Jacques Tourneur

Night Call (1964, Jacques Tourneur)

Night Call’s pre-Rod Serling tag has lead Gladys Cooper having trouble sleeping through a thunderstorm. She then gets two phone calls at 2 a.m., with just static on the line. The next day, after the Serling intro promising Cooper’s in for a momentous event, Cooper tries reporting the phone calls to the phone company but they’ve been having lots of trouble on account of the storm. The operator kind of dismisses her, as does her day-time caretaker, Nora Marlowe. See, Cooper’s kind of a mean old lady–her family doesn’t want anything to do with her–so she gets zero sympathy from Marlowe and, really, Night Call.

The phone calls continue, with the buzz eventually becoming moaning (a man moaning) and then the moaning just becomes the guy saying “Hello” over and over again. Cooper in a full panic, Marlowe is just as unsympathetic (the utter lack of chemistry between Cooper and Marlowe probably hurts Night Call but it’s hard to even imagine they could have any rapport), the phone company is investigating. All Cooper can do is wait. While the calls keep coming.

And somehow Marlowe’s never around to hear them–she’s convinced Cooper’s lying for the attention or something. Turns out, of course, she’s not. Instead there’s some highly contrived explanation along with some pointless comeuppance–watching Marlowe berate Cooper in one scene seems like elder abuse but also with some sexism thrown in–and a pat, predictable ending.

Cooper’s performance is… mediocre. Better than Marlowe, though Marlowe’s got no character to even hint at playing, but still quite mediocre. Tourneur’s direction is similarly middling. The interior stuff is boring, the exterior stuff is not. Except when Tourneur’s got to hammer in the point for the big finale. Rather nice photography from Robert Pittack (especially outside) and solid editing from Richard V. Heermance.

Night Call doesn’t particularly have anything going for it–acting, directing, writing–it’s kind of fine, but so what.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by Richard Matheson; “The Twilight Zone” created by Rod Serling; director of photography, Robert Pittack; edited by Richard V. Heermance; produced by Bert Granet; aired by the Central Broadcasting System.

Starring Gladys Cooper (Elva Keene), Nora Marlowe (Margaret Phillips), and Martine Bartlett (Miss Finch).


Experiment Perilous (1944, Jacques Tourneur)

Experiment Perilous is a strange film. Not the plot–well, some of how the plot is handled–but the strangeness comes from the result of how the film is executed. It’s a Gothic family drama set in twentieth century New York City without a lot of the family. There’s a flashback sequence, but Perilous is rather modestly budgeted so the flashbacks are pragmatically executed, not abundantly. The family at the center of Perilous is background to the adventure of amiable city doctor George Brent. With a couple of late exceptions, the scenes are always from his perspective.

And, from his perspective (and some of director Tourneur’s perspective), Brent is in a thriller. Rich guy Paul Lukas is mentally torturing his much younger wife Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr is top-billed, but the film puts off bringing her in, treating her as a prize, which is only appropriate because she’s shockingly objectified in every one of her scenes. That objectification is also part of the plot. Screenwriter and producer Warren Duff seems to miss the connection, partially because his script denies Lamarr characterization whenever possible–something Tourneur doesn’t encourage but does utilize to further the thriller vibe at times. Again, Experiment Perilous is a strange film. The way everything comes together but never synthesizes. Despite a thoroughly competent execution, the film just doesn’t have the scale to succeed. Separate from Lamarr’s problematic part is the budget. The film aims for Gothic melodrama and concludes as one, much to the determent of its cast.

So the film opens with Brent meeting scared old lady Olive Blakeney on the train back to New York. There’s a terrible storm, there might be danger. Brent comforts her. It’s good stuff and Brent and Blakeney are both extremely likable. They soon work up a nice rapport, even if the parts are a little thin. She’s sister to Lukas, on her way home for the first time in five years. Brent hears a little about the family, doesn’t think much of it, but takes note of it. Brent’s observant. Unless he’s throwing over de facto fiancée Stephanie Bachelor for Lamarr.

After they get to New York, they go their separate ways. Blakeney off to see Lukas and Lamarr (who haven’t appeared on screen yet), Brent to hang out with Bachelor and drunken sculptor pal Albert Dekker. Experiment Perilous is a Gothic melodrama where the hero’s circle of friends consists of independently wealthy dilletante artists. In 1903 New York. It’s weird. Though there’s some decent foreshadowing from a Medusa sculpture, even if Duff didn’t get it or wanted to avoid it.

Dekker knows Lucas–really, really, really well as it turns out, so well it’s unbelievable Brent could have avoided getting stuck meeting him–and also crushes on Lamarr. All men crush on Lamarr. Young men like independently wealthy poet and magazine writer George N. Neise, old men like Lukas. Men in the middle like Dekker and, eventually, Brent. About twenty percent of Lamarr’s performance consists of listening to men praise her appearance.

Then another five percent for her internal wonderfulness.

It’s not much of a part for Lamarr, except when it’s in the flashback and she gets to enjoy life and not think she’s being tormented by Lukas. See, Lukas is very passive aggressive in his torturing of his wife. He brings in Brent to observe the effects of his abuse on Lamarr. Brent’s supposed to then convince Lamarr she’s unstable. There’s a lot to it. And Experiment Perilous doesn’t get into much of it, because immediately after Brent meets Lamarr a second time, his whole arc is about being in love with her. Only Brent doesn’t play the mad love arc with any more intensity than he played the inquisitive doctor arc, so it doesn’t come off. It also couldn’t come off because of budget and run time and script. But it’s like Brent knows it’s not worth it and doesn’t make the effort.

Because Lamarr’s not really in mad love with Brent. Or Lukas. Or anyone. Because Lukas groomed Lamarr–in the flashback–presumably when she was in her late teens. Even if it’s Lamarr and Lukas playing the characters in the flashback, with no attempt at making them appear younger (again, sometimes just a strange movie because of how things come together). Lukas only sort of weirds Lamarr out–he did keep his hands off for the two years he paid a fortune to turn her into a Parisian society woman in after all–and things are good until they get back to New York. Presumably, there’s a big skip ahead in the flashback.

And then we discover Lukas likes showing off Lamarr and then getting pissed at her for the male attention he invited. Some guys get more serious than most. Though when Lukas lashes out at any of them–we learn in later dialogue–it’s the only time Lamarr finds him desirable.

Lot of depth. But in a throwaway line like Duff didn’t realize what was in it.

Now what’s going to happen with Brent snooping into the family’s secrets, not to mention falling for Lamarr….

There are some surprises, there’s a good fight scene (way too short, but good), there’s not much for the actors. But it’s an engaging film throughout. The parts are thin. Lukas probably makes the most of it, albeit with multiple qualifications. Brent’s a great lead. Lamarr does really well sometimes, kind of flat other times. Tourneur doesn’t do much directing on the actors and Duff’s script doesn’t do much characterizing so it’s a really rough part for Lamarr. She gets her good moments when the movie forgets it’s supposed to be reducing her to a prize.

Blakeney’s awesome. Dekker improves somewhat throughout. Bachelor’s fun.

Decent score from Roy Webb. Decent cinematography from Tony Gaudio. It’s not noir, it’s not a thriller, it’s a Gothic melodrama period piece so the lighting doesn’t add much mood. Similarly, Tourneur doesn’t have any grand thriller sequences. He’s got some effective thriller transition stuff occasionally and his direction is fine. Ralph Dawson’s editing leaves a lot to be desired, however. But it’s not all him. Tourneur’s not comfortable with his actors acting very much in close-up.

Perilous is a strange picture. Not neccesarily successful but far from a failure. It’s always engaging and its cast does put in the work, just within some rather harsh constraints.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Warren Duff, based on the novel by Margaret Carpenter; director of photography, Tony Gaudio; edited by Ralph Dawson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Duff; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Brent (Dr. Huntington Bailey), Hedy Lamarr (Allida Bederaux), Paul Lukas (Nick Bederaux), Albert Dekker (Clag), Stephanie Bachelor (Elaine), Carl Esmond (Maitland), and Olive Blakeney (Cissie).


The Flame and the Arrow (1950, Jacques Tourneur)

The Flame and the Arrow is an unfortunate effort. Most of the fault is Waldo Salt’s strangely tone-deaf screenplay. There’s narrative rhyme and reason, but none of it takes the actual resulting film into account–characters played by actors with no chemistry get thrown together. Director Tourneur doesn’t seem suited for the material. It’s a big swashbuckling epic–though lead Burt Lancaster is adamant about his lack of swordsmanship–and Tourneur doesn’t do anything with the scale.

The film has a bunch of necessary, desirable elements, but nothing to hold them together. Lancaster is agile and amiable. He’s a mountain man who romances the townswomen–married and unmarried–at his leisure (and their pleasure). He’s got an adorable son (Gordon Gebert), whose mother has run off with the Hessian overlord. Frank Allenby’s good as the overlord. He doesn’t get a lot to do, but it’s more than Lynn Baggett gets to do as Gebert’s mother. Salt’s script doesn’t dwell much on the characters, but least of all on Baggett. It’s unfortunate, because it seems like there should be something serious to Arrow, but no one wants to acknowledge it.

Virginia Mayo is the love interest. Unfortunately, it’s for Lancaster. Mayo and Lancaster have terrible chemistry. She does better with every other actor, including Nick Cravat, who plays Lancaster’s mute, acrobatic sidekick. And that particular scene is awful, because Cravat’s not funny and Tourneur has no idea how to make him any more amusing.

Robert Douglas is okay as Mayo’s other suitor and Lancaster’s reluctant ally. Salt’s script does him no favors either.

Arrow runs less than ninety minutes. Some natural narrative gestures go incomplete; maybe things got cut. Max Steiner’s score is energetic without being inspired. Ernest Haller’s photography operates on a “good enough” principal.

But the good pieces aren’t just Lancaster and the castle sets, there are good ideas in Salt’s script. He just doesn’t bring anything together. He’ll come up with a great set piece with obvious ways to tie it into the rest of the picture, but Arrow will just drop it in. And even if the script functioned better, Tourneur’s direction is too disinterested.

The film’s often tedious and painfully lacking in charm, but it ought to be a lot better. The third act, where Arrow could redeem itself, instead weighs it down even more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by Waldo Salt; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by Alan Crosland Jr.; music by Max Steiner; produced by Harold Hecht and Frank Ross; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Dardo Bartoli), Virginia Mayo (Anne de Hesse), Robert Douglas (Marchese Alessandro de Granazia), Aline MacMahon (Nonna Bartoli), Frank Allenby (Count ‘The Hawk’ Ulrich), Nick Cravat (Piccolo), Lynn Baggett (Francesca), Gordon Gebert (Rudi Bartoli, Dardo’s Son), Norman Lloyd (Apollo, the Troubador), Victor Kilian (Apothecary Mazzoni) and Francis Pierlot (Papa Pietro).


Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur)

Out of the Past always has at least two things going on at once. Not just the double crossings, which is so prevalent lead Robert Mitchum even taunts the bad guys with it, but how the film itself works.

Daniel Mainwaring’s script–which gives Mitchum this lengthy narration over a flashback sequence–gives the impression of telling the viewer everything while it really leaves the most important elements out. The whole plot has the bad guys coming out of Mitchum’s past (hence the title), but the way he deals with them has all these elements from between that past and the present. It means Mainwaring and Past can surprise the viewer, but it also gives Mitchum this rich character. As much exposition (not to mention the flashback) as he gets about his past, the complications all come from the unexplained things.

And Tourneur’s direction matches this narrative style. He, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca and editor Samuel E. Beetley have foreground and background action. A scene will focus intensely one character, but in contrast to the scripted character emphasis. The visual disconnect pulls the viewer, causing a palpable, beautifully lighted edginess.

And Mitchum and his nemesis slash alter ego Kirk Douglas also have that edginess; they’re uncomfortable with one another but reluctantly. It’s wonderful.

All the acting is great–especially Paul Valentine and Rhonda Fleming–and, of course, femme fatale Jane Greer and good girl Virginia Huston.

The narrative tricks–while always beautifully executed–aren’t necessary. Past would be better without them.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, based on his novel; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Samuel E. Beetley; music by Roy Webb; produced by Warren Duff; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffatt), Kirk Douglas (Whit Stefanos), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Steve Brodie (Steve Fisher), Virginia Huston (Ann Miller), Paul Valentine (Joe Stefanos), Wallace Scott (Petey), Richard Webb (Jim), John Kellogg (Lou Baylord), Ken Niles (Leonard Eels) and Dickie Moore (The Kid).


This post is part of the 1947 Blogathon hosted by Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina Of Speakeasy.

I Walked with a Zombie (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

Before it stumbles through its third act, I Walked with a Zombie’s biggest problem is the pacing. It’s exceedingly boring during the second act. Its second biggest problem is it’s too short. The second act plays so poorly because there’s not enough going on, there’s just not time for it in sixty-eight minutes.

Otherwise, the film’s wondrous. Tourneur’s direction is sublime, beautiful music from Roy Webb, luscious black and white photography from J. Roy Hunt and these amazing sets. The film takes place on a small Caribbean island, with a nurse (Frances Dee) caring for a strangely ill woman. The nurse discovers she’s the fourth wheel on a love triangle between the woman and two brothers (Tom Conway and James Ellison).

The great performances from Conway and Ellison can’t make up for them disappearing occasionally for relatively long stretches. Dee’s fine in the lead–a more dynamic performance might have helped with the second act but nothing can fix the ending. Nice performances from James Bell, Edith Barrett and Theresa Harris too.

Some of the problem is the script, obviously. Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray accelerate the romance between Dee and Conway and don’t actually give them a courtship. Instead, Ellison gets those scenes. And it’s never clear if Harris is a villain or not. Not to mention there being a mystery angle introduced late in the second act. It’s all a mess.

It’s a beautiful one, but Zombie’s often magnificent pieces don’t add up to a successful picture.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray, based on a story by Inez Wallace; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Frances Dee (Betsy Connell), Tom Conway (Paul Holland), James Ellison (Wesley Rand), Edith Barrett (Mrs. Rand), James Bell (Dr. Maxwell), Christine Gordon (Jessica Holland), Theresa Harris (Alma), Sir Lancelot (Calypso Singer) and Darby Jones (Carrefour).


What Do You Think? (1937, Jacques Tourneur)

Well, What Do You Think? is one bland short film.

There are some definite strengths to it. Tourneur’s direction of the actors is outstanding, especially at the beginning at a Hollywood party, when he’s cutting between various actors. All of Think is told in narration (from Carey Wilson) and so Tourneur has got to make the actors convey without dialogue or music.

And he succeeds.

He even succeeds when Think hits the main plot, involving William Henry’s Hollywood screenwriter going through a near death experience. Tourneur does a fine job with Henry’s investigation of his strange experience, but there’s nothing to do be done about the silliness of the plot after the investigation concludes.

The ending is far too literal for the short, which never sets itself up to be a grand revelation into the paranormal. Or even a minor one.

It’s too bad, as Tourneur’s work is definitely impressive.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; produced by Jack Chertok; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Henry (John Dough); narrated by Carey Wilson.


Killer-Dog (1936, Jacques Tourneur)

Killer-Dog is the story of a dog on trial. Really. It’s a courtroom short concerning a farm dog accused of being a sheep killer. Tourneur and producer Pete Smith take a while to get to that detail though, just referring letting the sensational title do the work of riling the viewer’s imagination.

It’s a rather effective short, which Tourneur manages to tell without a lot of sentiment. Even though he’s constantly showing the dog’s owner, young Babs Nelson, sympathetically, the case against the dog is strong. In order to get the narrative to work, in order to keep it suspenseful anyway, Tourneur and Smith have to actively deceive the viewer.

The finale is so well-executed, however, it’s impossible to hold that deception against Killer-Dog. Smith’s narration, occasionally grating, can’t even compare with the excellent direction and performances. Nelson’s great, Ralph Byrd’s great.

It’s a fine little film.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; produced by Pete Smith; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ralph Byrd (Father), Betty Ross Clarke (Mother) and Babs Nelson (Betty Lou); narrated by Pete Smith.


The Leopard Man (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

The Leopard Man has such beauteous production values–one would never think it was a low budget picture, not with Robert De Grasse’s lush blacks and he and director Tourneur’s tracking shots–it’s a shame the acting fails the film.

A lot of the problem the script. Co-screenwriters Ardel Wray and Edward Dein try hard to show Hispanic culture in a New Mexico town, both in the dialogue and the tone. Sadly, they fail miserably. The script seems to be showing the townspeople as solemnly dignified, but it comes off as callow and ignorant.

Tourneur follows prospective victims around to ratchet up the fear factor, which is a fine approach, but the actors are just terrible. Second-billed Margo gives such an awful performance–not to mention her character being a lousy human being in general–every time the titular monster takes a victim, it’s sad it’s not her. Her fellow ingenues, Margaret Landry and Tuulikki Paananen, are both awful too.

In the ostensible female lead, Jean Brooks is good but she has almost nothing to do. She and leading man Dennis O’Keefe are literally visitors in The Leopard Man; the film downgrades their presence to a subplot.

Good supporting work from James Bell and Abner Biberman helps. Ben Bard is iffy as the cop.

Great music from Roy Webb, excellent cutting from Mark Robson. Tourneur’s composition is outstanding no matter the scene. The Leopard Man is a technical delight to behold… it’s a shame about the middling stuff.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry Manning), Jean Brooks (Kiki Walker), James Bell (Dr. Galbraith), Ben Bard (Chief Roblos), Abner Biberman (Charlie How-Come), Margaret Landry (Teresa Delgado), Tuulikki Paananen (Consuelo Contreras), Isabel Jewell (Maria the Fortune Teller) and Margo (Clo-Clo).


Cat People (1942, Jacques Tourneur)

How to describe Cat People….

When a swell, blond American (Kent Smith) meets a dark (but not too dark) Eastern European woman (Simone Simon), she rouses all sorts of non-apple pie passions in him. Being a swell guy, he pressures her into marrying him–she’s clearly emotionally disturbed, but it’s okay… Smith hires her a great psychiatrist (Tom Conway) who eventually tries to rape her.

I’m not making up the passions part by the way–the scene where Smith tries explaining it all to other woman Jane Randolph is painful. Smith’s terrible.

That above synopsis pretty much gets at Cat People‘s core story. Beware the foreigner. Randolph’s a much better match for Smith anyway. She’s a hard worker, not some kind of artist.

Sadly, the film’s got a lot of great things about it. DeWitt Bodeen’s mildly xenophobic screenplay still has some amazing scenes in it… though most of them come at the beginning when Simon’s still the protagonist. There’s later an odd shift of focus to Smith and Randolph. Actually, mostly Randolph so she can be the damsel in distress.

Tourneur’s direction is startling, particularly in those high suspense scenes; it’s excellent work. Some of Cat People‘s shots are singular. Simon’s great, Conway’s great (it’s interesting to see him ooze the charm in equal parts with the slime), Randolph’s pretty good (just wholly unlikable).

Fantastic Nicholas Musuraca photography and Mark Robson editing round out Cat People.

Given its many–occasionally extraordinary–successes, it’s a shame Bodeen’s plot flops.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Alan Napier (Doc Carver), Alec Craig (Zookeeper) and Jack Holt (The Commodore).


Berlin Express (1948, Jacques Tourneur)

Berlin Express is a postwar thriller. In the late forties and early fifties, there were a number of such films—most filmed either partially or totally on location in the ruins of Germany. I was expecting Express to be more of a noir, but it’s not. With its pseudo-documentary approach, down to the narration (an uncredited Paul Stewart occasionally sounds exactly like Burt Lancaster, which is disconcerting), Express carefully presents its audience with a look at what’s going on in Germany and what the Allies are doing there too. For the first twenty minutes, a compelling narrative is besides the point.

Eventually, the mystery and espionage thriller elements take over, but Express still handles them differently. Instead of relying just on leading man Robert Ryan (who’s excellent), the film brings in a multinational cast of characters who team up to solve the mystery.

Merle Oberon is sort of Ryan’s love interest, at least until the film gets so philosophical at the end. The ending is where Express falls apart. It goes so far patting the Americans on the back, it becomes a commercial for the occupation of Germany by the Allies—the Americans in particular—instead of a reasonable conclusion. The film resists most of the propaganda pitfalls throughout only to collapse at the finish.

Of the supporting cast, Roman Toporow is the best. Paul Lukas is solid and Robert Coote isn’t bad.

Tourneur’s direction is outstanding.

Berlin Express is a significant historical document, but it’s also mostly successful.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Harold Medford, based on a story by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Sherman Todd; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by Bert Granet; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Merle Oberon (Lucienne), Robert Ryan (Robert Lindley), Charles Korvin (Perrot), Paul Lukas (Dr. Bernhardt), Robert Coote (Sterling), Reinhold Schünzel (Walther), Roman Toporow (Lt. Maxim Kiroshilov), Peter von Zerneck (Hans Schmidt), Otto Waldis (Kessler), Fritz Kortner (Franzen), Michael Harvey (Sgt. Barnes) and Tom Keene (Major).


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