Tag Archives: Gene Tierney

Thunder Birds (1942, William A. Wellman)

Thunder Birds runs just under eighty minutes and if one were to subtract the propaganda, both narrated and in lengthy monologues–not to mention the flashback to the stoic Brits–he or she would have a fifty-five minute love triangle set at an Army flight training base. The whole reason one leg of the triangle is British (John Sutton) is to rouse up support for the British.

Luckily, the movie’s love triangle is mildly effective, which makes the propaganda digressions tolerable. All of the credit for that success is surprisingly not Gene Tierney. Tierney’s great in the movie, bringing a combination of playfulness and maturity to the role. What’s surprising about the movie’s treatment of her is the constant sexism. There’s a terrible sequence at a Red Cross training with all the volunteers–all female–coming off as man-crazy and incompetent. Worse is Tierney’s grandfather, George Barbier, frequently deriding her (she’s “still a woman,” after all).

But that paragraph was supposed to be positive. Sutton’s quite good in the film, bringing a thoughtful sense to his role (an acrophobic doctor turned RAF cadet). He and Tierney have excellent chemistry; big surprise. Leading man Preston Foster is the last leg of the triangle and he and Tierney too have good chemistry. But when Foster’s with Sutton, the scenes are just bad. Foster’s very Hollywood acting doesn’t mix well with Sutton’s subdued, introspective performance. Either Tierney just worked well with Foster–her performance is a mix of charm and intelligence–or she manages to get good scenes out of anyone.

Since there really is less than an hour of story, there’s not much time for a supporting cast. Barbier’s good as the chauvinist pig (what makes it so disturbing is how he’s siding against his granddaughter’s wishes, which is a bit surprising in a Lamar Trotti script, but I guess Trotti is a servant to his source material). Richard Haydn’s great as Sutton’s friend who disappears way too fast. But Dame May Whitty’s brief, flashback role is a waste of time both for her and the film.

Where Thunder Birds really excels is in the Technicolor cinematography and the action sequence at the end. Ernest Palmer’s cinematography is great and the aerial photography is fantastic. But Wellman is just churning it out during these scenes. It’s all fine, but it’s never particularly significant. The end sequence, featuring Sutton (in a plane) saving Foster from a sandstorm is amazing. Great stuff, with some fine editing from Walter Thompson.

The story–the standard Fox war movie love triangle–does take an unexpected turn at the end. Wellman successfully milks the anticipation for the last five minutes, but then gets stuck with that narrated propaganda for a close. In the last ten minutes, I’m not sure Sutton even has a line–odd for the protagonist. The Fox propaganda movies were always decent and Thunder Birds is fine enough as one; it’s just a little emptier of actual content than I would have guessed.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on a story by Darryl F. Zanuck; director of photography, Ernest Palmer; edited by Walter Thompson; music by David Buttolph; produced by Trotti; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Tierney (Kay Saunders), Preston Foster (Steve Britt), John Sutton (Peter Stackhouse), Jack Holt (Colonel MacDonald), May Whitty (Lady Jane Stackhouse), George Barbier (Gramps), Richard Haydn (George Lockwood), Reginald Denny (Barrett) and Ted North (Cadet Hackzell).


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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

I’ve only seen The Ghost and Mrs. Muir once before, but I remembered the resolution, so I’m thinking it probably made the entire experience unenjoyable this time through. There are only a handful of similar films and usually it’s a gimmick ending, but with The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the storytelling falls apart. The film forcibly rips Gene Tierney’s character from the audience’s regard and then only band-aids that wound for the rest of the picture–it’s only twenty minutes or so, but that band-aid covers forty years of story time.

This band-aid doesn’t involve Rex Harrison’s grizzled ghost of a sea captain, which is probably its greatest fault. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is about just that relationship and–first with the introduction of George Sanders as a living suitor for Tierney, then Harrison’s absence from both the screen and the story itself–the film fails without it. The fault is all the script’s, though Joseph L. Mankiewicz–as director and an excellent writer–should have done something to fix this film. The scenes between Harrison and Tierney are uniformly wonderful, but watching it with the conclusion in mind, I couldn’t even enjoy them to the fullest. Harrison has so much fun with the role, at many times he appears to be struggling to keep a straight face. George Sanders plays a standard George Sanders cad and he’s hardly in the film, showing up when it accelerates, no longer happy with a reasonable situation. It’s a lame way out of the exceptional situation (the ghost and the widow), which the film sells immediately, making a “way out” unnecessary. Many of this period’s “fantasy romance” films are similarly flawed. Actually, I can’t think of any member providing a reasonable conclusion. I just didn’t remember The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’s ending to be so bad. I knew it was bad, I just didn’t know it was so bad. The film’s already intentionally negated its emotional effect for the characters (and the audience), so I guess it’s actually a real trick to go ahead and make it more trifling and useless, which is a singular compliment and probably the only one I have in regards to the film’s production.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; written by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Dorothy Spencer; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Fred Kohlmar; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Tierney (Lucy Muir), Rex Harrison (Ghost of Capt. Daniel Gregg), George Sanders (Miles Fairley), Edna Best (Martha Huggins), Isobel Elsom (Angelica), Helen Freeman (Author), Natalie Wood (Anna, as a child), Vanessa Brown (Anna, as an adult) and Robert Coote (Coombe).


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The Razor’s Edge (1946, Edmund Goulding)

While home video did wonders for increasing film appreciation, I have to wonder if MGM’s embracing of the format for their old catalogue didn’t greatly hinder young people in the 1980s from learning about film. As a child, I had seen MGM, I had seen RKO, I had seen Warner Bros. But I never saw any Columbia (that I remember) and I’m pretty sure I never saw any 20th Century Fox films, because when I did start seeing them in the mid-1990s (on AMC), I was surprised. I had no idea they’d been around and done so much. It’s a laziness, I suppose, but film interest tends to start as a hobby. I guess it got better with cable (my AMC experience) and today, with DVD, it’s probably about even… Fox does have a good classics series, though their box set is rather crappy and doesn’t inspire much interest (just like their VHS box art). Fox didn’t originally release their VHS titles–they licensed them through Key Video–so each title was doubly selected for profitability.

The Razor’s Edge fell through the cracks. It won Anne Baxter an Academy Award (she’s great, but certainly not the best performance in the film, which has five excellent performances), and lost to The Best Years of Our Lives, which is fine. But, it was a big hit. It was Fox’s biggest hit… and it disappeared. I’d never heard of it when I first saw it in 1997 or 1998–and I had worked at a video store with a significant classics section. Watching it today, I’m upset the film doesn’t have the level of respect it deserves. It’s an amazing film; it runs 145 minutes and never feels like it, compressing 9 years into the first hour, then exploring the effects of those nine years in the second. There’s another bit of compression in there too, but the characters manage to grow beautifully over this time. The make-up crew “de-aged” the cast (particularly Clifton Webb), then gradually caught them up and beyond. The make-up and the handling of the timeline work beautifully. I can’t think of a better handling of such a long stretch than in this film.

It’d be easy credit the book the whole way, but Lamar Trotti does an incredible job adapting it, focusing it–The Razor’s Edge features its author, W. Somerset Maugham, in an instrumental role. I can’t believe Herbert Marshall didn’t get nominated for it (I’m looking at Edge’s Oscar competition right now at IMDb), but neither did Trotti so I guess I should. Not even Edmund Goulding got a nomination for directing and he’s fantastic. He’s got these long sweeps of the camera, beautiful movement, but my favorite is his lack of reaction shots. Someone will talk, as familiar viewers, we expect a reaction–we get none. Instead, we get the actor continuing, not breaking. It adds an particular realism–in this hugely produced film–a kind not many films have. It involves the viewer in the situation, which spans ten years and three or four continents.

Obviously (I already said it), all the acting is great. Tyrone Power is great in this incredibly difficult role–the film is somewhat from Maugham’s perspective, but also from Maugham’s reader’s perspective–so Power is the protagonist, but also the subject and it never separates that duality. For the first twenty minutes, it’s Gene Tierney’s movie, it’s not Power’s. It appear it ever will be Power’s movie. It’s an odd situation–there are other examples (Barry Lyndon, I suppose), but no one else has ever done such a good job I don’t think. As for Tierney, someone else who is overlooked for her acting ability… Tierney turns an amazing performance. I was going to say exactly what’s so amazing about it, but that description would spoil the film if one didn’t know the story. She’s fantastic. I already mentioned how good Baxter is in the film (Tierney’s better–Baxter has a few scenes, Tierney has ninety-five minutes) and Marshall, but Clifton Webb is great too. The film has incredibly complicated characters–so incredibly complicated it’s impossible to judge any of them, even at the end. Maugham–the writer, not the character–was quite good at delaying the readers judgement and I assume, in The Razor’s Edge, it’s just faithful adaptation, because studio films with big stars were never about reserving judgement.

Not since… well, last week, I watch a lot of movies, you know… This film’s level of excellence is rare. Even more, the lack of recognition for this film’s excellence is an unbelievable blemish to film history.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by J. Watson Webb Jr.; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tyrone Power (Larry Darrell), Gene Tierney (Isabel Bradley), John Payne (Gray Maturin), Anne Baxter (Sophie Nelson Macdonald), Clifton Webb (Elliott Templeton), Herbert Marshall (W. Somerset Maugham), Lucile Watson (Louisa Bradley), Frank Latimore (Bob Macdonald), Elsa Lanchester (Miss Keith), Fritz Kortner (Kosti), John Wengraf (Joseph), Cecil Humphreys (Holy Man) and Cobina Wright Sr. (Princess Novemali).