Archive for John Sturges

Escapism

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2021 by dcairns

It’s true that Netflix has a lousy classic film selection, except that there are some oddities like EROTIKON and some commedia al’Italia you would expect to find, which we should be thankful for.

But I clicked on THE GREAT ESCAPE because I was in the mood for the smooth and unchallenging. I intended just to watch a little bit, but it’s been ages since I ran it and of course I ended up watching the whole thing. It’s kind of perfect. Of course, it shows war as being schoolboy fun, but escaping from a German POW camp — unlike suffering in a Japanese one — probably had aspects of being at school. Plotting to defeat the system was likely to be fun, with an undercurrent of terror.

We had to pause it at what felt like twenty minutes in, but turned out to be forty-nine minutes in. That’s how smoothly and efficiently and entertainingly it goes.

Elmer Bernstein’s theme is great, but all his scoring is great — when he’s not doing the march or the snare-drum suspense, he does oddly beautiful and tender things for Steve McQueen and Angus Lennie, or James Garner and Donald Pleasence. Harp arpeggios — well, we know he was a Bernard Herrmann fan. Did John Sturges temp-track these bits with tracks from Herrmann’s score for his own UNDERWATER? Probably not. (NB DEFINITELY not: see comments.) The only thing I’d question is the sudden happy music introducing fresh scenes right after tragic ones — but I bet they thought about that very seriously, and decided they couldn’t smooth things over, they had to make hard transitions to let everything play out with its full value.

Lots of Scots in this — four of them, to be precise, meaning that you rarely get a scene without some Scottish presence. James Donald and David McCallum have suppressed it, of course, but Angus Lennie and Gordon Jackson let it all hang out, and do a song and dance about it. Weird that Lennie, who’s magnificent, and John Leyton, who’s blander but very sympathetic, didn’t capitalize on this to find fame and fortune.

I like to think Leyton and McCallum meet up for regular cast reunions, the only ones left.

The People Against The Thing From Another World

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2019 by dcairns
Called to the bar.

Casting Spencer Tracy as an alcoholic is a bit nervy… a scene showing him engaging in a sketchy interaction with Eduardo Ciannelli in the men’s room may be dicier still. THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA (1951) has moments of subversion and dissonance unusual in an MGM picture.

Tracy plays a retired criminal lawyer and reformed boozer driven back to the bottle by his struggle to win the case of a young man (James Arness, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD himself) accused of murder. John Sturges directs — his early thrillers aren’t as noirish as Anthony Mann’s, but he does have cinematographer John “single-source” Alton on his side so the movie is beautiful.

I must have looked away during the credits because I missed Alton’s name, but the suspicion gradually donned on me as the film went on that I was seeing his work. One of the few DoP’s with such a distinctive style.

This is the shot that made me first glimmer and glom.

“Spencer Tracy’s always good as a lawyer. He’s so solid,” said Fiona. “He’s an immovable force.”

“I think you can have an immovable object or an unstoppable force…” I suggest, but then come to think she’s right. Spence is an immovable force. Or possibly an unstoppable object.

The film is very well cast — Diana Lynn has one terrific scene, John Hodiak is fine in his natural environment as third lead, Pat O’Brien fades into the furniture, Ciannelli and William Campbell are great nasties, and if you enjoy the look, sound and feel of Emile Meyer as much as I do, you will enjoy seeing, hearing and touching him here.

This is sort of a noir — there is some surprising stuff, including the ending. But the ultimate message of just about any MGM film is that the system works, so you don’t get a real sense of subversion and malaise, but then, maybe you already have enough of that in your life.

THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA stars Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Hildy Johnson; Emmy Kockenlocker; John Kovac; Dr. Satan; the Thing from Another World; Cimmaron Rose; Walking Coyote; Concho; Chief Quinn; Reverend Cyril Playfair; Mrs. Carol Stark; Lt. Harry Kello; Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls; Paul Kersey; Molly Molloy; Mr. Rafferty; and the voice of Colossus.

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.