Archive for William Holden

The Christopher Movement

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2018 by dcairns

This is the only film Leo McCarey shot between GOOD SAM in 1948 and MY SON JOHN in 1952.

It’s a sort of documentary made for the Christopher Movement, a Catholic organisation dedicated to, I guess, getting more Catholics into government, education and labour organisation. It’s not, I would argue, a very distinguished piece of film. Although it’s meant to be factual rather than entertaining, it’s entirely staged. A bunch of Hollywood types discuss the movement with Father James G. Keller. Notes follow ~

  1. The best thing about the film is the wonky telecine job performed on it by the uploader or his associates. We keep zooming and panning in sudden drunken lurches at every edit, giving the conversation a woozy, drugged-out quality.
  2. William Holden may have become McCarey’s opponent on SATAN NEVER SLEEPS but he was happy to donate his time to this thing.
  3. Normally, a film with these people would be bound to be interesting, though it’s hard to think up a plot that could realistically incorporate roles for Holden, Paul Douglas, Jack Benny & Rochester, Ann Blyth, Loretta Young and Irene Dunne.
  4. Who invited the mermaid?
  5. It’s not really fair to judge Keller on how he comes across here since he wasn’t a trained actor. But I find him damned sinister. Also, he looks a good bit like McCarey. Great cheekbones.
  6. Paul Douglas’ rendition of the Declaration of Independence is not as effective as Charles Laughton’s* in RUGGLES OF RED GAP. Context is key.
  7. Despite everything, Irene Dunne gets a laugh around 13.30. She was one of McCarey’s regular visitors when he was dying, as he is here.
  8. Jack Benny gets some laughs at around 23.
  9. Bob Hope might have gotten a laugh but the sound effect is timed badly.
  10. Oh Leo, Leo, Leo.

*See comments for correction.

 

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Oh God! You Devil!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2018 by dcairns

SATAN NEVER SLEEPS on the one hand would have made a great entry for The Late Movies Blogathon but on the other hand it’s simply too depressing. One thing that makes a director’s disappointing final opus more than just dispiriting is when said director references previous, better movies. Auteur status is simultaneously confirmed and travestied. And so it is in this 1962 turkey from Leo McCarey, filmed on location in matte-painting China and on the hillsides of Wales.

There are insistent callbacks to earlier, better McCarey films, and I may have to raise my estimation of GOING MY WAY and THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S since compared to this they look like the masterpieces some benighted souls claim they are. William Holden plays a priest sent to relieve an older, more staid priest, Clifton Webb (GOING MY WAY is basically reprised in this idea). A new element is added: Holden has saved the life of France Nuyen and she’s fallen in love with him and is basically stalking him. Then again, the story posits old-fashioned religious values against the dread communism, staged as a kind of father-son conflict (repeating MY SON JOHN). The wicked commie, Weaver Levy, dismisses the kids from the mission school upon his arrival, upsetting the nuns, as Bing Crosby does in THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S, then falls in lust with Nuyen and rapes her. When she bears his child and he tries to apologise, he falls into double-talk straight out of THE AWFUL TRUTH — “If things were the same, it would be different…” etc. Holden reunites the couple to create a nuclear family, again like Crosby in TBOSM does with William Gargan and Eva Novak. That’s right: Holden marries Nuyen to her rapist for a smiling, laughing happy ending.

This scene is made weirder by all the characters being superimposed into the church setting, and Holden’s poorly-matted vestments turn transparent like the parrot in CITIZEN KANE. Is he a ghost? Are we in space? Those painkillers poor McCarey was hooked on must’ve been some really good shit.

The characters walk down this road, there’s a cutaway to where they’re headed, and then they walk through the same shot AGAIN. Surreal.

The idea of harking back isn’t an obnoxious one in itself, and McCarey had always done it, repurposing gags from his early Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy films in features like THE AWFUL TRUTH and MY FAVORITE WIFE. Even the idea of stealing bits out of the reassuring, sentimental priest movies and deploying them in a dysfunctional, creepy movie full of neck-snapping tonal shifts might work for me because I kind of dislike the priest movies, in case you hadn’t noticed. But the film doesn’t display any of Leo’s early sure-footedness: there are a few small laughs (Burt Kwouk!) and some dramatic moments that aren’t totally abortive, but the playing is often wildly mistimed: Nuyen and Webb might be acting via satellite link with time-lag. McCarey knew there was a problem: he told Daney & Scorecki (and Bogdanovich, in identical language) that he didn’t like Holden, Webb or Nuyen. Probably, as director and producer, he shouldn’t have cast them, then.

At least with Holden his dislike seems motivated: he claimed Holden nixed his preferred ending, which would have seen the character looking to the heavens for a sign from God, and being inspired by a helicopter (rather anachronistically for 1948 China, I suspect), and then giving his life to save the others. The revised climax leaves Holden standing as an impotent witness to a lesser character’s sacrifice, so it’s hard to imagine an action star preferring this, and Holden had cheerfully died for Wilder and Lean and would do so again for Peckinpah. I’m probably missing a few. I think it might have been the helicopter-as-sign-from-God bit that Holden objected to, since this isn’t used in the film as it stands, where it could presumably have been retained. But then Holden could still have died.

Anyhow, Leo lost all enthusiasm and let his assistant finish the last week of shooting.

Weirdly, the movie, at two hours and five minutes, is EXACTLY the same running time as both GOING MY WAY and THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S. Theories welcomed.

Peck’s Bad Boy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2011 by dcairns

I have to say that Fred Zinnemann’s BEHOLD A PALE HORSE deserves its comparatively low status among his work, but it’s still full of interest. Based on a novel by the director’s old Berlin coffee house buddy Emeric Pressburger, it’s set in more or less contemporary Spain and across the border in France, where a die-hard rebel (Gregory Peck) is carrying on the Civil War as a personal feud with Guardia Civil chief Anthony Quinn.

At two hours, the film feels sluggish, in part because J.P. Miller’s script features minor characters not essential to the action — either they were in the book, or have been added to give Quinn’s character more “depth”. The effect is to further diffuse a movie which seems uncertain who its main character is. We’re introduced to the story through the eyes of a young boy (Marietto, a typically excellent Zinnemann juvenile), pick up Peck, follow Quinn for a while, and then bond with Omar Sharif (!) as a priest who gets mixed up in the action due to the dying wish of Peck’s mother.

Another reason for the prevailing inertia (apart from maybe a certain lack of energy in Zinnemann’s handling at times) is the story structure, in which Peck conceives of a daring mission in Act 1 — his mother is dying, under armed guard, and he wants to circumvent the Spanish authorities, break into the hospital, and see her — which is then endlessly deferred by a series of almost Bunuelian plot digressions. Some of the intervening action is exciting or compelling in its own right, but at the back of our mind is the knowledge that a gripping adventure awaits that we’re just not getting to, and that has the effect of making what’s currently onscreen seem less exciting.

There’s also the problem of casting. The first section of story has Marietto visiting Peck, a friend of his late father’s, to ask him to avenge dad’s death by killing Quinn — in other words, it’s TRUE GRIT before the fact. And, as in TG, the kid is severely disappointed by what he finds, at first wondering if the old guy slumped in the dingy hovel is the father of the man he’s looking for. The problem, of course, and it’s a fatal one for a movie about a man approaching old age and opting for a dramatic death, is that Peck looks remarkably healthy for his age. A certain tightness of the shirt about the belly does not serve to evoke advancing decrepitude (and we also have our outside knowledge that G.P. would last almost another forty years).

And of course Peck is his usual staunch, stolid self, with nothing of the bandit and less of the Spaniard about him. Did any actor of reasonable ability ever evoke so many recasting fantasies? Imagine Robert Ryan as Ahab in MOBY DICK, James Stewart as Sam Bowden in CAPE FEAR (in which Peck is good). Even in ROMAN HOLIDAY, which seems to work like a dream, I could be persuaded that William Holden might have raised it to an even higher level (there’s never any doubt that Peck will behave nobly, whereas with Holden, doubt is in his DNA).

The Brêche de Roland, 8,000 feet up in the Pyrenees. Such is my naivety, I assumed this HAD to be a matte shot. It’s real!

Zinnemann’s hand is otherwise quite sure, with some striking sequences and performances. Quinn doesn’t overact, and while it’s hard to figure out how Sharif wound up in a French monastery, he’s very soulful and effective. The movie’s not too strong on explaining the political background — Zinnemann worried that he was glorifying a terrorist, but a sterner eye on the Franco regime’s abuses might have alleviated his concerns.

And Peck gets one terrific scene, a classic of poetic understatement, excerpted for your pleasure here. He’s finally off on his mission, one of certain death. He pauses, and there’s an erotic distraction. But it’s too late for that kind of thing.

Gregory Peckory from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The cameo role of the girl is performed by Elizabeth Wiener! — Clouzot’s LA PRISONNIERE, Rivette’s DUELLE. And I can forgive both Peck and Maurice Jarre their many sins, looking at something like this.

As in the delightful, allusive moment in THE SUNDOWNERS where Deborah Kerr stares wistfully at a glamorous woman on a train, contrasting with her own sun-bleached, wind-blown appearance, nothing is spoken but everything gets said.