Panic In the Streets (1950, directed by Elia Kazan)


The plague has come to New Orleans.

A dead body is found on the New Orleans wharf.  He’s dead because he was shot several times but an autopsy reveals that he would have died anyways because he was suffering from a form of the bubonic plague!  In order to keep the plague from spreading through the city (and also to hopefully save the lives of anyone who has been infected), Dr. Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) and police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) have to isolate everyone who the man came into contact with.  But first, they’re going to have to discover that man’s identity and also how he came to end up dead on the docks of New Orleans.

What Dr. Reed doesn’t know is that the man was named Kolchak and that he was murdered by a small-time gangster named Blackie (Jack Palance, making his film debut).  Now, Blackie and his associate, Fitch (Zero Mostel) are both infected and are both looking to get out of town.  Of course, if either one of them succeeds in leaving New Orleans, they’ll spread the plague through the entire country.

Largely filmed on location in New Orleans and focusing as much on Dr. Reed as it does on the criminals that he’s pursuing, Panic In The Streets is an effective mix of film noir, medical drama and police procedural.  Seen under normal circumstances, Panic in the Streets is a good thriller.  Seen during a time when the news is dominated by COVID-19 and riots in large cities, Panic in the Streets feels damn near prophetic.

Richard Widmark does a good job playing Dr. Reed, who is portrayed as being a no-nonsense professional.  He’s type of doctor who you want on your side if there’s a plague coming to town.  Not surprisingly, though, the film is stolen by Jack Palance as the smirking Blackie.  This was Palance’s film debut but he already knew how to be the most intimidating man in the room.  Zero Mostel also has some good scenes as Blackie’s associate and his sweaty and fearful performance provides a good contrast to Palance’s more controlled villainy.

One interesting thing about Panic in The Streets is that Dr. Reed and Capt. Warren are actually able to convince a newspaper reporter to delay filing a report about the plague, mostly to avoid a mass panic in the streets.  Though he takes some convincing (and Warren’s methods aren’t exactly Constitutional), the reporter finally agrees to hold off on reporting for four hours.  With the 24-hour news cycle and the dominance of social media, that’s not something that could happen today.

Love on the Shattered Lens: Splendor in the Grass (dir by Elia Kazan)


What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind…

— “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth

The 1962 film, Splendor in the Grass, takes place in Kansas shortly before the start of the Great Depression.  Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Warren Beatty) are two teenagers in love but, as we learn, youthful love does not always translate into adult happiness.

Bud and Deanie are idealistic and in love but they’re from different social classes.  Bud is the son of a boisterous oilman named Ace (Pat Hingle) and Ace acts much like you would expect a millionaire named Ace to behave.  Bud’s parents are determined that he attend Yale and that he marry someone else from a wealthy family.  They don’t want him to turn out like his older sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), who drinks, smokes, and is rumored to have recently had an abortion.  Meanwhile, Deanie is repeatedly told by her mother that she must always remain a “good girl” and not give in to the temptation to have premarital sex with either Bud or any other boy.  If she does, she’ll be forever branded a bad girl and she’ll pretty much end up with a reputation like Ginny’s.

(Interestingly enough, Ace doesn’t have any problem with Bud finding  himself a bad girl, nor does he have a problem with taking his son to a speakeasy later in the film.  As far as society in concerned, being “good” and following the rules only applies to women.)

Needless to say, things don’t work out well for either Deanie or Bud.  Bud is so frustrated that Deanie won’t have sex with him that he dumps her and then has the first of several breakdowns.  When Deanie’s attempt to win Bud back by acting more like Ginny fails, she ends up going out with a classmate named Toots Tuttle (Gary Lockwood).  Nothing good ever comes from going out on a date with someone named Toots Tuttle.  That’s certainly the case here as Deanie and Bud both struggle with the demands of a hypocritical society that expects and encourages Bud to behave in a certain way but which also condemns Deanie for having desires of her own.  And, of course, the entire time that Bud and Deanie’s drama is playing out, we’re aware that the clock is ticking and soon the stock market is going to crash and change everyone’s lives forever.

It’s kind of a depressing film, to be honest.  I’ve always found it to be rather sad.  When we first meet them, Deanie and Bud seem as if they’re perfect for each other but, throughout the entire film, the world seems to be conspiring to keep them apart.  By the end of the film, they’ve both found a kind of happiness but we’re painfully aware that it’s not the happiness that either one was expecting while they were still in school.  The film suggests that type of happiness might be impossible to attain and a part of growing up is realizing that there is no such thing as perfection.  Instead, there’s just making the best of wherever you find yourself.

There’s a scene in this film where Natalie Wood nearly drowns and it always freaks me out, both because of my own fear of drowning and the fact that it foreshadows what would eventually happen to Natalie in 1982.  (The fact that Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner’s yacht was called “Splendour” doesn’t help.)  Natalie herself was also deeply scared of drowning and just filming the scene undoubtedly took a lot of courage on Natalie’s part.  But then again, Natalie Wood’s entire performance is courageous.  Natalie Wood gives an emotional and intense performance as Deanie, holding nothing back and it’s impossible not to get emotional while watching her.  Making his film debut, Warren Beatty is a bit of a stiff as Bud, though he’s certainly handsome and you can tell why Deanie would have found him attractive.  (In high school, you always assume that the boring, handsome guys actually have more depth than they let on.)  By the end of the film, you understand that Deanie deserved better than Bud.  Then again, Deanie deserved better than just about everything life had to offer her.  But Deanie survived and endured and made the best of what she was given because, really, what else could she had done?  What other choice did she have?

For her performance in Splendor in the Grass, Natalie Wood received her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  She lost to Sophia Loren for Two Women and …. well, actually, Loren deserved the award.  But so did Wood.  1961 would have been a great year for a tie.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Gentleman’s Agreement (dir by Elia Kazan)


Earlier today, as I was watching the 1947 film, Gentleman’s Agreement, I found myself thinking about a conversation that I had in 2006.

This was when I was in college.  I was having lunch with some friends from one of my classes.  As we were eating, the conversation turned to the war in Iraq.  That, in itself, was not surprising because, in 2006, it seemed like every conversation somehow turned to what was happening in the Middle East.

One of the people with whom I was having lunch was Olivia, self-styled intellectual who fancied herself as the most knowledgeable person on campus.  To be honest, I can’t think of anyone who liked her that much but she had a skill for subtly weaseling her way into almost every conversation.  She was one of those incredibly pretentious types who started every sentence with “Actually….” and who had embraced Marxism with the shallow vapidness of someone who had grown up in Highland Park and who would never have to struggle to pay a bill.

On that day, Olivia announced to us all that the only reason we were in Iraq was because we were doing the bidding of Israeli lobbyists and then she went on to talk about how 9-11 was an inside job.  She repeated the old lie about Jews calling in sick on 9-11 and claimed that five MOSSAD agents were arrested in New York for celebrating after the collapse of the Twin Towers.

After Olivia said this, there was the briefest silence as everyone else tried to figure out how to react.  Finally, someone tried to change the subject by making a joke about our professor.  Realizing the no one was going to openly disagree with Olivia and risk an argument, I said, “That’s not true.”

“What’s not true?” Olivia asked.

“About Jewish people calling in sick on 9-11 and celebrating after the Towers fell.  That’s not true.”

Olivia looked a little bit surprised that she was being openly challenged.  Finally, she said, in a surprisingly sincere tone of voice, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize you were Jewish.”

I’m not Jewish.  I’m Irish-Italian-Spanish and pretty much all of my immediate ancestors were Catholic.  But, as far as Olivia was concerned, I had to be Jewish because why else would I object to her repeating an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory?  When she apologized (and, make no mistake, there was not a hint of sarcasm in her tone when she said she was sorry), it wasn’t for being a bigot.  Instead, it was for being a bigot in front of the “wrong” person.  It didn’t occur to her that I was upset because what she said was bullshit.

Anyway, I wish I could say that I threw a drink in Olivia’s face or that I stood up on the table and delivered an impassioned speech but, once again, the other people at the table hastily changed the subject.  Anything to avoid a conflict, I suppose.  That was the last time I ever had a conversation with Olivia.  For the rest of the semester, I ignored her and I felt pretty proud of myself for shunning her.  It’s only been recently that I realized that Olivia also didn’t really make any effort to really talk to me after that conversation.  I shunned her because of her bigotry and I can only assume that she shunned me because of her misconception about my ancestry.

Gentleman’s Agreement is about a Gentile reporter named Phillip Green (Gregory Peck) who, while researching a story about anti-Semitism, poses as a Jew and discovers that the world is full of people like Olivia.  His own fiancee, a self-declared liberal named Kathy (Dorothy McGuire), reacts to Phil’s plan by asking him, “But you’re not really Jewish …. are you?”  By the simple act of telling everyone that his last name is actually “Greenberg,” Phil discovers that he suddenly can’t get a hotel reservation.  People stop returning his calls.  When he and Kathy have an engagement party in a wealthy community in Connecticut, many of Kathy’s friends stay away.  (Kathy, meanwhile, begs Phil to let her tell her family that she’s not actually engaged to a Jew.)  When Phil’s son, Tommy (Dean Stockwell), is harassed at school, Phil is shocked to hear Kathy tell Tommy that he shouldn’t listen to the bullies not because they’re a bunch of bigots but because “you’re not actually Jewish.”

Meanwhile, Phil’s friend, Dave Goldman (John Garfield), has returned from serving in World War II, just to discover that he can’t even rent a home for his family because many landlords refuse to rent to Jews.  When Phil learns that Katy owns a vacant cottage, he suggests that she rent it out to Dave.  Despite her sympathy for Dave, Kathy is shocked at the suggestion.  What will the neighbors think?

Gentleman’s Agreement was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, who took on the project after he was refused membership in the Los Angeles Country Club because the membership committee assumed that Zanuck was Jewish.  It was considered to be quite a controversial film in 1947, as it not only dealt with American prejudice but it also called out two prominent elected anti-Semites — Sen. Theodore Bilbo and Rep. John E. Rankin — by name.  Zanuck often claimed that the other studio moguls asked him to abandon the project, saying that a film would only inspire more of what it was trying to condemn.  Still, Zanuck stuck with the project and it was not only a box office hit but it also won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Seen today, Gentleman’s Agreement has its flaws.  In the lead role, Gregory Peck is a bit of a stiff and Elia Kazan’s directs in an efficient but bland manner.  Because this film was made in 1947 and a happy ending was a must, Kathy is given a rather convenient opportunity at redemption.  The film’s most compelling performers — John Garfield, Celeste Holm, and June Havoc (playing Phil’s Jewish secretary, who had to change her last name before anyone would even consider hiring her) — are often underused.

And yet, with all that in mind, Gentleman’s Agreement is still a very effective film.  Gentleman’s Agreement understand that there’s more to prejudice than just the morons who go to rallies or the degenerates who shout slurs across the street.  Gentleman’s Agreement understands that, for prejudice to thrive, it also needs people like Kathy or Olivia, people who have that prejudice so ingrained in their system that they don’t even think twice about it and Dorothy McGuire does a very good job of playing a self-satisfied liberal who is blind to her own prejudice.  Gentleman’s Agreement understands that bigotry isn’t just about the openly hateful.  It’s also about the people who silently tolerate it and who refuse to stand up against it.  It’s about the people who respond to prejudice not with outrage but who instead attempt to change the subject.

In the UK, one of the two major political parties has basically surrendered itself to anti-Semitism.  Here in the US, Congress can’t even bring itself to condemn the frequently anti-Semitic comments of two of its members.  Elected leaders and pundits only offer up the weakest of condemnation when Jewish people are viciously attacked in the streets.  When a man attacked a group of Jews on Hanukkah, many excused the man’s attack by trying to say that he was just upset about  gentrification.  For many reasons, Gentleman’s Agreement is still relevant and important today.

The Visitors (1972, directed by Elia Kazan)


Haunted by his experiences in Vietnam, Bill Schmidt (James Woods) lives in an isolated farmhouse with his girlfriend, Martha (Patricia Joyce), their young son, and Martha’s tyrannical father, Harry Wayne (Patrick McVey).  Harry is a hard-drinking writer who is proud of his previous military experiences and who is frustrated by Bill’s reluctance to talk about his time in Vietnam.  Harry views Bill as being a wimp who lost a war that America should have won.

One wintry night, two visitors show up at the house.  Mike (Steve Railsback) and Tony (Chico Martinez) served in Bill’s platoon.  The three of them were once friends but then something happened in Vietnam that changed all that, something that Bill refuses to talk about.  Harry is happy to welcome Mike and Tony into the household and he enjoys hearing their war stories.  While the hapless Bill watches, Mike flirts with Martha.  However, as the night continues, it becomes obvious that Mike and Tony aren’t paying an innocent visit on a friend.  Instead, they’re looking for revenge.  Bill testified against Mike at a court-martial and, in the process, ruined both of their lives.

The idea of “bringing the war home” was a popular one in the late 60s and the early 70s.  Radical groups like the Weathermen justified their terroristic actions by saying that they were forcing complacent Americans to face what every day was like in Vietnam.  Books like David Morrell’s First Blood featured psychologically damaged vets waging war on an America that they felt had abandoned them while the new wave of counterculture filmmakers made films that were groundbreaking in their portrayal of death and violence.  The Visitors, which features one traumatized vet being victimized by two other angry vets, was one of those films that was meant to bring the war home.

Directed by Elia Kazan and written by Kazan’s son, Chris, The Visitors is a simple film that sometimes seems more like a stage play than a movie.  The script is talky and heavy-handed, the characters are thinly drawn, and the film’s portrayal of Martha comes close to being misogynistic.  Chris Kazan’s script is openly critical of the United States’s role in the Vietnam War but Elia Kazan is more concerned with presenting Bill as a martyr.  Elia was a former communist who infamously named names during the McCarthy era and, from On the Waterfront on, every film that he made was more or less an attempt to justify his actions.  Like Waterfront‘s Terry Malloy. Bill loses everything because he testifies.  Unlike Malloy, no one comes to Bill’s aid afterwards, which suggests Kazan’s bitterness only grew over the years following his testimony.

The Visitors is a lesser film in Kazan’s filmography but notably, it was the first film for both James Woods and Steve Railsback.  Railsback plays Mike as a charismatic brute, giving a performance that owes more than a little to Marlon Brando’s performance as Stanley Kowalski in Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire.  James Woods brings his nervous intensity to the role of Bill, making him a far more intelligent but no less victimized version of Brando’s Terry Malloy.  Though The Visitors was Kazan’s second-to-last film, both Woods and Railsback would go on to emerge as two of the most interesting character actors in Hollywood.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Hill Number One, East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause, Giant


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

On this date, 64 years ago, James Dean was killed in a tragic car accident.  At the time of his death, he had already filmed East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause, and GiantEast of Eden would be the only one of his starring roles that Dean would live to see.  Dean went on to be nominated for two posthumous academy awards and, in death, he became an icon that will live forever.

If James Dean were still alive today, he would be 88 years old.  Would he still be acting?  It’s hard to say, of course.  Some actors retire and some don’t.  (Robert Duvall, for instance, is 88 and still doing films.  For that matter, Norman Lloyd is 104 and apparently still reading scripts.)  If Dean were alive today, he wouldn’t be that much older than the stars of The Irishman.

In honor of James Dean’s career and his legacy, here are….

4 Shots From 4 James Dean Films

Hill Number One (1951, dir by Arthur Pierson)

East of Eden (1955, dir by Elia Kazan)

Rebel Without A Cause (1955, dir by Nicholas Ray)

Giant (1956, dir by George Stevens)

Cleaning Out the DVR #17: Film Noir Festival 3


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To take my mind off the sciatic nerve pain I was suffering last week, I immersed myself on the dark world of film noir. The following quartet of films represent some of the genre’s best, filled with murder, femme fatales, psychopaths, and sleazy living. Good times!!

I’ll begin chronologically with BOOMERANG (20th Century-Fox 1947), director Elia Kazan’s true-life tale of a drifter (an excellent Arthur Kennedy ) falsely accused of murdering a priest in cold blood, and the doubting DA (Dana Andrews ) who fights an uphill battle against political corruption to exonerate him. Filmed on location in Stamford, CT and using many local residents as extras and bit parts, the literate script by Richard Murphy (CRY OF THE CITY, PANIC IN THE STREETS, COMPULSION) takes a realistic look behind the scenes at an American mid-sized city, shedding light into it’s darker corners.

Andrews is solid as the honest…

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Insomnia File #28: The Arrangement (dir by Elia Kazan)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, on Saturday you were having trouble sleeping at three in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1969 film, The Arrangement.

The Arrangement is one of those films where a rich guy gets hit by a sudden case of ennui and, as a result, spends the entire movie acting like a jackass.  However, as often happens in films like this, The Arrangement makes sure that we understand that it’s not the guy’s fault.  Instead, it’s his wife’s fault for not being as much fun as his mistress.

In this case, the guy is an ad executive who goes by the name of Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas).  His original name was Evangelos Arness but he changed his name when he was younger because he apparently didn’t want anyone to know that he came from a Greek family.  When we first meet Eddie, he’s attempting to commit suicide by driving his car into an 18 wheeler.  If he had died, the movie could have ended quickly.  However, since Eddie survived, the audience is now required to spend two hours watching Eddie as he tries to figure out what it all means.

Eddie’s father (Richard Boone) is dying.  His long-suffering wife (Deborah Kerr) just doesn’t understand that Eddie needs more than a big house and a nice pool to feel like a man.  Eddie’s mistress is Gwen (Faye Dunaway), whose new baby may or may not be Eddie’s.  Who could blame Eddie, the film demands to know, for being disillusioned with his comfortable life?

The Arrangement was one of the last films to be directed by Elia Kazan, who was a big deal in the 40s and the 50s and whose goal with The Arrangement was apparently to prove that he should still have been a big deal in the 60s and 70s.  Kazan’s way of doing this is to fill The Arrangement with all types of tricks that were designed to make young filmgoers say, “Man, that Eliza Kazan may be old but he’s one of us!”

Freeze frames?  Kazan’s got them!  Flashback after flashback?  Kazan spreads them all throughout the movie, even when they don’t really have anything to show us.  Scenes where the action is sped up for no identifiable reason?  Just watch Kirk Douglas trot down that hallway!  Rack focus shots?  Zoom shots?  A scene where the young Kirk Douglas argues with the old Kirk Douglas?  Casual nudity that’s still filmed in such a way that it feels oddly reticent, as if the filmmaker was just including it to try to establish his rebel credentials?  The Arrangement has it all!

It also has a lot of close-ups of Kirk Douglas.  In far too many scenes, he’s just sitting around with this blank look on his face and it doesn’t quite work because, as an actor, Douglas has never exactly come across as the type to get trapped in an existential crisis.  We’re supposed to view Kirk as being depressed and conflicted but, in all of his films, Kirk has always come across as someone who hasn’t known a day of insecurity in his entire life.

There are also a few scenes of Kirk just laughing and laughing.  For some reason, movies in the late 60s and early 70s always seemed to feature at least a handful of closeups of people laughing uncontrollably.  I’m not sure why.  (If you want to see the most extreme example of this, check out Getting Straight.)  These scenes are always kind of annoying because there’s only so much time you can spend watching someone laugh at the absurdity of it all before you want them to just close their damn mouth.  Especially when the person in question is a middle-aged man.  I mean, shouldn’t have Kirk figured out that the world is absurd before his 50th birthday?

Anyway, The Arrangement is a pretentious mess.  Of course, most films from the 60s are pretentious.  The problem with The Arrangement is that it’s also boring.  If you’re going to be pretentious, at least have some fun with it, like The Graduate did.  The Arrangement goes on forever and it’s never quite as profound as it seems to think that it is.  I once read a short story that a former friend of mine wrote.  She explained that writing the story had caused her to realize that, the longer you know someone, the more likely your initial impression of that person is going to change.  “You had to write an entire short story to figure that out?” I replied.  (That’s one reason why she’s a former friend.)  But that’s kind of how The Arrangement is.  For all the drama and the technique and the pretension, it has nothing to teach us that we shouldn’t already know.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name

The Medium is the Message: Andy Griffith in A FACE IN THE CROWD (Warner Brothers 1957)


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If you only know Andy Griffith from his genial TV Southerners in THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and MATLOCK, brace yourself for A FACE IN THE CROWD. Griffith’s folksy monologues had landed him a starring role in the hit Broadway comedy NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS. The vicious, wild-eyed Lonesome Rhodes was thousands of miles away from anything he had done before, and the actor, guided by the sure hand of director Elia Kazan, gives us a searing performance in this satire of the power of the media, and the menace of the demagogue.

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When we first meet Larry Rhodes, he’s in the drunk tank in rural Pickett, Arkansas, a small town not unlike Mayberry. Local radio host Marcia Jeffries is doing a remote broadcast there, hoping to catch some ratings. The no-account drifter is hostile at first, but when the sheriff promises him an early release, you can practically see the wheels spinning…

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Lisa Marie Reviews An Oscar Winner For Labor Day: On The Waterfront (dir by Elia Kazan)


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I like On The Waterfront.

Nowadays, that can be a dangerous thing to admit.  On The Waterfront won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1954 and Marlon Brando’s lead performance as boxer-turned-dockworker Terry Malloy is still regularly cited as one of the best of all time.  The scene where he tells his brother (played by Rod Steiger) that he “could have been a contender” is so iconic that other films still continue to either parody or pay homage to it.  On The Waterfront is one of those films that regularly shows up on TCM and on lists of the greatest films ever made.

And yet, despite all that, it’s become fashionable to criticize On The Waterfront or to cite it as an unworthy Oscar winner.  Certain film bloggers wear their disdain for On The Waterfront like a badge of honor.  Ask them and they’ll spend hours telling you exactly why they dislike On The Waterfront and, not surprisingly, it all gets tedious pretty quickly.

Like all tedious things, the answer ultimately comes down to politics.  In the early 50s, as the House UnAmerican Affairs Committee conducted its search for communists in Hollywood, hundreds of actors, writers, and directors were called before the committee.  They were asked if they were currently or ever had been a member of the Communist Party.  It was demanded that they name names.  Refusing to take part was career suicide and yet, many witnesses did just that.  They refused to testify, apologize, or name names.

And then there was the case of Elia Kazan.  When he was called in front of HUAC, he not only testified about his communist past but he named names as well.  Many of his past associates felt that Kazan had betrayed them in order to protect his own career.  On The Waterfront was Kazan’s answer to his critics.

In On The Waterfront, Terry Malloy’s dilemma is whether or not to voluntarily testify before a commission that is investigating union corruption on the waterfront.  Encouraging him to testify is the crusading priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), and Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the saintly girl who Terry loves.  Discouraging Terry from testifying is literally every one else on the waterfront, including Terry’s brother, Charlie (Rod Steiger).  Charlie is the right-hand man of gangster Johnny Friendly (a crudely intimidating Lee J. Cobb), who is the same man who earlier ordered Terry to throw a big fight.

At first, Terry is content to follow the waterfront of code of playing “D and D” (deaf and dumb) when it comes to union corruption.  However, when Johnny uses Terry to lure Edie’s brother into an ambush, Terry is forced to reconsider his previous apathy.  As Terry gets closer and closer to deciding to testify, Johnny order Charlie to kill his brother…

The issue that many contemporary critics have with On The Waterfront is that they view it as being essentially a “pro-snitch” film.  It’s easy to see that Elia Kazan viewed himself as being the damaged but noble Terry Malloy while Johnny Friendly was meant to be a stand-in for Hollywood communism.  They see the film as being both anti-union and Kazan’s attempt to defend naming names.

And maybe they’re right.

But, ultimately, that doesn’t make the film any less effective.  Judging On The Waterfront solely by its backstory ignores just how well-made, well-acted, well-photographed, well-directed, and well-written this film truly is.  Elia Kazan may (or may not) have been a lousy human being but, watching this film, you can’t deny his skill as a director.  There’s a thrilling grittiness to the film’s style that allows it to feel authentic even when it’s being totally heavy-handed.

And the performances hold up amazingly well.  Marlon Brando’s performance as Terry Malloy gets so much attention that it’s easy to forget that the entire cast is just as great.  Rod Steiger makes Charlie’s regret and guilt poignantly real.  Karl Malden, who gets stuck with the film’s more pedantic dialogue, is the perfect crusader.  Eva Marie Saint is beautiful and saintly.  And then you’ve got Lee J. Cobb, playing one of the great screen villains.

The motives behind On The Waterfront may not be the best.  But, occasionally, a great film does emerge from less than pure motives.  (Just as often, truly good intentions lead to truly bad cinema.)  Regardless of what one thinks of Elia Kazan, On The Waterfront is a great work of cinema and it’s on that basis that it should be judged.

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44 Days of Paranoia #29: A Face In The Crowd (dir by Elia Kazan)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at Elia Kazan’s 1957 political satire, A Face In The Crowd.

The film opens with radio producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) visiting a local jail in Arkansas.  She’s looking for human interest stories that she can feature on her show and she discovers one when she meets an imprisoned drifter named Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith).  When Marcia interviews him, Rhodes proves himself to be a natural performer, telling folksy jokes and launching into a song about being a “free man in the morning.”  Rhodes proves to be so popular that, after he’s released from jail, he pursues a career in show business with Marcia as both his manager and, eventually, his lover.

Moving to Memphis, a renamed Lonesome Rhodes eventually lands his own television variety show and he soon starts doing irreverent commercials for local companies.  Along the way, Rhodes also finds a new manager, the glib and manic Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa).  With the help of Joey, Rhodes becomes the spokesman for a fake energy supplement, Vitajex.

As Rhodes’ fame grows, so does his ego.  After dumping Jeffries, Rhodes impulsively marries a 17 year-old majorette (Lee Remick).  His show also goes national and Rhodes soon starts to use his influence to try to both promote an incompetent, business-backed Presidential candidate and to destroy anyone who he considers to be an enemy.  As his show’s disillusioned head writer (Walter Matthau) puts it, Rhodes has become a “demagogue in denim.”

A Face In The Crowd is a personal favorite of mine.  Director Kazan deftly mixes satire with melodrama and, with the exception of the weak ending, the film’s vision of media manipulation and demagogic celebrities probably feels more plausible today than when it was first released.  The film is full of great performances, from the avuncular Walter Matthau to vulnerable Patricia Neal to the innocent-and-then-not-so-innocent Lee Remick.  Anthony Franciosa is wonderfully glib and sleazy and it’s a lot of fun to watch his joy at discovering how easy it is to manipulate the world.

Ultimately, however, the film’s success is mostly due to Andy Griffith’s amazing performance as Lonesome Rhodes.  Griffith, displaying all of the folksiness but none of the empathy that would be displayed in his later television show, turns Rhodes into a force of nature, a smiling charlatan and a charismatic sociopath who manipulates for the pure enjoyment of manipulation.

To make the obvious comparison, it’s very easy to imagine Lonesome Rhodes getting his own show on MSNBC, where on a nightly basis he could bark orders at his followers and ridicule anyone who dares to question him.  But even beyond that, the character of Lonesome Rhodes resonates.  I’m from the South.  I grew up down here and I live down here.  I can tell you, from my own personal observations and experiences, that we still have our share of demagogues.  Some of them run in elections and some of them preach on Sunday but all of them have got a bit of Lonesome Rhodes inside of them.

For that reason, A Face In The Crowd is probably more relevent today than it’s ever been.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed