Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources: Criterion Channel, DVDs, TCM, YouTube.]

Repeat Performance (dir. Alfred L. Werker, 1947). Our household’s favorite movie-year comes through for us again. Eddie Muller, who’s responsible for rescuing this movie from oblivion, describes it as a film noir version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Or think of it as Groundhog Year : actress Sheila Page (Joan Leslie) finds her life gone wrong on New Year’s Eve and gets the chance to relive the dying year. Also present: Louis Hayward as Sheila’s jealous but faithless alcoholic playwright husband; Tom Conway (who resembles George Sanders because — guess what? — they were brothers) as a suave producer; Richard Basehart as a rhyming poet and hanger-on named William Williams; and Natalie Schaefer as a patron of the arts in search of young male talent. ★★★★ (TCM)


Old Acquaintance (dir. Vincent Sherman, 1943). Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins play friends-from-childhood whose lives move in different directions. As Kit Marlowe (heh), Davis is a writer of literary fiction whose work inspires college women to form clubs devoted to her ideas. As Millie Drake, Hopkins is a writer of junk novels who rises in popularity as Kit struggles. John Loder and Gig Young make things complicated, but I would have liked melodramatic complications without the inapt moments of comic relief. ★★★ (TCM)


From the Criterion Channel: Starring Sterling Hayden

Crime Wave (dir. Andre De Toth, 1954). A hugely satisfying B picture, with locations by Los Angeles, cinematography by Bert Glennon, and strong performances from Hayden (Sims, a mean cop), Gene Nelson (Steve Lacey, an ex-con going straight), and Ted de Corsia (“Doc” Penny, the escaped con who forces Steve back into crime). Truly unnerving, with every ring of a telephone and every knock at the door putting Steve and his wife Ellen (Peggy Kirk) on alert. Hayden is at least as scary as any of the criminals, speaking at high speed while looking semi-conscious. Watch also for Charles Bronson, ultra-creepy Timothy Carey, and Jay Novello. ★★★★

Crime of Passion (dir. Gerd Oswald, 1956). “I hope all your socks have holes in them, and I can sit for hours and hours darning them.” Barbara Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, an advice columnist who breaks her vow to nevermarry and leaves her job after meeting handsome LAPD detective Bill Doyle (Hayden). But Kathy finds her new life stifling, and she wants better prospects for her husband than his position offers — thus the title. With Fay Wray and a highly sinister Raymond Burr. ★★★★

Terror in a Texas Town (dir. Joseph H. Lewis, 1958). Film noir comes to Prairie City. A venture capitalist (Sebastian Cabot) has hired a gunman named Crale (Nedrick Young) to force farmers from their (oil-rich) properties, but when George Hansen (Sterling Hayden), the son of a murdered farmer, comes to town for a visit, there’ll be trouble, signaled in the film’s opening, when George walks into town carrying a harpoon (yes, really). The screenplay, by Dalton Trumbo (as “Ben L. Perry”), has important things to say about fear, obedience, and resistance. Hayden is the nominal star, but the movie belongs to Young (another blacklistee) and Victor Millan, who plays José Mirada, a young farmer who refuses to move. ★★★★

Johnny Guitar (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1954). Sterling Hayden is Johnny Guitar (née Logan), and just the mention of his birth name is enough to frighten those who hear it. Joan Crawford is Vienna, proprietor of a hotel-bar-gambling joint, determined to cash in when the railroad tracks are laid. A shady fellow called the Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) and a vengeful, conflicted townswoman named Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) complicate things for all. We see Vienna in men’s clothes, men showing their prowess in shooting, a waterfall pouring as Johnny and Vienna kiss: Johnny Guitar is so insanely over the top that — that — that I can’t find a way to end this sentence. But now I understand why Pedro Almodóvar pays homage to the movie in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. ★★★★


Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (fir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1988). A deliriously funny film about fear, desire, gazpacho, and revenge. At the beginning, a scene from Johnny Guitar is being dubbed into Spanish, and one could say that if a scene from Johnny Guitar is being dubbed into Spanish in Act One, someone will be shot in Act Three. Deftly plotted, with all desires tied together in one apartment. Based on Cocteau’s ‌La voix humaine, as I now understand having seen Almodóvar’s 2020 short film The Human Voice.★★★★ (DVD)


Hitler’s Hollywood: German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda: 1933–1945 (dir. Rüdiger Suchsland, 2017). Did you know that Josef Goebbels was in charge of film production in Nazi Germany? Did you know that Nazi cinema included a remake of It Happened One Night? Did you know that Ingrid Bergman made a film in Nazi Germany (The Four Companions, just four years before Casablanca)? A fascinating, appalling survey of a largely unknown world of directors and stars, with short clips abounding: anti-Semitic propaganda, comedies, detective stories, melodramas, musicals, period pieces, sports, and war stories in which men in uniform laugh heartily or die beautifully for the nation. ★★★★ (DVD)


Sun Valley Serenade (dir. H. Bruce Humberstone, 1941). We watched this bright, shiny musical (set at a real-world ski resort) because it was one of three movies at the Criterion Channel with the Nicholas Brothers, who share one spectacular number with Dorothy Dandridge and the Dartmouth Troubadours (the Glenn Miller Orchestra). That number and all the musical numbers are terrific, but the story line is another matter. Sonja Henie (a skating star with, it turns out, a Hitler connection) plays Karen Benson, a giggly, calculating refugee skater who uses devious means to pull her sponsor, the Troubadours’ pianist Ted Scott (John Payne), away from his singer-fiancée Vivian Dawn (Lynn Bari) — and the movie lets her succeed. Our household hated Karen for her wiles, and we hated Ted for his dumbness, and if we had paid more attention to the credits, we would have realized that those two, who received top billing, were always going to end up together. ★★★★ (music) / ★ (story) (CC)


The Saxon Charm (dir. Claude Binyon, 1948). Robert Montgomery is Matt Saxon, a Broadway producer working with Eric Busch (John Payne), a successful novelist who’s written a first play. Saxon (based, it seems, on the unloved producer Jed Harris, whose name rings no bell for me) takes over Busch’s life, calling for meetings at all hours and demanding endless cuts and additions, as Busch’s confidence and his relationship with his wife Janet (Susan Hayward) die. Not film noir, despite online claims, nor is it a satisfying psychological drama, as too many odd comic touches soften Saxon’s will to power. But good work by Montgomery, Payne, Hayward, and Audrey Totter. ★★★ (YT)


Night Unto Night (dir. Don Siegel, 1949). They sure made strange ones back then: John Galen (Ronald Reagan), a biochemist with a secret illness and wooden personality, rents an enormous old house from Ann Gracie (Viveca Lindfors), a widow whose dead husband speaks to her. Yes, it’ll be a love story, one with an inexplicable start (what is Galen doing here?) and, finally, a pretty pat ending. Broderick Crawford is surprising as a painter and man of ideas (art vs. science and all that). Stealing the movie is Osa Massen as Lisa (just Lisa), Ann’s jealous, spiteful sister from hell. ★★★ (TCM)


Till the End of Time (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1946). Released before The Best Years of Our Lives, it’s the story of three returned Marines, Cliff (Guy Madison), Bill (Robert Mitchum), and Perry (Bill Williams) as they readjust to civilian life, or try to. The movie offers brief splashes of fun — iceskating, jitterbugging — but focuses on pain and pathos: PTSD (here known as “the shakes”), physical disability and pain, family members’ unwillingness to listen, the overtures of xenophobic “patriot” groups, the feeling that years have been stolen by war. What is most remarkable: the movie also dwells on the grief of a young war widow, Pat (Dorothy McGuire, in a beautifully understated performance), who receives from Cliff the kind of care that the men of The Best Years receive from women (you’ll have to watch both movies to understand). The strongest scenes: a serviceman shakes uncontrollably as he sits at a snack bar; Pat breaks down as she talks about her husband’s dream of home. ★★★★ (TCM)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)

[The title of Philip Wylie’s novel Night Unto Night comes from Psalms 19:2: “Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.”]

comments: 2

Stefan said...

The harpoon in Terror in a Texas Town reminds me of “Bob Dylan’s 115 Dream,” second verse (if one does not count the false start as a verse). The crew has just got off the Mayflower:

“I think I'll call it America", I said as we hit land
I took a deep breath, I fell down, I could not stand
Captain Arab, he started writing up some deeds
He said, "Let's set up a fort, then start buyin' the place with beads"
Just then this cop comes down the street, crazy as a loon
He throws us all in jail for carryin' harpoons

Michael Leddy said...

I wonder if Dylan might have seen this movie. I think he’d like it. Queequeg would too.