Archive for Track of the Cat

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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Quote of the day: “An intellectual carrot? The mind boggles.”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , on January 27, 2008 by dcairns

What is William A. Wellman’s secret legume identity? 

Wild Bill 

‘Most motion picture directors are a little screwy. I know that fliers are, and I have been both, so draw your own conclusions. Now, to add to my illness–there goes that horrible word again–the green hornets, and a hatred for inactivity, and it’s a wonder they haven’t rolled the wagon up and put me in a straitjacket, and deposited me in a padded cell. I guess I’m still alright though; I haven’t screamed. I’ve given vent to every other sound you can imagine, but that one I’m holding back until I become a vegetable. What kind of a vegetable? Not a potato or a lettuce or a carrot. An onion, that’s it. That seems to suit me better. Strong to stomach, has a pungent odor, and makes you cry bogus tears.

For years, I have wanted to make a black and white picture in color. Reread that sentence again. Now reread the above paragraph. Now we understand each other.’

~ William A. Wellman, A Short Time for Insanity, an Autobiography.

Track of the Cat

Track of the Cat 2

Track of the Cat 3

Images from Wellman’s TRACK OF THE CAT.