End of the Trail: James Stewart in Anthony Mann’s THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (Columbia 1955)


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I’ve covered several of the  Anthony Mann/James Stewart Western collaborations here. Their final sagebrush outing together THE MAN FROM LARAMIE was shot in Cinemascope and gorgeous Technicolor, features a bunch of solid character actors, has beautiful New Mexico scenery… yet felt like a letdown to me. Maybe it’s because Mann and Stewart set the bar so high in their previous Westerns, but THE MAN FROM LARAMIE is an anti-climactic climax to the director/star duo’s pairings.

Stewart’s good as always, playing bitter Will Lockhart, whose brother was killed by Apaches and whose mission is to find out who’s selling the guns to them. But the film came off flat, feeling like just another routine Western – good, but not in the same category as WINCHESTER ’73 or BEND OF THE RIVER. Those Mann film noir touches are nowhere to be found, replaced by (dare I say it!)… soap opera elements!

Cathy…

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Pre Code Confidential #18: FIVE STAR FINAL (Warner Brothers 1931)


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Tabloid journalism has been around far longer than the cable “news” channels of today, with their 24 hour a day barrage of nonstop sleazy scandals and “fake news”. A circulation war between publishers Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) in the 1890’s, filled with sensationalized headlines and mucho muckraking, gave birth to the term “Yellow Journalism”, derived from Richard Outcault’s guttersnipe character The Yellow Kid in his comic strip Hogan’s Alley, which appeared in both papers. This legacy of dirt-digging and gossip-mongering continued through the decades in supermarket rags like The National Enquirer and World Weekly News, leading us to where we are today with the so-called “mainstream media” stretching credibility to the max and bogus Internet click-bait sites abounding. All of which leads me to FIVE STAR FINAL, a Pre-Code drama about headhunting for headlines starring Edward G…

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A Movie A Day #155: Out of the Fog (1941, directed by Anatole Litvak)


When two aging fishermen (Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen) attempt to buy a new boat, they run into a problem with local mobster, Harold Goff (John Garfield).  As Goff explains, if they do not pay him $5.00 a week, something bad could happen to their boat.  When one of the fisherman’s daughter (Ida Lupino) falls in love with Goff, she makes the mistake of letting him know that her father is planning on giving her $190 so that she can take a trip to Cuba.  When Goff demands the money for himself, the fishermen attempt to go to the police, just to be told that there is nothing that the authorities can do.  Goff tricked them into signing an “insurance” contract that allows him to demand whatever he wants.  The two fishermen are forced to consider taking drastic measures on their own.  Out of the Fog is an effective, early film noir, distinguished mostly be John Garfield’s sinister performance as Harold Goff.

Out of the Fog is also memorable as an example of how Hollywood dealt with adapting work with political content during the production code era.  Out of the Fog was based on The Gentle People, a play by Irwin Shaw.  In the play, which was staged by The Group Theater in 1939, Harold Goff was obviously meant to be a symbol of both European fascism and American capitalism.  In the play, the two fisherman had Jewish names and were meant to symbolize those being persecuted by the Third Reich and its allies.  In the transition for stage to film, Jonah Goodman became Jonah Goodwin and he was played by the very talented but definitely not Jewish Thomas Mitchell.   The play ended with Harold triumphant and apparently unstoppable.  Under the production code, all criminals had to be punished, which meant the ending had to be changed.  Out of the Fog is an effective 1940s crime thriller but, without any political subtext, it lacks the play’s bight.

One final note: while Out of the Fog had a good cast, with up and comer John Garfield squaring against old vets Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen, the original Broadway play’s cast was also distinguished.  Along with contemporary film stars Sylvia Sidney and Franchot Tone, the play’s cast was a who’s who of actors and directors who would go on to be prominent in the 1950 and 60s: Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Karl Malden, Martin Ritt, and Elia Kazan all had roles.

 

The Fabulous Forties #5: Guest In The House (dir by John Brahm)


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The fifth film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1944’s Guest In The House.  Before I get around to actually reviewing the film, there two important things that I need to share.

First off, according to the imdb, when Guest In The House was released into theaters, it ran a total of 121 minutes.  The version that was released on video — the version that I watched for this review — only runs 100 minutes.  Having watched the film, it’s hard for me to guess what could have been included in those 21 minutes.  There’s no major plot holes in the 100 minute version or any unanswered questions.  It’s hard for me to imagine that there could be anything in those 21 minutes that would have made Guest In The House a better film than the version that I watched last night.  If anything, even at just 100 minutes, the version that I saw still felt too long!

Secondly, Guest In The House was re-released several times.  At one point, the title was changed to Satan In Skirts!  That has got to be one of the greatest titles ever!  Seriously, Guest In The House is such a boring and mundane title.  But Satan in Skirts — I mean, that sounds like something that you just have to watch, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Guest In The House is about a guest in the house.  Shocking, right?  Evelyn (Anne Baxter, playing a character similar to her classic role in All About Eve) is a mentally unstable woman with a heart ailment and a morbid fear of birds.  She has recently become engaged to Dr. Dan Proctor (Scott Proctor) but she spends most her time writing nasty things about him in her diary.

Dan takes her to visit his wealthy Aunt Martha (Aline MacMahon).  Also staying at Martha’s is Dan’s older brother, an artist named Douglas (Ralph Bellamy).  Douglas is married to Ann (Ruth Warrick, who also played Kane’s first wife in Citizen Kane).  Also living at the house is Douglas’s model, Miriam (Marie McDonald).

(“I used to have to hire one model for above the neck and one model for below the neck,” Douglas explains as Miriam poses for him, “But you’re the whole package!”)

When Evelyn has a panic attack upon seeing a bird, Douglas calms her down by drawing a woman on a lampshade.  (Yes, that’s exactly what he does.)  This leads to Evelyn becoming obsessed with Douglas.  Soon, she is manipulating the entire household, trying to drive away Dan and Miriam while, at the same time, try to break up Douglas and Ann’s marriage….

So, does this sound like a Lifetime film to anyone?  Well, it should because Guest In The House is basically a 1940s version of almost every film that aired on Lifetime last year.  Normally that would be a good thing but, unlike the best Lifetime films, Guest In The House isn’t any fun.  It should be fun, considering how melodramatic the storyline is.  However, Guest In The House takes a prestige approach to its story, marking this as one of those films that was made to win Oscars as opposed to actually entertaining audiences.  Other than a few time when Evelyn imagines that she’s being attacked by invisible birds, the film never allows itself to truly go over-the-top.

Lovers of The Wizard of Oz might want to note that the Wicked Witch of the West herself, Margaret Hamilton, plays a maid in this film but, in the end, Guest In The House is mostly just interesting as a precursor to Anne Baxter’s performance in All About Eve.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Five Star Final (dir by Mervyn LeRoy)


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In 1911, a pregnant secretary named Nancy Voorhees (Frances Starr) shot and killed her boss and lover.  It was quite a scandal at the time but, twenty years later, it has largely been forgotten.  Nancy has married a successful businessman named Michael Townsend (H.B. Warner) and is a respected member of society.  Her daughter, Jenny (Marian Marsh), has no idea about Nancy’s past and believes Michael to be her father.  Jenny is now engaged to marry the handsome and rich Phillip Weeks (Anthony Bushnell).

Everything seems to be perfect but you know what they say about perfection.

Bernard Hincliffe (Oscar Apfel) is the publisher of a struggling tabloid newspaper.  He is frustrated by city editor Joseph Randall (Edward G. Robinson) and Randall’s refusal to do whatever it takes to boost circulation.  “Why, he won’t even print pictures of women in their underwear!” one of Hincliffe’s assistants exclaims.  Finally, Hincliffe orders Randall to publish a series of articles that will take a retrospective look at both the scandal and what has happened to those involved in the years since.  At first, the cynical Randall refuses but eventually, he gives in.

He assigns two reporters to crack the story.  One of them, Kitty Carmody (Ona Munson) is first introduced showing off her legs and bragging about how there’s no way that she won’t be hired to work at the newspaper.  (By the way, if anyone ever remakes Five Star Final and needs someone to play Kitty, I am ready and available.)  The other is the incredibly creepy T. Vernon Isopod (Boris Karloff).  Isopod was a divinity student until he was arrested on a “morals charge.”  Now, he pretends to be a minister as a way to fool people into revealing their deepest secrets to him.  Kitty and Isopod dig into the life of Nancy and Michael.  The stories appear on the front page.  Suicide and melodrama follow and Randall is forced to finally take a stand.

Released in 1931, Five Star Final was nominated for best picture but lost to Grand Hotel.  Seen today, Five Star Final is undeniably stagey (it was based on a play) but it’s still a compulsively watchable melodrama, featuring good performances and a lot of memorably snappy 30s dialogue. Five Star Final is one of several films about journalism to have been nominated for best picture.  Most of these films — like All The Presidents Men, The Front Page, and this year’s front-runner, Spotlight — have featured journalists as heroic seekers of the truth.  Five Star Final, on the other hand, plays more like a pre-Code version of Network set at a newspaper.  It’s a deeply angry film and, when Randall finally tells off Hincliffe, it feels like the 30s equivalent of Peter Finch shouting that he’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Finally, the best part of the film, for me, was Boris Karloff as the sleazy Isopod.  Karloff made Five Star Final right before he played the creature in Frankenstein and it’s interesting to see him play a totally different type of monster here.  If I had to choose which character is scarier, I’m going with T. Vernon Isopod.