Tag Archives: Broderick Crawford

The Fastest Gun Alive (1956, Russell Rouse)

The Fastest Gun Alive–to put it mildly and politely–is a turkey. I thought, given Glenn Ford in the lead, it was going to be at least a decent Western… but it’s not. Ford’s great (more on him later), but the script is atrocious. It’s rare to see a script so fail its cast; to the point there’s nothing they can do except ride the tide until it’s over. Russell Rouse isn’t much of a director either. He had a couple okay shots, but he seems far bettered suited for television. He doesn’t bring any personality to the visuals. As a director of actors, he’s a disaster. He can’t figure out how to shoot Jeanne Crain’s concerned wife shots and the performance Broderick Crawford gives is awful from the start. Only at the end, when Crawford gets to tread water for a while, is he all right. At the beginning, not even in speaking scenes, he’s terrible.

The script’s a silly revision on High Noon, an idiotic examination of cowardice. The Fastest Gun Alive does have some interesting elements, but they’re unrecognized. Ford’s character isn’t presented as a coward until after a big revelation scene, so before it, he just comes off as a weak-willed man who succumbs to peer pressure. Ford and Crain play these scenes beautifully–going through the film with those assumptions about Ford almost make him the villain, as he abandons pregnant Crain for his fellow men’s image of him. Then there’s Crawford’s character, who–we learn in the last act–is a villain (a fast-drawing villain, of course) simply because his wife left him for a Faro dealer. He’s overcompensating. Unfortunately, this detail is revealed after Crawford’s palled around with a kid, which added some depth to the character. The revelation just explains it.

But Rouse and co-writer Frank D. Gilroy aren’t interested in subtlety or rewarding a participating viewer. They’ve got a generic western and they follow it. The wheel ruts going through the town become a metaphor for the entire picture.

There is some further atrociousness, however. Not satisfied with a seventy-two minute picture, Rouse puts poor Russ Tamblyn on display for an involved, acrobatic dance sequence. It’s amazing what Tamblyn could do, he was a flexible guy, but it not only doesn’t further the story, it degrades Tamblyn. Besides that sequence, he doesn’t have a character. He’s around occasionally, but all as an excuse for a three or four minute dance routine. He’s good in the three or four unrelated deliveries he has. I hope he got paid well for it.

Rouse pads in other places too… introducing useless supporting characters and contrived relationships. Even with all the dressing, The Fastest Gun Alive is anorexic. The most interesting possibilities–like why Crain stuck with Ford for so long or how she got together with him in the first place–are never discussed, because it might reveal the big revelation too early.

There’s a brief moment, in the last scene, when the film could overcome all its defects and really be something, really put forth an idea, really make a statement about violence and the way people interact with each other, the responsibilities of community.

It doesn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Rouse; screenplay by Frank D. Gilroy and Rouse, based on a story by Gilroy; director of photography, George J. Folsey; edited by Harry V. Knapp and Ferris Webster; music by André Previn; produced by Clarence Greene; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Glenn Ford (George Temple), Jeanne Crain (Dora Temple), Broderick Crawford (Vinnie Harold), Russ Tamblyn (Eric Doolittle), Allyn Joslyn (Harvey Maxwell), Leif Erickson (Lou Glover), John Dehner (Taylor Swope) and Noah Beery Jr. (Dink Wells).


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Beau Geste (1939, William A. Wellman)

Beau Geste is a colonial adventure, European soldiers under siege in the Arabian desert. There’s some imagination to the telling, but not at all enough. The strangest thing about the film is the title–Gary Cooper plays Beau Geste, who in some ways is the least of the film’s characters. I think Cooper must get the littlest screen time of the main actors and the film often feels absent of his presence.

The problem stems from the structure. Geste opens with the discovery of a mystery–a desert fort, all the soldiers dead, but a peculiar confession in one of the men’s hands and two shots fired by a ghost. It’s all very Arthur Conan Doyle, except the viewer has to wait almost two hours to discover the solution (well, not really… just the entire solution… from the first flashback, the general answer is clear). After the first scene, the action goes back fifteen years to that revealing flashback. Then there’s a second mystery–this one of great importance–hinted at. It’s not a real mystery because the viewer is deceived into thinking he or she has seen all the relevant action. But it’s of great importance in the end and to a character’s entire motivation. Without it, the film makes little sense–and at the end, there’s a big finger snapping, “of course” moment. It’s a lousy moment, of course, and ruins the film’s already bad denouement.

When the film does get back to the present day and starts toward unraveling the mystery of the first scene, it starts kind of well. The scenes with Cooper, Robert Preston and Ray Milland as wealthy brothers in English luxury are fine. Cooper and Preston have a decent moment together and Milland’s appealing enough romancing Susan Hayward. Both Hayward and G.P. Huntley are useless in any narrative sense, but whatever, the film’s at least trying to be interesting in these scenes.

It lasts only a few minutes, unfortunately. Then there’s another big mystery (tying in to the first scene’s mystery) and it’s off to the Foreign Legion. I always thought Beau Geste was a big adventure story, but the film’s mostly just the three brothers (until Preston goes off to a different fort) and their vicious sergeant, poorly played by Brian Donlevy. It isn’t really Donlevy’s fault–his character has absolutely no depth. He’s a standard movie bad guy, absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever (not even after Cooper observes one about him). The film plays him as pure nefariousness and most of the film’s running time suffers from it. Beau Geste is a mutiny thriller.

William A. Wellman does a mediocre job directing the film, which really hurts it. He has some grandiose scale at the beginning, but losses it immediately in the flashback and never gets it back. The film’s beautifully photographed by Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout, but Thomas Scott’s editing is the pits. Every time Wellman’s action scenes start to look good, there’s a distracting jump-cut. Cooper shoots at the left of the screen and his target gets hit from a bullet moving left to right. The sets are nice too.

Preston has some good moments (Milland gets stuck with a lot of weak moments) and Cooper’s fine when he’s around; the film doesn’t really have any standout performances. J. Carrol Naish is bad as Donlevy’s stooge–probably giving the film’s worst performance–and the less said about the cowboy legionnaires the better. Harold Huber does have a nice small role, however.

Another big problem with Beau Geste is how familiar it all seems… like the source novel was nothing but a creative plagiarism of The Four Feathers. But not having read the novel, it’s impossible to say what went wrong–the adaptation or the story itself. Beau Geste is a monotonous chore to get through, especially as the ending rolls downhill for the last seven or ten minutes.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Robert Carson, based on the novel by Percival Christopher Wren; directors of photography, Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout; edited by Thomas Scott; music by Alfred Newman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gary Cooper (Michael ‘Beau’ Geste), Ray Milland (John Geste), Robert Preston (Digby Geste), Brian Donlevy (Sgt. Markoff), Susan Hayward (Isobel Rivers), J. Carrol Naish (Rasinoff), Albert Dekker (Legionnaire Schwartz), Broderick Crawford (Hank Miller), Charles Barton (Buddy McMonigal), James Stephenson (Maj. Henri de Beaujolais), Heather Thatcher (Lady Patricia Brandon), James Burke (Lt. Dufour) and G.P. Huntley (Augustus Brandon).


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The Runaround (1946, Charles Lamont)

It takes a while for The Runaround to get started… actually, I suppose it’d more accurate to say it stalls out after the first fifteen minutes, then takes another twenty or so to get started again. The film starts out strong with Frank McHugh in a sidekick role–McHugh’s perfect in that role–and lead Rod Cameron is appealing (even if he’s not the most emotive actor). The first fifteen minutes are a comedic chase between Cameron and opponent (they’re private detectives competing–whoever brings home the missing heiress wins) Broderick Crawford. Crawford’s really broad in this role, so broad it got me thinking about the use of the term to describe performances. It doesn’t hurt the film much (though, obviously, a really good performance would have been nice), but it is a surprise coming from Crawford. There’s not much in the script, but it’s open enough he could have done something with it.

Then Ella Raines shows up (as the missing heiress) and the movie stalls out. The script tries to force her in to the existing chance and competition sequences already going and it starts getting tiresome around the forty minute mark. The characters had been moving east–from California–for a few minutes with the same gags going on, then there’s a wonderfully choreographed chase scene involving a dozen taxis and… the movie changes. A lot has to do with Raines’s character developing, but it also changes tone. The Runaround changes, almost immediately, in to a great road movie. There’s still the competition and chase elements, but they become third and fourth, behind the romance and the road movie.

Lamont is a particularly good fight scene director–I’m pretty sure the scene where Crawford knocks the door shut with a jump kick is really him–and he has some other nice sequences. Most of them are on the road… It’s nice how the movie can skirt taking too long to get where it’s going and putting in some substandard minutes and not call attention to the obvious quality shift (oddly, the less McHugh is in the story, the better the movie). It plays like it needed a rewrite, like the writers figured out certain aspects of the story when writing the script, then never went back to tighten up the scenes.

There are also quite a few good more traditional comedy moments (particularly the hotel with the annoyingly friendly employees or the husband and wife who are supposed to be acting like newlyweds, but after six years and three kids, find the idea repugnant) and they contribute to The Runaround’s success. But most of the credit belongs to Cameron and Raines’s chemistry, even if she’s done far better work in other films (though, like I said before, the script works against her for her first fifteen minutes or so).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Lamont; screenplay by Sam Hellman and Arthur T. Horman, based on a story by Horman and Walter Wise; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Joseph Gershenson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ella Raines (Penelope), Rod Cameron (Kildane), Broderick Crawford (Louis Prentiss), Frank McHugh (Wally Quayle), George Cleveland (Feenan the cabbie), Joan Shawlee (Baby Willis), Samuel S. Hinds (Norman Hampton), Joe Sawyer (Hutchins), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Mildred Hampton), Dave Willock (Willis), Charles Coleman (Butler) and Jack Overman (Cusack).


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