On Dangerous Ground (1952) Nicholas Ray

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Nick Ray’s “On Dangerous Ground” is a film split into two distinct acts. Based on a novel by Gerald Butler, an excellent screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides, a magnificent score by the great Bernard Hermann with top-notch performances by Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino.

Robert Ryan is excellent as Jim Wilson, a neurotic, indifferent detective who has no life other than cleaning up the dirty slime filled streets filled with human vermin. Yet he manages to find salvation and rediscover his humanity in the gentle soul of the beautiful though blind Mary Malden (Lupino), the sister of the young murderer pursued by the law.  Ryan has portrayed many hard-edged, unsentimental characters in his career though this is arguably one of his best. Ida Lupino is truly touching as Mary giving one of her most vulnerable performances of her career.

In the hands of another director, this film could have turned in a sloppy melodrama. With Nick Ray in control, we get a post-modernist edgy film noir contrasting the dark harsh crime filled streets of the city against the clean stark cold wintry beauty of the country. Like many of Ray’s films, there is a sense of loneliness and sadness in the characters. Similar lost characters fill the screen in other Ray works like “Rebel without a Cause” and “The Lusty Men.” With “On Dangerous Ground” Ray again transcends the genre he is working in creating a personal vision fueled by outsiders and non-conformist structuring their own moral code to live by.

Ray’s opens the films with his own idiosyncratic style with an arresting scene of a cop’s wife ritualistically and sensuously fastening her husband’s shoulder holster as he prepares to leave for work.

“On Dangerous Ground” is a melancholy work of dark beauty that should not be missed.

TCM will be showing “On Dangerous Ground” on Tuesday at 3:30AM EST.417902_1010_A

Human Desire (1954) Fritz Lang

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The bad rap against “Human Desire” is that it’s not as good as Renoir’s “La Bete Humaine” (released in the U.S. as The Human Beast), the French film it was based on, nor it is not as good as the earlier Lang, Ford, Grahame, collaboration, “The Big Heat.” Still, on its own terms “Human Desire” is a well-paced engrossing film noir. The biggest problem with the film is Glenn Ford’s flat performance which lacks the dark mood required for this tale of seduction, passion and murder. His nice guy personality almost derails the film; however, it’s saved only by Lang’s camera and the enticing nuanced performance of Gloria Grahame.

Based on a novel by Emile Zola, the plot revolves around Jeff Warren (Ford), a recently discharged Korean War veteran returning back to his job as a train engineer. Here he meets the sexy Vicki (Grahame), the young tantalizing wife of Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford), a railroad stationmaster.  Carl is soon fired when he gets into an argument with his senior manager. Distressed, he wants Vicki to go to old family friend, and influential businessman John Owens, asking him to help get Carl his job back. Vicki is reluctant to do so; however, Carl, an alcoholic and wife abuser, forces her to go see him. Though Carl never flatly comes out and states it, he implies Vicki should do whatever it takes to entice Owens to help him get his job back. Upon her return, she flatly tells Carl he got back his job; however, he is now more concerned with why she was away so long and what happened between her and Owens. His out of control jealousy escalates into his physically beating Vicki up, forcing her to admit something went on between them.

dŽsirs humains     Carl’s jealousy continues to haunt him, pressuring Vicki to write a letter to Owens saying she would like to meet him at the train. At the arranged time, Carl drags Vicki to the station and directly to Owens compartment, where he stabs him to death in front of her. Escaping from the compartment turns out not to be so easy with a train conductor at one end and Jeff, off duty, at the other end of the car. Carl pushes Vicky to distract Jeff by flirting with him. They strike up a conversation becoming quickly attracted to each other. Before you can finish a cigarette, they are passionately lip locked.

Interviewed during the inquisition of the Owens murder, Jeff covers up for Vicki denying he saw her anywhere need the scene of the crime. They soon begin having an affair. Jeff sinks deeper and deeper into her alluring maze. He had a way out of Vicki’s web, if he wanted it. There is a nice girl Vera (Diane DeLaire), daughter of co-worker and friend Alec Simmons (Edgar Buchanan), who is attracted to him and tries to draw him into nice decent relationship; however, Jeff is already too deeply entwined in Vicki’s web of sex and deceit. Vicki will eventually attempt to charm Jeff into killing her good for nothing pig of a husband. She rationalizes Jeff, a former Korean War veteran, has already killed plenty of men so what’s one more, especially for a seductive beauty like her.

-Human Desire-gloria    Lang films are filled with outsiders, Hans Beckert in “M”, Eddie Graham in “You Only Live Once”, Christopher Cross in “Scarlet Street” and here you can add Jeff Warren and Vicki to the group. One wonders if Lang’s compassionate viewpoint for outsiders stems from his own background coming from troubled Europe to America?

Unfortunately, Glenn Ford is not an actor with much depth. He’s unable to convey any sense of tragedy. He is bland and comes across as too much the average nice guy. A more conflicted, morose actor, (Robert Mitchum?) would have added an extra layer that is lacking here. In Renoir’s “La Bete Humaine” Lantier (Jean Gabin), is certainly a more conflicted character than his American counterpart. He suffers with a family history of mental behavior driving him to murder. In Renoir’s film, there are no likeable people unlike Lang’s remake. On the other hand, Grahame give us one of the boldest performances in her career, a definite improvement over Simone Simon in Renoir’s film. Sexy, vulnerable, desperate and brassy, she is more damaged goods here than femme fatale, with hints that sometime in her past she may have been sexually abused. Grahame’s sexiness shines right from the first scene in the film where we first see her lying down on her bed, her legs up in the air, sexy and inviting. Watching her, you can’t really blame any man for getting weak in the knees. Broderick Crawford is down right nasty as the overly jealous husband and while he is good, his performance is a bit one noted.

dŽsirs humains    Renoir’s “La Bette Humane” was doubtlessly too dark and verboten for American audiences addicted to happy endings, which I believe to be the reason for the changes made between the leading character (Warren/Lantier) in the two versions. Besides the male protagonists, it is also significant how differently Vicki and Serverine meet their respective deaths. Vicki by her jealous husband and Serverine stabbed to death by Lantier.  “Human Desire” was also damaged by restrictions forced upon it by the production code. Zola’s novel and Renoir’s film contain bleaker more naturalistic endings than the unsatisfying ending Lang leaves us with.

The Movie Projector Make IMDB’s Hit List

Our friend R.D. Finch’s excellent The Movie Projector made IMDB’s daily hit list.  If you have not checked out this blog you need too! Congratulations R.D.!

Woodstock – A 40th Year Celebration

It was 4o years ago this weekend the Woodstock Nation came to be, for at least a short period of time, an idyllic, utopian view of a world filled with music, love and peace……

Was Woodstock really that or was it a muddy rain filled festival filled mess as early news media first reported. Whatever your viewpoint, Woodstock has come to represent a time of utopian dreams in a world that seen plenty of horror in the past few years. The Vietnam War was still raging, racial riots in many cities throughout the U.S. and the horrific Charles Manson murders happened only a week before the festival.  A filmed documentary of the event was released in March of 1970 and in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, I have scanned some photos from a souvenir booklet of the movie. Also attached are some links on various articles and websites devoted to Woodstock including a link to Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock (the complete concert performance).  

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At the bottom of the following page is a list of credits to the film including one in the lower left hand portion of the page that says Edited by Martin Scorsese. Unfortunately, the scan is too small to read.

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Woodstock Festival on Wikipedia

New York Times article on Woodstock by Jon Pareles 

Woodstock 1969 website

Woodstock – IMDB Page

Jimi Hendrix LIVE at Woodstock ’69 (complete concert)

On August 28th Ang Lee’s film Taking Woodstock” will be released.

There has also been a series of new books celebrating the 40th Anniversary. Of them all, the one I am most interested to read is NYC disc jockey Pete Fornatale’s oral history “Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock”

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Below are some photos

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The final photo below is iconic and was used as the cover for the original 3 record LP soundtrack. Ever wonder what happened to this couple? Well, they happen to be on the nightly news the other night and they married, and are still married with a family. They still live near the site of the concert and recently went back for the first time in 40 years.

                                            All You Need is Love 

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Gloria Grahame on TCM All Day August 13th

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Thursday is an all day Gloria Grahame marathon on TCM starting at 6AM with Blonde Fever. Other films inlcude Crossfire, A Woman’s Secret, The Bad and the Beautiful, Chandler, In a Lonely Place and The Big Heat.

 It is going to be one hot night!

Check out Movie Morlocks! They have been doing a series of five articles on my favorite femme fatale.   Click here  to get there.

 Attached here is my own little tribute that I did a while back.

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High Noon (1952) Fred Zinnemann

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“This is just a dirty little town in the middle of nowhere. Nothing that happens here is really important.”– The Judge

First a confession!  Dave over at the excellent Goodfella’s Movie Blog is in the middle of a year-by-year countdown of the best movie of each year. If you have yet to visit his site please do, you won’t be sorry. Now that’s not the confession, so what is, you ask? Well, in my comments at Dave’s blog for the 1952 best film selection, I stated that I was not a big fan of Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon”; subsequently I did not include it in my own list of favorite films for that year. Recently, TCM ran the film again, and unlike the many times it has been aired before, I did not ignore,  but decided to revisit it for the first time in many years. So here is my big confession, truth be told, I was wrong, “High Noon” is one of the great films of 1952 and one of the great westerns of all time! Now this won’t come as a shock to many of you who even without my proclamation already knew “High Noon” was a great movie. Frankly, I am just catching up.

Now that I got that weight off my chest, I can move on…

John Wayne proclaimed his dislike for this movie, seeing it as a parable for the blacklisting and anti-communist furor that was taking hold in the early 1950’s.  He found it disgraceful that Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) tosses his badge into the dirt at the end of the film. Seven years later, Wayne and Howard Hawks would made “Rio Bravo” as a response to the radical “High Noon.” As late as 1971, Wayne, in a Playboy magazine interview, called “High Noon”, “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” If Wayne disliked what the film stood for, Hawks abhorred it, insulting his sense of professionalism. He therefore made a film where the sheriff refuses help from the town’s citizens, instead accepting help from only other “outsiders” like the young gunslinger and the town drunk. Whereas, Will Kane, in “High Noon”, was an accepted member of the town’s social circle with friends. John T. Chance, in “Rio Bravo” separates himself from the town, he is a professional lawman, an outsider and not part of the town’s citizenship.

highnoon-Coop-Kelly_1_     Ironically, over the years, people and even countries, from both sides of the political spectrum have come to find their own personal values in this film. The former Soviet Union accused the film of being “a glorification of the individual.”  Pro-McCarthyites saw the film as communist propaganda and anti-American. Yet President Ronald Reagan loved the film for it lead character’s “strong sense of and dedication to duty and law.” Both Presidents Eisenhower and Clinton loved the movie. Clinton ran the film no less than 17 times while in office! He even recommended it to then incoming President Bush.  So how can one film be interpreted and satisfying on both sides of the political fence? Possibly, because, no matter where you stand politically, the film has come to symbolize the courage and perseverance an individual needs during hard and difficult times. Here was one man who stood up for what he believed in, despite the abandonment, the lack of conviction and courage from the community he helped build and protect. Perhaps the Soviet Union was right, “High Noon” is the glorification of the individual, how American!

Even before the film was completed, staunch conservatives were attacking it. The film was made during the height of the anti-communist witch-hunts. The House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) was finding communist everywhere including in your toaster! Hollywood was under siege, forced by Congress to rid itself of any writer, actor, director who even smelled of leftist leanings. Socially conscience filmmakers were driven out of the country, Jules Dassin, Joseph Losey to name two, while others were put in jail (the Hollywood 10).  Still, more lost their livelihood and had to retreat to theater or get out of the business all together. Screenwriter Carl Forman, a known left-winger, was eventually fired by producer Stanley Kramer who was under pressure to do so. There is plenty of irony when you consider that star Gary Cooper was conservative, as was composer Dimitri Tiomkin, both card-carrying members of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an anti-communist group that worked with the HUAC in “cleaning up” Hollywood. Additionally, Tex Ritter who sang the title song shared similar sentiments. Lloyd Bridges and cinematographer Floyd Crosby (father of rock singer David Crosby) were “gray listed” for working in the film. producer Stanley Kramer and director Fred Zinnemann had liberal views and while not blacklisted were considered sympathizers.   high_noon_clock

The plot is simple, three men ride into the town of Hadleyville, one is Ben Miller, brother of recently released ex-convict Frank Miller, who is arriving on the noon train. Five years ago, Marshal Will Kane sent Miller to prison. Originally, Miller was sentenced to death until the courts changed his sentence to life in prison. Eventually he was released after serving only five years. At the time of his sentencing Miller swore vengeance and now he has come back to collect. This same day, Will Kane is retiring as Marshal and marrying his young sweetheart Amy (Grace Kelly). Right after the ceremony, word arrives that Miller is out of prison and coming to town, to kill Kane. His neighbors tell him it is best if he and his wife leave and disappear. They hustle the couple quickly out of town; however, once on the trail Kane has second thoughts. His wife tells him it is crazy to return, Kane says he has never run from anyone before; he has to go back. When he seeks help from the town people, they refuse. Some resented Kane’s tactics while he was Marshal. Others say since Will is no longer Marshal, why should they risk their lives.  Some thought life was better years ago when Frank Miller was here and the town was wide open. Kane’s Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) quits, blaming Will for not speaking up for him so he could inherit the Marshal’s job upon his retirement. Even the judge who sentenced Miller is packing and leaving town, urging Kane to reconsider and leave too. “The man is crazy”, he says.

High_Noon_poster  Approximately 1 hour and 11 minutes into the film, director Zinnemann and his editors, create a mosaic of tension, and a class in film editing. It starts with Kane sitting at his desk writing out his last will and testament, Dimitri Tiomkin’s music begins a tense pounding. Kane looks up at the clock, in extreme close up we see the swinging of the pendulum, the camera moves upward toward the hands of the clock, which reads 11:58. We cut to the outlaws waiting at the train station, then to a low angle shot of the tracks. Next, we see the interior of the church, close-ups of the solemn parishioners. Zinnemann cuts to the saloon, its customers. Back to the pendulum swinging, Will Kane at his desk, a long shot of the exterior of the town, cut to another angle of the town. Back to the railroad tracks, the killers waiting. By this point, the pace of the cuts have accelerated. Zinnemann cuts to a close up of the previous Marshal sitting in his chair, a friend cowering in his home, a close-up of Helen (Katy Jurado) the saloon owner,  and then a close up of Amy. Back to the swinging pendulum, and then the clock, as it is about to strike noon. Quick cuts to the killers, Amy and then, the sudden sound of the train’s whistle. It’s high noon. The camera is back on the tracks and far off we see the smoke puffing from the train engine, the music stops, the quietness is startling; we are back looking at Kane.

It’s time.

Kane comes outside on to the street, he sees Amy and Helen on a buckboard riding toward the train station. Zinnemann now gives us a shot the Marshal in close up. As he looks around Zinnemann’s camera begins to pull back. A crane shot, the camera moves back and up high over the entire town. The streets are empty except for the Marshal.high still

In the final sequence, we see Kane marching toward his confrontation with the band of four who are walking toward him from the other end of town. The gun battle ends as we expect with Kane the victor but only after he gets some unexpected help from his Quaker wife, who came back from the train when she heard the first gunshots, and shoots one of the outlaws in the back just as he was about to kill Will.

The town’s citizens come out of hiding surrounding Kane and his wife. He looks at them in disgust, takes off his badge and tosses it into the dirt. The Marshal and his wife climb up on the buckboard and ride off.

“High Noon” is less than 90 minutes long and takes place in almost real time starting with the three men riding into town and the wedding of Kane and his young bride. Time is a recurring motif in the film. We constantly have shot of clocks, men looking at watches as the minutes tick away toward the arrival of the noon train and Frank Miller.  The film is unconventional in many ways. Unlike most westerns, there is little action here, except for a fight between Kane and his former deputy Harvey and the climatic ending. At one point, the Marshal openly admits to Harvey that he is afraid. There is also no talk of the west being the opening of a new frontier or the beginning of a new community, themes common at the time to western film mythology. “High Noon” is nothing a typical western is suppose to be, it is the antithesis of John Ford’s more romanticized version of west. No wonder The Duke hated it.

Additionally, much was made at the time of the age difference between Cooper, who was fifty-one, and looked a lot older (he was ill), and the young and beautiful Grace Kelly who was about twenty-three.

high-noon-Kelly-Juarado11    Cooper gives an impressive performance as Kane. Looking visually worried, sweat on his face, bound by a sense of honor, he finds himself standing alone amongst the town people he swore to protect.  Like John Wayne, Gary Cooper is one of cinema’s iconic western heroes,  having appeared in “The Virginia”, “The Plainsman”, “The Westerner”, “Vera Cruz” and “Man of the West” among others.

“High Noon” is one of the most beautifully framed and photographed films, brilliantly shot with deep rich blacks. I was truly impressed by the framing of many of the images that could have easily been plucked from the film and work elegantly as black and white still photographs. The man responsible was Floyd Crosby, who surprisingly did not even receive a nomination for Best B&W Cinematography that year. The music by Dimitri Tiomkin has become as iconic as Cooper’s image walking down the empty streets of the town. The haunting title song with the word’s “do not forsake me oh my darling”, a constant reminder that Kane has been abandoned by everyone. Tiomkin by the way would score Hawks “Rio Bravo.” The film also has some great character actors including Lee Van Cleef as one of the killer’s, Lon Chaney Jr. as the former sheriff, Harry Morgan as a so called friend of Kane’s, Katy Jurado as the saloon owner and former lover to both Will Kane and Frank Miller. Most recently, she had hooked up with the young immature deputy played by Lloyd Bridges. Other well known charcter actors include Thomas Mitchell, Jack Elam Otto Kruger and Harry Morgan.

The film’s political overtones are still there, a reminder of uglier times. Though they have faded from memory of some, younger viewers may even be unaware of any political overtones; just read the comments on IMDB.  Still the film resonates with many in the audience today. The politics of prisoners receiving early releases, their sentences being reduced is as timely today with audiences as it is portrayed in the film. Note the discussion about this topic in the church when Will seeks help from the churchgoers. One of the town people speak out saying Miller’s release from prison is not their fight, it is the responsibility of those northern politicians, who released him from prison. In the final analysis, “High Noon” does not fit snugly into any one philosophy. It does not take a straight liberal or a conservative stance. Viewers looking for a particular ideology that fits neatly into their vision will be disappointed. Politically, there is no comfort food here such as conservatives find when they watch FOX news or liberals find watching MSNBC.

Screenwriter/Author Budd Schulberg Dies at 95

“I could have been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

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One of the most famous lines in film history, spoken by Marlon Brando as Terry Mallory in “On the Waterfront” was written by Budd Schulberg who passed away yesterday at 95 years of age.

Schulberg won an Oscar for his screenplay and a place in cinema history. Schulberg’s protaganist were the little guy against the machine like Terry Mallory. His also wrote the accliamed novel  “What Makes Sammy Run”  whose Sammy Glick claws his way to the top of the Hollywood cesspool by any means neccasary. Schulberg called Glick  “The Horatio Alger spirit gone mad.”  Other works included the screenplay for Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd”, another story of blind ambition and the novel “The Harder They Fall”  filmed in 1956.   

Attached is the New York Times obit.

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