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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Among Big Ones Now Forgot


California (1947), Here We Come

 "Mighty Choruses" As Inspired By Oklahoma!
Just coming to realize what impact the Broadway hit Oklahoma! had on movies through the forties, especially westerns. Herb Yates was said to have fashioned his increasingly musical Roy Rogers series after it, and here was Paramount dressing a first postwar outdoor special high as an elephant's eye. Money spent for California must have been immense for Technicolor and truly breathtaking location with multitude of prairie schooners stretched toward horizon. Director John Farrow seems inspired too by DeMille example, there being structure/bumps reminiscent of earlier Union Pacific and Northwest Mounted Police (CB regular Julia Faye is on hand as well --- a good luck charm?). Farrow, like DeMille, swaps between stunner vistas and sound stage exteriors, and maybe the story falls short of epic stature the title (and promotion at the time) implies, but Farrow had ability for big or small scale, and could track his camera a seeming mile to wrap three day's work with one shot. Were his efforts, here and elsewhere, consulted by Orson Welles when plan time came for Touch Of Evil? Let's just say Farrow is ripe subject for further study.


He was like a field marshal on a post-war location battlefield, using WWII implements no longer needed in combat zones. Here was practical use Paramount/Farrow could make of what otherwise littered junkyards. It was a good fit for the director, being known as something of a martinet. But he could sure direct, and besides that coordinate both people-and-prop masses, as demonstrated by innovation brought to bear on California. There were army weapons carriers to lower wagons down sheer cliffs, time-saving advance on cruder technique doing the same job for 1930's The Big Trail and Paramount's own The Covered Wagon, which California was said to surpass in every way. Farrow supplied walkie-talkies off war-surplus shelves to drivers of 104 wagons, according to Para publicity crediting ten days saved to the director's ingenuity. Directional loud-speakers were spotted throughout desert settings as well, Farrow also using these to conduct worship service during weeks the crew spent on location.


Casting may be why California isn't better remembered. Ray Milland as wagonmaster and cavalry deserter is perhaps a stretch, though after The Lost Weekend, there was understandable conviction that Ray could do anything. Better fit Alan Ladd was initially cast, but balked at Para's failure to pay what he was worth, thus a drop-out and Milland substitution. Barbara Stanwyck is elegantly attired beyond hope of pioneers over desert; this was Hollywood falsity a postwar public would increasingly disdain. Barry Fitzgerald was riding a Going My Way crest. For a while anyway, he'd vault to character stardom like Will Rogers with a brogue. California is a lush bath of studio spending just as lowered receipts began draining the tub. Even DeMille's own Unconquered of the same year came up shy of what epic scale promised. Maybe westerns with a bloat needed sex to truly sell, as in resounding hit Duel In The Sun.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

Any idea what year that shot of Powell and Harlow was taken? It may be the lighting or the lack of make-up, but Powell looks much older than I would expect during Harlow's lifetime.

1:06 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

No idea as to the date. Candids like this can be very revealing. Powell would at least have been approaching his mid-forties by this time, and had his own health crisis to deal with soon after Harlow died.

2:19 PM  

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