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Bend of the River (1952, Anthony Mann)

Somehow Bend of the River manages to be too cluttered while running too short at ninety-one minutes. The film starts great; James Stewart is a former bad man of the West who’s trying to be a good guy and become a farmer (or rancher if he can get himself some cattle). He’s guiding a wagon train to Oregon and has gotten in good with the group leader Jay C. Flippen, who has two fetching daughters too young for Stewart—Julie Adams and Lori Nelson. Stewart teases Nelson and has a nice relationship with Adams, where it seems like he’s got an interest but isn’t going to do anything about it.

Right away—the best thing Borden Chase’s script does is move things along quickly—right away River introduces Arthur Kennedy, who’s another bad man from the Middle West moved further out west to escape his past. Or at least escape the law. Kennedy’s not a repentant bad man. Stewart takes an immediate shine to him and the two pal around for a while, including a fantastic action sequence where a group of Native Americans attack the wagon train. River’s mostly apolitical, at least as far as the Native Americans are concerned. It eventually gets to being about White man greed, brought on by gold lust.

But first the wagons have to get to the settlement, which is mostly done in summary, set to Flippen giving a very religious manifest destiny speech.

Flippen’s one of the film’s bigger problems. Him, Julie Adams, and—eventually—Jack Lambert. Flippen’s character hates bad men of the West (and doesn’t know Stewart used to be one, but does know Kennedy is one) and otherwise doesn’t have much character to him. He apparently could care less about his daughters (the characterization is so slim in Chase’s script it’s unclear if the mom is still alive) other than to complain once Adams takes up with Kennedy. Adams taking up with Kennedy is all she gets to do in the film. And it’s after a multiple month gap in the present action, so she’s barely defined at the start other than the light flirtation with Stewart and then she’s Kennedy’s de facto fiancée when she comes back in. Lambert I’ll talk about later.

The film does pretty well for a while after the time jump, with the previous material foundation, but then it doesn’t really go anywhere. Stewart, Kennedy, Flippen, Adams, and charming gambler Rock Hudson (who seems shoehorned in but whatever, he’s charming) are on the run from gold crazed Howard Petrie, leading to some decent material, even if Petrie’s performance is bad. Bend has a problem with villains, because director Mann and screenwriter Chase want Kennedy to be a possible villain—he’s got to be dangerous, even if Adams adores him and Stewart thinks he’s a good guy. Lambert is the other main villain. Stewart hires Lambert and some other guys (town drunks) to help them get upriver (including the utterly wasted Harry Morgan and Royal Dano) and Lambert wants to mutiny. The mutiny stuff is terribly plotted and requires Stewart to be dumb, multiple times. Right before he turns into a (mostly offscreen) action hero.

The finale has a big action sequence but none of the skillful execution Mann showed at the beginning. The movie hinges on Stewart and Kennedy’s chemistry, but then gives Flippen a bunch to do with Stewart instead. And Flippen can’t make the poorly written role work. No one could.

I haven’t even gotten to recurring supporting cast members Stepin Fetchit and Chubby Johnson. They’re sort of a comedy duo. Johnson is a riverboat captain, Fetchit is his right hand man. Lots of mild jokes at Fetchit’s expense, usually from Johnson (who wishes they could go back to the Mississippi because he presumably wants more Black people around to treat badly). Both actors—even with Fetchit’s caricature—are better than Petrie or the town drunks, just because they at least have… I don’t know… because they’re reasonable caricatures. Lambert and company seem like they’re from a different movie, which is sort of the fault of the jump forward in the present action, but because Mann and Chase do such a shoddy job with it.

After appearing to do a decent enough job with it.

Adams having chemistry with Stewart or Kennedy (outside a couple kissy scenes) would help a lot too. Plus Hudson just stands around until the script needs him for something. He’s underutilized given his obvious potential, but overused in the script.

Mann’s direction is occasionally impressive, occasionally mediocre. Same goes for pretty much everything else—technically speaking—except Hans J. Salter’s music, which is always fantastic. Stewart’s okay until he’s got to be a hard-ass and then the script falls down on the character development. Face plants really. Kennedy is great, even though the script pretends he doesn’t have a character arc. Bend is best when it’s about Kennedy and Stewart. Once it makes time for Adams and Flippen, it loses their rakish charm. There’s so much potential when they’ve got it and the film wastes it.

Mann and Chase make it through most of the film without revealing they don’t have anything to finish it up. Once it becomes clear they don’t—which is actually long before the aforementioned disappointing finale showdown—the film becomes rather tedious, which is never a good thing with a ninety minute runtime. It’s too bad; Stewart and Kennedy deserved a better picture. Adams probably did too. Maybe even Flippen. Definitely Hudson (but for him, he more deserved not to be shoehorned into this one).

Bend of the River is a filmic shrug.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Mann; screenplay by Borden Chase, based on a novel by William Gulick; director of photography, Irving Glassberg; edited by Russell F. Schoengarth; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by Aaron Rosenberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (Glyn McLyntock), Arthur Kennedy (Emerson Cole), Julie Adams (Laura Baile), Jay C. Flippen (Jeremy Baile), Rock Hudson (Trey Wilson), Howard Petrie (Tom Hendricks), Chubby Johnson (Cap’n Mello), Stepin Fetchit (Adam), Jack Lambert (Red), Lori Nelson (Marjie Baile), Harry Morgan (Shorty), and Royal Dano (Long Tom).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE ARTHUR KENNEDY'S CONQUEST OF THE SCREEN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


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High Noon (1952, Fred Zinnemann)

High Noon is a film all about courage and cowardice, so it’s appropriate the film starts with the most courageous thing it’s ever going to do and it does a few. It commits to its theme song. Not a piece of music from Dimitri Tiomkin, but a country song (written by Tiomkin, lyrics by Ned Washington, sung by Tex Ritter). It’s about the movie. It’s the story of the movie, sans specifics, from the perspective of the protagonist.

And High Noon uses the song throughout when lead Gary Cooper is walking around alone. Only the character in the song is nothing like the character in the movie so it creates this disconnect. The song lionizes, Cooper humanizes. Fits sort of perfectly in with the Western hero, which the film comments on rather quietly. High Noon is an intentional metaphor for the HUAC witch hunt. It’s all about Cooper needing help from his neighbors and his neighbors chosing their own self-interest, with a lot of excuses.

In those excuses, screenwriter Carl Foreman comes up with a great deal of transcendant material. Noon becomes not just about a person’s cowardice in HUAC, but about a community’s cowardice in general. There’s a lot of little stuff in High Noon–the film’s not even ninety minutes and it often refuses exposition–and there’s the steady theme about how greed and racism fuel self-interest. The racism comes in with Katy Jurado, who plays a Mexican businesswoman. She gets one of the four plot lines. Well, she sort of shares it with Grace Kelly but Jurado gets the better character.

Let me back up.

The film opens with the song and Lee Van Cleef. Van Cleef is by himself, waiting, playing with his gun or something. Just being creepy and ominous. As the song plays, the lyrics soon confirm the ominous. But Van Cleef does it on his own. Along with Zinnemann’s stark composition. The settings aren’t neccesarily stark, but Zinnemann and cinematographer Floyd Crosby shoot the film with completely empty skies. It’s bright and unforgiving, intensely examining its characters.

Cooper is marshal in a developing frontier town. Thanks to him, decent women can walk the streets during the day. Not sure about night time. After Van Cleef joins up with two other villainous types–Sheb Wooley and Robert J. Wilke–they ride into town and passed the justice of the peace where Cooper is getting married to Kelly. The song has already let us know what’s going to happen in the movie and introduced at least two characters–Cooper and wife Kelly–so the actual introduction to Cooper and Kelly is… not strange, but startling. It’s a long song. It takes Van Cleef and pals a while to get through the opening titles and into town.

The three bad guys are going to the train station to meet another bad guy. That bad guy is the one who’s going to come after Cooper. He just got out parolled from prison (“up north,” where the bleeding hearts free killers) and so he’s on his way home to kill Cooper. Or so everyone assumes.

And so the good townsfolk put Cooper and Kelly on their wagon and send them out of town. They were leaving anyway. Cooper just resigned as marshal. In addition to being half his age, Kelly’s a Quaker. No more gunfights for Cooper.

Only then Cooper decides he can’t run. So he turns back, confident the good townsfolk will help him. They’re all neighbors and friends.

The first friend to turn Cooper down is judge Otto Kruger, who hightails it. Then there’s Harry Morgan, Thomas Mitchell, and Lon Chaney Jr. They’re all good friends with Cooper, but none of them will help. See, the town doesn’t have enough deputies and the only other active one, Lloyd Bridges, picks that day to finally lose it.

See, Bridges is jealous of Cooper and wishes he could be Cooper but resents Cooper for his envy. Bridges wants to be the next marshal, Cooper thinks he’s too immature. Of course, Bridges has already proven his manhood by shacking up with Jurado, who had a romance with Cooper a year before. Pre-Kelly. Jurado’s aware of Bridges’s personality flaws, but apparently finds him amusing. It’s in Jurado’s performance. She has a patience with Bridges.

So Bridges isn’t going to help Cooper. Bridges has a fantastic character arc in the film. Probably the best. It culminates in a great fist fight where Zinnemann and editor Elmo Williams show off. High Noon’s fist fight is better than its gun fight, because Zinnemann’s got a reason not to glamorize the gun fight but the fist fight is fair game.

The story lines are Cooper, Bridges, Jurado and Kelly, and Van Cleef and friends. Everyone except the bad guys intersect throughout the film, which is fairly real time and has Cooper trying to find people to help him before the bad guy arrives at, well, High Noon.

And there’s the song to accompany Cooper when he’s out alone. Until it’s not there anymore. The film picks just the right time to eighty-six the song and let Cooper’s performance take over. And it’s no different in how it handles Cooper, other than the song being gone. He’d been doing this performance the whole film. The film just decides it’s time to stop talking about Cooper and instead be about him.

And the other story lines. Though the bad guys’ waiting for the train one is pragmatic and Bridges’s masculinity one is truncated (and very nicely echoed through a lot of the rest of the town, definitely in the bar scenes), the one with Kelly and Jurado gets a lot of attention. It’s the film’s main subplot, specifically Jurado. She connects to all the characters, eventually.

Cooper’s great. A lot of his part is reactive and the film never gets too interior–Cooper’s experiencing a lot of fear, anger, and disappointment. He ought to be seething, but he doesn’t get to seethe because he’s got to be the guy in the song. The song haunts him. And hounds him.

Kelly and Jurado are good. While Kelly will break down in front of Cooper, she won’t in front of anyone else. Jurado doesn’t break down in front of anyone. So when they finally get together, Kelly and Jurado are adversarial. Only Foreman’s script has much higher ambition for the characters. It gives Jurado a great arc in the film too. Cooper and Kelly end up with the least impressive character development arcs in the picture. They still have perfectly good arcs, Foreman just concentrated on Jurado and Bridges. Because Cooper and Kelly’s arc is tied and very complicated. She doesn’t just object because he’s outnumbered and she’s a Quaker. There are things going on. With Cooper too. Their arc builds–is surface, is subtext–it even echoes.

Foreman’s script is really, really good throughout and especially on that arc.

Bridges is fantastic. Mitchell, Chaney, Morgan. They’re all good. They’re kind of cameo parts though. Kruger’s fine. He’s a lot better being a weasel than not, however.

High Noon’s great. Zinnemann, Foreman, Cooper, producer Stanley Kramer. They make something singular. And not just because they get away with that song.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Fred Zinnemann; screenplay by Carl Foreman, based on a magazine story by John W. Cunningham; director of photography, Floyd Crosby; edited by Elmo Williams; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; production designer, Rudolph Sternad; produced by Stanley Kramer; released by United Artists.

Starring Gary Cooper (Marshal Will Kane), Grace Kelly (Amy Fowler Kane), Katy Jurado (Helen Ramírez), Lloyd Bridges (Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell), Sheb Wooley (Ben Miller), Robert J. Wilke (Jim Pierce), Lee Van Cleef (Jack Colby), Thomas Mitchell (Mayor Jonas Henderson), Lon Chaney Jr. (Martin Howe), Harry Morgan (Sam Fuller), and Otto Kruger (Judge Percy Mettrick).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 4TH WONDERFUL GRACE KELLY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA AND EMILY OF THE FLAPPER DAME.


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The Bastard (1978, Lee H. Katzin)

Somewhere in the second half of The Bastard, the mini-series starts to wear you down and you just give in. The first half is set in 1772 Europe, first in France, then in England. Andrew Stevens is a French boy with a secret. His mom might just be Patricia Neal, inn keeper, but Stevens is actually heir to a great British title. He’s just a bastard for now. Soon, he’ll be a duke.

In other words, the first half of The Bastard is a bunch of weak accents (for the most part) and Southern California standing in for the French countryside, British estates, French estates, the British countryside, and London itself. Oddly, The Bastard isn’t a grandly budget mini-series. It’s got nice sets and some creative location shooting, but it’s far from opulent. Director Katzin probably wouldn’t know what to do with the extra money anyway.

It feels, especially in the first half, very much like a TV show you don’t really want to watch. Until about an hour into the movie, Stevens is just around to whine, get seduced, seduce, patronize, and get henpecked by Neal. Neal doesn’t even try a French accent. Stevens goes for it and fails, but for a second he gets some credit for the enthusiasm. Then the accent starts to slip and the credit goes away.

When they get to England, they meet Eleanor Parker and Mark Neely. Parker does a British accent, Neely doesn’t, which is good because Neely’s bad enough without a weak accent. Parker’s a nice cameo; Bastard has some good small parts. But if you’re around too long, The Bastard gets you. The script eventually gets Neal, who’s got a weak character in the first place, but Katzin’s direction, Guerdon Trueblood’s teleplay… Neal never gets a good moment.

Anyway. They go to London, they meet Donald Pleasence (who’s cute) and Tom Bosley. Bosley’s all in as Benjamin Franklin, down to the air baths–his enthusiasm, no one else’s, can defeat The Bastard. Shame he’s only got four scenes in three hours. Then they go to the colonies for the second half.

Oh, right, Stevens sleeps with Olivia Hussey too. She’s his half-brother’s fiancée who likes French boys. Stevens is supposed to be seventeen or eighteen at the start of The Bastard. He was twenty-three. He looks about twenty-eight with the tan. His young lothario thing is a weird script addition given it looks like a soap opera whenever Katzin does a seduction scene. Except maybe the first one.

Second half has William Shatner as Paul Revere. And it features a William Shatner enthusiastic horse backing riding sequence. It’s kind of awesome. Shatner’s not bad either. He’s extremely likable, which gets him over some of the bumps in the script. And he’s also not in it too much.

Ditto Buddy Ebsen as Stevens’s American mentor. Or Noah Beery Jr. Even Peter Bonerz leaves a good impression.

Strangely, William Daniels is a complete flop and he’s got a lot fewer scenes than anyone else.

The second half also brings Kim Cattrall as an actual love interest for Stevens. She doesn’t get seduced until they’ve had something like five scenes together, while the previous conquests fell at one and two, respectively. Cattrall’s kind of likable. She’s not good so much as she’s trying harder than anyone else. There are so many historical figures, the script is entirely caricature, Katzin’s not interested in the performances, seeing someone occasionally try. It helps.

But then The Bastard gets Cattrall too.

Stevens gets okay for a while, when it’s all the American Revolution flashcards. He doesn’t get good, but he gets okay. And then the script throws him a real curveball and the development–in Stevens’s performance, him, the script, probably not Katzin, come on–drags him under. It also drags The Bastard under, which is appropriate, since Stevens is the Bastard.

You know, Johnny Carson’s right. Sometimes, you do just like being able to say bastard.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lee H. Katzin; teleplay by Guerdon Trueblood, based on the novel by John Jakes; director of photography, Michel Hugo; edited by Michael Murphy and Robert F. Shugrue; music by John Addison; produced by Joe Byrne; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Andrew Stevens (Phillipe Charboneau), Kim Cattrall (Anne Ware), Patricia Neal (Marie Charboneau), Olivia Hussey (Alicia), Buddy Ebsen (Benjamin Edes), Donald Pleasence (Solomon Sholto), William Shatner (Paul Revere), Harry Morgan (Capt. Caleb), Eleanor Parker (Lady Amberly), Mark Neely (Roger Amberly), John de Lancie (Lt. Stark), Ike Eisenmann (Gil, The Marquis de LaFayette), Peter Bonerz (Girard), James Gregory (Will Campbell), Carole Tru Foster (Daisy O’Brien), Charles Haid (George Lumden), Noah Beery Jr. (Dan O’Brien), Herbert Jefferson Jr. (Lucas), Barry Sullivan (Abraham Ware), Lorne Greene (Bishop Francis), Cameron Mitchell (Capt. Plummer), William Daniels (Samuel Adams), Keenan Wynn (Johnny Malcolm), Russell Johnson (Col. James Barrett), and Tom Bosley (Benjamin Franklin).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 4: GUEST STAR.

Inherit the Wind (1960, Stanley Kramer)

A lot of Inherit the Wind is about ideas and not small ones, but big ones. Director Kramer is careful with how big he lets the film get with these ideas, because even though Inherit the Wind is about Darwin vs. the Bible as its biggest idea, the smaller ideas are the more significant ones. And when Kramer’s got Fredric March in a bombastic performance on the side of the Bible, Kramer’s careful to put him in front of those smaller, more important ideas.

The film’s impeccably acted, not just by March or Spencer Tracy as his pseudo-alter ego, but also Gene Kelly as a newspaperman and Florence Eldridge as March’s wife. Amid all these big ideas and small ideas and top-billed stars are Dick York (the small-town teacher teaching Darwin) and his fiancée Donna Anderson (who’s the preacher’s daughter).

Inherit the Wind has something of an anti-climatic finish, just because Kramer and the screenwriters want to let the viewer figure it out. Kramer sets up the film larger than life then, gently, reveals the film’s never larger than life, just the viewers’ expectation of it. There’s depth to the grandiosity and everyone should have been paying attention.

A great deal of the film is listening and watching people listen. Almost all of Harry Morgan’s time is spent listening (as the judge). It’s all important. Kramer’s trying to figure out how to make this too big story work. And he does. Mostly.

Great Ernest Laszlo photography.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer; screenplay by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Frederic Knudtson; music by Ernest Gold; production designer, Rudolph Sternad; released by United Artists.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Henry Drummond), Fredric March (Matthew Harrison Brady), Gene Kelly (E. K. Hornbeck), Dick York (Bertram T. Cates), Donna Anderson (Rachel Brown), Harry Morgan (Judge Mel Coffey), Claude Akins (Rev. Jeremiah Brown), Elliott Reid (Prosecutor Tom Davenport), Paul Hartman (Bailiff Mort Meeker), Philip Coolidge (Mayor Jason Carter), Jimmy Boyd (Howard), Noah Beery Jr. (John Stebbins), Norman Fell (WGN Radio Technician), Gordon Polk (George Sillers), Hope Summers (Mrs. Krebs – Righteous Townswoman), Ray Teal (Jessie H. Dunlap), Renee Godfrey (Mrs. Stebbins) and Florence Eldridge (Sarah Brady).


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