Edge of the City

It might have been the Nouvelle Vague, witness the dancing at the bar, where Ritt’s mastery and freedom are much in evidence. Hence Godard is entitled to his cavil, although Cassavetes has been handled spectacularly as someone else, Don Gordon or James Woods, gradating into himself when goaded. The sense of “hack” work reflects on Crowther’s opinion that Edge of the City is a poor man’s On the Waterfront, the veneer is criticized. This is Ritt’s specialty, the veneer of actors particularly. Jack Warden’s face is wiped clean of sharp intelligence, he has the nominal awareness of the clod (compare this with the variation in Irwin Winkler’s Night and the City, where he makes use of the characterization as a veneer of experience). Sidney Poitier is similarly masked, if you will, with an inner mode of furnishing, his worldling is a happy co-existence with a wife and child, unobstructed by the complaints of any clod.

Which is a way of saying that the acting is all good. Ruby Dee and Kathleen Maguire (a sort of Janet Gaynor role) get up the hysterical wheezing of the crisis to show the void left by Tyler’s murder, precipitating the key scene of Ritt’s art, when Axel’s phone call home makes the whole film a slender thread of conversation picked up by Sydney Pollack a few years later.

The crisis had an immediate impact on Hitchcock, it might be, coupled with the psychological foundation on Spellbound, resulting in The Birds.

Edge of the City is at least partly a response to On the Waterfront. A force of nature goes unvexed to the sea with Kazan, Ritt is more Shakespearean in the same way, it’s all about growing up. The adult world is mysterious, exciting and ultimately heroic.

The racial element gives two ways of improving on precedents. The maid of genius in Made for Each Other or Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and the guardian angel in Blood of a Poet meet and combine. As Variety noted, the distinction is however between man (“ten feet tall”) and “lower forms” (“down in the slime”).

The D.I. of Jack Webb figures in Axel’s predicament, he’s the one who really did go AWOL. Is it stretching the point to see Ralph Nelson’s Soldier in the Rain and Mark Rydell’s The Cowboys here and there, in relation to Ritt?

“The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.” Axel bursts onto the scene at night, running to catch a ferry. The night man at the job can’t help him, so Axel tries to find an open truck or car to sleep in, finally he settles down on the dirt by some oil drums. Tyler wakes him up on the way to work in the morning. Charlie Malik is the man to see, a connection to a friend in need. Tyler and Malik are more or less friendly rival foremen. Axel kicks back to Malik for the favor. Tyler is the family man who favors more of the same, introduces Axel to a girl.

The great gulf is fixed between Malik and Tyler, the latter is a “wise guy”. Malik’s dullness is a closed shop. Axel calls his parents on the road but doesn’t speak. “The only person he ever loved” was an older brother killed in a car wreck with Axel at the wheel. He left the Army to escape the sergeant. He’s under a pseudonym (North for Nordmann), a long way from Gary, Indiana. Fresh-faced, fairly alert, innocent of girls and work and the world.

The cloud he’s under has to lift. Malik baits Tyler into a fight and kills him. The men say nothing to the police. The event overcomes Axel’s isolation, he calls home. All’s forgiven, but Tyler’s wife is ruined, the girl is distraught. Axel pummels Malik into submission and drags him to the police.

Crowther saw Tyler as Kazan’s priest writ otherwise, but at the very least this is a major gloss on the character. Tyler refutes Berkeley, keeps the world spinning, stands for no clod’s stasis. Why mope if you have to be North, it sounds better, “these days you’ve got to be 110% American.” Axel’s problems aren’t problematic, just childish.

The girls want to talk social work, but Tyler isn’t having any of that, either. He’s humorously polite with Malik on the job, lives and lets live. The blackmail against Axel (for the kickback) provokes the fight.

So Tyler dies, doing a man’s work for poor Axel, whose past and future suddenly show themselves full of childish errors and fears. That’s about as fine a thing as you can ask, from a film.

Ritt’s direction is of a piece with his whole body of work, to Stanley & Iris. He takes the camera to a low pier right on the water rippling behind Axel and Tyler at their lunch break, the sun is shining, in the far distance you can see the city.

The Biblical element of Kazan’s conclusion is echoed by a sign in the hiring office, “BE WHERE YOU ARE WITH ALL YOUR MIND”.


No Down Payment

A complex, intricate little thing in CinemaScope black and white on the Postwar years, divided among four couples in a housing community, cheek-by-jowl. The gist of it is settling down to the peace after the monumental effort of the war, the elation of victory is still lingering, certain hopes are rather distorted expectations, they don’t pan out, anyway the action is simply to put away the wartime spirit and admit Japan to the community, as it were.

As a French writer says, “un film étonnamment peu connu.”


The Long, Hot Summer

Orson Welles is the driving force in wild makeup à la Arkadin.

The daughter’s genteel suitor is hogtied by his mother.

Ben Quick (Paul Newman) has what it takes.

The criticisms are “flabby narrative” (Halliwell) and an incredible ending (Bosley Crowther). The narrative calls for the son to pivot the structure from suitor to Quick.

Ritt’s beautiful widescreen pictures take in all of Frenchman’s Bend.

Joanne Woodward’s invention as the daughter is one of her steeliest and best. The great cast is magnificent, and so is Alex North’s score.

A significant work for Ritt, laying the basis of later films such as Hud, cold plain facts distributed as “antiheroics”.


The Black Orchid

The intricate screenplay praised by Variety has only two characters surrealistically divided, the mournful flower of the title must not “take happiness and choke it”, nor overplay the dutiful daughter, that way madness lies.

It means nothing to Halliwell’s Film Guide, “rather solemn”.

The fascinating mechanism has a score by Cicognini.

“Really beats us”, wrote Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “slightly extravagant, what?”

Quinn takes the merry fellow as a role for Dane Clark, on the backlot Loren is what the script says she is, an immigrant in New York.

“Slow but feeling drama”, says the Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “entirely predictable conclusion.”

The analysis of a greedy bride sinking a poor groom like a stone is in It Started With a Kiss (dir. George Marshall) and The Last of the Mobile Hotshots (dir. Sidney Lumet).

“A seriously bad tearjerker” (Time Out). “That’s your happiness,” says Brando in Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, “and my happeniss.”


The Sound and the Fury

Faulkner “setting his day in order”, so many mouths to feed, a mountain of troubles, all of it amounting to no more than a hill of beans and the girl.

A startling masterpiece, less so after Hud, not as a picture of the South but something like the circus that comes to town. A compendium of masks and fantasies born of idleness or just the way things are.

This is the house in Jefferson spoken of in Joseph Anthony’s Tomorrow, surely.

All the complicated analyses were more bitter to Bosley Crowther than just about anything, he pronounced the film absolutely meaningless (a position taken by John Simon on major works by Losey and Altman). Variety saw more, the very astute acting and the very competent directing.

A place of available metaphors, and mainly a place evocatively seen, another element of the composition.


Five Branded Women

Collaborators for various reasons, the gamut, each the lover of a German sergeant who is “mutilated” by a heedless partisan (one of the five is diffident and misses her chance).

So they are plunged in the war, and gradually have to face its realities. Their minds are very slow to accept this, killing they can understand, military discipline and the condition of war, no, hence Halliwell’s dull annoyance, “makes a few boring points”, and the Monthly Film Bulletin’s, “obstinately unreal”, and Howard Thompson’s in the New York Times, “thuddingly flat”.

Variety expressed a universal view that it is “grim”, but somehow found the partisans “less sympathetic than their German enemy.”

Several reviewers have complained that the material “plots an overly familiar conflict” (Variety), it is rather more to the point in any case to see a comparison with Tourneur’s Days of Glory, for example.



Paris Blues

A very close call. Good Americans and bad Americans, according to Wilde.

Schmeling’s manager shoulda stood in bed, Ritt takes a tour of the city, several tours, one for tourists, one for lovers, one for anybody else.

Professor David says, in Shackleton’s account, “she was for the shore, let who would be for the Pole.”


Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man

Such things as Sooners and lepers and history over three centuries put together out of pieces culled from the author’s works. The surrealistic process is perfectly understood in Brooks’ History of the World: Part I as abrupt transitions defining the successful vignettes in retrospect at the very least, whereby a more complete retrospective is obtained in tranquil recollection.

The critics could not see the forest for the trees, this mirror held nothing of their nature, but compare Mann’s Cimarron for a useful precedent.



Ritt on the case. Here is the “adult” sought by Godard, who clears the decks by all means and starts himself anew as “the measure of all things.”

Critics puzzled over the character, which they loathed, and dimly discerned a structure (“Greek tragedy”) they didn’t care for, either.

The structure is foursquare and completely to the point. “My dear Heredia,” said Mallarmé after an exegesis, “we have both risen in my estimation.”

Mom and Pop and Sonny Jim go by the boards, that’s the lay of the land. Plagues and ancient grudges go with them. This is the terrain of Hamlet.

Star and director both have said different, the business is a strange business. “Films really are dreams” (Thompson’s St. Ives).

Even a film as much admired as this one needs to be understood.


The Outrage

Death of a Tennessee gentleman colonel, sometime after the Civil War, following on the rape of his wife by a bandido, among the saguaro cactus.

He was stabbed with a jeweled dagger said to be of Aztec origin. The notorious Juan Carrasco did it, or the colonel’s lowborn wife, or the aggrieved husband killed himself, or it was “death by misadventure”, according to the various accounts.

A preacher, a miner and a swindler discuss the matter in a rainstorm, not at Rashomon Gate but a disused railroad depot at Silver Gulch.

A.H. Weiler of the New York Times got the stories muddled, Variety was generally praiseful.


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Mundt, formerly of the Hitlerjugend, is now head of East German counterespionage.

Fiedler, a Jew, is second-in-command.

Alec Leamas is assigned to defect with a tale of having bought Mundt.

Fiedler prosecutes Mundt, who exposes Leamas as a British ploy. Fiedler is arrested and probably shot. Leamas is arrested, and so is Mundt’s witness, Nan Perry.

Mundt frees Leamas and la Perry, they are sent to climb over the Berlin Wall (“Fiedler was right,” says Leamas). Mundt’s boy shoots her, Leamas stays on the Russian side and is shot as well.

The opening at Checkpoint Charlie uses a camera and dolly to evoke Welles’ Touch of Evil.



Ritt’s analysis of Stagecoach from Elmore Leonard shows why Ford filmed it the way he did, which is the expression of Ritt’s generosity, at least.

It was worthwhile, because some might miss the implications in a bank robber from the inside.

The ending is immaterial (viz. Hitchcock’s Suspicion), l’amour ou la mort.

Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has a significant part to play.

Crowther came out of his stupor long enough to admire it fitfully, Variety noticed several “hits” among the cast, Ebert followed suit.


The Brotherhood

The Mafia is moving into space-age electronics, which is to speak of the Syndicate.

Opposition is rubbed out, the Sicilian Vespers took his Papa years ago.

The “lever of love” or as it’s called here “death on the family plan” forces the hit.

Winner’s The Stone Killer covers the same subject, Coppola’s The Godfather has the same material for analysis.

The significance cannot have been fully apparent to critics at the time, Variety noted “Ritt’s topnotch direction” and essential features of the plot. On the other hand, Tom Milne of Time Out Film Guide has “Ritt can do very little”.

“Rather tedious” (Halliwell’s Film Guide) “and violent.”

Cinematography by Boris Kaufman, score by Lalo Schifrin.


The Molly Maguires

Lang’s mediator is a detective in the coal mines. He weighs things equally, law and order are paid for with taxes and the things you do without, criminals and such things.

The miners move in daylight down to darkness, each with a Pentecost light to him. Zealots among them wreak destruction.

Mark Twain at the quartz mill. “He said he was paying me ten dollars a week, and thought it a good round sum. How much did I want?

“I said about four hundred thousand dollars a month, and board, was about all I could reasonably ask, considering the hard times.”

Prince Hal has a stake in this, and Jack Yeats’ admirable painting, The Illuminated Town.

Mancini hits his stride with a citation from Britten’s Serenade (“Blow, Bugle, Blow”) at the burning of the store.

The editing is long in single expansive takes here and there, and occasionally very short and brisk. The critics yawned at the first and blinked at the second. Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train makes clear what has been missed by them.


The Great White Hope

Bunkum of an age, lined up to greet the champ.

This is of course one of James Earl Jones’ finest performances, and in many ways the toughest and keenest of the lot on film. Not much is worth the vain display of an academic critique against this force of nature, a thinking reed.

It covers the world from Australia to Hungary, and ends in Havana.

Canby was a theater critic, he thought, the play was no good either, he wrote.

Most critics have followed his line, seeing the film and the play reflected in their own shabby insights. “I ain’t gonna fight no dinge,” says Brady the ex-champion.

Ritt’s style takes conscious stock also of Jane Alexander’s performance on stage, in a way close to the American Film Theatre.



The gone ‘coon hissing down from a high tree branch gets missed on a dark night, no meat on the table.

Huck Finn in the schoolroom gives another clue besides the title, an excellent ‘coon dog who pines when the ‘coon goes to ground.

Over in the next parish there’s Harriet Tubman and W.E.B. Du Bois to consider, also the Wishbone labor camp.

Truth is much stranger than fiction, and even biography. It’s just the simple tales of nothing much in particular not doing a whole hell of a lot, that add up to a few pictures from home, that misty line of trees back of the field, for instance.


pete ‘n’ tillie

1962-1972, the first ten years of their marriage.

Culturally-conscious types are treated to a painstaking analysis. The ending is a set of terms in the same way Hitchcock’s Suspicion is.

The veneer of civilization is a misnomer, it is a fabric, and they are the stuff. Not especially ridiculous or indeed remarkable beyond their good humor and his job in “motivational research”, i.e., advertising. Bergman’s The Touch dates from the previous year, a work more pointed in some ways.

The stars (as Philippe Noiret and Anna Massey) turn in excellent characterizations, and so do the whole cast, it’s a field day in that respect.



Great teachers like Schoenberg know that logic and rote are not always on the side of the angels, Beckett (who taught briefly) speaks of “Spartan maieutics” (cp. the Welsh headmaster in Dearden’s Violent Playground, for example).

Any resemblance of the teaching method shown here ante Conroy to the farm system that sends film critics from the street journals (L.A. Weekly, Chicago Reader) on up to the New York Times suitably indoctrinated is, as they say in Hollywood, purely coincidental.


The Front

When they began colorizing films, a number of directors spoke up. When government and industry went digital, not a voice was raised, there was no-one to complain to.

Imagine a nerd, then, serving as middleman to the artists. It’s lucrative, he begins to see himself as a practitioner, even. The story, even more, takes on that sort of Emerson twist, he begins to feel sorry for his clients, they are men. He speaks up and gets slapped down.

All of this set in the time of the latter-day witch hunts, by men who were there.


Casey’s Shadow

Ritt’s satire of a really bad fashionable movie has for its symbol a two-horse race in which the winner is a miniature pony with a chicken up top.

The “coonass colt” of the title is a by-blow of Sure Hit. The kid is as cute as a bug in a Spielberg, the horses are wonderful, their proper care is a principal theme.

Still, the point is to make a film as bad as the leading contenders, and part of that is a study of improper care, it’ll break a horse down and kill it.

Patrick Williams contributes the worst score he can think of, in the spirit of the thing.

If it didn’t make a billion or sweep the Oscars, Ritt did what he could, blame the beastly public and the Academy.

Maybe he shouldn’t have spared the horses, or maybe he was just ahead of his time.


Norma Rae

If the bet Ritt made with Casey’s Shadow didn’t pay off, this one did with lots of success and a Best Picture nomination.

Truly, the prizes came from Canby (“a seriously concerned contemporary drama”) and Variety (“that rare entity, an intelligent film with heart”).

The metaphor is unions as a civilizing influence, Ives wrote a pamphlet on insurance that way.

Canby again, “Mr. Ritt and the Ravetches... persist in equating the awakened social conscience with literature not always of the highest order. It’s an endearing but dopey conceit that I associate first with the work of Clifford Odets. When Norma Rae is having her consciousness raised, it’s signaled by the report that she’s reading Dylan Thomas—offscreen.”


Murphy’s Romance

Amusing satirical “romantic comedy” type of thing with a surface thick enough to drown all flies, under which is the typical Ritt seriousness of purpose, life is not a game and so on, how to judge a horse or a flake, that sort of thing.

Canby wasn’t taken in this time, but Ebert was.

There’s another sideline here on the widower with “causes” and the self-made divorcée, and some more on simple pleasures contrasted with gore at the Spur movie theater, all of it left behind as the screen door shuts on the lovers at home.



Sweet charity covereth the multitude of sins. The structure is Pelion on Ossa to give the view of childhood carried over as a kind of “prior restraint”.

The reading of a hooker follows on Pakula’s Klute ahead of Russell’s Whore.

The stylistic enormity used by Ritt as a surface in some of his latter films is exchanged for one of gravitas and plausibility, the inner workings are topsy-turvy, critics were upended.

The three-part arrangement shows the confines of home, the rejection of marriage, and the beleaguered hooker’s vindication.


Stanley & Iris

The muse is a widow with a large and discordant family, who works in a factory making cakes and assorted pastries. Her votary is a short order cook.

She imparts to him the syllables, letter by letter. And there you have the gist of the thing. The brutal imagination of Frank & Ravetch and Ritt done to a turn, the ultimate level of refinement.

The Washington Post hooted and catcalled at this. Boxoffice Magazine thought it a curio. M-G-M may not have known exactly what to make of it.

Before he becomes a full-fledged man of letters and homme d’affaires, Stanley in his spare time devises “a contraption for cooling cakes fast.” That’s what André Breton says about Picasso somewhere, “he’s a shiver of the big refrigerator.”

The acting is naturally first-rate, but there are one or two specialties brought out, particularly toward the end, Iris on the assembly line thinking of Stanley’s letter, Stanley driving up after a year or so away. Ritt has an unusual degree of finesse in his cinematography, the choice of lens just subsumes the actors in the picture plane (cf. Yates’ The Dresser). And the score by John Williams is charming.