Archive for The Man With the Golden Arm

Otto Pilot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2022 by dcairns

We had a strange Otto Preminger double feature of THE COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL and BONJOUR TRISTESSE, two of the bald auteur’s movies I’d never caught up with. I find him simply unwatchable in anything but the exactly right aspect ratio, and TCMOBM hadn’t been screened on TV in anything but wretched pan-and-scans. Seeing it in ‘Scope was a revelation — unfortunately it was a revelation of how not particularly good a film it is.

(I’ll possibly look at BONJOUR in a separate post.)

The late Billy Mitchell’s family hated the casting of Gary Cooper, saying that he was a small, explosive man, and Jimmy Cagney would have been ideal. Cagney wasn’t quite the dynamo he had been by 1955, of course, but he’d still have held the interest better than Coop. HIGH NOON would tend to suggest that he’d be a good man to suggest the character’s inner torment — basically, the lifelong military officer is forced to denounce the army’s policy toward aviation in the press, because he sees it as essential to national security. In the dock, he predicts the attack on Pearl Harbor by decades. So you could imagine Coop’s eyes revealing a lot of tension and sorrow and doubt. Doesn’t really seem to happen, though.

It’s one of those movies, also, where you know exactly what to think. Preminger is often praised today for his even-handedness, but he isn’t able to get any of that in here: Cooper’s chief opponent in the army is Charles Bickford, a competent but unlikable actor, good at unlikable roles (as in Otto’s FALLEN ANGEL). The prosecutor is played by Fred Clark, king of the fatuous falling face, hired to look astonished whenever his prosecutorial gambits collapse on him. And then they bring in the heavy hitter, top lawyer Rod Steiger, who brings all the expected chubby smarm to the role. He’s exactly the equivalent of George C. Scott’s dangerous opponent in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, but Scott is wonderfully unexpected in that role, which can’t be said for Rod. As Fiona observed in astonishment back when we viewed AOAM for the first time, “My God, George is sexy, even though he’s… almost deformed.” Sexy gargoyle beats smirking dumpling.

Still, Rod brings the entertainment. Prior to his appearance, there are some future TV stars making brief appearances, but the most characterful turn is by Ralph Bellamy, whom we love, but who perhaps can’t quite add the necessary animation and engagement to a static colossus like this. As an early Cinemascope film, the movie lacks the fluidity and dynamism of later Preminger outings — lots of flat twos. His previous MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, though hampered by cheap sets, was vastly more interesting.

The correct pairing for this film would have been IN HARM’S WAY, where Billy Mitchell’s prophecy of air war comes horribly true, but that would have been a REALLY dull evening.

THE COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL stars Longfellow Deeds; Oliver Niles; Bruce Baldwin; Mr. Joyboy; Lizzie Borden; Sheldrake; Honorious; Felix Leiter; Captain Clarence Oveur; Carl Kolchak; J. Jonah Jameson; Ben Hubbard; Cueball; Horace Greeley (uncredited); Lover Boy; Detective Dickens; and Fanning Nelson (uncredited).

Kim Walks Amuck

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on June 8, 2013 by dcairns

Sometimes you just want to grab a shot, isolate it, and hold it up to the light. A walk, a mermaid dress, an elegant camera move. In this case, for some reason the soundtrack refused to come with it, so we have to do without.

The first time I watched THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM I was bothered by the unconvincing, claustrophobic sets. This time round, I had the experience of having been to New York and the production design seemed to capture something authentic about the place — perhaps that very enclosed feeling. Though director Otto Preminger would abandon the studio, pretty much (that last scene in THE HUMAN FACTOR seems to violate his locations-only rule about as brazenly as you could wish for), his earlier films do make sensational use of the ability to film interior and exterior in the same shot, something that’s tricky out in the real world unless you have very bright lights to make the stuff indoors almost as bright as the stuff outdoors.

Bass relief

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2008 by dcairns

CARMEN JONES. 

The start of the Bass-Preminger collaboration…

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM.

Title sequences by Saul Bass. It’s interesting that Otto Preminger, something of a control freak one might think, was happy to basically hand over the openings of his movies to somebody else to direct. I mean, no doubt Bass and Preminger discussed these sequences intensively. But they still smack of untrammelled creativity, so it would be astonishing to me if Otto interfered much after the concept was agreed.

But then, Otto was also able to collaborate effectively with some great composers, and of course there again the filmmaker must entrust a large part of the movie to somebody else, somebody who cannot be directed in quite the same way as an actor or cinematographer…

SAINT JOAN. Impressive how Bass’s hip work merges so well with the period flavour.

BONJOUR TRISTESSE.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER. A classic.

EXODUS. “Otto, let my people go!”

ADVISE AND CONSENT.

“When the Saul Bass credits conclude with the dome of the Capitol lifting to reveal Preminger’s name, the limitations of the whole enterprise are already apparent.” ~ Jonathan Rosenbaum.

THE CARDINAL. Again, simple but stunning due to the careful design of action and lettering together.

IN HARM’S WAY. Just the placement of the words over the image is beautiful, it makes it inexplicable why so many title sequences don’t seem to bother with composition at all.

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING. Probably my favourite late Preminger, of those I’ve been able to see in decent form. The best ever Olivier film performance, and a superb turn from Noel Coward.

THE HUMAN FACTOR.

Preminger, a useful combination of artist and huckster, undoubtably borrowed from Hitchcock’s zesty promotional gimmickry, pushing himself forward as a personality, as a bigger star than those in his films, and even narrating his own movie trailers in a lugubrious fashion (Hitch was way better at that though). But Preminger was the first to use the iconic Saul Bass as titles designer (unity was achieved by having Bass design ALL the publicity material as well).