Archive for Dean Stockwell

Think of India

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2021 by dcairns
It’s actually quite hard to find shots favouring Dean Stockwell’s face in this film where he has the title role…

It’s definitely a mistake to watch MGM’s KIM (1950) right after reading Kipling’s novel, but it would also be a mistake to watch it before reading the novel. So probably the best thing is not to watch it at all.

The three screenwriters have actually done a passable job of compressing and adapting a book that has several aspects that render it tricky. Kim ages from aged ten to at least fourteen, and the change in him is remarked upon by others. Still, Dean Stockwell was around fourteen and manages to suggest a fairly ambiguous age. Also in the book, Kim both speaks and thinks in more than one language. The writers manage to quasi-suggest this without ever showing it.

The most overt distortions have come in the service of Errol Flynn, preposterous casting as a Sunni Muslim Pathan, but given the lack of Indians in speaking roles, not really that preposterous compared with everything else. But now they have to give his character more leading man action stuff to do — they kill off Hurree Chunder (Cecil Kellaway, the only one who dares attempt any kind of Indian accent — his role was clearly intended by Kipling for Sydney Greenstreet, or would have been if the actor had been a bit older than 21 when the novel appeared, and if Kipling had been thinking of casting white folks as Indians in a movie version back in 1900) to give Flynn’s Mahbub Ali more to do. He obliges by chucking somebody off a cliff and then starting a rockslide.

All that I can kind of overlook, and I think you could just about make a passable Hollywood KIM even with all those changes. The numerous location shots are a help, even when they’re just used as rear projection fodder…

What I can’t forgive is the terrible flatness. Andre Previn seems to be asleep (maybe it’s the heat) — he provides a bit of martial splendor (absent in the book) but remains unstirred by scenes of nominal suspense. Director Victor Saville is one of very few Brit directors to go to Hollywood and totally give up any attempt at achieving cinema. His standard mode is the flat two-shot, and I do mean FLAT.

Dean Stockwell shows signs of being quite capable of playing his role, but I don’t think he’s been guided, and the camera doesn’t encourage us to consider Kim’s emotions as particularly important. You need Hitchcockian POV/reaction shot stuff to bring the character alive. It’s a bit like Bobby Driscoll in Disney’s TREASURE ISLAND — he’s a little powerhouse, not subtle but capable, but he’s under orders to emasculate every scene by playing it as a cheerful romp (Stevenson’s novel is a horror story).

Who the hell is this meant to be? He narrates the film, but the even credits don’t explain.

The biggest casualty of Saville’s disinterest is the Lama, played by a miscast Paul Lukas in his dullest manner. We get a voiceover — provided by some unexplained Indian — TELLING us that Kim grows to love the Lama, but the scant, desultory interactions depicted in flat and distant style give us nothing of this. I suppose it’s a typical Hollywood mistake to privilege the violent action stuff at the expense of character and spirituality, but there are plenty of movies of the time that do get this right. If Frank Borzage had been in charge, both the relationship and the religion would have come through strongly: Borzage believed, as does Kipling (speaking as Mahbub Ali), that all spirituality is a way to truth (Borzage would have insisted on kindness as a necessary tool). And he was at MGM!

Although Kim isn’t an easy book to film, it does have a number of very strong cinematic scenes. These are all either absent or ruined by Saville’s clumsy handling, except for the hypnosis bit, played by one of my favourite underused actors, Arnold Moss — the book is 100 times more powerful, and provides visuals that any competent director ought to have seized upon, but the material is so strong and Moss plays it so well that Saville actually wakes up very slightly and it becomes fascinating.

One weird thing: I’d seen bits of the movie as a kid, and now I understand why I was bored. No child focus. But I do recall the cliffhanging bit, and when I got to this passage in the book, describing the plunge — “No need to listen for the fall — this is the world’s end,” it rang a strong bell and I assumed the line appeared in the film. It SHOULD, but it doesn’t. I have this FALSE MEMORY of hearing the line as a kind and thinking “Is that TRUE?” Maybe I heard a similar line elsewhere. The child’s brain is strange — as Kipling knew.

God Goes West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2020 by dcairns

One of our watch party gang requested westerns, and another didn’t like westerns, so I tried to find two westerns that weren’t.

Jacques Tourneur’s STARS IN MY CROWN is set in a small western town but doesn’t really have any of the expected action and Joel McCrea plays a parson. It’s wonderful, though.

WINCHESTER ’73 is pretty much a pure western but it’s wall-to-wall film noir people. Anthony Mann, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea. Seeing it on my little b&&w portable as a youngster was a decisive cinephile moment, I don’t know why. But I was immediately taken with Duryea.

I guess you could say these films offer contrasting visions of America. STARS is pretty timely, actually: McCrea considers his work so important he continues going door to door after his young ward comes down with typhus, and there’s reason to suspect he could be a super-spreader. McCrea comes to see this as a mistake — the film eventually lets him off the hook, rather, but it’s an interesting point.

Little Dean Stockwell complains of the quarantine lockdown — “It’s like we’re all in jail only we ain’t done nuthin’.”

Then there are these guys. I wish they didn’t seem equally timely.

I remembered McCrea’s great scene facing down the Klan armed only with a couple sheets of paper, to save Juano Hernandez from the noose. I’d forgotten it was the climax, but of course, how could they top it?

STARS gives the lie to the idea that a western can tell any kind of story. I don’t think it can tell a pacifist one. McCrea’s preacher has been a soldier, but he isn’t about to strap on his guns again, and so it never feels like SHANE or something, where the moment may be deferred, but is inevitably coming. So we have a film with all the accoutrements of a western, the period and the Americana, but we just can’t call it one.

WINCHESTER ’73, as the title implies, is one of the most gun-obsessed westerns ever made. Not the rootin’-tootin’est, but possibly the shootin’est. But at least it has an interesting female character. Mann’s westerns usually did. Unlike Ford he didn’t primarily regard women as homemakers…

It turns out to be an almost biblical tale of blood vengeance, and I realise now that not only is Duryea scary and crazy, but very hep and modern. And he can wheedle arrogantly, which is some trick. When he’s identified as the fastest gun in Texas, he wheedles, “Texas? Baby, why limit me?” Also, he’s the only person in the film who seems to be having a good time.

STARS IN MY CROWN stars John L. Sullivan; Sofia de Peralta-Reavis ‘The Baroness’; Doctor Wellington Yueh; Little John; Nayland Smith; Duke Harris; Miss Robin Crusoe; Lucas Beauchamp; Homer Higgins; Juror 10; Butch Cassidy; ‘Dum-Dum’ Clarke; Col. Edward Carruthers; ‘The Thing’; and Pee Wee.

WINCHESTER ’73 stars John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson; Charlotte Haze; Duke Pastrami; Sheriff Al Chambers; Senate Minority Leader; Marvin Unger; Jordan ‘Bick’ Benedict Jr.; ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ Brewster; Chota; and Sidney Falco.

Peckstein

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-11-27-09h55m59s220

There’s really no IMAGERY at all in this film, but look — a primordial Dean Stockwell!

“Be nice to the next Jew you meet, because he might be a gentile,” is how one friend characterized GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT, rather acidly, in which journalist Gregory Peck goes undercover as a Jew. This doesn’t involve the use of a big papier-mache head, as we used in NATAN (we had our reasons), but simply a bit of barefaced lying. The film means well, and director Elia Kazan does manage to get human hatpeg Peck to unclench very slightly, plus it has Dorothy McGuire and Celeste Holm. But it notably comes to life in scenes with actual Jewish characters (John Garfield, Sam Jaffe), actual antisemites, or both (self-hating Jew June Havoc). Which suggests that the plot device, rather than being an accessible way in to the story for middle America, may in fact be acting as a barrier between the subject and its emotional potential.

Plus it’s all very serious, despite being basically SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS. It never pokes fun at its earnest hero, who’s always right. It never really acknowledges that for all the tension he feels and humiliation he puts up with (in ONE SCENE), he has it dead easy compared to actual, genuine Jews, and that his ability to go back to his true identity at any instant rather lessens the burden he feels (think Pulp’s Common People). And nobody comments on the fact that his article, conceived as I Was Jewish for Six Months, finally appears as I Was Jewish for Eight Weeks. Time off for good behaviour?

vlcsnap-2015-11-27-09h58m01s159

An intriguing and cold frame about the distance between people — but Kazan doesn’t recognize it for what it is, thinks it’s just an establisher, and cuts to a cosy two-shot the second Garfield (right) sits down.

Kazan reckoned that he didn’t start shooting expressively until PANIC IN THE STREETS, and that’s borne out by the staid, static, medium-shot-heavy “photographs of people talking” approach on display here. The nice liberal story gets a nice, bland treatment. The performances do help, and Moss Hart’s placid script is entertaining in a gentle, trundling way, springing to something more like life whenever we get closer to the actual issue. Kazan admitted the film wasn’t unsettling and didn’t go deep, but at least the story idea allows a WASP into the drama, whereas his other race movie, PINKY, the story of a mixed-race girl passing as white, is totally compromised by the placing of white girl (and limited actress) Jeanne Crain in the lead. You can make valid points, but your credits sequence has already announced that you don’t entirely believe in any of them, or not as much as you believe in the law of box office.