L’amour et la mort. Hawks et al. had turned The Big Sleep from a meditation on England into a marriage fantasy (Welles adopted the same technique with Touch of Evil), and D.O.A. is modeled on it. The exceptionally deep construction has Paula and Bigelow project themselves into the hallucination as Halliday (Holiday?) and Phillips, respectively. Note the fatal glass of beer switched in Banning. It is also modeled on The Maltese Falcon (with one scene from My Darling Clementine: the photographer’s studio has an Old West look in the middle of figurative nowhere, and the mysterious gunfight takes place next door, because the O.K. Corral was situated next to a photographer’s studio), and has exerted considerable influence, from Kiss Me Deadly to The Bachelor Party and Harper and The Andromeda Strain; Chinatown in its turn is very closely modeled on it, and The Quiller Memorandum may be said to have attempted to restore a measure of the original purpose.
Maté and his director of photography, Ernest Laszlo (whose name appears on the register at the Allison Hotel), give a view of Los Angeles nearly as intimate as Steve Sekely’s in Hollow Triumph. The use of sound effects inspired Von Sternberg’s use of them in Jet Pilot.
Peculiar difficulties of analysis arise because of the mazy construction with its “detached center,” there being only a tenuous connection between Halliday and Majak.
The scene where Bigelow runs through San Francisco in despair and stops with his back against a newsstand (and a column of stacked-up LIFE magazines) under a blazing sun must have inspired Beckett’s Film, or at least the opening sequence cut in production (according to the published script and Alan Schneider’s account of his first day of filming in New York), which was to show couples of various types meeting and greeting. The D.O.A. scene continues with Bigelow watching a little girl with a ball being collected by her mother, and a girl waving to her arriving boyfriend.
The kidnapping of a blind girl, filmed in Los Angeles and New York and Chicago.
The station has elevated trains and underground service trams and strange suburbs reached by commuter trains.
A very obscure mythology governs this cosmos, the city stockyards are down the elevated track, Westhampton is a suburb, the Century Limited stops here. All of it is frankly surrealistic, no way of knowing where one is.
At the same time, it’s strictly a police matter, very cut-and-dried as these things go. The city police inspector (Barry Fitzgerald) expects nothing, the station detective (William Holden) holds out hope.
The mastermind is a career criminal who’s never seen a hundred thousand dollars, it falls on the narrow-gauge underground track like the loot in Kubrick’s The Killing.
Branded is significantly related to Giant, and goes as follows, a young cowboy (Alan Ladd) in bad company (Robert Keith) pretends to be the long-lost son of a rancher (Charles Bickford). Spurned by the daughter (Mona Freeman), the cowboy heads south to find the heir, who’s been raised by a bandit (Joseph Calleia). All ends happily, the son is “shared” by both his “fathers”, and the cowboy gets the girl.
Now, it should be clear that Keith and Calleia play the same role, and there is only one son, real or contrived, who has a mark on him. Prodigality is the hallmark (Maté released four films that year, including D.O.A.), especially in the acting of Ladd on a tightrope, Calleia emotionally expressive, Bickford the paterfamilias, and Freeman the horsewoman.
When Worlds Collide
An elaborate joke on boy meets girl, her father’s an astronomer. Zyra and Bellus are headed for Earth, etc.
Critics seem to have overlooked the Biblical introduction of verses on Noah.
This is the film Guido is making in Fellini’s 8½. Gilbert satirizes it at face value in Moonraker.
The Green Glove
The New York Times reviewer was sadly fooled into believing this to be a travelogue hampered by melodramatic settings of an unworthy plot, and after reading this review in the nation’s journal of record, one does not know what to say to that “A.W.” who is aware the screenplay is by Charles Bennett who adapted The 39 Steps, but does not notice the inn scene here, an important variant of Bennett’s earlier invention. It’s France not Scotland, the couple arrive on foot and are mistaken for honeymooners on a walking trip. “Original, isn’t it,” says the supposed bride. “Yes,” the innkeeper’s cheery wife replies, “we thought only the English did such things.”
The green glove of the title is a gauntlet worn by a local saint against the Moors victoriously, set with precious stones, and thought to have miraculous powers. A U.S. Army paratrooper stumbles on it after D-Day in the possession of a Polish count and international art dealer. A shell explodes, the count vanishes, leaving behind the glove and a bit of intelligence concerning a German counteroffensive. Resistance volunteers arrive, the soldier sends one of them back through the German lines to the Americans with the news, which is false. A French countess in her chateau has thus lost her son for nothing. Her mind goes too, and when the soldier returns broke after the war to reclaim the package he left behind, the chateau is in ruins. The art dealer has men following him, one is found dead in the soldier’s Paris hotel room, he meets an American tour guide on the Eiffel Tower, the police are in pursuit.
The subtle romantic element of mystery allied with miracles is handled with great skill by Bennett. The mad countess holds the glove for a moment, remembers the crowds of people who came to see it at the little mountaintop church overlooking the village, she faints and awakens no longer believing her son to be still on his mission through the lines, therefore she weeps. The soldier takes it that she hit her head falling.
Many touches of Maté are constantly visible, the kiosk in D.O.A. (and the hot band), the chase on foot in Second Chance, etc. He has a positive genius for making films too brilliant for critics.
The dénouement repeats the saint’s battle centuries before, as described by the art dealer. The glove is returned to its shrine in the church at the beginning of the film, and the rest is a flashback explaining the supernatural agency.
The Hotel Manzanita is filmed in Technicolor as though it were one of those hotels in D.O.A. Maté points a pistol directly at the 3-D camera and fires it at Vic Spilato’s bookkeeper (Milburn Stone), but this is hardly enough. In order to take full advantage of the 3-D perspectives he is equipped for, he launches himself on formal compositions of ever greater complexity until they transcend the flat plane and become relatively simple but clear and unequivocal 3-D images which cannot be reduced to height and width alone without loss. So much for what the great cameraman would probably agree is, in the artistic sense, a point of technique.
His symbolic drama partakes of Plato and Freud. Its Joycean omphalos is Felipe’s American Bar, where a fearsome lady tourist puts the make on boxer Russ Lambert (Robert Mitchum) and then some other local talent, as Lambert is called upon to squire Clare (Linda Darnell) out of a jam. A boxing poster and an advertisement for the local cable car simply exist in the scene to define its center in relation to the film.
Lambert has killed a boxer in the ring, through no fault of his own. He won’t go back to America, but fights an outdoor match and wins by dint of his manager’s exhortations (Roy Roberts in a sweatshirt). Maté’s compositions start moving here, from very to extremely elegant.
Advised by Felipe that Lambert won’t fight, Clare bets against him for travel money and loses. Her predicament is dire and complicated: she’s under subpœna to testify about Spilato, and being pursued by his torpedo Cappy (Jack Palance) who loves her and chases her on foot through the village marketplace where Maté’s complicated exercises reach a unique point when she is seen left foreground at a stall and Cappy stands in the distance amid the apparatus of the market in the upper right corner. The scene ultimately attains a rhythmic clarity akin to Huston’s Under the Volcano, before Maté and his story take off on two cable cars named AMOR and HONOR for the mountain reaches of Lambert’s retreat, a small town with a plaza and a church and not much else besides a hotel with a view of badlands all around, but a charming ambience of its own. “Which do you suppose came first,” Lambert asks Clare, “the hotel or all this atmosphere?”
“Who needs music?” he says, but she is worried. Not him. “Spilato is something we used to step on in Chicago when it came crawling out of the woodwork.” Furthermore, Cappy looks like “a sucker for a left hook.”
The drama is magnified at a dance in the plaza, where a jealous husband (Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr.) cuts in on his wife and her partner, beats her and later kills her. The following day, his young son hides behind Cappy at a hotel table.
Maté films Clare through an open door at her vanity table. She agrees to go with Cappy lest he kill Lambert on the spot. During the descent, the two men have an altercation and a policeman escorting the husband searches Cappy, who is found to be unarmed. “He’ll manage to get another gun at San Cristobal,” says Clare. Lambert replies, “Who’s going to wheel him to the store to buy it?”
On the cable car named Amor, which “in twenty years has never had a disaster,” according to the conductor, “except two times,” there is a malfunction and the car is immobilized in danger of falling. The husband volunteers to climb down a rope to the rocky precipice below and climb up the peak to get the small cargo car, which cannot carry all the passengers. He dies trying, and Lambert goes. The boy is blindfolded to select “by the hand of God” which of the passengers must remain if Lambert succeeds (a striking bit of Goya). There is a second cargo car, in desuetude.
The exact point of this is an extraordinary shot any way you look at it. First the husband and then Lambert are seen suspended by a rope above the valley floor, swaying back and forth to gain the precipice by a leap. The rope emanates from the top frame, the figure is isolated by the sense of space in 3-D, and there is no trickery.
Robert Mitchum very surprisingly reveals himself a deceptively calm master of rapid-fire dialogue well-suited to Bob Hope. Linda Darnell matches the nuances of the direction with a complex responsiveness to the camera that’s worthy a film star in her finest form. Jack Palance is a beady-eyed killer as well as a lover heaving with passion, tinged with the modicum of purpose that steers him through the world untouched by any human concern. They’re never better than here, and the rest of the cast is wonderful, including Dan Seymour as Felipe, and Sandro Giglio as the cable car conductor who always abides by “the company regulations.”
At the opening, there is the Hotel Manzanita register filling the screen as the bookkeeper signs his name in it. The cable car exteriors are in the line of Hitchcockian modelwork that includes The African Queen. The cargo car, a small platform with a simple guardrail, is prominently seen in several shots “parked” at the top beside the cable car before it’s ever called into play, another careful preparation that has its thematic usefulness.
The Black Shield of Falworth
Prince Hal lies doggo against the conspiracy of an earl that snares the court in corrupt manners and vile intrigue, a “farm boy” is raised to knighthood and defends the slandered name of Falworth against the usurper.
The script consciously applies The Scarlet Pimpernel to Robin Hood and other medieval matters so as to achieve a fine, active compression that tells the tale without mincing any words at all in some very sharp scenes delineating the true state of affairs, the long training of a knight is a superb study noted by Halliwell, Maté is careful to tend toward Olivier’s Henry V in his scenic constructions.
Quoth Bosley Crowther, New York Times film critic, “utterly innocent of guile or any sort of historical significance or dramatic artistry.”
The Violent Men
Hirelings of a range war veteran, or rather of his brother, “no hired gunman” finally.
To clear the valley of rivals and nesters and have it all.
Opposed, a Union captain shot through and recuperating as a make-do cattleman, ready to head East.
Crowther was sure he’d seen it before.
A classic Western (in widescreen and color), and that’s enough. It’s signed by Maté, and that’s enough, too. Both circumstances are a monstrous proposition.
Part of the game for Maté lies in not exceeding the bounds laid out by the style. A man dozing in his chair downstairs isn’t ignorantly dreaming his wife upstairs with her lover, but the filming allows an interpretation.
The Far Horizons
The Story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Quaint clothes and customs like our own to begin with, in 1803, yet not.
“Good morning, Sir. Congratulations on the Louisiana Purchase.”
This is amazingly accurate technique, it zeroes in on the essence of every scene by seemingly roundabout means, leaving the dross of history on the periphery. There is President Jefferson shaving and drawing a map on the mirror and dressing, at the center is the likeness. The camera has its part to play in evoking the Hancock home interior, for example, or the Rivière du Bois.
Maté follows Borzage on Catlin as authority in his landscapes. Bloodlust of recent vintage is depicted in the carnage of a military engagement, and Chaplin’s Hannah.
With a night filter, Sacajawea rides her white horse down the bank and into a river of clouds, to avert disaster. The defense against the savages is later employed in John Sturges’ Never So Few, and again in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.
A perfectly artistic representation (for Sacajawea on maps, see Herzog’s The Flying Doctors of East Africa, the influence throughout on Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo appears formidable).
Hawks’ The Big Sky is a close precedent. The high rare vista of lake and mountains is precisely emulated in Visconti’s The Leopard.
Paul Revere’s ride, Lincoln’s “father of waters”. It’s 1807, Jefferson is requesting a budget.
A poem on a subject that is of the highest interest.
The divine afflatus was so much wind to H.H.T. of the New York Times, “surprisingly dull... a hollow thud... slow and unimaginative... absurd... strictly monosyllabic... was this trip necessary? Shucks, no.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “hokum”.
Miracle in the Rain
The theme, one should think, is closely related to Mallarmé’s prose poem “Glory”, and even more so to Irving Pichel’s The Miracle of the Bells. Its most concrete understanding is of the perdurability of the work as against any understanding of it. A soldier (Van Johnson) comes back from the dead to give his sweetheart (Jane Wyman) a coin, that’s all.
“Of a time,” but not for all times, is the stylistic appreciator’s bane. Hecht saw it very clearly, how the director is remembered in his heyday, and nostalgia creeps in. The creaky mind subsumes the solid ground in which the work is laid but slowly, over the years. Camp, followed by oblivion. A film isn’t signs and wonders, perceived with a glance and forgotten the next moment.
It’s Whistler’s farthing, “the experience of a lifetime.”
The 300 Spartans
Maté’s great film spins effortlessly to give a true picture of the drama, which has so many ties to Greek politics and society, recent history and the character of men.
Amidst all these threads, Variety lost Diane Baker’s performance, but recognized Sir Ralph Richardson as Themistocles of Athens. David Farrar as Xerxes and Donald Houston as his general, Hydarnes, face Richard Egan as King Leonidas.
The score by Manos Hadjidakis, the settings and the location cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth are further elements of the composition, informed by events in living memory.
“At last we are in Europe,” says Great King Xerxes with invincible forces.
The screenplay by George St. George includes a sense of the Greek mind, its élan vital and spiritual force in oracles and dreams and intellectual vigor. Maté’s battle scenes are a work of art.
The theme is explicitly stated out of Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, the need for unity against a determined foe.
And part of this drama is the memory of other victories from defeat in later times, a Borgesian lesson.