A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Right before him is Cukor’s Little Women, and that’s quite enough to be getting on with, therefore Kazan sires a number of films by dint of his labors.
Capra is the first to acknowledge him, in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Richardson’s a taste of honey is equally admiring in each detail.
Segal’s All the Way Home, Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, Davis’ Black Girl and Lumet’s Running on Empty complete the range that critics at the time had no way of intuiting.
And there’s Weekend Update’s immortal news report on a tree that grows in Amsterdam. “It’s official, Anne Frank just can’t catch a break.”
There were Oscars for everyone, but it was a busy year so they gave one to James Dunn.
Certainly the supreme expression of this is Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.
The Sea of Grass
A complete, rigorous analysis and understanding was provided by Andrew V. McLaglen in McLintock!, no insight is to be found among reviewers.
And so, a great masterpiece did not want for recognition after all.
The Ibsenite meddler is a St. Louis woman married in Salt Fork, New Mexico amid the high grassland of the title.
The quotations from Citizen Kane (doctor’s bag) and The Magnificent Ambersons (a rake’s progress) are structural and functional, repaying what they owe.
Who killed the small-town Episcopal minister? It’s just after the war, an ex-GI is the suspect.
He left town looking for a job, there’s a lunatic who didn’t want the asylum.
The adverse party would like to return to power, calls the town government amateurish, and would even see the GI exonerated for his war record.
The details are complicated, but the basis of this is Sternberg’s The Town. Russell’s The Devils is a complete analysis. Hitchcock was so taken with it he made The Wrong Man as a laboratory distillation, borrowed the witnesses for “I Saw the Whole Thing” (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), and the malfunctioning pistol as well for “Man From The South” (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, dir. Norman Lloyd).
As a consideration of war guilt, a comparison can be made to Dmytryk’s Crossfire, released that same year.
A California writer comes to New York and writes an exposé of anti-Semitism.
Kazan’s miraculous direction of the opening scenes is just that, he takes the burden of the rest all the way.
A masterpiece that cracks the nut “wide open” with commanding skill and efficacy.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof covers the same ground of loyalty and inheritance and “mendacity”, but you couldn’t prove it by the critics (Variety, New York Times, Halliwell’s Film Guide).
There’s a lot to understand, and some have tried, but not Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader, who says it’s “even more bogus” than Gentleman’s Agreement.
This is the “great tap root” past all elevation and lateral nonsense, and if you don’t know it that’s why Kazan made it, and why Altman made Cookie’s Fortune.
Condescending as the reviews are, or insulting (as if there never was or never would be an Imitation of Life), it’s all as plain as day and everything else.
Panic in the Streets
Wharf rats carry plague from port to port, one strikes home in New Orleans.
He matches Kazan’s description, same age, “Armenian or Czech”, no identification. Right off the boat he wins at poker, withdraws, feeling sick, and is gunned down in a fight with the hoods who set him up.
Contact with the body is deadly. The U.S. Public Health Service organizes a search.
The final images of a tough hood crawling along the wharf pilings and climbing a ship’s rope guarded by rat protectors tell the tale.
A Streetcar Named Desire
This settles the hash of every poetastress down the pike that cometh, whether she’s teaching Poe, Emerson and Whitman to schoolboys, or hankering after a million men at the Hotel Flamingo. And it includes her beau who lives at home but stays in shape and worships her or vainly tries to ravish her.
Thus Miss Blanche DuBois and Mitch.
Kazan takes this to Hollywood in the most intensely industrious lighting and set design, working for a glimmer and blur at the dock, only once revealing the whole Elysian Fields set. The cinematographic realization is worthy of emulation just as much as Vivien Leigh’s perfect Blanche and Marlon Brando’s famous Kowalski, all have their tribute.
The play is wonderfully analyzed by John Osborne (Look Back in Anger), translated for the English market.
Steinbeck and Kazan go directly to Conway’s Viva Villa!, a film highly influential in every way, for a very close analysis in the form of a variant.
Hack reviewers have a bit of trouble with this, that includes Variety’s and Bosley Crowther (who admired it).
The result is, not surprisingly, a film as influential as the original.
Man On a Tightrope
It is completely analyzed, transposed, refitted and expanded by Fellini as Otto e mezzo, and it is completely reflected in Jack Gold’s Escape from Sobibor.
The Brumbach Circus plays Cirkus Cernik, a great circus in the toils.
On the Waterfront
The mob has taken over Longshoreman’s Local 374 on the docks (cp. Kubrick’s The Seafarers).
The score by Leonard Bernstein can be compared with The Red Pony and To Kill a Mockingbird. Kazan is with the British New Wave or the Nouvelle Vague in his complete assurance with city exteriors. These forces figure in the rooftop dialogue of Terry and Edie, which adds the actors’ response and Schulberg’s dialogue, and each element is on a different level. The conversation that follows is in two-shots at reverse angles.
Terry’s confession is handled out of Lang’s Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, with a pile-driver. Johnny Friendly’s “investigation” of Terry is almost comical, Bernstein sounds a fanfare against it.
Kubrick recalls the death of Charley in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and here Kazan pays direct homage to Force of Evil. The barroom scene is repeated in One-Eyed Jacks, where Henry Hathaway got it for Nevada Smith.
All thematic elements combine to produce Terry’s bloodied walk, a Via Dolorosa.
East of Eden
The two brothers are Caleb (Cal) and Aaron. If Caleb, then Joshua, if Aaron, then Moses. They are twins, therefore Jacob and Esau. Cain and Abel are specifically mentioned.
Cain, a tiller of the soil, his sacrifice rejected, kills Abel. Esau sells his birthright for a mess of pottage. Caleb sees the promised land and defies the people to wholly follow Jehovah. Moses for his wrath is denied the promised land.
Abel’s sacrifice is accepted and he is killed by Cain. Jacob wrests Esau’s birthright from him. Aaron erects an idol in the wilderness that is destroyed. Joshua leads the people into the promised land.
The circus of identifications is not complete, their father is Adam and Isaac and Jehovah (and Moses), their mother is a madam (Eve, the Whore of Babylon and Miss Sadie Thompson all in one).
Cal in his innocence sees war as profit falsely, the loss is Aaron. The disaster is ameliorated by Abra (whose last name might be Cadabra, she opens the doors of perception), a figure of Mary.
The Magnificent Ambersons is an important basis of Kazan’s filming. Zorba the Greek takes off from Kate and Cal on the road. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland are an ideal presented by Kazan to Dean and Harris, their performances are equally matched. Rosenman’s score all but cites Lulu in the transition to Kate’s office for the meeting with Aaron.
The Great War is the locus of Steinbeck’s consideration, with patriotic parades and German-baiting and the lone isolationist who goes to war as disillusioned as the profiteer, finally. Knowledge is the theme, innocence and experience are the dichotomy that transcends the crucial structure, wisdom the desirable outcome.
What a head of steam Williams & Kazan get up on their Southern chuffer about a belle whose heart belongs to Daddy (homme d’affaires), she won’t give it to Archie Lee (cotton-gin operator) till a certain day in their marriage (her twentieth birthday), by agreement. The syndicate moves in, wipes out the cotton gins in Tigertail County, Mississippi, and by various encounters takes the womenfolk by storm.
Parallel to Sirk’s Written on the Wind, a good deal after Gone with the Wind, a source of imagery in Altman’s Images (the ghostly Vacarro). As per the central hallway of a Southern house, you can spy the settin’ sun right through the manse called Tigertail.
Aunt Rose Comfort in one of Williams’ prophetic bits goes to County Hospital to eat candy sent by well-wishers.
Kazan is well ahead of his time in the brute facts of his direction (Zeffirelli has a keen apperception in The Taming of the Shrew), the acting is under the control of a master dramatist, far and away the best thing going.
It foretells a state of affairs in which dog food is sold as steak.
The housewife’s friend on “The Voice of the Mid-South” peddles nostrums in New York and lines up for the Cabinet.
This is the film Sarris thought he saw in Capra’s Meet John Doe, “a barefoot Fascist”, and is the missing link to the Chayefsky/Lumet remake, Network.
The Shakespearean simplicity of the jest, “abit onus, obit anus”, as the basis of a marriage fantasy, springs forth a multitude of structural relationships.
The Yearling and The Klansman have the screenplay’s touch. An island hand sings, “Hurry sundown, see what tomorrow brings”. A Kind of Loving shares the theme, Straw Dogs the nighttime assault (The Chase is indicated), Sometimes a Great Notion the marshal’s flotilla, Hearts of Age the surreal underpinnings, The Grapes of Wrath the tragedy, Doctor Zhivago and Mister Moses the dam, Intruder in the Dust the small Southern town.
The Twilight Zone is a constant source of analysis, “Nothing in the Dark”, “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”, “The Passersby”, “On Thursday We Leave for Home”. The TVA man arrives and departs by plane like the Führer in Triumph des Willens, it’s quite a grab bag.
“We’re new,” he says, “we don’t have any customs.” Wings Over the World, the last of the warlords in Things to Come.
Kazan couches the whole thing in Renoir’s The Southerner.
Splendor in the Grass
Inge’s screenplay derives its peculiar structure of imbrication and ellipsis from Wordsworth’s poem, the full title of which is “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”. The agricultural method is employed to suggest the basis of any economy, with specific reference to the events of 1929. Thus Inge repays a wresting of sense toward Mallarmé’s essential question in “Toast Funèbre”, and his answer, asserted from Voltaire.
This is constructed, in a manner dangerously close to Twain’s satire of Scott, with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table merely superimposed to suggest the feudal autocracy of Mr. Stamper and the problems of succession.
The central scene is the second English class when the question is put to Deanie, “What does the poet mean by ‘splendor in the grass’ and ‘glory in the flower’?” She is unable to answer, except with reference to the discussion of chivalry in the earlier English class. The dramatic value of this scene is pivotal, cinematically it creates by ellipsis the intuition of Bud’s infidelity at the falls by way of chance remarks in the crowded hallway, the other girls thronging to look out the window, Juanita serenely content seated in front of her.
Kazan’s direction is applied to Inge’s screenplay very rigorously because of the rigorous structure, and this is how the acting is treated, as another level of expression. To say the performances have been overpraised is simply to point out that they hew to precise lines in a Hitchcockian manner enforced (but not tortured) by Kazan from the screenplay. It will be noted that the acting is equally fine in every role, major or minor, for this very reason.
Because, at three hours long, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times became bored and restless like a child, Schlesinger produced a streamlined version of the same story, suitably addressed in every artistic detail, as Midnight Cowboy.
Kazan’s dramatic sense is his forte on the screen, analysis goes into the script and appears in the actors, here he consciously uses the camera on location in Anatolia to give a sense of landscape lending to the drama such force as it undeniably possesses.
The degrees of humiliation, leading to a humble station.
The mise en scène is a succinct, effortless statement of facts. It can easily be compared to Cacoyannis’ Zorba the Greek in every respect.
A nervous breakdown summarily described, a perfect analysis of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone masterpiece (directed by Robert Parrish), “A Stop at Willoughby”.
All the consequences are figured in the drama, the “sickness unto death” is even diagnosed once or twice.
Social implications make up a large part of the imagery, so delicate is the arrangement.
If the Sun and Moon should ever doubt,
They’d immediately go out.
The entire structure, from Kazan’s novel, goes into The Last Tycoon on another basis, from Pinter’s screenplay of Fitzgerald’s novel.
Vincent Canby regarded the film as “incomprehensible kitsch”, the novel as nugatory, and thought Kirk Douglas ought to have been replaced by “someone on the order of a young Sam Jaffe.”
“A confused, overly-contrived and overlength film peopled with a set of characters about whom the spectator couldn’t care less” (Variety).
“It isn’t successful” (Ebert).
“Very forced, simply glib and indulgent” (Time Out Film Guide).
“A real shame” (TV Guide).
Vietnam is described in Fuller’s terms as exactly the way it looks on television, but there are people shooting at you.
On that basis, and with a fulsome analysis designed in the last measure to be exhaustive, the war comes home.
Screenplay and direction coincide on ten thousand points independently, what seems like careful effort toward nonchalance is a certainty that nothing’s missed. The points occur almost instantaneously and are left to register with the audience. Critics are shortchanged by this procedure.
An advantage of the intimate technique is that it affords a view of Kazan’s stage direction as well.
The Last Tycoon
The muse of cinema.
As distinguished from the boss’s daughter.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times says it’s “full of echoes,” Variety that it’s “unfocused though craftsmanlike,” Time Out Film Guide “often pretty ponderous”, Paul Brenner (All Movie Guide) “curiously constipated”.
Halliwell’s Film Guide says it’s “astonishingly inept and boring” and cites Pauline Kael, Sight and Sound, Michael Billington and Punch to the same effect.
“I want a quiet life.”
“I can’t stop looking at you. I don’t want to lose you.”
“I want a quiet life.”
The loveliest song in the cinema, sung by Jeanne Moreau.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with the scene. I thought that was a pretty touching scene.”
The endgame is ping-pong with a real Red.
“Mr. Stahr, we’ll see the studio doesn’t fall.”
Theory of moviemaking, cf. Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town most importantly, it is not the work of writers, strictly speaking.