Even Stevens

Even George Stevens had his moments of beautiful delirium, as represented in the haunting opening sequence of his often overlooked 1952 “Something to Live For” — a series of slow dissolves between a curtain rising on a Broadway show, a woman (Joan Fontaine) peering between her fingers in a close-up step-printed to look like slow motion, and a man (Ray Milland) anxiously peering out at Times Square through the window of a cab. The film is one of the best of the many 50s expressions of discontent with the middle-class model of suburban security, and as near as I can tell, a completely anomalous expression on Stevens’s part of a yearning for escape and romantic self-destruction. Olive Films has released this rare title in a very nice copy; also this week, Kino is offering King Vidor’s often abused public domain title “Bird of Paradise” in an impeccable transfer taken from the producer David O. Selznick’s personal print, as preserved at George Eastman House. This week’s New York Times column rounds out with a few words about Arch Oboler’s “Bewitched,” an intriguing 1945 anticipation of the psycho killer film that very likely had an influence on Hitchcock.

167 comments to Even Stevens

  • Alex

    What an exceedingly beguiling set of revelations!

  • Robert Regan

    The experience of the Second World War brought to many American filmmakers an increased sense of gravitas. Many of us have not been pleased by the way this was manifested in Stevens’ work, but it showed up admirably in, say, Hitchcock and Ford.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, I wasn’t even aware of the “HOUSE BY THE RIVER” DVD and Pierre Rissient’s participation. I’ll have to catch up somehow… I could have quite a few things to say about Pierre, but should probably refrain. The last time I saw him in person was at the Montreal Film Festival in 1999. We had planned a kind of hommage to Manny Farber who had indicated he might come, and I had talked Ronnie Scheib into arranging an interview (what happened to Ronnie, I wonder? — I used to see her at Montreal every year, then I stopped going after I moved to Florida). Well, Manny didn’t come to Montreal after all but we all talked about him anyway. I remember discussing EYES WIDE SHUT with Pierre. I said I had reservations (I had just written a review for Positif trying not to upset Michel Ciment too much),and Pierre said that the film was a piece of shit, or words to that effect.

    I wonder if anybody here has seen Pierre’s wonderful film, CINQ ET LA PEAU. I wish I could see it again but is there a copy anywhere? I’ve never seen his other film, ONE NIGHT STAND and hope I’ll have a chance to see it someday but it seems most unlikely, although a DVD of the two movies would be must welcome.

    I’m glad to see that Pierre, who is just one year younger than I am, is still active more than fifty years after the Mac-Mahon epoch.

  • Rick K.

    Oboler’s BEWITCHED is indeed a ripe curiosity, and it would be interesting to know whether it had much commercial success back in ‘45. Certainly I’ve never heard it accorded sleeper status in the manner of the Wm. Castle film, WHEN STRANGERS MARRY or J.H. Lewis’ MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, both of which became celebrated B films around the same time. Even the lesser Lewtons have more of an underground reputation today than Oboler’s intriguing debut, tho his sporadic movie career is certainly worthy of a cult (if there is one, I’d like to enlist for membership). Of course among the antecedents of the split personality theme would be the Lewton/Tourneur CAT PEOPLE, with psychiatry a principle player in both … perhaps another look might reveal some stylistic influences as well (I recall a surprising visual dexterity at work in Oboler’s film, primarily directorial, while KANE obviously benefitted greatly from Toland’s assistance), deducing that Oboler, like Hitchcock, had been a vociferous filmgoer … tho unlike Hitch or Tourneur, his cinematic creativity never really developed, making a Castle comparison more apt. Whatever the case, I’m glad that Warner Archive has sifted this one out for DVD release … perhaps Oboler’s even curiouser THE TWONKY could also resurface in the MOD format (among the United Artists holdings?) a rather masochistic exercise to be sure, but films more bizarre are difficult to find.

    Incidentally, my blu-ray copy of BIRD OF PARADISE, while indeed a joy to behold from a visual standpoint, has very poor sound. There is constant distortion which could be attributed to the original film elements used for the transfer, but also sounds like faulty boosting of audio levels for the blu-ray … anybody else having concerns with the audio on this release?

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    We (meaning Tavernier and myself) had never seen SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR and didn’t even mention it in our book (it was released in France as “l’ivresse et l’amour” — a typically idiotic French title). I’m looking forward to seeing it. It’s a beautiful title that never makes me think of Stevens but rather of a wonderful song sung in 1939 by the forgotten Jean Eldridge in the beautiful Ellingon recording of March 21. Sorry Dave. I won’t say anymore.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jean-Pierre, I believe that Ronnie’s participation at Montreal was pegged to her job of doing reviews for “Variety.” So, what are the odds that that remains an ongoing experience? I wish I could tell you what has happened to her. We were quite close years ago. The essays I wrote on topics in television comedy would not have become presentable without her editorial guidance. But, alas, I have lost touch with her also.

    And it has been even longer since I have seen any of these three films, so I am very glad to have them back in circulation. There is no embarrassment in never having seen SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR. It somehow even got omitted from Stevens’ filmography in “The American Cinema.”

    As with Leisen’s SONG OF SURRENDER, there is a particular moment in BIRD OF PARADISE which especially affected me. And since, as with the Leisen film, I haven’t seen it in many, many years, I may have a few details wrong. It is a scene where McCrea is semi-conscious and very seriously ill and Del Rio, in alarmed improvisation to aid him, takes juice from the local fruit into her mouth and transfers it to his in hopes of soothing his fever. The intense combination of eroticism and tenderness in her action made a big impression on me.

    In any event, unlike SONG OF SURRENDER, I hope to soon have the opportunity to re-see the actual film as it relates to my memory of it. And the other two films as well.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, you’ve “lost touch” with her the way we all lose touch with so many people and shouldn’t. After all, she lived — and possibly still does — not very far from where you live in Manhattan. And of course there still is that old-fashioned thing, the telephone. But I’m not putting you down, I’m probably worse (and I’ve lost her phone number). Of course I never was a close friend of hers, or even a friend at all except in the Facebook meaning that makes everybody you don’t know and who doesn’t know you somehow a “friend”. But I admired her Lupino piece for our book and I always enjoyed our conversations at the Festival. I remember she staid with some friends way out because Variety (?) didn’t pay her for hotel stay. When I asked her to dinner at the hotel she always said no and waited for a bus to take her to some distant suburb. Well, I’m sorry this is definitely off topic.

  • David Boxwell

    A coupla years ago Sony packaged Oboler’s FIVE (51) as a “Martini Movie” on DVD. It’s really a stiff bourbon flick, though. Bunker-like setting provided by Frank Lloyd Wright. And only one child-bearing woman left on earth!

    Oboler fans will also love GANGWAY FOR TOMORROW (43) for the fantastic 10-minute nightmare mininoir embedded in it, shot by Nicholas Musuraca. A prison executioner fries his own . . . badass baby brother!

    Arch was the greatest gimmick guy in Classic Hollywood. I love him.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Jean-Pierre, just to put a button on the Pierre Rissient thread, the Todd McCarthy film showed clips from at least one of the two films he directed – maybe both. And he did, contrary to what I said in the previous thread, author some film criticism, some of which is quoted in the chapter in David Caute’s Losey biography dealing with his Parisian admirers. (Rissient is very prominent therein.)

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Gregg, of course one of Rissient’s very few articles was about Losey in Cahiers du Cinema (no 111, 1961; his Losey book was published in 1964. He wrote a couple of articles for Positif, one on La Cava, another, typically Rissient, titled “paris, 31 octobre 1979: charte de tess” (published in the January 1980 issue; no upper case)which he dedicated to “Maurice et Jacques Tourneur, Paul Fejos aussi. Princes de ligne du cinema.” The article was, among other things, a defense of Polansky’s “Tess” (dismissed by Emmanuel Carrere in Positif as “a bitter disappointment”.)”Among other things” is indeed the proper phrase, as the article, which I have just re-read, was very personal and tells you a lot about the person Rissient is, or was at the time.

  • Joe Dante

    Here’s a commentary I did on the trailer for Arch Oboler’s FIVE:

    http://trailersfromhell.com/trailers/410

    I’d love to find a trailer for THE TWONKY, but the movie itself is hard enough to find!

  • Patrick Henry

    I saw BEWITCHED on TV some years ago, liked it, and am looking forward to the DVD. Audrey Totter’s voice as the “other personality ” was what really made it, I thought.
    When I was a kid, my parents took me to see Arch Oboler’s play NIGHT OF THE AUK in its pre-Broadway tryout at the National Theater in Washington. It was set on a space station orbiting above the earth. I think my parents went because Claude Rains was the star. (They weren’t into sf.) If my memories after 50+ years are accurate, it was like RED RIVER in outer space, with Rains’ stubborn, inflexible and militaristic commander being challenged by a much younger, more “humane” officer (Christopher Plummer).It quickly closed on Broadway.

    In an interview with Sidney Lumet, who directed it, he said that had it opened a few months later, after the Sputnik went up and the “space race” was underway, the critics would then have taken it seriously and it might have succeeded. He said their attitude had been: Science-fiction is just kid stuff, with none of the high seriousness that we expect in a drama. (It’s safe to say that the theater critics of the time didn’t read any sf, their reference point being Flash Gordon serials, the Captain Video children’s show, and the like.)
    Wish someone had published the script, but that only happens with plays that succeed!

  • Robert Regan

    Off topic, but I would like to call attention to the Finnish dvd release of three boxes, twelve films by the remarkable Teuvo Tulio. Of particular interest here is an extra by Antti Alanen accompanying Passion (Intohimon vallassa). Not surprisingly, it is interesting and informative. Thank you, Mr. Allanen. Has anyone else here discovered Tulio?

  • jason fleming

    Budd Boetticher’s first film One Mysterious Night will be available on 5/11. His second the Missing Juror is already available. How about a piece on early Budd, Dave?

  • Peter Henne

    Patrick Henry, It looks like the play was published in 1958 by Horizon Press. If a copy is not available through your library, you can find inexpensive used copies for sale at this link:

    http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=Oboler&sts=t&tn=Night+Auk&x=41&y=15

  • D. K. Holm

    As I noted on a previous forum, Stevens is one of those “two part” career guys, and I am only reiterating the point here in order to subscribe to the email alerts for this thread.

  • Robert Regan

    D.K., one of the things Mr. Allanen mentions in his video commentary is that Teuvo Tulio’s films were much darker after the War.

  • Robert Regan (May 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm): thank you very much! This year we are celebrating the centenary of Teuvo Tulio, who was, among other things, an ardent cinephile since the 1920s. A rare independent producer-director in our land during the studio era.

  • Jason, as much as I love Budd there’s not enough in those first two films to justify a column, though of course I encourage you to check them out. I’m hoping that Warner Archive will get around to releasing Budd’s three Monogram pictures, “Black Midnight” (1949), “The Wolf Hunters” (1949) and “Killer Shark” (1950), which remain the most rare of his films; I’ve only seen the latter, made right before “Bullfighter and the Lady,” and it’s quite interesting, with Roddy McDowell playing the same sort of semi-autobiographical Budd figure that Robert Stack played in “Bullfighter” — a spoiled rich kid who grows up fast when he takes up shark fishing.

  • Alex

    D. K. Holm,

    An interesting footnote to Stevens’ “two part” career is that George Stevens, Jr., in his “George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey” seesn George Sr.’s 50s development into a director of increasingly Serious, elephantine, high status projects as the triumphant cumulation of journey of moral and artistic ascent.

  • Barry Putterman

    I believe that KILLER SHARK is scheduled for a TCM airing in early June.

  • Robert Regan

    You are most welcome, Mr. Alanen. There are two things about the work of Teuvo Tulio that I am wondering about. One is the degree of Regina Linnanheimo’s involvement in the making of the films. A short piece on line suggested that she made major contributions to the scripts. What is known about this? I am also curious about the song sung by the loggers at least twice. Though the words are quite different, the melody is pretty close to that of the old American song The Bells Are Ringing for Me and My Gal. Did we borrow from you or did you borrow from us?

  • jason fleming

    I haven’t seen Black Midnight or The Wolf Hunters either. Maybe when Olive Films gets around to releasing Bullfighter and the Lady you can devote a column to that.

  • mike schlesinger

    Patrick: I read NIGHT OF THE AUK in high school (the 60s), so it was published at some point. I think the problem was not so much the premise as that it was written in blank verse, which made it more than a bit of a slog, at least to read.

    Re FIVE: I’d been pushing Sony to release this for some time, and they finally agreed–but as part of the Martini Movie series. I said, “Are you insane? This isn’t a James Bond picture, it’s an end-of-the-world movie with the last five people on earth!” As usual, I was ignored, but perhaps ironically, it was by far the best-selling of all the MMs.

  • David Cohen

    ONE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT was on TCM on Saturday. I’m not terribly familiar with the Boston Blackie series so I can’t say if there was anything special about that episode, but it had its moments.

  • Robert Regan (May 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm). Teuvo Tulio and Regina Linnanheimo were lifelong friends, partners and cinephiles since their high school days, and Linnanheimo did contribute in a major way to the Tulio scripts. She was one of our two biggest female stars during WWII but got bored with mainstream studio glamour and rather played fallen women, alcoholics, madwomen, jealous lunatics, etc. with Tulio. After the principal photography to her last movie was finished in 1954 she changed careers, became a film and television translator and never looked back, never appeared in public again. Since school days she was fluent in many languages (as was Tulio). We got to enjoy her translations in works as diverse as Fritz Lang’s DER TIGER VON ESCHNAPUR and DAS INDISCHE GRABMAL, and THE FORSYTE SAGA tv series.

    You heard right! George W. Meyer’s “For Me And My Gal” (1917) provides the melody for the loggers’ song “Viimeinen lautta” ["The Last Raft"], first recorded in Finnish in 1924. That song was one of Tulio’s obsessions.

  • My Budd Boetticher article discusses 20 films in depth and is 75 pages long:
    http://mikegrost.com/boettich.htm

    A long range goal: make this a whole book covering all of Boetticher’s film and TV work.
    It has entries on One Mysterious Night, The Missing Juror and Killer Shark, as well as more famous Boetticher like the Ranown cycle, the three Maverick episodes, Seminole, The Killer Is Loose, and Legs Diamond.

    I try to bring out dimensions in Boetticher not usually discussed:
    Dictatorial regimes and honest men in revolt against them.
    Trickster characters.
    Gender roles and men and women in defiance of them.
    Food and drink and gender.
    Phallic symbols.
    Water landscapes.
    Camera movement.
    Red-and-blue color schemes.
    Framing and use of rectilinear grids.
    Circular patterns.
    Staging of groups and processions.
    Sloping Streets.
    Odd-shaped boxes and 3D regions containing men.

    Boetticher is full of concepts and approaches that benefit from being brought out. The article attempts to provide IDEAS about his work.

  • jason fleming

    David: One Mysterious Night is about average for the Boston Blackie series. I make no claims of greatness for them at their best they were entertaining B-Movies nothing more. I actually prefer the Crime Doctor films that Columbia was around the same time. William Castle directed entries in both series. Mike your article sounds very interesting I’ll give it a look.

  • Robert Regan

    Thank you, Mr. Alanen, for the information about Teuvo Tulio and Regina Linnanheimo. After seeing films for more than sixty years, it is very exciting to discover “new” major filmmakers. I am eagerly awaiting delivery of the third set of Tulio’s films.

  • Patrick Henry

    I think CRIME DOCTOR’S MAN HUNT (Castle, 1946) is pretty good. One thing that puzzles me is why William Frawley’s police inspector, who seems perfectly competent, would feel any need to take advice from Warner Baxter’s Crime Doctor, who gives the impression of being neither a keen intellect nor a street-smart sleuth but a languid and rather disinterested playboy.

  • Barry Putterman

    Patrick, Warner Baxter’s deficiencies notwithstanding, it seems to me that one of the audience accepted conventions of the detective movie is that the police lack either the social mobility or creative imagination (or both) to successfully solve extraordinary cases. And, as such, one of the basics of the genre is an assumption that there are very real limits and basic flaws in how well the social and political establishment can protect the population. In contrast, the police procedural movies begin with the assumption that it is those limits and flaws which protect the population from the kind of social anarchy that is sometimes represented by detectives.

    What I always found interesting in regards to Columbia’s series detectives of the 40s; Boston Blackie, The Lone Wolf and even The Crime Doctor, is that they were all posited as being former criminals, which supposedly gave them unique advantages in terms of their investigations and understandings of the underworld.

    I know that we have quite a number of crime fiction devotees among the faithful here. So I am rather hoping that there will be additional thoughts and theories which will be thrown into the pot.

  • Patrick Henry

    Barry, I think the first film of the series, CRIME DOCTOR, is the best (of those that I have seen) and in terms of direction (Michael Gordon) and acting (Margaret Lindsay, Ray Collins) distinctly above the B level of the others. But even there I find him an essentially unreal figure, though I take your point that a private investigator can sometimes be more dedicated, less sloppy, sometimes even more knowledgeable than the police.

    The Crime Doctor series was based on a radio program, and radio allowed the listener to exercise his imagination, so that an actor with an “authoritative” voice could be, in your imagination, a clever, dynamic heroic figure. I can remember from childhood a radio program called “Mr. President,” with Edward Arnold playing a different president every week. He was acceptable on radio but in a movie I wouldn’t see him, with his stagey bluster, as a believable president—at any rate, not as a president who’s actually concerned about some pressing issue. My hunch is that Crime Doctor probably worked better on radio.

  • Robert Garrick

    TCM will be showing all seven of the Warner Baxter / Crime Doctor films on May 31, including the William Castle-directed “Crime Doctor’s Manhunt” (1946) and two others directed by Castle.

    I could start talking about William Castle here, but I’m not sure we want to turn the thread in that direction.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, the thread doesn’t seem to be going anywhere at all; so why not Castle?

    Patrick, I think that Warner Baxter was going for the calm, jovial, detached quality of a reassuring doctor in his conception of the character. For me, his persona was always shrouded in a kind of “what’s the use” exhaustion and defeatism which actually worked in his favor in films like 42ND STREET and THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, but may have tainted what he was after in the Crime Doctor films. Add to that the fact that he did not look at all well in those films (he seemed to have aged alarmingly in the 40s and, in fact, died in 1950) and you get what might come off as a rather disinterested sleuth.

    But that is a very interesting point about radio, and one which hardly ever gets talked about. In a complete reversal of the transition to sound era, many actors first came to public attention as radio voices in the 30s and 40s. And it would be very interesting to understand how the audience adjusted to seeing people such as Howard Duff and Ted de Corsia after previously knowing their voices so well.

  • jason fleming

    Patrick, a languid and rather disinterested playboy that’s great but I think George Sanders is better example. As to your suggestion the Crime Doctor was better on the radio I think you might be right. The Shadow certainty was of the few films they made none ever lived up to the character’s potential.

  • Some common themes in the films of William Castle:

    Skepticism about norms of masculinity (When Strangers Marry, Homicidal)
    Skepticism about the value of strength (The Voice of the Whistler, Homicidal)
    Support for Civil Rights and minority groups (pioneer dignified depiction of Harlem: When Strangers Marry, black customers: The Voice of the Whistler, Native American rights: Masterson of Kansas)

    Plot structure and elements:

    People who live where they work (Mark of the Whistler, The Mysterious Intruder, heroine at newspaper: Cave of Outlaws, beauty parlor: Homicidal, The Night Walker)
    Plots that head toward unknown goals (When Strangers Marry, The Voice of the Whistler, Homicidal)
    Strange surrealist plot twists, that introduce the unexpected
    Strange institutions (Share the Ride: When Strangers Marry)
    Complex personal histories for characters, gradually explored in film (Mark of the Whistler, The Fat Man, Homicidal)
    Opening suspense prologue, followed by meeting larger cast of characters at work and home (The Whistler, Homicidal)
    Weddings of characters who barely know each other (When Strangers Marry, The Voice of the Whistler, The Fat Man, Homicidal)
    Nurses (The Voice of the Whistler, The Fat Man, Homicidal)
    Mute characters (The Whistler, Homicidal)

    Scandinavia connection (Swedish ship: The Whistler, Swedish heirlooms: The Mysterious Intruder, Danish characters: Homicidal)

    Settings:

    Hotels, fancy, and often with bellboys – sites of suspense and danger (When Strangers Marry, Mark of the Whistler, The Fat Man, Homicidal) related (flophouse: The Whistler, rented house: The House on Haunted Hill)
    Small but atmospheric nightclubs, with patrons dancing – upbeat but surreal interludes (When Strangers Marry, The Fat Man)
    Places of personal, body care (tenement clinic: The Voice of the Whistler, sanitarium: The Mysterious Intruder, dentist: The Fat Man, doctor who asks hero for money: Cave of Outlaws, beauty salon: Homicidal)
    Suspense scene: about to enter house of mystery, danger (The Whistler, Bat Masterson walks into trap at saloon: Masterson of Kansas, house entered as credits end: The House on Haunted Hill, climax: Homicidal)
    Buildings with strange staircases (spiral staircase in lighthouse: The Voice of the Whistler, outdoor staircase to apartments, inner staircases to connecting buildings: The Mysterious Intruder, up and down staircase landings to lab, bedrooms: The Night Walker)
    Panoramic views through windows (Solarium: The Voice of the Whistler, private eye’s office: The Mysterious Intruder)
    Underground chambers (cavern: Cave of Outlaws, origin of Bat Masterson’s nickname and cave of bats: Masterson of Kansas, cellar: The House on Haunted Hill)
    Moat-like doors that can be raised and lowered (racetrack: The Fat Man, pit in cellar: The House on Haunted Hill)

    Color:

    Blue and orange/red with occasional green: color scheme (Masterson of Kansas)
    Multi-colored Native American blankets (on buggy seat: Cave of Outlaws, on saloon wall: Conquest of Cochise)
    Gray clothes for hero (Cave of Outlaws, Masterson of Kansas)

    Characters seen as walking shadows (narrator: Whistler films, hit-man: The Fat Man)

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Youtube (major) find – not sure this has been mentioned here, and it was news to me.

    Rynox (1931), Michael Powell’s third feature (a quote quickie as were all his early films), and the only of his first 11 apparently to be found, is available on Youtube. It was found about a year ago and restored by the BFI.

    Only 48 minutes (compressed to 44 in the transfer, but the complete film – all his early films were 5 reels), it shows clearly signs of a nascent talent as well as plot and character interests that he developed further later on.

    It was adapted from a Philip MacDonald mystery (a bit ambitious for the low-budget nature of the film) which conveniently takes place mainly in one office, but this just provided the incentive for directorial inventiveness that Powell capably provided. Also a spunky smart female character, better than average set decoration, unconventional shot choices, a lead character not dissimilar to later of his heroes – overall it just whets my appetite for the rest of his early lost work.

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ae2TM1sqIIU

  • Rynox (1930) by Philip MacDonald is a still fairly well known and admired book, in mystery fiction history. It has an experimental structure.

    Had no idea there was a film version. And by Michael Powell!

  • Robert Garrick

    Charles Higham is dead at 71. There’s a long obit in the New York Times that’s worth a look. (Link below.)

    Higham is worth a quick mention because early in his career, he was a pretty interesting (if still problematic) critic and historian, at a time when there weren’t many interesting critics and historians writing on film, in English. One of the first “serious” books I read on the movies was Higham’s “Hollywood at Sunset,” on the decline of the studio system. Higham’s “The Films of Orson Welles” was immediately controversial, but at the time it was one of the most extensive treatments of a major director’s life and films to be published in English. And these days, it looks pretty good next to “The Citizen Kane Book” which, to paraphrase something Robin Wood once said about another critic whose initials are K.C., is “critically completely worthless.”

    Of Higham’s career post-“Kate,” the less said the better.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/books/charles-higham-celebrity-biographer-dies-at-81.html?_r=1

  • Steve Elworth

    Higham also wrote 35 years ago that he saw Murnau’s FOUR DEVILS in Australia which is still news to everyone else who knows it is lost. I do not know if he also claimed to see THE CASE OF LENA SMITH, the uncut GREED and MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS.

  • “People who live where they work (Mark of the Whistler, The Mysterious Intruder, heroine at newspaper: Cave of Outlaws, beauty parlor: Homicidal, The Night Walker)”

    Add to that list movie theater: “The Tingler.”

  • D. K. Holm

    Higham may also have introduced the term “film noir” into the American critical lexicon in his book Hollywood in the Forties, or in Hollywood Cameramen.

  • Robert Garrick

    Higham’s “Hollywood Cameramen,” in the Cinema One series, was an important book. Back then nobody else was writing about things like that, at least in America. I treasured that book.

    The first important essay in the United States on film noir that I’m aware of was Paul Schrader’s “Notes on Film Noir,” written in 1971. (There were earlier things, and some of the current noir anhologies have gone back and resurrected them. But nobody was reading them in the ’60s and ’70s.)

    As late as the mid-1970s, there were zero books on film noir in English. Things are different now, but I’m not sure they’re better.

  • D. K. Holm

    I appreciate Hollywood Cameramen as well. The first chapter of Hollywood in the Forties is called “Black Cinema,” and uses the phrase film noir by the third page. The book is copyrighted 1968, and was originally published by A. S. Barnes. Joel Greenberg is the co-author.

    Highham’s Welles book was the third big director book I read as a kid, the second one being Richie’s Kurosawa, also published by the U of California Press, and the first one being Hitchcock-Trufaut.

  • My first encounter with Higham was his anti-Hitchcock piece in Film Quarterly. As I recall, his objections were moralistic and cynical at the same time. That put me off him thereafter.

    As for writing about cinematographers, I learned more from American Cinematographer magazine than I did from Higham’s book.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I’ve been authoritatively informed that a handful of Michael Powell’s earlier QQs have also been located, so the information I passed along earlier turns out (happily) to not be true.

  • Robert Garrick

    Back in the days when people like us of were thought of more as cultists than as respectable academics, roughly prior to 1975 or so, “American Cinematographer” magazine was an important resource. So was “Action,” the magazine of the Director’s Guild of America. It used to run articles like Joseph McBride’s appreciation of Val Lewton, “Director’s Producer.”

    But few people even knew about these magazines, while Higham’s “Hollywood Cameraman” was in every mall in America. It was a well-written appreciation of people like Lee Garmes, James Wong Howe, and Stanley Cortez. Nobody in America had ever written a book like that before, and it got me thinking about cameramen, looking at the names on the credits, and noticing stylistic differences. In my life, it made a difference.

    As for the article on Hitchcock, Andrew Sarris also wrote an anti-Hitchcock piece (he sarcastically told me that it had become “something of a collector’s item”) in his very first Film Culture column, circa 1955. It was called “The Trouble with Hitchcock.” And John Ford was savaged in a mid-1970s Film Quarterly piece written, if memory serves, by our own Michael Dempsey. I don’t know, but I’m guessing Dempsey stands by it to this day. I don’t agree with his overall thesis, but that article has also stuck with me and it has affected my thinking on Ford to some degree.

    Higham got tired of the criticism his serious works received, and wrote “Kate,” which made him a million dollars. After that, Higham was in the sensational biography business. If that were all he had ever done, we wouldn’t be talking about him now.

    Donald Spoto’s career has followed a similar trajectory, though I don’t mean to imply that Spoto’s criticism and biographies are in any way comparable to Higham’s (either better or worse). But Spoto started out as a critic and as an academic, and he moved into biographies of a sensational bent, which made him a lot of money.

  • David Cohen

    I fear that the allegations Higham made willy-nilly in his biographies will live on long after him, particularly the Errol-Flynn-was-a-traitor one. That is unfortunate.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Robert commented “Donald Spoto’s career has followed a similar trajectory, though I don’t mean to imply that Spoto’s criticism and biographies are in any way comparable to Higham’s (either better or worse). But Spoto started out as a critic and as an academic, and he moved into biographies of a sensational bent, which made him a lot of money.”

    I agree that Higham’s earlier work was substantial (in addition to the “Cameramen” book there’s a good book of director interviews, and at least the Welles book was based on some original research) and that Spoto’s early writing is (merely) critical appreciation (of Kramer [!] as well as Hitchcock). However Spoto has never gone off the deep end of bizarre/salacious speculation the way Higham did.

  • nicolas saada

    The prejudice here in France against George Stevens is parralleled by how fewer of his films are seen and made available. I bought myself a reduced dvd of DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. I showed the film to cinematographer Darius Khondji who was overwhelmed by Stevens’ sense of framing, pacing, lighting, There are some near genius moments in GIANT. And A PLACE IN THE SUN stands up to its reputaion. Like Wyler, Stevens is the colateral victim of a batle won a long time ago, It is fair to reassess his work today.