Tag Archives: S.Z. Sakall

Never Say Goodbye (1946, James V. Kern)

The first thirty-nine percent of Never Say Goodbye is phenomenally paced. It could be a short movie, if there were a little tragedy through in. A little melodrama. Seven year-old Patti Brady is moving back in with mom Eleanor Parker after living six months with dad Errol Flynn. They’re divorced. Flynn’s a successful cheesecake pinup artist and a cad, Parker was his star model and a Fifth Avenue blue blood. But they still love each other, Brady just knows they do.

And, even just as light forties screwball, it’s pretty good. S.Z. Sakall is the loveably inept owner of their favorite restaurant, Flynn is charming, Parker is lovely. Brady’s kind of cute. Her performance is fine. She’s not too obnoxious. She’s good with the other actors, but less so when she’s got to do a scene on her own. Hattie McDaniel’s her nurse. McDaniel’s good. Everyone’s kind of good.

Only then the script jumps ahead two months. I.A.L. Diamond and director Kern, in the second two thirds of the film, basically just string together screwball sequences. Not bad ones, but not great ones. It doesn’t help Lucile Watson–as Parker’s disapproving mother–is no fun. She’s not bad, just no fun. Donald Woods is no good as Parker’s new suitor, even if he does get one of the good screwball sequences.

The last third is similar. Forrest Tucker shows up. McDaniel and Watson (and Woods) are all gone. There’s new screwball, but nothing particularly good; it’s the weakest section–Parker’s characterization completely changes and Brady becomes incidental.

A lot of it is Kern’s mediocre direction–he manages to mess up a sequence where Flynn is pretending to be a Bogart tough guy (voiced by Bogart himself)–and a lot of it is the script. Flynn’s character is generic. Parker’s is even more generic. They’re both charming but don’t really have any chemistry. They’re far better with Brady than one another, which really cuts into the film itself’s charm.

It’s a really boring movie too. It’s less than a hundred minutes, but once that first third is up? Never Say Goodbye never gets moving again.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James V. Kern; screenplay by I.A.L. Diamond and Kern, adaptation by Lewis R. Foster, based on a story by Ben Barzman and Norma Barzman; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Folmar Blangsted; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by William Jacobs; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Errol Flynn (Phil), Eleanor Parker (Ellen), Patti Brady (Flip), S.Z. Sakall (Luigi), Hattie McDaniel (Cozy), Forrest Tucker (Cpl. Lonkowski), Donald Woods (Rex), Peggy Knudsen (Nancy Graham), Tom D’Andrea (Jack Gordon), and Lucile Watson (Mrs. Hamilton).


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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).

Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)

Every time I watch Casablanca–and I think it’s been a while since the last time, over ten years ago, when I saw it at Radio City–I marvel at the pacing. The film runs an hour and forty minutes and it doesn’t even seem like any time has passed until Bergman is in Bogart’s apartment. I think that scene brings in the temporal aspect not because of the scene’s weight, but because Paul Henreid’s had an off-screen activity. We see everything in Casablanca–with the exception of the pre-opening incident (the murder of the German couriers)–and once we aren’t seeing everything, it becomes clear the film’s a narrative with an eventual ending. The beauty of the film is how the script sets it up to never imply a conclusion–certainly not one so quickly (as Bogart says to Bergman, he didn’t expect her so soon)–as the present action takes place over two and a half days.

The film’s opening, with the narrated introduction, followed by the daily life in Casablanca, gradually introducing Bogart, exquisitely conditions the viewer. For most of the running time, the film portrays Bogart as a cynic, hardly a heroic protagonist (he’s not even as consistently funny as Claude Rains). Watching Bogart bicker with Dooley Wilson over his drinking or lash out at Bergman, it’s a raw human desperation not often seen in films of this period. Curtiz’s frequent, patient close-ups–most often of Bergman thinking–contribute to the film’s sensitivity.

The viewer doesn’t even have all the necessary information until forty-five minutes into the film–and even then there’s the question of whether Bergman’s history with Paul Henreid is essential–after Bogart and Wilson’s bickering, after the flashback to Paris. The flashback must only take five minutes, but it always seems to take so much longer. It really does resonate, since up until that point, we’ve only seen Bogart on the one night.

The script does such an amazing job setting up the characters and their potential for empathy (especially with Sydney Greenstreet), with Nazi Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre the only irredeemable characters. And even then, Lorre’s questionable. There’s a great ambiguity to the film in how it deals with its characters and their morality. Only Henreid and Wilson–as well as the supporting cast in Bogart’s nightclub–are scrupulous. The film doesn’t even make an issue of Bogart growing into a noble mold–there’s no implication he’s going to continue doing the right thing.

The other thing I always think about is the film’s ability to juggle being well-written and narratively solid with being constantly entertaining. Curtiz frequently brings a comedic timing to the action–for instance, with Bogart pulling the pistol on Rains at the end. The film establishes, right away, a dire setting (my wife, watching for the first time, gasped as the French police shot the fleeing man without his papers in the first scene). Everyone’s desperate, everyone’s unhappy, everyone’s in a lot of trouble… but there’s so much humor. Bogart and Lorre’s opening conversation lightens the mood, but never breaks the setting.

Rains is responsible for a lot of the levity. His police prefect is just perfect. Every scene he’s in produces a smile at the least.

Both Bogart and Bergman are fantastic, with Bogart’s performance setting a mold for all reluctant heroes to follow (I noticed a music cue John Williams borrowed in Empire Strikes Back, with Han Solo being a direct descendant of Rick Blaine). Bergman’s got a harder job–though, is this film the first where Bogart had to cry–since Curtiz loves giving her those pensive close-ups.

Wilson’s great, as is Henreid. Henreid’s actually got the hardest job, since he’s got to convince the viewer he’s this Utopian do-gooder, whose rhetoric and ideals are infectious. And he does.

I can’t think of a single complaint (I want more Wilson, but I understand he’s got to go into background as Henreid becomes more relevant to the narrative). I just miss seeing it on a seventy foot screen.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Hal B. Wallis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari), Peter Lorre (Ugarte), S.Z. Sakall (Carl), Madeleine LeBeau (Yvonne), Dooley Wilson (Sam), Joy Page (Annina Brandel), John Qualen (Berger), Leonid Kinskey (Sascha) and Curt Bois (Pickpocket).