Archive for Natalie Wood

Captain X

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2019 by dcairns

It was DER REST IST SCHWEIGEN that gave me the idea of re-watching THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR. Kautner steals the image of the painting seen in a dark room which looks like a person — his swipe is a nicely done variation, though: the room is all dark, but the painting has its own illumination, which comes on a second before the rest of the lights.

But Mankiewicz did it first in this, perhaps his most visually beautiful and imaginative film.

JLM is sometimes criticised for prioritising words, and there are places in each film where this maybe becomes a slight issue. THE LATE GEORGE APLEY, an underrated film I think, makes a big thing of Peggy Cummins’ wedding dress — but then never lets you see it properly. And here, Natalie Wood is delighted as her name is carved in a marker at the beach, with the man telling her he’s made the lettering big so the ships can see it. But it’s facing the land! Yes, I’m a pendantic swine, but I always hold that kids are pedantic too.

It’s a very funny film too, but it always brings a tear to my eye. First time it happens is Gene Tierney saying “It’s hard to imagine you as an ordinary anything,” to Rex Harrison’s ghost and the LOOK he gives her — an indefinable mixture of pride, complacency, tenderness and adoration. And Bernard Herrmann’s score is part of it, and all the rest.

Tierney was supposed to be Katharine Hepburn, who would have brought more eccentricity — from the outside, it’s the story of a crazy lady — but Tierney makes it sexier, I think. She’s not the actress Hepburn was, but she really grows into it — her old-age acting is very understated and effective. Harrison is playing a character where he has to put on a voice for the whole film — and he can do it. He’s one of the two greatest light comedians the screen has known (Cary Grant’s the other) and so if you make things hard for him, he just gets better — or that’s the impression he gives here.

Also, BLITHE SPIRIT has given him invaluable experience of spiritism cross-talk.

“What we’ve missed… what we’ve both missed,” is the second teary moment. The climax of a Grand Speech (do we suppose Mank rewrote Philip Dunne’s script a fair bit?)

It’s also an interesting test case of Bernard Herrmann’s scoring — how he can do stuff that is, in theory and by any logic, too heavy and overpowering for the material, and make it absolutely right. So that I don’t know that I believe Elmer Bernstein’s thing about how Herrmann would have overwhelmed MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by treating it as “a Train of Death” rather than as a cosy and nostalgic romance of steam. Herrmann seems to demonstrate consistently that he can make stuff work in better and less expected ways by taking it much, much too seriously. It would be awful if he wasn’t so brilliant.

“With Captain Gregg? With the ghost of Captain Gregg?” That one caught me off-guard. The ghost has been an imaginary friend to Mrs. Muir’s daughter, who still remembers him now she’s grown up. (Wipes away manly tear.)

The film does something really lovely with fantasy — the idea that we may have fantastical characters in our lives, only we’re not allowed to remember them, or entirely believe in them.

And then the ending.

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR stars Laura Hunt; Professor Henry Higgins; Addison DeWitt; Flying Officer Bob Trubshawe; and Daisy Clover.

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.

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.