Slightly Honorable

If it’s true that the working title was Send Another Coffee, it gives you the best picture you can have of Tay Garnett in Hollywood amusing himself while waiting for Jack Smight and Arthur Penn to come along.

The real basis of this artificial comedy-drama is realism, and the touchstone of it is Pat O’Brien’s performance, responding to the sight of an old friend’s corpse or the proximity of a pretty girl missing a stitch.


Cheers for Miss Bishop

The script is a jolt Garnett gives himself every few seconds, and the scenery is a chaser. There is a moment of weakness when Miss Bishop tries on the orchid at the end, but Garnett gives himself a few moments before her speech. At this point, his renunciation of satire, which is hope, brings about a surprising and beautiful conclusion.

It began as a response to Goodbye Mr. Chips. It became a satire on “the bottomless idiocy of the world.” What it finally is, by exhaustion, is the acceptance of humility in the face of time and America.

To put it another way, it begins as John Wayne taking the paint off Richard Attenborough’s “old school tie” in Brannigan, and it ends as James Gleason’s drunken peroration to Gary Cooper in Meet John Doe. There doesn’t seem to have been anything else to say, at the time. Or call it a suite of stylistic discoveries, and let it go at that.



The last limit of expression is reached when Sergeant Dane steps into his own grave, already marked, as a trench to make a final stand, and that is not the end, as Lindsay Anderson observed in If.... and Sam Peckinpah in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

Critics were surprisingly lukewarm, but the film is somewhat ahead of its time, though Time Out Film Guide and especially Halliwell’s Film Guide don’t think so (the latter cites James Agee rather more to the point, “naïve, coarse-grained, primitive, honest, accomplished and true”).

A extraordinarily quiet set, the clank of a canteen can be heard. Soda jerks and shoe salesmen in the jungle, volunteers, a mere squad to delay the Jap advance while MacArthur prepares his return.

Snipers they never see kill them one by one, or an officer’s samurai sword at night, or brutal torture, or combat when it comes, a very fine showing by the United States Army, different from the Marines of Wake Island (dir. John Farrow).

An eloquent, lasting tribute on its own level, equivalent to its subject, that cannot be faulted.


The Postman Always Rings Twice

Another Nabokovian coincidence, after Eternally Yours. There is an invention, that of Lana Turner midway between Harlow and Monroe, exposed by Garnett early on with a gesture of dropping her lipstick that is repeated in her death scene.

The opening is distinctly emulated in Vadim’s And God Created Woman. Frank (John Garfield) is hitchhiking, and who stops for him but the District Attorney (Leon Ames)? Frank doesn’t know trouble (Turner as Cora) when he sees it, and Garnett even multiplies the allusion with the motorcycle cop’s repeated phrase “deader than a doornail” about that very pretty cat, Frank mocks him with it.

The long, tenuous and brilliant argument all leads up to the death-house conversion of Frank into a wit who sees the postman always rings twice, which is to say the poor dummy never knew what hit him. Satire this subtle needs underlining sometimes, hence there is Cause for Alarm!.


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Not the historical court, there are too many anachronisms, nor anything too poetical save the lady Alisande, but an impression nonetheless of a king and his court in the Dark Ages sufficient to cast doubt on the whole enterprise, once Arthur is sold into slavery and chained in a fetid prison and put to the block by an overweening aristocracy whilst traveling incognito with Saggy and Hank to learn about the people of his realm, of whom he knows nothing.

The lesson is drawn very mild, the better to let its truth sink in, so much so that Bosley Crowther (New York Times) found “that good time to be had by all,” Variety “pleasant entertainment”.

“Highly amiable”, Geoff Andrew calls it in Time Out Film Guide, “mindlessly amusing”. Halliwell’s Film Guide considers it “palatable” and cites Pauline Kael in The New Yorker on “tacky pageantry”.


Soldiers Three

A dizzying pirouette of the British Army in India who hadn’t ought to’ve been there and done the right thing anyways.

It’s all contrary to orders, which makes no bloomin’ sense, but the design, mind you, the design is to extrapolate the contrary elements such as desertion from duty, beer-drinking and the like, not to mention the kindly disposition of the government toward such as is heathen rascals, as are in a manner of speaking the title characters, Stooges for the Crown Imperial.

Promotions and demotions is in order when all the shooting’s done, the satire if any is on Haig in 1918, “greatest general since Wellington.”

A supreme masterpiece.


Cause for Alarm!

The Postman Always Rings Twice, from another angle. A certain breeziness in The Trouble With Harry is accounted for by this film, which must have inspired it. The opening has the normality of The Reckless Moment or Young At Heart, modulating to Bigger Than Life. Overall the first part is rather Buñuelian, as the long interiors are suffused with surrealism by the script. The second part is a Nabokovian study of the maniacally real, with a sidewalk exterior akin to A Woman Under The Influence. The third part, finally, is Hitchcock.

Garnett’s camera work is literally wound around a tilt-and-pan up the staircase, with an exterior track-and-pan on an identical scheme. The various shots are all studies in how to put a masterpiece together. There is some spacious detail work later used in Wait Until Dark and Cancel My Reservation.

A riveting piece of buffoonery, a showman’s trick, by Tay Garnett.


The Jake Lingle Killing
The Untouchables

Jake Lingle is a hero of the mob wars gunned down for his fearless reporting, a funeral procession five miles long and a reward of $25,000 for his killer do him honor.

Ness has to work fast, before it’s generally known that Lingle was a broker for the mobs, negotiating police protection to the highest bidder. The public outcry serves the interests of justice, and so does a private detective out for the reward. He joins the Northside mob and deals with Ness for information.

The reward offer grows cold as facts come to light, the detective nearly goes in with the gang on a new venture to “K.C. and St. Lou”, but Ness prevails, the shipment is seized and the detective gets his man, a dim underling’s hit man.

There is an extraordinary meeting of the two gang leaders, a ritual over cards in which they settle their beefs, this or that gunman tossed aside in the interests of peace.


Mexican Stake-Out
The Untouchables

A witness is kidnapped and sent to Mexico as a lure for Ness, who has been framed with a photo in the act of taking a bribe. The object of the grand jury investigation runs the photo on page one of a scandal sheet he owns.

Ness and the witness are to disappear in the current off Cabo San Lucas, presumably bought. Ness isn’t fooled for a moment, takes a U.S. Agent from Washington down to El Paso and Chihuahua, overcomes the ring and delivers the witness in time for a true bill.

The middleman is Guzman, his henchman has a knife at Ness’s back, Ness is pointing a gun at Guzman under the table. “We call this a Mexican standoff,” says Ness, “what do you call it?”

Guzman replies with exactitude, “we call it the moment of truth.”

Another link is found, humorously borracho and speaking no English, Ness appeals to a padre, who translates. The man he’s looking for frequents the Casa de Lucita, how does he know, and Ness leaves the two in a parochial discussion, after Lucita.


Star Witness
The Untouchables

He has the great memory of the music-hall performer in The 39 Steps, applied to numbers. Jobs were scarce after college, it took him a long time to realize he was working for a mob front. He tries to quit as their accountant, they send him to the hospital, where Ness has a word with him.

An assassination attempt in earnest, filmed from a moving car, decides the issue. Ness trundles him across the country, back and forth by railroad train. They run down his little girl, the ballerina, breaking both her legs.

An army of assassins enters the little town where a change of venue has placed the trial. Agent Youngfellow keeps watch as a flagpole-sitter (in a clown costume, replacing the carnival performer whose new line this is). The accountant is slipped in, disguised as a painter on a contractor’s crew, painting the courthouse lobby. A long shot with a rifle is foiled, and every mobster in town captured or killed.


The Night Fighters

The IRA and the Nazis in 1941.

Basil Dearden having raised the point in The Gentle Gunman that Ireland is a nation not a gang, it remained to show the gang pure and simple.

This was, in the view of Eugene Archer, “surprisingly restrained and superficial” (New York Times). Time Out Film Guide didn’t follow the plot “but as a Mitchum movie it’s interesting”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide came up with “heavily Oirish melodrama” (as A Terrible Beauty).

The theme is reflected in Ryan’s Daughter (dir. David Lean), again with Mitchum.

The Stateside title would appear to reflect, in a tale of Operation Sea Lion, Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”.


The Delta Factor

An absolute work of genius, consciously, painstakingly achieved, on the Mickey Spillane model, down and dirty, purely conceived.

There are more ways to film Spillane, Aldrich has one.

40 million swiped, a long prison sentence, years off for the escapee if he can free a political prisoner on a Caribbean isle.

The title is amusingly explained by his partner, a Government agent, female.

Scene at the prison. “Among them, a newspaperman whose newspaper ridicules Señor Ortega, a former Secretary of Defense who publicly accused our leader of corruption, traitors, traitors all of them.” At this point one of the prisoners makes a rude gesture and shouts, “¡Maricón!” He is shot to death at once, “the one in the green shirt.”

Incredibly, no critic gleaned the slightest of it, as would appear.