Tag Archives: Jan Sterling

Caged (1950, John Cromwell)

Max Steiner does the music for Caged, which is strange to think about because Caged barely has any music. Director Cromwell instead emphasizes the silence, especially as the film opens. Right after the opening credits, which do have music, Caged gets very quiet. “Silence” reads all the walls in the women’s prison where protagonist Eleanor Parker finds herself. At its most obvious, one could say Caged is the story of Parker going from first time offender to repeat offender, which is besides the point. Parker’s fate is decided right from the start. There are four principal characters in Caged, two inmates, two prison employees. None of them have any free will, it’s just how they come to realize it.

Cromwell, thanks to Carl E. Guthrie’s photography and Owen Marks’s editing, is able to do a lot with the filmmaking. Caged’s silences–waiting for a noise, praying for more silence–is just one of the many techniques Cromwell uses to get the viewer into the cage with Parker and everyone else. Caged should feel stagy at times; same sets, over and over. The outside world is just a glimpse and a bland glimpse at that. There’s not even a world over the wall, when the inmates are in the yard. They, along with the viewer, know there’s a world out there but it’s left to the imagination for everyone. Caged just concerns this place and these people.

Virginia Kellogg’s screenplay juxtaposes innocent Parker and Agnes Moorehead’s compassionate superintendent. Both women have bad role models–Parker has Betty Garde’s hardened con woman while brutal matron Hope Emerson wants to sway Moorehead back to viciousness. Once it becomes clear Parker isn’t just the subject of the film–Caged might have some social commentary to make, but it isn’t trying to propagandize–but the protagonist and the viewer has to stick with her, follow her hardening, it becomes even more frightening. Most of the scares happen in the first half of the film, but the second half, as despondence sets in, is even more terrifying.

Parker is singular. There aren’t adjectives to describe her performance. Moorehead’s great, Emerson’s great, Garde’s great. The supporting cast is all good. Look fast for Jane Darwell.

Caged is an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Cromwell; screenplay by Virginia Kellogg, based on a story by Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Marie Allen), Agnes Moorehead (Ruth Benton), Hope Emerson (Evelyn Harper), Betty Garde (Kitty Stark), Ellen Corby (Emma Barber), Jan Sterling (Smoochie), Olive Deering (June Roberts) and Lee Patrick (Elvira Powell).


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

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Ace in the Hole (1951, Billy Wilder)

Ace in the Hole moves while the script–from director Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman–never races. In fact, it’s deliberate and methodical, maybe even redundant at times (especially in the first act). The redundant moments aren’t actually a problem since Kirk Douglas is in almost every scene of the film and, even when he doesn’t have the best scene, his performance is fantastic.

Douglas plays disgraced newspaperman trying to make it in a world of journalism students and publishers who believe in ethics and so on. Douglas believes in selling the most newspapers and getting paid for it. Most of the first act has Douglas spreading the gospel, which makes for great scenes.

The story then has Douglas happening across a tragic situation and exploiting it. All he has to do is convince a handful of people to do the wrong thing. And here’s where Hole’s eventual problems start showing up. Douglas has this perverted relationship with Jan Sterling; she’s married to Richard Benedict, who’s stuck in a hole and Douglas is turning it into a big story. Wilder and the other writers never really explore Douglas’s motivations (alcohol provides a fast answer) in that situation. Instead, Douglas gets a more traditional, epical arc. An overcooked one.

But that overcooked character arc is in a gorgeously made film. Wilder has excellent composition, whether for dialogue scenes or the big vista shots of New Mexico.

Douglas and Wilder, somewhat separately, make Hole worthwhile. It’s just got its problems.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Billy Wilder; written by Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Arthur P. Schmidt; music by Hugo Friedhofer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Chuck Tatum), Jan Sterling (Lorraine Minosa), Robert Arthur (Herbie Cook), Porter Hall (Jacob Q. Boot), Frank Cady (Al Federber), Richard Benedict (Leo Minosa), Ray Teal (Sheriff Gus Kretzer) and Frank Jaquet (Sam Smollett).


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The Mating Season (1951, Mitchell Leisen)

The Mating Season is an awkward social comedy of errors. I say awkward because to make the plot work, Gene Tierney has to act selfishly every time she’s supposed to be garnering sympathy. Thinking about it now, the film never even resolves her flirtations with the guy out to ruin her husband (and their marriage).

If Tierney’s unsuccessful navigating the film, leading man John Lund doesn’t do much better. His character remains sympathetic throughout (even taking the blame for Tierney’s shortcomings), but Lund can’t bring believability to it. It’s never believable he wouldn’t have punched out his gold digging mother-in-law (Miriam Hopkins, who creates an impressively evil character).

The whole plot of the thing reminds me a little of “Jerry,” the show in a show on “Seinfeld” with the court appointed butler. The writers of Mating Season clearly thought they were on to something, but they can’t pull it off. The plot requires supposedly likable characters to be far too disagreeable far too often.

However, there is a bright spot. Thelma Ritter. Ritter’s wondrous as Lund’s mother (who Tierney, being upper crust, mistakes for a cook). The film’s a disjointed pairing of Ritter’s compelling story and Lund and Tierney’s contrived one.

There are a couple nice supporting performances from Larry Keating and James Lorimer.

Leisen’s direction is uninspired. He seems to understand there’s only so much he can do with the script and relies heavily on a scantily clad Tierney.

It’s definitely worth seeing for Ritter, but it’s a disappointment.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mitchell Leisen; screenplay by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and Richard L. Breen, based on a play by Caeser Dunn; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Frank Bracht; music by Joseph J. Lilley; produced by Brackett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gene Tierney (Maggie Carleton), John Lund (Val McNulty), Miriam Hopkins (Fran Carleton), Thelma Ritter (Ellen McNulty), Jan Sterling (Betsy), Larry Keating (George C. Kalinger Sr.), James Lorimer (George C. Kalinger Jr.), Gladys Hurlbut (Mrs. Conger), Cora Witherspoon (Mrs. Williamson) and Malcolm Keen (Mr. Williamson).


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