Archive for Natalie Wood

Wagner’s Wrong Cycle

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2019 by dcairns

“Stand there, Bob. No, elbow up a bit. Turn your head a fraction…”

Hollywood started going weirdly wrong in the fifties, I think. Competing with TV, which in those days had really great scripts and acting but looked essentially like Mr. Magoo’s Dream of Hell, Hollywood countered with some terrible scripts and elevated a lot of attractive non-actors to leading roles.

A KISS BEFORE DYING isn’t an appalling piece of writing, but the need to render the central literary trick of Ira Levin’s source novel in cinematic terms robs it of most of its bite, and the dentition is further eroded by the casting of bores and incompetents in the leads, with one more skilled player so miscast her abilities wrench the whole thing in the wrong direction. True, the casting of Robert Wagner as a killer of women is… suggestive. Titillating, even, in a deeply wrong way. And it’s true that Wagner’s blandness shows some sign of becoming a positive dramatic force — he IS the banality of evil — in this unfamiliar context. Mark Cousins recently introduced me to RW’s early appearance in WITH A SONG IN MY HEART, where he plays a traumatised veteran, and the contrast of his catalogue model beauty with the “troubled” label is as close to “electrifying” as one could ever speak of in relation to this player, who always seems smothered in insulation.

And that’s still the case in AKBD. If one reads about the life and death of Natalie Wood, RW emerges as someone with a definite dark side, even if you don’t think he’s guilty of or hiding anything beyond rowing with his wife and being a bit inept at calling in an emergency (I would say he might well be guilty of more than that, though the term “person of interest” never sat more uncomfortably on the shoulders of a movie star). But as the would-be serial unmarried young Bluebeard here, Wagner invests no malevolence, no cunning, no manipulation in the role, he just doubles down on his native blandness. (One exception: the character’s nastiness to his dear mother, played by a rare Technicolor Mary Astor, makes you want to stab him.)Uh-oh.

OK, so that could actually work, even if it’s a side-effect of somebody’s casting error rather than an inspired choice (and you just can’t tell with Wagner) but who do we have as the good guys? Uh oh.

Jeffrey Hunter is the studious young man who tries to thwart Wagner’s proto-uxoricide (is there a word for killing your betrothed? Anyone writing about this story needs such a word). Hunter, unlike Wagner, is a man who shows clear signs of wanting to act, so he dons glasses and clenches a pipe between his pearly whites I refer to his teeth, not his butt cheeks, as you might suppose)… and that’s it for performance. Can you wonder that, despite yielding to no man in my admiration for Nick Ray, I have never made it through THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES, or if I have, I can’t remember it? What stops me making another attempt on that Everest of tedium is that I might be wasting my time, having already accomplished the feat only to have it slip from my memory like an unusually dull bar of soap. That one also has both Wagner and Hunter as leads — the Dream Team! In that you actually fall asleep watching them.Then we have Virginia Leith, evidently also being groomed for stardom — thrust upon the blameless public. She’s really, um, “good” in THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, in that she invests lines like “No, my deformed friend, like all quantities, horror has it’s ultimate, and I am that,” with exactly what they seem to demand, whatever that is. Here, she’s lost, just uninterestingly terrible, and the script loses focus whenever she’s around, since it wants us to be on her side as she investigates her sister’s death, and still on her side when she refuses, against all reason, to believe in Wager’s guilt. Very hard for an actor to put over, and completely impossible for poor Virginia, who is very attractive I must say.

Joanna Woodward is the miscast one, the only lead who can act: she’s studied her part and deduced that the character written as a doting nitwit must be played as such, an unavoidable conclusion for a method actor but the wrong choice for this hokum. (Look at Mia Farrow’s far more sympathetic, less distanced performance in ROSEMARY’S BABY, from another Levin book about a deceived and betrayed woman.) If they’d only swapped Leith and Woodward around, I think you’d have something: Leith’s lack of experience/skill would allow her to play dim naturally, without knowing she was doing it, and maintain our sympathy without trying, and Woodward could invest her shrewdness in playing the wilful, sharp (some of the time) and passionate heroine.

Astor is good but there isn’t enough of her. Dear old George Macready is acting for five, and it’s not like I don’t appreciate the effort but maybe not now, George?

Gerd Oswald directs, his camera leering-looming-lurching in for dramatic close-ups, unsubtle but certainly appropriate, and the whole production gleams dumbly. I love Technicolor, part 2.

There is a love song, “A Kiss Before Dying,” playing on every juke box in this movie, and nobody says “What a weird idea for a song!”

Oh, and the credits have kissy lipsticks all over them, which is particularly curious with Wagner and Hunter being top-billed.

A KISS BEFORE DYING stars Prince Valiant; Jan in the Pan; Teenage Jesus; Clara Varner; Miss Wonderly;  Count Yorga, vampire; and General Mireau.

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Tuttle Wash-Outs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2018 by dcairns

A CRY IN THE NIGHT (1956), starring Daisy Clover, Lars Thorwald, ‘Fats’ Murdock, Quatermass McGinty and Steve Austin’s boss. A relatively late Frank Tuttle film.

Really poor. David Dortort’s script slaloms around anything potentially interesting. And smashes into any opportunity to make the characters seem dumb or unpleasant. Unconscious misanthropy? At any rate, a psycho mother’s boy abducts a young girl and we never learn anything about his mental problems, while the cops proceed to follow a trail of lucky coincidences to allow them to crack the case while being as stupid as possible.

We begin on lover’s lane, with an intense voice-over from an uncredited Alan Ladd (Tuttle made him a star), commenting on the activities, stressing their innocence but somehow making them seem really dirty because of his Dramatic Intensity, which also makes him sound like a skeevy prowler. “Kids always have things to talk over, questions about life.”

Raymond Burr snatches teenage Natalie Wood; her cop father, dyspeptic ulcer Edmond O’Brien, teams up with her boyfriend Richard Anderson and A,N. Other Cop Brian Donlevy and they drive around desperately while sniping at each other. Eventual rescue near some kilns.

Tuttle’s great compositional skill is not in evidence, unless he’s enjoying the contrasting body types as much as I am. Burr’s large adult son character is an amusingly lumpen form to postulate next to the tiny, birdlike Wood, and the trio of O’Brien, Donlevy and Anderson create a vaudevillian panoply whenever united in the same frame. If you posed a bag of cat food, a box of cat food, and turkey leg together, you’d get roughly the same effect and twice the charisma.

Nobody is on form: the script encourages them to be the worst possible version of themselves. I love Natalie, but wouldn’t have cared if she’d ended up in a fridge here. Burr’s Lonesome Lenny routine is a screaming embarrassment. There are plenty of movies where I can forget that O’Brien was a struggling alcoholic, that Orson Welles called him “a magnificent ruin,” and that he traveled with a suitcase full of meat and light bulbs. This isn’t one. And Donlevy is equally grating and artificial: if it weren’t for him being a cuboid and O’Brien being totally shapeless, you couldn’t tell them apart.

They all drive around in a car a lot and you wish they’d give Anderson the wheel, because he only has concussion.

The best bit was the police getting a tip-off from Burr’s domineering mother because he’s out late and there’s no pie in the house.

Strangely enough, Raymond Burr dated Natalie Wood for a while.

“This one’s no good too!” declared Fiona after ten minutes of HELL ON FRISCO BAY (1955). Tuttle goes into super widescreen for this one. Stars Lucky Jordan, Dr. Clitterhouse, Tess Millay, Constable Kockenlocker, Captain Escobar and Ann Darrow. Poor Alan Ladd looks puffy and out of sorts: these movies both feel like episodes of some grisly Alcohol Watch. Edward G. Robinson is just old, but can still exude malevolence and smoke a cigar at the same time. He looks more and more like a Winsor McCay drawing, only not in blackface.

The climax scales new heights of bathos — a fist fight between Ladd and Robinson. Both are prematurely aged but Robinson, at only sixty-two, is an actual little old man. Ladd is little too, but he seems like a monster for slugging this geriatric case. Then Ladd has to do a dramatic leap and it’s a tragi-comic belly-flop. As is the film.

   

It’s just DULL. The title is good (and is the name of a fine blog). Nothing else lives up to it. Tuttle’s work is so lacking energy and impact, it’s amazing he worked again: but he did A CRY IN THE NIGHT the very next year.

Look like I have to head into his past to find stuff of value. Not only does THIS GUN FOR HIRE include a ton of marvelous noir imagery, but its opening gave Jean-Pierre Melville LE SAMOURAI. And MISS BLUEBEARD features a reel of the best bedroom farce ever shot. So he was good, very good, to begin with. I think cooperating with HUAC broke something inside. Recommendations for obscure, good Tuttle films will be gratefully received.

Indoor Derricks

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2018 by dcairns

The miniature indoor oil derrick was a short-lived design fad, but you can see examples in WRITTEN ON THE WIND — the late Dorothy Malone (above) keeps hers as a kind of phallic symbol and a memento of dear dead daddy (above above) — and SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, where father Pat Hingle keeps a model of the derrick he fell from, resulting in his limp — in reality, poor Pat got it falling down an elevator shaft, fracturing his skull, hip, wrist, half his ribs, and his leg in three places. Ouch.

Worse, it cost him the lead in ELMER GANTRY.

I like the idea of his character keeping a model of the near-fatal derrick as a kind of trophy. Hingle plays his character as the kind of man who would do that — a roaring bully-boy, a proto-Nolte, communicating in a brutish semaphore of arm-punching and back-slapping.

His screen son, Warren Beatty, keeps a much smaller derrick in his bedroom.

We just watched SPLENDOR for the first time — I’m still way behind on Kazan. It’s pretty great, even if the story is barely a sentence-worth. It has emotion, star power, sharp observation, beautiful photography and design, brilliant casting down to the smallest role — Godfrey Cambridge plays a chauffeur in one shot… we keep cutting to Sandy Dennis, barely more than an extra…

It also has a real sense of period. Natalie Wood even does period-specific gestures, like that semi-circular wave, palm out, close to the face, that you see in ’20s movies. It’s all a great contrast to INSIDE DAISY CLOVER’S shunning of period costume.