Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Movies I’ve recently stared at on TCM #11

TCM’s Tuesday night schedule was devoted to movies adapted from the works of author Graham Greene, and I managed to catch the first two before retiring for the evening. There were also a few goodies mixed in with the Greene festival.

Brighton Rock (1947) – To my knowledge, this adaptation of Greene’s 1938 crime novel isn’t available on Region 1 DVD (I have a Region 2 copy that I had originally planned to spotlight in the Region 2 Cinema series that appears to have died a quick, painless death on this blog) so it was nice to see it “premiere” on TCM last night. Sir Richard Attenborough (whose character is seventeen, though he looks about twelve—the U.S. title for the film’s release was Young Scarface) plays a hood named Pinkie Brown who kills a rival thug (Alan Wheatley) to maintain his superiority in a protection racket (the death of Wheatley is particularly memorable; Dickie kills him while the two of them are on an amusement park ride) but his carefully established alibi starts to unravel thanks to a young waitress named Rose (Carol Marsh, whose character marries Pinkie later in the film) and a snoopy music hall performer delightfully played by Hermione Baddeley (some folks may remember her as Mrs. Naugatuck on the sitcom Maude) as sort of a Cockney Miss Marple. Rock is a superb example of British film noir, and is directed in an uncompromisingly violent fashion by John Boulting (the screenplay was written by Greene and Terence Rattigan). Doctor Who fans might also recognize first doc William Hartnell as Sir Richard’s sleazy pal Dallow.

The Fallen Idol (1948) – I’ve not seen this movie since it used to be shown on A&E back in the day…and I was surprised that I forgot Dora Bryan (whom I mentioned in A Taste of Honey) is in this, as the prostitute in the police station (Till Death Us Do Part’s Dandy Nichols also has a small part, as a cleaning woman). Once again, author Greene tackles a grand screenplay (based on his short story “The Basement Room”) that features Sir Ralph Richardson as an English butler working in a French embassy who has developed quite a friendship with the ambassador’s son (Bobby Henrey), who idolizes Richardson to no end. Richardson has been carrying on an affair with a young secretary (Michèle Morgan) at the embassy and he’s placed his trust in the boy not to reveal the details to his wife (Sonia Dreisdel)—but when Dreisdel dies from an accident the boy’s attempts to help Richardson land him in further hot water. Here’s one British classic that is available in Region 1 (courtesy of the fine people at Criterion); a masterful suspense drama directed by the great Carol Reed and featuring some familiar faces (Jack Hawkins, Bernard Lee, Torin Thatcher) in the cast.

The Crowd (1928) – I bought a copy of King Vidor’s silent masterpiece sometime back from and while I don’t regret the purchase, the copy I have was apparently cribbed from a laserdisc because the Asian subtitles are continuously onscreen (and I can’t shut them off). That’s why I’m glad TCM scheduled this yesterday (along with Vidor’s Hallelujah! [1929], recently admitted to the National Film Registry) because it allowed me to get a subtitle-free copy. I never cease to be amazed at how a simple story—a look at some happy days (and not-so-happy) in the life of a young couple (James Murray, Eleanor Boardman)—can make such an astounding film; modern viewers might think it a bit melodramatic but I’m completely sold on Crowd as one of the truly great contributions to silent cinema. (The image of the camera panning up a skyscraper and into a window, which dissolves into row after row after row of faceless drones working at office desks, has never left me—and apparently it impressed Billy Wilder, too; he used a similar image in his Oscar-winning comedy The Apartment). The performances from Murray and Boardman are truly first-rate; they actually make you care what happens to this couple instead of sinking into Sappy City.

Executive Suite (1954) – I didn’t think I was going to like this one because of its glossy, slick MGM pedigree—but when you eyeball the cast lineup (William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger and Nina Foch), which lends credence to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer’s motto “More stars than there are in heaven,” you gotta give it at least one roll of the dice. The revered president of a furniture company has snuffed it, and the members of the board scramble to tap a worthy successor. Controller Loren P. Shaw (March, in an amazing performance) makes no secret about throwing his hat in the ring, but vice-president Fred Alderson (Pidgeon) and plant manager Don Walling (Holden) are repulsed by Shaw’s “bottom line” business philosophy, and scheme to thwart his efforts. Ernest Lehman concocted this interesting drama about the soft white underbelly of American business, and while I enjoyed watching Suite it falls a bit short of a better film released two years later (Patterns, written by Rod Serling). Still, with that great cast (Pidgeon’s character reminds me of his wheeling-dealing Senator in Advise and Consent and Calhern is his reliably unctuous self) and direction by Robert Wise, it’s definitely worth a look-see.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Being a huge Graham Greene fan, it's hard for me to swallow that so much of his work that was translated to screen is in obscurity. I can't recall if they've released The Fugitive (starring Henry Fonda) on DVD yet, but a couple years back, I finally got a VHS copy. It's a great Ford/Fonda movie! I have no idea why it isn't in a Ford DVD collection somewhere.