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Remember the Neediest

This week in the New York Times, I get back to three discs of note that slipped by me in the rush of holiday releases: the first-ever watchable release of William Wellman’s much-abused public domain comedy “Nothing Sacred,” in a high-def transfer from David O. Selznick’s personal print (Kino); “The People against O’Hara,” an MGM programmer from the socially conscious Dory Schary years, featuring Spencer Tracy as an alcoholic attorney, some workman-like direction from John Sturges, and some of John Alton’s wildest noir cinematography (Warner Archive); and Robert Mulligan’s hauntingly slow and sensitive “The Nickel Ride,” an elegiac crime film from 1974 featuring Jason Miller and the gently stylized cinematography of Jordan Cronenweth (Shout! Factory).

My old friend (and frequent contributor to this space) Tom Brueggemann has begun a weekly box office report for There’s no fixed url for his column, but as you can see from this week’s example, this is uncommonly — perhaps even uniquely — sharp, informed, insightful and independent work in a genre that is too often dominated by would-be power players and studio toadies. Congratulations, Tom, and keep up the excellent work.

68 comments to Remember the Neediest

  • Alex

    Great recommendations.

    Nice to have a version of NOTHING SACRED that isn’t visually crippling and gives the film a chance. Nice to have readily available quality DVDs of PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA and NICKEL RIDE. But which cut of NICKEL RIDE have we got here, the 99 or 106 minute versions discussed about the web, or the 114 minute one noted in Silver and Ward’s FILM NOIR, and what can be said of the “completeness” of the version we do have?

  • The 99. Is another one available from another region?

  • jbryant

    Seems a good opportunity to recommend James Curtis’s “Spencer Tracy: A Biography.” It may be a bit too exhaustive — there’s a lot of meat on its bones, and not all of it is cherce — but it’s hard to imagine anyone topping it.

  • Barry Lane

    Whatever the flaws in The Verdict, and I agree re the hysterical over-ripe tone, The People Against O’Hara is just plain dull. Would have been fine at seventy minutes as a second feature ten years earlier. Alton’s work is always good, but it does not drive the event.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Looking forward to seeing Sam Berman’s caricature sculptures in the opening credits for NOTHING SACRED in hi-def on the blu-ray. A large collection of the now mostly forgotten Berman’s work can be seen here:

  • Robert Regan

    It should be noted that Kino has also released, along with Nothing Sacred, Frank Borzage’s A Farewell to Arms, similarly p.d. afflicted.

  • Oliver_C

    Another standard-definition shoutout, if I may, for Artificial Eye’s remastered R2 DVD of Dersu Uzala. Also, Christmas (audio-visual) cheer was much provided by the Eclipse Leningrad Cowboys boxset, as well as the weighty and worthy Saul Bass biography.

  • David Cohen

    The year for The Verdict is wrong. I believe it is 1982.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    THE VERDICT was released in December 1992. I remember seeing it then and there, and it’s confirmed by “Screen World” no less.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Oops! I meant 1982 of course.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Stealing Dave’s thunder (sorry) and not finding the thread where this was discussed before, but here are the just announced new films on the National Registry:

    Allures (1961)

    Bambi (1942)

    The Big Heat (1953)

    A Computer Animated Hand (1972)

    Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)

    The Cry of the Children (1912)

    A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)

    El Mariachi (1992)

    Faces (1968)

    Fake Fruit Factory (1986)

    Forrest Gump (1994)

    Growing Up Female (1971)

    Hester Street (1975)

    I, an Actress (1977)

    The Iron Horse (1924)

    The Kid (1921)

    The Lost Weekend (1945)

    The Negro Soldier (1944)

    Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-1940s)

    Norma Rae (1979)

    Porgy and Bess (1959)

    The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

    Stand and Deliver (1988)

    Twentieth Century (1934)

    War of the Worlds (1953)

  • Tom Brueggeman, yet another inspired list of additions to the National Film Registry! It’s not even on their website yet, but there is more information in other sources such as:|News|FilmNews
    As for RIO BRAVO, you must lobby harder next time!

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Can’t complain when Iron Horse, Big Heat, 20th Century, The Kid, Faces and even a perhaps lesser Preminger make it in. Plus Dave’s feelings on Forrest Gump are well known.

  • Oliver_C

    *Thumper thumps forest floor with glee at making the National Film Registry*

  • nicolas saada

    EL MARIACHI… well.
    I like PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA. It has Schary’s input, and besides the dullness, it has extremely strong moments, like the opening murder scene, and the last ten minutes of the film. I find Tracy very good in the film.
    I saw NICKEL RIDE at the Mulligan series in French Cinematheque a year and a half ago. I don’t remember how long the film was. It belongs to this series of “unknown 70’s gems” to which you could add the recently rereleased (and interesting) HICKEY AND BOGGS and to a certain extent BADGE 373 and REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER. In France, the reevaluation of the films of the seventies has led to some kind of excess, as if any film of the seventies was good: that is they all bear a similar sense of “angst”, despair, and violence. I Keep telling friends of mine that to understand the Hollywood films of the seventies, you have to look at the pre code films of the thirties, a period that i discovered thanks to Dave. It’s also interesting to connect films of “the new Hollywood” with the period. A great number of “seventies films” are set in the thirties : BOXCAR BERTHA, CHINATOWN, THIEVES LIKE US, BOUND FOR GLORY, THE STING, PAPER MOON,Milius’ DILLINGER, and even films by British expatriates such as DAY OF THE LOCUST or THE GREAT GATSBY.As if the thirties were the real DNA of modern american cinema. Which it is !!
    I now find more grit, sweat and strength in many thirties 70 minutes dramas than in more renown films. Can someone explain me what is the purpose of the National registry and how significant these lists of films are ?

  • nicolas saada

    Dave, I am not a fan of Sturges, but I find his body of work worth a new look. After all he is not worse than say, Stuart Heisler. His GUNFIGHT AT OK CORRAL is really good, and the MGM films noirs are interesting : JEOPARDY, MYSTERY STREET, BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK.

  • Barry Putterman

    Nicolas, I wouldn’t minimize the influence that BONNIE AND CLYDE had on American films for the following decade or the link between Depression era cynicism and Vietnam-Watergate era cynicism. Beyond that, anyone who thinks that all films from the 70s were good clearly was not going to the movies during the 70s.

  • Robert Cashill

    The verdict on Lumet’s VERDICT: Released in December 1982.

    So does this mean that the Gershwin estate is compelled to release PORGY AND BESS from its legal bondage so that new prints can be struck? That would be very timely, given its Broadway revival.

  • So shoot me: “The Verdict” was 1982, not 1975. A French film with the same title opened in NY in ’75 and I confused the two when I checked IMDB. I hope you will all still speak to me after this tremendous gaffe.

    Robert Cashill, it was not entirely a coincidence that “Porgy and Bess” appeared on the Registry list this year. The reason the film has been out of release is an ongoing battle between the Gershin estate and the Goldwyn heirs, which has recently been settled — just in time, as the negative was languishing in a storage warehouse and was about to disintegrate. There should be a major reissue in the near future.

    I wouldn’t look for Fox to be starting a burn on demand program any time soon. Like Paramount and Universal (and increasingly, Sony), they’ve largely lost interest in distributing their deep library titles on their own, but are willing to cut deals with anyone who comes along with cash in hand. Shout! Factory has released a number of Fox titles, as has Twilight Time.

    In any case, there’s no way “Margie” is in the public domain, so at best it will turn up with one of these outfits.

  • Barry Putterman

    Regardless of the year that THE VERDICT came out, unfortunately it is still THE VERDICT.

  • Brad Stevens

    As all Don Siegel fans know, THE VERDICT was released in 1946 🙂

  • Robert Garrick

    Regarding the “Margie” public domain question–

    I will of course defer to our host on this. My reasoning was based on (1) the film’s wide availability on a host of bargain DVD labels; (2) the fact that one of those labels is called “Public Domain Archives,” which claims to offer “quality priced public domain TV and movie DVDs”; (3) the fact that suddenly, for the first time, this Fox film turned up on TCM; and (4) the film’s current availability in DVD form on eBay, with an express claim that the title is in the public domain and that the seller is complying with eBay’s policy. These are clues, but they’re not dispositive; anyone can post anything on the web and anyone can copy a film and sell it, and make any claim about it, though it’s a crime to do so if the film has an active copyright.

    I notice that Amazon, which has sold the DVD in the past, has dropped it. That’s a major clue that the film is still copyright protected.

    “Margie” is not on the “Film Superlist” or on any of the other sites that draw from it, but neither are many other films that are public domain these days such as, for example, the entire PRC library. The only way to know the film’s status for sure is to do a copyright search.

  • Jonah

    I suppose it was always a pipe dream, but I was hoping the new prints and TCM screenings of ME AND MY GAL, SAILOR’S LUCK, etc. might have bade (bade? bode? boded?) well for a “Walsh at Fox” box set much like the Ford and Borzage/Murnau sets. What a pleasure that would be. But it would probably sell about 100 copies.

    Having met a bunch of the big-studio archivists (or “asset managers” as the corporate brass call them), they are to a man smart, informed, movie-crazed folk who would love to release tons of DVDs of obscure films. It seems that, understandably perhaps, it’s those same corporate brass who rarely green-light a release that doesn’t have some proven profit potential. I can only imagine how frustrating their jobs must be sometimes, tending lovingly to thousands of prints that escape the archive only for one-off repertory screenings, if that.

    (As a side note, isn’t it weird that Universal does the worst by their catalogue on home video, but remains perhaps the best studio in terms of keeping –often quite nice– 35mm prints available for rental? By comparison Warner Bros releases a steady stream of MOD titles but nowadays it’s almost impossible to rent prints from them.)

    Re. Mulligan, I’m researching live TV drama at the moment, and his episodes (of PHILCO, STUDIO ONE, and other anthology dramas) are among the most understated, fluid, and sensitive of the era. John Frankenheimer said Mulligan was the best live television director, and I tend to agree. The Mulligan-directed “A Man Is Ten Feet Tall” (later filmed by Martin Ritt as EDGE OF THE CITY) is something to behold — liberal pieties aside, it has a finely hewn sense of relaxation and naturalism in a format where that was very hard to achieve.

  • mike schlesinger

    Hey, I’ve been lobbying for RIO BRAVO (and MAD MAD WORLD) for ages. Fat lotta good it does!

    And as long as we’re picking nits, isn’t it “depths of degradation,” not “desperation?”

  • Peter Hogue

    “Walsh at Fox” — let’s keep “lobbying” for that one as well. I’ve been hoping for it every December since Murnau/Borzage.

  • Alex

    I’d say that Sturges starts out with one sort of good, well crafted entertainment — “Mystery Street,” “The People against O’Hara,” “Jeopardy”– and then shifts into a set of increasing dull, portentious big budget action films and literary adoptation in the manner of Richard Brooks– Bad Day at Black Rock and, getting more and more leaden, Last Train from Gun Hill, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Old Man and the Sea, Last Train from Gun Hill,Never So Few, By Love Possessed, The Hallelujah Trail, The Satan Bug, Hour of the Gun,Ice Station Zebra. But, unlike Brooks, he allows himself to let sheer fun get the upper hand a couple of times and makes two mega-hit, Kidpix masterpieces, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, films that will live on with the AMC-type action crowd and lucky middle school channel surfers forever. (Not quite the more authentically macho The Dirty Dozen, but close.)

  • nicolas saada

    “Beyond that, anyone who thinks that all films from the 70s were good clearly was not going to the movies during the 70s.” Well barry, check the number of French articles that laudate “le cinéma américain des années 70”. My first trip to the US was in 1972, and my feeling is that it did not look like what I would see later in films by Hal Ashby or Friedkin.

  • Barry Putterman

    Nicolas, a friend of mine who is my age once told me that when she was young, she thought that French cinema was nothing but one masterpiece after another….until she saw THE MAD ADVENTURES OF RABBI JACOB. I would imagine that day to day exposure to the entire output of French cinema would have spoiled her illusion much quicker.

    In any event, regardless of what you think of its artistic merit, would you really want to be living your life in a William Friedkin film?

  • Robert Cashill

    The DVD catalog business is dead. That Fox’s last “collection” was a bunch of previously released Liam Neeson movies, and that its first standalone catalog DVD release in 2.5 years was STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, pretty much says where DVD stands with the studios. Given that neither Shout nor Twilight Time (both terrific) seems all that much interested in movies older than the 50s a MOD is the last best hope for Walsh titles unless some other DVD/Blu-ray distributor shows an interest.

    But good news anyway that a revitalized PORGY may be in the offing.

  • Robert Garrick

    Alex talks about the John Sturges progression from “good” to “dull” during the course of his career. A mini-version of this progression can be seen in the single film “Mystery Street” (1950), which begins well, looking for fifteen or twenty minutes like an unusually stylish (for MGM) noir thriller.

    Then Jan Sterling is killed, and the film immediately morphs into the most turgid and dull of police programmers, with Sterling traded for that most turgid and dull of actors, Bruce Bennett.

    I cannot remember another title with such a clean break between interesting and boring. John Alton was the cinematographer, and his talent is evident in the early scenes. Anyone could have photographed the last hour of the film.

    This is the same type of film Anthony Mann was making just a few years before at Eagle-Lion, with the same great noir cameraman, but what a difference with John Sturges at the helm.

  • Nicolas,
    I get the impression that many American cinephiles think that 1970’s American films are much greater than those made before or since. It is interesting that you think that many French cinephiles share this belief.
    By the way, “1970’s American films” in this context is usually shorthand for “commercial narrative films made for theaters in the US from 1967 to 1981”. Experimental, documentary and television programs are NOT included in this enthusiasm. People are talking about THE GODFATHER, CHINATOWN or SHAMPOO, not TV films like ISHI or THE QUESTOR TAPES or experimental films like QUICK BILLY or THE RIDDLE OF LUMEN.

    I confess that I have generally had trouble responding to “1970’s American films”. Simple viewings of the films leave me unable to connect with them. I confess I rarely understand why other people like them so much. But then, I am far from being a specialist in this era.
    THE NICKEL RIDE is a major work, IMHO. I tend to see it through the lens of “films by Robert Mulligan”, rather than “American 1970’s”. It is rich in subjects and visual style found from Mulligan’s whole career.
    It is closest in its genre and approach to a Mulligan SUSPENSE TV episode F.O.B. VIENNA (1953). Both are thrillers in which the hero is trapped in a sinister, miasma-like puzzle in which he finds it impossible to understand anything that is going on. The endlessly atmospheric events defy analysis.

    The Bo Hopkins character is one of a series of “young men with secrets and VERY strange personalities” that run through Mulligan. In surrealist scenarios, they offer a frightening series of unconventional actions. They are often played by actors of the same type: blond, remarkably handsome, 30 years old. Previous examples are Robert Duvall in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Robert Redford in INSIDE DAISY CLOVER.

    Right from the start of his career, Mulligan used complex camera movements to create atmosphere. You should all see his camera move in TV series like SUSPENSE and STUDIO ONE.

    The bar in THE NICKEL RIDE is a “rectangle with the corners cut off”. This is Mulligan’s signature shape, just like the circle is Raoul Walsh’s and the spiral runs through Joseph H. Lewis.

    Wood panelling, in old traditional buildings is a constant feature in Mulligan. It is prominent in THE NICKEL RIDE.
    Mulligan, like Ulmer, likes buildings made up of repeating architectural modules and units. The warehouse the hero of THE NICKEL RIDE controls is a classic example of such repeating modules. It is the center of the universe in THE NICKEL RIDE, just like the Ancient Greeks thought the Oracle at Delphi was the center of the world: the omphalos-stone.

    Then there are the locations: fertile areas near water, fences, kitchens, loading docks, public venues for sports like the swimming pool: all the signature Mulligan locales…

  • jbryant

    I once watched ICE STATION ZEBRA in dead of winter in an apartment with no heat. It really helped. Kinda like the cold version of Sensurround.

    As someone who grew up loving BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE GREAT ESCAPE, I was definitely disappointed the further I delved into Sturges’ output. Most of his films are perfectly serviceable entertainments that never quite soar (I haven’t seen the entirety of his ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO, but it has a great climax, with William Holden and company pinned down by an Apache hunting party).

    As for Bruce Bennett — well, I can’t make much of a case for him, except to say his turgid dullness was well-used by Robert Florey in a decent ‘B’ noir from 1945, DANGER SIGNAL. Also, turgid dullness may be good for the blood pressure — Bennett just died a few years ago at the age of 100!

  • I’ve just posted this to Glenn Kenny’s blog, as a contribution to a discussion of this year’s National Film Registry selections, so I thought I’d put it up here as well, in case anyone here has similar concerns:

    Actually, Glenn, no maneuvering at all was involved – I was as surprised to see “Forrest Gump” on the list as you were, though it is a film that I (and many other people) have suggested in the past. There are a couple of misconceptions at work in the comments above that I should probably try to clear up: James L. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, makes the choices for the list on his own; the members of the board (a full list can be found at are only advisors, who propose and discuss films at an annual meeting, usually in the fall. There are always a few titles on the list that are completely new to me, presumably having been proposed by members of Dr. Billington’s staff, such as this year’s selection of the John Bunny film (“A Cure for Pokeritis”) and the 1912 “social problem” film “The Cry of the Children.”

    I hope you’ll agree that neither of those silent films are exactly highly commercial, popular choices – and neither are the avant-garde films “Allures” by Jordan Belson, “Fake Fruit Factory” by Chick Strand, and “I, an Actress” by George Kuchar, all of which were proposed by the avant-garde subcommittee, of which I am a member. “Wavelength,” being a Canadian film, isn’t eligible for inclusion, but you will find “Dog Star Man,” “Eaux d’Artifice,” “Fuji,” “Meshes of the Afternoon,” “Our Lady of the Sphere,” “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania,” “Serene Velocity” and several other equally “difficult” films on the list.

    If anything, the sense we’ve been getting from the Librarian is that he wants more non-mainstream, non-fictional, non-Hollywood films, and there are quite a few of those on the list this year, including Robert Drew’s “Crisis,” Julia Reichert and Jim Klein’s “Growing Up Female,” and the Nicholas Brothers’ home movies (an amazing collection of footage, brought to the Librarian’s attention by Bruce Goldstein of Film Forum). There is still a lot of work outside of Hollywood to be taken note of, as well as quite a bit of non-Oscar, non-star Hollywood to be recognized, but not everything can go on at once. There is, of course, a need to offer the occasional title that will be recognized by the general public – otherwise, I doubt that the list would receive the publicity that it does, which is very helpful in maintaining public consciousness of the need for film preservation. Even you, Glenn, decided to lead your coverage with “Gump” and “Lambs” rather than “A Computer Animated Hand.” That’s just good, sensible journalism.

    The other misconception is that actual preservation work is involved. Alas, this is not true: although the Librarian is authorized to request archival copies of the films from their owners, there is no money or lab work involved. The honor, I’m afraid, is strictly honorary, though the board’s public-private relative, the National Film Preservation Foundation ( does distribute federal funds gathered by the Library of Congress and preservation services donated by public-spirited labs and post houses. In any case, almost all of the films named to the list have already been preserved, and I can personally assure James Keepnews that there is no danger of the “Twilight” films draining funding from independent and public domain titles. If you’ll look at the list of films preserved annually through the NFPF (last year’s report can be downloaded at, you’ll find very little funding going toward sound narrative features, and quite a bit going to avant-garde films, regional documentaries, educational films, home movies and suchlike.

    If anyone has any other questions, please drop me a line at my blog,, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

  • Barry Lane

    You can’t compare Sturges to Anthony Mann, nor to Richard Brooks. Not on talent, intellect or career re Brooks, or whatever inspiration is re Mann. And there is nothing wrong with Bruce Bennett. No one enjoys an extended career without talented people wanting to work with you. And, I might add, Bennett’s performance in Treasure of the Sierra Madre works as well, and is as memorable as any of the other guys on the shoot.

  • Jay Finkelstein

    I am a John Sturges fan.The man made some of the best westerns ever made. Leaving aside, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (OK, Elmer’s mucsic helped),
    GUN should be included in that list.
    Excuse me, but I thought Ricardo Montalban was the star of MYSTERY STREET not Bruce Bennett.
    You might as well say he turned in Jan Sterling for Elsa Lanchester. And don’t tell me the movie is dull when she’s on screen.
    Did he direct some junk, yes. But every director has his share of losers.One final point
    about Sturges being an impersonal film maker. I could not care less. It is what’s on the screen that counts. I’ll take THE GREAT ESCAPE over many AUTEUR films.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well if talent and intellect consists of making travesties out of great novels like “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Lord Jim” and turning Tennessee Williams into TV “problem plays,” then I’ll settle for inspiration no matter what way you want to define it.

    We can at least credit John Sturges with giving Walter Mirisch the title for his autobiography. As Mirisch tells it, Sturges called him up and said that he had been asked a question regarding THE GREAT ESCAPE for which he needed to refer to the screenplay and he (Sturges) wondered if he (Mirisch) had a copy of it. To which Mirisch replied that he was amazed that Sturges didn’t have a copy of the screenplay for one of his greatest films. And Sturges responded that the film had been made over forty years ago and “I thought we were making movies, not history.”

  • Barry Lane

    All pictures have to be judged on their own merits, not sources. I certainly agree that Lord Jim doesn’t work, Brothers Karamazov has plenty of energy, and almost does. Elmer Gantry, it could be argued is an improvement over the source. At least, we are on side with Anthony Mann, and I hope, Bennett. I don’t much like The Great Escape. A swollen adventure.

  • joe dante

    Another illustration that dying is a bad career move.
    Sturges may not have gotten to make any great films, but he did make some classic movies. I think he stands well for the rest of us who move from project to project and try to impart an individual stamp to them. But I don’t know how any filmmaker could survive ICE STATION ZEBRA.

    And I don’t think Nicolas’s comparison to former editor Stuart Heisler is very apt, as his feature directorial heyday was over by the mid-50s.

  • Barry Putterman

    But Joe, isn’t John Sturges also a former editor?

  • Mathieu

    I share Nicolas Saada’s question of what exactly is this honor of the National Registry and how the films are selected. But whatever it is, I find it warming to find out FORREST GUMP has been included. I formerly rebuked this film, and who made me take several closer looks? Dave Kehr, whose analysis offered a different perspective, one that has led me to love and appreciate the many different (often conflicting) levels of the satire and Americana commentary going on in abundance. If ever I could point to a critic’s invaluable contribution to a major reversal in my thoughts on the ideas of a movie, Dave really is at the top of the list.

    I see also that the original WAR OF THE WORLDS is listed….. am I the only one who prefers the Spielberg version?
    Sure the ending is a bit goofy, but as a sustained terror piece of expert mise en scene and metaphoric imagery, did any action piece of the last decade top it?

  • Barry Lane

    Re The Great Escape: a personal preference. I don’t like it, and by the way, I knew Barry Mahon, one of the guys depicted. And, he did like it. Add Gunfight at the O.K. Corral to a miss for Sturges. Similar problems to Escape, in my view. Unfortunate because both have plenty going for them. And in O.K. Corral when Wyatt throws his star in the dust, you just know the creative people have been running High Noon.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    For me, Sturges’ best aspect was his fluid adaptation to the scope aspect ratio early on, something he always seemed comfortable with (compare to Henry Koster or Henry King or some of the directors Fox assigned early on). Bad Day at Black Rock, for all its obvious quasi-Stanley Kramerish good vs evil stuff, is my favorite of his films, a real visual treat, and with a terrific cast. (Sturges obviously also was a director who, though he had some strong female roles along the way, seemed to thrive with stories that were male-dominated and ensemble-oriented.)

  • Gregg Rickman

    I have always liked Bruce Bennett; I recently ran all of Keaton’s Columbia shorts, where Bennett turns up twice in bit parts, and he’s a rare supporting actor who isn’t mugging. His solidity works well with his character’s weakness as the discarded husband in MILDRED PIERCE, and he’s just fine in SIERRE MADRE. I’ve seen MYSTERY STREET, but too long ago to remember Bennett in it (or indeed anything else about it).

    Re Spielberg: I disliked his WAR OF THE WORLDS when it came out, but a TA in a class I was teaching this past autumn ran the sequence when the alien tentacles are probing the cellar where Cruise, Robbins and a kid are hiding, as his choice to illustrate editing. I had to admit that the sequence worked well (it wasn’t overscored, for one thing). This tallied with a recent experience I had on a plane, one of those jets where a tv set is installed in the seat in front of you. Awakening from uneasy dreams, I found myself transformed into an audience member of a Spielberg film. It took me a little while to figure out, but I was watching — silently, as I hadnt purchased a headset — a chase sequence from INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL. I had not seen the film, and didnt know what was going on or who the characters were, but the little episode I saw was effectively told, and worked as a silent film. The scene made effective use of Spielberg’s trademark high/low camera placements. But I’ll bet loud music and a relentless pace in a movie theater would have put me off, as so many other Spielberg action sequences have put me off over the years. I’ve seen a lot of promotional material for WAR HORSE as being full of deliberately, consciously “Fordian” cinematography… we shall see. But while Spielberg does have an eye, I have problems with his ear; or to reverse this, John Ford avoided overbearing soundtracks.

  • Robert Cashill

    ICE STATION ZEBRA does have Patrick McGoohan at his most McGoohanish, a quintessential Basil Exposition part. MAROONED is an apt title for a harder sit.

    But after minor Eastwood, Bronson, and Wayne credits I think Sturges’ last film, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, translates a good popcorn thriller of a book into a good popcorn thriller of a movie. And I’ll put in the good word for GUN HILL and HOUR OF THE GUN, too.

  • mark gross

    To paraphrase Joe Dante, John Sturges gave me an extraordinary amount of visual pleasure when I was growing up, especially in GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL, LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL & THE GREAT ESCAPE. Perhaps these films are not perfect, but I loved them when I was young and and even today I find them compulsively watchable, beautifully made and artistically meaningful, if not perhaps on the same level as Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher. But who needs masterpieces? Hopefully there is a place in the cinema for someone like Sturges, who perhaps is not a subversive, personal artist on the level of what Manny Farber was taking about in his article on “Underground Movies”, but much more than a craftsman, and certainly original, if extremely inconsistent. Even ICE STATION ZEBRA has its felicities.

    Also, as Barry might point out, John Sturges wrote the liner notes to Martin Denny’s first LP, so he was also musically advanced. On a more serious note, both Andre Previn & Elmer Bernstein wrote their best scores for Sturges films.

  • Michael Dempsey

    I want to add my vote in favor of “The Great Escape”, which I think of as the finest “pure Hollywood” movie I have ever seen. I’ll even use the M word, minus Alex’s “Kidpix” adjective or any other of that type. Just plain old “masterpiece” is fine by me.

    Likewise, John Sturges does indeed seem not to have been an auteur, and this doesn’t matter to me at all. So I’m basically on the same page as Jay Finkelstein.

    As for Bruce Bennett, it seems to me that he is superbly laconic and understated in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” — a brief but perfect performance in every gesture and line-reading.

  • mark gross

    I haven’t seen PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA, so I don’t know how it relates to Sturges’ career as a whole, but I’m most interested in that film because of John Alton’s contribution. John Alton is one of the few cinematographers (the others who come to mind are Boris Kaufman & Conrad Hall) whose work transcends that of lighting and composition and exists also on a thematic level, to the point where it is sometimes difficult to separate the contributions of their work (which is extremely consistent, both visually & thematically from film to film) and that of the director.

    I also wanted to point out that Sturges himself hated GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL and LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL, though I think this may be because he was a hired gun , so to speak, in those situations, and the producer, Hal B. Wallis, apparently gave him a very hard time. Although I bought the DVD of OK CORRAL when it was released, it was so lackluster I can’t really comment on whether the film holds up or not, although I did like the performances and the way the film was paced and directed. Still, GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL was so dazzling in Vista Vision that I’m hoping Olive Films or another company brings it out in a good Blu_ray transfer. Seeing that movie in a theatre was one of the highlights of my movie-going experiences as a five year old.

  • Tony Williams

    It is a shame that Fox will not be bringing out any more rare films under its made-for-order DVD label since the Milton Sills version of THE SEA WOLF (1930) is not only one of the earliest sound films but a very different version of the Jack London novel according to the source material I’ve read. Also, concerning ICE STATION ZEBRA, a favorite of Howard Hughes in seclusion, McGoohan appeared in it between episodes of THE PRISONER. So if you compare his performance to “Number Six”, you will find the same type of thespain intensity in force.

  • mark gross

    Tony Williams: I had no idea Fox had a made-to order DVD service on the web. Where can one find this?

  • nicolas saada

    sturges created in a way the idea of the”blockbuster”. it’s really what all THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is. But it’s a very clever remake of the kurosawa original. As a kid and a teenager, it had one shot that always thrilled me’ :it’s a lateral tracking shot of eli wallach on horseback, with his gang, during the first showdown with the seven. The pulsating music by bernstein, the whole motion that is gracefully pulled into he shot. It works, and it is somewhat designed by an inspired director.