Tag Archives: Universal Pictures

All That Heaven Allows (1955, Douglas Sirk)

The third act of All That Heaven Allows is all about agency. Who has it, how they avoid it, why they avoid it. For a while it seems like it’s about Jane Wyman having it, then about Rock Hudson having it. Wyman’s always implied agency, right from the start. Hudson, who doesn’t have a scene from his own perspective until the third act, has always had an air of agency but not an active one. At least not where Wyman’s concerned. The third act suggests it’s going to mix everything up.

And it does… sort of. Until it stops and gives up on the whole idea.

All That Heaven Allows is the story of somewhat recent widow Jane Wyman who starts a clandestine love affair with her gardener, Hudson. He’s younger (though barely looks it, which says more about Wyman than Hudson) and doesn’t subscribe to the fifties rat race. He’s happy being a gardener and going into tree growing, which Wyman’s friends and neighbors from the country club find to be a disgusting rejection of good capitalist ideals.

Of course, they’re all buying their Christmas trees from Hudson and his tree-growing pal Charles Drake, but whatever. The film never even slightly implies often drunken WASPs should be taken seriously. The only good one is Agnes Moorehead, who’s stuck in the life–the film implies–because she hasn’t got any children; she’s Wyman’s best friend. Though she kind of disappears in the third act when Wyman’s got to do her thinking and feeling (and living) for herself.

The film rarely lets Hudson and Wyman have a peaceful moment. During the initial courtship and flirtation, sure. Wyman’s unsure of Hudson’s affections–though never for the reasons everyone else is worried about–while Hudson is too good to be true. He’s six feet, four inches of thoughtful, considerate, zen man meat. The scenes where Wyman’s female friends are mortified by Hudson are hilarious, given all their husbands are grossly out of shape and completely bores. If not burgeoning rapists. So when it comes time for Wyman to have to chose between Hudson and her pals, the choice should be clear.

Especially since the film establishes from the start the only one she actually cares about is Moorehead. The rest are incapable of actual human concern.

But Wyman’s got two kids. There’s proto-feminist social worker Gloria Talbott and Princeton man William Reynolds. Talbott talks a big talk but pushes Wyman in front of a bus while gushing over her dimwit suitor, an uncredited David Janssen. Reynolds wants Wyman to live in reverence of his father’s memory. Peg Fenwick’s screenplay has very little time for Talbott and Reynolds, though they have a lot of scenes and a lot of dialogue, but it’s pretty clear they’re complete heels from their first scene. Sure, the townspeople are bores, drunks, and gossips, but Talbott and Reynolds actively feed off Wyman’s emotions. They drain her from the start.

And they don’t much like Hudson. He lives on some undisclosed acreage of prime, undeveloped land–which has been passed down generations–but he’s got to be after Wyman’s (i.e. her dead husband’s) money. Talbott’s exasperating but not malicious. Reynolds is malicious and woodenly so. Especially given the way director Sirk shoots the film.

Heaven has a lot of color and a lot of shadows. Outside it’s always a clear, sometimes snowy day. Inside there are various colors, warm and cool, and shadows. The shadows usually fall on whoever’s opposite Wyman, a way of focusing a spotlight on her but a somewhat naturally occurring one. Russell Metty’s photography is phenomenal.

Those shadows make most of the men in Heaven into caricatures, at least the ones in Wyman’s life. Not sweet doctor Hayden Rorke or even sweet, unexciting standby suitor Conrad Nagel, but everyone else. Reynolds is the harshest, because out of those shadows he’s firing daggers at mom Wyman. Ones she apparently has no defense for.

Hudson is apart from the gross displays of blue blood machismo–when he and Drake talk about masculine responsibility in the third act, it’s an actual surprise. Then it turns out to be some manipulative narrative efficiency and the damage is slight, but still there. Every misstep and short cut in the third act resonates because the film ends so perfunctory. The whole thing promises Wyman this fantastic arc, starts delivering it, dodges and implies Hudson’s going to get the feature arc, dodges him too and just finishes things up. It could go out happy, it could go out sad, it could go out cynical, instead it just… goes out without any ambitions. But satisfactorily enough.

Wyman’s great. Hudson’s really good. She gets a much better part. He remains a partial enigma until the end. He too got the shadowy face during some interiors. But he’s also got some great moments where he’s breaking through the mystery to reveal himself. The film really wants to be about Wyman realizing the shadowy faces don’t matter as much as her own, metaphorically speaking, but never quite gets there. It’s simultaneously five minutes too long and ten minutes too short.

The supporting cast is all good. Moorehead, Nagel, Virginia Grey. Grey even manages to get through Fenwick’s worst scene, talking through a series of generic colloquialisms in an exposition dump–which Fenwick, nicely, never repeats. Reynolds not so much. He’s effective, but he’s nearly as villainous as Donald Curtis’s country club sexual predator.

Outstanding music from Frank Skinner. Fantastic direction from Sirk. Heaven always looks amazing and the way Sirk, Metty, and Skinner (and whatever composer Skinner occasionally borrows from) come together to focus on the characters (read: Wyman) and the weight of their unspoken burdens and constraints… it’s awesome.

It’s also a shame the ending is so pat.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas Sirk; screenplay by Peg Fenwick, based on the novel by Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Frank Gross; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Ross Hunter; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jane Wyman (Cary Scott), Rock Hudson (Ron Kirby), Agnes Moorehead (Sara Warren), Gloria Talbott (Kay Scott), William Reynolds (Ned Scott), Virginia Grey (Alida Anderson), Jacqueline deWit (Mona Plash), Charles Drake (Mick Anderson), Donald Curtis (Howard Hoffer), Hayden Rorke (Dr. Dan Hennessy), and Conrad Nagel (Harvey).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE ROCK HUDSON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD AND MICHAELA OF LOVE LETTERS TO OLD HOLLYWOOD.


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Halloween (2018, David Gordon Green)

Halloween never met a MacGuffin it didn’t embrace. Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and director Gordon’s script strings together MacGuffins to make the plot. And if it’s not a MacGuffin, it’s something they’re not going to do anything with. With a handful of exceptions, Halloween is usually at least reasonably acted. Sure, everyone lives in a 2018 where smartphones aren’t omnipresent but the screenwriters probably couldn’t figure out how to update the set pieces they lift from previous Halloween sequels for new technology.

Real quick, just because I probably don’t want to dwell on it–Halloween (2018) recreates some of the previous sequels’ thriller or slasher set pieces. It amps up the violence considerably–the film’s nowhere near as violent after it starts homaging the original Halloween as when it’s trudging through its first act mire. These set piece recreations tend to be extraordinarily violent, like Green is trying to set his Halloween–a sequel only to first film–apart from all the sequels. It’s bloodier. It’s meaner. It’s maybe louder. When Green isn’t luxuriating in the physical graphic violence, he uses the sound for off-screen graphic violence. It’s left up to the imagination.

Only not the result, because he always shows the result.

It seems weird, because for a while Halloween seems to at least be pretending it’s serious. But when Jamie Lee Curtis calls Donald Pleasence-stand in Haluk Bilginer “The New Loomis” (Pleasence’s character from previous films, including the original), it’s like Halloween feels comfortable dropping the pretense.

Back to the MacGuffin-filled opening–wait, there’s a third MacGuffin there too–anyway, Halloween opens with Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees as these obnoxious British podcaster producers doing a “Serial” on Michael Myers and the first Halloween. They go see Michael (presumably Nick Castle when he’s got the mask off, but never shown clearly–maybe Green and editor Timothy Alverson’s greatest–and most effective–feat). They bring him into the movie. They go see Jamie Lee Curtis. They mention Judy Greer.

Greer is Curtis’s daughter, who lives in town (the same town from the other Halloween movies because even though both Curtis and Greer suffer from severe mental anxiety and depression, they never want to leave the town). She’s got bland “dad” husband Toby Huss and smart and capable daughter Andi Matichak. Matichak and Curtis ostensibly have a character development arc, but much of it either happens off-screen or when digetic sound is brought over it for effect. The screenwriters avoid the heck out of character for Curtis. With Castle–i.e. what’s happened to the slasher since the slasher movie ended forty years ago–it’s easy. He’s been tied to a stone, silent for forty years. No development whatsoever. Easy.

Curtis, Greer, and Matichak? Not so easy. Greer’s second-billed but barely relevant. She just gets to think her mom is crazy and tell her to get help. Over and over again. Huss should be there to support Greer and he gets more material than her. And, until she’s following in grandma’s final girl footsteps, Matichak gets less than her friends. There’s best girlfriend Virginia Gardner (who’s actually really good), Gardner’s boyfriend Miles Robbins, then Matichak’s boyfriend Dylan Arnold and his bro Drew Scheid.

Matichek gets less to do, outside being hunted by a quinquagenarian masked spree killer, than any of them. The other characters don’t get more development, but at least Gardner and Robbins get stuff to do. Gardner especially. She’s babysitting adorably foul-mouthed near tween Jibrail Nantambu. Another big change in Halloween as it goes on–somewhere in the second act it decides it’s going to do some comedy. The first act doesn’t have any except Hall being a dip and Huss being such a dad.

The frustrating thing about Halloween–not while watching it but while considering it–is how many weird, senseless plotting choices the screenwriters make, apparently for no reason. The film has spared down visuals. Green avoids establishing shots. Possibly because he’s shooting Charleston, South Carolina for mid-sized town Illinois. But probably not. When they’re most important, he’s avoiding them because he’s doing his whole Halloween (2018) is meaner and bloodier and realer.

That tone doesn’t fit with podcasters Hall and Rees. Either they’re jokes, in which case Halloween (2018) is a joke, or they’re serious. But the film kind of wants to take Rees seriously and not Hall. Only Hall’s the noisier one.

With the exception of Curtis, Halloween’s female characters tend to be silent sidekicks to their far less capable male partners. Patton and Curtis know each other–from the first Halloween night–but… it’s not like they get character development. Halloween (2018) doesn’t do character development, because it’s going to deliver an amazing finish. Jamie Lee Curtis vs. Michael Myers, forty years later.

It’s the point of the movie. Curtis has spent forty years arming and training herself to take out Michael Myers. And now she’s going to get to do it.

And the big finale… isn’t boring. It’s dumb. If it weren’t so visually flat, it might be worth some spoof value. Because Halloween (2018) plays like an unaware spoof of itself. Like the screenwriters had something else in mind and Green just sucked the laughs out of it. But Green’s one of the screenwriters.

Halloween (2018) takes itself way too seriously while seeming to know it shouldn’t be taken seriously at all.

Curtis is fine. She and Matichak have potential. She and Patton have potential. The movie explores neither. Matichak’s all right. She’s got very little. Patton’s fine but seems like he should be good. Greer–the movie avoids giving Greer character more than it does Curtis–Greer is hostilely wasted. Like she’s stunt-casted.

The teens–other than Gardner–are all thin, both part and performance; it doesn’t matter.

Gardner’s good. Nantambu’s funny. Not good, but funny.

Technically, nothing leaps out. Green’s direction is fine. It’s never terrible. The script’s weird, but not bad as far as dialogue. Usually. Except the podcasters. And the Donald Pleasence stand-in. Alverson’s editing is good. Simmonds’s photography is flat, visually and in terms of quality. The score–from John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter (yes relation), and Daniel A. Davies–sounds like a Halloween score. Nothing special.

Richard A. Wright’s production design is lacking.

Halloween (2018) is a curiosity. Even though it had the ingredients for something else. Something more. The film’s stunningly unambitious. It’s also passive aggressively hostile to those unfamiliar with the previous movies. While the podcasters fill in a bit, it’s more what’s been happening since the last movie, not what happened in the last movie.

And Curtis gets nothing. Nothing with any of it. Because the script can’t figure out how to make her a protagonist. It can’t figure out a lot of things.

The movie can’t figure out a lot of things. It’s really flimsy and kind of cynical–it’s like a one hundred minute exploration of why you shouldn’t try to make a “serious” movie sequel. To Halloween specifically, but also in general. Again, if it were a spoof–even a dark comedy one–there might be something here.

It’s not. And instead Halloween H40 just a lot of actors wasting their time and some remixed John Carpenter music.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Gordon Green; screenplay by Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and Green, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Michael Simmonds; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies; production designer, Richard A. Wright; produced by Malek Akkad, Jason Blum, and Bill Block; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie), Judy Greer (Karen), Andi Matichak (Allyson), Will Patton (Hawkins), Toby Huss (Ray), Haluk Bilginer (Sartain), Rhian Rees (Dana), Jefferson Hall (Aaron), Virginia Gardner (Vicky), Dylan Arnold (Cameron), Miles Robbins (Dave), Drew Scheid (Oscar), Jibrail Nantambu (Julian), and Nick Castle (Shape).


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Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill)

Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars is far from the ultimate trip. It’s not even a very good trip. It’s the kind of trip where you go somewhere, go somewhere else, then somewhere else, then go back to the second place, then go back to the first place, then go back to the third place, then go back to the first place, then go back to the second place, then go back to the….

You get the idea.

Mars starts right after the previous serial, before Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe) and company have even returned to Earth. Earth knows they’ve saved the planet and there’s a big ticker tape parade for the returning heroes–Crabbe, damsel in distress and ostensible love interest Jean Rogers, and scientist Frank Shannon. Of course, it’s all stock footage and the cast isn’t present, but the sentiment is there. Pretty soon, there’s another threat to the Earth and the United States government is freaking out and reporter Donald Kerr realizes the only person who can save the planet–again–is Crabbe.

So right after getting back to Earth from the first serial–Rogers apparently got a haircut on the return rocket trip (in the first serial, which will come up in flashback footage, she had long blonde hair, in Mars she’s a sensibly cut brunette)–the heroes head back out into space. With Kerr a stowaway.

They’re headed to Mongo, convinced villain Ming (Charles Middleton), who they thought was dead, is out to get them again. They’re right, only he’s on Mars, not Mongo, so the rocket ship has to change course.

On Mars, Middleton has teamed up with Martian queen Beatrice Roberts, who needs Middleton’s help to destroy the Clay people, who are political exiles Roberts has turned into clay. Even though Roberts has a whole fleet of airships, she goes along with Middleton’s plan to drain the Earth’s atmosphere of nitron. Earth needs its nitron; Middleton’s got Roberts convinced he can use the nitron to make more effective weapons, but it turns out he just wants to destroy the Earth. And he’s got designs on Roberts’s throne.

Crabbe and company get into it with Middleton and Roberts in the Martian city, then have to go to the Clay kingdom, where the Clay king (C. Montague Shaw) is alternately hostile and laudatory, and eventually end up in this forest fighting the hostile Forest people. Along the way, they reunite with Prince Barin of Mongo (Richard Alexander), who has come to Mars for some reason or another. Turns out the Forest people are actually Middleton’s lackeys. They cause a lot of trouble for Crabbe and friends, including brainwashing Rogers for a few chapters, and just generally being exceptionally annoying.

Mars doesn’t exactly start off promising–the use of stock footage for the heroes’ arrival on Earth, their immediate disappearance from the action, the stock disaster footage (which isn’t terrible or unexpected or anything, just not exciting)–but it certainly doesn’t start on any kind of shaky ground. Crabbe, Rogers, and Shannon are all extremely likable and introducing comic relief Kerr to the team seems like it’s going to work out rather well. Middleton was a bit much in the previous serial, but he’s all right here. And Roberts is rather effective as the evil queen.

And even the Clay people stuff is good at the start. There are these awesome shots of the Clay men coming out of the walls. It’s not until Shaw shows up things start getting questionable. The screenplay–with four credited writers–never addresses how long the Clay people have been around, since Roberts is turning people into clay if she doesn’t like them and then banishing them. She’s got a magic jewel letting her do all sorts of stuff. Is Roberts immortal? Have the Clay people been around forever? Or is it more like a recent thing? Doesn’t matter. The writers are real bad at explaining the history of Mars, including how Middleton got there immediately after the previous serial.

The first half of the serial usually involves Crabbe trying to bring Roberts to the Clay people so she can break the spell–including a really awesome sequence where he saves her in a disaster and she realizes he’s a sap who doesn’t kill and she can exploit that weakness. Then there’s something with another jewel the Forest people have. It can negate Roberts’s jewel’s power, so for a couple chapters it’s a thing. Only Middleton (even though the Forest people are his secret lackeys–it’s not at all clear why the arrangement is secret) wants the jewel too because, pretty early on, it’s clear Middleton wants to double-cross Roberts. While she wants to kill all the Clay people, she doesn’t necessarily want to destroy Earth.

It’s also never addressed why she turns disobedient soldiers into clay instead of just executing them.

And Mars ignores how there are no female Clay people or female Forest people, though Forest people at least seem to know women exist–when they brainwash Rogers, she becomes a priestess or something. They’ve got a word for it.

All the action either takes place in the Martian city, the forest, or the Clay kingdom. Some of the city and most of the forest look good. The Clay kingdom, above ground, is just rocky terrain. The underground stuff is okay, though it’s never explained why Roberts lets the Clay people have advanced technology–in some cases more advanced than her own (including a subway system). The serial just bounces between the locations, unless it’s something in the airships, which actually happens quite a bit. The Martians have these gravity defying capes, leading–occasionally–to some decent action sequences.

But by the end of Mars, every new action set piece is just a regurgitation of a previous one. It’s rather tired by the end. Especially since the serial never improves on the most annoying aspects of the action sequences–entirely inappropriate stock music. They rarely use action music and when they do, it rarely fits. It kills all tension and most excitement, which is a real disservice to the cast–particularly Crabbe and Alexander–who always give it their all.

Crabbe clear runs out of enthusiasm towards the end, however. Maybe the last four chapters, he looks miserable.

There are some good sequences throughout the fifteen chapters–particularly Rogers getting to save the day (while otherwise just being damsel in distress)–but by the second half of Mars, it’s obvious the trip isn’t going anywhere new, just places its already been. And then it’ll go somewhere else it’s already been and then somewhere else it’s already been.

The frequent flashbacks to the first serial backfire too, just revealing how much better the production values were on the original compared to this sequel.

Only Kerr and Alexander are able to maintain energy during the last few chapters–Rogers theoretically should have a big arc thanks to the brainwashing but she doesn’t and Shannon’s just around. Middleton gets nuttier and nuttier as it goes along. His performance getting worse. Roberts’s material (and, inexplicably, her direction) gets worse too, really ruining her performance. There’s no character development in Mars, even though some characters desperately need it.

And Shaw’s super annoying. Most when he prostrates to Crabbe, which seems to happen all the time. But he’s also kind of insincere about it, like at any moment he might double cross the Earth people. Sadly he never does, because such a twist is too much for Mars.

Wheeler Oakman is almost good as Middleton’s chief flunky. Anthony Warde is comically godawful as the king of the Forest people.

Crabbe, Rogers, Alexander, and Shannon (and Kerr to some degree) have enough charm to keep the Trip tolerable but there’s really nothing they can do with the concluding chapters, when it all starts collapsing. It was always flimsy, it just had momentum. Without momentum, without any good finale set pieces, without a decent plot, the Trip flops out. It could be much worse, sure, but it’s still majorly disappointing.

Almost anything would help Mars significantly. Real music. Another set. Better performances–heck, just keeping Crabbe engaged through the finale–almost anything. Sadly, there’s nothing.

It’s worse than disappointing; it’s a defeat.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill; screenplay by Ray Trampe, Norman S. Hall, Wyndham Gittens, and Herbert Dalmas, based the comic strip by Alex Raymond; director of photography, Jerome Ash; edited by Joseph Gluck, Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, and Alvin Todd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov), Charles Middleton (Emperor Ming), Beatrice Roberts (Queen Azura), Donald Kerr (Happy Hapgood), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), Wheeler Oakman (Tarnak), Anthony Warde (King Turan), and C. Montague Shaw (Clay King).


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Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 15: An Eye for an Eye

An Eye for an Eye is a disappointing finish for Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars but maybe not an unexpected one, not given the serial’s trajectory. The cliffhanger resolution is quick–Buster Crabbe gets away from Charles Middleton due to Middleton’s lack of observational prowess. They’re fitting foes. Neither of them pays attention enough.

While Middleton is going back to turn on the Earth zapping ray, Crabbe and Richard Alexander are wasting time trying to figure out what secret passageway he used. Instead of just going to find him; Middleton thinks they’ll know where he’s headed. Silly Middleton, they have to be told.

Eye also makes it really clear instead of calling Jean Rogers’s character “Dale Arden,” she should just be called, “Dale You Should Stay Here.” Crabbe ditches her again in his effort to save the day.

There are a couple double crosses in the chapter–three, actually–and they change the plotting a bit. Instead of some grand air battle to save the Clay kingdom, instead it’s Crabbe having to rescue his captured friends. Again.

His showdown with Middleton is dramatically inert and lacking in much excitement, especially since it’s truncated by plotting.

The finale uses the same newspaper from the first chapter, only with a different headline, which means poor Donald Kerr is left out of the celebration sequence. It’s particularly unfair since, when he gets to make faces at Middleton (shooting at the good guys with a laser rifle), Kerr has the chapter’s best three seconds.

Eye for an Eye is a bad finish, but Mars has been burning off its goodwill for so long it doesn’t really matter.

Some real bad acting from Middleton here though. Maybe his worst in the serial overall.

CREDITS

Directed by Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill; screenplay by Ray Trampe, Norman S. Hall, Wyndham Gittens, and Herbert Dalmas, based the comic strip by Alex Raymond; director of photography, Jerome Ash; edited by Joseph Gluck, Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, and Alvin Todd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov), Charles Middleton (Emperor Ming), Beatrice Roberts (Queen Azura), Donald Kerr (Happy Hapgood), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), and C. Montague Shaw (Clay King).


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