October 15, 2005


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.


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, Walter. Holden is also a favorite of mine; William the younger for Sunset Blvd., William the older for Network. In his later years, I think, he had a real thing going for him, simply because he looked so worn and ragged, but he had a lot of energy left in him. Kind of crotchety and exuberant at the same time. Even in The Wild Bunch, when he played a aging, reminiscent man, he had the power of a man twenty years younger.

Of course, I'm also a big Cary Grant fan, so maybe I will go looking for that VHS copy of Mr. Lucky, if only for yet another opportunity to hear that damn spectacular swagger that the man's voice had.

I myself have indulged in a bit of b-movie insanity on my Netflix queue -- including The Thing with Two Heads -- speaking of The Lost Weekend's Ray Milland -- which features the aging actor as a transplant surgeon who places his racist head onto a wrongly-accused black convict's (Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier) body. A lot of potential there, but the hilarious thing is it spends about forty minutes on a single car chase, where the chasing cops pretty obviously create their own accidents, driving into ditches and whatnot. Terrible, but definitely worth a look for scriptwriting at its most inept.

And I may as well also mention Baron Blood, directed by Mario Bava (the poor man's Dario Argento). Kind of a cross between a Halloween predecessor and a Vincent Price thriller. (Spoiler ahead, if you care.) As a resurrected corpse disguising himself as an eccentric millionaire, the titular Baron is played by Joseph Cotten, easily one of the great, underrated actors of the last century and certainly one of my favorites. Not a terrible film (mostly because of the quietly forceful Cotten), but you can't help but laugh when the Baron first rises from his grave, and he looks to a local doctor to patch his bleeding wounds right before he does him in.

-- Ian

Jack_Sommersby said...

Some oldies I've watched as of late that make me glad the Missoula Public Library carries DVDs, for, admittedly, I wouldn't have paid money to rent these:

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) -- very powerful stuff, with an amazing Paul Muni.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) -- awesome SuperScope framing, and the scene where a one-armed Spencer Tracey beats the holy hell out of Ernest Borgnine is a keeper.

The Corpse Vanishes (1942) -- slight but fun Bela Lugosi flick.

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) -- a limp Hitchcock-wannabe trifle that features two very abrasive performances by Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck in the lead roles.

Black Rock was by far the best of the lot. Would've loved to have seen it in the theatre back then.

Jack_Sommersby said...

George Seaton-directed film from 1954 that finds Grace Kelly (wasn’t she also in Rear Window and Dial M for Murder this year?)

Yep; and also Green Fire. 4 films in 1 year, and in big roles. And I didn't know this: after doing High Society, her 11th film, two years later, she didn't do another film until 1982, Rearranged, which was unfinished due to her death. Sheesh, why couldn't the mediocre Nicole Kidman take a long hiatus like this?

James Allen said...


I love Bad Day at Black Rock, a great revenge film done with a minimal of means, and as commanding a performance as you'll ever see from Spencer Tracey. Plus, and I think I've talked about this kind of thing before, the racial issue is there and used very effectively without the audience being hit over the head with it.

Bill C said...

I find that Bad Day at Black Rock suffers from that John Sturges tendency to neutralize the grimness. It's lean, at least, and tougher than most of his subsequent work, but given its sociopolitical undercurrents, I wish it were a little bleaker in the final analysis. (The mind reels imagining that same cast under the direction of, say, Nicholas Ray.) To me, Sturges will always be that guy who took out half the "great escapees" and then somehow hustled us out the door whistling Elmer Bernstein's faux-River Kwai anthem.

Anonymous said...

I think that Bad Day at Black Rock is mostly a good film but everything about it was done a lot better by Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter.


Jack_Sommersby said...

High Plains Drifter still remains my favorite Western and favorite Eastwood film -- though it's obviously indebted to Black Rock. Go back and take a look at it, and it's got some scary parallels to America under the Bush administration; considering Eastwood's a lifelong Republican, it's interesting to see a film that offers up a scathing condemnation of greed and religious hypocrisy. One thing, though: neither of the two DVDs of it that have been released offer up an anamorphic transfer. I can understand the first one not having one, but to release a second one -- and with no special features to boot! -- and not have one is just mind-boggingly dumb.

Walter_Chaw said...

Yep - not a big Sturges fan. Close to actually outright hating The Great Escape. I do like the line "You're not only wrong, you're wrong at the top of your voice."

Big fan of Muni and Chain Gang.