Archive for William Holden

Plane Sailing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2022 by dcairns

THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI is another Mark Robson war movie made for people who have just had a bath on a Sunday. That really is the mood it’s aimed at.

It’s not a distinguished film, but it has odd things of interest. It has to do with aircraft carriers, planes, the Korean war. William Holden flies a plane and Mickey Rooney flies a helicopter. Fredric March sails a ship. So much for characterisation. Well, in fact, Holden is bitter about being called up, Rooney is a hot-tempered Irishman who wears a leprechaun hat when doing air-sea rescue, March misses his son who was killed in action. OK now? Then so much for characterisation.

Early on, Fredric March is giving a pep talk in his cabin, but there are people moving about overhead, visible through gaps in his ceiling. This is odd. Apparently the DVD’s 1:1.33 aspect ratio is incorrect, the film was shot open-matte and so we are seeing things we shouldn’t be seeing. Still, I don’t know why March’s ceiling was built with gaps, or why somebody’s moving about up there. Possibly a boom operator?

The next thing of interest is William Holden in bed with his wife, who is Grace Kelly and who loves him. Characterisation achieved, moving on. But this is 1954 so I was mildly surprised to see man and wife in the conjugal bed, or at least a Japanese hotel bed, with neither of them keeping one foot on the floor as far as I could see. I guess the Hays Code injunction was breaking down (“the characters may be married by the audience knows very well that the actors are NOT” — didn’t anyone try casting married actors to see if they could then justify shared beds, penetrative sex, graphic childbirth?). Otto Preminger released THE MOON IS BLUE without a certification the previous year, so maybe the Breen Office felt it was adapt or die. It must’ve been a bit like Glasnost — for decades we’ve maintained brutal oppression from the fear that any laxity would lead to chaos — now we’re absolutely forced to loosen up — and the result is chaos. Next stop, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, THE EXORCIST, SWEET MOVIE…

I was excited about seeing 50s Tokyo — the world of Ozu as presented by Hollywood. But this Japan rarely resembles the native film industry’s portrayals, despite the presence of Keiko Awaji from STRAY DOG. There are some sidestreets that do call to mind Ozu’s bar-hopping scenes, but the big night club is something else — this might even be a matte painting for all I know.

The interior of “the Showboat” might be a set, too. But everything is very solid and expensive to build — showgirls circulate on a miniature battleship on rails, and the bandstand rotates. It also seems cramped, like there was no way to get the camera far back enough to see everything properly, so it feels like a real place. And it’s crazy enough to be a real place in Japan.

The big climax is pretty impressive. Apparently the air attack was used as placeholders for the effects shots in STAR WARS. It looks totally real. But I’d just seen VON RYAN’S EXPRESS, which seemed real until I started looking for frame grabs and then suddenly the model shots popped out at me. All cut together expertly — Robson was an assistant editor on CITIZEN KANE I think and cut CAT PEOPLE — so your eye follows a real Messerschmidt across an edit where it becomes a toy plane, and William Holden fires an MG-42 on a sound stage and his stand-in fires it from a real train and a model train gets strafed…

So, basing this solely on what the film DOESN’T show us as we soar down into the valley, explosions all around us in the air, and we fly through clouds of smoke — we don’t see people running about on the ground — so I think they built some really big model bridges in a miniature valley with real mountains in the background. And they really flew the camera through it filming in slomo while they blew everything to blazes. And it looks real, really real. I think it’s a shame nobody gave Robson a scifi movie to make. They kept giving them to Robert Wise, who did pretty well with them for a while.

We also watched the new ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT which made two films in one night that ended with major characters dead in a ditch, covered in mud. Which was probably just the distraction we needed after having to say goodbye to the cat.

THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI stars Joe Gillis; Lisa Fremont; Dr Henry Jekyll/Mr Edward Hyde; Mr Yunioshi; Sgt. Stanislaus ‘Animal’ Kuzawa; Sgt. Det. Sgt. Walter Brown; Harumi Namaki, the girl-friend; Mingo; Jason Tully – conductor; Buzz Gunderson; Mr Osato; and Mirador Motel Night Manager.

The Sunday Intertitle: Slippin’ Jimmy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2022 by dcairns

So, having been rather busy, this week I unexpectedly got 25% busier, but that’s OK. Light blogging until the end of the month, I suspect…

Maurice Tourneur’s ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE from 1915, is a seminal work. Tourneur reprised a climactic sequence — a high angle view of characters running through a kind of maze — in 1935’s JUSTIN DE MARSEILLE.

The star is Robert Warwick, a stage actor whose dignified presence lends itself to the serious roles he played in Preston Sturges comedies (he’s studio boss Mr LeBrand in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS). The cast also includes one Robert Cummings, but not the one we know, the yet-unborn Butcher of Strasbourg. I’ll add this ersatz Cummings to my list of duplicates, along with the bogus Harrison Ford (1884-1957) and the fake William Holden (1862-1932). Although maybe, since all these guys came first, it’s the more famous versions we should be hailing as impostors.

The familiar story by O. Henry allows Tourneur to film on location in Sing Sing, by permission of the governor, who gets the first credit at the films beginning for his troubles. It’s a story of redemption or reclamation of regeneration as they quaintly called it, thus likely to appeal to those in charge of the incarceration business (which was not yet as much of a profit-making concern as it is now). Tourneur indulges his propensities for lowlife atmos and slashing shadows. Tourneur was really making the best American features of this era. Compare this movie to Walsh’s more celebrated THE REGENERATION or Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION and it’s indescribably more modern in appeal.

You can watch along here:

I think I’ll treat it as a serial, blog-post-wise, as I did with LORNA DOONE. A way to keep the blogging muscles in trim without spending hours at a busy time…

TO BE CONTINUED

Cowboys will be boys

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2021 by dcairns

Blake Edwards’ other big roadshow flop, besides DARLING LILI, and made right after it, is WILD ROVERS. Maybe a kind of film maudit, a way of saying nobody likes it except us.

The movie is impressive, in an uneven kind of way. Shot by the versatile Philip H. Lathrop, who had done EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, THE PINK PANTHER and WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? for Edwards, and POINT BLANK, FINIAN’S RAINBOW and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN for others, it’s one of the handsomest westerns I’ve ever seen. And it has a marvelous score by Jerry Goldsmith which I’m still humming.

The script, written by Edwards alone — he ALWAYS had co-writers, otherwise — isn’t as strong as the visual side, upon which endless expense seems to have been lavished. An incredible range of tricky location shots. This is a seventies western so it attempts to get in on the whole revisionist bit — there’s sexual vulgarity and the west is a place of dangerous anarchy and nothing ends well for anybody. But it doesn’t seem to have a critique in mind, either of westerns or the old west. It’s a conservative film that just happens to be following seventies trends rather than fifties ones. So we get slow motion and a freeze frame and lap dissolves — the full FIDDLER ON THE ROOF panoply of nouvelle vague tricks expanded to the Panavision epic format. Interesting how this stuff was picked up particularly by the more “white elephant” branch of Hollywood cinema — there are jump cuts in FUNNY GIRL.

Penniless, ne’er-do-well cowpokes William Holden and Ryan O’Neil realise they’ll never get rich poking cows, so they rob a bank (using the same technique deployed in Barry Levinson’s BANDITS: hold the manager’s family hostage). Karl Malden, their former employer, takes this personally and sets his sons, Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker, on their trail. (It’s a great cast: add in Rachel Roberts as a shotgun-wielding madame and Moses Gunn as a dog-loving veteran, then keep adding…)

Holden and O’Neil’s characters are thoughtless idiots, addicted to boozing, brawling and whoring: a story with a clear point to it would show how their criminal career change sets off a chain of events that destroys them and a lot of others. But Edwards too often resorts to coincidence: encounters with a cougar and a suspicious and violently-inclined gambler lead to disaster. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a range war with sheepmen causes tragedy, but this has nothing to do with our protagonists’ actions.

Peckinpah has set the scene for this movie — the slomo violence and the randomness of life in the old west are milked/resorted to. As Joe Dante says, Peckinpah evoked the death of the west through the deaths of old character actors. And this caught on — even Duke Wayne started dying. The death of the western dramatised itself: the stars had grown old with the genre, which found it couldn’t outlast them. Notably, Holden doesn’t pass on his spurs to O’Neil here. And O’Neil gets shot in the same leg as in BARRY LYNDON.

The heroes aren’t as charming as Edwards seems to think, though Holden the actor certainly brings a lot of appeal. The stars apparently bonded, something not everybody can do with Ryan O’Neal, seemingly, and their camaraderie is convincing. But the tragic presence seems to be “stupid people can’t stay out of trouble” and that’s not enough, somehow. There’s more going on with their pursuers, and Skerritt and Baker are good — they’re not in any way worse humans than the heroes, but they’re not seen as charming. The key seems to be that our heroes think they’re in a comedy, and they’re wrong, while the posse know they’re in a generational tragedy. Or Skerritt does. The reliably dyspeptic Baker just thinks the whole manhunt is a terrible drag. The trouble with these scenes is they’re repetitive.

I’m glad I saw the extended version, but it’s longer than it needs to be. The beautiful snowy horse-wrangling scene, which may be the one that fully earwormed the score into my brain, goes on so long you become aware that were intercutting a medium shot of Holden, no doubt riding a mechanical bull affair with a stuntman on a real horse. Later, we can see some snow is fake. Problems that could have been solved if Edwards hadn’t seen “long” as a cardinal virtue.

But I think you should see this! Image and score are so good, and there’s something going on here, even if not all of it is fully compelling or original.