a story but hold one’s attention for that very reason. Its woodland mountain setting is going to prohibit the big action scenes of open-plains Westerns, and in this it’s going to be similar to Allan Dwan’s later film Tennessee’s Partner with John Payne and Ronald Reagan, that is to say, it’s going to be a homo-bonding story. In this, the far more interesting one, the male romance is between Dana Andrews and Brian Donlevy. Donlevy is a funny actor, short, build square, with a large handsome head and a big masculinity to throw around, he nonetheless is curiously sympathetic as the banker who steals deposits. His morning ritual upon arriving on the set: 1) insert dentures; 2) don hairpiece; 3) strap on corset; 4) lace up “elevator” shoes. This may have given him the stuffed look he always possessed, that of a little lunk who did not move well, but moved impressively, and it also probably formally framed a character who is going to be weak and yet sympathetic. One of the great shots in the movie is taken from below in profile, his left eye gleaming with doubt as to whether he should go and murder someone. In both pictures, that someone is a drunken prospector. Another similarity circles around two females and the hero’s resistance to marriage. In both instances, the females are red heads, here Susan Hayward in her leading lady days. She has marvelous carriage and a bold attitude in every scene, which makes her monotonously redoubtable, but effective. The star is Dana Andrews who moves through the picture, here, as always, retaining his secrets. His naturalness on screen is remarkable. The quietude he carries and the interesting timbre of his voice when he speaks and the mobility of his face when he responds make him a fine film actor, one of a few who look okay in suit-roles, as here, where he plays a merchant prince in the making. Andy Devine and his actual sons are in the picture as is a young, sexy actor doing good work, Lloyd Bridges, but the astonishing performance is that of Ward Bond as the bully ogre. What with his pre-fab performances in John Ford films, we never imagine he could act, but see him here (and also in On Dangerous Ground), and you will be moved and amazed by the way he seizes the opportunities provided by the script — which is a really quite good and eccentric one. In brief: a richly visual, beautifully directed, and unusual Western entertainment.

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When The Daltons Rode

30 Mar

When The Daltons Rode – Directed by George Marshall. Comedy Western. Will our hero remain faithful to his friends, the wronged Dalton boys, or will he not?  81 minutes Black and White 1940

* * * * *

And rode and rode and rode.  This is one of George Marshall’s comedy/romance/westerns, a genre at which he was a master. Destry Rides Again and Texas are two notable examples of his craft and sense of fun. Here the fun is supplied by the jalopy-voiced Edgar Buchanan once again and the heaviness once again by George Bancroft. The inestimable castrati-voiced Andy Devine gives us a wonderful town silly to whom all the females in the movie are drawn. He himself is stretched between his love of food, his love of the Dalton boys, and his love of these giggling females. Marshall’s style is in full play here: during a daring escape from a lunch counter, Brian Donlevy steals a pie, and during the ensuing daring stage-coach chase, he gives it to Andy Devine, the driver, to eat, but after one bite, it is shaken from Devine’s hand, and he nearly goes overboard after it. Marshall had a genius for comic set-ups; it is one of his most endearing gifts. But watch how brilliantly he stages crowds in violent motion, and groups in mayhem. The stars are bashed around like mad. The gunfights and chases are remarkable for their conviction. Also take in, if you like, the range of stunts performed here. The gang actually does jump from a cliff onto the top of a moving train. No joke, that. Randolph Scott is the lead as a man caught up in the bandit gang, as he also is in The Stranger Wore A Gun. He exhibits a fine sense of humor, just right for Marshall’s shenanigans and set in perfect balance by the script, which, as is usual in Marshall films, is better than you might expect. It gives forceful and realistic love scenes for him to play with the elegant Kay Francis, who herself is a game gal in a dustup. Mary Gordon does the minute Irish mom of the Dalton boys to a T. The picture has brilliant passages of horses in motion, and color does not interfere here with the beautiful spectacle of black and white photography. Marshall’s cast is deep on talent: Broderick Crawford is super as Kay Francis’s love interest and pal of Scott. This is a film the whole family can watch together with pleasure.

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