Leif Erickson

On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan)

On the Waterfront is relentlessly grim until the strangest moment in the finale. As the film finally reaches the point of savage, physical violence–it opens with the implication, but not the visualization of such violence–a supporting character (familiar but mostly background) makes a wisecrack. Until that point in the film, director Kazan forcibly pushes even the possibility of a smile away.

And even though Waterfront is desolate–gorgeously desolate with Boris Kaufman’s photography–there’s still positive emotion among its residents. Eva Marie Saint’s compassion and tenderness, not to mention she and lead Marlon Brando’s love story, aren’t grim but Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg don’t let any light in. There’s no beauty in tenderness, just the inevitability of it being taken away. With prejudice.

But Kazan acknowledges this level of negativity. Leonard Bernstein’s score booms and quiets, races and slows, drawing attention to grim realities (and the film’s willingness to confront them) while giving the viewer the illusion of a comfortable distance. That distance gets smaller and smaller throughout until it becomes clear the distance was itself a mirage.

All the actors great. Brando and Saint transfix. They work on a plane elevated from the grime of the waterfront. Co-stars Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger seem natural inhabitants of the waterfront, which makes them different to watch. Brando’s got to do so much in every scene; without him, without his conflict, there’s no movie. He’s got to sell every second.

He does.

Waterfront’s magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Budd Schulberg, suggested by articles by Malcolm Johnson; director of photography, Boris Kaufman; edited by Gene Milford; music by Leonard Bernstein; produced by Sam Spiegel; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Marlon Brando (Terry Malloy), Eva Marie Saint (Edie Doyle Karl Malden (Father Barry), Lee J. Cobb (Johnny Friendly), Rod Steiger (Charley Malloy), Pat Henning (Kayo Dugan), Leif Erickson (Glover), James Westerfield (Big Mac) and John F. Hamilton (‘Pop’ Doyle).


Invaders from Mars (1953, William Cameron Menzies)

About halfway through Invaders from Mars, the army mobilizes to come to the aid of the protagonists (who have discovered an alien invasion). These mobilization scenes are all stock footage–later tank footage is stock too–but director Menzies uses it for a long time, like an actual scene. While dragging down the midsection of the picture, it does neatly split the film.

When Mars starts, it’s all about a kid discovering the aliens have landed and started brainwashing people. His father to start. Besides a brief introduction to the family–Mom Hillary Brooke gives a lousy performance, but Leif Erickson is great as Dad–the first twenty minutes are Jimmy Hunt (the kid) running around town trying to get help. He keeps discovering strangeness and more brainwashed humans. Mars really moves.

Then he teams up with Helena Carter, playing a doctor who believes the story (no one really questions Hunt’s story), and Mars starts to slow down. Arthur Franz comes in as an astronomer and erstwhile love interest for Carter. Then the army gets involved, then there’s the lengthy stock footage sequence.

The conclusion, with the alien spaceship, is exciting. Menzies directs the first twenty minutes with aplomb. The set design is brilliant; Mars feels special for those sequences. Sadly, most of the second half takes place either on an outdoor set or at various locations. Its personality evaporates.

While Mars drags, Hunt, Carter and Morris Ankrum’s army colonel are quite good. Menzies does wonders with a small budget.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Cameron Menzies; screenplay by Richard Blake, based on a story by John Tucker Battle; director of photography, John F. Seitz; music by Raoul Kraushaar; production designer, Menzies; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jimmy Hunt (David MacLean), Leif Erickson (Mr. George MacLean), Hillary Brooke (Mrs. Mary MacLean), Helena Carter (Dr. Pat Blake), Arthur Franz (Dr. Stuart Kelston), Morris Ankrum (Col. Fielding), Max Wagner (Sgt. Rinaldi), William Phipps (Sgt. Baker), Milburn Stone (Capt. Roth) and Janine Perreau (Kathy Wilson).


Three Secrets (1950, Robert Wise)

Three Secrets plays like a knock-off of A Letter to Three Wives, only without the writing. Secrets‘s problem is mostly with the writing. There are the three women–all of whom have secrets, except actually only two of them–played by Eleanor Parker, Patricia Neal, and Ruth Roman. The secret is each put a child up for adoption (on the same day) and now the child might be alone on top of a mountain, following a plane crash killing his adoptive parents. The kid’s turning six on the day of the present action, so there are three flashbacks to the women’s past–except only two of them tie together, which leaves the third–Ruth Roman’s–sticking out, just like her character sticks out. She’s particularly mistreated by the film, sort of disregarded, and if director Robert Wise had properly configured the film, she’d be even smaller (and maybe not played by Ruth Roman, who’s good, but deserves a better role). Properly, Three Secrets would juxtapose Eleanor Parker and Patricia Neal. Parker’s got a husband (not the baby’s father), a loving but overbearing mother, and she can’t have kids anymore (which the husband doesn’t know, so maybe that secret’s the third one, since Roman doesn’t have a secret). Neal’s a successful journalist whose career got in the way of her marriage. Had the film been about Neal becoming her own story and Parker’s conflicts with her mother and so on, Three Secrets might have been something better.

It wouldn’t have been great, however, since Wise doesn’t know what to do without a big budget. Three Secrets is visibly cheaper–lots of backdrops standing in for nature, lots of indoor shooting–and Wise doesn’t do anything interesting to make the film visually dynamic. He shoots it straight and unimaginatively. For film buffs, there is a sequence in Three Secrets Wise later did again in The Andromeda Strain. The film does show a pulse–when Parker’s family conflicts are off-screen–once some reporters show up. It’s a great newspaper or radio movie, but it’s not supposed to be about the journalists, it’s supposed to be about the three women. When they get together at the end, for maybe fifteen minutes, the scenes are good. Neal’s the central character and she’s good with both Parker and Roman, but she’s so level-headed throughout, the other two women have a couple nice moments the film should have expanded on. The most interesting part of the present action would have been the three women sitting around worried, but we only get a few minutes of it.

The acting from the three women is all good. Depending on the scene, Parker or Neal is better. The supporting cast is mostly in the flashbacks and of that cast, Ted de Corsia is good. In the present action, Edmon Ryan as a rival reporter and Katherine Warren as Parker’s mother are both excellent.

Three Secrets takes place over a nerve-racking thirty-two hours and it never gives the audience a single moment of dread. Everything is positively resolved for everyone, which is fine enough, but it happens immediately. There isn’t even the pretense of anyone thinking or considering their life-changing decisions. The film needed to be written as a play, just to get the pacing right, then filmed. As it stands, it has some good acting and some strange directorial choices.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; written by Martin Rackin and Gina Kaus; director of photography, Sidney Hickox; edited by Thomas Reilly; music by David Buttolph; produced by Milton Sperling; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Susan Adele Connors Chase), Patricia Neal (Phyllis Horn), Ruth Roman (Ann Lawrence), Frank Lovejoy (Bob Duffy), Leif Erickson (Bill Chase), Ted de Corsia (Del Prince), Edmon Ryan (Hardin), Larry Keating (Mark Harrison), Katherine Warren (Mrs. Connors) and Arthur Franz (Paul Radin).


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