Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Week with Marty Robbins, John Ford and the Siren's Thought Processes


So Sunday night the Siren admitted on her Facebook page to having this Marty Robbins classic on the brain all weekend and not something more holiday-appropriate, like "Frosty the Snowman." At the time, she couldn't figure out why. Peter Nelhaus popped up to point out that Marty is, of course, way cooler than Frosty and the Siren also bethought herself that Marty looks better in white. All true. But not a full explanation.

Then, during a two a.m. bout of insomnia that also featured guest appearances by the UPS truck that is hoarding one of the family's toy shipments as well as fresh turkeys that go bad and frozen turkeys that won't defrost, the Siren realized there was, after all, a Christmas connection here, and she wasn't as far afield as she thought. You see, Marty Robbins did the definitive version of "Streets of Laredo."

And "Streets of Laredo" figures in the Siren's favorite scene in John Ford's 3 Godfathers, from 1948. Harry Carey Jr. is dying, and as he asks to hold his godson, the canvas of the covered wagon stretches out behind him like the white linen in the song. We see a yellow blanket around the baby's head like a halo, and a blue blanket wrapped around that like a Madonna's robe. John Wayne's grief and guilt are plain though the camera shows mostly his back, as he walks away with that unique loping grace--tell the Siren all day that he was always John Wayne, but how many actors can do that? As Carey starts to sing and pace with the baby, the top of a chair in the foreground seems odd for a second, until it suddenly becomes a brief vision of the headstone Wayne and Pedro Armendariz won't be able to give their friend. Wayne and Armendariz are kneeling to one side; the Magi. They stand as though to pay respects. Now Carey crosses back through the shadow cast by the wagon. And, in a directorial choice that prompts all sorts of Christmas thoughts about the miracle of genius, the camera stays exactly where it is, as Carey sits down with the baby, and the wagon and the white canvas and the shadow embrace him and the child and hide them from sight.

In the giant clip-retrospective ever unspooling in the Siren's head, that, my friends, is one great Christmas scene.

68 comments:

Trish said...

This is one fine-looking movie. And the mid-range shot of the Duke and Pedro is gorgeous.

The Siren said...

Trish, every time I look at a supposedly minor Ford I find some majorly beautiful scenes.

Vanwall said...

I usually don't watch Wayne films, or if I do it's often because of the peripheral players, but this one has those and a fine Wayne performance, tho the film is a savage tear-jerker. I loved Armendariz, especially a lot of his El Cine de Oro films, and Carey is a worthy successor to his father - I loved how Wayne made a silent salute to Carey Sr. when he rests one arm with other at the end of "The Searchers", as Carey Jr. was watching, it was a signature Carey Sr. gesture. I forgive the film for it's lack of subtlety in much of it, when it has so many little subtle touches that compensate - like this one.

Older Ford Westerns have more depth to me than many of the later ones - such as in "Stagecoach" and in this film, the background is often full of the detritus left by the people in it, some things are coated with a fine covering of loose, dry earth, and characters' clothing is coarser and often ragged, torn, dusty, dirty or sweaty, and often all of those -- and these are often not just the nobodies, there to fill up space. In the desert towns, things can look like that in a few swirls of a dust-devil, believe me. The desert is often hard for film makers to get, at least as I see it - often too clean and sharp, when it should be jagged and hazy. A little thriller from '34, "Heat Lightning" gets those aspects dead on, even tho it's set in the year of '34 - the desert is always there, waiting.

As for Marty Robbins, his cowboy songs were something different than the others, both singers and songs. He had a lyrical, soaring and soulful voice, evident on "Streets of Laredo" - Siren, you nailed it, it's easily the best of all versions. I grew up on "Big Iron", "Cool Water", "El Paso", and yes, "Street of Laredo"; all other versions of songs he sang seem hollow and strained. I'm not a big country music fan, but Marty's cowboy songs were nonpareil, and my Dad'd back me up on that.

Kent Jones said...

Marty Robbins' version of "Cool Water" is better than the Sons of the Pioneers original? Not so sure.

Sheila O'Malley said...

// John Wayne's grief and guilt are plain though the camera shows mostly his back, as he walks away with that unique loping grace--tell the Siren all day that he was always John Wayne, but how many actors can do that? //

That moved me to tears. It's a rare actor who can act with his back. "How many actors can do that?" I can count 'em one hand.

Love this movie.

hamletta said...

As for symbolism, the pale blue of the baby's blanket is associated with the BVM. The Virgin of Guadalupe is robed in pale blue.

Even the costume designer of The Life of Brian" clad the not-so-virgin Mandy in pale blue.

gmoke said...

Have you seen "Tokyo Godfathers," a resetting of the movie as an anime with Tokyo homeless instead of cowboys? It was directed by Satoshi Kon who died last year. His last letter is a fine picture of the man and the artist: http://www.makikoitoh.com/journal/satoshi-kons-last-words

Karen said...

I LOVE Satoshi Kon! I do know Tokyo Godfathers; a great film.

I love all the versions of the Godfathers, I confess.

Hamletta, pale blue may be associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe, but the traditional bue of the BVM is a far deeper blue. Lapis lazuli was used for pigment in the Middle Ages, making blue the most expensive color in the palette; it was used for the Virgin's robe as a sign of honor.

The Siren said...

Vanwall, I am so glad that my heretofore unmentioned love of Marty Robbins is shared. What I appreciate in his "Streets of Laredo" is the way he lets the song lyrics convey all the tragedy; he certainly had the pipes to punch up the drama but like all great singers he knows when to dial it down as well as when to amp it up. Quite like the 3 Godfathers scene, in my view. It's almost unbearably tear-jerking and Ford emphasizes that by not emphasizing it. His sentimentality here is impeccably elegant.

Kent, the Sons of Pioneers...well, there's a project for later today. One version right after the other. Cool Water is a great song. Streets of Laredo has been done very well by a lot of others, including Johnny Cash, but Robbins sets the standard for that one, in my view. I'd love to know if he knew this movie.

The Siren said...

Sheila, Wayne was such a physically graceful actor that he gives enormous pleasure just walking across a shot, or later in this scene, fanning the fire with his hat. I also love to watch him stumbling into the cantina in this movie. And the expression on his face during the "lullaby" line--all in his eyes.

Hamletta and Karen, I bow to superior art history knowledge in both your cases. I just saw the yellow contrasted with the blue and thought of every Nativity scene I have ever seen, from plastic figurines to museum walls. It occurs to me that I also don't know just how much art history John Ford himself was familiar with. Judging by his compositional sense, my best guess would be "a huge amount," but it would be a guess. If anybody knows, let us know.

Exiled in NJ said...

One fine looking comment, Siren. Wayne might even call you an 'old hayshaker.' We've put Godfathers with our Christmas movies, taking it out once a year to view it.

Wayne walking into the saloon with the baby almost parallels his intrusion into the wedding scene in Searchers. As much as Ford is known for his painting of the West, it is his indoor scenes that I admire most, going back to Chris' cantina in Stagecoach.

btw: Carey Jr. was dead at the end of Searchers, having run off to waste his life after learning of Lucy's death, but I think his character saw Wayne's gesture from on high.

The Siren said...

Gmoke, like everyone else I read that Satoshi Kon letter (or, to be honest, as much as I could stand--so sad) but I haven't seen Tokyo Godfathers. It sounds like a great way to reimagine this story. My research tells me that Ford's silent version of this is apparently lost.

The Siren said...

Exiled, always such a pleasure to see you, and the idea of being an old hayshaker is a beautiful Christmas present for the Siren.

I agree, Ford had enormous facility with interiors as well as exteriors. Visually there was just nothing he couldn't do. For sure there are those who can't take Ford for one reason or another--sentimentality is often cited, political themes, and I once read an interview with Sean Penn and Robert Duvall where they both went on about hating the acting in Ford movies. Duvall had just seen Grapes of Wrath and disliked it, which hurts my heart. Anyway, even Ford detractors usually have to acknowledge his visuals, I find. (Penn said, as I recall, "He always knew where to put the camera.")

In Stagecoach, one of my favorite scenes is the dinner table: "Looks like I got the plague, don't it?" And what he does with the interior of the stagecoach is a marvel to me; my perception of how confining the space is seems to expand and contract according to what is going on in the scene.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Duvall and Peen were blancjhing at the sight of classical Hollywood acting. Anathema to Method Babies like them. But they are of course wrong. They think their work is realistic. It's as stylized as all get-out -- just not the Ford style.

As for Xmas movies

The Siren said...

David, yep yep yep. As you say it makes sense that they might not like the way Ford movies are played, but at the time I was cruelly disappointed, so much so that I still remember this interview after all these years. It was in Premiere around the time of Colors' release. Wonder if I could find it anywhere.

Vanwall said...

M. Exiled, the Wayne gesture was to the real-life Carey Jr, who was offstage watching, as I recollect hearing about, Carey Sr. using that signature pose in many of his silent westerns.

Siren, in Westerns, I have an aversion to extraneous singing unless it seems like a natural human being would perform it, rather than a singing cowboy. Carey's lullaby is sweetly charming and devastatingly haunting, and very real. In Richard Brooks's "Bite the Bullet" Ben Johnson's nameless old cowhand goes to his death quietly singing a song as he's trying to cross a river on horseback, and in "Yellow Sky", one of Gregory Peck's gang, a grizzled, chunky old robber, sings "I'm Sad and I'm Lonely" as he cooks dinner over a campfire while Anne Baxter is listening and in the dark behind her Peck is watching her. Her wordless expressions as she goes from listening to realizing Peck is there is marvelous, as the old robber sings in the background.

Tom Block said...

The 2-DVD set of "The Whole Shootin' Match" has an achingly beautiful rendition of "Streets of Laredo" by Slaid Cleaves that plays during the documentary about Eagle Pennell, the Texan director who had some important thematic ties to Ford. It's even replaced Robbins' version for me--it's softer, and brings out some nuances missing from Robbins' version.

It's fun to listen to Wayne talk about his work in filmed interviews, especially Bogdanovich's documentary about Ford. He expressed himself like an artist, and when he talks about his craft he could be Sean Penn or Kathy Bates in talking about the effect he and Ford were trying for in particular scenes. There was more to him than met the eye, but he didn't help himself, especially during the last years of his life when he was doing his super-patriot shtick at the same time that he was making all those miserable movies like "Brannigan" and "McQ" (and, yes, "The Shootist"), and it was all compounded by the fact that his classics were all but unavailable then. It took me a while to come to my sense, but now whenever someone tries to tell me that Marion Morrison was a lousy actor, I just hit the ESC button and walk on by...

The Siren said...

Tom, if I had to name one thing I wish Wayne had never done, it wouldn't be Brannigan, McQ or The Green Berets. It would be that Playboy interview he did in the 70s. 'Nuff said.

I will see if I can track down your Streets of Laredo rec.

Bob Westal said...

As sweet a movie as "3 Godfathers" is, it's actually a bit of a Bowdlerization of earlier, darker versions. Of the three versions I've seen thanks to TCM, the best by far was William Wyler's 1930 "Hell's Heroes" -- imagine three actual bad men, not "good bad men," but actually bad men -- think "Reservoir Dogs" characters, but maybe a bit worse -- being redeemed, at least to the degree that they can be. Really an amazing film and deeply moving. As close to being a Christian as this deeply agnostic Jew ever got. It's also an amazing technical achievement for an early sound film and avoids some of the pitfalls of even classics of the era. I cried buckets, by the way.

It's only available on an Archives edition two pack with a later version (if it's the other they showed on TCM, it actually tried to be even darker but wound up only being a lot sappier and poorly made). I'm too cheap to buy and am really mad I missed my shot at a review copy now, apparently. How do we force Netflix to start carrying those things?

I actually never saw "Brannigan" or "McQ" (or can't remember if I did) and now I feel like I should have, for some reason.

Exiled in NJ said...

You have added to my wife's Wayne lore, Vanwall....thanks so much. He will always be her favorite actor.

Tom Ligon's version of Laredo in Bang the Drum Slowly may not be great singing, but it is heart rending in that excellent version of Mark Harris' novel.

The Cowboy Chorus, or Cavlary Chorus for that matter, usually strikes a false note with me. When the 7th Cavalry left Fort Lincoln in May 1876, supposedly the band played Garry Owen as they sung, but I doubt they sounded like a Fordian chorus.

It's not only Ford, but Hawks sending Dunson's cowpokes off to Missouri with that god-awful, hands in William Walton or Constant Lambert's pocket, piece about being off the Missouri.

Eurappeal said...

People who don't like John Wayne give me a pain. And I'm as liberal as liberal can be with very liberal parents who adored him too. I can't watch the ending of The Searchers, the introduction of the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach, or "Come see a fat old man some time" without weeping. And yes, I move quickly past when I come across Branningan, McQ, or The Green Berets on TV.

I've always liked The Three Godfathers. Love John Wayne, Pedro Almendariz, and Ward Bond in it. And speaking of minor Fords, I've always been touched by John Wayne as Spig Wead trying to move that toe in The Wings of Eagles.

The Siren said...

Eurappeal, knowing my commenters as I do, I am sure there is someone round these parts who dislikes Wayne as an actor and could (and perhaps will) tell me why in an eloquent and completely non-hackles-raising manner. That said, I too have little patience for facile or snarky dismissal of Wayne, but then again no one ever has patience for that approach to something or someone they love. To your list I would add the scene in Red River where he threatens to kill Montgomery Clift; it's my favorite Wayne performance, and watching these two actors with their wildly different physicalities and approach is a thrill for me, every time.

Exiled, dearly as I love Ford, I think my favorite use of Garry Owen will always be They Died With Their Boots On. Time was when I knew the lyrics to that AND The Girl I Left Behind Me, but no more.

Tom Block said...

>When the 7th Cavalry left Fort Lincoln in May 1876, supposedly the band played Garry Owen as they sung, but I doubt they sounded like a Fordian chorus.

With as many Irish tenors as the 7th must've had, they may have sounded better.

I've got a close, very smart friend who finds all of Ford's music off-putting; she can't even appreciate the heartbreaking repetition of Young Mr. Lincoln's theme because she dislikes the theme itself so much. Me, I love it, and never in a million years would I give up the regimental chorus serenading O'Hara in Rio Grande just because real cavalry choruses may have sounded different in some way. I don't demand rigorous fidelity to the facts when it comes to the battle scenes or Indian lore, and I'm not about to start with the singing.

David Thomson has written about how for years he couldn't screen any of Wayne's films in his classes because his students literally wouldn't sit still for them--their minds were so locked against him they physically refused to watch his films, and I gotta say I was close to that position for a lot of years. It was mostly just fallout from my longhair days, but it was so instilled in me that the first time a budding film friend told me he liked Wayne I thought he had to be kidding.

Exiled in NJ said...

Siren:

http://www.contemplator.com/ireland/gowen.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZTQ0C8dxx0

We were at Little Big Horn this summer. It does not take much to see in the mind's eye Gall, Crazy Horse and company coming over the hill. Evan Connell, in Son of the Morning Star, relates that as the Seventh left Fort Lincoln, the families could see the regiment reflected in the clouds. Too many versions of this story are in play to think it a hoax.

Ah, the serenades are a different bit of song, just lovely. My brother, who would be 73 is he lived, must have seen Clementine as a youth for when he was given a guitar he would plunk out the Linda Darnell song, Ten Thousand Cattle Straying.

Eurappeal said...

I fell for a Gary Cooper movie called The Hanging Tree that features a lovely ballad sung by Marty Robbins. Wonderful cast (Cooper, Maria Schell, Ben Piazza, Karl Malden, George C. Scott) in a bit of an odd, dark western.

Karen said...

Being of a Certain Age, I grew up angry at Wayne because of his politics, and therefore resisting his movies. It was a really long time before I allowed myself the one-two punch of Stagecoach and The Searchers, and since then I've reveled in quite a few more. I am particularly fond of him in Hondo, as it was the first time I noticed the runway-model gracefulness and fluidity of his carriage.

It's nice to grow older and learn to see people in all their dimensions, instead of through a single lens.

Sheila O'Malley said...

I love to hear so many people praising his use of gesture. That makes it sound pretentious - and I don't mean it that way - but he is a MASTER at using the perfect gesture at the perfect time. He said to Bogdanovich in their interview something along the lines of: "I think that's the first thing you learn when you do a high school play. If you're going to make a gesture, MAKE it."

There are so many gestures of his that I love. One that comes to mind is when he comes up over the hill in The Searchers to see the homestead on fire. He has a moment where he unsheathes his gun - whipping it into the air with one hand, so its leather sheath goes flying - and I swear, it is one of the best acting moments I have ever seen: In that gesture, with no closeup on his face (so many actors today, who do so much television, wait for their closeups to do the "real" work) - he expresses every feeling of impotent rage, helplessness, adrenaline, and grief that is in his body. No lines. No "lingering" on it to make a self-congratulatory moment. It is a completely real moment, fully integrated into the story, and it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time I see it.

He's phenomenal.

Tom Block said...

Of course at the very moment I was writing about how liberated I am from historical realities, The Siren has to mention They Died With Their Boots On, and...I'm sorry. That one just goes too far.

According to it:

* Custer and Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn, no less) struck the Fort Laramie Treaty by themselves after a short conversation. They also addressed each other as "Brother".

* There was no gold in the Black Hills. You heard me. Instead, the strike was just a rumor started by greedy Indian agents who wanted to open the Hills for the railroad. (In reality the strike was discovered and publicized by Custer's expedition, which was in the Hills expressly looking for gold, two years before the Last Stand.)

* Custer rode to the Little Bighorn, knowing the odds against him (he didn't), because General Terry's column was composed of infantrymen and Custer understood that a cavalry troop was required to fight the Sioux.

* Custer left behind a letter to Libby (who was so different from the divinity de Havilland the subject deserves its own post) incriminating the corrupt BIA agents, knowing it would be treated as deathbed testimony. The good guys back in Washington instantly seized on it to painlessly depose all the bad guys.

The battle itself is beautifully shot despite not having near enough extras and being way too short--it's only about five minutes long in a 139-minute movie. And of course it has the tactics and topography all wrong, too, but I was expecting that. This other stuff, though...damn, man. At least fight fair.

The Siren said...

Oh my goodness yes, no sane person can watch They Died With Their Boots On as any kind of history. If you look at it as fiction, which happens to have names of historical characters in there, you can enjoy it, or at least I do. Masterful filmmaking. But when as a kid I read about the real Little Big Horn my reaction was, to coin a phrase, WTF.

Vanwall said...

I've read of J.E.B. Stuart and his troopers serenading young women from horseback between battles, and most Civil War units had a musical bent, so I can imagine the Gary Owen was at least professional.

A good Wayne gesture was also in "The Searchers", when he plunges his bowie knife into the sand after burying his niece, and possibly his best single acting moment was when he tells the boys about what he found, and tells them never to ask him more. That really affected me as a boy, I'd never seen that level of expression out of him in a movie before. I like how he tosses the Reverend's hat back at him after the fight by the river, too.

Wayne was often as good as the people around him, and when he had mediocrity around, it showed in his acting. He was best when he had bit of the crooked or bastard in the character, IMHO. And he used that physicality he had all the time, especially his walk - I love how he strides through the loose cattle at the end of "Red River" when he's going after Clift, and he casually shoos away a steer without slowing down.
I'm afraid I still avoid watching most of his films, having seen them perhaps too much for me as a kid, but there are still some I watch compulsively.

Yojimboen said...

M VW and M Exiled, you’re both close but no cheroot – Wayne’s gesture was directed past camera not to Harry Jr., but to the actress who played Mrs. Jorgensen and who had just walked out of frame, Harry Jr.’s mother, and Harry Sr.’s widow, Olive Carey.
Reportedly she burst into tears.

Vanwall said...

M. Yo - thanks for the correction - so much for recollection. ;-)

gmoke said...

The first time I saw that scene from "Red River" where John Wayne is implacably coming for Montgomery Clift was at Expo 67 in Montreal in that great Buckminster Fuller dome. It was a clip played as part of a loop on a suspended screen near one of Claes Oldenburg's giant soft sculptures, a drooping electric fan. I watched the full loop two or three times just to see Wayne walk past John Ireland calling out "Mr Dunson, Mr Dunson" and then turning to shoot Ireland without missing a step even when Ireland wounds him. Great scene.

Wayne, reportedly, got his walk from Yakima Canutt and also wore three inch heels on his cowboy boots to look even taller than he was. I always like to say that John Wayne wore high heels.

Given recent events, seems like Jon Voight is picking up John Wayne's noxious, from my perspective, politics. Don't mean he can't be a good actor. Hell, Robert Duvall campaigned for John McCain.

I think you'll like "Tokyo Godfathers," Siren but, if you want an anime to break your heart, see "Grave of the Fireflies."

Vanwall said...

M gmoke - I love that whole little sequence with John Ireland's Cherry, 'specially when (YES!) Harry Carey's Melville tells Ireland: "You know that young man isn't gonna use his gun, don't ya?"

Cherry: "Yeah. But I haven't any such notions."

Hard bolied dialog.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Re songs, I like "The Ballad of Chucka--luck" in Rancho Notorious, and "Don't Fence Me In" by Cole Porter. As for "Country and Western" nothing beats Tammy Wynette

Karen said...

Oh, geez, Grave of the Fireflies! That'll rip your heart out.

But for this film-buff audience, the Kon you want is Millennium Actress, a kind of magical realist life-story of a Garbo-esque actress, which manages to convey the entire sweep of 20th-c Japanese history as well as the history of Japanese cinema. A corker.

X. Trapnel said...

George Carlin once observed that when John Wayne appears in a scene all the fun and high spirits have to stop (to be fair he said the same of James Stewart).

For me there is something both ponderous and powerful in his screen presence that always leaves me ambivalent (I've gotten over my political objections on the grounds that Stewart's were pretty much the same). Yes, he's magnificent (and irreplacable) in Stagecoach and The Searchers, but I've never felt he was equal to the pity and terror of Thomas Dunson; I keep imagining Robert Ryan as this Ahab-like character; on the other hand I'm forced to admit that he couldn't equal Wayne's mythic quality for all his superiority as an actor ("He'll do" would have just been realistic).

I recall a scene from In Harm's Way with Wayne and Brandon de Wilde reprising the Red River thematics in which neither quite seemed from our planet.

pvitari said...

Another dyed in the wool liberal who adores John Wayne here. I don't care about his politics; I do love it that he was so graceful and charismatic and that within his range he rang every note possible. X.Trapnel, I note your comparison of Robert Ryan to John Wayne and understand, but there's something so iconic and singular about Wayne's presence that no other actor could duplicate.

I believe that's Harry Carey, Jr. himself singing the "lullaby" -- that's some lullaby, about death! He originally wanted to be a singer, although that career never took off for him.

Vanwall, Ben Johnson did indeed sing when crossing the river in Bite the Bullet but then had a conversation with Gene Hackman and then a (heart-breaking) monologue before his death -- a death that completely undid me the first time I saw the film as I just wasn't expecting it *that very moment.* Johnson was famous for saying how much he hated dialogue and would much rather be riding a horse but after The Last Picture Show he was given a lot of monologues. :) (He has two in The Train Robbers.) :)

Trish said...

John Wayne is always better in a John Ford film. I cannot stand him in The Alamo, True Grit, Brannigan and the westerns he made with Andrew McLaglen. In those movies he sucks the life out of every scene he's in. But Ford knew how to bring out his strong silent side.

A shame that two of our finer actors come off as being ignorant of their own profession. I'd expect that from guys like Josh Duhamel or Shia Lebeouf but -- Penn and Duvall? There is a lot these two could learn if they would stop talking and start studying...

Vanwall said...

pvitari - "Mister, I didn't even know your name." Oh yes, I knew Johnson's character's monologue, it's even a bit more of a tearjerker when you realize Johnson was one of premier rodeo men of his time, prolly the best pure horseman H'wood ever had, and it's like a salute t ok all those who went before him. I think his character went in to the river knowing he prolly wouldn't make it through the nite, and the song was a farewell. Hackman actually had the best monolog in that film, about his character's days as a Rough Rider, and a more true version of the battle at San Juan Hill, and as a plus, a bit of that romance Siren looks for, when he tells the death of his wife there, a Cuban whore and insurrecto of great courage - "I wasn't worth her spit.", was his comment to Candace Bergen at a waterhole. Richard Brooks, by the way, got the desert right in that film.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Okay, I'll admit it, I'm of a generation and *weltanschauung* that shudders at the words "John Wayne." But I will, however, enjoy him when he's directed by Ford or Hawks or Walsh. Or when he's paired with Patricia Neal, which would make anybody look good.

I've also got a taste for SEVEN SINNERS, which leads to the question: Who's the pertinent factor, Marlene Dietrich or director Tay Garnett?

DavidEhrenstein said...

I like Wayne enormously in Hondo.

Trish said...

I like him in movies where his characters have a lot of thinking to do: Stagecoach, Red River, The Searchers. And I really love his stint in war-time films -- They Were Expendable, The Fighting Seabees and The Flying Tigers.

Jeff Gee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Gee said...

1948 was a spectacular year for Wayne—Red River, Three Godfathers, and Fort Apache, with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon just a few months ahead.

In 1973 somebody was hogging the B&W portable TV in the lobby of the Weinstein Dormitory at NYU, watching The Searchers, and about half a dozen of us were groaning and explaining to this jerk what a lousy actor John Wayne was, right up to the point where he snarls, “You want me to draw you a picture?!” Somebody said, “Holy shit!” and I found myself entertaining the possibility that some of my opinions might be mistaken.

Early this year Dick Cavett ran a piece about interviewing John Wayne on the set of The Shootist, where there was this:
‘They were still setting up and Duke was humming to himself, and — I guess unconsciously recognizing the tune — I began to hum along. He spotted me and chuckled. And the following dialogue took place. On my solemn word. (I went straight home and wrote it all down before it faded.)
Wayne: Wasn’t he great?
Me: Who?
Wayne: Coward.
Me [startled, realizing now that the tune was Noel Coward’s “Someday I'll Find You”]: Yes.
Wayne: I’ve always loved his stuff. Remember the scene in “Private Lives” when they realize they still love each other?
Me: Yes, and did you know there’s a recording of Coward and Gertrude Lawrence doing that scene?
Wayne: Gee, I gotta get that. I guess I’ve read most of his plays.
Me [still not convinced there isn't a ventriloquist in the room]: I’ll send you the record.
Wayne: Well, thank ya. I like the line [he switched to quite passable upper-class British], “You’re looking very lovely you know, in this damned moonlight.”
Me: I did a show with Coward and, as he introduced them, “My dearest friends, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.”
Wayne: I sure would love to have seen them in “Design for Living.” [Mentally I reach again for the smelling salts.]…
Me: Did you ever think of doing one of his plays?
Wayne: Yeah, but it never got past the thought stage. I guess they figured that maybe spurs and “Blithe Spirit” wouldn’t go together. Can’t you see the critics? “Wayne should go back to killing Indians, not Noel Coward.”

When I burbled the story to [Woody Allen], he seemed disappointingly un-astonished.
“It reminds you that he’s an actor,” he said. “Not a cowboy.”’

(The whole thing is over here.)

I would pay bucks to see JW in Design for Living -- both on the big screen AND on Mystery Science Theater. Although I love the Lubitch version (scrubbed clean of all actual Noel Coward Design for Living dialogue by Ben Hecht) with Gary Cooper, so who knows…

Vanwall said...

M. Gee - Thanks a lot for that Cavett link! If anyone here reads that one, (as if they could resist - but it oughta be mandatory) make sure ya click the link that continues the story at the bottom of the article, especially you, Miss O'Malley, for it has more awesomeness, including soemething about that very thing that makes the hair stand up on the back of Miss O'malley's head.

gmoke said...

The best riding in a movie I know of is Toshiro Mifune in "Hidden Fortress" riding back to attack a checkpoint. Mifune practiced archery from horseback as a hobby. His seat on a horse is what John Wayne dreams he could have.

Kent Jones said...

There's some justice in the statement that Wayne was only as good as his collaborators, although I guess you could say the same of a lot of actors. He did his share of coasting, but so did plenty of other people before and since - you would too if you made that many movies. But when he was great, he was REALLY great with an understanding of his own body in relation to the camera and what the director was going for that seems more and more astonishing to me. As much as I love and admire him in all the films mentioned here, the performance I really treasure is the sheriff in RIO BRAVO. Of course, it's more than just him - it's Martin, Brennan, good old Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, it's Hawks and his devotion to friendship. But that performance is indelible for me - the way he looks at Dean Martin when he kicks away the spitoon, the way he idly shuffles through the card deck while he's talking to Ward Bond, Kissing Walter Brennan's head and running away, every word, glance and gesture...what an actor, what a movie.

Trish said...

What synchronicity, Kent. I am right at this minute watching Rio Bravo. Love the singing scene with Dean and Ricky. Yes, what a movie, and the Duke blends well with his co-stars....

Arthur S. said...

I'd say John Ford and John Wayne exert what is called "anxiety of influence". Actors and directors of later generations know they owe a lot to them and their pictures even if it is expressed in less than kind words.

Daniel Day-Lewis is another non-fan of Wayne, he likes Gary Cooper though and the Ford western that impressed him during his research for ''Last of the Mohicans'' was ''Cheyenne Autumn''.

A few weeks ago I saw Hawks' ''EL DORADO'' and John Wayne is magnificent in it. As much as I love RIO BRAVO, EL DORADO seemed to me more moving, despite some weak scenes.

Yojimboen said...

There is an old apocryphal story out here in H’Wood, that Duke once – when very young - took a gig at the Pasadena Playhouse appearing as MacDuff in the Scottish play.

He was well enough known that some stars made the trip out to Pasadena to see him. At first the laughter was quiet, embarrassed, but soon crept out into open derision. The laughter got so loud reportedly, Wayne actually broke character, walked downstage to the footlights and said (roughly) “I know, I know, but don’t blame me, I didn’t write this stuff.”

Arthur S. said...

MacDuff isn't a good role for Wayne anyway. In any case, American actors have generally had a hard time doing Shakespeare. So that's no measure against Wayne in any case.

Karen said...

I found myself entertaining the possibility that some of my opinions might be mistaken.

Jeff Gee, that line made me laugh out loud.

It was also The Searchers, for me, that hipped me to how good an actor the Duke really was, and made me rethink a whole rash of preconceptions and assumptions I'd had about him.

Thank you also for that Cavett excerpt, and especially for the Woody Allen commentary, which points out--better even than all Cavett's italicized asides--what a supercilious schmuck he can be.

Kent Jones said...

Karen, who is the "supercilious schmuck," Woody Allen or Dick Cavett? The former, I guess, but then wh does that comment reveal him as such?

Karen said...

Ah, no, Kent: Cavett. Absolutely Cavett. So in love with himself.

I suppose Allen can be a supercilious schmuck, too, but not in that quote, which Cavett craps on with that snide "disappointingly unastonished."

Little twerp.

I apologize for lowering the tone of discourse, O Siren, but Cavett really cheeses me off.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

"Take John [Wayne] out of the saddle and you've got trouble."
~Joan Crawford, as quoted in the new Donald Spoto biography of Crawford, in connection with REUNION IN FRANCE.

Kent Jones said...

Yes Karen, understood.

I don't exactly disagree with you, but on those rare occasions when I turn on network TV and get a glimpse of the current talk show "landscape," I find myself longing for Dick Cavett.

But...yes. I mean, have you ever seen the Godard interview? Now THAT'S supercilious! And in that case, I do mean Cavett!

The Siren said...

I love Cavett; he may be supercilious, but shit, he's funny. And smart. And his interviews are like nothing that's on now. Hell, when I look at old Merv Griffin clips I see meatier interviews than a lot of what I see now, but that's another story.

Patrick Wahl said...

I don't see anything wrong with the Allen comment, just shows he saw things more clearly than Cavett.

Arthur S. said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93HCeGy6vzk

The Dick Cavett-Jean-Luc Godard interview in six parts,

gmoke said...

Years ago, I was visiting at the NY Aikikai and Dick Cavett was there talking with Yamada Sensei. In fluent Japanese.

He may be supercilious but he's very smart and knows what he's being supercilious about.

BTW, Cavett is, like many entertainers, a small man with a big head. Literally, figuratively I can only guess at.

Kent Jones said...

Patrick, Karen clarified that she meant Cavett, not WA.

Yes Siren, compared to what's on now, Cavett was beautiful. And, of course, no one could conduct a successful interview with Jean-Luc Godard according to the laws of decorum of American TV. But the way that he pokes fun at Godard, provokes laughs from the audience with raised eyebrows and pauses, is for me a little too close to the scenes in I'M NOT THERE between Bruce Greenwood and Cate Blanchett's Dylan avatar. And then a week later or so, he had a follow-up guest (can't remember who) with whom he snickered over Godard and how opaque he was and how SAUVE QUI PEUT was a failure, and so on. Not to fault Cavett - interviewing Godard tests the limits of convention - but Godard tested the limits of Cavett.

Patrick Wahl said...

I don't see what's wrong with Cavett's comment either. I get what Cavett is saying - you have this great story, you think, you tell a friend and they just say - oh yeah, that's what I'd expect. Dang.

Cavett was a bit hard to listen at times, it's been awhile but if I remember right he seemed to have a difficult time making a straightforward statement, he liked to qualify everything or make asides in the middle of a sentence, and I think he was fairly star struck. At least he went for slightly more cerebral guests than the average talk show.

Karen said...

I remembered Cavett as the very model of a talk show host from when he first ran. Then he started writing those occasional columns for the NYTimes, and I was appalled at how self-important he seemed (the capper was the piece he wrote about how scorning fat people wasn't really such a terrible thing).

And then TCM started running some old shows--I watched Groucho and John & Yoko, and couldn't get away from Cavett's constant, failed attempts to be as funny or funnier than his guests. It seemed so...needy.

So now: not such a fan.

Vanwall said...

I've always appreciated Cavett's main point, which is to have reasonably intelligent conversations with interesting people that often are revealing, rather than reveling. His quirks aside, the interview with Wayne, and Allen's reply - which was actually quite cogent, underscores the reality of an actor as opposed to what fans, and often the actor in some cases, actually interpret.

Craig said...

I grew up on John Wayne movies...his best films, in my opinion, were Ford's films...seemed Ford brought the best out in him. He did do some fine non Ford films...Red River, for example.

Then came the Vietnam war & off I went. When I returned as a pissed off vet and as left wing as possible, I still loved the Wayne films...his politics were terrible...I couldn't stand his later films...I must confess, I do not think he deserved an Oscar for True Grit.

I do remember in the late 50's Wayne showing up in my little burg of Anacortes, WA..he was on his boat & pulled into town to get supplies. You could have scrapped up all the dropped jaws from the street as we all peeked around corners & tried to get up the nerve to talk to him...he was gracious, by the way.

Art should be judged on its own merits and not politics. Ezra Pound was a genius and being put into a cage at Pisa did not diminish that. R. Polanski makes great films...regardless, of any sexual crime.
If we had to reject art because of some human failing of the artist we couldn't even look at cave paintings.

Happy New Year.

The Siren said...

Craig, thank you so much for that comment. My own parents were as left as one could get in Alabama (and that's more left than you might think) and yet Wayne was a god to them. I think he was my first lesson in looking at the work. He was well loved by many he worked with, and a lot of the things he said that are attached barnacle-like to his reputation were said toward the end of his life. Old age can curdle viewpoints, whether the ideas were there before or not. In any event, it is easy to love him as an actor, or always has been for me. His kind of towering stardom is never unearned. The public may be wrong in the short term, but the transient, less-talented stars don't transcend their time. Wayne does, and always will.

Pordenone said...

I agree that the 1930 version, Hell's Heroes, is the best of all these versions. it's a terrific film and when I first saw it, the theater snuck in a children's choir for the rousing climax when the last remaining bandit stumbles into the church holding the baby. The choir behind us started singing Silent Night and put the entire audience in tears. Now THAT'S a great Christmas story!