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Archive for the ‘Frederic March’ Category

Anna Karenina

05 Feb

Anna Karenina — directed by Clarence Brown — Tragedy. A young mother married to a chilly bureaucrat is wooed and won by a high riding cavalry officer. 93 minutes Black and white 1935.

* * * * *

Frederick March had learned the secret of perpetual middle age, and he is no more a prince than my chest of drawers. He lacks the rash dash which John Gilbert had as Vronsky in Garbo’s earlier and silent version, which is in modern dress, and in which her scenes with her child are far more interesting than they are here with the dread Freddie Bartholomew. Vronsky requires an actor of Byronic allure, shirt open to the waist, a part perfectly suited to Errol Flynn, here being played by a businessman. Garbo plays it as though courteously exhausted by her marriage, whose doom she puts up with with a lovely and sincerely kind and interested social smile. She is unutterably beautiful, with her thick eyelashes and the astounding geography of her eyes, summoning everything from an exhausted interior. She does not look well in many of her costumes, though, and her hair-dos are an error. And of course the movie does not work because, for its transience, the love affair has to decline, and it can’t if it has never peaked, and it can’t peak if there is no lubricity between the two lovers, and there aint. The piece is over-produced; it looks foolishly expensive. as though all the Russian upper classes lived in MacMansions; Russian haute bourgeois interiors never had ceilings that weren’t there, nor were they that vast; after all, they had to be heated. Garbo does not play a beautiful woman; she, as usual, dismisses her beauty humorously as beside the point. Good. But I question the drone her voice takes on as one who has given up hopelessly before the play begins, making the performance appear a bit prefabricated. That is, I question her choice. The director Clarence Brown she liked because he managed traffic so well, but he’s an awful dullard, and the picture’s excellence, so far as it has any, is solely the product of Williams Daniels who filmed and lit most of Garbo’s films; the banquet scene, the ball, the movement of light across her face; the placement of Garbo in it; all the camera moves; all the angles; shooting from behind the harp, everything like that is not directorial, not Clarence Brown but Williams Daniels. Williams Daniels is the man. He is one really playing Vronsky here. He is the one madly in love with her. He was one of the great lighting and filming geniuses who ever lived. Garbo was a great actress and a great beauty and a great soul, and he caught it all, over and over again for us.

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Tomorrow The World

05 Feb

Tomorrow The World – directed by Leslie Fenton. Drama. On the home-front in WWII, a German adolescent is fostered out to relatives in the U.S. but turns out to be a member of the Nazi Youth Movement.  82 minutes black and white 1944.

* * * * *

Betty Field delivers the knockout performance that makes this material work. She sets up every scene so strongly that you understand perfectly what she is up against in the nasty little Nazi-youth which Skippy Homier plays. Homier comes from the Broadway company of the play, and his performance is dyed in the wool and equally as strong as hers. You really have to hand it to him. He is thirteen years old when he makes the picture, and not a moment too soon. He plays the part of a German youth movement youngster, who, during WWII, is brought to America to live with the family of his deceased father. He plans to take over America, and actually partly succeeds. One always thought of Betty Field as a little squishy as an actress, but not here.  Here she is opposed to two heavy talents, Frederic March and Agnes Moorhead, and they both are in fine form indeed. To watch Moorhead’s economy of means is a treat. And Frederic March has a line in stalwartness that is real and well judged. But it is Field’s scenes with March that grip one, as she fires tactic after tactic to confront him. In the entire film the acting is strong, direct, and simple, an excellent example of the style of film acting of that period. No pauses. No back story. No self-indulgence. No reaching for a depth the material will not support. As to the story, I had no idea how it would turn out. And it did.

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Man On A TIghtrope

05 Feb

Man On A Tightrope – directed by Elia Kazan — Drama. The owner /ringmaster and his small touring circus fall afoul of The Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. 105 minutes black and white 1953.

* * * * *

Kazan was a high Virgo and while that means that he understood what was crucial, what was critical, it also means that he was highly critical of himself and his own work, and not always accurately. Thus his put-down of this work – an action adventure piece that actually comes alive completely in the bumbling escape attempt with which it ends. Man On A Tightrope is the best circus picture I have ever seen. Kazan adores the circus folk and their life, and really gets down with them. You see their color, their gypsy soul, their absurdity, their dignity, and their crazy fun. The story is based on the actual escape of a real circus from the Communists, and Kazan actually filmed this in Europe and actually uses that very circus in the film. He brings in Hollywood actors to play the principals, Alex D’Arcy, touching as the bashful lion-tamer, Gloria Grahame, once again as the girl who doesn’t want to say no, Richard Boone as the lumpen-heavy, Adolph Menjou covered with cigarette ash lying on a couch as he plays the bureaucrat out to outwit the owner, , and Frederic March as that owner. Kazan originally wanted March as Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman, which is strange because March is no more Willy Loman than my cat. He has too much inner stance. He is too middle-class. But he had used him in the original stage production of The Skin Of Our Teeth, a Kazan early triumph, when March told him, “Be careful with me. I tend to over-do,”  and which Kazan loved him for. It’s just wonderful how wonderful March could be. He is often miscast. He is not a sexually exciting actor. He doesn’t offer romance, even when young. But he can offer pain and its discombobulation and weakness. He can offer doubt. He offers the promise of middle-age, even when young, which means that he offers the values of a grown-up; at no point is he ever an adolescent. You have to take him seriously, even if you don’t particularly like him or don’t particularly like looking at his face, which is one thing you don’t have to do with a stage actor but do have to do with a movie actor. And you have to respect his technique which is displayed here with no showiness. Kazan, good naturedly said about March here that he had to keep Freddy from hamming it up, but March never seems in danger of doing that. Terry Moore, though, pushes it as the love interest with Cameron Mitchell, but that was the way she always was, and you wonder why Kazan allowed Zanuck to cast her. She’s a false note in a bad plot move, but the rest of the material is right on. What do you have to sacrifice to escape oppression is the theme. Perhaps Kazan didn’t quite realize it, but it’s a great theme. Too bad, but it’s still a marvelous piece, typical of Kazan in his love of actors, his spacious sympathies, and his phenomenal understand of human nature.

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