RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Brian Donlevy’ Category

Common Decision

12 Aug

Command Decision — directed by Sam Wood. WWII Drama. 1hr 52 minutes Black and White 1948.
★★★★★
1948. The Story: Top brass in in WWII England fight over bombing strategy of German targets.
~
In 1946 my father drove me and my brother to Roosevelt field on Long Island to witness the first jet planes. Amazing. They seemed to go straight up in the air, faster than flight. Earlier in the ‘40s my dad also drove us to La Guardia Airport where on its observation deck we were able to watch propellor planes take off and land. Air shows were a sight-seeing excursion common in those days, a treat which went out of fashion when jet planes proved too fast for the naked eye to linger on. The slower prop planes take-off gave you something to follow.

The speed and talent of jets is highlighted here in the need to destroy the German factories that had first begun to make them. Jet fighters might have won The War for the Germans, so the strategy is urgent.

So, is the cost of airmen’s lives to destroy German jet production too high? This is the battle fought by the bomber command headquarters stationed in England.

The problem was gnarled just as it is today by politics, publicity, personalities and promotion in rank. And by the fact that in those days the Air Force was not a separate arm but was part of the Army. In grade school we all sang “Off We Go, Into The Wild Blue Yonder” that ends in: “Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps.” I can sing it to this day.

These matters are brought to a collective head by the General of Walter Pidgeon’ after 48 bombers are lost on the first of three attacks on the German jet fighter factories far out from the range of fighters accompanying those bombers. Walter Pidgeon at one point has the longest monologue I remember ever having witnessed in a movie. He is wonderful in it, and the writing of it itself is wonderful.

This is partly because the material comes from a novel turned into a successful stage play, and that the movie wisely makes little attempt to take its setting out of the small pocket of AAF HQ. The material requires dire sequestration, not expansion. It already has expansion — which is the big issues in what’s written. Watch the other actors stand stock still while Pidgeon performs, quite simply and quite fully, cigar in hand, in one take, this enormous speech.

Sam Wood was noted for his dislike of over-acting, and, while some of the actors have huge scenes, it is a treat to see each actor, with ripe scene-stealing techniques at his beck, hold his place and listen.

The point is that the material itself is important. And is still important. Because the battle is between public opinion of military action and the dire action itself, ruled by something maybe as frisky as good weather.

Van Johnson lodges comic relief as the adjutant who knows how to work the system. Brian Donlevy plays the old chum general. Charles Bickford plays the press secretary. John Hodiak plays the mission lead pilot. Edward Arnold plays the visiting Congressman. Cameron Mitchell, John McIntire, Clinton Sunberg, and Ray Collins all support the main battle, which is between two generals, old friends, one of which is played by Walter Pidgeon. The other by Clark Gable.

Gable was stationed at the Army Air Force in WWII in Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire, the town next to Oundle where I went to school not long after the release of this film. He was gunner on B-17 missions, like the ones we see here.

It is fascinating to watch him, and to see how good an actor Clark Gable is.

What prevents us seeing his talent are the elements that made him a great star and which mask that talent at the same time as they reveal it: His masculinity. The shape of his head. His handsomeness. His marvelous head of hair. His gnarly voice. The flexibility of his features and their interest. He can lead men. All of that allures. Because it is all natural. And he is sexy as all get out. But can you see the forest for these trees? Hard to do.

Just watch him play this huge role. Watch what he does as an actor. So simple. See if you can see what he’s up to. He has a gruff shtick perhaps, but don’t set him aside and think you know him. Yes, you know him. But do you? Watch how fresh he is. Watch how, in the instant, he gears the character to the surprises and disappointments due him. See how committed.

Acting also gives one the illusion of being in the company, the room with, in the presence of remarkable people whom we would otherwise never get close to. The close-ups of Clark Gable put us close enough to him to kiss him.

But this willing illusion of intimacy of ours is also a mask against observing the art of acting. For this illusion is a diversion we deliberately come here to make and enjoy. We lose ourselves in it, don’t we? We put the stars in us. For the price of a mere ticket.

As though their craft existed for no other reason than to fertilize us . Or, so spellbound by what they do with it, their craft did not exist at all.

But what truth their craft conveys!

For instance, I watch Edward Arnold. He is an actor with a big bully voice, authority of manner, and a stout presence to back them. I witness the decomposition of his character as it is humiliated by his betters — he who admits no betters. Edward Arnold is completely real in playing a character, who has no dignity, lose his dignity.

How does Edward Arnold, a human being do it? How does the actor do this?

This actor wins my heart, by playing a character to whom I must close my heart.

Yet, to do that, he has to endure the squalor of mortification, enact and give to us a terrible truth and know it.

I love actors and the art of the actor. Command Decision tells me this is true of me.

 

Beau Geste

13 Jun

Beau Geste – directed by William Wellman. Action adventure. 112 minutes Black And White 1939.

★★★★

The Story: Three orphan boys grow up together, join the French Foreign Legion together, and act nobly together.

~

In a neck-and-neck race with George Steven’s Gunga Din at RKO, Beau Geste is a scene by scene adaptation of the 1926 silent film starring Ronald Colman. As such it is slow going. Until it isn’t.

For nothing happens until the last scenes, in which Brian Donlevy, the nasty sergeant in charge of the garrison, literally mans the battlements by stuffing its crenellations with the corpses the marauding Arabs have made of his men – which scares the Arabs off.

This is a super-duper and justly famous battle scene, worth waiting for. It inspires the star of the picture, Gary Cooper, who hates the sergeant, to admit Donlevy is a great soldier. Donlevy, however, is perhaps ill-cast, for he does not have a mean streak, which is needed, but a wicked sense of humor, which is not. He plays the part well, nonetheless.

It’s all well directed by William Wellman, who made sure not to leave out his favorite, a rain-scene, even though everyone is indoors. Those indoors enclose the three adopted boys of the lady bountiful of the house, who possesses the famous infamous “blue water” sapphire which figures into a plot that frames the action of the boys once they join the French Foreign Legion. Is that clear?

I hope not, because to distract us from this plot, we have various young to-be stars trickling through the desert sands, Broderick Crawford, for one. Alfred Dekker, J. Carrol Naish for two more. And for another, Susan Hayward, the most strictured of all actresses, who is the fond focus of Ray Milland.

Milland is the only one of the three English boys to have an English accent. Gary Cooper, who was schooled in England, does not assume one. Wonder why. Nor does Robert Preston as the third of the boys. Preston with his Dennis Quaid grin and zest is the most welcome of energies always, and who could be more convincing than he to save the day at last?

The story is a long-winded set-up for the final scene. You keep wondering when something is going to happen as we lumber through the boyhoods of these boys.

Gary Cooper as a child is played by Donald O’Connor, of all people: O’Connor the most spritely, Cooper the least spritely of actors? Is this because Cooper looked older than he was and O’Connor’s youth was supposed to correct it? Here Cooper is 38, too old for the part of a runaway youth in 1939, the miracle year of American Film. Robert Preston is 21, which is more like it.

Cooper had written into his contracts that he never play a character who dies. Perhaps because as an actor he is already dead, so if he did die how could you tell? He used his inertia to act. He is never one to pick up cues before sucking attention towards himself. Sloth and sluggishness stole whole scenes.

His stardom has always annoyed me. In real life he was shy, elegant of dress, and had an enormous penis – an infallible combination for female appeal – but on the screen, I don’t get it. I suppose people felt that a taciturn male must be more profound than a talkative one and more attractive and more masculine, which, with Robert Preston on the screen is proved pure baloney. I knew that when I was six years old and saw this movie when it first came out.

If you can wait for the finale when it comes it’s an entertaining show. And you won’t have wasted your quarter. Or your 17 cents, which is what a matinee cost me in 1939.

 

Beau Geste

03 May

Beau Geste – directed by William Wellman. Action adventure. 112 minutes Black And White 1939.

★★★★

The Story: Three orphan boys grow up together, join the French Foreign Legion together, and act nobly together.

~

In a neck-and-neck race with George Steven’s Gunga Din at RKO, Beau Geste is a-scene-by-scene adaptation of the 1926 silent film starring Ronald Colman. As such it is slow going. Until it isn’t.

For nothing happens in the film until the last scenes, in which Brian Donlevy, the nasty sergeant in charge of the garrison, literally mans the battlements by stuffing its crenellations with the corpses the marauding Arabs have made of his men, which scares the Arabs off.

This is a super-duper and justly famous battle scene, worth waiting for. It inspires the star of the picture, Gary Cooper, who hates the sergeant, to admit Donlevy is a great soldier. Donlevy is perhaps ill-cast, for he does not have a mean streak, which is needed, but a wicked sense of humor, which is not. He plays the part well, nonetheless.

It’s all, of course, well directed by William Wellman, who made sure not to leave out his favorite, a rain-scene, even though everyone is indoors. Those indoors enclose the three adopted boys of the lady bountiful of the house, who possesses the famous infamous “blue water” sapphire which figures into a plot that frames the action of the boys once they join the French Foreign Legion. Is that clear?

I hope not, because to distract us we have various young to-be stars trickling through the desert sands, Broderick Crawford, for one. Alfred Dekker, J. Carrol Naish for two. And for yet another, Susan Hayward, the most strictured of all actresses, who is the fond focus of Ray Milland.

Milland is the only one of the three English boys to have an English accent. Gary Cooper, who of course was schooled in England, does not assume one. Wonder why. Nor does Robert Preston as the third of the boys. Preston with his Dennis Quaid grin and zest is the most welcome of energies always, and who could be more convincing than he to save the day at last?

The story is a long-winded set-up for this final scene. You keep wondering when something is going to happen as we lumber through the boyhoods of these boys.

Gary Cooper when little is played by Donald O’Connor, if you can figure: O’Connor the most spritely, Cooper the least spritely of actors. Is this because Cooper was an actor who looked older than he was and O’Connor’s youth was supposed to correct it? Here Cooper is 38, too old for the part of a runaway youth in 1939, the miracle year of American Film. Robert Preston is 21, which is more like it.

Cooper had written into his contracts that he never play a character who dies. Perhaps because as an actor he is already rather dead. If he did die how could you tell? Cooper is an actor who used his inertia to act. He is never one to pick up cues before sucking attention towards him. Cooper’s sluggishness stole scenes.

His stardom has always annoyed me. In real life he was shy and had an enormous penis – an infallible combination for female appeal – but on the screen, I don’t get it. I suppose people felt that a taciturn male must be more profound than a talkative one and more attractive.

I knew, when I was six years old and saw this movie when it first came out, it wasn’t necessarily so.

Still, it’s an entertaining show. And you won’t have wasted your 17 cents, which is what a 1939 matinee cost me.

 

Canyon Passage

05 May

Canyon Passage. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Gold-rush Western. A successful entrepreneur defends his friend against all odds. 92 minutes Color 1946.

* * * * *

What a gorgeous picture! It is the result of the Technicolor process which was tricky to film with and required the services of  Natalie Kalmus who ran the always-rented cumbersome Technicolor camera. But the results are phenomenal here, rich, deep, and satisfying. The outdoor sequences are done in the Gold Country of the California Sierras, in view of lakes and rivers and forests of supernal beauty. And the film itself unfolds with all this casually moved through, in unemphatic episodes, which seem barely to constitute a story but hold one’s attention for that very reason. Its woodland mountain setting is going to prohibit the big action scenes of open-plains Westerns, and in this it’s going to be similar to Allan Dwan’s later film Tennessee’s Partner with John Payne and Ronald Reagan, that is to say, it’s going to be a homo-bonding story. In this, the far more interesting one, the male romance is between Dana Andrews and Brian Donlevy. Donlevy is a funny actor, short, build square, with a large handsome head and a big masculinity to throw around, he nonetheless is curiously sympathetic as the banker who steals deposits. His morning ritual upon arriving on the set: 1) insert dentures; 2) don hairpiece; 3) strap on corset; 4) lace up “elevator” shoes. This may have given him the stuffed look he always possessed, that of a little lunk who did not move well, but moved impressively, and it also probably formally framed a character who is going to be weak and yet sympathetic. One of the great shots in the movie is taken from below in profile, his left eye gleaming with doubt as to whether he should go and murder someone. In both pictures, that someone is a drunken prospector. Another similarity circles around two females and the hero’s resistance to marriage. In both instances, the females are red heads, here Susan Hayward in her leading lady days. She has marvelous carriage and a bold attitude in every scene, which makes her monotonously redoubtable, but effective. The star is Dana Andrews who moves through the picture, here, as always, retaining his secrets. His naturalness on screen is remarkable. The quietude he carries and the interesting timbre of his voice when he speaks and the mobility of his face when he responds make him a fine film actor, one of a few who look okay in suit-roles, as here, where he plays a merchant prince in the making. Andy Devine and his actual sons are in the picture as is a young, sexy actor doing good work, Lloyd Bridges, but the astonishing performance is that of Ward Bond as the bully ogre. What with his pre-fab performances in John Ford films, we never imagine he could act, but see him here (and also in On Dangerous Ground), and you will be moved and amazed by the way he seizes the opportunities provided by the script — which is a really quite good and eccentric one. In brief: a richly visual, beautifully directed, and unusual Western entertainment.

[ad#300×250]

 

When The Daltons Rode

30 Mar

When The Daltons Rode – Directed by George Marshall. Comedy Western. Will our hero remain faithful to his friends, the wronged Dalton boys, or will he not?  81 minutes Black and White 1940

* * * * *

And rode and rode and rode.  This is one of George Marshall’s comedy/romance/westerns, a genre at which he was a master. Destry Rides Again and Texas are two notable examples of his craft and sense of fun. Here the fun is supplied by the jalopy-voiced Edgar Buchanan once again and the heaviness once again by George Bancroft. The inestimable castrati-voiced Andy Devine gives us a wonderful town silly to whom all the females in the movie are drawn. He himself is stretched between his love of food, his love of the Dalton boys, and his love of these giggling females. Marshall’s style is in full play here: during a daring escape from a lunch counter, Brian Donlevy steals a pie, and during the ensuing daring stage-coach chase, he gives it to Andy Devine, the driver, to eat, but after one bite, it is shaken from Devine’s hand, and he nearly goes overboard after it. Marshall had a genius for comic set-ups; it is one of his most endearing gifts. But watch how brilliantly he stages crowds in violent motion, and groups in mayhem. The stars are bashed around like mad. The gunfights and chases are remarkable for their conviction. Also take in, if you like, the range of stunts performed here. The gang actually does jump from a cliff onto the top of a moving train. No joke, that. Randolph Scott is the lead as a man caught up in the bandit gang, as he also is in The Stranger Wore A Gun. He exhibits a fine sense of humor, just right for Marshall’s shenanigans and set in perfect balance by the script, which, as is usual in Marshall films, is better than you might expect. It gives forceful and realistic love scenes for him to play with the elegant Kay Francis, who herself is a game gal in a dustup. Mary Gordon does the minute Irish mom of the Dalton boys to a T. The picture has brilliant passages of horses in motion, and color does not interfere here with the beautiful spectacle of black and white photography. Marshall’s cast is deep on talent: Broderick Crawford is super as Kay Francis’s love interest and pal of Scott. This is a film the whole family can watch together with pleasure.

[ad#300×250]

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button