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Archive for the ‘Paul Newman’ Category

Torn Curtain

30 Aug

Torn Curtain  – directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Suspense. An American scientist defects to East Germany followed by his girl-friend/Friday, and both must extricate themselves before ITTL (It Is Too Late). 128 minutes Color 1966.

★★★★

After To Catch A Thief I stopped seeing Hitchcock films as they came out, and I know why. The sets look fraudulent.

Why? What aid does this give to the tension of the stories?

Does this come about because Hitchcock story-boarded everything and was only interested in the mock-ups, not in the actual making of the picture itself?

Did the people responsible take it for granted that he liked fake sets

I felt and feel the suspense undermined by the want of reality of the settings in which the perils occurred. Here, for instance, we have an extended murder sequence beautifully shot, but taking place in a little country farmhouse which from the outside looks papier-maché.

Aside from this difficulty, I have no real difficulty with the piece. Of course, the problem with script is well known as having none of the droll Hitchcock gallows humor, which Cary Grant could carry so well, provided the lines provided it. And even if it had the lines, actually we have two actors devoid of the sense of humor that would have required, Paul Newman, who is such a “serious” actor, and Julie Andrews who has pep but no sense of humor at all. And since they are surrounded by spies and scientists and police who are all German, one cannot expect humor from that quarter.

Of course, from the dramatic point of view, Julie Andrews is excellent in the role. You care about her, you wonder about her, you understand her. Newman is excellent for the same reasons. He plays the formula-revelation scene brilliantly and the slaying of the guard brilliantly: he doesn’t want to, but he has to. But both of them lose power in the final scenes, which disappear their characters in a welter of escape-action sequences, and they become lax. They are also left hanging by Hitchcock’s treatment of them. And you never believe Andrews babushka disguise for a minute – her fancy frosted hair shows. But they are both excellent fun in the sex scene with which the film starts, the tone of which is, alas, never followed through.

If Hitchcock’s films of this period disappoint, it is because Hitchcock himself loses power. He devises suspense sequences he cannot execute well, such as the bus trip, and the police entering the theatre at the end, and ditching the guard in the museum.

On the other hand, we have a priceless performance by Ludwig Donath as the key nuclear scientist., who sweeps everything before him with his excitement and authority. And we have a price-of-admission performance by Lila Kedrova as a displaced Polish countess seeking asylum in the United States. She devours the screen. You want her to go on forever, and Hitchcock almost lets her, as he close-ups her while she renders this half-mad character for us. Don’t miss her. And, if you like Hitchcock, don’t miss the film either. Why, you can see both at one and the very same time.

 

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

22 Mar

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof – directed by Richard Brooks. Melodrama. The scion of a huge Southern estate is to die, and everyone is out for the take. 108 minutes Color 1958.
★★★
This rattles along like an old flivver, threatening to fall apart any minute. Individual scenes are well played, such as the long ones between Brick and Big Daddy, but the whole lacks a coherence of style and approach directorially and narratively.

One of the great dampeners on the piece is the art direction, which smells freshly painted and pretty in pastels; it sabotages the play’s underlying forces. It does, however, provide a light background for the filming of Elizabeth Taylor by the great William Daniels. Daniels filmed most of Garbo’s films from the silent era on, and you might say his skill at doing this made her the goddess we know her to be. His camera was in love with a beautiful woman. You can just see the stage light up a certain way as it waits to film Elizabeth Taylor. It’s lovely to behold, but, of course, what does it have to do with this material?

Taylor plays a woman whose husband will have nothing to do with her. Now, Elizabeth Taylor made four films of Tennessee Williams’ plays, but as an actress she is not really at home in this milieu; her Southern accent is put-on; she hasn’t studied it to a particularity. She is now early in that stage of her work when she was taking on heavy dramatic roles; such parts were not really suited to her instinct or her gifts. She had been mightily impressed by Montgomery Clift’s acting when she was 18, but she had never troubled to study with Stella Adler or anyone else. Her roles tended to parallel her life as a heavy in her personal life. Cat is an early chapter of her downward spiral as an artist.

You also might question her casting in a role which Barbara Bel Geddes played on Broadway in the Elia Kazan production. By which I mean, isn’t Taylor too beautiful to play Maggie? Too beautiful to have vulnerability as a woman? As a human? —  yes — but as a woman?

It’s true that she does have a number of gentle moments, when our hearts go out to her. But this version, of the many versions of this play, stumbles from its casting. Madeleine Sherwood plays it just as she played it on the Broadway stage and at just the same pitch, which over-carries in a film. Jack Carson quietens her somewhat, and is excellent as Gooper, touching, real, and funny. Burl Ives is much better in the film than he was in the Broadway production, where Kazan simply stationed him stage center and let him hold forth. He brings the required ruralness to the part. Paul Newman is beautiful, reserved, and fine, but he has nothing inherent in him of the South. (Put a hot-blood like Tommy Lee Jones in the part and you’ve got something.) But the Australian actress Judith Anderson has no business at all as Big Mama. Her essential energy is off; indeed she fades out into Mrs Danvers from time to time. She loosens the movie from its moorings. And Big Mama is the play’s moorings, because she is the only one who cares a rap about anyone.

What would have grounded the piece would have been to have Mildred Dunnock who played Big Mama on the stage do it here. She was from the South, she had specificity of the accent, she was coarse, and vulgar. She would have given the production a foundation in the region and the style and the heart which it lacks.

I feel about the film what I felt about the original stage productions and all productions since. The play is cold. It has no heart. There is no one in it and nothing about it to care about at all.

 
 
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