What Just Happened?

I’m not sure, but there’s a heavy scent of cordite in the air.

At times like this, we all need

kittens!

125 comments to What Just Happened?

  • I got to know David Raksin fairly well during the time we were both members of the National Film Preservation Board. A lovely, gentle man who was very generous with his memories of Chaplin, Preminger and Minnelli. I shudder to think of Navasky torturing him.

  • jbryant

    nicolas: I enjoyed Experiment in Terror, which struck me as part procedural, part Hitchcock (I kept thinking that Lee Remick would have made a great “Hitchcock blonde”). It’s a shame Edwards didn’t venture into this genre more often. There are a number of nicely unsettling scenes, mostly involving Ross Martin’s compelling, shadowy villain. There’s also a level of visual inventiveness that, for whatever reason, I don’t normally associate with Edwards (Philip Lathrop was the DP).

    Mike: I caught the “Young Man’s Fancy” episode of The Rifleman last night and thought it was quite charming. Lewis is very deft at reframing his shots on the move, in ways that are noticeable without being ostentatious. Your *** rating strikes me as just right.

    And if I may be permitted to wax rhapsodic about actors, Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford are amazing together in this series. Of course their physical and emotional expressiveness is also a tribute to their directors.

  • Haven’t seen “Experiment in Terror” since I was a teenager; I remember thinking it was OK, sort of superficially Hitchcockian. That and “Days of Wine & Roses” seem anomalous in Edwards’ filmography to me.

    I’ll have to reread that Navasky passage tonight — I don’t recall it and you’ve piqued my curiosity — but, y’know, journalists do have to ask tough questions.

    Incidentally, I meant to add that I’d love to ask Vaughn if he plans to unseal his blacklist research at any point; since he did it so early (late 60s/early 70s) he must’ve been the only person to interview many of the parties involved. Looks like Vaughn has an autobiography coming out next month — maybe that’ll add some details.

  • Kent Jones

    I think that the amount of detail on the cross-fertilization between TV and cinema in the 50s and 60s is one of the most enriching aspects of this blog.

    Alex, thank you for a most illuminating post. And your father’s history is absolutely fascinating.

    I have two questions. How closely aligned was Thomas with Dewey, an early left-wing anti-communist? And, have you or Larry or Stephen read Chester Himes’ novel LONELY CRUSADE, about a black union organizer in wartime L.A. who’s used as a patsy by the CP?

  • Larry Kart

    “I’ll have to reread that Navasky passage tonight — I don’t recall it and you’ve piqued my curiosity — but, y’know, journalists do have to ask tough questions.”

    It wasn’t a matter of Navasky asking tough questions — IIRC they had all been asked by him in the course of the interview, and Raksin had answered them. It was, again IIRC, a matter of Navasky trying to force Raksin to lose control of his emotions in the face of his interrogator — the goal being for Raksin to display deep personal shame and for Navasky to drink this in, only such an act of humilation being sufficient in Navasky’s mind to balance the moral scales. Wasn’t it just such displays of public contrition that HUAC typically required of its witnesses?

  • Brian Dauth

    For me, the interesting thing about Kazan was the effect that his testimony had on his career. As Kent pointed out, all of his post-testimony films involve betrayal in some way. But Kazan had to discover new contexts to examine his act of betrayal and in this process helped give birth to the hysterical male genre in filmmaking. His movies got the conflicted emotions right, but most often fudged the power/social relations that gave rise to them. It was the start of personal filmmaking as the chronicle of individual psychopathology.

  • robert chatain

    Margaret B-F, I don’t want to let go of the cat thread either. Never saw the Ichikawa “I Am a Cat” but I’ve read the novel. The first “Cat People” is great, the second a guilty pleasure — and, by the way, it triggered many angry letters to the New Orleans zoo until the filmmakers reassured people that they’d built a zoo set based on archival photos and the current real-life zoo looked nothing like those old cages. Of course, there’s also the cat in “Alien,” left behind by Ripley when she agrees to go out again in the sequel.

    And Robert, I remember the cat in “Bell, Book and Candle.” Three catlike actresses: Simone, Kim and Natasha.

  • “I Am a Cat” is delightful. “Kuroneko (The Black Cat)” is very stylish but neither my favorite Kaneto Shindo nor my favorite Japanese period ghost story. The Joseph Stefano-scripted “Eye of the Cat” is a disastrous Hitchcock ripoff. What else?

  • Larry Kart

    One of the quintessential pre-Hollywood Ten movies, almost teeming with insights into the world of the Hollywood Left, is the 1947 film noir “Desert Fury,” with John Hodiak, Wendell Corey, Lizbeth Scott, and Burt Lancaster — directed by Lewis Allen, script by Robert Rossen and A.I. Bezzerides (the likely autuers?). The chief theme, transformed into a gangster mileu, is loyalty on the part of actual or would-be intellectuals to the Communist Party no matter what (or rather to some degree BECAUSE the loyalty the Party required was of the “no matter what” sort). This comes through strongly in one element of the plot — the belief (held by some committed CP members) that the ultimate test of virtue was one’s “hardness” (not only as in toughness but also as in willingness to do any deed in the name of submission to Party discipline — especially if doing so ran counter to the promptings of one’s personal [i.e. bourgeois] conscience or convenience.) Thus, Hodiak’s character is a handsome, elegantly narcissistic frontman (a star gambler) who shies away from the doing the rough dirty stuff, while Corey, his sidekick who does the rough dirty stuff when that’s necessary (actually, as I recall, he deeply enjoys it), is at once fairly openly in love with Hodiak’s character (and/or in love with his “star” aura within their slice of criminal world) and enraged by the gap between what Hodiak’s character thinks that he himself is too good to do and what Corey’s character typically has to do (and in some sense) desires to do. Again, submissive “hardness” in the name of the Party’s orders as the best proof that one has broken free of one’s bourgeois moral coils. I’m reminded of the tale that the great Objectivist poet George Oppen (eventually winner of the Pulitzer Prize), while in exile in Mexico in the ’50s because of Smith Act charges, murdered on Party orders a fellow member of the ex-pat left wing community in Mexico who was suspected of being an FBI informant. Knowing Oppen — and I did meet him once — it would be almost impossible to believe that this gentle, reedlike man could have killed someone, but there are passages in his work, and in his wife Mary’s autobiography, that make it clear that dutiful “hardness” that runs counter to one’s personal conscience had a potent allure to Oppen.

  • David Boxwell

    Indeed, what we now call “queer desire” (aka polymorphous perversity) runs riot in DESERT FURY. Male AND female. (Astor and Scott are less mother-daughter, than intergenerational face-slapping hard femme/soft butch lovers). Contemporaneous with the first HUAC hearings, the double threat of political and sexual dissidence are co-located in this extraordinary Technicolor “noir”.

  • The exact quote from Navasky reads:

    “A gentle man, David Raksin cried several times during our talk as he recalled the pain he brought to himself and others.”

    Navasky then goes on to quote Raksin’s explanation of his decision to testify at length, without editorializing. (It’s pretty typical, equal parts apology and excuse.) Prior to that Navasky quotes only Raksin’s HUAC testimony. If there’s evidence that Raksin was bullied, it must come from a rebuttal published outside of “Naming Names.”

  • Larry Kart

    Don’t have the book anymore and don’t have access to my 1980 review of it for the Chicago Tribune, but it certainly was my impression at the time (it was a key part of my review) that when the Raksin passage is read in the context of the entire book, and all of Navasky’s other recorded encounters with figures from that era that appear there (am I wrong in recalling that the placement of the Raksin passage in the book is climactic?), VN’s “[a] gentle man, David Raksin cried several times during our talk as he recalled the pain he brought to himself and others” had and was intended to have the effect that I have described in previous posts. That VN doesn’t trumpet his vampirish satisfaction at Raksin’s tears and that the blows VN struck don’t leave obvious welts (or any that VN tells us about) is part of the interrogator’s art. The entire book set off my moral alarm clock. VN reeks of that lovely left-totalitarian mindset. BTW, now that I think of it, my review of “Naming Names” prompted an angry letter (or maybe it was a phone call) from Studs Terkel.

  • The Raksin section isn’t climactic; it’s in the middle of a group of profiles of friendly witnesses. Anyway, it seems a pretty bold statement to equate a historian with Stalinist interrogators, but if you laid out that case in print, then fair enough. Certainly I’ve encountered scholars & biographers with agendas that aroused my ire (I mentioned one above).

  • Larry Kart

    Victor Navasky is not a historian. He is a journalist (editor of The Nation from 1978 to 1995) and then, and I believe still, a professor of journalism at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. When I say that Navasky is not a historian, I don’t mean that only trained historians can write works of history but that Navasky, as author of “Naming Names” and during his long tenure as editor of The Nation, proved himself to be as tendentious an advocate of what might be called the “American soft Left” position (i.e. no one who has or had his or her heart in the right place can ever have done much of anything wrong, and no one who has or had his or her heart in the wrong place etc.) as could be imagined. See, for example, his response to Morton Sobell’s recent announcement that he and Julius Rosenberg were in fact Soviet spies:

    “Victor Navasky, the former editor and publisher of The Nation, said: ‘I wish Morty and Ethel and Julius had been open about what they had and hadn’t done, or in Morty’s case, “come clean” before this.’ But he added that ‘these guys thought they were helping our ally in wartime, and yes, they broke the law, shouldn’t have done what they did, and should have been proportionally punished for it; but the greater betrayal was by the state.’”

  • Joe

    George Roy Hillo trivia…

    1. Hill directed the original Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ “Period of Adjustment” and then was recruited by MGM to make his directorial film debut on the movie version.

    2. A few years after directing “Thr World of Henry Orient” on film, Hill helmed the Broadway musical version of the same story, “Henry, Sweet Henry.”

  • dm494

    I’d mentioned PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT earlier in this thread. Definitely not one of Hill’s better efforts, besides being support for the thesis that Tennessee Williams is at least the co-auteur, if not the dominant creative force, in all the films made from his work.

    John le Carre tells some good Hill anecdotes in an interview here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2002/oct/05/features2

    Kubrick and Wim Wenders also turn up, as does W.H. Auden. And a guy named Alec Guinness.

  • But what I want to know is, did Hill sleep with the teenaged girl from the Broadway version, too?

  • Larry Kart

    A link to a 1964 Time magazine article about “The World of Henry Orient” that definitely suggests that its of course unbylined author was very much smitten by Tippy Walker:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,871047,00.html

  • Mike

    Stephen– I saw the Broadway version. The Tippi Walker character was played by an actress in her 20s, made up to look like a teen. I guess you can got away with such casting on stage. I’ve no idea if there was a relationship with Hill.

  • Larry Kart

    Alarming excerpt from that 1964 Time article:

    “Elizabeth Tipton Walker is 17 and light enough to be lifted in one arm. Her speech comes forth in sporadic marvels, and her feet don’t quite brush the ground. Adults instinctively want to shield her.”

  • Except for George Roy Hill, who used his sword instead of his shield.

  • Kent Jones

    For the New Yorkers on this thread, Robert Vaughn is going to be appearing at the Paley Center at 6pm on October 14th.

  • Richard von Busack

    This is late on the cat movie front, but (I think it’s Robert Stephenson’s) Three Lives of Thomasina is the Lassie Come Home of cat movies. Oh, it is ruthless. Preparez vos mouchoirs; the cat heaven sequence, engineered by Ub Iwerks, is pretty hard on mog-lovers.
    I’m also happy to see Newman’s Glass Menagerie praised, but with no words of praise for Malkovich? I know, his ego is well-fed enough already, but still…

  • Nope, memory does not serve, especially at 4am. It was Don Chaffey, a tv vet who did Charlie One-Eye with Richard Roundtree, and a scad of television.

  • Rita

    The Hill/Walker affair is discussed on the IMDB, by Ms. Walker herself, who has posted several times about her experiences making the film, her affair with G.R.H., and her present life. Very interesting.