Category Archives: 1948

Quartet (1948, Ralph Smart, Harold French, Arthur Crabtree, and Ken Annakin)

Quartet opens with what turns out to be a questionable introduction from source story author W. Somerset Maugham. In the rather stodgy introduction to the film–featuring adaptations of four personal favorites from Maugham’s extensive bibliography–Maugham indentifies adjectives critics have given his work over the years.

Those adjectives prove useful during some of the film’s more labored sections.

While there are four different stories with four different directors and four different casts, screenwriter R.C. Sherriff handles the whole adaptation. The script doesn’t really affect the segments, since Sherriff sticks way too close to the source material for each of them. The cast and the directors make and break the segments, though the detached narratives–flashbacks in flashbacks in flashbacks–which might work fine in prose, clunk repeatedly on film.

The first story, boringly directed by Ralph Smart, has gentleman Basil Radford complaining to some of his chums about his son’s misbehaviors abroad. The flashback starts with Radford but then switches over to the son, the amiable if not particularly effective Jack Watling. The first segment gets the least effort in terms of production values–it’s set in Monte Carlo, where everything is inside save one hotel exterior (at night)–and it doesn’t help things.

Watling, ignoring Radford’s advice, tries his hands at gambling and womanizing. The woman in question is Mai Zetterling, who’s got a little more energy than Watling, but not much. The segment does move pretty, mostly because of their amiability, but it doesn’t amount to anything. It doesn’t amount to anything for Watling or for Radford.

The presupplied adjectives start coming into use as it winds down, though not the complimentary ones. Smart’s lack of direction doesn’t help at all.

The second story, featuring Dirk Bogarde as an heir to a country estate who just wants to be a professional pianist, has similarly unimpressive direction from Harold French. Quartet never takes the time to be stagy, though that approach might actually help given the reliance on interiors.

Bogarde’s parents, Raymond Lovell and Irene Browne, don’t approve of his career choices. Meanwhile cousin (Honor Blackman) ostensibly supports him, but really just wants to marry him.

The script and Bogarde’s performance get this one through, along with Blackman’s uneven performance being a lot better in the first half than the second. She doesn’t get any help from French, who ruins her best possible moment during Bogarde’s big piano recital by superimposing previous dramatic events on the frame. A few minutes later, Bogarde gets a similar opportunity and French (and editor Ray Elton) use medium shots instead of close-ups, sapping his expressions.

A clunky epilogue doesn’t help either. It’s back to those adjectives Maugham supplied in the opening bookend.

The third segment, directed by Arthur Crabtree, is a flashback in a flashback in a flashback. A narrator, who seems like it should be Maugham but doesn’t sound like him (and is uncredited), explains it’s a story his friend Bernard Lee told him. Lee is a prison visitor, someone who helps out incarcerted chaps and provides an ear or shoulder as needed. Lee meets prisoner George Cole, who’s in jail for a peculiar reason. Crabtree, Sherriff, and Maugham drag out the revelation of why way too long before getting into Cole’s story. Oh, wait, there’s actually a flashback in a flashback in a flashback in a flashback at one point.

Anyway, Cole’s in jail because he doesn’t want to support his wife (Susan Shaw) because she broke his kite. Why does Cole care about kites? Why would Shaw want to break one? A lot of it has to do with Cole’s overbearing, protective mother Hermione Baddeley, who thinks Shaw is a harpy. And Shaw is a harpy. And Baddeley is awful. It’s a story without any sympathetic characters, much less any one would want to identify with; it drags on and on, easily the lowpoint of Quartet, even if it’s better directed than the first two segments. It’s just grating. Intentionally so.

And its conclusion, presumambly straight from the source story, is downright asinine, which wasn’t one of Maugham’s supplied adjectives, but definitely should have been. None of the performances are bad, they’re all as good as the poorly drawn caricatures deserve.

However, Quartet doesn’t just save the best for last, it saves the good one for last. Not only is Ken Annakin’s direction immediately superior, there’s no silly frame for the fourth segment and it’s got the pacing, plotting, and production values appropriate for a film.

Cecil Parker is an obnoxious, anti-intellectual upper-middle classman with various responsibilities around country and in London, though he mostly just likes London because mistress Linden Travers is there. Unbeknownst to him, wife Nora Swinburne has literary ambitions. She publishes a steamy book of verse and it becomes a huge hit. Parker doesn’t have any interest in reading it until he finds out it’s about a middle-aged woman and her love affair with a younger man.

The segment is a delight and about the only time Quartet approaches its promised insight into the human condition. Parker is fantastic as the bewildered, stogdy boob thrown into arty conversations and–dreadfully–book stores. No one addresses the obvious contradiction–he’s complaining to mistress Travers about Swinburne’s possible adultery–but it still comes through.

Annakin’s direction, focusing on Parker’s subdued but increasing outrage, is great. Travers is good, if underutilized. There’s a fun Ernest Thesiger cameo. And Swinburne, while she has the tale more worth telling, is good.

It almost saves Quartet, at least, as much as it could be saved after three lackluster–though reasonably well-paced–segments. But then there’s Maugham again, offering a parting thought or two to the viewer. Maybe if he had any insight into the film and its adaptations, but it doesn’t even seem like he’s seen them.

Maybe he got bored during the Crabtree directed one and gave up.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ralph Smart, Harold French, Arthur Crabtree, and Ken Annakin; screenplay by R.C. Sherriff, based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham; directors of photography, Reginald H. Wyer and Ray Elton; edited by Jean Barker and A. Charles Knott; music by John Greenwood; produced by Antony Darnborough; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring Jack Watling (Nicky), Mai Zetterling (Jeanne), Basil Radford (Henry Garnet), Dirk Bogarde (George Bland), Honor Blackman (Paula), Raymond Lovell (Sir Frederick Bland), Irene Browne (Lady Bland), Françoise Rosay (Lea Makart), George Cole (Herbert Sunbury), Hermione Baddeley (Beatrice Sunbury), Mervyn Johns (Samuel Sunbury), Susan Shaw (Betty Baker), Bernard Lee (Prison Visitor), Cecil Parker (Colonel Peregrine), Nora Swinburne (Mrs. Peregrine), Linden Travers (Daphne), and Ernest Thesiger (Henry Dashwood).


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Key Largo (1948, John Huston)

Key Largo is a grand affair. Humphrey Bogart versus Edward G. Robinson with Lauren Bacall and Claire Trevor in the wings. Not to mention Lionel Barrymore. The film plays beautifully. Director Huston and co-screenwriter Richard Brooks give Bogart and Bacall some lovely, ever so gentle; Bogart’s a vet, Bacall’s the widow of one of his friends from the service. Huston–with some absolutely gorgeous photography from Karl Freund–shoots their scenes together carefully. Bacall’s always primed, but her enthusiasm is reserved (which ends up being one of the film’s problems).

Robinson’s a gangster hiding out in Barrymore and Bacall’s hotel (Barrymore’s her father-in-law). Trevor’s his moll and he’s got a whole gang of lackeys. Best of the lackeys are Thomas Gomez and Harry Lewis. Gomez gets a bunch of dialogue in the first act, when Robinson’s hiding off-screen, and Lewis is sort of comic relief. He’s still dangerous–more than the other goons–but there’s an aloofness to him.

Bogart’s good, Robinson’s great, Trevor’s amazing, Barrymore’s good, Bacall’s good. Barrymore just gets a Lionel Barrymore role. He’s a wise sage and gets some great scenes where he’s yelling at Robinson, who has to take it because Barrymore’s in a wheelchair. Bacall doesn’t get a lot to do and, oddly enough, neither does Bogart.

Huston and Brooks give Bogart a somewhat unexpected redemptive hero arc, which is already uphill because Bogart’s persona for the character doesn’t match it and–more importantly–they never definitively establish. It’s all based on one tense scene (Key Largo is full of them) and Huston isn’t able to sell the sequence. He gets distracted by his actors and their performances and he concentrates on accentuating those performances, not keeping the movie in check.

Once Robinson shows up and the aforementioned tense scene with the unsold Bogart sequence plays out, Robinson becomes the lead of the picture. Bogart, who opens the film, becomes background. Top-billed Bogart’s subplot doesn’t even take precedence over fifth-billed Trevor’s. Why? Because Trevor’s got an amazing performance to give and Huston enables it at the expense of a more cohesive whole, which is both good and bad. Key Largo could’ve been better, but Trevor couldn’t have been. Like I said, she’s amazing.

And, without malice, she takes the film away from Bacall in the female lead department. Trevor’s so strong, once she and Robinson have their scenes, it feels like Bogart and Bacall are only around to have brought the story to Trevor and Robinson. It’s all an elaborate frame. But it isn’t, of course, because Huston and Brooks don’t try too hard with the script. Key Largo is a thriller, not just because it’s moody and full of intrigue, but because Huston’s going for thrills. He’s exciting the viewer.

He just happens to have some great actors performing these thrill-inducing scenes.

Bacall gets short-changed the most. She has the least character–when, inarguably, she should have the most (she is falling for her dead husband’s commanding officer while she runs her father-in-law’s business). Bogart doesn’t get much either but he does get the expertly done action finale. Great editing from Rudi Fehr.

Key Largo is expertly made, beautifully acted. It’s great entertainment.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Richard Brooks and Huston, based on the play by Maxwell Anderson; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Max Steiner; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Frank McCloud), Edward G. Robinson (Rocco), Lauren Bacall (Nora), Lionel Barrymore (James Temple), Claire Trevor (Gaye Dawn), Thomas Gomez (Curly), Harry Lewis (Toots), Dan Seymour (Angel), William Haade (Feeney), Monte Blue (Sheriff Ben Wade), John Rodney (Deputy Clyde Sawyer) and Marc Lawrence (Ziggy).


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Drunken Angel (1948, Kurosawa Akira)

Drunken Angel never hides its sentimentality. The film’s protagonist, an alcoholic doctor working in a slum (Shimura Takashi in a glorious performance), is well aware of his sentimentality. He resents it–Shimura has these great yelling and throwing scenes–but it’s what keeps him going. It also allows director Kurosawa to have intensely sentimental sequences without affecting the tone of the film–sometimes it’s in Hayasaka Fumio’s score, sometimes it’s just how Kurosawa and Kôno Akikazu cut a sequence.

The film’s story has Shimura getting a new patient–Mifune Toshirô’s erratic (similarly hard-drinking) Yakuza neighborhood boss. The two fight, often physically, but form a bond–Mifune’s all subtlety, Shimura’s all noise. When their volumes reverse is when Kurosawa and co-writer Uekusa Keinosuke get in some fantastic character work. Of course, the actors are essential to it. Both of them become clearer and clearer as the film progresses. Even though Drunken Angel has an epical arc to it, it’s very much a character study.

It’s also a setting study–Shimura’s practice is on the edge of a garbage swamp in the slum, Mifune’s favorite night club is just blocks away. In a relatively short run time (under 100 minutes), Kurosawa and Uekusa introduce a large supporting cast, establishing them usually in a few seconds, usually without much dialogue.

As the epical arc goes along its track, the film moves over to Mifune, sort of reintroducing him (without Shimura’s judgment). It’s beautifully executed, as is everything else in the film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Uekusa Keinosuke and Kurosawa; director of photography, Itô Takeo; edited by Kôno Akikazu; music by Hayasaka Fumio; production designer, Matsuyama Takashi; produced by Motoki Sôjirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Shimura Takashi (Sanada), Mifune Toshirô (Matsunaga), Yamamoto Reizaburô (Okada), Kogure Michiyo (Nanae), Nakakita Chieko (Miyo), Shindô Eitarô (Takahama), Sengoku Noriko (Gin), Kasagi Shizuko (Singer), Shimizu Masao (Oyabun) and Kuga Yoshiko (Schoolgirl).


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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, John Huston)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre often comes as a complete surprise, even though director Huston carefully foreshadows certain events. He’s playing with viewer expectations–both of having Humphrey Bogart as his lead and Walter Huston in a supporting role. Sierra Madre is a thriller, but a thriller set during an adventure movie.

Bogart and Tim Holt play a couple down on their luck Americans who manage to get out a little ahead and throw in with Huston to go gold prospecting. This development comes at the end of the first act–Huston’s very deliberate with the screenplay, very careful about how he positions the audience’s relationship with the characters. The audience isn’t along for the adventure, the audience is kept back a bit. Huston is also deliberate with the shot composition; he and cinematographer Ted D. McCord fill the first half of the film with these exceptional group shots of the actors.

All three are fantastic. Huston has what seems like it’s going to be the showiest role, but it calms down soon into the second act. Bogart’s a combination of against type and in exaggerated type. He’s got some amazing scenes. Holt’s something of the straight man; Huston gives him the quietest character development and, in some ways, the quietest arc.

Max Steiner’s music is also crucial. Huston uses it to help guide the audience’s relationship with the film..

Sierra Madre is small, contained, expansive, elaborate. Huston and his actors do some truly exceptional work in the film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Huston, based on the novel by B. Traven; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Dobbs), Walter Huston (Howard), Tim Holt (Curtin), Bruce Bennett (Cody), Barton MacLane (McCormick), Alfonso Bedoya (Gold Hat), Arturo Soto Rangel (Presidente), Manuel Dondé (El Jefe), José Torvay (Pablo) and Margarito Luna (Pancho).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON 2015 HOSTED BY PAULA OF PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB, KELLEE OF OUTSPOKEN AND FRECKLED, and AURORA OF ONCE UPON A SCREEN


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