Tag Archives: Leo Carrillo

Manhattan Melodrama (1934, W.S. Van Dyke)

It’s funny how obvious writers’ contributions can be in certain films. For instance, Joseph L. Mankiewicz very likely wrote some of the best scenes in Manhattan Melodrama and Oliver H.P. Garrett wrote some of the worst. The clue is the dialogue. Mankiewicz has distinctive dialogue, even in a film relatively early in his career, and it’s very good dialogue.

Unfortunately, uneven writing isn’t the only problem with Manhattan Melodrama. Running ninety minutes and covering thirty years, it plays like a summary of a longer film. The characters exist only in their scenes, never in between. Myrna Loy’s got a particularly troublesome role in that regard, because her character rarely makes sense for longer than ten minutes at a time. She’s good in some of her scenes and a little lost in the others, the fault clearly resting on the script. Her character is constantly yo-yoing between, she thinks, Clark Gable and William Powell. Except, rather specifically, Gable informs her she is not. But the script keeps it up, because without it and with the rapid pace, there’s not enough… pardon the term… melodrama.

Gable gives a fantastic performance, a great leading man performance. He’s amazing in every scene, bringing both a sense of humor and sadness to the film.

Nat Pendleton and Isabel Jewell help with the humor when Gable’s being sad and their comedic scenes–along with some of the romantic scenes between Powell and Loy–are when Van Dyke’s doing his best work in the film. His worst work is when he’s being melodramatic and, oddly, a little artistic. Way too artistic for him. There’s a clear divide in the film–the good scenes sound like Mankiewicz and have good direction, the bad scenes don’t sound like Mankiewicz and have poor direction. It’s just not Van Dyke’s kind of film–the ninety minutes sounds right and I can even understand some of the lack of coverage (Van Dyke shot notoriously fast)–but Manhattan Melodrama occasionally feels like The Godfather in terms of its potential and it doesn’t (or couldn’t) even acknowledge them.

It’s clearest at the end, when Gable and Powell shake hands, when it’s perfectly honest–even in this film–they need to hug. Well, it was 1934 and they couldn’t hug and that reality is probably what makes Manhattan Melodrama a doomed effort.

The film does feature some of Powell’s best acting. I’m not familiar enough with his work outside the Thin Man series and a handful of other films–all comedies–but he had a very definite ability as a dramatic actor. So, of course, most of his more important scenes are the ones poorly written. Also, the film ends abruptly, resolving itself in the alloted time (with a really, really unfortunate scene).

I’d seen Manhattan Melodrama before and I remember it being a disappointment, but certainly not as disappointing as it turned out this time. However, Gable’s performance (and Powell’s too, but not in the showy, movie star way) is incredible.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Oliver H.P. Garrett and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on a story by Arthur Caeser; director of photography, James Wong Howe; edited by Ben Lewis; produced by David O. Selznick; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Clark Gable (Blackie), William Powell (Jim), Myrna Loy (Eleanor Packer), Leo Carrillo (Father Joe), Nat Pendleton (Spud), George Sidney (Poppa Rosen), Isabel Jewell (Annabelle), Muriel Evans (Tootsie Malone), Thomas E. Jackson (Snow), Jimmy Butler (Jim as a boy) and Mickey Rooney (Blackie as a boy).


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The Fugitive (1947, John Ford)

While filming Citizen Kane, Orson Welles screened John Ford’s Stagecoach every night. He said everything one could do in film was done in Stagecoach. Maybe Ford heard about it, because The Fugitive looks like an Orson Welles film… and it’s not just the foreign (Mexico) shooting location with American actors surrounded by non-English speaking extras. The Fugitive is Ford’s oddest sound picture. Large portions of it don’t even need sound, just ambient music and noises. There are long sequences without any necessary speech, there’s even moments where dialogue is muted, overpowered by street music. During the scenes filmed in the Mexican city… you’d think it was Touch of Evil.

However, Ford is not the same kind of director as Welles. What works for Welles does not work for Ford. The Fugitive is arranged as a series of vignettes, but Ford can’t get enough oomph going to distinguish one from the other. Sure, there’s the change in sound design, but the storytelling focus doesn’t change. It’s easily Ford’s most experimental work–it’s easily one of the most experimental works I’ve seen from a Hollywood director–but the script works against it, particularly in the end, when the film’s finally turning around.

The Fugitive is set in a newly Fascist South American country where Catholic priests are hunted and executed. Henry Fonda–playing a native alongside Mexican actors–is less than stellar in the lead. First, Fonda’s a straightforward actor and The Fugitive attempts to veer. Second, and more, the fugitive is the subject of The Fugitive, not the protagonist. It’s about a handful of characters who encounter this fugitive priest, not the story of a fugitive priest encountering and reencountering a bunch of people. As far as these people go, obviously, Ward Bond is the best. He’s the only American playing an American and he’s got some great moments as a fellow fugitive. Robert Armstrong, not playing an American, is good in a blink-and-you-miss it role–his part made me think most of Welles’ style of handling cameos. The worst–in the film–is easily J. Carrol Naish, who’s in full makeup as an Indian. He’s irritating beyond belief and silly on top of it. I think he was under contract at RKO at the time. Of the Mexican actors, Pedro Armendáriz is the best, but the script fails him time and again. More than anyone else, The Fugitive is about Armendáriz and someone missed it. The other lead, Dolores del Rio, is all right, but Ford gives her these loving shots and… I don’t know, it’s hard to take her seriously with all that soft light.

Even with all the problems–it’s boring on top of it all; Ford did not know how to carry long sequences without dialogue or action–it’s still worth a look. Oddly enough, a film professor once told me it was Ford’s favorite of his films.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on a novel by Graham Greene; director of photography, Gabriel Figueroa; edited by Jack Murray; music by Richard Hageman; produced by Ford and Merian C. Cooper; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Henry Fonda (A Fugitive), Dolores del Rio (An Indian Woman), Pedro Armendáriz (A Lieutenant of Police), J. Carrol Naish (A Police Informer), Leo Carrillo (The Chief of Police), Ward Bond (El Gringo) and Robert Armstrong (A Police Sergeant).


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