Archive for Lizabeth Scott

Haskin For It

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2022 by dcairns

TOO LATE FOR TEARS has an insanely twisty plot — more flips and spins than THE NARROW MARGIN — as that film’s director, Richard Fleischer, put it, “everyone was wearing a different hat.” And it has a great noir cast, starting with Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea, but lesser darklight luminaries Don DeFore and Arthur Kennedy are fine too. The dialogue is unusually zippy — script is by Roy Huggins who also gave us The Fugitive on TV (and therefore, indirectly, The Invaders and The Incredible Hulk), and it’s based on his own novel. Only the gratuitous and dull romantic sub-subplot isn’t up to snuff. In short, it has everything but a director, since Byron Haskin is the man in charge. Someone once said that when a director dies, he becomes a photographer. Haskin started as a photographer and worked his way up to being a dead director.

I’m very fond of Haskin’s scifi movies, even THE POWER, but he had no visual style to speak of (odd, given his career arc — I’ll make an exception for the lambent hues of global destruction in WAR OF THE WORLDS). TLFT isn’t an effects movie, it’s mainly people in rooms talking, and Haskin’s approach is perfectly serviceable, sometimes suave. It might be his best film, in terms of story, performances, visuals. He doesn’t pick up on noir as an excuse to heighten the visuals to fever pitch, but he gets a little atmosphere going.

Also: stripes!

I feel like TREASURE ISLAND should be Exhibit A in making the case against Haskin as a real filmmaker: he makes his choices based on it being a Disney picture rather than on what’s actually happening at any given time. He has a great perf from Robert Newton but an unguided one from Bobby Driscoll. But here, happily, he has Lizabeth Scott at her husky, untrustworthy best/worst, and a lovely character arc for Duryea, sliding from his oily villain mode to his tremulous sap mode as he realises what kind of story he’s in.

The Mildreds

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2016 by dcairns

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OF HUMAN BONDAGE is, I guess, the first kind of classic John Cromwell film, in that it’s well-remembered and has a classic source (Somerset Maugham) and iconic stars. And it’s compelling. Leslie Howard plays the mug of a hero beautifully, and Bette Davis, who invents the Dick Van Dyke cockney accent, gives a fearless, fiercely committed performance free of vanity. Though her attempt at being a Londoner is somewhat hilarious, it’s detailed enough to contain hints of Mildred Rogers’ social aspirations.

Cromwell was brought to Hollywood for the talkies, his theatre experience judged useful to help with actors who hadn’t been on the stage — for his first movies, he was paired with Edward A. Sutherland, the former Mr. Louise Brooks, who was judged in need of dramaturgical support. Those early movies fairly creak — VICE SQUAD is all but unwatchable, DANCE OF LIFE seems to have been photographed from the stalls (but worth it to glimpse a nubile Oscar Levant) and CLOSE HARMONY has been lost, for now, apart from its Vitaphone disc soundtrack. But somewhere in there, maybe making THE WORLD AND THE FLESH as an excercise du style with Karl Struss lighting and framing for expressionist values, Cromwell became more visually sensitive, and OHB is full of slick effects and interesting approaches. Not all of them come off — the phantasmal visions of Bette that plague Howard are hammy and stoopid — but on the other hand the Ozu-like dialogue delivered straight down the lens is extremely effective. Maybe he got that from Mamoulian’s DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, but if so, he refined it.

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“I think she’s the worst woman I’ve ever seen,” said Fiona, adding that she felt she SHOULD be able to find some redeeming traits in the “contemptible and ill-natured” Mildred, but she just couldn’t. Davis plays it to the hilt as only she could, and Howard makes you believe in his masochism. There are lovely turns from Kay Johnson (a Cromwell favourite — his first wife) and Frances Dee as the other women in his life. This Mildred creature is one of a small regiment of monstrous women in Cromwell’s pics — usually the story resolves with the beastly female being found out by those she’s deceived about her true nature (THE SILVER CORD, THIS MAN IS MINE, IN NAME ONLY) but here, Howard is fully aware of her perfidy from the start. It’s his own masochism he has to wise up to.

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Another Mildred turns up in THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS, played by another Bette, this time Jane Greer (AKA Bettejane Greer). Her first scene with the parole board has you rooting for her as she pleads with her big, doll-like eyes — then we find out her parole officer is Lizabeth Scott, which seems like an interesting concept — what if your parole officer was a noir femme fatale? But we quickly learn that Greer’s innocence is an act, while Scott is a caring professional who wants the best for her. Things take another turn when Greer sets her sights on Scott’s man, Dennis O’Keefe — and gets him.

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It’s a highly unusual drama, scripted by the interesting lady noir specialist Ketty Frings. Cromwell made it right after the masterful CAGED, and it could almost be a sequel.

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Picked up when a fellow parolee is nabbed for stealing, Greer endures a night in the cells and a humiliating police line-up which have the same noir-sadeian tint as the earlier film, aided by chiaroscuro cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST, CAT PEOPLE) and a fierce bunch of co-stars including Theresa Harris, uncredited again (see Wednesday’s post).

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The Lizabeth Scott view from the floor again (see yesterday’s post): not literally, this time, but pleading Greer’s case before a swarm of unfeeling authority figures, she might as well be flat on her back.

The particular aspect of Cromwell’s talent in operation this time, asides from his steady hand with actors, is his compositional gift — the parole board scenes are particularly sharp. Maybe it’s because I haven’t slept in 72 hours, but I think this one is a little masterpiece, and ought to be better known. Eschewing overt melodrama, making strong use of real locations in the manner that was just coming into fashion at the time, and giving Greer probably the meatiest and realest role of her somewhat truncated career, it’s mature, unpredictable and impressive on all levels (down to the unusual score by the underrated Leigh Harline).

Also: Kathleen Freeman as a young woman, and Jeff Bridges as a baby!

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“Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Wreck Deadening

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2016 by dcairns

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Always crashing in the same car: Helen Vinson makes Cary Grant crash in IN NAME ONLY (1939) and Lizabeth Scott does the same for Humphrey Bogart in DEAD RECKONING (1947). Two by John Cromwell.

I’d always missed out on DEAD RECKONING, which I hadn’t seen, because I confused it with DARK PASSAGE, which I’d seen a couple of times and forgotten. So, not that I’m investigating the films of John Cromwell, I realize that this is an interesting-sounding flick with Hunphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott (very much styled in Bacall mode). It’s kind of like a mash-up of favourite Bogart tropes. He gives a speech to Scott at one point saying he wishes he could shrink her and keep her in his pocket — according to Bacall, this was a line he used on her in real life. And the ending steals all sorts of stuff from THE MALTESE FALCON.

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The sense of the movie as mash-up is augmented by its odd, ramshackle structure, with a framing structure built around a long flashback, and then a third act that’s outwith the bookends. I kind of approved of this, since once we no longer have Bogart narrating (via a kind of confession to a priest), it feels like all bets are off. Also, Bogie’s hero is worryingly competent for the first forty minutes or so — it feels like nobody can get the drop on him. Starting in media res with Bogart fleeing for his life, face all bloody, lets us know that bad stuff can still happen to this tough guy.

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Say it ain’t Phroso!

This is a Columbia picture, so Bogart isn’t surrounded by so many stock players I recognized. Morris Carnovsky is a good smooth baddie, Marvin Miller (voice of Robbie the Robot!) is the sadistic henchthing, and Charles Cane overdoes the schtick as a dumb cop. I certainly ought to have recognized Wallace Ford (Phroso the Clown from FREAKS) but he really does look completely different in this. It was only fifteen years later and suddenly he’s a little old man.

Cromwell has clearly seen and appreciated John Brahm’s THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, since he duplicates that movie’s view-from-the-floor POV shot, twice ~

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Hmm, actually it’s the same year. Maybe both Brahm and Cromwell saw an upshot they liked in something else the previous year? The ceiling shot viewed from a trundling gurney in POSSESSED is ALSO 1947. Maybe the missing link then is A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH? Anyhow, Cromwell and one or some of his five scenarists pull a fast one, because the second one isn’t from the expected person’s POV…