Son of the Gods

An admirably conceived joke, delivered with aplomb.

The Chinaman’s chance in love (he is a winner at Monte Carlo) resolves him against the white race, there in his New York office. Lo! the girl loves him anyway, despite his secret origins and her violent revulsion. An Irish cop from San Francisco brings him the news, a foundling he, white on the face of it.

The joke did not appeal to Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, he pronounced against the “childish narrative.”

“And so,” as Beckett says, “the joke was lost.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide seconds the motion, but quotes Variety to another effect.



A spiffy show, how to get the fat lady on the circus train (with ropes), how to smooth a sheriff or a town councilman (give the kid his ring back, give the man his money), how to vamp a rube till he don’t know what hit him.

She marries the guy, what’s worse, now he’s out of his father’s books.

Chicago World’s Fair, Snake Hips on the midway, business ain’t booming but she ekes out his income as a law clerk. That’s all, brother, she’s all that’s keepin’ the midway alive and him, a tongue-tied barker drives ‘em away, dear old trouper Dad gets up to spiel for her, “up-to-date, educational!”

The title in both senses, an exhortation to acrobatic skill and straightforward ballyhoo.



Mutiny on the Bounty

The best criticism was directed, in the absence of its author, by Roger Donaldson—namely Robert Bolt’s script, initiated by David Lean, presumably, and years in pre-production by him.

Lloyd’s film is just a perfect film. There’s no way around this, this is M-G-M at its best and most profound, brought to the crux again and again by Lloyd’s economies, which are like Debussy’s manner of phrasemaking by careful abutment and abridgement, as put forth in a Journal of the American Musicological Society article years ago.

Even at 132 minutes, Mutiny on the Bounty is vastly compressed, even elliptical. There was no chance of making a better picture, just a tactical experiment at exploring a mere handful of interstices, only to see what would happen. All Lean really saw, one imagines, was the missing 132 minutes Lloyd did not film, and the worthwhile problem of how to film it.

It is not beyond the realm of conjecture to suppose Lean’s project fell through because the producers thought him mad to attempt it.

The unerring artistic instinct of Marlon Brando made an assessment of Lloyd’s film along the same lines, and germinated his portrayal of Christian in Lewis Milestone’s remake, which is at the midpoint between Lloyd’s tight ship and Donaldson’s necessary abandon.


Under Two Flags

French and British, southern Algeria, 1900.

Brenon’s Beau Geste, Sternberg’s Morocco.

The innkeeper’s daughter Cigarette, Lord Seraph’s niece Venetia.

The inestimable bravery of the French girl, just ahead of Stevens’ Gunga Din.


Maid of Salem

The witch superstition tied to a political understanding could easily have inspired Arthur Miller, especially as it rises to a thunderstorm of hysteria like his first act.

Salem Village is seen in a long shot toward the end like Delbert Mann’s Lexington in April Morning.

An exceptionally rational understanding of the witch trials that knows its ground and brooks no nonsense, the infection is recognized as an inoculation against future outbreaks of the disease that took so many lives in Europe and even in England.

Variety and Halliwell thought little of it, Dreyer however made Day of Wrath a few years later.


If I Were King

As ValÚry might have said, and Villon says here, “poetry is its own worst enemy,” antithetical to the city and its best defense.

The argument is for a free hand.

The cautious generals will not act, Villon, another Cellini, turns his art against the besiegers, well, as Grand Constable he is only a demi-King, as a poet he sees the countryside teeming with victuals beyond the closed gates of Paris.

That is the absurd position he is imagined in, the characteristic wit of this masterwork crowns it with a jest, he is banished to all of France save Paris, the king must have peace.

Preston Sturges has the screenplay in hand. Colman and Rathbone share the honors in a film curiously related to Worsley’s or Dieterle’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Variety sang its praises, Halliwell could not perceive its finer workings, it “rings hollow” in his Film Guide.


The Howards of Virginia

The opening sequence of George II and young Matt becomes Bergman’s screenplay for Sj÷berg’s Torment, apparently sight unseen.

The surrealism of Lloyd’s cunning masterwork is his tool for carving the tale out of Revolutionary War escapades into a mirror of the Stamp Act and the Declaratory Act and the Tea Tax as a backwoodsman who marries a lady of the gentry, far ahead of its time, a decade and more. His acuity and accuracy carry the day across very precise mummery and set dressing to an uncanny feeling for the rightness of things, which is the very definition of Surrealism.

It must have seemed astonishing at the time (Crowther wrote as in a dream), and is even more striking now.


Blood on the Sun

The truth about the Tanaka Memorial, a right-wing plan to militarize Japan for world conquest.

Strange difficulties are encountered in publishing it, a managing editor at the Tokyo Chronicle makes a guess and gets a government visit.

Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor has a lot to do with this, so has Kazan’s On the Waterfront, which draws its inspiration from the structure and also its finale, and there is Aldrich’s Too Late the Hero.

Bosley Crowther did a brief version of his backhand compliment, the sort of thing described in Why We Fight.


The Last Command

Jim Bowie is a loyal Texian who disapproves of hotheads, he’s served under Santa Anna and they are friends.

Bowie is the protagonist of the film, and his fight against Santa Anna’s despotism is the tenor of it. The inner theme beyond his tragedy is his abhorrence of redundancy (Consuelo) and waste (Jeb).

The characteristic feature of Lloyd’s outlook accommodates this, he infers things not said or shown. Crockett’s Tennessee twang says as much or more as the script about him.

Lloyd has done the work in Blood on the Sun, of which this is a variant.