He Doesn’t Bark Like a Dog, And He Knows the Secrets of the Deep

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Dana Andrews and Lilli Palmer adopt a lobster.

Pauline Kael admired it. Its own director dismissed it. But neither of these facts need unduly influence us — like it or love it or hate it or be indifferent, NO MINOR VICES (1948) is a very odd, original little film.

I say “original,” but it should first be admitted that Lewis Milestone’s film shares a central set-up with Lubitsch’s THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING, in which Merle Oberon is tempted away from her bourgeois married existence with Melyvn Douglas by a romance with neurotic New York artist Burgess Meredith. Well, in NO MINOR VICES, substitute Lilli Palmer, Dana Andrews and Louis Jourdan and the rest can stay as it is. But it doesn’t, exactly. Whereas Lubitsch did what Lubitsch does, hampered by the fact that his leading man and leading lady were capable but not fiery, and his comic antagonist is very funny but not quite appealing enough, Milestone has perfect leads and still amps things up furiously with expressionist tricks, cartoon sound effects, imaginary sequences, hallucinatory POV shots and various other shenanigans supplied by Arnold Manoff’s script.

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Lilli Palmer is charming and beautiful as usual, Dana Andrews is wonderfully understated as usual, and both demonstrate how to turn their dramatic gifts to the services of outrageous screwball comedy. The real surprise, though, is Jourdan, who supplies the outrageous screwball element, flamboyant and wild-eyed, a little camp, and very intense, like the light comedy version of Bruno in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.

Milestone happily serves up the required japes, but we never forget he’s a proper director: he’s able to send up the tricks of dramatic filmmaking by pushing them too far or by applying them to goofy situations, and some of his compositions are just beautiful.

Strong support from Norman Lloyd as a milquetoast pediatrician. It seemed odd, hearing the familiar velvet voice of the man who pronounced Fiona and I man and wife, issuing from this boyish fellow.

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Cinematographer George Barnes also worked on SPELLBOUND, so the modern art elements must have been up his street. Funny how in high-class Hollywood movies modern art is always represented by Dali knockoffs and modern music by ersatz Gershwin. Here, Franz Waxman delivers suitable variations on Rhapsody in Blue so we get both at once — a rich pudding indeed.

I’d love to know who did the drawings Jourdan tosses off — perhaps somebody out there will recognize the style?

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Norman has a fine collection of newspaper cartoons of himself, but he doesn’t seem to have this one. I hope the original was preserved.

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19 Responses to “He Doesn’t Bark Like a Dog, And He Knows the Secrets of the Deep”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    Re: Manoff. Enterprise Studios was stuffed with great Jewish leftist talent, and if Milestone’s “The Arch of Triumph” hadn’t brought it crashing down, McCarthyism certainly would have a year or two later.

  2. Have been reading up on Milestone’s leftist collaborators — he’s the great fellow traveler of all time. Even his agent was pinko. Makes me like him even more.

    Seems he had powerful friends at Fox (casting Raymond Griffith in All Quiet paid off), the studio least cooperative with the blacklist, and they sent him to work abroad for a few years until things cooled off. His Italian film was an indie, but several of the others were Fox productions. Probably the luckiest of the blacklistees, and he was never called to testify I don’t think — despite being Russian and having directed The North Star.

  3. I recall seeing No Minor Vices on television a great many years ago and was struck by its use of direct address to the camera and a God-like off-screen narrator.

    Arnold Manoff was married to Lee Grant. As a result she was blacklisted right along with him. Their daughter Dinah is an actress who had a splashy start in the 80s but hasn’t been seen much since.

  4. Lee Grant is amazing. I remember her daughter from I Ought to be in Pictures, a Neil Simon dramedy with no jokes. Have never seen Grease.

    No Minor Vices is just crazee.

  5. This is one I hadn’t even heard of. Checking Netflix to see whether they had it, I spotted another one: GUEST IN THE HOUSE. Have you seen that one? Looks interesting.

  6. Guest is credited to John Brahm but Milestone did a bit of it. I reviewed it a while back, without knowing his involvement.

    Milestone’s career is littered with part-works, films where he walked off after clashes (with Gloria Swanson, for instance) or walked on after somebody else got fired (Mutiny on the Bounty).

  7. David Boxwell Says:

    Watching the clip, I am paralleling Andrews’ first encounter with Webb (LAURA) in my mind. DA seems to respond initially in the same sly, mocking, contemptuous way to a histrionic effeminate male, but since LJ is way more attractive, DA is willing to get totally bromantic and “handsy.”

  8. …and swiftly comes to regret it.

    Jourdan is amazing in this — camp, sexy, funny, sensitive, irritating and weird.

    DA is very well utilized — his jut-jawed squaresville hypermasculinity, ability to suggest intellect, and an indefinable appeal when he should be kind of nasty in that late-40s male way. An underrated star.

  9. David Boxwell Says:

    I like the way Geoffrey O’Brien sums him up (in OK, You Mugs): “All these figures–the trim younng detective of LAURA, the up-all-night journalist of WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, the painfully serious actor As Himself–existed simultaneously, multiple incarnations of a self whose prime characteristic was the eerie suggestion of a lack of self.”

    So: DA as the incarnation of an essential void at the core of American masculinity. And, as a result, one of the most truthful of American male movie stars.

  10. Absolutely. You can see why Tourneur liked him, he loved actors who did as little as possible, or less than possible, actors who suggested a lack somewhere.

  11. Wow, you guys are just killing it today. Great stuff about Andrews. Jourdan is also great in Tourneur’s ANNE OF THE INDIES, where he plays the slightly feminized love interest for the butch Jean Peters. When he’s given his pick of the pirate loot, he picks a dress.

  12. Wow! I’ve never seen all of that one.

    Of course Letter from an Unknown Woman ensures LJ’s immortality.

  13. LJ is still in the land of the living. At least technically he is. Hasn’t been seen in pubic for years.

  14. Poor fellow. And to think, his last film was Year of the Comet.

  15. Frankenheimer! his TV work survives better than most because he recorded it himself.

  16. Here’s Louis in 2010 receiving the Légion d’Honneur. It’s been overdubbed with a song but you can at least see him.

  17. He looks super, all things considered! Hope he’s enjoying good health.

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