Archive for The Set-Up

Wise Boxes Clever

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2018 by dcairns

Our viewing of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL of course demands a follow-up screening of something or other… I felt in a way less need to investigate this time, as I’ve already seen plenty of Robert Wise films, and even a few movies involving screenwriter Edmund H. North (IN A LONELY PLACE, SINK THE BISMARCK!, DAMN THE DEFIANT! and, ahem, METEOR). I’ve even covered STRANGER FROM VENUS. But THE SET-UP, directed by Wise in 1949, was overdue for a watch…

This one’s scripted by Art Cohn, from a poem (!) by Joseph Moncure March.

It’s alright… Percy’s here…

Really terrific filmmaking — I’m on record saying that Wise’s best cinematic effects usually hinge on editing, his métier, but this one has a lot of gorgeous push-in shots, moving deeper into the urban landscape of the film. The sweaty, shadowy feel of the movie is its best feature, aided by great noir faces — Robert Ryan, Alan Baxter, Percy Helton. Even Darryl Hickman, his fresh-faced appeal like a flower in hell, by which the surrounding inferno appears all the grimmer.

The big gimmick, that the story unfolds in real time, was a cause of frustration for the filmmakers since the audience turned out to be serenely oblivious to this. All those big clocks were for naught. But the excellent sound mix — there’s no score — does have great value, with the cross-cutting between Ryan and Audrey Totter tied together by devices like a streetcar blasting past, close-up for her, distant when we cut to him. The Aristotelian Unities may be quietly helping the film along, even if most of us don’t notice. After all, Hollywood style prided itself on invisibility. Why shouldn’t we consider this, and Wellman’s TRACK OF THE CAT, with its black-and-white-in-colour aesthetic, be regarded as roaring successes precisely because nobody at the time noticed?

Totter’s walk through town seems to very clearly prefigure what Welles wanted for his opening shot of TOUCH OF EVIL, in terms of sound design.

I was genuinely puzzled about how the movie would end, though I had a feeling it couldn’t be good. For a while, it looks to be as bleak as you can get. Bleaker. Audrey Totter has a near-impossible task, spinning the tragic denouement as a triumph, and she pulls all the stops out and then breaks them off and throws them in the air. A little too much, Audrey.

But it’s impressive how RKO got away with a crime story in which the guilty go completely unpunished, and indeed the law is entirely absent.

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Rocky start

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2018 by dcairns

SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME is perhaps a better David Bowie song than it is a Robert Wise film, but it’s an interesting Robert Wise film. It’s hampered by being an unsuitable vehicle for Paul Newman, who seems to be trying awfully hard, which is of course a problem. I can believe him as a boxer. I can’t believe him as an Italianamerican (ironically, or crazily, Pier Angeli, a real Italian, plays Jewish while the half-Jewish Newman plays Italianamerican). And I can’t believe him as a mook.

Everett Sloane provides a bit of ethnic authenticity with screenwriter Ernest Lehman giving him the best lines. Sloane must be on or about his last nose reduction by now, but still looks like a guy with a big schnozz. Even though most of it’s been shaved off, you can still see it. The phantom nose.

Wise has a strategy for getting us immersed in the film before this becomes a problem, which is to hit ramming speed as soon as the main titles are over and maintain that for most of the first act. To the sheer speed is added tremendous force and, if you’ll excuse the expression, punchiness. Despite his low-budget beginnings, Wise developed a gift for making settings epic, and the New York scenes here have the same kind of breadth and dynamism he brought to WEST SIDE STORY and even THE SOUND OF MUSIC (it’s big and bloated but it MOVES). Wise, like fellow editor Mark Robson, did a lot of these overblown epics of the fifties and sixties but he was often able to put them on ball bearings and get some momentum going.

I thought it was funny that Sal Mineo stays a teenager as years go by. “Why isn’t he growing up?”

“I think he’s pretty well cooked,” said Fiona. “He’s not getting any bigger.”

I never quite got over Newman’s wrongness. Is it because I’ve seen him in too many WASP-y and articulate roles to buy this? I don’t think so. He can do the body language, in a slightly over-the-top way, and he can sort of make the sounds, but the rhythms seems way off throughout.

Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg earned his Oscar — you can see little stabs at the kind of furious expressivity RAGING BULL would introduce to the ring — this feels like the one Scorsese and Michael Chapman and Thelma Schoonmaker drew most from. But I still have to see THE SET-UP, shamefully enough.