Tuesday, May 03, 2011

George Stevens' Giant (1956), in One Scene




As the Siren's contribution to her friend Raymond de Felitta's valiant efforts to resurrect the sadly shredded reputation of the marvelous George Stevens, she was going to write up the movie Giant. (Part 3 of Raymond's musings right here; please, pretty please, read them all.) After noodling around for a couple of weeks, she decided that all she really needed was this scene, one that ranks with the Siren's favorites in all of 1950s cinema and constitutes a remarkable piece of acting by the perpetually underappreciated Rock Hudson. Gather round, Stevens lovers and Stevens skeptics, and the Siren will explain.

A primary theme of Giant is bigotry, specifically bigotry against Mexican Americans. We've seen it throughout; Rock Hudson, as the stalwart Texas rancher Bick Benedict, kind to his Hispanic workers by the none-too-exacting standards of the time and place, but patronizing, tone-deaf and inclined to ignore what's going on in front of him. Like many people before and since, he first must find someone he cares about personally in order to comprehend what his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) and son Jordan (Dennis Hopper, in a sensitive and intelligent performance) have understood all along.

Late in the movie, the Benedict family--Hudson, Taylor (as Leslie), Carroll Baker (as their headstrong daughter Luz) and Elsa Cardenas (as Hopper's wife, Juana) have stopped at a roadside diner on their way back from a catastrophic weekend. James Dean, as the oil magnate Jett Rink, got spectacularly drunk at his own tribute dinner and, after making a horse's ass of himself in front of Texas society, confessed his love for Leslie to a near-empty banquet hall--watched by a heartsore Luz, who had loved him herself. Benedict decides a good hearburn-inducing meal will help them get back in touch with the real Texas. Unfortunately, the salt of the Texas earth is going to contain a lot of dirt.

We've already seen Juana, a gentle and idealized young woman, humiliated when she tried to go to a beauty parlor in Rink's hotel to get ready for the banquet. We've seen Jordan stomp into the proceedings and slug a smirking and unapologetic Rink. We've seen also that Benedict's initial reaction (although he later confronts Rink, for personal reasons that go way back) was more discomfort and embarrassment than sympathy with his enraged son. In the four minutes that this scene runs, we see Benedict finally, irrevocably, on course to getting the point.

What a superb rhythm Stevens and his editor, William Hornbeck, bring, as the scene starts with shots looking down the whole of the diner, and then picks up bit by bit as the confrontation grows and the camera gets more intimate with the fight and the people looking on. Raymond writes, with regard to A Place in the Sun, that "for Stevens, its not a matter of where the actors heads, hands etc. actually were that amounts to continuity; rather an emotional continuity and the power of the cut to bring that forward is what he was looking to achieve." Emotional continuity is here in this scene, in spades.

The Benedicts are seated at a back booth, with their menus. Sarge, played by Mickey Simpson, a character actor built along the lines of a brick outhouse, has already insulted the baby ("I'd think that kid would want a tamale") but permitted them to sit by virtue of the Benedicts being white enough to counteract the presence of Juana and Benedict's grandson. The camera looks down the long length of the diner, steel, white paint and red vinyl chairs, as a Spanish speaking family, evidently Mexican, comes in to eat. They timidly take a booth. "Hey you," Sarge calls from the left of the screen.

Cut to Benedict, sitting up, menu sliding back, a profile shot that emphasizes his social stature--the lord of the Reata ranch is not pleased. Leslie tries to talk about planes and arrival times. Back to the camera looking down the diner, Sarge advancing on the family--a woman with her parents, it seems--and telling them to get lost, with a few mispronounced Spanish phrases that are far more insulting than English would have been. (Simpson sounds about as Texan as Fiorello LaGuardia, but he's so good here it doesn't much matter.) From the left we see people at the counter watching the moment over their shoulders, with no more than idle detachment. Sarge towers over the old man, plants the old gentleman's hat on his head like he's a schoolboy, and starts to 86 him. Far in the back of the shot, we see Benedict rise to his feet and begin to advance. The men at the counter turn all the way around.

Benedict walks up with the spreading beer-belly gait of late (very late) middle age, but he's almost as tall as Sarge. Sarge's physical advantage is telegraphed by the way his back almost blots Benedict out of the shot. Hudson's body language isn't that of a man anticipating a fight, just that of an aristocrat pulling rank in the easy expectation that the peon is going to roll over. Simpson's planted feet and posture suggest no such thing.

Cut back to the opposite corner of the diner, now looking at Benedict's back, which is stiffening, a cake tower separating the two men (the Siren loves that) and Sarge pointing to Benedict's grandchild: "That there papoose down there, his name Benedict too?" The waitress is the only one in the diner who takes a look. Benedict turns; everyone else is still focused on him.

Back to the first shot, only closer in. "Yeah, come to think of it"--it may in fact be the first time Benedict has truly thought of it, and his voice finally gets aggressive on the next part of the line--"it is." Now to the Benedict booth for the first time since the confrontation began, Juana staring ahead in silent misery, her son just visible at the bottom of the frame, and Leslie in profile--hand resting on her pearls.

Sarge's back again, full-length; the old man has sat back down. Sarge pulls him back up and Hudson's first move is covered up by the actor's bulk--you only see Benedict's leg bowing out as he almost crouches to push back. Back against the counter Sarge goes; the men seated in the middle of the shot have abandoned all pretense of not watching the floor show. Benedict stands there like he's waiting for Sarge to pump him gas.

And we hear the first punch--we don't see it--we're back at the booth, Leslie giving a start, Luz's jaw set, Juana refusing to turn around. A couple more punches are heard until we're at a new angle and Sarge's huge frame landing on top of a table. And the impact of his body starts up the jukebox playing the mega-hit "Yellow Rose of Texas" as he slowly rises to his feet. Benedict's back look relaxed--way too relaxed, in a way that signals once more that this fight isn't going to go well for him.

Sarge lands another punch and the camera pulls back to Benedict landing on the floor, legs underneath him as though he slipped on a wet spot, not someone who knows he's in danger, but someone who figures this is all going to work out as soon as he's back on his feet. Benedict gets to his feet; more bad news, he doesn't exactly look steady. The Benedict table stirring, Leslie sitting up further, Luz's hand wavering at her face as if to say this is so unpleasant. The grandson, too interested to start crying.

Facing the counter now, Benedict and Sarge holding one another, Sarge punching only a hair above the belt. Benedict against the Mexican family's table, hands finally up. They circle one another and Benedict gets in a right to the jaw, his best punch so far and the best he's gonna get. Benedict's face in a brief moment of triumph, then Sarge lands another punch and he goes down.

And--the Siren loves this shot--we shift suddenly to the perspective from the kitchen, and the back of the cook, looking dead at the door as a man exits the counter on the right, and on the left Sarge still whales on Benedict.

Sarge's face shows more confidence than ever. A tremendous punch at Benedict who goes down again, an off-camera whimper from (probably) Luz and back to the corner booth, Leslie really clutching the pearls now, Juana barely turning her head.

Benedict down on the floor, looking up--another shot the Siren loves, one of sheer bloody aristocratic stubbornness, incredulity still in the tilt of his eyebrows.

One more fairly decent punch for Benedict, shot from the back of the diner again. The screen evenly divided, the Mexican man standing on the left, the waitress pudgily waiting it out on the right.

Then, as Benedict wallops Sarge onto a table, dig the view through the window--the livestock truck with cows grazing on hay, and the oil derricks on the left. More customers cutting their losses and beating it. More Luz and Leslie, the baby still placid in his mama's lap. Benedict pulling up Sarge like a sack of grain--he's not going to hit a man when he's down, not Bick Benedict.

Our first shot through the outside windows, people peeking in, and then the waitress in her doughy stupor, a sign on the right of her that we're about to see again in short order.

Sarge's quickest, harshest, most brutal punch, and Benedict's fastest meeting with the floor yet. The baby really wondering what's going on now. Sarge standing over Benedict, his face saying "I've got you now." Benedict's hair flopping comically and blood coming out of his mouth; Luz sitting way up in her seat to see if her father is capable of getting up, then putting her hand on her mouth like he's embarrassing her at a school dance. The camera trying to get up from the floor with Benedict as he seems to hug Sarge's waistband. A higher-angle shot of the Benedict table. Benedict up against the counter, and Sarge lands a punch that sends Benedict sailing over the counter, and Stevens pulls the camera back again so what we notice is mostly the soles of Benedict's shoes. Luz finally crying. The baby leaning back against mama. Benedict staggering to his feet and Sarge almost centered behind him, Sarge sure of his victory now. The cook still lounging on the left.

Benedict's head on the counter. He turns around. Now look at his expression, pushed to the side of this lummox, hair still flopping--he knows he's going to lose, but by god he's going down swinging. From the back of Benedict we see them, absurdly, still raising their fists like this is a boxing match and not a rout--more punches, more Luz almost hysterical--two more punches from Benedict and the waitress momentarily a bit worried. The baby finally upset, Sarge half-grinning, Luz again calling to her father, more punches, a blindingly fast cut to the Benedicts, more Sarge, Luz's head on her arms, and then a look through the neon sign on the window--Sarge's Place--at Benedict going down. (The military nickname for Sarge's character sarcastically evokes the one soldier we see in this movie, Sal Mineo's brief cameo as the young Hispanic ranch hand, Angel, who is killed in action offscreen. It's worth noting, because Stevens, novelist Edna Ferber and screenwriters Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat probably knew it, that Latino Americans have won more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group.)

Leslie finally runs to her husband, leans over him and we get our first Stevens dissolve, to Sarge looking down at Benedict, with that sign on the left. He turns and grabs it (it isn't a very big sign) and dumps the notice on Benedict's chest. Leslie looks up. A close-up of Sarge, his expression hovering somewhere around smug, and then a swoosh in to the sign: "WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE TO ANYONE"--the words surrounded by foodstains, heaving up and down with Benedict's labored breathing.

It's a rare movie fistfight that functions as character development, and this one plays like gangbusters. The metronome of that Mitch Miller march is bouncy enough to take the edge off the brutality, but martial enough to underline the epic nature of this battle. This is the climax of what the movie has been slowly pushing at Bick Benedict, the realization that his seigneurial little gestures toward Hispanic Texans are not, and never have been, enough. At some point, he has to pick a side and fight for it. But this isn't a noble fencing match, it's a doomed gesture against a system that isn't going to change anytime soon. And it isn't a complete epiphany for Benedict, Hudson's face and body show that to the end. There's too much lingering surprise for that. It's only when he's pulling his head off the counter that Benedict appears to realize that he's going down. And as Leslie is trying to comfort him, Benedict still doesn't know precisely what the hell just happened. It's Leslie who will have to explain at the fadeout, just a few scenes later.

112 comments:

Jaime said...

Stevens deserves more credit than he's been given (although, to be honest, I find some of his films hard to take).

We viewed this clip twice consecutively, in an NYU Cinema Studies class that focused on sound (in particular, the song), and it helped me to realize that I shouldn't take him for granted. Or anyone.

Yojimboen said...

Lady – We share a regard for Giant (and its music) which sometimes puts us in the minority in these here parts; I’ve seen the fight sequence countless times, enough times that I daresay I could have written a creditably accurate account of the sequence from memory, but not in ten thousand years could I have come close to your hair(s on the back of the neck)-raising artistry. Hat’s off, babe.

The Siren said...

Jaime, I hope you read Raymond's pieces too. There is plenty (way too much) room in the Stevens bandwagon. The only one I've found a thoroughgoing slog is (and this will surprise precisely no one) The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Yojimboen, warm thanks for the support. I find this movie enormously entertaining. Other favorites (which I could also write up from memory) include James Dean's ecstatic dance at the gushing oil well, Elizabeth Taylor trying to muscle in on the male political discussion, Cardenas at the beauty parlor, that agonizing scene where Hudson tries to put his son on a pony, Sal Mineo's beatific sweetness at the Christmas party, and the fadeout, which Stevens holds forever...

X. Trapnel said...

Giant. That title and the picture itself encapsulate everything I don't like about 50s film. BUT that fight scene is genius and nervy genius at that, far more courageous and pointed (to say nothing of cinematic) than any self-congratulatory transgressions of the next decade. The Yellow Rose of Texas goes well with breakfast table fascism.

The Siren said...

XT, I know that the 50s and Dean and this movie make you break out in hives, so I am very pleased that you still dig this scene, which really is genius. What struck me, watching it again and again as I wrote this, was how wonderful Hudson is. His reactions, his stance, the way he throws a punch and takes one, it's all completely, perfectly in character. And Simpson is right there with him. It's too long and too measured to be a remotely realistic fight--most real fistfights are, I am told, nasty, brutish and short. But it's epic in a way that *points* to truth, if that makes sense.

DavidEhrenstein said...

What's wonderful about this scene is the way it transforms a defeat into a victory. Rock hudson gets beaten up -- and becomes a hero in Elizabeth Taylor's loving eyes.

That they are both Big Stars is the key to the scene's power. Rock, even though his character is "getting on in years" is a towering figure of enormous physical power. So his fall is punishing to us. Taylor, being the figure of infinite compassion she was on and off the screen, gives him her benediction.

As a whole Giant is a unique experiece -- an EPIC about family life. Its characters may have money but their concerns are strictly 1950's middle-class.

Dean is the unwitting snake in this garden of eden. He tries to "rise above his station," but fails. And his resentment leads to destructiveness -- making him his own worst enemy. His performance here suggests what might have been had he lived. As the older Jett Rink he enters acting areas he'd never been in before.

X. Trapnel said...

From a PC perspective the scene might seem slightly paternalistic, but I think part of the political subtlety is its demonstration that democratic progress is fragile even when embodied here by the distinctly unfragile Rock Hudson.

Watching this scene it's hard not to think of Ernest Borgnine's Fatso, who's establishment sadism is softened or distanced (from an audience point) by his ridiculousness. Sarge (that noblest of movie names as in "Sarge, I'm cold...") is unflinchingly shown as mainstream. Pretty damn brave on Stevens' part.

Some of my cine-friends and I have a game of actor least likely to play the platonic (platoonic?) "Sarge": "John Gielgud IS Sarge." Jean-Louis Barrault works nicely as well

The Siren said...

David, *so* well put, especially about Dean (his performance late in the movie puzzled me at first, but it gains in stature for me with each viewing) and the star power of Taylor and Hudson. I'd add only that it's an individual victory, one that Bick Benedict wins over himself and his own unexamined prejudices: "When you tumbled rearward and landed crashing into that pile of dirty dishes, you were at last my hero. That's what you always wanted to be."

Karen said...

Beautifully done, Siren. "Fight scene as character development"--that's a keeper.

I love that the version of Yellow Rose they use is so very military-band: it fits Sarge and the militant resistance to integration and so many other aspects of the scenario. I love the cuts to the little boy, as well--just fascinated at first by the sound and fury and then, only gradually, seeming to realize that a) that's his grandpa getting hurt and b) maybe, just maybe, it might have something to do with his own sweet self.

I do like this movie--I love Dean in it, and Hudson as well--but I've never seen it through your eyes before, and I'm grateful to have had the chance.

The Siren said...

XT, what I love is that Benedict is TRYING to be paternalistic, and gets his ass handed to him in a percolator. And oh yeah, there's nothing gargoyle-ish about Sarge, he's a perfectly everyday bigot. In another movie he might be serving the down-on-her-luck heroine an extra doughnut out of the goodness of his heart--provided she's Anglo.

Franklin Pangborn IS Sarge.

X. Trapnel said...

I've always assumed that the version of Yellow Rose of Texas was that of Lenin lookalike Mitch Miller, or am I wrong.

The Siren said...

Thanks, Karen! This version of Yellow Rose was an enormous hit. My grandmother had a copy. When I was little we'd march in the living room to it. That history kind of added to my perception of this scene when I encountered it later.

The Siren said...

XT, I assumed Miller too although I admit I didn't look. And now it seems, according to IMDB, it's Don George? Mitch Miller's version was the multi-million seller.

Yojimboen said...

What I was fumbling to say in my earlier comment, Karen just put beautifully: Seeing the sequence through your eyes makes it that much better, grander, more epic and on and on…

Wally Cox/Rene Auberjonois/Wallace Shawn ARE Sarge!

Dave said...

Siren, I love ya, but I still think "Giant" is a lousy picture. Stevens did good work, but this ain't part of it.

Trish said...

I love, love, love this movie, but I've always felt it kind of dies beginning with this sequence. Siren, I get your point about Bick having to finally take a stand, but I'm not convinced that this overlong and cartoonish sequence does the job. And then they talk about it in an another overlong scene. It's like the movie ran out of ideas and sputtered to an end. As for Rock Hudson, I love him regardless of his early shortcomings. Here, and with Doris Day -- he's wonderful.

X. Trapnel said...

Even Stevens' best pictures have their shaky moments and attitudes, e.g., the ruinous last half hour of The More the Merrier, the creeping solemnity of Talk of the Town...

By the 50s this side of him had taken over.

X. Trapnel said...

Naturally I'm going propose tough as nails, hell fer leather, cigar chomping, hog stomping Mischa Auer as Sarge.

Yojimboen said...

Arnold Stang and Jim Nabors as co-Sarges.

Karen said...

Alan Cumming IS Sarge.

Yojimboen said...

Sorry, make that Arnold Stang as Sarge and Jim Nabors as Bick Benedeict.

The Siren said...

Dave and Trish: Guys, if you're gonna go after this scene, which I spent a long time trying to demonstrate is objectively well composed, shot, edited, thought out, executed, blocked and scored (and I didn't even mention the costumes) you're gonna need more than adjectives.

I'll spot you the makeup; I've always conceded that the makeup in this movie was pretty hopeless past the midpoint (and bizarre for the Latino characters throughout).

Ralph Bellamy IS Sarge.

But you know who could have done it for real? Jack Carson. Hudson only had a couple of inches on him.

The Siren said...

That's in height, of course. (Of course.)

Karen said...

can I get a rimshot for our hostess, please?

Yojimboen said...

Any comments about Milton Berle or Forrest Tucker will be summarily deleted!

Trish said...

Oh so thoughtless of me, Siren. I have an idea how hard you worked, having recently observed a video editing session.

I'm pretty keen on the Van Keppel Green chairs around the pool. Fabulous and so modern!

Uhh... William Bendix as Sarge?

Dave said...

I don't dispute it's an interesting scene (it obviously doesn't work for me as well as for you), but my problems are with the picture as a whole. I don't like the script, I especially don't like Dean, and the whole thing lays there like a beached whale, as far as I'm concerned.

It all comes down to personal aesthetics, doesn't it? I'm sure I have a dozen "near-perfect" films that folks around these parts would roll their eyes at, and vice versa.

All that said, we are in agreement about Jack Carson. He's one of those guys who will bump any film up a notch. (Tangential but related: It was gratifying beyond belief that at the screening of "Hoop-La" at the TCM Fest, James Gleason got a big round of applause on his first appearance. That's another guy who lifts up a movie.)

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Stunning description/evaluation of this scene, and valuable observation about Latino Medal of Honor recipients.

The Siren said...

Thanks, Jacqueline.

Forrest Tucker? really? I had no idea.

Yojimboen said...

From Uncle Milty's IMDb entry:

Berle was famed in Hollywood for the alleged size of an "unmentionable" portion of his anatomy. An often recounted (and possibly apocryphal) story was that when he was once challenged to a "face-off" with another man [Forrest Tucker] to prove who had the larger one, Red Buttons said, "We're in a hurry, Milton, just take out enough to win.".

rcocean said...

As always I wish to agree with the Siren, but I HATE THIS SCENE. I think its cartoonish and completely wrong for the Hudson's character and sticks out like a sore thumb.

Hudson's character is supposed to be a well-to-do rancher. A man who's an old-time Texan, a big landowner, a quasi-aristocrat. He looks down on oilmen and City folk. He's a man who spent his entire life hearing anti-Mexican prejudice - and was never bothered by it, except to think it was "low class".

So. he never would have liked a man like "Sarge" (what are they doing in that dinky diner anyway?) and considered him "white trash" but beneath his station to brawl with.

And in any case, his character was too stolid and cool headed to get so emotional.

And the "Sarge" character is too buffoonish. He's way over-the-top in refusing business and far too insulting to be believable. Bigots had plenty of more realistic ways to tell "the wrong sort" that they weren't welcome.

I like Stevens, but this scene is awful in its overall content. Its one of those big dumb 50s anti-racist moments - patronizing to everyone - that make me cringe.

But I wouldn't disagree that the action is well filmed. But then same is true of "Shane". Stevens films the death of Elisha Cook very well, its one of the most chilling and realistic killing in Western film.

X. Trapnel said...

I'm not sure 50s anti-racist scenes are to be taken for granted, and this is far better than Stanley Kramer-style lecturing. At this remove in time we may be unwontedly condescending to what was probably powerful in its day. Still, it would have been interesting to have some of Uncle Joe Grandi's (Akim Tamiroff IS Sarge! Ernest Thesiger IS Zorba! Sorry, I'm getting carried away.) boys mess Sarge up a little. And it would be nice to have the scene (and hotel check-in from Gentleman's Agreement) redone with Jack Benny and Frank Nelson.

While I'm at it I would also like to add a laugh track to Ivan the Terrible.

The Siren said...

All right Rcocean, thanks! some spelled-out objections. Rock on.

1. It's established in the car, and from the disaster at the banquet, that Benedict is feeling that his family has strayed too far from the rustic purities of life--all that Dallas (or is it Houston?) glitz is taking them away from the things that matter. Like being in touch with the little people. And hamburgers. If Marie Antoinette can play milkmaid, Benedict figures he can get a hamburger.

2. He treats Sarge through the first part of the scene (and earlier, when they enter) with exactly the kind of off-handed condescension you're describing. It's when Sarge insults his grandson for the second time that Benedict shoves him--and he's still surprised when Sarge doesn't back off. At that point, he's committed, like it or not.

3. Oh, I couldn't disagree more about the "realistic" ways to tell the wrong sort they weren't welcome. You might get that at a higher-class establishment; in fact, we DID, several scenes earlier in Giant, when Juana isn't told she isn't wanted at the beauty parlor, she's just kept cooling her heels for a couple of hours while the other ladies breeze in and out. Sarge is a gruff guy running a rough truckstop diner. He isn't going to mince words or actions. "There seems to be some mistake, we haven't a single free spot" like the hotel clerk in Gentleman's Agreement isn't going to be Sarge's style. And his style was very, very common--the stories I heard from my Alabama relatives who were around in the 40s and 50s are not stories of subtle snubs, for the most part.

4. The fact that Benedict's stolid character is finally roused to this point--after seeing his son take a swing at Rink, a man he's always despised himself--is the whole reason I say it's fistfight as character development. Hudson's shifting attitudes are there from the start to the finish.

Yojimboen said...

A tip o’ the hat to Maxine Gates, who played Sarge’s vacuously suspicious waitress; she worked a lot, from 1945 to 1972 – in 41 movies she was usually credited as “blonde” which was preceded by a variety of adjectives: “fat, chubby, heavy, big, heavy-set, plump” etc.

I guess Maxine was and wasn’t “one of the little people” who made the movies we all love.

The Siren said...

Yojimboen, she's got a great little moment earlier when she's seating them and does a double-take at the baby, who smiles at her, and she turns as if to ask Sarge whether the kid is allowed to do that.

rcocean said...

Thanks Siren. Love your blog and your willingness to slug it out with your commentators.

I just wonder if the Texan attitude toward Hispanics was a little more ambivalent than the movie makes out. After all, there were Hispanics at the Alamo fighting with Davey Crockett and IRC Hispanics were considered "white" under Texan segregation law. BTW, do you know WHERE in Texas Hudson is supposed to have his enormous ranch?

Anyway, your response has made me pause, and I wonder if I misread the scene. I'll have to watch it again. Damnit, I hate it when people make me reconsider.

The Siren said...

You know, I really have no idea about how Texas segregation customs, if not law, worked with regards to Hispanics; maybe someone here, like Texan Tonio Kruger who has a fine blog and comments here sometimes, does. Jordan does marry Juana, so clearly there is some flexibility there. There is a painful story in City of Nets, though, of a Mexican-American Medal of Honor recipient who walked into a diner to buy a cup of coffee and was threatened by that diner's Sarge character with a baseball bat.

Hollywood itself had varying attitudes; there is a romantic love for Latin American culture and history in a lot of movies, side by side with teeth-gnashing stereotypes.

Yojimboen said...

Here’s an archeological link to Reata the Ranch, real and theatrically fictional.
A lot of fun info.

gmoke said...

Thomas Mitchell, of course, was "The Immortal Sergeant."

Fiorello LaGuardia, a close friend of my grandfather's, was partially brought up in Arizona and probably had a pretty good accent in Spanish. He supposedly spoke seven languages and served as an interpreter at Ellis Island and with the US consulates in Trieste and Budapest (his mother was a Hungarian Jew).

He asked my mother before my sister was born if he could take her to her first circus. Unfortunately, he died before that could happen.

It is a charming and somewhat crack-brained idea to cast Cary Grant as an anarchist labor organizer named Leopold Dilg who loves borscht with an egg in it. "Talk of the Town" along with "People Will Talk" and "Crisis" are evidence that Grant was not always a Republican.

X. Trapnel said...

Cary Grant, like everyone else in People Will Talk, is a Martian. That Mank.

rcocean said...

The problem with "Talk of the Town" is that its only funny when its trying to be serious. I mean, Cary Grant as a labor agitator jailed for committing arson and murder? Ronald Coleman as a Lawyer Professor? Good grief. The only saving grace is Jean Arthur who can do no wrong.

Still given the cast, this could have been a contender. They just needed a funnier, more focused script. And someone to tell Stevens to drop the drama and make a screwball comedy.

The Siren said...

I quite like Talk of the Town, and as we all know I'm only mezzo-mezzo on Colman. It's funnier than it's given credit for being and Jean Arthur is darling. Walks off with the picture. And I saw People Will Talk some time back and you know what, I did not hate it. There were certain parts I even quite liked. Wouldn't call it some undiscovered gem or mount a ringing defense, though. If I did that for a Mank it would be Late George Apley. And for Stevens it would be either Penny Serenade or (more likely, only because Penny Serenade is well-loved in some quarters) Vivacious Lady with my beloved Ginger.

Penny Serenade is, for the record, my mother's favorite movie.

Karen said...

I adore Talk of the Town, and I like People Will Talk probably better than it deserves (I'm mostly exasperated by the endless presentation of Gaudeamus Igitur, a student drinking song, as some sort of pinnacle of highbrow classical music). Both of them have the Divine Cary in roles that one couldn't have predicted with four packs of Tarot cards and a surprisingly subversive story for their time.

But--and I realize how this jeopardizes my relationship with our beloved hostess--I've never been able to sit through Penny Serenade. Even I, that champion of sentiment and defender of tearjerkers, find it too sentimental. Also: Irene Dunne at her most cloying.

The Siren said...

Karen, I freaking hate Gaudeamus Igitur and cringe when I even hear the first two phrases of the melody, which is mostly what you get when someone is trying to set an academic atmosphere. The only time I like it is in Ball of Fire, where they're sitting around singing it in a cute kind of way. So yeah, its recurrence in People Will Talk is an irritant. As for Penny Serenade, fret not. Fine filmmaker and writer, and hardcore auteurist, Dan Sallitt once described Band of Angels to me as a "How auteurist am I?" litmus test. (My answer: not auteurist enough for Band of Angels. Yeesh.) And Penny Serenade is some sort of "How sentimental am I?" women's picture litmus test. My mom's and my answer: "sentimental enough for that movie, and sentimental enough to cry over the untimely death of a pet petunia."

X. Trapnel said...

Speaking of improvised bits (and this one couldn't have been scripted) Jean Arthur's Hepburn imitation/reaction on being seen by Colman in TOTT is funny enough to fill three comedies.

"Half angel, half horse"? Nay [neigh]; Harry Cohn was all horse's ass.

As for Gaudeamus, in all fairness, Grant is of course conducting Brahms' (freaking great) Academic Festival Overture in which GI is heard at the climax in a sunburst of contrapuntal splendor. Brahms intended (yes, yes; intentional fallacy) a non-academic joke here at the expense of German academic pomposity. "How could you do such a thing?" wailed his friend (and later biographer) Max Kalbeck to which JB responded, "Fortunately, there's no need for you to know." Brahms, an immensely well-read and learned man (who probably knew more about music than anyone on our planet before or since), but was very sensitive about his lack of formal education, a VERY big deal, socially speaking, in 19th-century Germany/Austria. That it became a cliched signifier of academic decorum is one of the ironies of history like Blake's radical prefatory poem to "Milton" ("And did those feet in ancient times...") becoming a patriotic anthem in Hubert Parry's (admittedly magnificent) setting (you all know it; and Yojimboen when a boy chorister must surely have quavered it over ye banks and braes).

Karen said...

"And did those feet in ancient times" always conjures up for me a naked Eric Idle in bed with a guitar (and probably Carol Cleveland).

X. Trapnel said...

Better that than (uurrrgggghhh) Chariots of Fire.

Nora said...

Be interesting to hear what others have to say, but as a native of Texas low these many years, I can tell you that a great deal of the bigotry in Giant was not present in my childhood (before this film was made). Segregation did not include those of Hispanic heritage. More than half of my school would have been eliminated if it did, including my best friend and my brother’s wife. I cannot say the same for African Americans or for those of the Jewish faith (but not as overt as against Blacks). Nor will I swear that bigotry did not exist in some sections of the state. It certainly is here today, but you may be surprised as to how the lines break down.

And check out the official Handbook of Texas for the true history of the Yellow Rose of Texas, a young mulatto woman. But see both the original lyrics and the lyrics sung during the Civil War. The original was written shortly after the Texas War of Independence, which could not have been won without the participation of Mexicans on the Anglo side.

Yojimboen said...

Dear me X, way to slap me awake on this sunny Wednesday morn! Picture this, 12-yrs-old, up to my neck in banks and braes, knee-deep in what was laughingly called in those days a classic (hah!) grammar school education; okay so far?

Our Music master (they weren’t called ‘teachers’) selected a half-dozen of us likely lads whose voices hadn’t quite broken, and rehearsed us as a mini-choir in, you guessed it, ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’ for the proto-“Glee” regional competition. (We dressed exactly like the ‘good school’ in that show.)

Weeks and weeks later on a clear and frosty morning (it was August as I remember) we were given bus fare and sent off with indifferent best wishes to join other equally lucky children at the Academy of Academies to compete against a dozen other Institutes of Classic (hah!) Learning.

Long story short, every group had to perform the same piece – we were handed the music and lyrics when we arrived. Problem was, we had been rehearsing ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’ lo these many weeks, and had never heard of ‘Non Nobis Domine’.

I would love to announce we winged it and won. In a “Glee” season-ender, maybe. In real life, hah!

So, Madame Sirène, your dislike of ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’, next to mine, is a pale, paltry thing.

Harry Kay said...

Oh, dear! Late to the bus again! Edward Everett Horton IS Sarge.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Lambert Wilson is "Sarge"

X. Trapnel said...

Accept no imitations: Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne IS Sarge!

X. Trapnel said...

Y, this almost sounds like the madrigal singing episode in Lucky Jim. But then, we are all Jim Dixon (those of us who aren't Bertrand Welch).

Yojimboen said...

Better Lucky Jim than Lord Jim I always say.

Noel Vera said...

Victor McLaglen IS Sarge.

I have a soft spot for Greatest Story Ever Told--yes, yes, it moves like quick dry cement on an incline, and it's more diorama than drama, but it's fun looking for all the cameos (like John Wayne as the centurion, and trying to listen to his "Aw, truly--").

And Max Von Sydow I find strangely compelling as an ascetic, authoritative Christ. He looks like he could face down Death (or at least play a game of chess with him), and he looks perfectly capable of picking up a sword and swinging at a Roman or two. Thought he was tres cool.

It WOULD be nice to have Christ face Pontius Pilate and say: "I'd much rather see you on my side, than scattered into atoms."

DavidEhrenstein said...

The biggest problem with Greatest Story is that Pasolini had completely reconfigured everythign the year before it was released with The Gospel According to matthew A roaring success it became the template fro all future Biblical representatiosn -- including Mel Gibson's NASCAR Jesus.

Ned said...

Giant, when I was younger and diving deep into theoretical lagoons, was a guilty pleasure. As I came up for air, I began feeling less and less guilty about watching it. It’s not the great American masterpiece, but in many ways it’s a masterful bit of filmmaking.

Thanks to the Siren for importuning us to read Raymond de Felitta’s entries on Stevens. The second part confirmed something I’ve always wondered about, especially when watching this scene.

I’ve spent a good part of my career editing and directing—mostly in television, but at an earlier time, in films (non-commercial films, industrials, documentaries, etc.) and so I’ve always paid close attention to things like lighting and camera set-ups.

Every time I watch the diner scene in Giant I’m astounded at the number of set-ups. It must have taken days to shoot that four minute scene. There is a ton of coverage, of over-shooting, as de Felitta points out.

Certain directors have a very low shooting ratio, Eastwood, so I’ve heard, shoots about 4 or 5 to 1. That’s insanely economical. In documentaries you’re lucky to get by with less than 40 or 50 to 1. Stevens must have been on the high side for feature film directors.

I honestly haven’t read that much about him (there isn’t much); I’ve seen his son’s documentary and read some articles, but nothing to suggest the kind of immense coverage on display here.


In fact, the coverage brings to mind some additional considerations in watching the scene. We are given both ringside and balcony seats to the fight. Stevens puts us all around. We ARE the people in that diner watching not just a personal struggle for understanding (Siren’s beautifully phrased idea of character development through fist fighting is spot on), but a political struggle.


X, in one comment, mentioned the fragility of political advancement. Don’t forget that this was shot in the mid fifties during as the civil rights movement began cranking up its active engagement in places like, well, like diners.

Stevens could hardly have been insensible to the political context of staging a fight between a bigot and a man whose soft bigotry instantly started to erode once it all became personal, in a diner.


And that’s what Stevens’ coverage and shot selection does for us. He makes it personal. He places us among the spectators, from behind the counter, back in the kitchen, outside looking in through the windows. And most effectively, he puts us right in the middle of the fight. In fact, he plants us on both ends of POV punches, subjective shots that put us in the place of Sarge and then in the place of Benedict. To get back to the comment about political fragility, it’s as if he wanted us to see that there was no place on the sidelines anymore. A fight was taking place and we could either engage or sit back and watch, but with us or without us, there would be an outcome.


One final observation. Each time I see this scene, the first establishing wide shot of the diner, all rectilinear perfection and serene composition, I think of Hemingway’s A Clean Well Lighted Place. And not just because they’re both set in a diner. Hemingway’s story, by running lines of perspective through the older waiter and the old man drinking, establishes that we are, all of us, alone, agents of our own destinies.

In the Diner scene in Giant, this realization (a realization the Jett Rink had always had) is about to dawn on Bick Benedict, probably for the first time in his life.

X. Trapnel said...

David, I don't know that TGSET has a problem. That would allow for ambiguity or unrealized or semi-achieved possibilities. Total crap is not problematic; it is what it is, and at this point the bloated, cameo-bestrewn Hollywood epic had achieved a perfection of crapiness totally sequestered from the influence of Pasolini's film.

A pity Stevens didn't engage Dmitri Tiomkin to write crucifixion music.

Goose said...

Sydney Greenstreet IS Sarge

Clifton Webb IS Sarge

C. Aubrey Smith IS Sarge

SZ "Cuddles" Sakall IS Sarge

Goose said...

Greatest Story is bloated and leaden simultaneously, to be sure, but in the midst of this, the Slaughter of the Innocents is "pure cinema" and very economical. Horsemen with lances cocked advancing from left to right - screaming and fleeing villagers - horsemen with lances relaxed galloping from left to right.

I read that some of the pisture was directed by others - the Claude Rains scenes as Herod were directed by David Lean, for example. Does anyone know?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Jerry Lewis ahs said he learned about film editing by watching Stevens edit A Place in the Sun. "How many ways can you drown Shelley Winters?" he wondered. Then as he watched and learned, Stevens' technique began to make sense.

Yojimboen said...

An earlier – perhaps more experimental - attempt at character development within one scene by Geo Stevens:

DavidEhrenstein said...

That's very interesting momern, Yojimb. He's denying Palance the grandeur of dominating time and space.

rcocean said...

Watching this again, I was struck by how Stevens builds sympathy for the Mexican-Americans who are turned away and make us dislike "Sarge". So, I noticed several things:

1) Rock was almost freakishly Big.. So, Stevens had to make "Sarge" an even bigger guy. So, at one point he Frames Sarge and Rock confronting each other -with both them - looming over the little old Mexican guy. This builds sympathy for the Mexicans, makes Sarge into even more of a bully, and makes it clear that Rock will be fighting an equal. Imagine this scene with say a couple of Hispanic JD's. Or try to imagine it with "Sarge" being tall and athletic but only say 5' 10". Doesn't work.

2) Throughout the scene Stevens emphasizes the meek, mild, inoffensive, nature of the Hispanic threesome. An old man, an young girl, and old lady, all obviously tired and wanting something to eat.
Excellent way to build sympathy.

3) The waitress is blond, fat, and homely. She, however, seems sympathetic to the Hispanic couple. But it looks lie Stevens was trying to cast the situation as "ugly, common, bigots" vs. "good looking, tolerant, aristos", to help make the point.

4) The constant cuts to baby frankly annoyed me. I suppose this was to emphasize that Rock is fighting because of his Grandkid but its kinda annoying.

5) Stevens/Rock do a good job of hiding how athletic and young Hudson is. Yes, he still does pretty good but its still obvious Rock is holding back a bit. He was about 30 during this, and had to hide his age.

6) The Sarge's crude insults, which made me cringe at first, make more sense now that I thought about it. After all, we may dislike bigots, but many in the 50s would've thought "Hey, where does Rock - Mr. Rich Rancher - get off trying to tell "Sarge" who he can sit in his restaurant? Its his damn restaurant!" The only way you can destroy this potential sympathy for the little guy owning his own restaurant is by making him an obnoxious bigot who'd probably toss Ricardo Mountaban and Carmen Miranda out of his diner.

7) And I agree the set design if fabulous, although I wonder if these kind of sparkling brand new diners were common in 1955 Texas.

Michael Dempsey said...

Kevin Brownlow's biography of David Lean describes Lean's contributions to "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and indicates that Jean Negulesco shot one sequence. Both filmmakers stepped in to help George Stevens with budget and schedule problems on this massive production.

rcocean said...

Its amazing how many films Stevens directed and how many of them were good:

- The More the Merrier
- Gunga Din
- Women of the year
- I Remember mama
- Shane
- A place in the sun
- Swing Time

An amazing career.

Yojimboen said...

The old Mexican in the diner the fight is putatively about was played by actor Julian Rivero
Born San Francisco 1890
Died Hollywood 1976. (age 85)
He was married to Isobel Thomas
A Mack Sennett bathing beauty

Guys and Dolls
East of Eden
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Outlaw
A Bell for Adano
Anna and the King of Siam
Yolanda and the Thief
The Song of Bernadette
This Gun for Hire


are a small sample of the 226 titles he had to his credit.
In 90 % of these films, he was “uncredited”.
(Including Giant)

Ned said...

The dissolve of Wilson crossing the barroom floor raises more questions than it answers, it's so odd. David's interpretation is certainly one rationale, but in other scenes Stevens goes out of his way to allow Wilson to dominate the mise en scene.

Palance's Wilson is so cautious. He scans the entire room before entering and as he approaches the camera, his hands are held in a ready position (the pose reminds me of the way Bogart's Duke Mantee holds his hands in Petrified Forest). In another scene Wilson mounts his horse very carefully, slowly, never taking his eyes off Joe Starett.

I'd almost be tempted to say that the dissolve was hiding a problem with the take, but since Stevens was such a stickler for coverage, why not just do it again if there was a mistake in the shot, or use an alternate take?

By the way, I've always loved the way the dog gets up and moves as he sees Wilson enter. Like a reaction to some very bad vibes.

Maybe Palance took so long to cross the space that in retrospect, Stevens decided to adjust the pace with that dissolve. But it adds such a nice eerie, almost out of time quality to Wilson's entrance that whatever the reason, it's a nice effect.

Ned said...

rocean,

I agree that Stevens seems to be making a polemical argument in the diner scene regarding racism, and polemical statements tend to be less subtle.

The cuts back to the baby do get a bit heavy handed after the second one, but Stevens makes sure, in case you haven't been paying attention (and, in fact, at the end of the film, even the Bick Benedict character, unlike his wife, still isn't completely sure what to make of things) to reiterate his message in the last few shots, close-ups of both babies, white and Mexican, dissolving from one face into the other.

It seems a little heavy handed today, but in 1956 there were likely a lot of people who shared Benedict's puzzlement.

Yojimboen said...

R.I.P.

swhitty said...

A graduate course in film editing. THANK you, Siren. Lovely.

And can I just add that I got very tired, years ago, of modern Hollywood movies that "bravely" take on racism today by setting their events in the South, and in the comfortably long-ago `50s?

Which is in NO way to take away from what happened then, and there, obviously.

But I am truly weary of films that open with some finned Cadillac roaring down a gravel road, and an insert shot of a condensation-kissed bottle of Royal Crown Cola gripped in a red-nailed hand, and then have some awful sorghum-mouthed narrator intone "It was a different time, that summer..."

There were all kinds of prejudice in the North, too, then -- against not just blacks, but everyone who wasn't WASP. There still are. And anyone who thinks you have to go back into the past, and/or down to some red-dust Southern town, just to find bigots doesn't really know modern New York City (or Boston, or plenty of other Northern towns...)

Oh, and to the question of Texan attitudes toward Hispanics, there are glimpses of this in Caro's monumental (can't wait for the next volume!) biography of LBJ, particularly when he details how Johnson's early experiences in his home state later fired his support of the Civil Rights Act...

Yojimboen said...

Shirley and Sachiko?

Great shot, never seen it before.

The Siren said...

Yes, for Mother's Day! I love this picture.

X. Trapnel said...

My first thought was a Balthus nightmare. I'm too rattled for second thoughts

Karen said...

It's a FABULOUS photo, Siren!

Their LIFE Magazine cover shot is also wonderfully charming.

Happy Mother's Day!

DavidEhrenstein said...

My Two Cents on Arthur.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Putting Sarge aside for awhile, today is Mother's Day. And I can't think of a better way to celebrate it cinematically than viaGeorge Stevens' I Remember Mama 1948 which can be seen complete on You Tube.

Stevens began his career in comedy. He was the dp on the great silent Laurel and hardy destructo-romp Big Business. His 30's films of great sophsitication and wit are legend. Then came the war.

George Steven was among those soldiers who opened the concentration caamps and saw horros none of us have ever known. He couldn't go back to comedy after the war. He wasn't yet ready to maek The Diary of Anne Frank. So he did thse near-plotless film, all about mood and character from a script by DeWitt Bodeen (whose most famous work prior to this was Cat People. I used to see Mr. Bodeen at the Academy library in his later years , invariably accompanied by the devestatingly good-looking young man who was taking care of him.)

Reportedly Steven first wanted Garbo. But Irene Dunne is perfect. This actress famed for musicals and comedy found a profound conenction to this simple Norwegian immigrant woman of infinite compassion and sterlign conviction. I defy anyone to be unmoved by the sequence where she sneaks into the hospital to be with her sick daughter because she promised her daughter she would always be there for her. All the cast is perfect, especially the invariably wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes. But to me what makes the film is the fog.

RosieP said...

Your description of this scene reminds me of how much Rock Hudson was unappreciated by critics and moviegoers. It's odd that most people tend to gush over Dean's performance in this movie - and he was good. But there was a reason why Hudson also received a Best Actor nomination. Whenever I think of "GIANT", I tend to think of Hudson's performance a lot more than the other actors.

RosieP said...

And can I just add that I got very tired, years ago, of modern Hollywood movies that "bravely" take on racism today by setting their events in the South, and in the comfortably long-ago `50s?


I've seen plenty of movies about Northern racism, set either in present day or in the past.

Yojimboen said...

R.I.P. Dana Wynter

8 June 1931 – 5 May 2011

rcocean said...

RosieP,

I agree that Rock was underrated as an actor. Partly its due to his looks. Rock was a damn good looking guy, and its hard for some people to believe someone that good looking can also act.

Hudson also had the Kind of good looks that most men don't, what's the word? Resent? Ridicule? Anyway, the man was good-looking without being a "Pretty Boy."

That kind of "good looks" is actually rare. I think Cary Grant had it too as did Gary Cooper, and James Garner. OTOH, I think most straight men think Tony Curtis, Richard Gere, and Warren Beatty as faintly ridiculous. I wonder if women have the same view of female beauty?

barrylane said...

When will you be ding a pice on the relationship between Louis Hayward and June Duprez in And Then There were None...?

Barry

barrylane said...

Please forgive the missed letters in "doing" and "piece". Thank you.

William said...

I just saw this movie when Elizabeth Taylor died. Sure wasn't as good as her performance in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - and the stuff she went though making that - starting with the death of Mike Todd just as shooting started -

I believe - in reading about Giant that the book had Benedict winning the fight.

Yojimboen said...

The fight doesn’t exist in the book. Bick Benedict isn’t present, only Leslie and daughter Luz are with daughter-in-law Juana and (grand)son Polo. They are refused service, rudely, and leave furious; but no violence. The owner ‘Floyd’, not ‘Sarge’ also takes Leslie – because of her look - for a Mexican.

“As they went they heard, through the open doorway, the voices of the man [owner Floyd] and the woman [waitress] raised again in dispute.
‘You crazy, Floyd! Only the kid and his ma was cholos, not the others.’
‘Aw, the old one [Leslie] was, black hair and sallow, you can’t fool me.’”

Skimpole said...

If you're not enthusiastic about David Thomson's biographical dictionary of film, then you probably won't like this review of it by Clive James: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2011/06/hollywood-a-love-story/8501/ Personally I think it's kind of repulsive, and unfortunately the kind of movie criticism the MSM likes.

Ned said...

Speaking of Clive James (back to Thomson later) he once opened a review of a biography of Leonid Brezhnev (!) with this sardonic observation:

"Here is a book so dull that a whirling dervish could read himself to sleep with it. If you were to recite even a single page in the open air, birds would fall out of the sky and dogs drop dead."

How can you not love a guy who can write like that?

Yojimboen said...

So Clive James sort of feels that Thomson isn’t as good as Shipman? I sort of agree; but it’s never easy to juggle one’s opinion of this or that critic if one likes – or has liked – the work of said critics in general. (Fortunately there’s no urgent need to choose between them.)

Specifically, they can be greatly entertaining and informative (in light of the likelihood we are curious readers), and in turn damned annoying. Sometimes, if I’m in the mood, I exult in James’s knowing sarcasm; Thomson's likening Agee’s work to a young Lothario reporting on a first date, is also as knowing as it is delightful (but cheap-ish). I liked Pauline Kael until I spent an evening with her. Crowther had a surprising, though well-concealed sense of humour; Renata Adler represented the slack-jawed nadir of NYT film criticism; I sort of like Dave Kehr, but once in a while his fact-checkers take an early lunch. Like Mr. J. Brown said: nobody’s perfect

“Critics sit up on the hillside watching the battle below; and when it’s over they climb down to shoot the wounded.”
I forget who said that. I think it's cliche, but who am I to criticize?

X. Trapnel said...

Clive James is my favorite contemporary culture critic and Thomson my favorite writer on film for all my many monologous arguments with him. James pinpoints what I think is the main problem with each subsequent edition of TBDOF; it is in dire need of full scale revision (e.g., Thomson's more recent views on Hitchcock are not reflected in the latter's entry) plus an entry for Cathy O'Donnell.

James' essay on Agee (to be found in As of This Writing) is the best thing I've ever read on him and no one writes better than he on modern English poetry, especially Yeats, Auden, Larkin.

Also with the governor of Y's home state so much in the news it is worth recalling James description of the former's younger self as "a brown condom stuffed with walnuts."

Yojimboen said...

James on Thomson on Hitchcock:

“His assessments of Hitchcock are sane and brave: while as mad about a capital work like North by Northwest as you or I, he is ready to say, as almost no other critic is, that Hitch’s frequently lousy-looking back projection is not an ironic comment on the illusion of reality or a realistic comment on the illusion of irony but is in fact lousy back projection.”

I think I can validate Thomson’s premise. At a Hitchcock seminar/Q&A at London Film School in the late 60s, Hitchcock was asked directly by a cheeky student why the painted back-drop in Marnie was so… god-awful.

The answer from the master himself (nothing metaphysical or metaphorical) was a dismissive shrug followed by “Nobody notices those things.” I remember it quite well – I was the cheeky student.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, how does it feel to be called nobody by Alfred Hitchcock?

Marnie is always adduced as the prime example of poor back projection in Hitchcock. Worse, I think, is to be found in the skiimg sequence in Spellbound. Badly edited too. This from the man who would do the Albert Hall sequence a decade later

rcocean said...

ojim,

Is Renata Adler the one who wrote a scathing attacking on Kael in the New York Review of Books?

I didn't know she was also a film critic. I agreed with some of her criticisms of Kael, although she seemed to have a rather excessive dislike of her.

For what its worth. I thought Kael was better at talking then writing.

rcocean said...

I envy anyone who got to talk to Hitch, even to get shot down. I've read he disliked location shoots and was somewhat old fashioned, hence the terrible back projection in Manie. Some of the special effects in "The Birds" now look rather silly, but I suppose they were state of the art in the early 60s.

Juanita's Journal said...

I realize that many are claiming that the discrimination against Latino-Americans in mid-20th century Texas may have been exaggerated in the movie, but I have doubts. I'm beginning to wonder if these claims of exaggeration might be . . . well, completely true. I read some material about Latinos in 1940s and 1950s Texas. According to one article, even though they were "legally" considered as whites, Latinos still encountered a great deal of discrimination during that era. Then I came upon these images:


http://consejodereyfeos.org/index_files/image006.jpg

http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/no.jpg


I just don't know. I have a deep suspicion that Ferber and Stevens may have been closer to the truth than many want to admit.

Yojimboen said...

@rcocean – from Renata Adler’s Wiki page: “In 1980, upon the release of her New Yorker colleague Pauline Kael's collection When the Lights Go Down, she published an 8,000-word review in The New York Review of Books that dismissed the book as "jarringly, piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless,"[3] arguing that Kael's post-sixties work contained "nothing certainly of intelligence or sensibility," and faulting her "quirks [and] mannerisms," including Kael's repeated use of the "bullying" imperative and rhetorical question. The piece, which stunned Kael and quickly became infamous in literary circles,[4] was described by Time magazine as "the New York literary Mafia['s] bloodiest case of assault and battery in years."[5]

Problem was Renata didn’t know she was the butt of endless jokes about her utterly, blindingly, hideously inept reviews (IMO!) and her obvious lack of knowledge or love of cinema from anywhere in the world. We – a small coterie of NY snob movie buffs used to get the NYTimes about midnight the day her column was published (Friday probably – she was, believe it or not, the NYT ‘Chief’ Film Critic 1968-1969) and head for the nearest coffee shop, where we would read snippets of Adler aloud AT each other. We used to piss ourselves laughing. Adler, without knowing it, was a one-woman Algonquin Round Table – a Dorothy Parker in reverse.

As I said above, my regard for Pauline Kael was complicated by meeting her, but in her wildest dreams, Renata Adler couldn’t shine PK’s patent pumps.

rcocean said...

@Yojim,

Thanks. Perhaps RA's attack on Kael can be written off as sour grapes. It probably says something about Kael that the NY Review of Books would publish an 8,000 word attack on her.

Would anyone do that today for Ebert - or any other film critic?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Rather surprised your meting with Pauline was unpleasant Yojim. I always found her infinitely more pleasant in person than on the printed page.

I well remember Renata Adler's mercifully brief tenure at the NYT. Totally ignorant about cinema and an exceptionally bad writer to boot: a double threat. Her attempted take-down of Kael was pathetic. There are any number of deeply serious charges to level against Pauline but merely stacking up word she used that you don't like aren't one of them.

Tonio Kruger said...

Thank you kindly for the shout-out, Campaspe.

Speaking of excerpts from classical American literature like Edna Ferber's Giant, please consider this humble passage from a classic American novel:

“You think I'm Mex.”

“Nothing like it.”

“Yes, you do. You're not the first one. Well, get this. I'm just as white as you are, see? I may have dark hair and look a little that way, but I'm just as white as you are. You want to get along good around here, you won't forget that.”

“Why, you don't look Mex.”

“I'm telling you. I'm just as white as you are.”

“No, you don't look even a little bit Mex. Those Mexican women, they all got big hips and bum legs and breasts up under their chin and yellow skin and hair that looks like it had bacon fat on it. You don't look like that. You're small, and got nice white skin, and your hair is soft and curly, even if it is black. Only thing you've got that's Mex is your teeth. They all got white teeth, you've got to hand that to them.”

--James M. Cain, The Postman Rings Twice

So apparently Leslie Bennett wasn't the only American literary character to get the "is she or isn't she?" treatment--though it doesn't quite explain why the above-mentioned female character ended up getting portrayed on the big screen by the likes of Lana Turner and Jessica Lange.

Tonio Kruger said...

As for the question of whether Ferber and Stevens exaggerated the discrimination of that period:

Well, I actually wasn't alive back then and most of my knowledge of the era comes either from books or anecdotes. And most of my family anecdotes concerning prejudice are focused more on the discrimination my Mexican-born father faced up north than on anything that happened on Texas.

Just the same:

It's not an accident that some of the first civil rights lawsuits filed by Mexican-Americans were filed by Mexican-Americans living in Texas.

Then again, family legend has it that my paternal grandfather almost had the sheriff called on him by a local restaurant owner for refusing to eat in the kitchen like the other Mexicans. So perhaps I'm a bit biased.

Btw, a LBJ biography isn't a bad place to start if you plan to research that subject.

And in my world, my candidate for Sarge would be PeeWee Herman.

Or Paul Lynde.

Tonio Kruger said...

Oh. For "local" in my previous post, please substitute "Texas." Much obliged.

And btw, that was a great post, Campaspe. As usual.

Yojimboen said...

This is a test.
Do not be alarmed.
This is only a test.

Yojimboen said...

Seems to be up and running again.

rcocean said...

Weren't there some posts on Kael that got deleted?

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X. Trapnel said...

re new banner: Where is that soul-piercing image from?

Yojimboen said...

Sullavan travels right to my heart!

X. Trapnel said...

I hope and pray that this is not Three Comrades, lest the bulging form on the left be an aspect of S.A. Brugh.

The Siren said...

It is indeed Three Comrades, XT. Tomorrow is Miss Sullavan's birthday.

X. Trapnel said...

Well, I shall celebrate by ignoring the film and reading Remarque's great novel. One of the sad frustrations of film is that some things are possible only at certain moments in film history/culture. The fact is Three Comrades could not have been filmed faithfully (certainly not at MGM!) for both formal and aesthetic reasons, but should it ever be redone no actress could ever approximate the magic Sullavan brought to the role, and I am skeptical as whether a contemporary filmmaker could truly capture the mood of the book (forget all that Isherwood rubbish. Here is the Weimar Republic as lived) and its intense, romantic feeling. There are no Borzages around these days, just lots of Manks and Brughs

Margaret Sullavan IS Pat Hollimann. Read this lost masterpiece and see for yourselves.

Tonio Kruger said...

Thanks for the nice shout-out, Campaspe.

Your piece on Giant is so good it kinda makes me wanna forget some of the more idiotic things I wrote about that scene online ten years ago in my more PC period. Suffice it to say that I eventually became more sympathetic when I was laid up in the hospital seven years ago and had a chance to see more of the movie than I usually got to see.

I'm still not that big a fan of the Hudson-Taylor-Dean triangle and I must confess that I admire the soldier's funeral scene more than almost any other scene in the movie.

But your analysis of the big fight scene is as great as anyone can wish for.

For what it's worth, Paul Lynde is Sarge!

Don Knotts is Sarge!

Jerry Lewis is Sarge!

Moe Howard is Sarge!

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Freddie Bartholomew is Sarge.

Joel Grey (preferably as "The M.C.") is Sarge.

In the film, "Yellow Rose" sure sounds exactly like the hit Miller version.

I like this sequence, even more now that I've read the Siren's take on it, but in some of his more serious films, I think Stevens could have trusted his audience to 'get' the important themes, instead of pushing hard to make sure "all those wonderful people out there in the dark" understand his intentions.

And yes, Hudson was great at doing understatement onscreen- I've give him another nomination for possibly even better work in "The Tarnished Angels."

Vertigo's Psycho said...
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