Archive for Richard Basehart

Tried to make me go to Ahab

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2018 by dcairns

Bits of John Huston’s MOBY DICK had Fiona’s jaw hanging open. If you could only reach into the screen, peal Gregory Peck’s image off it and replace him with someone else — Walter Huston would be right if his son had made it earlier — John himself would have been excellent, and you can see Peck straining to give Hustonian line readings — and one can imagine other leading men of the period being terrific — Robert Ryan was born to it (see BILLY BUDD), Trevor Howard could have nailed it, Robert Mitchum would have done something really surprising. Sterling Hayden had already worked with Huston so I can’t understand why he wasn’t thought of. Peck is certainly trying, but it’s a matter of essence, not just skill or willingness. And Peck’s essence is stiffness. “They’ve given him a nose and a scar and a wooden leg and he still can’t do anything!” declared a friend. He works himself into a suitable pitch, he takes risks, and none of it is particularly convincing or effective.

Maybe some of it is physiognomic: they glued on a fresh nose, but they can’t conceal the sensuous lips, which tend to look petulant rather than fierce.

However, this lack at the film’s centre seems to energize Huston — his blocking becomes both ornate and muscular, the build-up given to Peck’s appearance as Ahab is tremendous, and Philip Sainton’s score really gives it the hard sell — tragic that he never scored another film (apparently he was scheduled to do A KING IN NEW YORK, but quit, perhaps not wishing to merely transcribe his director’s humming.

Ossie Morris’s b&w/colour hybrid cinematography is consistently striking, and the whole thing has a visceral, weighty quality that even survives the unavoidable model shots — editor Russell Lloyd became a regular Huston collaborator after skillfully intercutting real whales, life-sized replicas, men and boats at sea and in the studio tank, and model shots completed months after principal photography, flicking from one to the other with such energy that the reality shifts are almost seamless. FX wise, it’s a weird case of the whale being impressive without being convincing; this at least places it a notch higher than Bruce the shark in JAWS who is neither. I mean, you know it can’t have been easy, but your hat remains on your head.

Richard Basehart is good — not too interesting, which seems right for the cypher-like Ishmael. A younger actor might have been more “right,” but Basehart being the wrong type adds the right kind of interest. His speech also has a Huston-like quality, and in Joe Losey’s FINGER OF GUILT the same year, he delivers cinema’s first full-on Huston impersonation, anticipating Clint Eastwood in WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART and Daniel Day-Lewis in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Best in show: Harry Andrews, who implausibly just seems to BE his hearty whaler character, and Leo Genn’s pensive Starbuck who can make underplaying hit hard.

An 8/10ths masterpiece. The Hollywood Gold Series Blu Ray delivers solid picture values (much better than the DVD used for these images).

MOBY DICK stars Atticus Finch, Ivan Karamazov, Sir Clifford Chatterley, Sir Lancelot Spratt, the 13th Earl of Gurney, Joe Gargery, Bob Cratchit, Tom Fury, Charles Foster Kane and the voice of the Lawgiver.


Bette’s Maps to the Stars

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 8, 2015 by dcairns


From THE STAR. Stuart Heisler’s movie about a fading star is NOT very good — it suffers from galloping conservatism and seems to imagine that Bette giving up her screen career to settle down as a housewife is what we want to see.

But this bit is great camp. I think it’s more or less unconscious, which makes it better. You can see how the writers would think, “She gets drunk and talks to her Oscar, great!” It’s useful for exposition, it all ties in nicely. And Bette fully commits. But I think she knows there’s some humour there. But the thing winds up like the Ultimate Bette Davis Scene, or the Ultimate Bette Davis Impersonation. Great joy.

It’s a very watchable movie. But one of those where you reach the end and it suddenly strikes you how un-good it was — heavy-handed and utterly on the nose, like a punch in the face. Up there with Heisler’s film about Hitler with Richard Basehart, possibly.


“Don’t Call Me Max!”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 11, 2010 by dcairns

Because Fiona insisted I get some Arnold Moss up on YouTube. Picture Laura Dern saying, “You find me some music on that radio, Sailor Ripley!” Kind of like that.

Moss is Fouché, the louche, and Richard Basehart is “Max” Robespierre. I’m always very interested in Basehart whenever I see him, but what should I see him IN? I have no actual idea what his claim to fame is, I just like the way he transforms his performance style from film to film. Here, he’s awfully good.