Movie catholic (a.k.a., Nick's Movie Blog)

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Confessional: Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)


Forgive me fellow film buffs, I'm a sinner. In movies many people fail to appreciate, I find my guiltiest pleasures. MGM's 1962 remake of its Oscar-winning 1935 success, Mutiny on the Bounty, has gone down in movie history as one of the most notorious productions of 1960's cinema. Alongside 20th Century-Fox's true disaster, Cleopatra, Bounty's primary claim to fame is as one of the films that killed Hollywood; picked the pocketbook of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; ended the career of an Oscar-winning veteran director; and stuck a dagger so deep in the heart of its star's image and prestige that it took a decade for his reputation to recover.


MGM's 1959 remake of Ben-Hur was the real culprit. That film was such a colossal hit, both financially and critically--it won an amazing eleven Oscars, including Best Picture--that its producers put into play a slew of remakes of the company's past hits: Cimarron, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Mutiny on the Bounty. All of these films were costly and ran into budget problems. Bounty was, without a doubt, the most beloved of the bunch, mostly because Clark Gable, who played Fletcher Christian, the lead, in the 1935 original version, had passed away in early 1960, approximately the same time that Marlon Brando agreed to play the role in the remake. Famed British director Carol Reed (The Third Man, Fallen Idol, Odd Man Out) was tapped to helm the massive production. Noted thespians Trevor Howard as by-the-book Captain Bligh, Richard Harris, and Hugh Griffith also signed on.

The recreation of HMS Bounty

From the beginning, the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty was beset with problems. Filming was scheduled to begin in Tahiti on October 15, 1960; however, the full-scale replica of the HMS Bounty was not ready in time, and the script by famed writer Eric Ambler was a mess that pleased no one. Ambler eventually quit and was replaced by veteran screenwriter, Charles Lederer. Filming finally began in December, but by then the monsoon season had begun, so the entire company packed up and returned to the MGM studios in Culver City, California, to shoot interiors. Around this time, Carol Reed decided this Bounty was doomed to sink and, unlike a real captain, refused to go down with the ship, resigning as the film's director. He was replaced by the Oscar-winning Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front), and the Bounty was set to sail again.

One of the film's impressive action sequences

Interiors' filming began at MGM Studios in February 1961 with the company returning to Tahiti for location shooting in late March. Filming dragged on for months, with final scenes shot in October, nearly a full year after initial filming began. Problems with the script were the main concern, although many in the company pointed the finger at Brando and his unprofessional behavior as the real source of delays in filming. Reportedly, Bounty's lead did not get along with director Milestone (Milestone evidently told MGM studio chief Sol Siegel, "This guy Brando is going to ruin you"). According to Milestone's estimate, Brando's behavior cost the film $6 million beyond budget.

Brando was never really satisfied with the script, which was rewritten daily; the actor was more intrigued by the Pitcairn Island section of the film than the actual mutiny (veteran writer Ben Hecht was drafted for this section of the film). Off screen, Brando had an affair with Tarita Teriipia, the local Polyensian restaurant dishwasher selected to portray Maimiti, Fletcher Christian's love interest. The two married in August 1962 after Teriipia became pregnant. Along with his new wife, Brando also fell in love with Tahiti. He eventually purchased a cluster of islands near the film's location. Co-stars Trevor Howard and Richard Harris accused Brando of chronic lateness to the set, and his habit of changing his interpretation of Christian from scene to scene perplexed and irritated the other actors.

Upon completion, the film took the much of 1962 to edit, shape, and market in preparation for its premiere in November. Brando showed up at the film's premiere but left in a huff when his British accent was jeered by the audience. Reviews were pretty scathing, with critics saving most of their vitriol for Brando. While they admired the spectacle of the film, most reviewers felt Brando's unorthodox portrayal--the antithesis of Gable's robust, manly take on Christian--was an embarrassment. Brando tended to see Christian as a foppish--almost effeminate--character, which left audiences and critics bewildered.

Feeling sabotaged by Brando, MGM held him responsible for the movie's enormous cost overruns (final cost was $19 million ... on a $9 million budget). With Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra breaking the Fox studios, even casual moviegoers of the day were fed up with stories of overindulged stars. Brando's reputation had taken a big hit with the cost overruns on his directorial debut, One-Eyed Jacks, the year before (original budget $1.8 million, final cost $6 million), and to some he was an easy target to blame for the cost overruns. Although Mutiny on the Bounty nabbed six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, the movie, which grossed $13.6 million (more than $100 million in 2017 dollars), left the studio with roughly half that much. That huge final cost nearly sunk MGM. The studio reported a loss of $17 million the following year (though it was ultimately bailed out in 1965 with the enormous success of Dr. Zhivago).

"You remarkable pig!"
Fletcher Christian takes command of the HMS Bounty

My first encounter with Mutiny on the Bounty was an afternoon showing([s]--the movie showed over two days) complete with commercials and pan-and-scan on a 19-inch black and white TV. Despite these drawbacks--some of which I didn't realize at the time--I was enthralled by the movie, especially Brando's unique interpretation of Fletcher Christian. This seems to be the first of several movies (The Missouri Breaks, The Formula, Island of Dr. Moreau to name a few) in which the Method actor went over the top with a performance. In Bounty, while it's true that his British accent comes and goes at times, his performance is a real star turn. Whether battling Bligh, calming the crew, or enjoying Maimiti, for me, the performance is one of Brando's most entertaining. In spite of his entertaining style, however, Brando's reputation as an actor and as a bankable star took a serious hit with Bounty's poor box office and critical drubbing. It was the start of a long, brutal decade of flops (some of them quite good and still undervalued) for the one time red-hot star until 1972's The Godfather put Brando back in the good graces of the Hollywood establishment. Not that he cared. After more than twenty years as a film star, Brando recognized the shallowness of such public displays of affection, as his refusal to accept his Best Actor Oscar in 1973 showed.

Holding off the Bounty crew's desire for revenge,
Christian assures Bligh there will be no more bloodshed aboard ship.

In spite of its enduring reputation as a disaster, Mutiny on the Bounty is an extremely enjoyable film. It has scope in its filming and tension in its telling. I imagine that contemporary critics were commenting as much on the behind-the-scenes gossip as on the actual film. Robert Surtees' photography magnificently captures the Bounty's voyage to Tahiti while also framing the dramatic sequences superbly. Bronislaw Kaper provides a majestic film score, while the physical production, including the full scale recreation of the HMS Bounty, is first rate. The script and dialogue are fresh and memorable (Christian to Bligh: "You remarkable pig! You can thank whatever pig god you pray to you haven't turned me into a murderer") and at times witty, and Trevor Howard's Bligh is a worthy adversary. Surprisingly for a film with a three-hour running time that had more than one director, the movie doesn't feel long or sluggish, especially when compared to other epics of the day (Cleopatra, The Alamo, Fall of the Roman Empire). As an historical document I'm sure this version of Bounty, as well as the other two (the 1935 original starring Gable and one from 1984, starring Mel Gibson as Christian and Anthony Hopkins as Bligh are just as good) are lacking in actual fact. Like most films that depict an historical event, dramatic license is inevitable. Today, more than fifty-plus years after its premiere, Mutiny on the Bounty seems impressively well made and very entertaining. Don't believe the naysayers who compare it unfavorably with either the 1935 or the 1984 version; this Bounty sails on as one of my favorite guilty pleasures. 

Sources: IMDb
               Wikipedia
               The Films of Marlon Brando by Tony Thomas
               Senses of Cinema
               Images from the Internet

Friday, August 18, 2017

Blacklisted Westerns: Johnny Guitar and High Noon

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was the mechanism for Washington's investigation into Communism and its influence on the Hollywood and the movies. Two of the most famous films made during the era were High Noon and Johnny Guitar. While High Noon was an instant hit both critically and financially, Johnny Guitar was not, though it has acquired a cult following through the years.



Unleashed on movie theaters across America in 1954, Johnny Guitar is not only a blacklisted movie but also a feminist western, giving it a unique place in cinema history. Directed by cult favorite Nicholas Ray for B-movie studio Republic Pictures, Johnny Guitar is unlike any other western. In spite of its title, Johnny Guitar is dominated by its two female leads played by Mercedes McCambridge and Joan Crawford. And that's only the beginning of the gender role swapping that occurs throughout the story. Sterling Hayden, playing the title character and, ostensibly, the male lead, pines for Crawford's character, Vienna. Then there is McCambridge's Emma. Emma is angry and on edge from her first appearance, bitter over The Dancin' Kid's (played by Scott Brady) attraction to Vienna. Adding to the mix is Turkey, the youngest member of The Dancin' Kid's gang, who seeks Vienna's approval, if not more. These two women dominate the action and the men involved in it. Critics have suggested that Emma and Vienna may have had a lesbian affair prior to the movie's action and that Emma is jealous of Vienna's relationship with The Dancin' Kid because she wants Vienna for herself. Heaven knows what audiences made of it at the time.

Sterling Hayden as the title character

According to Wikipedia, Crawford and Ray had a production deal set up at Paramount for a project called Lisbon, which was rejected by the studio as too expensive. Crawford then took it to Republic Pictures and brought Ray along as associate producer. At the time, Republic was the biggest and best B-movie studio in town and had been trying to crack the A-list with films like its recent hit, John Ford's The Quiet Man. Republic Pictures specialized in westerns, and Crawford's package seemed ideal to Republic's chief, Herbert J. Yates. Besides the female slant on a traditionally male genre, what also makes Johnny Guitar notable is how the storyline about a group of powerful people--mostly men--that works to force Crawford's Vienna out of her successful business (a casino) parallels the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee.

Johnny Guitar released to middling critical and financial success. The film did garner, however, a cult following, especially with French critics of the day. Jean Luc Godard praised it, and Francois Truffaut admiringly called Johnny Guitar a "phony western." As for me, I also find a lot to admire in the movie. From its wonderfully descriptive dialog to Victor Young's magnificently emotional score and Harry Stradling's atmospheric, evocative color photography--the sandstorm near the movie's start is particularly memorable--I find Johnny Guitar original and entertaining. It is a unique "western" that looks better and better as the years pass.

The cast gathers

High Noon was an entirely different gunfight. Written by Carl Foreman, directed by Fred Zinnemann, and produced on a shoestring budget of approximately $750,000 (about $7 million in 2017 dollars) by independent filmmaker Stanley Kramer (Champion, The Men, The Wild One, The Defiant Ones), the film is considered an allegory of the blacklist. These three filmmakers, liberals all, were tested by the pressures of the blacklist, with Foreman moving to England in the middle of High Noon's production due to his HUAC testimony. Interestingly, the movie's star, Gary Cooper, who was a conservative and had testified in 1947 as a friendly witness, got along with his left-leaning colleagues, something his friends John Wayne and Howard Hawks couldn't abide.

The director with his leading man

High Noon is a more traditional western than Johnny Guitar, yet some see High Noon as less a western and more a message, or "social problem," movie. Some also view the movie as a suspense film in a western setting, which is a pretty apt description. The fact that High Noon can be classified as something other than a strict western is one thing detractors hold against it. Until the gunfight at the climax of the picture, High Noon also doesn't adhere to the conventional situations of the genre: no cattle drive or barroom brawl or pictureque landscape with wagon trains. Except for a brief segment in which Cooper's Marshal Will Kane attempts to leave town with his bride, Amy (Grace Kelly in her second feature), the entire movie takes place in the confined space of the town, Hadleyville.

High Noon pushed boundaries in other ways too. The community that Will Kane protects are basically cowards. Seeking help to back him up in his inevitable confrontation with Frank Miller and his gang, Cooper goes practically door to door asking his so-called friends for help only to be turned away. Even the church congregation turns on him. Will Kane's experience paralleled what many left-leaning actors, directors, and screenwriters faced during this era of fear and paranoia in Hollywood. People subpoenaed to testify before HUAC found themselves shunned by colleagues and friends, and blacklisted by the major film studios, making it impossible to find work if they didn't cooperate with HUAC. When Foreman was called to testify, he admitted he had been a member of the Communist Party until just after World War II. Because he refused to offer names of other Communist Party members, however, Foreman was blacklisted and could no longer find work in Hollywood.

Man alone: The iconic image 

When the Oscar nominations were announced early in 1953, High Noon led the way with seven nominations (alongside Moulin Rouge and The Quiet Man), including a nod for Best Picture, Best Actor, for which Gary Cooper won, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. The film took home three statues for Song, Score, and Editing.

The fallout from the success of High Noon was catastrophic for the filmmakers' personal relationships and challenging, at best, for their professional careers. Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman's friendship and partnership ended when Foreman's associate producer credit was withdrawn from the film, and Kramer tried to get Foreman removed from the production. While Zinnemann, Cooper, and others came to Foreman's aid, the screenwriter eventually fled to England to seek work. After completing High Noon, the last picture of his United Artists deal, Kramer headed to Columbia, where he had a signed a lucrative contract. While he had some success with The Caine Mutiny and The Wild One, the Columbia contract did not bring the bounty of commercial or critical successes the studio hoped for. By 1955, Kramer was back with United Artists, though as a director rather than a producer. Fred Zinnemann won an Oscar for his direction of another classic, From Here to Eternity, the year after High Noon's release, starting a remarkable run of movies that lasted well into the 1970s. Gary Cooper emerged from High Noon bigger than ever. Cooper appeared and remained on the Top Ten Box Office Stars list until 1957, four years before his death from cancer at the age of 60 in 1961.

Carl Foreman survived, although his career was permanently damaged by the 1950s' Hollywood blacklist. In Europe, he wrote a few screenplays using an alias, including the colossal hit, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Because he was still on the blacklist, his name, along with co-writer and fellow blacklist victim, Michael Wilson, was not used. The author of the book on which the screenplay was based, Pierre Boulle, received sole authorship on the film, which won an Oscar for its screenplay.

Carl Foreman eventually broke free of the blacklist, forming his own production company, and writing and producing the classic World War II action film, The Guns of Navarone, in 1961. His company also made Born Free, a big financial hit, in 1966. His last credit was for the script of 1980's disaster film, When Time Ran Out, a dismal failure. Both Foreman and Michael Wilson's names were posthumously reinstated to the film of The Bridge on the River Kwai and the Best Screenplay Oscar in 1984, the same year Foreman died of cancer at the age of 69.



Sources: Wikipedia
               Stanley Kramer Film Maker by Donald Spoto
               Reel Facts by Cobbett Steinberg
               IMDb
               High Noon and Johnny Guitar DVD {Olive Films}

Edited by Susannah Northart
Written by Nick Patterson

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Confessional: Sex and the Single Girl

Confession is one of the best known sacraments of the Catholic Church. Though this is not a religious blog, per se, movies are certainly my religion of choice. Therefore, I have decided to embark on a new series to be used as often the mood strikes me. In The Confessional, I will discuss certain movies that I have come to embrace for strictly personal reasons. These movies are my guilty pleasures--ones I find entertaining, enlightening, and/or just plain fun that critics, scholars, and historians have neglected, forgotten, or perhaps never even seen. I hope you will allow me this indulgence. 

One of my first great memories of watching movies on television is the night my older sister and I stayed up late on a Saturday to watch Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis in the comedy, Sex and the Single Girl. We laughed and laughed at Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall's funny dance (they were doing the Twist) in which nothing but their arms seemed to move; Larry Storch's bewildered CHP ("My motorcycle. My motorcycle!"); Rudy, Mel Ferrer's exasperating, shallow, wannabe gigolo co-worker of Wood's Dr. Helen Gurley Brown ("Oh, shut up, Rudy!"), and a myriad of other scene stealers. Coming home from a night out, my parents couldn't figure out what my sister and I found so amusing.

Poster art for the film

If I remember correctly, I saw the movie for the first time in the late 1960s when it was just a few years old. I'm sure it was my sister's idea to watch the movie; at ten, I was far too young to appreciate the finer points of pretty much any movie. Not that SatSG has finer points. The movie was a kind of mid-Sixties screwball comedy disguised as a sex romp before the sexual revolution took place. By today's standards, it is more than a little bit innocent (or, you know, retrograde) in its attitude toward its titular subjects.

After supposedly saving his life, Natalie Wood's Helen Brown brings Curtis' Bob Weston
back to her place to dry off in one of the film's sexiest scenes.

A little background: Sex and the Single Girl was a non-fiction, self-help book written by Helen Gurley Brown. Originally published in 1962, the book attempted to aid single girls who wish to explore the world, including being single, having a career, and sex without marriage. Brown's book tried to show single women that a life alternative to the standard one of love and marriage might be both possible and preferable.

Sex and the Single Girl, the book, was a bestseller, but when Warner Brothers acquired the film rights, the studio had no idea how to adapt it for the screen. Ultimately, Warners kept only the book's title and its author's name for the main character. The rest of it went in the trash can. The studio had to make something (fictional--a documentary wasn't even considered) out of nothing, so why not a sex farce? Push convention as far as the early 1960s would allow, mix the ingredients, throw it against the wall, and see what stuck.

Bob Weston, playboy extraordinaire, listens as his next door neighbor,
Frank Broderick (Henry Fonda), pours out his marital grief. 

What stuck was a sexy, occasionally raunchy, chauvinistic time capsule that was popular enough with audiences to land the film on Variety's list of the top twenty highest grossing movies of 1964. Though not popular today--seldom even remembered--Sex and the Single Girl does, indeed, transport me to a time when women in movies were still called girls (which never fails to knock me sideways), and the old (wink, wink) it's-ok-for-men-to-fool-around-but-women-cannot-even-look-at-a-man double standard still applied. The early-to-mid Sixties were rife with these kind of films, usually brought to America's movie screens with Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Sandra Dee, Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, and Debbie Reynolds, among others. Some had a genuine wit or point of view (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) or were disguised as something other than they were (How to Murder Your WifeBreakfast at Tiffany's), yet they all amounted to the same thing: the virgin will not become a nun ... or stay single.


In spite of its deep roots in traditional boy-meets-girl storytelling, Sex and the Single Girl was ahead of its time in some respects. After all, Sex and the City basically navigated the same terrain thirty-plus years later, albeit with a more contemporary (i.e., liberated) perspective. Appreciation of Sex and the Single Girl may depend on the viewer's frame of mind. When I first saw it, the storyline of a hack journalist setting out to expose the virginity of a sex therapist was titillating to me in the extreme. No matter how tame it looks today, there is a pretty frisky scene in the film in which Wood and Curtis turn down the lights while clothed only in revealing robes. Racy!



The movie plays out a veritable potpourri of mid-Sixties angst and cultural cliches. Tony Curtis's playboy character, Bob Weston, writes for STOP, a "filthy rag" of a magazine run almost exclusively by white, middle-aged-to-old men (fact is, Curtis seems the youngest, and he was nearly forty at the time). The clinic where Natalie Wood's Dr. Helen Gurley Brown works is as sexist as the STOP staff. And Bob's neighbors, Frank and Sylvia Broderick (he's a sad sack; she's a shrew), hilariously played by Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall, are crazy for each other yet do nothing but fight. When I watch the movie now, it's hard not to believe in that notion of the early Sixties as a more innocent time. I take joy in its extremely simple pleasures--broad comic farce played by an expert cast, the suggestion that a naked back is as sexy as a naked front, and a resolution in which they all live happily ever after.

If only life could be like this. <sigh>

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Crush of the Week: Carroll Baker

She turned 86 on May 28, 2017. That sounds awfully old for an actress whose film persona oozed sex. But however brief her reign, Carroll Baker was the mid-Sixties answer to the vacuum left by Marilyn Monroe's death.

Baker as Jean Harlow in the 1965 film Harlow:
The film pretty much ended her career in Hollywood.

Before her career went the route of sex, cheesecake, and Playboy photo shoots, playing Jean Harlow wannabes in movies like The Carpetbaggers and a version of the real Harlow in the 1965 film of the same name, Carroll Baker was a talented actress. A product of New York's Actor's Studio, Baker's film debut came in an Esther Williams movie called Easy to Love in 1953. 1956 was Baker's breakout year with two films both regarded as classics: George Stevens' sprawling rendering of Edna Ferber's epic novel of Texas oil and cattle, Giant, and Elia Kazan's take on Tennessee Williams' seamy, steamy Baby Doll, with Ms. Baker in the title role as Karl Malden's child bride.

Amazing billboard at New York City's Astor Theater


Giant was one of 1956's most anticipated movies after the recent death of its star, James Dean. Giant is a huge film, sprawling and not quite certain of whether it wants to be a love story or a social drama about class distinction and racial equality. Baker plays Luz Benedict II, the oldest daughter of Bick and Leslie Benedict as played by Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor (her brother is played by future biker and wild man, Dennis Hopper. Some family!). Baker's Luz falls hard for Dean's Jett Rink, an all-around scoundrel, whose real love for Taylor's Leslie is unrequited. A scene between Baker and Dean--a favorite of mine--takes place in his new hotel shortly before its grand opening. Dean's Jett--by now an alcoholic mess--proposes marriage, which Baker's Luz gently talks him out of.

Carroll Baker's other film that year--the one that sealed her cinematic fate--was Kazan's Baby Doll. Based on Tennessee Williams' play 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Baby Doll was condemned upon release by the Catholic Church. The film is a comically absurd yet extremely suggestive study of misogyny and greed. From scene one, Baker nearly dominates the screen as Baby Doll, more than keeping pace with the masterful work of her co-stars, Eli Wallach and Karl Malden. Malden--always good--brings the ignorance and lust of Baby Doll's husband, Archie, front and center.

Carroll Baker in the nightie that gave birth to the term "Baby Doll."


Carroll Baker does an terrific job as the flirtatious yet virginal Baby Doll. Whether parading around in her short,"babydoll" nightgown or eating an ice cream cone in the back seat of a convertible, Baby Doll appears aware of her sexuality, yet maintains an innocence as she remains ignorant of the lust she generates in the entire male population of her Mississippi town. The eroticism of Baker's scenes with Archie's rival, Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach), is intense even sixty-plus years removed. It's a wonder the film got made at all. Baby Doll was the scandalous movie of its day, though still classy enough to gain four Oscar nominations: Carroll Baker for Best Actress, Mildred Dunnock for Best Supporting Actress (as Aunt Rose Comfort), Tennessee Williams for Best Screenplay, and Boris Kaufman for his magnificent cinematography.

Under contract to Warner Bros., after Baby Doll Baker declined the part of Diana Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon and went on suspension, missing out on MGM's version of The Brothers Karamazov. The Warner's contract also prevented Baker from making MGM's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Three Faces of Eve at Fox. Clearly her contract was holding her back.

When the suspension was lifted Baker made The Big Country. Directed by William Wyler, this 1958 western is often overlooked when great films of that genre are discussed, but the film is a good one and a big one. Starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives in a Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning role, it did well at the box office. Baker is good as Patricia Terrill, a woman completely different from Baby Doll.

Owing Warner's one more film on her contract, after The Big Country, Baker played in The Miracle. Then she moved across town to Paramount for a comedy with the "King," Clark Gable, But Not For Me, an enjoyable film, after which she found herself in a film as controversial as Baby Doll.

1961's Something Wild was directed by Baker's then-husband, Jack Garfein. Financed by Baker and Garfein, Something Wild was meant to prove to Hollywood that Garfein was a top flight filmmaker and get Baker's career as a serious actress back on the track. Unfortunately, it nearly ruined it.

Something Wild tells the story of Mary Ann (Baker), a college student who is brutally raped one night while walking home from school, and the effect the rape has on her psyche. Traumatized, a suicidal Mary Ann is stopped from jumping off a bridge by Mike (Ralph Meeker), a lonely auto mechanic. Sympathetic, he takes her back to his small apartment, tells her to stay until she feels ready to go home, and leaves. He comes back several hours later, drunk, and makes stumbling advances, grabbing her. Fighting back she kicks him and hits him in the face, but he will not let her leave. Mike asks her to marry him, but she refuses. Though Mary Ann manages to escape one day when Mike leaves the door unlocked, after wandering the city and sleeping in Central Park, she returns to Mike.

Baker as a rape victim in the independently made Something Wild, 1961

The film got mixed notices from critics and a cold shoulder from filmgoers. Something Wild was ignored for years before a small cult surged around the film, started by bloggers like me. Seen today the film plays ambiguously. Its tone is mysterious, and its subject is disturbing even by today's standards. Its technical work anticipates the ground-breaking work to come later in the Sixties and into the Seventies with much location work in New York City. But the film's failure pushed Baker back to Hollywood with its mega-watt stars and big budget features.  


Baker, Debbie Reynolds, Karl Malden, and Agnes Moorhead
in the epic How The West Was Won, 1962

First up was 1962's How The West Was Won. Filmed in Cinerama and top lined with heavy hitting stars like John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, and Richard Widmark, HTWWW is an entertaining (yet not always accurate) ride through the history of the American West. The film is broken up into five sections: The Rivers, 1839; The Plains, 1851; The Civil War, 1861-1865; The Railroad, 1868; and The Outlaws, 1889. More important for Baker was the movie's huge box office, making nearly $50 million worldwide and giving her the biggest success since her Giant days. Next came the movie, which I will forever associate with Ms. Baker, 1964's frolic, The Carpetbaggers.

The chandelier scene from 1964's The Carpetbaggers

In 1964, I was five years old. In my young brain, Carroll Baker was (suddenly) the naughtiest woman I had ever seen. And it is with this film that her sex symbol status is reinforced, though the Carroll Baker of 1964 was not the same woman as Carroll Baker of 1956. She had matured into an even more beautiful woman. I don't know when The Carpetbaggers was first shown on network television, but when it did, I was watching it in our family room, probably sitting on the shag carpet, eating popcorn, and wondering what it was all about. I didn't know a a thing about Alan Ladd, who played Nevada Smith a.k.a., Max Sand, or George Peppard who played Jonas Cord (based--very loosely--on Howard Hughes), but I sure as hell thought I knew what Ms. Baker as Rina Marlowe (supposedly based on Jean Harlow) was up to when she was scantily clad on top of the chandelier or rolling around on a bed telling Peppard to "love me, Jonas, love me!"

The Carpetbaggers was the biggest financial success of 1964 ($28 million gross in US) and became one of those bad-movies-I-love, a camp classic alongside 1967's so-bad-it's-good Valley of the Dolls. The result of all this box office gold was a boon to Ms. Baker's career as an international sex symbol. After the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, audiences and press were on the lookout for the next blonde bombshell, and Baker was the first flavor of the month to appear. Unleashed on the American public in the spring of 1964, the film pushed the censors of the day about as far as they could go, including a brief nude scene with Ms. Baker.

Baker embraces a young Indian girl in John Ford's swan song to
the American West, Cheyenne Autumn. Dolores Del Rio is on the left.

John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn was the great director's swan song to the western form he loved so much, and also served as his tribute to the American Indian, which he has been accused of misrepresenting in previous films. Based on actual events, the film about 300 starved and weary Cheyennes trek from their reservation in Oklahoma territory back to their home in Wyoming takes Baker, who plays a Quaker school teacher, about as far from the sleazy world of Harold Robbins as possible. Baker's subsequent films were The Greatest Story Ever Told,  George Stevens' ponderous take on the life of Christ, in which she had a cameo; Sylvia, a drama with Peter Lawford, Aldo Ray, Joanne Dru, and Edmund O'Brien with Baker as a scheming prostitute; the entertaining yet hard to find Mister Moses with the always watchable Robert Mitchum as a con man trying to convince an African tribe to relocate for their own safety; and Harlow, a biopic very loosely based on a book about the first blonde bombshell, Jean Harlow. A movie that blatantly disregarded the facts, Harlow is true trash, albeit with a good cast (Red Buttons, Peter Lawford, Angela Lansbury, Martin Balsam), that brought Baker back to the land of The Carpetbaggers (i.e., sex, sin, and scandal). This time out, however, the film did poor business.


This post-Carpetbaggers flurry of failures effectively ended Baker's career in Hollywood. In the late Sixties, Baker relocated to Italy where she made a slew of thrillers with names like Orgasmo; The Sweet Body of Deborah; So Sweet ... So Perverse; and Her Harem. In June 1969, The New York Times published the article titled, "Whatever Happened to Baby Doll?," which sums up what audiences in America were wondering. Her European stay, which lasted about ten years, did bring financial stability for the actress, whose films were successful there but got limited bookings in the States. In 1977, Baker returned stateside in Andy Warhol's Bad as the owner of a beauty shop who makes extra money by operating a murder-for-hire side business.

Baker in 1969's The Sweet Body of Deborah, one of her many European films
that got limited playing in American theaters

Back in the US, Baker made the low budget The Sky is Falling, reuniting with her Giant co-star, Dennis Hopper, who was also in the career doldrums. Baker also appeared in stage productions of Bell, Book and Candle; W. Somerset Maugham's Rain; and Lucy Crown, which was based on a story by Irwin Shaw. Divorced from Jack Garfein in 1969, Baker married for a third time in 1978 to British actor, Donald Burton. During the 1980s Baker began her long career as a character actress in films, including The Watcher in the Woods opposite Bette Davis; Bob Fosse's last film, 1983's Star 80, about the brief, tragic life of Playboy centerfold and budding actress Dorothy Stratten; Ironweed with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep; and Kindergarten Cop, a big money-spinner starring former bodybuilder and future California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Baker remained busy in television as well, appearing in Murder, She Wrote and L.A. Law, among other series. Her final film was 2000's Another Woman's Husband. I haven't seen much of her post-Sixties work, but I will always be grateful to Carroll Baker's Rina Marlowe, a performance that taught me what sex symbols are all about.



Sources : IMDB
                Wikipedia
                 Baby Doll : An Autobiography by Carroll Baker
                Images courtesy of the Internet
                Baby, I Don't Care by Lee Server

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hollywood's Endless Bummer

Ok, so, this is a letter of complaint. In my long, long history of movie-going, I don't think I've seen the likes of the box office--much less creative--returns from the summer's "blockbusters" since ... well, actually I can't think of a worse time to be an avid moviegoer.

Another in an unending number of Alien sequels

Hollywood, running itself into the ground out of an intense fear of failure, is giving us tent pole sequels and pre-fab titles like Baywatch, which was neither an extraordinary--or even mediocre--television show. Baywatch the movie has suffered a worse fate. It was dead on arrival, one of 2017 summer movie season's many casualties. I have to ask the question: Who the f*** are running these studios? Why oh why can't these Hollywood movie conglomerates remove their heads from their backsides and come up with something worthwhile? Remakes, retreads, reboots, sequels, prequels, and rip-offs dominate and strangle our cinema screens. Turning back the clock seems to be the go-to action rather than actual creativity.

Does this poster really make you want to see this movie?

There are many, many, many things wrong with Hollywood and its movies today, and one of the biggest flaws is the advertising. I mean, the Baywatch movie was DOA anyway, but its poster doesn't do it any favors. Other movies this season include a reboot of The Mummy franchise, Universal Pictures' effort to relaunch its classic horror icon. When I heard about this project, I questioned its validity. I mean, why make another Mummy movie? I understand that Universal has a strategy to remake its classic monster movies, bringing them up to date with the best CGI money can buy and signing a big, big star. With that combo who needs a original script? Well, I guess John Q. Public decided he did. The Mummy was budgeted at $125 million. As of this past weekend the film's has grossed about $75 million in the USA. Not exactly overwhelming box offices numbers.

Screen capture from the original 1932 version  of The Mummy

Poster for The Mummy, 2017
Compare this with the previous picture and tell me which one looks creepier.













                                        


















All of this isn't new. Many critics have voiced this opinion before: Hollywood is creatively barren, especially when it comes to the summer movie season. There was a time when summer movie fare wasn't all sequels, comic books, and special effects. But something happened in the past twenty or thirty  years. Success is one of the curses of the film business: Hollywood always thinks it can create, capture, seal, and maintain lighting in a bottle. But Hollywood is most exciting when a movie that no one thought would amount to much defies the odds and becomes a huge hit. Star Wars did it. So did Jaws. Home Alone is another example. The Matrix was unleashed without its own studio knowing the impact it would make. Like them or loathe them, these movies became box office record breakers, and they were all surprise hits. Even James Cameron's Titanic was predicted to flop due to its enormous cost. Yet the film became a phenomenon that millions went to see over and over again. And that leads me to another gripe I have with Hollywood: tracking box office returns.



Websites such as Box Office Mojo as well as more traditional sites like Variety report on the weekly returns of Hollywood's latest movie releases. However, these organizations routinely post results on a movie's gross intake. That is misleading. True box office success is the return on investment to the studio producing a movie. In other words, box office success is not about grosses but about rentals, and they account for about half a film's box office intake. Rentals are what the studios get back after theaters take their share. Gross doesn't mean anything. When The Godfather became an all-time box office success, it was a movie's rentals that was the standard, and that figure was approximately $100 million (around 500 million in 2017 dollars) in 1972-73. And that was only in North America. How many films today can make that claim? Today's movies--especially summer movies--are like television reruns. Alien: Convenant; Spider-Man: Homecoming; The Mummy; Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales; Transformers: The Last Knight; Cars 3; Despicable Me 3; and on and on. Of course, there are a few adult-themed films out there (My Cousin Rachel and The Beguiled, for example), but these movies are pushed so far under the radar that it's difficult even to find them in smaller markets. High quality as they may be, these movies get almost no publicity and are not tracked by programs like Entertainment Tonight due to their small theatrical roll out (around 750 screens versus 2,000-3,000 screens for the upcoming Spider-Man release). Consequently, the public is not aware these films are even out there.

With all this said, it's not just the major film studios that catch the brunt of my disdain. A good portion of it must go to today's movie-going public. People don't want to see something good--something that moves them, makes them laugh or cry. What was the last romantic comedy--once a staple of filmmaking--you saw? Was it any good? I cannot remember one. To me, it seems folks don't want to be surprised by the emotions a good movie may generate. It's like a mantra: give us the familiar s*** that we have seen over and over again. Reruns.


Any era in which The Rock is the country's number one box office draw is in trouble. Can anyone remember a line of dialogue from any movie of the past five years? Nothing like, "We're gonna need a bigger boat" or "Go ahead, make my day" or "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" or "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." No? Me neither. Now I hear Paramount is moving forward with a sequel to (cue sarcasm) that all-time great movie, Top Gun. Is this what America and countries around the globe want? This latest example of Hollywood's creative bankruptcy is due to explode (like a bomb?) into your local cinemas in July 2019. Gee, I can hardly wait.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Tell Mama..... Tell Mama All": The Doomed Love of George Stevens' A Place in the Sun


Greatness is a slippery slope, especially when it comes to film. Movies that are praised upon first release can seem static and dated ten years on. That is often why films that win the Academy Award for Best Picture are often seen as poor choices later while other, less praised films are deemed more significant later on. Then there are films that are praised for their craftsmanship, emotional impact, and artistic value from their inception, and whose reputation continues to grow. Successful films often capture lightning in a bottle. In 1951, director George Stevens made A Place in the Sun, a film that caught the post-World War II malaise, desire, ambition, and desperation better than any film of its time.

"Don't do anything hasty."
Angela's father gives his advice to his daughter and her lover.

Based on the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, A Place in the Sun tells of George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), a working-class young man whose mother is dedicated to mission work for the poor and homeless. George, hard working but ambitious, hitchhikes from Chicago to go to work for his rich uncle, Charles Eastman, in his swimsuit factory. It's there George meets a lonely soul, the plain-looking Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). The two begin to date--against company policy. During a plant inspection, Charles sees George toiling on the assembly line and decides to kick him up a rung in the factory. Invited to a party his uncle is throwing, George meets and is immediately smitten with Eastman family friend and socialite, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). But complications arise when Alice discovers that she's pregnant with George's child. George, not wanting to lose Angela, wants to do right by Alice but wishes she'd just go away. Tragedy ensues.

The lonely people: George and Alice, before he meets Angela.

The Paramount Pictures' release was critically praised from the moment it hit America's screens in August 1951, and when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced its nominees, A Place in the Sun received nine nominations, second only to Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire. Among its nominations were Clift for Best Actor, Winters for Best Actress, Stevens for Direction, Michael Wilson and Harry Brown for Screenplay, and the film for Best Picture. Place won in six of its nominated categories, losing Actor to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen and Actress to Vivien Leigh in Streetcar. The biggest surprise of Oscar night 1952, however, was An American in Paris' win for Best Picture. Experts picked either Place or Streetcar to take the top prize, but Oscar had other plans. Obviously the 1951 films were a superior group, and tough choices had to be made, but I think Oscar fumbled when the Best Picture award was handed out. Much as I enjoy and admire Vincente Minnelli's musical, A Place in the Sun or A Streetcar Named Desire should have won. Only seven times in 89 years has a film won for screenwriting and direction while losing Best Picture as A Place in the Sun did (including, most recently, in 2002 when The Pianist took Screenplay and Director while Chicago won Picture).

The beauty of a young Elizabeth Taylor:
"Being exclusive? Being aloof? Being blue?"

Despite the questionable results at the Academy Awards, A Place in the Sun is widely acknowledged as a superior film and is still remembered for the doomed love played out by Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. Their scenes crackle with sexual energy and romantic longing. Hyperbole aside, they may be the most romantic couple in cinema history. Like many great movie romances, George and Angela are not together at the film's conclusion, which is significant. Think of all the great love stories in film history--Scarlett and Rhett in Gone With the Wind, Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca, Norman Maine and Vicki Lester from A Star is Born, Tony and Maria in West Side Story, Hubbell and Katie in The Way We Were. It's the tragic love, the doomed love that lives on in our collective memory. The couples that stay together tend to skew comedic: Nick and Nora Charles, innumerable Tracy and Hepburn pairings. Romantic comedy ends happily; romantic drama ends, if not tragic, at least sad. And the most tragic movie love of all may be George and Angela.

Before World War II, A Place in the Sun's director George Stevens was known as an expert in light comedy. Such films as his Oscar-nominated 1943 war-time laugh-fest, The More The Merrier; 1938's screwball classic, Vivacious Lady; the rousing adventure, Gunga Din; and possibly his best known pre-war hit, 1942's Woman of the Year, the film that first brought Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn together. When the U.S. entered the war, Stevens was just one of the movies' greats who left a thriving career behind, joining the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1943. What Stevens witnessed while in Europe changed his life and his art forever.  Stevens was one of the first to view the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp, Dachau. The pure evil Stevens saw altered his worldview and, consequently, the movies he made. Stevens, always a somewhat stoic character, became silent after the war, according to his fellow director, soldier, and friend, Frank Capra. His wife, Yvonne, said the same thing, adding that upon his return from the war, Stevens played golf, all day, for seven months. Stevens wasn't sure he would or could make another movie again; didn't know if he had a future in Hollywood. After re-gaining some enthusiasm with his adaptation of Broadway hit I Remember Mama, Stevens found the story he'd been looking for, one that reflected his somber, sullen view of post-war America: Dreiser's An American Tragedy, published in 1925 and based on a real incident in 1908.

George Stevens directing his two stars.

As the script evolved, Stevens slowly made the the film a romantic tale of false hopes and doomed love. According to Marilyn Ann Moss's fine biography of the director, Stevens skewed the story in George Eastman's favor by turning Shelley Winters' Alice into a shrew and and molding Taylor's Angela into a girl of fantastical beauty and romantic affection. Further empathy for George was generated via casting of Raymond Burr, then well-known for playing villains (and years away from his long-running gig as television's top lawyer Perry Mason), as the District Attorney eager to convict George of Alice's murder. With these elements plus Montgomery Clift's creation of a man whose life is being pulled out from under him, audiences are hard pressed not to be caught up in the romantic, tragic drama. 

One of the many scenes in which Elizabeth Taylor's
nurturing Angela holds Montgomery Clift's George in her arms.

The story goes that night before the famous love scene was filmed--the one that confirms George and Angela's passionate devotion--Stevens was up until two in the morning rewriting to give the scene the vitality it needed. Stevens knew it would be the centerpiece of the movie. If this scene didn't work, the movie would fall apart, so it had to be extraordinary. When Taylor saw the new pages the next morning, she balked, thinking the lines ludicrous. "Excuse me, but what the hell is this?" she demanded. Stevens later recalled Taylor's outrage, stating she was "jumping into a sophistication beyond her years" (Taylor was only seventeen when filming began in 1949). The scene itself is one of American cinema's finest examples of passion. Stevens smothering close-ups of the lovers makes the audience a voyeur, inappropriately invading the privacy of their unexpected, frantic, intoxicating romance.  "Are they watching us?" Taylor says suddenly as she turns toward the camera--nearly looking directly at it--before she practically pushes Clift onto the veranda and into their private moment. Both actors are marvelous in the scene, but Taylor especially owns it with the "[t]ell mama" line as well as her flirtation when telling Clift that they can have the whole summer together. Clift balks. Taylor says she could come and get him. Then she gives him a slight seductive smile and says, "You'll be my pick-up." It's an extraordinary moment.




As for Clift, it may be his best performance on screen, a list that includes four or five of the best performances ever captured on film. Clift's George Eastman is all hesitation and hunched uncertainty, a portrayal that seems like one of cinema's most blank of all time. Here is a man who is uncertain in everything he does. Witness his silence when riding in Taylor's car as she escorts him to the party at which they'll proclaim their great love for each other. It's only when Taylor coaxes it out of him that Clift can finally tell her how he feels about her. His emotion is like an overflowing river. This private love of two people is what I feel the film gets right. No one else can describe what two people--these two people--feel for each other. This is what still speaks to audiences. That sense of passion, of finding the one you love most in all the world, the feeling that you can never live without that person is what A Place in the Sun captures perfectly.

George in the boat with Alice, wishing her dead.

As for the actual crime in the film, it's shot far away. As the boat overturns, the camera cuts back to a long shot, with only the sound of the loons on the lake encroaching on the silence. The audience is  left to draw its own conclusions as to whether George actually killed Alice or only had his wish fulfilled by accident. Certainly George wishes Alice would disappear so that he can be with Angela and live his dream life, but does wish fulfillment make him a murderer? This is the great moral dilemma of the film. One of the beauties of A Place in the Sun is that the film allows us to draw our own conclusions. As for me, I think George is innocent of Alice's murder, and I don't blame him for wishing her dead. George has found his place in the sun, though it came at the greatest human cost--both Alice's life and his own. I don't think George really minded about his own life, though. If he couldn't have Angela and the love he dreamed of, he would rather be dead.

Passion.


Sources: Giant: George Stevens, A Life on Film by Marilyn Ann Moss
               Montgomery Clift: Beautiful Loser by Barney Hoskyns
               Montgomery Clift: A Biography by Patricia Bosworth

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Underrated Gem: Humoresque

"All my life I wanted to do the right thing. But it never worked out. I'm outside always looking in, feeling all the time I'm far away from home, and where home is I don't know. I can't get back to the simple, happy kid I use to be."  
--John Garfield's opening scene from Humoresque    

A devastated John Garfield after Joan Crawford's death:
the opening scene of Humoresque, 1946

In the early 1990s, I became infatuated with Oscar Levant. I'm not sure why, but I assume his wisecracking movie roles, especially in 1946's Humoresque, had a lot to do with it. This Warner Brothers movie--a kind of rip-off of Clifford Odets' (who co-wrote this film) Golden Boy--won me over the first time I saw it many, many years ago. The soapy film starred Joan Crawford as an alcoholic, married, society dame (as co-star, John Garfield's character refers to her) who has a fondness for--as Garfield's cynical sidekick Oscar Levant so aptly puts it--"la vie boheme." Joan Crawford, who had been released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios in 1943 after nearly twenty years, was considered somewhat washed up in Hollywood by the mid-Forties but made a huge comeback in 1945 with Mildred Pierce, grossing millions for Warners and nabbing an Oscar for Best Actress of 1945. Humoresque was her follow up to that classic film.

John Garfield--second billed--was also hitting a career peak after the 1945 film, Pride of the Marines (another underrated gem), and the noir scorcher, The Postman Always Rings Twice, opposite Lana Turner. Here, Garfield plays Paul Boray, a Lower East Side kid with a talent for the fiddle. (The violin playing was dubbed by the great Isaac Stern, who also served as Garfield's hand double. The effect, still impressive some seventy years later, was achieved in the film by cutting the sleeves of Garfield's coat and shirt, allowing Stern's hands to substitute Garfield's.) Oscar Levant plays Garfield's piano-playing friend (i.e., second banana) who gets the film's best lines. It's Oscar Levant playing Oscar Levant, which means a little piano and a lot of observation about life and love. Cutting remarks from the sidelines include, "It's not what you are, it's what you don't become that hurts." And,"I didn't make the world, I barely live in it." Levant's film career was just taking off at this point, despite his appearance in seven previous films. His most prominent role to date was the George Gershwin biopic, Rhapsody in Blue, released just a year before Humoresque, with Levant playing himself (he always played a variation on his own personality in his films, but in Rhapsody he was billed as Oscar Levant playing "Oscar Levant").  

The three performers with the most screen time in the film

The film begins with Paul Boray as a child of eight years or so played by Bobby Blake, aka, Robert Blake (yeah, that Robert Blake) In Humoresque, he is quite affecting as a boy his parents don't really understand, especially his Papa (J. Carroll Naish).  Momma (Ruth Nelson) gets him a bit more, but she is also a controlling type who who thinks no woman is good enough for her boy. Time goes by in one of those time-lapse montage Warners did to perfection in the Forties, and before you know it, little Paul Boray is a fully grown John Garfield, still practicing his violin while living at home. Fed up with a family that perceives him as a freeloader, Paul seeks out his piano-playing friend, Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant), for advice on how to get ahead playing violin.

A young Robert Blake with Oscar Levant, Humoresque, 1946

Sid suggests going to the the home of Victor and Helen Wright. The Wrights are always hosting a party, and, as Sid tells Paul, he has been invited to a few for laughs: "I laugh at them or they laugh at me. I forget which." It's here--nearly 30 minutes into the film--that leading lady Joan Crawford appears. Crawford, playing Helen Wright, a married, neurotic, self-destructive society dame who drinks too much and likes to help struggling young artists, takes one look at Garfield's Paul playing his violin and is a goner ... though not before blowing cigarette smoke in his face as he is playing. Paul, however, is more than up for the challenge, playing Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" after telling Helen that "New York is full of all kinds of animals. Not all of them are human." From this fateful introduction, we know they will fall in love. Tragic love. Besides Paul's complex relationship with Helen, he has a pseudo romance with childhood friend and fellow musician, Gina, played by Joan Chandler. (It's Gina who Momma feels is the right woman for her Paul, not that lush, Helen Wright.)


In case I failed to mention it, Humoresque is the kind of movie where
the characters throw perfectly good cocktails against walls. 


As their relationship deepens, Helen helps the talented Paul get an agent, and, as his fame in the rarefied world of classical music increases, a penthouse suite overlooking the East River. Despite all this success the couple's relationship is stormy at best. While listening to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde on the radio, the fragile, distraught Helen kills herself by walking into the Atlantic Ocean--a highly dramatic finish. It's in moments like this that the film simultaneously embraces and transcends its melodramatic, over-the-top qualities. These are also the moments that the film's detractors hold against it. For me, though, the tragic, nearly operatic melodrama is why I love the film so much. The cinema just doesn't make films as unapologetically romantic as Humoresque any more, and that's a real shame.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FqrsDC5wMI


Made for two million dollars, Humoresque is an impeccably crafted film. From its editing by studio favorite Rudi Fehr, the art direction of Hugh Reiticker, Joan Crawford's wardrobe by Adrian, the brilliant cinematography of Ernest Haller, the incredible work of Franz Waxman's music score, and Leo B. Forbstein's orchestration of the classic works of Wagner, Bizet, Divorak among others, the film stands as a time capsule of craftsmanship that has been lost in the shuffle of other, better known, films. Humoresque may contain Crawford's best performance--maybe even better than her Oscar-winning role in Mildred Pierce. Helen Wright is certainly a more complex role than Mildred, and Crawford hits all the right notes as a tragic woman for whom long-term happiness is an illusion. As for my buddy Oscar, I feel that this movie contains his best impersonation of himself, better than Rhapsody in Blue. Some may grow weary of his constant cynicism, but in this ultra-romantic setting, it's a relief--a bit of reality in this unrealistic-yet-touchingly-romantic fable of impossible love.

Sources:  The Films of John Garfield by Howard Gelman
                The Films of Joan Crawford by Lawrence J. Quirk
                John Garfield, The Illustrated History of the Movies by George Morris
                Joan Crawford, The Illustrated History of the Movies by Stephen Harvey
                Wikipedia Page on Humoresque