The premiere engagement was described by Variety. Magnascope (twice), color-tinted for sky and gunbursts, “two tones” of airplane-motor sound backstage to distinguish the combatants, the screen twice as wide for each Magnascope sequence, the score not so good.

The story is very strange and particular, yet the leading reviewers discounted it, Time moreover implied that the audience did, too.

David and Sylvia love each other (he’s rich, she’s a city girl). Mary loves Jack, the hot-rodder keen on aviation, Jack loves Sylvia.

At the end of the Big Push that means Victory, David is flying a German plane toward the American lines, Jack unknowingly shoots him down.

It was felt by critics that this “conventional” drama interfered with the aerial camerawork, though the acting was more or less admired.

Rosenberg’s Cool Hand Luke extends the training-camp fistfight, Gold’s Aces High ends with the same observation balloons, the influences are generally cited as various.


Beggars of Life

Wellman’s supreme American masterpiece about the guy who stiffs you for a bite, you see he’s dead, shot by the orphan he collected and pawed at, sitting at his own table. You and she take to the road...

“I’m headin’ for Canada myself. I got an uncle in Alberta.”

Wellman takes responsibility for this, and everything works as it should, this allows a very great actress to appear at her finest, Louise Brooks.

Just when you’re convinced of the American poetry in this, as fine as anything, Wellman explains the title out of Baudelaire, a lack of ease.

At the hobo jungle, Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery) takes a good long look at the time on his wristwatch in the dimness by the fire, the dial is on the inside of his wrist, he’s been in the trenches, say.

“It’s rainin’ hoboes, that’s what’s happenin’!”

Beautiful camera movement, and the dissolve from long to medium shot, medium shot to closeup. Poetry of trains, trainyards (cp. Other Men’s Women).

The law of the jungle (cp. Sullivan’s Travels, dir. Preston Sturges). “Gents, we’re goin’ to have a kangaroo court and try this little sheik for bein’ too good to live,” meaning Richard Arlen.

Lang’s criminal trial. “Be it known by those present that this here court will dispense with justice.”

“May it displease Your Honor — ”

“Wait a minute! Before we go any further, the court will sentence the prisoner.”

“I object. That ain’t a square deal for my client.”

“Look here, Defense, you’re tryin’ to influence the court.” Oklahoma Red wears dark spectacles as the judge and wields a pistol, to say that justice is a shot in the dark where he’s concerned.

Griffith has this in the palm of his hand (Under Burning Skies).

L’amour, c’est la mort, or if you prefer, “La Fausse Morte” (Valéry).

Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times was cast adrift, “dull and unimaginative”. It went over the heads of Time Out and the Chicago Reader like nobody’s business.


Other Men’s Women

A marvelous little film, two reels of funnery until that kiss turns serious, all bets are off, and suddenly it’s Renoir (La Bête humaine) or Lang (Human Desire) in Los Angeles, 1929.

A fistfight in the cab of a locomotive destroys a caboose and blinds the husband, it rains and rains, he sends her away for safety, flooding threatens a bridge the lover means to save, the husband takes a hand.

And it’s 1930, another year.

Tom Milne observed “a small masterpiece” (Time Out Film Guide), Halliwell a “melodrama” he didn’t care for (his Film Guide cites Variety, “good railroad melo”).


The Public Enemy

He is presented to the public skinned, scaled and wrapped like a parcel from the fish market.

Coppola, Scorsese and Leone have done extensive work in various ways on this film in particular, a favorite study.


Night Nurse

Wellman’s allegory of Prohibition was strictly Greek to Variety, which is surprising. It can’t be mistaken for anything less than a masterpiece, from the opening (and closing) POV in a speeding ambulance to the airy two-shot of dialogue in an open car driving along a city street, the wit and verve and satire are miles ahead of anything else and perfectly Wellman.

Carol Reed surely saw it or something like it for the children’s ward in The Third Man, and in general no director worth his salt could have missed its brilliance and authority.


Safe in Hell

A definition of the place, complete and utter. Murder and robbery, corruption, an insurance scam crowning the lot.

Clarence Muse as Ossie Davis. “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”, with a joke on Gogol’s Dead Souls.

Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times saw “the sort of girl who feels neglected when she is not defending her honor.” Surveying the scene, he found “the fugitive murderers and swindlers are a rather amusing lot.”

It is, to the Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “little more than a period curiosity.”

Certainly not, says a French critic, a great masterpiece.

Satan is the law in Hell.

“You may continue, Mr. Jones.” Hitchcock has the material to deal with in Blackmail and Under Capricorn, where the camerawork here by the director of Nothing Sacred receives its tribute.


Central Airport

The good news is not so good tonight, but this is the whole point and major influence that all the critics missed in George Roy Hill’s The Great Waldo Pepper (you can even spot a bit of Airplane! early on at Grand Central Airport).

Wellman works this all out later (with John Wayne, the downed co-pilot here) as Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty.

“The greatest guy in the world” cracks up his commercial plane in a cloudburst, joins a lady parachutist in an air circus, loses her to his kid brother, heads to China and South America, meets the girl again in Havana and rescues the kid when he cracks up his commercial plane in a cloudburst off the Dry Tortugas.

The girl is bored, but her ex-partner flies off again.

The Wellman liveliness is at every other moment, which is the proper idea.


Lilly Turner

Despite her mother’s advice she marries an actor on the vaudeville skids who dumps her in a magic act ahead of the law and his other wife. She marries the barker, a tippler, joins a health show and meets a taxi driver when the strong man has “a weak moment”, diagnosed thusly.

“The symptoms show a positive paranoia, probably hereditary insanity.”

“You mean the guy’s think tank ain’t workin’?”

The stricken man is an admirer of Lilly’s, the barker calls him Heinie and the Beast of Berlin.

The new strong man’s a Columbia alumnus in civil engineering, “but right now nobody’s using the railroads they already have.”

Losey recalls the madman in La Truite, “Lilly! Where is Lilly? I want Lilly.” Amidst all these sawdust shenanigans, he escapes from the lunatic asylum by main strength. Frankenheimer recalls him staring through the show window in 52 Pick-Up.

“It means a new deal for both of us.”

Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times wasn’t paying attention, “drab, uninspired story.” Leonard Maltin, “redeemed by the acting” etc. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “turgid”.


Heroes for Sale

America behind the war just ahead, limping after the last.

Gazzo analyzes the dope addiction in Zinnemann’s A Hatful of Rain.

The rest is a gizmo that mows down Americans, the doughboy sinks it deep in human capital, the best fortifications (while the Red rises high on profits from the machine).

A masterpiece of many colors, little enough regarded by Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times, who identified the integers and couldn’t see how they add up.


Midnight Mary

A whore, how she got that way, what she does about it.

Wellman makes films decades in advance of everything else or nearly, it isn’t the Production Code or anything else, it’s Wellman.


Wild Boys of the Road

High school sophomores ride the rails in hopes of disburdening out-of-work parents.

FDR himself gives them a break, in the person of a New York judge with unmistakable intonations.


A Star Is Born

The last frame explicitly declares this precisely a work of literature. For Wellman, this early Technicolor production consumed all his energies, leaving the script to operate on its own amidst perfectly-keyed scenes in a métier which, like CinemaScope, he seemingly was not inclined toward, so little did he engage upon it.

Twenty-five years ago The New Yorker rolled up its sidewalks and asked Saul Steinberg to draw a new map of America. Dr. Cyclops hasn’t been the same since, le monocle de mon oncle declared this film “a peculiar sort of masochistic self-congratulatory Hollywood orgy,” amidst a Cultural Revolution all its own.

It must be noted that the script comes at least partly from the pen of Dorothy Parker, via William A. Wellman and Gene Fowler out of Adela Rogers St. John. Its best sequels are All About Eve and The Terminal Man, but also Days of Wine and Roses.


Nothing Sacred

The depravity of New York publishers is such that only by not dying can it be surmounted.

The screenplay says that “degradation” is too good a name for it.

This is carefully distinguished from the sour grapes of a contest entrant by Ben Hecht, who knows whereof he speaks.


The Light That Failed

The artist whose battle pictures are so real is Wellman, and the story is altogether like The Old Man and the Sea.

Huston’s Moulin Rouge has a very lively similarity.

The raid on the inarticulate is a long repair from a stupid selfish girl who grows up to be an incompetent painter, and from a Fuzzy-Wuzzy’s swordblade, and from a barmaid’s spite.

“Letter-perfect”, said Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times.

And there is something of Picasso’s Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu in it.


The Great Man’s Lady

The form is significantly borrowed for Penn’s Little Big Man, but no hero is a man to valet or wife, the thing could go either way, and did, and the end is good triumphs and greatness prevails.

Lincoln is mentioned briefly, for the historical record. Wellman’s Buffalo Bill might be regarded as an analysis, or this a study for it, in a way.

The buckskin rider who carries off a slip of a Philadelphia girl to the West loses everything at three-card monte but she gets it back for him at the point of a pistol, they part and he grows rich and remarries, thinking her dead.

She returns and saves him in few words from political corruption, he becomes a great man.

The old lady tells the story of his life, it ends in the San Francisco fire and an equestrian statue of him. Something rare, “the wife of your youth”, an intimate portrait on the great divide, all in her point of view.

The key point is the great man’s town, founded by him in the wilderness. The railroad wants a three-quarter interest to stop there.

The honest crook of a gambler falls for the lady.

The New York Times (A.W.) and Variety (“a tedious story of the pioneering west”) thought poorly of the screenplay.

“Adequate but unsurprising” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).


Thunder Birds

It’s a fairly simple story of young men from Britain, China and America training as pilots at an air base in Arizona. A particular Englishman (John Sutton) has a fear of falling, the instructor’s girl gives him a stiff one and he stays up (she learned it in the Red Cross, as demonstrated).

Preston Foster is the instructor. He buzzes his girl as she bathes in a water tank on her grandfather’s ranch amid cactus, the scene effectively goes into Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Richard Haydn as another volunteer among Shropshire lads scarce out of school gives a bit of music hall pizzazz, and Reginald Denny is the RAF senior, with Dame May Whitty sending a cheque to Winston Churchill.

The secret of the limey’s success is a ride on a bucking bronco, for which see Joseph Kane’s Boots and Saddles.


Lady of Burlesque

Wellman deals out a set of knockout punches from the start, projecting the stylish credits on the mirror of a dressing table (where among the effects you can see FDR’s photo peeping out), a quick razzmatazz introduction, then the girls come out hoofing, Michael O’Shea appears as a burlesque comic, then Barbara Stanwyck comes out singing and swinging “Take It Off the E-String (Play It On the G-String)”. Backstage in the girls’ dressing room is where parts of and Giulietta degli Spiriti were born (The Night They Raided Minsky’s and some aspects of The Boy Friend were also founded on Lady of Burlesque, which in some respects is a satire of The Blue Angel).

Now while you’re seeing stars, Wellman settles in for some precision playing and complicated stage effects. It gets more wonderful every minute, with Stanwyck dancing the hep jive and the kazatsky and doing a cartwheel with Pinky Lee.

The beautiful solution reverberates throughout the script, from Gypsy Rose Lee’s novel, The G-String Murders.


The Ox-Bow Incident

What James Agee famously described as “rigor artis”, two fatal words that twenty-five years later provoked an unhappy witticism from Rex Reed in his review of Gene Kelly’s The Cheyenne Social Club, is a remarkably lambent technique that in 75 minutes gives a complete analysis in every one of its myriad details, often with the expenditure of a hundred or so frames, of a lynching party in a single night between two daylit scenes of ennui in a Nevada saloon, and to exhaustion.

Henry James could no more understand Winslow Homer’s superfine wit in its classical landscapes than Agee faced with Wellman’s sound stage and its hilly backgrounds, where nothing at all is lost in the distance, and which Ford expanded for the same reason to include an entire town in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Ford also remembered the opening scene in My Darling Clementine, and while we’re about it let’s acknowledge Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and Post’s Hang ‘Em High as directly influenced, the latter in particular.

The saloon is a shadowy point of vantage on the sunlit street, where afterwards the Confederate officer comes to lead a solitary triumph with his “female son” in tow. There’s a lady with a man who never gets there painted over the bar, like the sheriff who comes too late, like the girl who doesn’t wait.

Bosley Crowther in the New York Times was spot on the money as these things go, having capably assessed the whole picture and really missed nothing. In Agee’s defense, however, it may only now be clear how all these details brunt one upon another and the question so rapidly, it may have seemed like stasis. “Walter [Van Tilburg] Clark’s work interests me,” wrote Robinson Jeffers. “I didn’t know about his thesis at Vermont [on Jeffers, at U. of Vermont]. I met somebody a few days ago who said Clark’s latest book was not good—‘He can write stories about animals, not about human beings.’ I said, ‘The Ox-Bow Incident?’”


Buffalo Bill

Buffalo Bill Cody, a hero of the Indian Wars, rises to address a banquet of dignitaries. He tells them their smug care for the Indian is ballyhoo, the only Indian that really means anything at all to them is the one on an Indian Head penny. He throws such a penny down and walks out.

The newspaper headline reads, “Buffalo Bill Accuses Monied Interests of Instigating Indian Wars”. And so begins the campaign to discredit him. He’s ejected from the Astor Hotel, wanders the streets of New York.

The Wonderland Museum piques him. A pitchman at a shooting gallery offers him a chance to win a dollar for 10¢. Buffalo Bill doesn’t have a dime, puts his Congressional Medal of Honor on the counter. A cop is suspicious. “I’m Buffalo Bill,” says Cody. “Sure,” says the cop, “and I’m Jenny Lind.” There is an exhibition of marksmanship the likes of which the gallery has never witnessed before. A brainstorm takes place.

The Wonderland Museum of New York City now exhibits Buffalo Bill Cody on a revolving wooden horse to paying customers. His estranged wife is informed of this sad fact, and goes to see him. It’s a dispiriting spectacle in a way, the horse pivots to give different views of the great man. They holler “fake” at him from the crowd. She holds out a penny between right thumb and forefinger. He shoots it plumb out of her hand. She gives him a downright crackerjack wink, and he gives her another.

He cheers up children with a demonstration and talk. He presents his Wild West Show before the crowned heads of Europe and the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. The years go by, an aged man astride his horse he stops the show one night to address the lady in the stands.


G.I. Joe

“Ernie Pyle’s Story of” struck Thomas M. Pryor eloquent in his New York Times review, it would knock the war-stuff out of a Nazi.

A painstaking theme detailed all the way through in every shot and every frame.

Monte Cassino is the worst of it, never named but clearly identified.

The true correspondent bears witness to the trials of the G.I.

Many films say what is unsaid here, so the style is absolutely laconic. At the same time, “the Wellman touch” leaves nothing out of account.

The dead captain’s resemblance to Abe Lincoln adds another perspective.


Gallant Journey

The sign on the door reads Genius at Work.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times did not open it, “a limp and aimless tour.”

A film of the greatest poetry and the highest technique.

The score is notably inspired.

“Curious biopic” according to Halliwell’s Film Guide, furious myopic.

A tribute to an early aviation pioneer, John J. Montgomery of San Diego and Santa Clara.

Ken Russell has nothing on this, the deep analysis is carried out by Hitchcock in Vertigo and Mel Brooks in High Anxiety.

It took another twenty years for Crowther to be recognized as the “kook” he takes Montgomery and Wellman for, exactly as in the film.


Magic Town

Grandview, where everyone is like everyone else in America, a microcosm statistically perfect, a pollster comes to study it for “a million”, on the sly.

The lady editor of the Grandview Dispatch, who wants a new civic center, breaks the story, the town puts on “official poll-takers” as the “Public Opinion Capitol of the United States” with a “chief export” Gallup disproves, the town economy collapses, it’s a “ghost town”.

They resolve, with a little effort, to build that new civic center “with their own hands”, leastways the new high school.

Thus a précis, critics have gone no further than Variety’s clear-sighted evaluation of Riskin’s screenplay as “complicated” (Crowther and Halliwell mean the same thing, whether they call it fanciful or dull), and the great sign of Wellman’s victory is their tacit desire to understand this film, always blaming Riskin.

Capra is very close, It’s a Wonderful Life especially (numerous actors, settings and scenes, James Stewart, Jane Wyman as Mary). Krumgold had written The Town for Sternberg and the O.W.I.

The pollster, variously described as a “river rat” and a “city slicker” and “an artist”, feels like Columbus as he arrives to clandestinely sound out the citizens on “progressive education” for a client. In an empty schoolroom, he and the editor recite their favorite childhood poems simultaneously, his is Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, hers is Longfellow’s “Hiawatha”, the janitor chimes in with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the balcony scene, none hears the others as they all speak.

“The air becomes charged with electricity around desperate men,” says the editor, observing the pollster.

The first official Grandview poll amidst much ballyhoo asks whether or not voters would elect a woman President. Gallup polls the country and says no, Grandview is a national laughingstock.

The disaster is absolute, with no stock in trade and its reputation ruined, the town goes bust. The pollster calls its bluff with a memory of the boom.

The circumstances of the much-criticized screenplay simply describe a boom and bust that occur out of nowhere and lead to the construction of a new high school (the pollster is an ad hoc basketball coach, he of the “back-pass dilemma”).

“Well, I guess they do those things,” says Capra’s bank examiner.

Critics, who tear up a film or laud it to the skies with apparent whimsy and carelessness, dared not say more.

“With Wellman, as with so many other directors,” says Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema, “objectivity is the last refuge of mediocrity.”


The Iron Curtain

It really exists, a curtain that parts to show a steel or iron door with a small round window, behind which cipher clerks at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa occupy small offices from 1943 to 1945, as seen.

One of them hears a comrade colonel address “representatives of the Soviet Union in Canada” with these choice words, “the class struggle will continue until this decadent, plutocratic democracy is as completely destroyed as National Socialism.” Recognizing the jargon of National Socialism, and for other reasons equally good, he defects with secret documents to do with Soviet spies and atomic secrets, among other things.

The Minister of Justice is busy, the Evening Journal thinks he’s crazy (a great effect at the city desk), the police stop the comrade colonel from abducting him (another great effect as he cautiously enters the dark apartment), loved ones in Russia are under threat of execution, the “lever of love” (cp. Lang’s Cloak and Dagger).

The Gouzenko affair.


Yellow Sky

“The Fastest Growing Town in the West”, founded 1852, abandoned 1867, ruins, a ghost town.

Bank robbers pursued by U.S. Cavalry troopers brave the salt flats where Stroheim filmed Greed and reach Yellow Sky, where a girl and her grandfather are the only residents since the silver ran out, the pair dig for gold.

Crowther mentioned The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and thought Wellman had deferred to it by not making his film “significant and profound”, which is a significant and profound blunder.

The gang is sifted out to boneheaded stupidity and sheer rapacity, the dead bury the dead but not the near-dead, and the two mere sociables amongst them make restitution with the gang boss, who’s seen the lay of the land.



Infantrymen in the middle of nowhere who happen to be the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. It might as well be Valley Forge, owing to the weather.


The Next Voice You Hear...

Wellman on Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe). Godard says the best criticism is another film.

Bosley Crowther in the New York Times received it gratefully, as Variety did, but averred it is not “intellectual”. Tom Milne in Time Out Film Guide sees the genius but calls it “guff”, which is why Wellman made it.

It is only the Gospel teaching in every language and creed.

Crowther says it was shot in fourteen days, which as he points out is a miracle.


The Happy Years

The progression of thought involving The Happy Years begins at least at The Magnificent Ambersons, then on to Cool Hand Luke and The Color of Money.

The subtlest method is depicted by Wellman, who has the indomitable freshman and the food wager of Rosenberg, the energumen of Scorsese, and the hellion of Welles, converted from “heathen” to “Christian” at rural Lawrenceville School outside the relatively small town of Trenton, New Jersey.


Across the Wide Missouri

In its haste and upset, M-G-M placed one scene in the wrong order (bluegrass and elk’s teeth).

Sydney Pollack righted the wrong in Jeremiah Johnson, following on Howard Hawks’ The Big Sky.


Westward The Women

You can’t have Shelley Winters in Pollack’s The Scalphunters without Wellman, indeed you can’t have anything at all.

The director is particularly interested in the disasters en route, nothing misses his eye, he is at a loss as much as the women or you are.

The natural equilibrium is maintained, however, despite all the hardships, and Wellman and you are regaled with a bridal spring in Whitman’s Valley, California.

There are some few directors capable of this, De Sica for example, or John Ford in Wagon Master, or Fellini, or Cukor, or Roger Vadim.

Crowther was bored, Variety thought it “redundant”.


My Man And I

The fighter pilot’s drunken widow and the brand-new citizen with a letter from the President in his pocket.

“America the Beautiful. You must show me it sometime. I never been there.”

O.A.G. of the New York Times all but said, “missed it by that much.”

Leonard Maltin, “interesting curio”.

TV Guide, “a worthwhile film.”

A great cast, not least the turkey in a Sacramento rented room. Wellman’s technique highly detailed and involved, and most refined (note the musicians’ come-and-go for “Stormy Weather”, a dance number, whence the title).

“Okay, here it is without wit or humor. I’m leavin’ Sacramento in the morning. I’m headin’ for Los Angeles, the Gay London dance hall, Third and Main.”

The conclusion is worked up from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (dir. Frank Capra). “Don’t step on that hat.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “eccentric”.


Island in the Sky

An entirely straightforward account of an Air Force transport crew downed by ice in the wilds of Quebec.

Uncharted territory, seventy below. Colleagues search for them, airline crews pressed into wartime service.

No bearings, compass wild in that latitude, wood won’t burn.

Limited rations, no game.

Great actors act all the parts. Wellman’s direction cares nothing but for the rules (“no desperate moves”) and the dilemma.

This is beyond the critical response even of praiseful Variety, H.H.T. of the New York Times contributed a brand of sophistication that isn’t.

The analysis is so refined and abstracted that Wellman probably made The High and the Mighty for dramatic contrast.


The High and the Mighty

The theme is a variation of Lord Jim, and has three elements, the co-pilot’s prang in Colombia, the pilot’s emergency, and the passengers, whose arseaches and crosses erupt figuratively into the necessity of ditching the plane.

The co-pilot lowers the throttle to reach land, like screwing down the pitch of instruments by moderating the tempo.

The screenplay is admirably engineered so that all of its details can be inspected usefully. The New York Times thought it was bunk (Bosley Crowther), Variety praised it all as “socko” except Tiomkin’s score, which is integral to the film.


Track of the Cat

“It stands for the whole business of being run out by the whites.”

The proper funeral of a good man is the alarm of a horse at the smell of the beast that killed him, the proper raiment is one’s own to replace the soiled.

There are many good film directors and great, critics who are even competent can scarcely be found, from which the terribly difficult business of criticism can be determined as above art in that respect, or by definition and proverb critics are incompetent, or every silly ass has an opinion, the public take his outpourings for assessments.

From Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Clothier cinematography, Webb score, McLaglen assistant director.

“But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth. They shall fall by the sword: they shall be a portion for foxes.”

“—then on the shore / Of the wide world I stand alone...”

“The end of all the trouble in the world.”

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times,has no psychological pattern, no dramatic point.Variety, “if there had been some entertainment impact...” Leonard Maltin, “slow-moving”. Ronnie Scheib (Chicago Reader), “William Wellman's supremely odd 1954 allegorical oater... moody, strange, and unforgettable”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “irresistibly funny”.

The “monk” no “medicine man” and the “cheap dirty-mouthed bully” perish, the bridegroom cometh.


Blood Alley

The opening scene has Capt. Wilder (John Wayne) burning his mattress in a Chinese hoosegow, drunk, and reading a letter he pulls from his pocket. He clamors for a new mattress, and one is brought in containing, to his surprise, a pistol and a Red Army officer’s uniform, with which he makes his escape. Next he’s wearing the uniform down in the fishing village dominated by the fortress of his incarceration. It fits him very well, exactly like the Soviet Army officer’s uniform the waiter (Oskar Homolka) draws from his serving cart in Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain.

A village elder named Tao (Paul Fix) prevails upon Capt. Wilder to carry the villagers by steamboat to freedom in Hong Kong. En route, the captain must contend with agents among the passengers, an incendiary revolt in the engine room, and an attack on the bridge (filmed silently by Wellman from outside in a storm). Lauren Bacall gives his bloodied face a Veronica wipe as he stands at the helm.

They are nearly obliterated by a Chinese warship. The villagers pull the steamboat through high grasses on long ropes, up to their chins in the marsh. Capt. Wilder is moved by this sight, like something out of Exodus.

What it owes to Jet Pilot it repays to Firefox. An exciting voyage down the muddy, misty Chinese coast in a rickety steamboat only larger than the African Queen by a factor of CinemaScope, a hop, skip and a jump ahead of one mammoth Red frigate.

All of Wellman’s vast art is put to depicting China viewed along the marge. Incredibly, this film was shot off the California seacoast, one of the most distinctive topographies you can name.

It’s mainly extrapolated from Huston/Agee, who got it from Pommer/Maugham.

Halliwell calls it a “rudimentary” film.


Darby’s Rangers

Rogers’ Rangers (Northwest Passage) are cited as the military precedent, among others.

Specialists, master craftsmen, trained to land on their feet, “the point of the javelin”.

Crowther was greatly confused by the metaphor of marriage, he could not see the point at all.

The devastating realism of Battleground has been exchanged for a surrealism founded on the principle of Mallarmé’s “Toast Funèbre” out of Candide, the necessity of tending the garden.

Half of it is learned in training, half in the field of action.


Lafayette Escadrille

The image of the American volunteers is a man who steals a car and runs down a boy on a bicycle and joins the Foreign Legion and strikes an officer and hides out in Paris with a French girl until America gets into the war.

This supreme reflection went by unheeded, believe it or not. “This World War I drama,” Howard Thompson wrote in the New York Times, “take it from us, is one of the dullest flapdoodles since that war ended.”