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Archive for the ‘Richard Basehart’ Category

The Reign Of Terror [The Black Book]

31 Aug

The Reign Of Terror  [AKA The Black Book] – Directed By Anthony Mann. Costume Thriller. A resistance member infiltrates Robespierre’s inner circle with a mind to save France. 88 minutes Black and White 1949.

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Should be called The Reign Of Error. I saw it when it came out, the bottom half of a bill that played Wednesday only, and I thought it was a lousy movie. I thought Robert Cummings a consummate silly and completely miscast as a swashbuckling hero. His big worried eyes – no. What got me in ’49 was Arlene Dahl, and she does so still, 21 years old and astounding. She had a beauty spot and she was a beauty spot. Anthony Mann, for once, gives the female a strong leading role, at times more proactive and more in charge than the males, and Arlene Dahl meets the acting challenge like the movie queen she is. (In profile, her face has, like Garbo, a recessed brow. Check it out; see what it does for her face.) Certain of Mann’s crew such as Charles McGraw and Arnold Moss turn up here and do darn fine work. The story lacks focus, or rather it has the wrong focus, or rather it has a mixed focus. Are we focusing on Freedom, on France, on deposing Robespierre, or on his little black book? The black book looks like a McGuffin with too much screen time. But we have Beulah Bondi to rivet us to any scene she’s in, and Richard Basehart, another Mann actor, as Maximilien Robespierre, and he always looked crazy, so why not? He is never out of his pasty white wig.  The picture lacks Mann’s big final chase scene down a narrow passage, and that wouldn’t have worked anyhow because the costumes are so capacious. Actually Robert Cummings now does not look as silly as he seemed then and plays his scenes with considerable interest and skill. The whole piece is Costume Pulp, but John Alton who filmed it makes every scene striking with camera angles that skew the point of view, just for the sake of it, and you feel Alton having a better time with the material than anyone else. Though Alton filmed it, it is not noir. At the heart of it, I guess it is still a lousy movie. I wonder what I expected in 1949. I know. A swashbuckling costume French Revolution picture filmed by anyone but the confining John Alton. That is to say, an Action Adventure quite the opposite, with the big open spaces of an Errol Flynn show. But to do that, you also actually had to have Errol Flynn.

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He Walked By Night

22 Aug

He Walked By Night – Directed by Albert Werker & Anthony Mann. Crime Drama. A sociopathic cop killer turns invisible until the L.A. Police doggedly track him down. 79 minutes Black and White 1948

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The picture begins rather flatly, even photographically, though shot by the mysterious John Alton. Then, except for a few scenes here and there, it takes off, and one detects the hand of Anthony Mann running the entertainment at us with his welcome and usual ruthless competence. Roy Roberts has the lead as the police chief in charge of finding the brilliant and elusive killer. He is assisted by Scott Brady playing the dumb cop who finally gumshoes the clues into the light of day. The film is an all-male suspense thriller, and it is riveting. On one side it is documentarian, but on the other, strange scenes follow one another in rapid order, creating a skewed sense of a loose-cannon killer holding a cannon – for instance, the long odd scene in which the killer enters the house of someone he knows, Whit Bissell, and beats him up for money. and a scene where the killer operates on himself to remove a bullet. These scenes and Alton’s treatment of them give the killer an unhinged interior for which Richard Basehart is perfectly cast, since he always looked nuts anyhow. (His apogee as an actor was the screwy tightrope clown in Fellini’s La Strada.) Here he is ingrown, mean, paranoid, and resourceful in all situations. Like the big chase scene at the end of Side Street, Mann mounts a stupendous chase through the storm sewers of Los Angeles. The excitement of these scenes completely obscures the fact that one does not care a fig for any of the characters, and that the director’s interest in the killer, signaled by the fact that only his own dog loves him, is purely for his entertainment value as someone as extreme in his attack in the film as the director is with the film itself.

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