Ann Doran

Pride of the Marines (1945, Delmer Daves)

Pride of the Marines is a disappointment. It never gets particularly good, but it does have a lot of potential–at least from its cast–so when it starts getting better and then slips, it’s a disappointment. The film starts before Pearl Harbor with John Garfield’s would-be bachelor falling for Eleanor Parker. Garfield’s reasoning for wanting to be a bachelor is he wants to live his life like a nine year-old boy, going to sporting events, going hunting, never having a woman tell him no.

Garfield’s reasonably likable, but he’s not good in this part. Albert Maltz’s writing for Garfield is juvenile, while everyone else in the cast gets a good part. It’s not just Parker, who actually gets to act when tolerating Garfield’s hijinks, it’s even Garfield’s friends (and landlords) Ann Doran and John Ridgely. Garfield’s friendship with their daughter, played by Ann E. Todd, is his most honest character relationship even though it doesn’t make any sense given how juvenile he behaves. There’s one caveat to Doran and Ridgely’s performances–when they have to spout exposition about how Garfield just can’t grow up, they can’t sell it. Only Parker can sell those moments, at least until the second part of the film.

During the first part of the film–there’s a lot to Pride, given it’s two hours and has three distinct sections–Daves is ambitious with his direction. Lots of extravagant setups. They usually work, except Owen Marks’s editing of the footage is very messy. It looks like Daves didn’t shoot the right coverage, especially when he has to account for Garfield and Parker being much shorter than Ridgely and Doran. But Daves goes for big shots. They work.

Then Garfield goes to war. After some understandably used, but ill-fitting, real footage from the Pacific Theater, Daves settles into a decent battle sequence. It’s a nightmarish sequence with excellent photography from J. Peverell Marley (his best in the film) and music from Franz Waxman (his best in the film). Even Marks’s editing is strong. It’s also the best sequence in the entire picture, because once it’s over, Pride moves on to its next location and an all new set of problems.

Garfield’s injured. He’s possibly blind. Can a nine year-old boy imagine his girl back home wanting him? No. But he also can’t imagine anything else. But Pride of the Marines is a forties patriotic picture and so everyone else around Garfield is pretty much handling their wounds with dignity. Although Maltz doesn’t exactly have anything for them to talk about. There’s one rousing scene where Dane Clark–who’s great–talks about fighting for himself and his country (as a Jewish guy in the service–there’s even a great anti-racism sequence, albeit only in regards to Mexicans, it’s from 1945 and Warner after all), but otherwise these guys have nothing to talk about except girls. If a reverse Bechdel didn’t sound like a tricky Olympic dive, I’d say it fails the reverse Bechdel. But, really, all these guys have to talk about is their girls back home for the most part. The acting from the bit players is fine, Maltz just doesn’t give them anything to say.

Rosemary DeCamp shows up in Garfield’s recovery as his suffering Red Cross worker. She has to hold his hand through everything because otherwise how can we see Garfield’s struggle. Only it’s not a struggle. Daves doesn’t give him much to do as far as acting. He just acts up. The one or two chances he gets for a good scene get messed up by over-production.

The acting from Parker is good no matter what, no matter how lame the writing gets. Same goes for Clark, who seemingly gets better as his material gets more obvious. Doran, DeCamp, Ridgely, Todd, all good. Garfield sort of gets an incomplete, sort of gets a pass. The film drops the ball on a lot–like how does Garfield feel about being a national hero who loathes himself–and the ending feels tacked on.

Pride of the Marines has its built-in constraints–it’s a forties propaganda picture, after all–but every opportunity it gets to surmount them, it fails. Though Daves’s first act creativity does come back for one shot at the end. Only for him to screw it up with the boringly directed finale.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Delmer Daves; screenplay by Marvin Borowsky and Albert Maltz, based on a book by Roger Butterfield; director of photography, J. Peverell Marley; edited by Owen Marks; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Garfield (Al Schmid), Eleanor Parker (Ruth Hartley), Dane Clark (Lee Diamond), Ann Doran (Ella Mae Merchant), John Ridgely (Jim Merchant), Rosemary DeCamp (Virginia Pfeiffer), Anthony Caruso (Johnny Rivers) and Ann E. Todd (Loretta Merchant).


Fear in the Night (1947, Maxwell Shane)

Fear in the Night shows just how far something can get on the gimmick. Bank teller DeForest Kelley wakes up one morning from the dream he killed someone. He then discovers evidence of his crime and, as he suspects he’s going mad, starts going a little mad.

If not totally mad, he does make some poor choices.

Luckily–or unluckily–Kelley’s brother-in-law (Paul Kelly) is a homicide detective.

Night doesn’t have good narration–though director Shane’s script does use it consistently–and Shane isn’t much of a director, but the film intrigues. The plotting is fantastic, with Shane withholding clues for so long I was wondering if he was ever even going to explain the mystery.

Shane handles the mystery in two parts. First, whether it’s real or not and then what–if it does turn out to be real–the consequences will be for the characters. Kelley’s also got a faithful girlfriend in Kay Scott and a concerned sister in Ann Doran. Shane gives Kelly a lot to do in terms of negotiating being a good husband and a homicide cop.

As a director, Shane’s mediocre at best but does have some creative visual flourishes.

Kelly is really good, even with some questionable dialogue, and he’s able to carry the film. Sometimes he has to carry Kelley through rough scenes; Kelley isn’t very good. He has a tough role but he also isn’t very good. He’s likable, however.

The whole thing is likable… but not very good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Maxwell Shane; screenplay by Shane, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Jack Greenhalgh; edited by Howard A. Smith; music by Rudy Schrager; produced by William H. Pine and William C. Thomas; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring DeForest Kelley (Vince Grayson), Paul Kelly (Cliff Herlihy), Ann Doran (Lil Herlihy), Kay Scott (Betty Winters), Charles Victor (Captain Warner), Jeff York (Deputy Torrence) and Robert Emmett Keane (Harry Byrd).


It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958, Edward L. Cahn)

I watched It! The Terror from Beyond Space because I understood it’s widely considered (look at that passive voice) a precursor to Alien. Any such connection is tenuous at best. I also thought Ray Harryhausen did the special effects.

No, no, he did not.

If It! were a production of a middle school theater department–I kept thinking of Kesey’s favorite Cuckoo’s Nest adaptation, with the machine off to the side, a moving feature–it might be impressive. It’d work as a play, multiple levels, all connected through the same central staircase. It’d need a rewrite, of course. Bixby’s script would be laughable if one could muster the enthusiasm.

There are there major problems with It!, not including the script (the plotting isn’t bad, just the dialogue).

First, the direction. I’m not sure I’ve seen a director less enthusiastic about a space adventure than Cahn. Budgetary limitations aside, there’s a lot he could have done, maybe angled some shots, but he doesn’t.

Second, the alien. The costume is atrocious (it looks like a green sweatsuit over a bunch of padding) and the mask is lame. Ray Corrigan, playing the monster, moves with the grace of a dump truck.

Finally, the acting. Of ten actors–we’re supposed to remember all their characters, following a painfully weak introduction to them–only Marshall Thompson gives a good performance. Kim Spalding, as his antagonist, gives one of the worst performances I’ve seen lately in a theatrical release.

It! is a painful waste of time.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Edward L. Cahn; written by Jerome Bixby; director of photography, Kenneth Peach; edited by Grant Whytock; music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter; produced by Robert E. Kent; released by United Artists.

Starring Marshall Thompson (Carruthers), Shirley Patterson (Ann Anderson), Kim Spalding (Van Heusen), Ann Doran (Mary Royce), Dabbs Greer (Eric Royce), Paul Langton (Calder), Robert Bice (Purdue), Richard Benedict (Bob Finelli), Richard Hervey (Gino), Thom Carney (Kienholz) and Ray Corrigan (It).


Blondie (1938, Frank R. Strayer)

When I was in middle school, I read most of the comic strips in the newspaper, Blondie being one of them. I remember seeing, in the TV listings around the same time (probably a little later), some station running a bunch of Blondie movies at five o’clock in the morning. I missed taping them, but they’ve since shown up on DVD (some of them–I guess the series has twenty-seven entries). This first film, which I wasn’t expecting much from, is actually fairly good. There are a number of problems, the most damaging being the kid. First–as a relatively modern reader of the Blondie strip, I wasn’t aware of its classical content–is the name: Baby Dumpling. I’m not sure I ever got over it, but the silliness dulled as the movie went on. However, the kid playing the kid, Larry Simms, comes off like a little shithead, not an adorable troublemaker.

The film’s at its best when it’s out of the house and doing comic strip-sized gags. There are a number of three panel gags in the film–until the last act, most of the film is these gags, actually–and they work well for the most part. When in the house, Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake are less successful together then they are alone. For whatever reason, doing the comic strip gags doesn’t work with the two of them. When the film’s acting like its own animal, they’re all right. Lake isn’t particularly good, though he’s a decent physical comedy actor (which is why the scenes with him alone work better) and Singleton ranges in quality too, best when she’s putting up with him, which is the Blondie character’s defining trait. The film’s best scene is a quiet one, when they both check in on the baby. Watching the film, even today, one is participating in the concept–the adaptation of the Blondie comic strip, which has its own set of rules, rules a regular film does not have–and the baby checking scene really breaks free of the concept. It gives the characters real character, as opposed to the two dimensional adaptation.

The best performance in the film is Gene Lockhart, who plays a captain of industry obsessed with tinkering. In a film with so many mediocre performances, Lockhart immediately stands out as giving an excellent performance. I kept waiting for him to come back around.

As for the writing and directing… well, the writing’s all right. It’s certainly not as innocuous as I expected and I did laugh a few times. The director, Frank R. Strayer, is adequate. He’s better outside than in, but the film doesn’t offer many of those opportunities.

I wasn’t expecting much from Blondie (in fact, I was expecting to turn it off), but it’s a nice enough way to spend seventy minutes.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank R. Strayer; screenplay by Richard Flournoy, based on the comic strip by Chic Young; director of photography, Henry Freulich; edited by Gene Havlick; music by Leigh Harline and Ben Oakland; produced by Frank Sparks and Robert Sparks; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Penny Singleton (Blondie), Arthur Lake (Dagwood Bumstead), Larry Simms (Baby Dumpling), Gene Lockhart (C.P. Hazlip), Ann Doran (Elsie Hazlip) and Jonathan Hale (J.C. Dithers).


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