Archive for Warner Bros

I Covet the Waterfront

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2020 by dcairns

Here’s a minor but highly enjoyable Litvak WB drama with a comic tone — a companion in some ways to THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE. As with that charming oddity, there’s a serious villain and a comic hero, or in this case, heroes.

Or is that strictly correct? The pic’s leading man is John Garfield, who gets the screen time commensurate with this status, and what I suppose we must call the romance, with Ida Lupini. Garfield plays a nasty character, not only a racketeer but a sadist, albeit one with dangerous charisma and a slick line of chat.

The film’s clitterhousing is divided by part-time fishermen Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen (in maybe the closest he got to co-lead). Garfield’s protection racket puts the squeeze on them, the law proves ineffectual (the script’s least convincing moment, and surely it could have been made credible) and they are driven to contemplate… murder.

The trouble is, unlike Clitterhouse, who was what I’m going to term genre-fluid, able to become a melodramatic psycho when the plot demanded it, then shift back to absurdity, these guys exist in only a few closely-aligned modes — sympathetic, pathetic, and comic. Can comic characters kill a serious one, and get away with it under the Production Code? As with CLITTERHOUSE, the answer is surprising.

Maybe the balance isn’t as neat as in DR. C., and maybe that’s because Garfield has to be given a substantial enough role to justify his presence, or maybe he’s not given enough genuine appeal to make his wooing of Lupino compelling (she loses sympathy for taking any interest in him, over poor Eddie Albert’s honest schnook). But still, it generates a ton of suspense and gets itself out of narrative trouble with surprising wrinkles. Fun.

Plenty of the the eponymous fog fog fog, and WB atmosphere. The impressive dock set seems to be decorated with one of Errol Flynn’s cast-off galleons.

OUT OF THE FOG stars Porfirio Diaz; Elvira Bonner; Uncle Billy; Irving Radovich; Nicholas Pappalas; Miser Stevens; Kate Canaday; Miles Archer; Delphine Detaille; ‘Slip’ Mahoney; Louie Dumbrowsky; Minor Role (uncredited); Wormy; McNab; Uncle John Joad; Big Bertha; and Hamilton Burger.

The Sunday Intertitle: All this, and Halloween too

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2020 by dcairns

“If l could get at Warner Bros a picture with Bette Davis, whom I considered an excellent actress,·or anybody of this kind, I was happy,
no matter how bad the subject was nor how little time I had to do the picture. The whole conception of picturemaking was not to do something too bad (this, already, made us very happy), for this weekly check we were getting.” ~ Anatole Litvak, Oral History.

The sense that the scenarists of ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO are not quite on top of things is reawakened by the surprise appearance of two seasonal intertitles well into the second act. Given that the story is being narrated by Bette Davis during a French class — those kids are going to be utterly at sea in Le Havre — one wonders, did Bette include the intertitle in her recounting of how her arrival as governess for the children of Charles Boyer and Barbara O’Neil (Scarlett O’Hara’s mum; quite bad in this) caused everyone to die. You definitely get a much better experience with this mostly stodgy, “quality” drama from WB if you imagine that Bette is lying her ass off and she’s totally murdered everyone, including her class. We could come out of flashback to find her surrounded by corpses at schooldesks.

The Halloween sequence abruptly allows Anatole Litvak to conjure some nice spooky atmosphere, then it’s back to the wretched plot. The interesting thing about the true story this derives from is that it helped inspire the 1848 revolution, but we don’t see any of that.

My cunning plan was, or should have been, to make Anatole Litvak Week One take us up to the war, which caused a dramatic shift in Litvak’s whole approach to his work. But I’ve run out of weekdays and I have pieces to write on CASTLE ON THE HUDSON, CITY FOR CONQUEST, OUT OF THE FOG, BLUES IN THE NIGHT and maybe THIS ABOVE ALL (dunno, haven’t watched yet). Three of the above are going to share a single post, though. To hell with THE SISTERS. So what I’ll maybe do is run a couple of pieces next week on their own, just to keep the cauldron simmering, and jump back into Week Two, as planned, in November.

Still, ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO stars Margo Channing; Adam Belinsky; Lloyd Hart; Ellen – his wife; Dinah Lord; Parthy Ann Hawks; Oliver Larrabee; Garbitsch; Colonel Skeffington; Walter Parks Thatcher; Lord Marshmorton; Mrs. Pike; Maureen Robinson; Randy Monaghan – as a Girl; Lars-Erik; Franz Liszt; Rameses I; Pa Dillinger (uncredited); Mrs. Stark – Jim’s grandmother; James Kirkham; and undetermined secondary role.

Litvak in Anger

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2020 by dcairns

“[…] very few studios at that time would dare to make a picture of that kind. Jack and Harry· Warner let me do it. I had trouble in inducing them to do it. They got scared many times — they got scared even practically before we started the picture — but they finally let me do it, which is the most important thing.” Anatole Litvak, oral history.

Screenwriter John Wexley told Patrick McGilligan: “[…] we had big problems with the German embassy and consulate and with the German-American Bund. Then Martin Dies, who started the House Unamerican Activities Committee […] came to Warner Brothers to try to change Nazi Spy so that it would include anti-Communists as well as anti-Nazis. But the Communists had not done any espionage, so we couldn’t include them — besides which, we were dealing with an actual case. […] I saw Dies going out of Warner’s office as I went in through an anteroom. I told Warner, ‘I saw Dies coming out of here. Are you knuckling under to that pipsqueak congressman from Texas?’ He said, ‘Oh, I told him off. But if you could work in something about the pinkos.'”

Ben Urwand, in The Collaboration, writes about chief censor Joseph Breen’s concerns: “[…] he understood that a controversial picture by Warner Brothers might endanger the business of other studios still selling movies in Germany. Nevertheless, after going through the script, he was forced to admit that the picture was technically within the provisions of the Production Code: it represented Germany “honestly” and “fairly” because it told a story of espionage that had not only been verified in a court of law but was also common knowledge throughout the United States.”

CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939), which I first wrote about here, is fairly famous now as the film which sparked an international incident that could, in theory, have brought the US into WWII two years early in a timely fashion. Yet this raised profile doesn’t seem to have done that much for the reputation of its director.

By happy chance I stumbled on a copy of Ben Urwand’s controversial The Collaboration in my favourite charity shop (St, Columba’s Bookshop) — he devotes a good few pages to this movie, seeing it as the exception that proves his thesis that the Hollywood studios bent over backwards to appease Nazi Germany.

To denigrate the courage of Warner Bros in making an anti-Nazi film, Urwand says, “Despite all the drama and secrecy, however, Confessions of a Nazi Spy was by no means a great film. Warner Brothers claimed to have spent over $1.5 million on it, but the actual figure was closer to $650,000.” Firstly, I don’t see that the budget has any direct bearing on the film’s greatness or lack thereof, and I feel amusement and affection regarding the typical crooked and cheap way the studio operated here. Urwand is plain wrong to call it an obvious B-picture — even though star Edward G. Robinson doesn’t appear until comparatively late in the show, his presence is enough to lift it to A-picture status, even without the bonus value of Francis Lederer, George Sanders and Paul Lukas.

I’m grateful to Urwand for reporting that Joseph Goebbels was apparently delighted to see himself portrayed in a Hollywood film by Martin Kosleck, as well he might be — Kosleck is adpet at creepiness but is much better looking that Goebbels. “I myself play a main role and not even a particularly unpleasant one,” JG gloated in his diary.

But Hollywood has never made propaganda films to have an effect on the enemy, but on the American public first and allies second. Goebbels wrote,”I do not consider the film dangerous […] It arouses fear in our enemies rather than anger and hate.” Far be it from me to belittle Joe’s expertise in this field, but very possibly Americans needed to be alarmed first, before they could be aroused to aggression. I mean, that’s why Pearl Harbour was such a smashing success, surely?

The movie isn’t my favourite Litvak but I love that he and Warners made it. It has an unusual structure, simply following the development and then rolling-up of the Nazi spy operation, which

This movie comes from the period when Don Siegel was running the Warners montage department, and, under the deranged influence of Slavko Vorkapich over at MGM, was pushing the studio’s montages in a more radical, symbolic and visual ambitious direction. He has several good stories about his work on Litvak films. How true they are is known only to the principle characters, who are dead.

On CONFESSIONS, Siegel wanted to show Nazi propaganda leaflets dropped onto a city street. He figured out that the best way to show the content of the leaflets and their distribution almost at once would be to start on a tight view of a single flier, then have it drop away from the lens, revealing many more identical fliers all falling down upon the outraged citizenry from an appropriately great height.

So: a sturdy plank was projected from the roof of a tall building with a camera on the end of it, pointing straight down. An operator was to hold a leaflet in front of the lens, then let it go at the appropriate moment while assistants tossed hundreds more leaflets off the building, then he had to rack focus quickly from VERY CLOSE to INFINITY. This was being done without any permissions and so the hope was they’d be able to see genuine passers-by picking up the falling papers and reacting to them for real.

Siegel is asked if he wants to check the shot. Not wanting to “yeller out” in front of the boys, he agrees. So he squats on the plank and edges very carefully out over the void, the plank bouncing cheerfully with each movement of his (clenching, perspiring) buttocks.

Trembling, he looks through the viewfinder. Can’t see a damn thing, Maybe it’s not racked properly.

“Looks great!” he declares, and inches tremulously back to terra firma, or its nearest Los Angeles equivalent. He never knew if the operator was onto him. But the shot turned out fine, he says.

It’s not in the film, though — only the latter part of it:

CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY stars Dr. Clitterhouse; Count Dracula – posing as Bellac Gordal; Addison DeWitt; Dr. Dohmler – Psychiatrist; Col. Dodge; May Emmerich; Angela Merrova; Woody Woodpecker; Howard Joyce; Spectator at Stoning (uncredited); Mike O’Reilly; “Concentration Camp” Ehrhardt; Captain Schultz; Reinhard Heydrich; Mrs. Barryman; Father Peter Lonergan; Norman Bissonette; Will, the Groundsman; Dwight Severn; Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls; and Adolf Hitler as himself.

Thanks to Karen Green and Columbia University for finding and supplying the Anatole Litvak oral history quoted above.