Tag Archives: Geraldine Fitzgerald

Dark Victory (1939, Edmund Goulding)

Bette Davis and George Brent never kiss in Dark Victory. He’s a brilliant neurosurgeon, she’s a mysteriously ill young socialite. He saves her, they fall in love. But does he really save her….

Victory gives Davis an excellent part, right up until the end of the film. It’s a somewhat bumpy ride–in the first act, which is three acts of its own, Davis isn’t particularly likable. The film establishes her on her Long Island estate, twenty-three and free. And very rich. With some decent suitors (Ronald Reagan in an affable performance) and her best friend (and secretary) Geraldine Fitzgerald. Davis goes riding during the day, out on the town in the evening, then home to party all night.

The film opens with her dealings with Humphrey Bogart, who plays her stablehand. He’s Irish and sexist. Bogart’s accent is usually Irish, though very noticeable when not. The sexism just leads to banter; it’s not a great part, in the end, for Bogart. He’s a tool of the melodrama. But he’s still likable, especially at the beginning, when Davis comes off like a spoiled brat and Fitzgerald her enabler.

The film’s focus moves soon to Brent, who gets her case from a decidedly underused Henry Travers. Brent’s excellent as the conflicted doctor, enough so to humanize Davis in their first scene together. From then on, although the action sticks with Brent for quite a while, Davis’s part gets better. She’d had some good dialogue quips, but she was the film’s subject–more, the film’s characters’ subject–not the protagonist.

Whether or not she ever truly gets to be the protagonist is questionable (and one of the film’s eventual failings; it shouldn’t be in question).

So the first thirty-five minutes concern Davis’s recent headaches and how Brent treats them. There’s never a discussion of medical ethics in Dark Victory and it kind of needs it. A lot, as it turns out. Because the only way for the film to function without them–which leads to Brent and Fitzgerald alternately and jointly infantalizing Davis–is through melodrama. After forty-five minutes, Dark Victory never tries for more than melodrama; it promises more than melodrama, but it never attempts to fulfill those promises.

The melodrama does give Davis and Fitzgerald some good material. Not really Brent. Brent gets overshadowed by everyone in the second half of the film, including Reagan (not to mention Bogart, accent or not). The script avoids dealing with Brent, once he’s done just as a doctor. Brent still has some fine moments in the film, but nothing like he had in the first half, when his forced calm demeanor ached with tragedy. It’d be a lot to keep up the entire runtime, sure, but at least screenwriter Robinson could’ve had him in some longer scenes.

Robinson’s adapting from a play, which might explain some of the pacing after the first act. Davis goes through a minor character change, with some fabulous costuming, incidentally, but it requires a rather extreme narrative distance. For her next character change–she gets a lot of character development with the part, going through four distinct phases–the narrative distance closes in, which is great, but the script gets real choppy. It’s a stagy bit of narrative. Not stagily filmed, but stagily plotted. There’s a jump forward, then an exposition-heavy sequence taking place over a single night, with characters strolling through in order to explain what’s happened since the jump forward. All the acting’s fine–Davis is great–but it’s too jammed, too rushed.

And if it’s going to be so jammed, so rushed, at least have Travers do a walkthrough. He goes from leading the second tier supporting cast in the first act to complete, inexplicable onscreen absence.

Davis’s performance makes the film. Brent’s, for a while, seems like it could but their relationship is way too chaste (exceptionally so considering they were carrying on off-screen). Fitzgerald and Davis have a wonderful relationship, full of character development and so on… until the development stops. The film foreshadows a lot for its characters and delivers none of it. Ostensibly it delivers on one thing, but through cop out.

Technically, the film’s fine. Goulding’s composition is decent, if unimaginative in his overuse of interior long shots–the sets aren’t that great and even if they were, they’re immaterial to the melodrama–and Ernest Haller’s photography is good. Max Steiner’s score is excellent.

Davis gets to do so much in Dark Victory, it’s unfortunate the film doesn’t let her do all it promises for her. I almost started talking about the film as the difference between a part and a role. If there’s such a difference, Dark Victory gives Davis a great part but promises her a great role.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Casey Robinson, based on the play by George Emerson Brewer Jr. and Bertram Bloch; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by William Holmes; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bette Davis (Judith Traherne), George Brent (Dr. Frederick Steele), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Ann King), Ronald Reagan (Alec), Humphrey Bogart (Michael O’Leary), Virginia Brissac (Martha), Cora Witherspoon (Carrie), Dorothy Peterson (Miss Wainwright), and Henry Travers (Dr. Parsons).


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


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O.S.S. (1946, Irving Pichel)

Pichel does such a good job with the majority of O.S.S., it’s a surprise how ineptly he handles the jingoistic last scene. It’s a WWII patriotism picture (is there a proper term for this genre?), so that last scene is requisite, but Pichel could have at least made it work. Instead, he hangs the film out to dry.

O.S.S. runs long, but in a good way. It takes almost a full half hour before Alan Ladd and his fellow espionage agents are dropped into occupied France. The film opens with Ladd, but quickly shift gears to follow Patric Knowles as he puts together the team. When it does bring Ladd back in, it’s after leading lady Geraldine Fitzgerald is introduced.

While Ladd holds the film (and he’s the one most injured by Pichel’s wrong-headed finale, right after his best scene), Fitzgerald is sort of the secret weapon. She’s absolutely fantastic, making some of the creakier scenes work. Ladd–we learn twenty-five minutes in–is sexist. It’s contrived and writer Richard Maibaum never quite makes it work, but since the scenes are with Fitzgerald, she brings them through.

Pichel’s direction is great; he’s able to handle the thriller elements, the repetitious spy scenes but also the dramatic ones. His composition is strong and he makes great use of the sets. Lionel Lindon’s photography helps.

There are a couple great supporting performances–John Hoyt as an odious Nazi and Harold Vermilyea as an opportunistic one.

The film very nearly works.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Irving Pichel; written and produced by Richard Maibaum; director of photography, Lionel Lindon; edited by William Shea; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof and Heinz Roemheld; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alan Ladd (John Martin), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Elaine Duprez), Patric Knowles (Cmdr. Brady), John Hoyt (Col. Paul Meister), Gloria Saunders (WAC Operator Sparky), Richard Webb (Partker), Richard Benedict (Bernay), Harold Vermilyea (Amadeus Brink) and Don Beddoe (Gates).


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Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon)

Steve Gordon died the year after Arthur came out, so he never made any other films, which is an exceptional tragedy. Arthur is a singular comedy–it’s a mix of laugh-out-loud comedy, romantic comedy, sincere human relationships and genuine character development. The first two are not mutually exclusive, but I’m not even sure Woody Allen’s managed to combine them with the second two (two of Woody’s regular producers, in fact, produced Arthur). Gordon frequently gets affecting hilarious scenes going–usually involving John Gielgud–and the film’s a joy to watch.

For the last third, Gordon takes a hint from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and sets everything at one location. (Oddly, as Dudley Moore shuffles in–the character’s a complete drunk and Moore’s got some incredible bits with how far he’ll go to protect his alcohol–I thought it’d be interesting if Gordon did the Deeds close, but didn’t even realize he had until I started typing this post up). It’s a good format for the close, but also the only part where Gordon stumbles. He offers the film’s most profound moments, then shies away. Worse, he continues this absurd life-threatening subplot, which kind of worked as a joke in a scene in the middle, but at the end… it had me thinking about framed bellboys instead of the movie itself.

The acting in the film is all excellent. Gielgud’s performance as Moore’s exasperated but loving butler is exceptional. The scenes with him and Moore are all great, just getting better as the film goes along. Moore, as the leading man, is a comic genius–he can make his heel of a character utterly sympathetic from the first moment on film. Also great are Anne De Salvo, Ted Ross and Barney Martin. Strangely–or maybe not–Liza Minnelli’s best scenes are the ones without Moore. She and Moore are good together, but they’re very cute, and when it’s her and Martin or her and Gielgud, the scenes just have a lot more resonance. It’s a romantic comedy, of course she’s got to have scenes with Moore, but the rest of her scenes–even the brief second watching her at work–are when it’s obvious Gordon was really writing the character.

For a while, I thought Arthur was going to be that supreme example I’d compare all other popular comedies against. The way Gordon serves actual human regard with the funny stuff, it’s incredibly rare (because the laughs Gordon goes for are cheap, popular laughs). So, it might not be the ultimate comparison, but it’s still great.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Fred Schuler; edited by Susan E. Morse; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Charles H. Joffe; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Jill Eikenberry (Susan Johnson), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla), Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach) and Anne De Salvo (Gloria).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | ARTHUR (1981) / ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS (1987).

Watch on the Rhine (1943, Herman Shumlin)

Wow, Watch on the Rhine’s got it all. Not only does it have a nice metaphor for the United States waking up to the horrors of the Nazis and determining to do something about it (which the United States never did), it’s also got a nice ending telling mothers their place is to send their children to certain death. Watch on the Rhine is an odd piece of propaganda. First, it’s a little too late. The film came out in 1943 and the events take place in 1940. It’s selling a particular false history. The play–from co-screenwriter Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett gets the main credit–came out in 1940, so I suppose it was at least honest… Second, the film’s a mash of a family drama, a play adaptation, and the propaganda. The first quarter of the film, until Bette Davis gets home with her German resistance fighter husband and oh-so-precious kids, is an amusing family drama. Lucile Watson, playing the matriarch, is absolutely fantastic, even if she is playing a metaphor for isolationist America. All of her scenes, as she gets excited for her returning daughter (Davis) and the grandchildren and the son-in-law she’s never met, make Watch on the Rhine something special. These scenes bring honest human emotion to even the most extraordinary circumstances.

Then, once Davis and her husband arrive (Paul Lukas, who’s saddled with some bad dialogue, but his performance is incredible–so incredible the word’s making its return here to The Stop Button to describe it) and the film changes. Davis has a number of monologues and, for a moment, the viewer forgets it’s a play adaptation and thinks she’s talking to her family. But the moment passes quickly because the shots never change. Director Herman Shumlin is the least exciting director I’ve seen recently. Watch on the Rhine, at times, positions itself like Casablanca, reminding just how important Michael Curtiz was to that film. It’s not a technicality, these lack of reaction shots, it’s the absence of the characters. The film is from the perspective of the family, of Watson and son Donald Woods, even from bad guy George Coulouris (who’s also great and brings a real sense of dread to Rhine). When there are no reaction shots, the film is floundering. Davis is good and her delivery of the monologues is good, but, in a film, monologues aren’t delivered. There are only three or four but they’re all important and Shumlin messes them all up.

Hammett’s dialogue ranges in quality. When it’s a bunch of Nazis talking shop, it’s fine. When it’s the romance subplot… it’s not. From his IMDb filmography, it looks like his only credited screenwriting credit. He’s particularly bad–this might be from Hellman’s play, I don’t know–with the children’s dialogue. While they’re supposed to be wise beyond their years (as children of a resistance fighter), they’ve also got a lot of cute dialogue. And the eldest son, Donald Buka, has an important part and Buka’s awful.

Obviously, Rhine’s worth watching for the lead performances–particularly Lukas and Watson–but it doesn’t deliver the flawed film the first act promises. It wouldn’t have been perfect, but it would have been special.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Herman Shumlin; screenplay by Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, from a play by Hellman; directors of photography, Merrit B. Gerstad and Hal Mohr; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Max Steiner; produced by Hal B. Wallis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bette Davis (Sara Muller), Paul Lukas (Kurt Muller), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Fanny Farrelly), Lucile Watson (Fanny Farrelly), Beulah Bondi (Anise), George Coulouris (Teck de Brancovis), Donald Woods (David Farrelly), Henry Daniell (Phili Von Ramme), Eric Roberts (Bodo) and Donald Buka (Joshua).


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