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Thursday, June 06, 2013

 
 
 The Watch List For 6/6/13

THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S (1945) --- The truly giant hit that time and cineastes forgot. How big? Variety said $8 million in domestic rentals, and to that add $3.2 foreign to bring home a staggering $3.7 million profit, a biggest gain of any feature RKO released up to that time (it beat Snow White's worldwide first-run rentals take by over three million). Leo McCarey was inarguably the auteur in creative charge here, Bells rung by combination of his writing plus input of the two biggest names in then-movies, Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman. I had watched Going My Way, found it trying, and so avoided this till now. Too bad, for it's a distinct uptick to my estimation, and proof aplenty of how McCarey's improvisational method could yield a treasure box of gentle gags, heart interest (Bing/Ingrid romantic as observant priests/nuns dared be), and kids being not cloyingly lovable.


McCarey plays out at leisurely pace six-year-olds performing a nativity pageant that goes far to explain how those eight millions got in US tills. What a pic for returning servicemen to take wives and sweethearts to see, family trade but to be imagined. For that short while, McCarey had his digit precisely on a pulse of patron likes. Made me think Catholic school might almost have been tolerable, Ingrid and nun co. never rapping kid knuckles with rulers as has been reported by survivors from the real-life field. Love how Leo brought back appealing lead lady from Hal Roach days Martha Sleeper for substantial character enacting (she looks great), and Joan Carroll, little Agnes of Meet Me In St. Louis, now an awkward adolescent.


Crosby is laid back beyond even customary level, making me figure he and McCarey settled on relax approach from a first day, which pays off in terms of seeming spontaneity. This star and his director were high on the Catholic faith and wouldn't revise any of its tenets, the church paying back Leo and then some when he later needed support for critic-beleaguered My Son John. "Meandering" was the word Maltin Reviews would later use to describe Bells. Well, yes it's that, especially given a 126 minute runtime, but imagine McCarey permitting any goodies to be taken out, Going My Way having confirmed his creative judgment. The fact he had carte-blanche here removed hazard of that, Bells truly a director's cut, auteurism writ large.


LAW OF THE TROPICS (1941) --- Scarlet woman Constance Bennett island hops to dodge a murder rap back in the states, meets stand-up Jeffrey Lynn, marries him on impulse and to thwart bull in pursuit Thomas Jackson, thus sustaining 76 Warner B minutes. I must read a book on Bennett some day, she having got stardom and enormous paychecks on outwardly obscure talent, but apparent genius at studio politics and even gambling with biz sharks who appreciated her cunning and rewarded same almost in spite of themselves (it's said CB profited better at cards than even a well-paid screen career). WB re-jiggered oldie Oil For The Lamps Of China here, that a harsh at times commentary on corporate betrayal of loyalty, ground that Hollywood, itself a very definition of capitalism run riot, seldom trod for fear of revealing too much of itself and power brokers behind tinsel. Watering social barbs to action/romance fit was safety net maintained, aggrieved employee Jeffrey Lynn settling his difference with the firm by fist-fighting son of the boss Craig Stevens. Set-dressers adapted again a jungle foliage just off hosting The Letter, Torrid Zone, Singapore Woman --- remarkable how oft-used such background was, these pics being made within a space of months, with more in the offing. Entertaining enough and never cheap looking, Law Of The Tropics is a respectable B cousin to bigger WB projects utilizing a same setting.


LADY WITH RED HAIR (1940) --- Saga of theatre folk now largely forgot except by devotees of 19th century stage and early Broadway. Mrs. Leslie Carter, subject of this Warners biopic as played by Miriam Hopkins, had been deceased but three years when Lady With Red Hair was made, and David Belasco, here in the person of Claude Rains, was for a most part active up to 1931 when he died. Carter and Belasco were larger in life enough for 1940 patronage to recognize, even if that came via parent anecdotes of barnstorm performing. Warners distilled Mrs. Carter's essence to frustrated mother love, that a prime motivator toward acting fame (did any movie star ever claw ways up for the sake of their kid?). Scenes backstage and in a theatrical boarding house have color and what seems authenticity, Lady With Red Hair cast/crew show-biz steeped enough to have known such places first hand. Claude Rains as flamboyant Belasco clinched my submit to the sit, being fabulous as ever and leaving stole scenes continual in his wake. Miriam Hopkins was said to have given first-time directing Curtis Bernhardt fits. Was it her offscreen temperament that set this actress upon decline? Seeing melodramas restaged here makes me wish to have been around when they were long-ago done new. Late-nineteenth theatregoing might well have afforded better times than movies gave us since.

1 Comments:

Blogger Kevin Deany said...

There's a terrific biography that came out about 10 years ago called "The Bennets" By Brian Kellow, covering Constance, sister Joan and father Richard. I read it when it first came out, and remember thinking how fascinating the sections on Constance were.

12:23 PM  

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