The Pride and the Passion
The liberator and the oppressed are united in the expression of a symbol, the ithyphallic outsized field-piece they lug to Avila where the French headquarters are.
It serves a satiric function by illuminating the deeper purposes of such men, then it undergoes a metamorphosis in the cathedral scene to become the lower arm of Christ in a magnificent resuscitation of Spain in all its paradoxical glory.
De Mille could not have done more as the producer, allowing shot upon shot of stupendous grandeur with each set-up.
The unfortunate myth of poor or contrarily fiduciary casting is entirely belied in each of the irreplaceable performances.
The Defiant Ones
The problem Kramer presents was not perceived by critics, which led to a misunderstanding dogging him all his days.
Let us go farther, and say that from this point on critics never ever understood Kramer, like De Mille, nevah evah.
The criminal wants something he hasn’t got, something for nothing, buckskin shoes or a plot of land or the big city, and he’ll do anything to get it.
That’s why there are three characters, not two, white and envious or black and resentful or female out to see the sights, somebody has to pay.
Bosley Crowther (New York Times), Variety, Pauline Kael, every critic missed the boat praising or damning where film directors followed suit with an analysis elsewhere wanting. David Miller in Lonely Are the Brave and Stuart Rosenberg in Cool Hand Luke refine the understanding absent in critics. Clint Eastwood adopts whole sequences in A Perfect World (the boy shooting Curtis, Bikel restraining the pursuit and approaching alone, etc.). Robert Redford sums it all up for the critics on their own terms in The Legend of Bagger Vance, the pair isn’t up to much separately.
The cinematography is of the very best, instantaneously filling the screen with the sort of attainment remarked shortly in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
On the Beach
The image is a submarine arriving at Australia, nothing topside (the joke is Admiral Bridie on his flattop, but the submarine skipper is later promoted).
The surreal drama is always like a dream. L’amour et la mort, and the technical points on nuclear war and atomic fallout stress the theme.
The “sexual hemisphere” is Beckett’s version of an old joke. The conning tower rising alongside a fisherman, the sunsplashed lovers in a final kiss, the signal sought over such a great distance, are further memorable images, and influential ones.
Inherit the Wind
Kramer’s dramatic analysis of the Scopes trial derives the main action from Darrow’s understanding that the charge was but a short step from witch-burning. The three main characters are arrayed with a fourth to posit a structure. Rev. Brown (Claude Akins) and Hornbeck (Gene Kelly) form the poles of fanaticism and nihilism, between them in the “titanic struggle” are Brady (Frederic March) and Drummond (Spencer Tracy), who each rebuke the Satan behind him, Brady with the Proverb that gives the title, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind,” completed by Drummond, “and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”
David Greene’s television film is a very useful close reading of the trial sequences, proceeding from Kramer’s last shot.
Certain fundamentalist critics cite the film’s many fictional aspects and make its point.
Judgment at Nuremberg
One of the greatest films ever made received generally negative reviews and proved a great success financially, witness (in reverse order) the box office receipts and Time’s unsigned calumny and Richard Widmark’s performance, carefully guided by Kramer along Mann’s lines.
Kramer’s negative capability aids him from one scene to the next, each proclaiming its verity only ascertained at the end of the line.
What is there to be compared with Kramer’s sense of drama, the defense attorney battering and imagining and holding on for dear life, the whole thing a relatively minor affair of Nazi jurists tried by a Maine district court judge out of office and two others?
There isn’t anything finer, for those who can follow it. And the final reclamation of justice comes after the verdict, a simple country affair.
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
The greatest comedy ever made. It has the Buster Keaton imprimatur, on top of everything else.
Crowther saw all 192 minutes of it, said it was “subtly thematic”, which is true, “wild and hilarious”, which is also true, and “too long”, which can’t be true at all.
Capt. Culpeper has finally cracked the Smiler Grogan case, but everything falls apart and he heads for Mexico with the loot buried under a big W.
His friend the police chief tries to get his pension trebled with evidence of graft, but the politicos hate Culpeper for “closing down the houses”.
As Variety said, “all the stops are out”.
What went into it is known, what came from it is The Great Race, and The Anderson Tapes, and everything that can be deduced along these branches.
To watch it is to see the father of comedy go unvexed to sheer laughs. Kramer bought and paid for it all the way.
Ship of Fools
The steamship Vera, of Bremen, sailing from Veracruz to Bremerhaven in 1933.
The film exists as an immediate prelude to the Spanish Civil War, with the Third Reich and the Second World War already visible.
The passengers are German, Spanish, and American. The peculiar frame of action renders this quite abstruse in its farther reaches, as many a critic has found. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times nevertheless discerned a simple, direct approach that is very useful.
This intricate, detailed analysis offers a mirror of the present, expressly.
Huston’s Under the Volcano and Fernandez’ Soy puro mexicano are close in theme, and there is Fellini’s E la nave va.
The vast panorama of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and a lot of other work, paid off in this very recherché thing, which negotiates the pirouettes of delicate form that are Kramer’s real achievement.
The essentially satirical position indicated by the title deflates reviewers such as Tom Milne in Time Out Film Guide and Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader who have not grasped it, and there is John Simon.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
The essential marriage comedy, decided only in the last scene and up in arms all the way.
Kramer the master of close-in farce is a quiet genius riding the cast and William Rose’s script like the great artist he is.
Hitchcock’s Rope is the main joke in the mise en scène, a single day into evening with sunset (a marvelous scene) and all, because the young couple seem so arbitrarily wanton by certain lights.
Critics seem generally to have exerted themselves in posturing against it à la Bosley Crowther, a most inglorious position.
In the face of any difficult union, love is the only answer, but it takes all of a long understanding to reach that point, the point of the film being to see this all through in record time with every county heard from.
A sheer masterpiece, regarded any way you will, and one of the funniest things on film.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria
After Mussolini falls, the German Army moves in.
The town commodity is wine for Cinzano vermouth.
A million subtle details of the Rose-Maddow script paint a complete picture, Kramer has the main formal device of bottles in a Roman cave, four-fifths of the annual yield, and the occasion of the mayor’s election, and the Contessa’s affair with an Italian army captain.
Such wits as Molly Haskell of the Village Voice and Vincent Canby of the New York Times looked down their noses, Variety got the eminent gist.
The main salvation from an SS interrogation is by way of Lang’s Hangmen Also Die!, two fascisti are put to the question.
*Revolutions Per Minute
The inadequacy of an American college when faced with a student takeover. The diploma factory or bumf mill stands naked, trustees, faculty, student body and all, while determined cadres present a list of demands.
Rush’s Getting Straight finds the same problem, Kramer’s college president musters enough knowledge and insight to perceive the megillah (riot police, tear gas, injuries) as unavoidable, something “to keep us awake at night”.
The long critical misunderstanding of The Defiant Ones can hardly have prepared critics for the Berkeley B.A. in tear gas and “Hudson Afro” and the coed ballbuster amid the general likeness to a prison revolt.
Anthony Quinn’s resemblance to Yves Montand in this role is not accidental but suggests Resnais’ La Guerre est finie as a starting point. Ann-Margret as the neurotic graduate student gives a signal performance.
Bless The Beasts & Children
The title suggests Sartre’s remark that solicitude for children and small animals can sometimes take the place of adult concerns.
The concept of “culls” as political satire comes up in McLaglen’s McLintock!, where the governor is so called.
Mark McCain is reminded by his father Lucas (The Rifleman), in a discussion of buffalo, “this is cattle country”.
And now the arcane political allegory of Kramer’s film can be understood to foretell or envisage a certain accommodation of right and left (these are personified by the two older children, Cotton and Teft).
A critic makes his mind up in fifteen minutes, a deadline admits no analysis. The film is stated according to his theory, whatever does not fit is esteemed by him to be ill-judged, erroneous, unsuccessful. In this way, errors pile up, until the actual work of the director can no longer be perceived, he is then described as having “lost his touch”. If the critic is later beguiled, the subject of his attentions has “returned to form”.
Oklahoma Crude is a perfect example, an initial impression is formed, it takes Kramer all the film to undo it, but by then the review has been written, filed and forgotten, only to be parroted over the years more or less unconsciously.
The continuity of civilized activity in Kramer’s view constitutes the action of the film, the taming of the West, and if the gusher hard-won under the circumstances fizzles out, she’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes.
Conway’s Boom Town is often mentioned in reviews, but not Heisler’s Tulsa (nor Huston’s The Life & Times of Judge Roy Bean, to say nothing of The Pride and the Passion). A thoroughgoing complex analysis is undertaken by Anderson in There Will Be Blood.
The Domino Principle
Kramer’s banana republic allegory, “they” spring a prisoner to do a job, a big job, a big operation.
The narrator’s “listen to me” is from The Ipcress File (dir. Sidney J. Furie), the Kafka story is Der Prozeß, as a model of composition.
The entire point is the Kafkaesque position rather than Freudian analysis, given the most frankly surrealistic extension, and that defines the image.
The filming is very beautiful, so is the acting, very accurate and rich. Nothing of this made any impression on critics, the singular difficulty of the construction was to them sour grapes.
Welles’ film of The Trial is certainly a key.
The Runner Stumbles
Léon Morin, Prêtre (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville) pivots on a priest’s vows, Hitchcock’s I Confess (sometimes cited in reviews of Kramer’s film) explicates the priest’s function, it is not so obvious as all that, perhaps. Preminger’s The Cardinal shows the cleric’s path through error, and still critics had a great deal of trouble with this.
The nun is done in by the housekeeper because Christ’s teachings turn on a misconstrued phrase, “Jesus wept”, that’s one way to explain the situation.
Ebert was tickled by Ernest Gold’s Irving Rapper score, it suggested to him old-fashioned romance (Chicago Sun-Times). Janet Maslin of the New York Times crowned a lifetime of Kramer misinterpretation by suggesting the film was bad because it lacked “a great, galloping Big Issue at its center.” The Catholic News Service Media Review Office criticizes it as “muddled” and just this side of morally objectionable. Time Out Film Guide essentially hews to Maslin, Halliwell’s Film Guide says “good acting does not atone” and adds Paul Taylor in the Monthly Film Bulletin, “middlebrow Hollywood pretension.”