“Humoresque” (1946) starring John Garfield & Joan Crawford

Sid [to Paul]: You’ll do all right. You have all the characteristics of a successful virtuoso. You’re self-indulgent, self-dedicated, and a hero of all your dreams.

Paul Boray (John Garfield) comes from a working-class background; he and his family live above their humble grocery store in NYC. Paul has been playing the violin since he was 11 y.o. (which his mother supports). Paul’s father has a hint of an European accent; he’s skeptical re: his son’s musical potential. A section of the story is told in flashback; a very young Robert Blake plays Paul. While his older siblings work their retail jobs, as a young adult, Paul lives for his music and wants to become a concert violinist. One of Paul’s classmates at the National Institute of Music, Gina (Joan Chandler- her first role), has strong feelings for him; they have a connection and live in the same neighborhood. Like many young people, Paul is idealistic and feels that talent itself will take him to where he wants to go. Paul has potential, but he doesn’t have the right connections, his best friend/pianist Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant) explains.

Helen: Bad manners, Mr. Boray, the infallible sign of talent.

At a high society party w/ Sid, Paul meets Helen (Joan Crawford) and Victor (Paul Cavanagh) Wright, the wealthy/influential hosts. Victor (who is older) is perceptive, but also weak man; Helen is strong-minded, yet insecure (and relies on alcohol). Helen becomes Paul’s patroness; she finds him a manager, helps him choose a new suit, and sets up his first public recital. Eventually, Paul embarks on a concert tour and becomes a big success. Paul and Helen also fall in love, but it is a destructive type of love that may risk Paul’s career… and maybe more!

Sid: Tell me, Mrs. Wright, does your husband interfere with your marriage?

“Humoresque” is a must-see for classic film fans, esp. those who like classical music. You hear pieces by Dvorak, Chopin (Etude in G-flat major), Wagner (Tristan and Idolde), Bizet (Carmen), etc. Garfield’s violin “performances” were actually played by two pro violinists standing on either side of him, one moving the bow and one doing the fingering. The music was performed by Isaac Stern; in closeups of the hands alone playing the violin, those are his hands. Levant did all his own piano playing. The screenplay (written by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold) has great dialogue (w/ memorable lines); the movie is based on a short story by Fanny Hurst.

Helen: I spend my life doing penance for things I never should have done in the first place.

Garfield (then 33), a Method actor, tried to get an emotional bond w/ the character Crawford (42 y.o.) played by looking deeply in her eyes. This unnerved Crawford, who told director Joe Negulesco: “Tell him to stop looking at me!” LOL, but they have some great onscreen chemistry! Garfield had just come off filming The Postman Always Rings Twice (his most well-known role). While working on this movie, Crawford won the Best Actress Oscar for Mildred Pierce. There is some gorgeous B&W photography here, as well as some creatively framed shots. After sparring w/ Paul for the first time, Helen goes to the bar in the next room to make herself a drink; then we see Paul framed as if he’s inside her brandy glass. Looking back, we realize that Paul also became her addiction. Check this film out- you won’t regret it!

[1] As Helen, Joan Crawford gives her greatest performance and she should have been nominated for Best Actress that year. John Garfield is also at top of his form and he certainly is a good match for Miss Crawford. 

[2] A from rags to riches tale with an extra something. The extra something here is Clifford Odetts, the language is as pungent as its pace. The truth in John Garfield’s face rises everything several notches but, perhaps, the biggest surprise… is Joan Crawford’s performance. …she’s rounded and brilliant, torn between who she is and who she would like to be.

[3] ]This film is an outstanding example of the “noir” qualities which were a hallmark of the 30’s to the early 50’s – from the earlier stages of talking pictures, through the depression and post-WW II years. Joan Crawford was one of the two best (along with Bette Davis) at portraying this type of cold, possessive, and thoroughly selfish, powerful female presence.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Movies Under the Sea: “The Hunt for Red October” (1990) & “Crimson Tide” (1995)

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

In November 1984, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union creates a new nuclear submarine that runs silent due to a revolutionary propulsion system. The Russian submarine Captain, Marko Ramius (Sir Sean Connery), defects. His goal is taking it to the U.S. to prevent the Russians from using it to start nuclear war against the U.S. -Summary

Listen, I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open. -Jeffrey Pelt

Filming started in 1989, w/ the Cold War still going on, but was released in 1990 when the Soviet government announced that the Communist Party was no longer in charge. Producers went on with the release, but using a disclaimer that the story takes place in 1984 (when Tom Clancy’s novel was published). This is the movie debut of Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who uses his brains (he writes books re: miliary history/speaks Russian) more than his brawn (though he holds the rank of Lt. Cmdr. in the Navy/graduated as a Marine). He is no pushover; Ryan speaks up for himself when it’s needed and doesn’t let others intimidate him. Alec Baldwin accepted the role of Jack Ryan (recently played by John Krasinski in the Amazon Prime series) b/c Harrison Ford turned it down. Kevin Costner turned down the role of Jack Ryan in order to make Dances with Wolves (1990). Director John McTiernan previously worked on Die Hard (1988); the same oversized teddy bear is in this movie. This movie starts out in Russian, then switches to English, as the political officer reads a passage from a book.

I miss the peace of fishing like when I was a boy. Forty years I’ve been at sea. A war at sea. A war with no battles, no monuments… only casualties. I widowed her the day I married her. My wife died while I was at sea, you know. -Capt. Ramius

Before filming, Sir Sean Connery spent time underway aboard the U.S.S. Puffer preparing for his role (Capt. Marko Ramius). He was given Commander status, and allowed to give commands while underway (w/ the Captain beside him). During filming, several actors portraying U.S.S. Dallas crewmen took a cruise off the coast of San Diego on the U.S.S. Salt Lake City a Los Angeles-class submarine. Cmdr. Thomas Fargo ordered his crew to treat actor Scott Glenn (Cmdr. Bart Mancuso) as equal rank, first giving reports to him, then give the same report to Glenn. The actor said he based his performance on Fargo: “whatever good happened in the performance, basically I owe to now Admiral Fargo, thank you sir.” Connery was in the Royal Navy before becoming an actor; Glenn spent 3 yrs. in the Marines.

[to himself, just before being lowered off a helicopter] Next time, Jack, write a goddamn memo. -Jack Ryan

[To himself, imitating Ramius] “Ryan, some things in here don’t react well to bullets.” Yeah, like me. I don’t react well to bullets. -Jack Ryan

Star Trek: TNG fans will will notice that Ryan’s wife Cathy is played (in one scene only) by Gates McFadden (best known as Dr. Beverly Crusher). After she rejoined TNG, Anne Archer took over the role; Cathy lost the English accent (which McFadden had used). James Earl Jones (Adm. James Greer) was the only actor to reprise his role in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) where Ford takes over as Ryan. Jones also served in the Army as a young man. Fred Thompson (Adm. Painter) and Courtney B. Vance (Seaman Jones- another brainy guy) would go on to be part of the Law & Order franchise. The international cast includes Aussie Sam Neill (Capt. Borodin), Brit Peter Firth (Cmdr. Putin), Brit Tim Curry (Dr. Petrov), and Swede Stellan Skarsgard (Capt. Tupolev).

[1] It took a concept that is inconceivable to most people (living in a boat underwater with people trying to blow you up) and brought it up close and personal. The resulting suspense and excitement for this type of film is always extremely entertaining and this film delivers nicely.

[2] High tension and realistic (emphasis on that last word) depictions of modern warfare make for an excellent story.

[3] Baldwin, in what is and will probably be his career best role ever, shines as the intelligent and patriotic Jack Ryan, a thinking man’s hero. Connery lends incredible presence, as usual, to his interpretation of Ramius.

[4] The movie’s chief strengths are its moody lighting, its unrelenting pace, and especially its deep bench of acting talent. Connery suggests a note of uncertainty to Ramius that keeps the audience on its toes. For the longest time, we don’t know what he’s up to. Baldwin plays Ryan in a very realistic way that establishes his basically gentle, bookish nature but underscores the depths of his heroism as he pursues an increasingly dangerous path no one else believes in. Scott Glenn is terrific as a crusty U.S. sub commander…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Crimson Tide (1995)

In the face of the ultimate nuclear showdown, one man has absolute power and one man will do anything to stop him.

-Tag line

When some Russian rebels take control of some ICBM’s, the Americans prep for battle. Among the vessels sent is the nuclear sub, USS Alabama. They have a new X.O. (second in command) in Cmdr. Hunter (Denzel Washington), who hasn’t seen much action. Capt. Ramsey (Gene Hackman) gives an order for a drill after a dangerous incident (fire in the galley) and Hunter disagrees w/ how Ramsey handled it. It’s obvious that Ramsey doesn’t think much of Hunter b/c Hunter is college-educated; Ramsey worked his way up. They’re given orders to attack, but when in the process of receiving another order, the ship’s communications are damaged (cutting off the full message). Ramsey decides to continue with their previous order, while Hunter wants to reestablish contact first. That’s when the two men’s philosophies of war collide… and the tension rises!

This is probably my fave action movie, though this isn’t a familiar genre for me. There is much to admire- the directing (by Tony Scott), acting, intensity, music, and a few moments of humor (provided by Quentin Tarantino- who punched up the script). Washington solidifies his star status by having equal billing w/ Hackman, as we see in the posters. Tension between them grows b/c of their differing ages, races, personalities and philosophies on war. The cast includes Viggo Mortensen (Weps- Hunter’s close pal), James Gandolfini (Dougherty), George Dzundza (Cob), Danny Nucci (Rivetti), Steve Zahn (Barnes), former child star Ricky Shroeder (Hellerman), and a very young Ryan Phillippe.

The early scenes do much to set up the main conflict of the film. For example when members of the crew discuss Carl Von Clausewitz, and his 1832 work Vom Kriege (“On War”), the intellectual showdown occurs between Ramsey and Hunter. This scene not only heightens the tension, but also reveals the different philosophies of these two men, what they believe in, why they are there. This short scene goes a long way to setting up why each of these characters are so unbending when the crisis presents itself.

Crimson Tide possesses one of the most intense moments in film: two great actors eye-to-eye, portraying characters absolutely certain of their actions, absolutely convinced that the other’s course will lead to disaster. Washington believes, with good reason, that Hackman is unfit to command because he is disregarding naval procedures. Hackman believes, with good reason, that Washington is disobeying an order and instigating a mutiny. A possible nuclear exchange and the deaths of billions hang in the balance.

The cast – all of them – are spectacular, and the directing is masterful. […] More than just a cautionary tale, this is a very human drama about who people become under extreme conditions, and how they work out problems to reach solutions, or fail to do so. If that final sentence sounds cryptic, then let it entice you to see the film so you can figure out what I mean for yourself.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Devdas” (2002) starring Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, & Jackie Shroff

[1] The dance sequences are stunning

[2] I will start off by stating my bias….that I generally hate Bollywood movies because of their excesses, and their general lack of realism. In that light, Devdas is classic Bollywood.

[3] Devdas and Paro, or Chandramukhi and Devdas had a lot of emotions and feeling unexpressed in the original story. The love the three possessed was spiritual, not physical. That is why Paro loved Devdas for so many years without having seen him.

[4] One has to admire the technical execution of parts of the film, the sometimes stunning cinematography, the lavish sets and costumes. But the director forgets that form and content can not be separated, that more is not always more, that often less is more.

-Excerpts from comments on IMDB

This Bollywood movie is based on a Bengali romance novel by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. Despite being finished in 1900, the novel was not published until 1917 (due to Chatterjee’s hesitance over some autobiographical elements). He wrote it under the influence of alcohol and was embarrassed by it. According to Wikipedia: “he is arguably the most popular novelist in the Bengali language. His notable works incl. Devdas, Srikanto, ChoritrohinGrihadaha, etc. Most of his works deal with the lifestyle, tragedy and struggle of the village people and the contemporary social practices that prevailed in Bengal.” Due to lack of funds, he couldn’t attend college. Chatterjee wrote since his teen years and lived in Burma (Myanmar), working in the public works office. His first wife and son died due to illness. Eventually, he moved to Calcutta (Kolkata); he married his second wife, who he taught to read and write.

Devdas has been adapted for the screen 19 times in various South Indian languages. This version is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali; he later went on to make Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat. At the time of its release, Devdas was the most expensive Bollywood film ever, w/ a budget of $10.3 million. It was a commercial success in India and abroad, becoming the highest grossing Indian film of the year. Devdas was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was also submitted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was screened at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival- not something you hear often (or maybe ever) re: a Bollywood film!

In the early 1900s, Devdas Mukherji (Shah Rukh Khan- then 36 y.o.) is the only son of wealthy zamindar (landowner) of a Bengali Brahmin family. After 10 yrs of boarding school and studying law in England, he returns to his village, where his extended family prepares to welcome him. In the original story, Devdas comes back from studying in Calcutta. However, their happiness changes to shock when Devdas prefers to visit his childhood sweetheart, Parvati AKA Paro (Aishwarya Rai- in her most notable role at 28 y.o.) before paying respect to his mother, Kaushalya (Smita Jaykar). In the first song (Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka), we see Paro dancing w/ the diya (small lamp) which represents the life of Devdas. Then only 16 y.o. Shreya Ghoshal sang five songs for this movie as the singing voice of Paro.

When Devdas’ grandma, Badima (Dina Pathak), lays out her jewelry, his greedy/cranky sister-in-law Kumud (Ananya Khare) giggles and picks up an elaborate bangle. Badima says she can have it all, but not that bracelet, b/c she saved it for Devdas’ future bride. Devdas jokes w/ Kumud, but she gets mad and storms off. She is followed by Kaushalya, who wants to calm her down (b/c she’s pregnant). Later that night, Devdas gives Paro the bangle (Bairi Piya). Kumud watches them (w/ binoculars) and then shows this to Kaushalya.

Devdas’ mother isn’t keen on the match, as she tells her husband when they are alone. The father (a lawyer knighted by the British government) flatly says no way. Paro’s mother, Sumitra (Kiron Kher), tells her husband that Devdas will ask for Paro’s hand, but her father looks worried. Sumitra dresses up and goes next door to Devdas’ house, full of hope. We learn that Paro comes from family that had a tradition of being entertainers and accepting “bride price” (dowry) from the groom’s family. Sumitra explains that was a long ago; they plan to give Paro away (send dowry with her). Kaushalya says it’s settled; both sides will handle the costs of Paro’s wedding. Sumita performs a song and dance re: the love between two Hindu deities- Radha and Krishna (Morey Piya)- while Paro and Devdas frolic by a lake. I esp. liked the lighting in the lake scene.

After her (emotional/dramatic) performance, Sumitra learns the bitter truth- her friend/neighbor thinks Paro- and therefore her family- beneath them. Sumitra explains that their children are deeply in love and pleads w/ Kaushalya to allow them to marry. Kumud (a one-note villain) makes a nasty remark, insulting Paro’s character. That’s the last straw for Sumitra; she declares (in tears) that this decision will lead to the “ruination” of Devdas.

Paro still holds out hope for marrying Devdas (after her mother has been insulted). In a bold move, Paro sneaks into Devdas’ room and declares her love for him. He is nervous and tells her that his father is opposed. Paro (not thinking of her reputation) says they can change his mind. Devdas says he will escort her home, but they run into his father, Narayan (Vijay Crishna), who insults Paro (and her mother). She runs away in tears. Devdas gets mad at his father; he gets slapped. After their big argument (which I thought could’ve been acted better), Devdas leaves home w/ the shawl that Paro dropped. Paro runs after his buggy, but is left in the dust. As I noted before, this director is not a fan of subtlety. After the first 45 mins-1 hr, the film becomes slower.

As journalist Rajib Kanti Roy noted (in an article published on September 14, 2018 in Daily Sun): According to Sarat Chandra, pure love of a woman is a treasure for the world. That is why he has made no mistake in highlighting true love of Bengali women in his fictions. The character of Parboti in Devdas is a classic example of that. A girl of strong willpower and passionate feelings, Paru (Parboti) is not dependent on Devdas. When confronted with the practical choice of marrying a rich man to save her family name, or pining for a fickle lover who changes his mind on the whim, Paru chooses the former.

Devdas writes a letter to Paro, saying that he doesn’t love her, but sees her only as the “girl next door/friend.” We realize that he doesn’t want to go against his father. Devdas stays w/ a friend from college who drinks and lives a life of debauchery, Chunnilal (Jackie Shroff). When Devdas looks “stressed,” Chunnilal (who some viewers consider annoying) tells him to relax and offers him a drink. Devdas says no, as he never drinks alcohol. The men go off to “escape” in the next scene; Devdas meets a courtesan named Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit- then 34 y.o.) She and her fellow dancing girls perform (Kaahe Chhed Mohe). This song (by Kavita Krishnamurthy, Dixit, and Birju Maharaj) carries on the Radha-Krishna romance theme. Before the number ends, Devdas gets up to leave; he regrets that letter and wants to go to Paro. Chandramukhi stops him; he advises her to do something else w/ her life (giving her his wallet). Suddenly, she goes from flirty to very serious; she has fallen in love w/ Devdas. I thought Dixit did as well w/ this clunky dialogue; her eyes expressed much.

As Roy noted: Chondromukhi is a prostitute who stands out for her assertiveness and independence. Though repeatedly scorned by the man she loves, her body and mind remain free from the societal control that women are subjected to. She stoops only to love and that too out of her own choice.

Sumitra (w/ in a week) arranges a marriage for Paro; she helps dress and adorn her daughter as Devdas returns. We take notice of their big argument; Paro stands up for herself and the pride of her family. Devdas (who is spoiled and temperamental) thinks it’s not too late, but she is headed for a new life (where she will be “an aristocrat”). About 12 yrs ago, I met a young Indian-American woman at a literary event in NYC; she was writing a PhD dissertation on domestic violence in Hindi cinema and discussed the next scene. Devdas calls Paro “vain,” grabs a heavy pearl choker, and hits the top of her forehead. Though he claims this is “the mark of his love,” we see that it is physical abuse. The saddest song of the movie follows (Hamesha Tumko Chaha) as Paro leaves home; the two voices are Krishnamurthy and Udit Narayan. One of the main things here is that before touching her parents’ feet (sign of respect), Paro crosses the courtyard to touch Devdas’ feet.

Bhuvan Choudhry is a widower w/ a large estate; his white-haired mother introduces Paro to his adolescent son and daughter (who will call her Choti Ma- “little mother”). We also hear of an older daughter who is not happy about having a stepmother. After the wedding night, some giggling maids reveal that the bride and groom slept apart. Bhuvan explains that he married only b/c he needed a “lady of the manor and a mother for his children.” He shows Paro a picture of his late wife, saying that he will remain loyal to her memory. The look on her face is hard to determine- maybe she is a bit surprised and relieved.

We learn from Chunnilal that Devdas (very distraught) was taken care of for two nights by Chandramukhi. When Devdas cuts her down and offers her money, she retorts that he already paid her. We see that she wants to dance for him. She waits for his arrival, which annoys Kali Babu (an impatient patron w/ a thick mustache). As Devdas watches this song/dance (Maar Dala), he pours out some drink. (SRK actually drank alcohol while shooting some drunk scenes, so had to do many retakes.) He admits to Chandramukhi that he’s drinking to forget memories of Paro that haunt him- yeah, no kidding! I never got the feeling that SRK was losing control here, or in the following scene (where he cries, yells, and displays self-pity).

Back at her mansion, Paro is handling things quite diplomatically. She isn’t intimidated by a formidable guest (mother-in-law of Yashomati, Bhuvan’s oldest child). Since they are close in age, Paro explains to Yashomati that they can relate to each other as mom and daughter or friends. Yashomati (also a new bride) is very touched and gives her a hug. Then the groom enters to touch Paro’s feet- it’s Kali Babu- the creepy guy we saw earlier.

Paro goes to visit her family and sees that many people of the village are flocking next door. Sumitra explains that Narayan is at death’s door. Paro (being forgiving/kind-hearted) insists that they go to pay their respects, too. The old man weakly calls out for his son, but finds Paro instead. Kaushalya weeps, recalling how Paro used go find Devdas when he’d run off. Now, the family doesn’t know where to look for him.

Devdas is staying w/ Chandramukhi, but they are not together; he won’t let her touch him. She continues to listen to him go on… and on… Suddenly, Dharamdas (a loyal servant from his house) comes w/ a message- his father is dead! At the funeral, Devdas is falling-down drunk in front of his relatives and other mourners. I liked this next scene- both actors played it well (and it wasn’t too over-the-top). He opens a small treasure chest filled w/ items which belonged to her- anklets, a water pitcher, and the shawl (from when they were last alone). Paro (again in tears) insists that he stop drinking, but he refuses. She can’t bare to see him in this condition. Paro says she wants to take care of him; Devdas asks her to “elope” w/ him that night. What a clueless man- that’s what some viewers were thinking- no doubt! We see that Paro has matured, but Devdas is still a little boy.

Devdas finds Kumud (who holds a big ring of keys) and his older brother plotting to steal all the inheritance. He comments that Kumud doesn’t know re: the “crazy” side of his family, then sets a fire in his father’s office. For six mos. after he’s kicked out of the house (by his mother), there is no sign of Devdas. Paro finds an excuse (Durga Puja) and goes to check out the brothel (having learned of it from Dharamdas). Chandramukhi is no longer a courtesan and keeps praying for Devdas’ return. We see an altar, some of his possessions, and a diya which she lit for him (a recurring motif). Paro realizes that this woman also loves Devdas; Chandramukhi says she “worships” him. Before Paro leaves, she presents the bangle (which Devdas gave her) to Chandramukhi. They meet again at the Durga Puja, talk, and dance together (Dola Re Dola). This has a mix of Indian classical dance forms w/ steps that come from Kathak and Bharatnatyam.

As an Indian viewer noted (on IMDB), it is unlikely that a conservative Hindu woman (like Paro) would’ve visited a brothel or danced at a gathering (even in her own home). When Kali Babu reveals who she is, Chandramukhi is not bowed- she gives some strong retorts (calling out the hypocrisy of the aristocrats). I enjoyed that scene- she’s a badass! As he leaves, Kali Babu apologizes for what he did, but also tells Paro that her husband and mother-in-law now know of her er “friendship” w/ Devdas. When Bhuvan asks re: Devdas, Paro replies that he’s her “first love” (just as his dead wife). Bhuvan decides that she will not be allowed to step outside the manor, and she accepts his punishment. When the old lady tries to put out the diya (“fire in own house”)- Paro quickly stops her. I think this was a kind of gutsy scene- I hadn’t remembered from previous viewings.

At a bar, then on the streets, Devdas and Chunnilal drink (Chalak Chalak). Some women join in, incl. Chandramukhi (who is very happy to see Devdas again). Some viewers commented that they liked this number (sung by Ghosal, Narayan, and a few others). It starts out humorous, then becomes more frenzied/unsettled. We see that Devdas’ health has deteriorated; a doctor says he’s in a “treacherous” state. This is basically a drawn-out form of suicide. Devdas (finally) tells Chandramukhi that he loves her! He also tells her “if they meet again in Heaven, he will not be able to renounce her.”

Devdas travels by train w/ Dharamdas watching over him; Chunnilal finds him and they drink to friendship (not a good idea). His friend learns that Devdas is “incurable.” Devdas gets off at a station and travels to Paro’s manor, as he promised. Paro hears his voice (in her mind) and wakes up in the middle of the night. In the early morning, there is a crowd of men gathered around Devdas sleeping on the lawn just outside the manor’s gate. Paro runs through the house, evading servants and family, but her husband orders the gate to be shut. Devdas dies and the diya’s fire is blown away w/ the wind. This last sequence is well done and very intense, even to those of us who know how it ends.

Rewatch: “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizbeth Scott, & Kirk Douglas

The prologue suggests a Gothic movie, with the spooky figure of Mrs. Ivers dominating the eerie household that Martha wants to flee; then, the film changes to a noir with a fine plot. In fact, Lewis Milestone, the director, has mixed styles in the picture, but the end result makes a satisfying film to watch.

Barbara Stanwyck is at her peak–sure, confident, and unfailing. Van Heflin’s natural talent makes everything he does seem effortless. Kirk Douglas offers a most impressive film debut in what, in retrospect, is an uncharacteristic role. Lizabeth Scott (who seems to me a fascinating cross between Lauren Bacall and Rosemary Clooney) is constantly engaging.

The black & white cinematography is magnificent, and the fatal character of Barbara Stanwyck is one of the most dangerous and manipulative villains I have ever seen in a film-noir.

-Excerpts from reviews on IMDB

I discovered this classic film a bit late (my earlier review was from 2011). I’ve seen it maybe three times over the years; somehow, it feels fresh each time! The film (which is a blend of melodrama and noir) was written by Richard Rossen, who went on to work on “The Hustler.” The director is Lewis Milestone, an immigrant from Moldova (then part of Russia), who worked on many fine films, incl. The Front Page, Of Mice and Men, and Mutiny on the Bounty (w/ Brando). According to film historians, a few days of this film (which started shooting during a strike in Hollywood) were directed by Byron Haskin.

Barbara Stanwyck was 39 y.o. in this movie; her two co-leads were 36 y.o. Van Heflin (who had just served in WWII), and 30 y.o. Kirk Douglas (in his film debut). According to film historians, Stanwyck did not like to be upstaged; when she saw the coin trick Heflin had learned (Milestone’s suggestion), she informed him he should make sure he did not do it during any of her important lines. Heflin only used the trick once in a scene with her. And what a debut for Douglas! Even though the actor (recommended to producer Hal Wallis by his close friend Lauren Bacall) is playing a weak-willed alcoholic spurned by his wife, his role is meaty and the star potential in clear onscreen. You see the maturity and commitment to character (honed in the theater) and the ironic expressions which he came to be known for in his prime years.

Martha Smith (Stanwyck), Sam Masterson (Heflin), and Walter O’Neil (Douglas) grew up together in the small city (Iverstown) w/ a burgeoning steel industry. As teens in 1928, Martha and Sam (a rebellious boy from “the wrong side of the tracks”) are the best of friends who plan to run away to join the circus. Walter, an obedient/fearful boy and son to Martha’s tutor, knew about the plan. Martha was an orphan determined to escape her controlling aunt (played by famed villain Judith Anderson). Martha, the child of a wealthy mother and a humble mill worker father, hated her aunt, who disapproved of her heritage and behavior (strong-willed). After Martha is caught and brought back to the family mansion, her aunt reveals that she has changed the girl’s last name to “Ivers” (reflecting her maternal heritage). Of course, young Sam escapes and goes on adventures of his own. After her aunt is dead, Walter’s father (an ambitious/calculating schoolteacher), takes over caring for her and securing the future of his son.

As adults in their 30s in 1946, the trio is reunited. Sam notices the sign of his old town, gets distracted, and runs into a pole (minor fender bender). FYI: The young sailor who is in the passenger seat is director Blake Edwards. This requires Sam to stop at the local garage for repairs and look for a hotel to stay. He runs across an old cop on his beat who used to chase him as a kid. When he goes back to his childhood home, Sam meets Toni (Lizbeth Scott), a pretty young blonde w/ a husky voice (reminding us of Bacall). She misses her bus to her hometown, but isn’t too upset about it. Sam has lived the life of a gambler (after leaving the circus), getting in trouble w/ the law, and spending a lot of time in hotel rooms.

After Toni gets in trouble, Sam goes to see Walter (who is running for DA) at his office. While they talk, Martha comes in; at first, she doesn’t realize who this man is. After a few moments, she runs into Sam’s arms. Sam hugs her twice, surprised at how beautiful she has become. Walter is (obviously) jealous, imagining that they may still have feelings for each other. Later, in these scene w/ Sam and Martha at her office, we learn that she has the real power in Iverstown (not her husband). She has grown the steel mill in size and workforce. The Ivers mansion has been redecorated to suit her style.

The melodrama element of this film is heightened by the music and costumes (designed by the famed Edith Head). Martha doesn’t dress like a typical businesswoman. She wears a lot of outfits, incl. a fur stole, cape, and several gowns that would suit a Manhattan cocktail party (not a steel town). In the final scene of the movie, Stanwyck wears a gorgeous flowing gown with a beaded waistline which is high in the front and lower in back. Film historians said Head designed this to draw attention from the actress’ long waist and somewhat low hips.

The film noir genre is known for it’s theme of the past (incl. old flames, friends, enemies) coming back to haunt you, and this film is no exception. Though Heflin is the hero who the audience can relate to, it’s the (explosive) scenes between Stanwyck and Douglas that reveal just how dysfunctional marriage can become! I really enjoyed how the romance between Sam and Toni, who both have somewhat shady pasts and alcoholic fathers, enfolded in a natural way. Their fresh and hopeful relationship is in direct contrast to that of the O’Neils. In the very last scene, we see Sam and Toni driving happily westward. He advises: “Don’t look back, baby. Don’t ever look back.”

Glory (1989) starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, & Andre Braugher

I re-watched this Civil War drama on TCM recently; it’s one of my fave (and most-watched) films! The music is used very well; each scene is enhanced by it, incl. the battles. It was originally released in the Summer of 1989; Fathom Events will be having its 30th anniversary screening later this year in select cities/theaters. Kevin Jarre (a white man) was inspired to write the screenplay when he saw monument to Shaw on Boston Common (shown in the closing credits). Jarre’s inspiration came from two books: (1) One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment (1989) by Peter Burchard, a novel that itself was based on letters written by Shaw and (2) Lay This Laurel (1973), a photographic tribute to the Civil War sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens with text by American writer/arts patron Lincoln Kirstein. Jarre has a brief (yet notable) cameo as the white Union soldier who shouts “Give ’em hell, 54!”

Edward Zwick was initially apprehensive about how his African-American cast would feel about this telling of a crucial part of their history by a young Jewish director. To his delight and relief, he found his cast to be very affable and good-humored towards him, some of them even grateful that he was brave enough to tackle such an important subject. Zwick and Denzel Washington (here in his breakout role) would continue to work together on other (successful) movies. The director later commented (during a promo tour for Courage Under Fire) that “Denzel is always doing something interesting. I don’t want to take the camera off him.”

Several of the extracts from Shaw’s supposed letters to his mother (in voice-over narration) were taken from Army Life in a Black Regiment, an 1870 book by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (who commanded the 1st South Carolina Regiment). The historical figures in this movie are: 1) Francis George Shaw, Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw, and Ellen Shaw (direct relatives of Robert Gould Shaw), 2) John Albion Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, 3) Charles Garrison Harker and George Crockett Strong, Union generals, 4) Charlotte Forten Grimké, an antislavery activist, 5) James Montgomery, Union colonel, and (6) Frederick Douglas, former slave turned abolitionist, speaker/activist.

Any negro taken in arms against the Confederacy will immediately be returned to a state of slavery. Any negro taken in Federal uniform will be summarily put to death. Any white officer taken in command of negro troops shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection and shall likewise be put to death.” Full discharges will be granted in the morning to all those who apply. Dismissed. -Shaw reads a proclamation sent from the Confederate Congress

Zwick explained that, for the flogging scene of Trip (Washington in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning role), the actor was lashed at full contact, with a special whip, that would not cut his back, but still stung. For the final take, Zwick hesitated calling “Cut!” to signal the flogging to stop, and the result was Washington’s spontaneous tear down his cheek. The deep scars on Trip’s back were Washington’s idea; they showed how Trip was already a survivor of many lashings (being a runaway slave w/ a willful nature).

That Col. Shaw- he a hard man! -Jupiter Sharts comments, tired after a tough day of drills

He’s a boy. A scared white boy. -Trip quickly retorts with disgust

At first, the regiment is only given manual labor; this was a fact w/ the “colored” soldiers. They were also given less pay; in real life, Shaw was the one who protested this matter. As my A.P. American Government teacher commented, Shaw used his class privilege (incl. his sense of entitlement and rank) to get what is needed for his men (shoes, uniforms, and rifles); we see this in the scene in the Quartermaster’s office. Shaw is surprised at how quickly his men learn (even under their tough, racist Irish drill sergeant). Broderick’s small, youthful face and micro-expressions (when Shaw was uncertain, nervous, or looked in over his head) were played so well. Andre Braugher (currently on the comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine) has perhaps the most interesting role; Thomas is an educated, free man who has never before had to fight for his survival. Trip takes an instant disliking to Thomas; they come from such different backgrounds, though both are young black men yearning to prove their worth. Thomas was partly based on a successful freedman who owned a shop in Boston.

I ain’t fightin’ this war for you, sir. -Trip quietly explains to Shaw (after being praised for his skill in battle)

Unfortunately, most of Elwes’ scenes were cut from the film. He and Broderick did not get along, according to Zwick; I think they also had differing acting styles and personalities. Many scenes/subplots were cut from both the theatrical version and DVD; these include Shaw and Forbes attending school together and fencing one another. Nearly all of the scenes of veteran actress Jane Alexander (Shaw’s mother) were cut. Freeman (who brings gravitas to this film, being older and more experienced than his co-stars) did his own stunts, as Zwick asked of all his actors. He used his own experience (Air Force) to inform how relationships would be formed in the unit.

At the end of the film, Shaw is thrown into the mass grave with the black soldiers. Normally, officers were given formal burials, but the Confederacy had such contempt for the black regiment, that the officers were thrown in with the regular soldiers (w/ no honors). After the war, Shaw’s parents visited the site where their son had died. When asked if they wished to have his body exhumed, so they could take it home to Boston for burial, they declined. “We would not have his body removed from where it lies, surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers,” explained his father, Francis George Shaw. “We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. What a bodyguard he has!”

Related Links

Article by historian (a consultant on the film):

Fathom Events: Glory