Big Bad Bob: Robert Mitchum in MAN WITH THE GUN (United Artists 1955)


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Rugged Robert Mitchum is pretty much the whole show in MAN WITH THE GUN, a film by first  time director (and Orson Welles protege) Richard Wilson. It seems a strange choice at this juncture of Mitchum’s career. He was just coming off four big films in a row (RIVER OF NO RETURN, TRACK OF THE CAT, NOT AS A STRANGER, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER ), then makes a low budget Western that harkens back to his days making ‘B’ Zane Grey Westerns at RKO. But that was Mitchum; always the maverick who did things his way.

The film itself isn’t bad: Mitchum plays a notorious gunslinger, a “town tamer” hired by Sheridan City to clean things up from the clutches of boss ‘Dade Holman’ (who isn’t seen til the end, but whose influence is everywhere). There’s a subplot with his ex-wife Jan Sterling, now running the dance hall girls at…

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Rage in the Cage: CAGED (Warner Brothers 1950)


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“In this cage, you get tough or you get killed” – Kitty Stark (played by Betty Garde) in CAGED

 

The Grandmother of all “Women in Prison” films, CAGED still packs a wallop, nearly seventy years after it’s release. This stark, brutal look at life inside a women’s penitentiary was pretty bold for its time, with its savage sadism and heavy lesbian overtones, and matches up well with BRUTE FORCE as an example of film noir prison flicks. Everything about this film clicks, from its taut direction by John Cromwell to the use of sound to create mood by Stanley Jones, plus a powerhouse mostly female cast led by Eleanor Parker .

The 28-year-old Parker convincingly plays 19-year-old Marie Allen, given a one-to-fifteen year sentence for accessory to an armed robbery during which her husband was killed. The mousey Marie is indoctrinated, given a number (Prisoner #93850), and poked and…

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A Movie A Day #168: The Harder They Fall (1956, directed by Mark Robson)


In his final film role, Humphrey Bogart exposes the seamy side of boxing.

Bogart plays Eddie Willis, a washed-up former sportswriter who, because he desperately needs the money, accepts a job offer from crooked boxing promoter, Nick Benko (Rod Steiger).  Eddie is working as a publicist for a South American boxer named Toro (Mike Lane).  Toro is big, strong, and not very bright.  He is not a great boxer but he does not realize that because the Mob has been fixing all of his fights.  After a punch drunk former boxer dies in the ring while fighting Toro, Toro wants to quit and return home to Argentina.  Eddie, who has grown sympathetic to Toro, convinces Toro to fight one last time, against the world champion, Buddy Brannen (Max Baer).  Eddie tells Toro that he does not have a chance of winning but at least he will be able to return home with money for his parents.  However, Benko has other plans for Toro’s money.

Bogart was visibly dying of cancer when he made this tough and uncompromising expose of the racket behind the fight game.  This was his final performance but it is also one of his best.  Even sick and more weary than usual, Bogart could still summon up righteous fury at the type of men that would exploit a fighter like Toro.  His scenes with Rod Steiger are charged with intensity, with Bogart’s film star charisma colliding with Steiger’s stylized method acting.  Both on-screen and 0ff, Humphrey Bogart was an actor who always stood up for the little guy.  Though the film itself may be predictable and Toro is sometimes too saintly to be believed, The Harder They Fall is still a proper finale to an important and distinguished career.

Cleaning Out The DVR #16: Johnny Belinda (dir by Jean Negulesco)


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Continuing my effort to watch 38 films in 10 days (and, as of today, I only have 6 days left!), I spent part of last night watching the 1948 film Johnny Belinda.

Johnny Belinda takes place in Canada, on Cape Breton Island.  The residents of the island are a hearty, no-nonsense group of people.  They work hard, they don’t play hard because they never play, they farm, and they don’t have much use for outsiders.  When a new doctor, Robert Richardson (Lew Ayres), arrives on the island, he has to work hard to earn their trust.

Dr. Richardson is fascinated by Belinda McDonald (Jane Wyman), a young woman who is deaf and mute.  Belinda lives on a farm with her father (Charles Bickford) and her aunt (Agnes Moorehead).  Everyone in the community assumes that Belinda is a simple-minded and, because her mother died giving birth to her, she is resented by her father.  Only Dr. Richardson believes that Belinda is in any way intelligent and, over her father’s objections, he teaches Belinda sign language.

Dr. Richardson’s secretary, Stella (Jan Sterling), falls in love with him and grows angry when it becomes apparent that he’s more interested in taking care of Belinda than pursuing an adulterous romance with Stella.  Meanwhile, Stella’s husband, a viscous alcoholic named Locky (Stephen McNally), gets drunk and rapes Belinda.  9 months later, when Belinda gives birth to a boy that she names Johnny, everyone assumes that Dr. Richardson is the father.  Soon, both Richardson and the McDonald family are being shunned by the judgmental community.

Locky, meanwhile, is determined to keep anyone from finding out about his crime, to the extent that he’s willing to commit murder.  Both Locky and Stella are determined to take Johnny away from Belinda and it all eventually leads to further tragedy and, somewhat inevitably, a dramatic murder trial.

Much like Random Harvest, Johnny Belinda is another film that I could imagine being remade for Lifetime.  It’s a well-made melodrama that appeals to all of the emotions and features a cast of talented actors doing good work playing characters that are probably just a bit too familiar.  In fact, there’s really not a single moment of Johnny Belinda that will take you by surprise but, despite that, the film still works.  Jane Wyman does such a good job playing the silent Belinda that it makes the entire movie worth watching.  (It’s interesting to contrast Wyman’s innocent, vulnerable, and sympathetic performance here with her far more severe work in The Yearling.)  Reportedly, Wyman devoted so much time and effort to her performance that it was cited as a reason for her divorce from future President Ronald Reagan.  For Johnny Belinda, Wyman lost the chance to be first lady but she did win an Oscar.

(And, for the record, Wyman voted for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, saying that it wasn’t often that you got to vote for your ex-husband.)

Johnny Belinda was nominated for best picture of the year and, with 10 nominations, it was the most nominated film of 1947.  Though it won an Osar for Wyman, it lost best picture to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet.

Embracing The Melodrama #22: The Incident (dir by Larry Peerce)


The Incident

The 1967 film The Incident could just as easily have been called Train of Fools.  Much like Ship of Fools, it’s an ensemble piece in which a group of people — all of whom represent different aspect of modern society — find themselves trapped in their chosen mode of transportation and forced to deal with intrusions from the outside world.

That intrusion comes in the form of two sociopaths who have decided to spend the entire ride tormenting their fellow passengers.  The more dominant of the two is Joe (played by Tony Musante, who would later star in Dario Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage), who the film hints might also be a pedophile.  His partner is Artie (Martin Sheen), who is less intelligent than Joe but just as viscous.  (And yes,even though he does a good job in the role,  it is odd to see an intelligent and reportedly very nice actor like Martin Sheen playing a character who is both so evil and so stupid.)

Among the passengers:

Bill (Ed McMahon) and Helen (Diana Van Der Vills) are only on the train because Bill refused to pay the extra money to take a taxi back home. Now, they’re stuck on the train with their young daughter who, in one of the film’s more disturbing scenes, Joe starts to show an interest in.

Teenage Alice (Donna Mills) is on a date with the far more sexually experienced Tony (Victor Arnold).  When Joe and Artie start to harass her, her date proves himself to be pretty much useless.

Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill) is a recovering alcoholic who, before Artie and Joe got on the train, was spending most of his time scornfully watching Kenneth (Robert Otis), a gay man who previously attempted to pick Doug up at the train station and who will eventually fall victim to one of Artie’s crueler jokes.

Muriel Purvis (Jan Sterling) resents her meek husband, Harry (Mike Kellin) and see the entire incident as another excuse to cast doubts upon his manhood.

Sam and Bertha Beckerman (played by Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter) are an elderly Jewish couple who, over the course of a lifetime, have already had to deal with far too many bullies.  Sam’s attempt to stand up to Joe and Artie results in both he and his wife being trapped on the train.

Arnold (Brock Peters) and Joan (Ruby Dee) are the only black people on the train.  Arnold, at first, enjoys watching the white people fight among each other and even turns down a chance to get off the train because he finds it to be so entertaining.  But finally, Joe turns on him as well.

And then there’s the two soldiers, streetwise Phil (Robert Bannard) and his best friend, Felix (Beau Bridges).  Felix speaks with a soft Southern accent and has a broken arm.

And finally, there’s the bum.  When we first see the bum (Henry Proach) he is asleep.  He doesn’t even wake up when Joe and Artie attempt to set him on fire.

One-by-one, Joe and Artie attack and humiliate every single person on the train.  The other passengers, for the most part, remain passive.  Even when some try to stand up to Joe and Artie, their fellow passengers don’t offer to help.  It’s only when one last passenger finally stands up to the two that the rest of them show any reaction at all and even then, it’s not necessarily the reaction that anyone was hoping for.

The Incident, which shows up on TCM occasionally, is a heavy-handed but effective look at what happens when good people choose to do nothing in the face of evil.  Joe and Artie can be viewed as stand-ins for any number of distasteful groups or ideologies and both Tony Musante and Martin Sheen are believable as dangerous (if occasionally moronic) petty criminals.  For that matter, the entire film is well-acted with the entire cast managing to bring life to characters that, in lesser hands, could have come across as being one-dimensional.  The entire film basically takes place in that one subway car but fortunately, the harsh black-and-white cinematography and the continually roaming camera all come together to keep things visually interesting.

The Incident may not be a great film (it’s occasionally bit too stagey and, after watching the first 30 minutes, you’ll be able to guess how the movie is going to end) but it’s still one to keep an eye out for.

Martin Sheen in The Incident