Tag Archives: Warner Bros.

Storm Warning (1951, Stuart Heisler)

One of Storm Warning’s failings is its attempt to carefully navigate the story content so I’m just going to be lead-footed and get right to things, which probably would’ve helped the movie though not the ending.

Storm Warning is about Ginger Rogers visiting sister Doris Day and witnessing the Ku Klux Klan murdering someone. Rogers sees it before she even lets Day know she’s in town for a visit. Rogers is a fashion model who travels the country modeling clothes at buyers’ meetings. For a while it seems like Storm Warning might be a de facto strong woman picture, just because Rogers is clearly the protagonist and she’s also “of a certain age,” which probably meant over twenty-four in 1951 but Rogers is late thirties. Sadly, no. I expected way too much when I saw Richard Brooks on the screenwriting credit; I always forget the reason Daniel Fuchs stands out is because I’ve seen The Thing too many times and not because he’s a good writer.

Anyway.

Warning has a short present action (twenty-five hours or so) and a fine pace. So right away Rogers finds out Day’s husband, who she’s never met and Day has moved to this small town to be with and, oh, Day’s pregnant—the husband (Steve Cochran in an arguably fantastic performance) is one of the killers. Rogers saw two of them unmasked, Hugh Sanders is the other. It’s important because just when the movie ought to be about Rogers and Day, or even just Rogers (as it turns out Day’s been going along with the Klan—just like the rest of the town), it’s about Cochran and Sanders. Ronald Reagan and whatever the hell is going on with his oversized suits is second-billed but he turns out to be irrelevant, with less a part to play than even Sanders. He’s the county prosecutor who wants to go after the Klan, even if it means he’s going to lose his re-election campaign. See, the Klan (run by Sanders) has supplanted the rule of law. The guy they kill at the beginning is a reporter who’s close to uncovering the Klan isn’t just supplanting the rule of law, but—and it comes in real quick—Sanders is actually ripping all the dumb racist hicks off because they’re dumb racist hicks. There’s some of the script’s careful navigating—see, while Klan members are showing poor judgment, they’re also victims of income tax evaders.

It’s shocking Storm Warning didn’t cure racism back in 1951 with such a bold statement. Eye roll.

Of course, Warning doesn’t address racism. There are occasional Black people in the film, meaningfully iCocn shots, but they don’t get any lines and there’s no violence against them or even mention of their existence. What’s wrong with the Klan is they’re holding small towns back so people like Ginger Rogers won’t want to visit. As Sanders puts it, if it weren’t for the Klan, Rogers wouldn’t be able to walk the streets at night. Sanders isn’t worried about the phantom Black male attacking her it turns out; it’s his men. You need the Klan to stop racist hick men from assaulting women en masse or so Sanders says. And the film agrees with him, which should throw off its internal philosophy but doesn’t because holy crap the ending is nuts morality play….

It’s a mess.

But for a while, it’s not and it’s rather good, even if it’s a little neutered. Rogers is really good, even when the film doesn’t have anything for her to do. Director Heisler will give Rogers these reaction shots—where she’s reacting to things she’s observing—and she does a great job with them. Shame the shots all seem forced in (or Clarence Kolster just does a terrible job editing). Day’s okay. She’s got a couple rather good scenes, but also a number of weak ones. It’s hard to buy her and Cochran, who’s always a bastard of one kind or another. Though the film also tries its darnedest to imply Day’s a little bit dumb, which throws a wrench in that pro-woman message I’d foolishly assumed would be a factor since… it’s about Rogers standing up to the Klan, right? But Day’s possible dullness is just another excuse for her inaction.

Storm Warning really likes giving White people an excuse to be inactive. Including Reagan’s parents, who didn’t used to think his silly liberal politics (in this case, thinking the Klan shouldn’t be allowed to kidnap and murder people) were good, but they’re grown on them since Reagan’s such a profound legal orator.

He’s not. He’s really not. The courtroom scene is terribly written.

Reagan’s fine overall. His suits are dumb, he’s got no personality, but he’s kind of banally charming. He really, really, really, really, really never should’ve been given lead roles. Someone seemed to think he was Jimmy Stewart.

He’s not.

Cochran’s terrifying. Even after the movie takes a few hits—the courtroom stuff is exceptionally problematic, plot-wise—Cochran’s still reliably foreboding. All the tension comes from him, even if his scenes with Sanders are dramatically inert nonsense.

Sanders isn’t bad, but he’s never good. He’s a one dimensional Mr. Big.

Great photography from Carl E. Guthrie; the exterior night time shots are fantastic (right up until the end when Heisler can’t figure out how to frame the climax and Guthrie can’t figure out how to light what Heisler goes with). Too much music from Daniele Amfitheatrof but not bad. Just too much.

Storm Warning could’ve been good. It could’ve given Rogers a great role, could’ve given Day a great role, could’ve given Reagan… well, maybe could’ve not wasted the time Reagan’s onscreen. It starts strong and seems sturdy but nope. And not even because of all the hoops it jumps through to avoid really talking about the Klan.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; written by Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Marsha Mitchell), Steve Cochran (Hank Rice), Doris Day (Lucy Rice), Hugh Sanders (Charlie Barr), Lloyd Gough (Cliff Rummel), Raymond Greenleaf (Faulkner), and Ronald Reagan (Burt Rainey).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE ROCK HUDSON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MICHAELA OF LOVE LETTERS TO OLD HOLLYWOOD.


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The Maltese Falcon (1931, Roy Del Ruth)

Not to be too obvious, but I really wasn’t expecting a twist ending for The Maltese Falcon. But only because I’ve… read the book, seen the 1941 version, seen spoofs of it; I sort of figured I’d be able to guess the plot turns. And I did, right up until the end, when Falcon shows its been doing an entirely different kind of subterfuge than usual. The film even takes a moment to acknowledge that twist and take a bit of a bow. It’s all quite the surprise.

But Maude Fulton and Brown Holmes’s script always seems too good for the production. Falcon is an early talkie. Director Del Ruth has no idea how to do close-ups—he and cinematographer William Rees—don’t match the angles right, the actors aren’t in the same spots, editor George Marks isn’t doing any extra favors (he doesn’t know how to cut line deliveries). The film does have some good visual storytelling ideas, but they’re mostly transition stuff; who knows maybe the script has the transitions. Or they’re just where Del Ruth has the best ideas. But—throughout—it’s clear this script deserved a better execution. Not as an adaptation of the source novel, but the script itself.

It’s not just the choppy filmmaking, it’s the acting. The best performance in the film is Una Merkel as Ricardo Cortez’s girl Friday. There’s a lot of implication they’re having an affair, but she doesn’t mind playing wing-girl for him hooking up with every other woman he meets in the movie until the last scene. Like, Cortez is a shocking man slut, so much so it forgives his performance. He comes off like a bit of a dandy, but then he’s able to toggle into being tough; he’s better at being tough. He’s a sociopath. So’s leading lady Bebe Daniels. Or is he falling for her and blind to it? Or vice versa? And those aspects of both characters is straight from the script, from how they behave, react to outside stimuli, whatever. It comes through in the film, but isn’t really presented well. It’s like the script has a point to make about the source novel, but the actual film doesn’t get the script is trying to make a point, but still precisely follows the script.

Falcon’s also pre-Code, so lots of sexy, lots of scanty. Since the film revolves around Cortez and Cortez is apparently only in the private detective racket so he can score with vulnerable women… even though Del Ruth and Rees can’t figure out how to match a shot perspective between close-up and two shot, they do manage to create a fantastic narrative distance. It’s just it needs to be identified, which doesn’t happen until the twist ending.

Back to the acting.

Cortez is okay. It works out, but it’s occasionally a little much. He’s only got like two things he can do. Three if you count him putting his hands in his vest pockets. Daniels is similar. She’s got some really good moments, but they’re spread out wrong. The film doesn’t know how to emphasize its actors’ deliveries, which is most on display with ostensible scenery-chewer Dudley Digges. Digges is a sweaty mess of vague but obvious sinfulness with major interpersonal communication issues. And somehow Del Ruth, Rees, and Marks manage to drain all the momentum from his deliveries with how they cut between shots. Maltese Falcon has a lot of pacing issues, down to reaction times for actors. There’s a lot of talking in the film; the vast majority of the film is just talking. And Del Ruth never figures out how to keep up the momentum of it. It’s like it ought to be stagy, but isn’t. Del Ruth is overenthusiastic when it comes to emphasizing the performances.

And it mostly hurts Digges. Hurts Matieson a bit, but not as much. Matieson doesn’t bit down on a sofa arm and rip it apart. Digges goes wild.

Walter Long’s good enough as Cortez’s partner. Thelma Todd is about as good but wasted as Long’s wife, who Cortez is having an affair with; naturally. Though, again, the twist. It covers a lot of storytelling choices from the script, including who gets screen time and how. Robert Elliott is annoying as the by-the-books cop. He comes off as an idiot, not a capable crime solver. J. Farrell MacDonald is fine as the good cop. They’re around a lot, but they don’t really matter because they’re not women Cortez can try to make time with.

The Maltese Falcon is way too blasé about itself. It’s got an exceptionally good script, but Del Ruth doesn’t seem to know what to do about it. Or with it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roy Del Ruth; screenplay by Maude Fulton and Brown Holmes, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, William Rees; edited by George Marks; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bebe Daniels (Ruth Wonderly), Ricardo Cortez (Sam Spade), Dudley Digges (Casper Gutman), Una Merkel (Effie Perine), Robert Elliott (Detective Lt. Dundy), Thelma Todd (Iva Archer), Otto Matieson (Dr. Joel Cairo), Walter Long (Miles Archer), Dwight Frye (Wilmer Cook), and J. Farrell MacDonald (Det. Sgt. Tom Polhouse).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE MYSTERY MANIA BLOGATHON HOSTED BY ROBIN OF POP CULTURE REVERIE.


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The Lake House (2006, Alejandro Agresti)

There may be a pseudo-sly Speed reference in The Lake House, which reunites stars Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, but it’s a spoiler. Unfortunately it is not Bullock’s Speed 2 co-star Jason Patric as her wet towel boyfriend (Patric infamously replaced Reeves in the sequel). Instead, Dylan Walsh is the wet towel boyfriend. His performance is just as boring as the exceptionally thin role is written.

And it also may not be a Speed nod because it would show some personality from the filmmakers and they truly have none.

Lake House is not an action movie about a bus. Instead, it’s a romantic drama involving a magic mailbox and seemingly magic dog. Bullock is a newly-out-of-residency Chicago doctor who lives in the “present” or 2006. We soon find out Reeves is in 2004. They have lived in the same house at different times; a stilt house on a lake somewhere near Madison, Wisconsin. The house is ostensibly a dump—no one lives on the lake, someone exclaims because Lake House also has magic realistic values—even though it’s gorgeous and designed by world renowned architect Christopher Plummer, who is also Reeves’s father. Only we don’t find out about the history of the house until almost the third act. And, as with many things in David Auburn’s shockingly pedestrian script, stops being important immediately following it getting introduced in exposition. Everything in Lake House is disposable. Including a bunch of logic in the third act.

First act is nearly romantic comedy with Bullock crying at work (because she cares so much about her patients but, thanks to Auburn’s lousy sense of pacing, probably is just mopey because she dumped Walsh at some point in the recent past) and Reeves trying to get his life back together after moving back to the area after four years away. He makes housing developments instead of being a fancy architect like dad Plummer and younger brother Ebon Moss-Bachrach (who is somehow even less present than Walsh). He wants to fix the stilt house, which makes sense because it’s where he grew up and Plummer—who’s a jerk, but not a monster—verbally and emotionally abused Reeves, Moss-Bachrach, and their mother. Then Bullock and Reeves find out the mailbox at the house is magic and they can write to each other through time.

Cue up the endless terrible letters Reeves and Bullock write to one another as voiceovers. At least when they’re reading each other’s letters, there’s some acting to it. When they’re just thinking their letters and having back and forth conversations—Bullock has to drive two hours and twenty minutes—in the best traffic—to get from new home Chicago back to the house in Madison. Or maybe they’re standing at the mailbox and writing back to each other, which kind of gets explored—the film has zero interest in the time travel aspect of the story; Auburn’s script doesn’t have a single neat time travel-related moment. The only reason it gets away with the romantic comedy thing is because the film introduces split screen to show Bullock and Reeves being separately charming. By the end the split screen is still occasionally in use, but never well-utilized because Agresti’s direction is so boring.

Second act is then Reeves and Bullock exploring the time travel mailbox and falling into a chemistry-free long distance love affair. Because eventually Reeves starts stalking Bullock in the past, when she’s got super-long hair and is entirely dependent on lawyer boyfriend Walsh who doesn’t have any reason to want a girlfriend in his yuppie lifestyle. Should’ve gotten Jason Patric.

Anyway.

Second act is also all the revelations about Reeves’s past with Plummer. The worse the revelation gets, more the Reeves tries to bond with Plummer. It’s inexplicable behavior. The only thing Auburn seems to care about in the screenplay is the architecture monologues from Reeves, Plummer, and Moss-Bachrach. The monologues are bad, but at least they’re distinct. And Plummer can make it seem legit instead of terrible. Moss-Bachrach’s the worst, Reeves is nearly middling. Agresti’s inability to direct conversations hurts with the monologues. Alejandro Brodersohn and Lynzee Klingman’s editing is choppy, but it seems like it’s Agresti’s composition more than anything else. He’s got no rhythm to the scenes. Occasionally, when Bullock or Reeves is charming enough you wish the movie were better, you wonder how a better script might have entirely changed things.

But then Agresti does something weird and bad—like his extreme long shots for conversations—and you realize it’s just the production. It’s broken in too many ways.

Bullock’s character is bad. She doesn’t get the “maybe reunite with Walsh” storyline until into the second act and it entirely flushes her doctor storyline potential. Her mom (Willeke van Ammelrooy) is around for occasional scenes, but—like Moss-Bachrach with Reeves—there’s never any surprise at the magic mail box. It’s totally normal stuff. Pedestrian like everything else about Lake House.

Bullock’s performance is probably the best anyone could do. Maybe ditto Reeves? The movie skips the motivation and development scenes where he nice guy stalks Bullock in the past and possibly jeopardizes destroying the entire timeline. Not really because Auburn never addresses any of the time travel elements and explains away Bullock seeing Reeves multiple times and having no idea she’s seen him before because she forgot what the guy she ran off to San Francisco with when she was sixteen to become a singer. You’d trust someone with that terrible a memory to be your doctor.

Okay.

Terrible part. And Shohreh Aghdashloo somehow gets an even worse part as Bullock’s new boss.

Reeves is… mostly harmless. It’s totally his movie, which is bad since his reconciliation arc with Plummer is even worse than Bullock and Walsh rekindling. But the part isn’t as bad as Bullock’s.

Technically, I suppose Alar Kivilo’s photography is fine. The editing’s bad, the directing’s bad, the script’s bad, Nathan Crowley’s production design (and Agresti’s shot compositions of it) is bad. Rachel Portman’s score could be a lot worse. The soundtrack’s really bland stuff, including a Paul McCartney song from 2005 playing in 2004 because it seems like there should be a Beatles song at that moment—the dialogue makes the song sound like a Golden Oldie too. Lake House is full of really dumb gaffs. Like, an obvious staircase where there shouldn’t be one. Or Reeves not being able to figure out his dog is a girl until Bullock tells him she’s a girl. The dog. Reeves knows Bullock is a girl because he stalks her.

Bad costume design too. Like silly.

Still, until the third act, there’s at least the potential for a good ending. Then there’s not and it’s almost a relief because it’s so lacking in ambition (as well as being dumb as far as the narrative’s internal logic goes). But it’s still a bad ending. The Lake House takes place over four years and ninety-nine minutes. It’s not abjectly terrible or anything, but it’s an entire waste of time.

Another dumb thing—well, two so real quick—The Lake House title doesn’t mean jack for Bullock and Agresti’s deathly afraid of directing in the lake house. He avoids it at all costs. It’s constantly aggravating.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alejandro Agresti; screenplay by David Auburn, based on a film written by Kim Eun-Jeong and Yeo Ji-na; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Alejandro Brodersohn and Lynzee Klingman; music by Rachel Portman; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Doug Davison and Roy Lee; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Alex), Sandra Bullock (Kate), Dylan Walsh (Morgan), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Henry), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Anna), Lynn Collins (Mona), Willeke van Ammelrooy (Kate’s Mother), and Christopher Plummer (Alex’s Father).


The Purchase Price (1932, William A. Wellman)

For most of its seventy-ish minute run time, The Purchase Price does really well with the way it does summary. It does so well it never even seems possible the film’s just going to welch on everything in the third act… but rather unfortunately, it does.

The big problem is how the film–specifically Robert Lord’s script–is eager to slut shame star Barbara Stanwyck for exploitative purposes. The only scenes Lord can figure out scenes for Stanwyck and mortified husband George Brent involve him disapproving of her, first for being–apparently (but not exactly)–a cold fish (she refused his violent urges on their wedding night)–and then for being too warm of a fish. But, again, not exactly. Lord avoids resolving any of the issues, not just with Brent’s multiple hangups but also outstanding story issues like Stanwyck’s former beau, gangster Lyle Talbot, and Brent’s own farming foe, David Landau.

And Price can get away with a lot because director Wellman and star Stanwyck are on it. They make the too abbreviated summary work. Because the film’s not a fish out of water story, it’s what ought to be an unbelievable story about night club singer Stanwyck losing her chance at a dream marriage to jackass blue blood Hardie Albright because of her previous relationship with Talbot (who’s a lovable bootlegging adulterer–one wonders if Lord remembered Talbot’s supposed to have a wife somewhere when he’s going cross country to pursue Stanwyck) and how she ships herself out as a mail-order bride to escape Talbot. She thinks she’s going out to a standard North Dakota wheat farm, full of affable drunken neighbors and, eventually, babies. Instead, Brent’s this oddball agricultural college boy who cares more about the miracle wheat he’s spent eleven years cultivating, doesn’t get along with his neighbors, and has secret money troubles.

Brent wasn’t expecting beautiful, cultured, smart Stanwyck (she paid off her maid, Leila Bennett, to take over as mail-order bride–which worked out fine since Bennett had sent along Stanwyck’s photo in communications with Brent, who–for his part–lied about his farm and didn’t send a photo in return). After their whirlwind wedding ceremony–uncredited Clarence Wilson is a perfect creep as the justice of the peace–they’re off to the farm. But not before both Brent and the film itself have mocked the simple prairie folk. Though the film mocks them more than Brent does, which is unfinished subplot–though Brent’s character development and basic establishment isn’t really any of Price’s concern. It’s like they knew he wouldn’t be able to appropriately slut shame Stanwyck in the third act if they explored him being a dick. Sure, Landau’s a bad guy and a creep, but Brent’s a dick.

He also tries to rape Stanwyck on their wedding night, which she immediately forgets because, well, he’s a man, but apparently sets Brent on a self-loathing kick. But it’s all off-screen and Lord’s characterization of Brent in the script doesn’t do enough for it either. He’s a jerk, but for unclear reasons. And since the film’s already established him as a dick, a jerk isn’t a long walk.

In a string of barely connected vignettes–Stanwyck getting to be a better farm homemaker, though she basically throws herself into it right off and is awesome at it–time progresses, winter arrives, Stanwyck becomes the community member Brent never did, so on and so forth. Finally Brent and Stanwyck have it out and then, through a very strange euphemism device (given how far the film’s willing to go–pre-code and all–in the first act and third, it’s weird how uncomfortable it gets for an implied big romance development), get on the same page.

Only then Talbot finally tracks down Stanwyck, coming simultaneous to Landau making a big move on Brent’s property, and it’s high drama time.

And it’s all bad high drama with Stanwyck working against the script to retain character and Brent just… giving up? What’s strangest about Brent’s performance is he actually starts as a good old egg. He’s a little weird, sheltered, but cute. That character disappears once he attacks Stanwyck. Then Brent acts like he’s in this “It’s a Husband’s Right” movie while Stanwyck and Wellman are making a “It’s not a Husband’s Right but She’ll Give Him a Second Chance” movie, while Lord’s script is setting up the slut shaming third act.

It’s weird. Because what Stanwyck and Wellman are doing works. Stanwyck makes the role work. Even with so little help from Brent, who’s not terrible he just has a godawful role. Meanwhile Talbot’s great and runs with the character. The idea of the New York society gangster fitting in at North Dakota bar? It’s a hoot. For the five or ten seconds the film lets Talbot do anything with it.

There’s some great direction from Wellman (along with some very weird direction), all of it with Sidney Hickox’s amazing cinematography. Even when Wellman makes a bad composition choice, Hickox’s photography makes it a good shot. When Wellman’s on, however, they’re all phenomenal shots. The desolate exterior shots are amazing (and way too brief) but so are the desolate exterior sound stage shots. Wellman gives Purchase Price a scale the script doesn’t deserve.

So it’s a ninety percent great role for Stanwyck, who’s fantastic and implies all the character development Lord skips over. It’s a ten percent great role for Brent, who’s tiresome by the time he’s pissed off about Talbot, which is way too early for him to be tiresome. Also, given he’s supposed to be sympathetic he should never get too tiresome. Brent’s character is the problem with Purchase Price. It’s not on him, not where Lord takes things.

Talbot’s great one hundred percent of the time.

Landau’s good as the lecherous farming rival, Murray Kinnell’s the effectively slimy henchman. He’s not in it much, then he gets important fast in the third act. Purchase Price needed another fifteen minutes. And a good script doctor.

Anyway. The rest of the supporting cast is fine. Anne Shirley almost stands out as a scared teenager Stanwyck bonds with. Victor Potel unfortunately does stand out as an in-bred yokal who gets way too much plotting relevance. The film’s take on the community changes, but then calls back Potel after it has. It’s really weird and bad choice. Though Lord makes so many of them, they blur.

The third act spills are a big disappointment, because the film was all set to pull it off. Then deus ex machina is practically a non sequitur and the film collapses. It’s a bummer. Stanwyck and Wellman did much better work than Price deserves.

And Talbot. And even Brent, who never got a chance.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Robert Lord, based on a story by Arthur Stringer; director of photography, Sidney Hickox; edited by William Holmes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Barbara Stanwyck (Joan Gordon), George Brent (Jim Gilson), Lyle Talbot (Eddie Fields), David Landau (Bull McDowell), Murray Kinnell (Forgan), Hardie Albright (Don Leslie), Victor Potel (Clyde), Leila Bennett (Emily), Anne Shirley (Sarah Tipton – the Daughter), Adele Watson (Mrs. Sarah Tipton), Clarence Wilson and (Elmer, the Justice of the Peace).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND REMEMBERING BARBARA STANWYCK BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD AND MADDY OF MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS.


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