Archive for John Sturges

Holliday Affair

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2019 by dcairns

I was struck by the stylised movements of several of the main cast in John Sturges’ GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL. Of course Burt Lancaster (as Wyatt Earp) was a former acrobat and always brought what I believe is termed a panther-like grace to his performances. But he and Kirk Douglas (Doc Holliday) and Jo Van Fleet are all doing an odd and beautiful thing, where they stop their movements momentarily each time they reach a potential dramatic pose, what animators might call an “extreme.”

These micro-pauses are very brief, but they make it a good film for frame-grabbing. As is the fact that the movie, always handsome (except a few regrettable studio night exteriors, something the colour western never mastered), becomes a series of striking icons as we near the climactic shoot-out.

(The women’s roles are unusually good, though Rhonda Fleming is robbed of her initial impact when she has to fall in love. Her movements are naturally more fluid than JVF’s, so they make a good contrast.)

Must check other Sturges films to see if this is something he pursued further.

K. Douglas: “The only trouble is, those best able to testify to my aim are unavailable for comment.”

Sharp screenplay by Leon Uris and George Scullin. Douglas and Van Fleet’s dysfunctional relationship (he’s a self-loathing drunk and sees her as the embodiment of his fallen status) is BY FAR the most interesting aspect. Douglas is always at his best with a touch of nastiness: fiercely competitive, he does actual manage to out-act Burt here.

Am pretty sure I never found Dennis Hopper beautiful before, but he is here. It makes me reassess his early career — he was set to be a fifties prettyboy like Tab Hunter, I guess. His inner beast had other plans. But now I see this soulful sweetness shining through in things like THE AMERICAN FRIEND.

GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL star J.J. Hunsecker & Steve Dallas; Vincent Van Gogh; Meta Carson; Ella Garth; Cherry Valance; ‘Bim’ Nolan; Fante & Mingo; Sidney Broome; Frank Booth; Prof. Teenage Frankenstein; Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy; Capt. Patrick Hendry; Mrs. Jorgensen; and Alamosa Bill.

*Probably would have posted something else today if I’d read the terrible news from Christchurch. Hate is all around us. If you know someone who is eaten up with it, get them talking. If they seem driven to act on it, report them. If they still have any decency, work on them. Damn it, humanity.

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In the Zone

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by dcairns

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Our nightly Twilight Zone viewings prompted me to suggest a screening of SADDLE THE WIND — we’d watched a few Zone episodes with western settings, so a Rod Serling-scripted oater seemed worth a punt. Didn’t go too well — might be a while before I can persuade Fiona to view another cowboy flick.

(My mother LOVES westerns, so I grew up thinking this was normal. Women like westerns. Men like musicals and horror movies. It seemed so reasonable.)

STW is one of those wretched “part-works” (Douglas Sirk: “I have no interest in these part-works.”) Robert Parrish is the credited helmer, but John Sturges also did some of it, I have no idea what. There IS a noticeable tendency for expressive location shots to be interrupted by nasty, obtrusive process-shot “exteriors” and these often come along just when a scene is looking promising. So my guess would be somebody did too interesting a job and the producer wanted it watered down.

It isn’t Serling’s story, so he’s mainly the dialogue man, I guess. It’s noticeable that these cowboys tend to express themselves in florid similes and metaphors, some of which are pretty entertaining. “Keeping your brother under control is like putting hot butter in a wildcat’s ear, it just can’t be done.”

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The story is hopeless. The very strange trio of Robert Taylor, John Cassavetes and Julie London are at the centre. I thought these three would be bound to produce something of interest, but Taylor is such a wet blanket, God love him. He’s also a detestable hero: his little brother, Cassavetes, evolves into a psycho-killer in the course of two days, and Taylor does nothing except bully a poor farmer (Royal Dano) whom his brother later kills. London is brought in as Cassavetes’ girl, and within minutes three different men have referred to her as a “thing” — this turns out to be preparation for her insistence on personhood, which is good to see, but after the first act she’s left with nothing to do. Serling could be considered an artist who found a freedom and creative scope in TV that the movies couldn’t grant —

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Which may be the only grounds for comparing him with Red Skelton.

The Taking of Studley Constable

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2015 by dcairns

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One could wish that author Jack Higgins had invented a Norfolk village with a less silly name than Studley Constable as the setting for his war adventure The Eagle Has Landed, or that Tom Mankiewicz, adapting it, had switched the location to somewhere with more dignity. Scratby, perhaps, or East Runton.

The John Sturges movie based on the book must have seemed a bit old-fashioned in 1976, but as I recall there was a certain market for that kind of thing at the time, as an alternative to the prevailing direction of Hollywood cinema — the IMDb’s list of ten “most popular” films for that year doesn’t feature a lot of romance — things tend to end as they do for Kong and Dwan, or Travis and Betsy, or Sissy Spacek and bucket guy — making Jenny Agutter and Donald Sutherland — the English rose and the ungulate Casanova — the screen’s sexiest couple of ’76. She even consented to do clothed scenes, but only because they were essential to the plot.

They genuinely are good together. Sutherland plays one of those sympathetic IRA men beloved of Hollywood (in a film crowded with sympathetic Nazis), and Agutter is twenty-five playing “almost nineteen,” a village girl smitten with the romantic newcomer. And she sells it. I don’t know if that was a difficult task — maybe she just defocussed her eyes and imagined chocolate eclairs — but she seems to be spectacularly interested in everything that dribble of a face is doing. Fiona finds Sutherland devilishly attractive, in a deeply weird way. The scene where he orders a bartender to suck his thumb had her all a-tremble.

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While Sutherland has never really mastered an accent in a film, and essays an extreme and wonky brogue here,  he does have fun in the role, grinning satanically and boozing a lot. He’s the only one with good dialogue. And he’s the best Irish Nazi since Stephen Boyd in THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS. Michael Caine (Jewish Nazi) tries to talk in a slightly clipped way suggestive of being German, and Robert Duvall (another no-hoper when it comes to accents, except for a rather good blue-collar New York which I was surprised to discover wasn’t his native idiom) lays it on thick, though not as badly as he would playing Watson in THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION the same year. I would love to see a movie where Sutherland does his FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY English, and Duvall does his Watson, but I think I should go mad watching it.

Caine has a line near the end about no longer driving events but being driven by them, and it’s very apt indeed, but it could apply to everything that happens in this movie from the start. Plot dictates every move, and people keep shifting out of character to allow the plot to get done. Jenny Agutter becomes a murderer — WHAT? Larry Hagman (very amusing) is at least set up as a knucklehead desperate for glory, but that’s an example of a character being machine-tooled and dropped into position to fulfill a narrative function. Spectacular accidents occur in order to move things along more briskly.

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The whole thing is swiped from …WENT THE DAY WELL? which is a much better movie. Higgins even began his novel in a post-war English graveyard, like Cavalcanti’s film, though fortunately the movie dispenses with this pilfered prologue. What Higgins added is the Churchill kidnap plot, which makes it high-concept, and the idea of the Germans as heroes, which is dicey at best. Proving that Caine’s character isn’t anti-semitic in an introductory scene smacks of special pleading, and the efforts to make Duvall’s Colonel likable count for nothing — he would have been just as effective as a bastard, since what the audience cares about is What Will Happen? We aren’t, after all, rooting for the Nazis to win, we are merely concerned by a scheme.

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Higgins reports (in his foreword to the book) that he did encounter resistance to the idea of Nazis as leads, but says that his dealings with German soldiers in the fifties had made it clear to him that “most of them were just like us.” That should worry you, Jack!

Studley Constable (that name!) cemetery is full of gravestones that wobble when anyone touches them.

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The real studly constable (right).