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Archive for the ‘Richard Widmark’ Category

The Street With No Name

20 May

The Street With No Name –­– directed by William Keighley. Police Procedural. An FBI agent imbeds himself in a bank robber gang and almost doesn’t make it. 91 minutes Black and White 1948.

★★★★★

This good film is listed as a Noir, which it is not. It is not, because in Noir the protagonist much have something wrong with them, and there is nothing wrong with Mark Stevens at all. He is a good-looking honest-John male period.

The person who has something wrong with him is Richard Widmark who once again plays the psycho thug, which he began his career with by pushing Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs in Kiss Of Death while snickering. He did this sort of thing in a number of pictures in the ‘40s until he put his cloven-hoof down – but, in fact, he is much better as psychopaths than as a leading man. Here, thank goodness, he is a violent closeted homosexual.

Mark Stevens plays the agent who infiltrates Widmark’s gang, and to say he is too straight to be the hero of a Noir is not to diminish his gifts, for his playing is smart. He makes the character blithe, as though he didn’t have a care or worry in the world. He flirts with Widmark and sails into the harbor of the gang without a glance to the left or right. It’s a shrewd acting move, and Stevens is good at it. He laughs his way through peril. At least that is what he does while others are around and until the thrills start.

A word about such actors. Nice-guy actors form a blank which audiences fill in with themselves. The actor just stands there in his masculinity and his decency, and you do the rest. You find this all the way through literature, from Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince Of Tyre to Dickens’ David Copperfield to almost everything Gregory Peck ever did. These good-guy actors sometimes seem to almost have no temperament as actors, no human imagination, although lots of moral imagination, which is why they crowd together as leading players in Westerns. There are too many of them to list. They provide an empty upright outline which it is the audience’s mission to flesh and fill, a job the audience readily adopts because such actors are always in heroic roles.

A word about Noir style. It’s easy to mistake such a picture as this as Noir because of the way it looks. This one looks terrific, and that is because it was filmed by Joe MacDonald, a master of city streets at night. He would film Sam Fuller’s remake of it, House Of Bamboo, and Kazan’s Panic In The Streets. You might say that the story is really told by the way Joe MacDonald lights and films and moves it, that the narration is really in his hands, rather than the director’s, although the direction is good. The astonishing shoot-out in the immense factory at the end is an example of Joe MacDonald’s extraordinary ability to make a story happen. Someone should fo a study about the narrative power of such photographers as William Daniels, Ernest Haller, Joe MacDonald and other master photographers – although it’s probably already been written, ignoramus as I am.

The film is an A level crime film, with Lloyd Nolan, John McIntyre, and a teen-age Barbara Lawrence, in a gorgeous performance as Widmark’s beard-wife.

 

Roadhouse – 1948 version

05 Apr

Roadhouse – 1948 version — directed by Jean Negulesco. Noir. A sexy chanteuse is brought into a nightclub run by two war buddies, both of whom fall for her. 95 minutes Black and White 1948.

★★★★★

Ida Lupino is 30 when she makes this, her greatest film performance. The more hard-bitten, the ruder, the more insolent she is, the more you go along with her and care about her. She brings to the picture a twitching sexuality and the nuance of humor behind her eyes and a presence with the other performers that win her a posthumous Oscar here. When, years later, I told Celeste Holm how much I loved this picture when it came out, she told me it was junk, and, of course, it is; it is pulp, but then, then, most Hollywood films were. She said this perhaps because, after her Oscar, she is kicked to the side as a sidekick here in a thankless role. But I loved her in it. I loved everyone collectively and individually in it when it came out. Cornell Wilde with his sweet and masculine nature playing the stalwart, until he has a furious scene packing a suitcase. Richard Widmark as the unpredictable maniac. Expect the film to fall apart between the arrest and the trial scene — because there is no evidence — but expect also a superbly played finale. And rejoice in Ida Lupino. Listen to her sing “Again” and “One For The Road” – what aplomb, what wit, what negotiation of her cigarette! Nothing like it has been seen on the screen before or since, and the last shot of her in the picture is a review of that sad truth. The film is closer to Gilda in its triangle, in its nightclub setting, in its boss/lackey set-up between Widmark and Wilde, in its beat-up lady with a past. What makes it noir is not Widmark, but the presence of a woman working at a job no man could do, when during the War she would have worked at a defense plant, the males away. By which I mean, even as a nightclub singer, she would have wielded a power the return of the warriors reft her of. Both men are adolescent. Lupino alone is grown-up, too grown-up: she is without hope. And this is what makes it noir. She is a walking doom. Take it as Lupino’s polemic on the entertainment industry of which she was a knowing adjunct in Hollywood, but also take it as a bone deep characterization. Watch her weariness, her irony, listen to her skeptical grunts, her use and release of her sexual power as a barrier, and above all her wit in every move. “Wit is educated insolence,” as Aristotle said. Take Lupino’s work here as a great piece of method acting outside the Method, and don’t miss this richly comic performance.

 

Roadhouse

10 Jan

Roadhouse — Directed by Jean Negulesco. Noir. A tired and sultry chanteuse comes between the nutso nightclub owner and his manager. 95 minutes Black and White 1948,

* * * * *

Ida Lupino is 30 when she makes this, her greatest film performance. The more hard-bitten, the ruder, the more insolent she is the more you go along with her and care about her. She brings to the picture a twitching sexuality and the nuance of humor behind her eyes and a presence with the other performers that win her a posthumous Oscar here. When, years later, I told Celeste Holm how much I loved this picture when it came out, she told me it was junk (and, of course, it is pulp, but then, back then, most Hollywood films were). She said this perhaps because, after her Oscar, she is kicked to the side as a sidekick here in a thankless role. But I loved her in it. I loved everyone collectively in it when it came out. Cornell Wilde with his sweet and masculine nature plays the stalwart until he has a furious scene packing a suitcase. And Richard Widmark is, of course, the unpredictable maniac. Expect the film to fall apart between the arrest and the trial scene — because there is no evidence — but expect also a superbly played finale. And rejoice in Ida Lupino. Listen to her sing “Again” and “One For The Road” — what aplomb, what wit, what negotiation of a cigarette! Nothing like it has been seen on the screen before or since. The film is closer to Gilda in its triangle, its nightclub setting, its boss/lacky set-up, its beat-up lady with a past. What makes it noir is not Widmark, but the presence of a woman working at a job no man could do, when during the War she would have worked at a defense plant, the males at war. Both men are adolescent. Lupino alone is grown-up, too grown-up: she is without hope. And this is what makes it noir. She is a walking doom, and the last shot of her in the picture is a review of that sad truth.

 

Panic In The Streets

16 Apr

Panic In The Streets – Directed by Elia Kazan. Suspense Thriller. A deadly plague threatens New Orleans. 96 minutes Black And White 1950.

* * * * *

This is one of Kazan’s best pictures. Filmed – and this is important – by the same photographer who filmed Sam Fuller’s House of Bamboo – Joe MacDonald. He was a brilliant and economical director of photography, and it is his work which gives Panic its narrative carrying power. Kazan when directing did not pay attention to the actors – that came beforehand – what he did was cozy up to the director of photography, to learn, to watch. House of Bamboo has a commentary running with it that helps us here to see how MacDonald keeps the camera on groups and long shots and continuous shots and master shots, and how Kazan keeps actors moving at all times through this dance of the camera. The picture has Richard Widmark as the protagonist, which goes against the sort of actor he had played in Kiss Of Death and so often after. Here he is given a Gregory Peck part (who gave Kazan his canned Good Guy in Gentlemen’s Agreement). Widmark is well cast for he is, of course, not a good guy; he’s too freakish; he’s a character lead at best, and, as such, not an actor of much range or inherent interest either, but an oddity, an actor far less good than Dan Duryea, say, but chance put him leading roles from now on. Of course, he isn’t as odd as Jack Palance (no one is), making his film debut as the chief threat. Barbara Bel Geddes, whom Kazan worked with on Broadway as Maggie in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof), is always curiously affecting. And all the supporting actors are wonderful, held in check by the director and by the lighting by MacDonald. The film is full of non-professional supporting players from New Orleans, where it is filmed and set, and the down-to- earth, un-touristy, back alley life of that city comes alive as the waterfront did in a later picture. This picture should be added to the canon of Kazan’s great films, Baby Doll, Streetcar, East of Eden, Viva Zapata, Waterfront. It hasn’t dated.

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