Richard Brooks

Storm Warning (1951, Stuart Heisler)

One of Storm Warning’s failings is its attempt to carefully navigate the story content so I’m just going to be lead-footed and get right to things, which probably would’ve helped the movie though not the ending.

Storm Warning is about Ginger Rogers visiting sister Doris Day and witnessing the Ku Klux Klan murdering someone. Rogers sees it before she even lets Day know she’s in town for a visit. Rogers is a fashion model who travels the country modeling clothes at buyers’ meetings. For a while it seems like Storm Warning might be a de facto strong woman picture, just because Rogers is clearly the protagonist and she’s also “of a certain age,” which probably meant over twenty-four in 1951 but Rogers is late thirties. Sadly, no. I expected way too much when I saw Richard Brooks on the screenwriting credit; I always forget the reason Daniel Fuchs stands out is because I’ve seen The Thing too many times and not because he’s a good writer.

Anyway.

Warning has a short present action (twenty-five hours or so) and a fine pace. So right away Rogers finds out Day’s husband, who she’s never met and Day has moved to this small town to be with and, oh, Day’s pregnant—the husband (Steve Cochran in an arguably fantastic performance) is one of the killers. Rogers saw two of them unmasked, Hugh Sanders is the other. It’s important because just when the movie ought to be about Rogers and Day, or even just Rogers (as it turns out Day’s been going along with the Klan—just like the rest of the town), it’s about Cochran and Sanders. Ronald Reagan and whatever the hell is going on with his oversized suits is second-billed but he turns out to be irrelevant, with less a part to play than even Sanders. He’s the county prosecutor who wants to go after the Klan, even if it means he’s going to lose his re-election campaign. See, the Klan (run by Sanders) has supplanted the rule of law. The guy they kill at the beginning is a reporter who’s close to uncovering the Klan isn’t just supplanting the rule of law, but—and it comes in real quick—Sanders is actually ripping all the dumb racist hicks off because they’re dumb racist hicks. There’s some of the script’s careful navigating—see, while Klan members are showing poor judgment, they’re also victims of income tax evaders.

It’s shocking Storm Warning didn’t cure racism back in 1951 with such a bold statement. Eye roll.

Of course, Warning doesn’t address racism. There are occasional Black people in the film, meaningfully iCocn shots, but they don’t get any lines and there’s no violence against them or even mention of their existence. What’s wrong with the Klan is they’re holding small towns back so people like Ginger Rogers won’t want to visit. As Sanders puts it, if it weren’t for the Klan, Rogers wouldn’t be able to walk the streets at night. Sanders isn’t worried about the phantom Black male attacking her it turns out; it’s his men. You need the Klan to stop racist hick men from assaulting women en masse or so Sanders says. And the film agrees with him, which should throw off its internal philosophy but doesn’t because holy crap the ending is nuts morality play….

It’s a mess.

But for a while, it’s not and it’s rather good, even if it’s a little neutered. Rogers is really good, even when the film doesn’t have anything for her to do. Director Heisler will give Rogers these reaction shots—where she’s reacting to things she’s observing—and she does a great job with them. Shame the shots all seem forced in (or Clarence Kolster just does a terrible job editing). Day’s okay. She’s got a couple rather good scenes, but also a number of weak ones. It’s hard to buy her and Cochran, who’s always a bastard of one kind or another. Though the film also tries its darnedest to imply Day’s a little bit dumb, which throws a wrench in that pro-woman message I’d foolishly assumed would be a factor since… it’s about Rogers standing up to the Klan, right? But Day’s possible dullness is just another excuse for her inaction.

Storm Warning really likes giving White people an excuse to be inactive. Including Reagan’s parents, who didn’t used to think his silly liberal politics (in this case, thinking the Klan shouldn’t be allowed to kidnap and murder people) were good, but they’re grown on them since Reagan’s such a profound legal orator.

He’s not. He’s really not. The courtroom scene is terribly written.

Reagan’s fine overall. His suits are dumb, he’s got no personality, but he’s kind of banally charming. He really, really, really, really, really never should’ve been given lead roles. Someone seemed to think he was Jimmy Stewart.

He’s not.

Cochran’s terrifying. Even after the movie takes a few hits—the courtroom stuff is exceptionally problematic, plot-wise—Cochran’s still reliably foreboding. All the tension comes from him, even if his scenes with Sanders are dramatically inert nonsense.

Sanders isn’t bad, but he’s never good. He’s a one dimensional Mr. Big.

Great photography from Carl E. Guthrie; the exterior night time shots are fantastic (right up until the end when Heisler can’t figure out how to frame the climax and Guthrie can’t figure out how to light what Heisler goes with). Too much music from Daniele Amfitheatrof but not bad. Just too much.

Storm Warning could’ve been good. It could’ve given Rogers a great role, could’ve given Day a great role, could’ve given Reagan… well, maybe could’ve not wasted the time Reagan’s onscreen. It starts strong and seems sturdy but nope. And not even because of all the hoops it jumps through to avoid really talking about the Klan.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; written by Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Marsha Mitchell), Steve Cochran (Hank Rice), Doris Day (Lucy Rice), Hugh Sanders (Charlie Barr), Lloyd Gough (Cliff Rummel), Raymond Greenleaf (Faulkner), and Ronald Reagan (Burt Rainey).


The Hidden (1987, Jack Sholder)

The Hidden opens with a shock. Then there’s another shock, then another, then another. The first act of the film races through them. Chris Mulkey is on a killing spree, the cops are in pursuit–including Michael Nouri’s soulful supercop–only it turns out Mulkey can’t be killed. Enter oddball FBI agent Kyle MacLachlan, who teams with Nouri, and investigates Mulkey’s “accomplice,” William Boyett. Because now Boyett’s on a killing spree. Only we know something Nouri doesn’t.

An alien bug crawls into a dead body’s mouth and reanimates them. Then it goes on a killing, looting, and general obnoxious spree.

The alien jumps around a bit, first into new supporting cast members, later into established ones. Some actors have a great time with it–Mulkey, Boyett, the third act surprises; others don’t. Claudia Christian is fine, but she doesn’t get much to do in Jim Kouf’s pseudonymous script except fondle herself. Oh, and she gets to shoot machine guns. Those scenes, which might be fun if The Hidden let itself be trashy, fall flat (except as technical exercises). Sholder’s good at setup, not pay-off.

His lack of interest comes in waves. At the open, Sholder’s super on. He’s got his cranes–Sholder loves his crane shots–he’s got good photography from Jacques Haitkin and good editing from Michael N. Knue and Maureen O’Connell. Sometimes the editing is a little too obviously cut against the eclectic rock soundtrack selections, but it’s still good editing. Except The Hidden isn’t just this string of pursuit sequences, it changes and Sholder can’t handle those changes.

The film runs ninety-six minutes. The first hour is pretty much contiguous, with the minor pauses or breaks either not getting in the way of the building momentum or contributing to it. Everything works. Script, direction, acting. Once the film breaks the narrative, jumping ahead until the next morning, entropy sets in. There’s a lot of action, not enough time for exposition, no time for character development.

And The Hidden almost makes it. If any one thing had been better about the finale–well, Sholder’s direction, Kouf’s writing, or Michael Convertino’s music–it would’ve been fine. Instead, everything works against it. Sholder leverages a lot on Convertino’s score but it’s a bad score. It starts a mediocre score, then–like everything else in Hidden–gets worse as the film progresses. So it’s real bad in the finish.

Neat “alien-in-man-suit” performance from Kyle MacLachlan. It’s a shame no one thought about how MacLachlan’s character development should react to external events or why children think he’s weird. Nouri’s affable and reasonably successful. The role doesn’t ask for much, even when it pretends a greater import. The Hidden has a couple buddy cop movie moments; Nouri and MacLachlan do them well. The more soulful Nouri stuff–the handwringing, impassioned pleas–doesn’t work. Especially not since they frequently take place in the awkwardly homy squad room set.

Clarence Felder is good. Richard Brooks is good. Ed O’Ross is fine. Clu Gulager has nothing to do, but it’s still nice to see him.

Most of The Hidden is good. The builds up this phenomenal momentum, which should be able to sail through anything. Turns out its no match for the third act icebergs.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Sholder; written by Jim Kouf; director of photography, Jacques Haitkin; edited by Maureen O’Connell and Michael N. Knue; music by Michael Convertino; production designers, C.J. Strawn and Mick Strawn; produced by Robert Shaye, Gerald T. Olson, and Michael L. Meltzer; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Michael Nouri (Tom Beck), Kyle MacLachlan (Lloyd Gallagher), Chris Mulkey (Jack DeVries), William Boyett (Jonathan Miller), Claudia Christian (Brenda), Katherine Cannon (Barbara Beck), Clarence Felder (Lt. Masterson), Clu Gulager (Lt. Flynn), Ed O’Ross (Willis), Richard Brooks (Sanchez), and John McCann (Senator Holt).


Key Largo (1948, John Huston)

Key Largo is a grand affair. Humphrey Bogart versus Edward G. Robinson with Lauren Bacall and Claire Trevor in the wings. Not to mention Lionel Barrymore. The film plays beautifully. Director Huston and co-screenwriter Richard Brooks give Bogart and Bacall some lovely, ever so gentle; Bogart’s a vet, Bacall’s the widow of one of his friends from the service. Huston–with some absolutely gorgeous photography from Karl Freund–shoots their scenes together carefully. Bacall’s always primed, but her enthusiasm is reserved (which ends up being one of the film’s problems).

Robinson’s a gangster hiding out in Barrymore and Bacall’s hotel (Barrymore’s her father-in-law). Trevor’s his moll and he’s got a whole gang of lackeys. Best of the lackeys are Thomas Gomez and Harry Lewis. Gomez gets a bunch of dialogue in the first act, when Robinson’s hiding off-screen, and Lewis is sort of comic relief. He’s still dangerous–more than the other goons–but there’s an aloofness to him.

Bogart’s good, Robinson’s great, Trevor’s amazing, Barrymore’s good, Bacall’s good. Barrymore just gets a Lionel Barrymore role. He’s a wise sage and gets some great scenes where he’s yelling at Robinson, who has to take it because Barrymore’s in a wheelchair. Bacall doesn’t get a lot to do and, oddly enough, neither does Bogart.

Huston and Brooks give Bogart a somewhat unexpected redemptive hero arc, which is already uphill because Bogart’s persona for the character doesn’t match it and–more importantly–they never definitively establish. It’s all based on one tense scene (Key Largo is full of them) and Huston isn’t able to sell the sequence. He gets distracted by his actors and their performances and he concentrates on accentuating those performances, not keeping the movie in check.

Once Robinson shows up and the aforementioned tense scene with the unsold Bogart sequence plays out, Robinson becomes the lead of the picture. Bogart, who opens the film, becomes background. Top-billed Bogart’s subplot doesn’t even take precedence over fifth-billed Trevor’s. Why? Because Trevor’s got an amazing performance to give and Huston enables it at the expense of a more cohesive whole, which is both good and bad. Key Largo could’ve been better, but Trevor couldn’t have been. Like I said, she’s amazing.

And, without malice, she takes the film away from Bacall in the female lead department. Trevor’s so strong, once she and Robinson have their scenes, it feels like Bogart and Bacall are only around to have brought the story to Trevor and Robinson. It’s all an elaborate frame. But it isn’t, of course, because Huston and Brooks don’t try too hard with the script. Key Largo is a thriller, not just because it’s moody and full of intrigue, but because Huston’s going for thrills. He’s exciting the viewer.

He just happens to have some great actors performing these thrill-inducing scenes.

Bacall gets short-changed the most. She has the least character–when, inarguably, she should have the most (she is falling for her dead husband’s commanding officer while she runs her father-in-law’s business). Bogart doesn’t get much either but he does get the expertly done action finale. Great editing from Rudi Fehr.

Key Largo is expertly made, beautifully acted. It’s great entertainment.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Richard Brooks and Huston, based on the play by Maxwell Anderson; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Max Steiner; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Frank McCloud), Edward G. Robinson (Rocco), Lauren Bacall (Nora), Lionel Barrymore (James Temple), Claire Trevor (Gaye Dawn), Thomas Gomez (Curly), Harry Lewis (Toots), Dan Seymour (Angel), William Haade (Feeney), Monte Blue (Sheriff Ben Wade), John Rodney (Deputy Clyde Sawyer) and Marc Lawrence (Ziggy).


Deadline – U.S.A. (1952, Richard Brooks)

Deadline – U.S.A. is about half a great movie. Director Brooks fills the film with a superb supporting cast of character actors–Paul Stewart, Audrey Christie and Jim Backus are the standouts–and lets them share the runtime with lead Humphrey Bogart. It’s a newspaper drama… is the paper going to close down? Brooks’s script complicates it with squabbles between the heirs, a gangster (Martin Gabel in the film’s only bad performance), and Bogart’s ex-wife (Kim Hunter) about to remarry.

Brooks takes about twenty-five minutes (of the film’s ninety minute runtime) to get to the gangster story. He’s established the paper’s imminent closing, the cast, then he brings in the “big story.” Bogart and Ed Begley have wonderful scenes where they try to reason out the story. Even when Brooks’s plotting goes wrong, his scenes are extraordinarily strong. But he can never make the gangster story as important as the newspaper’s staff or whether Hunter’s going to fall for Bogart’s wooing.

In a lot of ways, Deadline is a big, glorious mess of a picture. Brooks doesn’t follow through with his initial narrative impulse–Hunter disappears for a while, to let Bogart pursue Gabel–and he plays way too loose with the time. Brooks seems to consciously avoid addressing the time.

Bogart’s fantastic–he and Ethel Barrymore (as the paper’s owner) are excellent together, as are he and Hunter. Awesome photography from Milton R. Krasner makes up for William B. Murphy’s weak editing.

Deadline‘s good, but it should be amazing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Richard Brooks; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by William B. Murphy; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Sol C. Siegel; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Ed Hutcheson), Ethel Barrymore (Margaret Garrison), Kim Hunter (Nora Hutcheson), Ed Begley (Frank Allen), Warren Stevens (George Burrows), Paul Stewart (Harry Thompson), Martin Gabel (Tomas Rienzi), Joe De Santis (Herman Schmidt), Joyce Mackenzie (Katherine Garrison Geary), Audrey Christie (Mrs. Willebrandt), Fay Baker (Alice Garrison Courtney) and Jim Backus (Jim Cleary).


The Last Hunt (1956, Richard Brooks)

Here’s a strange one. I just had to look to see where it fell in careers, Richard Brooks’s and Robert Taylor’s, because it’s… well, it’s something else. It’s sort of early in Brooks’s directing career, before he took off, and it’s at the very end of Taylor’s MGM contract. Taylor plays a villain in it. And Brooks handles his villainy in a singular way–he never lets anyone get away from it. Some of the scenes play like a hostage situation, but hero Stewart Granger can always leave. Lloyd Nolan and Russ Tamblyn play skinners to Granger and Taylor’s buffalo hunters and they too can leave. Even “Indian girl” (literally, the character has no other name) Debra Paget could, until a point, leave. But no one does. Taylor holds them–and the viewer–captive.

At a certain point–the film gets off to a rocky start, with Brooks having the most trouble establishing the character relationships effectively–it becomes clear it’s not about watching Taylor’s crazed gunslinger turned buffalo hunter (he’s an Indian War veteran, clearly suffering from the experience) redeem himself, but about seeing if the rest of the cast can survive knowing him. And Taylor’s performance might be his best. Once it becomes clear he’s the villain, he’s amazing. Absolutely terrifying, with all the trappings of a tragic character, but he’s so evil, it’s impossible to feel any sympathy.

Brooks juggles two big issues (The Last Hunt certainly signifies, the same year as The Searchers no less, the developing consciousness of the American Western… it also shares a theme with The Searchers, which is a little odd)–buffalo hunting and racism. The two wear heavy on an already somber Granger. Granger, second-billed to Taylor here, gives a great performance too. Brooks doesn’t deal much in subtext here and Granger’s perfect at dealing with conspicuous unrest (even though a lot of his internal turmoil is silent).

The rest of the cast, except Paget, is fantastic. Brooks’s direction is excellent, as is (after the first act) his dialogue. He has some problems with the day-for-night shooting and some rear screen projection, but it’s forgivable. Brooks really makes something great here and it’s a quiet (even though it’s Cinemascope) mid-1950s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Brooks; screenplay by Brooks, based on the novel by Milton Lott; director of photography, Russell Harlan; edited by Ben Lewis; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Stewart Granger (Sandy McKenzie), Robert Taylor (Charlie Gilson), Lloyd Nolan (Woodfoot), Debra Paget (Indian girl), Russ Tamblyn (Jimmy O’Brien), Constance Ford (Peg) and Joe De Santis (Ed Black).


Shakedown (1988, James Glickenhaus)

Shakedown is such a terrible film, I’d have to go through it line by line to adequately catalog its deficiencies. The big action climax features Sam Elliot hanging onto landing gear of a jet flying over the World Trade Center, then dropping into a river. This climax–from take-off to dropping into the river to the plane landing–takes about thirty-seven seconds and features some of the worst special effects I have ever seen. So why did I sit through Shakedown? A few reasons. First, it’s Peter Weller from his “prime.” I’m not sure Weller’s any good in Shakedown, but the role’s different for him–it’s a poorly conceived character, but Weller brings some respectability to it (enough you occasionally forget the quality of the film, then the dialogue reminds you). Second, I’ll probably never see another James Glickenhaus movie and the guy has a great name. His movie’s absolute trash, but he’s got a great name. Finally, Shakedown was filmed on location in New York City. Today, there are a few blocks in Los Angeles where movies set in New York do most of their filming. Back in the 1980s, movies like Shakedown could afford to film in the city and today, eighty million dollar superhero movies cannot. Fourth–I know I said finally, but I wasn’t sure I was going to admit to this one–Shakedown is a document of an era past and, to some degree, forgotten. An era I mostly missed.

I know little about the cheap action film genre. Something happened in the late 1980s, when big companies (Warner and Fox) started producing this dreak. While I never saw that crap… well, some of the Seagal’s, but never the Van Damme’s (until he hooked up with Peter Hyams and, wow, had Hyams ever nose-dived). Had I seen Shakedown growing up, before I could just dismiss it out of hand, maybe I’d feel different about it. It’s an awful film. Its ideas are kind of scary–it’s offensive to women, blacks, intellectual whites, ignorant whites–the only real people of merit are Texans and Jimi Hendrix devotees. I certainly wouldn’t want to know anyone who thought it was good, but it is so absurd it was mildly amusing. I didn’t have a bad ninety-six minutes, especially not after the Universal logo at the beginning took up a whole minute as they tried to stretch it above the ninety minute mark.

There are also a lot of familiar faces in the film. There’s one scene with a parking lot attendant who has a very familiar voice and it turned out to be Harold Perrineau. Richard Brooks has a decent-sized supporting role and he’s actually pretty good. He probably gives the best performance in the film.

But seeing it on location was the most compelling aspect of the film. Not even movies shot in New York today use it to the extent Shakedown used it. Otherwise, it’s a piece of garbage. It’s so stupid, one would have to watch it to believe it. But, somehow, as a film, it’s not offensive. It’s not poorly made–besides those end special effects–though Glickenhaus does love low-angle shots. The writing’s awful. Maybe because it wasn’t a hit. But Weller, coming off Robocop, couldn’t find anything better to do?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Glickenhaus; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Paul Fried; music by Jonathan Elias; production designer, Charles Bennett; produced by J. Boyce Harman Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Roland Dalton), Sam Elliott (Richie Marks), George Loros (Officer Varelli), Thomas G. Waites (Officer Kelly), Daryl Edwards (Dr. Watson), Jos Laniado (Ruben), Richard Brooks (Michael Jones), Blanche Baker (Gail Feinberger), Shirley Stoler (Irma), John C. McGinley (Sean Phillips) and Patricia Charbonneau (Susan Cantrell).

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