Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ONE EYED JACKS (1961)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 50 of 50)


Marlon Brando's historically troubled Western has apparently gone through critical re-evaluation over the years to have gained enough respect to be included in the 1001 movie book.

Stanley Kubrick was originally going to be the director, but had creative differences with the temperamental leading man and quit (or was fired, depending on whose account you read). It does make you wonder what innovations Kubrick would have brought to the film, but it was just not to be. The finished film was also seen by many (including that temperamental leading man and others) as being butchered by the studios. 

But what is left is a fairly standard revenge plot which benefits greatly from Brando's screen presence. It's a bit long, but if you are a fan of the genre or Brando, it's certainly worth watching.

It's also interesting to see Brando and Karl Malden in a much different teaming than in A Streetcar Named Desire.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Elisha Cook, Jr. Probably on merit, I should give the supporting award to Western character actor legends Ben Johnson or Slim Pickens, but I'm not going to deny Elisha his own award on my very last Elisha Cook award entry!

Elisha doesn't appear until late in the film as a bank teller. Keep in mind this is a film about a big bank robbery and you probably are going to figure out that Mr. Cook isn't going to survive for very long in this movie. But the meek bank teller at least gets to get in a couple of shots of his own before heading to the great character actor heaven in the sky (as he does in almost every film he was ever in) about five minutes after he first appears in the movie.


Here's to you Mr. Cook!


Saturday, July 25, 2015

MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 49 of 50)


"The most depressing damn film I've ever seen!" Or something to that effect was Orson Welles's commentary on Make Way For Tomorrow.

Leo McCarey's film is about a families struggle with what to do about aging parents with nowhere to go. Comparable to Ozu's Tokyo Story, it is a rarity among Hollywood movies of the time (and today for that matter) to deal with older people and their struggles as a main focus. It's also a rarity that there are no headline stars to be seen, which actually works in the film's favor. A gem of a movie in my book.


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Pretty much the whole cast

Victor Moore  

As the patriarch of the Cooper clan, Victor Moore plays a rare lead role here that demonstrates a lot of poignancy, resolve, but still demonstrates a lot of feistiness. I love when someone asks him if he used to be a bookkeeper and he exclaims, "I'm still a bookkeeper!" Moore played supporting roles in many movies, including: The Awful Truth, Swing Time and Gold Diggers of 1937. His final screen credit is as plumber in The Seven Year Itch. 



Beulah Bondi

As the sympathetic matriarch of the Cooper clan, Bondi was playing a much older woman than she was at the time and does so very believably. Bondi's many supporting roles include playing Jimmy Stewart's mother in both It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!




Thomas Mitchell

Mitchell plays the oldest son here, who is torn between doing what is
right for his family and still trying to somehow take care of his 
aging parents.
Mitchell was definitely one of Hollywood's golden age supporting all-stars, co-starring in Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Only Angels Have Wings and winning an Oscar for Stagecoach all in the same year!
He may be best known today for his role of the absent-minded Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life, where Beulah Bondi plays his sister-in-law.  





Fay Bainter

Fay Bainter plays Mitchell's wife, who definitely doesn't want to take care of his aging parents, but her role is far from just being a one-dimensional heavy. She is real in her needs and not totally uncaring. One of the things that is good about this film is that the characters aren't painted in black and white colors. Interesting that Bainter's daughter in the film actually does bond with her grandmother. Long time supporting stalwart Bainter won an Supporting Oscar the next year in William Wyler's Jezebel.




Porter Hall
I almost gave Porter hall the Elisha Cook award for this role as the editor in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole. Other 1001 movie roles for Porter include the witness in Double Indemnity and parts in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, His Girl Friday and The Thin Man. In Make Way for Tomorrow, he has one scene as a grumpy son-in-law who doesn’t want the old folks to move in with his family.                        

                              
Lousie Beavers

Other than Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers was the most frequently seen African-American actress in Hollywood movies during the golden age of Hollywood. She plays a sympathetic role here, but as with most all of her roles she was relegated to playing a servant or domestic of some kind. If you look at the list of name of her characters you get an idea-Mamie, Pearl, Mammy, Mattie, Mammy Lou, Petunia, Opal, Bedelia...and her televison role as Beulah. Sometimes her billing was just as "The Maid." A later role in the 50's film Imitation of Life got Louise the best reviews of her career.



 
Maurice Moscovitch  

Russian born Jew Moscovitch only had a brief Hollywood career, but I liked his role as the sympathetic friend to Mr. Cooper enough to give him a mention. He also had a part in Chaplin's The Great Dictator, relased the year of Moscovitch's death in 1940.


Ray Mayer

The main problem I have with Ray Mayer in Make Way for Tomorrow is that there isn't enough of him! He's the one child that seems to know what is going on and puts his smart aleck mouth to good use as much as possible. But after his opening scene, we don't see a whole lot of him. The movie cold have used more of his take on the family dynamic.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

MURDER, MY SWEET (1944)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 48 of 50)


When I think of Raymond Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe, I naturally first think of Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. One might also conjure up Elliot Gould's version in The Long Goodbye or Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely. But I never pictured Dick Powell as Marlowe, mainly because I know him mostly as the juvenile musical lead in Busby Berkley films such as Goldiggers of 1933. But all perceptions aside, he turns out to be a pretty good Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet. Tough and smart-mouthed, and a guy who likes his dames, booze and money. If you watched one of Powell's early musicals right before you saw Murder, My Sweet, you'd hardly think it was the same actor.

The plot of Murder, My Sweet is a variation of Chandler's Farewell My Lovely. It's a very moody piece that features a nice drug induced dream sequence. Chandler's dialogue and Marlowe's snappy narration are sure to please noir fans. It may not be regarded as quite the classic that The Big Sleep is, but at least the plot of Murder, My Sweet is easier to follow!


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Otto Kruger. Otto's debonair looks and German heritage assured him of playing mostly villains in films in the 30's and 40's. He plays the suave but untrustworthy Jules Amthor here and does it all with a sophistication that is a nice contrast to his less refined associate Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurski). 

Otto also played a heavy in Hitchcock's Saboteur and later played the sheriff in High Noon. I also found a clip of Otto in the 1933 film The Women in His Life, which has a scene with Otto (sophisticated as always) playing a game of pinball of all things! Otto later re-teamed with Dick Powell to appear in a couple of episodes of TV's Dick Powell Theater in the early 60's. 


Otto Kruger watches as Mike Mazurski does the dirty work
on Philip Malowe in Murder, My Sweet.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

JOHNNY GUITAR (1954)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 47 of 50)


A Western that features a posse, criminal gangs, double crosses, revenge, and a retired gunslinger named Johnny Guitar. But ultimately, this film relies heavily on the complex relationship between the female leads (a middle-aged Joan Crawford and the plain-Jane Mercedes McCambridge). I've never liked either of them more than in this film and they are both fun to watch.

Joan is stoic, but strong casino owner Violette, whose past may be catching up to her with the return of ex-flame Johnny Guitar. Mercedes is Emma, whose unrequited love for bank robber The Dancing Kid leads her to lash out at everybody, but she saves her most special animus for Violette. 

Certainly a must for Western fans.


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..The ultimate showdown might feature the ladies, but there are a lot of good male supporting players here, including past Elisha Cook Award winners Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine and Paul Fix. 

But I'm giving it this time to John Carradine, who in this film plays the sympathetic schlep who is loyal to a fault to Vienna and can't seem to get anyone to notice him until his big death scene.

Carradine played in hundreds of movies and television shows throughout his long career, including the Christ figure (or was it John the Baptist?) in The Grapes of Wrath,  the southern gentleman in Stagecoach, and Dracula in House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein.

But I gotta tell you, the first thing I still think of when I think of John Carradine is his comic turn in Woody Allen's Everything you wanted to know about sex, where he plays a doctor whose sexual experiments have turned him mad. "They laughed at me at Masters and Johnsons! But I showed them!"