Tag Archives: Jane Darwell

The Grapes of Wrath (1940, John Ford)

The Grapes of Wrath starts in a darkened neverland. Director Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland create a realer than real Oklahoma for protagonist Henry Fonda to journey across. The locations and sets aren’t as important as how Fonda (and the audience) experience it. It’s actually rather hostile for this beginning. It’s all about Fonda getting settled, not the viewer.

Even though Fonda is the protagonist throughout and the whole show for the first twenty minutes–with John Carradine along to keep him company–Grapes is about Fonda’s family, specifically his relationship with his parents–Jane Darwell’s mom, Russell Simpson is dad.

Slowly–after Fonda does find his family–director Ford broadens the film’s focus. There’re just too many people to stick with him and get the story right. Later, as the third act approaches then arrives, Ford and screenwriter Nunnally Johnson bring the spotlight back to Fonda but gradually fill out even more of the surrounding situations. It’s a wonderful balance.

Fonda and Darwell get the showiest parts–well, except for Carradine who gets even showier–and all three do great work. Ford knows how to shoot them too, with he and Toland going almost for scares at times. For Darwell, Ford occasionally shoots the film like a silent. He’s carefully, brilliantly, all over the place.

Everything about Grapes–directing, photography, editing, writing, acting–is a singular achievement on its own. Each vingette-like scene works perfectly. Put them all together and Grapes of Wrath is a relentless, devastating odyssey.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by John Steinbeck; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Robert L. Simpson; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), Jane Darwell (Ma Joad), Charley Grapewin (Grandpa), Dorris Bowdon (Rosasharn), John Carradine (Jim Casy), Russell Simpson (Pa Joad), O.Z. Whitehead (Al), John Qualen (Muley Bates), Eddie Quillan (Connie) and Zeffie Tilbury (Grandma).


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The Bigamist (1953, Ida Lupino)

With a sensational title like The Bigamist, one might expect something lurid and exploitative from the film. Definitely from the titular lead, Edmond O’Brien. But, no, poor O’Brien is just a married traveling salesman with a barren, work-oriented wife (Joan Fontaine) so who can blame him for stepping out. And he only did it once; he’s not a bad guy, he’s tragic hero.

Nearly all of O’Brien’s story comes out in a flashback–screenwriter Collier Young’s use of layered narrative is the film’s biggest problem–when he reveals all to kindly Edmund Gwenn, who has just discovered him.

The flashback portions are exceptionally insensitive to both Fontaine and Ida Lupino (which is surprising, as she directed the film after all) but the present action scenes with them are better. The film does cheat Lupino out of any great emotive moments, while Fontaine gets a couple.

As the lead–but fourth-billed–O’Brien has trouble with the impossible role. After spending fifteen minutes making him a suspect, Young’s script spends the rest turning him into a hero. Except O’Brien can’t seem to get behind playing the role heroic, which causes a bit of a disconnect… not to mention a general disinterest in how the story turns out. I had been hoping they went for the cheap, obvious ending, which would have resulted in less melodrama (but robbed Kenneth Tobey of a great scene).

Lupino’s direction is somewhat stilted at times, but generally okay. Except the Los Angeles exteriors; they’re way too lifeless.

Just like the movie.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ida Lupino; screenplay by Collier Young, based on a story by Lawrence B. Marcus and Lou Schor; director of photography, George E. Diskant; edited by Stanford Tischler; music by Leith Stevens; produced by Young; released by Filmmakers Releasing Organization.

Starring Edmond O’Brien (Harry Graham), Joan Fontaine (Eve Graham), Ida Lupino (Phyllis Martin), Edmund Gwenn (Mr. Jordan), Kenneth Tobey (Tom Morgan), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Connelley), Peggy Maley (Phone Operator), Lillian Fontaine (Miss Higgins), Matt Dennis (Singer) and John Maxwell (Judge).


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The Rains Came (1939, Clarence Brown)

I was expecting The Rains Came to be a standard soap–with some ethnic flair, of course (Tyrone Power’s an Indian doctor, Myrna Loy’s a British lady). Instead, it’s a little like… Maugham-lite. Neither Loy nor Power is the lead (in fact, Power’s in it so little he should get a “special guest star” credit). The lead is actually George Brent (who gets third-billing).

He opens the movie and he carries it for quite a while. Loy doesn’t show up for a while and, even when she does, Brent’s around the entire time. His troubles with missionary’s daughter Brenda Joyce, for example, take up the screen time when Power should be getting his own backstory. Brent’s the bored Englishman on self-imposed exile in India (hence, Maugham-lite) and he drinks and threatens to cavort. He makes Rains a joy to watch, even when it’s going through it’s more melodramatic sections.

As it turns out, Loy is not a stoic, upstanding British woman as I expected. She’s a bit of a tramp, frequently stepping out on her odious husband–played by Nigel Bruce, whose death scene is played for laughs. It makes Loy a little bit less than likable (elevating the initially annoying Joyce to that position) and quite tragic once she discovers selflessness–again, Maugham-lite.

Additionally, there are great special effects, harmless direction from Brown and some fine supporting performances–Maria Ouspenskaya in particular.

The Rains Came has some excellent moments; they overshadow the mediocre ones.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clarence Brown; screenplay by Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson, based on the novel by Louis Bromfield; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by Barbara McLean; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Myrna Loy (Lady Edwina Esketh), Tyrone Power (Maj. Rama Safti), George Brent (Tom Ransome), Brenda Joyce (Fern Simon), Nigel Bruce (Lord Albert Esketh), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maharani), Joseph Schildkraut (Mr. Bannerjee), Mary Nash (Miss MacDaid), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Smiley), Marjorie Rambeau (Mrs. Simon), Henry Travers (Rev. Homer Smiley), H.B. Warner (Maharajah), Laura Hope Crews (Lily Hoggett-Egburry), William Royle (Raschid Ali Khan), C. Montague Shaw (Gen. Keith), Harry Hayden (Rev. Elmer Simon), Herbert Evans (Bates), Abner Biberman (John, the Baptist), Mara Alexander (Mrs. Bannerjee) and William Edmunds (Mr. Das).


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The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, William A. Wellman)

The seventy-five minutes of The Ox-Bow Incident are some of the finest in cinema. The film is eventually a solemn examination of the human condition, quiet in its observations, with spare lines of dialogue of profound importance. But before this period in the film, which roughly lasts from twenty minutes in until the end, Ox-Bow is a peculiar Western, far ahead of its time.

As Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan (in his Henry days) ride into the small, empty and nameless town, The Ox-Bow Incident establishes what’s going to be one of its major technical achievements. The use of sound–made even more spectacular later, during the scenes filmed on sets–is amazing, from Alfred Bruzlin and Roger Heman Sr. The dialogue in the opening scene–Lamar Trotti’s script, probably the best thing about Ox-Bow (it’s hard to decide what’s better, Trotti’s writing or Wellman’s direction)–the way Fonda and Morgan deliver it, the way the scene plays out, the way Wellman shoots it. It’s indescribable. I’ve seen Ox-Bow before, but I forgot it was so singular.

When the story does advance, it does quickly–the relaxed opening scene, establishing Fonda as the protagonist, is the only one of its kind in the film. After that scene, the film moves to its conclusion without taking any breaks or offering the viewer any relief. Wellman’s composition incorporates background for action and foreground for non-action, with both incredibly important. But it also keeps the viewer constantly busy, the film an active experience.

Trotti’s adapting a novel, so I’m guessing the one unconnected scene is from it. The scene, featuring more backstory for Fonda, doesn’t seem foreign to the film–even though it’s a big, busy scene and the last one before the film enters its final stage–because of that opening scene. Trotti and Wellman establish right off they’re going to do things a certain way and Fonda running into old flame Mary Beth Hughes for four minutes fits into that style.

Then Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn appear. The film’s about a lynching (the titular incident), with Andrews and Quinn as two of the lynched. It’s hard to describe how the film works from their appearance to the end because it is so singular. For example, Wellman later gives Fonda his biggest scene without showing his face. The storytelling works; delineating it might prove useful for a scholarly article, but certainly not for an informal response.

Both Andrews and Quinn are fantastic, as is Fonda, as is Morgan. The supporting cast–Harry Davenport and Frank Conroy in particular–are also great. Jane Darwell’s performance, after so many sympathetic roles, as a gung ho lyncher is terrifying. Paul Hurst, Dick Rich, William Eythe as well.

For such a short film, Ox-Bow is brimming with content. The way people talk to each other informs on their existing relationships, with Trotti never spending the time to expound. He doesn’t have to… it’s a wonderful script.

I’m trying to think of other amazing moments from Wellman, but after a point, every shot in the film is an amazing moment. Arthur C. Miller’s photography, instead of being constrained by the set shooting, is lush. The depth of each frame captivates.

The film ends on a strange note. Hopeful but resigned. I can’t believe I’d forgotten the film is so remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by Allen McNeil; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Trotti; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Henry Fonda (Gil Carter), Dana Andrews (Donald Martin), Mary Beth Hughes (Rose Mapen), Anthony Quinn (Juan Martínez), William Eythe (Gerald Tetley), Harry Morgan (Art Croft), Jane Darwell (Jenny Grier), Matt Briggs (Judge Daniel Tyler), Harry Davenport (Arthur Davies), Frank Conroy (Maj. Tetley), Marc Lawrence (Jeff Farnley), Paul Hurst (Monty Smith), Victor Kilian (Darby), Chris-Pin Martin (Poncho), Willard Robertson (Sheriff), Ted North (Joyce) and Dick Rich (Deputy Butch Mapes).


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