Born to Kill

A Reno divorcée plays one man off against another, the steady boyfriend kills her date in a scuffle, then her as a witness. Her friend, the landlady, hires a private investigator.

The murderer falls for another divorcée but marries her sister by adoption, a newspaper heiress. Why shouldn’t he run the paper, be top dog, make people and break them?

The occasional romance of the divorcée, who is not an heiress and is engaged to wed a society notable, is based on his surly good looks.

The landlady’s nearly murdered by a chum of his, and threatened with death by the divorcée, who finally turns him in and dies by a shot from his gun, just before the police get him.

A film anchored in reality (the first murders) to sustain its flights of fancy, the fantastical apperception of a ladykiller, richly directed and quite vividly acted.

Bosley Crowther’s howls of outrage in the New York Times were puppy hate.


The Set-Up

Last bout of a professional boxer, by the clock (cf. Zinnemann’s High Noon). The fix is in, he don’t know it, for fifty bucks he goes down in the third, of four...

It goes the limit, setting up Kazan’s On the Waterfront and Rossen’s The Hustler, victoriously.

T.M.P. of the New York Times drew the assignment, trotting out his picturebook phraseology, “the human animal has not changed much from the days of the Roman arena,” thumb-downing it with a byword, “muscular entertainment.” Time Out doesn’t quite get it but hands it the prize.

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “one of the most brilliant...” The O.W. brand is briefly seen at the cigar stand.


The House on Telegraph Hill

In two minutes flat, counting the credits, Wise goes from San Francisco to Warsaw to Belsen.

The Polish lady and the upstart, practically an account of the war.

Wise antedates Preminger’s Angel Face by one year, his Hitchcock borrowings (Rebecca, Suspicion) are subsequently repaid in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

The lighting is a variant of the Hitchcock down-angle (Scorsese calls it a “guilt” angle), curiously hard.

The assistant director’s work is notably artistic.

The Empire bedroom furnishings are a component of the Academy Award nomination.

A peculiarly harrowing nightmare with a shivering climax, achieved by these means.

“Slow but interesting,” thought Variety, which also is Halliwell’s Film Guide’s view.

An influence of Welles might be perceived here and there, cp. My Name Is Julia Ross (dir. Joseph H. Lewis) as well.


The Day the Earth Stood Still

In the atomic age, Jesus appears to Washington as a man from outer space (Mars or Venus) with the power of life and death for the planet.

His miracle-demonstration is a thirty-minute global power blackout, with humanitarian exceptions.

Faultless design and execution render the vision central and unstoppable. Among its other virtues, a film that assisted at the mysterious birth of The Andy Griffith Show (“Sheriff without a Gun”) some years later, coupling its representation of another dimension with a homespun atmosphere that includes Frances Bavier.


The Captive City

Death of a private investigator, divorce case, payments wanting, illicit funds.

Small town editor has it in his lap, the police chief is bought and paid for.

Filmed on location inside and out “with the Hoge lenses”, the intense poetry stems from the manner of filming (almost like a camera obscura) as well as the ancient theme.

Bookmaking. Murder, Inc.

“Tense, absorbing drama,” said Variety, “rings with authenticity.”

Only a few years after the war (cf. Sternberg’s The Town), “aren’t we coming up in the world though. This puts Kennington right up there with Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago.”

For the Kennington Journal, cf. Lindsay Anderson’s Wakefield Express the same year.

“Suppose we call it a contract, for—so much advertising.” The editor of Citizen Kane takes up Welles’ theme, visibly.

Lee Garmes’ cinematography is one of the great achievements in the cinema.

They tap your phone, watch your house, follow you everywhere.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times would have the editor publish and be saved (as in Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor), he found “a modest drama... very earnestly played... some provoking holes,” Wise’s editor was like the feller who rode fer he’p, Paul Revere, to Crowther’s Texan.

“Nothing to write home about... innovatory for its day.” (Time Out Film Guide, intensifying Halliwell’s remark)

The realism noted by reviewers and the sense of fear portrayed recur in another film with political overtones, Pakula’s All the President’s Men.

You weigh the odds of personal harm, “this isn’t Chicago,” out-of-town torpedoes guard your door.

The real estate man, the used car dealer, the service manager at the phone company, these are the types you’re up against, all tied to the Mafia.

Joseph M. Newman’s 711 Ocean Drive lays the groundwork, Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy for the style.

“If those hoods can park out in front of our house, they can park out in front of anybody’s house.”

Again Welles, “a newspaper’s job is to tell the truth!” Counter to this, “I’m just giving the people what they want” and “you sure learn the hard way, don’t you.”

The layout, “absolute rulers of a state within a state... regional bosses... local bookmaking syndicates... either we accept a future more and more dominated by graft, corruption and control by the Mafia, or we do something about it.”

Lang has The Big Heat and the ending, which is the beginning, is that of Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Brook’s Lord of the Flies and Schrader’s Blue Collar.

It Can’t Happen Here, as Sinclair Lewis wrote, “but it was happening.”


Destination Gobi

S.A.C.O. (Sino-American Combined Operations) weathermen at Inner Mongolian outposts 1944-45. Argos 6 tended by U.S.S. Enterprise chief boatswain’s mate. The 1st Mongolian Cavalry. U.S.S. Cohen. Destination Okinawa.

A masterpiece of masterpieces noted by Truffaut, “how fascinated I was with it.”

John Ford is a conscious influence in the desert, including the Jap air attack (The Battle of Midway). The great pun is on Green’s Sea of Sand. The beautiful structure turns on a weather motif, rain at the seaside after the desert trek. Murphy’s The Wackiest Ship in the Army. Hathaway’s You’re in the Navy Now.

“A kind of camel opera” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).

“Exotic and amiable... a light but engaging and engrossing entertainment... genuine fun and action... pleasingly flip and in the best G.I. vernacular... strange and surprisingly satisfying” (A.W. of the New York Times). “Ably directed...a well turned out job” (Variety). “Somewhat implausible” (Time Out).

“Is it an adventure film, a psychological film, or a burlesque,” Truffaut asks. He answers, “all those things and more.”


The Desert Rats

The drunken coward of a former schoolmaster (now a ranker with the Aussies) turns out to be a regular stalwart in the advanced position, which is the formal turn of Until They Sail.

The ordering of a constellation is the formal mainspring of Wise’s film on the defense of Tobruk.

An incredibly foolish review in the New York Times seems designed to cover for Bosley Crowther’s insensate raving about Hathaway’s The Desert Fox previously.


Executive Suite

This is where the long year takes a deep breath for the new, as saith the poet. Executive Suite is a perfect masterpiece in that to discuss it properly would require the length of the film. Fortunately, it explains itself, only the formal structure is rather unusual. Critical remarks generally reflect by understatement the subtlety of Wise’s direction, and ignore the structure.

It begins with an assortment of views at an up-angle, office towers, while a voiceover makes it plain that the executive suite is a place of mere mortals. Wise introduces one with a subjective camera as he descends to the street and drops to the gutter, felled by a stroke. This personage is Avery Bullard, president of the company he saved when its founder died, a man full of pride in his work and undone by it, we are later told, because he finally settled on cash payments to the stockholders as his point of pride rather than the award-winning products that had been the company mainstay. A tolling bell resounds during the opening credits, it’s the bell in the Tredway company tower, and it tolls for you as well as Bullard.

Looked at closely, Executive Suite takes the sharpest understanding of Capra, applies it to an equally astute analysis of Lang’s Metropolis, and is proven to be a pivotal film by the study it has made for directors like Frankenheimer (Seven Days in May), Preminger (Advise and Consent), Dmytryk (Mirage), Jewison (Other People’s Money) and countless others (George C. Scott’s Rage picks up the vital theme of baseball as fair play—Twelve Angry Men is also related).

It all comes down to a board meeting at which a new president is to be voted in. The investment banker, who frequents the Stork Club with an ornamental mistress and has no money of his own, has sold company stock short on the news of Bullard’s death, a sale he can’t cover, thus placing himself in the hands of the company controller, whose tax dodges and bottom-lining have increased the dividend for the present. The head of sales is having an affair with his own secretary and neglecting his work, the product is so shabby now it’s vain to think of it, and he’s in the controller’s pocket as well.

From outside and inside financing via sales we come to the management and production end. Bullard ran the company on his own, his right-hand man sits on the board, loyal yet powerless. The head of production is about to retire, having built the works and grown peevish at the new engineer. The seventh member of the board is the founder’s daughter, the soul of the company.

From here, it’s a question of putting the company on a firm footing, as it was when it was founded and again when Bullard took over. The powerhouse of the company is the product. It requires re-investing profits for the long term.

Wise takes his cue from Dreyer by reducing the settings to a rare essential symbolism. A single object, such as a vase, for example, just peers through the oaken backgrounds of the executive offices to provide a focal point. The young engineer at home descends a flight of stairs like a graph of declining revenues.

He avoids the greatly dramatic for something rarer. The investment banker in the boardroom holds his ears when the great bell rings, but the engineer walks over to the water pitcher for a drink. The right-hand man announces a factory closure for one day in honor of the deceased, and the engineer steps forward about to say that will hold up development of his new procedure, but thinks better of it, while the controller rattles off the cost to be incurred by the company in lost productivity.

Wise’s single most brilliant shot might be the up-angle “right and slightly to the rere” of the controller in the boardroom as the engineer, his opponent for the presidency, expounds on what to do for the company’s successful future. The shot gives the vantage point of someone sitting in the shadow of the false security provided by the diligently numerous controller, with a view of the engineer across the room against the lighted English windows.

Executive Suite is as stern as a tolling bell, as humorous as a dying man’s last sight of his wallet, as concise as a set of ledgers and as true as anything in the world of business and props.


Helen of Troy

After Max Steiner’s overture, the great doors open.

Paris is sunk on Spartan shores like Ulysses later on, and has a vision, he does not worship the gods. “Aphrodite!”


Ulysses after Palamedes. “Greetings, fellow pirates!”

“It is a righteous war we plan, Ulysses, a war of defensive aggression,” thus Agamemnon.

And Priam, “you have united the Greeks. You have kindled a flame that will—weld them together against us!And the Trojans, “you expect us to fight a war for your amusement? The grand assault is remembered from Griffith’s Intolerance.

Ulysses’ great work of equestrian statuary, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke to receive it, Theotocopulos in Menzies’ Things to Come. Its arrival in Troy, pulled through the city gates by the people, is emulated in Mankiewicz’ Cleopatra, the feasting certainly suggests DeMille’s or Schoenberg’s Golden Calf. A Fellini view is taken of the waning revels in the city at night as the colossal horse stands in its midst unguarded, a De Chirico view.

A highly characteristic expression of Wise humor, the greedy and destructive paragons of Executive Suite turned outward, as it were. “If you haven’t the fiber for this...”

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “Beware!” Variety, “like many tales of antiquity, the story is occasionally stilted.” Film4, “performances, direction and script leave a lot to be desired.” Leonard Maltin, “empty script”. Adrian Turner (Radio Times), “partly based on Homer.” TV Guide, “should have concentrated more on story development”. Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “more time talking than acting.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “dingy... stultifyingly boring... doggerel dialogue.”


Somebody up there likes me

The entire point of understanding rests upon the fact that this is an analytical remake of The Set-Up, or vice versa.

A thrilling work of art from the beginning as Ruttenberg and Wise take New York views at night.

Hitchcock (The Ring) has a role to play in the psychological construction (Mr. Barbella is modeled on Mr. Bonaparte in Mamoulian’s Golden Boy).

Romolo is adopted by Schlesinger for Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, the nighttown sequence is somewhat embellished by Mike Nichols in Catch-22.

Critics generally admire it without grasping the relationship to the earlier film, except Geoff Andrew (Time Out), e.g., who complains of it as inferior, i.e., not The Set-Up.


This Could Be the Night

Ten times New York at a nightclub called The Tonic, where a P.S. English teacher from New England takes a job as sec’etary.

Mainly the dimensions, though this sort of thing can prove fatal (Accident, dir. Joseph Losey) or greatly inconvenient (Donovan’s Reef, dir. John Ford). The line of interest is struck between Guys and Dolls (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and The Moon Is Blue (dir. Otto Preminger), the girl is described in no uncertain terms as “green all over.”

Ray Anthony and His Orchestra play “When the Saints Go Marching In”, the hoofer has a pipe dream, “four burners, two ovens and a spit, tsk, the way other people want diamonds that’s how I want that stove” (cf. KimminsThe Captain’s Paradise).

“A college broad! Question of algebraic x and how, which suggests the beautiful formula of Champagne for Caesar (dir. Richard Whorf), Wise well up for this. The parody of Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel slowly pays off big by way of Sedgwick’s Speak Easily, “all the latest news from far and near,” as William Carlos Williams would say.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “undistinguished by wit, wisdom or charm.” Leonard Maltin “forced, frantic”. TV Guide, “a sweet, slightly naïve little film.” A lot of fuss and feathers, you would think, about “the belle of Newton, Mass.” All of this will be seen to bear upon Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, the dancer at her stove is from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, before you know it it’s Any Wednesday (dir. Robert Ellis Miller) by yet another permutation.

“It don’t pay to be honest, that’s what’s happening.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “unlikely”. Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema identifies a director “without a strong personality.”


Until They Sail

Mutiny on the Bounty in Christchurch, the Hotel St. George in Wellington. The war in the Pacific, thus understood.

The forward position cannot be understood by dint of “mendacity”, but in the course of reminiscences given as corollary to testimony in a murder trial (the length of the film, the judge is seen taking notes at the end), a great many understandings and misconceptions are sorted out with a completely characteristic sang-froid that critics couldn’t admire, not “the gesture of emotion”.


Run Silent Run Deep

The title derives from the defensive posture of the submarine service. The unusual structure repairs this split as an overhanging nightmare clarified by revelation, not the runaway but the rival in the Bungo Straits “near the coast of Japan” in 1942.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “you have to like submarine pictures”, praise with a proviso. Variety, “taut, exciting”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide sees this as “competent” and cites Time, “damn the torpedoes, half speed ahead.”


The Haunting

The prologue recounts in lurid detail the shocking history of Hill House, involving two dead wives, a daughter grown old, and a hired female companion for her.

The incommensurability of the house is identified with this formal structure. It has a sort of musical function, cadential, that is resolved in the main body of the film.

The score by Humphrey Searle is a manifest contribution from the outset.

The sheer verve of gags like the pounding door is enough to engender the elastic walls of Repulsion and give the objectification of psychological states a serenely calm sense of humor, in a manner characteristic of Wise from the first.


The Sound of Music

Wise’s Austrian locations necessitate disusing Capra’s live soundtrack, so there is gain and loss. Formal analysis presents many difficulties that are resolved in the course of the film, which nonetheless introduces another formal element to the drama. The principal result is to make manifest a state of mind in opposition to the rigorously exacting Fifties and to the New World Order on the horizon.

Mallarmé is wont to place a small coin in the hand of the reader’s mind, Rodgers & Hammerstein have it in mind to do as much with a moonbeam, and on Broadway, where to be sure it is as easy to declare the imaginative scene to be Camelot as it is for Shakespeare to proclaim Bohemia. Rather than translate fully to a film musical à la M-G-M, Wise keeps the central representation on the stage level, an idea proceeding from Henry King and John Ford, while utilizing his locations as the actual locus of the events described.

The renowned aerial sequence that begins the film is at least partly inspired by Hathaway’s How the West Was Won, and is composed of shots moving rapidly through fog and mist over Alps to a sunny river and the hills that are alive with music. On the cut to a ground camera, it might be argued that Wise effectively ceases operations as a film director with certain rare exceptions for the vastly greater part of his film, which is a technique sometimes deployed by Ford but never so barely. Wise contents himself with setting up shots of an almost unprecedented grandeur in scope and scale, in which the actors appear as the measure of the thing. Deficient choreography allows the musical numbers to appear casual, and sets up a striking invention when Captain von Trapp and Maria dance a simple turn in a shot modeled directly on RKO’s Astaire and Rogers. Again, when the Baird puppets are called in Wise stints them nothing and very carefully catches the nuances of their performance.

Herr Zeller announces the advent of the New Order, and yet will insist upon the point that “nothing in Austria has changed.” Wise steps into the film with the Anschluß, but not until after the crucial scene in the convent graveyard has made its point does he charge into action with a tracking shot to the car, and by that time the film is all but over.

There is another point to be made about the location filming, namely that Gene Kelly had this in mind for Brigadoon. There are many subtle points in the book that are realized as on the stage, the foremost of which perhaps is the inexpressible sense of relaxation and freedom that Wise intends to convey at all costs, using the child actors not as showboats but as models in the Bressonian sense. Their big number is, nonetheless, a lesson in solmization filmed in Salzburg.


The Sand Pebbles

Here is an exhaustive variety of invention on a theme, as for instance the “rice bowl” ball of wax, all of which is precisely gauged against the absurdity of the end.

Action on Lake Tungting and “the Hunan rivers”, 1926.

Hawks (A Girl in Every Port) and Capra (The Bitter Tea of General Yen) are in evidence, variously. So, if you like, is Robert Frost (“The Vanishing Red”).

A suite of parallelisms at the Crow’s Nest Bar to begin with, ex-Chief Signalman Baxter anticipating Frenchy Burgoyne. Confucius on the ordering of the state, the prophet Jonah on God, these two perfect themes constitute the structure.

The Red Candle Happiness Garden sees a fight and an auction mirrored elsewhere, Ben Franklin’s English printing-shop and the little seaside vista of a beach café in Fellini’s La dolce vita are very important, the gunboat San Pablo (sc. Saint Paul) was built for the film presumably from The African Queen.

The extraordinary difficulties of filming are documented, they give rise to an extraordinarily intricate and precise way of filming that mirrors the script.



Wise has a masterly way with very large structures, they grant him very small effects with increasing precision and devil-may-care, a very Mahlerian synthesis of the ringing concert hall and the tender grapes.

Noël Coward merely turns aside to sip his champagne, Gertrude Lawrence has just suggested that growing up is distasteful.

Or again she sits in a chair to receive the bad news by telephone that her daughter will not join her at the holiday, the New York suite has a sort of Oriental mural along its walls, by her proximity a reflective surface is revealed.

Critics turned up their noses at the Clapham hoyden and the Brahmsian party guest, and were lulled between the brilliant numbers by Wise’s idea of subtlety, which includes a newsreel biography that is indeed ridiculous.

The formal shape of Until They Sail is like a cresting wave that breaks, an idea is sorted out in The Desert Rats, Star! is a consideration of incandescence.


The Andromeda Strain

This is an example of Wise’s ability to regulate a tricky plot with a painstaking realism. The unknown organism is like the gal in wartime who found them “either too young or too old” (cp. Until They Sail), and the simplicity of the solution is addressed with such a plethora of creation as to render the title a pleasant joke.


The Hindenburg

The disaster of Nazi Germany in a single image before the event, as it were.

Also a voyage across the Atlantic aboard the air ship pointedly not named after the Führer, for whom “there’s a lot to be said” in a cabaret song.

Critics were not beguiled. “As exciting as watching butter melt” (Variety). “This is conceivably the first movie which is in its entirety a bad laugh” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).

“The picture of Nazi Germany scratches scarcely deeper than Cabaret” (Time Out Film Guide). Halliwell’s Film Guide calls it “an extremely uninteresting guess” and cites Frank Rich, “roughly as terrifying as a badly stubbed toe.”


Star Trek
The Motion Picture

There is truly a legendary aspect surrounding this film, and a great deal of critical burble, but there can be no doubt it’s a thematic development of The Andromeda Strain, properly worked out within the perfect stylistic framework of that great science-fiction anthology, Star Trek. The precise moment when the style is achieved is at the second appearance of Persis Khambatta, in the form of a robot. This creature has an insatiable desire for knowledge, like the mechanical master it serves. The rigorous logic in the structure of The Andromeda Strain becomes a slightly more discursive mystery, with a surprise ending that is a hoot in a holler.

What is there about the information demanded by this machine that makes its transmission a matter of life and death for the earth? It is conceived to be the uniting of human spiritual tendencies with the purely formal material world. Dr. McCoy speaks at the end of delivering a baby, and an end title expressly considers this work as “only beginning.”


A Storm in Summer

Why remake Kulik, the man for the job? Wise treats Serling’s teleplay as an armature on which to ply a period piece correctly with his study of Rafelson lighting (or Roeg or Eastwood) diffused in color for a realization of Wedgwood’s Abolitionist slogan recoiling, as it were, upon the enemy.

The function of this is to look at a dead world and set about the gentle art of fishing in the streams of it.