Robin Hood

A very calmly assured masterpiece, with tremendous and conscientious effort applied to the set before the camera rolls.

Its two halves correspond to the double identity of the Earl of Huntingdon and Robin Hood (Douglas Fairbanks).

Richard (Wallace Beery) is a mighty king, always eating something. John (Sam De Grasse) is a blackguard and a blighter, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Dickey) a murderous villain, the reign of Prince John during the Crusade is a black stain of horrors, depredations, savagery and cruelty. Even the essential stupidity of this reign is shown, preparing the heroic defense of the realm by Robin and the men of Sherwood Forest.

His magnificent enthusiasm elevates the plight into a noble venture. He has been “afeared of women” as the “slow long opening” Variety complained of shows, full of amusing scenes, but Maid Marian (Enid Bennett) has won him, and she’s feigned her death to escape Prince John, she’s discovered at the Priory of St. Catherine’s.

King Richard, laughing, joins the good men of England in Sherwood Forest. There’s the taking of Nottingham with three men, the storming of the castle where Robin and Marian are near death, the wedding of the pair, and a fine closing joke.


The Iron Mask

Richard Lester can’t beat these gags but works out this style as The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.

It is nowadays described as “tongue-in-cheek” without explanation.

The evil twin is placed on the throne by De Rochefort’s long-planned treachery. D’Artagnan (Douglas Fairbanks) and the three musketeers die one by one saving the king, and are seen ascending the heights of heaven for their reward.

Just so, their virtues endure despite the claptrap of Sony on “the perishable medium”, as every good Borgesian re-reader knows.


Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

The Battle of Sunnybrook Farm has to be waged and won before Little Miss America can take to the airwaves, then there’s the pride of place belonging to Little Miss Universe that has to be dealt with.

That is the arcane understanding, akin to Capra’s State of the Union ten years later.

Dwan’s virtuosity is so deep, his screenwriters so attuned, his sense of humor so astutely cinematic, Variety was at a loss for words, except to say the book was not like this.


The Gorilla

The married estate.

The standpoint of the young couple on the verge of it, sixty-five minutes of sustained inspiration on the subject, by a trained gorilla named Poe.

A hairy arm enters the bedchamber, where the maid supine is reading Romeo and Juliet, it pins a note on her.

She runs downstairs screaming, opens a door (a cat is there), enters the great room, takes a fireplace poker and turns to face the shadowy entrance of Peters, the butler.

The Acme Detective Agency takes the case.

And so forth, in one of the most brilliant and sublime comedies ever made. No detail is wasted, all are brought into the account and make up its substance.

It wasn’t movies that killed vaudeville, it was critics, they just don’t get it.


Young People

Only forty-five minutes from vaudeville is Stonefield, land of the rock-ribbed, fearless mockers, tireless antediluvians.

The bridge is ‘bout out, fifty dollars would save it, item deferred on the town meeting agenda.

The Three Ballantines move there to raise the kid, an orphan. And that’s the film, New Deal plenty meets small-time crabbiness.

Dwan’s idea of a good picture is as complicated as can be, only to make a direct point.

Wellman shapes the theme in Wild Boys of the Road, young people of another sort, in a way. America is a young country, says Dwan’s newspaper reporter and typesetter and editor of the Stonefield Democrat.

The kid tells off the battleaxe in no uncertain terms, and that is the entire point.


Sands Of Iwo Jima

Replacements out of boot camp get retraining outside Wellington, go to Tarawa and get the flag raised on Mt. Suribachi.

Variety and the New York Times, leading the way for subsequent reviewers, ignored the particular structure suited to a retrospective of the war. The Marines are not recruits, three in the squad have seen action. It’s late in the day just after Guadalcanal, harsh training is required for combat. The squad is bumptious, rambunctious, careless and rebellious.

All the minute details of the drama away from the battlefields are of the highest significance, though you could not find a critic to say so. They mostly reflect the situation thus far, defeats and contretemps and losses, innocence and camaraderie, there’s even a wedding in New Zealand.

The battle scenes are rigorously tempered with actual participants and combat footage to tell the whole story of islands wrested from the Nips even after forty years of occupation.

The instantaneous sharp focus on combat training in the South Pacific hastened by the war is half the story, much of the rest is fighting, the remainder a consciousness of the event.


Silver Lode

The meaning of the film is revealed in the name of the phony U.S. Marshal (he has killed the man who forged his papers for him), wanted for murder and cattle rustling, McCarty.

The main concern of the film is to portray a modern witch hunt, which as ever is founded on avarice and grievance. Our hero escapes the inevitable torture and death and confiscation by dint of his fellow citizens and the law, when these fail he defends himself.

The form pays homage to Zinnemann’s High Noon, the ending in the bell-tower is from Welles’ The Stranger.

Time Out Film Guide gives it rare praise indeed as “an unqualified masterpiece”, while Slant surely does not mean to say it’s “a subversive gem.”

It premiered one week after the Army-McCarthy hearings closed.


Tennessee’s Partner

Bret Harte has him fetch the feller home drunk or daid and meet him on the road to Paradise, four screenwriters almost give him a name, Cowpoke, he can’t stand backshooters, Tennessee returns the favor.

Van Nest Polglase for the Marriage Market in Sandy Bar run by the Duchess, where Tennessee plies his trade, a gambler deeply suspicioned, a gunhand mighty envied.

A varmint in town has a smiling face and money for killers or he does it himself.

Tennessee marries the Duchess and takes her away on the steamboat, because that’s how it’s done in the movies.


Slightly Scarlet

City Hall is run by a gangster set to knock the reform candidate “out of the box” only he can’t find any dirt, his “genius” comes up with clean hands and is whipped out at door. “Remind me never to send my son to college,” the gang is told by its leader in a memorable barb, “that is, if I ever have a son.”

Two sisters, one a ganef (cf. Hitchcock’s Marnie, “screwball little idiot!”) just out of state prison, the other recently hired as a well-paid secretary to the candidate, a millionaire who “owes nobody nothin’.Defenestration of a crusading publisher. “Mr. Jansen is a nice man, but he doesn’t know how to win elections.Question of “dirt” on the gangster (cf. Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May), “a low-grade moron with delusions of grandeur.”

Victory at the polls, gangster flees to Mexico, promising revenge. The gang cools its heels. “Everybody likes a lottery, everybody, and I’d split the take right down to the middle, one-fifth o’ the payoff in charity, and one-fifth for the boys.”

“What about the other three-fifths?”

“Well, now, a guy’s gotta get sump’n for his big ideas.Which is to say the genius now runs the show with a pal as police chief, a detective lieutenant averse to rousting politicians. “Prostitution, thieves and grifters” are out, “nice, clean, quiet gambling” is in.

Another view of the reform racket (The Great McGinty, dir. Preston Sturges). The Big Sleep (dir. Howard Hawks or Michael Winner) is indicated as the absconded structure. “It’s the same old operation, isn’t it.Arrest of the ganef. Return of the gangster, flight of the genius, shootout and capture.

Screenplay by Robert Blees out of James M. Cain (Love’s Lovely Counterfeit), décor Van Nest Polglase, cinematography in Superscope and Technicolor by John Alton, score Louis Forbes.

One of Godard’s Ten Best Films in France that year for Cahiers du Cinéma, after Welles’ Mr. Arkadin, Renoir’s Eléna et les hommes, Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Logan’s Bus Stop, before Sternberg’s The Saga of Anatahan, Bresson’s Un Condamné à mort s’est échappé, Rossellini’s Non credo più all’amore (La paura), Cukor’s Bhowani Junction, and Quine’s My Sister Eileen.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “an exhausting lot of twaddle”. Leonard Maltin, “effective study... of big-city corruption.Film4, “an enjoyable crime-romance.Time Out, “smart”. Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “muddled”. Sandra Brennan (All Movie Guide), “little film noir”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “uninteresting”, citing the Monthly Film Bulletin, “difficult to sort out”.