Susan Hayward

Garden of Evil (1954, Henry Hathaway)

For a while it seems like the third act of Garden of Evil will make up for the rest of the film’s problems. Or at least give it somewhere to excel. Sadly, director Hathaway and screenwriter Frank Fention inexplicably tack on a terrible coda–tying into the title no less–and effectively wash away any advances they’ve made for the film.

There are lots and lots of problems. Hathaway’s CinemaScope composition is poor (except the finish), even though Milton R. Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr. shoot the film beautifully. It should have been Academy Ratio and black and white. But those technical choices don’t really make any difference when it comes to the actors.

Cameron Mitchell’s expectedly lame–he’s lame from his first line–but Susan Hayward’s pretty weak too. It seems like she should do well as a jaded woman forced to confront herself and persevere. But she doesn’t. Maybe because Fenton’s plotting doesn’t allow her character to grow naturally. There’s a really good moment towards the end, but she’s otherwise constantly scowling and calling it a performance.

Worse, Gary Cooper’s disinterested. He’s not bad as clearly bored. Garden should have been about his friendship with Richard Widmark–and does start with that emphasis… but it all gets confused.

Widmark’s amazing. Even when the script goes silly on him, he delivers it beautifully.

Great music from Bernard Herrmann, wonderful locations and a somehow not bad script from Fenton make Garden pass, but its defects don’t let it pass well.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Henry Hathaway; screenplay by Frank Fenton, based on a story by Fred Freiberger and William Tunberg; directors of photography, Milton R. Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr.; edited by James B. Clark; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Charles Brackett; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gary Cooper (Hooker), Susan Hayward (Leah Fuller), Richard Widmark (Fiske), Hugh Marlowe (John Fuller), Cameron Mitchell (Daly), Víctor Manuel Mendoza (Vicente) and Rita Moreno (Vicente’s girl).


Deadline at Dawn (1946, Harold Clurman)

Given all the excellent components, Deadline at Dawn ought to be a lot better. It has a compelling plot–a naive sailor and erstwhile murder suspect (Bill Williams) has to solve the crime before he ships out, but he’s just met a city hardened girl (Susan Hayward) and crushing on her and she’s warming to him–and Clifford Odets’s screenplay doesn’t do it justice.

Odets uses pat, declarative statements for the most part, giving Hayward almost nothing to work with. Williams is better the less he has to do, probably because Odets and director Clurman spend the first half of the picture establishing he’s a dope.

The supporting cast is (mostly) fantastic. Paul Lukas’s cabbie gets involved in the amateur investigation, a helpless romantic out to help the couple. Then there are Joseph Calleia and Jerome Cowan, who both get roped into tagging along. Odets’s script handles Dawn‘s large, shifting group of characters quite well. It’s just a shame he can’t write better dialogue or keep up the pace.

While some of the supporting cast–especially the cops–are unimpressive, only Marvin Miller is bad.

As a director, Clurman owes a lot to his cinematographer, Nicholas Musuraca. Dawn always looks great, even when it’s a lousy action scene (there are two or three)–editor Roland Gross can’t cut them. Clurman has one bad composition for every two good ones. The city sets look fantastic.

After a strong open, Dawn gets tedious. Hayward, Calleia and Musuraca make it worth a look.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Clurman; screenplay by Clifford Odets, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Roland Gross; music by Hanns Eisler; produced by Adrian Scott; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Bill Williams (Alex Winkley), Susan Hayward (June Goth), Paul Lukas (Gus Hoffman), Joseph Calleia (Val Bartelli), Osa Massen (Helen Robinson), Jerome Cowan (Lester Brady), Marvin Miller (Sleepy Parsons), Steven Geray (Gloved Man), Joe Sawyer (Babe Dooley), Constance Worth (Mrs. Raymond) and Lola Lane (Edna Bartelli).


I Married a Witch (1942, René Clair)

I Married a Witch often seems too short. Director Clair rightly focuses the picture around leading lady Veronica Lake, with Frederic March getting a fair amount of attention too, but the narrative outside them blurs. And it shouldn’t blur, given the high stakes election backdrop.

Clair’s focus also extends to troublesome plot points. Witch goes back on plot decisions just because there’s a good scene if a decision here or there is forgotten. The picture feels willfully constructed (as opposed to sublimely). Of course, this artificiality doesn’t much matter; Clair makes a fine film of Witch.

Lake’s the film’s essential element. She’s appealing whether she’s a good witch or a bad witch, whether she’s physically present or voicing a wisp of smoke. Witch isn’t about March overcoming his family’s curse, it’s about seeing what Lake is going to do to him next. Around halfway, the narrative veers in a new direction, giving both actors much different things to do. They both excel. March might not have as much to do, but it’s impossible to imagine Witch without him.

The two stars get fine support from Robert Benchley (as March’s best friend) and Cecil Kellaway (Lake’s warlock father). Susan Hayward’s around a bit as March’s loathsome fiancée–his family’s been cursed to marry poorly. Hayward doesn’t make much impression beyond the loathsome though.

Ted Tetzlaff’s photography is wondrous, ably handling some of Clair’s more ambitious flourishes. The finale has some fine effects work.

Witch is delightful thanks to Lake and March.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by René Clair; screenplay by Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly, based on a novel by Thorne Smith and Norman Matson; director of photography, Ted Tetzlaff; edited by Eda Warren; music by Roy Webb; produced by Preston Sturges and Clair; released by United Artists.

Starring Fredric March (Wallace Wooley), Veronica Lake (Jennifer), Robert Benchley (Dr. Dudley White), Susan Hayward (Estelle Masterson), Cecil Kellaway (Daniel), Elizabeth Patterson (Margaret) and Robert Warwick (J.B. Masterson).



This film is also discussed on BASP | I Married a Witch (1942) / Bewitched (2005).

Canyon Passage (1946, Jacques Tourneur)

Canyon Passage starts out strange. Dana Andrews shows up in 1850s Portland (Oregon) and, after some character establishing, fends off someone breaking into his room. It got me thinking later if the unseen event leading up to the intruder is actually the film’s dramatic vehicle, the event setting off the action. Because Canyon Passage is an odd narrative. The film’s presented, in its first act, as an unfolding exploration of the characters’ situations. Andrews and Susan Hayward introduce the viewer to the film’s setting, to the lives and hardships of the supporting cast.

But Canyon Passage keeps an even tone throughout, never hinting at its action-oriented conclusion. Most of it is straight drama as Andrews romances Patricia Roc to the dismay of both Victor Cutler and Hayward. Hayward’s engaged to Andrews’s best friend, played by Brian Donlevy, however. Those last two sentences suggest Canyon Passage is something of a soap opera, but it isn’t at all. The attraction between Hayward and Andrews is gradually and gently developed; the film’s focus is far more on the friendship between Andrews and Donlevy.

I’d forgotten Jacques Tourneur directed Canyon Passage until the opening titles, and given his noir-heavy 1940s filmography, it seemed like an odd fit. But the complicated friendship between Donlevy and Andrews–Andrews’s feelings of responsibility, Donlevy’s resentment at Andrews having to be the response one due to his success–is really at the film’s center. Sort of.

The problem with identifying Passage‘s central focus is how little it has of one. Just like I was trying to identify narrative features, I was also trying to figure out some kind of rule for the film’s scenes–as in, who has to be in the scene for it to be a scene. Andrews disappears for a little while once his romance with Roc is established, with Donlevy and his gambling addiction taking over (the consideration given to Donlevy’s character, who’s basically just weak-willed, is incredibly sensitive and also sets Passage apart). But there’s little rhyme and reason to who gets a scene and who doesn’t–it’s probably something as simple as the source novel focusing on more of the supporting cast and adapting their salient scenes, but the film suggests it isn’t. It suggests a certain lyricism to its unfolding events.

The acting is all spectacular. Andrews plays the conflicted leading man better than anyone and his muted attraction to Hayward, present but clouded from their first scene, is fantastic. Hayward’s great too, with her reciprocal attraction being more of a complicated narrative development. Donlevy’s best scenes are probably when he’s on his own (Donlevy’s always seems more a leading man, even when he’s not the protagonist)–but his scenes with Andrews are singular. The supporting cast–Andy Devine, Hoagy Carmichael and Lloyd Bridges, in particular–are excellent. As the villain, Ward Bond is terrifying. Bond plays him with a mix of evil and stupidity–the stupidity making the evil even more scary.

Tourneur’s direction is great–only during the big travel scene in the first act does the editing get choppy, otherwise Tourneur’s got lots of good coverage. The film shot on location in Oregon and it shows (though Crater Lake isn’t as close to Jacksonville as the film suggests). Edward Cronjager’s Technicolor cinematography is beautiful.

And it doesn’t hurt Carmichael contributes some songs either.

The film starts solid, but just gets better and better. It’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Ernest Pascal, based on a novel by Ernest Haycox; director of photography, Edward Cronjager; edited by Milton Carruth; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Walter Wanger; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dana Andrews (Logan Stuart), Brian Donlevy (George Camrose), Susan Hayward (Lucy Overmire), Patricia Roc (Caroline Marsh), Ward Bond (Honey Bragg), Hoagy Carmichael (Hi Linnet), Fay Holden (Mrs. Overmire), Stanley Ridges (Jonas Overmire), Lloyd Bridges (Johnny Steele), Andy Devine (Ben Dance), Victor Cutler (Vane Blazier), Rose Hobart (Marta Lestrade), Halliwell Hobbes (Clenchfield), James Cardwell (Gray Bartlett) and Onslow Stevens (Jack Lestrade).


Beau Geste (1939, William A. Wellman)

Beau Geste is a colonial adventure, European soldiers under siege in the Arabian desert. There’s some imagination to the telling, but not at all enough. The strangest thing about the film is the title–Gary Cooper plays Beau Geste, who in some ways is the least of the film’s characters. I think Cooper must get the littlest screen time of the main actors and the film often feels absent of his presence.

The problem stems from the structure. Geste opens with the discovery of a mystery–a desert fort, all the soldiers dead, but a peculiar confession in one of the men’s hands and two shots fired by a ghost. It’s all very Arthur Conan Doyle, except the viewer has to wait almost two hours to discover the solution (well, not really… just the entire solution… from the first flashback, the general answer is clear). After the first scene, the action goes back fifteen years to that revealing flashback. Then there’s a second mystery–this one of great importance–hinted at. It’s not a real mystery because the viewer is deceived into thinking he or she has seen all the relevant action. But it’s of great importance in the end and to a character’s entire motivation. Without it, the film makes little sense–and at the end, there’s a big finger snapping, “of course” moment. It’s a lousy moment, of course, and ruins the film’s already bad denouement.

When the film does get back to the present day and starts toward unraveling the mystery of the first scene, it starts kind of well. The scenes with Cooper, Robert Preston and Ray Milland as wealthy brothers in English luxury are fine. Cooper and Preston have a decent moment together and Milland’s appealing enough romancing Susan Hayward. Both Hayward and G.P. Huntley are useless in any narrative sense, but whatever, the film’s at least trying to be interesting in these scenes.

It lasts only a few minutes, unfortunately. Then there’s another big mystery (tying in to the first scene’s mystery) and it’s off to the Foreign Legion. I always thought Beau Geste was a big adventure story, but the film’s mostly just the three brothers (until Preston goes off to a different fort) and their vicious sergeant, poorly played by Brian Donlevy. It isn’t really Donlevy’s fault–his character has absolutely no depth. He’s a standard movie bad guy, absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever (not even after Cooper observes one about him). The film plays him as pure nefariousness and most of the film’s running time suffers from it. Beau Geste is a mutiny thriller.

William A. Wellman does a mediocre job directing the film, which really hurts it. He has some grandiose scale at the beginning, but losses it immediately in the flashback and never gets it back. The film’s beautifully photographed by Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout, but Thomas Scott’s editing is the pits. Every time Wellman’s action scenes start to look good, there’s a distracting jump-cut. Cooper shoots at the left of the screen and his target gets hit from a bullet moving left to right. The sets are nice too.

Preston has some good moments (Milland gets stuck with a lot of weak moments) and Cooper’s fine when he’s around; the film doesn’t really have any standout performances. J. Carrol Naish is bad as Donlevy’s stooge–probably giving the film’s worst performance–and the less said about the cowboy legionnaires the better. Harold Huber does have a nice small role, however.

Another big problem with Beau Geste is how familiar it all seems… like the source novel was nothing but a creative plagiarism of The Four Feathers. But not having read the novel, it’s impossible to say what went wrong–the adaptation or the story itself. Beau Geste is a monotonous chore to get through, especially as the ending rolls downhill for the last seven or ten minutes.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Robert Carson, based on the novel by Percival Christopher Wren; directors of photography, Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout; edited by Thomas Scott; music by Alfred Newman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gary Cooper (Michael ‘Beau’ Geste), Ray Milland (John Geste), Robert Preston (Digby Geste), Brian Donlevy (Sgt. Markoff), Susan Hayward (Isobel Rivers), J. Carrol Naish (Rasinoff), Albert Dekker (Legionnaire Schwartz), Broderick Crawford (Hank Miller), Charles Barton (Buddy McMonigal), James Stephenson (Maj. Henri de Beaujolais), Heather Thatcher (Lady Patricia Brandon), James Burke (Lt. Dufour) and G.P. Huntley (Augustus Brandon).


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