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Archive for the ‘Howard Da SIlva’ Category

Keeper Of The Flame

10 May

Keeper Of The Flame – directed by George Cukor. WW II Melodrama. A gigantic American hero dies and a foreign correspondent tries to uncover the truth about him through questioning his wife.

★★★

To say George Cukor was a so-so director is not to stretch the bounds of praise. He had no sense of narrative proportion. He so loved the beauty and truth of actresses that he lumbered his films with scenes lengthened to glamorize them. For he loved women. What he did not love was men and women. He had no sense of the sexual energy between them, and you will find that most of his films are not about mating. This one certainly is not. So, as a follow-up of Woman Of The Year, by a director who certainly loved men and women, George Stevens, it is a baffling folly. However, in glamorizing Katharine Hepburn it is a triumph – one she carries admirably. With her carved visage, slim figure, and large hands, she is a goddess, not in the sense of a deity but in the sense of something carved out of stone. Indeed she enters the film draped by Adrian, in white like sculpture. It is one of the great opening scenes for an actress ever shot. And that is because the great William Daniels is filming it, lighting it, and choosing the floor-up angle to exalt it. The creator of Garbo in silents and sound, he is a photographer who could make every movie he shot look like a concerto. You’re not consciously aware of it, but each scene in the picture becomes alive and important because he is filming it to make it look like a Greek Tragedy. Which Greek Tragedy? The one in which, as E.B. Browning once said, Cassandra smells the slaughter in the bathroom. It is pointless to expatiate now how this picture could be improved (only to warn the viewer parenthetically that the idea of a fascist threat inside America during WW II was hooey). What one can say is that Hepburn plays all her scenes quietly, her cheeks held still, her sometimes grating volatility left outside the door. She exudes a convincing, mysterious and necessary calm. Excellent is what she is. And for that we can credit Cukor. Spencer Tracy plays the world-famous reporter, her part in Woman Of The Year, and again he is up against Hepburn’s devotion to a cause greater than anything that could lie between them. As in Woman Of The Year with Dan Tobin, she is almost under the control of her assistant Richard Whorf. Both men are played as fruits, which confuses their treachery with their sexual orientation, a combination which is truthful to neither. Are we supposed to hate fruits because they are treacherous or hate traitors because they are fruits? You see the absurdity of the matter. A strong supporting cast is put to abuse; Frank Craven as the doctor, Stephen McNally as the investigative journalist, Margaret Wycherly as the balmy mother of the great man, Howard Da Silva as the doorkeeper whom he saved and who hates him, Percy Kilbride as the smug yokel, Forrest Tucker as the great big jock, Donald Meek as the meek little hotel manager, and Audrey Christie as the newspaper dame whose sexual sallies tell us Tracy is not interested in women of any kind at all. During production, Hepburn and Donald Ogden Stewart the adapter fought badly over this story’s treatment and she won. Too bad. She fancied herself as a writer, but if you read her autobiography, you can see she was not one at all. As with Summertime and other ventures, her interference in the area of story are almost always wrong. It comes out of her desire to control, also known as, wanting to make things better, but in her case it springs from a fear at no place evident in this fine performance, which ends with one of the longest monologs ever to be given to the temptation of an actress to venture out upon. As she emerges from the shadows to do it, Tracy retreats into them. And William Daniels, quite right, has his way.

 

They Live By Night

24 Aug

They Live By Night – Directed by Nicholas Ray. Young Romance Escape Drama. With the law barking at their heels, an escapee and a farm girl try for a better life. 95 minutes Black and White 1947.

* * * * *

The first film of Nicholas Ray and a good one. George Diskant filmed it noirishly, but it is not noir, it is Hollywood teen romance. But with a good script and with a powerful supporting cast on all levels, particularly Howard Da Silva who sports a blind eye somehow — he’s really something to watch as the shaky violent holdup man. But you can see excellence and power in every actor: in the tragic Helen Craig the foolish wife, in Ian Wolfe who plays the bogus preacher, in Will Lee as the screwy jeweler, in eager-toothed Byron Foulger as the motel owner, in Will Wright who plays the drunken farmer, in Jay C. Flippen as the sweet but violent ex-con. Each of these performances is strong, detailed, and eccentric, and the film is carried by them. As it is not carried by the leads Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger. O’Donnell begins well – surly, withdrawn, wary, rude – but before long she dies of saccharine poisoning. Why do actresses take that route? They begin salty and turn merely sugary. The part would have been perfect for a young Barbara Stanwyck, a lower class girl and ruthless, or Cissy Spacek, a hick. But O’Donnell is clearly a nice middle class miss, and after she gets out of her dirty overalls, she’s a right proper Hollywood glazed-over thingamajig and all reality is lost. As to Farley Granger he is quite miscast as a JD on the run. Granger was 21 when he made the picture, and he’s just a nice-looking, spoiled, middle-class NYU geek, with no liaison in the character between scenes and no underpinnings either in his own character or in imagination about the character. He plays everything manfully, though, but he is just too privileged to be imperiled. However, a good strongly written story carries them all forward and holds our attention with its unexpected narrative and its individual scenic fulfillments. The film’s a gem that shines brightly and entertainingly, even though and perhaps because it is made of paste. Check it out.

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Border Incident

23 Aug

Border Incident – Directed by Anthony Mann. Government Agency Enforcement Drama. Immigration Authorities track down trafficking of Mexican Braceros illegally imported into the US as slaves. 94 minutes Black and White 1949.

* * * * *

A strong supporting cast of Bad Guys keep putting things in their mouths and doing the cock-eyed and donning stark getups. The magisterial Howard Da Silva as the heavy is great with cigars, of course, but take a look at what the others are chewing. Ugh! Anyhow they’re all very Stanislavsky, very Russian, in their playing, and thank God for that. We have Arnold Moss, mad-hatted, with eyes like black sunflowers, wearing a checkerboard shirt as the actors engage in cards, chess, and other games of chance while the big game of chance unfolds. The great Alfonso Bedoya steals every scene he appears in simply by dint of his appearing in it. He is fascinating to watch and, as an actor, never wrong. Charles McGraw, a Mann staple, looks like he should be thrown in jail and hung.

This leaves us with the stiffs who play the Immigration Good Guys and stand up for the Mexicans who are being treated barbarously. Their on-camera representatives are George Murphy as the set-up and Ricardo Montalban, a big star in Mexico, playing the plant among the smuggled peons. But it is his bonding with the peon James Mitchell plays that holds the screen and validates the action, which consists of an insurrection of the peons. James Mitchell is very beautiful and very Mexican in his affect and his upper eyelids. He and Montalban are exactly the same age, 28; Mann has them play their scenes in great physical intimacy. They wrap themselves around one another without touching. It is interesting to see this happen in a picture of this era. In the end you believe James Mitchell would die to save Montalban’s life, for he nearly does so.

Montalban refers to it as a B movie, which at the time it was, but it’s an A movie now. He also ascribes it to John Sturges, and says nothing more except that it got fine reviews and received some awards but did not receive much attention. Though he could neither sing nor dance, he had made four musicals at MGM, playing exotics, and went back to make another. “I never did get the big dramatic role that is so important for an actor’s career. I never had gotten it in Hollywood.” He must have been dreaming. He had a strong accent and was Mexican. Anyhow, this is that role.

John Alton who shot it paints the film with light; sometimes it is dramatic; sometimes it is theatrical, but it is always gripping, as is Mann’s staging of an all-male cast, and his willingness to go to extremes.  He also ends it, as he ends He Walked By Night and Side Street, with men pursued and trapped in a narrow space, here a canyon, a death canal.

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