Thursday, September 08, 2011

Born to Be Bad (1950)



The Siren has been wondering what it would have been like to kiss Nicholas Ray in 1950.

From this you should not deduce that the Siren has a crush on the man. She likes her sex symbols on the louche side, but not quite that louche. Still, as she watched Robert Ryan lay one on Joan Fontaine for the sixth or seventh time in Born to Be Bad, the Siren found the thought crowding out all attempts at more formal analysis. Back goes Fontaine’s head, way back, so far back Ryan could undoubtedly have told us whether she still had her wisdom teeth. Up go Fontaine’s arms as Ryan embraces some part of her that the camera is tactfully cutting off. Down comes Ryan’s mouth on hers, until you can see that he doesn’t part his hair. Just before the Siren started in on her Ray-kissing reverie, she was reminded of the morning that she was watching a backyard bird-feeder and saw a hawk close its talons on a chickadee, then fly off to have its own breakfast elsewhere.

Perhaps you're wondering about why the Siren was wondering about Ray's kissing, instead of Ryan. OK, she wondered about Ryan too, but that's nothing new. The Siren thought about Ray because this is how actors kiss all the time in his early black-and-white films, with a few variations. Sometimes it's decorated with a small spin or swivel, or commenced with a feint at the neck, or flipped with (oh yeah) the woman on top.

Forget framing. This is the sort of auteurist signature that the Siren lives to point out to people. You can’t say she doesn’t try to add value.

Born to Be Bad occupies a low rung in the Ray canon, perhaps because it was made for RKO under Howard Hughes (oh god, not him again), and of course he meddled in it quite a bit. The Siren will tell you, though, that she liked a lot more than the kissing. She had a great time with this one. And Dave Kehr likes it, too: "lively, vicious and daring," he says. Yes, just so.

Maybe the problem is that it’s occasionally tagged “film noir” (as it is in the IMDB database), and if you watch this movie expecting On Dangerous Ground or even In a Lonely Place, you will be sorely disappointed. The Siren would list Born to Be Bad’s noir characteristics as: 1. It’s in black and white; 2. There’s one character in it who lies a lot and 3. There are a couple of shots where the camera is filming through a window. Otherwise, it’s got a lot more in common with All About Eve, or even Gone with the Wind.

Joan Leslie plays Donna, a fetching young publishing assistant in San Francisco (subject of some breathtaking establishing shots). Her mildly bohemian milieu includes Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott), her filthy rich fiance; a bon-mot-slinging painter nicknamed Gobby (Mel Ferrer); Nick, a he-man novelist (Ryan, who else); and a staircase cunningly placed in the middle of her apartment so that all these people can be filmed drifting up and down it, calling, “Donna, darling, are you there?”. Into this halcyon environment comes Christabel Caine (Joan Fontaine), a delicate blonde attired in tasteful Hattie Carnegie. She’s Donna’s cousin, and she appears in the apartment like the sorceress in the Coleridge poem: “a damsel bright/Dressed in a silken robe of white.” (Except the damsel in the poem is named Geraldine; Coleridge's "Christabel" is the innocent victim. Oh well, the Siren loves the poem, so she still loved the half-baked reference.)



Almost immediately we’re shown that Christabel has an arm’s length relationship with the truth; only a scene or two later it becomes obvious that she’s a magnficently passive-aggressive bitch. Christabel, like Eve Harrington or Uriah Heep for that matter, uses a facade of humility to mask her conniving. She wants Donna’s fiance--or rather, his money and prestige--for herself, and she soon is able to trick Curtis into marrying her. The trouble is Nick, who has a powerful yen for her, a way with words and a kissing technique that she’s loath to give up. So Christabel decides she’ll have both men--and for a while, she almost does.

It’s a women’s picture, in other words, and a good one, too, with the actors in high gear (even Joan Leslie, no great love of the Siren’s, gave Donna a sharp intelligence). Kehr talks about Ray cutting into action; the Siren became obsessed, when she wasn’t concentrating on the kissing, with all the shots of Joan Fontaine crossing rooms. She skitters away from Zachary Scott's embraces because she has to scheme a bit more, he’s breaking her concentration and she doesn't want to sleep with her husband anyway, how dull. She traipses across a gallery hunching her shoulders and pushing back her arms like a schoolgirl, as she tries to persuade Scott to make a move she knows will doom his engagement. In the apartment, she glides away from Leslie with a smile of self-satisfaction as her schemes take root. Again and again Ray shows Fontaine on the move, until her endless to-and-fro becomes of a piece with all the double-crosses she’s trying to pull.

And there’s Ray’s close-ups, often jarringly placed where they aren’t expected, and emphasizing something that had been going unnoticed. In this brittle movie about people and their facades, there’s a striking moment where Christabel is bouncing her Aunt Clara (Virginia Farmer) out of the house. And Ray puts the camera on the old woman’s face, leaving it there as confusion, hurt and abject fear of the future play across it. It establishes Christabel’s villainy far more than kicking around Joan Leslie ever could.

How does Fontaine play Christabel? Think back to a fabulous bit of dialogue from Rebecca, when the odious Mrs. Van Hopper accuses the nameless protagonist of manipulating Maxim de Winter into marrying her: “I suppose I have to hand it to you for a fast worker. How did you manage it? Still waters certainly run deep. Tell me, have you been doing anything you shouldn't?” Fontaine responds with wounded innocence, “I don't know what you mean.” Let’s suppose Fontaine’s character knew exactly what Mrs. van Hopper meant, and had been playing those “tennis lessons” with Maxim for all they were worth. Voila, you’d have Fontaine’s performance in Born to Be Bad. Every bit of Rebecca, now with sidelong calculation, not to mention a headlong sexual union with Robert Ryan that would have scared the second Mrs. de Winter to death.




The similarities with that same year's All About Eve are obvious, even if the script isn’t nearly as good. Take the painter character, a rough parallel to George Sanders in Eve. The Siren was deeply amused by one online reviewer’s reference to Gobby as “codedly gay.” He’s codedly gay in the way that Paul Robeson is codedly black. Gobby is the gay-est pre-1960 character you will ever encounter this side of Franklin Pangborn. Not to belabor this, but even the Siren’s sainted Aunt Doris, the kind of woman who would wonder aloud why Liberace hadn’t found himself a nice girl, would have twigged to Gobby. Ferrer is handsome in his beanpole way, and he has witty lines and well-timed double-takes, but despite her admiration for the actor’s natural, dry, unexaggerated performance, the Siren wasn’t as charmed by Gobby as the script seemed to want to her to be. He acts wise to Christabel early on, and yet he never breathes a word. Gobby lacks, as Addison DeWitt would have said, the killer instinct. Hell, Addison could have disposed of Gobby with one flared nostril.




Ryan was a different matter. Phwoar. His roughed-up handsomeness was at its height, and the Siren could have happily spent half the movie just watching him lean against a kitchen counter. He’s very much secondary to Fontaine, and it isn’t a role to gladden the heart of those who worship Ryan in The Wild Bunch, necessarily, but he seems to be enjoying this rare chance at a romantic lead. And romantic it is; he's got the Rhett Butler part. Like Rhett, Nick has offstage derring-do (he is writing a novel about dangerous times in China, Rhett is running guns), Nick knows that the love of his life is a scheming tramp with the soul of an abacus, and Nick doesn’t care that much because she’s so damn sexy.

All in all, given the fun she had with this movie, and adding it to On Dangerous Ground, In a Lonely Place and They Live by Night, the Siren has to say that with the exception of the brilliant Bigger Than Life, she prefers her Nicholas Ray in black and white.

(One of the best film blogs around is run by the Siren's friend Tony Dayoub, and this post is a belated offering for his splendid Nicholas Ray Blogathon, which just wrapped up. A complete list of Nicholas Ray posts, for the blogathon and elsewhere around the Web, is here. Tony's own take on Born to Be Bad (he liked it, but not quite as much as the Siren) is here. Another Born to Be Bad writeup that focuses intently on the movie's considerable aesthetics, from Jake Cole at Not Just Movies, is here. )

108 comments:

Trish said...

The first time I saw this film I couldn't understand why it wasn't more famous. What a guilty pleasure!!! Instead of Christabel professing a redemptive love on her deathbed, the b*tch gets away with it in the end! How often did you see that in 1950? I initially watched it for Ryan, but was gobsmacked by a Joan Fontaine I really believed in. And I always overlooked Mel Ferrer until I saw him here. Truly a film to be enjoyed over and over again.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You prefer black and white? I'm truly surprised. maybe you havn't seen good prints of Rebel Without a Cause, The Savage Innocents and above all, Party Girl.

I find Born To Be Bad a truly louche title in that it suggests the gutter whereas the film is quite upper-crust.

Mel Ferrer is quite good as Gobby, but I would have preferred a mor authentic reading from the likes of say Louis Hayward or Zachardy Scott.

The Siren said...

Trish, I had the same reaction. It is the subject of a Carol Burnett parody, Raised to be Rotten, that I can't find in full. But there's a small clip on Youtube and you can see that they also noticed the vaunted Ray Kissing.

David - oh, I've seen them. Liked Rebel, and Party Girl has its rewards. But as my mother (and possibly everybody else's) said, pretty isn't everything.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh I remember "Raised To Be Rotten"! Those Carol Burnett parodies were pure genius!

D Cairns said...

Terrific piece, and funny!

I'm certain as I can be Joan is playing herself in this one, I'm just not certain if she knows it.

And it's hard to talk about the ending without getting into spoilers, but suffice to say it's pretty interesting what the movie chooses to do with its nominal villainess.

Tony Dayoub said...

I'm sure Joan realized she was playing herself, or at least Hughes' image of her. Wasn't her biography titled No Bed of Roses? (Born to Bad's working title was Bed of Roses.)

Peter Nellhaus said...

If the opportunity comes up, even if it weren't directed by Ray, I'd probably see it just because there aren't too many movies with a character named Christabel.

I wouldn't know anything about kissing Nick Ray, but I did get drunk with him one night in 1973, following a screening of his personal print of They Live by Night.

Untouched Takeaway said...

I have the source book of this film "All Kneeling" by Anne Parrish.

I've only skimmed it, but it bears little resemblance to the film as I've seen it described (I've not yet been fortunate enough to see it - gah).

And let's not forget Carol Burnett's immortal take on BtbB - "Raised To Be Rotten".

UT

Karen said...

Siren, thank you for that Burnett clip. I know Carol owes a lot to Lucy, but I'll take the later redhead over the earlier one any day of the week. I love the dress they have her in, too!

I could have sworn I'd seen this film, but the more I read of your post, the less familiar it sounded. How did I miss a Robert Ryan film?? (And, yeah, I'd watch 90 freakin' minutes of him leaning against a kitchen counter.) And Netflix is letting me down!! For shame!

DavidEhrenstein said...

My Carol faves are Mildred Fierce ("Kids -- they sure keep ya hoppin!") and Torchy Song("Do you realize how long it took for me to perfect This Pose !?")

john_burke100 said...

The prints I've seen of Johnny Guitar have terrible color. (Yeah, I know, Crawford and McCambridge's wardrobe is B&W, but still.)Was the original like this?

Yojimboen said...

Someone – I wish I could remember who – described Cristabel as a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Peg O' My Heart; which would have been a better tag-line than the one they used.

X. Trapnel said...

I've never read the the novel but the Fontaine character is said to be based on the poet/novelist Elinor Wylie, who was famously egocentric and "difficult."

Untouched Takeaway said...

OK - I've started reading "All Kneeling" in earnest - I should be able to slog through it this weekend.

It was written in 1928, and so far, Christabel is exactly the 1928 version of the 1950 version :D

Will report from the field later.

Untouched Takeaway said...

re: Elinor Wylie...

Good Lord - that ain't the half of it!

http://tinyurl.com/4ya67no

X. Trapnel said...

I just glanced into the Stanley Olson bio of Wylie and found that she was the subject of another roman a clef with the slightly Perelmanesque title of Immortal Ease.

The Siren said...

Oh my. David Cairns, you compliment my post (thank you!) and then you WOUND me. I call the character a "scheming tramp with the soul of an abacus" and you say that's my beloved Joan in real life? Perish. The. Thought. I figure any great star must have a bit of a conniving side, but still. Of the two sisters, I always figured Olivia for the one you had to watch out for, because she *seemed* sweeter in real life. (Mind you I love Livvie too.)

Peter, THAT is a story I want to hear. In detail.

Karen and Untouched Takeaway, you can see Born to Be Bad on Youtube if you're so inclined.

The Siren said...

Y., that description is uttered by Mel Ferrer in the movie itself - and repeated at a couple of points!

John Burke, I confess I don't know. The print I saw of Johnny Guitar was not terrible but the color certainly wasn't a patch on Party Girl, although JG is a much better film.

I know nothing of Elinor Wylie and am off to find out. Wish me luck.

X. Trapnel said...

Wylie, the wife poet and anthologist William Rose Benet, was the subject of these lines by Sara Teasdale;

Elinor Wylie, Elinor Wylie,
What do I hear you say?
"I wish it were Shelley upon my belly,
Instead of poor Bill Benet.

Sisterhood is powerful. a photo of Wm. Benet reinforces the point.

The Siren said...

Tony has posted a complete list of the blogathon contributions, and other Nicholas Ray essays around the Web. Very much worth a look.

Karen said...

Untouched Takeaway: I think this is my favorite part of that article: Her desertion left him broken and unhappy. He is now a bridge instructor to wealthy women in a fashionable Chicago suburb.

NATURALLY.

barrylane said...

There is almost no way Louis Hayward would have played this part. But, good he would have been.

La Faustin said...

Weirdly enough, Joan Fontaine and Robert Ryan would have been PERFECT casting for the leads in a movie of Elinor Wylie's delicious JENNIFER LORN: A SEDATE EXTRAVAGANZA (q.v., dear Siren!).

James R said...

Apparently Johnny Guitar was filmed in Republic's own colour process, Trucolor. I don't know if that explains the appearance of the colour or not. I haven't seen the film since 1995 and certainly don't recall the colour being impressive in any way, but that could just have been a mediocre video transfer.

Trish said...

Johnny Guitar is one of the ugliest looking films ever seen...and I'm certain it was intended that way.

Karen said...

Well, now I am all caught up and--OHMYGOD. That is one piece of work. Like Trish, I'm kind of amazed that she was allowed to get away with it all: the home-wrecking, the adultery, all of it.

I looked it up in the AFI Catalog and discovered this:

As indicated in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, two endings were shot for the film. In the first version, which was submitted for PCA approval on 13 Sep 1949, the picture concludes when "Christabel" leaves "Curtis'" house with only a few furs. The second ending, which was submitted for approval on 8 Aug 1950, included the scene in which "Donna" and "Curtis" reunite, as well as the car crash scene and subsequent scandal scenes.

And here's where it gets good:

The PCA file also indicates that, although early drafts of the story were approved by the Breen Office, later versions caused objections because of the "implication of illicit sex which is treated without the proper compensating moral values." Although no significant changes were made in the story, the script was finally approved in Jun 1949, as was the revised ending in Aug 1950. In a 13 Sep 1950 letter to PCA director Joseph I. Breen, however, Martin Quigley, the influential, conservative president of Quigley Publishing Company, complained that the revised ending, which he noted was ordered by RKO head Howard Hughes, was morally unacceptable because the "dame" is not punished, but is seen "nicely getting away with it." In response, Breen reassured Quigley that his office and RKO were headed for a "grand crash." In addition, in Nov 1949, Var reported that because of pressure from the National Legion of Decency, RKO withdrew its foreign version of Born to Be Bad, which the Legion considered to be "more morally offensive" than the domestic version, and replaced it overseas with the domestic version. Modern sources note that the reunion scene between Donna and Curtis, which takes place after Curtis is seen flying by himself in a small airplane, was rewritten by Hughes. Modern sources also claim that while Nicholas Ray directed some of the rewritten material in 1950, Robert Stevenson reshot the hospital scene and Richard O. Fleischer directed the scene in the prison hospital.

Let me know if you want to hear the list of other actors and actresses who were considered for the leads...

So much to say, but one thing that struck me was what a complex character Christabel was. I mean, in the sense that she's tremendously passive-aggressive (seriously: master class level) AND apparently bursting with sex appeal. Christabel and Nick talk about the "sex attraction" at the basis of their relationship. And when Christabel agrees to go away with Curtis, in their room after the ball, the way he buries himself in her, in gratitude, makes it pretty clear that the time they haven't been spending together hasn't just been over dinner. And that seems almost unprecedentedly complex, because you'd think that men would go for the passive-aggressive woman that they want to protect (being too dim to see her machinations) or lust after the sex bomb, but that the same men wouldn't go for both in one.

Gee, I guess men are complicated, too!

I will say that one of the actresses considered for Christabel was Gloria Grahame, who would have nailed the sex bomb part, so to speak, but might not have been as convincing as the little innocent dripping poison slowly into everyone's ears.

Watching it in those 15-minute chunks on YouTube was interesting. I was able to note, for example, that Christabel clutched her pearls twice in the first 10 minutes alone. It was AWESOME.

X. Trapnel said...

"Johnny Guitar is one of the ugliest looking films ever seen."

Bless you, Trish. I KNEW I couldn't be the the only one who thought this. Of course, there's also Nicholas Ray who habitually referred to JG as, "this stinking movie."

Come Next Spring, Steve Cochrane's near-attempt at auteurism (Tell Me in the Sunlight may yet have been a twinkling at the edge of consciousness) was in Trucolor. Everything seems to be in those faded colors you only see on old VHS boxes: brownish blue, grayish pink, blackish green.

Shamus said...

X., Trish

Red usually hits you like a projectile in most Ray's color films (fill in your examples here ______) but Johnny Guitar has him saturating red and suppressing blues. Or something. I'm not very clear on this (Ned, a little help). Anyway, hellfire and Mercedes McCambridge- you get the idea.

Guitar is campy and astringently melodramatic (or if you prefer: "operatic" and "Cocteauvian"- your pick), but your can't fairly talk about the visual qualities unless you have seen it on restored 35mm- it's not out on proper DVD yet (the one available is slightly better than what PD might have offered but not by all that much) and seeing how Republic's films (The Sun Shines Bright?) are outrageously neglected by Viacom/Paramount, it might take a while.

Shamus said...

And Nick Ray's most beautiful movie is definitely in black-and-white and also stars Robert Ryan: On Dangerous Ground, a great example of an evenly matched noir couple. (In a Lonely Place is an example of an evenly mismatched couple). Anyway, it's not that often that you have two great stars balancing the frame equally, especially in noir.

X. Trapnel said...

I take your point, Shamus, but even restored it's still Johnny Guitar.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

@ Karen I've yet to see BORN TO BE BAD, but I will add a comment of David E's which comes to mind thanks to Fontaine's repeated gesture. I shared with David a video of Shirley Verrett singing Amneris, delighted to find a performer sufficiently in touch with *vieux style* melodramatic acting that she literally clutches pillars.

David's response: "It's always better to clutch pillars than to clutch pearls."

Shamus said...

To be honest X.T, I feel the same way, daring though Johnny is about the witch-hunt and the incredible interrogation sequence ("tell the truth and we will spare you"), it is still pretty hard to take (the dialogue is awful: stunningly bad, even by Ray standards).

But McCambridge and Crawford ("pushing her tormented psyche through the thickest mud" per Farber) are excellent, so I'm divided up into so many pieces about the movie. And I feel the same way about Rebel, too. Ray is deeply divisive and just plain fucking weird. The romanticism usually comes at a price and it is strange when you start hearing people talk about Ray as though he is now thoroughly mainstream and completely acceptable.

Trish said...

Karen - that's awesome. Thank you for all that background, and I would love to know who else was considered for the film. I've never been keen on Zachary Scott, but no one is better than Robert Ryan in my view.

X. - I'm glad we agree on JG. Marlene Dietrich had far more customers in Rancho Notorious. That's because she didn't have Trucolor in her saloon.

X. Trapnel said...

Trish, doesn't JG seem like a bad dream you just woke up from and can't quite pin down the details? "I just had the craziest dream; Joan Crawford is at the piano playing something that sounds like Philip Glass in a cave and her name is--what?--Budapest? Zagreb? Oh yeah, Vienna..."

Tony Dayoub said...

While I don't necessarily agree on all that's being said on JOHNNY GUITAR, I do agree that it is over the top. I don't mind it because it plays like some sort of grand opera, down to the artificial backdrops behind Crawford every time she has a close-up (she refused to be in any exterior close-ups).

But Ray's next Western was far less baroque. RUN FOR COVER starred Cagney, John Derek, Viveca Lindfors, Borgnine, and Jean Hersholt (his last role). It plays as a less blatant commentary on mob dynamics vis-a-vis the Red Scare/50s paranoia. It's overdue for a reappraisal and is available on Netflix Instant for anyone that's curious.

Yojimboen said...

Johnny Guitar is one of the few Crawford movies I can sit through – I’ve always liked the sadly underestimated Sterling Hayden and I’d watch Mercedes McCambridge till the cows come home, go out, and come home again. Republic’s use of their in-house Trucolor process (simply-put, a 2-strip system, like early Technicolor) wasn’t only for economy. There was another factor almost never discussed.

Technicolor wasn’t only much more expensive, it came with an additional cost: an albatross named Natalie Kalmus. She was the divorced wife of Technicolor’s founder Herbert Kalmus and evidently her divorce settlement was the job of “Technicolor Color Director”, a credit she boasted of on 359 movies.

Universally disliked by Cameraman, she was openly referred to as “the Nuisance”; she was utterly detested by Selznick and, particularly, Minnelli. Because of her interference - Kalmus had the power to deny the use of Technicolor if she disapproved of the costumes, sets, locations or… script - script changes were demanded and granted.
Talk to any of the real old hands at ASC and the consensus was that Natalie Kalmus fucked up more movies than the Hayes Office.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Read Gavin Lambert's story "The Closed Set" in The Slide Area Yojimb. It's all about the trouble Nick Ray had in dealing with her on Johnny Guitar. He wanted a performance of depth and quirky originality.

She gave him Joan Crawford.

Karen said...

Siren, I think it's actually Robert Ryan who says the Christabel is like a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Peg O' My Heart, when he's looking at Gobby's painting of her.

Mrs HWV: that sounds like good advice!

Trish, your wish is my command:

Pre-production on the picture began in late 1945. At that time, William Pereira was to produce the film, and Paul Stewart was to direct it. Alan Marshal, who was to be borrowed from David O. Selznick's company, was slated to co-star with Joan Fontaine, and Marsha Hunt, a featured player at M-G-M, was to have a supporting role. In mid-Jan 1946, Stewart was removed as director, and John Sutton was hired to replace Marshal. Paramount director John Berry was hired in late Feb 1946, and Henry Fonda was announced as Fontaine's new co-star in mid-Mar 1946. According to modern sources, Edmund Goulding, John Hambleton and Shepard Traube were also assigned to direct before Ray was finally chosen in May 1949.
Modern sources also note that in 1948, RKO contract star Gloria Grahame was being considered for the film's lead, but was rejected by studio head Howard Hughes, who then ordered an indefinite delay in production. Modern sources also claim that Barbara Bel Geddes was considered for the title role. In addition to Marshal and Sutton, other male leads under consideration were Ronald Reagan, David Niven, Dan Duryea, Vincent Price, George Sanders and Franchot Tone, according to modern sources.

The Siren said...

Ha, Karen, you are right, I believe it is Ryan!

Johnny Guitar is weird indeed and extremely unpleasant in a lot of ways. McCambridge gives me the willies in that movie; she's so intense and frightening that I start to be afraid she's not acting. But Crawford--look, we know I love Joan, but damn I can barely wrap my head around her in that movie. It's one of the weirdest performances she ever gave. I wouldn't call it bad, but I sure wouldn't call it good; then again, I am not even sure she's attempting anything like human representation. The way she moves her mouth, the eyebrows, the nostrils flared so constantly it's like they're propped open. It's like she's got a radio transmitter in her ear and it's relaying instructions from Gamma Cephei.

I still dug Johnny Guitar, though, largely for the same reasons Tony does. My favorite is Sterling Hayden.

I'd agree though, that Ray can be "plain fucking weird" and the later you get in his career the more his movies strike me as ADD. I often feel like I can tell the scenes where he lost interest and sometimes even the shots.

Y., I learned about Natalie Kalmus from reading Michael Powell, whose description tallies exactly with yours.

odienator said...

Yay! I finally finished writing my take on it, so I can read your lovely piece on it! We both mention All About Eve, Gobby's absolute fabulousness and the kissing, though I admit I have never thought about kissing Nicholas Ray. Ida Lupino slamming me into a wall and having her way with me...well, um, that may cross my mind once or twice.

Anyway, great piece, and I no longer feel alone for enjoying this crazy picture!

Untouched Takeaway said...

Finally saw BtbB last night online - whee!

I*also* watched "Tell Me In The Sunlight" with/by Steve Cochran. I *liked* it - it reminded me a bit of "A Cold Wind In August". The screenplay was by Jo Heims, who also wrote "Breezy" and "Play Misty For Me" and died very young from breast cancer at 48 in 1978.

And finally, I had read the same stuff about Natalie Kalmus - that was one heckuva a divorce settlement - much better than cash up front.

UT

X. Trapnel said...

Untouched Takeaway,

There's a good chance you'll like (no scare quotes) Come Next Spring, A beautiful little film in a scaled-down John Ford manner. Personally, I'm always cheered by the presense of Steve Cochran in any movie. Given the chance (by himself here) he's a terrifically sympathetic actor.

Vanwall said...

I'd recommend "Tomorrow is Another Day" for another Steve Cochran film.

Trish said...

X. - almost everything about JG is hideous. The inside of Vienna's saloon looks like what I imagine hell to look like. What is that ugly red-brown wall? Nothing rings true in this film. I don't believe the romance between Hayden and Crawford any more than I believe Mercedes McCambridge having a thing for Scott Brady. I don't know who gives the most over-the-top performance -- McCambridge or Crawford -- but they are both godawful. Frankly, it's only worth watching for the always reliable Sterling Hayden. I don't care if Scorcese reveres this thing - I don't think it's one of Ray's finest hours...

X. Trapnel said...

Trish,

Ray claimed he had to vomit every day on his way to the JG set.
It was all a bad dream, something to wake from into the dark radiance of In a Lonely Place, They Live by Night, On Dangerous Ground, Bigger Than Life...

Untouched Takeaway said...

I'd watch Sterling Hayden read the Yellow Pages, but JG makes me twitch. Just something about the entire thing seems "off" - and not in a kooky, quirky good way.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Hey Marlboro Man!"

Trish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish said...

X. - Okay, so Ray lost his lunch every day. I don't blame him, but whose fault is it that the film and the female stars in particular are so... unappealing? When I look at the aggressiveness of Crawford's performance, I have to wonder if she was in charge. Good lord, she really screwed up if that was the case. I'll say it again -- it's hideous.

X. Trapnel said...

Trish, you are preaching to the Mahler-sized choir here (augmented with brass, organ, and every known form of percussion) especially as regards Cr*wf*rd, but you're right (if auteurism means anything)as regards responsibility. Still, with no evidence I'd like to think abseteeism may have played a part as it did during the shooting of On Dangerous Ground. If I recall rightly Ida Lupino directed some scenes. I haven't yet seen the new bio of Ray.

Shamus said...

So, Ida Lupino secretly directed Dangerous Ground, James Dean was the real director of Rebel Without a Cause, Howard Hughes was the one who futzed around with They Live by Night and God knows who was the auteur of Lonely Place; Frank Lovejoy probably.

Since Rancho Notorious was mentioned with big bad Johnny, let me add the third movie that belongs on the list (and probably the most enjoyable one of the lot): the cinemascope front parlor of Forty Guns which was directed, of course, by Barry Sullivan.

gmoke said...

The best thing about Johnny Guitar:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeCWuN0dc5w

X. Trapnel said...

"God knows who was the auteur of Lonely Place; Frank Lovejoy probably."

Depend on it.

Shamus said...

You clearly know something I don't: good old dependable Frank.

X. Trapnel said...

Frank Lovejoy is Mr. Dependability as surely as Perry Como is Mr. Relaxation and Jan Vredeman de Vries is Mr. Perspective.

Shamus said...

And Wendell Corey? He is what, Mr. Understated? And surely, he has some of that Love-ing dependability in him as well?

X. Trapnel said...

Wendell Corey is Mr. Hideous Flaw in God's Creation.

Shamus said...

X.T., That had me choked with laughter for a full five minutes. And Corey, who always gives the impression of not being loved enough as a baby...

Shamus said...

Which reminds me, I've a good little boy and such and been doing my homework so here is an unremarkable article on the ugly, emetic, hideous, monstrous (let's just say it, basically fascist) Johnny:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2010/03/johnny-guitar.html

Fine so far. But here is more on Crawford on how she needed to have her head examined for incoming alpha rays for making Guitar (ah ha, we have unearthed the secret behind autuerism at last).

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2011/09/johnny-guitar-critics.html

But then, here is what gets weird: Nick ray the greatest director of actors ever? Hayden better than Brando? (yep, that's right):

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2011/09/nicholas-ray-and-the-nifty-fifties.html

Same dude in all three cases. Makes for some (shall I say?) interesting reading.

The Siren said...

Shamus - Ah, well. The posts are certainly consonant with Richard Brody's unique approach to cinematic history. I have all the love for Crawford that XT and Yojimboen do not, and I repeat that I like (but do not love) Johnny Guitar and I don't find it ugly; I find it gaudy. Also, I don't agree at ALL that it's fascist; that is a word I apply to a scant handful of American movies, and I don't know why anyone would throw it at a movie that is explicitly anti-mob-rule and has a strong feminist undercurrent.

But if Crawford and the entire cast of JG aren't "laboriously showy" and "theatricalized," by the standards of 1954 or any other era, then I have to say that Richard and I don't speak the same language of acting.

Shamus said...

Siren,

I was joking about the fascist part, like all the other adjectives I used (or rather, Trish and XT used): if anything, Guitar seems very against that spirit, which exactly what I find admirable about the film. Lynching is essentially an outcrop of that uncontrolled hate (which is why Lang's 30's movies are permeated with hysterical mobs) and I actually found myself getting angry at the situation Vienna finds herself in: she's going to be driven out of her own property because she does not meet the approval of the goddamn town?

It is the political side to the movie that is most powerful: think of the hanging sequence- Vienna decked out in shocking virginal white (yes, I know but Ray really knew how to use those colors).

It is not my favorite of his films but as it is certainly interesting and cannot be lightly dismissed.

Shamus said...

As for the acting, Mr. Brody is waaaay off. I mean, c'mon. And "lightly operatic"? What the hell is that supposed to mean?

The Siren said...

Aha Shamus, I didn't get the sarcasm, my apologies. It did seem awfully left-field. I haven't been chipping in because JG just isn't a film I want to go to the mat for. I see good things in it, but not as many as Scorsese does. And in order to see what Richard is seeing in it I would need my trust Carrollian looking-glass.

On the other hand I am utterly delighted that Untouched Takeaway and Karen saw and enjoyed Born to Be Bad. My expectations were very, very low for it, so it was one of those film-viewing sessions I live for. Those are the ones where I settle in with a movie thinking "ho-hum, guess I should give it a chance" and about 10 or 15 minutes in, I straighten up to say, "Back up the truck. I LIKE this one."

Shamus said...

If you didn't get my sarcasm, then that is undoubtedly my fault: it wasn't funny.

I didn't think I would go for the mat for Johnny either, but it was getting mauled here. But I'm interested:

"Also, I don't agree at ALL that it's fascist; that is a word I apply to a scant handful of American movies..."

Which are the ones are you thinking of, here? (As opposed to the ones which are merely jingoistic, I mean.)

The Siren said...

Even the word "handful" may be an exaggeration. The one that springs immediately to mind is Gabriel Over the White House, which I finally saw not too long ago. Lord have mercy what a deeply strange movie. Stranger still is the Wikipedia entry, which seems to have been extensively worked over by a fervent fan of Jonah Goldberg (who is, god help us, listed in the page's references). And that's all I'ma gonna say about that, unless I write it up at some point in the future. Which I probably won't. As a general rule I like to write about movies that I have connected with. Huge La Cava person but if I took him on, I would much rather write about Primrose Path.

D Cairns said...

But have you read Joan's book, No Bed of Roses? Or "No Shred of Truth" as Brian Aherne called it. It does suggest a rather humourless, grudge-bearing personality.

And Olivia the one you have to watch out for? It would be fascinating to think so, but isn't the story that Olivia was engaged to Howard Hughes, and Joan slept with him, and that's why they haven't spoken for sixty years?

I think Joan's battery of shy, nervous mannerisms becomes all the more fascinating if you view her as a sinister, conniving bitch. But this is all theory.

The Siren said...

Oh yes, I wrote it up! I don't think No Bed of Roses is humorless at all, although I don't get the sense Joan enjoyed writing it. Could have been so much deeper; she is clearly very intelligent. Actually, both sisters project an image of loveliness and refinement and so it's interesting to think that it's a facade for both. Here's my bit on Joan's memoirs:

http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.com/2007/10/happy-birthday-to-joan-fontaine.html

Shamus said...

Ah, and it says here on wiki that Gabriel received the "creative input" of William Randolph Hearst. Might explain it. (Even puts Kane in perspective, actually, when you think bout Welles' politics.)

I didn't know La Cava went that way, but sadly, there is also another, even more gifted director who swung along the primrose path, so to speak: Leo McCarey. Have you seen My Son, John? I only ask because I've tried to a get a print of that film "by any means necessary". And failed. But if you did write about that movie, well, that would be even better.

This is just morbid curiosity, in any case.

The Siren said...

Oops, nope, not that one for No Bed of Roses; I have so many Joan posts I get confused myself. It's this one.

The Siren said...

Shamus, I helped get My Son John back on TV after a 40-year absence, with my Comrade Lou Lumenick for the Shadows of Russia festival on TCM. Pardon the brag but along with the Film Preservation blogathons it's one of my proudest blogging accomplishments. I didn't write it up at the time but I think it's got some exceptionally good stuff in it. And it turned up not too long ago on Netflix Instant; don't know if it's still there.

Shamus said...

Whoooaah. That is impressive. I would certainly brag about it, if I did something like that. All time, actually. So Sternberg, Lubitsch, McCarey, Frankenheimer, Vidor... You must have had an extraordinary catalogue to choose from.

Even if My Son John is still on Netflix, it's unavailable for those outside the US. I guess I'll have to wait for the DVD.

Karen said...

Shamus, the programming for "Shadows of Russia" was impressive indeed.

Here's a glimpse:

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/276063|0/Shadows-of-Russia.html

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

A belated JOHNNY GUITAR comment: There are many reasons, I s'pose, for my fondness for JOHNNY GUITAR. One stands out, though. JG was the first western to appeal to me when I was in middle-school (-ish) and found all other westerns loathsome. Perhaps that's because guns had no charm for me, but I *could* understand Mercedes McCambridges' reaction to the flames.

The Siren said...

Mrs HWV, it occurs to me here that in a weird way I never really thought of JG as a Western. I'm not sure what I did think of it as. Other than a Nicholas Ray movie. In some ways, good and bad, he's his own genre.

Goose said...

On GreenbriarPicureShows, there is a lively 2-part discussion of Johnny Guitar. Included toward the borttom of Part I is a photo of JC and her fans that produces an image that shakes me to the core of my being.

Trish said...

Backtracking to Steve Cochran, one of James Ellroy's novels (American Tabloid, I think), makes an amusing observation about the size of Cochran's...er..manhood. I've been curious about him ever since, but think I've only seen him in a handful of films. If Ellroy wrote what he did, then there's got to be a juicy backstory.

X., please dish.

Karen said...

This is the image of Crawford and the Joanies that Goose refers to. She seems so perfectly still and calm in the midst of all that, doesn't she? She's drawing in their life energy, I think.

You can read both parts of the Johnny Guitar discussion--with some great images--in the September 2011 archives.

Thanks for the tip, Goose!

X. Trapnel said...

Ah Trish, here you find me dishless and generally ill informed regarding actor's biographies in general and the finer points (so to say) thereof. And of course, when it comes to anatomical specifics it is the Tierney overbite rather than than the Cochran undercarriage that engages interest, as do many images from the Yojimboen Archive.

I almost never read film bios, just don't trust them, and for all my dislike of the other and lesser Joan, I am skeptical of the gargoyle image. Not that THAT PHOTO won't disturb my sleep tonight.

Now if only Poe and Coleridge could br called upon to sketch out a scenario for Steve Cochran: The Last Voyage.

Shamus said...

Goose, Karen,

That shook me to the core of my being alright: that scared the shit out of me. And she was "perfectly calm and still" you say. Hoooo-boy.

Let's see: how to "improve" Guitar- have everyone in the film be played by old Craw. Everyone, that is, except Vienna (McCambridge, of course). It would be sinister and really would have fascistic underpinnings (not to mention overbites).

X. Trapnel said...

There are overbites and overbites.

Shamus said...

Too much you say? Well, it was a thought. But that picture of Joan really had me thinking I had stumbled onto a Hitler party, everyone brandishing an identical image and furiously happy. And Crawford, with her eyes ooooopppppeen.

I won't be sleeping tonight. Or the next night.

pigoletto said...

I wish I could say something intelligent but when I see Robert Ryan in this my tongue probably hangs out a few dozen yards like in the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Take a good dozen of any of your so called modern heartthrobs, they still don't have Ryan's magnetism here (he got it in bursts in Clash By Night too, but mixed with a whole lot of angry).

D Cairns said...

Siren, your case is convincing: Fontaine has a sense of humour. I guess the overwhelming impression I came away with was of a woman who harboured grudges. There's an anecdote about somebody, possibly Miriam Hopkins, in the 40s, followed by the line, "I would have another run-in with her in 1964." Two hundred pages later, the run-in is duly reported.

I think also it's possible she underrated Letter from an Unknown Woman, which is why there's so little about it. John Houseman likewise talks it down in his relevant volume, and he reports that Ophuls himself was doubtful. It's a film the audience discovered, not the filmmakers.

Hmm, for word verification I've got "rumping".

The Siren said...

@David Cairns: "I think also it's possible she underrated Letter from an Unknown Woman, which is why there's so little about it."

Dear David, I am happy to banish that thought from your mind. (Do read, it's my one tiny personal connection to Joan.)

On the other hand, the grudges -- that I can believe. I remember that in No Bed of Roses she was still palpably angry about the cold treatment she got from the English supporting cast and from Olivier, whose bad language she also didn't appreciate.

The Siren said...

That's the supporting cast of Rebecca, of course...

Trish said...

Oh, how typical. I recall Gloria Stuart mentioning the behaviour of the English cast of The Old Dark House, who didn't invite the Americans to their afternoon tea. If the shoe were on the other foot, Americans would never treat the English that way...

Yojimboen said...

Not necessarily, Trish – nationalities played no part in this anecdote:

When Jack Clayton did Gatsby on Long Island an odd thing happened (this from a close friend who was an A.D. on the show); for the several nights of shooting the party sequence, two giant marquees were set up on the mansion's lawn as rest areas for the large number of dress extras – craft services etc.

At ‘lunchtime’ (midnight or so) my friend noticed something unusual and beckoned Clayton to see: spontaneously, unprompted, the extras dressed as maids, waiters and butlers had taken over one marquee while the bejeweled flappers and their tuxedo’d beaux, the other.
There was no mixing. None.

Clayton reportedly burst out laughing and observed: “I must be doing something right.”

X. Trapnel said...

Among the English supporting cast, didn't Reginald Denny break the square?

Shamus said...

Re: Letter from an unknown Woman

I've always wanted to ask this question but somehow I keep forgetting: exactly how did Letter get past censors? I mean, Joan Fontaine is shown to definitely have sex. And sex outside wedlock no less and obtains a love-child as a receipt. This after being a model and we all know what that means- even if, in a few scenes, she actually does seem to be modelling. Did the Hays Office go into a prolonged coma after being raped by Morgan's Creek or were they just letting these peccadilloes like sex out of wedlock pass?

Somehow, by Madame de..., Ophuls seems to have developed more scruples and has Danielle Darrieux insisting (to god) that her relationship with Boyer was "pure" and "innocent" (and therefore somehow worthy- still a rather sticky argument, I thought). But with Fontaine, at least, there is no such problem: she's been a naughty girl. So there is a wonderful contradiction when that lovely religious chiaroscuro develops at the end.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

Weren't there plenty of fallen women well before Letter? Did Olivia de Havilland bring John Lund into the world via immaculae conception? Obviously not since half of the world would now be Lundists. Madame de is a European (we know all about THEM) film and presumably did not need a pass from the Hays Office.
Religious chiaroscuro? Whatzat?

Shamus said...

It's looks like chiaroscuro and its lit religiously. Religious symbols are easy enough to place even without the multiplication of the candles and crucifix (and the deathbed lit ominously). As I said, both movies seem to move toward explicitly Christian symbols (the altar in Madame de and the letter from the nuns in Letter). But then, I am more than willing to be proved wrong...

And I was looking for something more definite about Ophuls' sparring with the Breen Office over Letter- they definitely had some problems with it but I'm not sure to what extent they tried (and failed obviously) to fuck up the movie. Madame is European so it is odd that Ophuls waters down the adultery (so to speak), where you would have expected him to have less trouble with the censors had he increased the sex.

X. Trapnel said...

I'm not so sure about the religious symbolism of chiaroscuro. From the seventeenth century on its use in painting was as prominent in secular and religious subjects and as the latter fell away in the nineteenth century it became a signifier of romantic drama that was carried over into film. Moreover, since chiaroscuro emphasises three dimensionality it is also a way of emphasizing physical reality rather than the transcendentally spiritual (just see the tension at work in Caravaggio).

Letter and Madame de are both set in heavily Catholic cultures hence its presence but surely, Shamus, you're not suggesting either has a Catholic or Christian subtext a la Bresson. I'd say the religious presenses in Madame de are ironic and merely circumstantial and nonthematic in Letter.

Shamus said...

I wasn't trying to make any broad generalization about chiaroscuro or its relation to religion: I merely said (or was trying to say) that Ophuls brings a chiaroscuro-like effect to bear on religious objects at the end of Letter.

I have read that Bresson himself is not consistently religious; that Journal of a Country Priest is religious but that L'Argent is atheistic. I have not seen either of the films so I have nothing to say to that but I am not sure whether Lancelot du Lac, which I have seen, could be classified as religious- unlike for instance, with Lang (You Only Live Twice) and Borzage (Street Angel), where you can be fairly certain about the directors' intentions.

We had this discussion sometime back and I said that I liked Reckless Moment over Madame de.... Part of the reason is that the irony in Reckless is sharper and more vicious; in Madame, Ophuls is being ironic but I am not sure to what extent. Remember the two prayer sequences Darrieux executes so beautifully?- well, I'm not sure that her prayer for her lover marks her improvement over her prayer for earrings. (Or as Welles said: it is not possible to properly show people praying or having sex in the movies.)

Normally I would not pimp myself out like this but since you are skeptical:

http://cinemashamus.blogspot.com/2011/09/religious-chiaroscuro.html

Shamus said...

Or Ordet. Like Lancelot, it is more about religion than being religious as such.

X. Trapnel said...

When it comes to irony add to taste. No arguing with preferences; I think irony serves a larger more emotionally capacious vision in Madame de, tragedy scaled down to the haute bourgeois domestic world, and see The Reckless Moment as a small thing well done.

I'll check out the link a little later.

La Faustin said...

While Max Ophuls hardly needs me to leap to his defense, I would like to point out that the love affair in Louise de Vilmorin's source novel, like that in La Princesse de Cleves, is sexually unconsummated.

As for religious imagery, wonderful as the film's resolution is, get a load of the original. No duel; Mme de is on her deathbed:

"The two men remained motionless, face to face, on either side of her bed, their eyes lowered upon her. She was still breathing, intermittently and weakly, and soon the ambassador, fearing to intrude, was going to withdraw. Then Mme de extended her long arms over the sheet, gave a sigh, and died.

"Her hands opened, showing in each palm a diamond heart, as though she was offering two hearts to the unknown."

Shamus said...

La Faustin,

Thank you for clearing that up- I wondered why Ophuls has Madame de insisting that the affair not consummated. But surely it is still adultery, in thought at least, so God is probably justified in ignoring Madame's pleas and smiting de Sica dead.

X. Trapnel said...

God and the church are oblivious to Louise's fate, perhaps because in the unspoken in the context of the film the former may not exist and the latter is just one more pillar of the established order.

Shamus said...

I don't remember any specific reference to the church as an establishment in Madame de, but otherwise I agree with you. The first prayer is wonderfully choreographed and it is brilliantly funny- all the hypocrisies exposed. But it's just that when the movie asks us to take the second prayer at face-value, it turns a little problematic. There is a lot less irony in that scene and prayer becomes a beautiful, noble act all of a sudden. Or maybe that's just my antipathy to religion in general- I went as far as Deborah Kerr praying in Affair to Remember (with a white halo, no less), before I gave up in disgust (without implying any other connection between the two movies, needless to say).

Karen said...

Did someone ask about Production Code conflicts? My AFI catalog database and I come riding to the rescue!

According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA requested several story changes. In the original story, the character "Lisa" becomes a courtesan after her abandonment by "Stefan," and the lovers spend the night together after being reunited. In a 3 Sep 1947 letter to International Pictures' William Gordon, PCA director Joseph I. Breen suggested that when "Johann" confronts his wife about Stefan, he should "really slap Lisa for her stupidity--and her sin." Johann does not strike Lisa in the film, however.
The most significant conflict between the film's producers and the Breen Office revolved around the lines that end Lisa's letter: "I feel no bitterness toward you...I love you now as I have always loved you. My life can be measured by the moments I've had with you and our child....If only you could have recognized what was always yours, could have found what was never lost...." Breen repeatedly urged Gordon to change these lines, which he believed romanticized the characters' illicit relationship, and on 18 Feb 1948, PCA official Stephen S. Jackson asked Gordon to substitute the following speech for the disputed portion of the script: "I feel no bitterness toward you--only a sort of pity for you--and humiliation and anguish for myself....When the burning truth that you did not even remember me flashed into my mind, it immediately revealed in its true light the cheapness, the sordidness, the evilness, or our relationship...." William Dozier appealed this change, and in Mar 1948, Breen interceded and instructed Jackson to issue the film a certificate with the original lines.

Shamus said...

Karen,

Thank you very much! That was as full an account of Breen's stupidity as I could have wanted. And I enjoy it when you come riding to the rescue.

Rachel said...

Karen, that's the funniest thing I've read all day. Bless you.

X. Trapnel said...

I've no problem with the second church scene because I think it's fully in character for Louise, and Ophuls is not acting as judge with church setting as surrogate (underscored in the final scene in which the church accepts Louise's bequest at face value).

DavidEhrenstein said...

You've undoubtedly been reading ME, Shamus. While critics far and wide have pigeonholed Bresson as More Catholic Than The Pope, his films -- once properly examined -- show somethign different. He may well have been a "beliver" when he made Diary of a Country Priest, but by the time we get to 9his masterpeice as far as Dennis Cooper and I are concerned) he's a balls-out athiest. The Church condemned the film in no uncertain terms when it came out, claiming it would drive young people to suicide. Things became so intense that his star -- the stunning Antoinne Monnier -- was forced to "denounce' Bresson publically -- exactly the way people were forced to "denounce" commies in the Bad Old Days. Bresson, needless to say, couldn't have cared less.

Shamus said...

David,

My apologies for not mentioning you as the source: I just wrote something on what I'd vaguely remembered reading. But I'd be interested to read anything you've written about Bresson, specifically, about Lancelot or Man Escaped. Are there any links you'd recommend?

Shamus said...

P.S. I think Bresson's ninth film is Mouchette not Le diable probablement.

Jake said...

I'd been using Tony's blogathon to find so many new blogs that I only found this piece when I checked my blog stats and saw I was getting traffic from here. Thanks very much for the link!

I'm glad you mentioned Kehr's bit about editing too. Something about the film just grabbed me in a way I couldn't place, and when I saw that quote it completely unlocked the picture. It gives the film such a strange, driving energy that is hilariously at odds with the coldness of the movie overall even as it makes it so much more engaging. I can't call it top-tier Ray but I loved watching him go all out. It's also a good precursor to his later excuses for stylistic overload, though here more technical than freewheeling.

cgeye said...

TCM's honoring Mr. Ray this week, with this film on the sked 1:30AM Wed 10/5....