Tag Archives: Walter Brennan

The Buccaneer (1938, Cecil B. DeMille)

Even if you give The Buccaneer a lot of its historical absurdities and classic Hollywood whitewashing, even if you give it a motley crew of murdering (but not raping, good family men) pirates getting giddy and doing a singalong while they row themselves through the bayou to fight for Andrew Jackson against the British, even if you give the film lead Fredric March’s accent, it’s got a lot of problems. Without even mentioning how director DeMille gives everyone a slave, American, British, Pirate. Like, he likes it. It’s creepy.

Especially at the opening when you want to be enjoying Spring Byington doing a brief cameo as a capable (and rather sexy, like what is up what that dress) first lady Dolly Madison who was to suffer men trying to rescue her when she’s doing it herself.

The big problem is The Buccaneer himself. Not March, who’s rather likable even with that accent and able to whether the silliest of DeMille’s jingoism. But the character. So he’s a pirate who doesn’t rob American vessels and doesn’t kill passengers, unless they’re asking for it (everyone gets a chance to disembarck). He’s in love with New Orleans society girl Margot Grahame, who grossly comes on to Andrew Jackson (Hugh Sothern) at one point. Not because it’s in character, but because no one–not the four-ish screenwriters, not director DeMille, not Grahame herself–knows what to do with the character. She’s there to give March a reason to fight to be an American. For the pretty, well-spoken girl who gets shown up in every one of her scenes with guardian aunt Beulah Bondi. Just because Grahame’s got nothing else to do. She’s in love with a pirate, if only he’d go legit for her. She’s just not the female lead, so she’s got squat.

The female lead–and kind of protagonist, certainly more than March–is Franciska Gaal. She’s playing an adorable–literally squeaking–Dutch girl who ends up with March and his band. March becomes her protector and, accordinly, Gaal falls in love with him even though she’s seen his men kill an entire ship of innocent people and even try to kill her. She only escapes because pirate Fred Kohler, who met her in the film’s first scene, has been trying to rape her since that first scene.

The film does this whole “she’s not in any great danger with these pirates, oh, wait, no, it’d be better if the nicer one just killed her instead” thing for the first act and beginning of second, so you’d think you’re supposed to take it serious. But then you aren’t whenever Gaal’s supposed to be foolish instead of brave. Like, the movie craps on Gaal’s performance and all the potential for the character. After the setting up the movie to focus on those things.

Because, as Gaal later whines to March when her character does nothing but lather him with unrequited verbal admiration, all the men are acting like little boys and fighting. Once the movie starts moving toward the opening text exposition on Lafitte’s place in history, once all the fighting starts, Gaal gets dropped like a rock. Worse, there’s more with Grahame. No fault to her, but she and March have even less chemistry than March and Gaal. At least March is protective of Gaal. With Grahame, it’s bewildering. She’s supposed to be his obsession and they’re flat together.

Maybe the accent got in the way. But more likely Grahame’s character being really thin. And, really, March’s isn’t much better. He’s supposed to be this great pirate captain yet the only times things go right it’s because of Gaal or Akim Tamiroff as his main sidekick. Anthony Quinn’s all right as the second sidekick. Tamiroff’s in love with Gaal. He makes it cute. He’s the best performance in the film, with Walter Brennan a somewhat close second as Andrew Jackson’s dotting frontiersman sidekick. Gaal’s a far third.

Because there aren’t any standout supporting performances. Douglass Dumbrille’s okay as the governor who’s out to get March. Ian Keith’s bad as the bent politician, working for the British. Hugh Sothern’s hilariously bad as Andrew Jackson. Though at least he doesn’t play Jackson horny old man when Grahame offers.

Beulah Bondi is fine as the aunt. Some of the third tier supporting performances are solid. It’s a big movie. There are a lot of people around. They’re mostly all right. Even Kohler. He’s not good but he’s not bad.

Technically, the film’s competent. I mean, DeMille has annoying two shots because–apparently–of height disparities and Anne Bauchens never cuts to them well. Based on DeMille’s composition, it’s probably because he didn’t get the right shots, which is weird since it’s clearly big budget and so on. He saves his energy for the battle scenes, which really aren’t effective because March doesn’t do much. He tells the other guys what to do mostly.

He does have a sword fight, but it’s got a bad finish and leads into his second asinine patriotic speech (after the Americans have massacred a bunch of his men) and the movie doesn’t even try. DeMille doesn’t try with anything in Buccaneer. It gets annoying. The massacre of the pirates at their base is probably the best action sequence. But it’s in the middle of the rather long two hour and five minute film. And it’s a dramatic fail of a plot beat.

The Buccaneer clearly was a big production and DeMille and company do make an epic. It’s just not a successful one. The script’s alterately lazy, cheap, and dull. The third act only “saves” the film because it stops getting worse. It plateaus. And Gaal’s charming and March’s likable and you just want it to end so why fight it. It’s not a success, it’s a surrender.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille; screenplay by Edwin Justus Mayer, Harold Lamb, and C. Gardner Sullivan, adaptation by Jeanie Macpherson, based on a novel by Lyle Saxon; director of photography, Victor Milner; edited by Anne Bauchens; music by George Antheil; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Fredric March (Jean Lafitte), Franciska Gaal (Gretchen), Akim Tamiroff (Dominique You), Margot Grahame (Annette de Remy), Anthony Quinn (Beluche), Ian Keith (Senator Crawford), Douglass Dumbrille (Governor William C.C. Claiborne), Fred Kohler (Gramby), Hugh Sothern (General Andrew Jackson), Walter Brennan (Ezra Peavey), Beulah Bondi (Aunt Charlotte), and Spring Byington (Dolly Madison).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE MADE IN 1938 BLOGATHON HOSTED BY ROBIN OF POP CULTURE REVERIE AND CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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Meet John Doe (1941, Frank Capra)

There’s something off with Meet John Doe. Director Capra can’t find a tone for the film, but he also can’t find a pace for it. He tries to find the tone, over and over, usually with excellently directed sequences, but he just throws up his hands as far as finding the pace. If Robert Riskin’s script didn’t have strong moments for background characters, it would just be a bunch of great monologues for the actors. But Capra wants to step too far back from it all–John Doe has a wonderful cast and all Capra wants to do is rant about the Illuminati.

At its start, John Doe is simple. Barbara Stanwyck is a reporter. She loses her job. Angry–because John Doe takes place in a time when it seems like the Great Depression isn’t actually going to end, a forlorn attitude permeating throughout the film–she fakes a letter from someone fed up with the state of the world and promising to kill himself. Turns out the letter’s a hit, so Stanywck has to turn up the writer. She hires Gary Cooper. It’s Gary Cooper after all.

There’s a little humor with Cooper and sidekick Walter Brennan getting into a posh hotel and doing nothing. Riskin’s really good at these scenes. Well, then something happens and Cooper quits for a bit then he joins back up for a bit then it turns out the Illuminati have plans for him so he has to make a big decision. Along the way, he falls in love with Stanwyck (it’s Barbara Stanwyck after all), losing Brennan, and falls under the spell of Edward Arnold, the evil Mr. Big running this nameless city’s Illuminati chapter.

The nameless city should’ve been a bigger giveaway for the film’s problems. Capra doesn’t want anything to have personality except the concept.

Only, Riskin’s script has those amazing monologues I mentioned. James Gleason, who plays Stanwyck’s editor and Arnold’s reluctant stooge, gets at least two great scenes. His second one, where he gets wasted and talks about the Great War, is phenomenal. Gleason’s great and all, but that scene is phenomenal. Riskin’s dialogue is great, Capra’s patience is great, everything’s great. It just doesn’t belong in the movie. John Doe’s so lost, having every actor (except Cooper) directly address the camera when talking to Cooper’s character might work better. First person for the audience. Why? Because, while Capra’s interested in shooting the film well, having fantastic performances from his cast, he’s not actually interested in the film. It’s like he’s avoiding the lack of story.

Unfortunately, the rocky pace means no one gives an overall great performance. Brennan disappears, then comes back with nothing to do. He’s good, often really good, but the film doesn’t give him enough time later on. It never establishes who’s supposed to get the most time–even Cooper and Stanwyck manage to disappear from the story. The present action’s a mess. The film goes on for months and months and doesn’t let the characters grow.

It’s too much story. There are a half dozen points throughout the two hour runtime where Riskin and Capra could’ve focused for a far better experience.

Capra’s direction is outstanding. Riskin’s monologues are great. Cooper, Stanwyck, Gleason, Brennan, all great. Arnold’s not, but it’s hard to fault him. He’s got no part. He’s not even a caricature. He’s just “rich bad guy.”

Dimitri Tiomkin’s music has a few missteps, but it’s generally okay. It tends to stumble through the parts where everything else stumbles. Except maybe George Barnes’s photography and Daniel Mandell’s editing, their work is always strong.

Meet John Doe doesn’t work out. I wish it had, but it’s still one heck of a swing.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Robert Riskin, based on a story by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell Sr.; director of photography, George Barnes; edited by Daniel Mandell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gary Cooper (John Doe), Barbara Stanwyck (Ann Mitchell), Edward Arnold (D.B. Norton), Walter Brennan (The Colonel), James Gleason (Henry), Spring Byington (Mrs. Mitchell), Rod La Rocque (Ted Sheldon), Irving Bacon (Beany) and Gene Lockhart (Mayor Lovett).


barbara-blogathon

THIS POST IS PART OF THE REMEMBERING BARBARA STANWYCK BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, John Sturges)

My reaction to Bad Day at Black Rock is a guarded one. It runs eighty-one minutes and is frequently long when it should be short and short when it should be long. The conclusion, for instance, is something of a misfire. Ironically, after abandoning him for fifteen minutes near the beginning, the film sticks with Spencer Tracy. So the audience misses characters going through huge (and somewhat unlikely) changes.

It’s a strange problem; even though the film has a great supporting cast, it doesn’t have any other principles besides Tracy. Characters become more and less important as the running time progresses. For example, Robert Ryan’s got a lot to do for the first twenty minutes or so, but once his character is clearly defined, he fades into the background a little.

Some of that fading might be Sturges’s fault. While his Cinemascope composition is fantastic–he has this one scene with six people standing around talking and it’s just startling, the figures, dressed brightly even, contrasting the blue, cloudy sky–it’s all very wide. There are almost no close-ups in the film or even medium shots. Sturges is using all of that wide frame and people can get lost.

But the script has its own problems. Mainly Tracy’s character–he keeps changing, as the script keeps unveiling backstory revelations–and with a longer running time, it might work. The film really just needs more time, not just for Tracy, but to make the longish parts seem less plodding.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Millard Kaufman, adaptation by Don McGuire, based on a story by Howard Breslin; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by Newell P. Kimlin; music by André Previn; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings) and Walter Sande (Sam).


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Home for the Holidays (1972, John Llewellyn Moxey)

Director Moxey has–there’s no better word for it–a compulsion for zooming. He absolutely loves it. I imagine it saved the time and money needed for additional set-ups–and I think short zooms from character to character were a 1970s TV movie standard–but it looks just terrible. It kills some of the scenes in Home for the Holidays; otherwise perfectly fine, sometimes eerie scenes, ruined by Moxey and his zooming camera. After the first twenty or thirty minutes, it almost gets funny, how bad a technique he’s employing. When he turns in one particularly taut sequence–Sally Field being chased through the forest by the murderer–it’s a surprise he can do such good work. It’s a great chase scene, full of suspense… with only the commercial break to eventually impair it.

Moxey does have considerable talent, however. He frames shots rather well–when he’s not zooming–and the way he moves actors around in a static shot is fantastic. His close-ups aren’t particularly special, but the medium shots where he can fit four actors into the frame are good. Home for the Holidays, though written, produced and directed by men, is a woman’s picture. The five principals are women, with Walter Brennan in a glorified cameo as father to Field, Jill Haworth, Jessica Walter and Eleanor Parker–Julie Harris plays his new wife, who the women’s mother killed herself over. Brennan’s got little to do in a poorly written role–the Brennan voice doesn’t work with the character. The only other male actor is John Fink, as Field’s erstwhile romantic interest (and, for one possible moment–and for more interestingly–Parker’s). Fink turns in a standard TV movie performance, which doesn’t cut it in the company of the female actors.

The weakest performance is Haworth. She has one okay scene and a lot of bad ones. Joseph Stefano’s script moves quickly, especially when establishing the characters, and he rushes a tad much with Haworth’s character development. But it isn’t really Stefano’s fault–just like Moxey–he’s not really responsible for most of the film’s success. Walter doesn’t have much more character, but she’s excellent–even when she’s delivering this strange Shakespearian monologue. Parker’s solid, with a lot more to do at the beginning than the end, when Home for the Holiday‘s becomes a Sally Field vehicle. It’s hard to imagine what Field’s getting her master’s degree in, but that disbelief aside, she actually does pretty well considering she’s not really a match for Parker, Walters or Julie Harris. Harris has the toughest performance–she’s got to be the hated step-mother, the suspect; Harris manages beautifully, creating a character who the viewer hopes isn’t guilty, even though all evidence points to it.

The end, the unveiling, falls apart. It’s paced well, though, with the revelation coming before the climax, allowing for some more solid acting and decent scenes. Moxey ends it on one of his zooms, but it’s got the music from George Aliceson Tipton going–and the music is excellent–so it gets a pass.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey; written by Joseph Stefano; director of photography, Leonard J. South; edited by Allan Jacobs; music by George Aliceson Tipton; produced by Paul Junger Witt; released by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Jessica Walter (Frederica Morgan), Sally Field (Christine Morgan), Jill Haworth (Joanna Morgan), Julie Harris (Elizabeth Hall Morgan), Eleanor Parker (Alex Morgan), Walter Brennan (Benjamin Morgan), John Fink (Doctor Ted Lindsay) and Med Flory (Sheriff Nolan).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 4: GUEST STAR.