BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955, USA) ****½
Crime, Drama, Western
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. John Sturges; w. Millard Kaufman, Don McGuire (based on a story “Bad Time at Hondo” by Howard Breslin); pr. Dore Schary; assoc pr. Herman Hoffman; ph. William C. Mellor (Eastmancolor. 35mm. CinemaScope. 2.55:1); m. André Previn; ed. Newell P. Kimlin; ad. Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; set d. Fred M. MacLean, Edwin B. Willis; m/up. John Truwe; sd. Wesley C. Miller (Mono (35mm optical prints) (Western Electric Sound System) | 4-Track Stereo (35mm magnetic prints)); rel. 13 January 1955 (USA), 17 March 1955 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 81m.
cast: Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings), Walter Sande (Sam).
John J. MacReedy (Tracy), is a one-armed stranger who comes to the tiny town of Black Rock one hot summer day in 1945, the first time the train has stopped there in years. He looks for both a hotel room and a local Japanese farmer named Komoko, but his inquiries are greeted at first with open hostility, then with blunt threats and harassment, and finally with escalating violence. MacReedy soon realizes that he will not be allowed to leave Black Rock; town boss Reno Smith (Ryan), who had Komoko killed because of his hatred of the Japanese, has also marked MacReedy for death. MacReedy must battle town thugs, a treacherous local woman (Francis), and finally Smith himself to stay alive. The film has an excellent script that creates an air of mystery and intimidation, which Sturges maximises through his economic shooting. Tracy is superb as the mysterious visitor and is supported by an excellent cast that includes Ryan as the influential rancher; Borgnine and Marvin as Ryan’s muscle; Francis as the only girl in town whose brother played by Ericson proves to be their weak link; and Brennan and Jagger as the town doctor and drunken sheriff ashamed of their past. The confrontation between Tracy and the townsfolk grows as the story plays out to its inevitable and ironic conclusion. Whilst the ending may seem a little hurried and convenient, taken as a whole, the film is a textbook example of building suspense through character and dialogue.
AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy); Best Director (John Sturges); Best Writing, Screenplay (Millard Kaufman).
THE INVISIBLE MAN (USA, 1933) ****
Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Release Date: 3 November 1933 (USA), 30 November 1933 (UK); Filming Dates: August 1933; Running Time: 71m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: James Whale; Writer: R.C. Sherriff (based on the novel by H.G. Wells); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson; Music Composer: Heinz Roemheld (uncredited); Music Supervisor: Gilbert Kurland (uncredited); Film Editor: Ted J. Kent; Art Director: Charles D. Hall; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: Gilbert Kurland (uncredited); Visual Effects: John P. Fulton.
Cast: Claude Rains (Dr. Jack Griffin aka The Invisible Man), Gloria Stuart (Flora Cranley), William Harrigan (Dr. Arthur Kemp), Henry Travers (Dr. Cranley), Una O’Connor (Jenny Hall), Forrester Harvey (Herbert Hall), Holmes Herbert (Chief of Police), E.E. Clive (Constable Jaffers), Dudley Digges (Chief Detective), Harry Stubbs (Inspector Bird), Donald Stuart (Inspector Lane), Merle Tottenham (Millie), Walter Brennan (Bicycle Owner (uncredited)), Robert Brower (Farmer (uncredited)), John Carradine (Informer Suggesting Ink (uncredited)), Dwight Frye (Reporter (uncredited)), Bob Reeves (Detective Hogan (uncredited)).
Synopsis: A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane.
Comment: H.G. Wells’ novel is brought to the screen in the stylish hands of director Whale and nuanced voice performance by Rains, who is only visible in the final shot. Rains has experimented with a serum that has made him invisible. Madness and megalomania increasingly take him over in his fruitless search for a cure. Rains’ vocal inflexions are both haunting and comedic and the material is often played for straight comedy. The character’s psychotic undercurrent becomes apparent as he commits a series of murders – firstly to protect his experiment and increasingly as spite, notably a scene where he derails a passenger train. The shifting tone is skilfully handled by Whale whose visual creativity along with the wonderful invisible effects by Fulton ensure the film remains absorbing throughout. The supporting performances are variable from O’Connor’s screeching innkeeper’s wife to a remarkably mannered Harrigan as Rains’ former assistant who Rains seeks revenge on for his betrayal. The movie was highly influential on the horror and fantasy genres and made a star out of Rains. Followed by THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) and THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944).
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (USA, 1946) *****
Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Release Date: 16 October 1946 (USA), November 1946 (UK); Filming Dates: 1 April–mid June 1946; Running Time: 97m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: John Ford; Writer: Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller (based on a story by Sam Hellman and a book by Stuart N. Lake); Producer: Samuel G. Engel; Director of Photography: Joseph MacDonald; Music Composer: Cyril J. Mockridge; Film Editor: Dorothy Spencer; Art Director: James Basevi, Lyle R. Wheeler; Set Decorator: Thomas Little; Costumes: René Hubert; Make-up: Ben Nye; Sound: Eugene Grossman, Roger Heman Sr.
Cast: Henry Fonda (Wyatt Earp), Linda Darnell (Chihuahua), Victor Mature (Doc Holliday), Cathy Downs (Clementine Carter), Walter Brennan (Old Man Clanton), Tim Holt (Virgil Earp), Ward Bond (Morgan Earp), Alan Mowbray (Granville Thorndyke), John Ireland (Billy Clanton), Roy Roberts (Mayor), Jane Darwell (Kate Nelson), Grant Withers (Ike Clanton), J. Farrell MacDonald (Mac the Barman), Russell Simpson (John Simpson).
Synopsis: Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil ride into Tombstone and leave brother James in charge of their cattle herd. On their return, they find their cattle stolen and James dead. Wyatt takes on the job of town marshal, making his brothers deputies, and vows to stay in Tombstone until James’ killers are found. He soon runs into the brooding, coughing, hard-drinking Doc Holliday as well as the sullen and vicious Clanton clan.
Comment: The oft-told tale of the gunfight at the OK Corral was never better told than in John Ford’s moody classic. Fonda is superb as Wyatt Earp, whether getting across the lawman’s assuredness as a town marshal or his awkwardness with the opposite sex. Mature may seem at times a little overwrought as Doc Holliday, but his performance is also memorable nonetheless. Darnell also scores as the saloon girl who is Holliday’s woman. Downs actually plays the titles role as Holliday’s long last love from out East who has come to town to win him back. Brennan makes for an effective villain as the head of the Clanton clan Technical attributes are top-notch too. MacDonald’s high contrast black-and-white photography captures the mood perfectly – notably in the night-time scenes and during the stormy opening. Ford is at the top of his game directing his cast and crew to deliver a wonderful Western that certainly bears repeat viewings.
Notes: Songs include: “Ten Thousand Cattle,” traditional, arranged by Fred K. Huffer; “Oh, My Darling Clementine,” music and lyrics by Percy Montrose; and “The First Kiss Is Always the Best, from Under a Broad Sombrero,” composers undetermined. An alternate preview version of this film exists. It was about 8m longer with minor variations throughout and a slightly different ending. Both this archival 103m version and the 97m release version are included on the Fox DVD.
THE FAR COUNTRY (USA, 1954) ***½
Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: Universal International Pictures (UI); Release Date: 22 July 1954 (UK), 12 February 1955 (USA); Filming Dates: 19 August–mid October 1953; Running Time: 97m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/2.00:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Anthony Mann; Writer: Borden Chase; Producer: Aaron Rosenberg; Director of Photography: William H. Daniels; Music Composer: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner, Herman Stein (all uncredited); Music Supervisor: Joseph Gershenson; Film Editor: Russell F. Schoengarth; Art Director: Alexander Golitzen, Bernard Herzbrun; Set Decorator: Oliver Emert, Russell A. Gausman; Costumes: Jay A. Morley Jr.; Make-up: Bud Westmore; Sound: Leslie I. Carey, Robert Pritchard.
Cast: James Stewart (Jeff Webster), Ruth Roman (Ronda Castle), Corinne Calvet (Renee Vallon), Walter Brennan (Ben Tatum), John McIntire (Gannon), Jay C. Flippen (Rube), Harry Morgan (Ketchum), Steve Brodie (Ives), Connie Gilchrist (Hominy), Robert J. Wilke (Madden), Chubby Johnson (Dusty), Royal Dano (Luke), Jack Elam (Frank Newberry), Kathleen Freeman (Grits), Connie Van (Molasses).
Synopsis: A self-minded adventurer locks horns with a crooked lawman while on a cattle drive.
Comment: Third Western collaboration between Stewart and Mann, again scripted by Chase, is unusual in that the setting is the gold prospecting mountains of Alaska (although filmed in Canada). The subtext of Stewart’s character’s struggle with the pull of his desire to fulfil his own personal vision against that of the needs of those who surround him is played out against a tonally shifting script. At times the move from light humour to violent action feels jarring, but this is seemingly part of Mann’s overall message that life is never what you plan it to be. The wonderful locations provide a stunning backdrop and the production is handsomely mounted conjuring up an authentic view of frontier life. The story ratchets up the tension in its final act, which resorts to the familiar showdown and redemption of the hero.
Rio Bravo (1959; USA; Technicolor; 141m) ***** d. Howard Hawks; w. Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett; ph. Russell Harlan; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, John Russell, Ricky Nelson, Claude Akins, Bob Steele, Myron Healey, Estelita Rodriguez, Malcolm Atterbury, Yakima Canutt, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, Bing Russell. A small-town sheriff in the American West enlists the help of a cripple, a drunk, and a young gunfighter in his efforts to hold in jail the brother of the local bad guy. Superb entertainment with characters you can route for and a near perfect cast. The interplay and contrast between the characters is what makes this so enjoyable. Wayne is at his stoic best as the sheriff; Martin delivers his finest performance as the recovering drunk; Brennan cackles and grumbles his way through his most memorable role as Stumpy and Dickinson oozes appeal as the girl with a past who falls for Wayne. Even Nelson gets through a slightly stiff portrayal of a young gunslinger and has time to share a tune with Martin. Escapist cinema at its very finest. Based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell (Hawks’ daughter). In 2014, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. More or less remade as EL DORADO (1966) and elements were also adopted in RIO LOBO (1970). Inspiration for John Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976). [PG]
Red River (1948; USA; B&W; 133m) ****½ d. Howard Hawks, Arthur Rosson; w. Borden Chase, Charles Schnee; ph. Russell Harlan; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru, Coleen Gray, John Ireland, Noah Beery Jr., Harry Carey, Harry Carey Jr., Paul Fix, Chief Yowlachie, Hank Worden, Mickey Kuhn, Hal Taliaferro, Shelley Winters. A rancher is driving his cattle to Red River when his adopted son turns against him. Wayne is excellent in an unsympathetic role as the trail boss. Clift and Brennan are just as good in support. The photography captures the toughness of a long cattle drive and Tiomkin contributes a memorable score. Hawks handles the story perfectly through to its finale, which strikes the only false note in an otherwise top-class production. Filmed in 1946 but held for release for two years, in part due to legal problems with Howard Hughes who claimed it was similar to his THE OUTLAW. Borden adapted his own story. Remade for TV in 1988. [PG]
To Have and Have Not (1944; USA; B&W; 100m) ****½ d. Howard Hawks; w. Jules Furthman, William Faulkner; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Sheldon Leonard, Walter Szurovy, Marcel Dalio, Walter Sande, Dan Seymour, Aldo Nadi. During World War II, an American expatriate helps transport a French Resistance leader and his beautiful wife to Martinique while romancing a sexy lounge singer. Hawks worked with themes that sustained him throughout his career and many of his signature moments are on display here. The chemistry between Bogart and Bacall nearly melts the screen and their dialogue is wonderful. The plot mirrors some of the themes seen in Bogart’s earlier classic CASABLANCA and this comes very close to repeating the earlier film’s success. Filled with excellent character performances from a strong supporting cast and finding room for a handful of musical numbers, this is entertainment of the highest order. Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Legendarily, Hawks bragged to Hemingway that he could take the worst of his novels, and make a good film of it. He did this by disregarding the novel’s contents. [PG]