Tag Archives: Ray Collins

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, Orson Welles)

Unfortunately, I feel the need to address some of the behind the scenes aspects of The Magnificent Ambersons. Not because I plan on talking about them, but because director Welles’s career is filled with a lack of control. There are always questions–what did editor Robert Wise do on his own, what did he do with Welles’s input. With Ambersons, one can get lost in the possibility. But the reality is more than strong enough on its own.

With Ambersons, Welles creates a nightmare. He creates a nightmare of a child in the humorously awful, spoiled little rich kid (a wonderful, uncredited Bobby Cooper), who becomes a nightmare of a young man (Tim Holt in a phenomenal performance). The thing about Holt’s character, who negatively impacts everyone around him in one way or another including himself, is he doesn’t change. He just has a certain set of skills, he applies them to all situations without regard to whether they’re appropriate for those situations. Welles doesn’t care if the audience is sympathetic to Holt, he cares if they’re interested. Holt–and the Magnificent Ambersons exist regardless of audience sympathy; they even have a haunted mansion to loiter around.

Because even studio meddling and Wise’s ego can’t alter the “in camera” aspects of Ambersons. There’s an amazing mansion set where Holt terrorizes his elders. There’s Stanley Cortez’s gorgeous photography. There’s the acting. And, frankly, some of the editing is so obviously under Welles’s instruction, especially in the first act. Ambersons runs under ninety minutes and covers a decade and a half. It’s mostly told in summary, with actual scenes left to haunt the characters and audience alike. It’s a weighty film; director Welles narrates it himself, applying further pressure to the audiences’ shoulders. It’s got a perfect narrative distance. Was that distance Welles’s intention or the result of meddling? Who knows.

Wonderful supporting performances from Ray Collins and Richard Bennett. Dolores Costello is great as Holt’s mother, Agnes Moorehead’s great as his aunt. Joseph Cotten’s great as Holt’s love interest’s father. Cotten is also Costello’s love interest, which what all the drama is about. Anne Baxter plays Cotten’s daughter. She has the most important role in the entire film (outside Moorehead, who has to humanize Holt). Baxter has to be believable as the object of Holt’s affection. It works, thanks to Baxter, Holt and Welles, but it’s an achievement. It isn’t about Baxter being appealing, it’s about Holt being monstrous.

The Magnificent Ambersons, in its under ninety minute runtime, offers somewhere around eighty-five minutes of perfect filmmaking. The other three or four minutes, meddled or not, have perfect acting and excellent studio filmmaking. It may have a haunted history, but it’s appropriate. The Magnificent Ambersons is all about being haunted after all.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on the novel by Booth Tarkington; director of photography, Stanley Cortez; edited by Robert Wise; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Tim Holt (George Minafer), Dolores Costello (Isabel Amberson Minafer), Joseph Cotten (Eugene Morgan), Anne Baxter (Lucy Morgan), Agnes Moorehead (Fanny Minafer), Ray Collins (Jack Amberson), Don Dillaway (Wilbur Minafer) and Richard Bennett (Major Amberson).


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Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)

In Citizen Kane, director Welles ties everything together–not just the story (he does wrap the narrative visually), but also how the filmmaking relates to the film’s content. Kane’s story can’t be told any other way. That precision–whether it’s in the summary sequences or in how scenes cut together–is absolutely necessary to not just keep the viewer engaged, but to keep them over-engaged. Even with the conclusion, where Welles reveals the film’s “solution” (quote unquote); it doesn’t resolve that mystery in a timely fashion–Welles drags it out to get the viewer thinking, questioning. Welles puts together this perfect film and then asks the viewer to wonder whether or not it was all worth it. Not just his making it, but the viewer’s watching it.

The little moments in the film–Welles gets in these subtle things with melodramatic fireworks going off in the background, whether its Dorothy Comingore’s humanity or Everett Sloane’s wistfulness or “protagonist” William Alland’s frustration–remind the viewer the story’s still about people. And why shouldn’t it be? Most scenes in Kane feature two to three working characters. Sometimes Welles has people in the background, sometimes he doesn’t. The little moments in big scenes–like one between Joseph Cotten and Sloane during a party–are often more devastating than the little scenes.

Welles unforgivingly asks a lot of the viewer. He opens the film with a complex fading sequence to bring the viewer into the world of Kane, then abruptly pulls the film out of itself, into a newsreel. And for almost twenty minutes, Welles barely gives himself any screen time. It’s always such a big deal that first time Welles lets Kane have an audible line in the newsreel.

All that control isn’t to prime the viewer, isn’t to get him or her desperately wondering about Rosebud, all that control is because the film needs it. Kane spans forty-some years in under two hours. Far under two hours if you don’t count the newsreel “first act.” When Welles establishes his character as an older man, an atypical protagonist–Kane’s infinitely sympathetic while never likable, though Welles knows his charm goes a long way in lightening a heavy scene–he does so without hostility. Nowhere in Kane does Welles play for the audience, but he also doesn’t artificially distance them. The opening does, quite literally, guide the viewer into the film.

Kane is an unsentimental film about a sentimental subject and Welles does wonders with that disconnect.

Comingore probably gives the film’s best performance. Welles is amazing and mesmerizing, but so much of the second half has to do with how he plays off her, she’s essential. Of course, there aren’t any merely good performances–even Erskine Sanford, in the closest thing to a comedy relief role, is great. Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Paul Stewart, George Coulouris–all fantastic.

And Joseph Cotten as the film’s “good guy?” He’s marvelous.

Impeccable Gregg Toland photography, great Bernard Herrmann music.

500 words aren’t enough.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Orson Welles; written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Robert Wise; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane), Joseph Cotten (Jedediah Leland), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander Kane), Ruth Warrick (Emily Monroe Norton Kane), Everett Sloane (Mr. Bernstein), George Coulouris (Walter Parks Thatcher), Agnes Moorehead (Mary Kane), Harry Shannon (Jim Kane), Paul Stewart (Raymond), Ray Collins (James W. Gettys), Erskine Sanford (Herbert Carter) and William Alland (Jerry Thompson).


My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon 2

THIS POST IS PART OF THE MY FAVORITE CLASSIC MOVIE BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RICK OF CLASSIC FILM AND TV CAFE


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The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947, George S. Kaufman)

The Senator Was Indiscreet is a fun enough little film. It’s little for a few reasons; sadly, the primary one is the budget. Enough of the film takes place in William Powell’s hotel room, one would think it’s a play adaptation.

The story is more ambitious than the finished film can realize. Powell’s a dimwit senator who lucks into being a Presidential contender (thanks to Peter Lind Hayes’s overzealous publicity man). Things go well for Powell, until his diary goes missing, leading to a panic.

Powell’s hilarious; he’s very much against type as the titular senator, who bumbles into things occasionally but also seems aware of his corruption. Indiscreet excels at being universal–it’s not about either party, it’s just about American politics in general. It’s sort of timeless, actually.

Second billed Ella Raines plays the one reporter Powell can’t dupe (and Hayes’s girlfriend) and, except for having almost nothing to do until the last third, is quite good. Ray Collins is great as the party man who has to deal with Powell. Hayes’s performance is more appealing than good.

Arleen Whelan has the other primary supporting role and she brings nothing to it. It might just be because the film’s too constrained to give her character proper treatment.

Director Kaufman tries hard with the reduced budget, but he can only do so much. The production values sometimes injure his inventiveness but he does a fine job keeping the picture moving.

Indiscreet‘s a good time…. with a great final joke.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George S. Kaufman; screenplay by Charles MacArthur, based on a story by Edwin Lanham; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by Sherman A. Rose; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by Nunnally Johnson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring William Powell (Senator Melvin G. Ashton), Peter Lind Hayes (Lew Gibson), Ella Raines (Poppy McNaughton), Ray Collins (Houlihan), Arleen Whelan (Valerie Shepherd), Allen Jenkins (Farrell), Charles D. Brown (Dinty), Whit Bissell (Oakes) and Hans Conried (The Bolshevik).


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The Trans-Atlantic Mystery (1932, Joseph Henabery)

The Trans-Atlantic Mystery is an early thirties mystery reduced to two reels. Gone is personality for the protagonist, gone is any humor between protagonist and sidekick; forget about a romantic interest or even any actual investigation.

Instead, it’s some scenes of criminal plotting, some violent activities, introductions to the suspects and then a little bit of suspense.

And, until the finale—when the detectives catch the criminal—it works really well.

But Trans-Atlantic has the benefit of good production values (though director Henabery is mediocre) and some excellent performances. Ray Collins is a vicious criminal who cajoles a victim’s valet into his criminal enterprise. Walter Kingsford is great as the valet (after the first “act,” he has more to do than Collins).

As the detectives, John Hamilton and Donald Meek are too tepid. They—and the rushed resolution—ruin the finale.

It’s too bad, it was rather neat.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Henabery; screenplay by Burnet Hershey, based on a story by S.S. Van Dine; director of photography, Edwin B. DuPar; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ray Collins (Waite), Walter Kingsford (Dodge), Betty Pierce (Daisy), John Hamilton (Inspector Carr), Donald Meek (Dr. Crabtree) and Harry T. Morey (Ship’s Captain).


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