Tag Archives: William Conrad

The Naked Jungle (1954, Byron Haskin)

If there are faults with The Naked Jungle, ones not the result of having to follow the Hays Code–which the film skirts thanks to Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall’s excellent dialogue, Eleanor Parker’s fantastic, intelligent performance and Charlton Heston’s brute force approach–they fall on director Haskin. The film is well-directed with Parker and Heston’s character drama, even with the special effects heavy expository shots, but Haskin refuses to get too far into any characters’ perspective, which cuts down on the thrills.

Oddly enough, I just realized the film opens on a shot from Parker’s perspective. One she even discusses with co-star William Conrad. But, even when it would serve a scene to go with the character’s perspective, Haskin does not. He’s lucky the script and actors can carry it.

But that odd directing misstep, which is most problematic in the third act, can’t overshadow Haskin’s excellent work in the rest of the picture. Parker’s a mail order bride, Heston’s her plantation owner–an extraordinarily good one, the film carefully reveals–husband. They don’t get along. Parker does some great work from her first scene (that one with Conrad); she establishes herself quickly. Heston’s more of the one with the internal character arc. Parker–and the viewer–are basically just waiting for him to grow up. And it’s a lot of fun watching him grow up. On one hand, there’s this refined (while still playful), thoughtful performance from Parker. Heston’s not refined or even playful. He’s really good at being a complete jackass. He runs with it. It works out.

It’s forty-five minutes into The Naked Jungle before the possibility of action thrills get revealed, but then the script puts it off even more. The character drama is the most important part of the film. Once it’s resolved, then Heston gets to be an action star. Somewhat late into the thrills even–by the time he comes to the rescue, The Naked Jungle has gone through many of its excellent special effects process shots. Some great matte paintings in the film.

What makes the film so peculiar is the script. Maddow and MacDougall are deliberate in how they make work Parker and Heston’s relationship. Until they’re a duo, the action barely ever plays to anything but furthering their personal conflict.

It’s rather neatly done. And beautifully acted. Heston clearly loves the role as white savior, Parker’s magnificent, Conrad’s fun as serious comic relief. Great photography from Ernest Laszlo and an effective Daniele Amfitheatrof score round it off.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Haskin; screenplay by Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall, based on a story by Carl Stephenson; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Everett Douglas; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by George Pal; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Joanna), Charlton Heston (Leiningen), William Conrad (Commissioner), Abraham Sofaer (Incacha), Norma Calderón (Zala), Romo Vincent (Boat Captain) and John Dierkes (Gruber).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.

Advertisements

One Way Street (1950, Hugo Fregonese)

Here’s a goofy one–the title also could be The Doctor in the Sombrero–with James Mason as a mob doctor who makes off with two hundred grand and the boss’s girl, only to end up in rural Mexico, healing horses. It’s all pretty standard stuff, down to the excursion to Mexico, but Mason and Dan Duryea (surprisingly effective as the mob boss) bring some pep to it. The beginning, with a rapid setup, is great. Then the escape to Mexico, which quickly losses story potential, bogs down the rest of the movie. It’s fine for the most part, just painfully predictable. Mason’s a doctor who learns to care again, first about horses, then people, and finally romantic interest Märta Torén. All very predictable until the conclusion.

Where One Way Street (which makes little sense given the film’s content) is a little different is in its shedding of the film noir. The stopover in rural Mexico is somewhat genre-free. Predictable and a little boring, but it’s straight b-movie drama, not noir. Unfortunately, the return to Los Angeles ends up damaging the whole movie. First, the imperative for the trip is unclear (it’s just time for the movie to end) and, after a neat trick, One Way Street ends as dumbly as it possibly can.

Mason’s good at the beginning and the end and okay through the middle. There’s nothing for him to work with here. Torén’s mediocre and uninteresting. Of the Mexico portion, Basil Ruysdael comes out the best as a sympathetic priest. The real surprise is William Conrad as one of the gangsters. He’s great in his handful of scenes (and Jack Elam’s pretty good in an uncredited small part).

Another big problem is director Fregonese. He’s so uninteresting as a director–both in terms of composition and in directing actors–it’s hard to think he’d do anything to fix the script’s problems. With the terrible ending, the movie would be a little better, a standard b-movie, but it did have some potential for being better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Hugo Fregonese; written by Lawrence Kimble; director of photography, Maury Gertsman; edited by Milton Carruth; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Leonard Goldstein; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Mason (Dr. Frank Matson), Märta Torén (Laura Thorsen), Dan Duryea (John Wheeler), Basil Ruysdael (Father Moreno), William Conrad (Ollie), Rodolfo Acosta (Francisco Morales), King Donovan (Grieder), Robert Espinoza (Santiago), Tito Renaldo (Hank Torres), Margarito Luna (Antonio Morales), Emma Roldán (Catalina) and George J. Lewis (Capt. Rodriguez).


RELATED

Cry Danger (1951, Robert Parrish)

Cry Danger is a strange film noir… it takes place almost exclusively during the day. It also relies almost solely on humor to move itself along through the first act–not Dick Powell, who spends the whole film with a slightly bemused look on his face, but Richard Erdman. Erdman’s the whole reason to watch Cry Danger… when he’s not around, I just kept waiting for him to show up again. He never disappointed.

Erdman’s so important because Cry Danger is not a particularly involving mystery. It establishes the good guys and the bad guys very early and doesn’t do much to make things interesting between the setup and the resolution. The problem is the lack of a mystery and the foils throughout are spare. Eventually, everything comes to rest on Powell’s shoulders. He’s got to carry the movie through and, while he’s able to do it, it’s at the expense of quite a bit.

The story takes place over three or four days and is occasionally confusing–someone refers to last night and it really seemed like it should have been two nights. But these mistakes (or confounding moments) are forgivable, because Powell’s journey–even if everything is predictable–is fun to watch. Powell knows how to do these roles and he fulfills the genre requirements, but he takes it much further–his character is very likable and without that affection, it’d be hard to get through Cry Danger.

One of the more interesting elements in the film is the excessive violence. Powell beats William Conrad mercilessly twice in the film, both times probably in the second act, and I’d never seen anything like these scenes in any films of the same era. They’re almost 1994 Tarantino-esque. (So Powell turning out to be the hero, who also happens to beat people with sculptures, makes for an odd situation).

But Cry Danger (the title has nothing to do with the film) also uses another neat trick to get around not having a compelling story. A lot of the action takes place in a trailer court and something about returning to the familiar setting, along with peculiar confinement (it’s not inside and it’s open enough for the characters to move around, but it’s also set aside and closed off…), make Cry Danger an enjoyable eighty minutes.

Besides Erdman, who’s so good, and Powell, who’s sturdy and can carry this kind of film without any help, there are also some good performances from Regis Toomey and Conrad. Rhonda Fleming is underwhelming (and the film never reveals how she manages to get so fixed up while living in a trailer), but Jean Porter is kind of good. Porter’s in most of her scenes with Erdman and it’s hard to tell.

Film noirs are not supposed to get by on charm… but Cry Danger does and does so well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Parrish; screenplay by William Bowers, based on a story by Jerome Cady; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; music by Paul Dunlap and Emil Newman; produced by W.R. Frank and Sam Wiesenthal; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dick Powell (Rocky Mulloy), Rhonda Fleming (Nancy Morgan), Richard Erdman (Delong), William Conrad (Louie Castro), Regis Toomey (Cobb), Jean Porter (Darlene LaVonne), Jay Adler (Williams) and Joan Banks (Alice Fletcher).


RELATED

An American Dream (1966, Robert Gist)

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Stuart Whitman before–I just went through his filmography and nothing jumped out (except Interrupted Melody and it’s a bit part, but going to be amusing in a moment)–anyway, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of him because he’s kind of like a Glenn Ford who can’t act. An American Dream is no winner–after a wonderful opening, one suggesting director Robert Gist was going to do something interesting in terms of filmmaking–but Whitman is real awful. Janet Leigh’s terrible too, but her bad performance is clearly the script. Whitman’s bad performance is all his own.

Eleanor Parker is in it for a bit (she plays Whitman’s wife who he murders) and she’s got some amusing scenes, making the melodramatic trashiness of the film entertaining, but once she goes it becomes intolerable. The nice Johnny Mandel score also changes around that point too, becoming annoying and predictable instead of understated and thoughtful.

Gist turns out to be a sixties director in the worst sense, the kind who can’t–in traditional TV scene situation–think of setups besides the ones on television. Gist directed mostly TV, so there’s a reason for it, but that opening certainly suggested otherwise. For the first five minutes, I thought everything I’d heard about the film was wrong….

But it isn’t.

There are so many heinous performances in the film I can’t list them all, but Joe De Santis is extraordinary. Only Murray Hamilton and Parker–in many ways, more so Hamilton–emerge unscathed.

It’s truly something awful, though, I suppose, an interesting example of a bad period of American filmmaking. Like now, when music videos have come to define cinematic style in bad movies, except it was television defining artless style….

Amazing opening though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Gist; screenplay by Mann Rubin, based on the novel by Norman Mailer; director of photography, Sam Leavitt; edited by George R. Rohrs; music by Johnny Mandel; produced by William Conrad; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Stuart Whitman (Stephen Richard Rojack), Janet Leigh (Cherry McMahon), Eleanor Parker (Deborah Rojack), Barry Sullivan (Lieutenant Roberts), Lloyd Nolan (Barney Kelly), Murray Hamilton (Arthur Kabot), Joe De Santis (Eddie Ganucci), J.D. Cannon (Police Sergeant Walt Leznicki), Susan Denberg (Ruta), Les Crane (Nicky) and Warren Stevens (Johnny Dell).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.