RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Edmund OBrien’ Category

The Bigamist

15 Nov

The Bigamist – directed by Ida Lupino. Melodrama. 80 minutes Black and White 1953.

★★

The problem with the picture is that its story is told as narration rather than as drama, by which I mean not just the voiceover but that the scenes which the actors engage in do not reach beneath the crop-dusting of the telling. Everything operates as it were from above.

The story is a Hollywoodization of the unsavory subject of bigamy, which means the subject has no recognizable human content, only an approval rating. We are supposed to see that these are all just very nice people in a pickle.

Why was Lupino involved as a director? Well, it was an issue-film, such as she often made — but a poor script, and the next to the last studio picture she made, The Trouble With Angels remaining.

As an actress unlike, say, Barbara Stanwyck, Lupino was common without having the common touch. She is by turns hard-bitten and sentimental, and never less than neurotic. So, as an audience, we are supposed to believe what is said about her rather than how she really appears to be, and we don’t. We feel cheated. “Damaged goods” is Lupino’s ambiance. That’s how she really appeared to be in every part she ever played. And true enough, no one, save Ida, could murmur, “Ya kill me,” and actually land the line as a romantic come-on without making one laugh. As an actress, she’s an odd presence in films. There is always something sightly insane about her. Or rather, she is always on the brink of sanity. It’s a quality that narrows her range, and makes her a hard actress to cast properly, but, unlike here, when she has a well-written and suitable role, she is unbeatable. Her brilliant performance in Roadhouse is the most telling rendition of the damaged-goods role ever put on film.

Joan Fontaine, who once won an Oscar in a leading role, is a sympathetic performer — or, perhaps one should say a pathetic performer. One usually pities rather than admires her, but here she is asked to play the part of a competent, smart, business woman, very much in charge of herself, and she does a pretty fair job. Two more Oscar Winners star here: Edmond O’Brien, who walks through the part of the bigamist, rather than crawls, and Edmund Gwenn who overacts the inspector sadly — but then, he is given dismal lines. We are supposed to approve of his disapproval of the bigamist, and we don’t. I do not accept Santa Claus as my moral compass — do you?

The censorship necessary, at the time, for the subject of bigamy comes from the casting of an actor as the bigamist who has no sex appeal whatsoever. With Edmund O’Brien we never suppose that his bigamy is the outcome of his sex drive, but only his need for companionship while on the road. This emasculates the material, reduces its entertainment value, and demolishes its human subtext. Essentially he becomes a man without a foible who falls by accident into this situation — so where is the drama? Propriety has rubber stamped an issue-film into a B-picture — without the energy of vulgarity that often gives B-pictures vitality.

 

The Bigamist

29 Apr

The Bigamist — directed by Ida Lupino. Drama. A man falls into marriage with two quite different sorts of women. 80 minutes Black and White 1953.

★★★

The story is told as voice-over, rather than as drama, which means that the scenes which the actors engage in do not reach beneath a conflicting narrative mode. The story is just a Hollywoodization of the subject of Bigamy anyway, which means the subject has no recognizable human content, only an approval rating. We are supposed to see that these are all just very nice people in a pickle. The only female director of her era, why was Lupino involved? Maybe because the movie is anti-heroic for the male. It’s her penultimate picture as a director; she does a beautiful job with The Trouble With Angels, but that’s it. As an actress Lupino was common without having the common touch, unlike, say, Stanwyck. As wife # 2, she is by turns hard-bitten and sentimental in her choices, and never less than neurotic. So, as an audience, we are supposed to believe what is said about her here rather than how she really appears to be, and we feel cheated. “Damaged goods” is a good description of her ambiance. And true enough, no one could make the romantic utterance, “Ya kill me,” and actually land the line without making one laugh. As an actress, she’s an odd presence in films. Confine your attention to her brilliant performance in Roadhouse or in High Sierra. As wife #1, Joan Fontaine, who once won an Oscar in a leading role, is a sympathetic performer — or, perhaps one should say a pathetic performer. One usually pities her rather than one feels for her, but here she is asked to play the part of a competent, smart, business woman, very much in charge of herself, and she does a pretty fair job. Two more Oscar Winners star here: Edmond O’Brien, who walks through the part, and Edmund Gwenn who overacts the inspector sadly – but then he is given dismal lines. We are supposed to approve of his disapproval of the bigamist, and I don’t, for I do not accept Santa Claus as my moral compass. So it is a B-picture without the energy of vulgarity that often gives B-pictures vitality. One hoped for more, but this is the era of studio collapse; they move towards competing with the lowest common denominator TV had to offer, and it finished them.

 

D.O.A. [1950]

09 Mar

D.O.A. [1950] — directed by Rudolph Maté. Crime Drama. A businessman finds himself poisoned, and he has only a short to find out why and by whom. 83 minutes Black and White 1950.

★★★★★

Two world famous photographers made this, and made it well. Ernest Laszlo actually shot it, while Maté directed it. So it’s well worth seeing. Not noir, but shot as though it were, of course, for that was cheap and fun. It’s star, the poisoned, is played by Edmund O’Brien. It’s not easy to think of him as a leading actor. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Charles Laughton version, he is young, slim, handsome, and luscious as the poet Villon. But that’s not how we remember him. We remember him like he is here, as a guy with a cockeyed face, stout, jowly, pompadoured, and never-could have-been-handsome. And yet here he is, as he often was, in a leading role and eventually to win an Oscar. You have to ask yourself how this could have come to pass. But then all you have to do is to place him next to Pamela Britton as his gal Friday. What do you get? He is a born film actor. She is not a film actor at all. And it’s true she was actually a road company touring actress in Broadway musicals, and her technique is exactly that. Which is to say infuriating. Always over-extended, falsely vulnerable, routine. Always counting on the role rather than the character. You wonder how O’Brien could have endured long scenes with her, but he plays them as a human sacrifice. For, while the story is marvelous, the screenplay is over-written, and so we have, for instance, a long, wordy love-scene that would make you rather die of poison than marry the girl. But the story itself is well told, though it should have been cut by those European directors. When you think what makes a top director, you must turn to those who rewrote what they darn well pleased the morning of the shoot: Hawks, Walsh, Stevens. That’s what pushes them over into greatness. Something emerges on the sound stage that day that is more real than what is on paper. Dimitri Tiomkin scored it with his usual slow marches and swells, so we are never left in doubt as to what we are to feel. If you see it, tell me this: in the scenes where O’Brien learns he is poisoned, would he not better have played it completely the opposite to the way he does? You see, instead of watching him, I watched the doctors who are watching him, and they are doing nothing but watching him. Suppose O’Brien had gotten much stiller. A drinker and a philanderer, I think he might have become baffled or thoughtful, or very quiet somehow. Just a thought. The actors’ choices…mmm… particularly in a script where the emotion is extended over long passages of dialogue. Is the first qualification for a screen actor the ability to be a quick study? I wish someone would do a quick study of the matter. Quick studies: Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Henry Fonda. Slow study: Jimmy Stewart. Help me, someone! Anyhow, D.O.A. is not a waste of time, and if you’ve run out of noir, take a gander, why doncha?

 

The Hitchhiker

07 Mar

The Hitchhiker — directed by Ida Lupino. Drama. Two men are abducted into the desert of Mexico by a deranged killer. 71 minutes Black and White 1953.

★★★★★

This is thrust, as so many others are, into the category of film noir, with which it has nothing to do. That’s just a sales strategy. But it is just as well, for, because of the interest of folk in noir, attention is then paid to a picture which otherwise is uncategorisable. Ida Lupino was a very gifted director; any film she set her hand to is worth seeing. In this case, one can imagine the influence of the long association she had with the great Raoul Walsh, who directed her in a number of films, and who became a like-minded friend and mentor. Like him, she moves the action along licketty-split; the pace never lets up; her sense of camera position is superb. Her sense of human frailty is superb. She even gives us one small scene in which two actors speak Spanish, and it is not translated. You have to lean forward into that scene, and wake up your silent film eyes, to interpret its value. The two kidnapped men are played by Frank Lovejoy and Edmund O’Brien, middle class guys with thickening waists and probably buddies from The War, eight years before. The sizzling live-wire at the center of the film, however, is William Talman, as the madman with the gun. He’ll scare the liver out of you. The Hitchhiker was famous in its day and has come down as a classic. What that means is that you are supposed to take a visit to the museum. But of course, with The Hitchhiker you’ll be thrilled by what you find there. In its day, it would have been programmed as a B-picture, the lower half of a double bill. It’s a pity they don’t make B-pictures any more. All we get is Important Films straining to be blockbusters, instead the B-film strove only to provide proficient entertainment, and sometimes, as in this case, surpassed that really admirable aim.

 

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button