Cameron Mitchell

The Other Side of the Wind (2018, Orson Welles)

The Other Side of the Wind opens with two very ominous notes. Well, two and a half. The first is a text card explaining the film’s history, but not much about its resurrection. For example (and here’s the half ominous note), was it director Welles’s idea to do multiple aspect ratios? It makes sense, but he probably wasn’t going to do the CG TV screen borders they use at the start. Wind is an addition to Welles’s filmography, thirty-three years posthumous. Much has changed in those thirty-three years, including how film is edited.

But the text card and its lack of resurrectors’ intent is nowhere near as ominous as the second item. Peter Bogdanovich introducing the film. So The Other Side of the Wind opens with the text card explaining its Orson Welles’s last movie and he didn’t really finish it. Then comes Bogdanovich–in the present–introducing the film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” but not Welles’s Wind, rather lead John Huston’s Wind, because in addition to being one of the resurrectors, Bogdanovich is the costar. And he gives this obnoxious self-congratulatory voiceover Welles never would have written for him… for no other reason than not even Orson Welles thought he’d make it to 103.

Even worse, Bogdanovich’s voiceover tries to contextualize the film. What we’re going to see is a documentary, pieced together from the footage shot by documentary crews at Huston’s birthdary party. He’s a big Hollywood director self-financing a movie for hippies and everyone is following him around with a camera. So the footage in the film–usually with Welles accounting for the camera-people in other shots–is this “found” footage.

Here’s where the text card should’ve explained Welles’s original intent, because the movie sure doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be some assembled thing. It just seems like a budgetary control device of Welles’s. Since he self-financed Wind himself. Layers and layers and layers.

Once things get started, after some gratitious topless nudity (there’s a lot of nudity later, but not gratitious in the same way), Wind immediately reassures. Bogdanovich, as an actor, is nowhere near as obnoxious as he was in the opening voiceover. He’s still obnoxious, playing a blue blood mainstream filmmaker who’s devoted to Huston (ostensibly mirroring Bogdanovich’s devotion to Welles–more layers), but… well, his dialogue’s better. The character, as thin as Bogdanovich does with it, is better.

Plus, most of the time is spent with Huston’s regular crew. Huston’s regular crew looks a lot like Welles’s crew. There’s Paul Stewart, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmond O’Brien, and Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell’s bad. McCambridge isn’t in it enough but is good. O’Brien and Stewart are awesome. They’re on a bus with a bunch of party guests–they’re going straight to the birthday party from shooting–and a lot of reporters. Including Susan Strasberg as a film critic (she’s fantastic) and Joseph McBride in William Alland part if Wind were Kane. But Wind isn’t Kane and McBride’s young, inquisitive journalist is annoying background. McBride isn’t very good. Strasberg’s great, like I said, but she’s really one of the standouts, performance-wise, in Wind.

Huston and Bogdanovich are in a car, where Bogdanovich does most of the talking to the documentary filmmakers. It’s very hard to take Bogdanovich’s character seriously because he’s such a sycophant to Huston.

Alongside these two threads is Norman Foster–one of Huston’s gang, but I don’t think his position is ever specifically mentioned–showing the movie (in the movie in the movie… in the movie?) to producer Geoffrey Land. Land’s bad. But the footage of the hippie movie is fun. It’s always in a state of exaggerated pretension but beautifully composed exaggerated pretension.

Robert Random and Oja Kodar star in the movie in the movie. The story of Wind, why Huston’s in trouble with the movie, is because after he discovered Random, Random went and quit the movie, leaving Huston without a star. No one in the movie in the movie talks. Hippies just communicate with their body language after all. Amusingly, Kodar doesn’t speak in the rest of the film either. She’s around, she’s active, but she never speaks. It’s funny.

The movie in the movie footage is shown at a different aspect ratio. The documentary footage is supposed to be eight or sixteen millimeter so not widescreen. The movie in the movie is widescreen.

Why the opening titles are in artificial television aspect ratio with a vague “video” look… especially if it’s reconstructed in 2018… the resurrectors of Wind really don’t want to draw attention to themselves but are really bad at avoiding it.

Especially once they get to the party. Most of the rest of the movie takes place at the party. All of a sudden, certain cameras at the party–certain sources of footage–are black and white. And they’re suspiciously black and white. One of the first shots has this weird pixelation in the blacks, which seem an effect of digital editing of the frame, something Welles certainly wouldn’t have done in the same way if he’d finished the picture. And, about halfway through the movie, there’s an emphasis shot in color and it’s the same source as one they’d been using as black and white. So much, if not all of the black and white footage is a modern edit. And it does the film no favors. Because even though they didn’t change the brightness and contrast of the black and white footage to match–the sources still appear different–it loses the reality of the opening.

O’Brien, McCambridge, Stewart, and Mitchell all sitting around talking about how Huston is out of touch with the kids today is a lot different in color than black and white. It sets up the film differently.

Worse, when the color returns in the last third, it’s clear the mismatched footage–Welles shot the film over more than five years–looks better mismatching in color than it does in digital black and white.

At the party secrets are revealed (or re-revealed), more of the movie in the movie is shown, character drama, great dialogue, some excellent performances in some thin parts, and some fireworks. There’s also some homophobia and exploitation of little people. Because Welles is down on Hollywood–he’s not a stand-in for Huston, whose fictive career (and popularity) is much different than Welles’s real one–he can get a pass on the latter. On the former, it’s a theme. One Welles uses for sensationalism. It doesn’t qualify for a pass. It’s part of the movie, resurrected version or not. Especially since there’s supposed to be some implications about it. Yes, Welles is making fun of film criticism a little as the implication subplot goes, but… still no. He cops out on the subplot.

The movie’s about the party. Once they get to the party, they watched the movie–the movie is the point of the party. Only the power keeps going out. So they’re trying to get the power back on while Huston is hearing from his gang how they can’t scrap together any more money.

The best performance in the film is Norman Foster. He’s also the only character with an actual arc. The present action’s short–the movie starts before sunset one day, ends at sunrise the next–so everyone getting an arc might be a little much, so it’s Foster. And he’s great.

Huston gives a great performance in a thin part. Wind is about the inscrutability of filmed subjects so all of Huston’s development has to be in action (or at least through contemporary dialogue). But he’s great. And totally unbelievable as he pervs on teenage girl Cathy Lucas, in one of the film’s most throwaway subplots. He’s going to kidnap her to Mexico. Like Welles wanted to throw in a Charlie Chaplin jab.

Strasberg’s great. O’Brien’s great. Lilli Palmer’s good. She seems to be doing a Marlene Dietrich stand-in (the film feels a lot like a Touch of Evil reunion, so much in pacing one has to wonder if it’s from Welles or resurrection editor Bub Murawski). She’s also not in it enough. Like McCambridge. Stewart’s good. Gregory Sierra’s good as the macho version of Bogdanovich (they’re both intentionally ripping off Huston’s style and competitive about it).

Bogdanovich never gets too terrible. Nothing near the opening the voiceover. He fails a few times. Important times. But he’s never too terrible. The exposition in scenes between him and Huston is terrible, easily the worst writing in the script. He and Huston have a very odd story arc. It arrives late, is undercooked, and poorly executed.

Tonio Selwart is rather annoying as Huston’s regular screenwriter. And Dan Tobin’s way too broad in a problematic part.

Michel Legrand’s score? It’s okay. It’s conceivable Welles would’ve wanted something like it. Does it do anything for the film? No.

The Other Side of the Wind comes with a litany of conditions. Even if it hadn’t been resurrected thirty-five years after Welles’s death, it was still filmed over six years. Its budgetary constraints are exceptional. And Wind does finish. It completes its artistic gesture. It is a complete film.

It’s just not a particularly successful one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Orson Welles; written by Oja Kodar and Welles; director of photography, Gary Graver; edited by Bob Murawski and Welles; music by Michel Legrand; produced by Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza; released by Netflix.

Starring John Huston (Jake Hannaford), Peter Bogdanovich (Brooks Otterlake), Norman Foster (Billy Boyle), Susan Strasberg (Julie Rich), Lilli Palmer (Zarah Valeska), Paul Stewart (Matt Costello), Tonio Selwart (The Baron), Edmond O’Brien (Pat Mullins), Mercedes McCambridge (Maggie Noonan), Cameron Mitchell (Zimmer), Peter Jason (Grover), Alan Grossman (Charles Higgam), Geoffrey Land (Max David), Gregory Sierra (Jack Simon), Dan Tobin (Dr. Burroughs), Cathy Lucas (Mavis Henscher), Joseph McBride (Pister), Oja Kodar (Actress), and Robert Random (John Dale).


Garden of Evil (1954, Henry Hathaway)

For a while it seems like the third act of Garden of Evil will make up for the rest of the film’s problems. Or at least give it somewhere to excel. Sadly, director Hathaway and screenwriter Frank Fention inexplicably tack on a terrible coda–tying into the title no less–and effectively wash away any advances they’ve made for the film.

There are lots and lots of problems. Hathaway’s CinemaScope composition is poor (except the finish), even though Milton R. Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr. shoot the film beautifully. It should have been Academy Ratio and black and white. But those technical choices don’t really make any difference when it comes to the actors.

Cameron Mitchell’s expectedly lame–he’s lame from his first line–but Susan Hayward’s pretty weak too. It seems like she should do well as a jaded woman forced to confront herself and persevere. But she doesn’t. Maybe because Fenton’s plotting doesn’t allow her character to grow naturally. There’s a really good moment towards the end, but she’s otherwise constantly scowling and calling it a performance.

Worse, Gary Cooper’s disinterested. He’s not bad as clearly bored. Garden should have been about his friendship with Richard Widmark–and does start with that emphasis… but it all gets confused.

Widmark’s amazing. Even when the script goes silly on him, he delivers it beautifully.

Great music from Bernard Herrmann, wonderful locations and a somehow not bad script from Fenton make Garden pass, but its defects don’t let it pass well.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Henry Hathaway; screenplay by Frank Fenton, based on a story by Fred Freiberger and William Tunberg; directors of photography, Milton R. Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr.; edited by James B. Clark; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Charles Brackett; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gary Cooper (Hooker), Susan Hayward (Leah Fuller), Richard Widmark (Fiske), Hugh Marlowe (John Fuller), Cameron Mitchell (Daly), Víctor Manuel Mendoza (Vicente) and Rita Moreno (Vicente’s girl).


They Were Expendable (1945, John Ford)

They Were Expendable has a gradual pace. Not knowing the film’s subject matter–just genre–going in, it all unfolded quite deliberately in front of me. The opening is a PT boat exercise. The film’s special effects are spectacular; it’s impossible to tell what’s an effect and what’s an actual boat in the water. These scenes–there are only a handful of them in the film–are breathtaking. There’s an attack on John Wayne’s boat from multiple bombers, which is the final action sequence, but earlier there’s the PT boats shooting at bombers, with only one visible composite shot. It’s stunning work–and one could easily let it overshadow the rest of the film.

Robert Montgomery and Wayne share the spotlight. It oscillates from man to man, but they’re great together and those scenes, with their concise dialogue, do a lot of work for the film. Montgomery’s performance is amazing–the best in the film and the best I’ve seen from him. He’s already weary trying to convince his superiors the PT boat is a valuable asset and following the start of the war and the subsequent losses, his stress becomes visible. Montgomery looks with tired but determined eyes–he has an amazing scene with a fatally injured sailor, probably the film’s most powerful scene….

Well, maybe not. That scene has a lot of dialogue (Frank Wead writes some great dialogue–something I was worried about when the titles rolled), so maybe the scene where there isn’t a lot of dialogue is more powerful. Wayne’s story arc has him romancing nurse Donna Reed–their scenes together and the whole handling of the romance is singular–and invites her to dinner with his fellow officers. It’s an almost silent scene with the men inexpressibly grateful for the female company. It reminded me of The Grand Illusion.

Wayne’s arc isn’t just the romance, he’s also dissatisfied with being in the PT boat squadron (not for any good reason, just because he wants the glory assignments). Wayne develops through the picture, softening first due to a friendship with Louis Jean Heydt and then with the Reed romance. The film doesn’t spend any time discussing Montgomery and Wayne’s lives before the Navy, which is an interesting move. It makes everything about how they act and react to the situations around them.

The script’s got a lot of humor in it, mostly from Ward Bond (whose expression following the kid asking Macarthur to sign his hat is fabulous), but also from Montgomery and Wayne. The film establishes their characters as friends who are amusing watch right off, so whenever they get together, there’s going to be something good.

Ford’s composition is flawless here. There are his early indoor shots, but when he gets outside, he really flourishes. He shoots low to high a lot here, creating a substantive mood. It ties the battle scenes together with the romance scenes and so on.

In some ways, though, They Were Expendable isn’t exciting. Going into it, I thought Ford was going to do a great job with a war picture and he does. He might do a little better than I expected….

It’s a fine film, full of quiet beauty. Ford doesn’t engage with this beauty, but like the swaying palm trees, he’s certainly aware of it. The film takes a step back from its content, allowing the viewer to fill the space in between.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Ford; screenplay by Frank Wead, based on the book by William L. White; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Douglass Biggs and Frank E. Hull; music by Herbert Stothart; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Montgomery (Lt. John Brickley), John Wayne (Lt. JG ‘Rusty’ Ryan), Donna Reed (Lt. Sandy Davyss), Jack Holt (General Martin), Ward Bond (‘Boats’ Mulcahey C.B.M.), Marshall Thompson (Ens. ‘Snake’ Gardner), Paul Langton (Ens. ‘Andy’ Andrews), Leon Ames (Major James Morton), Arthur Walsh (Seaman Jones), Donald Curtis (Lt. JG ‘Shorty’ Long) and Cameron Mitchell (Ens. George Cross).


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