Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Forbidden Street (1949)

Enough bloodshed. The Siren caught a movie called The Forbidden Street (1949) a few weeks ago on the Fox Movie Channel. Here they occasionally show movies that the Fox studio, for whatever inscrutable boneheaded business-suited reason, has not deigned to release on DVD. (You can read Dave Kehr elaborating on this here and here on his blog.) The original title was Britannia Mews, and it was directed by Jean Negulesco.

I love Negulesco. Some people have guilty-pleasure movies; the Romanian is my guilty-pleasure director. He helmed some genuinely good movies, like Three Came Home and the 1953 Titanic. But since I spent some time mocking Eli Roth, I should step up and admit that my beloved Three Coins in the Fountain and The Bestof Everything do not exactly measure up to Jean-Pierre Melville, either. (Thanks, Noel, for reassuring me that I am not the only person crazy enough to find good stuff in The Best of Everything. And here is a nice take on Negulesco's Woman's World, which the Siren has not seen yet.)

Anyway, like most interesting movies on the Fox channel, Forbidden Street is shown at hours the Siren usually slept through in her pre-mothering days. It opens by showing us Adelaide, a girl from a high-toned family who becomes fascinated with the teeming life of a slum street, Britannia Mews, that lies behind her house. The girl soon grows into Maureen O'Hara, and she remains enthralled with the street. Adelaide falls in love with an alcoholic and penniless artist, Gilbert Lauderdale (Dana Andrews). She marries him against her family's wishes, and together they move into a house in the Mews.

Several things make this movie worthwhile, particularly Andrews, who winds up playing a double role, first as Adelaide's downfall and then her salvation. O'Hara does well with a character who goes through several mutations, some of them rather abrupt, and Dame Sybil Thorndike is a treat as a hideous slum dweller the Mews residents refer to as the Sow. The plot has surprises, as threads are not drawn out the way you would expect. Instead the conflicts come one after the other, the one constant being the street and how it evolves. It is really the story of the Mews, and not Maureen.

But what had the Siren hooked was the beauty of the movie. From the beginning, when the camera looks over Adelaide's shoulder, through a window and down onto the Mews, I couldn't get over how gorgeous the darned thing was. The street is poor, but the camerawork is rich, full of velvety blacks and the glow of the Victorian lamps. I missed the credits so I spent a long while marveling at the way the photography preserved a childlike perspective, from the way we see the marionettes carefully fashioned by Gilbert, to the way Maureen is pictured in her lodgings, a doll in a house she must grow into. A mews has its lodgings on the second floor, as the first one is given over to horse stalls and a carriage house. The characters frequently play scenes in front of the windows in O'Hara's rooms. The camera shows you the other shabby buildings across the narrow street, but the life of the Mews is usually heard and not seen. Adelaide remains suspended above it even as she is trying to join it. Who did this? Was I about to write a scintillating blog post on the wonders of a previously unknown DP?

Eventually the Siren's morning coffee kicked in and she remembered she had IMDB. The site informed her that the cinematographer was Georges Périnal. Yes, Blood of a Poet, The Thief of Baghdad, À Nous la Liberté, The Life and Death ofColonel Blimp, The Four Feathers, that Georges Périnal. The Siren felt as though she had been reading a short story and thinking, hey, this is brilliant, I can't wait to tell people about this unsung genius that I, Campaspe, have discovered, and then she turns to the index and realizes it's Tolstoy.

Due credit also to the art director, Andrej Andrejew, and screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr., who did the screenplay based on Margery Sharp's novel. Like a cinephile version of Justice Potter Stewart, at least the Siren knows it when she sees it.

P.S. In her autobiography, Maureen O'Hara dismisses this one, saying the only reasons to catch it are Andrews and Thorndike. Well, she disses Sinbad the Sailor, too, and the Siren thinks it's swell. O'Hara also says the British and American versions are cut so differently they almost amount to different movies.

(Above, Dana Andrews, handsome and successful as he was in the 1940s. His career later skidded due to a crushing alcohol problem. Unlike a lot of other actors, he eventually overcame his drinking. He was admirably candid about his recovery in an era when admitting to addiction was still stigmatizing.)

21 comments:

Noel Vera said...

Thanks for the mention. Best of Everything gets reserved admiration from the auteurs of a_film_by; not on the level of Sirk, say, but not bad.

Campaspe said...

Hey, great link. Look at all that love for Negulesco. I can come out as a fan now. :)

Pity that what most call his best movie, The Mask of Dimitrios (based on a great thriller by Eric Ambler) is darn near impossible to see at the moment.

Dan Leo said...

Hey, Siren, thanks for the tip-off on Forbidden Street -- I will leap on it if it ever comes out on DVD. And isn't it great, the artistry and craftsmanship that does routinely appear and delight in these almost-forgotten movies. All auteurism aside, if you've got a Georges Périnal photographing Maureen O'Hara and Dana Andrews I think you've got something to watch. (Oh, and I was entranced enough by your piece to put up an odd little homage to Dana Andrews in my own absurd blog.)

Campaspe said...

I will check it out! I have already added your blog to my blogroll, which I have been slowly updating this week. Alas, I guess people are not seeing the new and improved roll, because tere is something in this post that is shoving my blogroll all the way to Tijuana (when viewed in Internet Explorer). But I can't seem to find what it is.

On the positive side, wasn't Andrews handsome, though?

Dan Leo said...

Dana Andrews personified a man who was a man. Not a tough-guy “man’s man”, although he could be tough, but a grown-up man, and in his eyes you can somehow see the sadness and the acceptance of an adult who sees the world through an adult’s eyes. He was so great at playing conflicted good men. I don’t know where this quality in his playing came from. And finally he proved himself a real mensch in real life when he kicked his drinking problem and came out in public about it in a time when this sort of thing was just not done.

Let me put it this way, if I were a character in some mythical noir and the Mob were after me, then Dana Andrews is the detective I’d want to talk to.

Karen said...

Oh, I love this movie! Except for the "Dana Andrews in a beard" part. That was too pretty a punim to hide behind all that hair.

I'm glad to see you giving Andrews some love; he's not nearly appreciated enough. I can't imagine anyone doing it better in films like "Laura" and (oh!) "The Best Years of Our Lives."

I confess I didn't know about his alcoholism. That may explain what I always thought was an uncharacteristically flat performance in 1956's "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt."

I just went to IMDb to see if they have the dates of his booze-fueled decline, but no dice. I did find this fab little gem, though, which I am still wrapping my mind around: "Trained as an opera singer, but was rarely...allowed to use his fine singing voice in the movies. In the one musical he did make, State Fair (1945), his voice was dubbed because the studio was unaware he was a trained singer. He later explained that he didn't correct their mistake because he felt the singer dubbing him probably needed the money."

What a nice guy.

Michael said...

I wouldn't feel too bad about adoring Negulesco. I haven't seen much of his Technicolor stuff (aside from Three Coins, on which I'll respectfully disagree with you), but I like what I've seen of his earlier stuff. We've shown Mask of Dimitrios, Three Strangers (both good) and Road House (excellent--and not only because Ida Lupino can't sing a note but knocks her musical numbers out of the park anyway) at my theater in recent years, and we're showing Deep Valley next season (not holding out a lot of hope on that one).

It's funny, I used to dislike Dana Andrews. I never thought he was a good actor, until I realized that his earnest-average-good-guy schtick was so perfect for the parts he played that I can no longer imagine anyone else playing them. (Dan Leo: and if you stumble out of that noir into a courtroom drama, you can take Dana Andrews as your attorney--he was great in Boomerang!).

Campaspe said...

Dan, love that summary of Andrews' appeal. In my opinion he hit an acting high note quite early, in The Ox-Bow Incident. His character embodies the tragedy more than any other, but he doesn't milk the audience for sympathy.

Karen, I am absolutely delighted that you have seen this one. One thing I love about my commenters is that so far no matter how obscure the movie, I always seem to have someone who has seen it (and then plays "stump-the-band" by suggesting more things to see). The Wikipedia entry on Andrews goes into his alcoholism a bit. Addiction shouldn't be boiled down to pat biographical details, but one does notice that he had some bad breaks, including a wife who died young. His slide started after the early 50s, and you see it in his filmography mostly if you check the budgets of the movies themselves. He was still working with talented directors, such as Jacques Tourneur and Allan Dwan. Check out the IMDB tag for Enchanted Island, allegedly a Typee adaptation: "He dared to love a cannibal princess!" Should have seen that one before I posted about Hostel. :)

Michael, I recently picked up my own second-hand copy of David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film, and I think his snooty dismissal of Negulesco ("a minor talent") may have made me too timid about admitting how much I enjoy his movies. Truly, I know Three Coins is tosh but I can't resist it any more than I can turn down a perfect chocolate eclair. Road House I saw eons ago and I do remember loving Lupino. Over at Noel's link they were discussing his "three girls" cycle which was amusing. I never even noticed that before, but yeah, it is a common construction both for Negulesco and others and is probably begging for a book-length critical analysis.

Exiled in NJ said...

Housemate Pamela bought a cheap video of Negulesco's Phone Call From A Stranger, which she has loved for years. After seeing it I have to wonder if Peter Weir had ever picked up vibes when he made Fearless from Yglesias' book.

I have an old video of Dimitrios and wrote extensively about the book for a mystery lovers' online magazine. While a vehicle for Lorre and Greenstreet, and with another delicious turn by Zachary Scott, it is remarkably true to Ambler's plot, which is saying something when we realize Hollywood moved Greene's Gun for Hire to the USA.

Campaspe said...

Exiled, so good to see you. You have posted a couple of links from your online writing and I have never been able to follow them. Could you email them to me? Two years ago I read "A Coffin for Dimitrios" and was knocked out by how good (and eerily prescient) it was. I had picked it to go on a child-free holiday to Istanbul, since I have a weakness for matching my reading material to the scenery. It was perfect. I have never been able to see the film and am temporarily without a VCR, but this is one I suspect they really will have to release eventually.

Exiled in NJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
inugai_kenzo said...

The SF Chronicle ran a poignant but wonderful remembrance a while back with the very proud daughters of Andrews, Robert Ryan, William Wyler:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/06/15/MO7021.DTL

yeah, i was wondering where andrews' got that VOICE...like joseph cotten eh, less lilt. but all those guys---richard dix & chester morris before that; warren william, william powell; sally eilers, joan blondell.

thanks for the GREAT postings, and SITE. another gilliard sojourner...

inugai_kenzo said...

ooo, ida lupino was wonderful in deep valley, talk about poignant.

Dan Leo said...

Hey, Inugai, thanks so much for the link to the article on the three daughters. Very funny and extremely moving, especially so for anyone who's a big admirer of these three men's work.

Siren, you gotta check this one out when you get a few free minutes. It'll make you glad, although it might make you cry a little bit, too.

inugai_kenzo said...

hi dan, one thing the archives don't show is the wonderful photo that ran with the original article---iirc the trio look strong and beautiful and just as one would imagine/hope for/expect.

i remembered the photo as much as the article.

Campaspe said...

Inugai, your link is beautiful, and could not be more timely for Father's Day. I hope everyone follows it.

Peter said...

The Fox Movie Channel can sometimes be very good in seeing films not available elsewhere. I've only seen a few Negulesco films. One I did see theatrically, How to Marry a Millionaire struck me has holding up better than companion feature, Seven Year Itch. I almost was going to get a bootleg of Jessica for the Angie Dickinson blog-a-thon.

Karen said...

Oh, Inugai! Thank you for that link. I had tears in my eyes.

And thanks also for mentioning Chester Morris, who was just wicked sexy in those pre-Code films. Most people I talk movies with don't even know who he is.

I'd add another name to the list of actors with "that VOICE": Ray Milland. I first saw him in "Love Story" when it first came out--I was 12--and I just thought he was a wrinkly old man. Then I discovered "Ministry of Fear" and "The Major and the Minor" and "Beau Geste" and realized how talented--and handsome!--he was. Years later, when I saw "Love Story" again, I was able to see him as an aged version of that handsome young man, as if we'd grown old together. It was lovely.

Exiled in NJ said...

Dana Andrews = Kevin Costner with acting talent and a voice that was not a monotone.

I still remember him in The Purple Heart, which I have not seen in years.

Campaspe said...

Peter, Fox during the day is often quite good. At night they play new-ish stuff that I am seldom interested in, though I did get re-acquainted with The French Connection a few weeks ago. Trouble is, most people don't seem to have it. I complete agree about How to Marry a Millionaire vs. Seven-Year Itch. The latter always seemed a pretty thin Wilder to me (and I am a huge Wilderphile, don't get me wrong!)

Karen, wasn't that article just perfect? and quite funny in parts too. The Gregory Peck resentment was hilarious. I wonder who is the actor getting everyone's roles nowadays? If you love Ray Milland, have you seen Easy Living? one of his earliest starring roles, and it is such a deliciously funny comedy. I would love to see it again myself.

Exiled, I just got through reading your mystery links and they were pure pleasure. I haven't seen The Purple Heart. Andrews was also in Daisy Kenyon which is getting a sudden spike in blog-love, sparked perhaps by a great piece at Zach's place, Elusive Lucidity (he's on my blogroll).

Karen said...

The Gregory Peck resentment was hilarious. I wonder who is the actor getting everyone's roles nowadays?

The Peck resentment was delicious. As to who's getting all the roles today--good question. Jude Law?

If you love Ray Milland, have you seen Easy Living?

You bet! Are you kidding? Milland, Jean Arthur, AND a screenplay by Preston Sturges? That's a piece o' heaven.

But I do hunt Milland down like a bloodhound. ""Next Time We Love," "Three Smart Girls," "Everything Happens at Night," "Irene," "The Doctor Takes a Wife," "The Uninvited" (that scent of mimosa!), "Lady in the Dark," "Kitty," "Golden Earrings" (Ray in gypsy hoops), "The Big Clock"--straight through to when he begins showing his age, in "Dial M for Murder" and "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing." Hell, I've even seen him in crap like "Rhubarb."

You don't even see people on the street any more who look like Milland. But then you don't see anyone who looks like William Powell, either.

More's the pity.