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Archive for the ‘WRITTEN BY Joseph Mankiewicz’ Category

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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All About Eve

06 Sep

All About Eve – Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Drama. 138 minutes Black and White 1950.

★★★★★

The Story: A great Broadway star teeters on the brink of 40, and a younger star tries to push her over.

~

I don’t know whether Mankiewicz is a good director, but his screenplay here works like crazy, because it takes the focus off of Bette Davis and hands it around evenhandedly to the other  characters before us, so our interest in the main matter which is Can Broadway Star Margo Channing Stop Being A Brat And Become A Grownup? is left to the other actors to manage for us.

Very crafty.

George Sanders is the only non-female main character in the story, but, if you consider the part could be been played, although not so well, by Clifton Webb, you will recognize that he is not actually a male character at all. There are three other males in the piece, but Gregory Ratoff as the play producer, while very good, has little to do, Hugh Marlowe as the playwright has only a little more to do, and Gary Merrill, as her suitor and her director, does everything with contempt for the craft of acting itself and is quite bad.

This leaves us with Celeste Holm. She said, when she first came on set, Davis was rude to her on sight. Davis was an inexcusable person; so Holm is very well cast as Davis’s best friend, and the first of Eve’s suckers.

Sanders won the Oscar for this, quite rightly (George Sanders like that other master of boredom, Gig Young, eventually committed suicide. And you can see it coming in his relations with Baxter.) More than any other actor who ever lived, George Sanders drawl could make any line sound witty, which is nice, since many of the lines are so. Marilyn Monroe – she of the Copacabana School of acting – charmingly appears as the object of one of them.

This brings us to the two remaining stars.

Bette Davis is really up for this role. Her natural vitriol gives way to the sheer physical requirements of the part – snatching up a mink from the floor, waddling into a bathroom, declining a bonbon. Her command of all that is inside her and all that surrounds her wins our loyalty from the start. For once, Davis is actually at home in a role, relaxed, her customary archness vanished, and the story grants us only the best of her tantrums.

That year the stories of two aging stars, Norma Desmond and Margo Channing, vied for the Oscar, but Anne Baxter bullied the studio to put her up for one too, and, in a divided vote, both Swanson and Davis  (how characteristic of Eve) lost and Judy Holliday, the younger actress, got it. Yet, as Eve, Anne Baxter is lamentably miscast. You cannot believe that any of those shrewd judges of character that those theatre people are would have been duped for a minute by those batting eyelashes and that breathy, tobacco stained voice into believing she was an innocent.

Never mind. Otherwise more than worth the bumpy ride. Davis endures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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