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Archive for the ‘Edward Arnold’ Category

Three On A Match

18 Mar

Three On A Match – directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Drama. 63 minutes Black And White 1932.

★★★★

The Story: Three grammar school girls stick together as grown women, even more so as one of them goes to the dogs.

~

What is important about this film is not Bette Davis’s cute figure in a bathing suit, nor her part, which is as peripheral to the story as is Humphrey Bogart’s and Glenda Farrell’s and Edward Arnold’s. All three of these make the same impression they were always to make: Bogart as a man to take into account, Farrell as a woman knowledgeable in her own sensuality, Arnold as Humpty-Dumpty pushing everyone off the wall.

Davis plays the least colorful of the three women and the one least connected to moving the plot forward. Joan Blondell plays the light-fingered jailbird who goes straight and marries the boss. We see Davis in the secretary pool at an Underwood, and she really looks like she knows how to type well, for she really did know. One can believe she is a secretary. Later she becomes an au- pair with Blondell in scenes at the beach with a tiresome tyke one wishes they would drown.

Ann Dvojak has the leading role, and Davis, aged 23, could probably have played it beautifully. The point is that Dvojak is excellent and that this is the sort of part that women were getting before 1934, not just wild-assed women who grab men into their beds impenitently and salt their lives with pleasure, but women’s issue parts. These were the pre-Code days of great parts for women which Mick LaSalle writes of in Complicated Women, his celebration of the actresses of this era, their talents, their roles, their films, before the Code put all such roles out into the woodshed for a whipping.

While they lasted, Davis never participated as a leading actress in these sorts of films, although she was of an age to. This is her twelfth film. She is not exactly starting out. Warners still did not know what to do with her. They threw her around like chicken feed. And she knew it.

The sort of parts she fought to play depicted just this sort of woman, women living their lives to the full. They didn’t have to be prostitutes to do it. They could be society women of the sort Norma Shearer played at MGM and Ann Dvojak plays here.

Davis fought for such roles, but Davis fought for what did not exist. Such parts were not mounted after 1934. After 1934, women must suffer for their pleasures or die. The closest Davis could come to such a part was the sexually predacious wife in Bordertown and Mildred Rodgers in Of Human Bondage, who is a tart. She had made 21 films by then, none of them giving her the meaty roles Ruth Chatterton, Constance Bennett, Mae West, Mae Clarke, Marlene Dietrich, Loretta Young, Ann Harding, Miriam Hopkins, and Barbara Stanwyck played. Davis was good friends with Jean Harlow, but she never got parts like Harlow got. The Code flattened them.

In Three On A Match, Davis is still a Harlow peroxide blonde. Her old chum, Joan Blondell, from New York acting school, has the second lead. Davis is on the sidelines where she doesn’t even look convincing smoking a cigarette.

 

Ziegfeld Follies

13 Jun

Ziegfeld Follies – directed by lots of people including Vincent Minnelli. Song and Dance Musical Scrapbook. 110 minutes Technicolor 1945.

★★★

The Story: None. Flo Ziegfeld in heaven reminisces into being a last great follies. When it is over, he reappears as the other slice of the sandwich. The filling is a compendium of talent then under contract at MGM.

~

Some of these acts lie dead in the water. Others dogpaddle around. All of them are with Olympic grade performers, including Esther Williams who actually was Olympic grade. She tumbles under water smiling valiantly amid the kelp in a piece that feels forced, and, of course, is just that, as we are forced to believe that when she swims off-camera she wouldn’t dream of taking a breath of air there.

Judy Garland plays The Great Movie Star giving an interview, but the chorus boys have more life to them than the piece. Not even Garland, full of vaudeville fun as she was, can energize the flaccid material. For once, though, she is properly costumed and it’s good to see her looking so grown-up, cute, and soignée.

Red Skelton’s immediacy is funny as a TV pitchman for a brand of gin. And Victor Moore brilliantly convinces himself and each of us watching that he is being reduced to desperation by his blowhard lawyer, well played by Edward Arnold. It looks like an old Orpheum Circuit skit, and it probably was one. As does the piece with Fanny Brice playing a housewife who has to recover a winning sweepstakes ticket given by her husband to the landlord, William Frawley. The skit was must have been funnier on the stage; Brice must have been funnier on the stage, she probably relished her audiences, they in turn enriching her. Hume Cronyn surprises you by his deftness as the comic husband in this piece.

The one solid dud in the collection is Keenan Wynn in the telephone sequence. Directed by the famous acting teacher Bobby Lewis, one would have thought something might have been made of it, but it would have been better played by his father Ed Wynn, or at least by someone with natural funny bones, like Durante or Hope or Raye. Keenan Wynn could be funny as a character but not as a stand-up single. He is suicidally bad, poor guy. Let’s sink down into our seats and spare him further shame.

This being MGM, everything is over-produced, including Lena Horne’s solo, the wonderful song “Love.” With her hot eyes and powerful arms and elbows, Horne moves through the song’s genius in a costume wrapped around her like a wound.

Another singer, James Melton, sings the waltz scene from Traviata. And Kathryn Grayson sings the finale, in which Cyd Charisse twirls about as the ballerina, as she does in the opening, briefly with Fred Astaire.

Astaire dances four times in this film. And he sings. And there is no one like him, and, without meaning to, he really puts everyone else in the piece outside the pale. He is the one who’s worth the ticket of admission.

One of his dances is with Gene Kelly, in a frivolous duet, “The Babbit and the Bromide,” and Astaire opens the entire show with a turn or two in which Charisse dances and Lucile Ball appears wielding a whip as a dominatrix. Except for two sideways glances she asks us to take this hysteria seriously. No one with hair that particular color could possibly be serious.

But Astaire dances twice with the stony Lucile Bremer, once playing a society dame at a ball being wooed by a cat burglar, and in the second with Bremer as a Chinatown doxie being woed by Bobby Lewis, terrifying as the ganglord, and by Astaire as a Chinese peasant.

Bremer was a talented dancer, with good carriage, and a fine figure. She dances beautifully with Astaire, but as a screen personality she is meaningless. Astaire is dancing with a mummy, and it is odd that this was not found out sooner, when all Astaire needed to do was turn to Cyd Charisse who was standing there right next to him. Bremer’s face is cold; she can’t help it, but it is just awful to look at. She had made Minnelli’s Yolanda and The Thief with Astaire and Minnelli, another failed film, and these two pieces, one suspects, are left-overs from that film. Bremer was Arthur Freed’s mistress. He is the producer. Indeed, “Raffles” – an upper-crust dance at a satire ball – is an exact duplicate of the plot of Yolanda.

“Limehouse Blues” is fan dance, and is especially interesting as Astaire retains a poker face, his slant eyes expressionless, while they both wield four fans in startling metronomic display. It is actually a ballet, such as Gene Kelly would mount, and it works like all get out. Astaire’s cooperation with a partner on the dance floor is meritorious. The more you look at him perform the less you believe your eyes. Credulity is inapt to a miracle.

Both pieces seem to have been augmented by Minnelli’s set designs, décor, and color sense – with big corps de ballet. And certainly by his desire for fantasy-dance and dream-dance, of the kind he would put into play at the end of The Bandwagon, also with Astaire.

Why sample this smorgasbord?

Because Fred Astaire had the greatest body ever to appear in film.

One looks at all the Rembrandts one can.

 

 

 

12 Angry Men [Robert Cummings TV Version] 1954

06 Aug

12 Angry Men [Jack Lemon Version] – directed by William Friedkin. Courtroom Drama. A jury reconsiders a foregone verdict. 1 hour 57 minutes Color 1997.

★★★★★

Each of the three versions of this screenplay is longer than the one before it, and each is perfectly adequate to the task. None of them is a moment too long or too short. This one is interracial, the most bigoted member of it being Black Muslim. It is beautifully cast, directed, and acted, as are the other two. And in each case the principal actor gets older. Robert Cummings is 44. Henry Fonda is 55. Jack Lemon is 72.

I imagine it is impossible to badly direct this piece. It is not impossible to overact it, for it is occasionally and in certain small ways, in all its versions, over-written, but that is a cavil. It is not overwritten in its addition of material and episodes. None of the actors dally or milk their parts for attention. This version holds us, even though, after three versions, we know its episodes, its moves, and its outcome. In this version color adds a good deal to the drabness of the jury room itself, and in this version the rain convinces. Nothing is more insufferably sweltering than a July downpour in New York City. A minor matter is that Bayside High is said to have a football team. It does not even have an athletic field. I went there and I know.

Jack Lemon, a wonderfully jittery actor and comic master, evinces none of his trademark volatility and plays the part steady-on, as it should be played. He is exemplary, and his evident age adds a bent of physical vulnerability subtly advantageous to our tension.

One of the expanded parts of the play is the final scene which George C. Scott plays coming to terms with the scar of hatred for his own son. I saw George C. Scott starting out on the New York stage in The Andersonville Trial. He was mightily impressive, and has remained so ever since. However, he has not shown us anything new for years. Until now. This is the finest and most extreme demonstration of his gift I have ever seen – an extraordinary performance, which opens him up to a region I never associated him with. Don’t miss it. He won Golden Globe and Emmy for it that year.

I admire great actor-technicians such as Scott and Armin Mueller-Stahl. All the actors are excellent, and James Gandolfini, a different sort of actor entirely, is lovely.

This version was made for television, and I saw it on VHS. All versions are worth seeing. All are riveting.

Jack Lemon, Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Tony Danza, Hume Cronyn, and Mary McDonnell as the judge.

 Henry Fonda, Lee. J. Cobb, Robert Webber, George Voskovec, Ed Begley, Jack Warden. Joseph Sweeny, Edward Binns, E.G. Marshall, John Fiedler, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman.

Robert Cummings, George Voskovec, John Beal, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold, Joseph Sweeny, Paul Hartman, Bart Burns, Lee Philips, Norman Fell, Larkin Ford. 

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, COURTROOM DRAMA, Edward Arnold, Franchot Tone, George Voskovec, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, Robert Cummings

 

Come And Get It

06 Jan

Come And Get It — directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler. Romantic Drama. A proto-lumber-tycoon deserts a girl and twenty years later falls for her daughter. 96 minutes Black and White 1936.

* * *

When Sam Goldwyn recuperated from his operation and saw the footage Hawks had shot of Edna Ferber’s novel he hit the bedpan, which flew into the fan, and Hawks walked out. So Wyler filmed the last quarter of it, and you can’t really tell, because the great Gregg Toland was filming it, and he controlled the art of the thing. What Goldwyn didn’t like was that the first of the dual female roles had been turned from a mousy barkeep to an impudent chanteuse with a mind of her own, a Hawks type, and Goldwyn had given Ferber promises. The girl is played beautifully in her first major role by Frances Farmer. She’s a cross between Maria Schell and Jessica Lang (who later played her in the movie Frances), and she is very good indeed. She’s a glorious milkmaid, as both the mother and the daughter. As the mother she ends up with Walter Brennan, an actor of great imagination, in the first of his three Oscar winning roles. As the daughter she ends up with Joel McCrea, who, as always, is excellent in the comic scenes. The one she does not end up with is Edward Arnold who has the lead, in what would have been Hawks’ King Lear. But Arnold does not have the latitude for a role this size, and his performance illustrates the weakness of perpetual determination as an acting method. He has his guns and he sticks to them; the problem is that they are guns. He plays out the role, but we never sympathize with his folly, as we should if we are asked to witness it. (Hawks originally wanted Spencer Tracy, who might have been marvelous.) Remarkable and famous scenes in this picture make it worth seeing and studying. Robert Rosson who was Hawks’ frequent second unit director went to Canada, Wisconsin, and Idaho and took the amazing logging sequences with which the picture begins. And there is a spectacular branagan in a saloon with round steel table trays being skimmed into mirrors and clientele. And, of course, Toland’s camera work is a study in itself.

 

 

Annie Get Your Gun

16 Oct

Annie Get Your Gun — Directed by George Sidney. Backstage Musical. A country bumpkinette sharpshooter wins fame, fortune, and the man of her dreams. 107 minutes Color 1950.

* * * * *

It was written for Ethel Merman who in a theatre sang and acted everything directly out to the audience, and the director has wisely staged Betty Hutton’s numbers exactly the same, smack dab at the camera. But for a quite different reason, which is that the whole movie is a cartoon, and no one is more cartoonish than Hutton. She wants to burst out of the frame. She acts and sings always at the limits of her technique, which of the coast-to-coast variety. She punches out every song and locks her elbows to deliver the blow. She is The Great Frenetic. But she is really rather endearing in the role. Irving Berlin in his greatest score wrote the words and music, and Herbert and Dorothy Fields wrote the book, all of it in competitive response to Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s Americana musicals State Fair, Carousel, and Oklahoma! Competitive except in the matter of the treatment of natives; the Indians here are the most cartoonish of all. Ugh! But never mind, so is everyone else. Howard Keel is stalwart, affectionate, sexy, and true, and very much worth watching as Frank Butler, Annie’ rival deadeye, and his rich baritone caresses the songs warmly. We also have Louis Calhern as Buffalo Bill, and he’s an actor of incomparable suavity of bearing and always a treat to see. Benay Venuta played Dolly Tate on the stage with Merman and does so here, to good advantage. The film is haunted by the ghost of Judy Garland who began the film incurably depressed and facing Busby Berkeley who had always been mean to her and who was stupidly assigned to direct her. Moreover her work stupidly began with the film’s sole and exhausting production number, “I’m An Indian Too” (after Berkely and Garland were fired, completely restaged for Hutton’s looney bin of frenzy). We have the footage of Garland’s version; she is, of course, far more talented than Hutton, but by this time she was an irretrievable addict, and this ended her career. But Hutton is fine and the entertainment value of the material has not faded, particularly since no attempt is made to begin with to approximate any reality but Show Business which as the film warns us in a truism which nowadays extends to all areas of private, political, public and spiritual life, there is no business like.

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