Danger—Love at Work
A tale of genius and the Westchester Hunt Club.
Andrew Sarris gives Preminger’s disregard of “the films he directed before Laura in 1944,” amongst which the professor finds “admittedly a streak of Foxphorescent giddiness” that would undoubtedly encompass Jack Haley seen off at Grand Central Station only to reappear on the moving train’s rear platform at the end of this tracking shot to swiftly snatch from the boss’s arms the briefcase he has forgotten whilst eating peanut brittle, and away (The American Cinema).
“What is this?” The crazy house of burlesque, done up in fine fashion but still driving a solitary man to cry out in the fetters of a nightmare, “nurse! Nurse!”
“Was it Mickey Mouse in the Alps?”
“Uh, no, Mickey Mouse and the sheriff.”
The screwball comedy par excellence. “Do you know any other shortcuts?” There’s oil in them thar hills.
Aunt Pitty and Aunt Patty reappear in Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace.
So much money, why, one can buy “an inverted pizza.” Oil and some ink. “The allocentric type.” An august and ancient gag.
“A masterpiece of understatement.”
Leonard Maltin, “wacky”. Hal Erickson (Rovi), “amusing but inconsequential”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “a not inconsiderable comedy”, citing Variety, “a very good dualler.”
Margin for Error
The German consul (Otto Preminger), guarded by a patrolman (Milton Berle), America is neutral.
“Hitler is a GAY-KNEE-USE!!”
“Yeah, but he’s a stupid genius!”
With the beautiful blonde cook, Officer Finkelstein makes a date to see Confessions of a Nazi Spy (dir. Anatole Litvak). Lipstick is verboten in Germany, cherry Coke at the soda fountain is “our national drink.”
The consul is an anti-Semite, an embezzler and a murderer as well as a coward, “the Third Reich allows no margin for error.”
The German-American Bund has its gauleiter, “the American Fuhrer”, a fat stooge in a uniform bought on spec with funds the consul has lost at roulette. The consul’s wife (Joan Bennett), a beautiful Czech, is kept at his side with her father in a Prague concentration camp, a political marriage that events have rendered superfluous.
The death of the parrot, Mr. Churchill, with poisoned grapes is a comic anticipation of Seaton’s What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, his The Big Lift also figures in Moe Finkelstein’s fraternization.
Everything turns upon a minor character, a baron, the consul’s secretary, who discovers the shortfall and must be eliminated.
Sabotage and propaganda are the consul’s principal employment. “Rubbed out by a Jew,” the “comic-strip” American Fuhrer might make a useful martyr, the consul could arrange it for him.
The baron, a Nazi, has a Jewish grandmother in Vienna of whom he knows nothing, cyanide is his option.
Officer Finkelstein averts the suicide, might be framed for the murder.
“My inspirations come to me as they come to Hitler,” says the consul, “out of nothing.”
What’s in a name, Officer Finkelstein muses. “Heil Schicklgruber!”
The Prodigal Son aboard a troopship.
Needless to say, a comprehensive work of genius. T.S. of the New York Times held that it was “way out of line” nonetheless. Halliwell’s Film Guide has “mildly entertaining whodunit”.
In the Meantime, Darling
Preminger’s camerawork avails him in the opening shot, which describes the entire action (tank battalion to hill overlooking Victorville, recon patrol to Craig Hotel and Camp Fielding, engaging the Blues with hills to be secured).
A supremely masterful film on the home front and the fine line of conduct, in military usage, between soldier and wife, not so fine and finer even than that.
Instant comparisons may be drawn with Dmytryk’s Tender Comrade and Asquith’s The Way to the Stars (also Stevens’ The More the Merrier for housing conditions), mutatis mutandis.
It seems to have made little impression on critics at the time, but there was a war on, as the saying went.
“Unassuming wartime soaper,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, “of very little interest,” a very bitter comedy in the hubbub, to tell the truth.
Waldo Lydecker, guardian of the world’s beauty, and she the low girl on a Mad. Ave. totem pole now risen to pre-eminence by his aid.
He writes columns in Marat’s bath, he destroys the painter of the famous portrait for her dalliance.
And the last of it is a shotgun murder to purify the temple. Your average homicide detective has the case with but one complication, the poor little rich guy she was going to marry and the mannequin who loves him.
Camera placement and movement edit many scenes, anticipating Welles’ in-camera editing of The Stranger to a considerable extent.
The tale is the jawbone of an ass wielded against the awful New York critics (the famous ones, not Joseph Losey or Walt Whitman), who wind up at Columbia boring the pants off subalterns-in-waiting.
The very heavy work is done by the lighting, a Hollywood variant of Caravaggio with a European feel. The whole apparatus enables Preminger to combine Hitchcock and Huston in a thoroughgoing analysis, flying high with such wings.
An erotic investigation (akin to Such Good Friends) noteworthy for the technical accomplishment of its sound.
A Royal Scandal
It is only fitting that the most perfect comedy ever made should have the most perfectly idiotic review from the New York Times. Here it is, in its entirety, signed by Bosley Crowther.
“The prospect of seeing Tallulah Bankhead play Russia’s fabled Catherine the Great should assure a right royal attendance for A Royal Scandal at the Roxy these next few weeks. For Miss Bankhead is certainly the actress than whom no other would seem more likely for the role of the empress renowned for her conniptions and her didoes with gentlemen friends. But (we hate to be the one who has to tell you) the prospect is more glittering than the view. A Royal Scandal, for all Miss Bankhead’s presence, is an oddly dull and generally witless show.
“Based on a very ancient stage play, The Czarina, which has variously inspired a couple of previous pictures, including Elizabeth Bergner’s Catherine the Great, this latest contemplation of the lady tells a rambling and routine tale of one of her amorous adventures with a handsome young captain of the Guards. Intertwined with a modest boudoir story, in which the gentleman is bashful and pursued, is a plot about a palace revolution which likewise proves a dud. Disappointing, in short, is the nature of the major operations in this film—and that terminal response is not limited to the dramatic characters involved.
“The fault is quite obviously in the writing. Several authors have done little more than hack out a script with obvious action and lustreless dialogue. Where satire in large and splendid movement would seem the most promising attack, they have hewed to a style of cautious hinting, with only vague glints of wit and travesty. And Otto Preminger, in his direction, has not been able to help matters much.
“Miss Bankhead makes valiant efforts to fan the comic spirit in such spots as the script brings her into contact with malleable material—like a man. And, once or twice, when she moves in on her target, it looks as though something will explode. But inevitably the script stands before her, upright and impermeable. It must have been hard for Miss Bankhead to make Catherine as mild as she does.
“William Eythe also is stumped by banalities in the role of the young officer and Charles Coburn draws the little fun that flickers in the part of a shrewd chancellor. Sig Ruman and Mikhail Rasumny are literally thrown away as a couple of conspiring generals. Ernst Lubitsch, who produced the film, should blush.”
Perfection isn’t everything, but it counts for something. Nevertheless, it was all Preminger could do.
Mistaken for a “whodunit” (Bosley Crowther) in the New York Times, Variety, and elsewhere up to the present day.
A surreal love story, much closer to Antonioni (L’Avventura) and Elaine May (A New Leaf, The Heartbreak Kid), but it looked so real to the critics, with a diner and cops and all.
Trying to jam it into a false perspective, they declared it a failure, whereas it is a masterpiece (it sounds like a film, this story).
The camerawork is thrilling, pellucid, and inspired. Welles has something like it in The Stranger and Touch of Evil.
Good Americans and bad, a treatise on Paris in 1876 (“the one hundredth year of American freedom”), a sisterly squabble.
Cornel Wilde, the true Frenchman abroad, and he speaks the tongue. Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell. Dorothy Gish and Walter Brennan.
A clock for all time zones, the American dream.
The true Paris, at Philadelphia.
A room full of Napoleons at the costume ball to open the Centennial Exhibition’s French Pavilion.
President Grant announces the thing early on in a voice that does not carry.
Jerome Kern (“Cinderella Sue”).
Old ally, la belle France.
“Studied and conventional... limps along heavily and slowly... has no more genuine flavor than a cheap lemon lollipop... the script... was weak... director Otto Preminger did little to snap it up... lacks exuberance and warmth” (Bosley Crowther, New York Times).
“Pleasant, folksy” (Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader).
“A more than adequate job” (Time Out Film Guide).
“Pleasing family comedy” (Halliwell’s Film Guide) “...harmless competence...”
The epical tale of an English Civil War infant raised as a Puritan but determined to be a lady. She goes to London and is swindled into Newgate and lures men to footpads and goes upon the restored stage and marries an earl and survives the plague as well as the Great Fire and becomes the mistress of Charles II, only to see her lover depart with his wife for Virginia.
The title therefore describes one of those prehistoric insects preserved in transparent gum hardened over millennia.
Reviewers generally missed the joke, not to mention the Legion of Decency.
The ending makes plain that it’s a picture of the war, yet critics overlooked that salient point and even the nominal surface of a returning GI and a corporate lawyer vying for the lady’s charms.
In the face of continued misapprehension, Preminger seems to have locked up his eloquent camera, really he strives to make it less noticeable and more forceful. Daisy opens the door and it rushes out to see the GI cross the hallway and sit at the foot of the stairs, editing by camerawork.
The lawyer’s fortunes crumble, the GI builds his little fleet of diesel fishing boats, before Daisy knows her own mind.
The war afterwards, every inch of the war, from a play by Oscar Wilde.
You might not have bothered, it’s a mother-in-law joke.
Nevertheless, in all its glory, a lady who desires entrée into London society, and uses her arts to attain it.
Preminger’s most brilliant film, he didn’t study under Lubitsch for nothing.
The Man in Grey (dir. Leslie Arliss) is the point in question.
The psychoanalyst’s wife runs afoul of a charlatan on the open market, she’s a ganef from her youth with tight-fisted Dad, the struggling years with her mate put a crimp in her inheritance for his pride.
Astrologer cum hypnotist Korvo (Jose Ferrer) gets the wife (Gene Tierney) to kill his missus, he’s tucked up in a hospital bed after a gall bladder operation, to all appearances.
The detective from Homicide (Charles Bickford) lost his wife to just such an operation shortly before, he’s in no mood for the psychoanalyst (Richard Conte) and his brilliant deductions.
But conscience is a call (the bedside picture in its frame), and the good doctor finally gets his lesson in humility, too (cp. Bergman’s Wild Strawberries).
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Not the outskirts of town but the gutter. A mobster claims his right to walk on it, there is a rich Texan murdered at a floating crap game, the shill who brought him (war hero, newspaper man, gangster) gets framed and attacks a cop, who slugs him back. The shill dies, the cop dumps his body in the river.
An extraordinarily poetic viewpoint on the war, served by Ben Hecht with every finesse and nicety of judgment, merely to show that wartime brings experiences outside normal consideration.
Both wars are taken into account by the symbolism, the expression serves as the basis of Preminger’s To Have and Have Not remake, Anatomy of a Murder.
Little cognizance has been taken of these facts, Sarris included it among “his melodramas at Fox... all moodily fluid studies in perverse psychology rather than crackling suspense movies.”
The 13th Letter
Clouzot’s Le Corbeau, a case of folie à deux imposed upon a small town in Quebec.
Dr. Freud gets off the ferry, his wife’s portrait is singular, right off the bat.
“Repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.”
The practitioner late of London has a tale to tell of love lost and found and ultimately discarded, he keeps clocks.
The penultimate letter descends from the cathedral choir loft.
Critics have been taken aback by their own Freudian interpretation, but Angel Face is the story of an English novelist whose wife is killed in the Blitz, he marries a rich American and settles down in the upper reaches of Beverly Hills, where he ceases to write. His daughter repines there, and plots to kill her stepmother.
This is much closer to The Big Sleep, as it turns out, than to The Postman Always Rings Twice, which is usually cited in reviews once the daughter gets her man hired as chauffeur. The correct equation can be worked out as described.
The exposition easily builds this scene, then comes the incredible murder, followed by the fantastical searching irony of the trial scene (in which Leon Ames and Jim Backus clash by night), and then the big finish.
The main program would appear to suggest a “foreign entanglement” wished undone yet leading to another “that now runs mainly backwards,” but the final interpretation no doubt rests with the cabdriver at the empty house in the last scene.
The Moon Is Blue
It will tell you all you need to know about the critical apperception of this film that the tone was set by Bosley Crowther in a backhand review making light of the censorship problem and then of the film.
And so, critically speaking, the miracle was lost, if not on the public, which is a Lubitsch like Design for Living in the beautiful geometric handling of his disciple Preminger, with some camerawork emulated by Frankenheimer and others.
Holden and Niven, thoroughly expert comedians, have the support of Addams, Tully, Ratoff and Bonanova.
The other half of the miracle is the character and performance given by McNamara, of which Crowther saw nothing at all, as the cop’s daughter conversant with the ways of the world who does not practice them, The Virgin on the Roof in the German version.
The thriving but obscure architect she meets has just escaped a trap laid by the idle rich, father and daughter, who live upstairs. He’s buying pumice stones for the ink on his fingers and rubber bands for his blueprints, he buys her the lipstick she can’t afford as a struggling actress and follows her up to the Observation Deck of the building in which he has his office, the Empire State Building (introduced with the photo gag from Minnelli’s The Clock).
The daughter (Addams) is young and beautiful and spoiled and petulant. The father (Niven) is a divorced rake who finds the girl enchanting and proposes marriage almost at once. The architect (Holden) is a bit of a playboy.
Preminger is now able to go beyond the absolute perfection of A Royal Scandal, the Lubitsch film he directed under the eye of the master, to a film that makes logic its raison d’être and something more, very rare, expressed in the title, “now derisively conscious, now luminously informed” (René Char).
River of No Return
A strange, dreamlike Western, in which Preminger naturally has a thousand tricks up his sleeve, every scene is replete with them, always something stunning and new.
His favorite is the camera move that reveals, for example, Monroe outside Mitchum’s cabin in the valley, which really is there, she proves it (“car ce n’est pas de montrer la fôret qui était difficile” says Godard, “c’est de montrer un salon dont on sait que la fôret est à dix pas”). Another is the scene on the riverbank that ends with his small cast of principals boarding the raft and drifting away. Or Mitchum ropes a moose that is the camera, or in a fistfight beans are flung in an opponent’s face and strike the camera.
The beauties of the screenplay contribute directly to the atmosphere, and so do the musical numbers.
A desperate chance, a hornswoggler’s deceit, and a farmer’s out of luck. Down the rapids he must go, with the hornswoggler’s girl and his own young son, Indians everywhere, and on a parallel course the hornswoggler’s last victim.
Preminger’s technique is so perfect here, with its long, delicate, nimbly-edited takes, and an approach to opera in advance of Syberberg and Nunn, that it really remained to him to find his own musicality in that Viennese masterpiece of the floating camera, The Man with the Golden Arm.
So this is an adaptation of Carmen along the lines of Welles and The Mercury Theatre, showing some great black actors in a great opera (“better than Wagner,” said Nietzsche) in the hands of a director of genius.
The Man with the Golden Arm
A skilled dealer for the house in a floating card game, a sometime junkie to boot (the “banker” and the pusher work together).
His wife was a date he married in the hospital after their crash, she hasn’t walked since despite a good prognosis.
Part of the cure is becoming a musician but he can’t escape all this without tasting the dregs. He meets a nice girl.
Symbolic language, wonderfully realistic sets that are known intimately by the camera as it moves back and forth, a vivid stylization acknowledging all the artificiality of this inferno, every one of Preminger’s devices went over the critics’ heads, all they saw was something here and there that didn’t seem to jibe with certain concepts of theirs.
An enormous liquidation of Hollywood resources in Preminger’s arsenal, by means of a forced introduction of Viennese style into the grittiest of studio dramas. The floating camera makes a mockery of everything it touches, holding the pass taken by The Moon Is Blue for the sympathetic groundwork of The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell.
The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell
It might as well be De Gaulle on tanks.
The absurd tribunal that condemned Col. (formerly Gen.) Mitchell and forced his resignation.
“Stacks the cards in every way”, according to Bosley Crowther (New York Times), who was not satisfied with a guilty verdict.
Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Guide) credits Cooper with sustaining the role, Halliwell finds the film “adequate”, Variety records its astonishment at the man’s foresightedness.
The Scopes trial is contemporaneous, Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral might be suggested during the cross-examination, but Preminger has Shaw’s Saint Joan just ahead, when the “crystal ball” becomes the “voices” and the matter is decided once again.
The opening credits show the record taken out of a filing cabinet for inspection.
Preminger has a way of being seriously underestimated by the critics and the public, particularly the critics, who gnash their teeth upon him something fierce and cannot understand how he can conceive such things. Such public display goes on until it dies of sheer weariness, then the latest masterpiece can be admired.
Particularly in the case of Saint Joan the world ought to have been prepared for something of a surprise. Preminger had worked through The Moon Is Blue walking a tightrope of elegance, and then in The Man with the Golden Arm attained a miracle of balance, a Viennese floating camera upon New York’s seedy lowlifes. Everything he did was surprising and new, and that is the point. What can people have thought when he announced he would direct a George Bernard Shaw about Joan of Arc with an unknown personally selected out of thousands around the world?
People had hallucinations, they thought the film was “static,” whereas the camera moves constantly. Channel 4 (UK) complained that although Gielgud and Walbrook outdid themselves as the deepest scoundrels and hypocrites, Jean Seberg could not act as Joan. The key performance is by Harry Andrews, who must act the buffoon a bit until his conscience lays him out flat across the screen in the most piteous of spectacles.
In a similar way, Kenneth Haigh must play the fool as his character is a difficult concoction of sanctimonious pity at the pressure points of tender feeling, and so on.
The rarity of Preminger’s technique is such that he stops the procession to the stake like DeMille parting the Red Sea until his craning camera convinces you of the vision of Jesus’ arrest in the garden, then it proceeds. In precisely the same way, his saint breaks down and babbles at the very threat, and Preminger waits patiently for the sobs of a child, which then continue as something else while the scene moves along.
All of Preminger’s best jokes have been contemned, you’d think he was restoring France. All he has done is to prepare Shaw’s revelation of sainthood as something akin to the mystery of Cleopatra’s rule. Caesar knows, and she discovers, it’s not that one is so brilliant, it’s that the others are so stupid. In Saint Joan, you have a menagerie on parade, every stone of the temple and court is cast down as worthless, and there is only Joan asking God to make the world ready to receive His saints.
Can you wonder, then, at the response? Preminger turns the world on its ear and shakes what passes for its brains out on the table for inspection. The last shall be first, he says, and shows you. Perhaps most infuriating of all, he performs like Dali in public for all the world to see until he gets your goat for good.
A reciprocal echo of Viva Zapata! (dir. Elia Kazan) is recognizable, along with a preponderating influence on Lawrence of Arabia (dir. David Lean), and to a lesser extent Rosemary’s Baby (dir. Roman Polanski).
The whole point of Seberg’s performance is the demonstration of an inspired mind, and not.
Likewise, in his way, the cowardly Dauphin...
Critics have generally blocked the light on this film by participating in its characterizations and not recognizing the dramatic arrangement.
Thus, it only matters that one person disapproves of this Riviera holiday, her fate is the turn that gives the film its climax, her character having come and gone bestows the title, understood in the bitter abject way Lévi-Strauss used it.
Truffaut, for whom Preminger is “an artist... an inspired artist”, observes “only a remake” of Angel Face, and makes a comparison to Saint Joan.
Porgy and Bess
Never mind the reviews, excepting Bosley Crowther’s exceptional rave in the New York Times, the story is that Gershwin’s family has spent fifty years buying up every print they can find and burning them.
“If anyone could muddle a great saga, it was Preminger” (TV Guide).
Sammy Davis, Jr. looks like “an absurd Harlemization of Chico Marx” (Time).
The film looks like Fritz Lang and Davis a Berlin dandy (Dorothy Dandridge was criticized, even by Crowther).
What, in the name of anything, can anyone say against Porgy on his knees with Bess against the powerful temptations of Crown and Sportin’ Life?
Anatomy of a Murder
The crowning touch was to cast Joseph N. Welch, the lawyer who defended the Army, as the judge in this courtroom variation of Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, on material previously examined in Where the Sidewalk Ends.
The monumental consideration of his original gives Preminger a comprehensive theme that is borne out in all the details, even as they are turned to account often for the depiction of lawyerly technique and practice.
Arthur O’Connell for Walter Brennan, James Stewart for Humphrey Bogart, Ben Gazzara for Paul Henreid, Duke Ellington for Hoagy Carmichael, suggests the general outlines of the film.
Exodus is effectively modeled on De Mille’s The Ten Commandments. This gives Ari in his two worlds, for example. The main structural point is the division in two parts corresponding to the Exodus and the Golden Calf. These are the S.S. Olympia (Exodus) in harbor at Cyprus, and the Acre prison break (which ends in the car with Akiva plunging down from the road, and Ari’s nearly mortal wound).
The partitioning of sheep and goats is the main theme. “Who is for the Lord?” Preminger and Trumbo have between them devised a fluent surreal language filmed on location in the real places of the screenplay. A widow on Cyprus, the commanding officer wishes he were “twenty years younger”, Ari as a British officer and so forth in part one, then bloody Acre by contrast.
Part two contains a subset of the theme, a literal examination of the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz where the central term is dynamite. In Warsaw there was none, sonderkommando Dov had the responsibility of creating holes with it for burial, until the crematoria were introduced. Ari’s threat is to blow up the S.S. Exodus with all souls on board. The offensive weapon is a delusion and a snare.
Deborah is mentioned (Mrs. Fremont is Jael, who tenderly spikes Gen. Sutherland).
For that the leaders took the lead in Israel
For that the people offered themselves willingly,
Bless ye Jehovah.
And Dan, why did he remain in ships?
Asher sat still at the haven of the sea.
The goats have an idea of turning injustice to their ends, which is simply the Nazi creed.
The little blonde Jewess saved by the Danes when all wore yellow stars at the example of their King, and the Mukhtar Taha with his fellow-feeling, are both slain, then given a common burial. Ari swears a day will come that answers for them at last, “shall these bones live?”
The last shot of departing trucks is De Mille.
The originality of treatment is the major accomplishment, it surfaces in an unusual handling of the actors, who are cast very close to type or precedent and yet give signally unwonted performances. Newman is more military, Saint more romantic, Richardson more withdrawn, Mineo more ineffable, Lawford more asinine, Aylmer more jovial, Opatoshu keener, Cobb softer, than one might perhaps find them elsewhere, in films with similar roles.
The complexity of the action, particularly at Acre, has been noted by unaware critics as a consolation, whereas Pontecorvo took it as a starting point for the subtle argument in The Battle of Algiers.
There remains the question of foreground shadows in many of the shots, in practically every scene. Prof. Sarris retails this absurdity, “The story is told in the trade of the day Preminger shot the Saint-Newman hilltop scene in Exodus. During the last take, the shadow of the boom fell across the couple. It was too late for a retake because the sun had gone. Preminger decided to let the shadow stand rather than return to the location the next day for a retake that would disrupt his shooting schedule. Some finicky aesthetes might write this decision off as sloppy craftsmanship, but for Preminger it is a question of survival.” The shadow is most pronounced in the scene at Acre when the prisoners are marched back to their cells after exercise and prayer, each riffles under it as they pass in file down an ancient corridor.
Between the motion
And the act
says Eliot. Shavelson’s film is called Cast a Giant Shadow (anyway, Preminger uses the camera that way often).
Advise & Consent
In the great New York intellectual tradition, Pauline Kael called it “mindless”, Bosley Crowther went even further with “slickly meretricious”, Variety for its part said “illogical”.
John Osborne’s A Patriot for Me a few years later established the matter in England. Brownshirts seek appeasement, the sick President rises above it but everything’s settled, a flirtation with Communism is like an Army affair with your buddy.
The whole thing’s swept aside in the course of events, anyway.
Preminger’s masterful direction was noted in Time Out Film Guide, “a little quaint” is wishful thinking.
How to act in these ways, fictional and character-bound, as a Catholic priest (viewed as a man with a career), can only be imagined after I Confess (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, also Satan Never Sleeps, Leo McCarey’s great adventure).
The formation of an American cleric in the ranks of the apostolate.
There is a hard time associated with this, Albee has Tiny Alice to account for the gap.
It’s all a matter of misunderstandings in Preminger’s masterpiece, the Kaiser is vanquished, his ilk are at home, Mussolini is in Rome and Hitler in Vienna.
“If that fancy training of yours didn’t cover the care and handling of millionaires, what is it they were teaching you, then?” (cp. Ace in the Hole, dir. Billy Wilder)
Bosley Crowther had no idea in all the sweet world what it was about, “a great letdown from what Mr. Preminger might have accomplished” if only he’d stuck with John Huston’s Cardinal Glennon, thus the New York Times.
Variety handed it to the director as “Preminger’s picture for it moves on such a vast canvas,” Tom Milne likewise (Time Out Film Guide), if “risible” and “interminable” in his view. Perhaps the Catholic News Service Media Review Office sums up the critical dilemma, no, Crowther did that.
A miracle like The Miracle of the Bells (dir. Irving Pichel).
Huston gives a performance recalling Walter Huston, something rarely in his line as an actor.
The director of Centennial Summer has “They Haven’t Got the Girlies in the U.S.A. That They Have in Paris, France”.
The argument is earnestly described from Henry King’s Wilson and Wellman’s Lafayette Escadrille, and in terrible terms. This is the dilemma, such an argument in cinematic terms (cp. The Birth of a Nation, dir. D.W. Griffith) has never been understood. Halliwell’s Film Guide epitomizes this in its own right, adding clinchers from John Simon (“glossy dishonesty posing as serious art”) and Stanley Kauffmann (“mere and sheer wide screen Technicolor movie”). A seventh grade nickname, the title.
“I can’t face the responsibility,” he says, “that’s what it really comes down to.” Thus l’entre-deux-guerres.
Film4, again, has a “distorted history lesson... it might as well have been financed by collection boxes”. The latter-day TV Guide of Rupert Murdoch would have an hour out of it. Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) begins dimly to perceive.
Song and score are by Jerome Moross, the credits are really formidable (six assistant directors), Saul Bass has a very poetic opening sequence that ends rather like walking on water.
“You know what that Prohibition is like? It’s like they want to eliminate the evils of rape, and so they pass a law against making love. Can you imagine a life without making love?”
The director of Hurry Sundown is already on the scene down in Georgia.
“Yeah, that’s right. Maybe some licorice-stick bitch won’t mind squeezin’ over for you.” A strange picture obtains in burning cross and bullwhip, white robes and hoods. The same analogy is drawn in Siodmak’s Son of Dracula. Priest to monsignor to bishop.
The Anschluß. Raucous crows at the graveyard, as at the deposition of the bloodied black priest in Georgia. Cardinal Innitzer’s interview with Hitler is all but exactly repeated in Troell’s Hamsun, in this scene Wolfgang Preiss has a bit part as an SS thug. The storming of the cardinal’s quarters by SA and Hitlerjugend brings to mind one of Maxwell Smart’s retorts, “how about a Boy Scout with rabies?”
The final image of his elevation to the Sacred College combines a peroration recalling Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent or anticipating Rossellini’s Augustine of Hippo and definitely invoking the subject of Glenville’s The Prisoner and Feist’s Guilty of Treason.
In Harm’s Way
A work of almost inexplicable strangeness, as critics brusquely noted at the time. The Pacific War is symbolically represented, to say the least. This will be observed in some amusing detail, economical at less than three hours.
The anti-Roosevelt theme is common currency in some quarters at the present time, and thus (as seen by some recent critics) the film is politically astute in startling ways.
But, above all, with reference to Godard and his hommages to Monogram and the other studios of Gower Gulch, the most striking thing about In Harm’s Way (apart from the poetical efficiency of the Preminger camera) is the surrealist manifestation of “Poverty Row” (so stated) versus the vast resources of the Yamato steaming down the Pala Passage.
Bunny Lake Is Missing
The problem as it comes to Scotland Yard is a four-year-old American girl absconded in London. Perhaps the brother and sister (her mother) are mad, even Yanks who’ve lost their way.
The brother is mad, the sister merely hysterical, missing her child. It’s the brother’s idea to kidnap and murder the girl, he’s about eight years old mentally, a foreign correspondent.
African masks in the rented flat are a feint, the landlord is a BBC personality (Noël Coward) who has what are purported to be De Sade’s whip and skull, he taunts the police with them.
Olivier is Superintendent Newhouse, dealing sanely with routine policework, Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea the couple.
It seems the film was not admired, though it is thoroughly admirable, with an immediately effective technique of functional camera movement applied in widescreen black-and-white.
The structure is broadly in three parts. At first there is a giant combine out to build a plant on some Georgia land, this suggests some rather Shakespearean machinations in a grand play.
By and by, there’s only pettiness and careless motives at work in much the same direction.
At last, there’s some drunken shittiness as the sun goes down, and that’s all.
Not one of the many critics who have written on this film has taken any notice of it, as would appear. This was often enough the reception for Preminger’s films, a disgraceful state of affairs.
God, who is represented as an insular Mafia boss, runs a “protection racket” the calm organizational structure of which is presented in the form of a diagram as “The Tree”. This is one-half the satire.
For the purposes of the screenplay (by the author of Brewster McCloud, dir. Robert Altman), hippies embody the Christian element of agape and Emmanuel. Grace is delivered by means of LSD, a hit man in prison to “kiss” a squealer is serendipitously converted and renounces his charge.
The strength of his imagery has been far too much for Preminger’s critics, though it couches the very theme of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, namely the Old Testament and the New. Groucho Marx is God, Jackie Gleason the convert, Carol Channing his wife, amid a top cast.
The songs are by none other than Harry Nilsson, who also strangely met with no favor in Altman’s Popeye.
tell me that you love me, junie moon
The terrible wounds of adolescence, figured as literal injury and illness in a figurative biography involving an artists’ colony, a state school for the feeble-minded, a go-go girl and a fish market, with a holiday by the sea a prime event.
Critics had notorious difficulty fathoming the complex, intricate display of thought upon the subject and were bound by considerations of the surface and style (Canby lectured Preminger on the proper adaptation of a novel, in his New York Times review), the material has an abstruseness, it may be said, characteristic of the director’s later films.
Such Good Friends
A certain side of New York fancies itself as highly civilized, sophisticated, and not Gotham bunk. So the tale of a top magazine art editor goes from glib to grim and disappears altogether, poof, among the trees.
Critics also see themselves in a certain light as rather elevated souls, observant, witty, whatnot, therefore Time was doubly offended, “outrageously melodramatic,” it said. Dave Kehr in the New York Times speaks of garish tastelessness and a “wavering, uncertain tone”.
The supreme expression of Preminger’s comic tone, derived from Lubitsch at first hand, is carried to a new level of astounding bravura and control, and that is the response to the dilemma, a riposte.
The good material of Laura has an olfactory side that can’t be ignored, and here is the exploration of its themes from a responsible position, one that takes the backside of an ingénue sex romp and turns it into a beautifully roundabout education.
Preminger’s technique reaches its absolute summit here, in The Human Factor he invents another.
The title is a motor yacht owned by a very wealthy Frenchman, the plot is simply stated by him, “my granddaughter and four of her friends are being held by Black September” (her boyfriend is a “radical leader”).
Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd are visibly made to measure for certain junctures.
“Consistently idiotic” is a phrase used by Vincent Canby of the New York Times in his review. Variety has “a bland and unexciting film.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide describes it as “overlong”.
Furthermore, “something to do with a film,” the title, says one of the girls.
“I thought senators only quit if they run for president.”
“It’s mother, really. She hates Washington.”
Frankenheimer (52 Pick-Up) and McLaglen (North Sea Hijack) spring to mind.
The Palestine Liberation Army. A quisiing aboard ship. Five rich girls of various nationalities, naked.
Called away from the tennis court, one finds the ship abandoned, literally no-one at the helm.
At Newsweek Paris, Liza Minnelli is on the cover in Cabaret. O’Toole writes stories “very short, very British, very unlikely to be printed,” and works for the U.S.
The released girl travels very far yet never leaves Corsica.
Black September. The Franco-Belgian Society for Graphic Arts, Hamburg. “A secret national hero.”
Girls of rather modest talents.
The leader of Black September and organizer of the kidnappings, a Cambridge man, one Sloat. Collinson has the cavern meeting in the sell out one year later. “I want the elimination of Israel.” Attenborough as Karloff as Sloat.
“Spoiled brats,” they’re called. “I’m not used to this, Father’s jet is pressurized.”
By and by, “we’ve come to the end, three little rich girls for the State of Israel.”
Landing on Corsica. The Lebanon caves.
Beckett’s “superfine chaos”, Wings Over the World.
Thus a précis and summation of “the great World War Two”.
The Human Factor
A pirouette, you can’t have the girl without being a Communist, if you’re a Communist you can’t have the girl.
The perfect comedy of a British traitor.
An absolute deadpan camera treatment regales the public in complete sobriety.
Stoppard’s Greene is a tale of the firm, of “a Soviet defector who remains in place” feeding back a leak from Moscow, and has our man in Section 6A (African) insist to his Soviet driver, rather like Inspector Clouseau in Edwards’ The Pink Panther, “I’m afraid I’m not a Communist.”
It follows Pinter in Anderson’s The Quiller Memorandum for the drollery of higher-ups, on a different plane.
South Africa is a front of the Cold War.
The analogy is to Russia in World War II.
A British Secret Service man marries a black girl and becomes a double agent, for the cause. “I wish I could say I was part of your cause, but I’m not. Maybe your Communism isn’t real Communism.”
“It’s real Communism all right” (cf. Kazan’s The Last Tycoon).
A million fragmented details illuminate the dilemma, from a colleague’s blending of two nearly empty Scotch bottles into “a Black & White Walker” (he jests, “we could advertise it—a giant panda with a top hat”) to the novels used for message drops, Huckleberry Finn, War and Peace (“you say I am not free, but I have lifted my hand and let it fall”), almost but not quite The Way We Live Now (“he’s very fond of Trollope”, the lovesick colleague highlights Browning’s “Cristina”).
The style of filming brings every detail to the fore, is altogether remarkable, and conveys an astounding conclusion.
The structure is Paradise Lost, in two parts corresponding to the Fall (l’amour, c’est la mort) and the Expulsion.
“Uncle Remus” is the code name of South Africa’s defense plan against “racial war”, a screen of radiation along the desert frontier, tactical nuclear bombs for this, America and Britain and Germany consent (cf. Smight’s Damnation Alley).
So in the first part, an unimportant security lapse is used by Moscow to disinform the British, who kill the man they think responsible “if we’re to have any chance of beating them at their own game” (the two agents in the African Section are mirror-images). In the second, a good man on Her Majesty’s Secret Service winds up in Moscow (cf. Schepisi’s The Russia House, from the same screenwriter).
Boris Badenov in London. “I give language lessons.”
“You teach Russian?”
“English! Don’t laugh, my only pupil is a Pole.”
The new security man at the office has only a firmish grip but an ex-wife devoted to pottery owls. Dr. Emmanuel Percival, the office physician, explains his theory of Mondrian, “a painter chappie”. The method of elimination is “ground nuts... apparently when they go bad they produce a mould...”
Variety, “helmer doesn’t seem up to the occasion.”
The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “too literal adaptation... plodding direction... entertains, but does not excite or have the moral complexity of the original.”
Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), who customarily flouts the maxim by practicing criticism for criticism’s sake, addresses it very brilliantly for some reason, “this rigorous, compelling, radically stylized film...”
Geoff Andrew (Time Out), “erratic... pretty faithful... comes across well enough... the whole thing badly lacks any sort of central thematic focus, and the strangely obsessive Englishness of Greene’s world is altogether missing. Craftsmanlike rather than inspired, it’s watchable thanks largely to its solid performances.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “ill-advised and poorly executed... becomes merely risible before the end.”
According to Eleanor Mannikka (Rovi), “routine espionage drama”.
That red kite just won’t fly, that’s all. The man from BOSS spots the leak right away. The cinematographer had just come off Skolimowski’s The Shout, the idea is naturalism by available light, Hitchcock’s “ideal” for Torn Curtain. The firm is a large concern, “take a man like 69300 in Lourenço Marques” (cf. Reed’s Our Man in Havana).
“Have you never wavered a bit, Halliday? Hungary? Czechoslovakia?”
“I don’t know what you’ve done for us, sir, but you must be important, makes me proud to think that you’re on the road to Moscow in this old car of mine.” Last stop The Sheraton Skyline, a retiree to Paris.
The wife and “little bastard” go to his mother in the country, the latter won’t have the lad’s toys on the vast English lawn. Preminger brings it round by way of Hitchcock to John Osborne’s A Patriot for Me at length (cf. Szabó’s Oberst Redl).
In Moscow, the man from the British Council brings “un petit cadeau”, the KGB two bottles of Black & White, also “the real picture... a nice piece of deception.”
In the end, “a traitor to his country,” a stooge to the Russians.