Tag Archives: Dan Duryea

The Little Foxes (1941, William Wyler)

The most impressive things about The Little Foxes are, in no particular order, Bette Davis’s performance (specifically her micro expressions), Patricia Collinge’s supporting performance, director Wyler’s composition, director Wyler’s staging of the narrative (adapted by Lillian Hellman from her play and set in a constrained area but a living one), Herbert Marshall’s performance, and Gregg Toland’s photography. Actors Teresa Wright and Charles Dingle almost make the top list. They make up the second tier. Then you get into the other great supporting performances and things like Daniel Mandell’s editing or the set decoration and it goes on and on.

Because The Little Foxes is an expertly made film. The script is strong, Wyler’s got Gregg Toland shooting this thing, Wright’s character got hidden range (too hidden), and Davis can do this role. Davis and Wyler didn’t get along but the conflict never comes through because Davis’s character is supposed to be so against the grain. Bickering with the director through your performance is a great way to generate grain to move against.

Even though Wyler does a great job translating a play to the screen, the film skips a little too much. Wyler and Toland have this great foreground and background action thing going so they can get multiple things done at once (occasionally with middle ground action too). But it’s a device to keep Little Foxes lean. The first thirty-six minutes, taking place over a day, sings. Wyler gets done with it and it’s like the film is just starting. He’s introduced the cast, he’s introduced the setting. It’s laying the ground situation in action. It’s awesome.

And for a while it pays off and just keeps getting better. Little Foxes is about the machinations of a nouveau riche Southern family in 1900. Well, not quite riche enough but almost. Davis and brothers Dingle and Carl Benton Reid (in a sturdy but inglorious performance) have a plan, they just need Marshall–as Davis’s convalescing husband–to get on board. Only maybe Marshall thinks the family is awful. Foxes has some peculiar politics, with Marshall and Richard Carlson as progressives (and the only decent white men in the picture).

Collinge’s part in the film, reductively, is to forecast the possibilities for Wright’s future. Collinge does a great job with it and the scenes are beautifully written–her relationship with Wright in the first act is a standout both for acting and cinematic brevity–but she disappears in the third act. She’s got no place in the story, which is kind of a problem because the story was the family and then it just turns into this business deal thing.

It’s too abrupt, but Wyler’s able to make it at least flow a little thanks to Toland and Mandell’s contributions. There’s a throwaway scene in the third act where Carlson gets to slap around porto-bro Dan Duryea. Not to fault Duryea with that description, he’s awesome in the part. Lovably dopey and still somewhat dangerous. So Wyler gives the audience a reward for sticking through the mussed third act.

Even though the grand finale is part of that mussing, Davis and Wright really bring it together and make it work long enough for Wyler and Toland to finish the movie. Dingle and Marshall also go far in making it happen, but it’s Davis and Wright. It’s got to be the mother and daughter showdown, even though the film never exactly promised such a thing. And you get to see Wright develop her character without an inch from Davis. Is it an inch in character or out? Doesn’t matter, makes their scenes beyond tense. Maybe because Davis wasn’t in the second act much. The Little Foxes, with Marshall, Wright, Carlson, Collinge, and Jessica Grayson just sitting around enjoying each other’s company in one scene, becomes almost genial. Wyler doesn’t promise happiness, but he does acknowledge people actually enjoy life.

Davis has to come back with a vengeance to remind the audience there is no happiness, no enjoyment. Because the world’s a bad place. It’s actually a really downbeat ending even though everyone kind of gets a happy ending. Characters win, humanity loses.

Foxes has got some problems–it’s too short as it turns out–but Wyler and company turn in an excellent picture. Confident, beautifully shot, beautifully acted, well-paced. But in that confidence is a lot of safety. Wyler’s most ambitious with his composition, not the film overall.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by William Wyler; screenplay by Arthur Kober, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Lillian Hellman, based on the play by Hellman; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by Meredith Willson; produced by Samuel Goldwyn; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Bette Davis (Regina Giddens), Teresa Wright (Alexandra Giddens), Herbert Marshall (Horace Giddens), Charles Dingle (Ben Hubbard), Patricia Collinge (Birdie Hubbard), Jessica Grayson (Addie), Carl Benton Reid (Oscar Hubbard), Dan Duryea (Leo Hubbard), Richard Carlson (David Hewitt), John Marriott (Cal), and Russell Hicks (William Marshall).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND ANNUAL BETTE DAVIS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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Along Came Jones (1945, Stuart Heisler)

Along Came Jones gets by on its gimmick and its charm–it’s got a lot of charm, both from the cast and Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay, which is good as director Heisler doesn’t bring any. Jones is a lower budget Western, lots of rear screen projection, lots of boring setups from Heisler. He prefers medium long shots, avoiding close-ups for most of the supporting cast. He also doesn’t have much of a feel for the material.

Gary Cooper plays the titular Jones. He stumbles his way into a mistaken identity story–everyone thinks he’s gunfighter Dan Duryea but he’s actually just a bit of a doofus. Cooper has fun with the role. It’s thinner than it should be since Heisler isn’t doing much directing of the cast. Johnson’s script has something approximating an arc for Cooper but it doesn’t really come off. As the film resolves itself, it gets its pass not for a creative conclusion but for everything leading up to it. Maybe if the film weren’t so breezily paced, the soft ending might hurt it more. But Jones moves along–the middle section is a lot of lengthy action sequences and they’re solid. Johnson knows how to pace the dialogue and the action. Heisler handles that section best, though just as indistinctly as the rest of the picture.

There’s also a love triangle–Cooper gets himself into the mess over Duryea’s girlfriend, played by Loretta Young. It’s mildly successful. Duryea’s got no personality in Jones; he’s okay, but unenthusiastic. Young’s enthusiastic. She and Cooper have enough chemistry they keep bumping against Heisler’s plodding direction. Especially since doofus Cooper is magic with the ladies. It ought to be a lot funnier, but it isn’t. When he’s not pressed for time, Heisler misses the script’s beats.

William Demarest plays Cooper’s suffering sidekick. It’s William Demarest, he does fine. It’s not a particularly good part though. Johnson’s script is more concerned with the pace than the characters. It’s not a bad script, it’s just overly pragmatic, overly confident in its actors to give it more heft than it might deserve. It’s a mildly successful move from Johnson and Cooper (who also produced). Overall though, Jones just seems like a missed opportunity. It’s got a great cast, it could’ve been more than a diverting comedy Western.

Along Came Jones moves well, it’s got a solid supporting cast (especially Don Costello), it’s got Cooper and Young. It’s just a shame it’s not a better made film–Heisler’s mediocre direction, Milton R. Krasner’s strangely boring photography (he doesn’t do anything with the sets) and Thomas Neff’s awkward editing. Heisler doesn’t know how to direct a gun fight. Even if Jones is a comedy, it’s a Western. You need a competent gun fight.

Anyway, it’s cute. It’s cute enough.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on a novel by Alan Le May; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by Thomas Neff; music by Arthur Lange; produced by Gary Cooper; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Gary Cooper (Melody Jones), Loretta Young (Cherry de Longpre), William Demarest (George Fury), Dan Duryea (Monte Jarrad), Frank Sully (Avery de Longpre), Don Costello (Leo Gledhill), Russell Simpson (Pop de Longpre) and Willard Robertson (Luke Packard).


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One Way Street (1950, Hugo Fregonese)

Here’s a goofy one–the title also could be The Doctor in the Sombrero–with James Mason as a mob doctor who makes off with two hundred grand and the boss’s girl, only to end up in rural Mexico, healing horses. It’s all pretty standard stuff, down to the excursion to Mexico, but Mason and Dan Duryea (surprisingly effective as the mob boss) bring some pep to it. The beginning, with a rapid setup, is great. Then the escape to Mexico, which quickly losses story potential, bogs down the rest of the movie. It’s fine for the most part, just painfully predictable. Mason’s a doctor who learns to care again, first about horses, then people, and finally romantic interest Märta Torén. All very predictable until the conclusion.

Where One Way Street (which makes little sense given the film’s content) is a little different is in its shedding of the film noir. The stopover in rural Mexico is somewhat genre-free. Predictable and a little boring, but it’s straight b-movie drama, not noir. Unfortunately, the return to Los Angeles ends up damaging the whole movie. First, the imperative for the trip is unclear (it’s just time for the movie to end) and, after a neat trick, One Way Street ends as dumbly as it possibly can.

Mason’s good at the beginning and the end and okay through the middle. There’s nothing for him to work with here. Torén’s mediocre and uninteresting. Of the Mexico portion, Basil Ruysdael comes out the best as a sympathetic priest. The real surprise is William Conrad as one of the gangsters. He’s great in his handful of scenes (and Jack Elam’s pretty good in an uncredited small part).

Another big problem is director Fregonese. He’s so uninteresting as a director–both in terms of composition and in directing actors–it’s hard to think he’d do anything to fix the script’s problems. With the terrible ending, the movie would be a little better, a standard b-movie, but it did have some potential for being better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Hugo Fregonese; written by Lawrence Kimble; director of photography, Maury Gertsman; edited by Milton Carruth; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Leonard Goldstein; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Mason (Dr. Frank Matson), Märta Torén (Laura Thorsen), Dan Duryea (John Wheeler), Basil Ruysdael (Father Moreno), William Conrad (Ollie), Rodolfo Acosta (Francisco Morales), King Donovan (Grieder), Robert Espinoza (Santiago), Tito Renaldo (Hank Torres), Margarito Luna (Antonio Morales), Emma Roldán (Catalina) and George J. Lewis (Capt. Rodriguez).


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