Nina Foch

An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli)

For most of An American in Paris, Gene Kelly’s charm makes up for his lack of acting ability. Even after it turns out the story’s about him stalking Leslie Caron until she agrees to go out with him. It’s okay after that point because she falls immediately in love with Kelly once she does. He makes her laugh.

Funny thing about Caron’s part being so razor thin? She’s the only one with a backstory. She’s the orphan of French Resistance fighter parents. Georges Guétary took care of her. And now she’s legal age and so of course Guétary wants to marry her. So there’s a lot of potential character development.

The script–by Alan Jay Lerner–does none. Caron’s introduction is a series of dancing vignettes, as Guétary describes her. Her personality changes with each. Then later it turns out she doesn’t get a personality at all.

Anyway. Adding to Kelly’s creep factor is how he picks up Caron when he’s out on a date with Nina Foch. She’s a wealthy American who likes Kelly’s paintings and wants to be his patron. Kelly thinks she’s after his bod. But he still harasses Caron on a real date. There’s even a scene where Foch yells at him and Kelly blows her off.

Immediately after it’s forgotten–as in, the script has Foch and Kelly talking about how it’s forgotten; basically Foch is around for American to mock. Not really for comic relief, but in a vaguely mean-spirited way. Because the movie’s not actually about Kelly arriving as a painter.

Oh, right. Kelly’s an ex-G.I. who stayed behind in Paris to become a painter. He lives above a café. His neighbor and pal is Oscar Levant. Levant’s old friends with Guétary, leading not to a love triangle so much as some situation comedy regarding Guétary and Kelly being after the same girl. Both men are old enough to be her father (though in Guétary’s case, only because he’s French).

The film opens with Kelly, Levant, then Guétary narrating an introduction to themselves. The film almost breaks the fourth wall and just has the actors directly address the audience. Given how laggy the device gets–not to mention how the film completely abandons it–a direct address might have worked better.

So while Kelly starves and struggles–before Foch shows up to save him in the second scene–but he’s actually an amazing singer and dancer. Everybody on the block loves it when he and Levant (a concert pianist who’s never had a concert) does a big musical number. The traffic stops. The pedestrians stops. Everyone watches and applauds.

You’d think Kelly would just get a job singing and dancing then.

His numbers are all good. Guétary’s not so much. He only gets one, though he also drags at one of Kelly’s. Sure, he’s French, sure, it’s Paris, but the French-ness overwhelms the musical number value. The accent. It’s distracting. And Paris’s Paris is already a little too fake. It’s beautifully constructed, beautifully lighted (Alfred Gilks’s Technicolor is gorgeous), but there’s barely anyone but Americans around. Foch, Levant (Levant’s gutturally American), an uncredited Noel Neill. Except Guétary getting a number to himself (and a slight subplot) takes up time and An American in Paris is always looking for ways to kill time.

Like Levant’s daydream where he’s playing all the parts in a concert performance. Pianist, audience member, accompanying musician. It’s funny. It’s utterly pointless. But it’s funny. And it’s beautifully executed with the photography effects.

Caron might as well be American. She gets so few lines it barely matters her accent is authentic.

The movie moves along pretty well until the third act, which has a seventeen minute ballet. It’s sort of where Kelly’s heart is broken and he finds himself in the Paris of his paintings but not really because the film never spends enough time on the paintings. Though Kelly can’t make the painting thing work. He dances great. He acts not great.

Spectacular choreography, beautiful sets, great photography, awesome editing from Adrienne Fazan. Okay direction from Minnelli.

American is an expertly executed musical. Shame about the script and acting.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vincente Minnelli; story and screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner; lyrics by Ira Gershwin; director of photography, Alfred Gilks; edited by Adrienne Fazan; music by George Gershwin; produced by Arthur Freed; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Gene Kelly (Jerry Mulligan), Leslie Caron (Lise Bouvier), Nina Foch (Milo Roberts), Georges Guétary (Henri Baurel), and Oscar Levant (Adam Cook).


Scaramouche (1952, George Sidney)

Scaramouche is a deliberately constructed film. I’m curious if screenwriters Ronald Millar and George Froeschel followed the source novel’s plot structure, because it’s a very peculiar series of events. It doesn’t open with the leading man, instead starting out with villain Mel Ferrer. Janet Leigh, as his love interest, gets introduced long before Eleanor Parker–who’s second-billed and leading man Stewart Granger’s love interest.

Except, of course, Ferrer and Granger are Frenchmen so the idea of them having one love interest is… against their character. But there’s also the matter of Richard Anderson, who sort of sets off the big plot–Granger’s want for vengeance–and on and on.

Director Sidney does a beautiful job focusing the viewers attention where it needs to be in each scene, but also where it’s going to need to be in the next scene. A couple huge details–maybe even three–only come up in dialogue. Scaramouche isn’t a film for the disinterested viewer.

But it’d be hard not to be enraptured with the picture. Charles Rosher’s lush color cinematography–which equally showcases the fantastic location action sequences but also the eye-shadow they’ve got on Parker–makes for a transfixing experience.

All the acting is good. Granger’s an able leading man, Ferrer’s fantastic as the villain, Parker’s outstanding in the most complicated role. In the second most complicated (the men aren’t complicated though so it’s not much), Leigh occasionally wavers but is still quite strong.

Wonderful Victor Young score too.

Scaramouche is delightfully thrilling.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Sidney; screenplay by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel, based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini; director of photography, Charles Rosher; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Victor Young; produced by Carey Wilson; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Stewart Granger (Andre Moreau), Eleanor Parker (Lenore), Janet Leigh (Aline de Gavrillac), Mel Ferrer (Noel, Marquis de Maynes), Henry Wilcoxon (Chevalier de Chabrillaine), Nina Foch (Marie Antoinette), Richard Anderson (Philippe de Valmorin), Robert Coote (Gaston Binet) and Lewis Stone (Georges de Valmorin).


In the Arms of a Killer (1992, Robert E. Collins)

Someone with a lot of time–and a low propensity for retching–could probably do a fine comparison between television cop movies of the late twentieth century and b-movies of the decades immediately prior. In the Arms of a Killer is absurdist in its portrayal of police investigation, between John Spencer’s disgruntled detective smoking cigars first thing in the morning (at crime scenes, ashing over evidence, I’m sure), Jaclyn Smith’s rookie detective being promoted from… I think it’s some kind of civilian job, Spencer breaking and entering (with his handy, leather-bound lock pick kit), to I don’t know what. It’s a constant assault on the sensible.

But none of these elements, or even the ones my brain has (thankfully) already expunged), are particularly damning. Any number of solid police thrillers have such elements. What’s different about this one is the writing. Robert E. Collins is an old TV director, so the technical competence shouldn’t be surprising (it is surprising, while watching the movie, since the events transpiring on screen are so stupid). Collins has a nice moving camera, gets away with the impression of a lot of long takes, uses color to symbolize. He’s absolutely solid as a director. As a writer, he’s a joke.

Spencer hates rich people. From Smith’s character’s last name (Quinn), he can tell where she’s from on Long Island and her family’s financial history. I’m not familiar with the Quinns of Long Island (are they descendants of Dr. Mike?–Arms of a Killer is badly written to the point I’m admitting I can make “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” references… wow). I’m not sure what else Spencer has as a character except that constant and goofy hatred. He’s a good guy underneath it all of course, I’m sure. Watching Spencer have to chum out one liners at every scene break is painful enough, but having to listen to him deliver that wretched dialogue is painful. It’s clear Spencer’s a good actor, even if this performance is bad–due to the script–and, given I watched the movie because of him, it’s terrible he never got recognition until so late in his career.

As for Smith… she’s just awful. Her hair never moves and neither does her face. Every delivery is wooden (and unbelievable). I can’t believe Smith made a career out of being in lousy TV movies, especially given the incompetence of her performance. You’d think someone would have realized how stupid the dialogue sounded when she delivered it.

Unfortunately, it isn’t Spencer who manages to rise above the material. Instead, it’s Michael Nouri, who also did a lot of similar garbage, who turns in a reasonable performance. Nouri seems disdainful of the material as he delivers it and maybe it endears him to the viewer. It’s like he’s the viewer’s friend, acknowledging the viewer–just like he is–is wasting time on this movie. Precious time never to be recouped… except for Nouri, of course, since he at least got paid for it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Robert E. Collins; director of photography, Anthony B. Richmond; edited by Robert K. Lambert; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Anthony Cowley; produced by Ronald A. Levinson; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Jaclyn Smith (Maria Quinn), John Spencer (Det. Vincent Cusack), Nina Foch (Mrs. Venible), Gerald S. O’Loughlin (Art Seidensticker), Sandahl Bergman (Nurse Henninger), Linda Dona (Chrissy), Kristoffer Tabori (Dennis) and Michael Nouri (Brian Venible).


The Return of the Vampire (1944, Lew Landers)

The Universal monster movies notably ignored modern events–when World War II came around, the clocks turned back on all their European-set monster movies to some indistinguishable point. The Return of the Vampire, a Columbia cheapie, on the other hand, sets the events directly in contemporary settings, both after the First World War and during the Second. It’s set in London, so there are bombing raids, which change the physical settings the film has to tell its story in. This acknowledgment of reality makes Return of the Vampire interesting. While it’s obviously cheap, it’s a neat idea, so’s the one where there’s a twenty-three year gap, which is only successful because of Frieda Inescort, who gives a good performance in her aging make-up.

I watched Return of the Vampire for a couple reasons. First, I might have owned it years ago on an EP VHS tape–though this viewing didn’t bring about any memory of it–and second, because it’s got a werewolf and a vampire. For some reason, that combination, mixed with the low budget, seemed like it might amuse. Unfortunately, the werewolf–played by Matt Willis–fails to amuse much. Willis is terrible as the werewolf, though sincere as the human alter ego. And I suppose Bela Lugosi is better in this film than he is in Dracula, but he’s still terrible. He’s getting old here and when the girl falls for him, it’s visibly absurd.

The acting makes a lot of Return of the Vampire passable. Inescort’s got good scenes with both Gilbert Emery and Miles Mander and Nina Foch seems like she’s a better actor than her part. The direction’s actually half good, usually going bad after a really good shot, but it’s probably better direction than most of the Universal monster movies of the era. Adding to the acceptability is Lugosi’s relatively short screen time and the film’s seventy-minute running time. However, if it didn’t have a peculiar approach, I doubt it’d be tolerable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lew Landers; written by Griffin Jay and Randall Faye; directors of photography, L. William O’Connell and John Stumar; edited by Paul Borofsky; music by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco; produced by Sam White; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bela Lugosi (Armand Tesla), Frieda Inescort (Lady Jane Ainsley), Nina Foch (Nicki Saunders), Miles Mander (Sir Frederick Fleet), Roland Varno (John Ainsley), Matt Willis (Andreas Obry) and Gilbert Emery (Dr. Walter Saunders).


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