In the opening scenes of Seven Days in May we find picketers from both sides demonstrating outside the White House. Tempers are high. A riot breaks out, and the police come in attempting to break up what has turned into a free for all. Those divisive times were more than fifty years ago. It’s amazing how times have not changed. Today it is no different, tolerance and respect are in short supply. For many of us, emotions are driven by fear. We live in a period where Americans fear foreigners, terrorists, North Korea, Iran, Nuclear war and more. Fear drives irrational behavior. Continue reading
One of the earliest films depicting Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and the gunfight at the OK Corral was a 1932 work called Law and Order. While the character’s names were changed, the film told the tale, fictitious as it was, of the infamous Tombstone shootout. Since the making of that film there have been numerous others detailing, correctly or incorrectly, generally more the latter, the story of the battle between the Earp Brothers and the Clanton’s’ at the OK Corral. In 1939, there was Frontier Marshal with Randolph Scott as Earp and Cesar Romero as Doc Holiday. According to Jon Tuska in his 1976 tomb on the Western film (The Filming of the West), it was this script that was given to John Ford and was used as the basis for his My Darling Clementine. Continue reading
Jules Dassin’s Brute Force is a brutally, cruel, claustrophobic prison film that will turn your knuckles bloody to the skin. This was the director’s first venture into the world of film noir. It has a tough hard core texture, thanks to not only Dassin’s sharp direction, but the cinematography of William H. Daniels (The Naked City, Lured) and the music score of Miklós Rózsa (Ministry of Fear, Woman in Hiding). Continue reading
Here are five short reviews of some recent viewings that are all over the genre map.
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a beautifully shot big Hollywood version of the famed Tombstone shootout as the Earp Brothers face down the Clantons. Burt Lancaster makes for a stoic Wyatt Earp, a hard ass who totes the line. Kirk Douglas does his best impersonation of himself as the alcoholic, tuberculosis ridden, Doc Holliday. The story itself is pretty fictionalized. Johnny Ringo, for example, died before the shootout, and the real life shootout only lasted only about 30 seconds. Then there is Jo Van Fleet, who only two years earlier played James Dean’s mother in East of Eden, as Kate Fisher, Doc Holliday’s female companion. In real Earp lore, Kate was known as “Big Nose” Kate. But then who cares about all that. Watching the two stars interact makes this a fun watch. Continue reading
Based on Lucille Fletcher’s highly popular radio play, “Sorry, Wrong Number” was brought to the screen in 1948 by producer Hal B. Wallis and Paramount. The film was directed by Anatole Litvak and stars Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. The original radio show featured Agnes Moorehead and was primarily a tense one woman dialogue for the complete twenty-two minute show. The program was so popular, Moorehead reprised her role several times over the years, but when Wallis and Paramount purchased the property, they decided Moorehead was not a big enough star for the lead role in the film. So here came Stanwyck who had just signed a contract with Wallis making this her first film under the new agreement.
To expand the original short radio script into a feature film, Lucille Fletcher “opened” up her original story which she accomplished by adding a series of flashbacks and even some flashbacks within flashbacks, expanding the role of the husband, played by Lancaster. Fletcher would also turn the screenplay into a novel the same year the movie was released.
Stanwyck is Leona Stevenson, the bed ridden wealthy invalid, neurotic to the core, with more pills on her end table than Pfizer Inc. produces in a month of Sundays. She is confined to her lavish bedroom apartment, overlooking the New York City skyline. One evening Leona, attempting to call her boy toy husband Henry, accidently due to crossed telephone lines, overhears two men discussing a murder plot. She calls the police, then her father and finally her doctor, but no one believes her. Continue reading
The film opens with a magnificent opening aerial shot, the camera roaming over the Los Angeles night soon descending on our two doomed protagonists, Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) and his former wife, Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo) embracing passionately in a nightclub parking lot. The sultry Anna promising Steve they will be together, the way it was meant to be. The eyebrows of knowing film noir lovers will be raised, because as you know, in this dark world, a woman’s promise of eternal love to a man is a death trap with no way out. Steve is the prototype film noir sap, head over heels stuck on a dame who is no good, pure evil, only he is too blind to see. Blinded by love and sex, he is a pawn in a game he does not even know he is playing, while all the dame sees is dollars signs. Men are only there to be used by this kind of woman. Love? Love is a loser’s game. Her motto, as she tells the dumb sap late in the film, “you have to look out for yourself.” Continue reading
This review is part of the FOR THE LOVE OF FILM: THE FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON to benefit the film noir foundation who work for the restoration of decaying noir films. The blogathon runs from Feb. 14th through Feb. 21st. For more information on how you can help by donating please check out our blogathon hosts, The Self Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films.
Here is a link to the organization’s facebook page.
“The Killers” is a hard-boiled film noir that starred an unknown 32-year actor making his film debut and a contract player from MGM, of limited talent, with little in her filmography at that point in time, to prove she would amount to anything. “The Killers” is intricate and visually stunning with its black blacks and pure white whites. Just take a look at the opening scene when the two killers arrive in town, the film is a dark fatalistic work of photographic beauty, a visual feast of light, darkness and shadows. Credit goes to director Robert Siodmak and cinematographer Elwood “Woody” Bredell. The opening is also enhanced by Miklos Rozsa’s music, which may sound familiar to some who remember the theme from the old TV police show “Dragnet.”
Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers”, written in a hotel room in Madrid sometime in 1926, first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine in March 1927. The story is characteristic of themes that would continue to emerge in Hemingway’s work, the inescapability of death and the emptiness of life. Producer, newspaper columnist and theater critic, Mark Hellinger purchased the film rights for $36,750. Hemingway’s story is about two killers who come to the small town of Summit, Ill. (changed to Brentwood, New Jersey in the movie), looking for a man known as The Swede. Why is never said. Most of the short story takes place in Henry’s Diner where The Swede is known to come for dinner most nights. Hemingway’s story ends after Nick Adams, Hemingway perennial character, and a customer in the diner at the same time the two killers show up and announce they are going to kill The Swede, sneaks out to warn him of the two men out to kill him. The Swedes’ fatalistic resolve that there is nowhere left to run, to just remain where he is, accepting the consequences is where the short story ends. It leaves open a multitude of questions. What did The Swede do that these two guys want to kill him. Who hired them? Why has The Swede given up running readily accepting his doomed fate? Continue reading
“A man don’t go his own way, he’s nothin’” – Robert E. Lee Prewitt
Based on James Jones massive bestseller, Fred Zinnemann’s film version of “From Here to Eternity” won eight Academy Awards out of 13 nominations including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. Daniel Taradash, who wrote the screenplay, and won an Oscar, does a magnificent job of reducing Jones more than 800 page novel into a two-hour film. The film had to be toned down for both sex and its anti-military sentiment. The latter, so Columbia would receive cooperation from the military and the former due to the restrictions of the then in force production code.
The story begins with the transfer of Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) to a rifle company headed up by Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober). When Holmes learns of Prewitt’s ability as a boxer, he wants him to join the company’s boxing team. Prewitt, who previously blinded another boxer in the ring, does not want to box. Holmes First Sergeant, Milton Walden (Burt Lancaster), he actually runs the unit for the ineffective Captain, suggest that they make “life” difficult for Prewitt forcing him into submission by getting other non-commission officers under his command to help “persuade” him to box. Prewitt is a man who goes his own way and can take whatever is dished out by the Sergeants, still refusing to box. Walden in the meantime has his eyes on the Captain’s beautiful neglected and unhappy wife, Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) and they soon begin an affair. Prewitt meets an old friend, the streetwise loser Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra). Together they go out to the New Congress Club, a dance club where they can meet girls. It’s here Prewitt meets Lorene (Donna Reed). While at the New Congress Club, Maggio, having too much to drink, gets into his first altercation with Fatso Judson (Ernest Borgnine), the sadistic Sergeant in charge of the Stockade. The fight is quickly broken up by Prewitt. Walden and Karen meet at a secluded beach for a romantic interlude. Here Karen tells Walden how early in her marriage she discovered her husband’s philandering and that during one of his more violent drunken episodes she miscarried their child and now is unable to bear any more children.
At Choy’s bar, a drunken Maggio gets into another mix with Fatso, who pulls out a switchblade. Walden, who is watching, breaks a beer bottle in half and steps in between the two. He tells Fatso, if he wants a fight, fight with him. Fatso backs down, promising Maggio that someday he will get him, saying his type always end up in the stockade eventually. Prewitt and Lorene continue to see each other. She tells Prewitt her real name is Alma and gives him a key to the apartment she shares with another girl. Prewitt’s harsh “treatment” by the non-commissioned officers continues however, he continues to take it never complaining. On another night’s leave, Prewitt and Maggio get ready to go out on the town, only Maggio is slow in getting ready and is the last man in the barracks when the Officer of the Day grabs him for guard duty. Upset Maggio goes AWOL while on guard duty and is quickly arrested and court-martialed. He is sentenced to six months in the stockade where he comes face to face with Fatso and his billy club. Karen wants Walden to sign up for officer training school so he can be transferred back to the states. She will then divorce Holmes and they can marry. Walden who hates officers reluctantly agrees.
Prewitt is forced into a fight with one of the Sergeants from the boxing team. A group of soldiers gathers to watch, including Captain Holmes, who does nothing to stop the fight until the Sergeant starts losing. Senior officers have been watching from afar wondering why Holmes is not stopping the fight. A few nights later, Walden and Prewitt are sitting on the side of a road drunk when Maggio, badly beaten up, appears. He escaped from the stockade not being able to take Fatso’s brutal beatings anymore. Maggio dies in Prews arms. The following night, Prewitt looks for Fatso and finds him coming of out the New Congress Club. Switchblades are drawn and Prewitt knifes Fatso to death however, Prewitt has been stabbed badly too. Wounded he makes his way to Lorene’s apartment where he remains as he recuperates. Walden covers up for Prewitt’s AWOL for the next few days. Meanwhile, Karen asks Walden if he submitted his application for officer training and he tells her he did not. On the eve of December 7th, they split up realizing their dreams of a life together could only be a fantasy.
The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor the next morning. Prewitt, still recuperating at Lorene’s, hears on the radio about the attack and realizing his duty as a solider wants to get back to Schofield Barracks. Lorene pleads with him not to go; after all, what did the Army ever do for him, other that treat him like crap. As he tries to sneak back to the base, Prewitt is shot by a nervous guard when he does not stop after several cries of halt. When Walden arrives, the guard asks why didn’t he stop? “He was just too stubborn!” Walden replies.
A few days later, Karen and Lorene are evacuated by ship. As they leave the port heading back to the states. Lorene tells Karen her fiancé was a pilot who shot down during the attack. However, Karen recognizes Prewitt’s name realizing Lorene’s fantasy ending.
For me, the key role in “From Here to Eternity” is that of Robert E. Lee Prewitt, as portrayed by Montgomery Clift. It is Prewitt who drives what I see as the major theme of the film, that of how does someone maintain his individuality in a system that demands conformity. Prewitt will not turn his back on his own moral code, not even for the Army that he loves so much. Walden knows how to play the game; in the military there is no room for individuality; you must conform for the good of the “team.” He sees Prewitt as just being stubborn. Prewitt’s rebellion is that of a person who knows who he is in life. Unlike Brando’s 50’s rebels in “A Street Name Desire” and especially in “The Wild One”, Prewitt is not rebelling just for the sake of rebelling, he is standing up for his own principles which are in conflict with the system, in this case, the Army that he loves and wants to be apart of. However, he will not succumb to their demands if it means breaking with his own moral ideas. Additionally, unlike James Dean whose rebellion in both “East of Eden” and “Rebel without a Cause” are both centered on young mixed up teens trying to find themselves by rebelling against ineffective parents. Prewitt is no kid; he knows who he is and what he wants. Prewitt is also representative of director Fred Zinnemann whose main characters often were subject to moral predicaments in films like “High Noon”, “The Nun’s Story” and “A Man for All Seasons.”
Censorship restrictions at the time forced many changes and toning down, from novel to screen. The New Congress Club where Prew meets Lorene, a whorehouse in the book, became a “Gentlemen’s Club” and the girls went from whores to “hostesses.” The affair between Walden and Kerr was a lot more explicit in the novel than it is in the film. Despite the toning down, the movie still steams sex. Deborah Kerr never looked sexier than she does in this movie. We first see her in a tight fitting sweater as she walks around the base looking for her philandering husband and later on in shorts when Walden make an unexpected visit to her house. There is also the iconic beach scene with the ocean’s waves washing over Lancaster and Kerr bodies that steamed up the screen and still does. It is still surprising how much did get passed the censors. This may have been to some extent due to the casting of Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed in the female leading roles. Both women had “pure” screen reputations, so maybe the censors were more lenient or not paying as much attention. After not seeing this film for a longtime, I was surprised by how short the beach scene is, yet it has resonated strongly in our cinematic erogenous zones.
Performances are all around excellent and this is confirmed by the acting awards and nominations the film received. Both Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift received Best Actor nominations, Deborah Kerr, Best Actress and Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed both received Academy Awards in their respective Best Supporting categories. Ernest Borgnine deserves much credit for his role as Fatso Judson the sadist stockade Sergeant.
“From Here to Eternity” is overflowing with actors in small roles who would become better known later on, Jack Warden, Mickey Shaunessey, Bruce Cabot, Claude Akins, Joan Shawlee and George Reeves who was already portraying Superman on TV. The novel (1951) was James Jones first, followed by “Some Came Running”, “The Pistol” and “The Thin Red Line.” In all, Jones published 10 books; his last novel was released posthumously after being completed by Willie Morris. In 1951, the book was the winner of National Book Award for fiction. Jones based “From Here to Eternity” on his own experiences while stationed in Hawaii though most of the story is said to be fiction. It is ranked 62nd in the Modern Library’s list of Top 100 novels. The book is considered, along with Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead” among the best novels depicting the American soldier in the South Pacific during the World War II era.