Tag Archives: Akim Tamiroff

The Great McGinty (1940, Preston Sturges)

The Great McGinty has a gentle surprise ending. Not a twist. More a reveal, which then recasts the previous ninety minutes and change in a slightly different light. Because McGinty has a very deliberate bookending—there’s even a title card to explain the setting. An unnamed banana republic, two American ex-pats on the run from bad decisions, though one is a wrong guy who made a right choice and the other is a right guy who made the wrong choice. Louis Jean Heydt is, presumably, the right guy. He’s drinking himself to death and getting sympathy from good girl bar dancer Steffi Duna, who’s really just looking out for him in one of the film’s many nice humanity observations. Eventually they end up at the bar, where bartender Brian Donlevy (sporting an amazing blond dye-job) tells them if they want to hear a sad story, just listen up.

Donlevy doesn’t narrate the flashbacks; there are occasional mid-shelf bookends where the film checks back in on Donlevy, Duna, and Heydt, but they don’t have any presence during the flashbacks. They’re passively present, which is kind of important for Donlevy’s character arc and the final reveal. Sturges has a gentle touch with the narrative; he never gives too much the impression of guiding the narrative, just as comfortable with slowing down the present action as speeding it up and skipping ahead in time. Donlevy’s story starts on an election night; he’s in a soup line, one of the forgotten men of the Great Depression. If he goes to vote for the mayor, he can make a couple bucks. All he’s got to do is vote. Though not under his own name. William Demarest explains the whole scheme to Donlevy (and the audience), establishing that gentle touch of Sturges’s what will be the film’s many information dumps. Donlevy ends up Great because he’s a success in a city’s political Machine. Sturges has to explain a lot about that Machine’s procedures. And he’s got to make them palatable. So he gives them to Demarest, who’s cranky and hilarious about the whole thing, and to Akim Tamiroff, who’s explosive and hilarious about the whole thing. Tamiroff’s the big boss. Donlevy goes from paid voter to protection collector to alderman to whatever he wants in record time. He makes it because Tamiroff likes Donlevy’s initiative and lack of fear.

Even though there’s constant danger, Sturges makes it feel entirely immaterial to the plot (even though the audience knows Donlevy at least doesn’t die thanks to the bookend). But Sturges doesn’t leverage having those bookends to keep Donlevy safe, he puts it into the script, gets it out of Donlevy’s performance—Tamiroff walks away with every scene he’s in, he’s awesome; Demarest doesn’t walk away with his scenes (except when they’re just his scenes) but he definitely distracts from the action; female lead Muriel Angelus does walk off with the scene, but usually without having to move. More on her soon. But Donlevy doesn’t get to be flashy, he doesn’t get to be outrageous. He gets to show excitement, he gets to show outrage, he gets to show love. But all at very human levels. Angelus’s human, but the way Sturges composes her shots, she’s angelically functional. It’s like Sturges sketches a caricature in the script and, with his actors’ performances, together they make it into a full character. But Donlevy doesn’t get that synthesis, not the same way. There’s no compensating for his performance. Donlevy’s always got to be the straight man, which makes for an interesting character arc. He never gets a dramatic character move. His character development has to lead the narrative, but it also doesn’t get to be directly addressed.

One result of that approach is the ending reveal working so well. Sturges sets up the narrative distance in the opening bookend and never changes it too much. There’s always a definite distance between the film and Donlevy’s protagonist and narrator, making enough room for Tamiroff to live large in the first half, then Angelus in the second. But when Tamiroff’s big, it’s still Donlevy’s movie. When Angelus’s big, it’s kind of more her movie. Because she’s getting to see behind Donlevy’s scrappy, functional exterior. And sometimes the interior is just as scrappy and functional, which then leads to more context for Donlevy’s character and more potential for Donlevy and Angelus’s relationship. She’s the single mom, Machine secretary who sees his potential for greatness, even before she realizes she sees it. She and Donlevy have this quiet relationship in the middle of all this noise and Sturges focuses more on Angelus in those scenes, leading to some awesome little moments in both her performance and the film. Sturges’s direction of the cast on the film is spectacular.

There’s a lot of nice echoing in Sturges’s script. Gentle but deliberate, like everything else. He’s also able to get a lot of laughs out of not necessarily humorous situations. It’s a great script.

The whole thing’s great. So great I wish I’d been making Great puns right from the start. And don’t let the last paragraph of them dissuade you on The Great McGinty—Sturges, Donlevy, Angelus, and Tamiroff do some… exceptional work on it.

The Great McGinty. It’s terrific.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Preston Sturges; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by Hugh Bennett; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by Paul Jones; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Brian Donlevy (Dan McGinty), Muriel Angelus (Catherine), Akim Tamiroff (The Boss), William Demarest (Skeeters), Libby Taylor (Bessy), Donnie Kerr (Donnie), Mary Thomas (Mary), Allyn Joslyn (George), Louis Jean Heydt (Tommy Thompson), and Steffi Duna (The Dancing Girl).



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Panic Button (1964, George Sherman)

Watching Panic Button, two adjectives came to mind repeatedly. Anemic and stupefying. It’s incredible the things the film can’t make funny–like Maurice Chevalier, Carlo Croccolo and Eleanor Parker dressed up as nuns trying to make it to a Venice film festival. Not the Venice Film Festival, because the one in Panic Button also shows TV pilots. But director Sherman–or whoever directed the chase sequence (there’s also an Italian language version of the film directed by Giuliano Carnimeo and it could have just been second unit)–bombs it. It’s never funny, even though Parker and Croccolo are working. Poor Chevalier, on the other hand, becomes a metaphor for the film itself.

Panic Button is about the New York mob needing to lose half a million dollars. There’s an expository prologue with bad acting and worse dubbing. Mob boss’s son Mike Connors flies to Rome to make a TV pilot starring Chevalier, whose movies are poorly rated on late night television. It’s not a stupid idea for a movie, but everything except the idea is stupid. Connors falls for leading lady Jayne Mansfield, except they have no chemistry. Independently, they’re both actually fine–and even though it’s still not funny, Sherman’s best direction is of the female actors–Mansfield and Parker–but together they’re charmless. Meanwhile, Chevalier is living off his ex-wife (Parker) in some kind of fantasy world where he’s an accomplished actor. He’s not believable having a single movie credit to his name, much less enough to provoke marketing research.

The first act isn’t too bad, actually. Parker is great. She’s about the only one who makes Panic Button feel like a real movie and not, you know, something someone had to lose half a million dollars making. The film plays Chevalier’s character and the actor himself as a patsy, which is unfortunate. Awful editing from Gene Ruggiero doesn’t help. Sherman’s direction is no shakes whatsoever, but Ruggiero can’t even cut screwball banter. Well, wait. Sherman shoots it too wide so maybe there’s just nothing to cut.

And Parker and Connors have a lot of chemistry. So it reflects poorly on his character when Mansfield’s cleavage wins his heart. Of course, it’s fine for Parker. Even though she was married to Chevalier and then supported him for years after their divorce, it turns out she didn’t know him at all and there’s a chance for reconnection. Unfortunately, no one seems to have let Chevalier in on that development because his performance–regardless of the bad writing–is utterly one note.

Panic Button even manages to screw up Akim Tamiroff as a wacky acting instructor who ineptly directs the TV pilot.

And the music from Georges Garvarentz is super lame.

However, while Panic Button doesn’t have anything to recommend it–unless one wants to see Parker hold half the movie up with expressions or a travelogue of sixties Rome and Venice–the cast does do enough solid work it’s not a complete waste of time. Even with the mindnumpingly long chase sequence and a cruel (and inept) finale, Parker, Connors, Mansfield, Croccolo and even Chevalier to some degree take Panic Button seriously enough it’s not an abject failure.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by George Sherman; screenplay by Stephen Longstreet and Hal Biller, based on a story by Morton Friedman; director of photography, Enzo Serafin; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by Georges Garvarentz; produced by Ron Gorton; released by Gorton Associates.

Starring Mike Connors (Frank Pagano), Eleanor Parker (Louise Harris), Maurice Chevalier (Philippe Fontaine), Jayne Mansfield (Angela), Vincent Barbi (Mario), Carlo Croccolo (Guido) and Akim Tamiroff (Pandowski).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.

Anastasia (1956, Anatole Litvak)

Anastasia manages that fine line between being dramatic and a constant delight. Ingrid Bergman’s performance is magnificent, with Arthur Laurents’s screenplay–and Litvak’s direction of her–never quite letting the viewer in. It’s a mystery after all–is Bergman’s Anastasia really the last Romanov. Laurents and Litvak construct a narrative where that question doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as why the viewer would ask it in the first place.

Of course, they can only sell that approach thanks to Helen Hayes, who plays Bergman’s potential grandmother. And Hayes only works as well as she does because she’s got Bergman and Yul Brynner to play off. Hayes is wonderful in the film. Let me check the adjectives–Bergman’s magnificent, Hayes’s wonderful–should Brynner be breathtaking? No. But only because he’s not. Except when Martita Hunt’s around to lust after him in one of the film’s finest subplots.

Brynner’s commanding, sympathetic, antagonistic. He’s the closest thing the viewer has to an ally in the film, if not an analogue. Initially, it’s Brynner who can prove, to the viewer, Bergman’s character’s authenticity. Then it’s Hayes. Then it’s Bergman. But, like I said earlier, the authenticity of identity isn’t the point of Anastasia. The characters are the point, the actors, the experiences, Litvak’s awesome direction.

Anastasia is a stage adaptation; it has a number of the telltale signs–distinctive supporting characters, a limited number of indoor locations where scenes take place–but Litvak breaks them over and over. He and photographer Jack Hildyard have this fantastic crane shots (sometimes “breaking” ceilings). They, and the CinemaScope frame, make Anastasia larger than life, right from the start. Because Litvak’s style for the film isn’t melodrama. It’s practically noir, with Brynner and (fantastic) sidekicks Akim Tamiroff and Sacha Pitoëff as these schemers planning a con. And Bergman’s able to fit into it and out of it. Her performance is, like I said, magnificent. Especially considering how well she weathers being out of the present action for two weeks. The film turns it into an unexpected boon for the final act. Laurents and Litvak. They do great work here.

Alfred Newman’s score is also important. It’s this overtly Russian stuff, which doesn’t always fit the scene exactly right. Newman emphasizes the Russian influences over the scene’s “needs;” it’s perfect. Because Anastasia is about Russia, while still being very much about Bergman (as a movie star).

I haven’t seen the film in years and, from the first scene, I remembered how much I love it. Just gets better on every viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anatole Litvak; screenplay by Arthur Laurents, based on a story by Guy Bolton and a play by Marcelle Maurette; director of photography, Jack Hildyard; edited by Bert Bates; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Buddy Adler; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ingrid Bergman (Anna Koreff), Yul Brynner (Bounine), Akim Tamiroff (Boris Adreivich Chernov), Sacha Pitoëff (Piotr Ivanovich Petrovin), Martita Hunt (Baroness Livenbaum), Ivan Desny (Prince Paul) and Helen Hayes (The Dowager Empress).



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THIS POST IS PART OF THE WONDERFUL INGRID BERGMAN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


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Five Graves to Cairo (1943, Billy Wilder)

On one hand, Five Graves to Cairo is a solid stage adaptation. Director Wilder, who adapted the play with Charles Brackett, makes it feel like a film. On the other hand, Cairo–partially because Wilder sticks to the setting so thoroughly and never opens up the film–doesn’t really go anywhere. After implying complications, it ends just another WWII propaganda picture.

Presumably unintentionally, with two awful “rah-rah” endings instead of just one, Cairo disappoints a little less than if it stuck with the first.

It still has some rather good acting and some rather good writing throughout. Wilder opens the film with a fantastic sequence of lead Franchot Tone escaping a runaway tank. Beautiful John F. Seitz photography, both in the desert and once Tone reaches a hotel and momentary safety. The Germans show up a few minutes later.

There are some neat twists in the plot and Tone’s character, who’s not too bright and knows it, is a fine lead. Anne Baxter is the French chambermaid who cares only for herself and not the war effort. Will she ever learn the value of sacrifice? Regardless if she does or not, Baxter plays the part rather well. It’s too bad Wilder and Brackett don’t give her more to do.

Erich von Stroheim has a lot of fun as Rommel. Peter van Eyck is fine as his sidekick and Baxter’s verboten paramour. Akim Tamiroff’s likable in an underwritten part.

Some great editing from Doane Harrison, even during the weak finale.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Billy Wilder; screenplay by Charles Brackett and Wilder, based on a play by Lajos Biró; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Doane Harrison; music by Miklós Rózsa; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Franchot Tone (Cpl. John J. Bramble), Anne Baxter (Mouche), Akim Tamiroff (Farid), Peter van Eyck (Lt. Schwegler), Fortunio Bonanova (Gen. Sebastiano) and Erich von Stroheim (Field Marshal Erwin Rommel).



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THIS POST IS PART OF THE BILLY WILDER BLOGATHON 2015 HOSTED BY KELLEE OF OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED and AURORA OF ONCE UPON A SCREEN.


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