Archive for Arthur Kennedy

The Sunday Intertitle: Fictionized

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2021 by dcairns

Errol Flynn movies are highly intertitular. After enjoying THE DAWN PATROL so much, and particularly the Flynn-Niven byplay in biplanes, we ran THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (Fiona wasn’t sure she’d ever seen the whole thing, shock horror), THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON and THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. Nothing came up to the satisfaction of Goulding’s flying saga, but ROBIN HOOD is of course huge fun.

Scattered impressions: Eugene Pallette really can’t swordfight. He just waves his longsword about, but struggles to do that at anything like an impressive speed. I think his problem is he’s trying to mimic the anachronistic rapier-work displayed by Flynn et al. The film is full of undercranking but he’s the one who needs it. Also: Flynn and Rathbone had a fight arranger for their fantastic duel. Pallette just seems to have been shovelled into a cassock and left to fend for himself.

The music! The sets! The film is only half Curtiz (William Keighley had it taken away from him for being too slow and not dramatic enough — Curtiz came on and was even slower but much more dramatic). The closeup of Rathbone dead! The Curtiz sadism always finds an outlet.

CHARGE is described in an opening title as “fictionized” and the same curious word is used by Hal Wallis in memos (Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951), Rudy Behlmer) so I guess maybe he coined it. It actual makes more sense than “fictionalised” maybe. Anyway what he means is it’s a ludicrous farrago, but Curtiz is still prowl-tracking through sets with lots of intervening props and characters that glide past between us and the action, a 3D filmmaker avant la lettre.

The “British fort” is wonderfully hilarious. Utter phallocracy. It was clearly felt that a British fort in India should have an Indian aspect, a sense of minaret to it, despite the fact that colonialism is rendered visual in the way the coloniser builds in his own style structures in the land of the colonised. So this Flash Gordon fairytale palace is based on nothing, it’s as unreal as the light sources from below designed only to cast dramatic shadows on walls, a real Curtiz trope visible in both these Flynn movies he directed.

The fictionized end battle is unbelievably massive. Lots of horses, both full and empty. In some wide shots they seem to be tripping the horses with pits (the Italian method, more humane) but mostly they’re using the crueller Running W tripwire approach and lots of horses were maimed and killed. Niven and other cast members complained. It’s all right up there on the screen. The BBFC has a history of censoring such scenes but if they started on this one I don’t know what’d be left, the Valley of Death as a shredded string of blipverts and ellisions.

Incredible decision to cast Flynn and De Havilland and have her in love with his brother, the nonexistent Patric Knowles. And with Niven standing around with nothing to do! There’s a memo about casting proper posh Brits in the posh roles, and beware because naturally Curtiz can’t tell cockney from Received Pronunciation, and then we have E.E. Clive (“‘E’s invisibule, that’s wot’s the matter with ‘im!”) as a diplomat. He’s talking respectably, but diplomats are about nine shades posher than mere respectable, they’re so posh you can barely understand them.

I wish I’d seen this and BOOTS when I was younger and more into silly fun. But BOOTS would probably still have outraged me because its mangling of history is more pernicious (though one wonders at Hollywood’s man-crush on the British Empire. I guess we were an important market). Yet, despite its glorifying Custer, not a good man, the movie is quite sympathetic to the Indians for a work of that time.

Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse!

Plenty of forthright rambunctiousness for director Raoul Walsh to get his teeth into. The crazy disregard for fact resolves into a much more coherent story than CHARGE, even though they’re stringing things out across Custer’s entire career from West Point to Little Bighorn. As with CHARGE, the trick is to disguise a strategic blunder as a cunning plan, and remould horrific defeat as stunning victory. Using Tennyson but altering the entire significance of the battle is a striking bit of Hollywood chicanery, besides which BOOTS’ repurposing of Custer’s Last Stand as a diversionary move to save another unit pales, seems almost respectable.

This one has a proper and really good romantic relationship (marriage!) for Errol and Olivia. And really good use of Arthur Kennedy, the Anti-Flynn.

Flynn’s historical, or historized, films, are crowded with intertitles. It’s as if Warners felt the use of this old-timey narrative technique would bestow a suitably archaic feeling to the action.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD stars George Armstrong Custer; Melanie Hamilton – Their Cousin; Sherlock Holmes; Dr. Jack Griffin; Dr. Frank Mannering; Alexander Bullock; Mr. Pike; Gerald; Theseus – Duke of Athens; Minnie; Albert Miggles; Colonel Weed; Mr. LeBrand; Greystoke’s Nephew; King Charles II; Man in 1780 Sequence (uncredited); The Burgomaster; Crunch; Dr. John Lanyon; Loana; Old Tramp; Louise Finch; and Trigger.

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE stars Robin Hood; Maid Marian; Will Scarlett; Lord Willoughby; Dr. Watson; Battling Burrows; Sir Charles Lytton the notorious Phantom; Dr. Cream; Lt. ‘Queen’s Own’ Butler; Chingachgook; Bertha Van Cleve; Constable Jaffers; Chief Sitting Bull; Princess Baba; Monsieur Taffy; and Dr. John Lanyon.

THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON stars Robin Hood; Maid Marian; Jackson Bentley; Grandpa Joad; Sheriff Hartwell; Paul Gauguin; Professor Siletsky; Carson Drew; Oliver Larrabee; Kasper Gurman; Arvide Abernathy; Queenie; Augustus Brandon; Alan Winters in Photo (uncredited); Babe Dooley; Wolf Larsen; Mrs Stark – Jim’s Grandmother; Mr. Cope in Fantasy Sequence; Porthos; Detective Dickens; Inez Laranetta; Duffy; and Cueball.

Angles and Dirty Phases

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2020 by dcairns
A striking inverted angle from CASTLE ON THE HUDSON

Lesser Litvaks —

CASTLE ON THE HUDSON is a remake of Curtiz’s 20,000 YEARS IN SING SING, which I’ve never seen, though the title fascinated me as a kid. I ought to do a compare-and-contrast. I found this one a bit by-the-numbers with John Garfield as a Cagney clone. (He’s better as a complete swine in OUT OF THE FOG, his other role for this director.) It’s got a lot of punch, but lacks Litvak’s usual fluidity: too many close-ups.

It really comes alive, though, during the few minutes when Burgess Meredith comes in takes it by the throat. I’m guessing Litvak admired OF MICE AND MEN since he snapped up Burgess here and Betty Field for BLUES IN THE NIGHT.

CITY FOR CONQUEST —

“That was a book by Aben Kandel that was quite successful at the time, a book very difficult to adapt into a motion picture, because it dealt with
as enormous a city as New York is I was fascinated by the book, and had a terrible feeling, a kind of horrible ambition, about doing a picture about the city of New York that I was so terribly· impressed with from the moment I came here. It was a challenge to me, because basically I still was quite a foreigner at that time. I spent quite a while in New York, just for my basic acquaintance with the city, and the people of the city, before I started on the story.”

Writer Aben Kandel came to my attention for his involvement as screenwriter in the rather drole SING AND LIKE IT (1934) but later was mixed up in TROG and CRAZE, two ghastly low-budget horror affairs made in Britain. How he descended from being an acclaimed novelist to that dreck is an unknown but no doubt depressing story.

CITY FOR CONQUEST stars the actual Cagney, along with Ann Sheridan again, and a young and unusually appealing Arthur Kennedy. Plus Elia frickin’ Kazan, during his brief stint as a Warners character player. Both his big roles were for Litvak (BLUES IN THE NIGHT is the other) and he tears up the screen. But all the characters are from stock, and typecast accordingly. One is happy to see Frank McHugh as a sidekick, but not exactly surprised. Warners specialised in cramming the screen with yammering cut-outs, but somehow in this case thing feel thin.

Cagney & Kazan!

Cagney threw himself into training to play a boxer and really felt they were adapting a great book, but he was bitterly disappointed by the end result. “I worked like a dog on City for Conquest,” he wrote, or dictated, in Cagney By Cagney, “There were some excellent passages in Kandel’s novel, and all of us doing the picture realized that retaining them (as we were doing) would give City for Conquest distinction. Then I saw the final cut of the picture, and this was quite a surprise. The studio had edited out the best scenes in the picture, excellent stuff, leaving only the novel’s skeleton. What remained was a trite melodrama.”

He’s not wrong. Worse, you can see the trailing stumps of scenes and characters that clearly needed further development for the thing to make structural sense. Frank Craven as “the old timer” is set up as a Greek chorus, an old hobo who talks to the camera, but he only appears a couple of times. I think a lot of it might still have been corny, but it could have hung together.

Litvak: “I was crazy about Jimmy Cagney, and Warner Bros. was crazy about him because he was a big star. This is for the first time when Jimmy Cagney played the part of a weak man. As you know, Jimmy Cagney mostly played — particularly at that time — tough guys, dominating tough guys. I thought — I always felt– that Jimmy was a great actor, and didn’t have to do this stereotyped kind of a fellow, this gangster he had played for years. I came with this proposition to Warners and finally they accepted it. I found that Jimmy Cagney was a bit scared of this picture. I would say that in all my career this was one of the few times when I had trouble with an actor. I explain it to myself as a strange feeling Jimmy had about the part. He was not quite sure what he was doing. But I must say that I feel (and I think the public agreed with me too, and the critics) that it was probably one of the
best things Jimmy Cagney did on the screen.”

Maybe Cagney just didn’t have the weakness in him? What co-star could convincingly intimidate him?

Cagney did ruefully note the picture’s box office success, but strongly implies that the public was wrong. I am unable to find an original source for the star’s description of Litvak as “a natural born asshole,” but going by both men’s recollections it does seem quite possible that he said it at some time. Cagney always admitted to being difficult, but only when he was trying to give a good performance and felt he was being hampered.

Interesting that Litvak doesn’t mention the film’s truncation, which he SHOULD have been unhappy about, since the mutilation is hardly invisible.

Cagney as the blinded boxer redeems it a little with his convincing physicality both as prize-fighter (his dancing background pays off) and blinded newsie — he really tries to look properly, unphotogenically disabled. And Kazan is a knockout. He’s obviously intended to form the fourth corner of a structure that interleaves Cagney, Sheridan and Kennedy’s struggles, and the reduction of his role is really frustrating because he’s so bloody good, damn him.

“I coulda been a contender, Tola…”

I’m not sure if anyone ever asked Kazan about working for Litvak. He must have learned SOMETHING about screen acting from the experience.

CASTLE ON THE HUDSON stars Porfirio Diaz; Nora Prentiss; Hildy Johnson; The Penguin; Miles Archer; Kewpie Blain; Carson Drew; Lady Macduff; Danny Leggett; Pete Daggett; Michael Axford; Bim; Detective Bates; Egeus – Father to Hermia; Louie the Lug; Dr. Leonardo; Noah Joad; and Cueball.

CITY FOR CONQUEST stars George M. Cohan; Nora Prentiss; Jackson Bentley; Battling Burrows; Asa Timberlake; ‘Spud’ Connors; ‘Pusher’ Ross; Nickie Haroyen; Alexis Zorba; Effie Perine; Madame Therese De Farge; Dixie Belle Lee; Inspector Crane; Detective Bates; El Gringo; Bim; The Obtrusive Gentleman; Max Jacobs; and Cueball.

In the frame

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-11-08-22h13m01s322

Gradually overcoming my foolish Elia Kazan aversion — based on his politics/ethics, not his movies, so I’ve just been robbing myself, really — and ran BOOMERANG! (1947), a wackily titled courtroom/political drama from Fox, recklessly elaborated from a true story. Ambitious D.A. Dana Andrews (but the D.A. stands for District Attorney, you see) builds up a perfect case against a drifter (Arthur Kennedy, young but already rodent-like) accused of murdering a priest — ballistics, eye-witnesses, a destroyed alibi and a confession, but then, since he’s a painfully honest man, he risks his whole career by trying to dismantle the evidence, which proves shakier than first assumed.

These corruption dramas are always double-edged things. The old Hollywood model has to show the system working, both to confirm our faith in society and to deliver the required happy ending. But one can be left with doubts. If not for the impeccable Jimmy Stewart in MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, the forces of corruption would surely win, and the movie makes it very clear that Stewart/Smith is an unusual individual, therefore can we not assume that corruption wins most of the time? So with Andrews here. Kazan can be assumed to have meant more criticism of the status quo than Capra ever would. Here, the newly elected reform politicians are shown to be as capable of shady dealings as the villain they ousted — some are prone to “noble cause corruption,” believing that basically any course they take is justified if it gets them re-elected so they can carry out more reform. One, played by the turtle Ed Begley, blatantly has his fingers in the till.

(I think SERPICO marks a significant point — corruption is seen as so entrenched that a single honest man CANNOT reform the system.)

vlcsnap-2015-11-08-22h13m55s256

The usual suspects: Arthur Kennedy, number 5, but in a surprise cameo, Arthur Miller is rumoured to appear in one of the film’s lineups.

Another guest star: Gadge’s dad uncle, as an incompetent witness. Runs in the family?

There’s some corny stuff in here, corny but fun. Sam Levene plays a hardboiled newspaperman with as dopey sidekick. Andrews indulges in ludicrous courtroom theatrics that make you applaud, like having a loaded gun aimed at his own head, the trigger pulled (yeah, probably more lawyers should do this); when a stooge tells the baddie “It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” the baddie replies, “I know.” A jilted dame testifies against the hapless patsy out of sluttish pique. Lots of cornball stuff, and filming on location doesn’t diffuse that, though the occasional reverberant sound in the background testifies to the existence of a world outside the frame.

vlcsnap-2015-11-08-22h17m33s531

More valuable is the strong cast, with Kazan regulars Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden in evidence. Cobb as the police chief, more muted than usual, is rather wonderful. He uses sleep deprivation to torture a confession out of his man, but refuses to use violence. He has a conscience, up to a point. There’s no evidence that he lets politics influence his performance of his duties. But like a lot of flawed cops, once he sells himself on a man’s guilt, he can justify almost any action to get a conviction. At that point, an innocent man’s denials become lack of contrition, and the further he goes the more committed he is to proving a supposition rather than investigating a case.

So the social critique is quite smart — only the script’s need to roll everything into a neat ball, and to amp up the dramatics, compromises its credibility, so that you pretty much KNOW watching it, “Well this wasn’t part of the original true story… nor this…” Still, it’s a strong piece of Hollywood product — like is Kazan and Zanuck got into a telepod together and what came out was… Kazanuck!