The Watch List For 9/12/12
HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941) --- I watch Hold Back The Dawn and ponder
Hold Back The Dawn is about would-be immigrant and former gigolo Charles Boyer's effort to enter the
Maybe Wilder wasn't quite the cynic we thought, or more likely, censor edicts obliged his scruple-free characters going conscience-ridden for a third act to right previous wrongs. Even Chuck Tatum did penance for a first two-third's misbehavior of Ace In The Hole. Hold Back The Dawn gets less interesting once Boyer turns Boy Scout, but even Wilder with
STATE'S ATTORNEY (1932) --- John Barrymore wired for sound as courtroom mouthpiece for boyhood chum William "Stage" Boyd, lately risen to crime lord status. Barrymore was by this time more effective as orator going to ruin than romantic leading man, alcohol having made steady inroad to the profile of profiles. His characters now with feet distinctly of clay, Barrymore could enrich State's Attorney and others with bravura when needed, pathos where appropriate, and mordant humor always at the ready. This was 1932 and final days of JB going long distances with dialogue, State's Attorney at twilight for a legend in full possession of thespic faculties. This also was a writer's movie, situations enriched by ring-of-truth Gene Fowler and Rowland Brown brought from checkered histories of their own (Fowler a Barrymore pal ... bet they got together on dialogue). State's Attorney scripting reflected lives eventfully lived. A following year's Counselor-At-Law, also with John Barrymore, earned greater laurels, and it's admittedly the better picture, but State's Attorney is plenty worthy and recommended on Warner Archive DVD.
SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN (1941) --- The Thin Mans had slipped a long way by this one. I wouldn't hold against it the killer's identity being obvious from his first scene, but must there be so much Nick Jr. baby talk? Bill Powell downs three cocktails in the first reel, from which there's dissolve to him driving a car, surely disquieting even to 1941 audiences. W.S. Van Dyke directs not with punch he lent the first two (The Thin Man and After The Thin Man). Perhaps he'd given up by now and was content to do a bad job quickly. Powell must supply what amusement is had. Myrna Loy looked sleek before, seems overdressed here. Shadow's also twenty minutes too long. You can only admire MGM gloss so far. I watch because I love the idea of the Thin Man, but beware final four of this series. None will entirely please, and a few may let you severely down.
TOMAHAWK (1951) --- I'm struck by how many peace pipes got smoked to disastrous result in 50's westerns, indian wars fought in greater numbers on screen during that decade than in all recorded history. Exhibitors cited fatigue with "too many redskin pictures," but outdoor action was surest to fill indoor and drive-in venues, thus continued profusion of it. Universal-International was most prolific. They made westerns on a conveyor basis, and what's surprising is a high standard, by their standards, maintained, despite sheer number done. Tomahawk has an outside star name (Van Heflin) backed by on-lot talent in development (Alex Nicol, Susan Cabot, a single line for Rock Hudson), these in front of Technicolor cameras on pleasing location.
Universal recognized color as means of differentiating their westerns from free stuff on television. Writing and direction would satisfy youth (lots of action) and not alienate grown-ups. These were strict formula, but not in a one-size-fit-all done by the yard at Republic and Monogram. In fact, UI's up-level cowboys nicely maintained energy levels of B's they'd supplant. Horse falls and riding inserts I'd call breathtaking were taken for granted then, director George Sherman's a practiced action hand (when will he get credit overdue?). Now with Tomahawk playing High-Definition on satellite (Retro Plex), we at last get suggestion, if not full effect, of how it looked in 35mm.
ONE MILLION B.C. (1940) --- Hal Roach called this a dud, but I didn't find it so. Stone age narratives would seem to be among toughest nuts to crack, but One Million sprints along its 80 minute obstacle course. There's athletic newcomers Victor Mature and Carole Landis, plus blown-up lizards that would re-surface in countless low-budget sci-fi and adventure pics. Legendary D.W. Griffith was a for-while participant, on and off before principal photography began. Stills got made and spread around of he and Roach conferring. Come to think of it, One Million B.C. does have a certain Biograph-ish quality. Someone could write a monograph about B.C. stock footage turning up elsewhere over years to come, as late as theatrical features in the sixties! (see