Archive for John Huston

Garage Noir

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2021 by dcairns

Trunk item: started writing this ages ago, set it aside. Hope it can withstand daylight.

It’s a film noir axiom that if you’re hiding out from killers, you should go undercover working at a gas station or garage. They’ll find you, but it’ll take a while.

HEAT LIGHTNING may be the first proto-garage noir, with Aline McMahon as a former moll now running a “gas farm.” Then of course we have Burt Lancaster as the boxer-turned-mechanic in THE KILLERS, Robert Mitchum as former private eye now running an auto shop in OUT OF THE PAST, and Brian Donlevy as amnesiac-businessman reinventing himself as a car repairman in IMPACT. And the neo-noir reprise comes in LOST HIGHWAY, where jazzman Bill Pullman gets reincarnated on death row into Balthazar Getty, who promptly resumes his apparently continuing life at Richard Pryor’s garage.

Boxing, saxophony and mollwork, or course, are all readily transferable skills that come in useful when you make career change to greasemonkeying.

I thought it would be fun to have a garage noir double feature, with IMPACT, which I’d never seen, and THE KILLERS, which we needed to rewatch for work-related reasons… Hmm, do the various other versions of this story — the Tarkovsky short and the Siegel TV remake — use the garage setting? And has anybody got more examples? Let’s make this a thing!

THE KILLERS holds up brilliantly — uncredited John Huston and Richard Brooks. along with Anthony Veiller who has his name on it, adapt Hemingway’s story by turning it into a crimey CITIZEN KANE, with the Thompson character fleshed out into Edmond O’Brien at his most charming. Newcomer Burt Lancaster gets the CF Kane part, dying at the start only to pop up in the flashbacks. Director Robert Siodmak’s rematch with Lancaster, CRISS CROSS, may be even better.

IMPACT is stodgy, despite a lot of actors we like: the plot has some interesting elements but unfolds in a plodding, A-B-C-D fashion. Flashbacks might have helped — jumble the scenes, amp up the intrigue, skip some of the steps. It’s an indie production and I have to think that had it been a studio film, somebody like Harry Cohn would have got an itchy ass and slashed it from 111 minutes to something more nimble.

The dullest part is the romantic idyll. Ella Raines had experience projecting adoration at, you would think, ill-suited mates (Laughton, Sanders, Bracken, that Alan Curtis guy), but Brian Donlevy is required to reveal some tenderness of his own, and that cupboard is bare, baby.

IMPACT stars Quatermass McGinty; Carol “Kansas” Richman; The Honorable Betty Cream; Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman; A Flower of the Orient; Mr. LeBrand; Quigley Quackenbush; President Harry S. Truman; Philo Vance; The Dear One; Saburo Goto; The Gilded Boy; and Roger Bronson.

THE KILLERS stars JJ Hunsecker; Pandora Reynolds; Marty ‘Fats’ Murdock; Dr. Thorkel; Frank D’ Angelo; “Goldie” Locke; Princess Ananka; Philadelphia Tom Zaca; Big Mac; Sebastian Sholes; Herr Kastner; Frank Cannon; Uncle Owen; Wild Bill Hickok; Ming the Merciless; The Blind One; and Mr. Waterbury.

Doc C.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2020 by dcairns

I always assumed the writers of THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE named it, and its protagonist, with a dirty joke because they assumed none of the ubercatholics at the Breen Office would get it. Co-scenarist John Huston, in his memoir, devotes one line to the film, acknowledging it exists but saying no more. All his other comments concerning Litvak are to do with horse racing — the two men were heavy gamblers, and there are some amazing stories about that, but nothing that really illuminates the A.L. filmography.

Apart from the title, the other mystery here is the ending, which likewise ought by rights to have been forbidden by the censor on the basis of “crime must not pay.”

Asides from these two points, this is a near-perfect film, with surprising fluidity of tone and a straightfaced quality absent in other WB crime comedies, eg A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER or BULLETS OR BALLOTS (though it’s been a while). Edward G. Robinson is very calm throughout, as the scientist who tries to investigate criminal psychology by committing crimes himself (since he naturally doesn’t know any crooks). Once he meets Claire Trevor, Humphrey Bogart and their gang, some broader schtick does ensure — after all, Allen Jenkins, Curt Bois, and other great scene-stealers are around (for Clitterhouse to test). Jenkins’ hysterical mutism is good for some broad yocks.

Then there’s murder, and one of the best trials since Alice in Wonderland. The story is very neatly worked out — minor characters like the nurse, patient and police chief are dropped in early, disappear for the central business with the gang, but come back for delightful curtain calls at the end. John Huston, Barre Lyndon and John Wexley are the writers. Wexley’s name was only vaguely familiar, but he was a Litvak fave, it seems, working on CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY, CITY FOR CONQUEST, and THE LONG NIGHT. Only Peter Viertel worked up nearly as many (if you include his uncredited polish on THE JOURNEY).

With Litvak I expect zip pans and expressionistic touches — this movie has one of each, but they’re good ones. The zip pan reveals a surprise Bogie to Trevor, the expressionistic touch is an alarming POV shot from someone who’s received an overdose of sedatives…

Ah-hah! It was a PLAY. So blame the prolific Barré Lyndon.

I think this might be the most Hustonesque — if that is a thing — script job pre-MALTESE FALCON. It’s all about irony, and it’s the story of a kind of failure: a criminal psychologist who becomes both a criminal and a madman in the course of his work.

Ah-hah two! John Wexley, Huston’s collaborator, is interviewed in Patrick McGilligan’s Tender Comrades, which belongs on every cinephiles shelf. On Huston: “Johnny was very verbal. But he wrote strange, jarring things the character never would say. I liked a lot of it, but it didn’t belong. We were dealing with how gangsters would speak and also with a psychologist who joins the gang–he becomes enmeshed and lives a double life–and it never sounded like gangsters or a doctor; it sounded like Johnny Huston. It wasn’t anything great one way or another, but we always had to go back and fix what he did. I had to be awfully discreet about it with [producer] Bob Lord. That lesson may have helped Johnny later; he didn’t do that kind of writing when he did The Maltese Falcon.”

On Litvak: “We became very warm personally. He would tell me all about his problems with women. He had a place in or near Malibu, and we preferred to work at his place.” In fact, Litvak also got a visit from Michael Curtiz, who then modelled the amazing house in MILDRED PIERCE on Litvak’s home.

On Jack Warner: “He was a vaudevillian. I had an argument with him about costs on Clitterhouse. I had a scene where the gang of thieves rob a building to get some minks, and Eddie goes with them. Bogart tries to kill Eddie, locks him in a cold-storage vault. Bogart thinks he’s dead; fortunately, Eddie gets out. We wanted a surprise end to the sequence. It’s a decisive sequence, because next Eddie goes after Bogart. Because I was from New York, I knew that there are elevators that come up on every sidewalk. So in this scene the cops would be standing around, and the top cop would say something like, ‘He must be hiding somewhere.’ The sidewalk opens up, and Eddie comes up in the elevator, debonair, right in the middle of the cops. Eddie says, ‘No one down there,’ lights a cigar, walks off. It would get a big laugh.

“But I got a note from Jack Warner saying ‘We don’t have those elevators [on the lot]. We’d have to dig a hole and get a crank to bring him up. It would cost too much.’ We were already shooting. I called him up and said, ‘What kind of peanut brain are you? Fourteen hundred dollars is all it would cost. I’ll pay it myself.’ That changed his mind. I called Lord and said, ‘Deduct it from my salary.’ Lord said, ‘I’ll pay half.’ Warner finally paid.”

On adapting the play: “The play had an ending, but I invented a trial at the end of the film and a bewildered jury–was Clitterhouse sane or insane? People would leave the theater with that humorous question in their minds.” A smart move: I imagine the Breen Office was as perplexed as the film’s jurors, and so they couldn’t condemn the film’s blatant immorality because it’s not precisely clear whether or not crime pays. Brilliant.

CLITTERHOUSE channels the Warner house style very nicely, but it isn’t realy like any other film I know. Just a really unusual tone, or tones. Another Litvak film I wholeheartedly recommend.

THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE stars Caesar Enrico ‘Rico’ Bandello; Gaye Dawn; Fred C. Dobbs; Jonathan G. ‘Goldie’ Locke; Battling Burrows; Pearl Fabrini; Doctor Treating Knute; Carson Drew; Inspector Crane; Franzi Kartos; Detective Tom Polhaus; Paul Cezanne; Mrs. Truesmith; Detective Bates; the voice of Drake McHugh; ‘Slapsy’ Maxie; and Angelica ‘Angie’ ‘Angel’ Evans Conway (scenes deleted).

Bear with me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2020 by dcairns

MAN IN THE WILDERNESS is the original of THE REVENANT, based on the same true story (attacked by bear, abandoned, seeks revenge). Richard Harris plays the protagonist and is sound casting except that it makes the thing too reminiscent of MAN CALLED HORSE and its sequel. Either get a new Dumbledore or change that title.

It’s directed by Richard Sarafian of VANISHING POINT fame, and looks great, photographed as it is by Gerry Fisher. We first see our coterie of beaver-trappers dragging a small ship through the undergrowth, a tribe of itinerant Fitzcarraldos led by John Huston in an eccentric hat, his smashed root vegetable of a face bolstering the production values considerably.

Unfortunately, it does have a very poor bear attack, compared to the sexually-charged ursine assault upong Leo DiCaprio in the later epic. Sarafian has chosen to intercut footage of Richard Harris wrestling with a man in a pantomime bear costume with other, different footage of a bear wrestling with a pantomime Richard Harris. With all the real giveaway shots held on just a few frames too long. Incomprehensible… you want to be a fly on the editing room wall. “Can you see it’s not a real bear?” asks one cutter, “I don’t think it matters,” shrugs another.

Widescreen makes this stuff harder to pull off, I guess.

As with THE REV, it looks at one point as if Smoky is getting amorous.

(It’s not as bad as the stuffed bear attack in CIRCUS OF HORRORS, but that one is more in keeping with the lousiness of its surroundings, so it doesn’t make me cringe like this ursine impersonator does.)

The editor is Geoffrey Foot (lovely name) who had cut a couple of David Lean films, so we can’t wholly blame him. Or can we? It’s probably too late to hold him to account.

It’s a very decent script by Jack DeWitt, who also wrote AMCHORSE and ROCKY (not that one) and FARGO (not that one, or that one).