Franchot Tone

Love on the Run (1936, W.S. Van Dyke)

Joan Crawford is top-billed in Love on the Run. Unfortunately, she has absolutely nothing to do in the entire film. Maybe if Clark Gable had something to do besides deceiving everyone (and then rescuing Crawford) the movie might make it through better, but he doesn’t. Love on the Run is eighty somewhat charming minutes of Gable being a lovable cad and Crawford mooning over him. And Franchot Tone. Can’t forget him–the film asks him to play the most thankless third wheel comic relief and he does it. He tries hard and gets no reward, just dumber as the plot requires more and more stupidity from him.

Love on the Run has an inexplicably big scale idea–Gable and Crawford trying to escape saboteurs and newspapermen throughout the French countryside–and small-scale execution. Director Van Dyke rushes through the exterior shots (it’s backlot) with a bunch of “good enough” touches to imply France. He’s trying to get through these shots, not enjoy them. A Continental adventure requires some enthusiasm in the Continent. Crawford does get one great moment where she calls to a dog. You have to see the movie. Unfortunately Van Dyke rushes through the shot–everything is in medium long shot. There’s some nice work from Van Dyke in a train station, but it’s a set; he’s far more comfortable with the interiors, but most of them lack interesting layouts. Van Dyke is competent, but too resigned to the idea of Love on the Run as a quick amusement.

Gable and Crawford, even with a lame script, have a lot of charm. Crawford’s able to fake chemistry when Gable’s just doing a comedy routine at her. When they get sincere, they’re great. But since Gable’s character is such a heel–and Crawford has so little character–there’s no bonding during their courtship. They’re mostly performing, not acting.

And Tone. Poor Tone. He’s the butt of Gable’s jokes and gags (Love on the Run could’ve been slapstick), but Tone works it. He tries really hard not to embarrass himself, really hard to impress. It’s a standout performance in a film not meant to leave much impression.

The supporting cast could be a lot better. Reginald Owen and Mona Barrie are boring as the villains. Maybe if John Lee Mahin, Manuel Seff and Gladys Hurlbut’s screenplay didn’t forget about them for a half hour. But there are a lot of maybes with the screenplay.

Donald Meek has a fantastic bit part as the caretaker of the Palace of Fontainebleau. The Palace of Fontainebleau has no place in Love on the Run because it’s a rush job, but Meek’s outstanding. Sadly, he’s the last significantly joyful moment in Love on the Run and he shows up long before the last act. Love on the Run is a screwball comedy without a good finish. Worse, Crawford is off screen for most of that finish. Gable is checked out for it. Tone is hustling though, his character dumber than ever.

Maybe Love needed a fourth screenwriter.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by John Lee Mahin, Manuel Seff and Gladys Hurlbut, based on a story by Alan Green and Julian Brodie; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Frank Sullivan; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Joan Crawford (Sally Parker), Clark Gable (Michael Anthony), Franchot Tone (Barnabus Pells), Reginald Owen (Baron Otto), Mona Barrie (Baroness Hilda), Ivan Lebedeff (Igor), Charles Judels (Lieutenant of Police), William Demarest (Lees Berger) and Donald Meek (Caretaker).


Five Graves to Cairo (1943, Billy Wilder)

On one hand, Five Graves to Cairo is a solid stage adaptation. Director Wilder, who adapted the play with Charles Brackett, makes it feel like a film. On the other hand, Cairo–partially because Wilder sticks to the setting so thoroughly and never opens up the film–doesn’t really go anywhere. After implying complications, it ends just another WWII propaganda picture.

Presumably unintentionally, with two awful “rah-rah” endings instead of just one, Cairo disappoints a little less than if it stuck with the first.

It still has some rather good acting and some rather good writing throughout. Wilder opens the film with a fantastic sequence of lead Franchot Tone escaping a runaway tank. Beautiful John F. Seitz photography, both in the desert and once Tone reaches a hotel and momentary safety. The Germans show up a few minutes later.

There are some neat twists in the plot and Tone’s character, who’s not too bright and knows it, is a fine lead. Anne Baxter is the French chambermaid who cares only for herself and not the war effort. Will she ever learn the value of sacrifice? Regardless if she does or not, Baxter plays the part rather well. It’s too bad Wilder and Brackett don’t give her more to do.

Erich von Stroheim has a lot of fun as Rommel. Peter van Eyck is fine as his sidekick and Baxter’s verboten paramour. Akim Tamiroff’s likable in an underwritten part.

Some great editing from Doane Harrison, even during the weak finale.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Billy Wilder; screenplay by Charles Brackett and Wilder, based on a play by Lajos Biró; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Doane Harrison; music by Miklós Rózsa; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Franchot Tone (Cpl. John J. Bramble), Anne Baxter (Mouche), Akim Tamiroff (Farid), Peter van Eyck (Lt. Schwegler), Fortunio Bonanova (Gen. Sebastiano) and Erich von Stroheim (Field Marshal Erwin Rommel).


Phantom Lady (1944, Robert Siodmak)

There’s a distinct, definite brilliance to Siodmak’s direction. The film itself is unique in casting a woman as the hero in a film noir, essentially Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, while maintaining her as female. Ella Raines’s boss (played, in the film’s only mediocre performance, by Alan Curtis) is falsely convicted, due to perjury. Raines goes after the three perjurers and Siodmak creates, in each case, a magnificent sequence, whether it’s chase or just discomfort. Phantom Lady’s most well-known for the sexually charged scene with Raines and Elisha Cook Jr. at a jam session, but Siodmak’s just as impressive during the subsequent resolution to that scene.

All of or most of Phantom Lady was shot on set and Siodmak even uses matte paintings–quite effectively–for one of the pursuit scenes. Early on, during the trial, Siodmak gets the acknowledgment of artifice out of the way, summarizing the trial with voiceovers, tracking time with a court stenographer’s shorthand, focusing the cameras on Raines and Thomas Gomez (the sympathetic cop). Once that very artificial sequence is out of the way, once the audience has digested it, Siodmak doesn’t have to worry about anyone griping about the sets.

The relationship between Gomez and Raines is particularly interesting, because he’s in that position as the film noir sympathetic cop who shouldn’t be helping but is helping… but he’s also sensitive to Raines’s position (she’s in love with convicted boss Curtis). The two details never conflict for Gomez (and, to some degree, it’s entirely believable Raines would be as dedicated without the emotional investment). It’s a big surprise, seeing such unique gender dynamics in a Universal noir from 1944.

All the performances–besides Curtis’s–are fantastic. Raines is both the Kansas farm girl in love with her boss and the film noir hero without ever toggling between the two. She’s always both… Cook’s good in his scenes, as are Fay Helm and Andrew Tombes. Franchot Tone is great, surrounded by weird statues in an apartment; it looks like the Coens adapted it for Blood Simple.

I think I’ve only seen Phantom Lady once before, but certainly remembered it being good… I just didn’t remember Siodmak’s utterly great direction (or maybe just wasn’t filmically mature enough to appreciate it).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Arthur Hilton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Franchot Tone (Jack Marlow), Ella Raines (Carol Richman), Alan Curtis (Scott Henderson), Aurora Miranda (Estela Monteiro), Thomas Gomez (Inspector Burgess), Fay Helm (Ann Terry), Elisha Cook Jr. (Cliff Milburn), Andrew Tombes (Mac the bartender), Regis Toomey (Detective Chewing Gum), Joseph Crehan (Detective Tom), Doris Lloyd (Madame Kettisha) and Virginia Brissac (Dr. Helen Chase).


Mickey One (1965, Arthur Penn)

Mickey One is what happens when you mix an American attempt at French New Wave and a director (Arthur Penn) experienced in television directing. Arthur Penn did eventually shed those old TV trappings, but certainly not at this point in his career. He’s got lots of shots in Mickey One–its editing is so frantic and the camera angles, while mostly familiar TV ones, never return once cut from–and it actually reminds of a Michael Bay movie. Really.

The story is intentionally complicated (that French New Wave attempt), with Warren Beatty maybe on the run from the mob and maybe not. Beatty’s a stand-up comic of the Hennie Youngman variety and Beatty’s terrible at delivering the jokes. The role requires something Beatty can’t bring to it, some depth, while all his inflictions are the same (except when he’s trying an accent, which are some painful moments).

The film’s interesting mostly because I kept waiting for something tricky to happen. After a while, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge becomes a serious possibility. The film’s intentionally absurd, intentionally nonsensical, but it isn’t done in any sort of admirable way. There’s a bunch of fluff, swirling and mixing, and there’s nothing underneath. It runs short, around ninety-two minutes, and it really moves–because it doesn’t have scenes for the most part, just the ends of them, another pointless stylistic choice. It is an incredibly different film, but it’s also an example of when being different isn’t the same as being good. That observation made, it’s a passable way to spend ninety minutes, just a shockingly empty film from Arthur Penn, whose great works are usually 20,000 fathoms deep.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Arthur Penn; written by Alan M. Surgal; director of photography, Ghislan Cloquet; edited by Aram Avakian; music by Eddie Sauter; production designer, George Jenkins; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Warren Beatty (The Comic), Alexandra Stewart (Jenny), Hurd Hatfield (Castle), Franchot Tone (Rudy Lopp), Teddy Hart (Berson), Jeff Corey (Fryer) and Fujiwara Kamatari (The Artist).


Suzy (1936, George Fitzmaurice)

The war story love triangle: girl mets boy, girl marries boy, girl thinks boy dies, girl meets second boy, girl marries second boy, first boy returns, one of the boys dies. Suzy isn’t even an interesting spin on it. The film throws in a relationship between lower class Jean Harlow with her upper class father-in-law Lewis Stone in an attempt to make the story poignant, to give her character some depth, but it fails miserably. Watching the scenes with the two of them, the attempted manipulation reeks. The two aren’t bad together, but Suzy works at its best during moments of high charisma. Cary Grant (as the second boy) has a lot of it, but Franchot Tone’s actually got more in his scenes. Tone’s doing an Irish accent for most of the film (it appears after his first or second scene) and it’s mildly grating, but he’s still good. Harlow ranges, when the character makes sense, she’s good. When it doesn’t, she’s only okay. Unfortunately, the script rarely bothers making sense.

The film does succeed on a few levels, mostly due to George Fitzmaurice’s direction. It has two definite periods–England before the war and France during–and Fitzmaurice gives each part of the film an atmosphere. These distinctions don’t help the film much, but it’s good work and it makes the film a more pleasant experience. His direction of dramatic scenes is pat–a lengthy long shot followed by some close-ups and then a medium shot–but the sets are at least nice. The supporting cast helps a lot in Suzy–Una O’Connor’s got a great scene and there are some others… The film’s quality isn’t particularly bumpy. It does get better after awhile and might actually approach getting good, but it betrays the story in the end. I timed the last act, trying to guess the resolution to the love triangle and figured for a couple scenes–one between Harlow and the winner and another with Lewis Stone, since the film hung everything on he and Harlow’s friendship. Following a couple great action scenes–one of them was just flying footage from Hell’s Angels, but the other one must have been Fitzmaurice unless Suzy was written to match Hell’s Angels leftover shots–the film stops. The love triangle’s resolved, but there’s nothing else. It becomes a war picture for the first time. Instead of finishing the characters’ stories, the audience gets a bit about valor and distinction and then a “The End.”

Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell wrote (some of) Suzy and, according to IMDb, they were a highly paid screenwriting team. They were a waste of money.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Fitzmaurice; screenplay by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Horace Jackson and Lenore J. Coffee, based on the novel by Herbert Gorman; director of photography, Ray June; edited by George Boemler; music by William Axt; produced by Maurice Revnes; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Jean Harlow (Suzy), Franchot Tone (Terry), Cary Grant (Andre), Lewis Stone (Baron), Benita Hume (Madame Eyrelle), Reginald Mason (Captain Barsanges), Inez Courtney (Maisie), Greta Meyer (Mrs. Schmidt), David Clyde (‘Knobby’), Christian Rub (‘Pop’ Gaspard), George Spelvin (Gaston) and Una O’Connor (Landlady).


Scroll to Top