Archive for Philip Yordan

Snowbound

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 28, 2015 by dcairns

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In this movie, there’s actually eight!

With Tarantino’s frosty western gorefest about to splatter all over us in glorious 70mm (it opens in the UK while I’ll be busy shooting my own, much, much smaller film), and with this being the season when I quite like looking at snow without having to touch it, I popped Andre DeToth’s DAY OF THE OUTLAW in the Panasonic, wowing Fiona, who is not normally an enthusiast of the oater. “Am I mellowing, or was that really good?” she asked, afterwards.

The story, credited to Philip Yordan (a talented guy, but he fronted for so many blacklistees I’m never sure he’s the actual author), based on a novel by Lee E. Wells, depends on a silly coincidence — plot #1, a standard cattle men versus farmers fight, with an adulterous love affair thrown in, gets interrupted just as the central figures, including tower of spasming muscle and venom Robert Ryan, square off for a climactic duel. Plot #2 now commences, in which this one-horse town is held hostage by Burl Ives and his band of savages, a Quantrill’s Raiders bunch of psychos, introduced by Ives in a cool/scary/hilarious role call.

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This new plot is much more compelling and high-stakes, and it has the advantage of making the rather unappealing antagonists of plot #1 — fuming near-psycho Ryan and peevish Alan Marshal — become relatively sympathetic, so bad are the bad guys and so awful is their new situation.

For people who don’t care for plot, this movie would serve as a good illustration of the value of a strong dramatic situation. As Billy Wilder put it, “A guy comes in the door, you got nothing. He comes in the window, you got a situation.”

DeToth, that fearsome bullet-headed Hungarian cyclops — many Hollywood directors were tough eggs, not many conspired, as DeToth seems to have done, to get his leading man decapitated (on HOUSE OF WAX), benefits from the script, the cast, and Alexander Courage’s glittering music and Russell Harlan’s cinematography. The landscapes are impressive, but so are the compositions for straightforward compositions. Though DeToth is a little happier to hold a flat two-shot than he ought to be, I think, he also delivers packed and dynamic shots that bristle with tension.

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The empty chairs formerly occupied by Tina-Louise’s husband and child earn their place in the shot as a kind of barrier between T-L and RR.

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Snow!

Pool Sharks

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2012 by dcairns

Photographic consultant Haskell Wexler — and so we get some striking and not-yet fashionable long lens shots…

STUDS LONIGAN carries its literary origins somewhat heavily, as if producer/screenwriter Philip Yordan really felt the weight of responsibility of adaptation. But it’s a fascinating artifact — Irving Lerner, a talented pulp B-movie specialist with a flair for two-fisted minimalism akin to Jack Webb’s, does his best to create prohibition Chicago out of a few doorways.

As an indie no-budget studio-bound art film, the movie is nicely suis generis, and has genuine merits. “Jerrald” Goldsmith’s rambunctious score tries hard to tie the fragments together (Yordan has gutted James T Farrell’s trilogy and served up his favourite bits with little regard to flow or structure), and the cast sparks moments of excitement. Christopher Knight tries hard in the lead, and when he’s taking his lead from his co-stars, he’s quite good. When he tries to emote along to his voice-over, trumping up facial contortions to accompany each line, he’s awful. But his gang includes Frank Gorshin (ever-morphing between his Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Richard Widmark impressions), Robert Casper (great nasal voice, clapped-in mouth, a real character) and Jack Nicholson, who isn’t uncomfortable and outclassed as he appears in Corman’s THE RAVEN, but utterly in command of every scene and moment. The role of young rake seems to suit him.

A lengthy burlesque show scene has Nicholson baring his teeth and bouncing on his seat as a woman walks about the stage in a shiny dress and opera gloves for minutes on end. Never gets dull. Midway through, Lerner cuts to Studs visiting his sexy, lonely former schoolteacher (Helen Westcott), and keeps the bump and grind music going, then tracks in on the drunk Studs and shows the schoolteacher doing the burlesque act, and doing it well, as the real teacher prattles on about Mozart, sound faded way down, and the squiffled Studs psychs himself up to rape her. With flash-cutting between the real and fantasy, the scene reaches quite a frenzy, before mercifully and unexpectedly defusing itself with tenderness. If the movie had more sustained scenes and less voice-over… well, it still wouldn’t have a cinematic structure.

Lerner holds close-ups for minutes on end, turning the lack of production values into a benefit, and slashes together dutch tilts to trump up tension when the actors can’t quite muster it. His Chicago consists of one little Old New York street set and a few bare interiors. Little wonder Wexler’s ideas must have been helpful: throw everything out of focus except one item/actor. (I recently watched the Outer Limits episode The Man Who Was Never Born, shot by Wexler — he was a genius right from the off.)

Lerner’s collaborator on the acclaimed doc MUSCLE BEACH, Joseph Strick, spent his whole career tackling unfilmable literary classics, with debatable success. This was Lerner’s one real attempt at doing the same, but his tiny, unpretentious and edgy thrillers are probably of greater value. Still, as curate’s eggs go, STUDS LONIGAN is endearing, both for its modest merits and for the way it points to a putative sub-genre of cheap classic adaptations (like Welles’ MACBETH, in a way) that never quite managed to come into existence.

The Sunday Intertitle: Rise of the Footsoldier

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by dcairns

Not easy finding an intertitle in Anthony Mann’s oeuvre. Lots of opening titles thanking the people of New Mexico etc, and lots declaring the factual nature of the story we are about to see — although Mann seems to have preferred VO for such direct announcement. But this card, from MEN IN WAR (1957), just about satisfies my stringent requirements, even if it’s only “inter” the main titles and the film.

It does neatly tie the story, an Korean war existentialist crisis drama, into the historical record, connecting it to other Philip Yordan scripts filmed by Mann — EL CID and THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and THE LAST FRONTIER and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE. Yordan seems to embrace both the mythic and universal properties of the western and other period subjects, and the more specific, historically-rooted possibilities.

I’m a little wary of generalizing about Yordan as an artist though, since he fronted for so many blacklisted writers (taking a healthy cut of their fees). When it cam time to restore the names of the true authors to the films’ credits, Yordan had apparently fallen out with some of his “collaborators” and refused to confirm their involvement. This strikes me as rather improper. And since Yordan was working as producer on the Bronston epics his name is attached to as writer, I have some concerns as to whether he actually did any writing. Bernard Gordon’s memoir, Hollywood Exile, makes no mention of Yordan doing any real writing on 55 DAYS AT PEKING (great stuff about Nick Ray though).

— EXCEPT —  a viewing of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE shows so many thematic concerns and character scenarios in common with TFOTRE that it becomes inconceivable that Yordan wasn’t a prime mover on that script.

In a weird way, Yordan’s name is still quite a good badge of quality on a film’s credits though, since he chose to work with talented blacklistees whose approach was sympatico to his own. So there’s a kind of pseudo-authorial style detectable anyhow.

As both the uber-generic title and the intertitle suggest, MEN IN WAR is a microcosm of the whole history of armed conflict. At times it almost feels like this dwindling platoon are on their way back to caveman times. Characterisation is briskly confined to what we can see and hear of the men’s behaviour — large numbers of them are left largely blank, with only Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Victor Mature, James Edwards (above) and Robert Keith making strong impressions: but those impressions are VERY strong. But I can never work out which one is Anthony Ray, and the normally distinctive LQ Jones is hard to recognise.

The conflict between Robert and Aldo is very interesting because it flies in the face of traditional war movie dynamics. Not just because Ray is looking out for himself and his Colonel, having counted himself out of the war. In most war films, there’s a character who’s right and a character who’s wrong. In this movie, Ray is consistently right, in the sense of acting in a way that ensures his survival. But it’s far from certain that Ryan is wrong. Most of the time he’s an effective officer, though given to self-doubt. Many of the personal clashes arise from the fact that he’s intent on contributing to the war, and Ray just wants to get out of it alive (I’m on Ray’s side).

On a first viewing, the ending, where Ryan reads out the names of his fallen men so Ray can award them posthumous silver stars, seemed like the movie was backing into more conventional patriotic territory. But the fact that Ray is tossing the medals into the dust rather disproves me. Each man is being true to the character he’s shown throughout the story. Only the tiresome song on the soundtrack attempts uplift (Mann seems PLAGUED by rancid balladry — GOD’S LITTLE ACRE has one of the more listenable ones, which isn’t saying much, but THE LAST FRONTIER and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE’s title tracks could be used in aversion therapy to put people off fifties movies for life).

MEN IN WAR is a really great work, I think, in a genre I have no naturally sympathy for (supposedly Robert Ryan, a former soldier himself, shared my contempt for the glamorizing of armed conflict — but I suspect he dug this movie). As with all Mann’s best movies, the tactile/visceral strengths are inseparable from what might seem to be the contrasting quality of thoughtfulness.

UK buyers —

Hollywood Exile, or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist (Texas Film & Media Studies Series)

US —

Men in War

END of Anthony Mann Week. Tomorrow: something else! Tuesday: The Shadowplay August Impossible Film Quiz.

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