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Archive for the ‘Thomas Mitchell’ Category

The Outlaw

09 Jan

The Outlaw — directed by Howard Hughes. Western. Three men in a love triangle with one another, while a bosomy half-breed serves tacos. 116 minutes Black and White also Colorized 1943/46.

* * *

Howard Hawks cast and began to shoot this film with his own crew. Two weeks later he and the producer Howard Hughes parted company, and Hawks hastened on to direct The Big Sleep. But it is interesting to imagine what Hawks would have done with it, for while Hawks is not a director of a particular style, Hawks did have the capacity to create scenes that worked, that came to life, and he did this by taking the scrip and working it over on the morning of the shoot, everyone participating, and giving it to the actors after lunch and then shooting it in the afternoon. Hawks’ photographer, the great Lucien Ballard, left with Hawks, and Hughes brought in the great photographer Gregg Toland — but the same screenplay by favorites of Hawks, Jules Furthman and Ben Hecht. What was wrong with Hawks’ version? If anything, we shall never know, for Hughes directed this grotesque and flaccid version himself, and one thing obvious is that none of the scenes work at all, despite the presence of two very gifted actors and two interesting newcomers. Hughes is clearly a lousy director. Hawks story was to be the romance between three males, but Hughes wanted the bubbies of Jane Russell to be more pronounced. But the film still is the male romance. Walter Huston playing Doc Holiday holds the romance humorously in place bickering first over a horse with Billy The Kid and then, ridiculously, over Jane Russell. Jack Buetel is perfectly cast as Billy. A beautiful young man along the lines of Warren Beatty, he has the impudent confidence of who he is sufficient to flirt with another man without there being any danger of genital seduction. Men do this all the time, some do, particularly when they first meet. Walter Huston is the colluder in this seduction, while Thomas Mitchell as Pat Garrett is the jealous rival for Huston/Holliday’s love. But Hawks left. Without Hawks, Buetel and Jane Russell were lost. She was 19 and he was 23, both inexperienced and both suffering the lack of a proper director. The film never really exploits Russell’s attributes either, for she is in so few scenes. Of course, all the publicity was about her, lolling in a hayloft and looking sultry in a departing blouse. At 19 she is not quite The Magnificence she became. Russell was never directed by Hawks, but watched and learned what she could. It was not enough. Nor in the case of Buetel is it enough. He actually can act – half the lines – and it would have been Hawks’ joy to have cut the other half, had he stayed. Hughes shot scenes over and over, but nothing got any better. The sexual relations between Russell and Buetel are completely devoid of romance on Buetel’s part, and he is very funny about it. It’s in the script. He’s a saucy boy. He leads a dizzy chase by Indians, and partakes of other ridiculous and sound-stagey scenes. But the most ruinous thing about the picture is its score by Victor Young. It is as though it were written for a Porky Pig cartoon. He robs a Rachmaninoff big theme and spreads it like jam all over the love scenes, which, since they start with a rape in a stable, hardly contain romance. In every scene it appears in, his music reduces the action to nose picking. The film is more stilted in colorization than black and white for some reason and slower. This may be due to the wit of Greg Toland’s camera work, all of which is lost in the colorized version. The great Arizona set that was built for it was abandoned after 2 weeks, along with the director, and the result was the peculiar little vanity Western of great notoriety and little note, The Outlaw.

 

It’s A Wonderful Life

06 Dec

It’s A Wonderful Life – Directed by Frank Capra. Comedy/Drama. A home-town man teeters suicidally rather than bankrupting himself and his fellow townsfolk. 130 minutes Black and White 1946.

* * * * *

Clint Eastwood remarked how violent James Stewart was in the Anthony Mann Westerns he made in his late middle age. But they are nothing to compare with the rudeness, insolence, insult, and threat he delivers in this supposedly down-home performance of a would-be suicide learning about the life he has lived before it is too late. The insanity with which he throttles the foolish Thomas Mitchell is terrifying. He is violently mean to his children (as indeed one must be at Christmas to have a really meaningful Yule.) But the picture as a Christmas Classic probably looms as large as it does for the same reason that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol does – because of the Scrooginess of Stewart, as George Bailey, followed by the ghastly death-threat visions before he mends his ways. Jimmy Stewart is remarkable in the role, and except for the final scene of the sanctimonious, Deus ex-macchina rescue by the townsfolk of Bedford Falls, where there is something wrong with his singing and his smile, we have a great performance by a master of his craft. It is said that the film was not successful in its day, but I’m not so sure. I saw it when it came out, and I remember it vividly. And both it and Stewart and Capra were nominated for Oscars that year. Or perhaps there is not something wrong with that final smile. Perhaps what I see behind it is a hangover of his own nasty brush with the afterlife. Stewart had been away at war, one of the first big stars to enlist, and he bravely piloted more bombing missions over Europe than was good for any mortal man. Everyone was changed by The War, and what changed most in Hollywood was the virtual inability of its male stars to play comedy any more. Tyrone Power had been marvelous in light comedy; so had Henry Fonda; so had Stewart; George Stevens never directed another one, and screwball comedy never really returned. They came back from The War changed men. Solutions now weren’t so easy as they once were in Capra’s great, good-hearted comedies of the 30s. Capra never made a convincing comedy after World War II, and his career petered out. Here however he is in the last chapter of his topmost form. Every scene is beautifully written, every scene is perfectly begun, played, ended, and edited. Like Normal Rockwell’s paintings, what is illustrated here – and It’s A Wonderful Life is essentially a genre painting and an illustration – is the value of the truth of American community, which is that we must get along with people quite different from ourselves in personal style, race, and national derivation, and that to do so is to survive by the only means possible for survival: love. Love is what needs to survive. And love is what survives us. To make the illustration clear Capra does exactly what Rockwell does: he makes his humans almost caricatures. Like Rockwell, Capra’s characters live in gawky motion, and their gesture is strategized in the direction of endearing folly. All this is still true of America and Americans. Forgetting love’s survival through cooperation and public service and remembering it again is our national drama. This is what makes It’s A Wonderful Life the one film of Capra’s that will not date. To force the illustration, Capra has cast the story perfectly: first with Lionel Barrymore, the perennial Scrooge of radio in those days, as the meanie Mr. Potts, and he eats the role alive. Then with Ward Bond as the cop, Beulah Bondi as the mom, Donna Reed as the feisty wife, Gloria Graham as the town gal of questionable morals, Henry Travers as The Angel Clarence, Frank Faylen as the cabbie, Sheldon Leonard as the bartender, and a huge heterogeneous cast of townsfolk. It’s A Wonderful Life is a wonderful movie.

 

Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

* * * * *

It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

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This Above All

19 Jul

This Above All – Directed by Anatole Litvak. Wartime Romance. An upper crust girl falls for a man with a past in WWII England. 1 hour 50 minutes. Black and White 1942.

* * * * *

Young Joan Fontaine had a habit of marrying handsome suspicious neurotic men. She had that year won the Oscar for Suspicion with Cary Grant and had Rebecca to her credit. It brought out her skill as a good-hearted victim-girl. She is quite lovely in this, with that same sweet smile that graced her sister. Fontaine’s talent consists of a vulnerable charm and a humorous, good natured femininity, so characteristic of the female actors of that era, and quite welcome to one’s eyes here. You can see what she can do well, in her big early speech, when she tells off the formidable Gladys Cooper: “When you and Uncle Wilfred talk, I seem to hear words oozing from the holes of a moth eaten sofa,” which is a pretty good line. She delivers all the meaning, and holds back all the meanness — which is correct for this character and situation. And you feel for her difficulty in having to do that interminable speech later about How We British Must Soldier On! She lyricizes it into The Far Horizon, which is a mistake: she should simply deliver it right into Power’s eyes. But who can blame her; a speech of that length would daunt the doughtiest actress, which she certainly was not. Tyrone Power is another matter. He had remarkable eyes, and a face completely animated when speaking, so that his inner life moves invisibly through it. I say “invisibly” because he is not “doing his face”. Rather his inner spirit passes through his face, without grimace, without movement, and that genuineness is what people are really picking up from him, reading without eyes. Myrna Loy said of him: ‘He had a very strong sense of other people, heightened by a kind of mysticism, a spiritual quality. You could see it in his deep, warm eyes.”  And so the handsomest man in Hollywood never uses his looks to get what he wants. That’s not the way he was wired. When she asked him what he would like to be if he were not Ty Power: “‘I would like to be the wind, so I could be light and free and be anywhere I want at any time., I could go all around the world and look in people’s windows and share their joys and sorrows.’” It make him a highly sympathetic, responsive and fluid actor. Good for him. Young actors who want to learn film acting would do to watch him.

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Angels Over Broadway

19 Oct

Angels Over Broadway –– directed by Ben Hect and Lee Garmes –– noir about Broadway hustlers in the 40s. 80 minutes, black and white, 1940.

* * * *

Douglas Fairbanks Junior is first class and well worth watching as the tough-talking hardboiled grifter of this Ben Hecht (His Gal Friday) written and directed film noir. D.F. Jr never takes the gum out of his mouth, and it works. Mealy-mouthed John Qualen is fine as the focal figure, which he also was in His Gal Friday. Thomas Mitchell, in full Irish drunk mode once again, plays the surrogate Hecht character and gives vent to the screenwriter’s most self-indulgent utterances. It is endearing to hear the yearning idealism of an earlier era, and in this era it was put in the form of a certain overblown futile self-pity, which you find in many of its writers, Saroyan, Steinbeck, Maxwell Anderson, Odets. Lovely Rita Hayworth plays an aspiring nightclub chorine, uncertain of herself yet loyal. She’s young and touching. She plays the movie’s moral center, and Hayworth as a picture’s moral or immoral center is always well cast. The supporting cast are excellent. The movie is a piece of chewing gum, something to do until something tastier comes along, but that’s all right. Like chewing gum it’s not supposed to stick with you. The flavor doesn’t last, but it has a tang while it lasts.

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