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Monday, September 29, 2014

Paramount Punts One For 1949

Bride Of Vengeance Plays Loose With The Code and Is Fun Besides

Adjudged by most to be a stinker since 1949, Bride Of Vengeance surprised me by having much to enjoy, a game cast seemingly wise to fact they're immersed in disaster and figuring to get what fun they can out of it. Bride Of Vengeance greased skids for Mitch Leisen at Paramount, him blamed for inaction at ticket windows ("slim" in Chicago, "drab" in L.A., and so on, said Variety). But whose screwy idea was it to do a picture about the Borgias? At least Paramount wasn't alone, as 20th sent Henry King with Tyrone Power and Orson Welles to Euro-location for Prince Of Foxes the same year, Welles to essay another of the lethal family. Bride Of Vengeance was lots more economical, done seemingly whole on Para stages, and with a cast less starry than Prince's: Paulette Goddard, John Lund, MacDonald Carey. Accounts claim Goddard was so bad that Mitch gave up on her and let the actress flounder as best she could --- now me, being easy to please, found Paulette no worse here than on any other occasion, though she does seem to lack awareness that Bride Of Vengeance plays best when sent up slightly, which is where co-star John Lund excels.

Lund was supposed to freshen a postwar garden of lead men, Paramount launching him in dual role as Olivia DeHavilland's love mate, and later son, in To Each His Own, a Leisen homer that put him near rank of DeMille and Billy Wilder on the Marathon lot. Lund would have less luck than a Lancaster, or Kirk Douglas, or whatever of newcomers made the postwar grade and kept working to old age. His best known appearance was opposite Dietrich and Jean Arthur in Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair, among that director's less noted features. If Mitchell Leisen was higher regarded, auteurists might study his four with John Lund in a way the later Douglas Sirk films featuring Rock Hudson were parsed. As it is, Lund was quick forgot after he quit the business in 1963, and didn't come back. Mentioning Lund is worthwhile for his being so good in Bride Of Vengeance, the one of three leads who best got humor inherent in poison pellets and tons of costume.

I'd Bet Foreign Receipts for BOV Were Lots Better Than US Ones
Leisen focused, as with Frenchman's Creek, Kitty, most of his, on dressing both sets and people. His was practiced eye for what we'd look at for a feature's whole, detractors saying he let visuals matter more than story. On Bride Of Vengeance, it was for dialogue director Phyllis Seaton to unbend narrative kinks as they arose. If this seems to sell Leisen short, there's evidence of numerous of his films that were solid as to narrative and performances --- Hold Back The Dawn, aforementioned Kitty, Remember The Night, To Each His Own --- and this director was champion to composers who did some of their best work under his supervision, Hugo Friedhofer and Victor Young come particularly to mind. Leisen had nearly twenty years at Paramount, as staff and for a most part outstanding, director, which was longer there than colleagues would last, save DeMille.

Bride Of Vengeance came with economy driving at Paramount. A postwar slump was biting deep and there'd be a $1.5 million cap on budgets. You can see Bride corners being cut, though Leisen maintains high gloss even to stage walls closing in. Sets are dark and appropriately gloomy as befitting subject matter, Bride Of Vengeance a subject that fortunately didn't need opening up to tall roofs or vast exteriors. Considering it's about a family of slayers, Bride lets membership off the hook in ways that made me wonder who was awake at PCA offices. There's also strong suggestion of incest between brother/sister MacDonald Carey and Paulette Goddard, the two introduced with recap of those they've liquidated offscreen. I figured Carey at least for a grisly finish, but he retires almost cheerily from final reel defeat with every indication he'll be back to try another day, this but moments after back-spearing disloyal lieutenant Ray Burr. And what of battlefield aftermath with legs blown off and blood dripping from sleeves where arms have been dismembered? Looked to me like recap of DeMille's arena in Sign Of The Cross, on which Leisen had assisted. Was he recalling how much fun such explicit carnage could be?

Variety was kind in wake of a trade screening, with forecast of sprightly biz for Bride Of Vengeance. An Easter 1949 opening at the Paramount Theatre in New York had the old confidence brought to bear on earlier shows with lots more potential than Bride Of Vengeance. Stage/screen combos hewed to axiom that what the movie lacked could be made up with live acts to swell receipts. Paramount wanted at least a Broadway opening to brag about, even if credit for success went largely to be-bopping Charlie Barnet "And His Famous Orchestra." Swing was on ways out by '49, but Barnet stayed hot with hits like Cherokee, Caravan, and other of jive faves among the juve set. There were comics Jerry Colonna and Jack Carter ("who do not interfere with one another," said Variety's review), "crack tapster" Bunny Briggs, plus trilling Margaret Phelan, whose "standard" Man Can Be A Wonderful Thing I could not locate on web search. Anyone familiar with this tune, or Phelan? Trade applauded was brevity of the stage program --- 45 minutes --- which made for total of under three hours, maybe less, in event short subjects were jettisoned.

The Paramount's loaded bill did well, but Bride Of Vengeance tanked elsewhere, and there'd be collateral damage not only to Mitchell Leisen, but star Paulette Goddard, whose last picture for the studio this would be. Bride's ill repute kept it out of NBC's shopping cart when the network did a 60's deal for primetime run of much of the post-'49 Paramount library (Bride Of Vengeance coming just under the wire between MCA ownership and titles that would stay with Para). Television release came in 4/67 with Bride Of Vengeance among 56 features, most off-network, in a "Portfolio One" group for syndication. Paramount passed on home video, understandable considering Bride's runt of litter status. My peruse of catalogues couldn't even locate 16mm rental for the thing, Bride Of Vengeance being one hard picture to see for a lot of years. Now there is availability on Amazon Instant (free to Prime membership), along with many Paramount post-'49's previously out of circulation. There is a CD of Hugo Friedhofer's fine score for Bride Of Vengeance. It's on a combo disc with Captain Carey USA, another rich vein of Friedhofer sound. So long as Olive, Legend, Criterion, et al, are licensing Paramount titles for Blu-Ray release, I wish they'd consider Bride Of Vengeance. It deserves wider play.


Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I would submit that John Lund is best known for Paramount's Technicolor opus THE PERILS OF PAULINE, in which he played opposite Betty Hutton. He is also remembered by vintage-radio enthusiasts as one of the actors who played the lead in the "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" series.

10:47 AM  
Blogger KING OF JAZZ said...

Now if only Jerry Colonna was in the movie...

2:10 PM  
Blogger iarla said...

John Lund was never better than in "Miss Tatlock's Millions", a performance of great charm and film well worth checking out - if you haven't already.

6:31 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon has some interesting insights into recent posts on 40's Paramount specials, and their stars (Part One):


Loved the stuff about "Bride of Vengeance" and further on down "Frenchman's Creek", both from Paramount's glory spite of you dutifully acknowledging the slump in B.O. toward the end of the '40s and the perfect storm of Paramount being divested of its theater chain. They were the first, weren't they? In other words, the named company in the suit, after which all the others had to give their theaters up, too? I think so.

I've never seen this, nor another one (but this one from RKO), "The Spanish Main", all of them Technicolor chestnuts I'd love to sample. I'm MORE than familiar with at least one shot from "The Spanish Main", which Charles H. Schneer (who did, after all, start out at Columbia working with Sam 'Stock Shot' Katzman!) 'rented' to bookend the final brief concluding scenes of "7th Voyage of Sinbad". Of course, supering over that wonderful font the title designer Bob Gill used ("The End") is what really 'makes' it, along with Bernard Herrmann's thundering closing measures.

As for the babes, I always thought both of these girls in their prime were lovely women, and I think Fontaine could be a terrific actress at times, though I have to grit my teeth when a local movie fan/friend of mine puts her down all the time, and this is especially tedious in that he worships Orson Welles, and he'll praise Welles "really big" mannerisms in "Jane Eyre", yet denigrate Fontaine in the same thing, who I think is a actually very, very good. I read a review in which it was pointed out that Eyre is actually a somewhat revolutionary literary character in that she speaks up for herself, defends herself to her social 'betters'. And some think Fontaine too submissive. I disagree. I think she's subtle...and subtlety always elicits all sorts of inappropriate responses from those who need a baseball bat over the head to get their attention, rather like a recalcitrant old circus chimpanzee. I don't think Goddard was great, but she was awfully good when her vivacity and youth were in synch, because she had a great face when she was 'discovered' (actually, I read online she was a successful showgirl in New York for years; and, a bleach blonde!) by Chaplin. She aged and had a rather hard look by the end of her Paramount tenure. I'm imagining this must be apparent in at least some scenes in "...Vengeance", but I must admit she looks pretty good in the stills you've run!

8:09 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

I'm a big fan of John Lund, as I sense you are. Another one he did that he's hilarious in is "Miss Tatlock's Millions", which I guess was made more than once (!) I have never seen it on home video, but it used to run on TV quite regularly in the '60s, and I remember enjoying it and chortling at a lot of it. I never took the initiative to look Lund up...I think, anyway...on the IMDB to find out what the hell the story was about him just fading away. I'm going to guess that it was his looks that did him in. He was a handsome guy, sure...but he looks a little like the nice-looking kid who takes your daughter to the prom. He had a tough guy voice that to my ear he attempts to stress just a wee little bit too much in his acting, and I wonder in my amateur psychiatry way if this was a kind of compensating for his boyish appearance? However, there's always intelligence and wit in his line readings. He 'gets' it...whatever it is he's doing. And he projects total confidence. So, ultimately...go figure, y'know? Burt Lancaster was not as good an actor, by far...but he was no dope behind the scenes, and he had real confidence that probably exceeded most actors and actresses in Hollywood. Imagine a guy getting into the movies in 1946, at almost age 30 (or thereabouts), and in only a few years he's PRODUCING his own movies and dictating terms to the biggest producers and studios in town! Pretty amazing. And his idolator (according to John Frankenheimer), Kirk Douglas, followed right behind him in his footsteps. So, maybe it all just boils down to those two old sine qua nons: confidence and ambition (and even a jigger of arrogance, ay wot?)

I love the banner photo, and of course it's poignant as now all these giants have departed, something one couldn't yet say a year, year and a half ago. But this year saw the departure of both Shirley Temple and the mighty midget of all time, Mickey Rooney. Temple was lucky or smart to have segued into real life. Rooney just had to ride that old show business horse into the final sunset. I seized an opportunity to catch a personal appearance of "The Mick" at the Aero retro theater in Santa Monica, affiliated with L.A.'s American Cinematheque. (At least, I THINK it's L.A.-only.) And, I was thrilled indeed to see the diminutive and puckered-up star, either approaching or in his 90s by that point. His wife at the time kept him on a very tight leash, and answered more than half of the questions directed at him, too! It irritated my wife and some of the others within earshot in the theater, but I got the sense that Rooney's infamous loquacity and tendency to wander far afield from the question or anything related to the movies he was associated with might have 'trained' the lady to take charge, in a way to defend Rooney from himself! But, later I found out that he added even her to his long, long line of divorces, as apparently it turned out her grown son had squandered a pile of money the poor old bastard had, against all odds, managed to accumulate from his late performing. He wound up living at the end with one of his adult sons.


8:10 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

The artist who painted the first pic seemed to give Paulette a case of athlete's foot.

Yep, Lund was the third Johnny Dollar, after Charles Russell and Edmond O'Brien - 4th if you count Dick Powell in the audition episode.

7:59 PM  

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