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Archive for the ‘Dean Jagger’ Category

Gideon’s Trumpet

13 Nov

Gideon’s Trumpet– directed by Robert L. Collins. TV Drama. 104 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★★

The Story: A innocent man jailed for petty thievery petitions the Supreme Court and changes history.

~

Gideon’s Trumpet tells of one most important judicial decisions of modern times, one which I had never heard of. How it came about astonished me.

A unimpressive, cranky man Clarence Earl Gideon is condemned, without aid of counsel, to five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He studies law in prison and makes an appeal in pencil to The Supreme Court, and it is accepted, because he is poor and it is correct in form.

The case is simple but of monumental importance. It is argued by no less a person than Abe Fortas, played by José Ferrer, and opposed by Nicholas Pryor. I found the arguments impossible to follow, but the story as a whole is easy to follow and to weigh.

Gideon is played by Henry Fonda. Fonda is what is called a technical actor. His technique here consists of his pursing his lips slightly. This may sound mean on my part, but the fact is that a small physical change can rule an entire human body, and the result is perfectly believable and acceptable as Fonda performs him. It inevitably monotonizes the performance, but it allows us to run in tandem with him. Fonda may bore but never outstrips his audience.

Gideon was 51 when the trial took place. Fonda was 75 when he played him, so I feel a slight disparity between Fonda’s actual age and Gideon’s desire to be with his children. Always a cold actor, Fonda keeps still. But his coldness works, since it rules out sentimentality and the “big speech”. His mouth rules the performance and what lies around that mouth tells us we are in the presence of a wary individual. This works well for the role and for what we need not to know about Gideon until the time is ripe.

The Supreme Court actors make everything they say momentous in a way that is preposterous, and the head judge is played by the always pontificating John Houseman. None of them have much to do except listen and so they make so much of hearing that it is obvious they are not listening to a thing – the always handsome William Prince excepted.

But the story itself reflects its importance in a way that only American movies can do. No other nation does docudrama so well. The story it tells devastates any notion we might have that a person so inconsequential as Clarence Earl Gideon is inconsequential at all. To look at him, he counts for nothing. He counts for everything. It is a great American story.

 
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Posted in Dean Jagger, Henry Fonda, José Ferrer

 

Wings In The Dark

20 Apr

Wings In The Dark — directed by James Flood. Action/Adventure Melodrama. To prove  the efficacy of blind instrument flying, a blind pilot … 75 minutes Black and White 1935.

★★★★

What made Myna Loy the great star of the 1930s? A melodious speaking voice? Yes. A long-legged slim figure that made her look tall and fabulous in calf-length clothes? Yes. Those restful wide-spaced yes? Yes. A talent for under-playing? Yes. The sweetest mouth in the world? Yes. But I think it was something else. I think it was the alternate sexuality of devotion. It is a sexiness that does not make demands on our endurance. Why? Because it itself endures. It does not flame up and it does not burn out. It is a quality that women in the audience could admire without envy because it represented marriage. It is a quality that men in the audience could admire without fear because it was settled. It led to the domestication of Loy’s talent in wife-roles for the rest of her life. Female transatlantic flyers were much in the news in those days, and this film, one of several aviatrixes Loy played, had Amelia Earhart on set as adviser, and Loy said she was charming, but was not called upon to do much. Loy was taken up for her first flight by famed daredevil pilot, Paul Mantz, who performed the stunts, and she flew upside down in an open cockpit. For Loy plays a barnstorming aviatrix performing trick flight for crowds at fairs – and I was born in 1933, before the days of airlines, and I remember my father taking me to see just such displays. When a plane flew over Queens in those days we all went out of the house to look. Loy marshals her talent to help Cary Grant, a blind-flying pilot-pioneer who actually has gone blind. Loy describes the film, one of 23 she made in three years, as not one of her best, but it has its charms and excitements. One of the charms is Grant who of course is interesting to watch and to hear. But he does have the tendency of the style of the period, to monotonize certain speeches. That’s to say, he will choose a basic emotion, and play it under everything he says, so that it loses variety and inflection and becomes a recitation. Actors don’t seem to do that much any more, but it was one of the riffs of the ‘30s. You can hear it in his high-minded offer to commit suicide. He pitches his voice up an octave and keeps it in that noble, fake-ingenuous realm from beginning to end. It was the sort of stroke that the journalists of the period would call hokum, the journalists of the period being much more satirical and sharp-tongued than those of today. (Rosco Karns is brilliant as an example of it here.) But that high-mindedness was a notion of the age nobly to stalk above fate. It’s also interesting to note how action/adventure works. In the first part of the film, you have wonderful character exchanges, talk, revelation, humor, but when the action/adventure takes over in such a movie, character, dialogue, everything, is swallowed up by the action and the excitement of the action. We know it’s going to turn out well, that’s doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the danger at the time, the thrill and suspense of that. Improbability doesn’t even factor into it. Only the peril. And in this case it’s very well handled by Flood and by cinemaphotographers Oscar-winning William Mellor on the ground, and in the air Dewey Wrigley. An action/adventure film is a story in the finale of which all humans are devoured. Except, of course, at the end when they are regurgitated for the fadeout.

 

Forty Guns

14 Oct

Forty Guns – Directed and Written by Sam Fuller. Western. A cattle baroness with her 40 henchmen holds her own against it all, including love. 79 minutes Black and White 1957.

* * * * *

As Barbara Stanwyck aged, her hair grew grey, so they never made color pictures with her, for in black and white her hair appeared blond, and her face didn’t age. She kept her figure, and she was an experienced horsewoman, so one of the treats of this picture is to see her seat in a saddle. Another treat is to see her dragged a very long stance with her foot caught in a stirrup by a charging panicked horse. She was physically strong, and it shows in all she does. Fascinating scenes with very interesting and unusual writing. It’s also interesting to see her leading man, Barry Sullivan, the local sheriff, a man of peace, who never rides a horse but always drives a wagon, as an equally strong screen presence. I had no idea he was a good actor, but he was. These two are well matched and well supported by Dean Jagger and others. Filmed by Oscar winner Joseph Biroc, an interesting and unusual western by a famously maverick director.

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