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Sunday, December 25, 2022

Canon for Christmas


The Greenbriar One Hundred Begins Here

So I am told that canons are gone and discredited and good riddance to bad rubbish. That means we each may pick minus constraint or expectation that worthy by consensus titles be included, fine because I intended so in any event. Art like life has too many should-likes to suit me. This canon shall be personal then, no more influential than preference for plain or peanut M&M’s. I’ve massaged a list over ten years never meant to designate “essentials,” for that relies on what others call essential, which would make mine someone else’s pick. Nor will I appoint “guilty pleasures,” for why bear guilt for what gives pleasure? One hundred will be stopping point … it could as easily be a thousand but addressing so many would take more lifetime than I’ve got. Let pretension dub result the Greenbriar Canon, that term to align my venture with church authorities electing what would first qualify back in the Middle Ages. Being canonic began with books of the Bible, so it presumes much to award any movie such pride of place, which is why lists, like for school curriculum, tend toward safe or easily defensible. I enjoyed a book Andrew Sarris wrote decades back where he made room among notables for one that meant much to him in theatre-going youth, My Foolish Heart (1949), directed by Mark Robson, with Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward. Of hundreds Sarris discussed in You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet (published in 2000), the one I recall clearest is My Foolish Heart for being not just unexpected but nicely reflective of one critic’s taste. Why not be foolish enough of heart to pick for sentiment’s sake and let emotion be our guide rather than accepted wisdom that would choose for us?

Maybe there is such thing as aesthetic distance from art, but movies permit no such remove. What one loves is loved fervently. Movies come closest to music as transport to heaven. I haven’t spent enough time in museums to observe whether lookers weep before a painting or sculpture, but have seen many dissolve at predictable moments in film. Something precious seen during childhood will remain so for life. Choice need not be intelligent or even rational. One can enter a theatre with little hope and emerge renewed. Whatever was seen upon that day of rescue will remain cherished. We maintain fences around film beloved from early on. Whatever mattered then is treasured hence, like with Sarris and My Foolish Heart. I’m told lists are mentally made, if not taken down, by age twenty. Something may impress after but is less likely to enter what for most is a closed book. I would ask what all-time favorites became so in adulthood. Has anyone past thirty … forty … discovered a Best Picture They Ever Saw? Suppose I announced my Number One of a lifetime as no longer Meet Me in St. Louis, but Top Gun: Maverick. An intervention may be called for. At the least it would challenge who I’ve been till now (not to knock TG: M, very enjoyable by all accounts). Gilbert Seldes wrote that magic of movies wears off with maturity, most folks quitting theatres once grown, or attending much less. Canons for these don’t exist outside of stored memory. How many conceive of a “Best” list as anything other than a “Most Popular” list? Latter thrives as assist to marketing, that alone to make sense of further polls, us a mere focus group to determine which of old films merit continued play.

I am of remote sliver category defined 8-15-22 by a prof who was right for saying film is no wise what it seemed fifty-sixty years ago when there were so fewer titles to cope with. But then look at canons derived off literature, fewer classical books on reading lists, more culled as concept of canons is increasingly questioned. Think of fun to teach literature and add Lorna Doone and East Side, West Side to your semester syllabus, then await punishment from school administrators. You Tube seems to me a best place to observe how cultural winds blow. These are readers, watchers, fans and experts, instructors, a widest range, thinking and choosing for themselves, free range eggheads to some extent, but sincere in their purpose with many knowing too how to engage and entertain. I graze there daily to keep current on attitude toward books and film. Things in print anymore tend to date before ink is dry. I keep hoping YT analysts will more explore my sliver, but it seems majority, as in vast, figures The Godfather (or later) was where worthwhile movies began, little of merit or interest before. If there is to be You Tube appreciation for Cain and Mabel, I will have to generate it myself. Those who would load canon cannons with R.S., as in remote sliver, are elderly or hopeless-out-of-touch. Still, I make my testament and propose to stand by it. What alternative is there? Who’d believe Meet Me in St. Louis suddenly took back seat to Top Gun: Maverick? I predictably elect Citizen Kane lead for my list, not by preference or even of Top Ten, but for being the dinosaur likely to take longest becoming extinct.

CITIZEN KANE (1941) --- Why does young Charlie take such immediate dislike to Mr. Thatcher? Had he been taught we must all hate “rich bankers”? Thatcher overbears, but tries in his awkward way to be affable, and observe how fine a steward he will be of Charlie’s inheritance. Would there be sixty million dollars for C.F. Kane to fritter away on a newspaper had not Thatcher invested his assets so wisely? I dislike Charlie’s cruel answer when his guardian in old age asks the perfectly legitimate question of what he would like to have been if not for all the money. “Everything you hate,” replies the ingrate. Apart from his uncalled-for rudeness, I like Charlie and would argue he gets unfair shake from Jed Leland, who to me seems “judgy” for lack of a less hackneyed than such currently trendy word, as if Jed were there to seal the deal for Mr. Kane as empty and self-absorbed. Never did I observe Charlie being anything other than cheerful and good palsy with Jed, who it is clear was supported from college by his chum till their unfortunate break, which I regard as Jed’s fault for drunkenly telling Charlie off for myriad of faults not readily observed from behavior of good and steadfast mate latter appears to be. Were characters serving script agenda rather than what we actually see and hear of them? And where does Jed come off being so critical of Charlie after the poor, alone, and disdained tycoon is dead and past? Were I interviewer Alland and had a cigar at the retirement home, I’m not sure Jed would have merited a share.

And what of Susan Alexander? Charlie honestly thought she wanted to become a singer. He took up for her against anyone who was critical. Was this mere self-aggrandizing? Perhaps Charlie being obtuse in the extreme, but when did he claim to understand subtleties in human interaction? To others more sinned against than sinning, I vote yes to Boss Gettys and do blame Charlie for stirring that hornet’s nest. Did he not imagine his victim would fight back? --- yet observe picture-of-polite Gettys interaction with wronged Emily. I envision these two remaining friendly acquaintances after divorce dust settles. Mr. Bernstein is likeable because he understands Kane flaws but remains loyal to him. Bernstein is my favorite character. I could wish his vision of so long ago had stepped off that ferry and waited for him to catch up and introduce himself, though I’ll admit the union would not have worked out because how could any relationship survive demands of an employer like Mr. Kane? Easy to imagine differing fates for Kane characters, viewers making their own creative contribution as with any complex art. Does Citizen Kane entertain those seeing it a first time? It did me in 1975. Kane off-puts some for its reputation as a “challenging” film, this more an issue in 1941 when ahead-of-time technique confused many, especially ones who entered theatres part way into the feature or even during a second half, habit of casual attendance in those days. I expect audiences were readier to embrace the 1956 reissue, successful and a crowd-pleaser in spots, this following imitators absorbed over fifteen years since 1941 release.

Citizen Kane
gets now-and-then poke from quarrel over who really wrote it. Many who'd like Welles knocked off his perch 
say Mankiewicz. I'd propose watching  Herman’s other credited films, then judge for yourself if he could manage a Citizen Kane without plentiful help. Citizen Kane tells rise-fall of a not appealing lead played by a not-so appealing lead man. Also an unknown lead man in 1941, at least on film. What had a public seen of Welles apart from newsreels where he apologized for the Martian raid? What if Joseph Cotten played Kane and let Orson be Jed? All this in the face of my still-affection for C.F. Kane as misunderstood if not set upon, but Welles did come across high-handed in his early-on glory, and there is evidence he was resented for it both in and out of the picture community. Citizen Kane still is a wonderfully enjoyable show, never a bore, smart writing, magic overall that could be achieved only at RKO, staff and sensibility just waiting for someone like Welles to come in and fire them up. I never felt Kane to be a duty sit, and regret some others have. Has ground for fun been ground-under by academics? Maybe 1956 reissue and then early syndication was last occasion for Citizen Kane to be enjoyed on its own terms and not as something to be studied and thus dreaded. Were I told to teach it, then how about this to introduce: “Here’s a pretty good one about days when newspapers mattered like horse and carriages or passenger trains,” then wait for the end when someone (or more) says “Hey Professor Greenbriar, this was lots better than you made it out to be.” Citizen Kane is lately out on 4K, looking good as anything could with the negative no longer around.

Citizen Kane photo restorations by, and courtesy of, Mark Vieira of Starlight Studio.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Wilder for Run-Up to Christmas

Comedy and Serio, or Serio and Comedy?

Holiday picks at random, Witness for the Prosecution and The Apartment, years since seeing either occasion to view both different. Here’s charm of films I adjudge best, none writ better than Billy at his best. The pair can please those not necessarily fans of Wilder, but open to what is well-constructed and entertaining. How many were/are genuinely surprised by outcome of Witness for the Prosecution? I’d guess every mystery trick possible has been played on those who stream “Brit Box” and other dispensaries, no who-done device new to them. Once tipped to solution, encore depends on elements other than where guilt lies and why. Wilder makes returning worthwhile for stars and wit they apply to A. Christie situations he’d enhance, Witness for the Prosecution now more a question of whether Charles Laughton’s Sir Wilfrid Robarts, already hobbled by a recent heart attack, can survive his defense of accused Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power). Everything the barrister does defies medical warning as issued by nurse and constant accompany Elsa Lanchester as “Miss Plimsoll,” a vessel for comedy, but right in all effort to keep this fragile man alive. I hadn’t before paid such mind to that aspect of Witness, being impervious (or thought so) to the character’s health risk for its not being my own. Now I’m nervous for Sir Wilfrid when he sneaks brandy instead of cocoa that should be in his thermos, plus cigars he cadges when Miss Plimsoll isn’t present. This is all in fun, and for youth or fit parties that’s what it is, but what of watchers with their own blood pressure issues (Sir Wilfrid’s is 240 over 130, which Ann described as “stroke value”). Witness suspense becomes less acquitting the accused than Sir Wilfrid dropping dead in the courtroom.

For sake of humor too, this poor man is essentially condemned to death. What follows a twist ending is Sir Wilfrid confronting another capitol trial which he must engage immediately, having been an eye witness to the crime and thus more intensely engaged even than before. What’s worse, Miss Plimsoll tosses caution to the wind, cancels his vacation to Bermuda, and all but endorses brandy as continued relaxant, the patient on realist terms sacrificed to fulfilling his high-stress obligation, acceptable because he is Sir Wilfrid and no one can do his job better. How many individuals have we known who ceded their health to duty’s slow drip toward oblivion? So many ignore warnings because after all they have to work, or they enjoy status work confers, whatever makes one value occupation over continued life. I realize Witness for the Prosecution is entertainment, not to be confronted on life’s own terms, so blame Charles Laughton’s brilliant performance for invest of my emotion. I worry for him, knowing he triumphs for now, but what of price he'll pay for embarking upon another high-stress murder trial? Wouldn’t matter but for my knowing plenty who went a bridge too far for hyper-tension not being their hyper-concern. Footnote re ghost at Sir Wilfrid’s banquet: Tyrone Power had heart disease in his line, Power the elder dead at sixty-two in his son’s arms (1931) when young Ty was seventeen. Power’s last was Witness for the Prosecution, him gone with a heart attack a following year on the set of Solomon and Sheba, age forty-four. Ty’s intense performing as Leonard Vole seems basis for worry that the actor should himself slow down. Irony is Power had a check-up, got a clean bill, and did a TV ad for the Heart Association right before reporting for Solomon.

Watching The Apartment again and, like before, I think J.J. Baxter sort of gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop, to quote SLIH’s Sugar Kane. S. MacLaine as Fran Kubelik asks at midpoint why she can never fall in love with nice guys like Baxter, question pointed to him and tip-off she will never really love him, her settling at the end more result of realizing Fred MacMurray's Jeff Sheldrake is a hopeless cause, him no more willing to marry her after separating from his wife than before. Impression is he will return to home, hearth, and children once chill from having been caught wears off. Relationships in The Apartment are transactional, reason why its story shocked many in 1960. Baxter loans his residence for assignations to grease promotion he hopes to get for doing so. But for likeable Jack Lemmon, would audiences have accepted Baxter for a hero and identification figure? Sheldrake is at least honest in his way and does repay Baxter for the apartment key he shares, being sole higher-up who keeps his bargain. If not for Fran to complicate their exchange, the two men would have a mutually beneficial arrangement neither would have reason to regret. I wonder if same sort of negotiating went on between bosses and subordinates in NY’s concrete jungle of the fifties. Sheldrake wants what he wants, sees a way of getting it, and delivers on promises to Baxter. He shares technique for handling women to Baxter which I suspect in real life would bond the pair, only in this instance when he asks, “Is that fair?” with regards a mistress who wants status of a wife, Baxter replies that no it isn’t, “especially to the wife,” a remark most men would not appreciate coming from another man they are confiding to.

For a man of many affairs, Sheldrake makes woeful mistake of keeping a personal secretary around who he earlier (by years) seduced and subsequently jettisoned. This seems to me like hanging onto a hand grenade with the pin loose. Does Jeff not realize “Miss Olsen” will take any opportunity to even up an old score? After she does so by telling Fran of his past indiscretions, Jeff foolishly fires her, and right away she phones his wife to spill the works. And here we were thinking Sheldrake had good sense, at least for keeping a lid on mistresses new and/or discarded, let alone a wife they all would have easy access to. MacLaine as Fran tells Baxter at one point that she will call Mrs. Sheldrake and claim the woman’s errant husband for her own. Amusing is fact MacLaine herself made such contact with Mrs. Robert Mitchum during an affair the actress had with roving-eye Bob. Mrs. Mitchum explained to Shirley what a fool she was to imagine he would leave his family for company so fleeting as hers. Life imitating art. Did Ms. MacLaine note the Apartment parallel? Both Kubelik and Baxter get a kind of comeuppance for ending up together, him in still begging posture (“I absolutely adore you”), her replying he should “shut up and deal,” this to read as happy ending though I do not find it so. If Jack/C.C. has in effect been pimping for married men, at least five within the firm we know of, Fran enabling Sheldrake’s adultery, aren’t they dealing one another a hand that is empty marriage, her with a man now unemployed and without prospect, him with a woman who only scenes ago said she still loved the cad who caused her to attempt suicide? If argument is to be made that Billy Wilder was cynical, then The Apartment might function as Exhibit A to support it.

Much more Witness For the Prosecution, release, promotion, reception, etc. from Greenbriar (9/28/2008) HERE. Also Wilder's winning streak with United Artists HERE.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Film Noir #17


Noir: Boomerang, Born To Kill, and The Brasher Doubloon

BOOMERANG (1947) --- Bold at spelling out how politics dictate local civil and criminal matters. How many innocents were hanged to keep one party or other in power? Noirish for bleak viewpoint alone, also for locations indoors and out at Stamford, Ct., where most of Boomerang was shot. This was among novelty flush of docu-dramas that promised, and appeared to deliver, on-spot realism and gloves-off depict of postwar American life. The real killer is never verified even after wrong man Arthur Kennedy faces trial and a gas pipe, Dana Andrews the honest prosecutor who refuses to view his case as open-shut and won’t toady to party interests. Were there ever such men in public life, then or now? Issue is less who did it than what is everyone going to do about it. Elia Kazan directs, a good choice for this, even better for similar Panic in the Streets that followed. Had he but continued with noirs instead of hopping Streetcars headed a heavy and to-date-fast direction. Word is he didn’t think Dana Andrews was much of an actor, and here I was thinking Kazan knew all about acting. Support cast includes eager beginners (Karl Malden) and vets (Taylor Holmes, always a stimulant to see). Narrating Reed Hadley at the end assures that the story just told is true. Does that include probable guilty man killed in a road accident right after A. Kennedy is cleared? That device looked to me like Code accommodation under heading of no murder goes unpunished. If we love this stuff, then we take them as are, largely OK by me, because really, did noirs get better once the Code was vacated?

BORN TO KILL (1947) ---  Registers almost scary thanks to Lawrence Tierney deadly beyond bounds of even noir decorum. Did Larry just being there intimidate co-workers? He was said to have been meanest of drunks, all the way to a next century when he’d yet play bad men for fans who grew up on his oldies. I touched on Tierney re Bodyguard so won’t linger, and besides, Born to Kill is plenty pitiless with or w/o him, on-screen murders cruel and casual. Robert Wise directed. He later called Born to Kill more B than A, him wanting into A’s and forever out from B’s, preferring to go back to editing rather than direct on small change. Born to Kill does not look cheap despite fact it was ($466K negative cost), but then everything at RKO was done cut-rate, artisans left to make talent felt. Best of these did better than if they’d had unlimited resource, many living to tell of crumbs whipped into rich confection (Dmytryk especially spoke of this), and consider magic Val Lewton wove from his unit, where Wise got a directorial start. High-Def can make low-budget look lush, as observe what Blu-Ray did for The Curse of the Cat People, Wise’s first credit at the helm. Born to Kill earned but $505K worldwide, lost $243K, so must be considered a failure, though surely not an artistic one. There were bitter objections to its violence, Crowther writing a tut-tut review. Similar volleys were fired at White Heat two years later. Critics, and censors, had to face reality of films lusting more for blood. Was it war that increased appetites for same? And yet if folks wanted rougher play, would not Born to Kill have performed better? Uneasy by today’s reckoning is talk among women at an opening Reno divorce stop where each admit preferring men who’d “kick their teeth in” if they talked back, such tough customers always a better choice than “turnips” (read nice guys) who in any race for sex finish last. What happens in Born to Kill bears out the philosophy, for it is mean man Tierney women gravitate to. Not food for forbidden thought in 1947, but certainly would be now. Amazon has Born to Kill for HD streaming, Blu-Ray not so far to be had.

THE BRASHER DOUBLOON (1947) --- George Montgomery as a Philip Marlowe who looks like he just came off a vigorous volleyball game at the beach. He’s also too much a standard-issue “wolf” like in wartime when lead men were expected to sniff after any woman crossing their path, Montgomery an oft-exponent of this in earlier and lighter work he did at Fox. Now it was postwar and him back with Twentieth, only lesser valued because his agent tried holding up Zanuck for more money than the studio thought George was worth. That landed him in virtual B that was The Brasher Doubloon, remake of a Michael Shayne series mystery with Lloyd Nolan a few years earlier. Raymond Chandler was liked by his reading public, but movies saw him too often as mere resource from which to extract yarns, be it for Irisher gumshoe Shayne, or too familiar Falcon with Tom Conway anything but Philip Marlowe as crafted by Chandler. The Brasher Doubloon pleases still because it at least tries getting back to basics, and there is effort at capturing Los Angeles after Chandler’s design. That may have been for economy’s sake, or to link The Brasher Doubloon with realist thrillers made popular after the war. 1947 was a year at least before markets were saturated with what later was called “noir,” surfeit of it causing studios to back off, or reduce spending on a cycle winnowing down to support positions. The Brasher Doubloon had negative cost of a million, economical in light of inflation that by ’47 had gripped an industry, but $520K in domestic rentals was among lower numbers Fox saw that year, $296K from foreign receipts worse, though expected as this sort of material had little oversea appeal. A loss of $506K made the venture hardly worth the doing, result no more Marlowes for TCF, let alone with George Montgomery, him soon enough to do westerns, cheaper ones, for time left as a lead man. Femme threat was Nancy Guild, but only on posters, where graphics promised her as man-hater to top all previous, but maybe a public by now was tipped to deceptive way this stuff got merchandised. In any case, too few were buying. The Brasher Doubloon is available from Fox’s old On-Demand program.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Gatsby to the Screen, Then Disappears from It


Greatest of All Novels Inspires Best of All Movies?

1974 was the year I just had to have a Gatsby suit. They were white, had a double-breasted vest, and were inspired by the Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Trouble was the outfit not looking on me the way it had on Redford, being off a rack and anything but a tailored fit. Away went this Cinderfella to our fraternity banquet even if ensemble was chilled by a wide tie more 70’s bleak than 20’s roar. Such was fashion compromise for one who wanted really to live in the past, not just make faint gesture toward it. I cared less about the movie than the look, which was everywhere in magazines, even TIME which did a cover feature. The Great Gatsby turning up at our College Park was superfluous. I didn’t even stay to watch it end. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel by 1974 was canon-certified plus the biggest seller of as-old books. That had been case for a long time but did not begin so in April 1925 when published via Scribner’s. Fitzgerald went a different direction here, his first two novels straightforward dissection of vibrant age he and a country were living in, plus there were short stories of flappers and a jazz age told from inside that was the author’s own experience. But Fitzgerald knew Bernice bobbing her hair could not sustain. Trouble was he and wife Zelda by 1925 drunk on success and spirits that enabled, living in hotels, specifically at French Riviera address beyond means of advance money from guiding editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, who with Fitzgerald expected The Great Gatsby to surpass previous This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned in sales. Fact this didn’t happen was ruinous to Fitzgerald’s morale. 23,870 copies would have suited most authors of the time, not those with Scott’s expectation.

The Great Gatsby
was right away adapted to Broadway, veteran of stage melodramas Owen Davis credited for “A New Drama … from the Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Paramount did a screen version, released 1926, and starring Warner Baxter as Jay Gatsby, with Lois Wilson, Neil Hamilton, Georgia Hale, and William Powell. We can only see a theatrical trailer today. The rest is lost. Glimpse at hand shows a Gatsby party more authentic than ones depicted for later movies based on the story. Maybe that’s because this Great Gatsby was produced during the era when Fitzgerald’s drama took place. Remakes would be speculation as to what life was like in the mid-twenties, effort strained too plain. The silent Gatsby was alone for not having to recreate a story that happened in the film’s then-and-now. What a valuable find this version would be. Fitzgerald pushed for reprints of the novel, hoping a later and more sophisticated readership would appreciate The Great Gatsby better, but efforts during the thirties came to little, possibly because content dated and a Depression public found Gatsby a harder character to identify with. Other books anyway sold better, Anthony Adverse for instance at over a million copies, never mind it’s being forgotten now. The Great Gatsby was so gone by the late thirties that Fitzgerald could not even locate a copy in Los Angeles when he wanted to buy one for companion Sheilah Graham. Maxwell Perkins still put The Great Gatsby among best novels he ever represented. There were authors who sold better, but for Scribner’s, a prestige name meant much, and Fitzgerald would never be less than such a personage. Even where a Marcia Davenport wrote The Valley of Decision and Scribner’s sold 300,000 copies, Fitzgerald’s standing went undiminished.

A publisher could break even, lose money, on a worthy enough name for whom any effort was justified. This was not unlike Hollywood sponsoring a Sunrise or The Crowd to challenge plebian status, or worse, image as defined by literary lions like John Dos Passos who referred to film studios as “public brothels.” But publishers kept cathouses as well, those least burdened with talent often ones that sold best. Check a 1933 precode called When Ladies Meet, where Myrna Loy is the hack authoress tended by publisher Frank Morgan, who knows her novels for cash cows they are, and is not too proud to sponsor whatever she chooses to write, so long as sales are brisk, which certainly they were for “damn scribblers,” a term Nathaniel Hawthorne tabbed for writers popular with their public, but devoid of literary talent. The Great Gatsby began a comeback several years after Fitzgerald’s 1940 death when the Armed Services selected it for distribution worldwide to US combatants, exposure that undoubtedly widened The Great Gatsby’s home front readership as well. Was positive word-of-mouth in V-mail a spur to stateside reprintings and sales? Paramount by 1949 wanted to remake The Great Gatsby, now stuff of nostalgia for bathtub gin, the Lindy Hop among amusing excess of the twenties. Fitzgerald’s novel was still this side of venerated status. He had said that someday it would become the preserve of “schoolmasters,” but perhaps fortunately, that time was not yet. The Great Gatsby would be a vehicle for Alan Ladd, ideal casting given look and melancholy Ladd brought to all he did, plus here was a part the actor identified with, being of humble origin like Gatsby and having moved comet-like toward stardom that seemed unlikely most of all to him.

Self-doubt had been fruit of Gatsby from a first week in 1925 when tepid reviews plus selling limp at start had Fitzgerald second guessing everything from the book’s title (he was never happy with “The Great Gatsby”) to fact, or so he believed, that the story lacked compelling female figures. Fitzgerald like many authors was better with character and descriptive prose than bedrock narrative that of course movies had to depend upon to keep audiences seated. Story must come first, as playmaking Owen Davis knew, as Paramount realized in 1926 when first they dealt with the property. Great novels were toughest for obliging Hollywood scribes laboring twice as hard for licks they'd take from critics excoriating them for yet more Hollywood rape of art. Blades were sharp from announcing The Great Gatsby for another adapt. Trouble with 1949's was/is disappearance after general release. There was no television packaging thanks to Paramount’s limited license in the literary source. They owned the negative but could not exhibit it. A few, very few, prints floated in 16mm. I had one that was trimmed of kissing scenes, I mean the moment when lips touched, which made watching an odd experience. A Region Two DVD is around, OK for allowance we make for having the movie at all. A lot of writers judge The Great Gatsby on basis that no occasion for Alan Ladd playing this (or any?) part should be taken serious. I plead different, but never mind him for the moment and consider capable others in support: MacDonald Carey, Betty Field, Barry Sullivan, this Gatsby easily a most polished in terms of cast and production. What might Universal have to spend to clear The Great Gatsby for streaming or disc release? More than they’d be willing to, I suspect.

Could any actor be unanimously accepted as Gatsby? The character registers strongly in print, but as with anyone we meet on literary ground, the impression is subjective, oft-time personal to a point where no interpreter will do. For critics steeped enough in literature as film’s forever superior, which most were lest they lose face with other critics, prospect of Alan Ladd for Gatsby was a thing to be derided. What they failed to realize, or refused to acknowledge, was Ladd being more a cultural icon in 1949 than Jay Gatsby could approach, and it was for The Great Gatsby to conform itself to expectation of the star’s audience of the time, not preference book readers might harbor or express. This alone separates the ’49 Gatsby from versions done before or after, as Warner Baxter of the 1926 silent was there in service to Fitzgerald’s conception, at least we assume that was the case but cannot be certain so long as silent Gatsby continues to go missing. Robert Redford’s 1974 screen persona was nowhere near so defined as Alan Ladd’s in 1949. Rather than seeing latter as a weakness, I regard Ladd gravitas an asset to plenty else he brought the Gatsby character and am not alone for declaring his to be a most satisfying screen interpretation to date, though I’ll cop to not seeing Leonardo Di Caprio’s interpretation in a more recent Gatsby (2013), however intrigued that a 3-D version was tendered and is available on Blu-Ray.

There is a book called Forties Film Talk by Doug McClelland, based on his many interviews with surviving talent from a decade left far enough behind for participants to speak plainly of it. Published by McFarland, this is a splendid record of Hollywood and people who toiled there. Several sections address The Great Gatsby, thanks to conversations McClelland had with Barry Sullivan, Ruth Hussey, and writer Richard Maibaum. Latter was who suggested The Great Gatsby for Alan Ladd after being taken by the actor to see his personal wardrobe closet that stretched from one end of a room to the other, just like a scene in Fitzgerald’s novel. Maibaum satisfied Ladd that he was Gatsby and got a fully committed performance from him, Ladd talking hours of the character as he pondered nuance to add. Gatsby’s mystery past was in fact Ladd’s present for fitting neatly with the star’s screen identity. It was faithful then to show Gatsby shooting it out with rival bootleggers or slugging a gangland confederate who has crashed his Long Island party. Barry Sullivan said these scenes were added after principal photography to assure Ladd fans getting what they would expect, but again, it works and lends strength to what may otherwise have been too passive a part. Ruth Hussey quoted Ladd’s philosophy as expressed by him to her: “As far as I’m concerned, all acting is in the expression of the eyes.” Would this not be a best approach for any player who sought to register on film? Sullivan said Ladd noted the beginner’s inexperience ("I was doing things too big for the intimacy of the camera") and arranged to screen rushes with Sullivan in order to point out technique that would register better, “and he’d be right. I was much more comfortable in films after that.” Still, it was for Paramount to “protect” Ladd, so that in final analysis, any character he essayed would be cut to his measure rather than that of any literary antecedent.

I read and hear discussion of The Great Gatsby as the Greatest of Great American Novels and wonder if this derives from joy of reading it, or pride for getting through it. Lots of classical literature represents a climb, “not an easy read” as so often put. Does The Great Gatsby sustain for being short? (208 pages and done in three hours provided one does not linger) Several mention how they took years to develop true fondness for the book. The Great Gatsby must be complex, as in each visit yielding fresh revelation, stamp of any literature most admired, else why the rank? I would ask Gatsby authorities how many fell in love with the novel from a first discovered page. Is this, like most great books, one that must be grown into? Embrace of a favorite film for most comes immediate, though there are ones to cook slower. More books are out there about Fitzgerald than for anyone who ever wrote or directed a movie. A woman lecturing at You Tube startled me for saying that apart from The Great Gatsby, Fitz’s outstanding work really was just some short stories and certain of letters he wrote. This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned, his first and second novels, amounted to beginner efforts, and Tender is the Night, his last to be completed, was flawed (her assessment, not mine). So, all this study, decades of research and teaching, for a writer who was truly great but once? Take away The Great Gatsby and he’d be Elinor Glyn, or maybe the nom de plume who wrote Flaming Youth. If I knew literary scholars better, I would ask one of them about this. Everything of course comes down to comparison with films. What writer or director do we celebrate for having made but one masterpiece? Not that all of academics would agree about Fitzgerald, and I’m no authority to claim one way or the other. Let’s just say it would be tough lauding Ford, Hawks, or Hitchcock if there was so little of permanence between them. Thing is, the literary community would argue that none of what we celebrate is worthy of even weakest work a Fitzgerald did, but is that really because movies still aren’t accepted as art, let alone on a parity with written words? If so, the issue turns again to film as collaborative, which for many means can’t be much good, or ongoing shame that people eat popcorn while watching. Anyway, I’ve decided what my next book should be … the life saga of Edward L. Cahn, who in 1932 directed Law and Order, if nothing else distinguished before or after. But wait, what about It! The Terror from Beyond Space? I think I'm on to something here.
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