Archive for Jerry Wald

It’s a Weld, Wald, Wild World

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2019 by dcairns

Did you know there’s an Elvis movie written by Clifford Odets? Because I did not know there’s an Elvis movie written by Clifford Odets. Nobody told me. Thanks a lot, my so-called friends.

WILD IN THE COUNTRY isn’t maybe as great as that makes it sound. Elvis actually acquits himself well, and gets to say “Hate’s a rattlesnake bitin’ his own tail,” the line he was born to say. But it clearly started life as just a straight drama and then they had to add songs when they cast the King. Fiona said, “Oh no, this feels weird,” when he first started in on the vocals. You needed Michael Palin in HOLY GRAIL guise to come in and shout, “No singing!”Inserting Elvis into a film opens up problems, it seems, despite him being a charismatic screen personality and a perfectly good, very natural actor. But the need to have him be Elvis on top of whatever he’s nominally supposed to be playing makes for an uncomfortable duality. And this bleeds over into the blurbs on the back of the DVD cases, which are a whole art form unto themselves —

Presley specialised in playing the bad boy, and this is Elvis at his baddest! ‘Wild in the Country’ features Elvis in one of his greatest and most overlooked roles; a rebellious backwoods delinquent gifted with a rare literary talent. Hope Lange is the sympathetic psychiatrist who tries to help Elvis […}”

That’s when I laughed out loud. I think the key to this form is to get Elvis’s name in as often as possible. I may try rewriting other movie synopses, inserting Elvis at every opportunity. If this Sunday [as I write this] continues to be so rainy, I may have to.

The Odets dialogue is not delivered quite as “hard and fast” as its author preferred (see SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS for an example of how it should be done) but is quite effective, hampered only by director Philip Dunne (“who never lets us down” – The Cleopatra Papers) and his devotion to sluggishness.

“[…] that’s an eventuality that won’t be eventuatin’.”

andTuesday: “I wanna get out of here. I’m young. I want a good time out of life.”

[I want to hotcha-cha-cha!]

Elvis: “Then do it, hon. Paint your toenails red and run away.”

Tuesday: “It needs a man to go to Hell with, because that’s what I want. Hours and hours of Heaven that just slides on down to Hell and we don’t care how or when it ends. You’re wild, Glenn, just like me. Unhappy wild!”

God I love Technicolor.

Here’s Sheila O’Malley’s majestic appreciation of the Elvis oeuvre, a field so rich WITC does not even rate a mention. But this is a superb piece.

WILD IN THE COUNTRY stars Toby Kwimper; Joanna Kersey; Sue Ann Stepanek; Anne Frank; Cpl. Crump; Cherry Valance; Astronaut Frank Poole; and Alfred the butler.

Hope in Hell

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2011 by dcairns

There’s so much to enjoy in CAGED — thanks for recommending it, everyone. Trashing the later, inferior WOMEN’S PRISON with its very first line (“Pile out, tramps: end of the line!”) the movie benefits from the application of Warner Bros grit and gristle, making it an effective female counterpart to I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG. Wisely, it dials down the brutality a little, but stresses psychological cruelty, corruption, and lack of empathy as being just as destructive as physical violence.

Hope looms over the excellent Betty Garde.

Agnes Moorehead plays the sympathetic governor, Eleanor Parker is the unworldly new girl, and a dorm-full of supporting players add physiognomic and dramaturgical variety (but no colour: while WOMEN’S PRISON kept its black cons in a separate cell, this stripy hole has apparently segregated them elsewhere entirely). But the movie’s secret weapon is twisted screw Hope Emerson. Coming on like a cross between a John Waters grotesque and Emile Myer in drag, she’s brutal, vicious, stupid and crooked in fifty diverting ways. It’s interesting to see a villain who isn’t very bright but is still horribly dangerous, just because of the barbaric situation and near-unlimited power she wields.

Kudos to Warners, and screenwriter Virginia Kellogg, whose other major credits are T-MEN and WHITE HEAT, showing her to be no slacker when it comes to the darker side of the screen. While on those movies she generated the original ideas and research but did little of the final drafting, she developed CAGED from scratch for ace producer Jerry Wald and wrote most of the script, with some assistance from Bernard C, Schoenfeld. According to Lizzie Francke’s book Script Girls, Women Screenwriters in Hollywood, Kellogg visited numerous prisons and even arranged a two week stay in one.

“Out of my prison observations, the most frightening thing of all was the realisation that the conditions that I saw exist even in our most enlightened states, and that few Americans have any idea of what is going on in their own back yards. Club women often visit the women’s penitentiaries in their states (on carefully guided tours). Invariably they come away impressed with the clean, modern buildings and the superintendents, most of whom are the capable officials recommended by penal-reform organisations. But the club women cannot see the rot inside the buildings.”

Despite these words, Kellogg’s script, as realised by John Cromwell, an able stylist able to fully channel the Warners look (noirish, darkly glossy yet “real”), is unsparing when it comes to the institutionalized emotional brutality and the way the effect of a prison sentence is to concentrate criminals together so that they become more corrupted than they were when they went in. There’s no human sympathy on display whatsoever until we meet Moorehead, and perversely, despite being the boss, she’s almost the least powerful figure in the film, sandwiched as she is between the politicians above and the staff below, neither of whom give her any respect or listen to her ideas.

Also, bracingly, the movie lays much of the blame at the door of men — the cons are in stir because of the men in their life, and the prison is a hell-hole because of the men who run it. A concerned doctor is the single male voice of reason, and the film sensible shoves him out the door as quickly as it can (unlike in WOMEN’S PRISON where Howard Duff hangs about preaching in his deep manly voice until you want to shiv him). Hope Emerson provides a note of variety since there’s no hint that any mere man has made her into such a spectacularly rotten a human being.

A round of applause too, to Max Steiner, for achieving some unusually subtle effects (he’s normally Mr Bombast, and we love him for it, but sometimes you have to put the big guns away). Cromwell’s use of sound and silence is exemplary too, with the myriad creakings and clankings of metallic bedframes making the dorm at night sound like a typing pool until the inmates settle. And a major character’s final choice to accept a life of crime rather than to play ball with a crooked system is played out, remarkably, under the distant echoing sound of a hymn being sung. Chills.