Gene Tierney

Laura (1944, Otto Preminger)

Laura is a film with multiple twists and a brilliant screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt but none of it would work without Preminger’s direction of his cast. Preminger’s direction, in terms of composition, is fantastic. Thanks in no small part to cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, every moment of Laura looks wonderful. Preminger has a fabulous way of positioning his actors, particularly Dana Andrews in the first half of the film, to enhance the performance. It’s not quite a trick, though it is separate from the other way Preminger directs the cast.

The film is able to get through its twists and turns, which–with a major exception–are entirely about the characters, not just because of how the actors succeed in those scenes but because of how they, and Preminger, have established their characters throughout. It’s also where the script comes in–for example, Laura works because Andrews and Clifton Webb bond. With the beautifully cut flashback sequence introducing the viewer (and Andrews) to Gene Tierney’s eponymous character, through Webb’s perspective–Louis R. Loeffler is the editor; don’t want to forget him–Preminger is able to sublimely arrange the characters for later revelations. Webb and Andrews play wonderfully off one another. Webb’s erudite snob and Andrews’s mildly laconic police detective are great together. The script goes for gimmicky dialogue; Preminger and the actors sell it thanks to a self-awareness.

Because, even though it’s a mystery, Laura needs a certain amount of melodramatic flair to succeed. David Raksin’s lush, emotional score, along with rainswept New York streets–not to mention the wonderful sets–Laura is far from realistic. Preminger never lets it go too far though. The film runs less than ninety minutes, with it changing tone fifty minutes in; that second half, very different from the first, still occupies the same spaces. The film’s exquisitely constructed.

The film’s major twist is incredibly melodramatic in its plot implications. All that careful construction is what makes it work so well.

And, like I said, that careful construction has to do with the actors as well. Like when Tierney and Andrews get together, their chemistry is perfect. Scene after scene, even as their relationship develops, the chemistry is precise. It’s a little more obvious–as Andrews moons over her–but it’s the same careful way Preminger established Andrews and Webb’s relationship.

All the acting in the film is excellent. Webb’s the best, just because. Andrews and Tierney are both great. Andrews gets to have more fun at the beginning of the film, but it’s only fair because co-star Vincent Price doesn’t get to have much fun until near the end of the film. Price’s good, Judith Anderson’s good. No one else got billed, but Dorothy Adams deserved it as Tierney’s maid.

Laura’s a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Otto Preminger; screenplay by Jay Drawler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt, based on the novel by Vera Caspary; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by David Raksin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dana Andrews (Det. Lt. Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell) and Dorothy Adams (Bessie).



The Secret of Convict Lake (1951, Michael Gordon)

The Secret of Convict Lake is a depressing affair. I knew it was Glenn Ford and Gene Tierney, but Ethel Barrymore’s in it too. So you have these three fantastic actors—Ford and Tierney even muster enough chemistry to accomplish their ludicrous romance—and an otherwise lousy Western.

The film opens and closes with some useless narration, which probably should have given away the narrative problems, but it also has these great snow sequences. Unfortunately, those sequences are about as open as the film gets. The titular lake is never seen on screen and most of the film plays out in stagy scenes. Oscar Saul’s script is weak, but not so weak a good director couldn’t have done something with it. Gordon’s composition is, generously, inept. Some of the problems might have to do with the sound stages… but, really, he’s not much of a director. When the film opens up slightly at the end and goes on location, the composition gets even worse. Leo Tover’s photography might play some fault too. Sol Kaplan’s score certainly does; it’s awful.

Then there’s the supporting cast. Zachary Scott is half-okay, mostly terrible as the lead villain. Cyril Cusack, Richard Hylton and Jack Lambert are all bad as his sidekicks. Hylton, in particular, is laughably bad (as a psychopath).

Most of the female actors are fine; except Ann Dvorak and her histrionics.

It’s a shame Fox didn’t team Ford, Tierney and Barrymore in a good picture.

Convict Lake’s a long eighty minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Gordon; screenplay by Oscar Saul, based on an adaptation by Victor Trivas and a story by Anna Hunger and Jack Pollexfen; director of photography, Leo Tover; edited by James B. Clark; music by Sol Kaplan; produced by Frank P. Rosenberg; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Glenn Ford (Jim Canfield), Gene Tierney (Marcia Stoddard), Ethel Barrymore (Granny), Zachary Scott (Johnny Greer), Ann Dvorak (Rachel Schaeffer), Barbara Bates (Barbara Purcell), Cyril Cusack (Edward ‘Limey’ Cockerell), Richard Hylton (Clyde Maxwell), Helen Westcott (Susan Haggerty), Jeanette Nolan (Harriet Purcell), Ruth Donnelly (Mary Fancher) and Harry Carter (Rudy Schaeffer).


Sundown (1941, Henry Hathaway)

The majority of Sundown is excellent. Hathaway sort of mixes the Western and British colonial adventure genre with a World War II propaganda piece. New Mexico stands in for Kenya—it’s an interesting war film because there aren’t any Americans. Lead Bruce Cabot is playing a Canadian.

Cabot does well throughout. He handles the colonial scenes well, handing off his command to George Sanders in the first act. Sundown’s peculiar because it takes a self-indulgent pace getting to where it’s going. There’s the tension between Cabot and Sanders, but none of it is necessary to get to the finish. Neither is Joseph Calleia, who has a nice supporting role as an Italian prisoner of war who’d rather cook than fight. Or Harry Carey, who shows up in the second half as the local white hunter.

And Gene Tierney—who gets top-billing—is barely in the film until it’s a third over. It’s an early performance from her and there are ups and downs. Some of it has to do with the role (Sundown’s the one where Gene Tierney plays an Arab), but she’s also not quite ready yet. She does well with Cabot though, selling their attraction right off.

Hathaway’s direction is often fantastic, especially how he shows life on the outpost. The night scenes are problematic, Charles Lang shoots too dark and then the finale’s in a dank cave, which doesn’t film well.

The end brings in the propaganda and lays it on so heavy, Sundown sinks.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Henry Hathaway; screenplay by Barré Lyndon, based on an adaptation by Charles G. Booth and based on a story by Lyndon; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Dorothy Spencer; music by Miklós Rózsa; produced by Walter Wanger; released by United Artists.

Starring Gene Tierney (Zia), Bruce Cabot (William Crawford), George Sanders (Major A.L. Coombes), Harry Carey (Alan Dewey), Joseph Calleia (Pallini), Reginald Gardiner (Lt. Roddy Turner), Carl Esmond (Jan Kuypens), Marc Lawrence (Abdi Hammud), Gilbert Emery (Ashburton), Jeni Le Gon (Miriami), Emmett Smith (Kipsang) and Dorothy Dandridge (Kipsang’s Bride).


The Mating Season (1951, Mitchell Leisen)

The Mating Season is an awkward social comedy of errors. I say awkward because to make the plot work, Gene Tierney has to act selfishly every time she’s supposed to be garnering sympathy. Thinking about it now, the film never even resolves her flirtations with the guy out to ruin her husband (and their marriage).

If Tierney’s unsuccessful navigating the film, leading man John Lund doesn’t do much better. His character remains sympathetic throughout (even taking the blame for Tierney’s shortcomings), but Lund can’t bring believability to it. It’s never believable he wouldn’t have punched out his gold digging mother-in-law (Miriam Hopkins, who creates an impressively evil character).

The whole plot of the thing reminds me a little of “Jerry,” the show in a show on “Seinfeld” with the court appointed butler. The writers of Mating Season clearly thought they were on to something, but they can’t pull it off. The plot requires supposedly likable characters to be far too disagreeable far too often.

However, there is a bright spot. Thelma Ritter. Ritter’s wondrous as Lund’s mother (who Tierney, being upper crust, mistakes for a cook). The film’s a disjointed pairing of Ritter’s compelling story and Lund and Tierney’s contrived one.

There are a couple nice supporting performances from Larry Keating and James Lorimer.

Leisen’s direction is uninspired. He seems to understand there’s only so much he can do with the script and relies heavily on a scantily clad Tierney.

It’s definitely worth seeing for Ritter, but it’s a disappointment.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mitchell Leisen; screenplay by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and Richard L. Breen, based on a play by Caeser Dunn; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Frank Bracht; music by Joseph J. Lilley; produced by Brackett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gene Tierney (Maggie Carleton), John Lund (Val McNulty), Miriam Hopkins (Fran Carleton), Thelma Ritter (Ellen McNulty), Jan Sterling (Betsy), Larry Keating (George C. Kalinger Sr.), James Lorimer (George C. Kalinger Jr.), Gladys Hurlbut (Mrs. Conger), Cora Witherspoon (Mrs. Williamson) and Malcolm Keen (Mr. Williamson).


Thunder Birds (1942, William A. Wellman)

Thunder Birds runs just under eighty minutes and if one were to subtract the propaganda, both narrated and in lengthy monologues–not to mention the flashback to the stoic Brits–he or she would have a fifty-five minute love triangle set at an Army flight training base. The whole reason one leg of the triangle is British (John Sutton) is to rouse up support for the British.

Luckily, the movie’s love triangle is mildly effective, which makes the propaganda digressions tolerable. All of the credit for that success is surprisingly not Gene Tierney. Tierney’s great in the movie, bringing a combination of playfulness and maturity to the role. What’s surprising about the movie’s treatment of her is the constant sexism. There’s a terrible sequence at a Red Cross training with all the volunteers–all female–coming off as man-crazy and incompetent. Worse is Tierney’s grandfather, George Barbier, frequently deriding her (she’s “still a woman,” after all).

But that paragraph was supposed to be positive. Sutton’s quite good in the film, bringing a thoughtful sense to his role (an acrophobic doctor turned RAF cadet). He and Tierney have excellent chemistry; big surprise. Leading man Preston Foster is the last leg of the triangle and he and Tierney too have good chemistry. But when Foster’s with Sutton, the scenes are just bad. Foster’s very Hollywood acting doesn’t mix well with Sutton’s subdued, introspective performance. Either Tierney just worked well with Foster–her performance is a mix of charm and intelligence–or she manages to get good scenes out of anyone.

Since there really is less than an hour of story, there’s not much time for a supporting cast. Barbier’s good as the chauvinist pig (what makes it so disturbing is how he’s siding against his granddaughter’s wishes, which is a bit surprising in a Lamar Trotti script, but I guess Trotti is a servant to his source material). Richard Haydn’s great as Sutton’s friend who disappears way too fast. But Dame May Whitty’s brief, flashback role is a waste of time both for her and the film.

Where Thunder Birds really excels is in the Technicolor cinematography and the action sequence at the end. Ernest Palmer’s cinematography is great and the aerial photography is fantastic. But Wellman is just churning it out during these scenes. It’s all fine, but it’s never particularly significant. The end sequence, featuring Sutton (in a plane) saving Foster from a sandstorm is amazing. Great stuff, with some fine editing from Walter Thompson.

The story–the standard Fox war movie love triangle–does take an unexpected turn at the end. Wellman successfully milks the anticipation for the last five minutes, but then gets stuck with that narrated propaganda for a close. In the last ten minutes, I’m not sure Sutton even has a line–odd for the protagonist. The Fox propaganda movies were always decent and Thunder Birds is fine enough as one; it’s just a little emptier of actual content than I would have guessed.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on a story by Darryl F. Zanuck; director of photography, Ernest Palmer; edited by Walter Thompson; music by David Buttolph; produced by Trotti; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Tierney (Kay Saunders), Preston Foster (Steve Britt), John Sutton (Peter Stackhouse), Jack Holt (Colonel MacDonald), May Whitty (Lady Jane Stackhouse), George Barbier (Gramps), Richard Haydn (George Lockwood), Reginald Denny (Barrett) and Ted North (Cadet Hackzell).


The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

I’ve only seen The Ghost and Mrs. Muir once before, but I remembered the resolution, so I’m thinking it probably made the entire experience unenjoyable this time through. There are only a handful of similar films and usually it’s a gimmick ending, but with The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the storytelling falls apart. The film forcibly rips Gene Tierney’s character from the audience’s regard and then only band-aids that wound for the rest of the picture–it’s only twenty minutes or so, but that band-aid covers forty years of story time.

This band-aid doesn’t involve Rex Harrison’s grizzled ghost of a sea captain, which is probably its greatest fault. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is about just that relationship and–first with the introduction of George Sanders as a living suitor for Tierney, then Harrison’s absence from both the screen and the story itself–the film fails without it. The fault is all the script’s, though Joseph L. Mankiewicz–as director and an excellent writer–should have done something to fix this film. The scenes between Harrison and Tierney are uniformly wonderful, but watching it with the conclusion in mind, I couldn’t even enjoy them to the fullest. Harrison has so much fun with the role, at many times he appears to be struggling to keep a straight face. George Sanders plays a standard George Sanders cad and he’s hardly in the film, showing up when it accelerates, no longer happy with a reasonable situation. It’s a lame way out of the exceptional situation (the ghost and the widow), which the film sells immediately, making a “way out” unnecessary. Many of this period’s “fantasy romance” films are similarly flawed. Actually, I can’t think of any member providing a reasonable conclusion. I just didn’t remember The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’s ending to be so bad. I knew it was bad, I just didn’t know it was so bad. The film’s already intentionally negated its emotional effect for the characters (and the audience), so I guess it’s actually a real trick to go ahead and make it more trifling and useless, which is a singular compliment and probably the only one I have in regards to the film’s production.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; written by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Dorothy Spencer; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Fred Kohlmar; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Tierney (Lucy Muir), Rex Harrison (Ghost of Capt. Daniel Gregg), George Sanders (Miles Fairley), Edna Best (Martha Huggins), Isobel Elsom (Angelica), Helen Freeman (Author), Natalie Wood (Anna, as a child), Vanessa Brown (Anna, as an adult) and Robert Coote (Coombe).


The Razor’s Edge (1946, Edmund Goulding)

While home video did wonders for increasing film appreciation, I have to wonder if MGM’s embracing of the format for their old catalogue didn’t greatly hinder young people in the 1980s from learning about film. As a child, I had seen MGM, I had seen RKO, I had seen Warner Bros. But I never saw any Columbia (that I remember) and I’m pretty sure I never saw any 20th Century Fox films, because when I did start seeing them in the mid-1990s (on AMC), I was surprised. I had no idea they’d been around and done so much. It’s a laziness, I suppose, but film interest tends to start as a hobby. I guess it got better with cable (my AMC experience) and today, with DVD, it’s probably about even… Fox does have a good classics series, though their box set is rather crappy and doesn’t inspire much interest (just like their VHS box art). Fox didn’t originally release their VHS titles–they licensed them through Key Video–so each title was doubly selected for profitability.

The Razor’s Edge fell through the cracks. It won Anne Baxter an Academy Award (she’s great, but certainly not the best performance in the film, which has five excellent performances), and lost to The Best Years of Our Lives, which is fine. But, it was a big hit. It was Fox’s biggest hit… and it disappeared. I’d never heard of it when I first saw it in 1997 or 1998–and I had worked at a video store with a significant classics section. Watching it today, I’m upset the film doesn’t have the level of respect it deserves. It’s an amazing film; it runs 145 minutes and never feels like it, compressing 9 years into the first hour, then exploring the effects of those nine years in the second. There’s another bit of compression in there too, but the characters manage to grow beautifully over this time. The make-up crew “de-aged” the cast (particularly Clifton Webb), then gradually caught them up and beyond. The make-up and the handling of the timeline work beautifully. I can’t think of a better handling of such a long stretch than in this film.

It’d be easy credit the book the whole way, but Lamar Trotti does an incredible job adapting it, focusing it–The Razor’s Edge features its author, W. Somerset Maugham, in an instrumental role. I can’t believe Herbert Marshall didn’t get nominated for it (I’m looking at Edge’s Oscar competition right now at IMDb), but neither did Trotti so I guess I should. Not even Edmund Goulding got a nomination for directing and he’s fantastic. He’s got these long sweeps of the camera, beautiful movement, but my favorite is his lack of reaction shots. Someone will talk, as familiar viewers, we expect a reaction–we get none. Instead, we get the actor continuing, not breaking. It adds an particular realism–in this hugely produced film–a kind not many films have. It involves the viewer in the situation, which spans ten years and three or four continents.

Obviously (I already said it), all the acting is great. Tyrone Power is great in this incredibly difficult role–the film is somewhat from Maugham’s perspective, but also from Maugham’s reader’s perspective–so Power is the protagonist, but also the subject and it never separates that duality. For the first twenty minutes, it’s Gene Tierney’s movie, it’s not Power’s. It appear it ever will be Power’s movie. It’s an odd situation–there are other examples (Barry Lyndon, I suppose), but no one else has ever done such a good job I don’t think. As for Tierney, someone else who is overlooked for her acting ability… Tierney turns an amazing performance. I was going to say exactly what’s so amazing about it, but that description would spoil the film if one didn’t know the story. She’s fantastic. I already mentioned how good Baxter is in the film (Tierney’s better–Baxter has a few scenes, Tierney has ninety-five minutes) and Marshall, but Clifton Webb is great too. The film has incredibly complicated characters–so incredibly complicated it’s impossible to judge any of them, even at the end. Maugham–the writer, not the character–was quite good at delaying the readers judgement and I assume, in The Razor’s Edge, it’s just faithful adaptation, because studio films with big stars were never about reserving judgement.

Not since… well, last week, I watch a lot of movies, you know… This film’s level of excellence is rare. Even more, the lack of recognition for this film’s excellence is an unbelievable blemish to film history.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by J. Watson Webb Jr.; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tyrone Power (Larry Darrell), Gene Tierney (Isabel Bradley), John Payne (Gray Maturin), Anne Baxter (Sophie Nelson Macdonald), Clifton Webb (Elliott Templeton), Herbert Marshall (W. Somerset Maugham), Lucile Watson (Louisa Bradley), Frank Latimore (Bob Macdonald), Elsa Lanchester (Miss Keith), Fritz Kortner (Kosti), John Wengraf (Joseph), Cecil Humphreys (Holy Man) and Cobina Wright Sr. (Princess Novemali).


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