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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FM (1978, John A. Alonzo)

After a somewhat linear, pratical first act, FM begins to meander through a series of vingettes. Occasionally these end in a fade to black, usually when there’s supposed to be some deep meaning to the scene, but occasionally just when it’s time to move an interminate period into the future. A day or two. Or a week. It’s never really clear, which is fine, since there’s not much internal reality to the film.

FM is about the highest rated radio station in Los Angeles. Only, they’re not highest rated because they’re a bunch of corporate squares, they’re highest rated because they’re a bunch of Hollywoodized hippies. Station manager and morning disc jockey Michael Brandon never gets to work on time, if the opening titles are to be believed, when he’s driving from home to work in approximately six minutes. In L.A. traffic. Brandon’s got long, shaggish hair and a beard and sometimes wears a cowboy hat. He doesn’t believe in commercials, he believes in the music.

Then there’s Martin Mull. He’s the sweet talker lothario DJ who has way too high an opinion of himself. He actually gets one of the film’s better story arcs, culiminating in the most creative direction director Alonzo does in the entire film. Cleavon Little is the other sweet talker lothario DJ who has just the right opinion of himself. He doesn’t get anything to do in the movie, except make the station seem hip for having a black guy. Eileen Brennan is the third of the successful DJs. She’s tired with the life. She has the worst story arc; of all the underutilized actors in the film, Brennan is most underutilized. Ezra Sacks’s script doesn’t have much in the way of character depth–calling the parts caricatures is a tad complementary–so it’s up to the actor and Alonzo to make the most of the performances.

Mull can kind of get away with it, but Brennan has less to do than Jay Fenichel, who’s the tech guy who wants to be DJ.

There’s also Alex Karras, who’s sort of around to give a sense of linearity, as well as giving Brandon some character development. Not enough because Sacks doesn’t do anything with Karras. And, frankly, when Karras takes a back seat to Cassie Yates, who at least is active and supposedly has a on-again-off-again with Brandon (though they have zero chemistry), it’s a fine enough change. Yates isn’t annoying in the little transition scenes between Sacks’s attempts at vingettes. Karras, however, does get annoying.

Tom Tarpey is okay as the company stooge who should be a foil for Brandon, except he disappears for too long somewhere in the second act. The second act is also when FM drops in a three song set from Linda Rondstadt, which Alonzo doesn’t direct any better than the rest of the film so it’s not even compelling.

Oh, and James Keach’s pothead Army lieutenant is an exceptional fail in everywhere–Keach’s performance, Sacks’s writing, Alonzo’s direction.

When the film finally does get to the third act, which basically just resolves stuff introduced in the first ten minutes… well, FM goes from being a genial disappointment to a complete waste of time. It doesn’t help Alonzo is wholly unqualified for everything the film needs him to do. And whoever thought Panavision was a good idea was very wrong. Alonzo can never find anything to fill the side of a frame in his one shots. He also can’t direct group shots, which is a problem since much of the film is the cast standing or sitting around the radio station.

Lawrence G. Paull’s production design isn’t bad though, even if the station is unbelievable as a successful radio station, Hollywood hippies or not. And David Myers’s photography is passable. It’s not his fault Alonzo doesn’t know how to compose a shot.

FM doesn’t run much over a 100 minutes, yet it begins to drag once it’s clear it’s not really going anywhere with the cast. Mull’s comic relief. Brennan’s around to give it respectably. Yates is supposed to give it spunk, Little color, Brandon heartthrob. As it does start to finish up, the film manages to drain all its enthusiasm. It can’t end fast enough; it’s already burned through the tepid goodwill it’s created and is just wasting everyone’s time.

FM doesn’t even end up deserving a turn your dial joke.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John A. Alonzo; written by Ezra Sacks; director of photography, David Myers; edited by William C. Carruth and Jeff Gourson; music by Steely Dan; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Rand Holston; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Brandon (Jeff Dugan), Martin Mull (Eric Swan), Cassie Yates (Laura Coe), Eileen Brennan (Mother), Tom Tarpey (Regis Lamar), Cleavon Little (Prince), Jay Fenichel (Bobby Douglas), Roberta Wallach (Shari Smith), Janet Brandt (Alice), Alex Karras (Doc Holiday), and James Keach (Lt. Reach).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE WORKPLACE IN FILM & TV BLOGATHON HOSTED BY DEBBIE OF MOON IN GEMINI.


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Batman (1943, Lambert Hillyer), Chapter 14: The Executioner Strikes

The impossible occurs, one chapter until the finish, with The Executioner Strikes actually having a satisfying cliffhanger resolution. A somewhat satisfying one. Better than any of the others.

After that high point, unfortunately, the chapter gets pretty bad for a while. First, it’s dumb, with Lewis Wilson revealing himself to the bad guys without costume, then chasing them down in the car to attack them as Batman. William Austin drives the car the whole time, never in costume. Presumably, unless they’re going to be killed, these guys can identify Wilson as Batman.

And when Wilson, Austin, and Douglas Croft do catch up to them, it’s probably the worst fight scene in a Batman chapter so far. James S. Brown Jr.’s day for night photography is bad enough, but then Hillyer speeds up the film. What wacky antics.

Then it’s time for Shirley Patterson to come back in–she was brainwashed at the open–and for Wilson to fall into a trap he said he was expecting. There’s a lot of costumed Batman about town doing stunt work this chapter. Lots of derring-do.

If the cliffhanger resolution weren’t so predictably setup, it might actually be effective. Though maybe the energy of Batman almost being over just gives it more potential.

J. Carrol Naish is around quite a bit. Despite his entirely offensive performance, Naish does at least try to have some fun, which no one else manages.

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser, based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; director of photography, James S. Brown Jr.; edited by Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner; music by Lee Zahler; produced by Rudolph C. Flothow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Lewis Wilson (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Douglas Croft (Robin / Dick Grayson), Shirley Patterson (Linda Page), William Austin (Alfred Pennyworth), and J. Carrol Naish (Dr. Daka).


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Batman (1943, Lambert Hillyer), Chapter 13: Eight Steps Down

Despite the previous chapter suggesting a cliffhanger, turns out the resolution is more about Douglas Croft and William Austin’s impatience than anything else.

But as Batman is now seventy-some percent complete, things start happening in Eight Steps Down. Though nothing about eight steps. There’s a narrative jump between one part of Lewis Wilson and Croft investigating (in costume) and another, so maybe the eight steps are just supposed to be the implied distance they descended?

I guess Eight Steps Down sounds more thrilling than Almost Five Feet Down, but whatever.

J. Carrol Naish’s goons deliver Shirley Patterson to him and, no, it doesn’t turn out she’s any less of a bigot than the serial itself. He’s going to brainwash her to get her to write a letter to Wilson because Naish has decided he must be Batman.

Meanwhile, Wilson is actually doing some investigating and happens upon Naish’s underground layer. You know, the one apparently almost five feet below the surface.

The episode ends with an actual cliffhanger for Wilson and some ominous plot development for Patterson. It’s still clunky, but it’s probably the best Batman has ever been.

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser, based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; director of photography, James S. Brown Jr.; edited by Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner; music by Lee Zahler; produced by Rudolph C. Flothow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Lewis Wilson (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Douglas Croft (Robin / Dick Grayson), Shirley Patterson (Linda Page), William Austin (Alfred Pennyworth), and J. Carrol Naish (Dr. Daka).


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