Tag Archives: Robert Cummings

The Great American Beauty Contest (1973, Robert Day)

Trying to figure out where The Great American Beauty Contest stands on the women’s lib movement is a headache. Actually, the whole thing is a little misogynist but not for the obvious reason–not because the titular contest’s participants are being objectified (I doubt director Day could competently objectify anything or anyone), but because it presents all the women as shallow enough to want to be part of such a ruse.

Oh, Stanford Whitmore’s script forgives a couple of them. Tracy Reed is all right because she’s black and she’s doing it to set an example. And Kathrine Baumann’s okay too. She’s just too dumb to be anything but sincere.

But Whitmore successfully demonizes Farrah Fawcett (and not for her terrible performance) and Susan Damante (she’s atrocious too, actually worse than Fawcett) so well… I spent the big reveal hoping neither of them won. Whitmore’s dialogue’s terrible, Day’s a bad director, but together they do manage to get some kind of investment from the viewer.

Maybe it’s because there are some decent elements. Eleanor Parker’s troubled contest organizer has a good arc. Robert Cummings is surprisingly sturdy as her sidekick. Best has to be Louis Jordan, who’s utterly odious and gleefully so. Jordan and Parker make the film worthwhile. Well, as worthwhile as it gets.

Another big problem is Whitmore’s artificial structure. He treats it like a two parter–Fawcett gets the first half’s big story, Damante the second.

Aside from occasional good performances, Beauty’s best as a strange artifact.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Day; written by Stanford Whitmore; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by Frank Capacchione, James Mitchell and Bruce Schoengarth; music by Kenneth Wannberg; produced by Everett Chambers; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Peggy Lowery), Robert Cummings (Dan Carson), Louis Jourdan (Ralph Dupree), JoAnna Cameron (Gloria Rockwell), Farrah Fawcett (T.L. Dawson), Tracy Reed (Pamela Parker), Kathrine Baumann (Melinda Wilson), Susan Damante (Angelique) and Larry Wilcox (Joe Bunch).


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The Devil and Miss Jones (1941, Sam Wood)

The Devil and Miss Jones has three or four stages in the narrative, but director Sam Wood basically has three. The first phase–covering the first two narrative stages–feature this singular composition technique. For close-ups, Wood either gives his actors a lot of headroom (fifty percent of the frame) or almost none. Harry Stradling Sr. shoots Jones and the photography’s magnificent, so both type of shot looks great, but with the department store setting, the extra headroom shots are always very full. It makes the film extremely visually distinctive.

In the second two phases of Wood’s direction, he changes it up a little, but retains the deliberate close-ups. Jean Arthur (who gets top billing) doesn’t even become the protagonist until about the halfway point; the close-ups make the handoff–from Charles Coburn to her–work beautifully.

The film has six essentials–Wood, Arthur, Coburn, Robert Cummings as Arthur’s beau, Spring Byington as her friend, and–possibly most importantly–writer Norman Krasna. Krasna’s script for Jones is a masterpiece, in plotting, in pacing, in every possible way. He even pulls off a relatively awkward finish.

It’s a pro-worker social comedy, with Coburn a fat cat who decides to spy on his employees to sabotage their union organizing. Arthur, Cummings and Byington are the employees he dupes. Great interactions with all the principals, obviously with Arthur and Coburn, but there’s a lot of nice moments with Arthur and Cummings and Coburn and Byington too.

Jones’s pure magic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Wood; written by Norman Krasna; director of photography, Harry Stradling Sr.; edited by Sherman Todd; production designer, William Cameron Menzies; produced by Frank Ross; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Charles Coburn (Merrick), Jean Arthur (Mary), Robert Cummings (Joe), Spring Byington (Elizabeth), S.Z. Sakall (George), Edmund Gwenn (Hooper), Walter Kingsford (Allison), Montagu Love (Harrison), Richard Carle (Oliver), Charles Waldron (Needles), Edwin Maxwell (Withers), William Demarest (First Detective), Regis Toomey (1st Policeman) and Edward McNamara (Police Sergeant).


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