Two Too Young
In a style perfectly recognizable throughout his career, Douglas films the tale of Porky and Buckwheat and a string of firecrackers coveted by Alfalfa and Spanky, and how the vanquished avenged themselves in the end.
Saps at Sea
The horn, in various senses, the lusty horn is not a thing to laugh to scorn.
Mr. Hardy does so, it riles him to work at the Sharpe & Pierce Horn Mfg. Co., Dr. Finlayson advises sea air and goat milk on a long rest.
Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy rent a decayed craft, the Prickly Heat, tied to the dock as unseaworthy. Neither knows how to milk a goat, its name is Narcissus.
An international spy stows away on the boat, fleeing the police. Narcissus eats the rope.
On the high seas, Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy serve up a meal of “sympathetic” food to their guest, who is armed with a pistol, and have to eat it themselves.
Mr. Laurel’s trombone infuriates Mr. Hardy, the spy is subdued, beaten and captured.
The material is various, Newmeyer & Taylor’s Why Worry? with Harold Lloyd has the hypochondria, Bruckman’s Horses’ Collars with the Three Stooges supplies the cure and was written by Felix Adler, who is one of the screenwriters here.
The goat and several members of the cast are from Foster’s Angora Love, and it will be observed that Joannon’s Utopia is an extensive expansion of Saps at Sea.
Ivan Ivanski, Academy Award Winner, has a new project for his star, she must have soul, and for that she needs a baby.
A “press stunt”, one is obtained for her. The entourage takes the train from Chicago (The Scarlet Lady is her hit there) to New York.
Another passenger went to school with her, he’s now a doctor. The engineer has a girlfriend, Ivanski’s assistant, he hires a baby for five hundred dollars.
Big kidnapping, headlines, troopers and Renfrew of the Mounties in a brilliant comedy.
The Devil with Hitler
From Hal Roach Studios, an incredibly funny roasting of the Axis.
T.S. of the New York Times somehow construed it as “an affront to public taste and the public interest.”
And there you have it, a film critic who didn’t know his heinie from a hole in the ground, or as the Fury says here, “I lost my Hess.”
Dick Tracy vs. Cueball
This opens with the original drawings, as in the case of Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon. A fearsome gambit, and Douglas never lets the film get away from him. His principal technique is Rembrandt lighting, supplemented with camera angles. Overall, he maintains a tight, mobile camera and cuts to the point.
All this is enough (with set dressing, costumes and acting) to put him in the comic strip, but he carries it to perfection with the sort of artistic oomph Eastwood displayed in White Hunter Black Heart, where the letter is trumped by the spirit. Here, for example, where Kent Smith or Mitchell Ryan looks more like Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy than Morgan Conway does, the latter gives an effortless representation in the round, something that a photograph can’t provide.
One of the most interesting stylistic experiments of the period, and because Douglas is constantly alive to its demands, a constantly entertaining one. There is a cunning stratagem employed midway, where a mocking editorial cartoon shows Tracy in his familiar appearance, and Tracy laughs at it. Douglas still doesn’t drop the thread of his easy combination of stylization and naturalism, which gives his engaging and mysterious compositions the feeling of the strip (he even ends on the beginning of a new case... ).
If You Knew Susie
A retirement to New England from the vaudeville circuit (cp. Dwan’s Young People), snobs, a heroic ancestor, a national debt, gangsters, newspapers, kidnapping and everything.
Directors, even the best, don’t usually make films so absolutely brilliant. It’s mostly in the writing and right up Douglas’ street, he has the right tempo and grabs flies out of the air right and left, nothing but nothing is too much for him.
A.W. of the New York Times, a real idiot, saw it flutter past his eyeballs at an incredible rate and pronounced it “a frivolous entertainment”.
“Mild family comedy,” says Halliwell.
Other reviewers seem to have had an inkling of this supreme comedy musical, at least.
Eddie Cantor and a cast of geniuses.
Between Midnight and Dawn
“...when the past is all deception, / The future futureless, before the morning watch / When time stops and time is never ending.” Two Marines from Guadalcanal fight crime from a prowl car (the FBI is the Army, they come later).
“Women who have seen their sons or husbands / Setting forth and not returning.”
The racketeer who, once put away, returns. The mystery of crime (cp. Fashions of 1934, dir. William Dieterle, e.g.), elaborated throughout.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times saw none of it, it was all “on a studiously juvenile plane.” Similarly Time Out, “routine police procedural/buddy movie,” though it notes the title from T.S. Eliot (“The Dry Salvages—presumably les trois sauvages—is a small group of rocks, with a beacon...”), also Leonard Maltin, “overly familiar”, and Hal Erickson (Rovi), “from the Columbia studio mills.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “competent, undistinguished”.
Only the Valiant
It took ten years and Cy Endfield’s Zulu to impress upon critics the value of the material, witness a typical review of Only the Valiant (by Halliwell), “standard top-of-the-bill western; competent but not very gripping.”
Gripping, to say the least. Night watches by half-a-dozen troopers in a burned-out fort blocking a mountain pass full of Apaches, the troopers malcontents, cowards, drunkards, disaffected, ambitious and whatnot, chosen by their captain as most expendable.
No scene is wasted but rather every shot is tensely controlled with several elements at play intricately, a film that repays close study.
The organizational principle of the whole film is revealed in a wheeling sequence of shots around the flagpole as the detachment sets out for the assignment at the pass.
“Tonight, the farmer saves the chicken from the fox. Tomorrow, he wrings that same chicken’s neck,” an anecdote expanded and savored in Savage Messiah (dir. Ken Russell) with some modulation.
Diamonds in the fall of Manila make The Maltese Falcon (dir. John Huston), it’s a question of salvage from the bottom of the ocean.
Douglas has a completely fictional representation, founded on reality, to follow Only the Valiant’s simple quandary.
Nothing is more to the point, and though filmed with great verisimilitude it has the structural appearance of a vacuum, an “abstraction” in certain literary parlance, nonetheless.
Thus we should expect to find negative reviews, in Halliwell’s Film Guide, for instance. “Lethargic but pleasant-looking star vehicle”, it says.
Douglas takes the camera into monumental foregrounds time and again, amid the general welter of things, summing up his theme along the way.
Mara Maru is the salvage vessel.
It takes half the length of the picture to establish the premise on these terms, then Douglas moves swiftly, catching some of the characters off guard.
Max Steiner takes his deep-sea diver down the Grieg steps, sounds the alarm at a shark overhead, an authoritative score.
Out of Manila, past Corregidor Island, into Balayan Bay, off Limit Point, as shown on a map.
The Cross of Santa Maria.
The Italian knows who he’s working for, “the winner.”
“Gobbledegookish title”, said Bosley Crowther (New York Times), “obscure and unexciting... stale... wholly improbable... bleakly confused and grossly tiresome... hackneyed and cheaply emotionalized... bored and indifferent... badly manufactured and falsely dramatized... dull diversion” (Douglas gets identified as “a new hand”).
The death of Ranier on the beach stands for many.
“The other cross, the one that’s in the church now, that’s a phony.”
The Catholic News Service Media Review Office concurs with Crowther, adding, “stylized violence” (those “tunnels beneath an old church” are catacombs that figure shortly in Robert Hamer’s The Detective).
“A very tired-looking Errol Flynn”, writes Hal Erickson of Rovi, tired of these sickly reviews, perhaps.
The conclusion is quite marvelous, the anonymous car might be from Lang’s Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, the stone steps to the altar from Der Müde Tod.
The influence is customarily cited on such films as Nathan Juran’s The Deadly Mantis and Jack Arnold’s Tarantula but extends much further, Juran’s First Men in the Moon, Roy Ward Baker’s Quatermass and the Pit, even Byron Haskin’s The War of the Worlds and Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers have a share (and the two small boys extrapolated from Mara Maru, Mike and Jerry, turn up in Guy Hamilton’s Battle of Britain).
The drunks bring to mind Polanski’s Chinatown, and the storm drains put the whole basis of the work as Alfred Werker’s He Walked by Night.
Only the Valiant, one would have thought, is the ne plus ultra of man reduced in battle to his merest shred of self, and so a very hard act to follow, but sixteen films and eight years later Douglas surpassed it in some ways with Up Periscope, which considers warmaking in its barest essence as a concentration of the mind and the exaltation of personal bravery.
It opens with a grand shot of the Japanese fleet at sea under a cloudscape. The camera tilts down and dissolves to a sub on the bottom, inside of which an American crew is tensely listening to the fleet’s sonar pings. The captain (Edmond O’Brien) visits an injured man in sick bay, then writes in his log of an accident in the forward torpedo room. At last the submarine rises, and the credits end.
Lt. Braden (James Garner) is called to Hawaii for commando service on the sub. His interview with a base captain takes place in a bare, clean office with a lighted lamp on the desk, a clock shaped like a ship’s helm, and a chart on the wall showing fleet locations.
On the sub, the captain’s quarters are very similar, a chart of silhouettes, a brass ship’s clock, a miniature helm (perhaps a paperweight), a lamp, a fold-up washbasin, a mirror and a flashlight. Lt. Braden’s mission is to photograph secret codes in a radio shack in the middle of a Japanese base. The sub will have to ferry him offshore and lie on the bottom using its oxygen tanks to their maximum. The route is perilous, as the sub is strafed and bombed, then attacked with depth charges (it sinks the ship).
Lt. Braden’s mission is bold in the extreme, so much so that it has the ring of truth. He comes ashore in the crashing surf by day and approaches the base, within feet of his objective. After a nap, he resumes in darkness, setting a diversionary fire and explosions, then sneaking into the shack. The indescribable bravery of this is matched by the skill of the commando. Now he must return to the beach and swim out to the sub in darkness before the time limit set by the oxygen supply is reached, as the crew sit and wait hour by hour, all but suffocating.
The casting is rich, wide and deep. In a part that calls for cool, quick brains, Garner is note perfect. O’Brien is asked to convey all that can be said of a man commanding the smaller attack submarine of 1942, responsible for the lives of the crew and for mastering attack and defense equally. Alan Hale, Jr. as a bearded rating turned shavetail officer shows what he sometimes modestly does not, that he is an expert actor thoroughly versed in cinema style. One can say of all three that they are superb, and pass down the cast list (all first-rate) to Warren Oates, who has a not inconsiderable part but is not credited.
Follow That Dream
This is filmed by Douglas with a curious transparency, very efficient in diaphanously revealing at the outset, for instance, the source in Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (and by the same token, Follow That Dream figures as an influence on The Milagro Beanfield War).
The idea of running out of road and making a go of it is also at the start of The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and the simplicity of the forces arrayed against Presley, in the form of Alan Hewitt and Joanna Moore, makes a fine example of the noonday surrealism filmed on location that passes for insignificance in some eyes.
And then the modulation to a “marrying kind” after the trial scene is a touching bit of repose, which makes the little resort in the middle of nowhere like the house that lands on the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz.
Call Me Bwana
President Kennedy sends in Matthew Merriwether (Bob Hope) the African explorer to retrieve a downed moon probe from the heart of the continent.
Premier Khrushchev sends in Luba (Anita Ekberg), a Professor of Anthropology and “the most dangerous woman in Europe”.
Her contact is Ezra Mungo (Lionel Jeffries), head of the Better World Tomorrow Society with its small jungle church (his organ is a communications device).
CIA Agent Fred Larson (Edie Adams) shepherds Merriwether, who is a Manhattanite and a fraud.
Sheer genius, of course, largely modeled on Mogambo, with the star singing Monty Norman’s title tune under the end credits.
Robin and the 7 Hoods
Big Jim’s birthday party is from Some Like It Hot, the twist at the end is graven in stone (just the way “Sheriff Glick Is A Shmendrik”).
Marian wants her father avenged, Guy Gisborne needs Robbo in the syndicate, the maid’s reward goes to sweet charity.
Guy frames Robbo, Marian runs a racket filtering phony bills through Robbo Foundation soup kitchens, her Women’s League for Better Government throws Robbo out on his ear.
Robbo, Little John and Will are sidewalk Santas at the last, pondering the ways of crime with Deputy Potts now a WLBG cornerstone.
Beat the Devil has the same central gag, a flummoxing consideration of sin.
A fictional biography, Majestic Pictures, etc.
“I often wonder whether critics ever fall in love.”
“Mm, not mine.”
As filmed, a species of literary criticism.
According to Variety, “handsomely mounted”.
Judith Crist, who went on to become a book critic at the New York Times, almost divined the truth. Halliwell’s Film Guide, which cites her review, praises Alex Segal’s film as “rather better”.
The Russians have an unmarried weather couple (Anita Ekberg, Dick Shawn) monitoring conditions on Earth from the Moon, the Americans have a couple of guys (Dennis Weaver, Howard Morris) going right out of their minds, a married couple (male weathernaut and lady astronomer) are sent up to replace them for a year (Jerry Lewis, Connie Stevens).
It’s a three-day rush job, a marriage in name only arranged by the available qualified personnel.
The Russians come over with instant vodka for a party, there’s a war scare back home, something that might be called a baby gap appears (once the Russians are married at the lady cosmonaut’s wish, and by the Soviet premier), these are the simple events of Douglas’ comedy a year before 2001: A Space Odyssey.
If You Knew Susie shows him far and away a leading director of comedy and years ahead of his time, Way...Way Out has exactly the same style and control and once again is years ahead.
It’s the same combination of resources and ambition, all out and all there, a suburban comedy in outer space, a one-sixth gravity sock on the jaw that sends an astronaut to the wall of the moon station effortlessly, without any fuss, a gag setup with the fuming Saturn V on its launch pad, a million times funnier than anything.
Halliwell, who understands movies like nobody’s business, and it ain’t, says it’s a “dismal sex farce... painful to sit through,” and he ought to know.
The widescreen TV monitors are a joke in this CinemaScope comedy, TV Guide found not much funny in it, “virtually no laughs”.
In Like Flint
“Isomerism” is Flint’s term for the phenomenon described by Poe in “The Power of Words”, the underlying principle, this has considerable structural effect on the whole film.
Derek Flint, part Holmes, part Nijinsky, part Blondin, linguist, scientist, man of action, agent of ZOWIE.
A gaggle of females at Fabulous Face (FF) have an inroad to the space platform and house two Russian ladies there. Their man in ZOWIE betrays them, Project Damocles will not relieve their sense of injustice, spread by FF hair dryers in beauty salons everywhere.
The stars are co-equal under Douglas’ direction, Steve Ihnat as the General, Andrew Duggan the President and his lookalike, Yvonne Craig Flint’s Fonteyn, Lee J. Cobb impressively comical, the incomparable Jean Hale, and flinty James Coburn.
Chuka bears the same relationship to Douglas’ earlier masterpiece Only the Valiant as Hickox’ Zulu Dawn to Endfield’s Zulu.
The catastrophe descends upon the Army as divided, mutinous, ragtail and not worth “a British regiment”.
No-one among the reviewers noticed the implosion or saw the film it’s a variant of, by all accounts.
It opens the ground for Lumet on a basis of Preminger, Laura especially (the song is heard at L’Harlequin), but also Advise & Consent.
The latter film, which is the source for L’Harlequin, also gives the theme, to which Douglas adds another integer. A fling with Communism is like a homosexual affair and, The Detective observes, going on the take or fixing a case.
The peculiar formal style, always deprecated by critics, belongs to Douglas, its side issues and flashbacks are straightforward elements of structure, never tangential.
Critics abused the film in terms not worth repeating, but Ebert usefully noted Sinatra’s mastery of a Bogart role.
The beautiful circular structure finally leads back to just before the beginning at the crime scene.
Every aspect gets a full and complete examination in this analysis of lost tribes and missing links, the miners on their land, the anthropologists, great interests of all kinds, political, social, legal, philosophical, religious, medical, historical, geographical, linguistic, gustatory, amatory, you name it.
Roger Greenspun of the New York Times brought a fresh eye on occasion to films no-one else could see, but in this instance he led the way to a miserable dismissal of a work that regrettably now must be considered rather far ahead of its time, though in truth it is merely a masterpiece.
They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!
Douglas’ style is so cohesive, subtle and whatnot that tempered critics slid right out of their chairs wondering what had befallen them, some of them. This was felt to be a letdown, but with a firmer grip than Halliwell’s it’s possible to see that the “domestic asides” are not in the slightest way “irrelevant”, but rather are the mirror of the action.
The camerawork is a constant shifting of diagonal and rectilinear planes in view. One of the former has the detectives watching a slide show of the crime scene, to cumulative effect. The demonstration verging on a riot is a meticulously-built study from Pottersville in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
A variant of Only the Valiant, with a very marked influence of the Italian cinema and Thomas Hart Benton (a characteristic shot reproduces his swirling perspectives by panning left-to-right on a background figure or rider moving into the foreground), as well as True Grit.
No-one but Clint Eastwood seems to have seen it, but the benefit is in High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales.
In one scene while bathing, Warren Oates looks like another person (Richard Widmark does this somewhere). At around this time the critical establishment lost its footing and prepared the morass we’re now in, where Orff is preferred to Stravinsky, and one hand washes a spot of art off the other, otherwise Oates would have received his due, and this rare film would not be unknown.
The great barnstormer portrays himself, looking hardly the worse for having smashed up on various occasions. Just a touch below the eyes perhaps suggests the broken bag of bones.
Red Buttons, a very self-assured performer by this time, is the ace-up-your-sleeve promoter. Gene Kelly essays the troubled mechanic. Marjoe Gortner is a competitor, Leslie Nielsen and Albert Salmi are in the opposition camp with Cameron Mitchell. The director is Gordon Douglas, among whose great themes is bravery pure and simple.
The mechanic is hustled off to a psycho ward, a jump is arranged in Mexico (and so is a rigged motorcycle). The coffin is to carry a load of cocaine into the States.
Who else did this happen to, in real life? Ah, it was Orson Welles. “The fucker never come up,” as Peter Falk once described a horse he bet on in a steeplechase, one that hit the water.
The classically-lighted night shots and the county fair sunlight are the two sides of the coin. Just before the ending, which enforces the idea of happy landings because they’re the hardest part, lovely Lauren Hutton is sitting amidst desert scrubland with a bit of straw in her mouth, and the model’s leer is replaced with doe-eyed introspection for a moment. The mechanic appears, and then Evel Knievel, who’s seen his enemies take a very fiery fall indeed.