Naples Is a Battlefield
“What Mussolini’s war had done” by the time Allied forces entered the ruined city in 1943.
A swift, complete, monumental documentary of the city put back together again from the pieces, a report from the front, a model for the peacetime effort on such simple matters as water and power and food for a million people, restoring the markets for farmers, resuming the life of the city, all in little more than a reel of film.
The Bespoke Overcoat
The Gogolian nightmare of the tailor and the machine-goods clerk.
Arrangement by Wolf Mankowitz, score by Georges Auric, cinematography by Wolfgang Suschitzky.
Academy Award, short film prize in Venice.
Room at the Top
Stroheim for the fable, Clayton resolves the famous and tragic antinomy. All poetry is in the luminous moon that sinks beyond Sparrow Hill for Joe Lampton’s new day, but it leaves him with a few tears.
The technical acumen already in The Bespoke Overcoat is steady and fluid. Halliwell’s remark, one of the most curious in all of film criticism, mistakes Laurence Harvey’s authentic, brilliant performance for some sort of inadvertence.
Clayton’s title is part of the great effect, James has The Turn of the Screw to give the thing a fair flavor of the Inquisition.
Two orphaned children are deposited with their uncle, a careless rogue, he hires a governess for them on his country estate and remains in town or on his travels.
The governess becomes convinced that the children are “possessed”. She is a spinster lady, the grounds are redolent of music, nature and art mingle there in grotesqueries unto her imagination.
More than one writer has failed to see the contribution of CinemaScope to the breadth of vision Clayton has achieved. The main effort is photographic, every effort is made to establish the scene on film and not as a “succession of images”, although there are plenty. Intense preparations for every shot and sequence go into the final result, and furthermore Clayton takes in hand the editing by dissolves with a conscious, deliberate step toward montage, many things left up in the air but not lost sight of, able to include more than one category of interpretation, all the while Freddie Francis is busy turning the finely-gauged dramatic scenes into a perfect widescreen chiaroscuro with the greatest care.
The Pumpkin Eater
Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case has this same widow, who has no interest in her husband’s work because in the earlier film there was almost nothing but that, his foolish work (and here we see his colleagues come to his home for a cocktail party, fools, dolts, and madmen).
The wife and mother, clearly seen alive to her children and her husband, nonpareil on her turf, butchered, bullied, always the same.
The structure is the rhyme, she’s ill at ease until her husband keeps her properly (Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence).
Sterilization means going blank on the screen, the roving camera finds a light fixture and dollies in.
The new King of Israel is with her, she has enemies. The outside world does not have many attractions, none to compare.
Her husband is a screenwriter. “I am the King of Judah” appears in the screenplay to indicate the provenance of the work, and its intention.
Two lines of criticism have appeared, that The Pumpkin Eater is a soap opera ennobled by its cast, that it is a mystery by way of a critique.
Our Mother’s House
The charlady departs, the old woman cops it (cf. Bergman’s Cries and Whispers), her so many children bury her in the garden, “away to the seaside” (cf. Dearden’s Life For Ruth).
The kids literally worship her memory in a sort of séance and forge her signature on the monthly cheque, “no-one will ever know the difference!”
“What else did you do?”
“Mother wants to know.”
“You were vulgar, weren’t you?” The sin of a collabo, away to Coventry. The arrival of Louie at teatime recalls To Kill a Mockingbird (dir. Robert Mulligan).
“Our father”, return of the charlady, “the story about the peacock with a wooden leg.”
“Dunno what happens to grownups in this house, I really don’t.” The prophecy of Simeon. The ending of The Birds (dir. Alfred Hitchcock), “I’ve got it in my pocket.”
A thoroughgoing critique of Christendom, which is seen to have fallen into a degraded Mother Church that crucifies Christ.
The point of departure is Kierkegaard’s distinction between Christendom and Christianity. The precedent is Buñuel’s L’Age d’Or. It is reported that Clayton and Bogarde were dissatisfied with the result, though Britmovie does not say why, and the only possible explanation of this can be found in the cheers given by some aficionados at a recent screening when Charlie Hook is murdered. The very care with which the authors of this film have laid out its highly complicated and abstruse structure may have proven the point more effectively than they had wished.
After establishing the fallen Church as a family of orphans, the film introduces the Savior as seen by some contemporaries, a winebibber, convive of sinners, breaker of the Law, putting out money to ill purposes, and preaching against Jerusalem as an harlot, whereupon he is instantly put to death.
The whole enterprise is couched in the form of a suburban tale that might be read in the newspapers, and this has placed critics at a disadvantage. It’s one thing to present the parables of Jesus onscreen, as George Stevens did in The Greatest Story Ever Told, but to present a modern parable of the Second Coming involves a set of surrealistic processes weaving many strands of thought (out of Song of Solomon 3:1-4, read by Elsa Hook) over far-reaching displacements of symbolism, so that difficulties abound.
They are diffused throughout the drama by extraordinary efforts on the part of Clayton and his cinematographer Larry Pizer to film it all with an equal viewpoint treating children and adults all alike. The complex dramaturgy sometimes catches the natural tones of childhood, at other times a dramatic attitude, in a fluctuating parlance that gives a picture of children as strange little adults and their elders as big strange children.
That is why, in spite of the theatricality of the entire conception, reviewers have remarked on the realism of the children. The entire film is seen from their point of view, and they are directed peerlessly by Clayton in the footsteps of Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies (not to mention The Pumpkin Eater and The Innocents).
By a remarkable coincidence, Our Mother’s House lost the Golden Lion in Venice that year to Buñuel’s Belle de jour. Michael Winner shortly has in The Nightcomers a further analysis of the vicar’s daughter and the spiv, from The Innocents.
Dan Sullivan (New York Times), “in a sense, Our Mother’s House would be a much better movie were it less sensitively drawn—were Mr. Bogarde, for example, an out-and-out villain. Then we could simply sit back and root for the children as they react to his desecration of Mother's memory.” Variety, “not to be considered in any way a kiddie pic.” Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), “it is, I suppose, a horror film.” Time Out, “not quite as persuasive as it could have been”. Drewe Shimon (Britmovie), “you find yourself strangely drawn to such a place.” The irony of Sullivan’s reflection was entirely lost on Hal Erickson (Rovi), among others. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “too silly”, citing Tom Milne, “the whole structure collapses.”
The Great Gatsby
The rich can afford even what isn’t theirs, but “the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Critics retreated behind the Great American Novel like Huntington admitting that a 10¢ Douay will serve the turn of a Gutenberg.
The human tides, the ashen waste land, the sodden hypocrites, the gangster maven.
Clayton’s palimpsests approach the Fitzgerald nexus of God as advertisement, his dissolves inform the next scene more completely even than in The Innocents.
The tragedy is Paradise Lost, Eve having bit, Adam must follow.
The monumental technique is an adaptation to color, actuated by perfect control of rapid action like the near-fight in the Plaza Hotel and the death of Gatsby.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
The dimensions of Bradbury and Clayton exist as well as James and Clayton in The Innocents, to a somewhat antithetical end (cp., for instance, George Pal’s The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao).
The fault of the production is latter-day Disney’s vague ideas on what little boys are made of. Arthur Hill is brought in to narrate a memoir geared down to this error.
The film survives the central mistake (and Horner for Delerue) as a masterpiece for the writer and the director, too vast and great to be diminished by stylistic fumbling.
The library with its spiral staircase in Robert Wise’s The Haunting is splendidly recognizable under all the décor, and the Child Catcher from Ken Hughes’ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The satanic circus that does not free, as in Pal’s film, but enslaves is brought on by melancholia, which is to say Sloth as the instigator of all the deadly sins in Dürer’s analysis.
The Strangers on a Train merry-go-round finale adds another parallel or mirror.
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
Her virtue is triumphant in its suffering, she endures all, the last of her hopes is extinguished (with reference to Wyler’s The Heiress, and Murnau’s Der letzte Mann, a very informative analysis).
The risible critics understood a film about secret drinking or lust unfulfilled, but the Passion in such a way meant nothing. “Clayton’s no whiz director,” said one.
The perilous situation depicted, in which a case of blackmail impinges on the mental and indeed physical existence of a lady novelist once quite well-known and latterly famous again, so demoralizes those in the orbit of its participants that one and all hear the very voice of “Death himself” calling on the telephone, until it is resolved.
The BFI reviewer notably took a soppy view, considering the formidable cast and the director’s merit, rather “wet” as the English say, whereas the point is to cut through all the hugger-mugger in the world and so fend off destruction, wisely.