Tag Archives: John McIntire

The Mississippi Gambler (1953, Rudolph Maté)

Torpid isn’t an adjective I get to use often, but I can’t think of a better one to describe The Mississippi Gambler. It’s a boring melodrama, trading entirely on the charisma of its cast–Tyrone Power might have been able to handle the weight, but the film concentrates on the loveless marriage of Piper Laurie (as she pines for Power) just when it needs him most. There are some fine moments throughout, particularly at the beginning, with Power and John McIntire working well together and the relationship between Power and Paul Cavanagh rather touching. But the story skips ahead way too often, passing over indeterminate months, until all the dramatic import is lost.

Bad acting from principle supporting cast members doesn’t help. John Baer’s particularly terrible, but Ron Randall isn’t much better. Most of their scenes are with Laurie and her performance is strong enough it’s inconceivable she’d be so devoted to such a pair of rubes. Some of the problem is with the script–Power, McIntire and Cavanagh are positioned as real men, while everyone else is a fop or dandy. It’s a goofy approach and somewhat nonsensical (there’s a lot of strong homoerotic undercurrents between Baer and Randall–and Baer’s devotion to sister Laurie is positively disturbing).

While Rudolph Maté’s direction isn’t bad, it’s certainly middling. The film’s got rather opulent sets and Maté shoots them to good effect, but that compliment’s probably the best one I can come up with. He’s got some strange composition–lots of backs of heads–and the film’s inability to convey any passage of time is partially his fault. Even if he didn’t choose to use fades to black or didn’t insist the script fit together, in terms of consecutive visual action, he still could have done something. It’s kind of his job, right?

Still, as boring as the film gets–as bad as Frank Skinner’s music gets and it gets bad–The Mississippi Gambler is never downright terrible. Power can do this kind of thing in his sleep; some of his performance here is certainly semi-conscious. McIntire and Cavanagh both make the most of their scenes. Julie Adams is fine in one of the script’s more useless, melodrama only roles.

It’s actually a perfect example of a melodrama. Nothing in the film doesn’t exist solely to advance the plot to its preordained conclusion. In the third act, as the pieces fall into place for the inevitable to occur, the film decides to take forever to get there, which gets really irritating.

I suppose Irving Glassberg’s Technicolor cinematography is pretty enough. I already complimented the sets too… The Mississippi Gambler is simply an excruciating ninety-nine minutes. Seton I. Miller seems to have written as many scenes as possible–I should have counted–with the idea enough of them would make a full narrative. Unsurprisingly, his experiment fails. He’s not even a bad writer–some of his dialogue and humor works and he has a handful of solid character relationships–he’s just a terrible plotter. What should have been surefire–Power as a charming gambler–is instead a big snooze.

But it’s still somehow competent.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rudolph Maté; written by Seton I. Miller; director of photography, Irving Glassberg; edited by Edward Curtiss; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Ted Richmond; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tyrone Power (Mark Fallon), Piper Laurie (Angelique Dureau), Julie Adams (Ann Conant), John McIntire (Kansas John Polly), Paul Cavanagh (Edmond Dureau), John Baer (Laurent Dureau), Ron Randell (George Elwood), Ralph Dumke (F. Montague Caldwell), Robert Warwick (Gov. Paul Monet), William Reynolds (Pierre Loyette) and Guy Williams (Andre Brion).


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Westward the Women (1951, William A. Wellman)

Robert Taylor leads over a hundred women from Missouri to California. It’s set in 1851, so California is the other side of world. I thought it was going to be cute from that description. Taylor’s films were often aware of being Robert Taylor films, but of those 100+ women, only one thinks Taylor’s good-looking, so Westward the Women isn’t one of those Taylor films. It’s a rough film. It has cute moments and funny moments, heart-warming moments too, I suppose–but it’s rough. It might even be mean. I’m not sure to what degree the filmmakers realized how mean the film was getting.

Some of Taylor’s work in the film is his best. At a certain point, the film runs out of things for him to do and concentrates on the romance, which is fine, but he ceases to be the focus. The rest of the performances are all right (except Taylor’s love interest, once the romance starts), but the script betrays the two best supporting ones. Hope Emerson is excellent in the role of a New Englander who talks exaggerated ship-speak for everything. There’s a poor Japanese guy–played by Henry Nakamura, who did little else–who’s got the worst stereotypical dialogue, but a rather important role in the film. Again, his character loses steam in the last part.

The romance shares the second half’s focus with the more interesting aspect of Westward the Women. At a certain point, the women are left alone with Taylor and have to toughen up for the journey. There’s a great scene–I can think of a good adjective for it–when a woman is in labor in a wagon and a wheel breaks off. A group of the other women hold up the wagon while she gives birth, which would not be an easy task, and then proceed to fawn over the newborn. There’s another great, similar scene at the end, but I can’t give that away.

When I said before the film was mean–it kills characters left and right. The only sympathetic character it doesn’t kill is the dog. In addition to showing the difficulty in crossing the country, it throws the audience off guard. You never know if a character is going to make it or not. Even with this tension, however, the film ambles a little too much. It’s got a long present action–at least four months, but it might be more like seven–and since only a handful of the women are realized, the film is mostly in summary. But it’s real pretty summary. Wellman’s direction of the desert landscape is wonderful. Not only is the scenery incorporated into the story (unlike the frequent Monument Valley backdrops) but his camera angles take full advantage of them.

However, the film doesn’t take place entirely in the desert, only thirty minutes of it does. So, you have those twenty or thirty minutes of great direction, an hour or so of a great Taylor performance, a half hour of the great relationship between Taylor and the Japanese guy, and Emerson only getting rid of the lame seafarer dialogue at the end. Still, it’s a good film–it might be the only widescreen academy ratio film I can think of.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Charles Schnee, based on a story by Frank Capra; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Jeff Alexander; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Buck), Denise Darcel (Danon), Hope Emerson (Patience), John McIntire (Roy Whitman), Julie Bishop (Laurie), Lenore Lonergan (Maggie), Marilyn Erskine (Jean), Beverly Dennis (Rose), Henry Nakamura (Ito) and Renata Vanni (Mrs. Maroni).


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