The Visitors (1972) Elia Kazan

IMG_1395One of the earliest films about the American involvement in Vietnam is the little known A Yank in Vietnam (1964). The film was directed by and starred Marshall Thompson. It was made in Vietnam before the escalation, the large buildup of American troops, and the anti-war fever back at home. Produced during these early years of the conflict, the film is free of all the political baggage that came only a few years later.  As the American involvement in the war grew and the war became more and more unpopular at home, Hollywood saw Vietnam as a hot potato to be avoided. Continue reading

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A Face in the Crowd (1957) Elia Kazan

I originally had Orson Welles “Touch of Evil” scheduled for today, however, with the death of Andy Griffith earlier this week I decided to repost an old review of A Face in the Crowd I wrote a few years ago for the now defunct website Halo-17. Then the horror struck. I had no copy of my original review saved! The website was shut down, so I could not even retrieve anything from on-line. I generally keep a copy of all my reviews on my PC, but this one apparently got away. All I could find was a paragraph of notes I had taken for background. Still determined to put out a review, I began with those notes and, though a bit rushed, came up with what you will read here. It is not the best, but it will have to do.  Oh yeah, Welles Touch of Evil, which has been brewing on the back burner for a month or so now, has been rescheduled once again, and will  appear here two weeks from today.

The rise of the media star as an influence in our lives has never been greater. From Presidential politics to what we watch on television and listen to on the radio; the media star influence’s us all.  Oprah Winfrey can persuade millions on what book to read or who to vote for in an upcoming election. Since the 1950’s the power of television cannot be under estimated. Mass communication was now available at a level undreamed of and unavailable before. As far back as the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, when the camera revealed JFK as good looking, confident and in control, while his opponent then Vice-President Richard Nixon appeared with a five o’clock shadow and a sweaty brow, the use of television had the power to shape voters opinions and ideas then and ever since. In the most recent Presidential debates, between Obama and McCain in 2008 your saw it once again. As Obama explained his policies, the camera showed McCain tightlipped and anxious, almost itchy or unwilling to wait for Obama to finish so he could jump in. Continue reading

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.

A Face in the Crowd (1957) Elia Kazan

With the Film Forum in New York doing a three week  tribute to the work of Elia Kazan, I thought it would be a good time to provide a link to a review I wrote on this film for Halo-17.

Click here for the Film Forum web site

Click here for my Halo-17 review

Click here here for my short tribute to screenwriter Budd Shulberg. 

Books about Elia KazanAmerica, America
The Master Director Discusses His Films (Jeff Young)
Elia Kazan: A Biography (Richard Schickel)
A Life (Elia Kazan)
Kazan on Directing (Kazan and Lahr)
Kazan on Kazan (Michel Ciment)

Novels by Elia Kazan
The Arrangement
The Assassins
The Understudy
America, America
Acts of Love
The Anatolian

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