Archive for William Bendix

The Sunday Intertitle: Following Yonder Noir

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2021 by dcairns

More from THE GOLD RUSH very soon.

On Christmas day we watched the Cukor-Garland-Mason A STAR IS BORN, which I don’t think I’d ever seen all the way through. Brilliant stuff. And with a Christmas scene! So that warrants further discussion.

We also watched two seasonal thrillers. CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is obviously the greatest entry in the tinsel noir micro-sub-genre, but I had been unaware of the existence of MR. SOFT TOUCH (Gordon Douglas & Henry Levin, 1949 — not sure what mishap necessitated two journeyman directors) and COVER UP (Alfred E.Green, same year). Both are OK.

In the first, Glenn Ford is a sympathetic crook, Joe Miracle — back from the war, he’s found the mob have taken over his nightclub and killed his partner. He rips off the joint and hides out in a homeless shelter, where he uses his stack of 100Gs and his underworld acumen to help the indigents and romance Evelyn Keyes. Patterned very much on the JOHNNY O’CLOCK model, it suffers from an awkward, inconclusive ending (happy or sad?) and startling tonal shifts — Ford doing good deeds, and also smashing Roman Bohnen’s knuckles with a crank. Like they couldn’t decide if it was Damon Runyon or THE BIG HEAT.

It has the world’s most beautiful office safe, though. And I’m an Olin Howland completist so it was good seeing him as a skinny Santa (he also turned up in the Cukor).

COVER UP has nifty dialogue — banter between smart insurance man Dennis O’Keefe and smalltown cop William Bendix — as our hero tries to prove murder in a case earmarked by a whole town as suicide. O’Keefe worked on this as writer, under a pseudonym and with a small army of helpers. It has everything but an ending, wrapping up with an anticlimactic discussion which hauls it back from the brink of being an expose of small town corruption — it becomes a sympathetic cover up, in which we get to agree that the reputations of great citizens who commit the odd homicide should be protected for the general good. This rather lets it out of being a proper film noir, which is a shame.

Barbara Britton is very winning, and the very welcome appearance of Hank Worden gives a suggestion of the Twin Peaksian territory it COULD have explored…

Evidently the victim was a golf ball.

MR. SOFT TOUCH stars Dave the Dude; Suellen – Their Daughter; Cherry Valance; Mrs. Bailey; Pa Kettle; Auntie Em; Willy Garzah; Stanislaus ‘Duke’ Covelske; Candy; Kane’s father; Mrs. Hudson; Mrs. Leuchtag – Carl’s Immigrating Friend (uncredited); and Wilbur Strong.

COVER UP stars Buzz Wanchek; Montague L. ‘Monty’ Brewster; Cynthy Waters; President Harry S. Truman; Ceinwen; Inmate, Wilma Lentz; First Lady of the Land (uncredited); Lilith’s Friend in Spode Room (uncredited); and Mose Harper.

The Laddie and the Lake

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2019 by dcairns

I feel like wallowing in Paramount’s Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake pictures for a while (there are three, really, but I suppose I might get around to STAR-SPANGLED RHYTHM in which they cameo separately).

I used to think that the tiny Veronica Lake was invented specially so that the tiny Alan Ladd would have somebody to star opposite that he could look down on, but no, her stardom predates his. You might more convincingly argue that she made him possible. So it’s unfair that her stardom sputtered out before his, principally because she was forced to change her peekaboo hairstyle, but no doubt also because she didn’t have the right allies at the studio to keep her career going in the face of such an obstacle (her wartime, factory-safe new ‘do didn’t suit her as well as the old one, but something could have been worked out).

Her smile at the end of her sequence here is heartbreaking, because it’s The End and she doesn’t know it.

There was a lot more to this girl than a spectacular and distinctive (if inconvenient/dangerous) hairstyle. Lake is pretty much always the coolest, most modern player in any film she’s in, even giving noted underplayer Joel McCrea a a run for his money.

Now. Someone explain to me how THE GLASS KEY got made, and got past the censor? The whole “Crime Must Not Pay” dictum is gleefully thrown out the window here, like it annoyed Brian Donlevy or something. Everybody’s a gangster, fixer or moll, the respectable people are crooked too, and the cops are just a nuisance likely to pick up the wrong guy. Nobody reforms, and the happy ending allows vice and corruption to continue untrammelled. And we feel pretty good about it all. Well, leading man and leading lady are united, so at least the matrimonial norms are to be respected. Some liberties are no doubt taken with Dashiell Hammett”s original, but it’s still a wow on all fronts.

I must watch the George Raft version, curiously enough directed by Frank Tuttle who helped make a star out of Ladd in the previous Ladd-Lake vehicle, THIS GUN FOR HIRE. It should have been a precode but isn’t. Then there’s the other adaptation, MILLER’S CROSSING, for which the Coens could plausibly have been sued for plagiarism, and there’s YOJIMBO, which is theoretically an unlicensed version of Red Harvest — serves Kurosawa right that Leone ripped off his rip-off with A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS — but which steals the giant sadist character (played by William Bendix here and by a pituitary case in YOJIMBO) from The Glass Key, quite unapologetically. Kurosawa’s claim that The Servant of Two Masters was his real source strikes me as untrue and lawyered-up.

I once read a Michael Caine quote where he claimed, with what accuracy I don’t know, that in Japan, being a lawyer is not a very respected profession because, “In Japan, if someone cheats you and gets caught, they kill themselves. Whereas over here, they try to kill you.”

Anyway, THE GLASS KEY. Very stylishly directed by Stuart Heisler, who had great talent but only occassionally seems to hit the ball out the park. Here, he smashes a floodlight with it, to explosive and scintillating effect. The luminous Paramount style adapts well to noir if you take it by the throat and talk softly to it. Fiona points out the weirdness of Ladd getting a spectacular introductory shot in his SECOND scene, which does seem like a blunder, but it’s still a nice shot (see top).

And we have an ideal cast, with Donlevy just the right kind of honest-hearted crook (Spencer Tracy would have worked too but maybe he’d have wanted to get the girl. Or the guy?). With his elevator shoes he can just barely see over Ladd & Lake. Bendix is extraordinary, unlike any other role he had, as Fiona remarked. A guy with a very distinctive look suddenly seems like someone you’ve never seen before — a malign garden gnome, shaved and soaked with oily sweat and somehow pumped up to giant size with an injection of testosterone right in his nose. His demonic glee in beating up Ladd is clearly sexual, even more so than in the book.

Ladd is beyond perfect. For me, he only works in anti-hero roles. Allow him a measure of rectitude and he’s a colossal small bore. Even playing a gunfighter in SHANE he’s a little too nice. Here, he gets his cold smile out a lot, and is a real Hammett hero, cards close to his chest, which beats with an icy heart. We’ll allow that he has a code, but it has nothing to do with legality or conventional morality, just maybe his own idiosyncratic understanding of the latter.

Anyway, by the end he’s found love and can express warmth but that’s OK because the movie’s over and we don’t need to see him again.

THE GLASS KEY stars Shane; The Girl; Quatermass McGinty; Nancy Drew; Hunk Jordan; Det. Maurice Obregon; ‘Babe’ Ruth; Nyoka Meredith; Big Mac; and the voice of the Senior Angel.

 

Humonsters

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 29, 2018 by dcairns

 

                  

Reminders:

The Shadowplay podcast, known as The Shadow Cast, is here. One episode so far, but it won’t be long now, comrades.

The Shadowplay blogathon, The Late Show, runs in December. Anyone got ideas for late movie themed posts?