Category Archives: 1950

Trio (1950, Ken Annakin and Harold French)

Trio is a lopsided anthology of three W. Somerset Maugham short story adaptations. The first two segments, directed by Ken Annakin, are deliberate, thoughtful, wry comedies. The last one, directed by Harold French–and taking up over half the film’s runtime–is something of a tragedy. It’s deeply, chastely romantic, full of characters and enough story to probably run for a feature length outing on its own. Instead, it gets fifty minutes to meander to its finish.

Maugham introduces each story, though not for very long. Trio cuts away from him while he’s in mid-sentence, the uncredited narrator always cutting him off. Kind of strange, given Maugham’s one of the three screenwriters. Apparently someone thought he’d detract from the adaptations themselves.

Annakin does an excellent job with the first two segments.

The first has long-time church verger James Hayter losing his job. His boss finds out he can’t read or write and so does the Christian thing, throwing Hayter out on his butt (because liability issues). All right, so the vicar does give Hayter the chance to become literate but Hayter isn’t interested.

Hayter’s performance is awesome. It’s a quiet, cautious, deliberative performance. Much of the segment, at least in the first half, is just understanding Hayter’s perception of the world and his place in it. When he does make his moves for the future, involving landlady Kathleen Harrison, the segment speeds up quite a bit without losing any of its personality. Very nice work from Annakin, Harrison, and, obviously, Hayter.

The second segment has a much bigger principal cast. Nigel Patrick is an annoying passenger on an oceanliner, who irritates his roommate (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and his roommate’s colleague (Naunton Wayne) and the colleague’s wife (Anne Crawford). While the first segment does end with a bit of a punchline, the second just moves along until it gets to a smile.

The strong direction from Annakin, the excellent performances–particularly Patrick and Crawford, but everyone’s quite good–it gets Trio to a good place before kicking off the third story… the feature presentation, as it were.

Before cutting from Maugham, Trio establishes Roland Culver is going to be playing an analogue of the author. He’s got tuberculosis and he’s going to a sanatorium to recuperate. Sanatorium is also the title of the story. There he meets a cast of interesting people who have all sorts of things going on. Well, not Marjorie Fielding and Mary Merrall, who inexplicably don’t even warrant getting credited. They’re the two gossips who pishposh about goings on.

The main story is between Michael Rennie and Jean Simmons. He’s a retired Army officer and a determined cad. She’s the young woman who’s spent over a third of her life recuperating from tuberculosis but she’s not easily fooled. We never see her not be easily fooled, Culver just talks about observing it multiple times. Rennie pursues her, Simmons doesn’t want to be pursued, but doesn’t entirely avoid his attention.

Meanwhile, Raymond Huntley is a bore to visiting, suffering wife Betty Ann Davies. And John Laurie and Finaly Currie comedically bicker. André Morell’s the doctor in charge of the place, though he really doesn’t have anything to do. Neither does Culver. He’s just around to give Davies someone to talk with about Huntley. Rennie and Simmons function on their own, Laurie, Currie, Fielding, and Merrall are all background.

From the start, director French clearly doesn’t have the same kind of handle Annakin did on the first two segments. French and cinematographers Geoffrey Unsworth and Reginald H. Wyer frequently rely on bad projection backdrops, and French really doesn’t have anything interesting to do with all the talking heads shots. He’s seemingly more concerned with keeping it appear busy.

But the segment gets by. All the performances are good, even if the actors don’t have much in the way of parts. Whether due to the adaptation or the original text, the potentially good scenes (for the narrative) get avoided so there can be occasional reveals. When it does wrap up, it does so without much resolution. French is going for melodramatic effect, nothing else; shame the actors’ fine work adds up to so little. The segment needs more time. It’s got too much for the anthology and not enough for the story itself.

Trio’s universally well-acted, fairly well-written, either well-directed or at least mediocrely, but the lopsided nature of the segments–in terms of runtime and overall effect–hurt it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Annakin and Harold French; screenplay by W. Somerset Maugham, R.C. Sheriff, and Noel Langley, based on stories by Maugham; directors of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth and Reginald H. Wyer; edited by Alfred Roome; music by John Greenwood; produced by Antony Darnborough; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring James Hayter (Albert Foreman), Kathleen Harrison (Emma), Nigel Patrick (Kelada), Anne Crawford (Mrs. Ramsey), Naunton Wayne (Mr. Ramsey), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Mr. Gray), Roland Culver (Mr. Ashenden), Michael Rennie (Major Templeton), Jean Simmons (Miss Bishop), Betty Ann Davies (Mrs. Chester), Raymond Huntley (Mr. Chester), Finlay Currie (Mr. McLeod), Marjorie Fielding (Mrs. Whitbread), Mary Merrall (Miss Atkin), John Laurie (Mr. Campbell), and André Morell (Dr. Lennox).


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Rashomon (1950, Kurosawa Akira)

Where to start with Rashomon? Starting at the beginning means talking about the bookends–three strangers stranded in the rain, two telling the third different versions of the same story, each ostensibly true. The rain pours down around them, drowning out their voices. Rashomon is a film without a protagonist; it eschews the very idea of one. That pounding rain contrasts with the rest of the film, which has two further layers of narrative.

The two men telling stories–Shimura Takashi’s woodcutter and Chiaki Minoru’s priest–just gave testimony in a murder trial. One of Rashomon’s mysteries, I just realized, is the resolution of that trial. It’s immaterial. They’re now telling Ueda Kichijirô about the testimony they gave and the testimony they heard. So the trial is the second layer. It’s very quiet, with director Kurosawa using exquisite, precise framing. I forgot–it also has Shirmura and Chiaki promising Ueda their tale of base humanity is the worst he’ll ever here. Kurosawa sets the viewer’s expectations high.

The third layer is the testimony itself, involving Mifune Toshirô’s bandit attacking a traveling married couple. Mifune confesses. The wife, Kyô Machiko, gives conflicting testimony. The husband, Mori Masayuki–arguably in the film’s most difficult performance–gives another. Rashomon isn’t a courtroom picture set in feudal Japan, Kurosawa’s not interested in the truth. He’s interested in the concept of it, something plaguing poor Chiaki, whose performance as the priest is quietly devastating. A lot of Rashomon is people silently reacting to events around them. When action is necessary, no matter how much action, it’s momentous.

That third layer, set in a forest, is usually the quietest. Kurosawa and co-screenwriter Hashimoto Shinobu don’t play narrative tricks; Rashomon is straightforward in how the viewer’s supposed to navigate all the layers. Kurosawa isn’t interested in making the story opaque. He wants the viewer to understand. When Shimura tells his story, he walks the film (and the viewer) into the flashback, into the forest. It’s a visually striking sequence, beautiful photography from Miyagawa Kazuo and Kurosawa’s editing almost appears to be based on the length of breaths. The editing is very important in Rashomon. It practically suffocates the flashbacks, creating tension with the promise of truth and revelation in the silent forest.

Great acting from Mori, Kyô and Mifune, who all have to play the same parts three to five different ways. Sometimes Kyô is best, sometimes Mifune, but Mori’s gives the essential performance. He’s got to convey the forest’s silence, usually with nothing more than an expression or body language. Not to discount the Kyô and Mifune, of course, they’re amazing. Mifune shows exceptional range in what should be the same part.

Technically, the film’s impeccable. There’s a sword fight near the end, mostly in single takes, and Kurosawa gets phenomenal action performances from his actors. It’s exhausting, but so is Rashomon itself; at less than ninety minutes, Kurosawa runs the characters–and the viewer–through a ringer. Because he doesn’t just want to ask questions about truth, he wants to talk about their answers as well, making Shimura, Chiaki and Ueda just as important to the film as the three leads.

Great music from Hayasaka Fumio.

Rashomon has a cast of ten. The closest it comes to comic relief is Katô Daisuke’s mildly dimwitted policeman who testifies against Mifune, but it’s not funny, Katô’s just sort of funnier than anything else. Its present action is short, regardless of layer–I suppose the runtime could correspond to Shimura, Chiaki and Ueda being stuck in the rain, though the rain is already pouring down as the film starts. It’s not a big picture. There’s nothing Kurosawa could do better, could do different. Rashomon’s perfect, devastating.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Kurosawa Akira; screenplay by Kurosawa and Hashimoto Shinobu, based on a story by Akutagawa Ryûnosuke; director of photography, Miyagawa Kazuo; music by Hayasaka Fumio; production designer, Matsuyama Takashi; produced by Jingo Minoru; released by Daiei Motion Picture Company.

Starring Mifune Toshirô (Bandit), Kyô Machiko (Wife), Mori Masayuki (Husband), Shimura Takashi (Woodcutter), Chiaki Minoru (Priest), Ueda Kichijirô (Commoner), Honma Noriko (Medium) and Katô Daisuke (Policeman).


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Caged (1950, John Cromwell)

Max Steiner does the music for Caged, which is strange to think about because Caged barely has any music. Director Cromwell instead emphasizes the silence, especially as the film opens. Right after the opening credits, which do have music, Caged gets very quiet. “Silence” reads all the walls in the women’s prison where protagonist Eleanor Parker finds herself. At its most obvious, one could say Caged is the story of Parker going from first time offender to repeat offender, which is besides the point. Parker’s fate is decided right from the start. There are four principal characters in Caged, two inmates, two prison employees. None of them have any free will, it’s just how they come to realize it.

Cromwell, thanks to Carl E. Guthrie’s photography and Owen Marks’s editing, is able to do a lot with the filmmaking. Caged’s silences–waiting for a noise, praying for more silence–is just one of the many techniques Cromwell uses to get the viewer into the cage with Parker and everyone else. Caged should feel stagy at times; same sets, over and over. The outside world is just a glimpse and a bland glimpse at that. There’s not even a world over the wall, when the inmates are in the yard. They, along with the viewer, know there’s a world out there but it’s left to the imagination for everyone. Caged just concerns this place and these people.

Virginia Kellogg’s screenplay juxtaposes innocent Parker and Agnes Moorehead’s compassionate superintendent. Both women have bad role models–Parker has Betty Garde’s hardened con woman while brutal matron Hope Emerson wants to sway Moorehead back to viciousness. Once it becomes clear Parker isn’t just the subject of the film–Caged might have some social commentary to make, but it isn’t trying to propagandize–but the protagonist and the viewer has to stick with her, follow her hardening, it becomes even more frightening. Most of the scares happen in the first half of the film, but the second half, as despondence sets in, is even more terrifying.

Parker is singular. There aren’t adjectives to describe her performance. Moorehead’s great, Emerson’s great, Garde’s great. The supporting cast is all good. Look fast for Jane Darwell.

Caged is an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Cromwell; screenplay by Virginia Kellogg, based on a story by Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Marie Allen), Agnes Moorehead (Ruth Benton), Hope Emerson (Evelyn Harper), Betty Garde (Kitty Stark), Ellen Corby (Emma Barber), Jan Sterling (Smoochie), Olive Deering (June Roberts) and Lee Patrick (Elvira Powell).


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D.O.A. (1950, Rudolph Maté)

D.O.A. is a wonderful example of a gimmick having nowhere to go. Edmond O’Brien is a small town accountant who decides to spend a week in San Francisco drinking and carousing (leaving girlfriend and secretary Pamela Britton back home). Out of the blue, he gets poisoned and has to solve his own murder.

His investigation takes him into a seedy underworld of illegitimate metal sales, maybe money laundering. It’s not a good mystery. It’s not a good solution. Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene’s script is mostly filler, which is a problem since the red herrings are weak and the actual reveal isn’t any better. It might even be worse.

In the lead, O’Brien is fine. He’s a bit of a jerk, but it’s Edmond O’Brien, he does oblivious jerk perfectly well. Though the script’s careful to make most of the people who he treats like jerks absolutely awful. He also muscles around at least two of the women in the picture, which is a little strange. Those muscling around parts take place indoors too, where pretty much every shot director Maté sets up is boring. The outside stuff, even when it’s just in the story and not filmed on location, is better. The indoor stuff is yawn inducing, probably because so much of it is just Rouse and Greene spinning their wheels for melodramatic purposes.

The film has a frame establishing the poisoned protagonist MacGuffin, which I hope wasn’t always part of the plan. If so, the dramatics the film puts O’Brien (and the viewer) through make very little sense.

The supporting cast is weak. Britton’s only sympathetic because O’Brien’s so awful to her. Luther Adler’s sort of amusing as the illicit metal dealer, though only sort of. Neville Brand’s disturbing as a gunsel. He’s not good, but he’s disturbing and effective.

Decent photography from Ernest Laszlo, good editing from Arthur H. Nagel. The film’s got some fine action suspense sequences, but they’re not enough to save it.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s score makes me understand why people don’t like his scores.

D.O.A. relies almost entirely on O’Brien’s appeal. He’s got a lot, but there are limits.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rudolph Maté; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Arthur H. Nadel; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by Leo C. Popkin; released by United Artists.

Starring Edmond O’Brien (Frank Bigelow), Pamela Britton (Paula Gibson), Luther Adler (Majak), Beverly Garland (Miss Foster), Lynn Baggett (Mrs. Philips), William Ching (Halliday), Henry Hart (Stanley Philips) and Neville Brand (Chester).


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