Book reviews, movie reviews, classic movie picks, classic actor picks, a discussion about all things arty.
|Posted on February 17, 2021 at 4:25 PM||comments (6)|
KISS OF DEATH
NOTES ON COLLEEN GRAY
BLOG #GRAY DRAFT
Coleen Gray who made “Kiss of Death” with Victor Mature in 1947, helped Eddie Muller (TCM Film Noir Host) write the book “Dark City Dames” (2001)
The following are notes from the section of the book written about Coleen Gray.
Gray started out her career wanting to play “bad girl” parts. But, casting directors didn’t see her as a femme fatal. She just looked (and I would guess) acted too wholesome. A native of Nebraska, everything about her just screamed small town, naive and wholesome.
Her first appearance in a film was a bit part in “State Fair” where she said one line: “Hey, Pappy, there ain’t two seats together.” She told Muller: “I was a Minnesota cornball if there ever was one.”
In “Kiss of Death” her first real role, she wasn’t exactly a “cornball.” She played the former babysitter of hoodlum Victor Mature’s children. While getting involved with the babysitter might sound racy, Mature’s wife was conveniently dead by the time Gray showed up in the movie. And, she is engaged in an act of mercy. She is visiting Mature in prison to tell him his children are alright. Romance follows shortly after when Mature is paroled. Gray and Mature get married and for the rest of the film, Gray plays the loyal and concerned housewife and step-mother.
It wasn’t until four years later, that Gray was cast in “Sleeping City” (1950) and had her chance to play a character on the other side of the law. But, even in this part, she is cast as a nurse, dressed in the crisp white uniform. And, her involvement with the underworld drug trade is only to get enough money for her kid sister’s operation. Underneath, her character has a heart of gold.
“I was always Goody Two-shoes.” She is quoted as saying in Muller’s book.
Gray admittedly had big self-esteem problems. While she was making a film, she was backstage in her dressing room, reading the want ads, convinced that she would never get another part.
“I was always surprised when they cast me in another picture” she told Muller.
By the time she made Sleeping, she was a mother and Fox had failed to renew her contract. She was working as an independent. By that time as well she and her first husband Rod Amateau were separated.
Amateau had been working as a writer at Fox. He was assigned to handled Gray when she made her first screen test. They were soon a couple, each looking out for the other’s career. When they got married, Gray said, Rod refused to allow her to eat a slice of the wedding cake. He had heard people around the studio talking about her being too fat to be considered a starlet.
This brings to mind the stories about how the studio virtually tortured Judy Garland over her weight. Garland’s drug abuse problems were in part started when the studio demanded almost 24 hour a day work and a starvation diet.
Gray descried her relationship with Amateau as being difficult. He was “bombastic” and liked confrontation. Gray didn’t’. He would yell and argue and she would “internalize” all the negativity. The relationship which started when she was making Kiss of Death, was over by the time she made Sleeping.
|Posted on January 29, 2021 at 1:40 PM||comments (0)|
Dombey and Son (2007)
Amazon Prime (in French with subtitles)
Based on the novel by Charles Dickens
An extremely handsome but annoying very rich man proceeds to ruin his life and the lives of those around him before finally coming to terms with his sins.
Dombey and Sons is not considered to be one of Charles Dickens’ best novels, but I found it to be worth watching both adaptations and getting the novel on Audible.
The name “Dombey and Son” is a clever turn about for a novel essentially about very strong women, Dombey’s daughter, his second wife and a housekeeper. The son who is the focus of “Dombey and Son” doesn’t last long. He dies as a child.
The father, Dombey, is obsessed not so much with the son, as with the idea of a son. The idea of “Dombey and Son” dominates his life and causes him to largely dismiss and ignore the women around him and be fooled by various men.
Dombey is obsessed with the idea of carrying on the “Dombey and Son” business. He virtually ignores his daughter, obsesses on the possibility of a son, largely ignores the death of his first wife so focused is he on the birth of a son.
But, even though he is almost exclusively focused on this idea of a son, he is so oblivious to his actual son, it takes years before he finds out (from the little boy) that the boy is sick. He has to go to his sister (Dombey’s sister) to ask if there is something wrong with the boy.
I have a feeling this is an overshadowed Dickens novel that deserves more attention. Other people evidently thought so as well. There was a 1983 version made by the BBC, and the 2007 French version.
Having watched both, I would highly recommend the French version. First, Dombey is a much more attractive man in the French version. He is infuriating as a character because he can’t seem to see what is going on in front of his face, and yours since you are watching. But, at least he is pleasant to watch. The actor playing Dombey in the 1983 version is stilted and unlikeable.
Now, having said that, had I watched the 1983 version first, I might feel differently. I don’t know.
But, if you are less obsessive than I am and only want to watch one version, the French version is much better. There are a few reasons why:
• The costumes are better.
• Dombey is better looking and I think the actor does a better job of interpreting Dombey. This would not be an easy part. Dombey the character is reserved to the point of being stony, so obtuse as to be infuriating, but he has a lot of screen time. The English Dombey seems to play the part at one level. The French Dombey manages to work all kinds of nuance into a part that is written to be emotionally unavailable.
• The French version is just beautifully filmed. The sets are lovely, much of the action takes place within houses.
• The choices of which scenes to include in the film is better in the French version. Some of the characters are combined (two of the nannies, for example) in a way that makes the story flow better.
Review Comments of 2007 Version
• “a great adaptation”
• “one of my favorites that are based on Dickens’ work”
• “beautifully realized adaptation:
• “engaging plot and interesting characters draw you in.”
• “script was tight”
• “This is a wonderfully dense book about families and gender roles…”
Left out of the 2007 version is the fact that the great power of Dombey and Son is that of the railways. The way Dickens envelopes the story inside the growth and development of the railway and what it does to life. The advent of the railway is described on one of the early chapters as a kind of “earthquake.” By the end of the story, trains have taken over life.
"There were railway hotels, office-houses, lodging-houses, boarding-houses; railway plans, maps, views … There was even railway time observed in clocks, as if the sun itself had given in."
This back story is absent in both the film adaptations.
|Posted on January 18, 2021 at 9:15 PM||comments (0)|
KISS OF DEATH (1947)
Richard Widmark (1914-2008)
Richard Widmark was a film, stage and television actor as well as a producer. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor academy award for his first film part playing Tommy Udo in “Kiss of Death” (1947).
Widmark started college wanting to be a lawyer, but as the story goes, he played the part of a lawyer in a college play. He was hooked. He then studied acting at Lake Forest College. After graduation in 1936, he taught acting at the same college.
Widmark made his radio debut in 1938 and was heard regularly on the radio (including on The Shadow) between 1941 and 1942. By 1943, he was on Broadway. Widmark was unable to join the military because of a perforated eardrum.
Widmark was in Chicago appearing in a play when 20th Century Fox signed him to a seven-year contract. Widmark benefited from the shortage of actors during WWII.
Widmark was 33 when he played Tommy Udo. As Widmark stated, the director of “Kiss of Death” Henry Hathaway, “didn’t want me. I have a high forehead, he thought I looked too intellectual.” And, Widmark had not played the part of criminals in his stage work. It seems Hathaway’s reaction to Widmark, ignoring his screen test, was a combination of not being able to think of Widmark in the role of a criminal (because of the way he looked and also because of the parts he had previously played) and the fact that Hathaway was set on casting a very different actor.
Fortunately for all of us studio boss, Darryl F. Zanuk, overruled Hathaway. And so, as Widmark stated: “Hathaway gave me kind of a bad time.”
Hathaway was known as “screaming Henry” and had a reputation of being verbally abusive to actors. But, from the first scene Widmark acted on set (Eddie Muller says this was the scene where he pushes a helpless crippled woman down a staircase) they must have known they had an electrifying performance in Widmark.
By the time they got to distributing the film, the publicity department was advising theatres to market the film by concentrating on Widmark.
Widmark, of course, played the same part in subsequent films and became bored with the typecasting. By 1948, he was pressuring the studio for other types of parts.
In 1949, he played a sailor in “Down to the Sea in Ships” and Life Magazine did a a spread on the film entitled “Widmark the Movie Villian Goes Straight.”
Elia Kazan then cast Widmark in “Panic in the Streets” (1950) not as the heavy, played by Jack Palance, but as the doctor who tracks Palance down.
After showing he could play other types of parts, Widmark was not afraid to go back to playing the heavy. He played Harry Fabian in “Night and the City” (1950). Both his performance and the film itself became iconic in film noir.
In 1954, as his contract was coming to an end, he was cast in “Broken Lance.” He was billed beneath not only Spencer Tracy but Robert Wagner and Jean Peters. Then, Widmark’s contract was not renewed.
Widmark, like many others in the same circumstance, decided to go freelance. He formed his own company, Heath Productions.”
Widmark did John Wayne’s ode to suicidal patriotism, “The Alamo” (1960). He was arguably the best thing in the movie.
In “Judgement in Nuremberg” his part was small but it was the axis on which the drama turned.
After Kiss of Death, Widmark worked steadily until his retirement at 76.
Towards the end, Widmark felt that “movie-making has lost a lot of its magic.” In an interview in 2002, he said: Movie making had become “mostly a mechanical process…All they want to do is move the camera around like it was on a rollercoaster. A great director like John Ford knew how to handle it. Ford didn’t move the camera, he moved the people.”
Widmark did television. He did a famous episode of I Love Lucy where he played himself. He appeared in the TV movie “Vanished (1971). In 1974, he played one of the four actors depicting Benjamin Franklin.
Widmark married screenwriter Jean Hazlewood in 1942. He remained married to her until her death in 1997. In 1999, he married Susan Blanchard who had been Henry Fonda’s third wife.
Even though Widmark made a career off playing men with guns, he disliked weapons and was involved in several gun control initiatives. In 1976, he stated: "I know I've made kind of a half-assed career out of violence, but I abhor violence. I am an ardent supporter of gun control. It seems incredible to me that the United States is the only civilized nation that does not put some effective control on guns." Widmark was a life-long Democrat.
|Posted on January 17, 2021 at 5:10 PM||comments (0)|
You can watch "Kiss of Death" here:
|Posted on December 30, 2020 at 6:55 PM||comments (0)|
Kiss of Death (1947)
KISS OF DEATH (1947)
Topics: Film-Noir, Crime, Victor Mature, Richard Widmark,
Victor Mature (Nick) becomes a squealer for the DA’ (Brian Donlevy) because of his children. The problem is that he squeals on a psychotic criminal (Richard Widmark).
ctor: Henry Hathaway
Writer: Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer (screen play) from a story by Eleazar Lipsky
Starring Victor Mature, Brian Donleavy, Collen Gray, Richard Widmmark, Karl Malden, Robert Adler
Minor players: Mildred Dunnock (Mrs. Rizzo), Harry Landers (Convict), Millard Mitchell (Detective Shelby, uncredited), Tito Vuolo (Luigi, uncredited)
Set Decoration, Thomas Little
Costumes: Charles Le Maire
Other Versions: 1995, starring Nicolas Cage, David Caruso, Samuel L. Jackson
|Posted on October 25, 2020 at 4:10 PM||comments (3)|
The Painted Veil (2006)
Stars: Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Live Schreiber
Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner
This adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s novel is much closer to the original than the Greta Garbo vehicle (1934). The Garbo version inserts a whitewashed family life for Kitty in London before she marries, and a romanticized reconciliation of Kitty and her husband Walter at the end. In between, Garbo’s affair with Charlie (George Brent) is used, but much of the wonderful, painful, insightful, dialogue between Kitty and Charlie and Kitty and her husband is left out.
But, even the 2006 version changes the novel in substantial ways. The actor who plays Walter Fane, Edward Norton, collaborated with the screenwriter and so it’s no surprise that Walter Fane’s role was expanded. The Wikipedia write-up nores that the novel was considered “one-dimentional” and as Norton phrased it, “almost unremittingly bleak.” So, as in the 1934 version, the two main characters end by reconciling with each other and falling in love.
Edward Norton explained, "I like to think that we didn't change the book so much as liberate it. We just imagined it on a slightly bigger scale, and made external some of what is internal in the novel." The actor explained of the change to the story, "I went on the assumption that if you were willing to allow Walter and Kitty to grow... you had the potential for a love story that was both tragic and meaningful."
Norton considered The Painted Veil to be in the spirit of films like Out of Africa (1985) and The English Patient (1996), seeing it as "rooted in really looking at the way that men and women hurt each other".
Norton also had a different view of the nature of British colonials. Norton believed that Maugham thought that the British colonials were unlikely to change. Norton had a less bleak interpretation.
Norton described the character Walter Fane served as "the proxy for the arrogance of Western rationalism", explaining about Fane's confusion at the lack of gratitude for his help, "Walter means well, but he's the folly of empire, and that adds a whole new dimension to what happens in the story. It's a metaphor for the way empires get crushed.”
Director John Curran suggested setting the film during 1925, when the events of the Chinese nationalist movement were taking place. Norton, who had studied Chinese history at Yale University, agreed with the suggestion. To detail scenes from the time period, Curran, Norton, and Nyswaner relied on excerpts from historian Jonathan Spence's 1969 book To Change China, which covered the inept efforts of Western advisers during these years.
|Posted on September 25, 2020 at 6:05 PM||comments (0)|
Adrian Adolph Greenburg (1903-1959)
Adrian designed the costumes for hundreds of MGM films between 1928 and 1941, most famously for the Wizard of Oz. He designed the ruby slippers.
He worked for the biggest stars of the day – Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Jeanette MacDonald, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford.
Famous films: The Women (which included a technicolor fashion of his designs), Romeo and Juliet, The Great Ziegfeld, Camille, Marie Antoinette.
He left MGM partly over disputes with George Cukor and Louis B Mayer over the style of costumes for Greta Garbo in “Two-Faced Woman.”
|Posted on September 23, 2020 at 6:40 PM||comments (0)|
THE PAINTED VEIL (1934)
Greta Garbo, Herbert Marshall, George Brent
• 1957 with Eleanor Parker (the Seventh Sin).
• 2006 with Naomi Watts.
Directed by Richard Boleslawski
Screenplay: John Meehan, Salka Viertel and Edith Fitzgerald
Based on the novel by Somerset Maugham (1925)
Film Editor: Hugh Wynn
Costumes by Adrian.
During the early 20s, Garbo made an extraordinary amount money for the studio. Feeling her power, she fought for and gained more control over her roles after a contract dispute in 1925 and 1925.
I suppose we can assume then that she was a big part in choosing this role for herself. As I wrote in the Part 1, I think almost all of the energy of the production was invested in Garbo to the detriment of the two male leads (George Brent and Herbert Marshall)
Marshall and Brent
Herbert Marshall and George Brent are two of my favorite male actors of this era. I was astounded when I first started reading the reviews of “The Painted Veil” when contributors were criticizing their performances. Some of the reviewers also commented that they didn’t find either actor attractive and didn’t find believable that Garbo would be involved with either one of them.
Now, I find both men attractive, especially Brent, but as soon as I started watching the film, I understood what the detractors were talking about.
I am guessing that the men didn’t get the most careful treatment in the script, or in the direction. They both had some terrible (howler) lines and neither man seemed comfortable in the role.
Cad, bounder, is not the usual role for George Brent. Brent played best the charming, handsome flirtatious man who loves women, truly appreciates them. My favorite of his movies are the ones he did with Bette Davis. There is just something about the way he looks at her, half-smiling that leads me to believe he genuinely enjoyed women.
But, in this role, he is a true cad. He is married, and seduces Garbo (who is married) consciously and methodically. When her husband finds out, he rather dutifully tells Garbo he’ll give up “everything” if she wants him to. He then reminds her that she will be giving up her reputation as well.
Garbo responds that he (Brent) knows full well that she would never ask him to give up everything and that’s why he’s offering to do it. That’s about it. Garbo runs out of the shop where they have met. In the next scene, she is already in inland cholera ridden China with Marshall.
I suspect that Brent was uncomfortable playing this “true cad” role and the director didn’t spend much time trying to help him work through it. I have a feeling that Brent (and Marshall) were treated like afterthoughts.
You get the feeling that Brent is walking his way through the performance, putting in a workmanlike job, but little more.
But then, I’m not sure what alternative he had. As I said, the lines were not very good, or believable. He’s a cad and therefore can’t be his true charming self. Whatever the problems were, him in this role just doesn’t work. One of the reviewers said that she thought Erroll Flynn might have done better, playing the role as a true charming snake. Brent just didn’t seem to be able to make the true “snake” work.
Marshall made a career out of playing badly done-by husbands. One of the reviewers said that she liked that fact that in this movie he at least took some kind of revenge on the offending woman, Garbo. He tells Garbo that if Brent will marry her, he will let her go, but when Brent doesn’t step up to the plate Marshall has no problems dragging her off to a cholera-infested place in inland China. To be fair, he discovered them together in his own house, pretty tacky (as they say in the South).
Until the two finally reconcile, almost at the end of the film, Marshall is alternatively whiny and distracted (to Garbo) and outraged (to the Chinese.) After he finds out that Garbo hasn’t left the plague zone and is working with the local nuns, he reestablishes himself as a fairly nice character.
In the novel, we are given to understand that Marshall takes pleasure in forcing Garbo to go to inland China with him where there is a cholera epidemic. There is a subplot where both Garbo and Marshall decide to eat salad every night, a very risky thing to do. It is as if they are both in such despair that they are suicidal.
But, there is none of this in the film. At one point, when Marshall comes in late at night after tending to the epidemic, Garbo makes coffee for him in what looks like a lame dress, and says that she sees him “killing himself.” But, Marshall says that he’s not doing that.
While We’re on the Subject of Lame
Garbo’s costumes in this film are wonderful if you dispense with the usual quibbles about why she would be wearing a slinky lame dress in a shack in the middle of China in the middle of a plague. (Picky, picky). I would point out one exception and that is when she is at a garden party near the beginning when she and Marshall first arrive in China.
For some reason, she is wearing this white dress and a little hat that looks like a sailor’s hat with a little nib on top. The nib reminds me of that little thing that was on the top of a Brownie beanie when I was of the age to be wearing such a thing. It’s a truly ridiculous hat.
Several of the reviewers complained about the lack of location shooting in the film. The shots of China are obviously cloudy stock footage with the actors filmed in front of a screen. These same China scenes were evidently was used again in “The Good Earth.”
Budget and Temple Scene
The budget for this film was large for the time, but I’ll be damned if I can see what they spent it on. There is nothing extraordinary about the sets. The only audacious set is behind a dance performance that is supposedly taking place in a temple and is watched by Garbo and Brent. One reviewer commented that the scene looks like something out of a stereotyped street fair in Chinatown, San Francisco. It is pretty cheesy and largely unnecessary.
If I were editing the film, I would have cut this entire segment out. It only serves to give the audience some time with Garbo and Brent while Brent seduces her by telling her about China. It’s not worth it, though.
There were evidently other scenes, however, that were cut.
Some reviewers pointed out that audiences at the time thought many of the scenes in the beginning of the film were too long and were cut. These must have been scenes of Garbo’s family life before she marries Marshall. There are a lot of actors in the cast list that are recorded as “scenes deleted.”
This happy family situation portrayed in the film is hardly the situation in the novel. Garbo was not a sweet, if somewhat spinsterish, sister in a small town, bored and missing her recently married sister. In the novel, she was a high society Londonite, spoiled and shallow. These are two different characters. But, it’s Hollywood.
I was going to write something about the man who played General Yu, but then found out that he was Swedish rather than Asian (Warner Oland). The woman who played Amah (Soo Yong) (1903-1984) was hawaiian and acted in “The Good Earth” (1937) and “Sayonara” (1957).
Walter Brennan is in the cast list, but it says that his scenes were deleted.
Forrester Harvey plays Waddington.
|Posted on September 18, 2020 at 3:30 PM||comments (1)|
Dial M for Murder
Article: Deconstruction of a Scene
This article is about one scene in the film “Dial M for Murder” that between Tony Wendice (Ray Miland) and Swan (Anthony Dawson).
After introductions at the door, Swan and Wendice sit down for a conversation. During this initial segment, the camera goes back and forth between the two men, 20 times in a couple of minutes.
The camera is usually on the one speaking, but not always. Wen the camera is on the other, it is to see his reaction. This is one way of breaking the monotony of the usual two-shot conversation.
Wendice joins Swan on the sofa, and instead of being in front of the sofa, Hitchcock moves us to observing from behind the sofa. With a lamp between the two. It is as if we are spying on the two men, overhearing the conversation.
Every time the viewer might become complacent, the camera angle jars us, off guard. This is enough to kep us interested, but not enough to distract from what is a very important piece of dialogue.
Helping to set up this listening theme, there is a Japanese porcelain figurine in the picture, a man who also listens.
As Wendice establishes his control over Swan (he has information to blackmail Swan with) Hitchcock changes the camera angle on Wendice. Wendice is sitting in a chair, leaning back, confident, and the camera is below him, looking up. For most of the conversation, the camera has been at eye level, not now that Wendis has established his dominance, we are seeing him from below, looking up at him.
His tennis trophies, symbols of his competence, line the mantle over his head.
During this scene, Hitchcock has the camera move so that we can see every part of the room they are in behind Wendiss.
As the two men reach agreement, enough for Wendiss to start detailing the crime for Swan, the two men stand at the desk, the scene of the murder, with the telephone, crucial in the set up, center frame.
Then, Hitchcock does something totally unexpected, he films from the ceiling. We see the two men from above, giving us another feel for the room where the murder will take place.
(Hitchcock also used this camera angle in “Shadow of a Doubt” and “The Men who Knew Too Much.”)
The scene if more fully described in the article which gives you a good idea of how much planning and talent is involved in a Hitchcock film.
|Posted on August 16, 2020 at 8:15 PM||comments (1)|
The Dark Past (1948)
William Holden (1918-1981), Lee J. Cobb (1911-1976)
According to TCM, Lee J. Cobb was not happy making this film. His daily crabbiness and dissatisfaction evidently so affected William Holden (who was trying to put back together a film career after his service in WWII) Nina Foch (the female lead) started having Holden come to her trailer for breakfast. She supposedly consoled Holden and convinced him that in a few years, he would be more famous than Cobb. She was right.
Before the war, Cobb had played Holden’s father in a movie where Holden was the young “golden boy” torn between the violin and boxing (The Golden Boy, 1939). Cobb was only seven years older than Holden. The reasons for Cobb’s dissatisfaction with the production were not explained, but it was implied that Cobb might have resented Holden’s good looks.
This part was very different from the “boy next door” parts that Holden had played before the war. In this movie, he looks very much like Duke Mantee, the character Humphrey Bogart played in “The Petrified Forest” (1936).
Billy Wilder would have seen Holden in this against-type role and it may have influenced his casting of Holden in “Sunset Boulevard” (1950).
Even though Holden gets head billing, Cobb gets more screen time playing the psychiatrist taken hostage by the escaped convict, Holden, and his girl, Nina Fochs.
Holden plays a psychotic killer. Cobb plays the psychiatrist who while being held hostage psychoanalyzes Holden. And, cures him in one night.
The Dark Past is a remake of a 1939 film “Blind Alley” and based on a play by James Warwick. In Blind Alley, Chester Morris played Holden’s part and Ralph Bellamy played the psychiatrist.
This is one of the films made just after the war that was highly influenced by Freudian analysis which was thought to hold the keys to what was and still now is referred to as “the criminal mind.” What is actually being talked about (then and now) is violent criminal behavior. Even though it is referred to as “the criminal mind,” nobody tries to psychoanalyze white collar, corporate and political criminals, or believes for one second that their criminal behavior derives from some deep psychic wound.
Other examples of films based on the notion (even though simplistic) of Freudian analysis are: Psycho, Spellbound (1945), Whirlpool (1941), The Dark Mirror (1946) and Conflict (1945).
Reviewers noted the taunt interplay between Holden and Cobb’s characters as being like that of Bogart and March in a later escaped convict takes hostages film, “The Desperate Hours” (1955)
See Wikipedia and TCM,