Archive for Arthur C Miller

Gunny

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2021 by dcairns

I was blown away by THE GUNFIGHTER. I missed it in Bologna a few years back, but enjoyed Henry King’s STATE FAIR and OVER THE HILL, also shown. Of the other Gregory Peck vehicles, I found TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH fairly impressive and THE BRAVADOS was going OK until Peck decided to ruin it by smiling at the end. Can’t think of another film so categorically betrayed by a single facial expression. I think Peck’s niceness worked against him, his eggy moments onscreen tend to be motivated by unwonted injections of pleasantry. There’s that disgraceful moment in GUNS OF NAVARONE where Peck and Quinn share a joke about a woman, despite hating each other over a woman…

Well, THE GUNFIGHTER is amazingly uncompromising. There’s two bits of Hollywood bullshit — the first is Peck shooting a gun out of a man’s hand (nobody can do that — something I learned as a kid from some TV movie with Stuart Whitman or somebody — he was a cop and he said “We can’t shoot the gun out of his hand, you know,” and I was like, wow. Obviously Tarantino never saw that one since he did an interview about Black Lives Matter where he seriously pondered why cops didn’t do that). The second is a dead character riding off into the sunset, one of those faux happy endings like the superimposed Flynn at the end of THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON. It’s just decoration, not really a cop-out.

Otherwise the film is pure noir. Nobody is all good but many are all bad. (I use “good” the way old Hollywood thought of it — so the women aren’t pure, but they’re morally positive.) It has a HIGH NOON hook two years before that film was made — the clock is ticking and the action is almost real time after the first couple of scenes. Peck, the fastest gun west of the Gregory Pecos, is in town to see his estranged wife. He waits in the saloon. But his fame as gunfighter makes him a target for every young punk with a pistol, there’s a vengeful father aiming at him with a rifle from across the street and three vengeful brothers riding after him. He really needs to get out of Dodge but circs keep delaying him. I hope fingernails are good for you because we’re chewing them to the quick.

Speaking of quick — Peck demonstrates his skill early on, and seals his fate, executing a young Richard Jaeckel who provokes a duel. King’s presentation of this is stunning — we see Peck at the bar, glass in hand. Jaeckel draws on him, and is shot — we never see Peck draw or fire, we just cut back to him after, gun in his free hand. He’s so fast the camera can’t see it, is the implication.

Of course this gag gets exaggerated into a great bit in BLAZING SADDLES, and Gene Wilder’s backstory in that film seems drawn from this one too.

Cinematographer Arthur C. Miller delivers a number of stunning wide shots using single-source light from windows bouncing off wooden floors or ceilings.

Peck is really good in this. Cinema’s paragon of stiffness is credible as an outlaw since the film doesn’t go into great detail about his wild past. Impossible to imagine him being like Jaeckel, ever, or like Skip Homeier, memorably repulsive as the film’s other psycho-squirt. In MAN OF THE WEST there’s some powerfully nasty talk about Gary Gooper’s criminal activities, and the result is cognitive dissonance — you can’t square Coop’s persona with the stuff he’s supposed to have done. Discretion helps GUNFIGHTER get over this hurdle.

Andre De Toth co-wrote the film — I own two books on De Toth but am unable to learn why he didn’t direct also. King steps in and does an excellent job — now I have to see JESSE JAMES. Feels like he did one great film with Peck and Ty Power apiece, then kept using them, with diminishing returns.

Millard Mitchell is outstanding as the town marshall, a former crony of Peck’s. Who’s the kid? He’s good. IMDb has a huge list of cast members, down to the smallest extra, but nothing on him.

THE GUNFIGHTER stars Atticus Finch; R.F. Simpson; Cobweb; Kitty O’Day; Sheriff Dad Longworth; Melakon / Sevrin; Big Ed Williams (uncredited); Fairy Godmother; Grandma Walton; Sheriff Kip McKinney; Eggs; Cojo; Skipper Jonas Grumby; The Dear One; Pee Wee; Kane’s father; Dr. Walter Coley; and Capt. Patrick Hendry.

Recalliery

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2021 by dcairns

Watching HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY I wondered if it appeared in time in 1941 to influence Orson Welles’ plans for THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS? (Welles being a big Ford fan after all. And there are thematic similarities in these accounts of a vanished past.) The idea to keep much of the narration from Richard Llewellyn’s source novel, and play it over dialogue-free scenes, and use montage to cover a story with a long span, apparently came from studio head Darryl Zanuck. It’s an approach which could easily be disastrous if applied clumsily, since you lose firmly dramatic scenes which grip, and gain, if you’re lucky/skilled, a more ethereal, intangible quality, poetic rather than dramatic.

Looking at Searching for John Ford by Joseph McBride, I learn about William Wyler’s crucial involvement, casting much of the picture and overseeing the design of the village, an incredible setting. Wyler chose Roddy McDowall for the lead — screenwriter Philip Dunne called Roddy the true auteur of the picture, and said “This solves our length problem, because they’ll never forgive us if we let that boy grow up.” The film was set to be four hours long and the kid was supposed to mature into Tyrone Power. Imagine. Technicolor was also considered at an early stage, Zanuck envisioning an epic to rival GONE WITH THE WIND. And, after all, it’s How GREEN Was My Valley, right?

Same year as KANE — and note the ceilings.

It’s all wondrous to think of, since although the book is the reason there’s a film, the principle things that make it a great film are Ford’s use of McDowall and the b&w cinematography of Arthur C. Miller, which is exquisite. Miller mostly wasted his gifts on indifferent Fox fodder. The Malibu Hills are not the Welsh Valleys, but the movie conjures its own version of Wales, complete with a cast of assorted accents — Donald Crisp, a cockney who affected Scottishness in real life, like Eric Campbell, Chaplin’s Goliath, makes the most consistent effort to sound right — Rhys Williams, playing blind boxer Dai Bando, is one of very few actual Welsh actors.

Another thing I wondered is if this movie invented the highlights reel — a closing set of flashback memories to certain golden moments in the preceding movie. When “Seems Like Old Times” plays for a second time in ANNIE HALL and we get glimpses of earlier scenes, that kind of thing. Reminding the audience how much they enjoyed the film, hopefully — with an indifferent film it’s infuriating — this movie is all flashbacks anyway, from a largely unseen present tense, so it’s a bold and interesting choice to repeat certain flashes. I can’t think of an earlier example. Of course it’s a clever Hollywood device to diffuse the downbeat effects of a tragic ending. Go into the magic past and end on something happier. Those memories will never fade. Things may be bad now, and uncertain to get better, but happiness is real — the past is still here. We just can’t quite step into it. Time may be an illusion, as Einstein said, but it’s a very persistent one. So this kind of Hollywood illusion is bittersweet — we’re presented with a joyful image but with a little thinking we can see past it.

Victory Thru Ty Power

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2020 by dcairns

THIS ABOVE ALL turns up, unnamed, as a reference in Anthony Burgess’s novel of Excalibur, Any Old Iron, which is what got me thinking about it. And then the idea of doing something on Anatole Litvak came up, and the two things dovetailed.

(The novel also features a US serviceman turned novelist called Irwin Roth, who seems to be a nasty joint portrait of Irwin Shaw and Philip Roth. Oddly, Shaw was a writer for Litvak: he authored the source play OUT OF THE FOG derives from, and later co-scripted ACT OF LOVE. This started me wondering if Burgess, who did a lot of writing on unfilmed movies, ever brushed up against Litvak. Actually, this story is a bit like ACT OF LOVE, pitting love against war, but without any of the bite.)

THIS ABOVE ALL features, asides from the elaborate studio recreations of the blitz which Burgess remarks upon, some good atmospheric blackout stuff at the start. The romance seems interesting, but then the film goes on, and on… Ty Power, of course, is playing it American, despite his character being English. He has PTSD and is a deserter, an interesting set-up for a propaganda film. I’m assuming it was conceived and shot before Pearl Harbour, so it’s allowed to be pro-Britain but a bit anti-war. Power’s problems have potential, but only come up intermittently: everything kind of drags on. Wartime movies usually bring a tear to my eye: I’m easy. This felt like watching Paul Muni shove a piano up a hill.

Joan Fontaine has good moments, bad moments, and truly awful moments which seem more like aeons while they’re happening. At her worst, that woman could simper for England: here, she does.

Litvak is seemingly at sea in this increasingly turgid morass. He tries a few zip pans, but they seem unmotivated, forced. Like trying to get a conga line going at a funeral reception. The action is far from zippy. Incredibly, the source novel is by Eric Knight, whose fast-paced hardboiled thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up would have made a far better subject for this director. Knight also write Lassie Come Home. This one is tonally stranded in no man’s land between the two, a strange place to be. R.C. Sherriff, the poet laureate of Hollywood England, doesn’t seem to have found a workable cinematic structure in his adaptation.

Actors keep turning up, people we like. Thomas Mitchell, speaking truth to Power, essays a gratuitous Scottish accent, which is not disgraceful. It’s identifiably East coast, though it wanders up and down the shoreline a bit. Nigel Bruce does something rustic. You need these guys around because the central couple aren’t doing it. Whenever they were alone together after the half-hour mark, we prayed for an interloper to interlope them.

Very handsome photography by Arthur C. Miller, though

THIS ABOVE ALL stars Leonard Vole; Mrs. de Winter; Uncle Billy; Lord Willoughby; Doctor Watson; Mrs. Higgins; Professor Sorel; Mrs. Midget; Woodrow Wilson; Ethel Rogers; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Claire Lennartz; Dr. John Lanyon; Reverend Cyril Playfair; Inspector Lestrade; Old Tom; Leuwen Grayle; Uncle Arn; California Carlson; and Dai Bando.