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Archive for the ‘Porter Hall’ Category

Ace In The Hole

29 Aug

Ace In The Hole – produced, written, and directed by Billy Wilder. Docudrama. 115 minutes Black And White 1951.
★★★★

The Story: To hot up the headlines, a sleazy reporter stretches out the rescue of a man trapped in a mine.
~
A remarkable film. In some ways. None of which count.

I saw it when it first came out and disliked it for a reason I now understand. It is over-written and over-acted, which is a form of waterboarding. Force everything down our throats and we have no room to respond. The movie failed in America.

Looking at Kirk Douglas chew every line to death with his many teeth, I wonder at him. Is this a human being at all? I have never found him so, save once, Lonely Are The Brave. Otherwise, I watch him force his lines and attitudinize, and I realize that the director must also have wanted this. But why? Douglas’s character becomes a crazy Hitler – an egomaniac who can manipulate events into a spectacle that will hypnotize a multitude. Billy Wilder was a Nazi-fled Austrian Jew, and I don’t think the film has anything much to do with America, a country, unlike Germany, geographically too large to give itself to a single morbid distraction.

For supporting players, the difficulty when the leading actor overacts is the requirement to play into his pitch and overact too. The only one who escapes this necessity is Porter Hall, the one character in the picture you believe.

What’s remarkable about the picture is its setting in New Mexico and the vast cast of extras which gathers to witness the rescue of the trapped prospector. The costumes by Edith Head are tip-top. But the main appeal of the film as a story lies in the way it is told by the camera, which is in the hands of (18 Oscar nominations) Charles Lang. He’s as much responsible for Paramount style as Claudette Colbert is. It is one of those films whose posthumous reputation can be credited more to him and the Paramount production team than by the temperament of its director.

Wilder always kept things simple. It’s a good rule. He had made Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity, and Sunset Boulevard, and was to go on to make Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, most of which Charles Lang also filmed. But if you have a bastard for your leading role, he must first be human. Human first. Bastard second. In fact, human alone would probably suffice.

 

Dark Command

22 Apr

Dark Command — directed by Raoul Walsh. Western. All Kansas is saved from the dread Will Cantrell by an illiterate con man. 94 minutes Black and White 1940.

★★★★

Shall we consider the matter of John Wayne? Here he is ae. 32, handsome as all get out, slender of hip and tummy, tall in the saddle and looking good there, and with that brow even out-furrowing Gable’s. This director, Raoul Walsh, discovered him in 1930, changed his name from Marion to John and from Morrison to Wayne, and in his early 20s put him, in white buckskins, as the hero of one of the greatest Western ever made, The Big Trail. Now The Big Trail was shot in Cinemascope, or a thirty-years-too-soon wide screen version like it, but movie theatres refused to install the screens, so the film, although popular never remade its nut, and Wayne was relegated to B Western for ten years — until Stagecoach, after which he was an A-list star. Another ten years would go by until Red River when John Ford recognized that Wayne could actually act. But with Dark Command in 1940 he is re-united for the first time since The Big Trail with Walsh, and he is also reunited with Claire Trevor his costar in that hugely popular movie. She plays a lady of property, and Wayne plays the grifter sidekick of George Hayes who runs an itinerate dentistry. Wayne’ voice sidles through the film so unobtrusively that he steals every scene he is in. He really knows his business by this time, and is no longer the callow youth in buckskins. He has not yet become the taxidermied version of himself he sometimes arranged to be later nor has he developed that walk of a pigeon-toed panther. He is an extremely passive actor and a very good one. You can still see how beautiful his mouth is. He is sexy because he is sexually innocent. He’s a young man and a happy actor. Opposite him Walter Pidgeon, of all people, has been brought in to play the sociopath Will Cantrell. In a way it’s smart casting, because no one in town suspects that mousy schoolmaster is the dread raider. However, a vigilante is still not a part Pidgeon can craft, but fortunately the story takes care of him. It’s a role that succeeds by the reputation of what people say about him. His mother is movingly played by Marjorie Main, and Walsh gives full value to her. And the wonderful Claire Trevor, fresh from her success in Stagecoach, plays the mettlesome and sharp society girl who is the love interest of both men, another of Walsh’s terrific independent women. A young Roy Rogers with his beautiful mobile face plays her brother, and it’s fascinating to watch him at this boy-stage, although he is 29. Porter Hall plays the dithering foof who fouls up the denouement beautifully. Watch what happens when an actor simply lets his mouth hang open. Anyhow, it’s Wayne’s movie and an interesting one from the hand of Walsh, who knows exactly how to set up a shot, how to direct scenes of panic and mayhem so you think people are really going to get hurt, and how to ravish you with the sight of midnight horses.

 

 
 
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