Archive for Glenn Ford

Capra Con

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2020 by dcairns

After years of intending to see LADY FOR A DAY, I finally watched POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, the generally-judged-inferior remake by the same director, Frank Capra. I will get around to the original, I promise!Angelo Rossitto, top left. You don’t often see him there.

Maybe I ought to have a Capra week so I can mop up late stuff like A HOLE IN THE HEAD and early stuff like the silents and then DIRIGIBLE and FLIGHT and then BROADWAY BILL which I turned off in disgust when Warner Baxter hit Clarence Muse? I find I have to be careful with Capra — up to a certain point, I find his work admirable, incredibly skilled, then I can sour on him because of his undoubted excesses or bum notes, and then I can reach the point where I’m no longer able to appreciate the brilliance because the less pleasant qualities are shining too luminously. This may be what happened to his biographer, Joseph McBride, who wrote an excellent book which does not make you think more highly of its subject.Pros and cons. Pros:

  1. Lots of terrific character actors and comics, from Peter Falk, who brings the pre-code energy Ford tends to lack, to Edward Everett Horton, still magnificent, all the way down to little Angelo Rossitto. Arthur O’Connell plays a Spanish count, which seems bizarre on the face of it but he’s excellent in the role. Fernando Rey wouldn’t have been any better. And nice to see Thomas Mitchell again.
  2. Bette Davis is good, though the story, which has been inflated from the original, allows her to drop out of sight for what feels like hours at a time.
  3. Hope Lange is terrific.
  4. “Introducing Ann-Margret.” Charmed, I’m sure. It’s a nothing role, but she had to get introduced somewheres, hadn’t she?
  5. It looks really nice. The backlot throngs and feels alive. Randy Cook advised me to see this, pointing out how different it is from contemporaneous George Roy Hill period yarns that always look stark, clean and underpopulated. Museumlike.

Cons:

  1. Bette is unable to wring tears from this material, maybe because she’s too strong? But Hope Lange steps in and manages it. Remember Capra’s uncharacteristically modest late-in-life observation, “I made a mistake about tragedy. I thought tragedy is when the actors cry. It isn’t. Tragedy is when the audience cries.” Oddly enough, he’s right in general but wrong about himself: Capra’s most teary scenes always have the audience joining the actors — but often it’s the tears of joy, as at the unendurably effective climax of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
  2. They’ve added what feels like half an hour onto the start of the story. It’s all good stuff, but it stretches a sentimental farce out to 136 minutes. That’s obviously too long. There’s a point where the plot kicks in and I thought, “I bet that’s the opening scene of LADY FOR A DAY.”
  3. Glenn Ford, who was apparently such a dick as co-producer that Capra henceforth retired from features, is an effective lead, though with Ford I can see the talent but I usually wish I were watching someone else. Except in GILDA, where I think it kind of helps if you don’t much like Ford. You watch it rooting for Rita without knowing why. Anyway, Sinatra would have been better here.

Bette’s street person makeup is both good and bad. They’ve gone wild with the stippling, but it makes for an extreme effect that wins points for boldness. She’s once again wearing the big caterpillar eyebrows she sported in NOW VOYAGER. Fiona pointed out that older women LOSE their eyebrows. But I guess Bette is going for unkempt rather than aged.

For all the flaws, it’s not embarrassing, and it’s nice to see Capra going out with something large-scale, worthy of his skill in organizing group babble and spectacle. A shame he didn’t enjoy the experience more, but at least he wasn’t cut down to tiny, cheap stuff.

POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES stars Jubal Troop; Baby Jane Hudson; Mrs. Carolyn Muir; Parnell Emmett McCarthy; Columbo; Uncle Billy; Mr. Witherspoon; Hunk Houghton; Rip MacCool; Nick the barman; Ali Baba; Lady Booby; Lt. of Detectives Dundy; Carson Drew; Miles Archer; Xandros the Greek Slave; Grandma Walton; Lord Byron; Abe Vogel; Charlie Max; Sgt. Monk Menkowicz; Hannibal Hoops; Peter Pan; Mona Plash; Mrs. Laurel; BJ Pratt – Bill Collector; Arigeleno; and Cueball.

 

 

Bickel Victory

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2016 by dcairns

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Captures the mood chez mois round about now.

As these things do at Shadowplay, John Cromwell Week is running on into a fortnight or so…

I’m indebted to Nicky Smith for the information that it was John Cromwell who advised a young actor named Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel that he might do better under the name Fredric March. The name, and the actor, were subsequently so successful that they appeared together in two Cromwell films, VICTORY and SO ENDS OUR NIGHT. I admired both.

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VICTORY adapts Joseph Conrad’s novel, previously filmed by Maurice Tourneur and later a dream project for Richard Lester (scripted by Pinter).

In The Hollywood Professionals Volume 5, Cromwell is quoted by author Kingsley Canham as expressing dissatisfaction with VICTORY, since he couldn’t get the performance he wanted out of chief villain Sir Cedric Hardwicke and he couldn’t find a cockney actor to play his “secretary,” thus was forced to resort to Jerome Cowan, a good all-rounder but no Londoner. In fact, to my eyes, Hardwicke appears excellent — a modern, minimalist take on malignancy. His sinister sunglasses, a touch borrowed from Ben Deeley in the silent version (Conrad makes no mention of them) make his face (even) more skull-like than usual.

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If Cromwell was dissatisfied with his baddies, he surely must have been pleased with March and particularly Betty Field, who produces a remarkably credible English accent which really wasn’t called for, but which sounds very sweet. You may know her from OF MICE AND MEN, but this is an unrecognizably different characterisation. It’s essential that we care about this couple despite their age difference and the brevity of their acquaintance. March is so gentle and Field so vulnerable… Cromwell assists with the same direct-address camera angles he used in OF HUMAN BONDAGE, letting the audience inhabit each character in turn.

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Also: Sig Rumann as the oily Schomberg, perfect if unimaginative type-casting as a sneaky blowhard. He doesn’t have a beard to point in this one, but his chin threatens to go off all on its own.

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SO ENDS OUR NIGHT is a tale of stateless refugees in pre-war Europe, from a novel by Erich Maria Remarque. It suffers from a structural feature easier to make work in a book: a divided protagonist. A very young Glenn Ford gets most of the screen time, pursuing Margaret Sullavan (practically compulsory casting in Remarque adaptations, it seems), but March keeps popping up and taking the narrative away with him. He’s a more compelling actor and he gets Erich Von Stroheim and Frances Dee to interact with, but it has the effect of deforming the narrative.

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Although my copies of both movies are pretty rotten, it’s just possible to appreciate the contribution of William Cameron Menzies to the latter film — as production designer, he did far more than plan sets, he sketched every composition, somewhat usurping Cromwell’s role with the director’s grateful cooperation. The film was a low-budget one — too depressing a story to excite Hollywood enthusiasm, even at the start of the war — and Menzies’ careful planning allowed miracles to be achieved.

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Another Menzies-designed Cromwell flick, MADE FOR EACH OTHER (1939), is available in pristine form. Despite starring James Stewart and Carole Lombard, it’s pretty bad — two-thirds painfully predictable sitcom schtick (admittedly, they hadn’t had decades of domestic television comedy to wear out this kind of thing yet) followed by a mind-bogglingly inappropriate action climax. As a slight recompense, it does offer Louise Beavers (Mae West’s grape-peeler-in-chief, Beulah) playing an intelligent and capable woman, which she rarely got to do. Beavers would turn up very briefly in Cromwell’s late production, THE GODDESS, demonstrating his long memory.

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After an hour devoted to Stewart’s struggle to raise a family and get on in his law firm (as boss, Charles Coburn plays an intransigent patriarch just as he did in the superior IN NAME ONLY), the movie abruptly swerves into lunatic melodrama, as the Stewart-Lombard baby gets sick and an experimental vaccine must be flown at once, overnight in a torrential storm, from Salt Lake City. Selznick, the presiding lunatic in this whole affair, throws resources at this totally left-field ending, and Menzies provides dazzling visual accompaniment. It’s like I Love Lucy suddenly decided to climax with the third act of DIE HARD. Madness.

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Male Practice

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2015 by dcairns

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THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL is an MGM film before it’s a Curtis Bernhardt film — no glimmers of expressionism here. And what Fiona called “the worst title ever” — certainly the most generic. But it does stretch a bit at the limits of what can be said about the world in an L.B. Mayer production. Arrogant junior doctor Glenn Ford, product of a tyrannical surgeon father (Charles Coburn NEARLY in KING’S ROW mode) falls for and is humanized by Janet Leigh, who is of humble origins, mans a taffy-rotating mechanism for a living, and has a lung abscess, though you would never know those things to look at her. Surprisingly, he sacrifices his dream of neurosurgery to become a slum doctor, and finds happiness. It’s the sacrificed dream bit that’s surprising — most Hollywood confections would find a way to give him his heart’s desire twice over.

Meanwhile. his sister (Gloria DeHaven) gets pregnant out of wedlock, which means she’s sentenced to death by the Hays Code.

What’s unsettling is the glimpses the film offers us of Bellevue — Leigh only survives the place because Ford pulls strings and gets her the top surgeon — it’s made pretty clear that with a regular doctor she didn’t stand much chance. If she hadn’t been young perky and white, what chance would she have had? What chance do these characters have?

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