Tag Archives: Robert Taylor

Murder in the Fleet (1935, Edward Sedgwick)

Murder in the Fleet is a reasonably diverting little B murder mystery; Frank Wead and Joseph Sherman’s script is almost better than the film deserves, given it doesn’t even run seventy minutes and doesn’t even bother pretending it’s got subplots. Well, outside top-billed and sort of lead Robert Taylor’s romantic troubles with blue blood Jean Parker. And then the slapstick rivalry between Nat Pendleton and Ted Healy, mostly over Una Merkel.

It’s visitor day on a Navy cruiser–the film obviously shot on one, sometimes to better effect than other times (the constant projection shots for the exterior deck scenes are flat)–but it’s also the day a new firing system needs to get installed. A top secret firing system. Taylor’s in charge of that installation, Pendleton’s on his crew. Only both men want to see their respective gals, Parker and Merkel. Thanks to the contrived presence of civilian mechanical something or other Healy (who’s had a rivalry with Pendleton for some time), Merkel ends up onboard. Parker’s there to try to get Taylor to quit his low-paying Navy job and go work for her dad. Her character’s a hideous human being, something the captain (Arthur Byron) tells her to her face in a lively scene.

There’s also a foreign dignitary visiting–Mischa Auer in semi-yellowface, an uncredited Keye Luke as his secretary–and the film throws some suspicion their way once the murders start taking place.

Donald Cook is in charge of investigating, but he’s a dipshit (and Taylor’s ostensible rival in general), so whenever there’s action to be taken, it’s on Taylor.

It’s a solid cast and the screenwriters give the supporting characters enough personality in their dialogue to make them somewhat sympathetic most of the time. As Fleet goes on, it gets more and more difficult to suspect any of the crew. Even the obvious targets. Cook, for example, would make a lot of sense personality-wise–he’s jealous no one tries to bribe him, just Taylor–but he’s got an onscreen alibi.

Taylor’s a strong lead. Byron’s great as the captain. Pendleton and Healy are fun. Pendleton and Merkel are cute. The whole thing about her throwing over Pendleton for the odious Healy… doesn’t give Merkel much credit. Parker’s successful being a terrible human being? The movie reforms her along the way, won over by the U.S. Navy, which shouldn’t a surprise given the U.S. Navy’s involvement in the making of the film.

Director Sedgwick does all right too. He’ll occasionally have some really interesting shots, then he’ll also have some really boring ones. The interesting ones tend to be in the cruiser interior, where he’s presumably constrained and has to be inventive. On deck, he’s got the same medium two shot over and over again. Or a long two shot. They’re always the same boring profile shots against projection. But when he’s actually got depth of in the shot? Usually decent. Cinematographer Milton R. Krasner does well shooting both the mediocre and the inventive, he’s more than capable.

Murder in the Fleet is never exciting (the murderer reveal is a shrug), but it’s always fine. Except Merkel taking Healy seriously as a suitor, of course. Pendleton might be a bit of a doof, but he’s an adorable doof.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edward Sedgwick; screenplay by Frank Wead and Joseph Sherman, based on a story by Sedgwick; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by Conrad A. Nervig; produced by Lucien Hubbard; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Lt. Tom Randolph), Arthur Byron (Capt. John Winslow), Nat Pendleton (‘Spud’ Burke), Ted Healy (Mac O’Neill), Jean Parker (Betty Lansing), Una Merkel (‘Toots’ Timmons), Donald Cook (Lt. Cmdr. David Tucker), Raymond Hatton (Al Duval), Jean Hersholt (Victor Hanson), Richard Tucker (Jeffries), Tom Dugan (‘Greasy’), Mischa Auer (Kamchukan Consul).


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Undercurrent (1946, Vincente Minnelli)

Undercurrent is the story of newlyweds Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor. She’s recovering from being in danger of old maidhood–despite being raised by two scientists, she’s content just cleaning up after widower father Edmund Gwenn’s home laboratory. Taylor is a captain of industry; he created some invention to help win the war. It’s love at first sight, followed by a whirlwind courtship, with marriage then taking Hepburn (and the viewer) from undefined, but quaint and snowy small town life to Washington D.C.

There she meets Taylor’s powerful friends, gets a new wardrobe, and starts hearing about Taylor’s former business partner and now missing brother. Taylor can’t talk about him without flying into a rage. Everyone else seems to think he was a miracle over for sainthood. Hepburn finds herself with an invisible third in the marriage and decides to save her new marriage, she has to help Taylor resolve the internal conflict.

Only it just keeps getting more and more mysterious and Hepburn finds herself overwhelmed.

Director Minnelli handles the film without sensationalism. It’s good direction, with a lot of attention paid to composition for Hepburn and Taylor’s relationship as it progresses through the film, but it’s not sensational. Hepburn’s not obsessed with her investigation; obsession would give her too much personality. After the setup with Gwenn and Marjorie Mann (in a fun little part), Hepburn’s character is about her reactions to Taylor. And the film is all about the viewer’s reactions to Taylor (as Hepburn observes his behavior).

Edward Chodorov’s script could be a lot better. Long portions of the film skate by just on Hepburn and the supporting cast. Chodorov wants to tease, Minnelli wants to interest. It’s like Minnelli’s too patient, too confident in being earnest; Undercurrent needs a little zest to it. Hepburn’s obsession is never an obsession, for example. A lot of big reveals just come off too thin, like if Minnelli had done straight melodrama, it could be a big moment, except the script is thriller–and shallow thriller. It’s not like Taylor’s got a better part than Hepburn. Sure, he gets more dramatic moments, but they’re dramatically and narratively acceptable, not outstanding.

After a lackluster finish to the second act, the third one starts out like it’s going to bring Undercurrent up higher than one might think it could get. Then the finale fumbles; the film can’t deliver on its promises. Chodorov’s script just gives the actors nothing. It seems like Jayne Meadows is going to have a good scene, but then it fizzles out quickly, Hepburn literally rushing from the room. Because Chodorov.

Same goes for Robert Mitchum, who plays a caretaker who reluctantly gets involved. He’s got three scenes, with the film building him up more and more, then kind of fizzling out on him too.

Taylor gets through the film mostly clean. He’s mostly either being charming, suspicious, or charming and suspicious. And he and Hepburn are quite good together.

Hepburn makes it through the film, carrying it on her shoulders. She doesn’t even stumble when Chodorov’s script throws her a third act curve and no time to recover; she, Taylor, and Minnelli get Undercurrent done.

Oh, and Johannes Brahms. Brahms is essential in getting Undercurrent to the finish. The film uses a Brahms symphony as a plot point and Herbert Stothart uses it as a theme in his score to wonderful effect.

Karl Freund’s photography is fine. Though not foreboding at all. His best moments are actually the exterior sets; he shoots those beautifully. The interiors are fine, but kind of dull. And Ferris Webster’s editing is fine too. Though he chokes a bit on the action editing. He can cut the conversations, the romance, the suspecting, but he’s lost in the action scenes.

Solid support from Leigh Whipper and Clinton Sundberg in sort of too small parts. Undercurrent is overlong, but it has too small parts for its cast. Chodorov’s plotting is goofy.

Thank goodness for Hepburn, Taylor, and Minnelli.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vincente Minnelli; screenplay by Edward Chodorov, based on a story by Thelma Strabel; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Herbert Stothart; produced by Pandro S. Berman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Katharine Hepburn (Ann Hamilton), Robert Taylor (Alan Garroway), Edmund Gwenn (Prof. ‘Dink’ Hamilton), Jayne Meadows (Sylvia Lea Burton), Leigh Whipper (George), Marjorie Main (Lucy), Clinton Sundberg (Mr. Warmsley), Dan Tobin (Prof. Joseph Bangs), and Robert Mitchum (Gordon).



Rogue (2007, Greg Mclean)

Rogue isn’t just hard to describe, it is–as I try–impossible. While the box cover (it didn’t get a U.S. theatrical release) certainly identifies it as a giant crocodile movie, it’s a lot more. Starting with that description–the giant crocodile movie–Rogue‘s already unique. It’s the only movie of its type (the larger than previously believed possible man-eating animal) where no one ever comments on the size of the animal. It’s visibly monstrous and the people are too busy being terrified–Rogue has a short, pseudo-real time present action–to ponder the animal’s dimensions.

The terror is another strange feature of Rogue. Lead–the movie opens with him, so he’s got to be the lead–Michael Vartan has the most atypical character arc I can remember. He actually assumes the traditional role of a lead female protagonist in a horror film. He kept reminding me of Jamie Lee Curtis in the third act. He spent the first two thirds terrified (though still masculine, but calm among the panicking machismo) to eventually overcome that fear with his intelligence. It works.

Writer and director Greg Mclean’s approach to the material is also what makes Rogue so peculiar. Much of Mclean’s approach is realistic. He populates the film with an interesting disaster movie cast of people–the somewhat bickering married couple, the cancer survivor and her family (including the young daughter who–shockingly–isn’t put in empty peril time and again), the annoying camera junkie and the widower out to spread his wife’s ashes. Mclean handles all of them subtly and respectfully–in some ways, it’s hard to believe the shark–sorry, croc–attack is coming.

Vartan fails in these scenes, since he’s not really on par with the excellent character actors Mclean cast as the fellow bait. Radha Mitchell does quite a bit better, but Sam Worthington’s the big surprise. Not just because Mclean’s script does very well by Worthington’s character, but also because he’s able to convey so much in a few lines. And eventually Vartan gets better.

But back to Mclean’s approach. Rogue‘s very referential to genre standards–particularly the Jaws films, especially with the introduction to the characters and then various little things–and the film is aware of them and is aware the viewer is aware of them. But there’s a barrier. The characters are never aware of their place in a film standard, but Mclean also manages to be incredibly hokey–super-earnest about the fantastic premise–and get away with it. It’s a sublime move and makes the whole experience all the more engaging. It’s impossible to dismiss the film.

Mclean’s also an amazing technical director. For the first two thirds of Rogue, every one of Mclean’s shots is perfect. He shoots with a deep focus, Will Gibson’s cinematography mesmerizingly vibrant. The film is a wonder to behold. Between Mclean’s river boat tour to the long night time sequence where the cast tries to escape the crocodile, there isn’t a single false step. Mclean knows what he’s doing.

Rogue–the title has nothing to do with the content, at least not in any of the content presented to the viewer–is a great little big movie. Understanding how it works would require a lot more viewings, because there’s just so much to the film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Greg Mclean; director of photography, Will Gibson; edited by Jason Ballantine; music by Frank Tetaz; production designer, Robert Webb; produced by Matt Hearn, David Lightfoot and Mclean; released by Roadshow Entertainment.

Starring Radha Mitchell (Kate Ryan), Michael Vartan (Pete McKell), Sam Worthington (Neil Kelly), Caroline Brazier (Mary Ellen), Stephen Curry (Simon), Celia Ireland (Gwen), John Jarratt (Russell), Heather Mitchell (Elizabeth), Geoff Morrell (Allen), Damien Richardson (Collin), Robert Taylor (Everett Kennedy), Mia Wasikowska (Sherry) and Barry Otto (Merv).


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The Last Hunt (1956, Richard Brooks)

Here’s a strange one. I just had to look to see where it fell in careers, Richard Brooks’s and Robert Taylor’s, because it’s… well, it’s something else. It’s sort of early in Brooks’s directing career, before he took off, and it’s at the very end of Taylor’s MGM contract. Taylor plays a villain in it. And Brooks handles his villainy in a singular way–he never lets anyone get away from it. Some of the scenes play like a hostage situation, but hero Stewart Granger can always leave. Lloyd Nolan and Russ Tamblyn play skinners to Granger and Taylor’s buffalo hunters and they too can leave. Even “Indian girl” (literally, the character has no other name) Debra Paget could, until a point, leave. But no one does. Taylor holds them–and the viewer–captive.

At a certain point–the film gets off to a rocky start, with Brooks having the most trouble establishing the character relationships effectively–it becomes clear it’s not about watching Taylor’s crazed gunslinger turned buffalo hunter (he’s an Indian War veteran, clearly suffering from the experience) redeem himself, but about seeing if the rest of the cast can survive knowing him. And Taylor’s performance might be his best. Once it becomes clear he’s the villain, he’s amazing. Absolutely terrifying, with all the trappings of a tragic character, but he’s so evil, it’s impossible to feel any sympathy.

Brooks juggles two big issues (The Last Hunt certainly signifies, the same year as The Searchers no less, the developing consciousness of the American Western… it also shares a theme with The Searchers, which is a little odd)–buffalo hunting and racism. The two wear heavy on an already somber Granger. Granger, second-billed to Taylor here, gives a great performance too. Brooks doesn’t deal much in subtext here and Granger’s perfect at dealing with conspicuous unrest (even though a lot of his internal turmoil is silent).

The rest of the cast, except Paget, is fantastic. Brooks’s direction is excellent, as is (after the first act) his dialogue. He has some problems with the day-for-night shooting and some rear screen projection, but it’s forgivable. Brooks really makes something great here and it’s a quiet (even though it’s Cinemascope) mid-1950s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Brooks; screenplay by Brooks, based on the novel by Milton Lott; director of photography, Russell Harlan; edited by Ben Lewis; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Stewart Granger (Sandy McKenzie), Robert Taylor (Charlie Gilson), Lloyd Nolan (Woodfoot), Debra Paget (Indian girl), Russ Tamblyn (Jimmy O’Brien), Constance Ford (Peg) and Joe De Santis (Ed Black).


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