Cape Fear (1962) J. Lee Thompson

Cape Fear Title

    Max Cady is one of the cinema’s most terrifying villains and no one personifies evil more than Robert Mitchum in this 1962 work. I am a big fan of Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro however,  the 1992 remake while a fine film in of itself is not in the same class as the original film. “Cape Fear” was adapted by screenwriter James R. Webb from John D. MacDonald’s 1958 novel, “The Executioners” and was directed by J. Lee Thompson.

Cape Fear cady    After serving eight years in prison, Max Cady is released and comes to a small North Carolina town to find Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a lawyer he holds responsible for his guilty verdict and incarnation. From the first moment Cady appears on screen, he unleashes an assault of vicious menace that flows throughout the entire film. He quickly confronts Sam in his car letting him know he is back in town and out for revenge. He begins to follow Sam, making veiled threats against Sam’s wife and daughter and soon poison’s the Bowden’s dog. Sam attempts to  diffuse the situation when he asks police chief Mark Dutton( Martin Balsam) to intercede and find any excuse to arrest and or run Cady out of town.  However, Cady knows his rights, they cannot arrest him for vagrancy; he has money in the bank.  When that fails Sam hires three thugs to beat Cady up, then he hires a private detective (Telly Savalas). All attempts to convince Cady to leave are in vain. Cady’s one mistake may have been when he seduces and physically assaults a young woman (Barrie Chase) he picks up. However, his sheer terror frightened the girl to such an extent she is too scared to press charges and just wants to get out of town.

   capefear2 Cady is brazen, face to face with Bowden he insinuates how he will ravish his wife nad daughter. One of the most terrifying scenes occurs when Cady confronts Peggy Bowden (Polly Bergen), Sam’s wife, in the family boat where he cracks a raw egg in his hands and rubs it all over Peggy’s chest. The scene fades leaving you with the impression he is about to rape her. Bergen’s horrified look during the egg smearing is one of total shock and apparently real. The egg cracking and rubbing it across her neck and chest was not in the script and fully unexpected. Director Thompson and Mitchum planned the situation without letting Bergen in on the change in plans. From what I have read, Bergen was a bundle of nerves for a couple of days after filming this scene. The final confrontation is a brutal excruciating confrontation between the two men in the murky waters of Cape Fear.

    The film oozes violent sexual tension right from the beginning. When we first meet Cady, he eyes every woman that walks by like a lion in heat. Mitchum’s sleepy eyes and slow matter just reek with innuendo. Every threat he makes against Bowden’s wife and daughter are overflowing with sexual intimidation. When he eyes the young woman up in the bar, he informs her she got one hour to dump the guy she’s with.  For 1962, this film spill over with sexual tension.capefear1962 poster 2 450

    “Cape Fear” is filled with great performances but it is Robert Mitchum who walks away with the honors. He is just plain scary, and unlike DeNiro’s Max Cady, comes across as a real person and thus his menace is particularly terrifying.  It is a masterful performance, made to look so easy by Mitchum’s “I don’t give a damn” style. Gregory Peck is dogged as the protector of his family, though here he is not quite as righteous as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, another lawyer he portrayed that same year.  Director Thompson and Gregory Peck, who owned the rights to the book, had to convince Mitchum to accept the role, which he originally turned down. Interestingly, Haley Mills was considered for the role of Nancy, the daughter, but was still under contract to Disney who refused to let her do it. 

    An enormous part of the films success is Bernard Herrmann’s excitingly tense score, which contributes so much to the on edge atmosphere of the film, along with Sam Leavitt’s graphic black and white cinematography. Thompson’s direction is quickly paced with no wasted time moving the film along at an ever nerve wracking pace. 

    In 1992, when Martin Scorsese remade “Cape Fear” he stated that in the original film the Bowden family was too one note, too good and Cady pure evil. In his remake, Scorsese made the Bowden’s victims of martial infidelity and the daughter was no longer the sweet little girl but a rebellious sexy adventuress who is seduced and attracted to the disturbed Cady. He also turned Cady into a bible-frenzied fanatic of doomsday proportions.  The two films make interesting bookends.

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Wait Until Dark (1967) Terence Young

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Warner Brothers purchased the film rights to “Wait Until Dark” early on with Jack Warner set to star Audrey Hepburn in the lead role of the blind heroine, Susy Hendrix.  Hepburn wanted Warner’s to announce as soon as possible that she would be starring.  She wanted to avoid accusations similar to what occurred when she took the role of Liza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and was accused of stealing the role from  Julie Andrews. In the play, film and stage actress Lee Remick was starring and was a big enough star to have headlined the film. What Audrey wanted known is that from the beginning Warner’s had no intention of having Lee star in the film version

The hit play opened in early February of 1966 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater with Remick and with Robert Duvall, as Harry Roat Jr. It was directed by Arthur Penn who would soon go on to film “Bonnie and Clyde. “Written by Frederick Knott whose first hit play was “Dial M For Murder”, “Wait Until Dark” was Knott’s successful return to Broadway, a woman in peril thriller in the  “Sorry, Wrong Number ” mode.

wait lcProduced by Mel  Ferrer, Hepburn’s husband, the film version opened up  on October 26th 1967 at Radio City Music Hall, just in time for Halloween. The film sets up Susy (Hepburn), a young  woman recently blinded in a car accident, against a team of three criminals led by a diabolical Harry Roat Jr. (Alan Arkin). The men are determined to get their hands on a heroin filled doll that has made its way to Susy’s apartment.

How the doll got to the Greenwich Village apartment Susy shares with her photographer husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and its disappearance and reappearance takes time to explain as does the convoluted  deception by the criminals including  Roat Jr. dressing up disguised as other people in an attempt to get the doll back from the blind Susy.

The biggest question the film, and the play, leave your with is why did Roat Jr. have to wear disguises when his intended target is blind?  Despite this glitch in the plot and a slow build up, in the third act the film provides an intense finale that will still make viewers tense and jumpy.  I am not going to give anything away here so if you have not seen the film don’t worry.

wait until darkThis was the first suspense thriller for Ms. Hepburn whose career was filled with gentler works like “Charade”, “The Nun’s Story”, “Sabrina” and “Roman Holiday.” She does well in this career change of pace and  received her fourth  Academy Award nomination for her efforts. Also, in the cast are Richard Crenna and Jack Weston as Roat Jr.’s  partners in the evil scheme. Directed by Terence Young, best known for directing the first two James bond films “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love” and later on the fourth, “Thunder ball.”  Young was good friends with Hepburn and her husband Mel Ferrer and they fought for him to direct the film. Jack Warner was looking to get Carol Reed to direct.wait still

Like Lee Remick did for her stage performance, Hepburn  studied and did much research on the blind, first in Lausanne and then in New York at the Manhattan Lighthouse for the Blind. Alan Arkin got the role of the criminal Harry Roat Jr. after Warner’s was turned down by numerous stars  including George C. Scott. Arkin had just made a name for himself a year earlier in Norman Jewison’s  “The Russian Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.”

Hepburn wanted to make the film in Europe where she felt comfortable, and while the film is set in New York most of the film involved interior shooting that could have been done anywhere. A few exterior shots of Greenwich Village could have been made in New York and the rest of the film completed anywhere. Jack Warner refused insisting that the interiors be filmed in California. While Warner won that battle he lost the tea at four war. Audrey insisted on a stipulation that they break for tea every day in the afternoon, a British tradition, and was backed up by the Brit director Mr. Young. Jack Warner steamed but the crew had their daily break tea.

Warner Brothers studio used a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock and William Castle ballyhoo when they announced in the coming attractions for the movie that during the final eight minutes of the film the theater lights will be darkened to the legal limits to intensify the action on screen.

In 1998, the play was revived on Broadway with Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarantino in the roles of Susy and Harry Roat Jr. Changes made to the original play and movie, like the apartment was now on the Lower East Side instead of Greenwich Village, apparently did not add any gloss to the play. It closed after 97 performances.

There’s Always a Woman (1939) Alexander Hall

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    “There’s Always a Woman”, is pretty much a forgotten film in Joan Blondell’s filmography. Made for Columbia in 1938, the film is a less sophisticated “Thin Man” variation with Blondell and Melvyn Douglas as the husband and wife detective team. The film won’t make you forget Nick and Nora or even Jean Arthur and William Powell in “The Ex-Mrs. Bradford”; still it is a fun light weight movie.

    What’s make the film most enjoyable is Joan Blondell, who on loan to Columbia, is out of her sassy, smart aleck Warner’s Brother mode and into a more Carole Lombard/Jean Arthur type, though there may be a little Gracie Allen tossed in too.   The snooping couple are Sally and Bill Reardon who are going broke operating a detective agency due to a lack of clients. William, a former Assistant D.A. decides to go running back to get his old job when the bills begin to pile up too high. Sally meanwhile, is determined to make the private eye business a success and stumbles onto a client, Lola Fraser (Mary Astor, another tie to The Thin Man) who suspects an affair is going on between her husband and his former fiancée (Frances Drake). Lola’s advance practically wipes their debits off the books. The remainder of the story involves the comical sleuthing of the Reardon’s trying to track down the murderer of a double homicide.

Theres always a woman still   The script and the jokes are rather thin though Blondell confirms to all that she is a wonderful comedienne. She’s excellent in a scene when the police are interrogating her under a harsh light and the only ones to show a strain from the interrogation are the police while Joan remains as perky as the moment she walked in.  My biggest problem with the film is the treatment Sally receives from her husband, which is a bit troubling unless you think pulling your wife’s hair or making gestures that you are going to smack her for “disobeying” you are the stuff of yucks. Bill Reardon comes across as an archaic Neanderthal who only wants his wife home, cooking with those pots and pans in the kitchen, and not meddling in a murder investigation though in the end she is partially responsible for solving the case.

   Alexander Hall, who keeps things moving at a nice pace directed the film that was based on a short story by Wilson Collison. Columbia’s original plan was for this to be the first in a series, however it only resulted in one sequel in 1939, “There’s That Woman, Again” with Douglas reprising his role, however with Virginia Bruce replacing Blondell. The film opened at Radio City Music Hall in April of 1938 to moderate business. Look for Rita Hayworth in a bit part as a secretary to an attorney.

Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott Links to Twenty Four Frames

I was happily surprised to find that James Wolcott, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, linked an article I wrote on Don Siegel’s “Baby Face Nelson” to his post on the upcoming release of Columbia Pictures Film Noir Box Set. Checkout Mr Wolcott’s article here.

Click here for my article.

 

The Arrangement (1969) Elia Kazan

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“The Arrangement” opened to mostly terrible reviews in  November of 1969. Vincent Canby of the New York Times said, “The Arrangement” is Elia Kazan’s most romantic movie. It may also be his worst…”  Later on Canby in the same review he says,  “The Arrangement” reeks with slightly absurd movie chic but, unlike Douglas Sirk’s “Written on the Wind” or Vincente Minnelli’s “Two Weeks in Another Town,” it’s not only not much fun, but it’s a mess of borrowed styles.”  Harsh words and while I am not going to claim that “The Arrangement” is a lost masterpiece or even a satisfying film that has grown better with time, the film is not the mess Mr. Canby seemed to think it was.

The Arrangement1    Based on Kazan’s successful novel (it was on the New York Times bestseller list for 37 weeks)  which ran over 500 pages and had to be condensed down to a film slightly over two hours. It is the story of Evangelos Arness, a man who spent his life selling out, he even changed his name to Eddie Anderson. Eddie is a successful advertising executive  married to Florence (Deborah Kerr), they live in a large house with servants. The marriage is affable, they seem to have it all, she seems content, Eddie we find out is not.

The Arrangement still    On his way to work Eddie cracks up, both figuratively and literally when he lets go of the wheel of his sports car and crashes into a truck in the next lane. Not able to not willing to speak he remains silent during his recovery drifting in and out of painful recollections of his childhood with a father who intimidated and dominated him and his mother. These memories are intermixed with visions of his affair with Gwen (Faye Dunaway), a sexy bright independent office associate who finds it painful that Eddie has sold out and how much he must hurt him to imagine what he could have been.

When Eddie physically recovers, his sanity is still in question. His father is taken ill, Eddie goes to New York to stay with the dying man but their time together only brings back the memories of his anguished childhood. He meets up with Gwen, who now has a child, she claims to not know who the father is. Gwen is living with another man, Charles, who asks nothing from her, even when she has affairs with other men, he is there for her.

The Arrangement lc2   Florence comes to New York, only to find Eddie back with Gwen (she literally finds them in bed together). Convinced that he is still unbalanced she make arrangements with the way too friendly family lawyer, Arthur (Hume Cronyn) to have him hospitalized. Eddie, who after a lifetime of being what everyone else wants only wants to be himself even if that means staying in a mental hospital. Gwen comes to get him out and they agree to make another go at a life together. When his father dies, at the cemetery Eddie is there with Gwen, Florence stands close to the family lawyer, her arm in his. They all seem to be okay with the arrangement.

Kazan wanted Marlon Brando for the role of Eddie, but Brando was reluctant to take on the role. Weather it was a fear of working with the man he did some of his greatest work with or it was too soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, which Brando claimed, he turned Kazan down.  The alternative choice was Kirk Douglas, which probably hurt the film. Nothing against Douglas but Brando would have brought a sensitivity and depth that Douglas lacks. Faye Dunaway, who first worked with Kazan in a Lincoln Center production of Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall”, gives a perfectly pitched  performance as Gwen, a woman working in a man’s world, intelligent enough to rebel with wit and strength. She seems to have little respect for the men she worked with or for.

The Arrangement lc1  A criticism at the time of its release is the film was too choppy and Kazan could not find the key to slim down the massive book into a two hour cohesive film. What works for me is Dunaway’s performance, and by the way, she never looked better, plus a couple of other interesting scenes, one between Eddie and Florence at the boathouse and the scenes with Eddie and his father, Sam. “The Arrangement” is a hard film to recommend. It is slow in spots and I’ m sure some will find it disjointed and dull but if you look, you still see Kazan’s touch, the outsiders, in both Eddie and Gwen, a theme that he has used over the course of his brilliant career.

Boomerang! (1947) Elia Kazan

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A Priest is shot and killed one evening on the streets of Stamford, Connecticut. Based on a true story in   Reader’s Digest, written by Richard Oursler, director Elia Kazan, in this 1947 film focuses on the investigation and accusation of an innocent man, a homeless ex-serviceman trying to get his life together, who is accused of this infamous murder. Filmed mainly in Stamford with mostly non-professional actors except for the leading roles, produced by Louis de Rochemont, and released by 20th Century Fox, the film has a semi-documentary style similar to the previously released “House on 92nd Street” and the then forthcoming “The Street with No Name”, both released by Fox.

The film’s opening statement informs the audience that this is a true story filmed in the actual locations. As with most films even when claiming the story you are about to see is true the facts are at least somewhat distorted. The actual crime took place Bridgeport, Connecticut not Stamford where most of the film was made. Additionally, the real life crime took place more than two decades earlier, in 1924, than it is recorded here. The move to Stamford was due to the reluctance of the town of Bridgeport to allow 20th Century Fox to film in their streets, subsequently Stamford was used as a substitute.

Boomerang_R1_00407_ff   The murder of Father Lambert is quick and sudden right as the film begins. We are barely two minutes into the film proper when a gun is put to the back of the pastor’s head and the trigger is pulled. Even today, it is a shocking beginning.  “Witnesses” seem to be everywhere though the camera only shows the murder suspect from the back wearing a dark overcoat and a light hat which in late 1940’s America was just about every man in the street.

Flashbacks, with the assistance of a narrator reveal how beloved the minister was by all. We see him interact with his flock in several situations including, as we will soon discover, one individual who will become the alleged suspect, John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy). We also see a conversation the pastor has with another individual who he demands seeks help for his mental condition. If he refuses, the pastor will make the call himself. The man is plainly upset at what the pastor is attempting to do and as we shall realize provides a hint, and a motive, at whom the real murderer could be.

As the days pass by without an arrest, the police are criticized by the local newspaper for not making any progress in the case stating city hall is running around like chickens without a head.  Finally, eighteen days after the crime, the suspect John Waldron is apprehended in Ohio, where he went searching for a job, and is brought back to Connecticut. A harsh police interrogation coerces a confession out of Waldron. Early on, during the interrogation, Waldron had asked for a lawyer and Police Chief Harold Robinson (Lee J Cobb) tells him there is plenty of time for a lawyer later on. So much for civil rights. The evidence against Waldon seems solid. He is picked out of a lineup by local citizens who witnessed the shooting. The gun that fired the bullet was found in his possession and of course, he confessed, signing with the assistance of the police department’s interrogation techniques.Boomerang_1

State’s Attorney Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) is presenting the case. The local warring politicians want Waldron convicted, whether he is guilty or not does not seem to be an issue. Harvey’s cronies are encouraging him to run for Governor, only he has to win this case. While the evidence at first seems solid against Waldron as Harvey begins to review and test the evidence he finds it is not as sound as originally presented. The “witnesses” are as not as perfect as first thought. When the case goes to court, Harvey goes against the political heavyweights demanding conviction, as his doubts about the guilt of the accused mounts.

    In  Boomerang!  corrupt politicians are purely out for there own gains or protection. The townspeople want justice i.e. revenge for the death of their beloved minister even if the wrong man is convicted. The police department is squeezed in the middle being pressured by both the politicians and the public for “justice.”  For Kazan, this was the first time he touched on the subject of corruption, a topic he would revisit in more detail in later films. Here, he seems to be somewhat restrained maybe still believing that most political officials were honest and decent folks with no personal agendas. Kazan was still in the early stages of his film career and “Boomerang!”  was pretty much a job for hire.  What Boomerang! did do for Kazan was introduce him to the benefits and realism of shooting on location, freeing him of the studio bound restrictions of his first two films. Location shooting would be something he would pursue in his best works, films like “On the Waterfront”, “Panic in the Streets” “Viva Zapata”, “Wild River” and others. Kazan does credit Boomerang!” for setting the tone of his development and style as a filmmaker. In Jeff Young’s interview book “The Master Director Discusses His Films”, Kazan states, In “Boomerang!” I think, is the basis for “Panic in the Streets” and in “Panic in the Streets” is the basis for “On the Waterfront.” If you see these three films together, you’ll see the development.”

The acting highlight is the young Arthur Kennedy as the ex-veteran  John Waldron who previously worked with Kazan in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” in the role of Biff Loman. Of course, part of that same cast in that brilliant work was Lee J. Cobb who played Willy Loman. Cobb would lose out to Fredric March in the 1951 film version of  “Death of a Salesman”, but would get the chance some 15 years later to put his mark on film in a 1966 TV production for which he won an Emmy. Cobb owns the role of Willy Loman like Brando owns “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

200px-Boomerang%21  Kazan was comfortable with Cobb and Kennedy, actors from the same theater background as himself, as opposed to Hollywood trained actors like Dana Andrews and Jane Wyatt. This is reflected on screen with Andrews particularly coming off as if his is “acting.” He seems a bit stiff and unnatural as opposed to Cobb and Kennedy’s organic performances. This clash in performing styles is made obvious in scenes where the opposing actors appear together. Sam Levene is the local newspaper reporter who writes hard-hitting articles attacking the police amateur style investigation of the crime. Also, look for another Kazan favorite, an early unbilled appearance by Karl Malden as one of the detectives.  Finally, playwright Arthur Miller, has a small role as one of the suspects in the lineup.

As the film ends the narrator announces that the character of States Attorney Henry Harvey was based on that of Homer Cummings who would go on the become Attorney General of the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Boomerang!” is not first class Kazan, here he was still learning his craft. That said, the film is his first that deals with the social issues that would consume most of his future work, issues that would be explored in more detail in films like “Gentlemen’s Agreement”,  “On the Waterfront”, “Wild River” and “A Face in the Crowd.” “Boomerang!”  remains a solid if not spectacular piece of work.

The Movie Projector on IMDB Hit List

 

Our good friend R.D. Finch and his excellent blog have again (wow!) made the IMDB Hit List with his fantastic article on Billy Wilder’s “Love in the Afternoon” which is his contribution the  LAMB’s Director’s Chair Tribute to Billy Wilder.

Way to go! Check out R.D.’s  article here.