Eleanor Parker

Of Human Bondage (1946, Edmund Goulding)

Slow-moving (which probably goes hand-in-hand with the source material, a novel that took me two months to read, just for lack of interest), but still rather good. Goulding is an interesting director, he really holds his shots, and he creates the material out of the basic frameworks of the novel. Paul Henreid’s Philip Carey becomes redeemable a lot sooner than Maugham’s does, which makes the second half of the film much more pleasant than the first. The second half also has a great Edmund Gwenn performance.

TCM tends to show Of Human Bondage on their Henreid or Alexis Smith days, but Smith’s hardly in the film. The female lead is Eleanor Parker, who’s great… but… Parker doesn’t get to exit the film. Her character does, from the back of the head, but it’s all Henreid’s scene. This choice is interesting (and appropriate) since Parker has a lot more to do in the film. I tend not to like actor-absence in the final scenes, but it lets Henreid become the center again. So much of the film is about Parker’s presence and absence, something jarring is needed to focus on Henreid. Henreid doesn’t even try to make his character likable, because the audience gets to see his faults over and over.

The feeling of the film–the long, torturous “bondage” Carey feels in regard to his relationship with Parker’s character–is absent in the book. The novel is big and long (I just recently referred to Lanark as an enjoyable version of Of Human Bondage–and I love Maugham, by the way) and it never leaves you feeling good. In the second half of the film, Gwenn gives every scene a pleasant end, so it’s appropriate the film manages to confirm some positivity in the human condition….

A couple odd points. 1) I always thought Alexis Smith played two characters. She doesn’t. Janis Paige plays the other one. 2) I can not understand why there’s a reference to Of Human Bondage in Seven. Not this film nor the book. Must have been an attempt at a smarty-pants move.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Catherine Turney, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, J. Peverell Marley; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Paul Henreid (Philip Carey), Eleanor Parker (Mildred Rogers), Alexis Smith (Nora Nesbitt), Edmund Gwenn (Athelny), Patric Knowles (Griffiths), Janis Paige (Sally Athelny), Henry Stephenson (Dr. Tyrell), Marten Lamont (Dunsford), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. Athelny), Una O’Connor (Mrs. Foreman), Eva Moore (Mrs. Gray) and Richard Nugent (Emil Miller).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.

Between Two Worlds (1944, Edward A. Blatt)

Between Two Worlds has some nostalgic value for me. When I first discovered Eleanor Parker (through an article in the magazine, “Films of the Golden Age,” which I’ve had to drop because problematic), Between Two Worlds was somehow one of the first of her films I came across. It’s early in her career, when Warner Bros. was done using her in the one-hour B films and moved her up to the two-hour ones. However, it’s not Parker who stands out in Two Worlds, it’s John Garfield.

Between Two Worlds is a play adaptation, but doesn’t feel too much like one. It does, however, have two protagonists (Garfield and Paul Henreid). Garfield isn’t the film’s intended protagonist–it doesn’t open or close with him–but his performance is so strong, he takes the lead in a few sections. Henreid is okay, I guess, playing a character somewhat like Victor Laszlo, but Parker, as his wife, doesn’t seem to know much about him. The play is from 1924 (Outward Bound) and they updated it for World War II, so some of the tripping can be attributed to that adaptation.

Regardless, the film is too long. Some sections breeze past–whenever Garfield’s running it or when Sydney Greenstreet’s there–but others, mostly the ones with Henreid, clog. Parker’s got a great scene to herself at the end and there are a lot of good performances. Faye Emerson, who appeared in at least two other films with Parker and Garfield, is particularly frustrating. Sometimes she does good work, sometimes she does bad. She leaves on a good note and so does Between Two Worlds. I had to force myself to remember its faults.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edward A. Blatt; screenplay by Daniel Fuchs, from a play by Sutton Vane; director of photography, Carl Guthrie; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Mark Hellinger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Garfield (Tom Prior), Paul Henreid (Henry), Sydney Greenstreet (Thompson), Eleanor Parker (Ann), Edmund Gwenn (Scrubby), George Tobias (Pete Musick), George Coulouris (Lingley), Faye Emerson (Maxine) and Sara Allgood (Mrs. Midget).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.

Escape from Fort Bravo (1953, John Sturges)

The Western is probably the greatest American contribution to cinema (don’t mention Leone, because Fort Bravo and the like have heart, something Leone was never interested in). Escape from Fort Bravo is an excellent example of the American Western. It’s not just conflict with the untamed West, but also the internal struggle of the Civil War. What matters about the Western, of course, is not these conflicts (if they did matter, there’d be a significant quality change once Westerns started treating the American Indians with respect and there isn’t–of course, did Westerns ever treat them with respect? Kevin Costner doesn’t count for that example either. I’m thinking American Outlaws and Young Guns). Anyway, Fort Bravo.

I first saw Fort Bravo because of Eleanor Parker. This first viewing must have been back in the late 1990s, before I knew who William Holden was, probably, and was only familiar with Sturges for The Great Escape. As a story about people, Fort Bravo is probably Sturges’ peak. Holden runs this film–though John Forsythe is a good alter ego for him–and both sort of fight over Parker. Mostly, Holden fights with himself over Parker (Forsythe, in a nice scene, obviously can’t beat Holden).

There’s no propaganda to Fort Bravo, the Northerners and Southerners are portrayed as soldiers in a war who speak the same language. This lack of propaganda is a significant aspect of the American Western. Even in the Civil War, it’s not about the ideas, it’s about the lives lost. Fort Bravo can get away with it mostly because it never shows what dicks the Rebs were, quite wisely. I can just excuse away the line about the South being right, because the truth is, they were allowed to cede. But it’s not an issue in Fort Bravo, because these interesting folks in a life-threatening situation is more interesting.

A lot of films owe the American Western. Any mainstream action film from Die Hard on is really a Western (allowing for Carpenter action films, which were earlier, but aren’t mainstream enough)–the whole Faulkner concept of man struggling to be better than himself plays out in the American Western. Fort Bravo is filled with gun battles and all sorts of action, but the real conflict is human. I was a little worried–I haven’t seen the film since 2000 at the outside–but I wasn’t wrong about it. It’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Frank Fenton, from a story by Phillip Rock and Michael Pate; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by George Boemler; music by Jeff Alexander; produced by Nicholas Nayfack; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Holden (Roper), Eleanor Parker (Carla Forester), John Forsythe (Marsh), William Demarest (Campbell), William Campbell (Cabot Young), Polly Bergen (Alice Owens), Richard Anderson (Lt. Beecher), Carl Benton Raid (Col. Owens) and John Lupton (Bailey).



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