Tag Archives: Ruth Roman

Champion (1949, Mark Robson)

Champion is a boxing picture. It ends with a big fight, as boxing pictures are wont to do. However, as the fight starts and the film cuts between all the people Kirk Douglas’s Champion has wrong, the film isn’t asking the viewer to root for the protagonist. Douglas is a bad guy. The entire third act is about how Douglas is a bad guy. He’s an even worse guy than the film’s been establishing for almost the entire runtime.

Except it’s a boxing picture. And, at some point during that big, final fight, without the film even doing anything to make Douglas sympathetic, he gets to be the hero again. He gets to be the champion. It’s one of the film’s most successful moments, thanks to director Robson, photographer Franz Planer, editor Harry W. Gerstad, and Douglas.

Unfortunately, it can’t save the film, which meanders through most of the third act after a disappointing second. Robson and screenwriter Carl Foreman are able to keep up some energy as Douglas fights his way to the top–after romancing, marrying, and abandoning Ruth Roman–but eventually it runs out of steam. There’s a hint at a love triangle between Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, and Lola Albright. Instead, there are some decent scenes to avoid having to pursue that storyline. Almost everything in the second half of the film seems like a contrivance to position the film. Nothing Douglas does has any weight or even consequence.

Some of the problem are the players in the second half. Arthur Kennedy is his brother. Kennedy, walking with a cane, is the weaker one. He spends some time as Douglas’s conscience, but as the film goes on, gets less and less to do. Foreman’s script is interested in tearing away Douglas’s conscience–maybe even Douglas’s humanity; it just does so with some thin characters. Maxwell’s just a groupie, even though she shows business acumen. Albright’s the wife of Douglas’s manager (Luis Van Rooten in a thankless cuckold role); she starts with some depth, but then loses it due to Douglas’s animal magnetism.

And Douglas is fantastic, even when it’s obvious his ego’s in the way. He gets a monologue at the end, which Robson doesn’t know how to integrate into the rest of the film, though he and Planer do a fine enough job shooting it. Great editing again from Gerstad, who also gets to do a couple fantastic montage sequences. But Douglas is a despicable (and worse), utterly compelling protagonist. During the final fight, as it becomes clear he’s going to get the sympathy, warranted or not, requested or not, I actually resented the film a little. It’s so effectively made, it knowingly overrides the script’s intention.

Then Douglas has his well-acted but utterly misplaced monologue and all the problems of the third act catch up during the lull and it goes out on a forced note.

Fine support from Kennedy, Roman, and Albright. Maxwell just doesn’t get enough to do. Paul Stewart is great as Douglas’s trainer; Robson even lets him move the present action along three years with a voiceover in the montage sequence. It’s great stuff.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s music gets to be a little much at time, but it’s always accompanying technical success so it gets a pass for the most part. Maybe if the theme weren’t so cloying.

Champion’s superbly acted, superbly made. It’s just not superbly written. Something–Douglas’s ego, Foreman’s plotting–got in the way.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by Carl Foreman, based on a story by Ring Lardner; director of photography, Franz Planer; edited by Harry W. Gerstad; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; production designer, Rudolph Sternad; produced by Stanley Kramer; released by United Artists.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Midge Kelly), Arthur Kennedy (Connie Kelly), Paul Stewart (Tommy Haley), Ruth Roman (Emma Bryce), Marilyn Maxwell (Grace Diamond), Lola Albright (Palmer Harris), Luis Van Rooten (Jerry Harris), Harry Shannon (Lew Bryce), John Daheim (Johnny Dunne) and Esther Howard (Mrs. Kelly).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE KIRK DOUGLAS 100TH BIRTHDAY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY KAREN OF SHADOWS & SATIN.


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Three Secrets (1950, Robert Wise)

Three Secrets plays like a knock-off of A Letter to Three Wives, only without the writing. Secrets‘s problem is mostly with the writing. There are the three women–all of whom have secrets, except actually only two of them–played by Eleanor Parker, Patricia Neal, and Ruth Roman. The secret is each put a child up for adoption (on the same day) and now the child might be alone on top of a mountain, following a plane crash killing his adoptive parents. The kid’s turning six on the day of the present action, so there are three flashbacks to the women’s past–except only two of them tie together, which leaves the third–Ruth Roman’s–sticking out, just like her character sticks out. She’s particularly mistreated by the film, sort of disregarded, and if director Robert Wise had properly configured the film, she’d be even smaller (and maybe not played by Ruth Roman, who’s good, but deserves a better role). Properly, Three Secrets would juxtapose Eleanor Parker and Patricia Neal. Parker’s got a husband (not the baby’s father), a loving but overbearing mother, and she can’t have kids anymore (which the husband doesn’t know, so maybe that secret’s the third one, since Roman doesn’t have a secret). Neal’s a successful journalist whose career got in the way of her marriage. Had the film been about Neal becoming her own story and Parker’s conflicts with her mother and so on, Three Secrets might have been something better.

It wouldn’t have been great, however, since Wise doesn’t know what to do without a big budget. Three Secrets is visibly cheaper–lots of backdrops standing in for nature, lots of indoor shooting–and Wise doesn’t do anything interesting to make the film visually dynamic. He shoots it straight and unimaginatively. For film buffs, there is a sequence in Three Secrets Wise later did again in The Andromeda Strain. The film does show a pulse–when Parker’s family conflicts are off-screen–once some reporters show up. It’s a great newspaper or radio movie, but it’s not supposed to be about the journalists, it’s supposed to be about the three women. When they get together at the end, for maybe fifteen minutes, the scenes are good. Neal’s the central character and she’s good with both Parker and Roman, but she’s so level-headed throughout, the other two women have a couple nice moments the film should have expanded on. The most interesting part of the present action would have been the three women sitting around worried, but we only get a few minutes of it.

The acting from the three women is all good. Depending on the scene, Parker or Neal is better. The supporting cast is mostly in the flashbacks and of that cast, Ted de Corsia is good. In the present action, Edmon Ryan as a rival reporter and Katherine Warren as Parker’s mother are both excellent.

Three Secrets takes place over a nerve-racking thirty-two hours and it never gives the audience a single moment of dread. Everything is positively resolved for everyone, which is fine enough, but it happens immediately. There isn’t even the pretense of anyone thinking or considering their life-changing decisions. The film needed to be written as a play, just to get the pacing right, then filmed. As it stands, it has some good acting and some strange directorial choices.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; written by Martin Rackin and Gina Kaus; director of photography, Sidney Hickox; edited by Thomas Reilly; music by David Buttolph; produced by Milton Sperling; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Susan Adele Connors Chase), Patricia Neal (Phyllis Horn), Ruth Roman (Ann Lawrence), Frank Lovejoy (Bob Duffy), Leif Erickson (Bill Chase), Ted de Corsia (Del Prince), Edmon Ryan (Hardin), Larry Keating (Mark Harrison), Katherine Warren (Mrs. Connors) and Arthur Franz (Paul Radin).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 1: DREAM FACTORY.