Tag Archives: Kent Smith

Magic Town (1947, William A. Wellman)

Magic Town is too much of one thing, not enough of another, but also not enough of the first and too much of the latter. There’s a disconnect between Wellman’s direction and Robert Riskin’s script. While Wellman can handle the broad humor of the script–there isn’t much of it and it stands out like a sore thumb–he also finds the humanity of the characters. Riskin’s not so much interested in the small h humanity of leads James Stewart and Jane Wyman; he’s more interested in the big story.

Stewart is a cutthroat–or so we’re supposed to believe–New York pollster who descends on an idyllic small town. It has the perfect ratio of people and opinions to match the national opinions and trends. With him, Stewart brings sidekicks Ned Sparks and Donald Meek. Sparks gets a couple things to do, but he and Stewart’s relationship is never clear and needs to be. Meek barely gets anything.

Of course, being a pollster, Stewart knows if the people learn they represent the national average, they’ll spoil. Following the Prime Directive, he pretends to be an insurance agent. The only one of the townsfolk in on the scheme is Kent Smith, who’s one sidekick too many. Riskin’s script gives Stewart two and a half external consciences for the first half of the picture, while he’s romancing Wyman, apparently thinking have too many external consciences will make up for Stewart not having an internal one.

Riskin’s wrong.

The first half of the picture is mostly Stewart and Wyman courting. They’re often lovely, thoughtful scenes completely out of place even in the first half. Looking back on them after Magic Town changes gears in the second half, they make almost no sense. It’s around the halfway point it becomes clear Wyman doesn’t really get to have a character in the film either. She doesn’t even get to take responsibility for her actions. And the last act treats her plain awful.

But she’s still good. Better than Stewart, who’s always likable, even when he’s being a complete jackass, if only because the film doesn’t recognize him having the ability to be responsible for his own actions.

Wellman approaches the filmmaking seriously when it comes to Stewart and Wyman’s ordeal. Magic Town looks like a dark noir, Joseph F. Biroc’s moody photography, Roy Webb’s emotive score. It’s just the script doesn’t recognize the ordeal. Riskin has some exposition he wants to get into the characters’ dialogue. He doesn’t have time to make the human drama work.

Nice support from Ann Shoemaker and George Irving.

Magic Town tries too hard with what its got without ever fixing what isn’t working.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Robert Riskin, based on a story by Riskin and Joseph Krumgold; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Sherman Todd and Richard G. Wray; music by Roy Webb; production designer, Lionel Banks; produced by Wellman and Riskin; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (Rip Smith), Jane Wyman (Mary Peterman), Ned Sparks (Ike), Kent Smith (Hoopendecker), Donald Meek (Mr. Twiddle), Ann Shoemaker (Ma Peterman), George Irving (Senator Wilton), Wallace Ford (Lou Dicketts), E.J. Ballantine (Moody), Howard Freeman (Nickleby), Mickey Roth (Bob Peterman), Mary Currier (Mrs. Frisby) and Harry Holman as the mayor.


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE WILLIAM WELLMAN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY LIZ OF NOW VOYAGING.


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The Curse of the Cat People (1944, Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

The Curse of the Cat People is apparently Kent Smith. Well, him and writer DeWitt Bodeen. Smith and Jane Randolph return from the first film, this one set over six years later. They have a daughter–Ann Carter in an almost perfect performance–who’s a lonely child. She eventually imagines herself a friend, personified by Simone Simon (also returning from the first film), who’s apparently the ghost of Smith’s first wife.

Only she’s not, because she’s an imaginary friend. Bodeen’s very literal.

The film’s title is intentionally misleading; at its best moments, Curse is about Carter being this kid who doesn’t have any friends and has all these strange experiences. She meets this crazy, but sweet, old woman (Julia Dean) and bonds with her. Dean is unintentionally juxtaposed with Smith.

They’re both crappy parents. Randolph’s not a good mom either, but she at least loves Carter. Bodeen writes the most insensitive and cruel dialogue for Smith he can. It’s Curse’s primary failing–Bodeen can’t write Smith’s character as anything but a jerk.

For the first half, before Carter reveals Simon’s “identity,” Curse gets away with it. Roy Webb’s music is beautiful, Nicholas Musuraca’s photography is enchanting–the two directors, von Fritsch and Wise, usually do rather well (except one moment Carter’s looking off screen for direction).

The conclusion, however, has Carter running away. Smith in panic mode is some awful acting, but Bodeen’s script forgets Randolph’s the girl’s mother.

Curse’s a big disappointment. As a sequel concept, it’s groundbreaking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise; written by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ann Carter (Amy Reed), Kent Smith (Ollie Reed), Jane Randolph (Alice Reed), Sir Lancelot (Edward), Eve March (Miss Callahan), Julia Dean (Mrs. Julia Farren), Elizabeth Russell (Barbara Farren) and Simone Simon (Amy’s friend).


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Cat People (1942, Jacques Tourneur)

How to describe Cat People….

When a swell, blond American (Kent Smith) meets a dark (but not too dark) Eastern European woman (Simone Simon), she rouses all sorts of non-apple pie passions in him. Being a swell guy, he pressures her into marrying him–she’s clearly emotionally disturbed, but it’s okay… Smith hires her a great psychiatrist (Tom Conway) who eventually tries to rape her.

I’m not making up the passions part by the way–the scene where Smith tries explaining it all to other woman Jane Randolph is painful. Smith’s terrible.

That above synopsis pretty much gets at Cat People‘s core story. Beware the foreigner. Randolph’s a much better match for Smith anyway. She’s a hard worker, not some kind of artist.

Sadly, the film’s got a lot of great things about it. DeWitt Bodeen’s mildly xenophobic screenplay still has some amazing scenes in it… though most of them come at the beginning when Simon’s still the protagonist. There’s later an odd shift of focus to Smith and Randolph. Actually, mostly Randolph so she can be the damsel in distress.

Tourneur’s direction is startling, particularly in those high suspense scenes; it’s excellent work. Some of Cat People‘s shots are singular. Simon’s great, Conway’s great (it’s interesting to see him ooze the charm in equal parts with the slime), Randolph’s pretty good (just wholly unlikable).

Fantastic Nicholas Musuraca photography and Mark Robson editing round out Cat People.

Given its many–occasionally extraordinary–successes, it’s a shame Bodeen’s plot flops.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Alan Napier (Doc Carver), Alec Craig (Zookeeper) and Jack Holt (The Commodore).


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Youth Runs Wild (1944, Mark Robson)

It’s hard to know how Youth Runs Wild was supposed to turn out. RKO took it away from producer Val Lewton–the State Department was concerned the film would be detrimental to morale–but they were over his shoulder the entire time. The question is whether Youth Runs Wild was ever anything but silly propaganda. It’s a different kind of propaganda than the norm, sort of a home front, pro-community action propaganda… but it’s just as artistically minded as any of the more famous examples of the era.

The movie only runs sixty-seven minutes and is (passably) okay for the first three-quarters. There’s some bad acting–Vanessa Brown is particularly annoying, but her romantic interest, Glen Vernon, isn’t much better–but there’s also some good. Lawrence Tierney’s decent, Jean Brooks is fine (even if her role is useless) and Kent Smith’s good when he first comes in. As Youth Runs Wild becomes all about the propaganda, which I guess doesn’t take it long, since Brooks and Smith’s reunion (they’re a separated-by-war couple) only serves to further the propaganda angle, Smith gets progressively worse. By the end, it’s like a television commercial… or maybe an educational film strip.

Bonita Granville gives the film’s best performance after being deceptively poorly used in the beginning. The script betrays her at the end too, but she’s got some great moments in between.

The film’s particularly strange because it doesn’t look like other B movies of the period. It’s cheap–Mark Robson gets some good shots in when it’s people exciting their houses, but when he’s doing close-ups on people inside, the backgrounds betray the budget–but there is some location shooting and there’s some nice backdrop work at one point. The cheapness is in the story. There’s never an honest moment in the entire film. Everything’s geared toward that goofy, inspiring, nonsensical conclusion, which suggests Lewton’s version wouldn’t have been much better than RKO’s.

It is mildly okay, like I said before, throughout. The romance between Vernon and Brown isn’t particularly compelling, but it always seems like Smith’s eventually going to do something–or Tiernery might come back, especially since he’s got an almost monologue about his friendship with Smith. Or Granville will get some great scene or Brooks will get useful. Or the parents–played by Art Smith and Mary Servoss, in a couple of the film’s best performances–will actually get a real scene.

But it never pays off. Lots of the scenes are poorly edited to the point they’re just celluloid in the can (there’s one particularly strange scene involving a car careening into a bunch of playing kids). And then it has a bad ending, a cop-out ending. But that cop-out ending is before the big inspirational ending, which really does the picture in.

The movie’s just got way too big of a cast–especially for a B movie with limited locations and a quiet story; I rarely ever got anyone’s name on his or her first scene and acknowledged I didn’t catch the name, but never got worried about not knowing it. They’re only playing stereotypes anyway.

Though… the film does get in some material I didn’t expect to see in a picture from 1944.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by John Fante and Ardel Wray, based on a story by Fante and Herbert Kline; director of photography, John J. Mescall; edited by John Lockert; music by Paul Sawtell; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Bonita Granville (Toddy), Kent Smith (Danny Coates), Jean Brooks (Mary Hauser Coates), Glen Vernon (Frank Hauser), Vanessa Brown (Sarah Taylor), Ben Bard (Mr. Taylor), Mary Servoss (Mrs. Cora Hauser), Dickie Moore (George), Lawrence Tierney (Larry Duncan), Johnny Walsh (Herb Vigero), Rod Rodgers (Rocky) and Elizabeth Russell (Mrs. Mabel Taylor).


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