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Archive for the ‘José Ferrer’ Category

Lawrence Of Arabia

03 Feb

Lawrence Of Arabia – directed by David Lean. BioPic. 217 minutes Color 1962.

★★★★

The Story: An English cartographer, archeologist, and linguist sets out on a mission to free Arabia by inducing it to fight for the British their WWI Turkish enemy.

~

The impression of spectacle is awe. The desert of the Middle East in color delivers that impression, but it does not deliver anything more internal than awe, such as danger. The smooth systems of color deny the desert its peril. Color comes at you. It blinds, it beguiles, it pleases. All those are real in their way. But color also excises certain levels of engagement which black and white grants. The desert is pretty, even in its mazy peril. But as a wild animal it is never real. Only as a spectacle.

Thinking of color and spectacle, then, as possible narrative tools, we find that in Lawrence Of Arabia spectacle is never reserved for battle, but rather for the charges before battle, the marches to battle, the preparation for battle. David Lean was, at this time, not a maker of great films, but he was a great editor of long films. So the genocide of retreating troops is actually designed to illustrate to the audience the degradation of Lawrence rather than the awesome nature of manslaughter.

The story is so odd. Because T.E. Lawrence was odd. His and its oddity hold us to the story. Peter O’Toole as Lawrence does not stand in the way of the character, but he does not hold us.Peter O’Toole is so obvious. His acting is conventional theatrical, arch, unfelt. He doesn’t seem to have any body, muscle, blood under his djellaba. He seems barely able to walk or to hold up his arms. But we put up with all this and let it pass, because the story of Lawrence, as the film gives it us, is that of an extraordinary feat by a man extraordinary in another realm – as a radical idealist. You don’t see this sort of thing much in movies.

Peter O’Toole’s acting aesthetic was ham. Was then and, if we watched his work as he aged, to see if he got over that, we find evidence that he did. But here he is at the inattentive ignorance of a director who has no sense of the craft of acting at all. With actresses he was even worse. So, spectacle was Lean’s outlet for his addiction to directing films. He had to move away from his defects and into his attributes. Good for him.

Is anyone any good in this movie? Anthony Quinn plays the same dumb brute he played since La Strada and Viva Zapata and Streetcar. He has all the tropes for it in place and releases them all to our unsurprised eyes.

The great Claude Rains plays the British liaison with his usual attentive sophistication, and one waits for a great scene or moment, and it never comes because he is never given it.

José Ferrer brings his stunning enunciation and insect aspect to the role of the sadistic homosexual Turkish commander who violates, beats, and debases Lawrence. A small part for an overwhelming talent.

Alec Guinness plays Prince Faisal, a wily Arabian desert shark and is just silly. It’s a character manufactured out of studied convention, and you don’t believe in it for a moment.

Arthur Kennedy writes his own ticket playing the only American in the story, a photo-journalist based on Lowell Thomas. He’s really good, because his Americanness is out of place, his acting technique among the English is out of place, and his character itself, in The Middle East, is out of place. I love how he takes advantage of all this, and uses it to free himself to act.

Poor Anthony Quayle plays the military liaison officer with a regimented mind; I say poor, because his role need not have been so thankless as the author, Robert Bolt, wrote it. See him in The Tales Of Hoffman to see him at his best.

Jack Hawkins, as General Allenby the head of the British Army in The Middle East has the best part of all, that of a man who is always convincingly fair, and always spoken of as ruthlessly unfair. He brings riches of voice and masculinity to us, and a sense of vitality and power in reserve. What a pleasure to be with him!

Omar Sharif is quite bad. His readings and the script and the music by Maurice Jarre sound bastardized on a Maria Montez movie sired by Rimsky-Korsakov. It is a great part which he fails to stifle with his overacting. Because you can’t help but like Omar Sharif, he became a big star in Lean’s subsequent film, Doctor Zivago. But here he is at first. His moonlight madness eyes gleam. Ah, we had waited a long time for a Muslim to arrive as a matinée idol. A Muslim? Well, whatever he was, he certainly wasn’t a Presbyterian.

Lawrence was a man men intrigued themselves by. He was actually not intriguing, but enigmatic. George Bernard Shaw and his wife later adopted him, and he took Shaw’s name, and Shaw wrote a play about him, Too True To Be Good, which I saw on Broadway with Eileen Heckart, Lillian Gish, Robert Preston, Glynis Johns, Cedrick Hardwick, Cyril Richard, and David Wayne as Lawrence. That’s a lot of attention.

When he enlisted as a private in His Majesty’s service, thrice, Lawrence did so under pseudonym. He loved to play recordings of Delius. He wrote a beautifully written and printed book, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom about his Arabian adventure and its failure. Then he hid out. Everyone in the world knew him, except himself.

 

 

Gideon’s Trumpet

13 Nov

Gideon’s Trumpet– directed by Robert L. Collins. TV Drama. 104 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★★

The Story: A innocent man jailed for petty thievery petitions the Supreme Court and changes history.

~

Gideon’s Trumpet tells of one most important judicial decisions of modern times, one which I had never heard of. How it came about astonished me.

A unimpressive, cranky man Clarence Earl Gideon is condemned, without aid of counsel, to five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He studies law in prison and makes an appeal in pencil to The Supreme Court, and it is accepted, because he is poor and it is correct in form.

The case is simple but of monumental importance. It is argued by no less a person than Abe Fortas, played by José Ferrer, and opposed by Nicholas Pryor. I found the arguments impossible to follow, but the story as a whole is easy to follow and to weigh.

Gideon is played by Henry Fonda. Fonda is what is called a technical actor. His technique here consists of his pursing his lips slightly. This may sound mean on my part, but the fact is that a small physical change can rule an entire human body, and the result is perfectly believable and acceptable as Fonda performs him. It inevitably monotonizes the performance, but it allows us to run in tandem with him. Fonda may bore but never outstrips his audience.

Gideon was 51 when the trial took place. Fonda was 75 when he played him, so I feel a slight disparity between Fonda’s actual age and Gideon’s desire to be with his children. Always a cold actor, Fonda keeps still. But his coldness works, since it rules out sentimentality and the “big speech”. His mouth rules the performance and what lies around that mouth tells us we are in the presence of a wary individual. This works well for the role and for what we need not to know about Gideon until the time is ripe.

The Supreme Court actors make everything they say momentous in a way that is preposterous, and the head judge is played by the always pontificating John Houseman. None of them have much to do except listen and so they make so much of hearing that it is obvious they are not listening to a thing – the always handsome William Prince excepted.

But the story itself reflects its importance in a way that only American movies can do. No other nation does docudrama so well. The story it tells devastates any notion we might have that a person so inconsequential as Clarence Earl Gideon is inconsequential at all. To look at him, he counts for nothing. He counts for everything. It is a great American story.

 
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Posted in Dean Jagger, Henry Fonda, José Ferrer

 

Miss Sadie Thompson

20 Nov

Miss Sadie Thompson – directed by Curtis Bernhardt. Drama. Quarantined on a South Seas island a dance-hall girl and a man of the cloth battle it out for their souls. 93 minutes Color 1953.

★★★★

It’s stupid of me to suggest that the screenplay needed to be rewritten from scratch. For here it is 60 years later and the wench is dead. But do you ever get the feeling of a lost opportunity that must be corrected, and you know exactly how to do it?  Somerset Maugham’s story Rain was done on Broadway by Jeanne Eagles, and then in a silent with Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore, a talkie with Joan Crawford and Walter Huston, and this with Rita Hayworth and Jose Ferrer.

The original story begins with a long introduction of the missionary. The stage play starts with scenes with the owner of the Pago Pago hotel and his native wife. This version begins with a bunch of rowdy Marines, bored and hard up for female companionship. It plays like a stock version of South Pacific. You never believe them for a minute. They bray. And they pray. And they bray. The problem is that the director establishes no balance, pace, or variety with these men nor is it afforded to Rita Hayworth when she arrives as a tourist off the freighter that is to carry her to a job on a farther island.

You never believe the reformer/missionary and his cortege either, because they are not given enough screen time. They are interesting people, and Maugham knew they needed to be revealed first and fully. For the story is the conflict of two passions, one for perfection and the other for pleasure. Each passion contains a flaw fatal to it as they play themselves out against one another. In the Swanson version, the missionaries are established (by Raoul Walsh who directed, wrote, and starred in the role now played by Aldo Ray) as a bursar collects their entries for his autograph book, and we learn immediately from the pieties they indite therein the intensity of their persuasion.

This version is actually filmed in Hawaii, which brings a proper tropic to it, and which Charles Lawton, who filmed it, sustains in the interiors shot at Columbia. “The Heat is On” which Hayworth dances is beautifully filmed in the atmosphere of sweat, tropical rain, and the mist rising from hot male bodies watching. Her dance, her very presence in a film is worth the price of admission and the time. And I wanted her to be directed better, this is true for the film itself, which was a bowdlerized version cut down to fit the Hays office, women’s clubs, the Catholic Church, and other groups who crossed their legs about it. Didn’t work. Hayworth’s dance is so steamy that the film was banned.

Swanson brought to the part her long skills as a film actor in serious parts (which Hayworth did not have) and her abilities as a natural soubrette, which is how Maugham wrote her. Hayworth is no soubrette, but she unleashes herself on the part admirably, and, being Hayworth you care about her, even as you recognize how her beauty and joie-de-vivre will get her into trouble. Hayworth is the most subtle of the three actresses who played Sadie, she is the most sexually powerful, she is the most convincingly flagrant. In her performance is a performance greater than the one the director had the talent to give her. Maugham said she was his favorite of all the Sadies. She’s mine too. And why? Rita Hayworth is that rare thing, an actor you actually automatically want to root for.

 

The Greatest Story Ever Told

13 Feb

The Greatest Story Ever Told — directed by George Stevens. A prophet appears in the ancient Middle East and is believed and followed and then beset by political superstition.

3 hours and 19 minutes, Color, 1965.

★★★

It is not fair of me to review this film, for I have not seen it in a movie theatre, but only on my TV, which, while it is fairly large, cannot do justice to the size of the screen for which it was made. When Stevens was asked to choose between Panasonic and super-Panasonic, he chose the latter, although only two such cameras were available. Others were soon found. And the film was made as a story dependent upon its narration for a huge broad screen. Stevens had been a cameraman for years before he became a director, and he could combine the integrity of his material with the size of the canvas upon which he painted. The sort of the story and its telling were intrinsic to the size of the screen. The one had to do with the other, and to see this film on a TV screen is simply for most of it to fail to register as story. Or so I imagine. It may not be the Greatest Film ever made but it must be the most gorgeous. After research in the Holy Land, Stevens made it in remote Arizona settings which resembled that land of long ago. The flooding of Lake Powell was halted so it could be filmed as the Sea of Galilee. The settings are vast and panoramic and are meant, I believe to buoy up the power of the actions on the screen into a spiritual or at least other world dimension, and this I think they may succeed in doing. The individual scenes are made with Stevens’ unerring sense of beauty; he was inspired by famous paintings and their lighting; many interiors are dark and mysterious, lit for chiaroscuro and for effects which his simple camera setups were primed. Max Von Sydow is fine as Jesus as an actor, but no one else comes up to be as good as to be even bad. Great actors like Van Heflin look as uncomfortable in their sandals as everyone else; God, their feet must have hurt. The crowd scenes are just like all Hollywood crowd scenes, a lot of people shaking their fists in the air at the same time unconvincingly. No one is at home their costumes. The actors pause portentous eons between syllables, except for Jose Ferrer who mercifully picks up all his cues and for Claude Rains who gets on with it also. Charlton Heston is well cast as the humorless John The Baptist and delvers his lines through his stentorian teeth like a baleen whale in a vomitorium. Sal Mineo is marvelous as a cripple who is able to walk; his is the best performance in the film and probably of his career. Sometimes the old sermons are moving, but the picture does not seem to be, except once, when Sydney Poitier picks up the cross from Jesus’ stumbled back and helps him along with it. Much of the heart of the film seems to be kept at a distance, a beautiful distance, true. The miracles are all off to one side, never shown; only their effect is shown. The effect of Jesus on his apostles is never shown, always granted. Eventually, the film got out of control, and Jean Negulesco shot the Jerusalem street scenes and David Lean cast and shot the Claude Rains sequence. Alfred Newman scored it with ancient instruments, his own score, and Handel’s Messiah which is quite grating. Some day if I have the chance I will see this film in a movie house. William Mellor, Stevens’ favorite photographer shot it, and there isn’t a scene in it that isn’t rapturously beautiful. From a camera point of view. Whether from a human point of view and a narrative point of view, I wonder.

 

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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