How the other half lives, onstage prelude “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” (cf. Griffith’s The Painted Lady), main theme I Walk Alone (dir. Byron Haskin). “Don’t raise the bridge, boys, just lower the river.”
A source of Robin and the 7 Hoods (dir. Gordon Douglas). Billy Daniel’s choreography just anticipates Bob Fosse’s earliest film work. “Well, you see, taste is something either you have or you don’t have, you never quite learn it.”
“I’ve got half a mind to take a baseball bat and re-educate you.”
“You’ll never know if an apple is sweet,” the girls in the chorus line sing, “unless you bite it!” Koster of Berlin, son of a salesman in the ladies’ undergarment line. The C.C.C.C. up in arms, “I wanna be a nice girl, why won’t they let me?” A capital flying fistfight remembered in Blake Edwards’ The Great Race. Reunion at the Chicago World’s Fair, “look, sister, the professor and me is rehearsing, now why don’t you blow on outta here before I lose my temper.”
“Ho-ly Moses, where’s your horse?”
“I’m looking at part of it.” Taming the star performer, cf. Hawks’ Twentieth Century. The director’s art, “the scales fell from my eyes” said Ralph Richardson when Gielgud directed him as Caliban. The little Ferris wheel at the Fair, “I can’t help it, sailor, I got a girl up there.”
“I don’t care if it’s the Queen o’ Europe, quit rockin’, makes me seasick.” Prerogatives of the lady, “I Always Dream of Bill”. The Irish dancing master, central figure in a thematic line from To Have and Have Not (dir. Howard Hawks). Gambit and ploy, ruse and counterruse.
she’s the cutest little girl in Copenhagen.
she has all the fellas crazy in the noggin,
Charles Walters’ The Barkleys of Broadway was just the year before, Cukor’s Born Yesterday premiered that same year, and his My Fair Lady some years later. The star in her niche. “A skunk can’t really hurt you, just humiliate you.”
“Only when he’s cornered.” An artist with the skids under him, traduced, marking time. The thematic summation, from City Lights (dir. Charles Chaplin) to Singin’ in the Rain (dirs. Donen & Kelly).
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “just a few points shy of perfect, so far as these honky-tonkers go.” Variety, “a satisfactory backdrop for the deluge of tunes”. Leonard Maltin, “bright, colorful period piece”. TV Guide, “certainly has its moments of charm.” Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “thin but lavish musical”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide) goes off the rails incredibly, “once she reaches the top in a Hammerstein show, Ruby's head is turned by Clark's suave, sophisticated partner English Eddie (Reginald Gardiner).” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “bright rehash”.
The literary precedent is Edith Wharton’s “Xingu”, Kershner’s A Fine Madness is an invaluable analysis. “Something new has been added,” and on this there are said to be “two schools of thought”. Therein lies the drama. Certain critics are very fond of drama. The Pulitzer Prize was never given to a worthier work. A perfect masterpiece, perfectly filmed. In this instance, the critics have never had any idea of it.
No Highway in the Sky
The thrust of it is, if one may say so, the end of a marriage already finished by a V-2. No Highway, Goodbye Mr. Chips (dir. Sam Wood or Herbert Ross). “I didn’t understand his theory, but I know when a man knows what he’s talking about.” The film star is a great ally, she carries on. The stewardess and RN takes charge of the cabin where Mr. Honey, a metallurgist with interests in numerics and crystallography (pyramidology is a game), works out an utterly abstract theory of metal fatigue affecting the tail section of a commercial airliner recently gone into service.
O. Henry’s Full House
“The Cop And The Anthem”, a flabbergasting masterpiece on a fellow (Charles Laughton) who but for the grace of God can’t get himself arrested to save his life.
Stars and Stripes Forever
A fine bit of surrealism on The March King. “A real old-time Marine for you” is liable to get kicked in the shin by a burlesque number, but “women treat those ferocious cripples back from hot regions.” He is successful and universal, a genius, a soldier, a man of the people, Your Own, The President’s Own, The Marine Corps’ Own.
Several brilliant sequences around Paget, Wagner’s musical Marine, Hussey’s perfect wife and Webb’s Sousa.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “nothing more” than a “program of Sousa marches”. Variety, “topnotch entertainment... kaleidoscopically presented”. Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “episodic”. Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “a so-so Fox musical”. TV Guide, “lively and colorful”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “highly fanciful”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “low-key musical biopic with predictably noisy numbers.”
Ernest Vajda story, Lamar Trotti screenplay, Charles G. Clarke cinematography, Alfred Newman in charge of the music.
My Cousin Rachel
This very purposely enigmatic film seems to have been made for no other purpose than a simple juxtaposition of disparate elements, so as to extract (possibly) the most refined analysis imaginable, short of “a sewing machine and an umbrella” side-by-side, out-Jamesing Henry James. This would be Nunnally Johnson’s joke, laid out by Koster with the utmost attention to surface detail, and acted with just the right soupçon of zest, it goes into Rosemary’s Baby (dir. Roman Polanski) as is.
A companion piece to Hitchcock’s Suspicion.
The screenplay notably rejects the senatorial animadversions of Tacitus for a clearer view. Tiberius is sagacious, putting off soothsayers and witch doctors. Caligula is very high-strung, you can see the political interpretations fairly welling up all around him. They are recognizably human heads of state, for all that.
The tribune (Richard Burton) is a sensible Roman who buys a slave (Victor Mature) because the man has spirit, because the market is degrading, and because Caligula has him in mind as a gift for the tribune’s childhood friend (Jean Simmons). A sensible Roman.
There is a remarkable scene of volatility exhibiting Percy Helton as a dunning wine merchant who is flung into the baths, which balances in its unexpectedly keyed-up tone the furious swordfight between the tribune and a former comrade-in-arms, the realism and vigor of which in turn evidently served as one of the sources for Hitchcock of the farmhouse fight in Torn Curtain.
Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone) is also bereft of angular satire, a soberminded and harried provincial officer.
It’s the tribune’s first crucifixion, he is bidden to reflect upon this, and very wisely takes a drink first. Afterward, the soldiers are dicing (“a hundred bunks separated by crap games,” as Bob Hope would say) with a cup, the careless tribune (“I always win,” he says nonchalantly) accepts the homespun scarlet robe as a last wager.
The messiah’s coming is sung by Miriam (Betta St. John) upon a harp, to a Hebraic melody. The robe scalds the very flesh of the tribune, or anyway sears his conscience, and he is at length converted.
Koster’s direction can be very profitably studied in the schools. According to Katz, “his reputation as a craftsman led to his assignment as director of the first film in CinemaScope, The Robe,” and the limitations of budget do not deter him from a constant insinuating attention to the structural details of every shot. Where, the playmate of his childhood wants to know, is the tribune now? She is led to the catacombs where the followers of Jesus gather. Koster films her on the portico of a palatial building, which can just be seen behind her amid the red marble columns that dominate the shot, conferring with an associate of the tribune, who leads her down the steps and away.
The silk merchant’s daughter and the General she might have married, Napoleone Buonaparte, had his destiny not intervened, the founding of “a United States of Europe”. For Koster, the similarities are obvious, especially where the émigré Marshal is depicted at the court of Sweden with his wife, the title character.
A step from the sublime to the ridiculous is frequently taken by the Emperor.
The film lacks, in Bosley Crowther’s view, “a story of any consequence” (New York Times).
A Man Called Peter
The compositions are so perfect that, just once, the dolly reveals how arduous they are by trundling rapidly between them, after the sermon in Atlanta. Few directors there are who would not stare agape at the subtlety and power of this. The brilliant surrealism of Stars and Stripes Forever is adapted to another purpose. The biographical rendering is a precursor of Ken Russell.
Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate, rises to that position of undoubted eminence from his divine calling in Scotland, work as a laborer in America, the Columbia Theological Seminary, a small congregation in Georgia, then a large one, and the New York Avenue Church in Washington, D.C. (the Church of the Presidents). In memorable sermons he expounds on faith, the church, death, the prophetic mission and suchlike matters. Early on, his future wife joins him to speak on Mary with similar eloquence, while still a student at Agnes Scott College.
A Midwestern senator changes his vote on a bill, inspired by the forthrightness of Marshall’s preaching at New York Avenue. The bill is designed merely to create “a crop of millionaires” at the expense of small farmers. Its defeat is announced on the radio news following a report of lessening tensions with the Japanese. Marshall preaches, inspired, an impromptu sermon at Annapolis, where the chapel must have presented a lighting problem of Kubrickian proportions. During the war, he runs a canteen in the church basement for servicemen. His wife contracts tuberculosis. Rest and prayer on Cape Cod avail her nothing, only submission to the divine will restores her to health. Immediately upon their return to Washington, he is stricken by heart troubles. Asking for divine guidance on the dais of the Senate finally kills him. He had been a lover of the sea all his life, though his wife got seasick. After his death, she and their young son and their dog row out from shore, she addresses her late husband with the title of an Alan J. Pakula film, “see you in the morning.”
Koster’s awe-inspiring precision anchors the film at every moment while admitting a round view of the events. Long takes are a specialty, the camera not moving any more than it would for William Wyler. The foibles and characteristics of the people represented are shown in each continuous scene with the idiosyncrasy of the apostles. “Man is but a vapor,” says James, and Marshall begins a sermon by asking, “what did he mean by that?” His secretary conveys a message from the senator, commenting, “what a strange way of putting it.” Marshall cheerily replies, “Yes, strange and mysterious, like the ways of the Lord.”
Preminger’s The Cardinal no doubt remembers this film, which as an American satire is almost without equal in its profundity and wit, while as the work of a Berlin filmmaker in exile it presents a clear view of what Germany lost.
The “‘argument of military necessity’ (generalissimo e)”, as E.E. Cummings puts it, must be borne, it’s the peacetime wrangling that kills the minister. His invocations are seen as a sequence of snippets, followed by dinner at home. “You’ll have to ask the blessing,” says Dr. Marshall to his wife, “the Lord knows I’m not grateful for turkey hash, and I can’t fool him.” The film is spoofed in a 1962 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour directed by Joseph Pevney and called “Bonfire”.
D-Day the Sixth of June
They Were Not Divided, says Terence Young, and they were not missed, much.
Bosley Crowther (New York Times) makes it the occasion of a peculiarly ferocious sneer, the better not to reflect (O’Brien’s character, timorous Col. Timmer, gets his vote), Variety is much more expansively responsive.
The Power and the Prize
A blank check to Hitler, who writes himself into oblivion with it, a view of the war from a business perspective, a stylistic mandate.
This will stand comparisons, they are odious.
The brusqueness of the jointures arises from the historical requirements of the story.
The prize is control, power the means to obtain it, the position stands revealed as weakness.
Wherein power consists, and what constitutes the prize, are probably psychological considerations as much as anything else.
Bosley Crowther was mostly taken with the widow (New York Times), the rest was good acting and “a somewhat hackneyed story”, critics crave excitement, it isn’t all fizz and popcorn. “Had far more relevance in 1956 than it does today,” says Hal Erickson of All Movie Guide, irrelevantly. Leonard Maltin, “sporadically effective”.
The Story of Ruth
The Moabitish splendors pass into the genre-painting of Bethlehem across the widescreen panoply treated as fresco panels with distinct reference to DeMille’s geometric handling of The Ten Commandments in a centrally Egyptian style, for comparison, and later registered by Mankiewicz in Cleopatra.
The dramatic bounds are those of sacrifice and consummation, Ruth is a priestess in the temple where children of her sex are ritually given to the knife and immolation. Naomi’s prayer brings a divine messenger, followed by rain in the cistern reflecting the faces of Ruth and Boaz.
The exceptional vigor and clarity of the performances is quite a deliberate study by Koster for peculiar effects of character, achieved by contrast and relief so therefore pictorial, in a way.
Flower Drum Song
The extremely poetic nature of the work is indicated immediately after the Marx Brothers opening, in “A Hundred Million Miracles”, which continues later on.
Bosley Crowther, with his customary stupidity, confused the adroit use of stock characters with a lack of wit and sophistication, and bungled his review in the New York Times (Variety did no better).
Koster was miraculously called to film this, he had the best cast and crew and made something astonishingly brilliant.
American directors have from time to time dropped their jaws when looking at foreign films, this time the jaw was on the other floor.
Witness, if you will or no, the nightclub performer in front of her triple full-length mirrors that individually represent her singing “I Enjoy Being a Girl”, Irene Sharaff dresses her reflections rather badly, she is Serling’s “portrait of a girl in love—with herself”, three years ahead of Jerry Lewis’ backup singers (The Patsy), infinitely subtle.
The abstract ballet “Love, Look Away”, the crowning surreal “Sunday”, the variability of Hermes Pan’s choreography, the nimbleness of every song, the perfect jokes throughout, the touching performances, the advanced structure, the dancing and wit and humor, just went for nothing much with reviewers if you can believe it, as if that were possible.
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation
Koster’s masterpiece on a comic variation of the last will and testament drawn up and quartered at the end, by Nunnally Johnson from the author of Minnelli’s Father of the Bride.
The CinemaScope pictures are worth the price of admission, the document is a Life with Father letter dictated at the bank offices in St. Louis concerning a month-long stay at the sea “south of San Francisco” with wife and entire family, daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and son, also a son-in-law’s prospective employer and his wife.
It’s a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra) is cited, Dragonwyck (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and Tombstone Raiders are mentioned, Mankiewicz’ The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is evident on the set.
“Did you see that fellow that fell on his face?” That was Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader.
An æsthete to the manner born, Robert Leaf, professor.
The slender birch in which the linnet rests
Is a promise made in quiet splendor
Heard above the drums of thunder,
For silence is the shriek of life.
These verses of his are recited to their author by a con man and professor of Elizabethan studies, Whitman is mentioned by way of compliment.
Leaf’s son is eight, “tone-deaf, color-blind”, with a capacity for numbers that is prodigious, a genius of analysis, and the goal of all the lad’s striving is Brigitte Bardot, who recites these lines of the poet’s to their author,
The songbird’s flute,
The drumbeat of the rain,
The sound of wings against the night,
All join to put my heart to flight.
The Singing Nun
Koster underplays this consistently to his heroine, who becomes in her professional capacity a luminous apparition of convent wisdom and a very effective symbol of the artist himself, hence the transmogrification of the final scene in an African village, the sudden displacement has its surrealistic uses, may be seen as an honor to Sœur Sourire out of Eliot’s The Cocktail Party, but is directly understood at once in itself.
Variety and Bosley Crowther were disappointed.