Archive for John Berry

The Insult that made a Man out of Quimby

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2019 by dcairns

TENSION (1949) is a film I always used to get mixed up with SUSPENSE (1946) and also IMPACT (1949), but I think I’ve got it straight now. Barry Sullivan helpfully illustrates the title with an elastic band in scene one, where he talks to us, his chums in the audience, about his patient, sadistic, Porfiry Petrovich style cat-and-mouse approach to catching killers.

But the star of the film is Richard Basehart, that character actor in a leading man’s body, who plays milquetoast drugstore proprietor Warren Quimby — and this is an MGM film so Fred Quimby was running the animation unit — and I’m also assuming at least one of the three writers knew the obscure meaning of that first syllable.

Basehart is quimby-whipped by his mean wife, Audrey Totter, cast much to type, and the noir staples of misogyny and post-war malaise are much in force: “You were cut in uniform,” is Totter’s explanation for her otherwise incomprehensible decision to marry this wimp for whom she expresses nothing but contempt. When she runs off with rich lout “Barney Deager” — the names in this movie are GLORIOUS — Quimby hatches the most pathetic murder scheme ever put on film.

Humiliated by hairy-chested (and hairy-backed, and hairy-armed) Deager on the beach, Quimby breaks his specs. Getting them repaired, he learns of the new miracle of contact lenses, and has an idea. He’ll get a pair of these new-fangled things and be A NEW MAN — unrecognizable as he sets up a false identity as Deager’s neighbour, snuffs him, and then vanishes without trace. Sort of a Clark Kent/Superman thing, only with more murdering. Like the Zack Snyder Superman, in other words.

This plan is so dumb it doesn’t even have to gang aglae for Quimby to be in trouble, but it gangs aglae from the start: he falls in love with Cyd Charisse, who embodies every submissive virtue lacking in his spouse. Then he decides, at the last minute, not to go through with the killing, but someone else does, and suspicion rapidly falls on our mild-mannered pharmacist.

This being MGM, the more conservative aspects of noir are to the fore, but being a John Berry film (subsequent blacklistee), it’s also more complicated. The institutions of marriage and the police don’t emerge untarnished: Sullivan and his partner, surly William Conrad, are nasty pieces of work. When Totter memorialises her slaughtered lover with the words, “He was full of laughs,” Conrad snarls back, “Now he’s full of lead.”

Charisse is a delightful presence so she manages to make her insipid role bearable, but Totter is much more fun. The daft plot’s machinations are cruelly effective in that she and Basehart are thrown back together just when he’s decided he doesn’t want her anymore, and the finger of guilt starts prodding him in the nose even as Sullivan woos his wife right under it.

For a while there I wondered if the writers had lifted the concept from Clouzot’s QUAI DES ORFEVRES, but if so they left out the final twist that allows that movie an absurdly happy ending.


This one contrives to punish the guilty and reward the innocent (after making them sweat a little), but fades out in a hurry before the final clinch, since embracing a woman other than your wife is technically a no-no even if it’s just a matter of time before the execution.

TENSION stars Ishmael; Adrienne Fromsett; Gabrielle Gerard; Tom Amiel; Walter Winchell; and Frank Cannon.

The Body Beautiful

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , on November 8, 2010 by dcairns

Movies about medical students are either sensitive (the unattractively-titled but sweet GROSS ANATOMY) or vulgar (nameless hordes of t&a US comedies), but they always end up straying into some hinterland of conflicted response at some point, due to the strange nature of medicine and the peculiarities involved in acquiring knowledge of it.

MISS SUSIE SLAGLE’S is a very obscure ’40s drama set in a boarding house for aspirant doctors, run by Lillian Gish. Miss Susie is of course an ANGEL (Gish enters ablaze with backlight, so we know this, but the casting is already a heavy hint), but she does run a household stocked with skeletons, and the above Varga pin-up on the bathroom ceiling. Like I said, weird.

The film is noteworthy for being directed by the soon-to-be blacklisted John Berry, who does a nice, discrete job, benefitting from Charles Lang’s dramatic cinematography. Berry is one of the unfortunate ones whose career was just getting going, whose style was just emerging, and whose loss to the American cinema can’t really be accurately estimated.

The other noteworthy thing is Veronica Lake, top-billed despite quite a small role in what is very much an ensemble piece (Sonny Tufts gets the most screen time — regrettably, perhaps, but he’s not bad here). Lake is minus her trademark peekaboo curl, sacrificed to the war effort, but proves, in her few scenes, that she was more than just that gimmick. I suspect the prominent credit/small role reflects  confusion at Paramount as to what to do with her — they paired her with Alan Ladd again, stuck her in a western (a good one, RAMROD, but westerns are often the sign of a female star on the slide), and had her play in the English-language version of STRONGHOLD while Sarita Montiel took the role in the Spanish-language version. It feels like there was a lack of confidence in her.

Here’s her first, and biggest, scene in MISS SUSIE SLAGLE’S, which I find quite affecting. I could have saved it for Christmas, but it doesn’t seem quite fair to hit you with a scene like this at such a vulnerable time ~

Amazing how effective a distant foghorn can be…

Taking The Fifth

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on March 19, 2010 by dcairns

A write-up of a write-off: Van Heflin winces at the carnage.

A mini-blacklist theme develops over at The Forgotten, as we follow blacklistee John Berry’s angry demand for justice TAMANGO with Leo McCarey’s angry demand for commie heads on plates, MY SON JOHN. It’s sometimes ugly viewing, but pretty educational in a number of unintended ways.

Meanwhile I watched John Berry’s THE HOLLYWOOD TEN, a little documentary he made in support of some friends who were going to jail for refusing to answer questions to Congress about their past political affiliations. Intriguingly, Berry does the same trick of panning from one face to the next, holding for a moment of truth, and then panning to the next guy, which appears several times in TAMANGO. Quite effective.

The Ten themselves are a varied bunch, some very confident on camera and some constantly referring to notes, which makes them look unfortunately shifty. But Samuel Ornitz, whose heavy build and  scarred lip might make him a natural to play a gangster-commie in something like THE WHIP HAND, has a voice like Thomas Gomez and a natural sympathy and dignity, and Dalton Trumbo is a screen natural. The whole pack is like a bunch of intellectuals just arrived from Central Casting, complete with bow ties and pipes. How the great American public must have mistrusted them!