Wednesday, April 18, 2012

You're Much Too Modest

It is a complicated business, and we are very insecure, we actors. We all feel--and fear--we are going to be found out at any moment. Someone is going to point and say, 'You are really not very good, are you?'
--Julie Christie

The Siren, as she's often said, likes and admires actors, more perhaps than some of the profession's members like themselves. Like all artists, the good ones usually have an accurate sense of their own work. But over her years of obsessive reading, the Siren has seen cases where something throws off the radar.

Not always, of course. Katharine Hepburn rued the reception of Sylvia Scarlet but was clear-headed enough to tell people, much later, that the film was simply ahead of its time. Peter Ustinov acknowledged the reverence accorded Lola Montes, but added in Dear Me that "there were precious few signs of this destiny during filming." Joan Fontaine had a lousy time making Rebecca but has said more than once that she knows it will always be her most celebrated role. Others, like Barbara Stanwyck, were too coolly professional to run down their own work.

Now and again, though, you'll come across an actor dismissing something that was good to great. The Siren is fascinated by these instances, not from smug hindsight, but because it goes against the common perception of stars as egomaniacs. You can speculate about the reasons, beyond genuine variance in taste, why an actor might be too hard on his own work. Maybe the actor hated making the movie. Maybe the movie was a box-office bomb, and the actor figured the public and the critics at the time were the best judge. Maybe the movie didn't fit with the image the actor wanted to project. Some, like Norma Shearer, never warmed to a great film (in her case, The Women, an unhappy experience for her) and instead venerated a lesser one; Shearer was fond of her performance in Romeo and Juliet, an opinion not widely shared these days.

And sometimes the actor just had, or learned to have, contempt for the entire business.

Here's a small collection, then, of actors being more critical of themselves and their movies than the Siren, and in most cases plenty of others, would say is warranted.




According to the reference books which consider it worthwhile collating such trivia, I have made about seventy films. Glancing down the list, I find I made things like Action in Arabia, Lured, and The Scarlet Coat. I can only assume that I was paid handsomely for them, but I am at a complete loss as to what action there was in Arabia, or who was lured where, and why. As to the scarlet coat, did I wear it, and if not who did?

George Sanders, in Memoirs of a Professional Cad, shrugging off Lured, an excellent thriller from the great Douglas Sirk that features our man George at his rakish best. The other two the Siren hasn't seen. The Scarlet Coat--a drama about Benedict Arnold in which Sanders, by some dreadful misjudgment, was NOT cast as the infamous traitor--was directed by John Sturges, and the Siren is willing to bet it's better than the actor says. Action in Arabia--well, he may have us there, but look at the synopsis and tell me you're not intrigued.




The worst picture, bar none, that I ever made.

Mary Pickford's tribute to Rosita in Sunshine and Shadow. While the collaboration with Ernst Lubitsch seems to have been happy at the time, Pickford later claimed the film gave her no end of trouble. She carried a grudge against Rosita for the rest of her life, not including it in the films she later handed over for preservation. It was extremely well-reviewed, however, and Scott Eyman has good words for it in his Lubitsch bio. The Siren hasn't seen Rosita (hard to track down) but come on, it's Lubitsch. How bad can it be?




She was in the middle of complaining about what a piece of crap the film was, and how lucky Rita Hayworth was because she turned it down…

Ava Gardner encounters Farley Granger in Rome during the filming of The Barefoot Contessa, as told in Granger's Include Me Out. Gardner, bless her, had little good to say about her entire career, as can be seen in her famous interview with Rex Reed. True, not everyone feels the love for The Barefoot Contessa, but the Siren has some heavyweights on her side.



You liked that?

Bette Davis' incredulous response to Whitney Stine's praise for Beyond the Forest. Davis spent years telling everyone the picture stank. The Siren says this King Vidor is a lot better than Duel in the Sun. Molly Haskell called it Davis' "wildest and most uncompromising film;' Kim Morgan admires it, too.



Kitsch.

In Maximilian Schell's documentary, that's Marlene Dietrich's word for most of her Hollywood work, including the glorious execution scene in Josef von Sternberg's Dishonored and, if memory serves, The Blue Angel. Whether or not Dietrich, at that point in her life, truly believed it was all mostly kitsch is an open question, but say it she did, with the full force of the German pronunciation.



Movies bore me, especially my own.

Robert Mitchum discusses his career. In contrast to Dietrich, the Siren believes Mitchum meant this, to the extent that he ever meant anything he said. Although Mitchum always did have good things to say about The Night of the Hunter. Which brings us to...




I played in the movie, which was about the battle between good and evil. Parts of the film were excellent, but it was not fully sustained because Mr. Laughton did not want to 'ruin' Robert Mitchum's image by having him a play a thoroughly wicked man. In the earlier days of films, it would have been considered a triumph to play evil convincingly.

That, along with a terse paragraph about Charles Laughton's admiration for D.W. Griffith, constitutes Lillian Gish's entire tribute to The Night of the Hunter in The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me. She did express similar thoughts to her director during filming, but Laughton biographer Simon Callow maintains that Laughton's allusion to Mitchum's image was basically a joke. Gish's curt assessment, and weird critique of Mitchum's seductively chilling work, may have owed something to dissatisfaction with her billing. The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties quotes her agent as saying that when Gish saw the movie poster, with only Mitchum and Shelley Winters advertised, she "blew her top."




Ridiculous. I made the picture because I couldn't afford a suspension--not with a daughter, a husband and a household to support.

Maureen O'Hara's verdict on Sinbad the Sailor, maybe not a pinnacle of art but an absolutely corking movie the Siren has adored since childhood. For the record, O'Hara is delightful in it. O'Hara also disliked Forbidden Street, another one the Siren thought quite fine. This Land Is Mine gets passing reference in two sentences, neither of which mention the director. Then again, good movies that actors neglect in their memoirs could be a whole different post. E.g.…



The four pictures I made at Warner Brothers were not great pictures, but they were very good pictures and excellent entertainment. In their category I do not see their like being as well made today.
The Siren's perennial crush, Basil Rathbone, gives backhanded praise to Tovarich, Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Dawn Patrol. Those four movies, all of them lovable and three of them eternal classics, take up just under two (2) pages of Rathbone's charmingly off-topic autobiography. Rathbone allows as how Errol Flynn was "monstrously lazy and self-indulgent," albeit genial, and Olivia de Havilland was very pretty. On the other hand, you do get quite a bit about Rathbone's dogs.




For its time, Side Street was a good-looking, well-made film that was not able to rise above the banality of its story.

Farley Granger again. The Siren says Granger, a smart man, underrated this excellent Anthony Mann noir. At least Granger gave himself credit for Strangers on a Train and Senso. Another actor with the same last name was much more cutting about his own career.




I've never done a film that I'm proud of.

Stewart Granger's oft-quoted line wasn't strictly true, as he did admit liking a few roles, such as Saraband for Dead Lovers, but he never thought much of his own abilities.



I don't want to be a silly temptress. I cannot see any sense in getting dressed up and doing nothing but tempting men in pictures.

Greta Garbo. Of course. When the Siren first encountered that remark she thought Garbo kind of had a point, until she found out the star was talking about the splendid Flesh and the Devil.




Mediocre.

Montgomery Clift's summation of his work as Matt Garth in Red River. He was no huge fan of the overall film, either, particularly the end, and on that aspect he has some critical company. But when Clift watched it in a cinema, he knew Red River would make him a star. And so, according to biographer Patricia Bosworth, Clift went on one last pre-fame drinking binge, applying himself to the task with such intensity that he wound up in a New Orleans jail.



A crock of shit.

Humphrey Bogart offers his opinion of Billy Wilder's beloved Sabrina to a reporter on set. If he ever revised that evaluation, the Siren has not located where.



I did things like Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait. I don't know what those films were about. The women I played in them were not very empowered.

Julie Christie. We can debate Heaven Can Wait--the Siren enjoys it--but surely most of us hope she's changed her mind about Shampoo.



The picture was a big hit in spite of my wooden performance. I have only kept one review during my life. It is of Dodsworth and appeared in the Detroit Free Press. 'In this picture we were privileged to see the great Samuel Goldwyn's latest discovery--all we can say about this actor? Is that he is tall, dark and not the slightest bit handsome.' It has the place of honor in my lavatory.

Thanks to William Wyler's unvarnished manner and multiple takes, David Niven hated making Dodsworth. But he's very good, better than he was as Edgar Linton in Wuthering Heights, during which shoot William Wyler made Niven equally miserable a few years later.




There was the first of several visits to Italy to act for various aspiring Fellinis and Antonionis, among them Dario Argento, in Profondo Rosso, a.k.a. Deep Red; Deep Red Hatchet Murders; Dripping Deep Red; The Hatchet Murders and (why?) The Sabre Tooth Tiger. It could be said that there is often a connection between the absence of quality in a film and the number of its aliases.

David Hemmings on one of his more famous movies, from his 2004 memoirs. The Siren adds that when Glenn Kenny encountered Hemmings in Toronto just after 9/11, the actor was not so harsh.



Well, that wasn't much.
Joan Bennett, overheard as she left a 1981 tribute screening of The Reckless Moment. Given the present-day reputation of Max Ophuls' film, and Bennett's superlative performance, this is probably the biggest jaw-dropper of the bunch. It was not an opinion Bennett reached only in crotchety old age; Brian Kellow's biography records her saying years before that The Reckless Moment was "nothing exceptional…not like The Woman in the Window or Scarlet Street." Argento fans can also take note of Kellow's observation, about Suspiria's later cult status, that "it is unlikely that Joan knew or cared."

76 comments:

DavidEhrenstein said...

Fascianting.

Actors often aren't the best judges of their work. That certainly was the case HERE.

As for the sublime Julie Christie, she probably saw Shampoo as a silly farce that Warren had wooed her inot making (and Boy Howdy can Warren woo!) What shemissed is how DEEPLY political a film it is. As much as Bulworth in point of fact. But her own "sides" don't tell that story.

Eddie Selover said...

Siren, I'm a big fan of Basil Rathbone like yourself, and I was always struck by his offhand dismissal of those three great films. His little sketch of Flynn is a wonderful thing, however: perceptive, a bit brutal, but overall fond and touching, especially the final words. The two of them made a wonderful team, and I wish they'd done more together (especially The Heiress, which they were considered for).

As for Niven in Dodsworth, he's great in it for the same reason he's great in Bonjour Tristesse... both films use his glib superficial charm to suggest hidden depths of monstrous selfishness, immaturity, and amorality. In fact, watching Tristesse again recently, it seemed to me Niven was actually playing Flynn, or at least using his knowledge of him to inform the character.

The Siren said...

David, I agree; Christie is looking at her own part, as a type of woman she's probably spent her life avoiding, and taking that as a stand-in for the whole film, which is superb. She's SO GOOD in it, and yeah, Shampoo is well worth revisiting in any election year.

Eddie, I'm also with you on all points--what a great summation of Niven in both films. Rathbone's memoirs are frustrating in what they leave out. I *know* the man could have written so much more about his Warners work, but on the evidence he seems to have valued literary adaptations and his stage work far above the "entertainment" he made. And yeah, Flynn might have been brilliant in The Heiress, for the same reasons Niven was so good in Dodsworth and Bonjour Tristesse. Clift is wonderful, I'm not wishing him out of the movie by any means. But sometimes I wish that there were a parallel universe where we could get a glimpse of alternate versions.

Eddie Selover said...

According to William Wyler, he actually offered the part of Townsend to Flynn, who responded "Morris is not for me." And of course Rathbone played the father to great acclaim on Broadway (that must have been fantastic to see). So yeah, great as it is, I also wish for a parallel version of this movie.

Agreed on the frustrations of Rathbone's writing. It's incisive here and there, and more often dreamy and poetic, but clearly there's a whole other story he's choosing not to tell.

Have you read Flynn's autobiography? It's a great read: hilarious, self-aware, surprisingly open and candid. Rathbone writes like a well behaved guest at a dinner party; Flynn is like your favorite debauched old uncle sharing one naughty story after another.

Rachel said...

I remember reading Gene Tierney's memoirs where she quite ruefully quotes from The Shanghai Gesture ("You're no more my mother than a toad!") and says something, "At the time, we thought we were making art." Ouch.

I find it interesting that, for the most part, directors aren't so quick to dismiss their films. Directors seem to respond more to their vision of the film and whether it measured up to that goal or not. And if it didn't, they're more likely to find concrete reasons for it (didn't get the actor they wanted, bad critical response, misjudgment on their part, etc).

The Siren said...

I'm reading Jan Herman's Wyler bio at the moment, and Wyler probably did wish Clift out of the movie; they didn't get along. Not that Flynn would have been any less difficult, in his own way. I've definitely read Flynn's autobiography and while I would not use it as a source for anything but Flynn's opinions without fact-checking the living hell out of it, it's an enormously fun read.

Richardson is so good in The Heiress, but I'd have liked to see Rathbone.

The Siren said...

Rachel, I forgot about Tierney's Shanghai Gesture remarks. I'm still waiting for more critical opinion to come around on that one, but I think it rocks in all sorts of ways.

There's a few directors who diss themselves; Minnelli is apologetic about Yolanda and the Thief and Two Weeks in Another Town, both of which I'd rank well above Courtship of Eddie's Father, for example. But Courtship was a hit, the other two were not. In general though, they're less likely, I agree.

StephenWhitty said...

Marvelous stuff, Siren.

There is, as I think you elude to, also the related phenomenon of actors who seem to hate acting, period.

Huge generalization, perhaps, but I've always noticed that trait most in American men. Perhaps there's less macho nonsense in Britain. Perhaps it's because they have more arts education early, and get used to doing drama in school.

But if you look at a lot of older American stars, you see this sort of shame-ridden doubt, this guilty feeling that there's something silly about being an actor, something frivolous, even something (uh-oh) effeminate.

Putting on makeup and fancy clothes, saying made-up words -- it's not a job a "real" man would ever take on.

Those were things you heard often from stars like Mitchum and Brando and McQueen. And I often suspected that the two-fisted, sometimes piggish way they behaved offscreen was their way of overcompensating for something that they should have been proud of -- and yet didn't feel they deserved to be.

StephenWhitty said...

"Allude." Ack.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Look no further, Siren, I am a HUGE Shanghai Gesture fan. It's the sole Sternberg equal to his Dioerich films (The Saga of Anatahan being sui generis) A number of years back Poistif published a "Surrealist Expansion" of Shanghai Gesture in which its critics, led my the intrepid Ado Kyrou endeavored to create new scenes inspired by the film -- one in which Gene Tierney is seen "squeezing an octopus between her thighs" You can find it in a BFI collection of surrealist film writings.

Yolanda and the Thief is a piece of pure insanity that I suspect Minnelli regrets because it bombed so badly at the box office that Metro sold Lucile Bremer's contract to Eagle-Lion, thus ending her career. However she went on to marry the son of the Vice President of Mexico and they created the resort of Cabo San Lucas together so all was not lost. As for Two Weeks in Another Town it was taken away from Minnelli and snipped up bnotorious scissor-wielder margaret Booth. Still it's a mad masterpiece. The late, great Steven Harvey called it The Bad and The Beautiful's Little Dividend.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's the best number from Yolanda in which Minnelli invents Op-Art.

The Siren said...

Stephen, I didn't go into Brando and McQueen but I certainly could have. There was a little of that in Paul Newman, too, dearly as I adore the man. Granger was British too, of course, but he was always primarily a film actor who made his name in romantic swashbuckling melodramas, so maybe that played into his melancholy. If he'd been less typecast maybe it would have improved his attitude. I had his memoirs but they were lost in a long-ago move; I can't remember if Granger had better memories of, for example, the dead-serious The Last Hunt. He was good in that one.

David -- The Bad and the Beautiful's Little Dividend, hilarious. Minnelli does quote Peter Bogdanovich's review of Two Weeks (which was great) so on some level I think he wanted to defend it. Bremer was a lovely dancer; Limehouse Blues in Ziegfeld Follies really shows what she could do.

ratzkywatzky said...

I've always thought Richard Dreyfuss was brilliant in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, but around the time of The Goodbye Girl he did some interview where he talked about how awful his performance was, and how much better he was in The Goodbye Girl (which I didn't care for at the time, and have virtually no memory of now).

Shamus said...

As for Bogart's remark, Wilder later recalled in an interview how he had "difficulties" with Bogart during filming. He may have sensed that he was not the first choice for the part (Cray Grant was, and that would have made more sense), and he felt excluded from Wilder's stock company. And he was badly miscast.

But Joan Bennett's remark is a shocker, especially from a small number of cinephiles who consider Reckless Moment the finest movie Ophuls ever made, and by far best performance. Why did she say such a thing?

Shamus said...

God- "Cary" Grant. Sorry.

X. Trapnel said...

Cagney was disappointed with how City for Conquest, a personal project, turned out (sorry I have no quotation to that effect). He thought Litvak too arty/European and had wanted Walsh to direct (who wouldn't?). It's still a treasurable film and I think Litvak's directing is just fine.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Whatever Julie Christie had thought of her performance in Shampoo, during the few minutes I conversed with her (Telluride 1974), she did like Hal Ashby, describing him as "a gentle man".

Michael Dempsey said...

For whatever it's worth, I once had a conversation with Robert Mitchum. He was anything but the corrosive cynic he is reputed to have been during this brief encounter.

Instead, he spoke hopefully about forthcoming projects: a movie based on the recently deceased Harry Crews' novel "Car" (about a man who eats one) and a new version of "The Informer".

Neither materialized. But Mitchum seemed entirely serious about getting them made.

The Siren said...

Shamus, Wilder claimed to have called Bogart a shit in front of the set during filming. (It's a more elaborate remark that I'm not in a position to look up at the mo.) Bogart was also convinced Wilder wanted to screw him by having Holden get the girl. And then there was Bogart's drinking...They were just a total temperamental mismatch, but I really like Bogart in the role. It's a whole different movie with Grant, but Bogart's dourness is hilarious in itself, and probably truer to a dried-up buttoned-up executive type.

As for Reckless Moment, it didn't do well with critics or the public at the time, so there's that. It was also Bennett's first "matron" role, at age 39, and it's possible she preferred her femme fatale phase. Kellow does talk about her daughter Diana seeing RM and being thunderstruck by how close it was to what her mother was like in real life, which adds another wrinkle. Kellow doesn't say what she thought of There's Always Tomorrow, which is also exceptional work; but maybe not much either, because it also dropped like a stone.

The Siren said...

Peter and Michael, that's good to hear on both counts. Mitchum in The Informer, that might have been really something. Of course I think the Ford is terrific but that's one classic that could be profitably remade--artistic profit, that is. It probably wouldn't make a dime, which is why it's less likely to happen than, say, that Thin Man remake we're all PINING for.

Gloria said...

When reading Memoirs of a Professional Cad, I was somewhat shocked at Sanders' memoirs of Viaggio in Italia, which I consider a great film and a grand Sanders performance, but Sanders dismisses and just goes at hoe miserable felt about the circumstances of the filming.

Lilian Gish may have not written extensively about The Night of the Hunter in her biography, but by the time she was interviewed by Preston Neal Jones' Heaven and Hell to Play With (IMHO, the first book to go if you love TNOTH) her views on the film were far more positive (but then she lived long enough to see the film resurrected and vindicated by a younger generation, so maybe that mollified her earlier thoughts).

I could go about how hurt I was at the scarcity of comments Miss O'Hara made about This Land is Mine when reading her biography *ouch*, but then George Sanders would say nothing at all in his memoirs... Thank the Gods for Eugene Lourié, in charge of decors, for leaving some interesting anecdotes of the filming.

Eddie Selover said...

I remember reading that Miriam Hopkins attended a screening of The Story of Temple Drake at MOMA around 1968, after which she bulled her way to the front of the line to the ladies' room by saying "Y'all had to sit through this thing, but I should go first cause I had to make it!" Which is either very poor judgement on both the film and her performance, or (more likely) just a baldfaced strategy to get to the bathroom faster.

Trish said...

What Stewart Granger said. I saw him being interviewed years ago, and he definitely had a ego. I don't remember what he said about his career, but I do remember him admitting he'd thought about murdering Howard Hughes..???

Anyway, "Beau Brummell" and "Green Fire" are genuine stinkers, but he was in quite a few good ones. I really like "The Little Hut"...

The Siren said...

Trish, yes, that I do remember from his memoirs. It was over Hughes' treatment of Jean Simmons, which I mentioned when I did a memorial piece on her. Hughes prevented Simmons from taking Roman Holiday and also made no bones about wanting to seduce her. Granger claimed that he and Simmons talked, and not in a joking way, about the possibility of pushing the man over a cliff near their home. Which wouldn't have done the couple much good on a career level, although RKO...no, I'm joking. I agree about Beau Brummell and Green Fire, and I don't believe I've seen The Little Hut!

Gloria, I've talked about Sanders' Bad Attitude so much I almost hesitated to do it again, but that passage is so funny to me. And he follows it up with something like "I suppose the best film I have been in was All About Eve," and he then praises it, but what a great intro. You can imagine him barely stirring, like a cat nudged out of a place by the fire, to admit that why yes, All About Eve is Not Bad. The Viaggio stuff I'd written up before but it remains painful, because I agree, it's his best performance, the most genuine one he ever gave. Maybe that's why he was ungenerous about it?

As for Gish, I'm so glad she thawed out with age. I imagine it was painful for silent performers to do all this great work when they're young and gorgeous and have it slip down the memory hole, only to be replaced in the public's mind by small parts in sound films. But NOTH is a masterpiece.

Eddie, Hopkins was not what you'd call self-deprecating so she probably did dislike the film, although in female solidarity I criticize no steps anyone takes to circumvent long lines at the ladies' room, short of actual violence.

mas82730 said...

Astonished that Christie disparages her work in 'Shampoo' (wasn't she something of a Marxist dabbler, always giving Beatty hell for not making films a la Fassbinder?)
Siren, I love 'The Shanghai Gesture' no matter how many times I've been told I shouldn't like it. Tierney is drop-dead gorgeous and Ona Munson's taper of evil almost burns a hole through the screen. Oh yeah, there's that other actor, what's his name -- Something Huston. Walter, I believe. Alas, no Dietrich.

The Siren said...

Mas, I'm kind of hoping somebody pops up to say that Christie was having an off day when she said that and she didn't really mean it. She's always been an outspoken woman of the left but her basic persona in interviews is beautifully direct and intelligent, no BS.

And yay for the Gesture; at some point I'll put up my Sternberg's Two Shanghais piece from Nomad in full. Nope, no Dietrich. But you probably knew this--Bette Davis had the Munson part on stage, where she was called Mother Goddamn. Now there's another parallel universe casting for our rapidly growing list. Sabrina with Grant, Heiress with Rathbone, Shanghai Gesture with Davis, The Informer with Mitchum...

Laura said...

I was surprised by how enjoyable Lured was. It was goofy as all get out (Boris Karloff say what?), but Sanders was great in a rare hybrid role, getting to play both the cynical rake and the dashing hero. Plus, who knew he and Lucille Ball of all people would have such great chemistry? I think of them as very different types, with or without I Love Lucy in mind. Maybe that difference in character was part of it. Opposites attract is often the most fascinating component of any cinematic romance I've seen.

Eh, however, I do have to agree with Bogart just a tad about Sabrina, though I'd die before confessing that to some close friends. It was well made, but the script and Bogie's bad casting tried my patience. A little too candy-coated for my tastes, maybe, wrapped up in the awkwardness of Bogart in a Cary Grant role.

Lillian Gish's comment on the other hand makes absolutely no sense to me. Man, did she even see Night of the Hunter? Mitchum's performance ranks as one of the most chilling examples of pure evil, insanity, and greed I've ever seen. And let's not forget a little picture called Cape Fear, shall we? Poor DeNiro never had a chance even if he had been good in the remake. All Mitchum has to do is stare at that poor woman in the bedroom to communicate how cold and evil and irredeemable he is.

Trish said...

Siren, I first saw "The Little Hut" as an impressionable teen and loved it. It's a bit stagey, but has an irresistible plot involving a shipwrecked Ava Gardner, Stewart Granger and David Niven. It's in gorgeous colour and castaway Ava wears Dior.

The Siren said...

Laura, I'd say the biggest problem with Sabrina is the lack of chemistry between the leads; I love the photo I posted for illustrating that so well. Little Audrey looks like she's expecting Bogey to pull a gun on her. But I still cherish the movie, in part *because* Bogart is so goshdarned grumpy in it. His interaction with his father is so funny because of it, and he cracks me up from the first scene in the limo, where he's dictating a memo to his brother about where his office is located.

By way of contrast, Lucy and George do have good chemistry, don't they? It's one of those pairings that shouldn't work, but does.

Never been a huge fan of Cape Fear but I can't fault Mitchum's performance, nor do I think it suggests an actor overly concerned with a good-guy image. I'll have to finally get the book Gloria mentions to see how Gish amended her thoughts later.

The Siren said...

All castaways should wear Dior.

Rozsaphile said...

Granger was unhappy on The Last Hunt, chiefly objecting to tough-guy director Richard Brooks, whom he blamed for causing an unnecessary injury to the young Anne Bancroft. Of course Granger's marriage was unraveling and . . . who knows?

I thought him quite good in Young Bess, lending a sad gravitas to the film's whitewashed characterization of Thomas Seymour.

The Siren said...

Oh you're right, he is very good in Young Bess, a mixed bag of a movie that was yet another girlhood fave. Sorry to hear he didn't like The Last Hunt, but I guess given the subject matter it was never going to be a romp even when the cameras quit turning.

Gloria said...

I've got to say, Lillian Gish seemed very appreciative of the film, all the people she worked with... But still believed that Mitchum's performance wasn't evil enough in the final film.

In the sense, for instance, that she felt that Laughton had inserted certain comedic bits about Preacher which she felt that took weight out of his evil.

Trish said...

Poor Lillian. You'd think a silent actress would understand the value of imagery over dialogue. Surely the brightly lit shot of Shelley Winters underneath the water is chilling enough? And I think the comic bits make us even more wary of Mitchum's character.

Ladybug said...

Please see ACTION IN ARABIA if only for one of the funniest flying scenes around. Sanders and Lockhart go to town in it while Robert Armstrong plays straight man.

Michael Wilding walks away with SCARLET COAT.

estienne64 said...

There's a great moment in Mark Cousin's Scene by Scene interview with Rod Steiger, where Cousins calls the Sam Fuller western Run of the Arrow Steiger's best film, and Steiger says: 'I'll kill you.' (It's about four minutes into the video; there's some stuff about Elizabeth Taylor and Bogart before then.)

Then again, perhaps this is the other way round from most of the examples given: the critic is lost in his enthusiasms and the actor has a valid point. (It's possible to be too revisionist.)

The Siren said...

Estienne, it's definitely possible to be too revisionist, ha!! I am about to step out but I really want to see that clip. I feel kinda bad about disagreeing with the Great Bette, for example, but honest and truly I like Beyond the Forest, what can I do? I would not call it her best, however, no way.

Kirk said...

I can't quite see Errol Flynn in The Heiress, but maybe that's because there's bit of an age difference between him and Montgomery Clift. Does anyone know how old the character, Morris Townsend, was supposed to be? Though it would have been interesting, and a bit ironic, to see Flynn opposite Olivia de Havilland again, now that she was considered more of a serious actress, and not the mainstay damsel in distress she was in their earlier films together.

Gish thought Mitchum wasn't evil enough? What'd she expect him to do, bare his fangs?

Jeff Gee said...

Wow. The 'comedic' bits in "Night of the Hunter" don't lighten his character at all. His charm and humor are clearly protective coloring, and without them he'd never be able to gain the trust of his victims. // Speaking of "Night..." this here is a 1965 article from Holiday magazine, wherein Ray Bradbury talks about going to Disneyland with Charles Laughton. It's R.B. at his most cloying ("It is a good memory, the memory of the day Captain Bligh dragged me writhing through the gates of Disney­land...")and the Laughton part is disposed of in a couple of paragraphs,but still, it's Charles Laughton in Disneyland.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Heiress wouldn't have worked with Flynn at all. His very presence portends rape.

Lou Lumenick said...

According to the recent, exhaustive (and exhausting) bio by James Curtis, after a screening of "Bad Day at Black Rock,'' Spencer Tracy wrote in his acting diary: "Bad Picture? Nothing -- mediocre. Grade B.'' Tracy recorded negative comments for most of his films.

Rozsaphile said...

This kind of hypersensitivity is not unique to actors. Tchaikovsky, who was admittedly something akin to a manic-depressive, evaluated many of his greatest works as dismal failures.

Yojimboen said...

(Miniscule contribution - sorry, on a deadline):

FWIW in 1878 Leo Tolstoy decided he was an utter failure - his life, a complete waste.
(So far all he had produced was War & Peace and Anna Karenina.)

Trish said...

It's fascinating how artists evaluate themselves and their films. Bad Day at Black Rock is one of my favourites. Yes, it's very talky, and if Tracy had doubts I wonder if maybe he thought his one-armed character wasn't convincing enough to stand up to the local toughs. It's a great film and he's great in it, as is the terrific supporting cast. I wish he knew.

The Siren said...

Lou, thanks so much; I'd no idea Tracy was so self-lacerating, it doesn't show in his performances. I've never been a huge Spencer Tracy partisan, but he made some great movies and I've always thought Bad Day at Black Rock was one of them.

Tchaikovsky...Roszaphile, I read this article once in the Wall Street Journal about a conference on his music. He was one of my first classical-music loves (isn't he for everyone?) and I knew that he wasn't necessarily highly regarded in the upper reaches of music criticism. What was touching about the article was the writer's description of how people were almost overcome, at last given the chance to talk about Tchaikovsky in a serious environment, some of them near tears talking about what his music had meant to them. Makes you hope he was watching from somewhere, yes?

Yojimboen, I visited Moscow about 15 years ago and made a pilgrimage to Tolstoy's house; they hadn't wired it for electricity, or if they had they weren't using it, and all there was in the house was the lugubrious Russian daylight struggling through the thick glass windows. It was exactly the place to curl up with The Death of Ivan Ilyich and contemplate your own mortality...

The Siren said...

Trish, I actually thought his big confrontation was well-done, didn't you? It's guile vs brawn. And the darned thing is so atmospheric. Atmosphere counts for a lot with me, always has (see Blanche Fury post below).

Rocket Ray said...

With all due respect, taking Richardson out of "The Heiress" would be like taking Lincoln off Mt. Rushmore. Thank you. :-)

Pinko Punko said...

Wonderful post. I was always sad about Bogart saying that anyone that liked Beat the Devil was a phony or something like that. I think the film is phenomenally surreal. A random Amazon review discusses the original cut of the film and quotes the alternate opening scene and I wish this version were still in existence.

The Siren said...

Rocket Ray, I see your point, definitely. Richardson is brilliant. I don't want Rathbone to replace him, I'd just love to see his performance somehow.

Pinko Punko, thanks! I myself don't like Beat the Devil but that is one defiantly weird movie, and no one need be ashamed of having made something genuinely oddball and daring. Doesn't happen that often in mainstream American filmmaking.

estienne64 said...

I've been racking my brains trying to think of more modern examples of this phenomenon among actors. I dimly remembered Tim Roth being casually dismissive of his work in Rob Roy; the truth, as usual, seems a little more complicated than that. In an interview to mark the film's UK release (Premiere, April 1995) Roth emphasised how 'loud' the part was, at the director's insistence, and how he hated doing it at the beginning, but that he got into it by the end: 'Okay, I'm going to give you a [Charles] Hawtrey in this scene, a touch of Terry [Thomas] in this one, and a drag queen in this one'. Of course, Roth ended up with great reviews and an Oscar nomination, but not, I suspect, for the 'broad comedy' of the performance.

Sticking to 'The Sons of Basil' (villainous Brits in Hollywood), I'd be interested to know how Alan Rickman views his work in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and what the newly naturalistic and unobtrusive Gary Oldman makes of his vivid, grandstanding 1990s performances in, for instance, Leon and Dracula.

Re Rathbone and Richardson (and with a nod to Tolstoy): didn't they both play Karenin on screen?

The Siren said...

Ooh estienne, well played. Yes, they did, and to give Basil's memoirs credit, one of the most interesting parts is his discussion of Karenin and his psychological motivations. He didn't see him as a cold-hearted villain, rather as a possessive man who lacked imagination.

I don't know that I have seen a successful Anna Karenina on screen, and I say that as a lover of both Leigh and Garbo. In both cases Karenin was more interesting, and that can't be in a proper adaptation. This year brings us Keira Knightley's attempt. I am not optimistic.

estienne64 said...

The Keira Karenina is being directed by Joe Wright, so we can probably expect a ridiculously labyrinthine tracking shot at the end, just before she [SPOILER ALERT] jumps in front of the train.

Let's hope they stick to an Anglophone cast so KK doesn't have to have an excuse to break out her Dangerous Method accent again.

estienne64 said...

By which I meant '...doesn't have an excuse...'. (That'll teach me not to preview.)

Yojimboen said...

"I don't know that I have seen a successful Anna Karenina on screen..."

Do I deduce you haven't seen Ms V. Leigh? (I'll send it to you. I think it's her best work.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'm crazy about Beat the DeviL. In the Capote canon it's infinitely preferable to that tedious potboiler In Cold Blood. Jennifer Jones plays Tru -- a creative liar. But for me Gina Lollabridgida steals it -- trying to act English and in the process being more Italian than ever.

Pauline Kael pointed out that Bogart dissed Beat the Devil because it was made by his company and he lost money on it. But it was Groucho Marx's favorite movie. Every year he'd rent a print and host a screening for his friends.

And now for something will win you bonus points in a round of Gay Jeopardy. Stephen Sondheim was working for somebody's agent at the time, and because the Portofino location was pretty much cut off from the world was flown specially over to deliver a message. As he was there for a few days Huston used him as an a.d. and "clapper boy." Too Fabulous For Words -- but not for song. Here's the lovely Gavin Creel with a number Steve wrote for a film that came much later in his career.

Shamus said...

And Claudette Colbert surely must have changed her mind after declaring rashly to her friends after shooting It Happened One Night that she had finished the worst picture she ever made. Hadn't she?

Shamus said...

Whew. But she too, like Stanwyck, was a great professional. Look at the directors she worked with- Ford, Capra, DeMille, Sirk, Leisen, Stahl, LaCava and she was also the only major comedienne who worked with both Sturges and Lubitsch (twice!). The story of her petulance on the Capra picture always struck me as odd.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Isherwood and Bacahrdy called her "Uncle Claude."

bitter69uk said...

When Mark Cousins interviewed Lauren Bacall on British TV years ago she horrified him (and me!) by being entirely dismissive of Written on the Wind. He asked her which of her films she liked better and she replied Designing Woman, because it showed she could be funny. She thought Written on the Wind was just a silly soap opera she signed up for just for the opportunity to work with her friend Rock Hudson. BTW: I revere Shanghai Gesture, too.

Noel Vera said...

Shanghai Gesture's casino makes Rick's look like a church meet.

Poor Ms. Gish on Night. I loved her there, thought she balanced out Mitchum's malevolence. As for the humor--I thought it confirmed Mitchum's evil. He's enjoying himself. It's like someone chortling while torturing kittens.

Muscato said...

It still astonishes people (me included, at times) in some way that's neither rational nor fair, that Lillian Gish wasn't infallible.

She was among the very greatest screen presences, a great actress (even on stage, if her Ophelia was as good as legend has it) - but not a wide-ranging student of film beyond her own canon.

Still, in NOTH, she's amazing ("Get your state troopers out here. I got something trapped in my barn").

The Siren said...

Aw Ms Bacall, the more irascible she is the more I love her; she's like Davis that way. Mark, I seem to remember hearing that before from the divine Ms Bacall. And I can hardly bear Designing Woman, everyone in it is mugging like crazy, Peck's part is so unpleasant; although she's one of the better aspects, Dolores Gray being the best. But I can still see why she prefers it to Written on the Wind, solely in terms of her role. The character is, as Julie Christie would say, not very empowered. Dorothy Malone got's all the choice scenes in that one.

Written on the Wind is one of Sirk's greatest to me and Bacall isn't the only one who's not a huge fan, Molly Haskell said as much on The Essentials some time back. They're fallible, I guess.

Which brings us to Noel and Muscato ... ha, so well put, it isn't so much that she found fault with NOTH as that she's so clearly wrong, and really, how are we suppose to deal with Gish being wrong? She was very stubborn, though; Vidor in a Tree Is a Tree describes the long wrangle he had with her interpretation in La Boheme, and explains politely but firmly that Miss Gish was wrong there, too.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Miss Gish was a great artist and had her own ideas -- which sometimes clashed with other great artists. But whatever it took it's all up there on the screen, and she's never less than impressive.

I can see why Lauren Bacall didn't care for Written on the Wind. It's a thankless part in which she gets to do little but react to Robert Stack's heartlessness. meanwhile Dorothy malone gets to Mambo!

Bacall gets to go the limit in Paul Schrader's excellent, but sadly barely seen The Walker. She plays a Washington socialite -- one of a group that includes Kristen Scott-Thomas, Lily Tomlin, and Mary Berth Hurt -- who had a weekly card game with Woody Harrelson -- cast WAY against type as a gay man of "good family" who has construced a small but in his view very enjoyable ittle life in D.C. the best part of which is the weekly card game. Then disaster strikes when Kristen cott-Thomas' lover is murdered and Harrelson gasllantly steps in to help her out -- putting himself in danger. In act three Bacall gets The Big Scene -- one fo the bigges tof her entire carerr -- in whcih she tells Harrelson off. he's come to her for help, and not only can she not help him, she knows that what's transpired has destroyed everything. She therefore informs him precisely how small a figure he was in their world, destroying the illusion he had worked so hard to create. Bacall is simply astnishing in this film. She's in what would orinarily be "her dotage" yet she exhibits the sort of sheer acting power one rarely ever sees anywhere.

bitter69uk said...

Siren: You nailed it! When Mark Cousins mentioned Dorothy Malone, Bacall interrupted, "SHE got the best part!" David: I've put The Walker on my LOVEFiLM wish list based on your recommendation. And you're right: to her credit, Bacall is still hungry to challenge herself as an actress rather than rest on her laurels, working with the likes of von Trier, etc. In the same interview she told Mark Cousins she yearns to work with Pedro Almodovar, even if it's just carrying a tray in one scene.

The Siren said...

The thing is, Bacall is underrating herself, still; yes, Written on the Wind is a thankless part as David says, but imagine one of the many flavorless "good girl" actresses of the time period in that role and you realize that Bacall is what's giving it sex appeal and some real romance and upping the stakes just by being a woman you can well imagine two men losing it over. With a lesser actress you'd probably want to kill that character.

DavidEhrenstein said...

A very good point, Siren.

Rozsaphile said...

I recall Lillian Gish, grandly gowned, sweeping onto the stage of Radio City Music Hall to introduce Gance's Napoleon circa 1983 or so. It was a thrilling moment, a legend come back to life. I'm sure the whole audience felt that way. However, when she went on to pretty much dismiss the entire history of post-silent cinema, she lost her audience and even generated some rude titters.

Yojimboen said...

Woody Harrelson is strikingly good in The Walker (he’s phenomenally good in the recent Rampart and may be the best thing in The Hunger Games), but La Bacall gives her fellow players a breathtaking master class in how it’s done

I’m a great admirer of Schrader’s - I think almost every one of his directed films is sadly underrated, just as I think almost every script he wrote for other directors is sadly overrated and, (here I go again David) I include most of the work Scorcese.

Yojimboen said...

@Rozsaphile – I was at that screening, I’d completely forgotten Gish intro’d and how odd the atmosphere became. I mostly remember I sat behind Roger Ebert, in from the Windy City for the event. I also remember he wouldn’t - or couldn’t - sit still.

Michael Dempsey said...

I'd like to second David Ehrenstein's endorsement of "The Walker".

One of its virtues is that it's daringly character-centered and, despite its murder plot, understated, especially in its affectingly quiet conclusion.

In line with the theme of this post, Woody Harrelson is said to have done no publicity for the film because he didn't like his own performance -- reasons unspecified. And un-agreed with here.

Props also to Kristin Scott-Thomas, who's affecting throughout, especially when speaking of the importance of sex with her character's lover.

VP81955 said...

Look at the directors (Claudette Colbert) worked with -- Ford, Capra, DeMille, Sirk, Leisen, Stahl, LaCava and she was also the only major comedienne who worked with both Sturges and Lubitsch (twice!). The story of her petulance on the Capra picture always struck me as odd.

Well, there was always that issue about her profile, but aside from that, perhaps it was always part of her work personality. There was some film (forget which one) where Claudette's chair was labeled "The Fretting Frog" ("frog" was slang in those days for French), and one of the fan magazines of the time actually showed Colbert sitting in it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Harrelson's antipathy to his own performance in The Walker mystifies me. paul said all the air went out of publicizing the movie because Harrelson refused to step up to the plate for it. The scene where he sings the Al Smith campauign song alone is overwhelming. But that's the thing with some actors -- they're just not onto themselves.

Paul has had a very interesting career as a screenwriter and writer-director.

It may interest you to know Yojimboen tha tMartry considers Taxi Driver to be Paul's film whereas Riging Bull is his.

On his won the auccess of American Gigolo marked Paul as a slick operator. But he's interested in what's beneath the surface -- not on top of it. Paul's films are all marked by his obsession with Bresson's Pickpocket. He keeps remaking the last scene. The Walker is different in that he put the last scene in the middle (his anti-hero finally admits to his boyfriend that he loves him) Paul's most distinctive movie, IMO is Light Sleeper, with Willem Dafoe as a drug courier leaving the business because his boss -- Susan Sarandon -- has closed up shop. DaFoe is precisely the sort of actor Paul needs to portray the people he loves to write about -- tortured ambivalent souls in crisis.

glennkenny said...

Fabulous post! Makes me wonder if Mr. Hemmings was being SARCASTIC when he called Dario "the maestro." Given the cups we were both in, it's a tough call.

I remember a witnessing a late-in-life Q&A with Joan Bennett in a Cinecon-ish setting (albeit in New York, not L.A.) and how each question about each director, from Lang to Argento, was answered "He was a very nice man...", more or less.

The Siren said...

Y'all are definitely making me want to check out The Walker. Harrelson is a gifted actor who's always struck me as an odd bird.

Glenn, it's possible although I like to think that Hemmings maybe went back and forth. Deep Red is the only Argento I've seen, solely because of my Hemmings love, and it was stylish as all hell; I had to admire the man's eye, even if it focused occasionally on things that made me cringe.

As for Bennett, it must be said in her favor that she sincerely admired Lang, managed to get along with him fine and always gave him credit for her development as an actress. Although I would have loved to have been in the audience to see her describing him as "a very nice man" with a straight face.

The Siren said...

And as if to underline my point about Deep Red for the doubters, comes MUBI with a series of screen caps. Well worth a look.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Shirley Temple is 84 today. Therefore --

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