Russ Tamblyn

Peyton Place (1957, Mark Robson)

Peyton Place takes over a year and a half starting in 1941. Director Robson has a really slick way of getting the date into the ground situation. Robson and cinematographer William C. Mellor go a little wild with Peyton Place–there’s a lot of location shooting and Robson tries hard to make the viewer feel enveloped. The film’s a soap opera, not requiring the viewer to situate themselves inside the story, but Robson invites it. The film’s a technical delight; Robson’s proud of its quality.

But the encompassing isn’t required because Peyton Place is a sensational soap opera. From the opening narration, the film declares itself sensational. The film starts with Diane Varsi’s narration then goes to Lee Philips arriving in town. Eventually, after being high school senior Farsi’s new principal, Philips will also romance her mother, played by Lana Turner. Most, if not all, of the drama has something to do with Varsi and Turner’s home or Varsi’s school or Turner’s business. And if it doesn’t have to do with them, then it’s war-related. Varsi starts Peyton Place its protagonist, with Turner sort of waiting in the wings to have her own big story. There’s all sorts of potential juxtaposition and alter ego and it ought to be great.

Only, by the end of the movie, Varsi and Turner are complete strangers to the viewer and each other. The film jumps ship from Varsi’s story two-thirds of the way in and she still narrates, but she’s not part of the action. And when she does return, she doesn’t get to make up any of that time. The film doesn’t even commit to her having an actual love interest in Russ Tamblyn’s troubled teenage boy. It’s a shame because Varsi and Tamblyn are great together, while she and Turner aren’t. Their scenes just aren’t particularly good.

Actually, Peyton Place doesn’t really have anything to do with Lana Turner. Her romance is entirely Philips pursuing her, usually at just the right moment to set off an argument with Varsi. Turner gets through it, but her only pay-off scene is a courtroom breakdown. It’d be more significant if it wasn’t followed by a superior courtroom breakdown, which is setoff in the narrative by Turner’s. So, lots of problems. Luckily the film’s beautifully produced and well-acted (even if in undercooked roles). Robson and screenwriter John Michael Hayes had to clean up the source novel for the censors, which Robson utilizes to give some of his actors more room. They use it well.

Except Philips. Philips is physically fine for the part, but he’s just a bit tepid. He’s supposed to be a sexy progressive dude who cares about education and sex ed and he’s never convincing. He just mopes around Turner until she gives in.

Varsi’s pretty good. She’s got a lot to do in the first half of the movie, it’s all her show. The scenes with Tamblyn are best because it’s her storyline more than anything else in the film. Tamblyn’s just her sweet male friend. His own backstory only exists when Varsi’s around. The film’s failure with it is another of the frustrations.

Anyway, pretty soon Varsi’s just around to support Hope Lange’s story–which is the center of the film as it turns out–or something with Turner, which always affects the high school and that subplot. Hayes’s script is masterful, no doubt, but it’s a masterful soap opera. He’s going for sensationalism, not the characters. Robson’s going for the characters and the visual grandeur of it. While the two approaches end up complimenting each other, there’s only so far Robson could take it.

Lange’s amazing. Sometimes she’s second fiddle in her own scenes, but Robson always makes sure to give her time to act. Seeing Lange’s experience through her expressions is what gives Peyton Place its heart. Robson helps, sure, but he knows Lange’s got to handle a lot of weight and figures out the best way to distribute it.

Also excellent is Arthur Kennedy, who has a similar relationship with the film as Lange.

Tamblyn’s good. Lloyd Nolan’s great as the town doctor who also serves as a guide through the film. Leon Ames is awesome as the mean local rich guy. Lorne Greene is the nasty prosecuting attorney in the third act. I’m not sure he’s good but he’s definitely loathsome, though the courtroom finale isn’t set up well in the narrative. Hayes does fine once he gets into the trial, but its inciting incident is a complete fumble.

Because Peyton Place isn’t a great movie. It’s got a lot of problems. It might even get long in parts, which isn’t a good thing–if you’re going to run two and a half hours, you can’t feel long. But it is a good movie, with some great filmmaking and some great performances. And Franz Waxman’s music is gorgeous.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on the novel by Grace Metalious; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by David Bretherton; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Lana Turner (Constance MacKenzie), Diane Varsi (Allison MacKenzie), Hope Lange (Selena Cross), Lee Philips (Michael Rossi), Lloyd Nolan (Dr. Swain), Arthur Kennedy (Lucas Cross), Russ Tamblyn (Norman Page), Leon Ames (Mr. Harrington), Terry Moore (Betty Anderson), David Nelson (Ted Carter), Barry Coe (Rodney Harrington), Betty Field (Nellie Cross), Mildred Dunnock (Miss Elsie Thornton), Lorne Greene (Prosecutor), and Scotty Morrow (Joseph Cross).


Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954, Stanley Donen)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a lot of fun. The songs are always pretty good, with some standouts and the dance numbers are fantastic (ditto the choreographed fight sequences–director Donen and cinematographer George J. Folsey shoot it all beautifully), and the cast is likable. But there’s not much ambition for the film.

Based on the opening titles–not to mention the first act–one might think the whole thing is going to revolve around the relationship between Howard Keel and Jane Powell. They’re newlyweds. After a fifteen to twenty minute courtship, she’s in love, he’s found the maid for himself and his six brothers. Turns out more than a maid, the brothers need a big sister, which leaves Keel without much to do. The film literally exiles him after a point, just because there’s nothing for him to do in the main action.

Because, as it turns out, the main action ends up being the six brothers kidnapping their six crushes and holding them hostage in their rustic, isolated Oregon farm for a winter.

The first half of the film is heavier with the musical numbers, but also with building up the cast’s likability. Keel, for instance, is at his most likable for the first five or ten minutes. Then, when he’s being a heel (no pun), Donen makes sure the film concentrates on the Brothers, who are always affable.

At least after Powell starts cleaning them up.

Russ Tamblyn’s good. Powell’s good. The rest of the brothers are all fine. Their romantic interests barely make an impression (as their big dance number is in long shot to show off the choreography).

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers isn’t deep. But it is expertly produced and, like I said, a lot of fun.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stanley Donen; screenplay by Albert Hackett, Francis Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley, based on a story by Stephen Vincent Benet; director of photography, George J. Fosley; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by Gene de Paul; produced by Jack Cummings; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Howard Keel (Adam), Jane Powell (Milly), Jeff Richards (Benjamin), Russ Tamblyn (Gideon), Tommy Rall (Frank), Marc Platt (Daniel), Matt Mattox (Caleb), Jacques d’Amboise (Ephraim), Julie Newmar (Dorcas), Nancy Kilgas (Alice), Betty Carr (Sarah), Virginia Gibson (Liza), Ruta Lee (Ruth), Norma Doggett (Martha) and Ian Wolfe (Rev. Elcott).


Father of the Bride (1950, Vincente Minnelli)

Father of the Bride is such a constant delight, it’s practically over before its problems become clear. First off, it’s definitely about the titular Father–a wonderful Spencer Tracy–who not only narrates but is in almost every scene. The wedding reception, when he’s chasing around daughter Elizabeth Taylor to say goodbye, is about the only time he’s not running a scene.

The reception is also where the problems show. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett write a great script, no question, but their situational comedy is so strong… things get lost. Joan Bennett, as Tracy’s wife and Taylor’s mother, gets shortchanged in the second half. She’s around, she has some good scenes, but nothing compared to her first half ones.

There are also a number of plot threads left unresolved or forgotten or just plain dismissed. Goodrich, Hackett and director Minnelli go for the best laugh they can get out of a scene. Some of these laughs do have narrative consequences and no one seems to have much interest in acknowledging them. It’s too bad.

But Bride’s problems don’t hurt the film’s ability to entertain. Tracy and Bennett are great–he’s so energetic, it’s very impressive she can hold her own. Goodrich and Hackett’s masterful script actively works his narration into scenes.

Taylor’s very likable as the daughter, though she doesn’t have a lot to do. Leo G. Carroll has a great part too.

Minnelli does well too. The settings are confined, but he never lets Bride get claustrophobic.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincente Minnelli; screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on the novel by Edward Streeter; director of photography, John Alton; edited by Ferris Wheeler; music by Adolph Deutsch; produced by Pandro S. Berman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Stanley T. Banks), Joan Bennett (Ellie Banks), Elizabeth Taylor (Kay Banks), Don Taylor (Buckley Dunstan), Billie Burke (Doris Dunstan), Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Massoula), Moroni Olsen (Herbert Dunstan), Melville Cooper (Mr. Tringle), Taylor Holmes (Warner), Paul Harvey (Rev. A.I. Galsworthy), Frank Orth (Joe), Russ Tamblyn (Tommy Banks), Tom Irish (Ben Banks) and Marietta Canty (Delilah).


Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950, Mitchell Leisen)

Either Alan Ladd was in a bunch of makeup or he’d just had his eyes done because the way his eyebrows don’t move is disturbing. There are a few scenes where Liesen, presumably in an attempt to keep down the expository dialogue, has Ladd try to communicate with his eyes. They fail.

Those scenes, and a couple others with some particularly bad dialogue, are Ladd’s only bad moments in the film. Otherwise, he navigates through Captain Carey, U.S.A. rather well. The film is a mystery set post-World War II. Ladd’s back in Italy to discover who betrayed the O.S.S. during the war. It’s predictable (though there are a couple good red herrings) but the film gets about a third through before that predictability hurts it.

Liesen has some good moments–one big surprise–and he’s got a great cast for the most part. Unfortunately, the two principal supporting actors–Wanda Hendrix and Francis Lederer–are bad. Until the third act, the great performances from Joseph Calleia, Luis Alberni and Frank Puglia can overshadow. Eventually, they cannot.

Ladd manages to get through for the most part (watching him opposite Hendrix is particularly bad, since he’s holding up the scene himself and he can’t really use his eyebrows).

The film’s shot on a backlot with rear projection for Italy. Most of those shots are very successful. There are some impressive acrobatics around the street set from Ladd and Russ Tamblyn (whose lines are all in Italian).

It’s diverting but not distinctive.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mitchell Leisen; screenplay by Robert Thoeren, based on the novel by Martha Albrand; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Alma Macrorie; music by Hugo Friedhofer; produced by Richard Maibaum; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alan Ladd (Captain Webster Carey), Wanda Hendrix (Baronessa Giulia de Graffi), Francis Lederer (Barone Rocco de Graffi), Joseph Calleia (Dr. Lunati), Celia Lovsky (Countess Francesca de Cresci), Richard Avonde (Count Carlo de Cresci), Frank Puglia (Luigi), Luis Alberni (Sandro), Angela Clarke (Serafina), Roland Winters (Manfredo Acuto), Paul Lees (Frank), Jane Nigh (Nancy), Russ Tamblyn (Pietro ), Virginia Farmer (Angelina) and David Leonard (Blind Musician).


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).


The Fastest Gun Alive (1956, Russell Rouse)

The Fastest Gun Alive–to put it mildly and politely–is a turkey. I thought, given Glenn Ford in the lead, it was going to be at least a decent Western… but it’s not. Ford’s great (more on him later), but the script is atrocious. It’s rare to see a script so fail its cast; to the point there’s nothing they can do except ride the tide until it’s over. Russell Rouse isn’t much of a director either. He had a couple okay shots, but he seems far bettered suited for television. He doesn’t bring any personality to the visuals. As a director of actors, he’s a disaster. He can’t figure out how to shoot Jeanne Crain’s concerned wife shots and the performance Broderick Crawford gives is awful from the start. Only at the end, when Crawford gets to tread water for a while, is he all right. At the beginning, not even in speaking scenes, he’s terrible.

The script’s a silly revision on High Noon, an idiotic examination of cowardice. The Fastest Gun Alive does have some interesting elements, but they’re unrecognized. Ford’s character isn’t presented as a coward until after a big revelation scene, so before it, he just comes off as a weak-willed man who succumbs to peer pressure. Ford and Crain play these scenes beautifully–going through the film with those assumptions about Ford almost make him the villain, as he abandons pregnant Crain for his fellow men’s image of him. Then there’s Crawford’s character, who–we learn in the last act–is a villain (a fast-drawing villain, of course) simply because his wife left him for a Faro dealer. He’s overcompensating. Unfortunately, this detail is revealed after Crawford’s palled around with a kid, which added some depth to the character. The revelation just explains it.

But Rouse and co-writer Frank D. Gilroy aren’t interested in subtlety or rewarding a participating viewer. They’ve got a generic western and they follow it. The wheel ruts going through the town become a metaphor for the entire picture.

There is some further atrociousness, however. Not satisfied with a seventy-two minute picture, Rouse puts poor Russ Tamblyn on display for an involved, acrobatic dance sequence. It’s amazing what Tamblyn could do, he was a flexible guy, but it not only doesn’t further the story, it degrades Tamblyn. Besides that sequence, he doesn’t have a character. He’s around occasionally, but all as an excuse for a three or four minute dance routine. He’s good in the three or four unrelated deliveries he has. I hope he got paid well for it.

Rouse pads in other places too… introducing useless supporting characters and contrived relationships. Even with all the dressing, The Fastest Gun Alive is anorexic. The most interesting possibilities–like why Crain stuck with Ford for so long or how she got together with him in the first place–are never discussed, because it might reveal the big revelation too early.

There’s a brief moment, in the last scene, when the film could overcome all its defects and really be something, really put forth an idea, really make a statement about violence and the way people interact with each other, the responsibilities of community.

It doesn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Rouse; screenplay by Frank D. Gilroy and Rouse, based on a story by Gilroy; director of photography, George J. Folsey; edited by Harry V. Knapp and Ferris Webster; music by André Previn; produced by Clarence Greene; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Glenn Ford (George Temple), Jeanne Crain (Dora Temple), Broderick Crawford (Vinnie Harold), Russ Tamblyn (Eric Doolittle), Allyn Joslyn (Harvey Maxwell), Leif Erickson (Lou Glover), John Dehner (Taylor Swope) and Noah Beery Jr. (Dink Wells).


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).


Many Rivers to Cross (1955, Roy Rowland)

If there’s some lost Frontier genre–not a Western, because there aren’t horses or cowboy hats–but a Frontier genre, with trappers and woods and… I don’t know, some other stuff, Many Rivers to Cross is probably not the ideal example of its potential. I realize now, mentioning it, Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans is probably the ideal. Regardless, Many Rivers to Cross is unfortunately not the ideal of much anything. Any film co-starring Alan Hale Jr. and Russell Johnson long before “Gilligan’s Island” ought to offer some comedic value along absurd lines, but this one doesn’t. Many Rivers to Cross is a comedy, however. It’s just not a funny one. Everything in the film–with the exception of a dying baby–is for a laugh. Given the story, with Eleanor Parker’s frontier-woman (the film is dedicated the frontier-women no less) chasing Robert Taylor’s bachelor trapper, it’s a lot like a Road Runner cartoon–except one with really offensive portrayals of American Indians.

The Indian thing bugged me a little bit because it was played so much for laughs. Hollywood had known since, what, 1939, playing Indians as villains was lame and Many Rivers is from 1955. It was so lame, the first mohawked Indian I saw, I thought it was all a joke, like Taylor had this Indian running cons with him or something. I was rather disappointed it turned out to be otherwise; not just because it would have been less offensive, but because it might have been interesting.

The movie’s short–ninety-five or so–and it’s split evenly in two parts. One part has Victor McLaglen as Parker’s father, the other part has Taylor mostly alone (though James Arness shows up for a bit). Both McLaglen and Arness are good. Both Parker and Taylor are good. The film’s just not any good. Without the Indian element, I’d call it inoffensive fare (and I doubt it was intended to be anything more). A programmer, actually–yep, it’s a programmer.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roy Rowland; screenplay by Harry Brown and Guy Trosper, from a story by Steve Frazee; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Ben Lewis; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Jack Cummings; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Bushrod Gentry), Eleanor Parker (Mary Stuart Cherne), Victor McLaglen (Cadmus Cherne), Jeff Richards (Fremont Cherne), Russ Tamblyn (Shields Cherne), James Arness (Esau Hamilton), Alan Hale Jr. (Luke Radford), John Hudson (Hugh Cherne), Sig Ruman (Spectacle Man) and Russell Johnson (Banks Cherne).


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