A little recreational viewing.
Watched the truly dreadful The Country Girl tonight while recording my Colorado Avalanche getting beat in a shootout by the Chicago Blackhawks – the NHL looks really different this year; so far, daddy likee – it’s a much-praised (and much-lauded – 7 Oscar nominations) George Seaton-directed film from 1954 that finds Grace Kelly (wasn’t she also in Rear Window and Dial M for Murder this year?) in her only Oscar-winning performance as domineering stage wife Georgie to down-in-the-dumps and fresh-on-the-wagon actor Frank (Bing Crosby), herself apparently a recovering alcoholic and, therefore, a howling harridan eternally on the ass of poor, hangdog Frank. William Holden plays Broadway director Bernie Dodd who gives Frank his chance at a comeback and handily walks away with the whole damned thing with a performance as complex and haunted as his seminal turn in Wilder’s Sunset Blvd.. I love William Holden – not least for his turn in The Wild Bunch - the man could act. . . at the least, he could act better than Bing Crosby well into his twilight as a lush and Kelly who, wow is she pretty. Major disappointment with this TCM presentation is that it’s shown in 1.33:1 when it was actually projected in 1.85:1 – mirroring the flaw with the DVD’s transfer, making me wonder if this is in fact the only negative available. I rail about that in principle, of course, but I don’t think I’m going to ever look at this movie again.
It’s bad in the way that a lot of these issue pics are always bad – even Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945) only escapes datedness (somewhat) by being essentially a horror film complete with psychedelic bat attack – at the dawn of Freud’s wide popular acceptance, here you have a lot of long monologues about the return of the repressed. Kelly is outmatched by this material, leading to a lot of controversy, I think, when she beat Judy Garland out for her identical turn in A Star is Born - truth is, I think that Dorothy Dandridge should’ve beat both of them for Carmen Jones (or, at the least, Kelly should have been nominated for Rear Window instead). Overlong at 104 minutes, the action is cut in three by extended musical sequences with Crosby crooning away in his dead-eyed fashion as precious life tick, tick, ticks away. The cinematography of the film, though, by first-timer John F. Warren is fantastic – garnering him his only Oscar nomination: an award he rightfully lost to Boris Kaufman’s amazing work on On the Waterfront. It’s based on a successful play by Clifford Odets which, in a lot of ways, says all you need to know about it. Also watched the surprisingly great Mr. Lucky (1943) - an all-but-forgotten Cary Grant flick in which he plays a character close to his heart: a guy who refused to go fight for his country during WWII. He brings to the swindler Joe (sort of a proto-Sky Masterson – knowing, of course, that the Damon Runyon collection upon which the musical is based was published in 1932) a real pathos that underlies the classic Grant screwball moments of his trying to learn how to knit and, of course, doing that ol’ Archie Leach shuck-and-jive of making the girls think you’re groovy while, all along, being a bit of a rascal. (The use of Cockney rhyming vernacular predicts the “Voodoo/hoodoo” shtick of the far better known The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer.) Loraine Day appears as the “Sarah” of the piece, the woman of virtue and charity who falls for the rapscallion with a heart of gold. It’s true, Joe is a professional con man with gangster friends who is convinced by the virtue of a good woman to use his evil powers for the benefit of the war effort. A piffle? Perhaps, but it’s a piffle with a load of subtext and one of the only times, I think, that Grant in a non-Hitchcock performance was asked to dredge the deeps of his oiled charm and ease with unctuousness. Currently unavailable in the DVD format, it’s not worth an extended VHS search, but I’d pick it up on DVD when it finally comes home properly. God bless Gladys Cooper, by the way.
Next on the recreational viewing list:
Two for the Seesaw (1962) - Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine in a Robert Wise bodice-ripper.