Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hud. 1963. Directed by Martin Ritt.


This film is almost a blueprint for Dallas and the character Paul Newman plays is like a precursor of J. R. Ewing. He's younger, though, and exudes a more direct animal magnetism. Newman is well-matched by Melvyn Douglas as the crusty old rancher who seems like a model for Jock Ewing. Douglas really held his own against Newman and it was startling to me to consider that this is the same actor who exuded such cool sophistication opposite Greta Garbo in Ninotchka. Patricia Neal is also quite memorable.

I think that the pleasure of Hud comes from watching these actors do their stuff. And from James Wong Howe's evocative cinematography which captures a gritty atmosphere. The night scenes are particularly atmospheric, especially the shots of the main street of a Texas town at night.

I didn't find the story that involving and I'm not sure why. Hud is a rake and a scoundrel, but his nephew hero-worships him. The nephew becomes disillusioned and turns his back on Hud by the film's end. Hud's father is a cattle rancher who learns that his entire herd is infected with foot-and-mouth disease and has to be destroyed, wiping out his wealth. What I found interesting was watching the different personalities interact.

Some of Hud may have lost its impact over the years because it's been imitated. The father-son conflicts are straight out of Dallas and while they were interesting to watch they probably didn't have the same kind of impact that they might have had in 1963. But the presence and magnetism of Paul Newman shine through undimmed.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dawn to Dawn. 1933. Directed by Joseph Berne. (Titled "Black Dawn" on print.)


As I watched Dawn to Dawn I couldn't help thinking about how it bears the same date as Machaty's Ecstasy. The two films resemble each other. In both films a woman is trapped with an older man and seeks escape with a younger one. Both films seem to exult in nature and in both there is a minimum of dialogue. They both have a frankness about matters of sex. They both end on a note of defeat for the young lovers. And they both have a rich photographic beauty.

Dawn to Dawn is very, very good. It has a very simple story. A young woman lives on a farm with her father who is disabled in some way. He is possessive of her and keeps her away from other people, especially men. She is out ploughing the fields (or something similar.) She takes a nap and is found by a young stranger. She wakes and they make love. He wants to stay with her, but of course the father will not permit it. The stranger wants her to go away with him and she almost does, but she cannot leave her father. The stranger goes, taking with him her only chance for escape and the father appears to die.

The characters in Dawn to Dawn are more like archetypal figures than particular people. They really convey a sense that this is a universal drama being enacted rather than a story about these particular individuals. On that level the film is very convincing.

One thing I liked very much is that the young woman was no great beauty. She had an ordinariness about her which made the film that much more convincing. The young man's voice was somehow disappointing and didn't go with his appearance. He was a stranger who just appears out of nowhere and perhaps because of that his voice should have had a more special quality to it. I'm not sure what it was, but his appearance from nowhere had an impact, but when he started to speak the effect was, well, maybe not shattered, but certainly not enhanced.

The photography captured the atmosphere of this beautiful location--nature full of life and growth and sunlight which is paradoxically a prison. It is beautiful and oppressive at the same time. And the outcome was such a waste because the stranger was willing to stay and help work the land. I wish the woman had been assertive enough to give the father a choice--accept the stranger, who would certainly have been able to pull his weight, or lose her. But she didn't.

This Property Is Condemned. 1966. Directed by Sydney Pollack.


This film was "suggested" by a one-act play of Tennessee Williams. I can't help wondering how much of Tennessee Williams is in it and whether it bears the same kind of relationship to its source as The Killers did to the Hemingway story on which it was based. In any case, it does retain the spirit of Williams pretty well (based on my regrettably limited knowledge of the playwright) and strikes me as an example of serious adult movie fare during the 1960s.

The film had a theatrical quality in the sense that it had the feel of a stage play. Many of the scenes felt just like that--scenes, with actors playing parts and reciting lines. Of course, the actors recited the lines well and it was enjoyable watching them. The film occasionally "opened up," such as the scenes set outdoors in New Orleans. It didn't all mesh together smoothly.

Robert Redford has quite a presence. He is attractive and engaging as the railroad hatchet man who stays at the boarding house from which Natalie Wood is dying to escape. He is attractive, projects a sexual confidence, but at the same time is a sensitive enough actor to create a portrait of a man who is stuck with a distasteful job.

I have to wonder, though, how Redford's character lets himself get into the situation where he is beaten up by the locals. He has done this job before and is certainly aware of the hostility that comes with the territory. You would think he would know better than to get involved with the local belle and squire her in public. That is the only thing in the film which just doesn't ring true.

Natalie Wood's character's situation is very interesting. Her mother wants to use her sexuality as a means to escape a drab environment. It is a sad situation this woman is in and it is made quite vivid, whether through acting or writing. I felt especially sad, too, for poor lonely Mr. Johnson who is trying to buy Wood's company even though he knows--or should know--that she isn't interested. He is a sad, pathetic character.

I very much liked the young actress who played Natalie Wood's kid sister.

It is interesting that we don't see Natalie Wood again after the final confrontation with her mother who attempts to destroy--and I'm not sure how successfully--her one chance for happiness, by telling Redford how she had married Charles Bronson and rolled him. We don't see the end of the story, but only hear from the young sister how Wood's character had died.