Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Ballad of Linda Darnell

(Buffalo Bill reminded the Siren of her soft spot for Linda Darnell. This is a thoroughly revised, full-length version of the Siren’s article that ran in Nomad Wide Screen last year.)

“I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way,” drawled Jessica Rabbit, in an overquoted line the Siren should apologize for using, let alone leading with--except that it applies so perfectly to Linda Darnell. Nature drew her bad, all right, with opulent features and the sort of bombshell body that has almost disappeared from Hollywood. This was a beauty who could look depraved just grocery shopping or writing a thank-you note.

But Darnell was, by most accounts, a good egg, albeit one "with very terrifying personal problems," as Joseph Mankiewicz put it. (And don't we all have those, Joe, don't we all.) This wouldn’t matter much, except that Darnell’s sex appeal tended to land her in movies either as glorified set decoration, such as her teamings with Tyrone Power, or as a femme fatale. The latter was a type of part she did creditably in Douglas Sirk's marvelous Summer Storm and nailed in memorable fashion in Hangover Square and Fallen Angel.

Yet Darnell never did seem bad to the bone, even when the script insisted she was. Her sheer normality breaks through at odd, sometimes inconvenient moments. Trawling through the Net for photos of Darnell is something of a revelation. “You look better without all that gunk on your face” is one of those male observations that a lady can usually file under “yeah right, buddy.” For Darnell, it was true. Half the photos circulating seem to show her in towering hairstyles and bizarre outfits that look like what you’d get if Joseph Breen became CEO of Frederick’s of Hollywood. She was always divine to behold, but the more stripped-down and simple the look, the more Darnell dazzled. As an actress, it often worked the same way; the less you loaded Darnell with costumes and up-dos, the more she could loosen up on camera.

She was born in Dallas, Texas in 1923, and yanked away to Hollywood at the age of 15 by her fearsome mother, Pearl. Mother-driven actresses like Darnell always seem to approach their careers with a mix of yearning and weariness, pursuing better roles one minute, trying to pull out of the Hollywood crush the next. Darnell was adequate to the demands, if you can even call them that, of her parts in films like Blood and Sand and The Mark of Zorro. But for a long while she was stuck in a lower tier of stardom, never landing that huge breakout role. Then she did uncredited work in 1943 as the Virgin Mary in The Song of Bernadette, and to this day people snicker over Twentieth-Century Fox pinning a halo on a pin-up. Still, the Madonna was a good-luck charm; Darnell’s brief period of good parts as bad girls was about to begin.

As in Laura the year before, Darnell’s character of Stella has gone missing at the outset of Otto Preminger’s Fallen Angel (1945). Unlike Laura, this beauty doesn’t return to her haunts in innocent wonderment. Darnell lounges in like she’s back from a cigarette break, and she rips into Dana Andrews’ hamburger with a down-home enjoyment that wouldn't be out of place in State Fair. Nor does Stella possess criminal smoothness; she takes money out of the register with the furtive look of a child edging a chair to the shelf that holds the candy jar.

There’s something girlish to the way Darnell played all her bad-dame parts. My Darling Clementine (1946) cast her as lovelorn Chihuahua, who isn’t bad at all, not really even misunderstood. John Ford didn’t want Darnell for the part, but his lingering close-up of her dying face is as tender as anything in the movie. In Summer Storm from 1944, her femme fatale seems consumed by petulant yearning for the shiny toys that Father Christmas never brought her. When, all at once, the character does something unselfish, it seems the sort of whim this childlike temptress might indulge.

Darnell comes as close to pure evil as she ever did in Hangover Square (1945), a movie that would make an interesting double bill with Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street, Darnell’s venomous Netta up against Joan Bennett as Lazy Legs. Bennett underestimates the danger from men; Darnell looks at Laird Cregar with a nagging suspicion of his madness. On the other hand, in Preston Sturges’ great Unfaithfully Yours (1948), Daphne de Carter is a study in flummoxed, wounded sincerity. Any doubts about Daphne are there only because, well, can a woman who looks like that be trusted to remain faithful, particularly to a conductor who’s an almighty pain in the neck?

In between, in 1947, Darnell played an ersatz Scarlett in Preminger’s Forever Amber, a plum part that turned out to be a withered prune. Should you go to an Oscar party this Sunday, here’s a fun game for your film-nerd friends. If they’ve seen Forever Amber, they make the quarter-finals. If they liked Forever Amber, they make the semis, and anyone arguing for its greatness wins the title of Most Auteuristest of Them All and a prize--say, a copy of Man’s Favorite Sport or Family Plot. Forever Amber is bad, and the Siren says that despite Leon Shamroy and George Sanders' brief-but-fabulous Charles II. On set, Preminger reportedly treated Darnell with the same gallantry that almost drove Jean Seberg to a nervous breakdown on Saint Joan, and it shows; no self-respecting sexpot should look as desperate to please as does Darnell in this movie.

It was 1949’s A Letter to Three Wives that marked Darnell's pinnacle. The character of Lora May Finney fit Darnell like no other, and helped by Mankiewicz’s writing and facility with actors, she was the sharpest, funniest thing in a very funny movie. (She may have had extra help, as she was having an affair with Mankiewicz during and after filming.)

Lora May wants out of the “Finney mansion on the tracks,” but what the character wants even more is respect, and respectability. Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas, never better) honks his car horn for her to come out of the house, like he’s delivering Chinese take-out. Darnell stands by the sink without so much as shifting her legs, until he comes to the door to escort her. Porter pulls up the car to the house after their date, and from the passenger seat Darnell casts one micro-glance at the door, her face immaculately cool as she counts out the beats that will force her date to get out and open it for her. Manners count, the formalities count, because a lady gets them from a man without asking. And Lora May will by god get some manners and formality out of this boor--because when she does, that will be the signal she has class.

The letter of the movie’s title is from Addie Ross, the town Circe who writes to tell the women that she’s run away with one of their husbands. For the self-made, proudly vulgar Porter, Addie is class, and he keeps her picture in a silver frame on a grand piano he doesn’t know how to play. To get the right expression from Darnell, Mankiewicz filled that frame with a photo of Preminger in full costume as a Nazi, neatly summarizing the actress’ feelings about her former director. And it worked. Darnell’s face would be aloof and ladylike, if it weren't for the hatred in her eyes and the hostile line of her mouth, as she tells Porter she wants to be in a silver frame on a piano one day, too.

Lora May makes faces at Porter the moment his back is turned, manipulates him, talks to him with offhanded near-contempt after their marriage. “Something tells me I’m gonna have a giant around the house,” is the little woman’s response to Porter’s talk of expanding his business. All that could add up to a gold-digger, but the signal that she isn’t comes during the flashback to their courtship. Lora May has no date for New Year’s Eve, and as Darnell leafs through a magazine and tries to listen to the radio, it’s obvious she fears Porter may never come. When he does, and proposes, it’s in a brutally unromantic fashion, and Darnell’s face as she turns around to look at him mixes triumph and hurt.

After A Letter to Three Wives, Darnell’s filmography flares up briefly with decent roles in No Way Out and The Walls of Jericho, before her sad detour into alcoholism and her grisly death in a housefire, age 41. The Mankiewicz movie shows more clearly than any other what might have been made of her--a woman who looked wanton, but was all the more dangerous because she wasn’t.

(Note: The Mankiewicz quote and information on the filming of A Letter to Three Wives comes from Kenneth L. Geist's excellent biography.)


Carrie Rickey said...

When Darnell dons a Little Black Dress to go on a date with Paul Doulgas in "Letter to Three Wives," her mother asks, "Dontcha think you should wear something with beads?" Darnell replies, "Ma, what I got don't need beads." And how.

Trish said...

This post made my day! Darnell is tough, but vulnerable. It doesn't matter how bad she is, I always want her to win. I like her far better than her 20th Century Fox label mates, Tierney and Crain.

The Siren said...

Carrie, it's so true, and it is really a funny thing to spend a morning Googling Darnell shots. The more candid the picture, the lovelier she looks.

Trish, that's funny, I never thought about that. I adore Tierney and she made some great movies, and Crain is much better than she usually gets credit for. Mankiewicz couldn't stand Crain as a person or an actress; in the Geist bio you get an idea of why he didn't like directing her, but I'm not sure why Mank disliked her personally. She seems to have been an entirely normal woman, it isn't like Crain was Constance Bennett. Anyway, of the three, I'd say Tierney was the greatest beauty and probably the best actress. But Darnell definitely projects the most warmth, I will say that.

Untouched Takeaway said...

Gah - Carrie beat me to the "beads" comment. Were truer words ever spoken on film?

And I *love* "Forever Amber". It was the first "dirty book" I ever read (thanks, Mom!)and I adore it. I actually owned a copy with Peggy Cummins in Amber drag on the dust jacket - God only knows where it is and what it would be worth now.

Darnell has always been one of my favorites for all the reasons you mentioned. I always thought she'd make a stand-up friend, and that's something you can't say for a lot of Hollywood women.


The Siren said...

Hm, Pamela; I am afraid I must rule you ineligible for the Most Auteuristest of Them All award if you love Forever Amber because of the BOOK. Hell, I liked the book too. There's a lot of problems with the movie, but chief among them is that even an electron microscope couldn't find any chemistry between Cornel Wilde and Darnell. Believe me, I understand your feelings, though. Certain films belong to the realm of adolescent love and will never, but never be dislodged by nitpickers pointing out piddling matters such as pace and framing. Way back in the archives is a piece I wrote on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ...

Untouched Takeaway said...

Cornel who? I was too busy drooling over Glenn Langan as Rex Morgan - whee!

But I agree - zero sparks. I don't recall who might have been originally considered for Bruce Carlton, but I often wonder what type of job Peggy Cummins would have done. Or Margaret Lockwood.


Rozsaphile said...

AMBER featured an extraordinary score by David Raksin -- sophisticated in its romantic melody and witty in its pseudo-Handelian pastiche. I guess it's proof that the composer can make a corpse look good but cannot bring it back to life.

Trish said...

Siren, I enjoy all three of these splendid Fox gals, but if I could be one of them, it would be Darnell. Ahem, I like Forever Amber too... ;)

The Siren said...

Roszaphile, you are right about that score, as you reliably are about scores in general. It's lovely.

I don't care what you ladies say, nobody's getting my copy of Family Plot (I don't have one, but I guess I can scare one up) until they come on here and plant a flag for Forever Amber as a pinnacle of ... something. Something to do with Preminger, and not Darnell being gorgeous, which she was just standing around breathing.

I should add that I LOVE Mark of Zorro, I mean love it, but in terms of Darnell she hasn't that much to do. I also like Blood and Sand, but ditto.

Jay said...

Swoon. Ever since seeing A LETTER TO THREE WIVES in my late teens, I've been in love with Linda Darnell. She remains the only actress of whom I've bought a still photo (and yes, it's one without big hair and overdone makeup). It's not just her beauty that captivated me, however; she was underrated as an actress when given a worthy role, as you aptly noted. I still can't believe that the Academy, which loved LETTER enough to bestow several nominations and wins upon it, neglected to nominate Darnell and Douglas -- maybe there was confusion over lead and supporting distinctions among the cast?

Darnell and Douglas were also well teamed in EVERYBODY DOES IT and THE GUY WHO CAME BACK, with Linda particularly good in the latter. I just found THE 13TH LETTER in its entirety on YouTube, so I'm looking forward to that (how on earth did she end up working with Preminger again, four years after AMBER?).

Anyway, it's always a pleasure to see this wonderful star remembered and celebrated.

The Siren said...

Geez, you're right! I forgot all about The 13th Letter, probably because I've never seen it. Remake of the very great Le Corbeau. I dunno, Darnell was at Fox and so was Preminger, I guess if you wanted certain parts you had to swallow your feelings and accept him as part of the deal. A lot of great directors were no picnic, and the ones with the bad reputations weren't always harsh to everyone. Tierney worked with Preminger four times too, and referred to him as a genuine friend who offered her Advise and Consent at a time when no one else would give her a chance.

Untouched Takeaway said...

I've added "13th Letter" to My List (TM). From descriptions, it sounds like a really fun British film called "Poison Pen" from 1939.

G said...

I have this dim recollection of young Darnell and Henry Fonda both being stunningly beautiful in a movie called "Chad Hanna" but for the life of me I can remember almost nothing else about the movie.

X. Trapnel said...

"She [Jeanne C] seems to have been an entirely normal woman."

That's probably it. The latter part of JM's career involved mainly "divas" (ugh) and gargoyles. Who but Mank would waste chere Danielle on the banality of villainy?

I must second Roszaphile on the glories of Raksin's FA of which he made a splendid recording, the soul freed from the rotting corpse.

Love that moody picture of Darnell with scarf and coffee cup; something French about it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mankiewicz may have disliked Jeanne Crain because of rpessure he was getting from the top to handle her in an extra special way. Fox was trying to turn her inot a Big Atar. She could often be very good but a Big Star she never was.

Linda Darnellgot so ifar inside her "Bad Girls" you could see they weren't all that bad --just realistic abotu the world and the way it worked.

A Letter To Three Wives is one fo the American Cinema's dizzying heights. it's all good, but Porter and Laura Mae (Douglas and Darnell) are what marriage is all about.

It's a deal people make with one anohter.

Laura Mae is very up front with Porter about that fact -- whcih riles him. It also excites him. He wants her sexually but then he falls in love with her. And because his love for her is so raw, naked and absolute -- reducing him to a state of pure abjection -- she falls in love with him.

Kirk said...

The courtship of Paul Douglas and Linda Darnell in Letter to Three Wives may be the most fascinating relationship in all filmdom. She's manipulating him into marrying him. He KNOWS she's manipulating him into marrying him. She KNOWS he knows she's manipulating him to marrying him. She holds him in contempt. He holds her in contempt. They both know each is holding the other in contempt. Funny how they have so much chemistry together, eh?

Love the scene in My Darling Clementine where Darnell splashes water on Ward Bond's Morgon Earp after some wisecrack he made, and then yells at Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp. Wyatt responds by--well, I'm not sure he IS responding, but he does that little foot shuffle on the post while leaning backward on his chair, somehow without falling over. The look on Darnell's face, momentary puzzlement quickly followed by a return to anger and disgust, is priceless.

Thombeau said...

Love her! Great post, as always.

Yojimboen said...

Beads? Beads??
We don't need no stinkin' beads!

Vanwall said...

Darnell was the embodiment of sexual allure for me back when I was a kid; I couldn't not watch her, in any film. And not just because she "had a built" as they used to say, but because of something that often gets overlooked: her marvelous voice, which musically dripped honey and napalm at the same time. I could listen to her read ones and zeros from a programmer's printout forever, unless I dropped dead from the fantasies that would inevitably become heart-stopping. I don't care if she was in a costume drama or meller drama, she had the real right stuff.

Caftan Woman said...

Linda's first movie after being dropped by Fox was 1954s "This is My Love", a low budget "noir" in Pathecolor. She plays a lonely, imaginative woman looking for love. She throws herself into the performance and is mesmerizing. If the movie were up to the standard Darnell set with her performance, it would be one of those roles people talk about, like a "Mildred Pierce" or a "Stella Dallas".

Adam Zanzie said...

By far the weirdest performance I've ever seen Linda Darnell give is in Hall Bartlett's disaster flick Zero Hour!, in which she played Dana Andrews' stone-cold wife and had some truly absurd dialogue ("I can't live with a man I don't respect!"), much of which was later cribbed by Julie Hagerty for Airplane!. I wrote at length about it last year.

estienne64 said...

The first time I ever heard of Linda Darnell, it was as the victim of a typically catty off-the-cuff remark from Joan Collins to the effect that Darnell never moved her face when she acted, so as to avoid wrinkles. Cut to three decades later, when I watched Unfaithfully Yours, Letter to Three Wives and No Way Out (for a bit of light relief) in quick succession. As one might imagine, I was keen to see more of this stunningly gorgeous actress who was capable of such sophistication, sass and desperate fury. Of course, those films are probably her high point (odd to think she was still only in her mid-20s when she made them), but since then I've added a few more favourites to the list. Summer Storm feels like a transitional film, where she starts as the pretty innocent she used to play opposite Tyrone Power, and ends in more familiar femme fatale mode. I love how she plays her final line: 'The heavenly electricity.' Wonderful and unusual work, too, from George Sanders and Edward Everett Horton. I'm very fond of the Rene Clair curio It Happened Tomorrow, though I'm aware that Dick Powell can be an acquired taste. (On the plus side, it does offer us Linda dressed as a man.) As for Hangover Square, it seems to me that as well as enjoying the unabashed villainy of the role she's able to find a certain vulnerability in her American singer, stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

On the subject of Hangover Square, do you know the original Patrick Hamilton novel? I can't offhand think of a more flagrantly unfaithful adaptation, but perhaps that's just my ignorance talking.

Trish said...

For me, A Letter to Three Wives has always had two endings. I haven't read the original source material, but when I first saw it years ago, I understood the jilted wife to be Deborah. I reasoned that Porter claimed he was the one to run off with Addie because he wanted to spare Deborah just for the evening. He says something like "she'll only learn the truth in the morning". That the runaway husband really is Porter is fine, but every time I see the film I think of the "other" ending. Of the three wives, it is Deborah who needs the fresh start.

Shamus said...

Is Deborah the Jeanne Crain character? How the hell does Porter "spare" her?- she goes home feeling secure about her marriage and possibly a little smug that her husband did not run away Addie, not he, the darling, and then twack.

(I've not decided what that last sound means.)

If her entire trauma in the movie is centered around the destruction of a single frock, how would "cuckolded wife" make her feel?

Aubyn said...

Trish, I always think of that possibility too! Jeffrey Lynn (as Brad) really is the outlier in that film, so cheerfully oblivious and privileged. Gotta love the way he "cheers up" his wife.

(Deborah: What is your type of girl? Brad : Fat, squat brunettes with mustaches)

Trish said...

Shamus - I see Brad as Deborah's problem, not the frock. The way he brushes off her insecurities sucks. Military uniforms made them equals, but afterwards there's a social gap between them. She's so overwhelmed that she walks right into hair dressing disasters and bad dress choices. Being a cuckolded wife might be the best thing that ever happened to her.

Shamus said...

The movie would not be able to contain such a shock- Crain is too sweetly pretty, uh, "too much in love"; she is made of less sterner stuff than Linda Darnell.

Actually, though it was released in the late forties, ALTTW is really a fifties movie- who would guess that it released shortly after a war that devastated half the world? That social gap you mentioned is just about the worst thing there is in the film. (Well, that and radio- after watching the spectacle of hordes of people puking and farting turn into TV shows, Douglas' rant seems marvelously quaint now.) Practically every scene in the film traces its conflict directly to social exclusion- at times Mankiewicz adds some broad social satire, but mostly they are some form of that near-universal panic of "fitting in" (sorry).

Even so, beautifully photographed b&w movies that begin with soft, nicely ironic voice-overs (esp. those of women) are rare and must be treasured.

Untouched Takeaway said...

Linda's daughter (adopted with cameraman Pev Marley):


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

Oh so true, Shamus! ALTTW is gorgeous to look at, and so literate for its time. I wish there were a hundred more films as rewarding as this one. But is Deborah's potential divorcee status a greater stigma than Kirk Douglas' emasculated George...?

Jack B. said...

Beautiful tribute. I’ve always had a big spot in my heart for Linda Darnell too. One of the most beautiful women in all of cinema IMO (Jeanne Crain too but I think JC had less range). Linda Darnell started out her career as sweet and virginal opposite Ty Power and yet then could turn and play the hardened cynical sexpot and could play both convincingly. Her performance in Fallen Angel (with her stealing the movie even though she’s killed half-way through made the film’s titular star Alice Faye leave Fox and Hollywood) is characteristic. She’s supposed to be some kind of femme fatale with all these (sleazy) men hanging about her but the character herself is not that bad a person, she just wants a good life. Forever Amber which was supposed to be the part of a lifetime (they should have just let Peggy Cummins play it after all - no actress could have saved that horrible script) might have destroyed her career but then you get her best role in A Letter to Three Wives.

ALto3W is one of my favorite classic films. It ranks with The Heiress as the best film of that year (and both are better than All the King’s Men which won the Oscar). Darnell and Paul Douglas (in what I think was his film debut) are really a joy to watch in it. LD really sinks into the role of Lora Mae - you never see the sweet innocent she was in Blood and Sand or Zorro or the temptress from Hangover Square. Lora Mae is a gold digger but she’s a nice one - she loves her Ma, even her sister, has no hang-ups joking with Thelma Ritter’s character in public even after she marries Porter, both Deborah (Jeanne Crain), George and Rita (Kirk Douglas and Ann Southern) consider her a real friend and she loves her husband and did so even before he asked her to marry her, even though he can’t see that and even though she looks like Linda Darnell and he looks like a “big gorilla”. You really believe they were a real couple and if you watch the movie closely the film really is about Lora Mae and Porter, the Brad & Deborah section seems purposely underwritten (though this may be Mankiewicz’s loathing of Jeanne Crain coming through) and Lora Mae and Porter are the only couple to appear in all 3 flashbacks,their story is the one that is most fleshed out and saved for last and its supposed to be Porter who ran away with Addie.

Darnell really should have gotten an Oscar nod for her performance (it gave her the best reviews of her career if I remember right) and yet within just a few years even though she was still an astoundingly beautiful woman, her career was basically finished before she was reached her mid-30s. When you think about her life, the medical problems, the drinking problem, her bad choices/luck with men (her first husband who introduced her to booze, Howard Hughes who promised to marry her and reneged, Joe Mankiewicz who was apparently the love of her life but who he barely acknowledged), the fact she was apparently constantly sexually harassed for years by Darryl “Mr. Casting Couch” Zanuck and of course her horrifying end, it’s all just so sad. She was more than just a (very, very, VERY) pretty face and she deserved better.

gmoke said...

"On the subject of Hangover Square, do you know the original Patrick Hamilton novel? I can't offhand think of a more flagrantly unfaithful adaptation, but perhaps that's just my ignorance talking."

The legend is that Orson Welles picked up a book called _The Lady from Shanghai_ while on the phone with the producers demanding the name of his next film. He took just the title. That's my nomination for most flagrantly unfaithful adaptation.

Shamus said...


I never thought about it that way. You're right of course. But K. Douglas' George still loves and is loved by his wife, and Mankiewicz (both here and elsewhere) consistently stresses relationships over social differences.

(Ugh. Clearly that could have been expressed in more felicitous terms but you get the idea.)

X. Trapnel said...

I'm sure everyone knows the Hemingway: "What's my worst book?" Hawks: "That piece of crap To Have and Have Not" story (invented by Hawks?), bot I would submit THAHN as flagrantly faithless, though not quite to the same degree as Hangover Square. On the other hand, that faithlessness engendered Bernard Herrmann's Concerto Macabre and the book remains intact.

Shamus said...

"Godard" also made a number of "adaptations" - Made in USA, Pierrot le Fou and even Bande A Part are "based" on "various texts". Godard's "fidelity" to the "authors" is, however, "anyone's guess".

The Siren said...

Mark the Siren as one who thinks fidelity to the text is WAY overrated; the memory of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was meticulously faithful to the movie's detriment, is still fresh. Never read Hangover Square but it's a well-loved book in England, I gather, and people who like the novel tend to HATE the movie. Taken on its own terms it's a great little gaslight noir, though.

I have always thought it's a better idea to flip the usual procedure, and see the movie first. The novel usually gains in comparison, whereas a movie's liberties will often make you nuts if you read the book first.

X. Trapnel said...

For me the most interesting case is The Leopard, which is (1) more or less faithful to the text; (2) uncomprehending of the spirit; and (3) even so, a good film on its own terms. I cannot decide whether it fulfils or violates Truffaut's stricture that while a film may change a literary source it must never diminish it.

Trish said...

I'm sad that Alice Faye's experience on Fallen Angel caused her to leave - I like her a lot. But Linda Darnell was so right for the post-war era, and she's wonderful in this film.

Why did Mankiewicz not like Jeanne Crain??? Was it because she was pregnant all the time?

Vanwall said...

That's curious that he didn't like working with Jeanne Crain, yet bowed to Zanuck again for "People Will Talk", wickedly transgressive for its time,and he got an excellent performance out of her - she took more curious roles than people give her credit for.

X. Trapnel said...

V, by transgressiveness in PWT do you mean the anti-witchhunt theme? I think it's muffled by the surrounding weirdness/wordiness.

Vanwall said...

M. X, I was referring to the role Crain played, an unmarried woman who is pregnant, and isn't punished according to the Code, in fact she gets the guy. There were very few movies like this back then from Hollywood.

X. Trapnel said...

I'd forgotten; I suppose it's time to look in on it again. But the toy trains... I wonder if this didn't help to usher in the re (non-trans)gressive theme of the boy-man taken in hand by the Good Wife, a postwar domestication of 30s film heroes and heroines.

joel65913 said...

I like Forever Amber for reasons that have nothing to do with it being a good film, which it is not, the costumes are amazing particularly Linda's. The over the top ridiculousness of a good deal of it, her combating the plague in the remnants of her wedding dress come to mind, George Sanders' marvelous albeit brief role as the king, Jessica Tandy, so young as Nan Linda's faithful servant, and on and on but ultimately it is a stinker that just sort of comes to a stop but I always thought the fault lay with Preminger a director with more flair and a sense of humor might have been able to save it. Sirk or Cukor could have done wonders.

While Letter is my favorite of all her films, she is fantastic in the little known This Is My Love, the film is lurid and over the top but she is tortured and gripping in her desperation. Have tried to see as many of her films as possible but the two that have always eluded me are the terrifically cast Walls of Jericho and the Sirk directed The Lady Pays Off which is from what I've read an ideal film for her fans where she is at her most appealing but impossible to find which is odd considering Sirk's reputation.

Shamus said...

@ XT: I don't understand Truffaut at all: does he mean that any screen adaptation of Anna Karenina (un)scrupulously committed to the screen by XYZ, an auteur, would diminish Tolstoy? [Not to mention, how faithful could any movie be to Tolstoy anyway? Even if it stars Garbo? (Or Sophie Marceau/Keira Knightley?)]

@ Siren: I recently watched Eyes Wide Shut again before reading "Dream Story" (previously unread): while it cleared up certain ambiguities in the Kubrick film, I can't really say that the novella gained in comparison (maybe in keeping with the notion that the best movies are made from mediocre novels).

In any case, the fact that you love or respect certain novels (The Leopard, The Go-Between, Clockwork Orange) may deter you from watching their adaptations, whatever their reputation.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Kubrick had thought about doing Schlitzner's "Tramnouvelle" for many years. It's what they call these days a "Passion Project." I imagine it came to his attention via his love of Max Ophuls-- especially La Ronde which is based on Schnitzler's "Reigen." Consequentlyu I would imagine that he first thought of doing it as a period film. Period films are often a good fit for Kubrick, eg. Paths of Glory and Barry Lyndon. But then he decided to go "contemporary" as it were settign the film in a studio confected New York based on -- as Jonathan Rosenbaum points out -- how the city looked when he was last there, in 1962 when Lolita premiered.

The big street set where the "Sonata Cafe" and the costume shop are located is obviously based on 8th street in the Village in its heyday.

It's a very weird movie and I quite love it. Especailly the musical score.

X. Trapnel said...


Even allowing for all the essential differences between literature and film there is no cinematic necessity to turn a novel as complex as Doctor Zhivago in to a soap opera or drain The Leopard of its lyric irony (that lyricism and irony can be so blended is one of the miracles of this great novel), likewise its subtle dismantling of the heroic myths of the Risorgimento in order to make an Italian GWTW (all that beautiful, stately stuff to photograph!). I shall not discuss Lolita. By diminishing, I think Truffaut meant trivializing, simplifying, sentimentalizing, flattening. Or glazing with Greatness varnish. Ophuls made significant changes to Schnitzler and Zweig (two writers I love) and did real justice to his sources. He may have even topped them.

estienne64 said...

'Never read Hangover Square but it's a well-loved book in England, I gather, and people who like the novel tend to HATE the movie. Taken on its own terms it's a great little gaslight noir, though.'

I'd say that the differences between the novel and the film are so great - they keep the title, the two leads' names and the male protagonist's psychotic episodes and come up with a completely different plot, set forty years earlier - that it's perfectly possible to like both, as I do. If the names and title weren't so unusual one could almost regard the points in common as coincidences.

I'd like to think someone in the production department was in love with the Hanover/hangover pun and wouldn't let it go. But - to take your 'gaslight noir' hint - it's probably more likely that someone bought the rights, sight unseen, expecting some features in common with Hamilton's play Gas Light, which had already been successfully filmed, twice, and when the novel turned out to be nothing like it, carried on regardless.

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

XT, of course I agree with you: that applies to the self-consciously "great", the self-consciously "mythic" film. But, however bad the movie, how could that possibly affect the pleasure of reading the book?

Assuming Visconti's adaptation is bad, would it really diminish the excitement of the novel's early hunting sequences, its portrait of Don Fabrizio, the feeling of tragedy and loss it evokes at his death and the sudden, abrupt shift to the 20th Century? [But, as a corollary, if the movie is very good (as I am hoping Visconti's is), then it might add to the the pleasure of re-reading the novel.]

X. Trapnel said...


I didn't say Visconti's film of The Leopard is bad; far from it. It's beautiful to look at (not the same thing as being beautiful), well made (except for the crappy [not in the novel] battle scenes) and never boring. Moreover, Lancaster's moustache is an astonishing feat of engineering, very much in the ninteenth-century spirit (Crystal Palace, Forth Bridge, Eiffel Tower, etc.). As I said of Hangover Square, the novel remains intact, but since The Leopard was made by an allegedly "great" director it will never be done again by someone more attuned to the spirit of the book. Same goes for Schnitzler's Dream Story which now must wear the horse collar of an atrocious film as Doctor Zhivago still does an ok/silly one in the general culture. Interestingly, Lolita has completely given Kubrick the slip. Nabokov (who hated Dr. Zh) must be chuckling somewhere.

Shamus said...

Sir, I demand satisfaction! "Atrocious", you say? Why David E. just gave a brief, pointed defense of Eyes Wide Shut and, for what it's worth, I agree with every word. Tell me, what did you dislike about the film: the perfect compositions? the splendid use of color?- (the blue-red motif is found in the novella as well)- the grainy photography? the lingering dissolves? the unwavering objectivity of the camera? the stately tracking shots which are integrated to the music? the absolute refusal of the filmmaker to manipulate the viewer, or to provide facile "answers", while maintaining a tense, brittle suspense throughout?

While you say "atrocious", I say "subtle and mysterious"; while you say "allegedly 'great' director", I say "greatest of all filmmakers"...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Visconti's The Leopard is a fucking MASTERPIECE!

He takes us to another era he knew undoubtedly better than Lampedusa did as Visconti was a direct descendant of Charlemagne. He BRATED noblesse oblige.

Claudia Cardinale told me that ,i>The Leopard and 8 1/2 were shot at the same time. "With Fellinei my hair is up. Wiht Visconti my hair is down." She says the two were insanely jealous of one another and were constantly quizzing her for news of what was happening on each picture.

Visconti has said that Burt Lancaster was "the most mysterious man I have ever met." Consequently he was perfect for portraying a character whose manner and bearing are derived from Visconti's father -- hough Lancaster has said he modelled his performance on Visconti himself. He said that when he opened a drawer in the Prince's bedroom it was filled with beautifully embroidered shirts. "Will the camera see this?" he asked Visconti. "You are the Pricne -- it is for YOU to look at!" the master replied.

All manner of felicities in this including Pierre Clementi in his film debut. Alain Delon had picked him up hitchhiking when he was driving to Rome for the shooting. Visconti took one look at Clemementi and sent him to wardrobe and make-up.

And thus a star was born.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Soory, that should read

-- he BREATHED nobless oblige

barrylane said...

Re Dick Powell being an acquired taste. How so...? A lot of people over an extended time acquired that taste, and from the get go. Top ten box office in 1937, and pretty good beyond.

estienne64 said...

'Re Dick Powell being an acquired taste. How so...?'

No offence meant. I actually rather like Dick Powell, especially in Murder My Sweet, but for some reason I thought I was in the minority. I'm dimly aware that one of the more influential film critics of the time wasn't much of a fan (Ferguson? Farber?), though I may have completely misremembered that.

In any case, if Joan Crawford is to be believed martinis and Ravel are also acquired tastes, and that's not such bad company to be in.

X. Trapnel said...

"Sir, I demand satisfaction!"

Pistol or sword? What did I dislike? Well, let's start with the fact that that the whole thing in matter and manner seems to lie somehwere beyond identifiable human experience, thus I was bored with relief coming only in the fortunatelty frequent gouts of unintentional humor ("I am Sandor. I am a Hungarian. Do you like Renaissance bronzes? I adore them"). Thematically the film is a botch of Schnitzler (although I admit it follows the story somewhat faithfully). The story (written in the 1920s) was deliberately set in the past, the 1890s, to make the hero's naivete re his wife's sexuality plausible. Setting in the present (a post-feminist, thoroughly sexualized culture) is ridiculous. Must I ignore as well that Kubrick's baroque hysteria/grotesquerie has nothing in common with Schnitzler's style? (Bergman could have made a fine film of this). Apart form the Schnitzler (non) connection, I find that the actors seem lost, like so many marbles, in Kubrick's cavernous and utterly unreal mise en scene. EWS is a fine tour, if you interested, of Kubrick's fantasy life but it lacks the invention or imagination to, as Dwight Macdonald once put it, to break through from HIS world to THE world.

David, I think The Leopard is a very good film on its own terms, but a lesser thing than Lampedusa's novel (only compare the exploration of the Donnafugata palace [the climax of the novel] to Visconti's flat rendering [Max, thou shouldst have been living at that hour!]) Whether the Duke of Modrone knew the era better than the Duke of Palm/Prince of Lampedusa is anyone's guess (I doubt it myself) and fuck Charlemagne; Lampedusa was the grandson of the Prince of Salina, and that's all that matters here. My main problem with the film re the book is a failure of tone, opting for sentimental elegy (like Huston's botch of The Dead) over irony. Like Kubrick (mutatis etc.), I sense that Visconti wanted to immerse himself in a fantasy world, surround himself with all that beautiful stuff. John Simon once described LV as a master forger rather than artist. This is unfair. I think his sensibility was that of a collector/connoisseur and I imagine it was with some relief that in the end he dropped literary/intellectual prestige for The Damned and D'Annunzio (a writer at about his level).

I'll take your word, David, that The Leopard made a star of Pierre Clementi. I can only recall him as something draped over the back of a couch.

X. Trapnel said...

Yikes! Please read:

1. Setting it in the present
2. Duke of Palma
3. rather than an artist

Yojimboen said...

This is one of the first images I downloaded 10-12 years ago via my just-acquired internet connection. I found it on a tiny, long-since vanished Italian website. The dial-up speed was about 3kbs – it took around four hours to download - but I was so proud of myself.
It’s the ball scene. Look at it again.

Everyone I know who toils in the design end of film production regards The Leopard as the absolute zenith – the one to measure every other period film against – in art direction, cinematography and costume design; quite simply, it’s the one to beat.

David E opines The Leopard is “a fucking masterpiece”.
Visually, no argument. None.

I'm not expert enough in the book to offer any argument with XT.

I will argue the Delon/Clémenti hitchhike story though; cute as it is, it’s probably just the story Delon told Visconti to shoehorn his new friend Pierre into the picture. The Leopard was Clémenti’s 4th film, not his 1st. Delon and he had met the year before on the set of the adorable ‘Nouvelle-Vague-Lite’ Adorable Menteuse - starring Delon’s part-time squeeze Marina Vlady (here they are in Cannes in 1959); Clémenti had a small role in Adorable Menteuse and Delon, who visited the set frequently would, I suspect, have noticed young Pierre.

Shamus said...


It has to be pistol and, as the injured party, I get to fire first.

But that was a detailed response, so let's see.

1. Sandor is supposed to be a cliche, a parody: both Hartford and his wife appear to encounter parodies of seduction at the party (just like later in the orgy, Dr. Bill would witness a kind of parody of fucking). Now its not just the Hungarian who speaks in cliches; the master of ceremonies figure at the orgy does too ("good evening, could you give me the password..."). Actually, that reminded me of HAL: Kubrick was acutely sensitive to cliche and constantly subverted it in his movies, even if the cliche consisted merely of camera movements. And if I am confused about any of the formal or stylistic choices in the film, I approach it by first assuming that Kubrick knew fucking well what he was doing.

2. "hero's naivete re his wife's sexuality": Fair enough, although I would argue that Hartford is not so much naive as he is complacent and smug (Kubrick uses Cruise to great effect here); he is quite unlike the Schnitzler protagonist who reacts with scorn: H. goes into denial. Speaking for myself, I think that monologue delivered by Kidman was so powerful that the point you raise did not seem to matter.

3. "cavernous and utterly unreal mise en scene": Would you make a similar complaint of the mise-en-scene of La Ronde or Citizen Kane? The stylization is deliberate and has to be accepted on its own terms. Either that "works" for you or it does not. C'mon, they are called "Dream Story" and Eyes Wide Shut, after all: they are about fantasy, both the conscious and the sub-conscious (unconscious?). Also, please refer to last sentence of point 1, supra.

Whew. Obviously, this will not convince you of anything, least of all that EWS is a masterpiece, but a contrary opinion is still possible. And critics like Kent Jones, Tom Gunning, Jonathan Rosenbaum seem to think so too.

X. Trapnel said...


My shot: Parody is pointless in an unreal world. "Sandor" might have made some sense from the period or milieu of Last Year in Marienbad or The Lovers, but here I just don't get it. On the second point we can't agree because I found Kidman's monologue ludicrous (not her fault, and she looked nice in her underwear). Mise en scene in Kane and La Ronde!!!??? Magnificent! I don't care that it's stylized. Most of the former is in fact realistic except in terms of lighting and camera angles and the grotesquerie of Xanadu is thematically justified. La Ronde is a perfectly plausible idealization of Vienna. The mise en scene of Letter From an Unknown Woman is more realistic than La Ronde becuase the story is. Both work beautifully. Similarly, the cavernous hotel and its cine-possibilities are thoroughly realized in The Shining, but then Stephen King makes fewer demands on plausibility than Arthur Schnitzler. In any case, I don't believe Kubrick's NY for a second. (In my [admittedly treacherous]memory the buildings looked like early-60s air conditioners).

I'm not familiar with the first two critics you mention but will certainly check out Jonathan Rosenbaum, a critic I greatly esteem.

I await your second shot, or shall we be civilized and fire our pistols in the air?

Shamus said...

Kidman's monologue is "ludicrous"? A palpable hit- not gentlemanly of you, sir, considering that I had the privilege of firing the first shot. Maybe that sums up our disagreement over the movie: because I found her monologue gripping and even obscurely moving. By the end do the movie, I was shaking (like a leaf, even), marveling at Kubrick's mastery, and paraphrasing Alice, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen for a second. [Curious how much emotion Kubrick is able to summon up in some viewers considering that he is a "cold" and "forbidding" director.]

The use of the masks was inspired, but the ritualization of the orgy sequences (not to be found in the Schnitzer novel) were sublime. Two striking images: two masks inching together, appearing to "kiss"; Alice asleep in bed, and Bill's side of the bed is occupied by a mask (an idea which precipitates his breakdown).

Insofar as liking (or disliking) a movie is concerned, emotion precedes analysis, which is more like rationalization, really. I felt, and still feel that the movie has something valid and important to say about relationships, about masks and rituals; but if you were not touched by the movie, then I cannot explain this to you. (Does that sound like too much of a cop-out? Well, Kubrick's late films seem to defy analysis in many ways. And The Shining, although admittedly great, cannot compare.)

Shamus said...

"Parody is pointless in an unreal world."

But how can you speak for "an unreal world"? There are two sets of rituals in the movie and Kubrick is establishing a "dream world" which seems very like our world but it seems to mock "the real world's" rituals of mating and flirting (possibly, fucking).

One amusing aside: in the early party sequences, Bill H.'s character is associated with the straight, lateral tracking shot (his prudery, perhaps?). But the voluptuous, circular tracking shots, which Hitchcock often used to signify the lovemaking of the couple, is reserved for Alice's faux-seduction by the silly Hungarian. So, while the camera tracks ecstatically around the couple, Sandor is saying "Have you read the Latin poet Ovid on the art of love?"

Well, he comes to the point quickly enough, I'll give him that.

Yojimboen said...

Cheerfully volunteering as XT’s second, may I suggest Dotty Parkeresque barbs at 20 paces might prove a more civilized tack?

For myself, any filmmaker who displays acres of perfectly lovely nude flesh and fails utterly to even suggest eroticism (and I’ve seen the European Version) is doing something seriously wrong. Plainly, the buzzkill presence of Tom Cruise didn’t help this dirty old man; but I used to think (pre-Botox) Nicole Kidman was a beautiful, sexy woman – how could Kubrick fuck that up so badly?

I don’t mean to jump between the combatants here, but I will add a piece of intelligence (guaranteed genuine) which may or may not inform the colloquy.
It is this:

Sydney Pollack detested his entire EWS experience. The reason he gave was that Kubrick demonstrated exact line readings to his actors – including Pollack – and would brook no deviation.

One can look at that fact and take it as proof positive of SK’s singular vision, or… One can suspect (as did Pollack) that he was a rather unpleasant man, who just also happened to be a control freak.

My 2 cents? EWS is a terrible film, a preeningly ugly and hostile slap at Schnitzler. Worst of all, it’s unpardonably boring. Just bloody awful from start to finish.

Scary Word Verifications:
(I fucking kid you not!)
"kublinks neeitterm"

Shamus said...


I know this is just asking for it, but I don't understand where all these ad-hominem observations are coming from; so Kubrick is unpleasant person (supposedly). So were John Ford, Fritz Lang, Carl Dreyer, Kenji Mizoguchi and Pablo fucking Picasso for all I care. Would you hold this against their artistry?

Pollock relates in an interview (it's on YouTube but I forget which one) a surprisingly coherent defense of Kubrick's working methods; he may have disliked doing take after take but, as a director himself, he clearly understood why.

As for line-readings: Lubitsch acted out every single part in the movie, however small, and expected his actors to follow through, speech, posture, gestures and all. So, did (again) Ford. Now, you have Terence Davies who is also finicky about his actors' line-reading and he instructs them about the enunciation and inflections and shit.

So what?

DavidEhrenstein said...

I don't think Terence is all that finicky. In his latest The Deep Blue Sea (which I'm certain should send The Siren kvelling) Rachel McAdams supplies a new sort of energy to Terence's invariably scrupulous neo-Ozu mise en scene. This is quite important as the heorine is discovered at the start being rescued from a suicide attempt. As we're introduced to her it seems odd that an individual seemingly so strong and self-posessed would collapse into abjection. And that of course is the point. In many ways it's Terence's Purloined Letter To An Unknown Woman.

I'm sure the EWS experience was pure hell for Pollack as by that time Kubrick had turned direction of actors into what can best be likened to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Harvey Keitel had been originally cast in the part. After a day or so he was let go and it's easy to see why. We're not supposed to see that the character is Evil Personified right away -- and that won't work with Harvey. In the Kubrickina universe Pollack in EWS is like Adolph Menjou in Paths of Glory.

As for the film itself EWS is Terminally Weird and there's no way to convince anyone who recoils from it to give it another chance.

Pierre Clementi was in 1963 ideal for draping over chairs. As for he and Delon that was of course not to be in that Delon is a right-wing fanatic and Clementi a left-wing anarchist.

Not that Delon has had a long-term relationship of any kind with anyone save for Mirielle Darc. A couple of years back he and Darc starred on a theatrical adaptation of

(wait for it)

The Bridges of Madison County

Like I always say when it come to human sexuality there's gay, there's straight and there's Alain Delon.

rdmtimp said...

David E - I think you mean Rachel Weisz, don't you; she's the leading lady in the new Deep Blue Sea.

X. Trapnel said...

"Kubrick is establishing a 'dream world' which seems very like our world."

It does? Not that I can see, except insofar as people don't have four shoulders and the plaid sky doesn't rain doughnuts. My point was that the film DOESN'T have sufficient grounding in OUR reality to make parody meaningful. Unless the context is mere movieness (a la The Artist) in which case I can see poor Sandor as an archetype of slimy continental charm, Gaston Monescu as geek. As it is, I can only see EWS as having a single solipsistic context: Stanley Kubrick's psycho-sexual fantasy world. Which I find plenty psycho and not very sexual.

Of course, Shamus, you could fairly infer from the above that I'm seldom invited into the real-life circles in which the Sandors revolve. Are you?

DavidEhrenstein said...

You're right I got the wrong Rachel

Such a superb film -- worthy of lengthy concerted analysis on this site.

Shamus said...

No, XT, I have not had the pleasure of orbiting in the same circles where Sandors swoop and take their prey, thankyouverymuch. But it is more the "type": the "continental Playboy" who lures innocent wives into adultery and steamy sex amid nude statues and paintings of Rubens and Goya. Yes, the origin is "movieness" (at last we seem to agree on something). But then, HAL, a robot with a soothing almost maternal voice is not your ordinary portrait of a murderer, but an upended cliche. Just like the voiceover of Full Metal Jacket. [Kubrick later introduces and associates the zoom over the sniper's gun (which you would find in any silly war movie) at the end of FMJ before revealing that the sniper is a woman.] Kubrick is almost always playing with cliches: something some people clearly see as unacceptable (or an extension of his misanthropy), but it is precisely these risky choices that make him a strange and rich filmmaker.

I may also have given the impression that I think the entirety of EWS is a parody, which is not true. Certain aspects, yes, but the movie is to be taken, uh, straight.

And I've been hearing so much about Le Artiste that I feel it wouldn't be right to talk about it without, you know, watching it first. But then I saw King's Speech last year and it made a deep and lasting impression on my migrane.

Shamus said...

(Deep breath)

I don't seem to have answered your question: I think Sandor is used just the way the Hitchcock-track is used in that scene: to mock certain aspects of the rituals of mating, which Alice appears to find both alluring and amusing.

Could you that a cliche is also a mask? in which case "Sandor" is just a mask, in this case worn by a stranger looking to score?

Yojimboen said...

Major comment, DE. (When you try, dude, when you turn on the charm and the smarts you can still pretty-much blow us all off the page.)

A couple of things: One, I envied Alain Delon his beauty and the beauties he knew, but most of all I envied him Mireille Darc.

Two: I don’t think of EWS as only Terminally Weird; it is also Terminally Lame. But lest this be taken as an ad hominem attack, you will never find a greater admirer than me of Kubrick’s work for the most part. There are aspects of genius (real genius, not the current definition) in all of his films, but there are also blatant examples of what I would term outlier’s naiveté (self-exile isn’t necessarily a good thing); the oddly back-dated NYC set in EWS a perfect illustration - bravo Jonathan Rosenbaum.

We conveniently tend to overlook that Kubrick, though he didn’t start out that way, wound up as something of a naïf; comparatively inexperienced in the world beyond period, fantasy or science-fiction; genres which are safer, less vulnerable to criticism. In truth, until EWS, The Killing was his only contemporary drama.

Lolita, his closest other attempt at modernity is really a studio-bound production, which almost never ventures outdoors.
(Apropos nothing, I also once learned from a crew member who worked Lolita that when Shelley Winters defied Kubrick and refused to drop her robe for the wedding-night scene (she had reportedly agreed to before signing and it was too late to replace her) Kubrick became enraged; his subsequent Wyleresque cruelty to her offended James Mason and he said so, and Kubrick never fully regained control on the picture.)

I submit there were aspects of artistic cowardice deep within Stanley K.; though whether he would recognize or admit to that Achilles' heel is academic, I don’t think he ever recognized there was a price to pay for his ex-Pat career/life choice. His mistake in my view was to cut himself off from the world that made him. The NYC set from the early 70s (Remember the 70s, Stanley? Of course not, you weren’t here, and no one around you had the balls to point out that the 70s was the decade that taste forgot.)

A smaller, but crucial mistake was to believe his own press and apparently come to think he could do no wrong.

Sorry, Mr. K. There are fundamental rules to making movies which date from the day George Eastman started selling perforated celluloid:
1) The women in the audience should want to boff the male star.
2) The men in the audience should want to boff the female star.
3) When your male star is shorter than your female star, have the commonsense not to have them stand next to each other.

4) Of course none of the above matter when your male star is Tom Cruise.

And 5) This is how serious Nicole Kidman took the proceedings when the camera stopped rolling.

X. Trapnel said...

"Could you that a cliche is also a mask?"

No. Nothing leaves a person so exposed as a cliche. If Kubrick is playing with (movie) cliches (no possible objection to that) it just doen't resonate in any meaningful way. The problem with movieness here, as Yojimboen's point underscores, was that Kubrick's ex-pat amnesia left him unable to imagine what a state of the art Euro-sleazebag should be in the film's thematic context instead of something vaguely recalled from 1962.

X. Trapnel said...


Sorry for going on at such length about Sandor, but not since Jacqueline Bisset's husband in Day for Night has there been a movie character I so wanted to punch.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Truly startling Lolita story Yojimb.

Kubrick is indeed The Control Freak Supreme. Yet he worked twice with Peter Sellers -- who as we all know writes and directs himself.

Shelley is incredibly great in Lolita despite whatever tsouris she suffered with Stanley.

Vanwall said...

Meanwhile, back the ranch...Darnell's Chihuahua actually anchors "My Darling Clementine" with the defining aspect of her career - an innate toughness that pushed other actresses off the screen; just about every role she had something of that in them. I don't think she ever worked with Barbara Stanwyck, but that would've been one hard as nails film.

X. Trapnel said...

V, it's been a long time since I've seen Clementine, so I'm interested in your comment that Darnell anchors the film. My memory (wrong?) was of a potentially disruptive figure spanked into acquiesence with the Fordian "Yer awful purty when yer angry" placement of non-wives. The contrast between the Trevor/Platt dynamic in Stagecoach and Darnell/Downs in MDC seems to point toward a hardening conservatism. A pity Darnell never worked with Hawks.

Vanwall said...

I've always felt MDC was three different films: Fonda's fairly realistic cattleman coming to town, then staying for personal reasons; part the second is a power struggle between Darnell's gal, Mature's film-noir local gangster, and Fonda's suddenly conflicted - very noirish - lawman. The last part is a straight cowboy shoot-out, could've been in any well-made western dating back to Hart or Carey Sr. For me, they don't quite hang together, but they certainly hang separately. Darnell walks away with most of her scenes, quite easily, and the centerpiece film pushes the beginning and end ones almost into marginalia. That's my take.

X. Trapnel said...

That's pretty harsh, but I see your point. I agree that Darnell is undoubtedly the most watchable (no contest) and affecting presence, but I'd argue that all the portraits are strong enough (even Downs and Mature, and especially Brennan's terrifying Clanton Sr.) to hold the parts together.

DavidEhrenstein said...

What it all comes down to is that when Linda Darnell is on screen it's very difficult to notice anyone else.

Shamus said...

I don't want to disrupt the thread again by resurrecting Kubrick's ghost, but here, nonetheless, lies... an epitaph:

Kubrick lead what by all accounts was a fairly happy family life; had a large circle of friends and collaborators with whom he interacted regularly; read prodigiously and generally had lots of opinions concerning about the state of the world and even contemporary cinema (cf. his startling comment on Schindler's List). At least, I remember reading several strikingly similar accounts of Kubrick's collaborators to this effect. Yet, because he never interacted much with the media (though he consented to a few interviews, from Killing onwards right up until Full Metal Jacket), he got labelled "recluse" and now you make him out to be some kind of nut who lost all touch with the "real world" since the 60's. Really, Yojim. And after you promised to lay off on the ad-hominem too.

X. Trapnel said...

What did Kubrick say about Schindler's List?

Shamus said...

Stanley Kubrick apparently said to screenwriter Frederic Raphael, “The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed, Schindler’s List was about six hundred people who don’t.”

X. Trapnel said...

Fine, but Schindler's List tells one story out of many, and yes there are six million stories. The only problem is when S's L is held up as the defining if not definitive Holocaust film, a dubious assertion in so many ways.

Shamus said...

Personally, I think that Kubrick comes to the heart of that movie's evasions, (esp. the triumphant walk of the survivors suddenly rendered in color). Back then, I thought it was a "great" movie (I'm really finding a use for those damn inverted commas, aren't I) but now I only wonder why anyone would want to dramatize and fictionalize those moments.

Sometime back, I caught Boy in the Striped Pajamas for a few minutes on TV, specifically at the moment when a sinister-looking teacher tells the nice German children what kind of person "the Jew" really is. And I was lost trying to think up excuses for the filmmakers who recreate such moments, that kind of hatred. By very definition, they are trying to render on film what cannot be reproduced. And what does it mean, anyway? That we have suddenly past all prejudice and race hatred now, so we can freely and blithely make gross anti-semitic statements under the thin excuse of "fiction"?

Shamus said...

What I'm trying to say is, aren't there enough real statements of hatred recorded by history without filmmakers and novelists making up new ones as "fiction"? Isn't any attempt in that vein (S's L, included) misguided?

X. Trapnel said...

By "dramatize"/"fictionalize" do you mean that the subject should be off limits to all dramatists, filmmakers, and novelists, but not say, poets (let's try not invoking Adorno), painters, composers?
Fictionalizing (never mind that S's L is based on fact) must to some degree present in expository/narrative the ideological world in which Nazism flourished (if that is the word).

gmoke said...

A good movie could be made from Sebastian Haffner's memoir and study of the early Nazi years, known in the US as _Defying Hitler_. Best book I know of to describe that horrific time.

Yojimboen said...

Back to topic a), your triptych delineation of MDC is well-drawn and expressed, M VW, and suggests all sorts of shifty shenanigans. For instance I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn Ford took Fonda, Mature and Darnell aside individually and told them theirs was the lead character (a common stunt in directing); but only Darnell saw though Ford’s game, Fonda and Mature look as if they didn’t.

It’s an odd piece and no mistake. For years I only knew the standard version (of which Ford disapproved strongly – it had been torn apart by Zanuck, who had Lloyd Bacon reshoot a third of the movie, then re-edited it from top to bottom).

Knowing none of this as a kid, and despite the Monument Valley compositions, Mature’s strength, Darnell’s beauty and Fonda’s almost balletic grace, I nevertheless found the movie patchy and ragged, like a jigsaw puzzle with some key pieces missing.

I never loved it, not like I love Stagecoach or The Searchers; and always felt slightly guilty for that lack.

And then… a decade or so ago, UCLA turns up a so-called ‘director’s cut’ and the game begins anew (I looked at it today). It’s 7 or 8 minutes longer than Zanuck's version, and it includes some interesting clues to its original (Ford’s) design. Mainly vis-à-vis Darnell’s “Chihuahua”.

Out behind the bar when she slaps Fonda’s Earp, he grabs her and, just before shoving her into the horse trough, threatens to send her “back to the Apache reservation…” where she belongs!

Come again?
Chihuahua isn’t Mexican?
She’s a half-breed Apache?
Now you have my attention, Mr. Ford.

Shamus said...


I know SL is based on a true story, of course, but how much of the movie is fact (bearing in mind this is still a Spielberg movie)?

I'm not up on my painting, you will have to excuse me, but so far as film is concerned, it has a very different relationship to reality than almost any other art form, and the idea that a director would coach actors on the right accent for racial invective or carefully arrange a pile of "bodies" for the camera, repulses me. (No, I've not yet seen Shoah)

There are several great books on the Holocaust by Primo Levi, Sebald and others but they often seem to occupy a space between the memoir and the novel, and they are never simple dramatizations; they take the form of questions rather than stories, if you get my point.

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

Ford may have perfected a certain kind of the narrative film but he kept returning to small(er), studio-bound (non-)narrative where he focuses on gestures and movements of his characters rather than landscapes and myth; on lighting rather than on composition. So, he did make Searchers and Stagecoach, but his greatest movies may still be those that amble along gracefully rather than pounce ferociously: Pilgrimage, Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Sun Shines Bright, possibly My Darling Clementine, with Quiet Man and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon occupying some vague place in between (if only to prove how tenuous the division really is).

So, pace Yojimboen I think, the lackadaisical narrative of the latter group is chiefly delightful.

estienne64 said...

Apologies for returning to the Eyes Wide Shut thread at this late stage, but I have just noticed a curious remark in the new Little White Lies blog on the late Zalman King, which may be 'common knowledge' but came as news to me:

'When King’s death was reported recently, his son-in-law Allison Burnett told the press that Kubrick consulted King every night when filming Eyes Wide Shut, because "he wanted to learn how to shoot eroticism".'

(I've been wondering if there's any way of connecting this thread back to Linda Darnell. How about re-imagining EWS with the stars of Unfaithfully Yours?)

joel65913 said...

Let's see if we can get this thread focused back where it belongs: on Linda Darnell.

Here's a link to her charming appearance on What's My Line?


Revanchist said...

"A Letter To Three Wives" is one of my personal favourites, and I thought that Mank demonstrated more visual flair than he's usually credited for... and then you have the likes of Sothern, Douglas, Darnell, etc turning in some excellent performances. Poor Jeanne Crain was left with little to do until the ending. "No Way Out" is a good movie, but Darnell doesn't have a lot to do.

However, of all the movies that Darnell appeared in, amongst the ones I've seen, my personal favourite is "Forever Amber", which is surely one of Preminger's best and underrated films. Everyone gushes on about "Laura", "Anatomy of a Murder" and others, but "Forever Amber" is just as good as any of them.

Unknown said...

I recently watched on YouTube an old episode of 'What's My Line' which featured Linda Darnell as the celebrity mystery guest. Those familiar with her biography will know that this was recorded at a period in her life when her Hollywood status was in decline, and when for financial reasons she had boldly and belatedly embarked on a career in the theater. I think that perhaps even more than in her wondrous movies, her spirit shines through during this sadly all too brief television appearance. Her beauty is obvious, as always; but we encounter as well the playfulness and courage and vulnerability and wit and irresistible charm that distinguished her. Highly recommended!