Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Stroll Through the Blogs

The Siren's been tagged by Dennis Cozzalio. As Lance Mannion says--homework! You're giving me homework! She has her own idea about how to approach this meme , of "12 Movies I Need to See," so she's working on it. In the meantime, here's some of what the Siren spent the week reading instead of doing her homework.

A little while back the great Peter Nelhaus of Coffee Coffee and More Coffee wrote an excellent essay about Give Us This Day, arguing that it may be director Edward Dmytryk's best film. The Siren remarked in comments that filmmaker Raymond De Felitta was mentored by Dmytryk at the American Film Institute, and she wished Raymond would write a full post about the director of Murder, My Sweet, Crossfire and The Caine Mutiny--and Hollywood Ten member turned friendly witness.

Ask, and ye shall receive. Raymond has a long post up today, and it is a wonderful tribute to Dmytryk as a complex, sometimes exasperating man and to his qualities and talents as a director. If you can't read it now, bookmark it and read it later. You won't be sorry. Here's a taste:

Eddie once said to me: 'I got all the drunks. They always gave me the drunks, for some reason.' As I was laughing (and he was too) he listed every famous drunk in Hollywood--and Eddie had worked with them: 'Clift, Bogie, Bill Holden, Gable, Tracy, Richard Burton...Jesus, I worked with every great drunk in Hollywood.' Funny as this was, later I gave it some thought and realized that every director had their specialty and perhaps Eddie was onto something; his own assuredness (and he didn't drink either) mixed with a patience and respect for actors made him the ideal 'drunk-handler.'

The Siren agrees with Raymond (and Peter) that this director deserves to have his work reappraised.

I'm late on this one (it went up while I was in France) but was delighted to find it: Over at And Your Little Blog, Too, Vertigo's Psyche posted a complete rundown on the outtakes of Night of the Hunter recently screened at UCLA. It was more than 2½ hours of Charles Laughton, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish, behind the scenes as they worked.

At Some Came Running, Glenn Kenny has been posting correspondence with Joseph Failla about the Blu-Ray Godfather restorations. This marvelous series of posts gives you a clear-eyed summary of the debates over how older movies should look on our home screens, with Glenn at his pithiest ("Joe--Not to be disrespectful or vulgar, but the 'home theater crowd' can go eat a bag of dicks"). It also covers weighty matters such as That Kiss and Part III, operatic coda or greedy desecration? Part One, Part Two, Part Three and a Postscript.

John McElwee has also been watching as much Kay Francis as the traffic will bear, and has written up his impressions so far. As always, great pictures unique to Greenbriar and something you never knew before, as with the marvelous Jewel Robbery:

You can’t help speculating upon depression-era viewers, already short of bread at home, so inspired by such rascally goings-on as to hold up boxoffices on their way out (and indeed, theatre robberies, often at gunpoint, were rife during the early thirties).

Jacqueline T. Lynch has written a warm defense of a movie the Siren holds dear, The Enchanted Cottage.

Gareth at Gareth's Movie Blog has an index of his movie reviews up and running now, so if you want to see his thoughts on, say, Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier it's easy to do so. (Gareth has a particularly large number of well-executed reviews of French films, both old and modern, on his site.)

Jonathan Lapper meditates on why movies have gotten so goddamn long, a curmudgeonly topic the Siren herself has been known to rant about.

And finally, the Siren hopes y'all are still keeping up with the Best Pictures from the Outside In, sponsored by Nathaniel R, Nick Davis and the fabulous Mike, aka Goatdog. The latest: The Great Ziegfeld (gentlemen, I submit that you were way too hard on dear Luise) vs American Beauty (and on that one they aren't hard enough, though I hasten to add, before Nathaniel hurts me, that I share his love for La Bening).

Don't look at me like that, I do!

One last that I stupidly forgot: Darcy James Argue posts a clip from Sweet Smell of Success that includes the Chico Hamilton Quartet, of which we are asked to believe that Marty Milner is an integral part. Darcy and I had an interesting back-and-forth in comments about whether a little weed and some reddish politics would be enough to sink a sideman in the world of 1957.


John McElwee said...

Your guidance to worthwhile posts much appreciated, Siren, as is the generous nod in Greenbriar's direction, and I really loved your coverage of "Sweet Smell Of Success" and "Rear Window".

Peter Nellhaus said...

Great? Moi? That's a too generous assessment, but thank you. I'm looking forward to your list of twelve unseen films by the way.

Gloria said...

I feel that Robert Gitt's editing of the "night of the Hunter" outtakes should be made more readily available, in theatres or dvd... whatever

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for the nod. Off to read the other posts.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I quite agree, gloria. Thsoe outtakes are a revelation.

Greg said...

Edward Dmytryk's problem may be the friendly witness pigeonhole. And after he was a hero to the movement fighting for First Amendment rights by being one of the original Hollywood Ten.

Kazan, it seems to me at least, was much more highly evaluated in my youth before the weight of the HUAC naming of names finally started to drag down his legacy. And it's had its effect on me too. I get bothered watching On the Waterfront and seeing Schulberg and Kazan comparing their fellow artists with low-life gangsters to be ratted out.

Edward Dmytryk was a fine director, I agree, but the friendly witness thing will always taint his reputation and hamper any far-reaching re-evaluation. I think. Maybe not.

P.S. Thanks for the link. Now do your homework.

Marilyn said...

Lovely banner, Siren!

I know this is going to get your goat, but I thought it was an interesting, if controversial idea among film fans.

From I Blame the Patriarchy (

"I did watch a few minutes of an old movie on TCM last night, though, and was repelled enough by its Yay Patriarchyness to embark on a series of contemplations on how Western literature would scarcely exist if plots did not so consistently revolve around the purity of the female lead’s vagina, puritanical conceits concerning marriage and divorce, and whose-baby-is-it. Seriously, if you take away bastards, fallen women, and dominion-over-the-uterus as plot devices, nearly the whole canon instantly evaporates. I honestly don’t know how TCM broadcasts this crap with a straight face. “The story of a man who lived a man’s life, the story of a woman who believed in one man.” It amounts, in large part, to hate speech."

I have been talking with Rick Olson at Coosa Creek Mambo ( about ethics in filmmaking. You might want to comment there.

The Siren said...

John, Jacqueline and Peter, thanks very much. My list is up.

Gloria and David, I agree with you, but I do think it's got a limited audience so I understand why no one's tried to put them on disc. I could probably watch all 8 hours but let's face it, I am weird.

Jonathan, I think the further away we get from that era, the more we'll be able to look at the filmmakers as just that, and not moral yardsticks. I guess I am an optimist. On the Waterfront has never bothered me. I find the analogy that Schulberg and Kazan are trying to draw is so far-fetched that it's pretty easy to put out of mind.

Marilyn, s/he posted that after "watching a few minutes?" that's enough to call TCM and the entire early history of American cinema hate speech? Ludicrous. I feel sorry for someone who can only look at Western art through such a reductive prism--what a cheerless way to spend your life. I once stood in line next to Catherine Mackinnon at a coffee shop, does that qualify me to post that "Sexual Harrassment of Working Women" is bunk? I will check out your conversation with Rick, but I will refrain from detailed response. Besides, I am supposed to be watching The Constant Nymph. :)

Marilyn said...

I believe she watches TCM - or tries to until she gets fed up with the sexism of a bygone era. Humorless? Certainly about sexism, though Twisty's got a biting wit and writing style. I tend to take the historical perspective as well as the perspective that censorship never did anyone any good, particularly not women under the Production Code. Attitudes about women need to change elsewhere first - movies tend to reflect the zeigeist rather than create it.

Enjoy The Constant Nymph!

The Siren said...

Oh, I wouldn't say "humorless", that's a buzzword for feminists I tend to avoid. I just think she can't have watched that much, or she's too blinkered to see further--those "sexist" women's films raise some quite subversive points, even if the endings (thanks in part to Breen, but not entirely) reassert societal norms. By dismissing them as hate speech, she's reinforcing the trivialization of pictures that spoke to the concerns of millions of ordinary women and kept them coming to the movie houses in droves. She's just backing up the old, male critical dismissal of these movies as hokum unworthy of an intelligent person's time. I'd love to see her confront the ghost of Bette Davis and take that angle.

Marilyn said...

That's a good point regarding women's films, and I'm not say I agree with her entirely. But I do find stereotypes in films grating, for example, the Jewish boy in Boys Town who is counting the money. After seeing The Rag Man and Make Way for Tomorrow, I know that Hollywood could and did do better in its portrayal of Jews. Also a line in An American in Paris gets me every time, when Gene Kelly enters Nina Foch's home, looks around and says, "Your husband's or your father's money?"

The Siren said...

I always thought it was a big mistake to cut a late scene that implied Levant and Foch were getting together, which might have been very sweet and funny--I know Foch said it was. Foch's character is surprisingly likable and deserved more than she got from the final film version.

I always thought that line was demonstrating that Kelly's character was a bit of a heel, as almost all his characters were. His treatment of Foch from beginning to end isn't gentlemanly at all.

Marilyn said...

I agree. I've always been a fan of Nina Foch, and I don't just think it was Kelly who was unkind to her. The scriptwriter also let her answer that question as though it were the most natural of things for anyone of slight acquaintance to ask.

I didn't know about that scene that was cut. It would have been really interesting to see and done a lot for her and Levant's characters.

randini said...

That's the best thing ever written about Eddie Dmytryk, somebody who I really wanted to meet. I too, have thought that his second career wasn't up to snuff but that the HUAC affair wasn't the reason. His is an interesting variant of the Hollywood Tragedy, the King of the Bs who wanted to be King of the As but just wasn't quite good enough. But tell him that! Will we ever break the stranglehold that the Left has on the political history of Hollywood? In my own little way as a (now) Refugee Academic I wanted to, but I figured it would take at least six semesters and they would have had to clone me. Plus I couldn't find enough in the way of "friendly" texts. If only I had had this. (Who do you suppose Wilder thought the two talented members of the Ten were?)

The Siren said...

I can't say who the two were--I suspect Dmytryk must have been one, perhaps Trumbo was the other. Maybe Raymond remembers. You should definitely leave him a comment, comments are manna to a blogger.

A history of Hollywood conservatism would be interesting indeed. For one thing, it would be useful for people who have the deluded notion that there was no such thing, aside from John Wayne and James Stewart.

camorrista said...

Campaspe, one reason Dmytryk still attracts a certain (understandable) derision is that unlike Kazan, who opted for a fierce and public anti-Red revisionism the moment he was in jeopardy, Dmytryk refused to cooperate with HUAC on his first appearance and was sent to prison. After a few months behind bars, he testifed again and named names. To his admirers, he had an epiphany about communism; to the rest of us, he used HUAC's get-out-jail-free card to retrieve his career.

More importantly, does anybody really rank Dmytryk's bloated post-HUAC movies with those those lean, fast & dark gems he made before HUAC?

And isn't THE CAINE MUTINY--his first studio movie after his resurrection--just as much a self-serving apologia as ON THE WATERFRONT? In the name of anti-corruption, Kazan justfies informing; in the name of wartime patriotism, Dmytryk (echoing Wouk's novel) justifies demented (& homicidal) incompetence.

The Siren said...

Camorrista, nice to see you again. I do think you're on to something about Dmytryk. In his memoirs it sounds less opportunistic than that. I tend to believe him when he says he was never all that enthusiastic a leftist. I can easily see him in jail, saying to himself "I am not even all that committed to this stuff, and here I may never work again." The true believers may have found it a lot easier. Plus, he was the only pure director of the 10, and as he pointed out, he couldn't work under an assumed name.

But The Caine Mutiny--do you really see it as being on Queeg's side? Jose Ferrer's final confrontation isn't about justifying Maryk, I thought, it's about confronting the mutiny's instigator, MacMurray, who didn't have the courage to back anything up.

In Dmytryk's book he talks about dealing with an officer who had risen to a certain rank, but couldn't command, because he said he'd known a Queeg early in his career, but had no recourse.

I don't know, it's been a while since I saw the film, so I'd love to hear you expand on your thoughts.

camorrista said...

"But The Caine Mutiny--do you really see it as being on Queeg's side?"

Just did a quick check of the book & the play, and ran the last few minutes of the movie, and it seems to me that Wouk (& Dmytryk) don't justify Queeg so much as the system that produces him. (It's the same argument that Colonel Jessup makes in A FEW GOOD MEN--yes, he's a monster but he's the monster that's keeping tyranny from your front door.)

The Navy hated the book (though not because of the depiction of Queeg) and wouldn't co-operate with the filming until Stanley Kramer agreed to a disclaimer, saying there'd never been a mutiny board a USN vessel.

Regarding Dmytryk's claim that he was the only pure director among the original ten and couldn't use a front, true enough, but, then, neither could Joseph Losey, or Jules Dassin, or Martin Ritt, or Leo Penn. A few months after Dmytryk named names, he was back at work, in England; he did three low-budget features (for Kramer) and then got THE CAINE MUTINY. Not quite the stuff of heart-rending pathos.

As to his motives for spilling the beans, well, forgive me if I don't put much faith in the truthfulness of autobiographies (truthiness is more like it); I'd no more trust Dmytryk's version of his remission from communism than I'd trust Kazan's version of his.

randini said...

In referring to the Left's "stranglehold" on this story I meant that we're long overdue for a more clear-yed assessment of the Ten (to start with), many of whom were anything but the saintly victims they're usually made out to be. The first thing I would want to do is try to verify Dmytryk's account of how he and Adrian Scott were booted out of the Party for refusing to kowtow to its "discipline". I can well believe that they had the pathetic example of Lester Cole in mind, who was brutalized by the hard core enforcers John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie for daring to speak his own mind. As to Wilder's "two who had talent", I have a hard time believing that he would have thought any of the communist writers did, and Dalton Trumbo particularly (in my view the most overrated writer in the town's history). After all, Wilder had known people like that in Europe and was less easily fooled than most in Hollywood.

randini said...

Ah, just in time to correct my whopper before anybody else does. I meant to say Albert Maltz instead of Lester Cole. There's a whole chapter on the sorry affair in Ron Radosh's "Red Star Over Hollywood" (which is a good example of what I was up against trying to find a suitable text for such a revisionist course. It takes incompetence to unforseen levels and is not recommended, even if, or especially if, you agree with his politics.

gmoke said...

"No Greater Glory (Frank Borzage, 1934) Of course there's a Borzage. There's always a Borzage. This one is an antiwar allegory based on a novel by Ference Molnar."

When there was an International Channel on my cable, I would stay up late on Sunday nights to watch old Hungarian movies (everybody dies in old Hungarian movies). One of them was an actual Hungarian version of this story and it was very good. I was blown away thinking that it was a commentary on WWI and then found out that Molnar wrote it before the Great War.