Archive for the ‘MIDDLE-CLASS DRAMA’ Category

A Passage To India

08 Feb

A Passage To India – written and directed and edited by David Lean. Colonial Drama. 244 minutes Color 1985.


The Story: A young woman and her Aunt travel to India to visit, and India takes hold of them with a mortal attraction.


David Lean’s last film, now a DVD whose extras are as interesting as the film itself. For you would never imagine how it was made in India back in the day. So take a look at the second DVD.

A couple of problems with the picture sully the experience, and some have to do with Lean’s mishandling of the material, for the ending is badly edited and does not fadge with the bones of the story. I can’t remember how E.M. Forster actually ends the book, but it can’t be like this.

Other difficulties have to do with his handling of what happened in the cave. E.M. Forster never told what happened there. And the reason he didn’t is because he did not know. In any case, it is clear that Miss Quested has a brain wave of some kind, becomes unhinged, and proclaims that Doctor Aziz has molested her.

In fact we are shown Miss Quested with lust in her eyes wanting Dr. Aziz in the cave. He does not see her and looks into other caves for her. He never goes into her cave at all. But Lean does not have the psychological imagination to cinematically envision what goes on inside Miss Quested that produces the catastrophic result. Lust for Dr. Aziz? Shame when he doesn’t come in? Remorse? Flight? Embarrassment? Revenge? We get none of this. All we get is some cactus scratches on her from running away downhill. So what is supposed to hang over the story as a mystery, becomes a mere opacity.

Part of the trouble is that the preparation for the cave scene is inadequate. For the excursion Miss Quested makes beforehand, coming upon pornographic statues on a bike ride, does not show the male side of sex, and because we hardly see anything risqué, we are not shocked, so how can she be shocked, and how can we gauge the statues’ effect on her? Lean has no sense of such things.

Another trouble is that we have in Judy Davis an actor who may be miscast. For Judy Davis is a young female none of this would shock. She is not the swooning sort. She is not a foolish virgin. She is Australian-earthy, not a female given to fantasies, derangements, traumatic shames, or unhingings. Of course, it would be interesting were all this to happen to as strong a personality as Judy Davis’s – but Lean’s treatment as scenarist and director go nowhere near this. He doesn’t seem to know what he has in her. It is as though the film – which is a female story – does not understand the language when entering female territory.

In a way, Lean’s film, and all his films, are about the male characters. The character of Mrs Moore, for instance, is never fully realized. Peggy Ashcroft, in a yeowoman effort, drags Mrs Moore not into clarity but into light. Clarity is not to be had. She and Lean argued badly as to how to perform her. Ashcroft was right. Ashcroft won because she had the part and went ahead and did what was right, else nothing at all would have been there, and Ashcroft won the Oscar. Judy Davis also locked horns with Lean, and lost. Lean did not have a clue about women. He would not have been married six times if he had.

The picture is ravishing in its scape. We see an India whose immensity of effect is always present, always beguiling, always seething We see wild crowds, marshalled armies in parade array, markets, mountains, rivers, structures, distraught railway trains, and placid colonial dwellings. It almost gives us a balanced canvas of Indian and English characters and points of view.

And all the male characters are superbly realized and performed, save, of course for Alec Guinness. He’s as ridiculous here as he was in Lawrence Of Arabia. Why he hypnotized David Lean to cast him to pad around as a Hindu sage only a real Hindu sage would know. Crazy. It’s counter-productive to the balance the film strives to achieve.

The three other male actors do fine work. First, Nigel Havers as the potential fiancé of Judy Davis. He plays a young magistrate in the British Colonial judicial system, and he is the perfect young man, is he not? Havers gives a lovely, easy performance as Ronny, making us thankful for the thankless role. Ronny knows not what he does as a character, but Havers as an actor does.

James Fox as the local schoolmaster, friend to both sides of the ship, rules half the film largely because his acting of Fielding is so thorough that it engages our interest and bias from start to finish. Grand work.

The co-star of the picture is Victor Banerjee, making his character full of life and optimism and love and curiosity and good will. Again, terrible reports have come down about Lean’s treatment of him. Banerjee’s performance grounds the film in the fluidity of a wonderful madness when he takes Mrs Moore and Miss Quested on the trip to the Marabar caves.

The temperament of the movie is spectacle-as-narration. It contains no scene which is not visually telling, rewarding, or essential. Every detail frees the camera to our eye. Its direction retains great respect for our ability to tell a story through what we see, through the placement of character, and particularly to the painted elephant called India in whose howdah all visitors cannot help but be shaken back and forth. One of Lean’s wives was Indian, and he had lived there a good while. He had a strong sense of its place, style, and potential as a vivid film subject.

Hidden within this vast national impression is actually a closet drama, involving only five characters, Mrs Moore, Miss Quested, Doctor Aziz, Fielding, and Ronny. The opera Aida comes to mind, a closet drama surrounded by a huge military display and a vast dynasty. Many curious and unusual relationships venture into its spectacle. But the material of  A Passage To India is one thing and the direction is quite another. Even unrealized, the material is more interesting than the director’s execution of it. To witness them, A Passage To India is still worth seeing, or, in my case and maybe in yours, worth seeing again.





Black Or White

26 Feb

Black Or White – written and directed by Mike Binder. Drama Lite. 121 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: The grandfather of a little girl of mixed race fends off adoption by her black grandmother.


I think I’ll stop going to movies written by the director. I’ll find out beforehand and save my time and fee.

For I’ve grown tired of seeing films as ill judged as they usually are by author/directors. Films such as this one where only one half of the story is honored, where only one half comes to life. Directors who write their own stuff have virtually no sense of the quality, needs, or truth of their material. It’s their baby. They just want to get it on. Blind love, like the love of the grandmother for her worthless son.

In this case the film comes to life because of the rich playing of Kevin Costner. The camera and the story monopolize him to the point of such absurdity that he is even provided with a comic gremlin in the form of a tutor for his granddaughter, that is a waste of time and an insult to the audience’s credulity.

All this while, the black side of the “or” is under-written and played essentially for comic relief. Which is shameful. Aren’t those black folks funny! Are they musical, though! Don’t they know how to yell! Isn’t Ebonics entertaining!

The grandmother needs to be a lot crazier than Octavia Spencer is allowed to act her, and her son, the father of the child, needs to be extracted from the stereotype of a drug addict, which is all the writer is capable of. The writer knows nothing of black drug addicts. Or black people entirely. Their presence here under his pen is a rude imposture. A deed of racial profiling. The writing of the black folks lacks, not fairness, but the essential ingredient for all story-telling: imagination!

This means there is no real drama, no true pull, nothing deep at stake. For there is nothing human on the black side of the “or” in a story that requires absolute balance of the weightiest sort to get itself told in a way that counts.

What we leave with is a hugely improbably kitchen table speech of Kevin Costner at the courtroom, which he does beautifully, however, and which has so much truth to it, it is almost worth seeing the film for it.

As it is, without true, significant opposition to him, we have nothing to digest, nothing to stick to our ribs.

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Posted in DRAMA LITE, Kevin Costner, MIDDLE-CLASS DRAMA, Octavia Spencer, Social Drama


Two Lovers

18 Jan

Happy Christmas Day In The Morning, all you readers of movie! And a splendid New Year!

Read, enjoy, love, and adore Christmas Day In The Morning, a jolly holiday tale for the whole family. On Amazon, visit:

Also, go to the menus on the right, go down to the third, and get your FREE Kindle app. There are many books on Kindle you may want one day to read, consider, research, and add to Christmas Day In The Morning.

Heigh Ho!
~ ~ ~
Two Lovers – directed by James Gray. Drama. A bourgeois man is drawn between two women, one of whom everyone wants him to marry and the other of whom no one wants him to marry. He wants to marry both. 110 minutes Color 2008.
The emergence of a true ingénue is rare in film.

What is the quality that defines an ingénue?

In a young woman, it is the quality of innocence which is a two-edged sword whose gleam charms the right people and protects her against the wrong ones. The protection side is never visible, but its existence dictates the story of any drama a true ingénue appears in. But few of them ever do appear. In film, in my lifetime, only two true ingénues: Audrey Hepburn and Gwyneth Paltrow.

But what happens to an ingénue when she is thirty or forty? With Audrey Hepburn nothing happens, for she continues, even in dramatic parts, to play the ingénue until she retires. But the ingénue is well beloved from the first, and the affection she inspires influences the box office to repeat her in the same role over and over again, such that she can hardly learn to play anything new or other. Audrey Hepburn was smart; she knew the limits of her talent, and she knew her fate, and she left off.

Ingénues are not physically small: Hepburn and Paltrow are rather tall: both of them are also fashion plates. While I don’t know that that defines the type, their slenderness gives them apparent vulnerability, so it must be seductive for them to adhere to their type. However, with Gwyneth Paltrow, this is not the case, for we do not live in an age of sophisticated comedy, and she is inherently far more talented than Audrey Hepburn never mistook herself to be. To work, Paltrow has played mothers. Paltrow has played a drug-addicted country singer. Leading lady to Iron Man. And you believe each one of them. I may have missed some of her films, but I didn’t mean to. She is unique in films for the same rare reason Audrey Hepburn was: she authentically sympathizes.

And so surely one must watch her play this part of what would in anyone else’s hands play out merely as a spoiled meth-head rich girl strung out on a married older man. Joaquin Phoenix tumbles for her big time. And who would not? Watch how she cares for him as she says no.

Phoenix is an actor mysteriously underrated by critics, who do not see his ruthless art for what it is, an almost pathological refusal to entertain. It’s perverse and noble. In this case, he is fat. His face is swollen with early middle age. He plays an overgrown failure, established as a loser from the start, due to inherit the dull fate of a dry-cleaning business, a man whose physical beauty, which in Joaquin’s Phoenix’s case is considerable, is as completely gone as though it never existed. He has nothing to fall back on but love, and he is not loved, at least not by men. His mother, played with exquisite proportion by Isabella Rossellini, loves him, and his fiancé, well played by Vinessa Shaw, loves him as a rescue project. And Paltrow loves him, but not that way.

His story, the picture’s story, is a fascinating account of a man incapable of a move which is not suicidal.


Lars And The Real Girl

01 Jul

Lars And The Real Girl – directed by Craig Gillespie. Drama. A young man falls for a life-size doll. 106 minutes Color 2007


This piece lacks in pictorial force. The director substitutes histrionic force for it. That is to say we need to see what the actors’ physical bodies are doing, not what their faces are doing, and the reason for that is the female manekin is introduced into their midst as a a living physical being, which brings their body-confidence under attack.  The result is that that, with the exception of Patricia Clarkson, everyone in this piece over-acts, that is to say acts irrelevantly. And this is not a function of the fact that everyone in town comes to accept the doll as an actual personage and behaves well towards her, for the townsfolk themselves do not over-act. But the actors who play the brother, his wife, and the wanna-be girlfriend do. This is not a result of the discomfort natural to the insertion of a manikin as a family fiancée, but simply a permitted miscalculation on the part of the director and of each actor, each of whom over-acts in a different way, the result being that by doing so each one of them distracts from the story, which is being told in a straightforward way as though a manikin as a family member were not unusual at all. What is an actor do with this situation? I’ll tell you what he must do: nothing at all. Don’t act anything. Just stand there and take it in and say your lines. By just saying your lines, you may discover that they do not amount to much in such a situation – and that would have enormous physical carrying power for the story before us, not one single element of which depends upon those characters. They must not “fail to understand him;” they must not “leap over into understanding” him. That is not their job, and the director must not let them take such liberties as to “act” — except this director does not know this. This leaves us with Ryan Gosling, a modest talent, to be sure, but one in this case sufficient to misconstrue the part slightly. Lars relates to the doll lovingly and as a boyfriend would. He is not delusional, and he must not be played that way, so the slight shift Gosling gives in this direction is a misstep, since it is a preset opinion which he walks on with and with which he is stuck throughout the characterization as a formula. He does not play “I am delusional,” mind you, but he does play “naiveté”, a sort of monotonous innocence, to which he adds a small flinch, as though Lars were just slightly brain damaged. Nothing of that sort will work in such a part. The part needs to be played as though there is nothing wrong with this person whatever, and as though he was just an ordinary guy and perfectly normal in buying a life-size doll, falling in love with it, talking to it, and pushing it around town in a wheelchair. But that is not what happens. Or rather, it happens only when Patrician Clarkson is on screen, for that is how she relates to Lars and the doll. And only when she is on screen and when we are watching her and listening to her does Lars become human at all. I feel the piece is rather a missed opportunity. It would be a good idea to remake it one day, with different actors, this time with Gosling in the Clarkson role. For me, my attention was being drawn away to the doll, who seemed more life-like than the humans around her, as though any moment she would breathe, rise from the wheelchair, and kiss him. The potential for life seemed so strong in her, but, alas, in her alone.


Mrs Miniver

08 Jun

Mrs Miniver — directed by William Wyler. Drama. An average upper-middle class English family encounters WW II in their own back yard. 134 minutes Black and White 1942.


The films of William Wyler won more Academy Awards for actors than any other director, two of them for this picture, which won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinemaphotography. Teresa Wright won it for Supporting Actress, and Greer Garson for Best Actress. She didn’t want to do it, and didn’t get along with the director, at least at first. But the fact is that she won the award more for the role she plays than for her playing of it. For neither the film nor her work in it hold up much any more, despite passages here and there. But it was an enormous hit during its day, and rightly so. Helmut Dantine, who rather looks like her twenty-year-old son in the film, is the vicious German, and despite opposition by Mayer, Wyler has him as a very nasty piece of goods indeed. (Mayer was afraid of losing the Axis market, if you will.) Dantine does a good job, but it is for the audience to play the scene where he appears in Greer Garson’s kitchen. Garson is merely moon-faced, unreadable, and this could be said of her performance throughout, except for a moment of humor here or there or the look in her eye when she cajoles Dame May Whitty into relinquishing a rose prize to Henry Travers, a lowly fancier. Garson always acted as though there were a powder puff in her mouth. She is always A Lady doused with English Lavender. My gracious, how gracious!  So her performance, here as elsewhere, is generalized, lacking in punctuation or particularity. Eccentricity is not hers. (One wonders how she ever got to replace Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame on Broadway.) But at the time this did not matter. She stood for something! And it worked. What she stood for was the ability of everyday people in the Allied home front to engage in the war bravely and positively. She was The War Effort. It was not just a case of The British courage; it was the courage of all people everywhere to endure the hardships of that time and win through. I lived through that time, and Mrs Miniver was the iconic film for it. Looking at it now, one sees how forced the humor is, and how false the Hollywood settings look, and how unquestioning the script. In it, Garson is a portrait, but not of a person. Her work is less than simple. Teresa Wright does just fine; Richard Ney’s performance is every excuse for his big-toothed smile to be promoted. Rhys Williams, Reginald Owen give good, useful supporting performances. Wyler and Henry Wilcoxon, who played it beautifully, wrote the sermon by the rector which is the film’s famous coda. But the only principal performance that stands up over time is that of Walter Pidgeon as Mr. Miniver. With his easy earthiness, his graceful humor, his physical practicality he grounds every scene he is in, keeping them from floating free in a story that does not exist, but which depends everything upon narrative liaison, in which, at least, Wyler is superb. Still it is Pidgeon one thanks. Watch him: he is always acting. He holds everything together. With the merest of means, he brings possibility for joy and real exhaustion and a witty taciturnity to the mise-en-scene. The passage in the home bomb-shelter in the garden is a stunning scene, that still works today; and his authority in it, that is to say, his deliberate modesty of means, contribute immensely here, as they did throughout his long and beneficial career. He was the most deft of actors.


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.


Adam Had Four Sons

31 Jul

Adam Had Four Sons – Directed by Gregory Ratoff. A governess raises four motherless sons happily until one of them marries a minx. 81 minutes Black and White 1941.

* * *

Fay Wray, who plays the mother who dies, said of Bergman, “Her heart was so in the film.  She treated the film as though it were the most important one ever done. I knew this was a girl who had to be an actress or her heart would surely break. She wasn’t working for the money, for fame, for success, even for fun, but because she had to be an actress.” And this Bergman said of herself, and it is certainly to her credit. But it is odd to contemplate how often she was seen as the same sort of actress, that of a stalwart milkmaid who is much put-upon. In role after role this is the character she plays. Ratoff directed her first American film; this is her second; the pattern is in place. And I wonder why? Why did people see only that in her? The role is not an inheritance of the females in film before that, for from Mary Pickford on most major female stars were powerhouses. Bergman, however, is always servile. Her endurance is there to carry her through many reels of her being abused. And her radiant smile is there to attest to her beauty. But just as she is almost always photographed three-quarters from the left, we only see her as hard-done-to, always only Joan of Arc. Here she is quite good in a film that is not. Two sets of four young males clutter up the screen with false exuberance and Warren William presents a stolid bourgeois father for romance. Bergman’s heartfelt relations with the boys is lovely to behold, but the story crumbles through too many of the same ingredients, the last being the introduction of Susan Hayward as a slatternly wife of one of them. She’s full of herself and very good. So is Bergman. You’ve got to hand it to her.  You may lament her casting, but her heart is in it.





Rachel Getting Married

18 Feb

Rachel Getting Married – Directed by Jonathan Demme —  Drama. Released from rehab, the sister of the bride returns to the madhouse of her family for a wedding. 113 minutes Color 2008

* * * * *

The features accompanying the film are quite interesting. As is the picture itself. We have the inestimable Debra Winger fascinating. The story hinges on her being that, and that alone, but the story also is one which the watcher must tell all by observation as though one were Declan Quinn’s camera, for the story is not spelled out, nor should it be. Bill Irwin plays the father of the three children, and he loves them, but he is an idiot and quite clueless about all of them. It’s a welcome piece of narrative strategy on the part of the screenwriter, Miss Lumet. The picture is easily acted, and we drift along with it through the rooms of a wonderful big house, which we are home in, and know by heart, which is why things don’t have to be spelled out. One can read these people without earphones. It’s as though we were invited guests to this melting pot marriage and were somehow privy to the internal and infernal goings on. Ann Hathaway is just grand as the irritating self-centered sister of Rachel. It’s an easy role to play but she does it beautifully, even down to the most irritating haircut ever seen on a human being and all the wrong clothes. This is not a romantic comedy; all these people are in their thirties. And Rosemary Dewitt is excellent as Rachel, although she has terrible voice production on the Special Feature she voice-overs. Never mind. The film itself is vital, natural, commanding. Of course, it’s not for everybody, but then, nothing ever is.



Another Year

13 Feb

Another Year – Directed by Mike Leigh – Classical Drama. A senior married couple offers hospitality to the needy. 129 minutes Color 2010.

* * * * *

A perfectly constructed picture, this is a Baucus and Philemon story, of two old farmers who offer hospitality and food to those who are difficult and in difficulty. In the myth, the gods reward such kindness by allowing them eventually to die simultaneously, and in the picture the reward is clearly that the two old ones retain their ability to be kind. The story is anchored in the four seasons, but even more firmly in their seasonal tasks of mucking in the soil of a gardening commons in which they have a plot and in which they raise fine small crops by themselves and for themselves. In this story, they apparently are not peasants, for they have travelled the world, they are well educated, and they both have jobs which benefit society; however the gardening gives them the privilege of peasants which is to meet the deities of their lives. Middle class people usually don’t meet such deities, but here they do. One of those deities is The Temptation To Act Out Of Impatience which the audience may feel the characters ought to feel, for the audience feels it itself, towards their three monstrous guests. The first and most eminent of these is Mary, a flirtatious alcoholic whose realization of the triteness and triviality and exile of her own destiny the movie’s story slowly shows in no uncertain terms. Her story is framed by the dull version of it, in which, at the start of the film, the wonderful Imelda Staunton plays a woman refusing to change her destiny in exactly way the character of Mary refuses at the end. Mary is played with dauntless fury by Lesley Manville, in a remarkable exposure of worldly human error. It is a great performance in a film of the highest level of performance. The balance between Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen is a wonderful piece of writing and acting, the one fitting the other, entirely without sentimentality, and without resembling the other. Any man of the right age who does not offer his hand to Ruth Sheen is an ignorant fool. The other two guests are Broadbent’s catatonic brother, played by David Bradley and his gluttonous friend Ken, played by Peter Wight. The God Of Impatience appears in full and terrifying form in the person of Carl, beautifully played by Martin Savage. It has been said this picture is about the difficulty of growing old. It is nothing of the kind. It is about the choices one makes all along – here demonstrated by a marriage that is created piece by piece before our very eyes.



Tomorrow The World

05 Feb

Tomorrow The World – directed by Leslie Fenton. Drama. On the home-front in WWII, a German adolescent is fostered out to relatives in the U.S. but turns out to be a member of the Nazi Youth Movement.  82 minutes black and white 1944.

* * * * *

Betty Field delivers the knockout performance that makes this material work. She sets up every scene so strongly that you understand perfectly what she is up against in the nasty little Nazi-youth which Skippy Homier plays. Homier comes from the Broadway company of the play, and his performance is dyed in the wool and equally as strong as hers. You really have to hand it to him. He is thirteen years old when he makes the picture, and not a moment too soon. He plays the part of a German youth movement youngster, who, during WWII, is brought to America to live with the family of his deceased father. He plans to take over America, and actually partly succeeds. One always thought of Betty Field as a little squishy as an actress, but not here.  Here she is opposed to two heavy talents, Frederic March and Agnes Moorhead, and they both are in fine form indeed. To watch Moorhead’s economy of means is a treat. And Frederic March has a line in stalwartness that is real and well judged. But it is Field’s scenes with March that grip one, as she fires tactic after tactic to confront him. In the entire film the acting is strong, direct, and simple, an excellent example of the style of film acting of that period. No pauses. No back story. No self-indulgence. No reaching for a depth the material will not support. As to the story, I had no idea how it would turn out. And it did.



A Brand New Life

04 Dec

A Brand New Life – directed by Sam O’Steen – drama of a middle-aged couple and a baby – 74 minutes, color, 1973

* * * *

This picture brings together the great Mildred Dunnock, the wonderful Wilfred Hyde-White, and Cloris Leachman and Martin Balsam who are perfectly beautiful as the principal players of two middle aged careerists who find themselves surprisingly pregnant. This film is modest and economic in its telling. Mildred Dunnock’s big scene is done as a master shot without a single close-up. She doesn’t need one. You cannot take your eyes off her. Cloris Leachman and Martin Balsam are master actors at the peak of their powers in roles you wouldn’t associate them with. Both are absolutely ingratiating in everything they do. It’s a pleasure to behold them. The picture is simple and affecting. It accomplishes what it sets out to do. What more can you ask?



Indiscretion Of An American Wife

04 Dec

Indiscretion Of An American Wife – directed by Vittorio Da Sica – drama of a couple of grownups having to say goodbye in a railway station. 63 minutes black and white 1954.

* * * *

De Sica has an infallible comic sense. The entire picture takes place in a railway station, and he fills the canvas with absurd wonderful vignettes and intrusions. From the twelve year old boy to the 90 year old voyeur to the band marching to hail the arrival of The President to the ridiculous woman with the packages and the poodle. All this is spread before us as counterpoint and choral context to a tragedy. Unfortunately the tragedy does not ensue, for the simple reason that the passion necessary between the two characters burns only in the male. He is played by Montgomery Clift with complete conviction and intensity. You believe he loves her. You never believe she loves him. Oh, she is discomforted, she is upset, she is apologetic, she is various things, but she is never on fire for him. Jennifer Jones is the lady. And she remains The Lady, the wife of a producer who stole her from her husband and the father of her children, Robert Walker, with the promise of making her a big star. He then cast her as hot temptresses, women with names like Pearl and Ruby, whose illicit love-skills would drive even Gregory Peck to destruction, make even the righteous Charlton Heston’s stiff neck wobble. Naturally she is not going to play the thing she was: a two-timing wife, which is what she is cast as here. What she does here is a matron in a Dior suit. She is never indiscrete. Her uncertainty as an actress is touching. But pathos is insufficient for grand passion. Here as elsewhere she acts as though in a vitrine, holding herself as precious object to be gazed at behind glass. We know there is a longer version of this film, 90 minutes, with the original title, Stazione Termini –- Terminus in English, and the right title instead of this dreadfully wrong one. This is a version which was cut for American audiences and which failed to find them. Truman Capote wrote the English dialogue.



Surrender, Dorothy

02 Dec

Surrender, Dorothy – directed by Charles McDougall – a middle class drama about a middle-aged mother hounding the ghost of her daughter – 86 minutes color 2006.

* * * * *

Well, an actress has to work, and when a highly professional big star like Diane Keaton is given full rein in a 20-day, low budget TV drama, watch out. This part should have been played by a Jewish or Mediterranean actress whose grieving style might make this story swallowable. But Keaton, an actress of genius, has, without rehearsal, only the liberty to quirk things up; forgive her, it is her only recourse, since she is miscast. The direction makes one suppose the director is a dullard, which he proves himself to be as he is involved in, count them, two commentaries, one side by side with Keaton, who has the decency to say little, although she does give some interesting clues as to her method, and the other with one of the greatest cinema-photographers in the world, Vilmos Zsigmond, who shot this picture. Anyone interested in how films are shot must dwell upon this interview. Because of the strength of his Hungarian accent, he is often difficult to understand, but don’t let that stand in your way. Do let Keaton’s costuming stand in your way, though. She descends on the summer cottage which her daughter has rented with friends, and, to the horror of those friends, she moves in and proceeds to put on her daughter’s clothes. But are they her daughter’s clothes? The wee bowler hat lets me know they are rather the costumer’s foolish submission to the Keaton sartorial style — the clothes the movie star Keaton would look, at the age of 60, cute in., and so the grotesqueness of the character’s impersonation is lost. All the scenes are beautifully shot and badly directed. The other actors are reduced to their default routines, and Keaton sometimes overacts, or turns things comic that are not. And what we are left with is a new mode of drama invented here for the first time: Cute Tragedy. But, if you can’t stomach the picture, check out the five-star commentaries.


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