Archive for the ‘Tom Drake’ Category

FBI Girl

23 Oct


FBI Girl – directed by William Berke. Crime Fighting/ Police Procedural. Leafing through the fingerprint files, a clerk must trap the truth about a sordid senator. 74 minutes Black and White 1951.


Even in a pinafore, Audrey Totter always looks like the hostess in a West Virginia nightclub run by racketeers, and as such she is always a big plus to any film she appears in. Her mouth is so voluptuous that even when she is playing a good girl, as here, you think she must go bad by the next reel. It lends her roles a sumptuous ambiguity. I like her very much. As to the level of talent she possesses, this is not question one asks of such an apparition. It would be like asking the Angel Gabriel if he can type. Oh, no, one sits back and rejoices in the atmosphere her presence guarantees.


Such is also the case with Cesár Romero, except it is quite easy to see that he can act like gangbusters, which is, in fact the part he plays. Romero’s screen energy is always peppy, always out front, vigorous, and apt. He was a handsome man who never aged, who looked marvelous in clothes – and here it looks like he wears them from his 1,000 suits wardrobe. His beautifully tailoring does not suppress his vitality or his humor.


Romero was to make hundred of movies. He went on acting into his 90s. He played parts that Gilbert Roland and Anthony Quinn ditched. He didn’t mind. For he had also played with perfect confidence cads in a mustache opposite Getty Grable in her heyday, and added a lively foil to that fine entertainer’s ebullience. It’s always good to see him.


It’s never good to see George Brent, unless you find fascination in staring at wallboard. It is extraordinary how inert he is. Listlessness was his volcano. He played opposite Bette Davis in 12 of her pictures. Did that laminate him? The odd thing is that, off camera, he was evidently desirability itself. Set next to Romero in this piece, the contrast is destructive to a degree of Brent, and Romero is not attempting to steal scenes. Brent has the animation of a Steiff penguin, except that in Brent’s case, although the adjective is abused, he was life size and his suit didn’t fit.


Tom Drake, late of the boy-next-door roles, gives you a sense of the terrible destructiveness of cute youth. The boy-next-door, if he is this cute and this aware of it, is but one step, if even one step, away from the cad-next-door. And this is the part he plays.


If the movie is silly, it is held at anchor by the performance of Raymond Burr, the man you love to hate, a sort of male Eleanor Bron. For perhaps not the only time but at least here his performance is restrained, collected, interior, and, despite that he plays a vile and ruthless assassin, one cares about him, for some reason. Sometimes Burr was an actor, not just of a part, but of parts, and this is one of those times.


Though it says it is, it’s not noir, and the plot is not plausible. For belief cannot be suspended when one gazes upon the arresting gowns Totter dons as the customary evening attire of a file clerk. On the other had, she is even more out of place in an apron. When credibility knocks at the door in Hollywood, no body comes to answer.


The Sandpiper

07 Jan

The Sandpiper – directed by Vincent Minnelli. Romantic Melodrama. A free spirited single mother living in Big Sur, California, must surrender her young son to a private school and its headmaster, an Episcopal ministr, to whom she, before long, surrenders herself as well. 117 minutes Color 1965.
Shoddy in concept and in execution, this was the first film Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made together after their marriage. It mimics their resounding affair. She draws him away from another woman, played with lackluster efficiency, as best she may, considering the script, by Eva Saint. In The VIPs, he was drawn from his marriage to Taylor to another woman. In Cleopatra she drew him away from his wife. Their work in film tended to create their personal lives, but in that sense, life did not imitate art; art killed life;and life art. Everyone said she drew him away from his proper work as a great classical actor. Wrong. He was a classical actor but he never was, and he knew he never would be, a great one. No, their film lives intermingled in the huge public imagination about them and made their souls change. People who can write their own ticket, tend to go nowhere. This film is an example of their arrival at that locale.

Essentially, she is the better film actor, and therefore the better actor. But her acting was instinctual with her, and as she grew older, her instincts failed her as she failed her life. Here she seems barely competent at times – but nobody else does either, except Burton. The pomp of Richard Burton’s voice carries him through the role on one level, and his shamefaced eyes carry him through it on another level. There is no third level to the part available. All levels are unfair to the word superficiality.

Vincent Minnelli, a stickler for detail, had, of course, fifteen years before, directed Elizabeth Taylor in Father Of The Bride and Father’s Little Dividend, in which she shone. But here the execution looks slapdash and hurried and under-rehearsed. The ghastly thing about it is that it was written by the producer, so, of course, nothing would be changed. One supposes that Elizabeth Taylor accepted it, yes, of course for the money, but also probably because she was 33, and had to make hay while the sun shone upon her youth and beauty. She was no dope. But here her scenes which should be touching and yearning and caring, are not properly held in mood and framing by the cinemaphotographer. Everything looks phony and worked up. Even the party at Nepenthe looks forced – with the sort of “earth-dancing” that never went on there. This is shocking, for Minnelli had a great sense of his extras; he gave them tasks and characters; you can see that so clearly in The Bandwagon – but not here. Taylor is an actress who needs a velvet setting like a gorgeous ruby. Like Garbo, she’s a trophy actress who, because of her remarkable looks, needs protection. Minnelli gives her none. Instead he plays to her weaknesses, which are to allow her to force emotion out, rather than in, and to fail to curb her physicalization of them which is the result of that forcing. Taylor’s acting instrument can only be played by her when it is contained. She is not a virtuoso actor. She is a concert grand, but you must not play Liszt on her, Elizabeth. You are that rare thing, a romantic actress, but you were not meant for all romances. As voyeurs to their romance, we all went to The Sandpiper with our wives in those days and wondered at our marriages as we did so. For, looking at Taylor and Burton in it, we asked ourselves, Are they missing something?

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