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Invasion of the Genre Metaphors

I’m back after a break (and thanks to Mike Hale for handling the column in my absence) with an account of two of the most famous political allegories of the 1950s, Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon” (1952) and Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956). Conveniently enough, both are coming out this week as the first offerings from the Republic Pictures collection to be published (in standard def and Blu-ray) by Olive Films. As it happens, neither film is a Republic production, but rather are among the many titles that have accrued to the Republic library as it has been bought, sold and bartered over several decades. I hope Olive will eventually get around to burrowing deeper into the actual Republic output — they do have Blu-ray releases scheduled for four of the George Sherman/John Wayne “Three Mesquiteer” westerns for later this year — but that will probably depend on what masters are being made available for licensing by Paramount, the studio where the Republic library currently resides.

It would be comforting to know what kind of shape the Republic films are in (they include quite a few important late titles by directors like Frank Borzage, Allan Dwan, John Ford, William A. Seiter, Alfred Santell and other major studio veterans) as well as a storehouse of delights from homegrown Republic directors like Sherman, William Witney, Joe Kane, John Auer, John English, Philip Ford and others yet to be discovered. A lot of these titles were severely recut for television release in the 50s and 60s, and on those occasions when Republic films do turn up on cable or streaming video, they are almost always the mangled versions. Does decent 35-millimeter material exist on these films? So far, Paramount has not been terribly forthcoming, but now that Olive is mixing in as a sub-licencor, maybe we’ll see some action on that front.

As the half-sheet poster above suggests, “Invasion” seems ripe for revival as a Broadway musical. I can already hear the Alan Menken score, with Miles’s power pop ballad “I Never Knew Fear Until I Kissed Becky,” Dr. Kauffman’s second act soliloquy, ” Love, Desire, Ambition, Faith (Without Them, Life’s So Simple),” and of course, the grand finale, “You’re Next! You’re Next! You’re Next!” performed by a chorus line of dancing pods (perhaps they could coax the bananas from “The Gang’s All Here” out of retirement, and give them a quick makeover).

The possibilities are endless and my column, before I get too carried away, is here.

118 comments to Invasion of the Genre Metaphors

  • Alan Menken already did score a movie that included “a chorus line of dancing pods”, namely the 1986 version of Little Shop of Horrors.

  • Gosh, Oliver, not really?

  • All-talking, all-singing, all-bobbing-up-and-downing (if not quite, I admit, dancing)…

  • jbryant

    First thing I thought when I saw that poster was “Body Snatchers on Ice!”

  • On the subject of the Russian Scare in fifties American film…
    Having spent a weekend recently in Ottawa, I was able to discover a gem of Classical Hollywood that I don’t think I would have known about otherwise: William “Wild Bill” Wellman’s “The Iron Curtain” (1948). It’s the story of Igor Gouzenko, a Russian communist, who arrives in Ottawa, where he discovers that the other party members are trying to get out of the Canadian government the blueprints to make an atomic bomb. It stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. Not only was it a great Hays Code noir with a mixture of moral ambiguity and ends with criminals getting punished, and not only is a great Wellman film with an emphasis on sexuality, alcohol, and violence – it’s also a great Canadian film! With its immigrant protagonists that seems to capture what Mary Alemany-Galway calls “the voice of the Other” in Canadian Film. It’s one of the earlier films shot in Ottawa (it hasn’t really changed much, except for a downtown railroad station). And along with other early Canadian films (“Back to God’s Country”, “I Confess”), maybe if these films portrayed the country in a more positive light then maybe more American productions would have been shot here.

  • Barry Putterman

    Indeed, after three “straight” versions of BODY SNATCHRS, we are due for a musical. And, of course, in some ways HIGH NOON already is a musical.

    The telecast of the 1953 Academy Awards is all over the bootleg market and it has some fascinating moments. John Wayne is there to accept both Ford’s award for THE QUIET MAN and Cooper’s for HIGH NOON. For the latter he does a genuinely funny mock outrage shtick about firing his agent for not getting him the part in HIGH NOON. Given the circumstances, that could be considered to be a finer performance than he might have given in the film itself.

  • David Boxwell

    Olive Films is also due to release Bob Bresson’s searing drama of today’s crazy mixed-up Youth THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (77) on DVD: 18 Sep 12.

  • Alex

    “”Invasion’ seems ripe for revival as a Broadway musical.”

    In the meantime, let us be grateful for a fair pod-fiction musical in the form of “Little Shop of Horrors” — doubly grateful for a universe free of a “High Noon, the Musical.”

  • David Cohen

    I assume folks on this board are well-versed in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. I love that movie, but there is one plot point (please consider this a SPOILER alert) that always drives me to distraction.

    Is anyone else bothered by the wonderfully terrifying scene near the very end where Dana Wynter turns? I always wonder where the pod came from that was supposed to have replaced her. It was the kind of thing that kept me awake nights when I was young and fearful, and hoping that the guy from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW did indeed call in the Air Force after the movie ended.

  • Tony Williams

    David, I think that the film suggests that even falling asleep can turn one, whether a pod is near or not, since the mind is taken over. The third remake seems to have recognized this problem with the former body disintegrating once the process is over.

    Also, you can not really rely on Whit Bissell, star of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN since he may be a pod himself.

  • Shawn Stone

    Don’t forget Whit Bissell, governor of New York and purveyor of the title product in SOYLENT GREEN.

  • David Cohen

    actually, when it comes to small but significant roles in movies, it seems to me you can ALWAYS rely on Whit Bissell.

  • Barry Putterman

    For the ultimate in Whit Bissell may I suggest his early performance in THE CRIME DOCTOR’S DIARY. You even get o hear him sing!

    But on the overall point, I think that Tony is quite right. The intellectual/authority figures in low budget 50s science fiction and horror films do not usually give one a sense of security. Particularly in the AIP films. I mean, when you begin with the premise that one of the planet’s greatest scientific minds belongs to Lee Van Cleef ((IT CONQUERED THE WORLD), we are clearly vulnerable to practically any form of alien attack.

  • jbryant

    Barry: True, I felt much more secure in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, in which Van Cleef was a Coast Guard sharpshooter.

  • Several directors did variations on or replies to High Noon.
    Allan Dwan did Silver Lode; Howard Hawks crafted Rio Bravo.
    Joseph H. Lew got his version with The Rifleman episode Long Gun from Tucson (1961).
    This is a very good show. It comes to different conclusions in plot and theme than the Zinnemann original, or the Dwan and Hawks films. It is very Lewisian. But above all, it is full of good composition. It really has visual style!

    It also has Whit Bissell as the most frightened of the townspeople. Whit Bissell manages to ooze total hysteria while telling hero Chuck Connors that he absolutely, cannot help Chuck fight the bad guys due in town.
    After Whit Bissell’s most virtuosic outburst, Connors just looks at him.
    Then Connors deadpans: “Calm yourself!”

    Future director Brian G. Hutton is one of the bad guys – quite a few future directors seem to find roles here and there in Lewis.

  • That’s Joseph H. Lewis.
    I didn’t catch the typo in time to correct!

  • Tony Williams

    “Why don’t you speak? I know you’ve got a civil tongue in your head. I sewed it there in the first place!” Whit Bissell in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN.

  • Robert Garrick

    We should remember that before Lee Van Cleef was an actor, he was an accountant, so maybe he had some brains, though it’s never been clear to me where Van Cleef got his training as a number cruncher.

    As for Whit Bissell–I like to credit Anthony Mann for getting him started as a mentor-to-depraved-younsters, based on “He Walked By Night” (1948). Though actually Richard Basehart was no youngster in that film–he was 33–and Bissell was more a sap than a mentor.

  • Robert Garrick

    We all know that Dave Kehr is second to no man in his admiration for “Rio Bravo” (1959), but curiously he doesn’t mention the Hawks film in his New York Times discussion of “High Noon.”

    Why is “High Noon” important? To many of us, it’s important mainly because it led directly to “Rio Bravo.”

    Hawks thought that Gary Cooper went around town like “a headless chicken” in “High Noon,” behaving unprofessionally. That inspired Hawks (and John Wayne) to answer with “Rio Bravo,” which led to “El Dorado” (1967) and “Rio Lobo” (1970), not to mention non-Hawks-directed spinoffs of “Rio Bravo” like “Die Hard” (1988) and “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976).

    So we owe a lot to “High Noon.” I was a little surprised to learn from Peter Bogdanovich that “High Noon” was not nearly the box office hit that “Rio Bravo” was. Certainly Frankie Laine’s rendition of the theme song to “High Noon” was one of the signature songs of the entire decade.

    According to Bogdanovich, “High Noon” got critical raves but only minor popular support, while “Rio Bravo” was a huge hit to which the critics collectively said “meh.” That is, until Robin Wood wrote that it was the one film that justified the existence of Hollywood.

  • Noel Vera

    “Indeed, after three “straight” versions of BODY SNATCHRS, we are due for a musical.”

    The Seigel, the Kaufman, the Ferrara. And Hirschbiegel’s The Invasion is…?

    I suppose Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty isn’t a straight version, with or without quotes.

    “doubly grateful for a universe free of a “High Noon, the Musical.””

    I always thought if there was a movie that badly needs a musical it was Zinneman’s four-legged opus.

    But I forget, Hawks did a superior version, with three songs in it.

  • I’m an auteurist who has made my peace with HIGH NOON.
    It is a good, pleasant film, with a vein of lyricism running through it.
    It is nowhere as good as critics of the time or the Oscars claimed.
    But it is not as bad, either, as some auteurists and Hawks have suggested.

    An odd coincidence: Both sources of HIGN NOON and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS first appeared in the same “slick” magazine, Collier’s.
    See the short story, John W. Cunningham’s “The Tin Star” (1947), source of HIGH NOON.
    And Jack Finney’s novel THE BODY SNATCHERS (1954).
    Slicks were a hugely important part of American reading back when.
    I’m sure that both films were made, in part, because the stories appeared in a “slick”, and hence were considered perfect exemplars of American reading and taste.

  • Dave asks “Are the pod people of “Body Snatchers” — unfeeling alien life-forms who take on the appearance of friends and family members — meant to represent godless Communists infiltrating American society, or are they the cowardly conformists unwilling to stand up to the McCarthyite threat to freedom of thought?” and many others have asked the same question. But this is not necessarily an either-or situation. Could we not say that the film is a critic of conformism and herd behaviour in general, whether its mass-consumerism, McCarthyism or Soviet communism?

    I think HIGH NOON is a very great film, not least for its remarkable cinematography and lighting. I love the opening sequence, and the rhythm of the film, as well as the anger bubbling under the surface. I have used it when I talk about Bergman because I feel there are similarities, and visually it is a possible influence on Gunnar Fischer. It also has the “floating heads” shots that Bergman would later excel in.

    Fred Zinnemann was one of the first filmmakers I took a particular interest in, and wanted to see everything off, back in my late teens. I still thing he is a masterful director. Don Siegel didn’t figure at all in my late teens, but now I think he is one of the best directors the US ever had (more so than Zinnemann).

    By the way, does anyone else here share my appreciation for Zinnemann’s body of work? (I take it for granted that Siegel has a solid fan base in this forum.)

  • Michael Dempsey

    I’m happy to endorse whole-heartedly what Fredrik Gustafsson said about “High Noon” and Fred Zinnemann. That old story about how “High Noon” led Howard Hawks to make “Rio Bravo” in reaction to it is really getting long in the tooth. Both pictures are excellent. And no filmmaker with “Act Of Violence,” “From Here To Eternity”, “Behold A Pale Horse”, and “The Day Of The Jackal” among his credits needs to hang his head.

    Whether Zinnemann was an auteur is certainly open to question. He himself disclaims that ambition in his autobiography. If he isn’t an auteur, maybe that’s a deficiency in his work, which certainly includes some duds. But being an auteur isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all in every case. In my opinion, there are a whole lot of auteur pictures that don’t measure up to these Zinnemann titles.

  • Alex Hicks

    Fredrik Gustafsson,

    I have some of your enthusiasm for Zinnemann’s body of work in that i strongly admire several of his films?
    I think that From Here to Eternity is great despite its compromised of Jones’ most radical expression (mainly the stockade “The stockade” segment of the novel) and A Man for All Seasons (despite its whitewashing of the Thomas Moore, an incredibly cruel Torquemada-ish Papal inquisitor, perhaps most notorious for his strangluation/burning execution of the great William Tyndale, translator of 80% of the King James Bible and a master of the language tio rival Chaucer and Shakespeare).
    I think his The Men is a stronger film as vet drama than Wyler’s Years and , Act of Violence are fine, craftmenly films noir.

    I think Julia, The Day of the Jackal, and The Sundowners are okayentertainments despite strained seriousness ansd slow pulses; but Oklahoma’s splendid sunny scenes are ruinously offset by by the ghastly, dark ones stressing Poor Joad’s story; and Behold a Pale Horse and The Nun’s Story are pretty dull (though I’ve know a few female Catholics and nostalgic ex-catholics whio love the latter).

    I don’t at all like High Noon, whose narrative strikes me as incredibly over-emphatic (the damn clock! the dim caricatures of Eisensteinian triptychs!); and Irecall its as lighting as little more than one of the sorry incidents in the devolution of Western cinematographic B&W into the depth of 50s and 60s B&W TV visual blahs.

    Z’s pretty consistent engagement with dilemmas of integrity and courage (e.g., across Eternity, A Man for All Seasons, the Men, Horse, etc. seems to me to have the makings of a good thematic case for auteurship).

  • Fredrik and Michael, I continue to be surprised by the need some people feel to defend the Oscar directors of the 50s and 60s — the Zinnemanns, Wylers, Stevenses and so on — as if they were suffering some kind of neglect. Their work is more than adequately represented on home video and continues to be lauded in blog posts and the mainstream media. “High Noon” was highly praised in its time (check out Bosley Crowther’s rave) and continues to be so now, so why the defensive posture? For my part, I’ve always found Zinnemann’s work to be dry and didactic — “good for you” in the worst tradition of the Academy. The Hawks story may well be something he made up in retrospect (he was more than capable of that!), but I don’t see how it would compromise anyone’s enjoyment of “Rio Bravo” or make “High Noon” a better picture if it were untrue. I can’t think of a single Zinnemann film I could revisit with the same kind of pleasure that “Rio Bravo” continues to give me after 40 years. Does anyone really want to sit through “Julia” again?

  • patrick henry

    Theodore H. White published a novel THE VIEW FROM THE FORTIETH FLOOR about a long-established big circulation slick magazine that folds, based on his experience as a journalist working for Collier’s. It’s not literature but offers interesting insights. One that I remember is a description of the mag’s feature editor looking at a “fluff” piece from a Hollywood studio about a new starlet, complete with cheesecake pictures , and rejecting it because he thought it too frivolous for the magazine’s serious-minded readers. Well! Readers have changed and magazines have changed.

    Gary Cooper bought the movie rights to the book (to play the elegiac old editor out of step with the times) but died before he could make the film.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes, whenever HIGH NOON comes up, RIO BRAVO can’t be very far behind. All I can say is that if Hawks meant his film as a “response,” he certainly took his time coming up with it. After waiting seven years for the “answer,” I would imagine that most people had forgotten the question in the meantime.

    But, for me, this is one of the glories of genre films. There are only a few basic themes to every genre and most of the films play variations off the themes. If they asked you, you could probably write a book about all of the westerns which played off of HIGH NOON before RIO BRAVO was released. And it is not as if HIGH NOON was inventing anything different either. You could trace back the influences on that film in many westerns which precede it.

    The same is true in a genre such as science fiction. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS could be called IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE in the suburbs.

    Robert (through Bogdanovich) mentions something which Mark Harris in “Pictures at a Revolution” also points out. Kramer’s films were highly regarded in the critical community and much talked about, but most of them didn’t do a lot of box office. Many possible conclusions could be drawn from that. It is something that one might ponder during a revisit to Zinnemann’s JULIA.

  • Alex Hicks

    The words “dry and didactic” are a verygood way to characterize Zinnemann overall, though i wouldn’t say that holds for Eternity, A Man for All Seasons or Act of Violence.

    As for defending Zinnemann, this site offer rationale enough.

    As for affirming him, what does ample retrospective and current critical approval have to do with it?

    On another track, as for strained seriousness, maybe. But for real sledgehammer seriousness, there’s mainly High Noon.

  • Junko Yasutani

    About HIGH NOON, it is interesting movie, careful composition of shots, cutting, mise-en-scene.

    ‘INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS could be called IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE in the suburbs.’

    Isn’t there difference from alien creatures in both movies? They are not bad creatures in IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, they are not trying to destroy humans like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, because original humans return when aliens have repaired their space ship to leave.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes, you are right Junko. The aliens only borrow the humans’ bodies in IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE but destroy them in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. The sheriff goes to the townspeople to resist the incoming forces in HIGH NOON and the townspeople barely exist in RIO BRAVO. Variations on a theme.

    Alex, Zinnemann is far too reasonable and restrained a filmmaker to use a sledgehammer. His might be the perfect sensibility to represent the United Nations.

  • Fredrik, I have once seen a complete Fred Zinnemann retrospective (in the Berlin Film Festival in 1986) and it was rewarding to see all of his films in a short period of time. A consistent feature was a passion for the documentary, authenticity, location shooting, and realism, from MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG and REDES till FIVE DAYS ONE SUMMER. Another recurrent aspect was a special interest in professionalism, showing people with special skills, including doctors and helpers of invalids – but also gunmen (HIGH NOON, BEHOLD A PALE HORSE, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL). Zinnemann was a sensitive director of actors, also child actors and young people; both Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando got their film debuts in Zinnemann’s direction. I like Zinnemann’s documentaries. THE SEVENTH CROSS is a key film, but Zinnemann’s best work in my opinion is his neorealistic cycle (THE SEARCH, ACT OF VIOLENCE, THE MEN, TERESA). Honest, deeply felt movies. After them he became a super director with an international career. I don’t care about Zinnemann’s adaptations of plays and musicals (THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, OKLAHOMA!, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS).

    In HIGH NOON the documentary impulse is evident in Floyd Crosby’s cinematography and the unglamourized shots of Gary Cooper. There is a sense of deep anger and disappointment in HIGH NOON. I don’t think it has necessarily to do with the black list and the cold war only. Fred Zinnemann’s parents were murdered by the Nazis, and that might be a background for his sense of urgency in dealing with themes of justice and dignity.

    What HIGH NOON and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS have in common is a profound distrust in the community… in other people. I don’t know what Don Siegel’s family had had to endure, but I have a feeling that even Siegel was dealing with the Holocaust trauma, perhaps unconsciously.

    There is little or no sense of humour in Zinnemann’s work (it is also missing in Bresson’s and Tarkovsky’s films). In Howard Hawks’s films the characters enjoy being who they are, and enjoy each other’s company even when facing danger and death. Such a sense is missing in Zinnemann’s films. But what is there is often strong, solid and worthy.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Variations on a theme.’

    I understand now.

    Even though Zinneman is not so great director he is sometimes making interesting movie, but I agree with Dave about complete evaluation of Zinneman,’dry and didactic — “good for you” in the worst tradition of the Academy.’

  • “Zinnemann’s best work in my opinion is his neorealistic cycle (THE SEARCH, ACT OF VIOLENCE, THE MEN, TERESA). Honest, deeply felt movies.”

    Of that group “Act of Violence” is pretty good, but the others are cinematically dull however deeply felt they may be (like bad poetry in that respect.)

    For me the best thing Zinneman has done is his autobiography, especially the part describing his interviews with exiled anarchosyndicalists in preparation for “Behold a Pale Horse.” None of the information made it into the finished film, a characteristically depoliticized account of the Spanish Civil War with a deceptive documentary introduction. Zinneman’s movie is loosely based on the the career and last raid of Francisco Sabate who was killed in an ambush by the Guardia Civil. The novel by Emeric Pressburger on which it’s based was more forthcoming about the politics of the protagonist and other characters. By contrast, “La guerre est finie” (1966) lays out the politics (the protagonist played by Yves Montand is a Communist) and has a similar plot.

    On “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Siegel’s version is better than the Jack Finney novel where (SPOILER ALERT) the pod people and the pods themselves have a limited life span and die off before they can take over the world.

    There is one interesting scene in the book that summarizes the the fear of the other theme: the narrator accidentally witnesses a hitherto deferential and obsequious African-American shoe shine “boy” secretly cursing out boss charlie.

  • David Cohen

    It has long struck me that some of Zinnemann’s best-known films – HIGH NOON, OKLAHOMA! and DAY OF THE JACKAL, for instance – were meant to be genre films he wanted to elevate way above their genres. I like my genre films on the ground floor, not the penthouse.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘A consistent feature was a passion for the documentary, authenticity, location shooting, and realism,’

    Antti, that is good description, but without good mise-en-scene it is not enough for me. Also, authenticity is superficial if leaving out important detail of character’s political belief in political movie like BEHOLD A PALE HORSE mentioned above.

    But as Dave has written, Zinneman is still receiving much respect even if many auterist do not like his movies so much.

  • Dave, I was not trying to “defend” Zinnemann, as you said, he doesn’t need it. I was just genuinely curious as to whether people here, on this particular forum, liked him. Also, I wanted to get an auteurist discussion going, and there I succeeded.

    One thing I find interesting about Siegel is the presence of children in his films, in many different ways, and often threatened without necessarily being aware of it. My favourite example comes from CHARLEY VARRICK (one of the great films of the 70s), where a mobster played by John Vernon, is being interrogated by a policeman outdoors, and a girl asks if he (Vernon) give her a push on the swing, and it then has do to that through the entire interrogation.

  • Alex

    “Zinnemann’s best work in my opinion is his neorealistic cycle (THE SEARCH, ACT OF VIOLENCE, THE MEN, TERESA).”

    Well stated, though i’d add FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (after all a work of naturalistic social realism and no more melodramtic than a lot of neorealism). Don’t know how I forgot the fine THE SEARCH!

    (Barry, I think that HIGH NOON clock is considerably heavier and more numbing than most sledgehammers.)

  • Thanks for the many responses to my Zinnemann question.

    X35, I agree with you about his autobiography, it’s lovely. It is also a lot of fun. He had a mischievous side, which is not exactly obvious in his films (although it does shine through occasionally, even in a film such as A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS).

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, I would suggest that if HIGH NOON has a hammer, it more belongs to Foreman’s script than Zinnemann’s (as always) modest direction. The same might be claimed for A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and (is it?) Robert Bolt. Auteurism extends to everybody’s career, the writers, the producers, the cinematographers etc. included. And career history shows many more hammers in Foreman’s films than in Zinnemann’s.

    As for the clock, I will let Fredrik talk about it in relation to Ingmar Bergman.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    With Joseph H. Lewis mentioned earlier –

    Encore Westerns is showing his rarely seen 1942 Universal “The Silver Bullet” tomorrow (Weds) at 1 pm both EDT & PDT (not sure when it plays in other time zones).

  • David Cohen

    on a totally different note, I’d like to say – as someone who’s written a whole mess of headlines in his 27 years of journalism, most of them quickly forgotten – that someone deserves kudos for “Invasion of the genre metaphors” …

  • Alex


    You, apparently, were spared the a traumatic impact from “the clock.” Actually, I have found the direction of parallel narrative streams and suspense during the latter portions of HIGH NOON unbearably heavy handed since I firast saw the film in the seventh or eigth grade. It’s the sort of thing heavily implemented by, and attibutable to, a director, even if it has roots in a script.

    Bergman’s use of a clock to symbolize Time’s passage (as life’s) and Zinnemann’s as a metronome to accentuate a plot’s progression are quite different, although both uses are a bit overbearing. I have no complaint with stylistic heavy handedness in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.

    I think its correct to regard Z as a stylisrically “reasonable and restrained” filmmaker (didacticism aside).

    I’m hoping that HIGH NOON has not rendered me unable to enjoy THE CLOCK.

  • Barry Putterman

    It’s true Alex. I was not traumatized by HIGH NOON during my adolescence. In fact, like many other Zinnemann films, it had very little impact on me at all.

    As I said, the bit about the clock and Bergman is Fredrik’s riff and he is welcome to either expand on that or Sergeant Schultz the whole deal.

    At the risk of either dredging up old nightmares for you or re-igniting the James Jones connection between the two directors, I will venture to point out that Zinnemann was the original director on THE CLOCK (eventually replaced by Minnelli). A traumatic experience for me would be having that lovely film replaced by a Fred Zinnemann version.

  • I like Fred Zinnemann. KID GLOVE KILLER, ACT OF VIOLENCE, THE SEARCH, THE MEN, HIGH NOON, THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, OKLAHOMA!, A HATFUL OF RAIN, THE NUN’S STORY, THE SUNDOWNERS, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, and, yes, even JULIA, not that it’s repeatable like DIE HARD or JAWS. FIVE DAYS ONE SUMMER has its moments, too. I stand before the tribunal, naked and defenseless.

    But, whatever, I’m still getting over the shock of “Bob” Bresson. Did anyone call him that? Or…gasp…”Bobby”? I have issues with that myself. “Hey, Bobby, we’ve got some donkeys here for you to see…” No, I just can’t picture it.

  • Robert Garrick

    Tom Brueggemann, thanks much for the tip on the Joseph H. Lewis film. I would never have caught that without your assistance.

    Fredrik, I love “Charley Varrick” too and it’s not an overstatement to call it one of the great films of the 1970s. I remember when it was released. I remember the ads in the newspaper, the short run, the total critical indifference, the sense that it was a waste of Walter Matthau’s talents, etc. What sweet revenge that we’re talking about it now like this.

    John Vernon was also memorable in “Point Blank.” He had a great voice and a severe but also slightly desperate look that said: “I’m a tough guy, but I’ll be dead at the end of the picture.”

  • Robert Garrick

    If I had to rate Zinnemann’s films, I’d probably put “Act of Violence” (1948) at the top. It’s a simple film, and something of a grind, but it has real visual flair and it comes on strong–Zinnemann took some chances with it. (I also remember Robert Ryan, out in the country, in a rowboat, on his way to kill Van Heflin–and Ryan is dressed in a sportcoat and tie.)

    Zinnemann’s worst film has got to be “Oklahoma” (1955). The soundtrack album to that film is better than the Broadway original, I think, and the cast is terrific. But the movie is without a single soaring moment. It just plods along, like those horses pulling the surrey.

    But–Zinnemann shot two versions of “Oklahoma”–one in 70mm (Todd-AO) and one in 35mm (CinemaScope). The Todd-AO played the original first-run roadshow theatres, and it is very tough to see today. But I’ve heard that it is noticeably superior to the CinemaScope. Has anyone seen both versions?

    The Academy is currently running a 70mm series in L.A. The films aren’t auteur favorites, but you don’t get many opportunities to see this type of presentation anymore. If Dave wrote it up, he’d have ample opportunity to confuse Kramer with Kubrick.

  • A few weeks ago I saw DISTANT DRUMS in Bologna, the film Gary Cooper did just before HIGH NOON, and it is interesting how completely different Cooper is in the direction of Raoul Walsh, relaxed, at ease, in his own element. The same with Howard Hawks directing Cooper (SERGEANT YORK, BALL OF FIRE). Gary Cooper had a great sense of humour which Fred Zinnemann failed to use. A natural born Western star ever since the great THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH.

    Of HIGH NOON I had for a long time the same reservations as most of the commentators here, but I have learned to admire it in its own right.

  • Barry and Alex I’m afraid I haven’t got the time to discuss the clock in HIGH NOON in great depth. But since I’ve never mentioned it before I don’t really feel it’s my riff. The Bergman connection was primarily visual, but also the sense of existential fatigue.

    Speaking of Joseph H. Lewis, one returning motif in his films is the city as a corrupt and perhaps even evil place, which is summed up in this quote from A LAWLESS STREET: “This town is like a wild animal in chains Molly. It doesn’t fight back right away, it just lies there and snarls, waiting for a chance to pounce on you.” That is more or less the case with the town in HIGH NOON too.

  • Peter Hogue

    DISTANT DRUMS vs. HIGH NOON: It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen DISTANT DRUMS, but it’s easy to believe that Walsh would bring Cooper’s comic warmth into view. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t blame Cooper’s HIGH NOON humorlessness on Zinneman — it’s partly the role, but maybe even more to the point (I’d say) is the more constricted persona of Cooper in most (if not all) of his work in the 1950’s. In memory at least, it seems to me that the relaxed/semi-picaresque Cooper (WINGS, THE VIRGINIAN, MOROCCO, FAREWELL TO ARMS, DESIGN FOR LIVING, DESIRE, THE PLAINSMAN, THE WESTERNER, etc.) is hardly ever present after THE FOUNTAINHEAD. Maybe it’s the roles, maybe it’s the Fifties, but Cooper is also “humorless” (and stricken looking) for DeToth, Hathaway, Aldrich, Mann, Daves, and Rossen in the 1950’s — not just Zinnemann.

  • nicolas saada

    Dave I understand your impatience with those who still champion the Wylers and stevenses, but tou cannot imagine to what level their films are ignored in France. I know almost no one of my generation who has seen BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES or DODSWORTH.
    As for Zinnemann, I have to say that I actually liked THE SEARCH a lot, as well as ACT OF VIOLENCE. Walsh, Hawks, Ford, remain unquestionable masters. But You have to consider that the pavlovian contempt for the “academism” of Steven and Wyler led to some errroneous ideas here in the film community. As a result, like often, you speak about these directors with people who have actually never watched their best films.