Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Shadows So Far (and Night Three Coming Up)
More on the TCM Shadows of Russia films so far. Big Hollywood is showing the Siren some love by assigning its best writer, Robert Avrech, to cover the series; his thoughts on Night One are here.
The Way We Were: "Is this movie," demanded Mr. N, "going to be one long tracking shot coming to rest on Robert Redford?" My beloved husband saw this--imagine--as a flaw. Well, there are a lot of those shots. Sydney Pollack was a good friend of Redford's and in this movie apparently he decided to use the actor the same way John Ford used Monument Valley. At one point Mr. N went upstairs and I called up, "They just tracked to Redford on a boat." "I knew it," came the retort from above, "I could hear the music starting up."
Still, the film holds up well. It's still romantic and touching, and the Siren still sniffled over it, unlike Love Story. The tracking shots are just the camera yearning like Barbra Streisand. When those shots come to rest on Redford's face, you see everything Hubbell is holding back from. As Katie Morosky, Streisand's sincerity is so naked you want to shout at her to play harder to get; she sells the love affair, and the political dedication as well. If David Ehrenstein is right, and Katie is a self-portrait by screenwriter Arthur Laurents, then Laurents is gifted with self-knowledge as well as talent. The movie is frank about how difficult it is to be around a person of profound beliefs and constant activism. When Hubbell says to Katie, half-resigned and half-incredulous, "You think you're easy? Compared to what, the Hundred Years' War?" you have to agree. And yet Gardiner squanders our sympathy as he squanders the richest parts of his life, leaving his baby girl in the hospital along with Katie, choosing television and a Gloria Upson blonde. "People are their principles," Katie snaps at him, and the movie is one long demonstration that she is right. She will always be the person at the party trying to shame those telling vicious jokes, and Gardiner will always be the one saying, "Why bother?"
Reds: Spirited discussion of Warren Beatty at Glenn's place at the moment, tied to Glenn's slog through Peter Biskind's biography. When the Siren first saw this movie she thought it magnificent. Upon re-watching she sees more flaws, although it still should not have lost the Oscar to Chariots of Fire. (It should have lost to Atlantic City, in case you're wondering.) Vittorio Storaro's cinematography hasn't aged a minute. The witnesses remain one of the most clever exposition devices ever, and their extraordinary faces make the Siren ponder the fact that features deeply scored by time are a rare sight in mainstream movies and always have been. As Robert Avrech pointed out, most of the interviewees didn't know Bryant and Reed personally, but they are meant to be witnesses to the era. And the movie's real romance is with that moment for the American left, that optimism for the cause. The characters regard their unattainable love object--a true workers' state--in the dreamy way all such loves are seen, flaws somehow pushed to the periphery.
Beatty plays Reed with self-deprecating humor and Jack Nicholson is as drily perfect as I remember him, a precisely controlled performance free from the Jack-ishness that overtook him later in the decade. Diane Keaton is, however, nerve-wracking for the first hour and in the early episodes her connection with Reed seems shallow, as indeed does the character. Comes the revolution, however, and they turn on the heat.
What the Siren likes best about Reds, aside from the witnesses, the beauty, Nicholson and the moving conclusion, are the parts that show the self-knowledge Reed doesn't possess. Reed talks in abstractions, his concrete moments are all tied to Bryant. Emma Goldman, a small part played with burning dedication by Maureen Stapleton, anchors the movie to reality. In her first scene she interrupts Reed to insist that birth control is no distraction, but rather something that will make an immediate difference to countless women; in one of her last scenes she tries to tell Reed what his longed-for revolution is about to become.
Spring Madness: A meringue, so light it does not linger. While Maureen O'Sullivan was much less tiresome than usual, with her mannerisms gone and some nice moments conveying young love, she did not convert the Siren to the "love" column. But hey, Burgess Meredith was amusing, and usually the Siren just stares at him and wonders what in the hell enabled this guy to land Paulette Goddard. Lew Ayres, an often fine actor and a man of principle to boot, was phoning it in, I am afraid. The good bits came from Ruth Hussey (velvet-voiced Ruth, as Exiled in New Jersey calls her), tossing off some lines worthy of Eve Arden--"Why, Mr. Thatcher, is that suspicion I see coming up in the dumbwaiter of your mind?" And also from Joyce Compton, playing the same daffy Southern belle she essayed in The Awful Truth. (The second-funniest scene in one of the funniest movies of the 1930s. Siren readers will know that the still is Compton in the McCarey film, but honestly it's the same character.) Compton is adorable here too, and gets the only line that refers to Russia as an ideology and not just an interesting choice for a postgraduate stint: "Say, is he a Communist, or just a meatball?"
Comrade X: A likable movie, one of the last of the screwball comedies, and of course it has Eve Arden which ups a film's coolness factor by--I will have to calculate, but it's a lot. And Eve plays an ex-girlfriend of Clark Gable's, a woman of the world and not the man-hungry spinster she often had to play. More bonus points.
The Siren saw it once before and thought it wasn't so hot. This time, she tried to look at the film on its own merits and not compare the script to Ninotchka, and found Comrade X quite entertaining. It has some problems, including a slapstick tank chase that doesn't quite come off and, more seriously, a mass-execution scene midway through (I describe it here in my Moving Image Source article) that just kills the funniness deader than Trotsky.
Comrade X does have King Vidor's direction and a bright performance from Hedy Lamarr, the best the Siren has seen from Lamarr outside of H.M. Pulham Esq. (also, and not coincidentally, a Vidor film). It has Clark Gable mouthing phony platitudes about the proletariat, a concept that Gable understands is so inherently funny it should be underplayed. It has Felix Bressart and some great lines, including a couple of sideswipes at Communism that are even more explicit than Ninotchka. (Bressart: "The communists have ideas. But they found out you can't run a government with everybody going around having ideas. So what is happening, the communists are being executed so that Communism should succeed.")
Tonight, it's Our Pals in the Red Army, with The North Star at 8 pm and, for those who missed the BAM screening and want to know what the fuss is about, Mission to Moscow at 10 pm. We then shift to Diplomatic Immunity, movies about Cold War espionage, with one movie the Siren is dying to see, The Kremlin Letter, at midnight and Conspirator with Taylor beauties Robert and Elizabeth, at 2 am. In an overnight slot at 4:15 am, TCM picked a movie not on our shortlist, Counter-Attack, with Paul Muni, to go back to the Red Army theme. The Siren was tickled to notice that that this is the movie on the background marquee as Barbra Streisand goes to work in the opening of The Way We Were. (And as if that wasn't enough cross-movie series coincidence, The North Star was Farley Granger's film debut.) Read my series co-conspirator Lou Lumenick's preview here at the New York Post.
Here also at the Post website is an edited version of Lou and me chatting with none other than Robert Osborne. I do not like how I look in the picture so scroll quickly to the interview, which contains clips from My Son John. If you aren't salivating to see that one, you should be.
Labels: Hedy Lamarr, John Ford, Shadows of Russia, TCM
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I'm still just so thrilled that Robert Avrech pointed me over to this site. I've been lolling about in your older posts for days now and am furiously attempting to work "caddishness of Homeric proportions" into casual conversation.
I'm so happy to have another reader, and any fan of Robert has established good taste. And truly, we should all work phrases by and about and delivered by George Sanders into as many conversations as possible. "I say, marriage with Max isn't exactly a bed of roses, is it?"
BTW, tonight is The Kremlin Letter, Sanders' last movie and one in which he appears in full drag.
Siren, your link to Avrech is a Hispanic Youtube link.
ARGH! okay, this was Blogger and not me, I swear. I will fix. That is the 2nd one. And it's Joyce's scene, subtitled, LOL!
(It should have lost to Atlantic City, in case you're wondering.)
My favourite shot in Reds is Bryant and Reed’s reunion at the train station. No melodrama, no relieved grins, no slow motion Clairol claptrap running down the platform.
No. They just quietly walk into contact and lean on each other. That long-lens shot is the tent-pole of the movie for me. Someday Warren Beattie is going to get his props as a filmmaker.
I hope it’s soon.
I love the train scene too but hadn't any fresh words for it; thanks for lending me some. I also think Beatty deserves a higher rep than he has.
I always liked this Sanders line from All About Eve, although it would be hard to work into the conversation -
"Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on?"
No, it shouldn't have lost to Atlantic City. Sorry. Don't buy that at all.
Thanks so much for the kind words and the link. I'm kind of bleary-eyed from watching all these movies, but gee, what a fine and educational experience. Film is a moral landscape and the Shadows of Russia series allows us to roam a rather, um, fractured landscape.
I'm one of the few film bloggers (and I have found this to be true in three years of movie blogging) that doesn't have a problem with Chariots of Fire. "It's booooring," "It's stale Masterpiece Theatre," etc. I don't know, I've always liked it personally. I think Ben Cross and Ian Charleson were both excellent, and Ian Holm was just marvelous. I liked the pacing, the story, the period feel, all of it. I liked Reds and Atlantic City too, but I don't view 1981 as some travesty of justice on the part of the Academy, at least not anymore than any other year.
Greg, I don't find '81 a standout travesty either. Chariots of Fire is a really absorbing movie about a subject I would never have thought I would care one jot about. Not every period piece is dull or middlebrow, and a lot of Masterpiece Theater is pretty fucking good, matter of fact. I'm just a bigger Malle partisan than Beatty--and I like Beatty a LOT.
Don't get me started, though, on '37, '38, '44, '76...
Well, after all that, I found "The North Star" to be schizophrenic. The first half almost kills it with its tin-eared dialogue and musical numbers. It improves once Stroheim shows up (as what movie doesn't?), but by then, the damage has been done.
"MTM," on the other hand, suffers from being such a big wet kiss to Uncle Joe. Yeah, I know why it was made, but there's too much of a dewey, breathless "Gosh, aren't the Soviets wonderful?" quality to it, for my money.
I'd prefer a little less of Huston playing Hildy to Stalin's Walter Burns (Cary Grant: "Oh, Walter!") and a little more "Suck it up, America; they're our allies, and here's why we need them."
Aw, maybe I'm just cranky tonight ...
I have to explain to my driving companion, usually my wife but sometimes my dog, that the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge is officially named the "Hamilton Fish Bridge."
"The grouchy interviewee in Reds."
Now if I could only find a bridge named after Rebecca West. "So that is the writer of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon." I remember thinking this as Yugoslavia broke apart.
I missed MTM. Did Huston do that signature gesture that he used as he aged: thumbs in his pocket, tummy thrust outward? I see that in Sierra Madre, And Then There were None, and on Sunday when TCM screened Dragonwyck, there he was doing it again.
It is such a kick to see you with Robert Osborne. You are hero to classic film bloggers.
Exiled, I believe he does, and when he's talking to Nazis, too!
Aw thanks J., that is wonderful to hear.
The deluxe DVD edition of The Way We Were has all of the cut scenes from the film's second half. The film's politics "didn't test well" so a concerted effort was made to remove it. This made total hash of the climax. Commie Katie leaves Dream Boy Hubble in order to save his career. In the released version there's no real way of knowing why they broke up at all. The best scene restored in the DVD extras shows Bab's Katie a the height of HUAC fracas that's ruining everyone's lives and careers on the UCLA campus where a young woman is making a speech trying to get students involved. She is of course a version of Katie herself and look of wry amusement/regret/recognition on Babs' face is priceless.
I'll never forget the first time I saw the film. It was first-run in New York at Lowe's Tower East. Three high school girls (playing hookey) were seated behind me. When the film began they giggled and guffawed at the clothes, the hairstyles and wahtnot. Halfway though they turned silent. At the end (one of th all-time great killer-tearjerker finales) I turned around to see what had become of them. They were completely dissolved in a sea of tears.
Yes Sudney stumbled, but when it came to the crunch he delivered.
My favorte moment in the film is early on when Babs and Redford are at college together. He and his pals have come to a restaurant where she's waiting tables. She simply wlsk up and stands there to take their order-- thesocio-economic gulf between them clearly of Grand Canyon proportions. Babs is so completely there in that moment in a way tha tgoes beyond acting. MAN does she ever know what this is about.
Ans so in his own way does Redford as the ultimate Shiksa.
Oh I *have* to see the DVD extras now, I have to. I love your comment, D. It's a really effective movie. I know that the second half made the screenwriter very unhappy and it's true that you have to fill in a lot of blanks, but their relationship is so well established in the early going that I think the viewers still get it. Nobody says she has to save his career but that is what I assumed all the same; plus, and more hurtfully, that's what he wanted her to do. Tell me, is there more Viveca Lindfors and her fate in the extras? I felt like there was something missing there too.
Actually what's going on over there is a spirited discussion of Peter Biskind's bloddy-mindedness.
Not that much more of Vivica Lindfors as the heart of the second half is the dissolution of the Babs/Redford marriage, and she's a sideline character.
What Laurents wanted to do was show how blacklist affected a partifular couple. But in order to do that you have to tell the audience what that period and its politics were all about.
IMO the best way to do that would be to show the films the right-wing was trying to squelch: Abe Plonsky's Force of Evil, John Berry's He Ran All the Way (Garflied's last and he's obviously at death;s door) and for my money over and above all Losey's The Big Night.
David, you have to go to the second page. Part Uno is indeed mostly a big ol' Biskind bash. Later you start getting the Beatty partisans (comme moi) speaking up. Glenn has promised to come back and talk some about Warren himself.
Too bad, I love Lindfors, but yes, she's a sideline character. She's wonderful in the screening scene in particular.
You look great in that clip on the Post site. It ends with the ending of My Son John. Such an incredibly sad movie. Helen Hayesand Dean Jagger learn that their son Robert Walker is a communist, yet they never come to any understanding of their son or politics -- they're just left in a pit of mourning and bewilderment.
Oh and when you next see Bob Osborne tell him I said "Hi!"
Chère Madame Sirène, I wonder what you thought of The Kremlin Letter?
(Or perhaps you haven’t de-Tivo’d it yet?)
I hadn’t seen it in decades, but it is, sadly, the dog’s dinner I remembered. Though not quite Huston’s nadir (that would be Victory), it is neither chalk nor cheese; bad enough to frown at, but not quite bad enough to enjoy.
The bombast of the perennially under-sung Richard Boone and the superb self-confidence of our George (his élan while in drag and later at the horribly stereotyped gay salon is a tribute to his massive talent) make the film almost watchable; but again, not quite.
The story is simply too complex, the center simply doesn’t hold: the soi-disant lead, Patrick O’Neal, is simply awful from frame one to the end. Watching Mr. O’Neal I’m always reminded of Calvin Trillin’s stated reason for voting against (NYC’s then mayor) John V. Lindsay:
''the man is simply too tall.''
Plus in O’Neal’s case, too narrow across the shoulders to ever play a romantic hero.
There are standards.
D., you are too sweet. I hope I do see the Great R.O. again, he was lovely and so erudite about movies.
Y., no, I haven't de-Tivod Kremlin Letter yet. Your verdict has a lot of company but I will have to see for myself. I have heard the plot is also the craziest this side of Il Trovatore.
Jean-Pierre Melville adored The Kremlin Letter. "I take my hat off to him," he said of Huston in Rui Nogueira's interview with melville book.
And as we all know that's quite a hat.
Remarkable for the scenes of Barbara Parkins opening a safe with her feet, and Richard Boone beating Bibi Andersson to death with his bare hands.
Melville also admired Wyler. I'm definitely looking forward to Kremlin Letter. I didn't remember Barbara Parkins was in it! "I don't know who I am, or what I want..."
I actually preferred some elements of 1969's "The Looking Glass War" to a lot of "the Kremlin Letter", altho John le Carre's book isn't quite successfully translated to the screen, at least in my view. Some very similar plot bits, as well, and as it was a year earlier, I wonder what the congruence was. The cameos in TKL were more distracting than required, at all, altho it's always nice to see M. Sanders anytime, and especially curious to see Dean Jagger go the distance chasing after the Commie Bastards till the bitter end, even in his character's aspects. Some would've wished that truck scene at a much earlier, more real moment in his career, I'll bet. Boone's chap was almost too good at spycraft compared to everyone else's character, and I never bought the complicated revenge scenario. "Ipcress File" and "Funeral in Berlin", with all their ambivalence, (and the latter's Oskar Homolka) are much more my cuppa.
"North Star" isn't just schizo, it's positively orgiastic as well, with a positive yen for clichés, a love for bombast and anachronism, and an absolute lust for the kind of Soviet propaganda spouting that seems like brainwashing at it's most successful, even when talking about non-specific moral points. Curiously, I'd heard that a lot of the mid-century local-villagers-fighting-the-invaders plot elements came from some Finnish plays about the Soviet invasion (!!!) of that Finland a few years earlier, so go figure.
"Conspirator" never took off for me, Ms. Taylor being the only reason I ever watched it, and I remembered that while watching it again this iteration. The overall stiffness of it was distracting as well. Nothing to see here folks, go on about your bidness.
I've recorded "Counter Attack" for my collection, and I'll catch up to it later, but having seen it before, it was a competent, if claustrophobic, "Five Graves to Cairo"-ish war film.
Lastly, "Mission to Moscow", also recorded, for a viewing when I have more time to waste, er, contemplate. I tried this once before, unsuccessfully, when I was younger and my heart was lighter - now my hair is lighter, but my patience is thinner, so I'll see.
I'm afraid I have nothing to say about "The Way We Were", other than it's production values were better than "The Strawberry Statement".
All in all, a pretty damn good run so far, Siren, I look forward to the rest of the Western Mosfilms.
S.A. Brugh with my morning coffee. I should have stayed in bed.
If you want to see Heddy Lamarr in the parts she should have been playing all along, try Dishonored Lady, the movie that was made from the play Letty Linton was plagerized from. Lamarr is truly gorgeous, the Kay Francis-like role suits her, and the film itself manages to convey a busy sexuality that the Breen office somehow missed.
Ironically, the film, though surprisingly obscure, is quite available, as it is public domain and online at the Internet Archive.
She's also teriffic in Ulmer's The Strange Woman
Dishonored Lady and North Star are both Public Domain.
View or download for free here:
What's the story behind Farley Granger's appearance in "The North Star" photo? He doesn't look as "sculpted" there as in later films. Can anybody dish?
Personally I can't abide Chariots of Fire, as I spent the whole time in the theater washroom upchucking with a bad migraine. To this day I can't listen to Vangelis without becoming nauseous.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a wonderful movie that gets better every time I see it. Call me one of the huddled masses, but I think it should have won. After that, Atlantic City rocks.
"Can anybody dish?"
David E., that's your cue! :D
Trish, nice to see you here btw. Glad you love Atlantic City. Raiders is too tied to my adolescent yearning for Harrison Ford for me to be objective in any way. I'm sorry about Chariots! Reminds me of a friend who hated Moonstruck for similar reasons.
Jean Simmons est mort...
No dish, really. Very difficult to take a bad picture of Farley.
Senso is being restoried BTW, Marty says.
But Jean Simmons is dead and my heart is broken.
I wanted to interview her for my UK/LA piece several eyars back but was told she was in very fragile health, so this is no surprise.
Here's a poster of Farley Granger in Senso,
Great that it's being restored. Will they try and find a longer version...although the current cut is a masterpiece too.
As far as length goes the Senso we have is all there is.
"Jean Simmons' jaw-dropping beauty often obscured a formidable acting talent…"
Alan K. Rode in today’s L.A. Times.
I was blessed to meet the lady (for the 2nd time) May 2 2008 at the American Cinematheque’s David Lean Centenary celebration. She was one of several Q&A guests (James Fox; editor Anne V. Coates) interviewed by host David Thompson.
At 78 she was still jaw-dropping (mentally very sharp and not at all fragile); I managed to buttonhole her briefly before the event to give her a copy of a photo I’d taken of her four decades earlier at another Q&A – this time at the London Film School, honoring then husband Richard Brooks. She chose then to sit among the audience of students while Brooks was interviewed. During which, in answer to a question to Brooks on his preference of editors, she piped up from the audience, “He likes women editors, he can bully them…” and brought down the house.
That night at the Egyptian Theater I reminded her of her comment from the peanut gallery, she laughed like… well, like Jean Simmons, “Oh, dear, I actually said that?” Then she switched on the polished coquettish smile (and my knees turned to Jello) and offered, “How naughty of me!”
Though she will always be Estella, I loved her best in All The Way Home with Robert Preston, another film that seems to have disappeared.
Just a couple of asides:
"Chariots of Fire" is an excellent sports film, and a very good evocation of the period. It was and is a worthy film, even for an Oscar.
I must be one of the few who saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in a slightly different light, tho still appreciatively - Indy looked and dressed like Harry Steele from "Secret of the Incas", and when the light beam shot into the map room, I was dumbstruck - I don't mind well done swipes, and it was certainly that, but I was amazed it would be in such a big production, as it was also from a very similar reveal scene in "Secret of the Incas". I loved the serial homage quality it had, but I couldn't take it seriously as a Best Picture winner. I fear it kicked in the door of unoriginality and copycatting even wider than "Star Wars" had opened it.
Jean Simmons was a film treasure, with an amazing range, she'll be missed - so long Estella.
M VW – You’re on the right track with Indy. There’s a small family-run Video store in the Valley called Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee. By number of titles (about 70,000) it’s probably the best video store in the world. Their modest brochure boasts that prior to making Indy, Spielberg and Lucas rented and screened most of their serial collection (20s to 50s – about 275 complete serials).
I’m just sayin…
M Yo -
Oh yes, SOTI was on TV all the time when I was a kid, tho it pretty much vanished when Raiders came out, and even with all the hoopla attending Charlton Heston's death, his Harry Steele adventure isn't available on DVD, except from the 'leggers. I've read that various crew members mentioned it was screened for reference during the making of Raiders, as well, so it's not like they didn't know about it. Heston was much more interesting as a proto-Indy, too, and certainly more of a scoundrel.
I still love Raiders, tho, as a first-class version of a Breezy Eason-kinda non-stop actioner.
Jean Simmons was also a splendid Desiree Armfeldt (the role Catherine Zeta-Jones is now essaying in the B'way revival) in the national touring company and original London production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC in the 1970s.
And while I dug Biskind's EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS, it can't hold a candle to Mark Harris' PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION.
M VW – “…his Harry Steele adventure isn't available on DVD…”
I love a challenge. Voila!
When Chariots of Fire became a hit David Outtnam told Ian Charleston to remove Derek Jarman's Jubilee from his resume. His reasoning? Best to let the audience think you WERE that Christian runner rather than taint your career with associations with queer punks. Charleston took the advcie.
But the point became moot a few short years later when Charlston died of AIDS.
I am heartbroken over Jean Simmons as well. Sorry for the weekend disappearance -- speaking of stomach trouble, my two boys have had their share. Then I had to at least try to write a tribute to Ms Simmons. I wound up going and on and on; I can't help it, have loved her for years. Anyway, the photo that Yojimboen mentions above is on the post, with his prior permission. And lovely it is too.
Still, the film holds up well. It's still romantic and touching, and the Siren still sniffled over it, unlike Love Story.
I'm sorry Siren, but I can't stand "THE WAY WE WERE". It's sooo damn boring. The movie reminds me of a politician that promises a lot, but fails to deliver. And quite frankly, I'd rather watch "LOVE STORY", which isn't that great.
Totally all right, Juanita! Remember, the only rule on SSS is "no Citizen Kane dissing." Your feelings on TWWW dovetail with my husband's, it seems. I still think Ryan O'Neil is hot in Love Story but I think all the terminal-illness romances that came later are the real reason Love Story leaves me unmoved now. But you know who's good in it? Ray Milland, that's who, although his role feels like something got lost somewhere in the editing.
Just did an entry on "My Son John," which I'm looking forward to seeing.
Some comments about Warren Beatty and Robert Redford:
I don't like Warren Beatty. I get so tired of that too old face framed by that too young hairdo. Heaven Can Wait, Shampoo, The Parallax View and Reds - ugh. Cut it, and act your age.
As for Redford, too cold, too indifferent, too damned uppity. I tolerate Butch and Sundance only for Newman, same with The Sting. He doesn't impress me in All the President's Men.
The odd thing is that I can take both these actors in their earlier films - Beatty in Splendor in the Grass, Lillith and Promise Her Anything, and Redford in This Property is Condemned, Inside Daisy Clover and Barefoot in the Park - because they are both young and getting their feet wet.
But then they each became famous. One insisted on a helmut of hair and the other dispensed with personality.
Not me - I love them both, and Shampoo in particular I think is a masterpiece.
Your post was quite good than other blogger, so simple yet imformational.
mind if I put a link back to you?
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