Archive for Lee J Cobb

The B.V.M.

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2019 by dcairns
“What I got don’t need beads.”

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, in which Jennifer Jones appears courtesy of David O. Selznick and the Virgin Mary appears courtesy of God.

A few of us Bolognites wished Il Cinema Ritrovato had shown this one, because it’s a good, well-known Henry King, and he give s it the big build-up in the documentary they screened. He tested multiple big stars for the title role and asked them to look off-camera and see the Ble s sed Virgin Mary. “All the others looked,” reported King, “but only Jennifer Jones SAW.”

Jones is pretty great. Always tempting to define her successes in terms of her limitations, for some reason. Good directors use their stars for what they CAN do and aim them away from what they can’t. “There was a stupidity about her,” said Ruth Goetz, meaning to praise her for her rightness for the title role in the 1952 CARRIE. Here, Bernadette calls herself stupid but is, rather, simple, which in the movie’ s terms elevates her above all the troublesome, complicated character s who persecuted her.

Jones plays this with an unchanging serenity and hesitant meekness that comes right to the edge of being annoyingly monotonous but doesn’t quite cross over. I would guess that the inspiration is hers and the control is King’s.

All the performances are ace. Vincent Price is airdropped into the dead centre of his comfort zone, playing intelligent, cool and cynical, with the melancholy he could sometimes access, and without campery (he must’ve been tempted to try to slip one passed the goalie, but maybe King was too nimble in defense). Oddly, his final moments appear to have inspired the ending of DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN.

The only actor who gets away with anything inappropriate is one of Bernadette’s sisters, who moons the camera.

The Breen Office was too dazzled by the Virgin to notice the butt cheeks.

Top mark s to Lee J. Cobb again, a different actor from his laid-back debut in THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF but with none of the growl and bluster of later roles. He’s marvellously DETAILED.

Huge waxen eyelids.

And scary nun Gladys Cooper nearly walks off with the show. She has to literally carry Jones for the third act.

King does something very clever by keeping the B.V.M. apparition in long shot, like an icon, though it would be even better if we never saw the very special guest star at all. There are other bit s where he has his periodic fits of visual expressiveness and it’ s pretty great.

Now, I not only don’t HAVE faith, I don’t even admire it, though I acknowledge a lot of people find it useful in withstanding life’s brickbats. Thus, as an opening title forewarns, part of this film is a closed book to me. But I could admire the way a lone, ill-educated girl stands up to the authorities: police, politicians, family, and even the church, and the way the film gets us on her side, the ultimate underdog, even though apparently she has the supreme being in her corner.

Without Linda Darnell as the B.V.M. and the heavenly choir s nudging us in the ribs, this wouldn’t have a trace of kitsch. With them, it has quite a bit of that popular and valued Hollywood commodity. But it’s, you know, compelling.

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE stars Cluny Brown; Oliver Niles; Prince Prospero; Lt. William Kinderman; Mrs. Higgins; Caroline Lamphere; Jimmy Valentine; Maybelle Merriwether; Georges Sand; Ben Hubbard; Mrs. Rand; “Concentration Camp” Ehrhardt; Madame Therese De Farge; Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest; Miles Archer; Lt. Alexei Chernoff; Antonya Raskolnikov; Matiste; The Dear One; The Kid; Alfred the butler; Van Helsing; and Chihuahua.

Advertisements

Fair Weather

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2019 by dcairns

First full day in Bologna and we scored four out of four.

While our friends Nicola and Donald were viewing PEPE LE MOKO — can’t go wrong there — we took a chance on Franju’s NOTRE DAME, CATHEDRAL DE PARIS. I happen to think Franju’s short documentaries are even better than his features, which are of course frequently great. But he’s uneven — half the shorts are dullish, half are inspired cinematic poetry of the highest order. This was a good one, we thought, and in widescreen and colour! Of course, as Meredith Brody remarked afterwards, it played entirely differently under the present circs. I watched it with my jaw hanging open at the magnificent framing and a tear in my eye at the poignancy.

Afterwards, two half-empty plastic sacks of plaster in a corner of the Cinema Modernissimo, still in mid-restoration but opened as a pop-up for the festival, made me see a couple of weatherbeaten stone saints, and I realised I was seeing with Franju’s eyes, the eyes of a surrealist and a visionary poet. I wondered how long that would last. Then I emerged into the rain-slicked streets of Bologna and my eyes became those of a mere tourist again.

Henry King’s STATE FAIR is a masterpiece — a great piece of writing, particularly (a small army of ink-stained wretches laboured to convert Philip Strong’s Stong’s novel to a screen play). The subject of a week-long fair combines with a theme of impermanence, and a romantic scene is undercut with the image of a billboard advertisement for the fair peeling in the rain — to reveal THE END underneath.

Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres are a lovely couple, and so are her parents, Will Rogers and Louise Dresser. Sally Eilers, admired in BAD GIRL last year, is seductive. Norman Foster is the same charmless lump he appeared as in all his youthful movies, but he’s perfectly cast (and I love his “comeback” in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND). A nubile Victor Jory plays a barker.

Terrific long tracking shots from King, and elaborate rear-projection shots of the fair, with some funny touches like two dialogue scenes between hogs, shot and cut just like regular conversations. Subtitles, however, were not provided.

John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, newly restored, looked magnificent — you can see a tiny crumb of charcoal flake from Lautrec’s pencil, and you can see the peeling edge of a prosthetic chin stuck to a dancer. I was struck by the strange similarity of the female characters’ faces — not an actual resemblance, just a sense that they had something in common. Then I realised that they all had lips Lautrec might have drawn.

This film is better than we’ve all thought.

Script supervisor Angela Allen, 90, was on hand to reminisce and answer questions.

We gathered in the Piazza Maggiore to see MIRACLE IN MILAN but the rain, forecast to end an hour before, was getting heavy. I might have braved it, but the womenfolk dragged me to the safety of the Cinema Jolly to see Felix E. Feist’s THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, which was a really clever and slick B-noir, with Lee J. Cobb underplaying for the only time in his life, while John Dall as his brother projected every nuance from his face in letters a mile high.

It was produced by Jack Warner’s son and had a character named Quimby in it who was much as you’d expect.

More tomorrow!

In the frame

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-11-08-22h13m01s322

Gradually overcoming my foolish Elia Kazan aversion — based on his politics/ethics, not his movies, so I’ve just been robbing myself, really — and ran BOOMERANG! (1947), a wackily titled courtroom/political drama from Fox, recklessly elaborated from a true story. Ambitious D.A. Dana Andrews (but the D.A. stands for District Attorney, you see) builds up a perfect case against a drifter (Arthur Kennedy, young but already rodent-like) accused of murdering a priest — ballistics, eye-witnesses, a destroyed alibi and a confession, but then, since he’s a painfully honest man, he risks his whole career by trying to dismantle the evidence, which proves shakier than first assumed.

These corruption dramas are always double-edged things. The old Hollywood model has to show the system working, both to confirm our faith in society and to deliver the required happy ending. But one can be left with doubts. If not for the impeccable Jimmy Stewart in MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, the forces of corruption would surely win, and the movie makes it very clear that Stewart/Smith is an unusual individual, therefore can we not assume that corruption wins most of the time? So with Andrews here. Kazan can be assumed to have meant more criticism of the status quo than Capra ever would. Here, the newly elected reform politicians are shown to be as capable of shady dealings as the villain they ousted — some are prone to “noble cause corruption,” believing that basically any course they take is justified if it gets them re-elected so they can carry out more reform. One, played by the turtle Ed Begley, blatantly has his fingers in the till.

(I think SERPICO marks a significant point — corruption is seen as so entrenched that a single honest man CANNOT reform the system.)

vlcsnap-2015-11-08-22h13m55s256

The usual suspects: Arthur Kennedy, number 5, but in a surprise cameo, Arthur Miller is rumoured to appear in one of the film’s lineups.

Another guest star: Gadge’s dad uncle, as an incompetent witness. Runs in the family?

There’s some corny stuff in here, corny but fun. Sam Levene plays a hardboiled newspaperman with as dopey sidekick. Andrews indulges in ludicrous courtroom theatrics that make you applaud, like having a loaded gun aimed at his own head, the trigger pulled (yeah, probably more lawyers should do this); when a stooge tells the baddie “It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” the baddie replies, “I know.” A jilted dame testifies against the hapless patsy out of sluttish pique. Lots of cornball stuff, and filming on location doesn’t diffuse that, though the occasional reverberant sound in the background testifies to the existence of a world outside the frame.

vlcsnap-2015-11-08-22h17m33s531

More valuable is the strong cast, with Kazan regulars Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden in evidence. Cobb as the police chief, more muted than usual, is rather wonderful. He uses sleep deprivation to torture a confession out of his man, but refuses to use violence. He has a conscience, up to a point. There’s no evidence that he lets politics influence his performance of his duties. But like a lot of flawed cops, once he sells himself on a man’s guilt, he can justify almost any action to get a conviction. At that point, an innocent man’s denials become lack of contrition, and the further he goes the more committed he is to proving a supposition rather than investigating a case.

So the social critique is quite smart — only the script’s need to roll everything into a neat ball, and to amp up the dramatics, compromises its credibility, so that you pretty much KNOW watching it, “Well this wasn’t part of the original true story… nor this…” Still, it’s a strong piece of Hollywood product — like is Kazan and Zanuck got into a telepod together and what came out was… Kazanuck!