Tag Archives: Otto Preminger

The Moon Is Blue (1953, Otto Preminger)

William Holden never seems out of place in The Moon Is Blue, but occasionally the film seems out of place having William Holden in its lead role. He’s not mundane, he’s a star. The film isn’t about the mundane but it needs to acknowledge the possibility of it. Holden ain’t it.

He’s top-billed but not the protagonist. At the start, it plays like he might be, but no. The protagonist is Maggie McNamara. The film just follows Holden because–star wattage or not–he’s a lot easier to figure out than McNamara. The film covers the first twenty or so hours of them knowing one another (it’s a play adaptation). In that time, Holden picks up McNamara at the Empire State Building, they have dinner at his apartment, she meets his neighbors (David Niven and Dawn Addams), her father (Tom Tully) punches Holden out, Holden watches her on TV (she’s an aspiring actress, he’s a successful but not famous architect). A lot happens in the film’s ninety-nine minute runtime.

Being a stage adaptation, there are limited locations. About seven total. Most of the film takes place in Holden’s apartment, where he and McNamara stop off before an impromptu dinner date. They get there by cab, which is when Moon starts forecasting its twist. McNamara is going to talk real–Moon was infamous at time of release for the onscreen use of the word, “virgin”–and she’s fairly aware of what Holden (and then Niven) have in mind for her.

So a lot of Moon Is Blue is McNamara saying something honest and unvarnished to Holden or Niven (sometimes both) and the men reacting. It plays out, usually, in an approximation of real-time. Holden goes into the evening aware of McNamara’s disinterest in being seduced, Niven comes into it wondering (but very gently) if he can get around it. Age also plays a factor. Twenty-two-year-old McNamara wants a middle-aged man; thirty-year-old Holden (well, thirty-five playing thirty) isn’t old enough. Forty-one-year-old Niven (actually forty-three) more fits the bill, but by the time she meets him, she’s smitten with Holden.

Of course, Holden’s just broken Niven’s daughter’s heart. Addams is the daughter. She and Holden’s failed romance subplot gets introduced quietly in the first act, but really plays through in the second. Second act is where Moon gives up the pretense of not being McNamara’s movie.

She’s excellent. The part’s quirky and McNamara keeps up with it, always ready for Holden or Niven’s reactions. Holden’s good but his part is thin. Thinner than Niven’s, who’s just a rich, lovable lech. Moon stops Holden’s character development at the end of the first act (even when there are later revelations, they don’t turn out to be consequential at all). It’s not his story, it can’t pretend to be. And Holden keeps getting better, the less there is for him to do. Wonky third act material or not, Holden’s great in it.

Niven’s hilarious. He doesn’t have much character development, but Niven’s performance is so loud it both doesn’t matter and seems like there’s more depth to him.

Addams is basically caricature. She’s fine. Great costumes for her (courtesy Don Loper). While her character is important to the narrative, it’s not a big part for Addams. Intentionally, the costumes end up doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

F. Hugh Herbert’s screenplay (from his stage play) is good. The dialogue is better than the plotting, which falls apart in the third act.

Preminger’s direction is superb with the actors, strong with the pacing, troublesome with the composition. He’ll compose these excellent two or three shots, in medium or long, but his close-ups are dull. It works because the performances are so good, it just doesn’t excel. Much in Moon Is Blue excels. Preminger doesn’t keep pace, stylistically.

Even with the third act hiccups and the bland close-ups, The Moon Is Blue is still an excellent comedy. McNamara, Holden, and Niven do no wrong.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Otto Preminger; screenplay by F. Hugh Herbert, based on their play; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Ronald Sinclair; music by Herschel Burke Gilbert; produced by Preminger and Herbert; released by United Artists.

Starring Maggie McNamara (Patty O’Neill), William Holden (Donald Gresham), David Niven (David Slater), Dawn Addams (Cynthia Slater), and Tom Tully (Michael O’Neill).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 3RD ANNUAL GOLDEN BOY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MICHAELA OF LOVE LETTERS TO OLD HOLLYWOOD, EMILY OF THE FLAPPER DAME, AND VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


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Laura (1944, Otto Preminger)

Laura is a film with multiple twists and a brilliant screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt but none of it would work without Preminger’s direction of his cast. Preminger’s direction, in terms of composition, is fantastic. Thanks in no small part to cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, every moment of Laura looks wonderful. Preminger has a fabulous way of positioning his actors, particularly Dana Andrews in the first half of the film, to enhance the performance. It’s not quite a trick, though it is separate from the other way Preminger directs the cast.

The film is able to get through its twists and turns, which–with a major exception–are entirely about the characters, not just because of how the actors succeed in those scenes but because of how they, and Preminger, have established their characters throughout. It’s also where the script comes in–for example, Laura works because Andrews and Clifton Webb bond. With the beautifully cut flashback sequence introducing the viewer (and Andrews) to Gene Tierney’s eponymous character, through Webb’s perspective–Louis R. Loeffler is the editor; don’t want to forget him–Preminger is able to sublimely arrange the characters for later revelations. Webb and Andrews play wonderfully off one another. Webb’s erudite snob and Andrews’s mildly laconic police detective are great together. The script goes for gimmicky dialogue; Preminger and the actors sell it thanks to a self-awareness.

Because, even though it’s a mystery, Laura needs a certain amount of melodramatic flair to succeed. David Raksin’s lush, emotional score, along with rainswept New York streets–not to mention the wonderful sets–Laura is far from realistic. Preminger never lets it go too far though. The film runs less than ninety minutes, with it changing tone fifty minutes in; that second half, very different from the first, still occupies the same spaces. The film’s exquisitely constructed.

The film’s major twist is incredibly melodramatic in its plot implications. All that careful construction is what makes it work so well.

And, like I said, that careful construction has to do with the actors as well. Like when Tierney and Andrews get together, their chemistry is perfect. Scene after scene, even as their relationship develops, the chemistry is precise. It’s a little more obvious–as Andrews moons over her–but it’s the same careful way Preminger established Andrews and Webb’s relationship.

All the acting in the film is excellent. Webb’s the best, just because. Andrews and Tierney are both great. Andrews gets to have more fun at the beginning of the film, but it’s only fair because co-star Vincent Price doesn’t get to have much fun until near the end of the film. Price’s good, Judith Anderson’s good. No one else got billed, but Dorothy Adams deserved it as Tierney’s maid.

Laura’s a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Otto Preminger; screenplay by Jay Drawler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt, based on the novel by Vera Caspary; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by David Raksin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dana Andrews (Det. Lt. Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell) and Dorothy Adams (Bessie).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE GENE TIERNEY 95TH BIRTHDAY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY SIMOA OF THE ELLIE BADGE.


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The Man with the Golden Arm (1955, Otto Preminger)

There are a few problems with The Man with the Golden Arm. It’s hard to think of the film actually having any defects, since it’s such a brilliantly made motion picture. It was one of the first Preminger films I saw and was I ever surprised when they all weren’t so beautifully put together. The film’s shot on this magnificent set–it’s a block and a quarter maybe (shades of Eyes Wide Shut in terms of the control Preminger could get from it)–and Preminger’s camera floats around it; it’s impossible to think the camera’s on a pre-laid track. Then there’s the music–Elmer Bernstein’s score is always fantastic, always right on, whether he’s dealing with addiction, human regard or suspense. Or the script–there’s amazing dialogue throughout the entire film.

I think this viewing must have been my third of the film and, again, I had the sensation at the open–it had to be better than I remembered, just look at that opening shot. But as the running time passes, the problems become clear. It’s unbelievable Frank Sinatra’s character would marry Eleanor Parker’s because he crippled her in a car accident. It’s not unbelievable he would have been torn up about it, but the film directly says he only married her because he felt responsible. The character doesn’t play that way–not with him becoming a heroin addict and flushing everything but that responsibility away. It could play–he’s escaping into the heroin–but the script doesn’t set it up. It’s almost implied in some dialogue (the film opens after Sinatra’s clean following six months of rehab); it’s not enough.

Second big problem–Kim Novak’s a together young woman who can’t find a better job than being a friendly, paid patron at a burlesque parlor. Or whatever the women who have drinks with and smile at the men are called. There’s got to be a word for it. It simply does not work. She’s too obviously a function, too obviously a cog in the eventual dramatic wheel. It’s possible her character in the source novel had a less censor-friendly profession, but it doesn’t work in the film. She’s practically a saint (she only completes one miracle in the film).

The acting is fantastic–Parker’s amazing as the manipulating, wheelchair-bound wife. Novak’s great. Darren McGavin and Robert Strauss are excellent villains. McGavin would give the film’s most astounding performance–of pure, friendly evil–if it weren’t for Sinatra. Everything Sinatra does in the film, down to chewing on a cheese sandwich, is magnificent. Arnold Stang makes a great sidekick for him too.

The biggest problem with The Man with the Golden Arm is its cleanliness. It’s a long film–the set makes it feel like a stage play, as do the lengthy conversations; time passes sort of just passes, a day here, a week there. It invites the viewer to think about what Sinatra’s doing during these stretches, but then it goes and makes it impossible (he and Parker can’t have a single calm moment together). There’s so much discussion about upcoming, scheduled events, it’s hard to remember they haven’t already happened. Preminger needed to apply some of his directorial discipline on the script. By the time it reaches the inevitable–from the third or fourth scene–conclusion, it’s hard to remember the film isn’t already over.

But Sinatra’s simply amazing. I mean, it’s got a lot of other great acting–Parker, Novak, and McGavin–but it’s inconceivable Sinatra’s not better regarded for his acting skills.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Otto Preminger; screenplay by Walter Newman and Lewis Meltzer, based on the novel by Nelson Algren; director of photography, Sam Leavitt; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Joseph C. Wright; released by United Artists.

Starring Frank Sinatra (Frankie Machine), Eleanor Parker (Zosch Machine), Kim Novak (Molly), Arnold Stang (Sparrow), Darren McGavin (Louie), Robert Strauss (Schwiefka), John Conte (Drunky), Doro Merande (Vi), George E. Stone (Sam Markette), George Mathews (Williams), Leonid Kinskey (Dominiwski) and Emile Meyer (Detective Bednar).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.