Eleanor Parker

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).


The Oscar (1966, Russell Rouse)

The Oscar is a spectacular kind of awful. It’s the perfect storm of content, casting and technical ineptitude. Director Rouse probably doesn’t have a single good shot in the entire film. It might not even be possible with Joseph Ruttenberg’s photography and the maybe studio television level of the set decoration. Though there is this inexplicably good shot of Eleanor Parker during her awful monologue.

Oh, right, the awful monologues. Not everyone gets one. Parker gets one, Jill St. John gets one, Tony Bennett gets one, Milton Berle gets one–okay, well, actually pretty much everyone gets one and they’re part of what makes The Oscar such a worthwhile terrible movie. Rouse seems completely unaware lead Stephen Boyd is supposed to be playing a jerk. He’s also completely unaware lead Stephen Boyd is giving a truly awful performance. Tony Bennett is really bad too, but he’s in it less. It’s all bad Boyd, all the time.

Elke Sommer’s Boyd’s wife. I think she may have the shortest monologue. The Oscar–Rouse and cowriters Harlan Ellison and Clarence Greene in particular–doesn’t think much of Sommer. She’s a flakey virginal hippie. Boyd must seduce aware her innocence but then she disgusts him. Right after she disgusts him, Sommer’s wardrobe essentially becomes exquisite and quite revealing lingerie. She’s got a scene at the end of the movie–maybe even her monologue moment but it’s out of character so less effective–but otherwise she becomes background.

Berle and Parker do as best with what they can. They’re old Hollywood players, Parker should know better than to lust, which Berle has to remind her about because he’s the virtuous dude. Cotten’s a virtuous dude too but he’s got nothing going on. He’s not dynamic enough for the part. It’s not like he’s Orson Welles signing the standard rich and famous contract for Boyd.

Edie Adams is legitimately good, ditto Peter Lawford. St. John tries and it helps a lot, especially since she gets nothing off her costars. Ernest Borgnine is fine but like a sleazy detective on a family show. He’s not supposed to be too sleazy, he’s somebody’s drunken, blackmailing uncle after all.

Really bad–really amusingly bad–music from Percy Faith. The script is a strange mix of okay one-liners, creepy misogyny and lame dialogue.

The only actual good thing about The Oscar is Edith Head–who even cameos–and her gowns. They’re stunning. Rouse doesn’t know he’s got this Edith Head fashion show to be directing. Instead he’s doing a… well, it’s impossible to say. You actually have to see The Oscar to understand The Oscar.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Rouse; screenplay by Harlan Ellison, Rouse and Clarence Greene; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Chester W. Schaeffer; music by Percy Faith; produced by Greene; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Boyd (Frank Fane), Tony Bennett (Hymie Kelly), Elke Sommer (Kay Bergdahl), Milton Berle (Kappy Kapstetter), Joseph Cotten (Kenneth Regan), Eleanor Parker (Sophie Cantaro), Jill St. John (Laurel Scott), Edie Adams (Trina Yale), Ernest Borgnine (Barney Yale) and Peter Lawford (Steve Marks).


Detective Story (1951, William Wyler)

Detective Story, the film, is William Wyler’s “production” of Sidney Kingsley’s play of the same title. Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler adapted the play. Wyler directed and produced the film. It is a stage adaptation and proud of it. The phrasing above is directly adapted from how the film opens and credits Wyler and Kingsley in the opening titles. One card: Wyler, Kingsley, Detective Story. Only it comes after the headlining cast title card: Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix. Detective Story is an extremely controlled viewing experience from the start.

Most of the film takes place inside the detective’s office of a police station. There are a handful of locations around the station, but Wyler sticks with the detective’s office. He and cinematographers Lee Garmes and John F. Seitz give the room some impossibly high ceilings–Detective Story’s audience isn’t looking up at it, Wyler wants the audience to be able to examine the film, to examine its pieces.

The best scenes in the film involve Eleanor Parker. She’s Kirk Douglas’s wife. He’s a puritanical cop, she’s got a secret. Wyler opens the film with Bert Freed and Lee Grant–they provide a frame–she’s a shoplifter who’s got to go to night court. Freed’s got to wait with her. Wyler makes the audience wait for Douglas. Then he makes them wait a little longer for Parker. He’s already established the harsh realities of Detective Story; when Parker arrives, she’s a ray of light.

Detective Story is very disillusioned, very noir, only Wyler doesn’t shoot it noir. He’s not making noir, he’s staging a play. Detective Story’s two biggest problems are Robert Swink’s editing, which can’t keep up with the actors, and Yordan and Wyler’s generic cop talk. It might work on stage, with the audience looking up, but not when they’re examining everything. Wyler invites the audience to examine the reality of Detective Story and he even appears to rush through the bad cop talk to far better sequences as though embarrassed.

There are a lot of characters, there’s a lot going on. Wyler has to get through it; he’s rarely subtle about the pace. There’s one lovely transition sequence from day to night but otherwise, Wyler’s just trying to get from one great scene for an actor to the next. It’s a play, after all.

Parker gets the best stuff. She gets spun around and has to right herself. She has to dominate her scenes, which is incredibly difficult considering the whole movie is about Kirk Douglas’s whirlwind. Sometimes he’s still, but he’s still a whirlwind. He has to be the hero the audience hates themselves for ever loving. Only it’s not a last minute revelation, it’s late second act plot development. Wyler and Douglas (and Parker) then have to take it all even further. Detective Story, as innocuous as it sounds, means to stomp out all the hopes and dreams it can.

Great performances all over. Freed, Grant, Michael Strong, Gerald Mohr, Joseph Wiseman–especially Joseph Wiseman, whose maniac career criminal ends up being Douglas’s alter ego–George Macready, Cathy O’Donnell. Wyler makes sure every performance is good, but not every actor can get enough of a part. It’s all Douglas and Parker’s show, after all. Even Bendix, who’s Douglas’s far more humane partner and gets a subplot all his own, eventually has to move further aside.

Detective Story isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a most perfect staging of a play on film. Wyler’s pacing is precise, his direction of the actors is flawless, his narrative distance is fantastic, ably assisted by his cinematographers and art directors and set decorator. Sure, Swink’s editing is occasionally messy but it’s all for the best of the actors. And they’re what’s essential. Parker, Douglas, Bendix, Horace McMahon (forgot about him earlier). They do startling work and Wyler knows it and wants to best showcase it. Detective Story’s an achievement for everyone involved.

Except Swink, of course.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William Wyler; screenplay by Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler, based on the play by Sidney Kingsley; directors of photography, Lee Garmes and John F. Seitz; edited by Robert Swink; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Det. James McLeod), Eleanor Parker (Mary McLeod), William Bendix (Det. Lou Brody), Cathy O’Donnell (Susan Carmichael), George Macready (Karl Schneider), Horace McMahon (Lt. Monaghan), Gladys George (Miss Hatch), Joseph Wiseman (Charley Gennini), Lee Grant (Shoplifter), Gerald Mohr (Tami Giacoppetti), Frank Faylen (Det. Gallagher), Craig Hill (Arthur Kindred), Michael Strong (Lewis Abbott), Luis Van Rooten (Joe Feinson), Bert Freed (Det. Dakis), Warner Anderson (Endicott Sims), Grandon Rhodes (Det. O’Brien), William ‘Bill’ Phillips (Det. Pat Callahan) and Russell Evans (Patrolman Barnes).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 2: Technicolor.

She’s Dressed to Kill (1979, Gus Trikonis)

She’s Dressed to Kill is a simultaneously a perfect TV movie and a disappointment. It’s a murder mystery set on an isolated mountain; Eleanor Parker is a recluse fashion designer who has a show and the attendees can’t stop being murdered. Only the killer has followed the attendees, as the murdering starts before the fashion show.

The movie opens with top-billed John Rubinstein and Jessica Walter. She has the fashion agency, he’s her photographer Friday. Rubinstein and Walter are really good together. She’s good throughout, but George Lefferts’s teleplay eighty-sixes her pretty quickly. Doesn’t kill her, just ignores her. Dressed isn’t good at character development. Rubinstein ends up romancing Gretchen Corbett to give him something to do and their courtship mostly consists of him telling her, “you don’t have to be a model to be beautiful,” and then treating her to an impromptu fashion shoot. It’s a TV movie, sure, but it’s on very precarious philosophical ground.

Especially given how much of the second act is spent with experienced model Joanna Cassidy trying to talk newbie Connie Sellecca out of modeling.

There are suspects aplenty but Dressed doesn’t have a good solution to its mystery. Lefferts isn’t writing a mystery so much as a thriller. It’s engaging during viewing but it doesn’t hold up on consideration. So, a perfect TV movie. It’s ephemeral, without any further ambitions, which is a shame given the cast.

Parker has a great time as the fashion designer. She’s playing it constantly hammered, with a lot of knowingly exaggerated tragedy. And Walters is great when she’s in it. Corbett’s got a lousy part but she’s good. Rubinstein’s likable, until he gets grating. Banks is good. Cassidy tries. It doesn’t work–director Trikonis doesn’t direct his actors or for them–but she does try.

Speaking of trying, Sellecca is probably the movie’s biggest misfire. She’s incredibly shallow. Sellecca does try, but she’s not good. She’s got zero chemistry with the other actors and her part’s annoying. And Peter Horton’s pretty weak in a smaller suspect role too.

But She’s Dressed to Kill definitely diverts for its runtime. I just wish it did something more. Being a completely competent television movie is one thing, but wasting the fine performances–Walter especially–is inexcusable.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Trikonis; written by George Lefferts; director of photography, Thomas Del Ruth; edited by Ira Heymann; music by George Romanis; executive producers, Merrill Grant and Barry J. Weitz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Connie Sellecca (Alix Goldman), John Rubinstein (Alan Lenz), Eleanor Parker (Regine Danton), Gretchen Corbett (Laura Gooch), Jessica Walter (Irene Barton), Jim McMullan (Sheriff Halsey), Clive Revill (Victor De Salle), Barbara Cason (Deenie Gooch), Cathie Shirriff (Kate Bedford), Corinne Calvet (Colette), Peter Horton (Tony Smith), Jonathan Banks (Rudy Striker) and Joanna Cassidy (Camille Bentancourt).


Caged (1950, John Cromwell)

Max Steiner does the music for Caged, which is strange to think about because Caged barely has any music. Director Cromwell instead emphasizes the silence, especially as the film opens. Right after the opening credits, which do have music, Caged gets very quiet. “Silence” reads all the walls in the women’s prison where protagonist Eleanor Parker finds herself. At its most obvious, one could say Caged is the story of Parker going from first time offender to repeat offender, which is besides the point. Parker’s fate is decided right from the start. There are four principal characters in Caged, two inmates, two prison employees. None of them have any free will, it’s just how they come to realize it.

Cromwell, thanks to Carl E. Guthrie’s photography and Owen Marks’s editing, is able to do a lot with the filmmaking. Caged’s silences–waiting for a noise, praying for more silence–is just one of the many techniques Cromwell uses to get the viewer into the cage with Parker and everyone else. Caged should feel stagy at times; same sets, over and over. The outside world is just a glimpse and a bland glimpse at that. There’s not even a world over the wall, when the inmates are in the yard. They, along with the viewer, know there’s a world out there but it’s left to the imagination for everyone. Caged just concerns this place and these people.

Virginia Kellogg’s screenplay juxtaposes innocent Parker and Agnes Moorehead’s compassionate superintendent. Both women have bad role models–Parker has Betty Garde’s hardened con woman while brutal matron Hope Emerson wants to sway Moorehead back to viciousness. Once it becomes clear Parker isn’t just the subject of the film–Caged might have some social commentary to make, but it isn’t trying to propagandize–but the protagonist and the viewer has to stick with her, follow her hardening, it becomes even more frightening. Most of the scares happen in the first half of the film, but the second half, as despondence sets in, is even more terrifying.

Parker is singular. There aren’t adjectives to describe her performance. Moorehead’s great, Emerson’s great, Garde’s great. The supporting cast is all good. Look fast for Jane Darwell.

Caged is an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Cromwell; screenplay by Virginia Kellogg, based on a story by Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Marie Allen), Agnes Moorehead (Ruth Benton), Hope Emerson (Evelyn Harper), Betty Garde (Kitty Stark), Ellen Corby (Emma Barber), Jan Sterling (Smoochie), Olive Deering (June Roberts) and Lee Patrick (Elvira Powell).


Lizzie (1957, Hugo Haas)

Lizzie is about lead Eleanor Parker’s struggle with multiple personality disorder. More accurately perhaps, Lizzie is about Parker’s multiple personality disorder. As a protagonist, Parker disappears fairly quickly into the film’s eighty minute runtime. She doesn’t even get to open the film; it introduces her through other characters’ expository conversation.

Screenwriter Mel Dinelli, quite unfortunately, often relies on expository conversation.

When Parker is the lead, however, Lizzie is in pretty good shape. Even though Parker’s alternate personalities are a little shallow as far as characterization goes, Parker’s performance is strong. Even she can’t do anything with the hallucination sequences though. Lizzie is a technical mess. Director Haas (who gives himself a supporting acting role, which I’ll get to in a bit) has three directorial modes. Some of Lizzie, when the film is just watching Parker act, feels experimental and edgy. Unfortunately, it contrasts with Haas’s inept handling of regular sequences. Lizzie doesn’t have much of a budget and the sets are bad, something Haas and cinematographer Paul Ivano aggravate. But then Haas and Ivano also go for foreboding mood, with the inept assistance of composer Leith Stevens, and Lizzie feels even more uneven.

As Parker’s psychiatrist, Richard Boone doesn’t have much to do but he’s sincere in the performance. There’s even a scene where Parker tries to draw him out a little, allow him room for personality and Boone demurs. Like I said before, Dinelli’s script is a mess.

As Parker’s suffering aunt, Joan Blondell is good. She starts out as a shrill harpy, but eventually Blondell is able to do something with the part. Haas, as an actor, is her mooning sidekick.

Lizzie has some great acting from Parker, who unfortunately proves no matter how fine a performance, when something is dramatically inert, there’s no way to get it moving.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hugo Haas; screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on a novel by Shirley Jackson; director of photography, Paul Ivano; edited by Leon Barsha; music by Leith Stevens; produced by Jerry Bresler; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Elizabeth Richmond), Richard Boone (Dr. Neal Wright), Joan Blondell (Aunt Morgan), Hugo Haas (Walter Brenner), Ric Roman (Johnny Valenzo), Marion Ross (Ruth Seaton) and Johnny Mathis (Piano Singer).


A Hole in the Head (1959, Frank Capra)

The first hour of A Hole in the Head is slow going. It shouldn’t be slow going, not with everything the film has going for it, but director Capra is real lazy. He’s lazy with his composition, he’s lazy with his actors, he’s lazy with the pace. It’s amazing how the film’s pluses are able to turn things around in the second half.

The script’s a very stagy adaptation of a play, with original playwright Arnold Schulman doing the adapting. Capra takes the easiest approach possible to everything in the first half of the film, which takes place almost entirely at lead Frank Sinatra’s hotel. It’s not a nice hotel, Sinatra’s not a good hotelier, but there’s something interesting about a little bit of a rundown hotel amid otherwise glamorous Miami Beach. Capra is indifferent to that possibility, unfortunately. Instead, he plops the camera down and shoots almost everything in medium shot, two characters in profile. It’s beyond boring.

Sinatra’s not just an unsuccessful businessman, he’s a widower with an eleven year-old son (a likable Eddie Hodges) and a twenty-one year-old girlfriend (Carolyn Jones). Between Schulman’s script and Capra’s direction, none of the actors get much favor, but Jones easily gets the worst treatment. She’s actually got a character and she does well. Schulman’s just lazy. She lives in Sinatra’s hotel, they’re not discreet, yet Hodges never gets to acknowledge her. Not really. When the film finally does try, it cops out. Worse yet, it cops out with one of editor William Hornbeck’s awful fades. Terrible editing in Hole. Not sure if it’s Hornbeck or just Capra refusing to take the time to get solid coverage. I’d assume the latter.

But Sinatra’s also unlikable in this first part of the film because it’s about him being a deadbeat dad. When redemption does arrive, in the film’s deftest move, it doesn’t come in the shapes of Edward G. Robinson and Thelma Ritter (Robinson’s Sinatra’s successful, if miserly, brother and Ritter’s Robinson’s very patient wife) or Eleanor Parker (as the widow who Robinson wants Sinatra to marry), it comes because Sinatra finally gets a character to play.

By not shooting his actors in close-up, except as comedic reaction shots, Capra never asks them to act. He never asks them to try. I guess Hodges does get close-ups, but it’s so he can be likable, which is probably worse.

Sinatra and Parker have a very nice, very grown-up scene, with Sinatra leaving the hotel and going somewhere not shot in front of rear projection for once. Hole definitely shot on location in Miami, but not enough. At least not when none of the studio-shot inserts come close to matching. (Again, Capra’s clearly checked out).

After that scene, the whole thing starts to turn around. Schulman and Capra take Sinatra (and the viewer) outside the hotel, the script gives Hodges something to do besides be cute, Ritter and Robinson aren’t just playing for laughs anymore.

And, in the last half hour, A Hole in the Head gets quite good. The cast has a whole lot of goodwill banked from the first half, when Capra and the script clearly waste them, and it all pays off towards the end. The actors save A Hole in the Head. They save it from Schulman’s unsteady script, from Capra’s unimaginative visualizing of said script, from Hornbeck’s jarring cuts. They even save it from the awful Nelson Riddle music.

Capra asks everyone to do movie star acting in a story needing a far more muted approach. Sinatra, Parker, Ritter, Robinson. They’re all good enough actors to know what their characters need. Would better direction improve the film? Definitely. But it does all right without it.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Arnold Schulman, based on his play; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by William Hornbeck; music by Nelson Riddle; released by United Artists.

Starring Frank Sinatra (Tony Manetta), Eddie Hodges (Ally Manetta), Carolyn Jones (Shirl), Thelma Ritter (Sophie Manetta), Edward G. Robinson (Mario Manetta), Keenan Wynn (Jerry Marks) and Eleanor Parker (Mrs. Eloise Rogers).


The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise)

So much of The Sound of Music is exquisite, the film’s got enough momentum to get over the rough spots. The film has three and a half distinct sections. There’s the first, introducing Julie Andrews to the audience, then introducing Christopher Plummer and family to the Andrews and the audience, which then becomes about Andrews and the kids. The second part has Plummer returning after an absence, with Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn along with him to give him something to do. Then there’s the strange part following the intermission, which probably played better theatrically when one really did get up and leave the film for a period. When it returns–and Plummer and Andrews’s romance takes off (at the expense of almost everything else)–the film is different.

Then the final part, with the Nazis out to capture Plummer, is entirely different. Unfortunately, director Wise is most ambitious in the setup of the film. He knows if he gets all the establishing stuff right–with Andrews, with Plummer and the kids–everything else will work out. The final part of the film with the family on the run is strong, but it’s action. Wise is doing this action thriller. It works because his direction is good, Ted D. McCord’s photography is glorious throughout, ditto William Reynolds’s editing, and there are some amazing sets. And some good humor in Ernest Lehman’s screenplay to lighten things appropriately.

This dramatic conclusion overshadows how briskly the film has changed itself. Andrews and Plummer are wonderful arguing and flirting, but their romance itself is tepid. Both of them get better scenes regarding it with Parker than they do with one another. And Wise doesn’t take the time to progress that part of the narrative organically when it comes to the kids, who are actual characters in the first hour of the film only to become likable accessories in the last hour.

The Sound of Music has a lot of things Wise has to get right in the first hour and he gets them, lots of things he has to establish so he can lean upon them later. It’s fine, but it’s never as good later on, whether with returning characters or song encores. The handling of the songs in the first hour and a half are glorious. Once intermission hits, Wise is in a rush and the film suffers. There’s so many great stagings in the first part–down to using an adorable puppet show to get in another song–the remainder, with far fewer group songs and instead questionable duets, can’t measure up.

Still, Wise has got all the right pieces. Plummer and Andrews, even when they don’t have much to do, are great doing it. There’s also Ben Wright’s odious villain, who Wise and Lehman had been foreshadowing (but not enough). The Sound of Music gets through the choppy waters to succeed. It just could’ve been better.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the stage musical book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and ideas by George Hurdalek; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by William Reynolds; music by Irwin Kostal; production designer, Boris Leven; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp), Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler), Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess), Anna Lee (Sister Margaretta), Portia Nelson (Sister Berthe), Ben Wright (Herr Zeller), Daniel Truhitte (Rolfe), Norma Varden (Frau Schmidt), Marni Nixon (Sister Sophia), Gilchrist Stuart (Franz), Evadne Baker (Sister Bernice), Doris Lloyd (Baroness Ebberfeld), Charmian Carr (Liesl), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich), Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa), Duane Chase (Kurt), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta), Debbie Turner (Marta), Kym Karath (Gretl) and Eleanor Parker (The Baroness).


Eye of the Cat (1969, David Lowell Rich), the television version

Eye of the Cat is what happens when you have a screenplay entirely concerned with being a thriller (by Joseph Stefano) and a director, Rich, who is completely incapable of directing thrills. There’s nothing else to the script, so the actors don’t have anything to do, and pretty San Francisco scenery only goes so far. Especially given how poorly Rich presents it.

Michael Sarrazin plays a blue blood left without a fortune who spends his time as a lothario. Gayle Hunnicutt is the mysterious woman who, without much coaxing, convinces him to return to his still-wealthy aunt’s home to get in her will and then murder her. Stefano’s script might have originally been for television–Rich’s direction is certainly more appropriate for it–but there are some frequent lurid details added.

Including Sarrazin’s relationship with the aunt, played by Eleanor Parker, being deviant. Stefano’s script goes out of its way to make everyone as unlikable as possible, whether Parker as a disturbed woman who manipulates Sarrazin (while rejecting a similar arrangement with Tim Henry, as his younger brother) or Sarrazin as a would-be murderer, while still making them vulnerable. Parker’s got emphysema, Sarrazin has ailurophobia (a fear of cats); neither has enough of a character, though both try hard.

Hunnicutt’s unlikable and mostly annoying. She’s not exactly bad though. She just has a terrible character. Same goes for Henry.

Between Parker and Sarrazin–combined, they get the most screen time, but never enough–there could’ve been a good movie in Eye of the Cat. So long as Stefano got a significant rewrite and there was a different director. With just a competent thriller director? Cat could’ve been a creepy modern Gothic.

Instead, Sarrazin and Parker have to keep it going–even through a particularly rough courtship montage through swinging sixties San Francisco–until the third act. Stefano’s got such a strong third act, not even Rich’s direction can screw it up. Though Stefano’s denouement doesn’t work, sending Cat on a lower note than it should.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Lowell Rich; written by Joseph Stefano; directors of photography, Russell Metty and Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by J. Terry Williams; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Philip Hazelton, Bernard Schwartz and Leslie Stevens; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Sarrazin (Wylie), Gayle Hunnicutt (Kassia Lancaster), Tim Henry (Luke), Laurence Naismith (Dr. Mills) and Eleanor Parker (Aunt Danny).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 3: Baroness.

The Naked Jungle (1954, Byron Haskin)

If there are faults with The Naked Jungle, ones not the result of having to follow the Hays Code–which the film skirts thanks to Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall’s excellent dialogue, Eleanor Parker’s fantastic, intelligent performance and Charlton Heston’s brute force approach–they fall on director Haskin. The film is well-directed with Parker and Heston’s character drama, even with the special effects heavy expository shots, but Haskin refuses to get too far into any characters’ perspective, which cuts down on the thrills.

Oddly enough, I just realized the film opens on a shot from Parker’s perspective. One she even discusses with co-star William Conrad. But, even when it would serve a scene to go with the character’s perspective, Haskin does not. He’s lucky the script and actors can carry it.

But that odd directing misstep, which is most problematic in the third act, can’t overshadow Haskin’s excellent work in the rest of the picture. Parker’s a mail order bride, Heston’s her plantation owner–an extraordinarily good one, the film carefully reveals–husband. They don’t get along. Parker does some great work from her first scene (that one with Conrad); she establishes herself quickly. Heston’s more of the one with the internal character arc. Parker–and the viewer–are basically just waiting for him to grow up. And it’s a lot of fun watching him grow up. On one hand, there’s this refined (while still playful), thoughtful performance from Parker. Heston’s not refined or even playful. He’s really good at being a complete jackass. He runs with it. It works out.

It’s forty-five minutes into The Naked Jungle before the possibility of action thrills get revealed, but then the script puts it off even more. The character drama is the most important part of the film. Once it’s resolved, then Heston gets to be an action star. Somewhat late into the thrills even–by the time he comes to the rescue, The Naked Jungle has gone through many of its excellent special effects process shots. Some great matte paintings in the film.

What makes the film so peculiar is the script. Maddow and MacDougall are deliberate in how they make work Parker and Heston’s relationship. Until they’re a duo, the action barely ever plays to anything but furthering their personal conflict.

It’s rather neatly done. And beautifully acted. Heston clearly loves the role as white savior, Parker’s magnificent, Conrad’s fun as serious comic relief. Great photography from Ernest Laszlo and an effective Daniele Amfitheatrof score round it off.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Haskin; screenplay by Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall, based on a story by Carl Stephenson; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Everett Douglas; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by George Pal; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Joanna), Charlton Heston (Leiningen), William Conrad (Commissioner), Abraham Sofaer (Incacha), Norma Calderón (Zala), Romo Vincent (Boat Captain) and John Dierkes (Gruber).


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