Tag Archives: Frank Skinner

All That Heaven Allows (1955, Douglas Sirk)

The third act of All That Heaven Allows is all about agency. Who has it, how they avoid it, why they avoid it. For a while it seems like it’s about Jane Wyman having it, then about Rock Hudson having it. Wyman’s always implied agency, right from the start. Hudson, who doesn’t have a scene from his own perspective until the third act, has always had an air of agency but not an active one. At least not where Wyman’s concerned. The third act suggests it’s going to mix everything up.

And it does… sort of. Until it stops and gives up on the whole idea.

All That Heaven Allows is the story of somewhat recent widow Jane Wyman who starts a clandestine love affair with her gardener, Hudson. He’s younger (though barely looks it, which says more about Wyman than Hudson) and doesn’t subscribe to the fifties rat race. He’s happy being a gardener and going into tree growing, which Wyman’s friends and neighbors from the country club find to be a disgusting rejection of good capitalist ideals.

Of course, they’re all buying their Christmas trees from Hudson and his tree-growing pal Charles Drake, but whatever. The film never even slightly implies often drunken WASPs should be taken seriously. The only good one is Agnes Moorehead, who’s stuck in the life–the film implies–because she hasn’t got any children; she’s Wyman’s best friend. Though she kind of disappears in the third act when Wyman’s got to do her thinking and feeling (and living) for herself.

The film rarely lets Hudson and Wyman have a peaceful moment. During the initial courtship and flirtation, sure. Wyman’s unsure of Hudson’s affections–though never for the reasons everyone else is worried about–while Hudson is too good to be true. He’s six feet, four inches of thoughtful, considerate, zen man meat. The scenes where Wyman’s female friends are mortified by Hudson are hilarious, given all their husbands are grossly out of shape and completely bores. If not burgeoning rapists. So when it comes time for Wyman to have to chose between Hudson and her pals, the choice should be clear.

Especially since the film establishes from the start the only one she actually cares about is Moorehead. The rest are incapable of actual human concern.

But Wyman’s got two kids. There’s proto-feminist social worker Gloria Talbott and Princeton man William Reynolds. Talbott talks a big talk but pushes Wyman in front of a bus while gushing over her dimwit suitor, an uncredited David Janssen. Reynolds wants Wyman to live in reverence of his father’s memory. Peg Fenwick’s screenplay has very little time for Talbott and Reynolds, though they have a lot of scenes and a lot of dialogue, but it’s pretty clear they’re complete heels from their first scene. Sure, the townspeople are bores, drunks, and gossips, but Talbott and Reynolds actively feed off Wyman’s emotions. They drain her from the start.

And they don’t much like Hudson. He lives on some undisclosed acreage of prime, undeveloped land–which has been passed down generations–but he’s got to be after Wyman’s (i.e. her dead husband’s) money. Talbott’s exasperating but not malicious. Reynolds is malicious and woodenly so. Especially given the way director Sirk shoots the film.

Heaven has a lot of color and a lot of shadows. Outside it’s always a clear, sometimes snowy day. Inside there are various colors, warm and cool, and shadows. The shadows usually fall on whoever’s opposite Wyman, a way of focusing a spotlight on her but a somewhat naturally occurring one. Russell Metty’s photography is phenomenal.

Those shadows make most of the men in Heaven into caricatures, at least the ones in Wyman’s life. Not sweet doctor Hayden Rorke or even sweet, unexciting standby suitor Conrad Nagel, but everyone else. Reynolds is the harshest, because out of those shadows he’s firing daggers at mom Wyman. Ones she apparently has no defense for.

Hudson is apart from the gross displays of blue blood machismo–when he and Drake talk about masculine responsibility in the third act, it’s an actual surprise. Then it turns out to be some manipulative narrative efficiency and the damage is slight, but still there. Every misstep and short cut in the third act resonates because the film ends so perfunctory. The whole thing promises Wyman this fantastic arc, starts delivering it, dodges and implies Hudson’s going to get the feature arc, dodges him too and just finishes things up. It could go out happy, it could go out sad, it could go out cynical, instead it just… goes out without any ambitions. But satisfactorily enough.

Wyman’s great. Hudson’s really good. She gets a much better part. He remains a partial enigma until the end. He too got the shadowy face during some interiors. But he’s also got some great moments where he’s breaking through the mystery to reveal himself. The film really wants to be about Wyman realizing the shadowy faces don’t matter as much as her own, metaphorically speaking, but never quite gets there. It’s simultaneously five minutes too long and ten minutes too short.

The supporting cast is all good. Moorehead, Nagel, Virginia Grey. Grey even manages to get through Fenwick’s worst scene, talking through a series of generic colloquialisms in an exposition dump–which Fenwick, nicely, never repeats. Reynolds not so much. He’s effective, but he’s nearly as villainous as Donald Curtis’s country club sexual predator.

Outstanding music from Frank Skinner. Fantastic direction from Sirk. Heaven always looks amazing and the way Sirk, Metty, and Skinner (and whatever composer Skinner occasionally borrows from) come together to focus on the characters (read: Wyman) and the weight of their unspoken burdens and constraints… it’s awesome.

It’s also a shame the ending is so pat.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas Sirk; screenplay by Peg Fenwick, based on the novel by Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Frank Gross; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Ross Hunter; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jane Wyman (Cary Scott), Rock Hudson (Ron Kirby), Agnes Moorehead (Sara Warren), Gloria Talbott (Kay Scott), William Reynolds (Ned Scott), Virginia Grey (Alida Anderson), Jacqueline deWit (Mona Plash), Charles Drake (Mick Anderson), Donald Curtis (Howard Hoffer), Hayden Rorke (Dr. Dan Hennessy), and Conrad Nagel (Harvey).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE ROCK HUDSON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD AND MICHAELA OF LOVE LETTERS TO OLD HOLLYWOOD.


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Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V. Lee)

Son of Frankenstein is a mostly wasted opportunity. For everything good, there’s something significantly wrong with it. The script is good, director Lee doesn’t direct actors well. The German Expressionist-influenced sets are great, Lee shoots it so stagy, the sets go to waste. Lee likes his long shots. He and editor Ted J. Kent do nothing to make the cuts interesting. Though, really, Kent doesn’t have any material to work with. Lee has about six different shots and he just goes through them in a cycle. It’d be annoying on its own, but with everything else, it gives Son of Frankenstein way too much narrative distance. If the sets had been worse, if the actors had been better, who knows….

The Son in the title is Basil Rathbone. He is returning to Castle Frankenstein. Oh, right–it’s basically a lot like Young Frankenstein. Rathbone discovers the monster, brings it back to life, chaos ensues. He’s got a wife (Josephine Hutchinson in an admirable performance given all the constraints on her–Lee’s lack of direction, Rathbone’s inability to share scenes) and son (Donnie Dunagan, who’s supposed to be adorable). Right off, Rathbone’s a mad scientist. Most of the film has him hanging out with Bela Lugosi (who understands how to upstage a screen hog and delivers a fairly solid performance). Lionel Atwill’s around as a police inspector with only one arm. Yes, there’s a dart scene in Son too.

Oh, right. The Monster. Boris Karloff. You’d think he’d be important but he’s not. There’s no room for Karloff or the Monster in Son, not with Rathbone, Lugosi and Atwill. Atwill’s got more chemistry with Hutchinson than Rathbone and Atwill’s not even good. Lee doesn’t direct him and sort of lets him dangle in the film’s most thankless, but most important role.

Karloff is great. He has almost nothing to do, but watching him examine himself in the mirror, one can just imagine how good it would be with better direction. Cooper’s script is full of little moments Lee just can’t convey. The script’s far from perfect–anyone but Rathbone needed to be the lead the story, the part itself is inherently unlikable and Cooper doesn’t go anywhere interesting with it.

Really lame music from Frank Skinner doesn’t help things.

Even when Son of Frankenstein feints to impress, it manages to disappoint. And most of it is Lee’s fault.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Rowland V. Lee; written by Wyllis Cooper; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Frank Skinner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Emma Dunn (Amelia) and Edgar Norton (Benson).


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The Mummy’s Ghost (1944, Reginald Le Borg)

The Mummy’s Ghost is, with a couple problems, really good for a monster movie (and leagues ahead of Universal’s other 1940s Mummy features). It’s not so much about the Mummy as the victims and the investigation (but the police investigation, not the scientific–and everyone believes in mummies walking around animate, so there’s no convincing to be done).

But it’s a little more than just the approach to the plot, it’s the whole script. The film opens with a great recap of the previous two, with a split expository scene, starting with villain John Carradine (oh, I forgot, John Carradine plays an Arab here) learning about it then splitting to a college lecture for the second half of the story. It’s a neat narrative shift, bringing the entire cast into the film while still doing the recap.

But Carradine isn’t even a major character. He’s important at the end for a scene or two, but mostly the film focuses on Robert Lowery, a college student whose girlfriend (Ramsay Ames) is taking the Mummy’s return poorly, and Harry Shannon’s sheriff, who knows what he’s pursuing but doesn’t know how to do it.

Shannon’s maybe not leading man quality, but he’s fine. Lowery’s good. Ames is all right too, with her terror coming through rather well.

Le Borg’s a somewhat poor director (the Mummy close-ups are staged terribly), but William A. Sickner’s photography–especially the day for night work–is exquisite.

It’s a real downer too, which is just wonderful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Reginald Le Borg; screenplay by Griffin Jay, Henry Sucher and Brenda Weisberg, based on a story by Jay and Sucher; director of photography, William A. Sickner; edited by Saul A. Goodkind; music by Frank Skinner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Carradine (Yousef Bey), Robert Lowery (Tom Hervey), Ramsay Ames (Amina Mansouri), Barton MacLane (Inspector Walgreen), George Zucco (Andoheb, High Priest of Arkan), Frank Reicher (Prof. Matthew Norman), Harry Shannon (Sheriff Elwood), Emmett Vogan (Coroner), Lester Sharpe (Dr. Ayad, Scripps Museum), Claire Whitney (Mrs. Ella Norman) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Kharis).

The Mummy’s Hand (1940, Christy Cabanne)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this film.

There’s no discernible reason for it to be called The Mummy’s Hand. I can only guess it has to do with the way they cut the trailer, maybe having the hand come out as a shocker.

It’s not a traditional Universal horror film; it’s one of the first where they cut the budget. Until this point, the films were higher profile (the first three Frankenstein films, even Dracula’s Daughter).

The script is lousy, but it also introduces these bad comic elements–mostly from Wallace Ford, playing the idiot sidekick. The film also has George Zucco as the villain (not the mummy, but the mummy’s master). It’s impossible to take Zucco seriously as a villain in this one–especially since he’s a lecherous villain, lusting after Peggy Moran in these creepy scenes.

She probably gives the film’s best performance; she doesn’t have much competition. Dick Foran’s the lead, who is almost as dumb as Ford.

Cecil Kellaway is good as Moran’s father. Charles Trowbridge as the smart guy who helps the two morons, he’s fine.

Watching The Mummy’s Hand, you can see it as a straight comedy, with the bang, pop, zows of the 1960s “Batman” show, with a laugh track. They kind of need a laugh track. They ape lines from Dracula. It feels desperate.

Vera West gives Moran an amusing Egyptian desert nightgown and Jack P. Pierce’s makeup is great.

It’s hard to make it through the seventy minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christy Cabanne; screenplay by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane, based on a story by Jay; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Philip Cahn; music by Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner; produced by Ben Pivar; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dick Foran (Steve Banning), Peggy Moran (Marta Solvani), Wallace Ford (Babe Jenson), Eduardo Ciannelli (The High Priest), George Zucco (Professor Andoheb), Cecil Kellaway (The Great Solvani), Charles Trowbridge (Dr. Petrie of the Cairo Museum), Tom Tyler (Kharis, the Mummy) and Sig Arno (The Beggar).


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