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Archive for the ‘Walter Huston’ 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.

 

Dragonwyck

26 Sep

 

Filmed by the great Arthur Miller. Dragonwyck – Written and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Gothic Melodrama. A farm girl comes to live in a mansion whose married Byronic owner rolls his eyes at her. 103 minutes Black and White 1946.

* * *

Gene Tierney – a farm girl? – never. She’s too snooty. Look at the tricksy way she has of lowering her eyelids. Of course, the girl is a dreamer which is what sets her off to leave the sheep herd of her father, played by Walter Huston in one of his Duel In The Sun–Sadie Thompson religious fanatic roles. Anne Revere, an actress I do not admire much, plays the stalwart mother, also once again. The first thing you notice about them is that their aprons look just-off-the-rack, and that disease prevails throughout. The sets are brilliant but they are suborned by the film being over-costumed as though the things were built for one of Betty Grable’s musicals there at Fox. When no expense has been spared, vulgarity is usually the consequence. Connie Marshall does a fine job, in this her last film, as the food-addict wife; Spring Byington is interestingly cast against type as the cracked housekeeper; Jessica Tandy shows up just great as a gimpy maid, and Harry Morgan in one of his 130 film roles does fine by a rabble-rouser. Glenn Langan, a leading man I had never seen before, is lovely, chosen perhaps for his height, 6’5”. For the real lead in the film is that six foot four of toad, Vincent Price. I remember when the film first came out and how attracted I was by its grandiose title: Dragonwyck. But I declined to go, because I knew, even then, that Gene Tierney was an actress of imperceptible interest and that Vincent Price had no authentic authoriity. And besides people always said Vincent Price was a terrible ham. Well, why did they say that? When you look at this performance, you see an actor who is razor thin, with very long legs that look super in the straight trou of the 1840s and especially in that floor-length dressing gown. In execution of the part, Price never gesticulates, he scarcely moves, except to walk, so he is not throwing himself about. He is not of the bent wrist school of acting, the pre-Pickford silent screen school of acting. His voice is barely modulated, hardly any outward emotion is expressed on his face, and, as was the custom in Hollywood acting of his era, no subtext at all is perceptible. Why is he a ham then? A ham is someone who is overdoing it. A ham is someone who is pigging out as though all scenes were his. Is Price really doing that? Nope. And yet he is a ham. It is part the fault of his use of his voice. Vincent Price’s voice is cobalt velvet upon which a raw egg has been broken. And with it he overacts incontestably, not because he is extravagant with it but because he is the reverse. He overacts by overacting underacting. He overacts by maximizing minimization. He always makes less more. He reminds me of Orson Welles who was always and in everything a radio actor, an actor vain about his voice and in slavery to it. He, like Price, makes everything he does, macabre – which is to say humanly hollow. Price went on to make many pictures, but Dragonwyck is Price’s favorite of all. And he actually has scenes of genuine romantic attraction and a death scene that is quite touching. Filmed by the great Arthur Miller, it is Mankiewicz’s first directorial effort, to be followed by All About Eve, Suddenly Last Summer, Cleopatra. His writing style is canny; his directorial style is plain, but the film is goulash. Leave it to heaven.

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Duel In The Sun

17 Sep

Duel In The Sun. Directed by King Vidor and William Dieterle. A half-breed girl is taken into a King Ranch type family in Texas and drives the boys wild. 2 hours 28 minutes Color 1946.

* * * *

It isn’t beautiful but it is gorgeous. Never have you seen Technicolor used so lavishly, or actors throw themselves, not exactly into their roles but all around their roles. You would think Gregory Peck would be miscast as a sexy male, and he is, but he’s surprisingly good as a prick. And Pearl Chavez, played by producer David O. Selznick’s wife, Jennifer Jones, you would think would be written shrewder, but she’s not, she’s just dopey. She throws herself around like a bag of onions and never really proves to the watching world why she was so sexy that Selznick ran off with her into the chaparral. So we take the lickerousness for granted, although she does convincingly writhe on the floor in an agony of sexual conflict. Lionel Barrymore consumes scenery by the platter, and he’s really wonderful as the grandee rancher because the character is so rude, but Lillian Gish as his wife is unable to overcome the character’s failure to get Pearl out of those slouching blouses and into a proper dress, which would have ended the picture right there. I saw it when it came out. I thought it was going to be a dirty movie, but it was just silly. Of course it’s greatly silly. And not sexy, because Lewt is mean, which Peck does well, and Pearl is stupid, which Jones probably was. The film is supposed to vindicate the itch between them, and so achieve a Phaedra-like stature, but its lust falls in the dust flat. Joseph Cotton’s easy-come-easy-go style as the good brother provides no sexual competition for Peck’s bad brother. Charles Bickford is touching as one of Pearl’s swains. Walter Huston makes hay of the fire and brimstone preacher (Huston is sexy, though old, because sexuality seethes through him; Peck isn’t because it doesn’t.). And Herbert Marshall is lovely as Pearl’s doomed father. The film is written like a Perils Of Pauline serial, in chapters and chunks, none which liaison into each other. It proceeds with a very badly written scene of misidentification, which is beautifully directed and shot, and so it goes, with one badly written scene after another beautifully presented. Selznick was so intrusive, reshooting everything, such that the film cost a lot more than his Gone With The Wind (Butterfly McQueen has a much larger part here); Selznick even has his name as the sole screen credit. So King Vidor quit when it was three quarters done, and the film was finished by commonplace director William Dieterle. But never have you seen such sunsets, as though the sun were having the duel with itself. King Vidor’s strong sense of things puts it on all four burners and a pot bellied stove besides. Why are you holding back? You must see it. It is the greatest bad movie ever made.

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The Furies

05 Sep

The Furies – Directed by Anthony Mann. Western Melodrama. An aging cattle baron and his baroness daughter clash over their mates, their land, and some squatters. 109 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * *

Barbara Stanwyck is 43 when she makes this, and she is too old. True, she was a great star, and the best of all the two-dimensional female film actors. She refused Technicolor because her hair was gray, so she does look blond, her face admittedly is unlined, healthy, unchanged, her figure is lithe and trim, her stride is strong, and she looks great on a horse. But everyone who saw this when it came out knew that she was 43, because everyone had grown up with her. There was something older about her anyhow, even when she started in film aged 20 in 1927. The picture is a turgid melodrama, and it is ingenuous to claim it to be anything more. It is not epic, it is not noir, it is not The Eumenides or Greek tragedy. The execution of the film by the director is unremarkable because nothing in it can escape the necessities of turgid melodrama, which means an impenetrable thickness of plot on all levels that must be obeyed. The writing is occasionally witty, but the direction of the performances is questionable. Walter Huston overplays and indeed garbles and miscalculates the role of the rapscallion, domineering, and impractical cattle baron. By “overplays” I mean, when everyone in a story calls you a rogue, the best thing for an actor to do is not to “play The Rogue” but to play the opposite. Even if it was ever supposed to, the tension between Huston and Stanwyck never adds up to an Electra complex, because they both enjoy one another so much in their dash, ego, similarities, and common respect. They have too much sense of humor about one another to be neurotic and too many honest, horn-butting clashes to be unhealthy. Anyhow, while Stanwyck is a two-dimensional actor and therefore is incapable of over-acting, likewise there can be nothing beneath the performance. When Judith Anderson, with her lizard voice, comes in it is not as a sexual rival to Stanwyck but as a rival for her management of the ranch, and when Wendell Corey comes in as Stanwyck’s boyfriend, it is not as a sexual rival to Huston, but simply as a claimant to part of his property. Jannine Basinger in her book on Mann claims that Corey is like Huston and Anderson is like Stanwyck, and there’s something to be said for that, but not enough. The story and its execution is just old Stetson. Gilbert Roland is lovely as a blood brother to Stanwyck (and in love with her), Blanche Yurka is delicious in the Blanche Yurka role of Roland’s bruja mother, and Beulah Bondi commands the screen for our reassurance in both scenes in which she appears. Henry Bumstead deserves great credit for the adobe ranch mansion he made for the set. Otherwise the filming and direction are ordinary. Supposed to be New Mexico, it does not look like New Mexico. Rather like The Old Germany, The Furies is The Old Hollywood.  Its story is unconventional, the treatment of it conventional. It had to be: Stanwyck was starring. Yet, who could have played this part besides Stanwyck? No one. All the younger stars were too goody-goody. Hollywood fell partly because a failure of taste in developing strong-willed female stars to-be. In 1930 there was Crawford, Davis, and Stanwyck. In 1950 there were no young tough ladies on the horizon at all.

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