Robert Wise

Run Silent Run Deep (1958, Robert Wise)

Run Silent Run Deep runs a little short. Just when the film has the most potential does it sort of shrug and finish up real quick. There’s a third act reveal and it’s a good one, but it’s not good enough the movie can end on it. Especially not after it’s just had such a strong second act.

Burt Lancaster has just had a big character development moment, there’s just been an awesome special effects sequence, it’s right when Run Silent Run Deep has its most potential. The film’s never bad, though it occasionally feels a little claustrophobic, narratively speaking, but it’s been on this “can’t believe no one calls him Ahab” arc with Clark Gable for about an hour. The second act shake-up comes at just the right moment and sets up a great third arc. And the third arc is not great. It’s perfunctory, inventively so, but perfunctory. The finale lacks any impact. The big action finale doesn’t have much action, certainly not of the level in the second act set piece; Lancaster’s arc ends up going nowhere. He really had just been support for Gable the whole time.

So, Run Deep takes place during World War II. It opens with sub commander Gable’s sub getting sunk; he survives, along with some other guys but not everyone. A year later, he’s pushing pencils and playing “Battleship” with new sidekick Jack Warden. All of a sudden Warden lets it slip three other ships have gone down just where Gable’s did. A man possessed he storms over to the brass, demands a ship, gets one, which pauses executive officer Lancaster’s promotion to captain. His captain… died on their previous mission? It doesn’t come up.

Once onboard it soon becomes clear Gable’s going to hunt down Japanese ship sinking all the U.S. submarines. Run Deep teaches the sound moral, “you’ve got to be willing to die to kill.” For a brief few minutes, the film’s about the inherent righteousness of Ahab-ing. Gable’s got Lancaster convinced—though Lancaster doesn’t want to admit it. The crew doesn’t get that perk of command, however, so they’re ready to mutiny.

Lancaster and Gable are great together because they don’t like one another but Gable’s exploiting Lancaster’s ability. It’s kind of awesome, even when it’s just to kill time with montage sequences. Run Deep impresses with its special effects. The other stuff? It doesn’t worry too much. The submarine set is fine; not great. The editing—supervised by George Boemler—is awesome. The editing makes Run Deep until that end of the second act uptick.

Gable’s good. Warden’s good. Lancaster’s almost great. He’s great for a while, then his character arc falls out from under him. Worse, the third act is set to be where Gable finally gets some great material and never does. It’s a bummer. It needs to go longer. And there are places where it could’ve, but it really could have used a better action set piece in the third act than the second. If the dramatics were stronger, it’d be fine. But the dramatics aren’t stronger.

Nice supporting cast, particularly Brad Dexter, Don Rickles (in a totally straight part), and Joe Maross.

Decent Franz Waxman score. Solid Russell Harlan photography. The composite shots don’t really impress but Harlan does fine with the submarine suspense stuff and it’s more important.

Wise’s direction is fine. He does really well with the action. He does better with the supporting cast than his stars, which is a problem. But there’s already that too short script. So fine.

But Run Silent Run Deep ought to be better than fine. It wastes Lancaster and Gable separately and it wastes them together.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by John Gay, based on the novel by Edward L. Beach; director of photography, Russell Harlan; editorial supervisor, George Boemler; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Harold Hecht; released by United Artists.

Starring Clark Gable (Cmdr. Richardson), Burt Lancaster (Lt. Bledsoe), Jack Warden (Yeoman 1st Class Mueller), Brad Dexter (Ens. Cartwright), Don Rickles (Quartermaster 1st Class Ruby), Nick Cravat (Russo), Mary LaRoche (Laura Richardson), and Joe Maross (Chief Kohler).



The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, Robert Wise)

The Day the Earth Stood Still opens with these sensational titles. 3D text jumping out, set against the backdrop of space, Bernard Herrmann’s score at its loudest; the titles suggest the film is going to be something grandiose. It is and it isn’t. For the first act, director Wise moves quickly, short scenes setting up the world’s reaction to a flying saucer circling the planet. Newscasters report, air traffic control investigates, people worry.

And then the ship lands. The special effects in Day the Earth Stood Still are excellent without ever being sensational or outlandish. There are only a couple major effects sequences–the space ship landing, the titular incident–otherwise, the film’s rather quiet. It starts big, then Edmund H. North’s script starts closing it in, making it smaller and smaller until it can fit into a house. Specifically, into second-billed Patricia Neal’s boarding house. She’s just a resident, a widow living there with her son, Billy Gray.

They’re there, listening to the radio, when a new boarder arrives. That boarder, Michael Rennie, is the space man, escaped from the Army hospital (some grunt shot him after he walked out of the space ship and got out a gift for the President). At that moment, the film changes. Or, more accurately, perturbs in an unexpected, gentler direction. Rennie’s quiet, reserved, inquisitive, and gentle. Sure, he’s got a giant robot with laser vision, but Rennie just wants to see what humans are like.

Rennie’s mission to Earth is simple. He wants to address the world leaders. The United States government, its nipples hard at the thought of a prolonged Cold War, is no help. So Rennie decides he’s going to try the scientists, starting with Sam Jaffe. Only Jaffe’s not home when Rennie comes to visit.

Until the middle of the movie, North’s script never takes the focus off Rennie. Gray’s around a lot, but he’s never the focus. It’s Rennie, the alien, who acts as the viewer’s guide through the film. And the film keeps the viewer informed about Rennie’s plans and, often, his thoughts. Eventually, Neal has to take the lead–she’s got to stop her idiot boyfriend Hugh Marlowe from dooming the planet–and she stays in the lead until the end of the film, but the first half is all Rennie.

Besides the big Earth standing still sequence, there’s also a big chase sequence at the end involving a military dragnet. Wise and editor William Reynolds are methodical with it, tightening the net around Rennie in real time, tightening viewer expectation as it progresses. The viewer knows to be concerned more than Rennie, who’s cautious but not enough. He’s kind of powerless, after all. Interplanetary traveller or not, the film establishes right off he can be hurt. It also establishes most Earthlings are more than happy to shoot first and not ask any questions at all.

But the film’s never cynical. It can’t be with Gray around. He’s thrilled to have a new friend in Rennie, who acts as babysitter so Neal can hang out with Marlowe. She just thinks Marlowe’s pushy, not an abject tool. Gray and Rennie’s day out, which includes the first visit to Jaffe’s house, also has the unlikely duo visiting Gray’s father’s grave in Arlington Cemetary. The war isn’t mentioned but it’s omnipresent, kind of like government bureaucracy; the film does extremely well with its Washington D.C. setting and some of the city’s locations. The scene at the Lincoln Monument is particularly effective.

Gray’s lack of cynicism stands up to a lot of pressure, including some from Neal–her rejection of cynicism is what hands the film off to her. It’s too bad the film drops Gray in the second half; Day only runs ninety minutes, there’s not a lot of room. It’s either got to be Gray and Rennie or Neal and Rennie active in the main plot.

Much of that main plot takes place indoors, in the ordinary. People are scared, unsure about what’s going on with the flying saucer and the spaceman on the loose (Rennie’s incognito at the boarding house). Wise and cinematographer Leo Tover have these confined–but never cramped–shots inside. Outside they open up, especially when they get to do location shooting, but inside… well, Rennie wanted to find out how people lived, didn’t he?

The Day the Earth Stood Still is always methodical and never ponderous. Wise, screenwriter North, editor Reynolds, they all keep things moving. It’s fantastic but in a mundane, thoughtful way. Just like Rennie. He keeps an even keel throughout his adventures on Earth, no matter how dangerous things get for him.

Excellent performances from everyone–Rennie, Neal, Gray, Marlowe, Jaffe–it’s not a big cast. It’s a big story, sure, but the film keeps that story contained. The human element is most important; even during the big effects set pieces, Wise makes sure the human reaction is present. He ably scales the human element when needed. Confined to big, big to small. It’s reassuring. Just like Rennie.

Day is a fine film. It’s got its limits, but Wise and company accomplish what they set out to do. Though, maybe, not what those 3D opening titles suggest they’re going to set out to do.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Edmund H. North, based on a story by Harry Bates; director of photography, Leo Tover; edited by William Reynolds; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Julian Blaustein; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Michael Rennie (Klaatu), Patricia Neal (Helen Benson), Billy Gray (Bobby Benson), Hugh Marlowe (Tom Stevens), Sam Jaffe (Professor Jacob Barnhardt), and Frances Bavier (Mrs. Barley).


The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, Orson Welles)

Unfortunately, I feel the need to address some of the behind the scenes aspects of The Magnificent Ambersons. Not because I plan on talking about them, but because director Welles’s career is filled with a lack of control. There are always questions–what did editor Robert Wise do on his own, what did he do with Welles’s input. With Ambersons, one can get lost in the possibility. But the reality is more than strong enough on its own.

With Ambersons, Welles creates a nightmare. He creates a nightmare of a child in the humorously awful, spoiled little rich kid (a wonderful, uncredited Bobby Cooper), who becomes a nightmare of a young man (Tim Holt in a phenomenal performance). The thing about Holt’s character, who negatively impacts everyone around him in one way or another including himself, is he doesn’t change. He just has a certain set of skills, he applies them to all situations without regard to whether they’re appropriate for those situations. Welles doesn’t care if the audience is sympathetic to Holt, he cares if they’re interested. Holt–and the Magnificent Ambersons exist regardless of audience sympathy; they even have a haunted mansion to loiter around.

Because even studio meddling and Wise’s ego can’t alter the “in camera” aspects of Ambersons. There’s an amazing mansion set where Holt terrorizes his elders. There’s Stanley Cortez’s gorgeous photography. There’s the acting. And, frankly, some of the editing is so obviously under Welles’s instruction, especially in the first act. Ambersons runs under ninety minutes and covers a decade and a half. It’s mostly told in summary, with actual scenes left to haunt the characters and audience alike. It’s a weighty film; director Welles narrates it himself, applying further pressure to the audiences’ shoulders. It’s got a perfect narrative distance. Was that distance Welles’s intention or the result of meddling? Who knows.

Wonderful supporting performances from Ray Collins and Richard Bennett. Dolores Costello is great as Holt’s mother, Agnes Moorehead’s great as his aunt. Joseph Cotten’s great as Holt’s love interest’s father. Cotten is also Costello’s love interest, which what all the drama is about. Anne Baxter plays Cotten’s daughter. She has the most important role in the entire film (outside Moorehead, who has to humanize Holt). Baxter has to be believable as the object of Holt’s affection. It works, thanks to Baxter, Holt and Welles, but it’s an achievement. It isn’t about Baxter being appealing, it’s about Holt being monstrous.

The Magnificent Ambersons, in its under ninety minute runtime, offers somewhere around eighty-five minutes of perfect filmmaking. The other three or four minutes, meddled or not, have perfect acting and excellent studio filmmaking. It may have a haunted history, but it’s appropriate. The Magnificent Ambersons is all about being haunted after all.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on the novel by Booth Tarkington; director of photography, Stanley Cortez; edited by Robert Wise; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Tim Holt (George Minafer), Dolores Costello (Isabel Amberson Minafer), Joseph Cotten (Eugene Morgan), Anne Baxter (Lucy Morgan), Agnes Moorehead (Fanny Minafer), Ray Collins (Jack Amberson), Don Dillaway (Wilbur Minafer) and Richard Bennett (Major Amberson).


Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)

In Citizen Kane, director Welles ties everything together–not just the story (he does wrap the narrative visually), but also how the filmmaking relates to the film’s content. Kane’s story can’t be told any other way. That precision–whether it’s in the summary sequences or in how scenes cut together–is absolutely necessary to not just keep the viewer engaged, but to keep them over-engaged. Even with the conclusion, where Welles reveals the film’s “solution” (quote unquote); it doesn’t resolve that mystery in a timely fashion–Welles drags it out to get the viewer thinking, questioning. Welles puts together this perfect film and then asks the viewer to wonder whether or not it was all worth it. Not just his making it, but the viewer’s watching it.

The little moments in the film–Welles gets in these subtle things with melodramatic fireworks going off in the background, whether its Dorothy Comingore’s humanity or Everett Sloane’s wistfulness or “protagonist” William Alland’s frustration–remind the viewer the story’s still about people. And why shouldn’t it be? Most scenes in Kane feature two to three working characters. Sometimes Welles has people in the background, sometimes he doesn’t. The little moments in big scenes–like one between Joseph Cotten and Sloane during a party–are often more devastating than the little scenes.

Welles unforgivingly asks a lot of the viewer. He opens the film with a complex fading sequence to bring the viewer into the world of Kane, then abruptly pulls the film out of itself, into a newsreel. And for almost twenty minutes, Welles barely gives himself any screen time. It’s always such a big deal that first time Welles lets Kane have an audible line in the newsreel.

All that control isn’t to prime the viewer, isn’t to get him or her desperately wondering about Rosebud, all that control is because the film needs it. Kane spans forty-some years in under two hours. Far under two hours if you don’t count the newsreel “first act.” When Welles establishes his character as an older man, an atypical protagonist–Kane’s infinitely sympathetic while never likable, though Welles knows his charm goes a long way in lightening a heavy scene–he does so without hostility. Nowhere in Kane does Welles play for the audience, but he also doesn’t artificially distance them. The opening does, quite literally, guide the viewer into the film.

Kane is an unsentimental film about a sentimental subject and Welles does wonders with that disconnect.

Comingore probably gives the film’s best performance. Welles is amazing and mesmerizing, but so much of the second half has to do with how he plays off her, she’s essential. Of course, there aren’t any merely good performances–even Erskine Sanford, in the closest thing to a comedy relief role, is great. Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Paul Stewart, George Coulouris–all fantastic.

And Joseph Cotten as the film’s “good guy?” He’s marvelous.

Impeccable Gregg Toland photography, great Bernard Herrmann music.

500 words aren’t enough.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Orson Welles; written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Robert Wise; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane), Joseph Cotten (Jedediah Leland), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander Kane), Ruth Warrick (Emily Monroe Norton Kane), Everett Sloane (Mr. Bernstein), George Coulouris (Walter Parks Thatcher), Agnes Moorehead (Mary Kane), Harry Shannon (Jim Kane), Paul Stewart (Raymond), Ray Collins (James W. Gettys), Erskine Sanford (Herbert Carter) and William Alland (Jerry Thompson).


The Curse of the Cat People (1944, Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

The Curse of the Cat People is apparently Kent Smith. Well, him and writer DeWitt Bodeen. Smith and Jane Randolph return from the first film, this one set over six years later. They have a daughter–Ann Carter in an almost perfect performance–who’s a lonely child. She eventually imagines herself a friend, personified by Simone Simon (also returning from the first film), who’s apparently the ghost of Smith’s first wife.

Only she’s not, because she’s an imaginary friend. Bodeen’s very literal.

The film’s title is intentionally misleading; at its best moments, Curse is about Carter being this kid who doesn’t have any friends and has all these strange experiences. She meets this crazy, but sweet, old woman (Julia Dean) and bonds with her. Dean is unintentionally juxtaposed with Smith.

They’re both crappy parents. Randolph’s not a good mom either, but she at least loves Carter. Bodeen writes the most insensitive and cruel dialogue for Smith he can. It’s Curse’s primary failing–Bodeen can’t write Smith’s character as anything but a jerk.

For the first half, before Carter reveals Simon’s “identity,” Curse gets away with it. Roy Webb’s music is beautiful, Nicholas Musuraca’s photography is enchanting–the two directors, von Fritsch and Wise, usually do rather well (except one moment Carter’s looking off screen for direction).

The conclusion, however, has Carter running away. Smith in panic mode is some awful acting, but Bodeen’s script forgets Randolph’s the girl’s mother.

Curse’s a big disappointment. As a sequel concept, it’s groundbreaking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise; written by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ann Carter (Amy Reed), Kent Smith (Ollie Reed), Jane Randolph (Alice Reed), Sir Lancelot (Edward), Eve March (Miss Callahan), Julia Dean (Mrs. Julia Farren), Elizabeth Russell (Barbara Farren) and Simone Simon (Amy’s friend).


The Body Snatcher (1945, Robert Wise)

The Body Snatcher has half an excellent foundation. Nineteenth century medical genius Henry Daniell can’t escape his past associations with a shady cabman (Boris Karloff). These past associations being of the grave robbing variety. There’s also Daniell’s romance with his maid (Edith Atwater), which humanizes the character throughout the first half, since Daniell’s supposed to be a scary smart doctor guy.

Sadly, the film primarily focuses on Russell Wade as one of Daniell’s students. Wade is occasionally all right–and always earnest–but he’s simply not very good. Some of the problems come from Philip MacDonald and Val Lewton’s script. It’s too obvious and expository. And the story of a little girl who can’t walk (Sharyn Moffett) and her fetching mother (Rita Corday) would be annoying even if Moffett wasn’t awful. Of course Wade is taken with Corday, but the script doesn’t give them enough time. Though more time would have just made for worse scenes.

The best scenes are those with Karloff or Daniell–the ones with them together are absolutely amazing. Without Wade, and even with him to some degree, the men are alter egos, which gives Snatcher a whole lot of depth it otherwise would’ve have.

As for Wise’s direction, he often does very well. Robert De Grasse’s photography is great and the pair come up with some great ways to establish the Edinburgh setting while still shooting economically on a lot. Sometimes, however, Wise is far more overt than need be.

Snatcher should be much better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Philip MacDonald and Val Lewton, based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Roy Webb; produced by Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Russell Wade (Donald Fettes), Henry Daniell (Dr. MacFarlane), Boris Karloff (Cabman John Gray), Rita Corday (Mrs. Marsh), Edith Atwater (Meg Cameron), Sharyn Moffett (Georgina Marsh), Donna Lee (Street Singer) and Bela Lugosi (Joseph).


Mademoiselle Fifi (1944, Robert Wise)

Mademoiselle Fifi is split down the center, roughly, into two parts. The first involves Simone Simon on the trip to her hometown. The second is when she reaches the town. The film takes place in occupied France during the Franco-Prussian War, but it opens with a title card presenting it as an analogue to World War II.

The first half, with Simon’s laundress winning over her fellow travelers, a bunch of stuck-up upper crust who don’t understand why she doesn’t associate with the occupying Prussians. Fifi tries hard to be about recognizing the evils of passive collaboration. It’s more successful when it’s just about Simon and her experiences. It plays very naturally at those times.

Unfortunately, the finale is entirely artificial and contrived, so Fifi falls apart quite a bit. The short runtime is partially responsible. With a few more minutes, the film could introduce real characters into the second half instead of filler. The first half has extremely memorable ones, particularly Jason Robards Sr. as an obnoxious wine wholesaler and Kurt Kreuger as the titular villain. Even the less compelling characters are distinct. Not so at the end, when Fifi mostly introduces Prussian officer caricatures and vapid collaborators.

Simon’s excellent in the lead, as is John Emery as the armchair intellectual she inspires.

Technically, the film’s mediocre. Harry J. Wild’s photography is nice. J.R. Whittredge has some good transitions but, otherwise, his editing is weak. Wise’s direction is indistinct.

Fifi‘s impressive parts make the whole acceptable.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Josef Mischel and Peter Ruric, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Werner R. Heymann; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Simone Simon (Elizabeth Bousset, A Little Laundress), John Emery (Jean Cornudet), Kurt Kreuger (Lt. von Eyrick, Called ‘Fifi’), Alan Napier (The Count de Breville), Helen Freeman (The Countess de Breville), Jason Robards Sr. (A Wholesaler in Wines), Norma Varden (The Wholesaler’s Wife), Romaine Callender (A Manufacturer), Fay Helm (The Manufacturer’s Wife), Edmund Glover (A Young Priest) and Charles Waldron (The Curé of Cleresville).


Lewton logo

THIS POST IS PART OF THE VAL LEWTON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY STEPHEN OF CLASSIC MOVIE MAN


The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise)

What makes The Haunting so good–besides Wise’s wondrous Panavision composition–is the characters. Yes, it succeeds as a horror film, with great internal dialogue (Julie Harris’s character’s thoughts drive the first twenty minutes alone and the device never feels awkward), but those successes are nothing compared to the character interactions.

The Haunting chooses to be both definite and understated with the truth behind its supernatural elements. Gidding structures his conversations about the supernatural very carefully, leaving the viewer to constantly question previous events, creating a palpable uneasiness.

In that uneasiness, Gidding is able to create these evolving character relationships. The one between Harris and Claire Bloom is, for example, the practical backbone of the entire picture. It allows Harris’s character to, for lack of a less cute term, bloom. But the relationship is in constant flux, especially since the audience hears a lot of what goes on in Harris’s head–but not Bloom’s. It’s very interesting to see what Gidding is going to come up with, in the dialogue, next.

The structure of the opening–the film starts with Richard Johnson introducing the haunted house aspect of the story, then moves entirely to Harris for a while–gives Wise and Gidding a fine opportunity to introduce the characters to each other and they fully utilize it. There isn’t a single character without a unique dynamic with another–lots of the Haunting is four people in a room talking (Russ Tamblyn being the fourth).

Also superior is Humphrey Searle’s score.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Nelson Gidding, based on a novel by Shirley Jackson; director of photography, Davis Boulton; edited by Ernest Walter; music by Humphrey Searle; production designer, Elliot Scott; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.

Starring Julie Harris (Nell), Claire Bloom (Theo), Richard Johnson (Dr. John Markway), Russ Tamblyn (Luke Sanderson), Fay Compton (Mrs. Sanderson), Rosalie Crutchley (Mrs. Dudley), Lois Maxwell (Grace Markway), Valentine Dyall (Mr. Dudley), Diane Clare (Carrie Fredericks) and Ronald Adam (Eldridge Harper).


Bachelor Mother (1939, Garson Kanin)

I’ve seen Bachelor Mother at least twice before but didn’t remember the most salient feature of the film. I even forgot what a big part Donald Duck plays in it (though I did remember David Niven’s watching the clock to wait to say “good afternoon” as opposed to “good morning”).

No, what I forgot was the romance between Niven and Ginger Rogers. It’s the most important thing in Bachelor Mother. The baby Rogers gets stuck with through the bullheadedness and “altruism” of others is secondary.

It’s a lovely romance mostly because it’s so unexpected to the characters. Niven and Rogers are, at best, friends when they go out and discover their attraction. Their friendship scenes are also wonderful, as Niven tries to help Rogers raise this baby he’s unknowingly saddled her with.

He gets his comeuppance at the end (the third act is mostly about him identifying, avoiding, then wanting than comeuppance) and it’s just fantastic.

Kanin’s direction starts off incredible–the first shot is outstanding–then it runs into some problems as it becomes clear he didn’t have enough coverage for editors Henry Berman and Robert Wise (or they just did a terrible job of it). It eventually resolves itself, with the shots matching a lot better after about twenty minutes.

Rogers and Niven are both great, Charles Coburn is hilarious as Niven’s father and Frank Albertson is good.

The film has a brilliant narrative structure (the present action is a few days) and it moves fluidly.

Simply wonderful.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Garson Kanin; screenplay by Norman Krasna, based on a story by Felix Jackson; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman and Robert Wise; music by Roy Webb; produced by Buddy G. DeSylva; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Polly Parrish), David Niven (David Merlin), Charles Coburn (J.B. Merlin), Frank Albertson (Freddie Miller), E.E. Clive (Butler), Elbert Coplen Jr. (Johnnie), Ferike Boros (Mrs. Weiss), Ernest Truex (Investigator), Leonard Penn (Jerome Weiss), Paul Stanton (Hargraves), Frank M. Thomas (Doctor), Edna Holland (Matron), Dennie Moore (Mary), June Wilkins (Louise King) and Donald Duck (Himself).


Criminal Court (1946, Robert Wise)

If you took a film noir and removed the noir, you might have something like Criminal Court. The plot is noir. An upstanding attorney (Tom Conway) accidentally kills mobster (Robert Armstrong) and runs off, unknowingly leaving his girlfriend (Martha O’Driscoll) to take the wrap.

What does Conway do? Does he try to falsify evidence to save his girlfriend? Does he sacrifice? Nope. He confesses and when no one believes him, he sort of just sits passively through the rest of the movie and hopes something will make it all better.

There’s no angst, no guilt. Conway even tells the district attorney he didn’t report the incident because Armstrong brought it on himself. It is, apparently, an attempt to mix noir with righteousness. And, wow, does it fail.

What makes Court so awkward is what it does with the space left empty by the lack of internal conflict. It does nothing. The movie only runs an hour. It doesn’t try comedy, it doesn’t try introducing a subplot (there aren’t any in the film), it doesn’t try anything at all.

Until Armstrong dies, Criminal Court has a lot of potential. Armstrong’s just great here. Conway’s fine, but unable to overcome the script. O’Driscoll’s writing is worse, but her performance is still weak.

The supporting cast is excellent, Steve Brodie and Joe Devlin in particular.

Wise’s direction has occasional flourishes–a dolly shot here and there–but it’s fairly static and unimaginative overall, as though he couldn’t feign interest either.

Cute finale though.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Lawrence Kimble, based on a story by Earl Felton; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Robert Swink; music by Paul Sawtell; produced by Martin Mooney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Tom Conway (Steve Barnes), Martha O’Driscoll (Georgia Gale), June Clayworth (Joan Mason), Robert Armstrong (Vic Wright), Addison Richards (District Attorney Gordon), Pat Gleason (Joe West), Steve Brodie (Frankie Wright), Robert Warwick (Mr. Marquette), Phil Warren (Bill Brannegan) and Joe Devlin (Brownie).


Scroll to Top