Stormy Weather

Impossible to tell if Stone was hired for the job or invented it, so true is the conviction of his work.

The construction is mainly an idea of gray tones modulated from ebony to luminescence in every shot, governing the disposition of small dance movements (cf. Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, Forman’s Ragtime) and specialty numbers (Cab Calloway’s invention of Presley) of an intimately expressive nature.


Hi Diddle Diddle

Would-be son-in-law bankrupts prospective mother-in-law to prevent Navy man from marrying air raid warden bride-to-be, you see, all will be restored if she marries he who is wealthy, instead.

As fast as it moves, at the same time it has leisure for anything and everything, this masterwork to top them all. Albert Brooks takes off from the mother-in-law’s account of the shenanigans as a circus cannon launching a heroic projectile through Lost in America, Stone favors fireworks that flash and fade, brilliant sad smoke sums up his jests, leaving a tear in your eye.

The casting is sheer genius like the rest, Billie Burke and Martha Scott as mother and daughter opposite Adolphe Menjou and Dennis O’Keefe as chevalier d’industrie and sailor son to the rescue, Pola Negri a Wagnerian soprano (between Welles’ Citizen Kane and De Sica’s Umberto D.) married to Menjou stingily, Barton Hepburn the conniver, Walter Kingsford a senator and friend of the bride’s family, June Havoc the Yankee Marlene and so forth.

As poor Mrs. Prescott says with fist up and elbow down, “riveting.” The influence of Leon Schlesinger Productions is on more than the cartoon sequences. “You old son of a gun, who you doin’, uh?A crooked roulette wheel can be made straight, a tale that is told in Holiday Camp (dir. Ken Annakin), a duel of wizards in The Raven (dir. Roger Corman).

“A Mickey Finn... a double take like in the movies,” double vision, reprise (“I Loved You Too Little Too Late”). “Sorry to disturb you, I’m Genya Smetana,” accent on the second syllable.

“You’re what?Duet with a soundie on a Panoram (“remind me to get one of those in my bathroom”) in a dive, “The Man with the Big Sombrero”.

“It’s morning! Our wedding night is over.”

I know.”

“If I ever get a crack at Hitler I sw—” The nabob must buy back his worthless copper shares, “you remember Peter Warrington.”

“The third? Certainly.” A war on two fronts, “never live through this.” Nevertheless it all ends happily as though it had never been save for the bill, the paperhanger’s Wagner and all his tribe head for the hills in a coach-and-four.

T.M.P. of the New York Times, “mad goings-on, which were intended to be funny, but unfortunately are not.Leonard Maltin, “trifling”. TV Guide, “a witty picture”. Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “dopey”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “plotline is merely an excuse for a series of wild nonsequitur visual and verbal gags.Halliwell’s Film Guide, “scatty”.


Fun on a Week-End

The supreme joke on “other people’s money”, putting one over, facing it out, “it’s who you know”, bullshitting your way to the top, but mainly and above all o.p.m.

The joke is monumentally constructed in the setup, millions are traded in the air by big shots real and fictitious, all harmless fun and first-rate comedy. The punchline delivers at House of Morgan what it really means to start a financial empire with other people’s money (the title indicates how much work goes into it).

Eddie Bracken, Priscilla Lane, backed by the very, very best.        


Highway 301

Stone’s abstraction of the war as the Tri-State gang on a rampage has three governors to introduce it and Max Nosseck’s The Hoodlum to back it up, still Bosley Crowther of the New York Times dismissed it as an “exercise in low sadism.”

These hoods were coddled, Stone says, “the full impact of the law” should have been felt early on.

Terror of the witness and the subjugated foreigner, villainous lunacy of the worthless caper.

“Congenital criminals”, as understood by Capra (Here Is Germany) and Siegel (Hitler Lives).

Despair is the antithesis of Stone’s argument.

Halliwell’s Film Guide notes it as a source for Penn in Bonnie and Clyde, also citing Richard Mallett in Punch vaguely cognizant of Carl Guthrie’s cinematography.


The Steel Trap

Nel mezzo del cammin from assistant teller to bank president...

The trajectory is Amarillo-New Orleans-Caracas-Rio de Janeiro, only half is considered.

How much a million weighs is one consideration, there’s the babysitter, passports, cab rides, plane schedules, luggage, what the wife will think.

A lifetime in Rio, a weekend in the French Quarter, what difference?

From another point of view, Charles Walters has The Tender Trap, another angle, and then there’s Frank Capra’s magnum opus It’s a Wonderful Life.

Reviewers, led by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, have generally taken this to be a study in suspense. Time Out Film Guide mentions that Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright previously appeared in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a doubt.

Halliwell’s Film Guide, for example, “solidly competent little suspenser...”


A Blueprint For Murder

Stone’s peculiar subtlety obviates red herrings and psychological motivations, the matter is an unprovable police case for which retribution is sought. A case of poisoning, a counterpoison is selected but not administered, the experience acquired leads to an insight that finally deals out the murderer’s own medicine.

Thus the title, inexplicable to Time, and the bewildered response of H.H.T. in the New York Times (“misses by a good mile”). The main thing having been overlooked, neither have critics noted the peculiar and distinctive style on location, very advanced and refined.


The Night Holds Terror

“When it rains in this town, it really rains.”

A persistent theme, just ahead of Wyler’s The Desperate Hours.

With Cassavetes, a stylistic precedent (cf. Maté’s D.O.A. for the drugstore scene, Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy for the automotive filming, Quine’s Drive a Crooked Road for the desert driving, etc.).

Imperious gangsters, stupid, ruthless, half-hearted, peculiarly imposing on a North American electronics employee at Edwards Air Force Base and his family.

Continual death threats, secrecy and silence all but enforced (cf. Archie Mayo’s Confirm or Deny). Persistence of Memory, a Dalian theme.

Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “since The Steel Trap... a materialism without a dialectic...”

H.H.T of the New York Times, “far from memorable.Leonard Maltin, “somber little film”. Time Out notes the studied appreciation of Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood). TV Guide, “well-constructed, powerful”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide) has Wyler “the principal inspiration”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “effective, detailed”.



This is mainly analyzed in Smight’s Airport 1975, a highly elaborate work, to get the girl in the picture.

The beauty and realism of the filming as counter to the ferocious madness of the subject were nearly taken into account by Bosley Crowther for his New York Times review, he nevertheless saw Monterey and called it “thrilling”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide didn’t believe a word of it (this might have been the Monthly Film Bulletin’s view) but found it “entertaining”.


Cry Terror!

This is patently the root and stem of Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, with the fine added distinction of showing the FBI as quite incapable of answering the case in a timely fashion for all its immense professionalism, it is solved through the personal initiative of the hostages and the sheer clumsiness of the mastermind.

Bosley Crowther, New York Times, “why can’t she just duck into a bar?”

Terrifically filmed on location in New York.

“Unabashed suspenser”, says Halliwell’s Film Guide, “which screws panic situations as far as they will go and farther.”


The Decks Ran Red

Bosley Crowther ought to have been excused by dint of never having seen The Battleship Potemkin, and therefore not having seen the point, but he knew Eisenstein and didn’t know Andrew L. Stone. American film critics were no better then, one is forced to admit, than they are today.

The plan is to kill everyone on board and claim the ship as salvage. The captain has died, the cook and steward have jumped ship, a Maori cook and his wife are taken aboard. She is played up to, the cook goes after her suitor with a carving knife and is locked up. Rumors of mutiny spread, the galley serves lousy grub.

The girl, who is not flirtatious but simply a treat, is moved to a cabin across from the captain’s, more rumors, which the crew eventually see through.

The slaughter begins in the engine room with a high-powered rifle and a pistol. Crew and officers gather in the saloon with a single Luger, a war souvenir. The girl is used as a hostage to force everyone over the side. The plan is revised to ram the lifeboat.

The captain and a senior mate swim back to the ship, the mate drowns, the captain climbs a stern line (used to measure the ship’s speed). At the top of his climb near the rail, a down-angle shows the direct influence on Boorman’s Deliverance.

The mastermind is on the bridge, his partner in the engine room. The girl gathers her wits for a diversion and succeeds in killing the conspirator below, her quondam suitor, with his own pistol. Receiving no response from the engine room, the mastermind descends and is met by the captain, who kills him with a galley knife and stops the ship from hitting the lifeboat.

A prologue shows the captain as first officer on the luxury liner S.S. Mariposa docking at the Port of Los Angeles, he’s waited five years for a captaincy, the S.S. Berwind is anchored off the coast of New Zealand, the Matson Line offers him the job, he flies there at once (the implied note is from Paradise Lost, the Berwind is a rustbucket with a nasty crew). Stone films entirely aboard ship, at sea or at anchor, day or night. This builds up towards the great sight of a former Liberty ship bearing down upon a lifeboat full of men on the open sea.


Ring of Fire

A monumental, surrealistic expression of Eliot’s “Lord thou pluckest me out” and all, filmed with scrupulous, exacting realism.

The Tillamook fire of 1933 and the Lindbergh law set up the teen hood and psychopath (Fuller’s Verboten! may have served as the inspiration, at least partly). The generally classic construction arrives at Keaton’s The General for the grand finale.

The terrible scenes of hysteria as a forest fire rages on the whole town surely went into Hitchcock’s The Birds. The entire cataclysm is one of the greatest nightmares in the cinema.

“As is their well-established custom, the Stones keep conspicuously away from intellectual complications,” said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. “Call it well-popped corn.”

Halliwell could not follow this either, the irrealism of the screenplay irked.


The Last Voyage

Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember treated fictionally aboard the Île de France on her way to the scrap heap.

Sarris (The American Cinema) had it that “they sink a real ocean liner.”

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times feigned to be disabused just before the end, this was Tom Milne’s line in Time Out subsequently.

The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “so-so”.

Leonard Maltin, “engrossing”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “dramatically deficient”.


The Password Is Courage

The critics seem never to have seen this picture, even though sizeable chunks of it are in John Sturges’ The Great Escape.

The subject of this biographical account gets the Iron Cross pinned on his blanket in a Wehrmacht hospital, briefly. His time at Stalag VIIIb is interrupted by a stint at Breslau, which he arranges to have burnt down by its Kommandant. The escape from Lamsdorf ends for him in Vienna (his recapture is borrowed by Bruce Geller for Harry in Your Pocket), but he drives a fire engine through the enemy lines from I.G. Farben next to a concentration camp that has become “a byword”.


The Secret of My Success

Anyone working in a professional capacity might have noticed the scene in the third act that compels attention by its sheer temerity of invention, and none of them did. Neither Variety nor the New York Times paid the slightest attention to this film beyond pooh-poohing it, and there is a second scene in the third act that leaves no doubt this is a work of genius. That must be real dedication to principle.

The plot gathers round a village police constable who is made chief inspector in another county and then liaison officer to the president in another country, despite his innocuous inability to spot a crime when it’s looking right at him. His elderly mother gave him the secret, “believe in people, have faith in mankind, and never search for evil.” She ferrets out the truth, and blackmails those responsible.

Stone films on location, and this is most striking. The camera is placed in cellar and cloister and shop and palace with throw-lighting to assure the veracity of the thing. Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between and Delbert Mann’s Jane Eyre follow the practice in one way and another, securing the actual surfaces and devising arrangements of the drama as medium shots against a variable background of niches, screens, doors, statuary and whatnot. The intensely beautiful pictures always create a detailed, atmospheric combination of script and setting.

Losey saw how backgrounds can be brought into play by camera movement, Mann how revelatory these pictures can be, as for instance the mother’s nautical home, centuries-old with maritime curves.

The three leading actresses are adroitly used, Stella Stevens in frowsy red hair like a Botticellian Helen Fraser, Honor Blackman half-innocent and half-mad with fantastically blue eyes, Shirley Jones a Latin brunette as cunning as sin. Stevens murders her husband and contrives to have the locals bury him in the basement, unawares. Blackman raises giant killer spiders, and has her husband committed as a homicidal maniac. Jones plots a revolution in Guanduria so as to loot the treasury on lavish promises to the citizenry, and abscond with whatever loot remains. This is Act III, where a U.S. Senator is interviewed. “It’ll be a prime example of what can be accomplished,” he says, “through private enterprise and true democracy.” A Communist spokesman says as much for his side, in the ecumenical spirit of the Bundestag voting on the European Union.

Lionel Jeffries plays four characters, one of them the president of that South American country, who attends the opera in a bow to Hitchcock. The Trio and Finale of Gounod’s Faust bring down angels who sway back and forth above the stage colliding with each other and the recumbent soprano, who strikes back. One has her angelic robes torn off, and feathers choke the stage.

The plot is to disguise the revolution as a film being made on location with lots of local extras. Thus a general is seen rehearsing a mock battle far away from the capital, with a cast of thousands. This is how the bank was nearly robbed in Mayberry.

Jeffries is tough as flint in his roles. His inspector is a diligent man put off by his constable’s admiration of the suspect, as Baron von Lukenburg he is bald and monocled in a cream turtleneck sweater and jodhpurs, unrecognizable in makeup as the Earl of Aldershot anticipating Robert Stephens in Cukor’s Travels with My Aunt, formal and debonair with a crest of hair as President Esteda.

Amy Dalby is a constant surprise as the mother, and James Booth is equally comical as PC Tate, who reaps the fruits of all her careful ministrations, in the end.