Tag Archives: Gig Young

Desk Set (1957, Walter Lang)

Despite being an adaptation of a stage play and having one main set, Desk Set shouldn’t be stagy. The single main location–and its importance–ought to be able to outweigh the staginess. Desk Set does not, however, succeed in not being stagy. It puts off being stagy for quite a while, but not forever, which is too bad.

The fault lies with director Lang. He moves between three camera setups on the main set–the research department for a television network (FBC but in NBC’s building). When it comes time to change everything up in the third act, Lang doesn’t change his camera defaults and it really does knock the film down for its finale. Desk Set was already going a tad long–not good considering it runs just over 100 minutes–and the film needed a strong finish. A really strong finish.

It gets a tepid one instead. Worse, it gets multiple tepid finishes. It’s a shame because the film’s often a lot of fun. Spencer Tracy is a mysterious efficency expert sent to Katharine Hepburn’s research department to do… something. Desk Set takes its time revealing Tracy’s assignment, not even providing clues while he’s rooting around the department, often crawling around on the floor. It’s a quirky part; Tracy’s socially awkward, absentminded, and entirely lovable. At least to the audience. The viewer isn’t worried about getting fired.

In addition to Hepburn, there’s her staff who’s got to worry about getting the pink slip. Joan Blondell, Sue Randall, and Dina Merrill. Randall and Merrill don’t get particularly good parts. They get stuff to do, they get a lot of scenes–the film’s mostly set in the workplace after all–but there’s nothing to them. Randall opens the movie trying to get a better price on a dress and it’s more than she gets to do than in the rest of the picture. Merrill doesn’t get anywhere near as much to do. It’s too bad, they’re both extremely likable.

Though likable is what Desk Set is always going for. Take Gig Young, for instance. He’s Hepburn’s boss and her consistently–but not constantly–frisky paramour. Even though he’s an absolute jerk, he’s fairly likable. I mean, he gets everyone Christmas presents; he didn’t need to get everyone Christmas presents.

Blondell gets the best part in the supporting cast. She’s Hepburn’s confidant, although only sporadically and less after the first act. The first act is a very long day at the network, starting with Tracy arriving, then meeting Hepburn, then the focus moves to Hepburn and her strange encounters with Tracy. The ingrained momentum of the day doesn’t keep up after the first act. Desk Set moves over to summary and slowing down for big sequences.

There are some lovely big sequences, like Tracy and Hepburn getting caught in the rain and having an impromptu dinner date. All of their scenes one-on-one are good–at least, until the third act–with Tracy playing somewhat coy. He’s incredibly impressed with Hepburn and doesn’t seem to know what to do with that admiration. If the third act were stronger, it’d become a problem when Tracy’s crappy to his own employee (Neva Patterson). But it’s not because by that time, Desk Set is about ten minutes overdue for an ending.

Phoebe and Henry Ephron’s script is fine. Leon Shamroy’s photography is decent. Robert L. Simpson’s editing is too jumpy but it seems like director Lang didn’t give him enough to work with. Again, makes no sense since there’s basically just the one location. It’s inexplicable how Lang can’t get enough coverage for it.

Tracy’s great, Hepburn’s better. She energetically embraces her part’s particularities–like reciting full poems or elaborating on her memory shortcuts. She does a lot with those moments. And Lang seems to get it because he just lets the camera watch her deliver the impossibly wordy lines.

It’s just a shame Hepburn’s character becomes a complete moron whenever Young shows up. She does his work for him–her abject deference to such a tool is a big disconnect. Though it does give Blondell some good lines when she’s chiding Hepburn about it.

Tracy and Hepburn make Desk Set, but not even their ability and charm can make up for director Lang. He’s too concerned with making it feel wide–it’s Cinemascope–and fitting as many actors in frame as possible. The third act in the script is problematic too, but better direction might have gotten it through.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Lang; screenplay by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, based on the play by William Marchant; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Robert L. Simpson; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Henry Ephron; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Richard Sumner), Katharine Hepburn (Bunny Watson), Joan Blondell (Peg Costello), Sue Randall (Ruthie Saylor), Dina Merrill (Sylvia Blair), Gig Young (Mike Cutler), Harry Ellerbe (Smithers), Neva Patterson (Miss Warriner), and Nicholas Joy (Mr. Azae).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE SPENCER TRACY & KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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The Woman in White (1948, Peter Godfrey)

I’m not sure what’s more impressive in The Woman in White: Max Steiner’s exceptional score or Sidney Greenstreet’s performance. Both are phenomenal–it’s probably Steiner’s finest score. Greenstreet’s performance of the film’s cogent, ruthless villain is not just one of his finest performances, but one of the finest villains in film history. I’ve seem the film before, but somehow Greenstreet’s endless supply of sinisterness made me frequently question the ending I remembered.

Almost everything else about The Woman in White is excellent–not on the level of those two particulars–but, overall, excellent. Peter Godfrey knows how to construct a shot–and especially how to move a camera–and there’s some great comic moments in the film, which is not, overall, comical at all. John Abbott is great as a wacky recluse, John Emery is great as Greenstreet’s sidekick. Great’s a word I’d use a lot to describe aspects of The Woman in White… like Agnes Moorehead, she’s great in a difficult role. (No surprise). However–I was just going to say the editing isn’t great, but it isn’t just the editing–The Woman in White has some drastic changes in its narrative and they hamstring the film.

The first half of The Woman in White, with Gig Young starting a new job as a drawing instructor for wealthy Eleanor Parker who comes across a strange girl, recently escaped from an asylum (also Parker), is fantastic. Absolutely wonderful. Here’s the best direction in the film, the best part of Young’s performance and two good roles for Parker. Alexis Smith is good as the friend who’s got the crush on Young, even though Young and Parker (as the wealthy heiress, not the escaped mental patient) are getting romantic. Young and Parker have great chemistry, regardless of the role Parker’s playing. Young’s new to the estate, just like the viewer, and the film draws them both in at the same time. It’s masterful.

Then it skips ahead some months and now it’s Smith the film’s following, except not really, because Greenstreet eventually locks her in a room and then it follows Greenstreet for a long time. Parker’s wealthy heiress is poisoned so that role is made inessential and the mental patient role doesn’t have quite enough for her to do (though there are some nice special effects of the two of them in the same frame). Young and Smith have no chemistry as their romance takes off and the film drags on and on. Greenstreet’s great in this part, best in this part, and his scenes with Smith do a lot for the picture. Young’s almost useless, a long fall from the beginning, when he’s absolutely fantastic.

Overall, The Woman in White‘s best parts–with the exception of Greenstreet and Steiner–don’t make it to the end. Parker’s performance as the cursed mental patient is wonderful, but the romantic stuff with her and Young in the first half–which goes away–is just as good. By the end, it’s hard to believe Young started out so strong and even Steiner’s score, for the last bit, isn’t as good as it had been. So, disappointing as a whole, but its pieces are stellar.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Godfrey; screenplay by Stephen Morehouse Avery, based on the novel by Wilkie Collins; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Max Steiner; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Alexis Smith (Marian Halcombe), Eleanor Parker (Laura Fairlie/Ann Catherick), Sydney Greenstreet (Count Alessandro Fosco), Gig Young (Walter Hartright), Agnes Moorehead (Countess Fosco), John Abbott (Frederick Fairlie), John Emery (Sir Percival Glyde) and Curt Bois (Louis).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.

Escape Me Never (1947, Peter Godfrey)

Until now, I’d seen all of Eleanor Parker’s readily available films (the ones on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD) except Escape Me Never. She made two films with Errol Flynn, playing the lead in the other, Never Say Goodbye, and a supporting role in Escape Me Never. Ida Lupino plays the lead female. Parker plays the other woman, who’s married to Gig Young, who’s playing Flynn’s brother. It makes little sense and the whole film hinges on an agreement with the viewer never to question Flynn being irresistible.

The film is set in Venice in 1900. While the Venice sets, gondolas, canals and all, are quite nice, Lupino spends her first scene talking in 1940s slang. I’ve never seen Lupino in anything before and Escape Me Never certainly encourages me to be wary about seeing her in anything again. It’s not just the slang–or the special lighting she gets–or even her accent appearing and disappearing… she’s just really annoying (though her ludicrous costumes might contribute). Flynn is bad as well, somehow he’s impossible to take seriously as a tortured composer. Gig Young is fine, but looks and acts like he belongs in a different movie–one actually set in 1900….

Eleanor Parker–in one of her most glamorous parts–is so completely lost I can’t even mount a grand defense, which is fine, since it’s the studio’s fault. A few years before, Warner had given Parker the villainous role in Of Human Bondage (which she essayed brilliantly), but in Escape Me Never, her character’s not responsible for her objectionable actions and so the character has no depth. It’s probably Parker’s shallowest role, but it fits the film’s opinion of women. Women, it observes, are only of value for the reasons Flynn (and Flynn alone) says… There’s even a line about it. More than one, probably.

It’s impossible to imagine anyone speaking the film’s dialogue and conveying any sense of quality. Thames Williamson’s script is occasionally so ludicrous, along with Lupino’s shoddy performance, I was convinced the film was a farcical comedy. The scenes of Flynn, Lupino, and Young walking through the mountains, dressed in lederhosen certainly seems like it belongs in a farce. When the film moves its focus to a mountain resort (incredibly modern-looking for 1900 in Italy), the farce stops amusing and the viewer realizes it’s supposed to be serious. Escape Me Never came at the end of the studio system–Flynn and Lupino were on their way down while Parker and Young were moving up–and it’s a fine example of the system’s failings. It’s another one of those films I always had available on hand, but never watched for no good reason, only to watch it and wonder why I ever did, the original avoidance turning out to be fortuitous.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Godfrey; screenplay by Thames Williamson, from the novel by Margaret Kennedy; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Errol Flynn (Sebastian Dubrok), Ida Lupino (Gemma Smith), Eleanor Parker (Fionella MacLean), Gig Young (Caryl Dubrok), Reginald Denny (Mr. MacLean), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. MacLean), Albert Bassermann (Prof. Heinrich), Ludwig Stössel (Mr. Steinach) and Milada Mladova (Natrova).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 1: DREAM FACTORY.