Swing High, Swing Low

The opening is a brilliant conception. A liner passing through the Panama Canal is stopped in a lock. As the ship changes elevation, Leisen films a conversation between Fred MacMurray standing guard on the banks and Carole Lombard working as a beautician on the ship.

There is something of the rigorousness of Hitchcock in Leisen’s décors, which are designed to refresh the eye in every frame (and the set of Rope makes a brief but telling appearance here). With all his attention seemingly paid to his pictures, Leisen strings his drama on a simple misunderstanding, but its real force is revealed in John Osborne’s overhaul of the whole kit and kaboodle in Look Back in Anger (with a side note in his Luther). A beautiful montage sequence has a few seconds of Oskar Fischinger.


Remember the Night

Preston Sturges’ answer to Waterloo Bridge, a New York shoplifting case that goes home to Indiana for Christmas and New Year’s.

Criticism has been surprisingly favorable without taking note of any position.

The screenplay is of a fabulous complexity, minutely detailed, and covers every consideration of the theme.


Lady in the Dark

Fellini before Fellini, full-bore in Otto e mezzo, Giulietta degli spiriti, and I Clowns.

Critics were much surprised, especially in New York, by the nimbleness of purpose in Leisen’s handling of the affair. Observe his mastery of Cukor’s acumen in The Women as a large part of the plot, a three-ring circus also as diamond props.

The one is her father, another her son, but the middle one knows how to sell the thing (and observe the nice point of her father’s weakness).

Leisen sells the film outright as a copy of Allure in the opening credits.

Pat and Mike is close, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever a remake, Dreams That Money Can Buy an atmospheric relation.


Golden Earrings

A British lieutenant-colonel goes to Germany in 1939 to fetch a poison gas formula and thus neutralize its use.

He falls in with a gypsy girl, who disguises him as one of the tribe.

This brilliant comedy, which stints nothing in its evocation of the Nazis, and bears ominous hints of the gypsies’ fate, is played by Ray Milland and Marlene Dietrich under Leisen’s expert hand.

Crowther responded like a Gauleiter, “neither consistency nor cleverness are in the story or the writing thereof.”


The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine
The Twilight Zone

Rod Serling is no mere fool, sitting on the sidelines while stretchers bear away certain players and new ones are sent in. Circumstances are presented in this story which suggest direct knowledge of studio merchandising, but that isn’t necessary to an understanding of it.

The central image comes from Keaton. A movie star of the Thirties (Ida Lupino) is forsaken and lives watching her work in such films as A Farewell Without Tears and A Night in Paris, projected in her home. Her agent (Martin Balsam) tries to encourage her to accept reality by bringing over her former leading man, now a “strange old man” (Jerome Cowan) who runs “a string of supermarkets outside of Chicago.” The sting of Serling’s writing propels the conclusion, as she disappears into one of her projected movies, leaving her agent and her housekeeper shocked and aghast.

Leisen underplays this mostly for effect, with a marvelous zoom-in, done on an optical printer, to a close-up of Lupino’s face. The studio head is Ted de Corsia, and there is a fine scene in his considerable office. The last shot is an even more immediate and striking preparation for one in 2001: A Space Odyssey than is to be found in The Third Man, the camera dollies into the dark screen and there is a dissolve to stars.

A leading lady of “carefree romantic” films in an epoch of tyrants does not submit.


Escape Clause
The Twilight Zone

This farce about a hypochondriac (David Wayne) who sells his soul to the devil (Thomas Gomez) for physical immortality has its real drama in l’amour c’est la mort (“Long Live Walter Jameson”). The man’s wife (Virginia Christine) accidentally dies preventing one of his foolish death-defying escapades, and he goes to prison for it, thinking to have tried out the electric chair. Faced with eons of solitude, he opts to exercise the escape clause in his contract with the devil, and dies of a heart attack, foreshortened on his cell floor like Manet’s toreador, nose above eyes like Picasso’s Guernica and Sollima’s Cittŕ violenta.

Leisen gives this mostly to the actors, and in a strict hierarchy. Wayne is brilliant and slightly jazzy, Gomez peers out of his part with veiled intent, and Christine plays hers somewhat away from the camera, veiling Serling’s intent, an homage to The Iceman Cometh.


People Are Alike All Over
The Twilight Zone

An intrepid explorer and a fearful biologist are the first astronauts on Mars. The explorer dies without seeing it, the biologist is received by the Martians, who give him all the comforts of home.

By a very far remove stylistically, “People Are Alike All Over” is actually very close to Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, especially in the famous scene of the furious egghead pinning Rayette to the nearest wall like a moth.

It’s what you might call a study of the egghead on his own planet, which is very naturally Mars. He dresses in a version of classical style, smiles continuously and is very helpful. All of that is cunning, however, because his main concern, his overriding ambition, his professional career is once and for all placing an “Earth Creature in his native habitat”.


worse than murder

A complex set of images for Leisen to juggle, the absent will, a set of diaries, an RN on the skids, that second shot of insulin, the dead stepmother, the blackmailed socialite mother-in-law, “and all for money.”