Archive for Fred Zinnemann

Peck’s Bad Boy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2011 by dcairns

I have to say that Fred Zinnemann’s BEHOLD A PALE HORSE deserves its comparatively low status among his work, but it’s still full of interest. Based on a novel by the director’s old Berlin coffee house buddy Emeric Pressburger, it’s set in more or less contemporary Spain and across the border in France, where a die-hard rebel (Gregory Peck) is carrying on the Civil War as a personal feud with Guardia Civil chief Anthony Quinn.

At two hours, the film feels sluggish, in part because J.P. Miller’s script features minor characters not essential to the action — either they were in the book, or have been added to give Quinn’s character more “depth”. The effect is to further diffuse a movie which seems uncertain who its main character is. We’re introduced to the story through the eyes of a young boy (Marietto, a typically excellent Zinnemann juvenile), pick up Peck, follow Quinn for a while, and then bond with Omar Sharif (!) as a priest who gets mixed up in the action due to the dying wish of Peck’s mother.

Another reason for the prevailing inertia (apart from maybe a certain lack of energy in Zinnemann’s handling at times) is the story structure, in which Peck conceives of a daring mission in Act 1 — his mother is dying, under armed guard, and he wants to circumvent the Spanish authorities, break into the hospital, and see her — which is then endlessly deferred by a series of almost Bunuelian plot digressions. Some of the intervening action is exciting or compelling in its own right, but at the back of our mind is the knowledge that a gripping adventure awaits that we’re just not getting to, and that has the effect of making what’s currently onscreen seem less exciting.

There’s also the problem of casting. The first section of story has Marietto visiting Peck, a friend of his late father’s, to ask him to avenge dad’s death by killing Quinn — in other words, it’s TRUE GRIT before the fact. And, as in TG, the kid is severely disappointed by what he finds, at first wondering if the old guy slumped in the dingy hovel is the father of the man he’s looking for. The problem, of course, and it’s a fatal one for a movie about a man approaching old age and opting for a dramatic death, is that Peck looks remarkably healthy for his age. A certain tightness of the shirt about the belly does not serve to evoke advancing decrepitude (and we also have our outside knowledge that G.P. would last almost another forty years).

And of course Peck is his usual staunch, stolid self, with nothing of the bandit and less of the Spaniard about him. Did any actor of reasonable ability ever evoke so many recasting fantasies? Imagine Robert Ryan as Ahab in MOBY DICK, James Stewart as Sam Bowden in CAPE FEAR (in which Peck is good). Even in ROMAN HOLIDAY, which seems to work like a dream, I could be persuaded that William Holden might have raised it to an even higher level (there’s never any doubt that Peck will behave nobly, whereas with Holden, doubt is in his DNA).

The Brêche de Roland, 8,000 feet up in the Pyrenees. Such is my naivety, I assumed this HAD to be a matte shot. It’s real!

Zinnemann’s hand is otherwise quite sure, with some striking sequences and performances. Quinn doesn’t overact, and while it’s hard to figure out how Sharif wound up in a French monastery, he’s very soulful and effective. The movie’s not too strong on explaining the political background — Zinnemann worried that he was glorifying a terrorist, but a sterner eye on the Franco regime’s abuses might have alleviated his concerns.

And Peck gets one terrific scene, a classic of poetic understatement, excerpted for your pleasure here. He’s finally off on his mission, one of certain death. He pauses, and there’s an erotic distraction. But it’s too late for that kind of thing.

The cameo role of the girl is performed by Elizabeth Wiener! — Clouzot’s LA PRISONNIERE, Rivette’s DUELLE. And I can forgive both Peck and Maurice Jarre their many sins, looking at something like this.

As in the delightful, allusive moment in THE SUNDOWNERS where Deborah Kerr stares wistfully at a glamorous woman on a train, contrasting with her own sun-bleached, wind-blown appearance, nothing is spoken but everything gets said.

Fate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 29, 2011 by dcairns

Here’s Fred Zinnemann ~

During the years of pre-production on MAN’s FATE, my contract had never been quite ready; a few ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ had always to be considered. [...] We were now rehearsing with Liv Ullman, David Niven, Peter Finch and other brilliant actors, in sets dressed and ready to start shooting the following week.

During those three years, a number of expensive MGM pictures had gone ove rbudget and failed at the box office. A new management had taken over; i received warning that several projects might be cancelled. This was soon followed by a legal cable stating that production of MAN’S FATE had been cancelled and the accounts closed; it also meant that henceforth no salaries would be paid. I soon found that no one in the unit wanted to stop rehearsing, salary of no salary; the excitement generated by the story was too strong. We worked for three more days until the script was fully rehearsed, scene by scene. Then, after the usual farewell party as if on the set of a real picture, everybody went home. The next day I went to the front office to see what was going to happen.

The information I received was that  MGM had spent more than four million dollars in pre-production. This would be written off; but there were still some bills outstanding. The studio’s accounts were now closed; my contract was not signed, therefore I had no contract, meaning that it was I who would have to pay those bills.

‘How much?’ I asked, somewhat stunned.

‘A million seven hundred.’

I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘How do you expect me to pay?’

‘It isn’t too difficult.’ The man gave me an encouraging smile. ‘All you have to do is go bankrupt and appoint us as the receivers, then we can make good deals with the creditors.’

‘That’s dishonorable,’ I said.

The man was amazed. ‘This has nothing to do with honor, this is business!’

I can’t figure why MGM thought the director of HIGH NOON and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS would be the type to go for this deal, but they were wrong: Fred sued the bastards, and won, after four years. That didn’t help the creditors too much, alas. MGM didn’t care about costume supply houses and such like taking a financial hit because they were winding up their UK operations anyway. Their good name didn’t matter to them since they weren’t going to be around, and a successful UK film industry was the last thing they wanted since they wouldn’t be part of it so it would be competition.

MGM’s Borehamwood studios, the best in England were sold — the first thing they did was rip out the boilers so the buildings couldn’t be used as studios — they were scuppering the ship as they pulled out of the UK.

High Noon at Marienbad

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 26, 2011 by dcairns

I’m not trying to be boastful or anything, but when I first got the idea for the above cut-and-paste composograph, I got very excited. And then for a while it was apain in the neck, because I don’t have Photoshop and other equivalent tools just don’t compare. But then, when the end was in sight, I got this incredible SUGAR RUSH. So I think it’s good.

If I come up with enough of these, maybe I can publish a set of copyright-violating postcards.

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