Of Human Bondage

John Cromwell’s art of close-ups, reverse angles, focus-outs and montage is very admirably sophisticated, it drives his film through Maugham’s little Bovary sedately and reboundingly.

The restaurant tête-à-tête antedates the famous dinner in Tom Jones by some decades.

Since a prominent New York critic brought it up, it might be that Cromwell was the first to realize Bette Davis’ abilities as an actress in this scene and in the final confrontation.


Little Lord Fauntleroy

The sculptural quality of the American episode is combined with Hollywood lighting and Max Steiner’s music. Cromwell begins at Havisham’s return to the manor. This achieves a sublime effect, a real shift in gears, what follows is the revelation of a formal structure symphonically combining “sweetness and light” and sublimity. The mask of C. Aubrey Smith is augmented by makeup.

The influence of the Mary Pickford film is perhaps evident.

“American children are the most impudent and worst brought-up in the world,” says the Earl. “So I’ve always heard.”


The Prisoner of Zenda

King Rudolph V, whose exact likeness is an Englishman named Rassendyl, they are distantly related.

Duty in the face of one’s kingly prerogatives or (Rassendyl served with the Coldstream Guards) in the face of love is an odious word, but according to circumstances it can be learned.

“Hokum of the 24-carat variety,” said Variety, but conceded the point as all critics have done.


Made for Each Other

A comedy of vice and virtue, made up of office politics, scheming wives, mother-in-law jokes, etc., all stripped bare and made to reveal the frangibility of human hopes, out of which emerges an understanding of the real motives of the benevolent brotherhood of man.


Anna and the King of Siam

The dark places of the earth are simply called Siam, a thousand years old and that far behind, Schoenberg thought this about American music, and Renoir about Hollywood.

What it entails to be in such a place, what a career is or a vocation, is pretty much the substance of the film, along with the ruling spirit.

This is nicely judged, the English governess is no better than she should be and completely misunderstands the situation at first, on the other hand the King is very far from what he should be, as these things are measured.

“Socko adult drama,” Variety said succinctly. The New York Times sent Bosley Crowther, who got it all wrong.

Cromwell has the very long labors of the screenwriters, as well as the patient work of the actors, to wield with both hands in perfecting this extraordinary masterpiece.

Herrmann’s score with gamelan is altogether successful, the cinematography is always praised, the film is not more than the sum of its parts, they are so many and various.

“Not a very good movie” (Pauline Kael, The New Yorker).


The Racket

The national mob has a smooth approach, but the local boss is still a hammerhead, even to killing a cop in a police station.

Bought judges, swung elections, ownership of the police department, murder in broad daylight, all features of the operation.

Before Lang’s The Big Heat and long before Lumet’s Serpico, a police captain in a “no-action” precinct, shuffled there out of the way.

Trouble comes looking for him and ends the local boss’s career, with promise of testimony from his government underlings, whose allegiance through a phony real estate company is to “the old man”.

“Nothing to see here, folks, move along,” Bosley Crowther (New York Times) said in effect.


The Goddess

The peculiar defenselessness of the artist represented is given early, in her childhood, then as a young woman in a small town who loves acting and movies and gets clumsily pawed by a dull date while A Woman’s Face is on the screen.

Simple, direct equations. A publicity line leads to a celebrated marriage, he wants her to quit the business.

Her first is to a neurotic she finds dead drunk in the street, leads back to health and sees go off to combat with a suicidal wish for himself.

Lots of this, none of her work or training or study, only the signs of success and an increasing strain on her.

She embraces the faith of her loveless mother, who leaves her again to tend other sick relatives.

The first husband returns with their daughter at her mother’s funeral, no, Chayefsky shows his pitiful accommodation to their existence, the whole rat-trap world gets pictured as just the thing her art improved but not so well that, no, Chayefsky doesn’t draw such nice conclusions, it’s like Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence) in a certain respect.

A terrible amount of suffering for work that has evidently given many people a great deal of pleasure.

Cromwell is right in with the screenplay, which doesn’t mince anything, and the actors who take on the rather thankless roles of the cruel, the stupid and the helpless.

The score by Virgil Thomson is in the vein of The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River.