Alfred Newman

Rain (1932, Lewis Milestone)

Rain is an adaptation of an adaptation. Maxwell Anderson’s script is based on John Colton and Clemence Randolph’s stage script of a Somerset Maugham story. The story’s from 1921, the play first ran in 1922, Rain is from 1932. Maugham’s story is a first-person account, the play is not but does follow the original narrator, Rain does not. In Rain, he seems an afterthought, which is kind of the problem. Rain has a lot of good scenes and good moments. Director Milestone has a great time showing off camera movement and editing to convey their intensity. He’s also got a lot of excellent montage sequences (he and editor Duncan Mansfield go wild). But he doesn’t have a good sense of the story. Not how to tell it. He knows where it needs to be effective, but he doesn’t know how to keep the energy up between those scenes.

Rain is just over ninety minutes and the last fifteen or twenty minutes feel like an eternity. It just won’t hurry up and do something. In fact, it gets really low towards the end, only for the finish to save things. Luckily there’s enough drama to interest Milestone and there’s enough heavily veiled (pre-Code or not) material in the script for stars Joan Crawford and William Gargan to get some gristle. Rain works out; just. It might help if the ending didn’t just reveal yet another potentially more interesting character in the narrative to follow.

The film, play, story are about a working girl (Crawford) who ends up marooned—there’s cholera on the connecting ship—on a South Seas island with a crazy Christian reformer (Walter Huston). Gargan’s a marine stationed on the island’s naval base who takes a liking to Crawford, regardless of her past. Meanwhile, Huston and his good Christian wife Beulah Bondi set about trying to slut shame Crawford and then ruin her life. They’re all staying in American ex-pat Guy Kibbee’s general store and hotel. Matt Moore and Kendall Lee are another American couple, traveling with Huston and Bondi. Moore’s a doctor, going to be stationed where Huston and Bondi are traveling to missionary. Crawford’s also going there, which horrifies Bondi who gets Huston worked up. Moore’s out on the slut shaming, which you’d think might lead to some kind of scene where Lee talks to him but I’m not sure she ever does. Lee’s never anything but background. It’s a missed opportunity.

Moore’s lack of material is probably the only not missed opportunity in the picture, which is weird since he was the narrator of the short story and still had stuff to do in the stage version. Much of Rain is from Crawford’s perspective. Some of it is from Gargan’s. Some of it is from Kibbee’s. The balance is all way off. The way Milestone directs the film, it needs to be a lot more focused on one. Crawford’s got a pretty significant arc; while it does eventually work into a big pre-Code infer not elucidate, the film would’ve worked much better with a tight focus on her. But then the same goes for… Gargan, Kibbee, Bondi, Huston, probably Lee, probably not Moore. Bondi and Huston can’t be the protagonists because the film’s got a lot to say about Christian missionaries. Kibbee would make it a black comedy sitcom for most of it then something darker. Lee would’ve worked. Gargan would’ve been a little off too. And Milestone doesn’t care. He’s too busy with the great montage sequences and occasional deft camera move. The script isn’t in his sphere of interest.

Neither are the performances. Bondi spends the movie a caricature, which is a really bad move considering how things turn out. Huston’s a little too intense. He’s standoffish in his scenes with Crawford, who tries hard but the lack of insight into her character is the film’s biggest failing. Either way it could go, will she be saved or not, the film makes it about Huston being loud and determined not Crawford’s experience. What ought to be the film’s most striking scenes, when even Milestone realizes it’s time to go to close-ups on a stage adaptation, get tedious instead. Crawford and Huston’s performances just might incompatible. She’s got this long close-up with no dialogue as she starts to break down from his booming preaching and she’s great and the shot’s long enough to see how she’s great… but it doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, the movie drops her for a while so there can be a couple surprises.

Rain had all the parts, someone just needed to think about how to make the stage narrative into a film one. Someone like Milestone, who does a bunch of great stuff, he just doesn’t support his cast’s performances. At all. It ought to be an amazing part for Crawford, Huston, Gargan, maybe Kibbee. But no. Crawford, Gargan, and Kibbee weather it best. Huston eventually gets rained out.

Oh, and awesome bit part from Walter Catlet at the beginning.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Lewis Milestone; screenplay by Maxwell Anderson, based on a play by John Colton and Clemence Randolph and a story by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Duncan Mansfield; music by Alfred Newman; released by United Artists.

Starring Joan Crawford (Sadie Thompson), William Gargan (Sergeant O’Hara), Guy Kibbee (Joe Horn), Walter Huston (Alfred Davidson), Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Davidson), Matt Moore (Dr. Macphail), Kendall Lee (Mrs. Macphail), and Walter Catlett (Quartermaster Bates).



Vigil in the Night (1940, George Stevens)

Vigil in the Night is supreme melodrama. I mean, in its first ten minutes, the film manages to establish a small English town’s hospital, introduce stoic nurse Carole Lombard and her flighty sister Anne Shirley, throw them into tragedy and crisis, and kick Lombard into an entirely new setting. Vigil in the Night is an interesting melodrama in how Lombard’s not a suffering martyr, she’s a rejoicing one. It’s kind of iffy as far as character development goes, but Lombard plays saint perfectly.

She has a lot of help from director Stevens, who starts the film showing off a combination of miniature and ornate set. The camera just moves too. Robert De Grasse’s photography is effortlessly smooth. The camera moves around that small town hospital so much and so fluidly, it’s impossible to believe the film’s ever going to leave. When it does, it creates a fine jarring effect to accompany Lombard’s new position.

Steven’s style changes a little. He’s much gentler. He and De Grasse concentrate on holding shots, making Henry Berman’s editing do some of the work. Alfred Newman’s music gets more annoying–he has this one theme he uses over and over again and it sounds like a theme from Franz Waxman’s Bride of Frankenstein, which made it disconcerting for me, but also overbearing for the film. Stevens pushes on the melodrama boundaries and nearly breaks through in the second half, but he always relieves the genre pressure–read: retreats into genre–and he relies on Newman’s music to pull things back. Newman’s music blows the potential of some great shots, some great moments in performances.

Because, in melodrama, Stevens and his screenwriters and the film in general can get away with making Lombard the martyr. She doesn’t need to have a character as much as reject having one. She can become holy without too much trouble. Making her an actual character–she has less personality than everyone in the film–in a film about nurses suffering through terrible conditions for their patients, horny rich men after them, mercenary wealthy women exploiting them, the concepts of sibling responsibility and accountability, guilt, regret, loneliness, sacrifice. Well, it’d be a lot to do in ninety-six minutes and you’re not going to get the right tears or comeuppance. Stevens isn’t reinventing the wheel, he’s delivering an excellent melodrama.

Lombard’s good in the lead. She doesn’t actually have to do much. Anytime some earthly tragedy befalls her, just before she has to actually react, the film turns her into an angel. Stevens and De Grasse’s evolution of Lombard’s close-ups in Vigil probably warrant some better attention, just in terms of how subtly and gradually Stevens changes the viewer’s understanding of the character. Somewhere in the third act, I realized Lombard wasn’t the protagonist anymore–she was the film’s grounded center, while things ran wild around her.

Anne Shirley’s the most significant wild running thing. She’s the troublesome, callow, well-meaning sister. She’s Lombard’s sacrifice, but she’s actually got the film’s most developed character. It’s melodrama. The more drama a character has, the more development they have too. She’s good. She gets better as the film goes along and she succeeds in the role. It’s an unlikable part and Vigil has a somewhat peculiar structure. Stevens doesn’t worry about narrative transition, so Shirley will drop out of the film then have to come back and play catch up.

Brian Aherne’s solid as Lombard’s love interest. Ethel Griffies is awesome as the matron. Julien Mitchell’s a suitable toad of a horny rich man. Brenda Forbes and Rita Page are fun as Lombard’s sidekicks. Peter Cushing’s kind of disappointing.

Vigil in the Night does a bunch in ninety-six minutes. Stevens’s pacing of the film is exceptional. Lombard’s an awesome lead. The Newman music does hurt it. A better score might’ve done wonders. It’s an ideal melodrama.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by George Stevens; screenplay by Fred Guiol, P.J. Wolfson, and Rowland Leigh, based on the novel by A.J. Cronin; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman; music by Alfred Newman; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Carole Lombard (Anne Lee), Brian Aherne (Dr. Robert S. Prescott), Anne Shirley (Lucy Lee), Julien Mitchell (Matthew Bowley), Brenda Forbes (Nora Dunn), Rita Page (Glennie), Peter Cushing (Joe Shand), Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Martha Bowley), Emily Fitzroy (Sister Gilson), Helena Grant (Nurse Gregg), and Ethel Griffies (Matron East).


Anastasia (1956, Anatole Litvak)

Anastasia manages that fine line between being dramatic and a constant delight. Ingrid Bergman’s performance is magnificent, with Arthur Laurents’s screenplay–and Litvak’s direction of her–never quite letting the viewer in. It’s a mystery after all–is Bergman’s Anastasia really the last Romanov. Laurents and Litvak construct a narrative where that question doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as why the viewer would ask it in the first place.

Of course, they can only sell that approach thanks to Helen Hayes, who plays Bergman’s potential grandmother. And Hayes only works as well as she does because she’s got Bergman and Yul Brynner to play off. Hayes is wonderful in the film. Let me check the adjectives–Bergman’s magnificent, Hayes’s wonderful–should Brynner be breathtaking? No. But only because he’s not. Except when Martita Hunt’s around to lust after him in one of the film’s finest subplots.

Brynner’s commanding, sympathetic, antagonistic. He’s the closest thing the viewer has to an ally in the film, if not an analogue. Initially, it’s Brynner who can prove, to the viewer, Bergman’s character’s authenticity. Then it’s Hayes. Then it’s Bergman. But, like I said earlier, the authenticity of identity isn’t the point of Anastasia. The characters are the point, the actors, the experiences, Litvak’s awesome direction.

Anastasia is a stage adaptation; it has a number of the telltale signs–distinctive supporting characters, a limited number of indoor locations where scenes take place–but Litvak breaks them over and over. He and photographer Jack Hildyard have this fantastic crane shots (sometimes “breaking” ceilings). They, and the CinemaScope frame, make Anastasia larger than life, right from the start. Because Litvak’s style for the film isn’t melodrama. It’s practically noir, with Brynner and (fantastic) sidekicks Akim Tamiroff and Sacha Pitoëff as these schemers planning a con. And Bergman’s able to fit into it and out of it. Her performance is, like I said, magnificent. Especially considering how well she weathers being out of the present action for two weeks. The film turns it into an unexpected boon for the final act. Laurents and Litvak. They do great work here.

Alfred Newman’s score is also important. It’s this overtly Russian stuff, which doesn’t always fit the scene exactly right. Newman emphasizes the Russian influences over the scene’s “needs;” it’s perfect. Because Anastasia is about Russia, while still being very much about Bergman (as a movie star).

I haven’t seen the film in years and, from the first scene, I remembered how much I love it. Just gets better on every viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anatole Litvak; screenplay by Arthur Laurents, based on a story by Guy Bolton and a play by Marcelle Maurette; director of photography, Jack Hildyard; edited by Bert Bates; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Buddy Adler; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ingrid Bergman (Anna Koreff), Yul Brynner (Bounine), Akim Tamiroff (Boris Adreivich Chernov), Sacha Pitoëff (Piotr Ivanovich Petrovin), Martita Hunt (Baroness Livenbaum), Ivan Desny (Prince Paul) and Helen Hayes (The Dowager Empress).


The Grapes of Wrath (1940, John Ford)

The Grapes of Wrath starts in a darkened neverland. Director Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland create a realer than real Oklahoma for protagonist Henry Fonda to journey across. The locations and sets aren’t as important as how Fonda (and the audience) experience it. It’s actually rather hostile for this beginning. It’s all about Fonda getting settled, not the viewer.

Even though Fonda is the protagonist throughout and the whole show for the first twenty minutes–with John Carradine along to keep him company–Grapes is about Fonda’s family, specifically his relationship with his parents–Jane Darwell’s mom, Russell Simpson is dad.

Slowly–after Fonda does find his family–director Ford broadens the film’s focus. There’re just too many people to stick with him and get the story right. Later, as the third act approaches then arrives, Ford and screenwriter Nunnally Johnson bring the spotlight back to Fonda but gradually fill out even more of the surrounding situations. It’s a wonderful balance.

Fonda and Darwell get the showiest parts–well, except for Carradine who gets even showier–and all three do great work. Ford knows how to shoot them too, with he and Toland going almost for scares at times. For Darwell, Ford occasionally shoots the film like a silent. He’s carefully, brilliantly, all over the place.

Everything about Grapes–directing, photography, editing, writing, acting–is a singular achievement on its own. Each vingette-like scene works perfectly. Put them all together and Grapes of Wrath is a relentless, devastating odyssey.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by John Steinbeck; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Robert L. Simpson; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), Jane Darwell (Ma Joad), Charley Grapewin (Grandpa), Dorris Bowdon (Rosasharn), John Carradine (Jim Casy), Russell Simpson (Pa Joad), O.Z. Whitehead (Al), John Qualen (Muley Bates), Eddie Quillan (Connie) and Zeffie Tilbury (Grandma).


The Rains Came (1939, Clarence Brown)

I was expecting The Rains Came to be a standard soap–with some ethnic flair, of course (Tyrone Power’s an Indian doctor, Myrna Loy’s a British lady). Instead, it’s a little like… Maugham-lite. Neither Loy nor Power is the lead (in fact, Power’s in it so little he should get a “special guest star” credit). The lead is actually George Brent (who gets third-billing).

He opens the movie and he carries it for quite a while. Loy doesn’t show up for a while and, even when she does, Brent’s around the entire time. His troubles with missionary’s daughter Brenda Joyce, for example, take up the screen time when Power should be getting his own backstory. Brent’s the bored Englishman on self-imposed exile in India (hence, Maugham-lite) and he drinks and threatens to cavort. He makes Rains a joy to watch, even when it’s going through it’s more melodramatic sections.

As it turns out, Loy is not a stoic, upstanding British woman as I expected. She’s a bit of a tramp, frequently stepping out on her odious husband–played by Nigel Bruce, whose death scene is played for laughs. It makes Loy a little bit less than likable (elevating the initially annoying Joyce to that position) and quite tragic once she discovers selflessness–again, Maugham-lite.

Additionally, there are great special effects, harmless direction from Brown and some fine supporting performances–Maria Ouspenskaya in particular.

The Rains Came has some excellent moments; they overshadow the mediocre ones.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clarence Brown; screenplay by Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson, based on the novel by Louis Bromfield; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by Barbara McLean; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Myrna Loy (Lady Edwina Esketh), Tyrone Power (Maj. Rama Safti), George Brent (Tom Ransome), Brenda Joyce (Fern Simon), Nigel Bruce (Lord Albert Esketh), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maharani), Joseph Schildkraut (Mr. Bannerjee), Mary Nash (Miss MacDaid), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Smiley), Marjorie Rambeau (Mrs. Simon), Henry Travers (Rev. Homer Smiley), H.B. Warner (Maharajah), Laura Hope Crews (Lily Hoggett-Egburry), William Royle (Raschid Ali Khan), C. Montague Shaw (Gen. Keith), Harry Hayden (Rev. Elmer Simon), Herbert Evans (Bates), Abner Biberman (John, the Baptist), Mara Alexander (Mrs. Bannerjee) and William Edmunds (Mr. Das).


Drums Along the Mohawk (1939, John Ford)

Every eight years or so, I watch Drums Along the Mohawk to see if it gets any better. According to my cursory notes from my last viewing, it apparently has gotten a little bit better. As the titles rolled, I was hopeful–it is John Ford after all (his first color film) and screenwriters Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien have both written some excellent films. But it’s rocky from the start. The most film’s most rewarding aspect is seeing Ford get comfortable with filming in color. His composition for the opening is problematic, like he’s trying to fit as much into the frame as possible to showcase the lush colors. For the first fifteen or twenty minutes (one of the nicest things about Drums is how fast it moves), it looks like Post-Impressionist. The colors are so vibrant, they distract from the actors.

And the actors are where Drums Along the Mohawk has problems. The film starts with Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda getting married. The rapid-fire pacing gives them a few minutes–a scene working together in the fields and it’s a fine enough scene–to get a reasonable chemistry going. They don’t. The fault seems to lie with Colbert, who’s either entirely wrong for the role or just terrible. It’s hard to tell, because there isn’t a single moment where Colbert doesn’t appear to be a porcelain doll. Her hair and make-up are always perfect (until the scene where she has to shoot at the attacking Indians–and by then, in the third act, it’s far too late to make up for it). Fonda fares better, but only because Trotti and Levien give him an amazing monologue about the nature of war. But Fonda’s not the film’s focus and in many ways, Colbert isn’t either.

Drums Along the Mohawk is a melodrama; it’s event after event after event. There’s some implied nuance–like Jack-o’-lanterns at a wedding–but the film’s sets and costuming are fantastic, so it’s a totally different department working on such additions. The script only approaches subtly a couple times–first, during that field scene and, second (and fair more successfully), with Edna May Oliver and Ward Bond. Oliver’s the feisty widow who can’t stop talking about her passed husband and–in a great scene–makes a couple marauding Indians preserve her bed while they’re burning down her house. Bond’s comically flirtatious in their first scene together, but it soon develops into what appears to be a discreet and touching romance.

The rest of the film’s acting is fine. Jessie Ralph’s in it, she’s always good. John Carradine’s wasted as a villainous Tory.

As the film progresses, Ford’s use of color flourishes. There’s a magnificent chase scene with Fonda on the run, the action only taking up the bottom fourth of the screen, the rest filled with clouds. The film’s eventually unimaginable in black and white, it simply wouldn’t make any sense–quite a difference from the opening scenes.

There’s a general competency to the script, combined with a good performance from Fonda (the script really doesn’t give him much to do save that one scene) and Ford’s direction, Drums Along the Mohawk passes. It’s just a shame they didn’t get a female actor appropriate for Colbert’s role… who knows how it would have turned out.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien, based on the novel by Walter D. Edmonds; directors of photography, Bert Glennon and Ray Rennahan; edited by Robert L. Simpson; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Claudette Colbert (Lana), Henry Fonda (Gilbert Martin), Edna May Oliver (Mrs. McKlennar), Eddie Collins (Christian Reall), John Carradine (Caldwell), Dorris Bowdon (Mary Reall), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Weaver), Arthur Shields (Reverend Rosenkrantz), Robert Lowery (John Weaver), Roger Imhof (Gen. Nicholas Herkimer), Francis Ford (Joe Boleo) and Ward Bond (Adam Hartman).


Beau Geste (1939, William A. Wellman)

Beau Geste is a colonial adventure, European soldiers under siege in the Arabian desert. There’s some imagination to the telling, but not at all enough. The strangest thing about the film is the title–Gary Cooper plays Beau Geste, who in some ways is the least of the film’s characters. I think Cooper must get the littlest screen time of the main actors and the film often feels absent of his presence.

The problem stems from the structure. Geste opens with the discovery of a mystery–a desert fort, all the soldiers dead, but a peculiar confession in one of the men’s hands and two shots fired by a ghost. It’s all very Arthur Conan Doyle, except the viewer has to wait almost two hours to discover the solution (well, not really… just the entire solution… from the first flashback, the general answer is clear). After the first scene, the action goes back fifteen years to that revealing flashback. Then there’s a second mystery–this one of great importance–hinted at. It’s not a real mystery because the viewer is deceived into thinking he or she has seen all the relevant action. But it’s of great importance in the end and to a character’s entire motivation. Without it, the film makes little sense–and at the end, there’s a big finger snapping, “of course” moment. It’s a lousy moment, of course, and ruins the film’s already bad denouement.

When the film does get back to the present day and starts toward unraveling the mystery of the first scene, it starts kind of well. The scenes with Cooper, Robert Preston and Ray Milland as wealthy brothers in English luxury are fine. Cooper and Preston have a decent moment together and Milland’s appealing enough romancing Susan Hayward. Both Hayward and G.P. Huntley are useless in any narrative sense, but whatever, the film’s at least trying to be interesting in these scenes.

It lasts only a few minutes, unfortunately. Then there’s another big mystery (tying in to the first scene’s mystery) and it’s off to the Foreign Legion. I always thought Beau Geste was a big adventure story, but the film’s mostly just the three brothers (until Preston goes off to a different fort) and their vicious sergeant, poorly played by Brian Donlevy. It isn’t really Donlevy’s fault–his character has absolutely no depth. He’s a standard movie bad guy, absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever (not even after Cooper observes one about him). The film plays him as pure nefariousness and most of the film’s running time suffers from it. Beau Geste is a mutiny thriller.

William A. Wellman does a mediocre job directing the film, which really hurts it. He has some grandiose scale at the beginning, but losses it immediately in the flashback and never gets it back. The film’s beautifully photographed by Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout, but Thomas Scott’s editing is the pits. Every time Wellman’s action scenes start to look good, there’s a distracting jump-cut. Cooper shoots at the left of the screen and his target gets hit from a bullet moving left to right. The sets are nice too.

Preston has some good moments (Milland gets stuck with a lot of weak moments) and Cooper’s fine when he’s around; the film doesn’t really have any standout performances. J. Carrol Naish is bad as Donlevy’s stooge–probably giving the film’s worst performance–and the less said about the cowboy legionnaires the better. Harold Huber does have a nice small role, however.

Another big problem with Beau Geste is how familiar it all seems… like the source novel was nothing but a creative plagiarism of The Four Feathers. But not having read the novel, it’s impossible to say what went wrong–the adaptation or the story itself. Beau Geste is a monotonous chore to get through, especially as the ending rolls downhill for the last seven or ten minutes.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Robert Carson, based on the novel by Percival Christopher Wren; directors of photography, Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout; edited by Thomas Scott; music by Alfred Newman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gary Cooper (Michael ‘Beau’ Geste), Ray Milland (John Geste), Robert Preston (Digby Geste), Brian Donlevy (Sgt. Markoff), Susan Hayward (Isobel Rivers), J. Carrol Naish (Rasinoff), Albert Dekker (Legionnaire Schwartz), Broderick Crawford (Hank Miller), Charles Barton (Buddy McMonigal), James Stephenson (Maj. Henri de Beaujolais), Heather Thatcher (Lady Patricia Brandon), James Burke (Lt. Dufour) and G.P. Huntley (Augustus Brandon).


Scroll to Top