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Archive for the ‘J. Carrol Naish’ 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.

 

Blood And Sand [1941]

22 Dec

Blood And Sand [1941] — directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Sports Drama. 125 minutes Color 1941.

★★★★★

The Story: A poor illiterate boy from Seville becomes Spain’s greatest matador, marries his beautiful childhood sweetheart, and then meets Rita Hayworth.

~

The lipstick on her mouth is the slash of death. As soon as she appears in purple, you know Tyrone Power is in Dutch. Anyone would be.

She’s 22 but she plays a woman of marked sophistication and massively confident sexual greed. She is never dressed down but always up and never less than to kill. Like gold coins, men move through what her choreographer Hermes Pan called the most beautiful fingers in the world. The part made her a star.

Even here, you can see what a good actress she is, her gift dependent upon her responsiveness. Just watch her in the big confrontation scene with Linda Darnell; watch how everything Darnell says to her hits her and what Hayworth does with it.  She has a natural inbred Meisner technique.

There are many attributes that made Hayworth a star, but let’s just notice one of them: her beautiful carriage. You’d have to wait until Cyd Charisse to meet her match. Look how the shoulders and hands are carried as she dances. She has three dances here, one sitting down playing a guitar in which she moves only her shoulders, one where she turns Power into a bull of her bidding, and one in full upright fornication which she does with Anthony Quinn.

Quinn, when young, is sexier than Power. His eyes burn with the hatred of an Italian whore; nothing could be hotter. And then we have Linda Darnell who is 17 years old here and unutterably touching. These film stars have such natural gifts. Darnell has the power to inhale with her eyes. It’s not a trick. She simply does it as an attribute of what she is. To witness such things is to cause wonder.

The weak link in all of this is Power himself who never has a hardon as the matador. He never investigates the character; he misses the eager brash guttersnipe of that scampering scamp of a boy he began as. You never feel his love of the sport, upon which the story depends. Of course, as in all bullfight movies, you cannot show the actor actually fighting the bull. If it were football, it would be different.

Blood And Sand is renowned for its color scheme of gold, ice blue, and blood red which the director imposed on it, and its Special Features contains a commentary by a modern cameraman Richard Crudo, a tutorial on the cumbersome challenge of Technicolor, which here is thick, rich, and saturated.

Mamoulian paints with film, right from the start with an all-but-naked adolescent boy racing through a blue moonlit countryside. He spray- paints Hayworth’s banquet flowers black. He spray paints John Carradine’s deathbed sheets grey. Darnell’s dresses are always white, black, or true blue. And Mamoulian dyed Hayworth’s hair auburn, which it remained for the rest of her career.

The backstage work of bullfighting is arresting, and we are treated to a supporting cast of considerable strength: Carradine as Power’s faithful friend, J. Carroll Naish as a wise fellow matador; Laird Cregar as louche journalist full of himself; as Power’s mother, storied actress Ala Nazimova. The movie is a lot of different sorts of fun: its camera work, color schemes, bright casting, two gorgeous young women. Although, as a whole, as you will see to your amusement and forgiveness, lead does not add weight to melodrama.

 

 

Blood And Sand [1941]

27 Jan

Blood And Sand — directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Sports Drama. 125 minutes Color 1941.

★★★★★

The Story: A poor illiterate boy from Seville becomes Spain’s greatest matador, marries his beautiful childhood sweetheart, and then meets Rita Hayworth.

~

The lipstick on her mouth is the slash of death. As soon as she appears in purple, you know Tyrone Power is in Dutch. Anyone would be.

She’s 22 but she plays a woman of marked sophistication and massively confident sexual greed. She is never dressed down but always up and never less than to kill. Like gold coins, men move through what Hermes Pan her choreographer called the most beautiful fingers in the world. The part made her a star.

Even here, you can see what a good actress she is, her gift dependent upon her responsiveness. Just watch her in the big confrontation scene with Linda Darnell; watch how everything Darnell says to her hits her and what she does with it.  She has a natural inbred Meisner technique.

There are many attributes that made Hayworth a star, but let’s just notice one of them: she has the most beautiful carriage. You’d have to wait until Cyd Charisse to meet her match. Look how the shoulders and hands are carried as she dances. She has three of these, one sitting down playing a guitar in which she moves only her shoulders, one where she subjects Power into a bull of her bidding, and one of full upright fornication which she does with Anthony Quinn.

Quinn, when young, is sexier than Power. His eyes burn with the hatred of an Italian whore; nothing could be hotter. And then we have Linda Darnell who is 17 years old here and unutterably touching. These film stars have such natural gifts. Darnell has the power to inhale with her eyes. It’s not a trick. She simply does it as an attribute of what she is. To witness such things is to cause wonder in us.

The weak link in all of this is Power himself who never has a hardon as the matador. He never investigates the character; he misses the eager brash guttersnipe of that scampering scamp of a boy he began as. You never feel his love of the sport, upon which the story depends. Of course, as in all bullfight movies, you cannot show the actor actually fighting the bull. If it were football, it would be different.

Blood And Sand is renowned for its color scheme of gold, ice blue, and blood red which the director imposed on it, and its Special Features contains a commentary by a modern cameraman Richard Crudo, a tutorial on the cumbersome challenge of Technicolor, which here is thick, rich, and saturated. Mamoulian paints with film, right from the start with an all-but-naked adolescent boy racing through a blue moonlit countryside. He spray paints Hayworth’s banquet flowers black. He spray paints John Carradine’s deathbed sheets grey. Darnell’s dresses are always white, black, or true blue. And Mamoulian dyed Hayworth’s hair auburn, which it remained for the rest of her career.

The backstage work of bullfighting is arresting, and we are treated to a supporting cast of considerable strength: John Carradine as Power’s faithful friend, J. Carroll Naish as a wise fellow matador; Laird Cregar as louche journalist full of himself; as Power’s mother, storied actress Ala Nazimova. The movie is a lot of different sorts of fun: its camera work, color schemes, bright casting, two gorgeous young women, although, as you will see to your amusement and forgiveness, lead does not add weight to melodrama.

 

 

Clash By Night

21 Oct

Clash By Night — Directed by Fritz Lang. Kitchen Sink Drama. A woman who has married a decent dullard falls for a hunk of trouble. 105 minutes Black and White 1952.

* * * * *

It is not film noir; it is kitchen sink drama of the kind that Chayefsky was writing and that was all over live TV at the time. It’s by Odets, and later even the great Rita Hayworth appeared in one of these KSDs, Story On Page One, also by Odets. This version is excellent and Bogdanovich and Lang himself do the Extra Features voice over, which is an education and a treat. We have here a strong story, well acted by Robert Ryan as the cad and Barbara Stanwyck, although not by Paul Douglas who plays it for pity – never a good idea. Marilyn Monroe as a small town girl is wonderful in all her scenes and different from the lollypop she often was shown as later; here she’s a fish-scaler in a Monterey cannery; she’s wonderful in a scene where her boyfriend tells her off. Kim Stanley, Lloyd Bridges, and E.G. Marshall made a TV version of this a little later, and it’s interesting to compare the scripts and performances. For one thing, Kim Stanley is better at playing a mother than Stanwyck because she was closer to childbearing age. But here Stanwyck is wonderful as the beaten-down, been-away-for-years failure. And why is that? Because Stanwyck is the least beaten-down person on the planet. In both versions the false naiveté of the husband stretches our gag reflex. But the piece has its power. In the case of Kim Stanley it is the power of a woman whose sexual capacity is stifled by her circumstances and has no way out but toward the arms of a rotter. In the case of Stanwyck, it is her natural power that is stifled with the same tragic result. Odets was a master at dramas of humans with no natural outlet. The ignorant armies are inside us. We are in the land of lower-class melodrama here, and in this case, I can think of far worse places to be. Fritz Lang’s work is always worth seeing.

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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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The Kissing Bandit

30 Sep

The Kissing Bandit – Directed by Laslo Benedek. Musical. The milquetoast son of a famed Mexican bandit longs for his son to take up the gun, and become “The Kissing Bandit.” 100 minutes 1948.

* * * *

In Ann Miller’s picture book of her musicals, this one is described, by common agreement of all its principals, as The Worst Musical Ever Made. I don’t know what the worst ever made is, but this can’t be it. First of all it is a lot of fun! It’s a Latin American farce, so, if you like The Pirate as much as I do, you will find this picture has its own version of amusement. (True, it would have been better directed by Vincente Minnelli.) Much of that amusement is supplied by J. Carrol Naish who, with a light-bulb nose, plays the funniest bandito in the world, grumpy, greedy, and galumphing. He is abetted by Mildred Natwick who is super as a lecherous duenna. For its stars we have Frank Sinatra, who is in perfect voice, and Kathryn Grayson, the same. These two had made musicals together before this, and got along. Why?  As they are so oddly matched, they are perfectly suited to one another. For Kathryn Grayson with her valentine face and bosom and her operetta soprano and Sinatra with no body weight at all and his crooner’s baritone are a naturally funny combo and they both play their parts well in the style of light farce, with Sinatra as the fool and Grayson as the femme voluptueuse. None of Nacio Herb Brown’s songs (save Love Is Where You Find It) are hits, yet that is not the problem. The problem is that the costumes are lousy. They drown the performers and the performances. They are not just over the top, which would be fun, they are vulgar, and one is wrenched from what is going on by the distraction of their garishness. Only until Grayson gets into a black dress and then into a white one, do her scenes work. A neat pas de trois, with Cyd Charisse and Ann Miller and Ricardo Montalban, is almost demolished because of the gold shoulders the two ladies wear. (As an aside, I wonder – why it was Sinatra was always presented as sexually callow in his films, a boy with no passion, sexual experience, or drive. Was it to still milk his appeal to fifteen year old bobby soxers?) The great Robert Surtees filmed it, and it still works to entertain escape and beguile. See if you don’t agree.

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Joan Of Arc

11 Jul

Joan of Arc – Directed by Victor Fleming. A teenage country girl is inspired to save France, does it, and is punished for her trouble. Two and a half hours Color 1947.

*

One wonders what Ingrid Bergman saw in this story. She had always wanted to play it; she had done it on the New York stage; she was to make an Italian movie of it later; she was to perform Claudel and Honegger’s version of it on the European stage. The illiterate lass had the spirit of a brazen adolescent (as in G.B. Shaw) and at 17 bent her steps for King Louis’ court to win back the key city of Orleans from the Burgundians and to crown Louis at Rheims Cathedral, which she did. Not content to sit out her fame at his court, she defied Louis, raised an army of her own, and in battle after battle never won another, and only stopped when she was captured, sold by the british, tried by the Burgundians in an ecclesiastical court under Bishop Cauchon as a heretic, and handed back to the British to be burned at the stake, which extinguished her bold life aged 19. Why would Bergman want to play a part which went against so much that she had done in films? In films she played the hard-done-to one, the put-upon lady who was shuffled about or abused, as in Intermezzo, Notorious, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Gaslight, Casablanca. But Joan of Arc was a go-getter, a careerist par excellence. Julie Harris’s Lark made her feisty and Uta Hagen made her sturdy. Maybe Bergman wanted to do something entirely different from her usual way. And so, huge star that she was, aged 33, an enormous movie is mounted for her. Victor Fleming, used to the difficulties of massive movies and munchkins, directs it, and the action sequences are pretty good all right. For supporting players we have the massive Francis L. Sullivan as Bishop Cauchon, and he moves about the room like a room in a room. Jose Ferrer plays the Dauphin Louis. Yet, with all of this, the only thing you can look at are the costumes, which are sensational, and which won an Oscar that year. As did the cinemaphotography, which is glorious, particularly as it deals with Ingrid Bergman’s face which had to be carefully lit, and is, and could only successfully be photographed on the left side, which it, for the most part, is. And what sort of Joan emerges from these luxuries? The same put-upon lady she had played so many times before.  Her emotionalization of the role crashes against the story of Joan like a cannonball of custard. That weeping girl  could no more have saved France than a cow could polka. I saw the longer version. There is a shorter version. I recommend no version at all.

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