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Archive for the ‘Cecil Kellaway’ Category

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

30 Aug

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – directed and produced by Stanley Kramer. Drama. An upper-crust couple must make an emergency decision about their only daughter’s decision to marry a negro. 108 minutes Color 1967.

★★★★

Ten years go by between their last film together, Desk Set, and this. Desk Set was clearly Hepburn’s film, and this one is clearly Spencer Tracy’s, as Father Of The Bride. It is the last film of nine they made together and the last film Tracy ever made. As material it thrust forward Kramer’s penchant for social reformation. He had big stars for such films, and this film was an enormous success, and won an Oscar for Katharine Hepburn, which, as she admits in A Tribute To Spencer Tracy, she did not deserve, saying it was really being given to both of them, and she was right on both counts. This is not one of her best performances, and it easy to see why: she tears-up at every turn. Now what’s wrong with that? After all, Hepburn is a very technical actress; she can produce tears at will; George Stevens tells how when he was making Alice Adams with her, needed at a certain word, she could produce a tear out of her left eye, and when the scene had to be reshot, she did the same thing at the exact same word out of the same eye. Nothing wrong with it. But one of the things that makes Hepburn terrific to watch, so lively and so interesting, is that she is so interested. And what makes her interested is how she listens. And, if you watch how she listens, you can see that she listens, not with her ears but with her eyes. Her ability to do this gives her characters intelligence, humor, engagement, and depth. But when she tears up, she is not listening to anyone; she is self-involved; her acting become general; it often looks like self-pity; she is doing the audience’s job for her. When Hepburn tears-up she loses her listening eye. She’s not the only one; three of the four women in the picture weep readily; it’s quite tiresome, when the emotion called for lies in a range of quiet anger. However, when Beah Richard’s has her scene with Tracy, she nails it; it’s a well written and well-placed scene, but she makes it count, tearing-up, yes, but playing it quietly. If it was for a single scene Hepburn won the Oscar, it would have been for the firing of a bigoted employee. Watch how she does it; she throws away two lines in the speech – “Start your motor” and “although I don’t” – and, because she does, they become the most potent lines in one of the greatest played scenes in all her films. Another great moment is Hepburn’s complete shock and disapproval on first hearing her daughter is marrying a negro. Hepburn, a notably fair-minded spirit must have what is not a noble response, but she does not balk; she gives it full value. I saw the film when it came out and was baffled by it, because it seemed to me like tokenism. Although there were well-written and well-played scenes, it seemed it was covering bases merely. Cecil Kellaway brings a portion of pure joy to the problem, but it seemed like a parlor movie, a TV movie, not a big screen big public movie. This may be because the fiancée of Sidney Poitier is weightless. It’s a Desdemona role, a young Katharine Hepburn role, a part that requires inner boldness and strong character, neither of which the actor possesses. There is no sense she would make Poitier a good wife, and there is no sexual energy between them to validate the decision to hurriedly marry. Taking that on faith, however, the film still does not satisfy the demand to entertain. Prejudice, Tracy’s, is never examined as such, but only as an argument to justify his care for his daughter. So the opportunity for a tragic examination of the actual inner mechanism of prejudice itself is skimmed over. Instead, the film wags its finger. It still holds up, though. Why? Because we still need to see that finger to wag. Make no mistake: Bigotry lies still as a tiger, still in the undergrowth, waiting.

 

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: HOLLYWOOD CRISP, Cecil Kellaway, FAMILY DRAMA, Katherine Dunham, Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy

 

Gunga Din

12 Apr

Gunga Din — produced and directed by George Stevens. Comic Action Adventure. 117 minutes Color 1939.
★★★★★
George Stevens was 17 when he jumped over the wall of the Hall Roach Studios. What he found on the other side was a Western, Rex, King Of The Wild Horses, and its sequels. As assistant cameraman he went off into the rugged mountains and made up movies, and ever after he said that the Western was his preferred genre. What this gave us is, of course, Shane but it also produced The Greatest Story Ever Told, shot in those settings and Gunga Din a sort of Eastern Western, situated in spectacular mountains and in a frontier fort and a remote town, and with a host of bloodthirsty savages.

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, authors of His Gal Friday, wrote the story, which, naturally therefore, has one of a trio of soldiers of the Raj wanting to get married and the other two sabotaging his immanent retirement by engaging all of them in putting down the Thugees, a tribe of native killers – read The Taliban.

To say there is a plot to this were to rearrange the meaning of that word, for the movie is one thing after another, a comic scene at the fort, followed by a big battle scene, comic scenes back at the fort, another battle scene, another comic scene back at the fort, and so forth.

The battle scenes are as funny as the comic scenes, for Stevens had learned gag comedy at The Roach Studios so the movie resembles Indiana Jones, or rather Indiana Jones resembles Gunga Din, for Jones kept up with Din by aping it in scene after scene. Stevens’ visual imagination in devising interesting and entertaining slaughters was unequalled. They involved thousands of actors and, to insure no one was hurt, they had to be carefully imagined, very slowly rehearsed, then repeated a bit faster, then faster still, then shot at full speed.

But Stevens also knew what to look at with his fort scenes, where the comedy depends not on gags but on the expressions on actors’ faces. Each of the sergeants – Douglas Fairbanks Junior is Scottish, Victor McLaglen is Irish, and Cary Grant is Cockney – has rich comic scenes to play, and from the start they are all involved in comical branagans. Grant has his lust for booty, McLaglen a darling elephant, and Fairbanks the milksop Joan Fontaine.

Stevens knows exactly what to look at with his camera, which is manned by the great Joe August, who even gives us an in-tight Place-In-The-Sun closeup of Fontaine. Abner Biberman and Eduardo Ciannelli play the outright villains outrightly. And Sam Jaffe is just lovely as the waterboy, Gunga Din, a middle-aged man who saves the day and who is the hero of Rudyard Kipling’s poem from which the picture is loosely derived. They originally wanted the great child actor Sabu, so Jaffe said he played it exactly as Sabu would have, and he’s just marvelous.

Alfred Newman’s music is rousing, and the thousands of troops on the parade grounds and threading through huge mountains is spectacular. Cary Grant is especially gratifying in, for him an unusual, lower class part and also a dopey one. There are comic effects on his face you will never see from him in any other film. All you need do is sit back and look at him to be entertained. He was lower class in origins, and it shines through with a warm, particular and special wit.

Stevens seldom moves his camera so the adventure takes place without intrusion, and he seldom used reaction shots, so the energy between actors is never broken. It is one of the most “complete” films ever made, and remained a George Stevens’ favorite.

The film has never been out of circulation since its immensely popular first showing in the year of the movie miracles, 1939.

 

Portrait Of Jennie

16 Sep

Portrait Of Jennie – Directed by William Dieterle. Ghost Story. A bum artist becomes a genius through visitations from a long-dead girl. 86 minutes Black and White 1948.

* * *

An actress of minute talent, Jennifer Jones loomed large in the films of the 40s, and my tendency is to dismiss her, as it is to dismiss Gene Tierney, as an actress without content, and it’s not fair to what talent they do possess. I always felt Jones was rather dopey, and yet she’s pretty good here and perfectly cast for two reasons, because the girl, after all, is a ghost and has no content, and because the picture was produced by Jones’ husband David O. Selznick. Selznick was a producer, but he was actually an auteur. He was a man of robust energy, great charm, appeal, generosity, honesty, experience, fun, and skill, but once a picture was in train he became a horror of intrusiveness.  Interfering, writing, rewriting, reshooting, redirecting, memoing up the wazoo, riding his people like a slave driver, with no consideration for anyone – what was he up to? In every case what he was up to, without knowing it, was making the picture about himself. He did not want to make a picture, he wanted to be the picture. His most famous example of this is Gone With The Wind: Scarlet O’Hara is exactly like Selznick himself – charming, ruthless, sexually without morals, ambitious, overwhelming, fun, attractive, in love with the wrong person, and so deserving you can deny nothing to him. Scarlett’s story is Selznick. Each of his films was like this, and Portrait Of Jennie is another one still, although by the time it is made Selznick had come to the frayed end of his stories. Each human being has more than one story in him, and this one is the story of a man who creates an ideal girl and how she in turn makes him creative. This is what he had done in his actual life. Moreover, Selznick casts as the girl the woman he had stolen from her husband and made his magical mistress and muse and movie star, Jennifer Jones. Here he even sets her up with a story with her very own name, Jennie. Jones has to travel in a year from age 12 to age 25, and she does it well right up to the clumsy finale. She uses the trick of keeping her mouth open to suggest ingénue appeal, but she does it good. A supporting cast of astounding strength is asked to atlas-up this edifice of a feather: Ethel Barrymore with her voice of pained patience, huge eyes, and old amusement, the greatly lively Cecil Kellaway as the art dealer, David Wayne as a bright mick, Lillian Gish as a nun, Florence Bates as a heartless landlady, Henry Hull and Felix Bressart. They’re all just fine. Selznick often used Joseph Cotton in his films, an actor of deeply suburban genius and no rival sex appeal whatever. He is most carefully miscast as the artist.

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Joan Of Arc

11 Jul

Joan of Arc – Directed by Victor Fleming. A teenage country girl is inspired to save France, does it, and is punished for her trouble. Two and a half hours Color 1947.

*

One wonders what Ingrid Bergman saw in this story. She had always wanted to play it; she had done it on the New York stage; she was to make an Italian movie of it later; she was to perform Claudel and Honegger’s version of it on the European stage. The illiterate lass had the spirit of a brazen adolescent (as in G.B. Shaw) and at 17 bent her steps for King Louis’ court to win back the key city of Orleans from the Burgundians and to crown Louis at Rheims Cathedral, which she did. Not content to sit out her fame at his court, she defied Louis, raised an army of her own, and in battle after battle never won another, and only stopped when she was captured, sold by the british, tried by the Burgundians in an ecclesiastical court under Bishop Cauchon as a heretic, and handed back to the British to be burned at the stake, which extinguished her bold life aged 19. Why would Bergman want to play a part which went against so much that she had done in films? In films she played the hard-done-to one, the put-upon lady who was shuffled about or abused, as in Intermezzo, Notorious, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Gaslight, Casablanca. But Joan of Arc was a go-getter, a careerist par excellence. Julie Harris’s Lark made her feisty and Uta Hagen made her sturdy. Maybe Bergman wanted to do something entirely different from her usual way. And so, huge star that she was, aged 33, an enormous movie is mounted for her. Victor Fleming, used to the difficulties of massive movies and munchkins, directs it, and the action sequences are pretty good all right. For supporting players we have the massive Francis L. Sullivan as Bishop Cauchon, and he moves about the room like a room in a room. Jose Ferrer plays the Dauphin Louis. Yet, with all of this, the only thing you can look at are the costumes, which are sensational, and which won an Oscar that year. As did the cinemaphotography, which is glorious, particularly as it deals with Ingrid Bergman’s face which had to be carefully lit, and is, and could only successfully be photographed on the left side, which it, for the most part, is. And what sort of Joan emerges from these luxuries? The same put-upon lady she had played so many times before.  Her emotionalization of the role crashes against the story of Joan like a cannonball of custard. That weeping girl  could no more have saved France than a cow could polka. I saw the longer version. There is a shorter version. I recommend no version at all.

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My Favorite Blond/Star Spangled Rhythm

23 Jan

My Favorite Blond/Star Spangled Rhythm —  director Sidney Lanfield/George Marshall – Mystery Farce in which a coward gets involved with a WWII spy ring. And A Hollywood WWII effort Variety Show.  Black and white 1942.

* * * * *

The Ghostbusters is a better Hope film of this era, but this one has its moments, as a mock spy caper, with Madeleine Carroll as The Hitchcock blonde she was. Star Spangled Rhythm is a Paramount varsity show and far more fun, with Hope as a cameo, spouting in-jokes about Crosby who is also in it. In a huge cast of Paramount superstars, the main attraction is Betty Hutton. You might say, if fact you would have to say, she “propels” the plot, for she had pop-eyes in every cell of her body. Here she throws herself into each scene as though onto a trampoline. This was her way, and if you can stand it, you can stand anything. But boy do you have to give her credit for total engagement, and she is superb in one scene with two men attached by the hands, trying to get over a wall. It’s a very funny scene, brilliantly played by her and by the other two, who were avid contortionists. Ray Milland, Franchot Tone, and Fred MacMurray are amusing as three men playing bridge like three women, a sketch written by George S. Kaufman. And there is Rochester doing a superb zoot-suit number with Katherine Dunham, young and great. Boy, do they rock! George Balanchine’s choreography of a jazz ballet with Vera Zorina is fascinating, not least because of Zorina’s amazing figure — yikes! Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote the music for the film, and the score includes That Old Black Magic and Dick Powell and Mary Martin singing Hit The Road to Dreamland, the latter of which is taken over by a quartet of black male singers who are just wonderful! So there is really a lot of jam on the thin piece of toast this picture is, which was a War-effort effort. The toast may be stale by now, but the jam — especially as regards the black singers and dancers — is still fresher than fresh!

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