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Archive for the ‘Gary Cooper’ Category

Beau Geste

13 Jun

Beau Geste – directed by William Wellman. Action adventure. 112 minutes Black And White 1939.

★★★★

The Story: Three orphan boys grow up together, join the French Foreign Legion together, and act nobly together.

~

In a neck-and-neck race with George Steven’s Gunga Din at RKO, Beau Geste is a scene by scene adaptation of the 1926 silent film starring Ronald Colman. As such it is slow going. Until it isn’t.

For nothing happens until the last scenes, in which Brian Donlevy, the nasty sergeant in charge of the garrison, literally mans the battlements by stuffing its crenellations with the corpses the marauding Arabs have made of his men – which scares the Arabs off.

This is a super-duper and justly famous battle scene, worth waiting for. It inspires the star of the picture, Gary Cooper, who hates the sergeant, to admit Donlevy is a great soldier. Donlevy, however, is perhaps ill-cast, for he does not have a mean streak, which is needed, but a wicked sense of humor, which is not. He plays the part well, nonetheless.

It’s all well directed by William Wellman, who made sure not to leave out his favorite, a rain-scene, even though everyone is indoors. Those indoors enclose the three adopted boys of the lady bountiful of the house, who possesses the famous infamous “blue water” sapphire which figures into a plot that frames the action of the boys once they join the French Foreign Legion. Is that clear?

I hope not, because to distract us from this plot, we have various young to-be stars trickling through the desert sands, Broderick Crawford, for one. Alfred Dekker, J. Carrol Naish for two more. And for another, Susan Hayward, the most strictured of all actresses, who is the fond focus of Ray Milland.

Milland is the only one of the three English boys to have an English accent. Gary Cooper, who was schooled in England, does not assume one. Wonder why. Nor does Robert Preston as the third of the boys. Preston with his Dennis Quaid grin and zest is the most welcome of energies always, and who could be more convincing than he to save the day at last?

The story is a long-winded set-up for the final scene. You keep wondering when something is going to happen as we lumber through the boyhoods of these boys.

Gary Cooper as a child is played by Donald O’Connor, of all people: O’Connor the most spritely, Cooper the least spritely of actors? Is this because Cooper looked older than he was and O’Connor’s youth was supposed to correct it? Here Cooper is 38, too old for the part of a runaway youth in 1939, the miracle year of American Film. Robert Preston is 21, which is more like it.

Cooper had written into his contracts that he never play a character who dies. Perhaps because as an actor he is already dead, so if he did die how could you tell? He used his inertia to act. He is never one to pick up cues before sucking attention towards himself. Sloth and sluggishness stole whole scenes.

His stardom has always annoyed me. In real life he was shy, elegant of dress, and had an enormous penis – an infallible combination for female appeal – but on the screen, I don’t get it. I suppose people felt that a taciturn male must be more profound than a talkative one and more attractive and more masculine, which, with Robert Preston on the screen is proved pure baloney. I knew that when I was six years old and saw this movie when it first came out.

If you can wait for the finale when it comes it’s an entertaining show. And you won’t have wasted your quarter. Or your 17 cents, which is what a matinee cost me in 1939.

 

Beau Geste

03 May

Beau Geste – directed by William Wellman. Action adventure. 112 minutes Black And White 1939.

★★★★

The Story: Three orphan boys grow up together, join the French Foreign Legion together, and act nobly together.

~

In a neck-and-neck race with George Steven’s Gunga Din at RKO, Beau Geste is a-scene-by-scene adaptation of the 1926 silent film starring Ronald Colman. As such it is slow going. Until it isn’t.

For nothing happens in the film until the last scenes, in which Brian Donlevy, the nasty sergeant in charge of the garrison, literally mans the battlements by stuffing its crenellations with the corpses the marauding Arabs have made of his men, which scares the Arabs off.

This is a super-duper and justly famous battle scene, worth waiting for. It inspires the star of the picture, Gary Cooper, who hates the sergeant, to admit Donlevy is a great soldier. Donlevy is perhaps ill-cast, for he does not have a mean streak, which is needed, but a wicked sense of humor, which is not. He plays the part well, nonetheless.

It’s all, of course, well directed by William Wellman, who made sure not to leave out his favorite, a rain-scene, even though everyone is indoors. Those indoors enclose the three adopted boys of the lady bountiful of the house, who possesses the famous infamous “blue water” sapphire which figures into a plot that frames the action of the boys once they join the French Foreign Legion. Is that clear?

I hope not, because to distract us we have various young to-be stars trickling through the desert sands, Broderick Crawford, for one. Alfred Dekker, J. Carrol Naish for two. And for yet another, Susan Hayward, the most strictured of all actresses, who is the fond focus of Ray Milland.

Milland is the only one of the three English boys to have an English accent. Gary Cooper, who of course was schooled in England, does not assume one. Wonder why. Nor does Robert Preston as the third of the boys. Preston with his Dennis Quaid grin and zest is the most welcome of energies always, and who could be more convincing than he to save the day at last?

The story is a long-winded set-up for this final scene. You keep wondering when something is going to happen as we lumber through the boyhoods of these boys.

Gary Cooper when little is played by Donald O’Connor, if you can figure: O’Connor the most spritely, Cooper the least spritely of actors. Is this because Cooper was an actor who looked older than he was and O’Connor’s youth was supposed to correct it? Here Cooper is 38, too old for the part of a runaway youth in 1939, the miracle year of American Film. Robert Preston is 21, which is more like it.

Cooper had written into his contracts that he never play a character who dies. Perhaps because as an actor he is already rather dead. If he did die how could you tell? Cooper is an actor who used his inertia to act. He is never one to pick up cues before sucking attention towards him. Cooper’s sluggishness stole scenes.

His stardom has always annoyed me. In real life he was shy and had an enormous penis – an infallible combination for female appeal – but on the screen, I don’t get it. I suppose people felt that a taciturn male must be more profound than a talkative one and more attractive.

I knew, when I was six years old and saw this movie when it first came out, it wasn’t necessarily so.

Still, it’s an entertaining show. And you won’t have wasted your 17 cents, which is what a 1939 matinee cost me.

 

Distant Drums

23 Jun

Distant Drums – directed by Raoul Walsh. Historical Adventure. A lone settler heads a raid on a Florida fort, then leads his men back to safety. 101 minutes Color 1951.

★★★★

How did Max Steiner get a symphony orchestra into the Everglades! Oh, those Seminoles, they sure take a beating from him, as do we watching this very watchable, if over-scored, Raoul Walsh action/adventure story. Actually it’s incorrect to call Walsh’s films action/adventure, when many of them are, and when he is at his best, are tales of a journey. Up into the high Sierras in High Sierra. Through the Burmese jungle in Objective Burma. Across the Oregon wilderness in what to my mind is the greatest Western ever made, The Big Trail. For some years his films were being scored by Max Steiner and filmed by Sid Hickox, and, I always feel that both of them diminish them through overloading the color. But it is also true that Walsh by now took less trouble with the scripts; the stories and dialogue tend to the banal, and Hickox and Steiner may have just been trying to jack them up. Walsh always tells a story superbly; that’s not the question; the question is how good is the story? And then thee is Gary Cooper. I don’t like Gary Cooper. There is something phony about him. He is an actor incapable of an emphasis. I almost asked Patrician Neal once, “How could you fall in love with such a bad actor?” but at the time the lady was smitten, and that counts for a lot that doesn’t count. I watch Cooper to see if I believe him. And in this film I pretty much do. I believe he has an ear cocked for those sly Seminoles, although the costumer has them tricked up in such gaudy war paint and deer skin, you could hardly miss them. I believe his thought processes. I believe there is an inherent morality playing in him. I believe in his stalwartness, his pertinacity. I don’t believe the faces he makes, that curling down of his lower lip and that balance of his voice with his lines, which I also believe coming from him, which, considering their utilitarian nature, do demand no more than the slightest life lest they be betrayed as having so little. And this he has to give: he is an actor without temperament, of course. I believe in his masculinity. I believe in his slightly bow-legged stride. I believe in his command – which the other characters have to believe in too in order to follow him with the gaitors and cotton-mouths slithering after them. I believe in the role he plays, but not the character. He is the sort of actor males in the audience would like to be one day, and wake up when old to realize they have failed to become. Perhaps. What we know of Cooper is that he was a consummate lothario, was vain, and never would play a character who died at the end. I do not believe what others believe about him, but I can understand why others do. In real life a voluble talker, in film, though,laconic and quiet, to me he is so soft spoken he is odd. Here he is not young but he still has his fine slim figure, and he is photographed so the bags under his eyes don’t show. He is a great star because males and females equally want to carry his arms or be in his arms. He looks good, but he is good looking in a way that does not interest me. And he is American in a way that does not interest me. That is to say aloof. Even disdainful. A loner it is called. Someone who never asks for directions. He never played a part opposite a character more noble than himself. And he very often wastes the other actors’ time and cues by hemming and hawing and making cute. However, in this film, despite that you know he going to survive (for he always does), you do believe in his sense of peril, the fear and necessity that motivate him, his urgency of the story – which Walsh tells with unerring economy as usual – and right in the Everglades itself, at Silver Springs, and into the astonishing ruins of Castillo San Marcos. The qualities that define a star shine on a list that is never complete, but one thing all of them have, which is that they all belong up there in those huge moving photographs of them. Like him or not, Cooper belonged there.

 

Love In The Afternoon

16 May

Love In The Afternoon — directed by Billy Wilder. Romanic Comedy. A notorious Lothario and a pretty young music student exchange blisses. 130 minutes Black and White 1957.

★★★

This is one of the creamiest Hollywood romantic comedies and it is also the most revolting. What makes it creamy is its confection by Ernst Lubitsch, here impostured by his devotee Billy Wilder, who makes anew Lubitsch’s light, deft, and magical touch with Viennese Pastry. In his heyday, everything Lubitsch did, whether comedy or musical, was operetta, and he used Maurice Chevalier as one of the consistent ingredients, here now present as Audrey Hepburn’s father, although he does appear old enough to be her grandfather. Never mind: he makes no attempt to crush you into marzipan with his charm, and he is just fine. All he has to do is love her, and, since she is Audrey Hepburn, this is not hard to do. Her gentle sense of fun leavens the dessert. What is hard to take is her antediluvian leading man. Why this actress was set opposite ancient leading men for so much of her young life is a mystery. Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, the presence of only the last of whom can be said to be justified. I suppose it was to sustain her range as an ingénue. For she was a true ingénue, and we did not have another one until Gwyneth Paltrow, so it’s a rarer flower than one might suppose. Although at the time she made this film she was 29, her quality was always 19, and it is so here. However that may be, whom we have opposite her is an actor in an advanced state of decomposition, Gary Cooper. He has lost his slim hips, so while he wears beautiful clothes he does not look good in them. His face did not age well; his visage sags with sadness; he has luggage under his eyes. He is too darned old. And he is such a bad actor. He cannot pick up his cues properly. He cannot do the simplest actor’s task with simple conviction. And we are still asked, aged 57, to swallow his fraudulent naiveté, and the phony supposition that taciturn men are more profound, more honest, and more masculine. (Have you ever known a cowboy who wasn’t a blabbermouth?) He is completely unconvincing as a wealthy internationally renowned roué, a la Porfirio Rubirosa, just as he was in Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. In real life, Cooper was a roué, but that does not mean he will admit to the shame of so being as a character. What one senses underlying his presence is his overweening vanity, his contempt, and his stumbling deliberately to blind us to his lack of natural or even professional ability. He never would accept a movie in which he died; he had always to be the hero. The logical ending to this movie, which the entrancing Audrey Hepburn carries upon her thin Givenchy-laden shoulders, is that he jump off the train to marry her, but no, he sweeps her on the train to become his mistress. Disgusting. Otherwise, the film is charmingly conceived and written, beautifully filmed by William Mellor, who worked with George Stevens so often. The Lubitsch touches have to do with four musicians going through a door and a rolling liquor table, and a hat, and they are endearing. Lubitsch liked people a lot more than Billy Wilder did, and that cannot be taught. But the film is likable, although revolting, and a model for making a smooth confection to perfection.

 

Starlift

26 Dec

Starlift. A smorgasbord of numbers to boost morale produced at Warners 1 hours 43 minutes.Black and White 1951.

* * *

The Travis Airforce Base stars in this pot pouri of musical and comedy numbers, designed to imitate Hollywood Canteen and This Is The Army. It is a scrapbook musical set this time not in WWII but in the Korean War, a War whose name, however, is never mentioned once during the entire film. Various superstars saunter through, among them James Cagney who is the best, and Gary Cooper who has a droll moment as a Dudley Doright cowboy in the skit narrated by the ever-bland Phil Harris. Doris Day sings whenever a bandaid appears on the arm of a returning vet. Gordon Macrae sings several numbers under his pompadour, and Virginia Mayo does a sweaty and effortful Polynesian dance in a blond wig, or perhaps the blond wig does the dance on top of Virginia Mayo. Everyone does their darndest anyhow. Jane Wyman sings, which is natural, as she actually began her career in musicals. Ruth Roman is the mother superior of  a mission to entertain the returning troops, airlifted in to Travis, (although I was in that war and we all went out by troopship from Camp Stoneman). Anyhow, the film is a actually about the movie star played by Janice Rule who is 19 when this was made. Here she is a dancer, as skilled as Gene Nelson who partners her, and she becomes involved with a forged romance, foisted off on the public by Louella Parsons who also appears. Janice Rule was to become one of the most accomplished and beautiful actresses ever to appear in film, and it is a loss that her career hadn’t more shape. She was powerful and mysterious with a beautiful speaking voice; she’s a later-day Howard Hawks sort of female, forward and humorous in her sexuality. The sides of her mouth curl up exquisitely, just as they did with that other dark-haired beauty, Cyd Charisse. What’s also fascinating is to see Doris Day in full force. Of course there never was a time when Doris Day was not in full force. She is always giving her all and it is always at the limit of her technique. Her application to the task and her daring make her look good. But she wasn’t about to play games; she was a single mother with a son to support; still, her work would appear more intelligent, were she not so eager to please. DoDo acts out of the power of a sure and certain instinct, and if you want to see instinctual acting, this is it. If you want to see instinctual acting with no discriminatory power attached, this is also it. She hits her mark every time; what is at question is the mark itself. The movie is lame, and slightly dishonest which the WWII anthology movies were not. What makes it lame is the faux naiveté of its sexuality combined with the obligatory leer of its males, wolf whistles being the shortest of all shorthands to romance.

 

 

 

Ball Of FIre

09 Oct

Ball Of Fire – Directed by Howard Hawks. Screwball Comedy. A virginal professor meets up with a tootsie chanteuse. 111 minutes Black and White 1941,

* * * *

Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote this version of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, with Dana Andrews as The Wicked Stepmother, Gary Cooper as Snow White, and Barbara Stanwyck as the ball of fire that wakes him from his sexual sleep. Because it is inauthentic, Cooper’s naïve style dates badly, and the film dates too. This is most noticeable when compared to Hawks’ intolerable A Song Is Born made only seven years later with the exact same script, set, setups, cameraman (Gregg Toland), and even Miss Totten.  Why? World War II had intervened and America was naïve no longer. Yet of the two versions, this is the more swallowable. First of all, Gary Cooper is a prettier object of romance than Danny Kaye, and second of all Barbara Stanwyck. It’s a shame Stanwyck did not make more comedies. The War may have killed that too. She had spunk, a strong breezy style, and a rich sense of humor that fit perfectly into the works of Capra, Sturges, and Hawks. Here she is a bunch of fun as the tart, sexually insolent singer on the lam in a refuge of encyclopeaists. These seven dwarfs are played in the lost manner of the time by the great S. Z. Sakall, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, Leonid Kinsky, and others. The brilliant Dan Duryea is on hand as a henchman as is the sparky Elisha Cook Jr as a waiter. Hawks had a ten-year run of huge hits – Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, Sargent York, Air Force, To Have And To Have Not, The Big Sleep, Red River, I Was A Male War Bride, The Thing – and this was one of them. It is the most forced of all his comedies, and like all of them it is an owl and the pussycat story, of a person heading toward the cliff of convention being rescued against his will by a ruthless eccentric. A fundamental human sexual predicament, that is to say, one that is still recognizable despite, or perhaps even more recognizable because of our modern sexual liberation.

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BlueBeard’s Eight Wife — I Met Him In Paris

31 Dec

Bluebeard’s Seventh Wife — directed by Ernst Lubitsch —  I Met Him In Paris — directed by Charlie Ruggles — black and white — 1937

* * * * *

Charlie Ruggles directs Paris and Ernst Lubitsch directs Bluebeard, and the difference is startling. Both directors have amusingly improbable scripts, both have big stars talents, but Ruggle’s film isn’t funny where it ought to be, and Lubitsch’s film is funny even where it ought not to be. Lubitsch is a realm unto itself. Somehow he could create a context where comedy — or rather humor — could flourish. The long astonishing opening sequence of Bluebeard is a case in point. You must remember that Gary Cooper was one of the world’s best-dressed men, tutored in it by the much older woman who kept him, the Countess De Frassio. So Gary Cooper enters a posh Riviera haberdashery and is accosted by a silly salesman to whom he pays no attention. What we notice is that Cooper, the least responsive of actors, is on the uptake right from the start and through the whole long sequence, which includes more parts that I have space to tell you of here, and ends with Cooper meeting Claudette Colbert and both of them throwing one another away. But my question is: how can Lubitsch get this usually unfocussed and self-indulgent actor Gary Cooper to bowl in the money alley? (He even used Cooper in, of all things, Design For Living!) Lubitsch was a kind of soufflé in which comedy could take place, and anyone who appeared in a film of his found comic grace awaiting them. Colbert is an expert high comedienne but even she, in the second feature, I Met Him In Paris, even Melvyn Douglas who is a deft comedian, and even Robert Young who has his own neat gifts in the craft, cannot make anything but a dull dish out of Paris. In it, though, we have a charming scene of Douglas and Colbert ice-skating, and I want your opinion: does Douglas look ridiculous in knickers, or am I mistaken and does he really bring it off? Lubitsch on the other hand somehow makes one complicit in the fun. He credits your intelligence and willingness to participate in the story as he tells it, so you become part of the telling. He lets you do your job as an audience. How satisfying! How rewarding! How hand-rubbingly droll!

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They Came To Cordura

17 Oct

They Came To Cordura – directed by Robert Rosen – Period Western drama in which an officer must chaperone a pack of renegade men and a treacherous woman across the parching desert. 123 minutes color 1959.

* * * *

A better picture than it was thought to be at the time, the actual story of internal human values supervenes in our interest in the arduous trek. Rita Hayworth was a good screen actress and a knockout. The sight of her elegant dancer’s carriage sitting in a saddle in a wide-brimmed hat shading that incredible jaw-line is alone worth the price of admission. In support are a pack of first class stars, Richard Conte, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter. Gary Cooper is close to the end of his work in films. He seems too old for the part, at least he looks too old –– for the simple reason that the efficient cause of his being given this assignment would only obtain to a newcomer. The grueling haul of seven individuals of dubious character across the spectacular desert ranges of the Southwest is stunning. Robert Rossen of All The Kings Men wrote and directed, and the script demonstrates a gripping moral debate, the constituents of cowardice and courage, Cooper’s home territory. Better now than before, this film may grow into its proper audience. It was, and still is, the sort of picture no longer made by Hollywood: one with adult themes, made with adult stars, and intended for adult audiences. Well worth watching.

* * * *

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