Archive for the ‘FILMED BY Arthur Edeson’ Category

In Old Arizona

16 Mar

In Old Arizona — directed by Raoul Walsh and Irving Cummings. Western. 97 minutes Black and White 1929.


Walsh loved the new sound technology. And so he decided to direct the first outdoor talkie. Off to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks he went with a crew. He was to direct and star as the Cisco Kid. He shot a lot of film, and driving back from Bryce, his car hit a hare, which flew up into the windshield and struck him, shattering the glass and blinding him in one eye. He was no longer a movie star. He lost his left eye. Irving Cummings finished the film. But the departure of the stage and big spectacle of the West with which the film began and which became the earmark of his subsequent Westerns were in place. He himself is in all the distance shots, but Buddy Roosevelt was cast as the Cisco Kid, though Buddy broke a leg, and was replaced by Warner Baxter who won the Oscar for the best actor of the year for this performance. Baxter actually looks ridiculous in Cisco’s hat and rig; but he has a lot of fun with the character. The cues are not Hollywood Crisp yet, but the actors are physically sound in their movement. But that’s not why one watches this milestone film. People were amazed at the picture; it caused a sensation: sound actually faded as people walked away, just like in real life! Walsh recovered, wore an eye patch for the rest of his life, and went right back to work, no trouble. “I would direct Victor McLaglen as Litle Red Riding Hood!”  He went on to become one of film’s greatest directors, though not of this one, and in two years was to direct the greatest Western I have ever seen, The Big Trail. The public was fascinated with Baxter’s voice and with that of Edmund Lowe who plays the jackass soldier from Brooklyn full of himself set to track Cisco down. Lowe is good at it, but amusement with him flags as the dialogue scenes go on interminably, camera in one place, terrified to move because of the static sound equipment. Musical interludes pad the lack of action. All these scenes were directed by Cummings. In fact the film is largely given over to this actor and his lengthy wooing of Cisco’s girl, a mercurial and mercenary conchita played with much posturing by Dorothy Burgess. On the xylophone of human emotions she is able to strike a note. Lowe strikes another. Of course, it is being filmed by one of the great cameramen, Arthur Edeson, later to film Casablanca. But the film feels like one long screeching halt. All that happens is a huge hesitation of sandwich-filling between the crust of the stage hold-up at the start and the stale bread of the finale. One wishes Walsh had directed it all. Or is it too late for wishes? I think so.




They Drive By Night

15 Mar

They Drive By Night — directed by Raoul Walsh. Drama. Two truck driver brothers shoot for independence hauling fruit until two women try to put the brakes on them. 97 minutes Black and White 1940.


Raoul Walsh would rehearse the scene, set up the camera, call “Action,” and walk away and not look at the shoot at all. People wondered why he did this, but it’s real simple. George S. Kaufman did the same thing directing Broadway hits. He would go to the back row of the theatre and close his eyes. He knew and Walsh knew that if the thing sounded true it was true. The balance and breath and rhythm of a scene was all calculable aurally, once he had blocked it. Any corrections needed, and reshoots, could be made perfectly by an ear undistracted by the actors’ appearance or behavior or by his own hopes for it. This is George Raft’s best performance in film. He benefits enormously by the film being shot in sequence. He’s a tough guy but not a gangster, and his inner response to the adventure he is on is the liaison between the halves of the picture. For the picture is really two stories Siamesed together. The focus of the first one is Ann Sheridan. Now, Ann Sheridan is an actress I cannot take my eyes off. Unlike the female stars of today, Ann Sheridan actually was a woman. She has a luscious mouth, beautiful hair, searching eyes, a low voice, an excellent thing in woman. She is in full charge of her femininity and vulnerable and truly smart. Films were seldom built around her but she is always good humored about her role and in her role. To see her at her best see I Was A Male War Bride opposite Cary Grant. She was “everything,” said Howard Hawks its director. Here she is fast-talking, stoic, and wise. Her acting method sets her as a first class exemplar of 30s/40s female style. It isn’t method but it fits and it registers perfectly. The film itself is sharply written, with the snappy repartee of the era that is still so entertaining to see and fun to act. Allan Hale is always attributing this wit to his wife Ida Lupino, who never actually says a witty thing and who is a focus of the second half of the story. She is playing a role Bette Davis played in an earlier Paul Muni version, Bordertown; when Davis was asked if it bothered her, she said “No.” That’s because Lupino on screen is never not neurotic; those big desperate eyes are always in the madhouse; Davis, however neurotic her eyes were, could have other things in them. Without being a great actress, Lupino is a very effective one: see her at her brilliant best in Roadhouse. She’s very good here, and you must not complete your days without seeing her famous courtroom scene and her committing a murder in a floor length ermine trench coat. She is always costumed predaciously in furs or silky as a reptile or both. Raft is a very balanced and steady instrument, while Humphrey Bogart, a more volatile and sensitive instrument, was not a star at this point. He was a middle-aged actor who for ten years had been playing dispensable second leads. His next film with Walsh, High Sierra changed all that forever. The film is a perfect example of Walsh’s strengths as a director. Action/Adventure was his specialty, but the films were always about a man striving toward a woman. As here. Arthur Edeson shot it, Milo Anderson did the gowns, Adolph Deutsch did the score: top Warner Brothers talent all around. It was a big hit, and it still is.


Waterloo Bridge – 1931 version

17 Feb

Waterloo Bridge – 1931 version — directed by James Whale. Romantic Melodrama. A streetwalker finds true love in the devotion of a Yank soldier in WW I. 83 minutes Black and White 1931.


Here is an actress one has never heard of – Mae Clarke – and she is giving one of the greatest film performances by an American actor you have ever seen. As I watched I though What a fabulous Blanche du Bois she would have made – far better than Vivien Leigh as the final faint flutterings of a burnt moth, or Jessica Tandy with her put-on airs of serial condescension – both of them English – whereas Clarke would have been a once-strong wounded bird really fighting for her life, and you would have known it. And you would also have known that Blanche was American, and so her mannerisms would have seemed all the more atrocious. Here she plays a chorus girl out of job in London, and she meets up with a Yank from Canada who has joined the British Army and is about to be sent overseas. For him it’s love at first sight. For her it’s love at last gasp. Clarke’s command of the set, a little room without bath in a boarding house, is a little masterpiece of the actor’s craft. She knows where everything is and how it works and what it does. Her choice to be natural and at ease when she is walking the street is smart, for she is torn apart in her scenes with the soldier. There is no ambiguity about this, for the choice itself is of ambiguity. She is electric with tension. And you can experience, as she does, the balance of being not yet hard-bitten. The story is from a stage play by Robert Sherwood, and it was to be made into another more famous film eight years later with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, and you will have to decide for yourself which is more powerful. I know where my vote goes. This version is pre-Code and more raw. James Whale (Frankenstein, The Bride Of Frankenstein, Show Boat, Gods and Monsters) directed it and Arthur Edeson filmed it, and all the setups reflect the bias of the time for shooting talking films as though they still were stage plays, straight on with a fourth wall missing. Actually it’s a system I prefer for stage plays. I do not hold with the fashionable notion that movies must be primarily about moving or about pictures and not about what people say. I believe pictures are exactly about what people say. All the rest is decor. Camerawork and movement may give narrative fluidity to those exchanges, but they are the oil, not the automobile. Douglass Montgomery is very good opposite her, and has a fiery scene opposite Ethel Griffies, terrific as a biddy cockney landlady. Griffies went on acting on the stage and in films until she was over a hundred; I saw her on the Broadway stage in Madwoman twenty years later, and twenty years after that in 1960 you can see her in The Misfits; here she seems already over a hundred. Frederick Kerr is very funny as a deaf English major, and now for your surprise and satisfaction, ladies and gentlemen, in her third film is Bette Davis in society girl frocks. What the film brings to us is what is left over from the mechanism of sex, the thing that won’t go away, which is the lost charm of love’s exchange. The film is a period piece, but, with Mae Clarke, a piece of art nonetheless.

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