Tag Archives: Ruth Hussey

The Great Gatsby (1949, Elliot Nugent)

The Great Gatsby can get away with a lot thanks to lead Alan Ladd, much of it related to the adaptation. Gatsby, the film, does open with “narrator” Macdonald Carey—set in the present, with Carey reminiscing on the grand old Jazz Age. Of course, the Jazz Age looks a little different in Carey’s memories because the movie’s post-Code and it wasn’t allowed to actually recreate the Jazz Age styles. The lack of style accuracy doesn’t matter much; the parties aren’t important. Ladd’s Gatsby is a quiet, contemplative wallflower; see, the screenplay (by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum) gives Ladd a sympathetic backstory. He only became a bootlegger because some rich widow (an oddly uncredited Carole Mathews) screws him out of his inheritance; her much-older husband (Henry Hull in a really fun performance) saw potential in Ladd and wanted to give him a leg up. Then, of course, there was the War. Ladd’s Gatsby is a war hero.

It’s before the War and after the old man mentorship Ladd meets Kansas City socialite Betty Field. Ladd’s just an enlisted man, bound for Europe and the trenches, but it’s Kansas City and he can get into the parties in his uniform. The flashback to their meeting doesn’t come until the film’s introduced both Ladd and Field in the present. Well, 1928 flashback present anyway. It adds something to both of them. Even though Ladd’s had a bunch of personality in the film so far, this tender side of him—he’s not violent in the present, but he’s got to be capable of violence—but this version of him with Field doesn’t have that capacity yet. And Field has zero personality in the present, so any helps.

At its best, The Great Gatsby is a lousy novel adaptation but a good “gangster goes straight” vehicle for Ladd. He does a vague tough guy routine with everyone until Field comes along and then he’s a sap. What’s so impressive about Ladd’s performance is he’s able to moon over Field even though they haven’t got any chemistry together. You think Field’s just incapable of it, but then she plays really well with estranged husband Barry Sullivan; odd because Field and Ladd are running away that point, when she and Sullivan finally click, performance-wise. Because the film’s not really set up to be the story of the characters from the novel, it’s far more interested in Ladd’s bootlegging days, with Ed Begley as his crotchety older partner and Elisha Cook Jr. as his sidekick (a kid who Ladd saved in the War and went with him from medals of valor to killing rival gangs). It’s more interested in the flashbacks to Ladd with Hull and Mathews. The screenplay feels looser in those scenes, like it’s not trying to hit a particular beat.

The two big problems with the film are the main supporting actors—Field, Carey, Sullivan, Ruth Hussey—and the direction. Nugent’s never quite good enough to do anything with the film. He does an adequate job, but he’s always zigging when he should zag. He’s got these one-shot close-ups he uses in the middle of conversations and they always kill the scene. Maybe some of it’s on Ellsworth Hoagland’s, but most of it’s on Nugent. He’s not interested in what the characters have to say and given how talky things get in the final third… it hurts the film.

Now the cast. So Ladd’s great. He showed up to work and he does. He gives Gatsby two hundred percent, which makes up for a lot, but still isn’t enough. Because the supporting cast is a stinker. Sullivan’s the best, but only because he occasionally is able to roll the thin characterization into a hybrid caricature—angry jock blue-blood unfaithful jilted husband—and find some true connection. But he’s not any good, not really. He’s able to overcome. Meanwhile Hussey tries her damndest and never makes it work but points for trying. Carey and Field are miscast and poorly directed. Field’s got no charisma. It might be some of the Code issues, it might be the script, it’s definitely partially on Nugent. But Field’s demure in the wrong way, especially given she’s got such a big part.

Carey’s pseudo-earnest, but he’s not ambitious in his performance. It needs some ambition. Some energy.

Again, Ladd can carry it through—the film’s only ninety minutes—but it’s a shame, even with all the constraints, the movie doesn’t have better direction, better casting; Ladd deserves more than a compromised production.

Oh, speaking of compromise, nice photography from John F. Seitz. He’s got to work with a lot of composites, some awkward framing, but he establishes a rather solid palette for the film. Just wish Nugent where a little better.

Gatsby’s a missed opportunity.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Elliott Nugent; screenplay by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum, based on Owen Davis’s play of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Ellsworth Hoagland; music by Robert Emmett Dolan; produced by Maibaum; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alan Ladd (Gatsby), Betty Field (Daisy), Macdonald Carey (Nick), Ruth Hussey (Jordan Baker), Barry Sullivan (Tom), Elisha Cook Jr. (Klipspringer), Ed Begley (Lupus), Howard Da Silva (Wilson), Henry Hull (Dan Cody), Carole Mathews (Ella Cody), and Shelley Winters (Myrtle).



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Another Thin Man (1939, W.S. Van Dyke)

Another Thin Man is a peculiar blend of old dark house mystery and the Thin Man style of murder mystery. Most of the first half of the film is the old dark house mystery, with healthy doses of humor thrown.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s screenplay brings William Powell and Myrna Loy to New York from elsewhere, stopping off in the city long enough to establish them having a baby and to set up some events for the finish, before sending them out to Long Island. Once there, Powell gets roped into helping C. Aubrey Smith, who’s had some murder threats against him.

The film has three distinct phases. That first phase, the continuation of the Thin Man series, emphasizing the relationship between Powell and Loy, then that old dark house phase. Once the final phase comes around–when the action moves back to New York–the film starts to feel a little long. Supporting cast members haven’t just been dropping like flies, new ones keep getting introduced.

Director Van Dyke doesn’t really make an effort to unify the film’s tone. In the city, it feels one way, on Long Island, it feels like an entirely different picture. The script hurries events too much, never taking time to develop anything.

Sadly, the primary supporting cast lacks standouts–Harry Bellaver, Abner Biberman and Marjorie Main are the strongest and they’re in small parts.

Weak editing from Fredrick Y. Smith too.

More of the film works out than not; its missed opportunities are easily forgotten.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on a story by Dashiell Hammett; directors of photography, William H. Daniels and Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Fredrick Y. Smith; music by Edward Ward; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick), Myrna Loy (Nora), Virginia Grey (Lois), Otto Kruger (Van Slack), C. Aubrey Smith (Colonel MacFay), Ruth Hussey (Dorothy Waters), Nat Pendleton (Lieutenant Guild), Patric Knowles (Dudley Horn), Tom Neal (Freddie), Phyllis Gordon (Mrs. Bellam), Sheldon Leonard (Phil Church), Don Costello (‘Diamond Back’ Vogel), Harry Bellaver (‘Creeps’), Muriel Hutchison (Smitty), Abner Biberman (‘Dum-Dum’), Marjorie Main (Mrs. Dolley) and William A. Poulsen (Nickie Jr.).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | THE THIN MAN.

The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor)

George Cukor must have cheated on his wife at every opportunity, given The Philadelphia Story‘s (and The Women before it) rewarding of unfaithful husbands. I watched Philadelphia Story on a lark–I’d never seen it, but had heard of it, and it came up this week. Holy shit–Cukor was gay! I just read it. Huh….

Umm. So, anyway, the movie’s okay. It has a few particularly good scenes, mostly between Cary Grant and James Stewart. Grant was, at this point in his career, at leading status and rarely ever had friends in films (that I’ve seen), only love interests. So seeing him have a friendship is nice. The scenes between Katharine Hepburn and Grant range greatly in quality, mostly because the film is a very strict adaptation of the play. You can see it being performed on stage while watching and that’s never good (Cukor’s other films that I’ve seen–The Women and Dinner at Eight–are both adaptations that suffer the same problem). He does have some interesting composition at times, Cukor does, however. He actually uses soft background on Cary Grant, something I’d never seen before.

The acting ranges too. Grant’s good once his character gets established, Stewart’s okay but miscast, and Hepburn… well, she doesn’t have much to work with. The characters are really thin, which is Stewart’s problem, and Hepburn forces something out of it, but can’t make the character consistent throughout (the script’s at fault for that too–the groundwork for the ending is laid in the last fifteen minutes). The best performance is from the kid sister, Virginia Weidler, who’s just having fun. Similarly, Roland Young is quite good. Ruth Hussey–as another infidelity forgiver–is given an impossible character and she doesn’t have the chops to do anything with it.

The Philadelphia Story is a “class” comedy, where members of the working class mix with the members of the upper class. I’ve never labeled a film or story that one before–though I’m familiar with other folks using the term–and this film is the first time it’s been appropriate… because the makers wanted the audience to label it as such. (I think there might be some homage to it in a scene of Caddyshack II, actually). It’s unintelligible and unbelievable at its best–though still fun thanks to Grant and his chemistry with his co-stars–and propaganda at its worst.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by Philip Barry; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Frank Sullivan; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cary Grant (C.K. Dexter Haven), Katharine Hepburn (Tracy Lord), James Stewart (Macaulay Connor), Ruth Hussey (Elizabeth Imbrie), John Howard (George Kittredge), Roland Young (Uncle Willie), John Halliday (Seth Lord), Mary Nash (Margaret Lord), Virginia Weidler (Dinah Lord), Henry Daniell (Sidney Kidd), Lionel Pape (Edward) and Rex Evans (Thomas).