The Seventh Victim
The structural basis is evidently Hitchcock’s Rebecca. From there, one can see how this tale of a votive offering to the sealed lips of the Palladists leads bizarrely to an identification with Puccini’s Mimi.
Youth Runs Wild
A story literally torn from the headlines.
Altman (The Magic Bond, The Delinquents) and Losey (A Child Went Forth) address the themes.
In the fullest sense, youth goes to war (she leaves home to wait for him, sent to forestry camp). Robson’s two innocents destroy the criminal element without even thinking about it.
They’re underfoot at parental beer-and-card parties, or play truant while the munitions workers sleep. Absent GIs make a world of difference.
A film that doesn’t miss a trick in describing the perils, and the flag-bedecked portrait of FDR seems deliberately to recall Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road on Depression runaways.
T.M.P. of the New York Times was incensed “almost beyond endurance,” having no idea what was meant.
Leonard Maltin, “routine”.
TV Guide reports a studio hatchet job that left Arthur Shields speechless, its review does not give Val Lewton’s film the time of day, “so obviously” is T.M.P. seconded in this.
Isle of the Dead
A masterpiece of filmmaking that symbolically bares the roots of Nazism, though the setting is Greece in 1912 to give the ancient aspect.
The modalities are Böcklin and Poe (“The Premature Burial”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”) and Camus.
The editing is particularly to be noted, though not by the Academy nor by Variety (“a slow conversation piece... a drag”).
The curious final remark is an ironical echo of the protection racket in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
Not much critically admired, yet there are those who have appreciated it. The gold-painting in Goldfinger is here verbatim as gilding on the Voice of Reason in a madhouse play that also gives Marat/Sade down to the murder, the second murder, for the first is of a visiting poet by the apothecary-general of Bedlam, a poet too, and that gives you Amadeus.
So many are the themes and quick likenesses, the involved satirical politics and the social satire, the great derivation from Poe that sets the seal on it, critics are not to be excoriated, only pitied.
Nabokov responded to a novel by Edmund Wilson in these words about its female characters, “I’d as soon open a tin can with my penis.”
T.S. Eliot is supposed to have said of his career that the game wasn’t worth the candle.
Robson lights a candle on the fight game and lets it burn all the way, for illumination.
Critical misunderstandings begin with Crowther in the New York Times and extend as far as Time Out Film Guide.
Tiomkin’s essential contribution adds just the right note to a sequence like Kelly’s early training.
Hell Below Zero
The peculiar circumstances of the plot serve as abstractions presenting something like the Union of South Africa, in the whaling business one partner’s son murders and hopes to marry for control of the company, he was a Quisling in the war (company headquarters are at Cape Town), they also require a second director for the “Antarctic expedition” listed in the credits, Anthony Bushell has the task.
H.H.T. of the New York Times dismissed it but “for about ten fine minutes”, Time Out Film Guide lists it as a “time-passer”.
Axelrod and Robson make a brilliant, detailed combination as writer and director in this tale of a New York marriage between a sea lawyer and a soap-opera writer (Serena Noble, Doctor’s Wife, it moves from daytime radio to daytime television), the divorce and subsequent events.
Lubitsch is as good a name as any to call in witness, it’s a question of stability as much as anything else, anyway the whole thing goes what the title says, in Walter Winchell’s dictionary, the couple live other, separate lives.
He rooms with the bachelor Navy buddy who introduced them, a Lemmon stock in trade that might have inspired The Odd Couple, if it comes to that. Her mother redecorates the house.
They meet on the dance floor after lessons from Arthur Murray.
He studies painting, the comely model comes out De Kooning, a great gag. She studies French but can’t say “eu”, provoking her sage teacher to an observation. “It’s most interesting, during the first few months after a divorce, one almost always decides to devote oneself to something serious and worthwhile, as for example the United Nations.”
The new round bed gets a round electric blanket, her mother’s analyst met by chance at the Athletic Club gives free advice, don’t be shy with other women, and so the news comes home that the buddy who set up the date has a rendezvous with her.
“A lightweight farce running from bed to verse” (Variety).
“The author has not distressed himself with an output of too much exertion in inventing and writing comedy scenes” (Bosley Crowther, New York Times).
“Champagne comedy with no bubbles” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
The ways to a woman’s heart are laughing and crying, every playwright knows, with substrates of whining and giggling, as explained here.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri
A squabble over a doxy.
The film is rigorously composed of symmetries.
Rescuers and rescued perish in the end. Air commander and pilot exchange stricken planes.
The bridges are destroyed.
This great and tragic film had a second history, it was the last Hollywood film shown in regular prime-time Los Angeles broadcasting, ca. 1990 (ten years later, even the late late late show was canceled).
The Harder They Fall
Racketeers put in the fix, crooked managers despoil the Fancy.
The bad news comes fast, a newspaper out of business. In the dark, this line is pitched.
A powderpuff from South America rises to a heavyweight championship bout on hooha and bribes. There’s the gate in prospect, and a sizeable bet.
It’s run like a business, exactly like a business. The fighter gets a beating, that’s all.
A top sportswriter with the failed newspaper takes on the promoting job, that or it’s back to a rewrite desk.
He writes a series of articles in the end, called “The Harder They Fall”.
Bogart has this from The Maltese Falcon and Beat the Devil. Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane and Jerry Lewis in The Patsy also express the theme, variously.
A teenage scribbler recalls the war years in a small New England town.
It is indeed a small town, but at length it rises to the occasion, as far as possible.
A perfect, beautiful masterpiece, with all the space in the world for placid satire.
Variety thought it lacked bite, Time Out Film Guide parrots this.
“Corn in the grand style,” opines Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader, and that includes Franz Waxman for his “effective if syrupy score.”
Truffaut, who is sometimes a truculent critic, says Robson directed Bogart “sloppily” in The Harder They Fall, but rather the characteristic of films such as The Bridges of Toko-Ri and Avalanche Express is the solidity underpinning their brilliance. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness appears to work in quite a different way.
The five happinesses are “wealth, longevity, good health, virtue, and a peaceful death in old age”. The sixth is found in the heart of him who seeks it, and this film traces the steps of a difficult illumination, difficult above all to express without damage, hence the almost no-hands approach to the material, countered by a tendency toward biography.
The main congruity of these failing as often as not in the early scenes makes for amusement, Gladys does not want to be a servant, she has a calling, she wants to serve in China, and once there, does not want to loose the footbound women but to preach the Gospel. The revelation to her soul is of childhood pertaining to humanity very much like the perception of Shaw’s Cleopatra and Caesar, and this is where the mask of China is dropped and she receives her crown in Dr. Robinson’s rebuttal to her lack of “qualifications”.
From this vantage point, the admirable terseness of the London scenes can be much better appreciated.
Nine Hours to Rama
Sanctification of the Mahatma in his death, prognostication for the world.
Making of an assassin, “darkness and madness”.
Plight of the police, unable to act in these circumstances. The dream of an armed camp.
Horst Buchholz sustains the assassin haunted by his life. Jose Ferrer has the pivotal role of the police superintendent in the immensities of the absurd situation (he carries his pistol in a soft dossier case, Gandhiji objects to its presence), Robert Morley is a party politician, Harry Andrews a general, and so forth.
Hitchcock’s screenwriter delivers Irving Wallace to the Heaven of Stockholm with a scanty-market Yankee novelist who ekes out a living writing detective fiction, the plot boils around a German expatriate fellow laureate in Physics who is replaced by a double for the Iron Curtain.
Foreign Correspondent, North by Northwest, eventually Torn Curtain.
“Suspenseful, well characterized, fast moving and funny from beginning to end” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
Variety found it spotty, “offset by hokey elements, occasional exaggerations and stripping of dramatic gears as the film fluctuates between its incompatible components,” Variety could not follow it.
“Who is it?”
A very great work of art, from Ernest Lehman.
“I’ve been beside myself all night.”
“I wish I could be beside yourself all night.”
A couple of very small jokes on The Skin Game and Vertigo are included, amongst the festivities.
Great score by Jerry Goldsmith.
Everybody’s a critic. “Your friend Mr. Craig has rewritten my ending, badly.”
Von Ryan’s Express
The tragedy, if you will, of the homme moyen raisonnable. Robson is consistently undervalued because he begins, as here, where others leave off in indefinable ways. Critics took this for a fait accompli from the novel, discounted it and safely overlooked material that seems beyond the purview of a deadline review.
There are two parts, the Italian prisoner-of-war camp and the train heading north. For purposes of analysis these are generally associated with The Bridge on the River Kwai and The General, but the real basis of these formal sequences is Del Ruth’s Captured!. Robson takes his ground at the beginning from something like the end of Lumet’s The Hill, his conclusive image is Col. Ryan in a German soldier’s uniform killing a young Italian woman for reasons of necessity, and this is the execution in Lawrence of Arabia (“It was written”).
The Messerschmitt attack with rockets above the Alpine railroad bridge certainly recalls The Bridges at Toko-Ri and prepares the conclusion.
The opening image of Ryan’s P-38 in the sky above German officers at sidewalk café tables on a sunny Italian day is the very high pitch of an overture, the plane has been hit and crashes in the outskirts of town. Italian soldiers claim him to defy the Germans, he finds himself among mainly British prisoners who are stalemated with the commandant between failed escapes and reduced rations. Ryan settles the matter and gets his nickname, events support him with the Italian surrender. But the Germans still control Italy, and the image of Major Battaglia begging for his life very gradually becomes that of the Italian girl on the train, a collaborator for bread and pride. Ryan saves the one disastrously and kills the other belatedly, not having seen the forest for the trees and still unclear about the forces at work.
Robson is neither ambiguous nor ambivalent, but he constructs his fabulous images in such a way that they can be viewed in the round, and that is the great refinement of his tragic view.
The French nightmare in Algiers, and the other one at Dien Bien Phu.
Franz Waxman’s musical references are to Moulin Rouge and Lawrence of Arabia.
A remarkably proficient work detailing the destruction of the city. The central figure jogs, has his own gym, drives an SUV, and keeps a mistress. Within the first few minutes, you have all this and a police chase. It’s not the Los Angeles of 1974 (the very year Paul Mazursky declared in Harry and Tonto that Heaven was Santa Monica after New York) but of 1994, which is to say after Albert Brooks proclaimed in Defending Your Life “actually, there is no Hell, although I hear Los Angeles is getting pretty close.”
“Princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!” By the late Nineties, the Hollywood Reservoir had become a paint-green cesspool collecting trickles from hillside homes, and the Wilshire Colonnade another part of the generally abandoned Wilshire Center. Sunset Vine Tower was closed in 2001 and gradually refitted with a coating of green glass to reflect the official style out of Oz.
Robson put everything he knew about films into this one, but he always did that, one should think. The gag is an homage to Hitchcock, specifically The Lady Vanishes. From another point of view, this is taken as from a vantage point since Frankenheimer’s The Train, Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction, Siegel’s Telefon, and Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite, but the unparalleled force of its synergy, in combination with Jack Cardiff’s extraordinarily versatile and pellucid matte color cinematography, is enough to generate a surprising vortex, to which stars such as Linda Evans and Robert Shaw (and to a slightly lesser extent Lee Marvin, compare Mike Connors’ modest guardedness as a compositional element) lend themselves freely, becoming other persons entirely. Maximilian Schell as a top Soviet official reacts to this with a mask of glinting madness.
Shaw gives surprising performances not seldom, that being part of his understanding of the art. Almost nothing prepares this most unusual of all his performances (except every single one of them).
Formally, Robson goes flat out in brutal action scenes, then relaxes into the vortex of his close-ups, again and again, in a steady pulsation.
The prophetic quality of Avalanche Express, which it shares with a number of films from this time, probably accounts as much as anything else for its lack of critical favor at the time, opening as it does with a discussion of biological warfare and what is nowadays called computer “hacking”.
The point is an entire picture of the Soviet Union’s war on Europe, down to the infamous terror bands represented here by the “Geiger Group”.
Canby’s review in the New York Times might have been written by the chair he sat upon, a famous seat that has called the tune of criticism ever since.