The Strange Door
Scoundrel is locked into marriage as vengeance on the virtuous girl’s father.
What confounds her uncle is the young man’s reformation in love, nevertheless and for that very reason murder is in view.
Therefore the last ounce of strength in one loyal and true is required.
Charles Laughton as the uncle, Boris Karloff as the servant.
A taproot of The Wild Wild West and Hammer in its style, a fact not noted by Tom Milne in Time Out Film Guide, “very much a B movie.” Halliwell says “adequately if rather tediously developed.”
Laughton develops a prime study of long revenge on a “spineless dreamer”.
3 Ring Circus
From Camp Gower to the big top.
Pevney intimates the sacred precincts and then elides them for the sacred drama, it’s an ancient tradition.
This is mainly how Jerrico the Wonder Clown learns his art, but also how the circus proprietor learns his.
Man of a Thousand Faces
“To live is to defend a form.” (Webern)
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “a script of no great consequence”.
Generally speaking, the advanced structure appears to have eluded the critics, even French ones.
Leonard Maltin, “surprisingly dedicated, well-acted”.
Halliwell’s Film Guide missed the boat like the side of a barn, “moderately commendable... too much sudsy emoting about deaf mute parents and an ungrateful wife,” citing Pauline Kael (The New Yorker), “maudlin and degrading”.
The point is a successful variation of Asquith’s We Dive at Dawn, which is why there’s a British officer on board.
And the variant is actually an analysis. Here, morale is good or expressed in a joke, the mobilization takes place in the executive officer.
The surreal dislocation of plot ought to have clued Bosley Crowther in, even. However, he set the standard so that even a British critic can write, “a nicely-turned action thriller without an idea in its head,” recently.
Pevney’s distinctive use of light and color is his trademark, beautifully expressed in this film as studies, a trim art.
The Naked Truth
A blackmail case, against a rock ‘n roll crooner with a JD past.
It ends in gunplay after a knife attack.
Nicely filmed by Pevney on the same turf as Cassavetes’ Shadows.
Cash McCall is a remarkable film because of its structure, which first of all is solidly built to such an extent that it has proved useful as a foundation for films as dissimilar as The Graduate and Other People’s Money. Beyond this, its expression takes the form of a color study one finds rare in the cinema, whether fortuitous or purposeful.
The direction will likely appear as staid as can be imagined, at first. Everything is in fact dominated by the art direction with carefully regulated tones, creamy or earthen or azure, etc., kept in a tertiary zone as background, and not so much modulated as artfully organized in a beautiful whole. This allows for effects of characterization on the scenic scale, as in the case of McCall’s office suite in auric tones, or the Austen home in Early American white and pewter, etc. The understatement is as effective dramatically as the overall effect is stylistically. In conjunction with costumes, makeup and hair, this is a film of substantial allure in a very subdued manner, on this level. It prepares the working tones of color in pronounced hues that carry the actual discourse on a symbolic or even surreal level.
The flashback sequence is a good example. It culminates in a close-up of Natalie Wood’s lips in coral lipstick, a high note in the color scheme. After the dissolve back to the present, where James Garner is recounting these events, the same coral hue can be identified just beyond Wood’s knee (her jacket). In his pristine kitchen tended by Maude Kennard (Nina Foch), the color reappears as carnations among white lilies.
In the climactic scene, McCall sorts out the two women in his life and his business dealings with Austen Plastics (run by Dean Jagger as Wood’s father). The briefcase in which he carries the deal is of a ruddy blond hue which carries the shots it’s in, focusing attention on the resemblance in hue between Mrs. Austen’s hair and Maude Kennard’s.
This is all very complicated, difficult to describe, and delicate of execution. The last shot, of Garner and Wood driving away to be married, shows the Austen house as an exterior of coral brick walls with a ruddy blond roof, and lasts only a few seconds.
Then there are comic effects like the converted B-25 McCall flies himself around in. It’s as yellow as a Rolls-Royce, with a passenger compartment in which the push of a button elevates a console into a bar, on the same principle as the electrically sliding doors of his suite.
The kitchen presided over by Kennard takes on a whole new look when McCall puts on a white apron to cook for Miss Austen. Against the subdued background, a bowl of oranges behind him stand in relief, and the food on the table as well.
On another point, the famous restaurant scene in The Servant (excised by the producers as having no meaning and therefore serving no purpose) has an American cousin here that apparently was understood by the studio. In a hotel lobby, Austen is told (by Parley Baer) that McCall is a finagler. Baer goes off laughing, Austen goes to a wall phone, where the man in the next booth is laughing himself silly over something. Austen connects not with McCall but with Maude Kennard, dismissed, drunken and dangerous. After hearing her remarks, Austen recrosses the lobby and meets a laughing couple coming the other way. The woman is obviously drunk.
In that handsome suite which later blossomed into Goldfinger’s abode, McCall keeps a portrait of himself as Robin Hood in Lincoln green. “You were expecting Abe Lincoln?”
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
The first scene, a “Merry Widow” murder, jumps far ahead to Family Plot. The bizarrerie of the tale is accounted for by the disparate elements of the script, which describes the rise of a Pennsylvania coal miner through murder to a middling position (oddly reflected in Robert Duvall’s The Apostle) as preacher and cabdriver, where he stands to inherit the lady’s house but for the advent of a niece, whom he also murders.
Into a fire pit on the lawn goes the niece locked in a trunk, along with all her aunt’s unwanted things. But it rains that evening while the murderer preaches revival at a tent meeting, the flames are put out and the body is seen. Loudspeakers carry his wish to be heard, as the police arrive.
The young fellow who mows the aunt’s lawn has forgotten once again to lock that garage door. On his return to avoid the Bluebeard’s wrath, he finds the good-looking niece in the pit (a nice feint on the theme of Bartok’s opera).
A Nice Touch
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
This formidable masterpiece begins with a man and wife arguing violently, and ends with a couple in bed. Its sum is far more than its parts, which together form a surreal exposition of the Socratic principle that learning is memory, technically allied in this respect with a certain aspect of Last Year at Marienbad.
The man is unconscious on the floor, passed out. The wife calls her lover, a successful Hollywood actor. She recounts, in a series of flashbacks, their first meeting and so on.
He bullied his way into an audition at the Manhattan agency where she worked (the sign on the inner office reads “Mr. Roberts”), but didn’t get the part. On the street, he swept her off her feet (a twisted ankle) and into a cab. Their affair began at her home. She got him a Hollywood role (Jud in Wild Rebel) and was fired for ignoring the agency’s choice. He sent her a star-shaped satin pillow lettered “A HOLLYWOOD STAR WELCOMES YOU”, and called her from the studio lot, happy as a lark. Her husband threatened to destroy his career.
On the other end, the lover tells his mistress to smother her unconscious husband with a pillow. She does so, using the one he sent (“he can charm a woman into anything”). Next she is to drive his body to the East River and dump it. She agrees.
Immediately he calls the LAPD and reports her, then goes back upstairs to his wife.
The aspiring actor is imitated from Brando’s films, “Greenwich Village drifter” is said to be written all over him. The success is unruffled and has “a nice touch”. He wears a silken robe.
Pevney all but makes it plain, in a two-shot of the husband lying in the foreground and the wife seated behind him, whom the conversation concerns. An anguished woman, a man very far away, these are the elements of the construction. And when it has really been accomplished, no traces of the workshop are left behind. The couple in the epilogue are honeymooning. The actor’s home is palatial.
At his audition, George Segal plays the brilliant young actor unused to commanding a situation. Asked to read an Englishman, he mumbles low and can’t be heard, then bright as you please is felt to be angry. Middling, he mispronounces “gout” to rhyme with “snoot”. Did they want it in dialect, “England’s a big place,” he says.
Harry Townes has the crucial role of the husband, a copywriter who calls his wife from Chicago on the day of the audition. Anne Baxter is the New York professional woman, then madly in love, then La Voix Humaine. Pevney stays on her two-shot with Segal as they face each other just before beginning their affair, leaving her hand out of frame on his line, “why are you twisting the ring on your finger like it was burning a hole,” etc.
Starring The Defense
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
A film actor who has long since left the business to practice law defends his son on a charge of murder. Technically he’s a co-counsel or barrister pleading the case while the top criminal lawyer in New York State acts as solicitor.
If this brings to mind the famous definition of a trial lawyer given to Perry Mason by a law professor (part parrot, part jackass, later eagle and lion), even more to the point is the realism of the production, which represents Stroheim’s dilemma with fiction in front of professionals.
S. John Launer and the teleplay by Henry Slesar give a portrayal of the criminal lawyer in his office that is the thing itself. John Zaremba as the judge in chambers completes the picture.
Richard Basehart in powdered hair and mustache magnificently incarnates the old actor whose craft is polished by time. A film clip from the Thirties shows him fresh from the shop, as it were, in We The Guilty.
He is told, “you can’t substitute theatrics for evidence,” and replies that when he played lawyers, “my job was to make people feel. Facts don’t always add up to the truth.”
The law in its Shylockian excess is compared with the gentle rain from heaven.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
The true story of an aspiring writer who comes to New York and joins a youth gang for an exposť. He undergoes an initiation by running a gauntlet (he picks up a hoodlum and wields him to clear a way), receiving a “deb” (he takes her to the movies), and rolling a drunk in the park (he averts a murder). “Tiger”, the gang leader, appoints him “war counselor”, replacing “Candle”, who raids the author’s dingy flat and finds his manuscript, which contains detailed notes and analysis for a novel.
The leader rejects the idea of an execution, then is read passages identifying him as “afraid of the opposite sex”. Execution is to take place by putting the defendant unarmed in a rumble.
He escapes by holding up a shopkeeper and dropping his gun. A court-appointed lawyer only wants to know if he can post bail. The “deb” bails him out, into the waiting execution squad. He resists, she is pushed onto a knife. Neighbors call the police.
One of the Family
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
This is about the little girl who never grew up, so naturally it’s couched in a little bit sunnier vein than necessary or apt, with a dark villain of foreign extraction who menaces the children, even kills them in their cribs.
The couple are a perfect couple, Dexter Dailey and Joyce Dailey. The parallels are Mr. and Mrs. George Callender, his sister Christine is the real killer, it sounds like “pristine”. The oddness of the script is just to point out this side of the game, dexterous and joyful people of the day, people who make hay while the sun shines, and one who keeps her calendar clear.
Newspaper poetry, “GERMAN NURSE SOUGHT / IN SLAYING OF S.F. TOT”. It ends like “To Catch a Butterfly”, averting the disaster with a well-timed show of support, a nanny’s hug.
to be cursory,
The Night of the Grizzly
The type of allegory (if it is one) presented may be ascertained at the climax in a distinct reminiscence of Lang’s Man Hunt, here there is a land dispute in Hope, Wyoming that in springtime elicits an ally to one party, a killing bear known locally as Satan.
The sense of humor displayed throughout is also tied to pioneer ruggedness, the prize bull once dead gets put up in Mason jars, half of him, the rest put on the market to buy another.
This unusual structure with a sort of wild card has still more aspects handled very finely, source material might be understood as Renoir’s The Southerner, to name one instance.
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “rather sluggishly made.”
A Cube of Sugar
The impossible mission is to extricate an agent from behind the Iron Curtain, where he is jailed for manslaughter while under the influence of hallucinatory drugs, as they are called by the security chief who interrogates him with large amounts of them and a little bit of narcotics.
The agent has a micro-circuit hidden in a sugar cube laced with drugs. Cinnamon’s magnetic ring snatches the gizmo from a pile of crushed cubes, Rollin laces the agent’s injection with a Juliet-drug, the body is sent to the crematory, whence Barney and Willy extract it through a manhole, leaving the security chief in a straitjacket.
The City on the Edge of
The city is New York in 1930, where Sister Edith Keeler runs the 21st Street Mission, and looks forward to the harnessing of atomic power, space flight, an end to famine and sickness. “Not a bad-looking broad,” says one of her charges, “now, if she really wanted to help a feller out...” She is killed while crossing the street a few days later, struck by a car. But there are “currents, eddies, backwashes of time,” and one of these permits her to live, escaping the accident. She founds a peace movement that delays American opposition to Hitler, who develops the A-bomb and mounts it on V-2 rockets to “capture the world”.
Dr. McCoy is the instrument. “Ripples of time” rock the Enterprise, Sulu is injured, McCoy treats him but accidentally injects himself with an overdose of the drug. This sends him, manic and delusional, down to the transporter room and thence to the planetary source of the turbulence, a curvate glowing arch of unknown qualities that introduces itself in a masculine voice as The Guardian of Forever, “I am my own beginning and my own ending.”
Surrounded by “killers” (Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Uhura and two crewmen have followed) on the ruddy planet, McCoy leaps into this “time portal” as it displays ages of Earth history past, Egypt, Rome, the Middle Ages, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Suddenly the Enterprise ceases to exist, “all that you knew is gone.” Kirk and Spock go after him, to undo what he has done to alter time.
“Murderers! Assassins! You! What planet is this?” The admiring Mission charge is speechless, Dr. McCoy gauges his bald cranial capacity, estimates him to have “faked all this modern museum perfection,” wonders what the hospitals are like, weeps remembering, there they “sew people like garments,” and collapses.
Kirk and Spock do odd jobs at the Mission. Spock assembles a mnemonic memory circuit to display his tricorder readings of the period from the time portal, and discovers the forking path of time. Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler. “Save her,” says Spock, “do as your heart tells you to do, and millions will die who did not die before.”
McCoy recovers at the Mission, the three men meet, she crosses the street to them. Spock warns Kirk, who restrains Dr. McCoy.
Out of the portal a moment after entering it, Scotty observes, they hear from the Enterprise. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” says Capt. Kirk.
The Time Tunnel, The Terminator, “The Garden of Forking Paths”, Major Barbara, Viridiana, in an eminently droll and monstrously eloquent teleplay.