The Gay Parisian
“The gaiety of nations,” France, the Café Parisien, posh and very merry, and at the time of the can-can. A girl descends a staircase, dances with the boys, the young Baron is taken with her. Enter the Peruvian carrying his bags. It is Massine, only a few years after inventing this ballet. If there is no film of him dancing the Chinese Conjuror in Parade, there is this. The endless invention, the natural clowning, the brilliance are all here. A born entertainer (he looks like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor combined). He steps about the stage most amusingly, and the Baron’s girl is fascinated by him, which miffs the Baron. There is an impressive fight, a comic mêlée.
The waltz duet gives the clearest indication possible of the Ballet Russe, its characteristic being flat-out dancing with an air of effortlessness, signed with postures of élan, recorded by Picasso and photographers.
The can-can girls come on, led by the dancing master Gene Kelly must have remembered in An American in Paris. The background gradually assumes the dimensions of a circus, a great exhibition of Massine’s skill with fine articulated groupings. One of the dancers whips up fouetté on fouetté by the dozen and finally sits down on the floor in one movement after the last of them with legs extended and feet parted, one hand behind and one in the air. Another can-can (the more famous one) in groups, a circle and pairs, leads to the barcarolle with a dazzling invention by Massine, just a comic suite of crisscrossing groups making as if they were in gondolas drifting by, romantically.
Massine returns, a regular Pulcinello, bags in hand, only to find the girl in a deep embrace with the Baron. Here is the astounding thing. Petrushka has been revived several times, even with Nureyev, without conveying anything like the original. Massine does a comic take, a throwaway gag, really, with eyes wide recoiling from the scene, immobilized in shock. He looks like a puppet, he looks like Petrushka, and you can understand in a moment everything Fokine’s ballet was in its first performances.
This Technicolor version of Gaîté Parisienne has been criticized for “over-active camera work,” probably because during the duet Negulesco puts the camera on a l’œil-de-bœuf mirror briefly, but that is the art of Negulesco, needlessly deprecated even in its very early days.
It is revelatory of Massine’s position among choreographers (none are better) that Clive Barnes not long ago lamented his decline in the general view, while claiming that this ballet and Parade are “weak” and “minor,” respectively. There are many, many details here for the experts to expound upon. See it, above all, if you know Massine only from his superb acting job in The Red Shoes.
Massine’s Capriccio Espagnol, which premiered not long before this film was made, is generally considered to be a work of little significance. This is partly because it is incorrectly performed, no doubt, and partly because its unusually compressed and insinuating style has caused it to be overlooked. Hence this film is invaluable to an understanding of it, even among the experts. The crucial masterwork (after Parade) is Le Tricorne with its Spanish dancing studied from a practitioner.
La Argentinita herself is called in to effect a surprise in the choreography and give it the imprimatur of the Madrid Ballet. In the midst of all the flamenco-style drama (Massine crossly waggles his stick at Toumanova as she passes the hat round the plaza, shows him its contents, then deposits them in her bosom before they dance a sinuous duet, slowly drawing the townspeople in), a dancer leaps onto the stage and inspires a bit of folk dancing that might be from anywhere but comes from Spain. This whole finale exhibits Massine’s skill in creating complex ensembles that seem to coalesce unknowingly out of idleness or chaos.
With this company, there is even a bit of history. Rimsky-Korsakov at first didn’t want his Scheherazade danced to, and here is Massine continuing a tradition Fokine established.
Also Toumanova, who is the Soviet ballerina in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, expressing precisely the spirit of Rimsky’s Spanish caprice.
As a great cinéaste once wrote, “every film is a day of fiesta in the world’s eternity.”
Borrah Minevitch and His Harmonica School
A regular Moulin Rouge conducted by Negulesco in great style, “You Are Always in My Heart”, “Begin the Beguine”, “American Patrol”...
The Mask of Dimitrios
A succession of crimes in an echelon or scale of understanding usefully employed to clarify a common mystery (Sydney Greenstreet as Mr. Peters casts a dark eye on the sleeping railroad passenger across from him and returns to the volume he is reading, the title of which is revealed by the camera angle in one of Negulesco’s best jokes as Pearls of Everyday Wisdom).
A rich man in Paris, Dimitrios Makropoulos, director of the Eurasian Credit Trust. Observe the train of events, before that he ran a smuggling ring, before that he was in foreign espionage, before that a blackmailer, and as far back as anyone knows he killed a man for his fortune.
The study of this character, undertaken by a Dutch economics professor turned mystery writer (Peter Lorre), is entirely the point of the film (you see, for instance, how the spy blackmails a victim into betraying his country, and how betrayal is a constant feature of the criminal’s actions).
Critics at the time (Variety, New York Times) had no use for this, all the work went to waste, critically speaking, and Negulesco’s subtle camerawork, and Lorre’s performance as an homme moyen raisonnable.
Whereas Zachary Scott as Dimitrios presents us now with the face of Ben Kingsley early on and Lee Van Cleef for the rest.
The film is closely related to Reed’s The Third Man and Welles’ Mr. Arkadin.
The Flying Dutchman, a Dutch Underground operative quite skillful in sabotage, is hot and makes for England via Lisbon to join the Dutch Air Force.
Portugal is neutral, Lisbon is “the last open port”.
And there is the tale, how another operative dies in his place, how a French girl is rescued from Dachau, how the fado is sung and fishermen resist, and what the Lisbon constabulary is made of.
He goes back in, perforce.
“A disappointing show” (Bosley Crowther, New York Times). “Pacy, romantic hokum” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide). “Often listless” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
A terrible drama of wartime necessity illuminated by the rarest insight.
The Axis, in short.
For the figure of Kwan Yin, see William Nigh’s Lady from Chungking.
Prime screenplay of central importance in Huston’s work.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “an efficiently intriguing show.”
Variety, “a rather complicated episodic plot... Jean Negulesco’s direction is satisfactory.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “humdrum”.
A rare mention of the Oxford Movement for a courtroom ruse of “quiet time”, the violetseller of Lang’s Frau im Mond, and a foretaste of Ken Russell’s Women in Love (“I won’t let you do it”).
Nobody Lives Forever
After the war, a different way of looking at things. New York is a holdover, sinkhole of crime and despair, Los Angeles is the Vita Nuova.
This comic revelation, the golfer’s tale is one of the funniest items on any bill, is brought to life with all the force of Negulesco’s art, a complicated thing, photographic and cinematographic, rhythmic and musical, a complete grasp of film art.
It expresses the shift of necessity from the war years to the Cold War, from “one-third of a nation” to “ask not what your country” etc.
Haskin’s I Walk Alone followed suit on another train of thought, already Bosley Crowther of the New York Times saw merely “a craftsmanlike job”, in Time Out Film Guide’s words “predictable but well-acted”. The height of absurdity is reached in Halliwell’s Film Guide, “forgettable romantic melodrama.”
The Lower East Side violinist diligently works himself into a concert career, instrumentally aided by a wealthy æsthete, and therein lies the tale. Bosley Crowther entered and exited the theater without finding it humorous, even though the credits are printed right on Saenger’s transcription. Joan Crawford gives such a picture of the patroness as she herself must gladly accept, John Garfield is mistaken for a boxer at his first informal engagement and is surprised appreciatively at his hands’ work as any virtuoso is upon occasion.
The great gulf between the engine of practice and the informed ear is fixed, it cannot be bridged and remains a negative apex between hominess and heimweh.
Oscar Levant’s playing of the Liebestod opens the film, the subtle coloration is an afterthought of the flashback that comprises the main body of the film and ends before this scene in Paul Boray’s arrangement of the Liebestod for violin, piano and orchestra, the virtue of which is the identifying of several lines in the piece as elements of a great cinematic wave that drowns the æsthete like Norman Maine just off the moonlit beach where a man with a dog and a stick strolls through her suicide as though the assistant director had made a mistake and allowed the shot to be ruined. Negulesco turns this scene into symphonic poetry the way Wyler makes the last scene of The Letter into an opera, Strauss’s Salome.
The mocking transitions that are so conspicuous by their humor include a window shade snapping on its roller that becomes by dissolve a keyboard seen from above, a dripping faucet and a dartboard, a coffee pot and a contract signature, a splash of seltzer and a slapping ocean wave.
Negulesco’s New York is finely realized by detailed set-dressing and application of camerawork, he accomplishes without difficulty the complicated understanding (cf. Cassavetes’ Gloria) of the town seen in a passage that moves from rink to restaurant at Rockefeller Center, Welles is a primary key to this treatment and evocation, Negulesco has a flair and skill all his own, proceeding here from certain subtle points of the script by Clifford Odets out of Fannie Hurst, such as Boray’s father (J. Carrol Naish) the grocery man in a pother over the boy’s wish for an eight-dollar violin on his birthday, the mother (Ruth Nelson) goes to buy it, father steps out of the shop to tell her which one.
Levant tells us his lines are his own, and his concert experience is in the script. Such an embellishment adds the worldly note to a reception of art rather wonderfully mirrored by Crowther.
The chin wags the beard, that’s all.
The coastal region is scrabbly, farming and fishing are hard, only the merchants are fat and one of them (Dan Seymour) even sees the local doctor because of his diet. Why won’t the doctor take barter from him? “I have to get cash somewhere,” says Dr. Richardson, “and you and some of the others are the only ones who can afford it.”
Negulesco, about whom Andrew Sarris is approximately half-right, shows you the landscape (it looks like California because it is) and the people (who work from dawn till dusk) and Dr. Richardson’s shingle, taking a little time to reveal the good doctor of this place is none other than Dr. Kildare himself, Lew Ayres.
He finds a deaf-mute girl (Jane Wyman) taken for an idiot by her father and his sister (Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead), who simply don’t know any better and have no time to find out. Dr. Richardson teaches Belinda to read lips and sign. “It’s like a miracle,” says her father, who had previously considered the girl incapable of thought. At a harvest dance, she sees the dancing and puts her hand on a violin to feel the sound, thanks to the doctor. A village lout (Stephen McNally) rapes her afterward, his fiancée (Jan Sterling) has a crush on the doctor, etc.
Johnny is the name Belinda gives to her son. There is the question of who the father is. Her own father learns the truth and perishes for it, in a scene that prefigures One-Eyed Jacks and Jeremiah Johnson. A rapid climax steers the tenuous soul and mind of the place over the shoals and into the safe haven of Canadian jurisprudence, which protects the citizen’s “rights and dignity as a human being.”
The screenplay uses great skill to leave its crudities obvious if unstated. Negulesco’s direction is enormously detailed and fast, his ear is impeccable (listen to the congregation singing), and his compositions are of signal interest. The doctor in a close-up converses with Belinda in profile even nearer the camera (two-shot). His hands sign “town” across the screen to Belinda in a medium close-up that tilts up with her as she stands with the sun at her back on the horizon. The lout is married between flowers and the sea, a thrown bouquet and showers of rice. The influence on The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is significant.
Bickford and Moorehead become other persons entirely, he in a paroxysm of rage and she in prayer. Wyman received an Oscar, which does the Academy credit. Ayres trickles through it all like “a drop to drink in a dungeon”.
The Forbidden Street
Britannia Mews, as it’s known in England, off limits to a well-to-do child gazing down from her window at it, “wicked, vicious”, poor (cf. Satyajit Ray’s Two).
A very great film by a very great director, in the English manner, at an English studio, it might be Cavalcanti.
How the other half lives, a crucial understanding of art, from the author of Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown.
“You’re like a Holbein, you’re also like a sleeping princess.”
1885. “You can tell by his face that he’s a great artist, and you must admit that he’s very distinguished-looking.”
Land Without Music (dir. Walter Forde) is a very severe precedent.
“You will see that all this is extraordinarily commonplace, one might almost say vulgar!”
Lovely score by Malcolm Arnold, the cinematographer is Georges Perinal, Guy Hamilton the assistant director, etc.
“A slum,” Britannia mews, greatly enlivened by the discovery of art (the other is tried and found wanting). “For prestige we’ve got to attract some of the more intellectual critics, like, er, Bernard Shaw of the Saturday Review.”
A malentendu, under the circumstances. “You’re still quite a young man, and there are certain aspects of conjugal life of which you’re still unaware, quite properly, of course.”
A malentendu and a position, to be sure. “I want you to know that I just don’t blame you for a thing, you’ve been victimized just like every other woman since Mother Eve.”
The corset salesman from Milwaukee never peeps his nose in, except to say that the young ladies’ drawing master at the beginning is not the artist at the end.
Britmovie gives it to Thorndike as the Sow in what is otherwise “this odd film”.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times compounded the misunderstanding with every bone in his body, “sketchy and aimless... a jigjog thing... Ring Lardner, Jr. failed completely...” but as for Thorndike, “we’d hoped that something absorbing might come of her, at least.”
Variety shared the conclusion, finding “a simple story” it could not follow, but differed in its estimation of the filming, “a triumph for the art director”.
Be that as it may, “my mews is now a fashionable address.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide adds nothing to the sum, “curious and uncertain... poorly played leads” etc.
Three Came Home
Negulesco contributes his sterling dramatic capabilities to Nunnally Johnson’s unerring screenplay, the punchline of which is delivered by Sessue Hayakawa and followed by his pantomime of Shūji Miya’s great poem,
The arrival of the Australians is echoed in Terence Young’s Triple Cross, and the ending may have influenced Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp.
Like the cat i’ the adage, he betakes himself to Windsor Castle, and one may say to the critics in the Queen’s own words, “What! Lord—, don’t you know...”
It is an English picture, like Odets’ None But the Lonely Heart, and quite a serious thing, so much so that one reads with some shock that it is “a whimsical story” (Time Out Film Guide) or “a pleasant whimsical legend” (Halliwell’s Film Guide), that “it is not a great picture” (Variety), and that Irene Dunne isn’t very good in it (Bosley Crowther, New York Times).
Take Care of My Little Girl
America after the war. Two roads present themselves. The screenplay by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein leaves no doubt about Upsilon Upsilon Upsilon. “A Tri-U is selfless, but not unmindful of the golden ore that lies buried within herself.”
Out of this masterpiece come such things as Lumet’s The Group and Cukor’s Rich and Famous.
An echo if nothing more of Dreyer’s Gertrude might be perceived.
The other conspicuous image is “the Old Main Bell”.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times saw “something novel in the college comedy line.”
An expensive proposition, the title character, so jokes her father.
Phone Call from a Stranger
The dramatic exposition is a unified field deemed by some critics, if not all, a compendium.
The shock of infidelity is an affront to father’s probity and rectitude, to mother’s purity and devotion, finally confessed and realized as a paralyzing dip into sporting waters forgotten at once.
This is the sort of genius Negulesco deployed. The runaway son is the husband, the runaway showgirl is the wife, the paralytic in her Giacometti bed is the victim, all ends happily in this grandest of hallucinations that has consequences for Roeg’s Cold Heaven and Pollack’s Random Hearts.
O. Henry’s Full House
“The Last Leaf”, Negulesco’s joke on the early abstract painter who dies painting a Confucian leaf for a poor sick girl, trompe-l’œil.
Birth of an iceberg, breaking off from the pack.
The peculiarly rare and subtle screenplay underlines none of the errors, mishaps and oversights yet places them all in view for the understanding, from official reports.
The drama is that of America and Europe at odds.
The iceberg strikes, women and children in lifeboats watch as the great ship and the men go under.
A film not much admired by critics, perhaps (Halliwell’s Film Guide complains of “a dim script”), but honored for its writing by the Academy.
How To Marry A Millionaire
The analysis closely follows that of Fernandez’ Acapulco, which is sufficient.
Negulesco comedy, perfect and then some.
Nunnally Johnson is the guiding spirit.
This is where Andrew Sarris on Negulesco’s CinemaScope films (“completely worthless”) is a raving madman.
“An average portion of very light comedy,” said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, no wit.
“The chuckles are constant” (Variety). “Feeble little comedy” (Time Out Film Guide).
“Dramatically,” get this, from Halliwell’s Film Guide, “very slack.”
Three Coins in the Fountain
Fontane di Roma in CinemaScope.
The American girls, no Burgoyne or prince or Shadwell but must fall.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times saw nothing in “the nonsense of its fable”.
Variety, “warmth, humor, a rich dose of romance, and almost incredible pictorial appeal.”
Time Out is contemptuous, “touristy romance”.
Summing up the critical response rather loosely as “soppy proceedings” with compensations, the Catholic News Service Media Review Office warns against “romantic complications.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide reports “an enormous box office hit... in itself a thin entertainment, but the title song carried it.”
The song and the cinematography did indeed win Academy Awards.
All an Italian waiter can see is “a scheme to outwit us of our tips.”
A toast. “People are looking at you.”
“Well, high time!”
Daddy Long Legs
The Academy and the Salon, the social, cultural and financial world, are as nothing next to the work, which they do not create.
The Impressionists are cited in shorthand just before the end, to clinch the point.
Minnelli’s Yolanda and the Thief is indicated for the “guardian angel” aspect.
The Joan of Arc Orphanage outside Soissons is a sort of French niece to such institutions, in the sense of the well-known oncle d’Amérique.
Thus the rather exhaustive system of analysis employed, which takes in Lubitsch’s promise (Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife).
Critics have not risen to this occasion, though it must be said that Negulesco has tried to keep clear one of his most complicated formulations.
Boy on a Dolphin
Connoisseurship and the other thing.
You have to know something about it, or Weiler’s review in the New York Times won’t seem funny.
Except where he says it’s scenic, and instructive.
The Best of Everything
A straightfaced satire of the New York publishing world, where girls from Radcliffe start as typists, moonlight as readers, and wind up as editors, or not.
This is all very gratifying and necessary, assembled musically by Negulesco, but even better is the incidental widescreen cinematography of New York, which naturally goes along with the gag.
You even get a little touch of Broadway (and a foretaste of Repulsion), before corporate investment rendered criticism obsolete, as well as a crumb from the upper crust.
The Pleasure Seekers
The dancer who loves an impoverished clinic doctor. The dumb brunette who loves a cynical playboy. The secretary who loves her editor.
The logjam is broken up when the editor takes his wife home to New York, leaving the secretary with a reporter who replaces him.
The Best of Everything continued (on the basis of Three Coins in the Fountain) and set in Spain, where a guidebook names the world’s great masterpieces as the Night Watch of Rembrandt, Las Meninas of Velazquez, and The Burial of Count Orgaz by El Greco. Negulesco has the Prado at hand and goes there.