BEST BOOKS ABOUT FILM

BEST BOOKS

Reader Jane H. Three suggested that I blog about the best books on film.  I decided on the proverbial ten best but, unable to hold it to ten, I went for twenty  —  in two parts:  a blog on ten and a blog for a second ten.

Humility interferes:  As I surveyed my choices and noted the unevenness of the kinds of books and the frequent bent towards favorite films and favorite people of my own, I felt compelled to alter Jane’s suggestion and call this FAVORITE BOOKS ABOUT FILM.

The list includes surveys and histories and books of theory; titles treating genre; titles about individual performers and directors;  and books about particular films.

My original intent to include complete bibliographical information as clue to their availability has proven easier thought than accomplished.  If any reader is interested in the original publication data or current availability of a particular title, I will do my best to help.

RICK’S FLICKS’ FAVORITE TEN

Eisenstein’s ALEXANDER NEVSKY

THE FILM TILL NOW by Paul Rotha.  A personal favorite:  the first film history I read; the first film book I bought.  It surveys international film from its beginnings  —  and with a supplement by Richard Griffith, “The Film Since Then”  — and through 1948.  It is hard on Hollywood.

FILM FORM and THE FILM SENSE by S.M. Eisenstein.  Abstract and abstruse but essential.  The great director’s two volumes of theory and praxis are filled with examples from his own work and illustrated with unusual graphics plus stills from his films.

THE FILM AND THE PUBLIC by Roger Manvell.  A survey of all aspects of film and its history through 1955.  It includes analytical discussions of many of the author’s favorites:  Greed, L’Atalante; Brief Encounter; The Third Man and others.

THE STARS by Richard Schickel.  A serious critic’s views of all the famous stars in the Hollywood studio system from the beginnings through the 50s, ending with Elizabeth Taylor whom he dubs “the last star.”  The book includes the finest single paragraph ever written about Judy Garland.  (What would Schickel write today of Cruise, McQueen, Streep, Roberts?)

DAVID O. SELZNICK’S HOLLYWOOD by Ronald Haver.  Scholarly and fun.  A survey of the man, his studio and his era  —  in coffee table format with gorgeous color sections on Gone with the Wind and Duel in the Sun.

THE REEL LIST; a categorical companion to over 2,000 memorable films by Lynne Arany, Tom Dyia and Gary Goldsmith.  Appropriately subtitled “a categorical companion,” it contains 200 lists of 9 or 10 films on themes and subjects like films about killing your spouse, films on the checkered flag (auto racing), boys to men, gotta dance  —  and many more.  A great and unusual viewing guide.

DIARY OF A FILM by Jean Cocteau.  One of the earliest, and still one of the best, “making of” ‘s in personal, very honest form by French filmmaker Jean Cocteau about his Beauty and the Beast.  With evocative photographs.

VALENTINO by Irving Shulman.  There are more factual, reliable books about the screen’s legendary lover but Shulman captures the charisma of the man Jesse Lasky called “the greatest star of them all”  —   and the madness of his fans.

SEEING THROUGH MOVIES by Mark Crispin Miller.  A collection of several long essays by Crispin and others,highly readable but seriously thoughtful.  For example, there is one dealing with how and where we see films (tv at home, in a theater) and the difference that makes.  Another treats films about Vietnam.

One of Judy Garland’s greatest hits, directed by Vincente Minnelli

 

 

 

 

Valentino in BLOOD AND SAND

 

 

 

 

AND NEXT BLOG:  10 MORE.

 

REQUEST FOR INPUT:  Readers and followers will note that the list lacks a book about animation.  Suggestions, anyone?

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LIBRARY FIND

Found at our local library by my collaborator BKG

TARANTINO:  A RETROSPECTIVE by Tom Shone.  Insight Editions, 2017.

A comprehensive survey lavishly, but meaningfully, illustrated.

NEXT FRIDAY BLOG March 1

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

 

The Screen Actors Guild Awards

THE SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS:  PERSONAL REFLECTIONS

Did you watch the presentation of the awards this past Sunday?  It may as well have been the Oscar show.  We began with a supposedly funny host concentrating on mean put-downs of the people present.  She did stop short of ridiculing the awards themselves, something in which the Oscar hosts and presenters now specialize.  But even CASABLANCA came in for knocks.  (A reassessment of this film’s hallowed niche as the greatest work of art in the history of humankind is long overdue, but  fifteen seconds on this show was neither the place nor the time.)

Returning to one presenter  —  the original Academy’s original way  — would help.  This would avoid the cutting up between the two presenters in which the award becomes the minor point (Alec Baldwin and Mullally especially egregious).   But Hugh Grant showed that you can make a fool of yourself as a single presenter. The Academy also used to allow no nominee on stage unless being awarded.  This was appropriate and gave some dignity to the occasion.  Today we have seen everything but someone presenting an Oscar to himself or herself, and this is probably just down the road.

The president of the Guild gave an impressive address in which she spoke of the “dignity and power” of the work of the actor.  There was little of the former in the evening’s shenanigans.  Exceptions were provided by Tom Hanks and Alan Alda and Patricia Arquette and Gary Oldman.

A low point was reached at the presentation of the concluding ensemble award as each ensemble cast cheered its movie when its name was called in nomination.

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AND A FINAL QUOTE FROM ITALO CALVINO

If to my mind the cinema consisted above all of actors and actresses, one should nevertheless remember that for me, as for all Italian moviegoers, only half of each actor and actress was truly present, in the sense that we got only their bodies and not their voices, which were substituted by the abstraction of the dubbing, by a conventional, alien, insipid diction, no less anonymous than the printed subtitles which in other countries (or at least in those where filmgoers are thought to be more agile) tell you what the mouths nevertheless continue to communicate with all the considerable charge of individual pronunciation, of a phonetic signature made up of lips, teeth, saliva, made up above all of the varying, geographically conditioned accents of the American melting pot, in a language that for those who understand it offers nuances of expression and for those who don’t brings with it an extra musical potency (such as one hears today in Japanese and Swedish films).  The conventionality of American cinema  was thus “dubbled” (you will excuse the almost pun) by the conventionality of the dubbing, which to our ears, however, became part and parcel of the film’s enchantment, something inseparable from the images, a sign that the power of the cinema was born silent, and that sound  —  at least for Italian cinema-goers  —  has always been felt as an appendage, a caption in block capitals.  (“A Cinema-goer’s Autobiography” in The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino,   New York, Pantheon Books, 1993.)

NEXT FRIDAY POST February 15

Until then,
See you OUT AT the movies,
Rick

ROARING SILENCE

The Winning of Barbara Worth
Henry King
1926

This is a well-paced drama featuring strong visuals.  The prologue, with so few titles, leaves an indelible impression of the vast southwest on all the subsequent action.

The first encounter between William Holmes (Ronald Colman) and Barbara Worth (Vilma Banky) is nearly wordless, but lovely, lingering and believable.  The sequence is long enough and establishes such rapport between them that we can believe in love at first sight.

The flood is finely paced, well-photographed and, again, believable  —  as a result of creative  special effects.  (Them was the days.)

Colman and Banky are excellent.  She creates such a credible Woman of the Western Desert  —  SPOILER ALERT  —  that her acceptance of life in the East in the coda comes as a disappointment.

As Abe Lee a young Gary Cooper is okay  —  boyishly handsome and tall, tall in the saddle.

screenplay by Frances Marion from the novel by Harold Bell Wright,
photography by George Barnes

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Another quotation from Italo Calvino:  I haven’t said it yet, though I felt it would be understood, that for me the cinema meant American cinema, the Hollywood production of the time.  ‘My’ period goes pretty much from Lives of a Bengal Lancer, with Gary Cooper, and Mutiny on the Bounty, with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, up to the death of Jean Harlow…”  “The American cinema as it was then was composed of a gallery of actors’ faces unparalleled either before or after…making of Marlene Dietrich not so much an immediate object of desire but desire itself.”

AND MORE:  “Clark Gable represented a sort of brutality leavened with boastful swagger, Gary Cooper was cold blood filtered through irony; for those who counted on overcoming obstacles with a mixture of humour and savoir faire,  there was the aplomb of William :Powell and the discretion of Franchot Tone; for the introvert who masters his shyness there was James Stewart, while Spencer Tracy was the model of the just, open-minded man who knows how to do things with his hands; and we were even given a rare example of the intellectual hero in Leslie Howard.”  (“A Cinema-Goer’s Autobiography” in The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino.  New York, Pantheon Books, 1993.)

COMING SOON FROM RICK’S FLICKS to that screen nearest you:

Best Books on Film

and

The Wonder of Jude Law

NEXT FRIDAY POST January 18, 2019

Until then,
See you AT the movies in THE NEW YEAR,
Rick

 

SHORT TAKES – EARLY THIRTIES HOLLYWOOD

QUOTE FOR THE WEEK:

There were years when I went to the cinema almost every day and maybe even twice a day, and those were the years between ’36 and the war, the years of my adolescence. It was a time when the cinema became the world for me. (“A Cinema-Goer’s Autobiography” in The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino.)

Rick’s Journal    –  MY FILM CAREER

Baby  Face
Alfred E. Green
1933

I never look forward to any film featuring Barbara Stanwyck  —  except The Lady Eve, Double Indemnity or Meet John Doe.  But this is a gripping story, visually presented.  The camera climbs up the building in which our “heroine” continually reaches for and achieves success.

She is believable in the role and gives the sex scenes  real punch.

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Stingaree
William A. Wellman
1934

Set on an Australian cattle ranch this period piece is a silly melodrama, but the direction and the performances makes us believe it.

Director William Wellman

There are fine moments.  There is a scene of Richard Dix and Irene Dunne exploring a trunk of clothes that has a magical light.  And in an at-the-piano scene in which Dunne sings to Dix’s accompaniment, their exchange of amorous glances is potent.  More than once in the film  Dunne’s thoughts in the form of unspoken flashbacks are superimposed over her face on screen.  The common silent technique is used to advantage here in 1934.

Unfortunately, the supposed Australian setting is warred against by a typical-then  Hollywood mix of accents.

SPOILER ALERT:  The ending is a 1934 shocker as Dunne rides off, on horseback, with Dix who is fleeing the police.

My Halliwell guide says that the film has a color sequence, but there was not one in the Turner Classic Movies print I viewed.

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ADDENDUM TO FABULOUS DUO (Rick’s Flicks 10/26)

CINEVENT comment on the sequence in which Sascha plays his New York-inspired composition:  “The scene opens as Sascha is playing…As Gaynor runs down the fire escape, the music surges forth with a pulsating rhythm that could only be Gershwin.  For this complex mixture of curiosity and awe turning to alienation and depression, Butler created a wonderful montage full of Germanic images, including spirits rising from a graveyard and the skyline metamorphosing into clutching hands, as Gaynor runs through the city, each block bringing more terror than the last.  Gershwin’s score goes on to capture these images with a piece of music so reminiscent of his Rhapsody in Blue that he initially called it Rhapsody in Rivers.”  (Eventually New York Rhapsody.)    —    (From CINEVENT notes 2007 by Dave Snyder and Steven Haynes.)

THE LEGENDARY DUO _____________________________________________________________

AND A FINAL QUOTE:

Director Jim Jarmusch on photographer Robby Müller:  “He really taught me how to make a film:  how to avoid the obvious in locations; how to use beauty in the service of the story and characters; and how black and white can stimulate the imagination by a reduction of information  —  that it can be more dreamlike and evocative than color.”

Müller, who photographed Jarmusch’s Dead Man and Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, died this past summer.

(Quote from the New York Times obituary for Robby Müller by Richard Sandomir, 8/11/18.)

NEXT FRIDAY POST November 30

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

 

 

 

GOLD SPLICED IN

GOLD          Karl Hartl          1934

The exposition is clear, simple and always interesting.  Shown rather than told.  The narrative is a smooth flow.  The photography in this near-SciFi film from Nazi Germany is clear and highly professional.  Am I being condescending?  What else to expect from UFA?

The story,  today, has to seem  not very original, however:  some German scientists’ attempt at alchemy, building to a moral dilemma  —  scientific and commercial success vs. the social good.  We’re talking gold  here  —  and materialism  —  and, towards the end, inklings of globalism.

Gold comes out of thirties Germany; but I detect no Naziism.  The individual who steals the German scientific secrets, and murders to do so, is a Scot who is capitalistically self-centered and selfish.  Is the struggle between this Scot industrialist bad guy and the German good guys perhapsmore propagandistic than I have taken into account?

Albers, in center, as Dietrich’s lover in Von Sternberg’s THE BLUE ANGEL

The directing is straightforward and competent.  The film is well-paced with a lot of effective silences.  And the actors are successful.  Hans Albers stars as the principal good guy German scientist  —  principal because he’s the one left alive.  According to Katz (Film Encyclopedia), Albers made no films between 1935 and 1943.  Interesting.  Katz also reports that Brigitte Helm retired in 1935,  He comments that the silent star (now posthumously world famous as a result of the longevity of Metropolis) was less successful in talkies.  I do not agree, based on her performance here.

Some footage from Gold appears in Curt Siodmak’s 1953 American film The Magnetic Monster, starring inveterate monster chaser Richard Carlson.  The climactic scene of Gold, in which our German good guy destroys the alchemical machine stolen by the Scotch bad guy, is brilliantly and matchingly spliced into the conclusion of Siodmak’s film.

On right, Richard Carlson who after such diverse films as TOO MANY GIRLS, HOLD THAT GHOST AND THE LITTLE FOXES, became creature chaser par excellence in the second phase of his career.

The Magnetic Monster          Curt Siodmak          1953
editor, Herbert L. Strock ; production designer, George Van Marter

NEXT FRIDAY POST November 17

Until then,
See you AT the movies
Rick

THE MOONLIGHT DANCE

As Vasili in Dovzhenko’s EARTH (1930) Semyon Svashenko secured his niche in film history  —  secured the niche he had established the year before in the same director’s ARSENAL (1929) in which he played Timosh the Ukrainian (Svashenko was Unkrainian as was director Dovzhenko).  Today’s writing on film (and on just about everything else under the sun) ridiculously overuses the word iconic; but it is the word that suits the photograph on this page from ARSENAL, one of the most internationally recognizable stills from the silent era and a memorial of a stirring performance.

But Svashenko’s portrayal in the lyrical EARTH is in and from another dimension, and no one who has seen him dance down the road in the moonlight is likely to forget him.

Semyon Svashenko was still acting in 1957 and receives a credit in AND QUIET FLOWS THE DON (directed by Sergey Gerasimov).    And he has a role, though not the lead, in BALLAD OF A SOLDIER ( directed by Grigoriy Chukhray, 1959), a popular film in the United States at the time of the Cold War thaw and Russian-American cultural exchange.  And  he was billed as Old Ukrainian in the 1966 Russian WAR AND PEACE (directed by Sergey Bondarchuck).

He died in 1969.

the great Svashenko

the great Svashenko

ARSENAL is available from Kino Lorber in a beautiful digital remastering by David Shepard.  Kino also offers EARTH, not a remastering  but an acceptable print.

NEXT FRIDAY POST July 8

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

BACK ON THE TRAIL

Rick’s Journal     –  MY FILM CAREER

BACK ON THE TRAIL IN THE ROXY AT THE END OF THE STREET

(This is a revision and expansion of a blog I posted 9/26/14.)

The town where I grew up boasted a Roxy.

AT THE ROXY

AT THE ROXY

In my movie childhood  —  which chimes with all my childhood because my life has been lived at the movies  —  one of our downtown theaters, the Roxy, often showed on Saturdays what their ads called reissues.  Was the rest of the world calling them re-releases?  Or was everyone saying reissues then?

There were eight movie theaters downtown within a five-block area, seven of them on the same street, three of them in a row on the same block, right next to each other.  All of them, on their signs and their marquees and in their ads, used the British spelling theatre.  The later and  eighth house, on a side street, was called the Temple, and it would eventually become my temple because it showed older movies almost exclusively.

Occasionally the management interspersed an Adults Only documentary shot on location featuring barely clad tribes for the titillation (pun intended) of my budding adolescent urges and surges.  But the standard fare was thirties/forties Hollywood.  And I ate it up.

I saw It Happened One Night there.  And Mr. Smith and Mr. DeedsScarfaceThe Public Enemy and Little Caesar (a double bill!).  Jezebel.  And I recall a lone British film, called in America The Invaders (English title The 49th Parallel).  I was trying to see  —  and it wasn’t easy then or there  —  as many Leslie Howard films as I could.  He was special to me because he had been Vivien Leigh’s Ashley.  (The Invaders featured Laurence Olivier and Anton Walbrook, too.)

The Florida Theatre was downtown’s showplace.  Three stories.  Three balconies.  Three lobbies.  Even a Colored Entrance sign over a door on the side street.  The Florida was the site of my first movie.  According to my mother, the witch in Snow White so frightened me that I claimed to be sick and had to be taken to the rest room.  And that reminds me that at the Florida there were also three men’s rooms and in one of them I learned about what the Boy Scout manual used to call self-pollution, learned about it through an incredible exhibitionist demonstration about which one of my tender years in that era neither complained nor sued.

The Florida would later be where I first saw The Yearling and where my teen loins first lusted after Jennifer Jones as Pearl Chavez in Duel in the Sun.

In the next block from the Florida were those three-in-a-row theaters; a regal block:  the Palace, the Empress and the Imperial.    The Palace was a first-run house, usually for programmers and sometimes for double features.  All these theaters had but a single screen, of course, showing just one film or, at most, two.  The Palace was where I would see and fall for the Andrews Sisters (cf. Rick’s Flicks 3/24/12 and 2/1/13).  And it was where my brother would take me for my first view of The Wizard of Oz.  In those days a theater ran a film continuously  —  no breaks, no bringing up of the lights.  And like most people  —  except for my father who always found out when a movie started and and would never see one except from its beginning  —  we just walked into a movie at any convenient time.  And my brother and I entered the land of Oz as Judy Garland, scouting apples, found the Tinman’s rusted foot.  She was, from my first moment, never only Dorothy.  She was JudyGarlandasDorothy.  Older brother Joe and I were seldom friends.  There would come a time when we were  near sworn enemies.  But he gave me The Wizard of Oz, and I must be ever grateful to him for that.

I have just remembered that the Palace also offered vaudeville  —  vaudeville in its last days and on its last legs.  A double feature AND a stage show.  Magicians.  My first singing Alaskan princess (probably from the Bronx, had I known).   My first strippers.  Stand-up comics with raunchy jokes.  I started out at the Palace in my grade school years, but you can be sure I understood the jokes.  I still remember one of them.

VivienLeigh1948And while the Palace was a first-run house, it showed Gone with the Wind after its initial release at the Florida a block away.  So, it was at the Palace that I first saw a preview of the Wind and felt crushed that the trailer was all drawings and paintings.  No advanced live footage of the Wind in those days.  I had about a year to go before I would fall in love, once and forever, with Vivien Leigh.

The Empress and the Imperial featured second runs, the Empress often opening with what had closed at the Florida the previous day.  It was at the Empress that I first saw Gone with the Wind two days in succession.  I had already seen it in two neighborhood theaters, as they were then called.  Then I saw it on a Saturday and a Sunday at the Empress.  My mother was going to go with me on Sunday, but when my Dad drove us past the theater, we saw a two-block line.  My mother changed her mind; but they dropped me off, and I waited in that line to see my Vivien Leigh.  In those days our city, with its navy base, and our theaters were filled with sailors.  I remember a gob in the men’s room at the end of the movie that Sunday saying to everyone there, “If that movie had lasted five more minutes, I’d have pissed all over myself and all over the theater.”

One of the most exciting aspects of Gone with the Wind was its length  —  unusual then.  (At the time I did not know about Italy’s Cabiria or France’s La Roue or any other Gance or the trials  and tribulations of Greed.)  I was captured by the very idea of the length of Gone with the Wind.  I remember being angry when I had first learned about the length of the 1959 Ben-Hur.  William Wyler or not, who did Ben-Hur think it was?  Soon there would be a slew of lengthy blockbusters as studios  —  they were still trying to exist, then, in the old way  —  sought to make films, often of inflated length, that would consume all of an evening.  When you got home from your movie it was too late , in those days, to settle into television.

The last of the theaters to be built downtown, the St. Johns, was a studio theater.  It was Warner owned and showed Warner films only and was open, of course, seven days a week all day.  That’s how many films a studio turned out in those immediate postwar days.  I remember a flitty friend from school days describing the theater as “too severe,”  something he must have heard his mother say.  But the St. Johns  was unusual, to be sure.  Tomato red walls in the lobby.  No decorations on those walls.  I visited this severe place less often than I visited the other theaters I’ve fondly named and remembered.  Was I already reacting unconsciously to what would become a definite adult perception?  —  that Warner Brothers movies were filled with unlikable characters who talked too fast.

Once more unto the Roxy and its reissues.  I can still see a poster outside the Roxy Theatre, Ann Sheridan sprawled across a tabletop in Navy Blues.  I never did get to see the movie.  It became one of those movies that you somehow always miss.  It would have already shown at the other downtown theaters, and the Roxy was its last stop on the way out of downtown.  The Roxy was the place to see things before they got away.  But my mother wouldn’t let me go see Navy Blues that Saturday.  I called home to ask.  It would have been my fourth movie that day.  A single feature at the Florida, followed by a double bill at the Imperial, with Krystal hamburgers in between.  She drew the line at a fourth movie because, without older brother Joe, I would be getting home alone after dark.

I was sometimes, though, allowed two double features, in fact often.  And I  saw everything I wanted to.  I can’t remember ever being advised, as a child, against a movie  —  except that she spoke against Duel in the Sun which I was seeing weekly, following it from theater to theater.  I was in high school then, hormones a-rage.  My father exhibited no interest in what I saw.  When I was smaller my parents  —  I realize, now, always happy to have me out of the house  —  would drop me off at a theater and come back for me afterwards.  Sometimes I would be left at one theater in the afternoon and picked up at another one in the evening.

Before the Temple had reopened and been sanctified, my Roxy periodically had films from the past.  How did a grade school kid get hung up on older films?  I lived for the “Current Week,” a feature of the Saturday evening paper.  All theaters listed their programs for the coming seven days.  My brother never dived for his sports pages with more thrill than I lunged for the “Current Week.”  It contained the programs not just for those eight theaters concentrated in the holy five-block downtown area but for all the neighborhood second-, third- and fourth-run houses as well.

In my earliest discovery of the “Current Week,” I had no idea of the meaning of the word current.  I don’t know how I even knew its pronunciation.  In my life at the time it meant my movie week.  A poet’s heart leaps.  My stomach did when I would reach the Roxy  towards the end of the alphabetical list of theaters in the “Current Week” and find, in parenthesis after the title of next Saturday’s movie, the word reissue.   The Roxy changed its program four times each week.  They offered one movie on Sunday and Monday, a different one on Tuesday and Wednesday, yet another on Thursday and Friday and, finally, one which ran for one day on Saturday.  I deliberately read through the theaters in order, saving the Roxy till last where it naturally stood until the St. Johns was added.  The Roxy’s add for Saturday would read TODAY ONLY.  Saturday was reissue day  in a week when they were showing a reissue.  Oh, and the ad in the paper on Saturday would contain, under the title, in parenthesis, the word reissue.

I am still unable to answer my own rhetorical question.  I don’t know why I was so attracted to what was not new and preferred the Roxy’s Saturday programs and those reissues at the Temple.  Some of it may have been my mother’s telling me about her own moviegoing days as a youngster.  I knew about Rudolph Valentino and Clara Bow and Mary Miles Minter and Ramon Novarro and Doug and Charlie and the man who would become my beloved Buster  —  I knew about them long before I had the opportunity to see them.  But until that chance came, I had my Roxy and my Saturdays there.

I remember Too Hot to Handle.  I went to the movie already liking Clark Gable and Myrna Loy because my parents enjoyed them so much.  And Red Dust.  My parents loved Jean Harlow, too, though I confess that at the time she never looked real to me.  I also saw Algiers at the Roxy.  Mom and Dad had Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow, but I discovered Hedy Hedy OneLamarr myself.  There was Tugboat Annie, though as a grade school-er I was incapable of realizing the wonder of Marie Dressler.

AT THE ROXY

AT THE ROXY

But the brightest of those early memories of the Roxy is still The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.  Bright indeed.  The first Hollywood film shot outdoors in color.  The color is rich but never garish; the photography is careful and quietly artful.  In the overall running time, there may be two mattes.  Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda and especially Sylvia Sidney compel us to believe this unbelievable tale of sentimentalized mountain folk from the popular novel by John Fox, Jr. which also became popular as a play.  (See Pine note below.*)

There is just enough of a hard edge to the characters  —  and the playing  —  of MacMurray and Fonda to assist their credibility.  There is a surprising and even harder edge to June, the Sylvia Sidney character, a facet the actress grasps and delivers.  She is a mountain girl who for years has had an understanding, as it used to be called, with Dave, a cousin (Fonda), an understanding that she has never fully accepted and from which she periodically frets and revolts.  To their mountain area comes the railroad, hungry for their land.  June finds herself attracted to the railroad’s business representative Jack Hale (MacMurray) who is attracted to her as well but proves a man of mature responsibility, refusing to take offered advantage.  When June is given a chance to go to the city, she is fierce in her determination to take it, a chance finally “to have my fancies.”  As a small child I somehow knew what she meant.  She wanted pretty clothes and pretty things, which were her dreams.  The background of the story is a Hatfield/McCoy-like feud.  Here they’re the Tollivers and the Falins.

Fuzzy Knight has two memorable songs in the movie, and they actually belong in the story.  And while later, seeing this film as an adult, I had to suffer a supposedly cute Hollywood kid, at least Spanky McFarland as Buddy is not a smart aleck and does not even feel superior to all the adults around him.  I always enjoy glimpsing Clara Blandick before she became Auntie Em, and she has a small role as a landlady.

Sylvia Sidney gave many outstanding performances during a long career.  Well worth watching:  Sabotage (Hitchcock); Fury (Fritz Lang) (both from the same year as The Trail of the Lonesome Pine); Dead End (William Wyler); The Searching Wind (from the play by Lillian Hellman);  Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (Academy Award nomination).  She also had stage successes, one of which was the role of the governess in The Innocents, a dramatization of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.

+Pine note:  The novel  was filmed in 1914; in 1916 (directed by Cecil B. DeMille); and in 1923 starring Mary Miles Minter, Antonio Moreno and Ernest Torrence.

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine     Henry Hathaway     1936

NEXT FRIDAY POST June 3

Until then,
Let’s go the movies.
See you there,
Rick