Tag Archives: Adolphe Menjou

The Sheik (1921, George Melford)

The uncredited editor of The Sheik had a thankless task–during the first act, director Melford is packing in so much expository information all the cuts to introduce new information. The Sheik’s silent, the editing of the first act is always important in a silent film. There needs to be a certain pace, there needs to be a certain amount of information conveyed. Especially in a film like The Sheik, which opens with a lot of characters and then winnows them down. And the uncredited editor doesn’t do well with this expository first act. But, the editor does do well in the second and third acts of the film, when there’s finally visual action.

The Sheik isn’t any great shakes of a film. Lead Rudolph Valentino has more charm in this one than he does acting proficiency. And some of that charm is just from Valentino pulling off the outlandish costumes. He’s an Arabian sheik, educated in Paris, who comes across an English lady (a far less charming Agnes Ayres) and decides to kidnap her. It’s not all in harmless fun, of course, but the danger question gets answered pretty quick.

Why do I feel like I’m writing a synopsis of a romance novel and trying to make it sound just a little smarter than a romance novel. The Sheik isn’t very smart, it’s not very stupid, it’s not very anything. Maybe it’s the scope of the picture; it does start with some grandiose scale–Brits on vacation in the Middle East–but then it shrinks down to Valentino and Ayres hanging out in Valentino’s enormous tent palace. These sequences get boring, though they do give Ayres her best scenes in the film. Melford doesn’t know how to direct her in the first act and she’s a helpless damsel in the third act, which is really dumb because she’s already shown herself not to be helpless. But you cut it some slack because, why not?

The Sheik is likable without being amiable, which is something of an accomplishment. Good supporting turns from Adolphe Menjou and Walter Long.

Gorgeous title cards (also uncredited).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Melford; screenplay by Monte M. Katterjohn, based on the novel by Edith Maude Hull; director of photography, William Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Rudolph Valentino (Ahmed Ben Hassan), Agnes Ayres (Lady Diana Mayo), Adolphe Menjou (Dr. Raoul de St. Hubert), Frank Butler (Sir Aubrey Mayo), Charles Brinley (Mustapha Ali), Lucien Littlefield (Gaston) and Walter Long (Omair).


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Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)

Paths of Glory takes place over four days, runs just under ninety minutes and has thirteen or so significant characters. It’s hard to identify the most significant character–Kirk Douglas’s protagonist the viewer’s way into the film, but he’s not the most significant.

The film opens with George Macready (who, along with Wayne Morris, is my vote for most significant character) and Adolphe Menjou. The film then moves on Morris’s story (with Ralph Meeker); Douglas shows up in this period too. At no point is the film’s second half, a court martial trial, forecast. Director Kubrick and co-screenwriters Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson pace the film brilliantly–everything is immediate. In the penultimate scene, when Menjou proposes to Douglas the idea of the opposite, it confounds Douglas and reveals the cognitive disconnect to the viewer.

Then Kubrick gives the viewer–and Douglas–some hope for the human race in the last scene. He handles it carefully–he and editor Eva Kroll cut Glory sublimely. There’s never a wasted moment, but Kubrick never gives the sense of being too precise or reductive. He just balances it all.

Great photography from Georg Krause.

In the lead, Douglas is fantastic. He gets a big trial scene, but his quiet seething scenes are even better. His often cautious reactions to Macready and Menjou are phenomenal. And they’re both great. Macready more, just because he gets the most to do in the film.

It’s a perfect film. Every moment is spectacular, quiet or loud.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stanley Kubrick; screenplay by Kubrick, Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson, based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb; director of photography, Georg Krause; edited by Eva Kroll; music by Gerald Fried; produced by James B. Harris; released by United Artists.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Col. Dax), Ralph Meeker (Cpl. Philippe Paris), Adolphe Menjou (Gen. George Broulard), George Macready (Gen. Paul Mireau), Wayne Morris (Lt. Roget), Richard Anderson (Maj. Saint-Auban), Joe Turkel (Pvt. Pierre Arnaud), Christiane Kubrick (German Singer), Peter Capell (Chief Judge of Court-Martial), Emile Meyer (Father Dupree), Bert Freed (Sgt. Boulanger), Kem Dibbs (Pvt. Lejeune) and Timothy Carey (Pvt. Maurice Ferol).


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State of the Union (1948, Frank Capra)

Capra tries for another entry in his humanist series (Mr. Deeds, Mr. Smith and John Doe) and fails miserably. Two of the principal ingredients–Robert Riskin and Gary Cooper–are missing, but since State of the Union is from a play, it’s questionable if Riskin could have helped (Union‘s problems are fundamental). As for Cooper… Spencer Tracy’s excellent and the film’s failings aren’t his fault. The film’s also something of a technical failure, plagued by some terrible editing from William Hornbeck, during the first half.

The movie moves well enough–the first half hour until Katharine Hepburn shows up goes at a lightning fast pace–usually thanks to Van Johnson. Johnson’s cynical but affable reporter is Union‘s best part. Margaret Hamilton’s put-upon maid is also a lot of fun, but Capra tends to misuse actors here more than not. Adolphe Menjou gets saddled with one of the big bad guy roles and he’s way too passive for it. Charles Dingle, in a smaller part, would have had the volume. As the primary villain–corrosive both as a newspaper publisher and Tracy’s mistress–Angela Lansbury is out of her depth. She doesn’t have the skills to pull it off as believable, not just in terms of her villainous scenes, but to convince anyone Tracy would want anything to do with her… much less leave Hepburn for her. (Hepburn in the Lansbury role would have been interesting). There’s the major problem with State of the Union… Tracy’s a bad guy too.

The big changeover happens late in the film, so the viewing experience isn’t totally ruined. Hepburn’s got a great drunk scene during the last act, which is painfully slight, and Maidel Turner, as her drinking buddy, helps a lot. But the whole thing, as it wraps, is bad. Tracy’s not even a main character after Hepburn shows up, so no long walks to think or hurt expressions from the witness stand.

Capra’s free of any earnestness here, just treading water. Worse, he’s lost almost all filmmaking imagination, only retaining competence–with the exception of one plane chase scene, which was probably all second unit. Sure, it’s adapted from a play and there’s lots of stagy scenes, but Capra doesn’t even explore that idea.

It’s a sad afterword to the trilogy and a waste of time for Tracy and Hepburn. They both have good scenes, Hepburn having a lot more, but as a narrative, it’s an embarrassment.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Anthony Veiller and Myles Connolly, based on the play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse; director of photography, George J. Fosley; edited by William Hornbeck; music by Victor Young; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Grant Matthews), Katharine Hepburn (Mary Matthews), Van Johnson (Spike McManus), Angela Lansbury (Kay Thorndyke), Adolphe Menjou (Jim Conover), Lewis Stone (Sam Thorndyke), Howard Smith (Sam I. Parrish), Charles Dingle (Bill Nolard Hardy), Maidel Turner (Lulubelle Alexander), Raymond Walburn (Judge Alexander) and Margaret Hamilton (Norah).


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