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

  • Not all Kurosawa, perhaps. But Ikiru, for instance, can be seen as a civically-minded film which encourages participation in bettering society, Redbeard is about doing valuable work to the best of one’s ability, not motivated by reward.

    I don’t think “didactic” automatically means bad, by the way. Kurosawa is a great filmmaker, and if he wants to teach lessons, that’s OK when his filmmaking is so exquisite and the lessons are interesting.

    I don’t see quite so much didacticism in Zinnemann, but I suppose when stories hinge on moral choices, the filmmaker shows their own views simply by choosing the stories. But The Nun’s Story strikes me as a remarkably balanced film (maybe it had to be due to the sensitivity of the Church). If you’re watching it to see whether Fred Zinnemann wants you to become a nun, I think you’d have trouble drawing a definite conclusion.

    Barry, thanks for the good examples of Dmytryk’s tactile sense. I was starting to feel that only the pro-Zinnemann camp were required to supply evidence, to a chorus of tsks and eye-rolling, followed by demands for more evidence.

    Here’s something from Zinnemann. Broken glass and bare knees.
    http://dcairns.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/pecks-bad-boy/

  • Since George Roy Hill entered the conversation, it’s worth noting that he completed a project to which Zinnemann was originally attached, “Hawaii.”

    The screenplay was adapted by a putative Marxist (Dalton Trumbo) from a liberal novel so it did have a edge to it, but George Roy Hill’s direction was fairly uninspired. The fictious missionaries in the movie had their real life counterparts, easily identifiable if you know Hawai’ian history, and in 1966 the missionaries were still regarded as benign bearers of civilization and the true religion to the backward savages, despite a few dissenters like Mark Twain who made the famous quip, “The missionaries came to Hawai’i to good, and they ended up doing right well.” The Big 5, the oligarchs who ruled Hawai’i until Japanese capital undermined them in the 1980s, were all descended from missionaries. Hawai’i is a case study in imperialism of the cross and the flag variety, and the film shows this without equivocation.

    Given Zinnemann’s Cold War liberalism, it’s interesting to speculate to what extent he’d depoliticize Trumbo’s screenplay. Until I read his very engaging autobiography I thought he could be forgiven for the glaring distortions of “Behold A Pale Horse” because of ignorance, but he actually did extensive research and therefor could not plead ignorance of his subject, so the decision was his.

  • Barry Putterman

    x, you might be interested in checking out producer Walter Mirisch’s account of the making of HAWAII in his autobiography “I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History.”

  • Up through BLACK ROBE (91) I have no beef with Beresford. Some of his earliest work is hard to see in this country, but MONEY MOVERS and PUBERTY BLUES were good HBO fare back in the day. DRIVING MISS DAISY is a skillful play adaptation (though mileage will vary regarding the material) and I wouldn’t even have recognized the fine BREAKER MORANT as a play; it seems credibly lived in on film. Most of the rest are distinguished by good acting and craft, and up through A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA (94) you can still find a decent performance, though the film lets down that novel. “Letdown” sums up what I’ve seen since, which isn’t much; he was right to be indignant over the obit, but a run of colorless movies suggests little guiding hand at all.

  • “you might be interested in checking out producer Walter Mirisch’s account of the making of HAWAII”

    I am interested. Thanks Barry.

  • Michael Dempsey

    It should be recalled that, when accepting the Best Picture Oscar (along with his wife Lili Fini Zanuck) for “Driving Miss Daisy”, Richard Zanuck did say (quotation from memory), “We wouldn’t be here tonight if Bruce Beresford weren’t a great director”.

    As for admiration, Beresford’s adaptation of Brian Moore’s novel “Black Robe” is one of the most emotionally shattering pictures I’ve ever seen. Yet it appears to have gone missing from home video availability since the days of laserdisks.

    So my recollection here, which arises from a single viewing in 1991 (and may therefore be distorted or partially inaccurate) must be restricted to just one scene:

    The Canadian Indians of the story (their chief is portrayed by the magisterial August Schellenberg), after having inflicted a great deal of pain on a Jesuit (Lothaire Bluteau), finally ask him, “Do you love us?” He replies, “Yes.” He is sincere, they know it, and so do we.

    The lines, unembellished in the novel by any adjectives, adverbs, or even speaker-identifying names, come straight from Moore. Beresford’s epic, yet intimate rendition of these words adds throbing resonance to them, in keeping with the entire film’s epic visualization of the complicated conflicts and ties binding the material’s 17th Century missionaries and the “pagans” they hope to Christianize.

    Both the novel and the film are noteworthy for their non-simplistic, non-self-righteous examination of this colonial relationship. They both avoid idealizing either of the contending cultures, give all the characters their due, and sustain a lyrically tragic tone.

    The book is easy enough to locate. Would that the film would return to us. It’s in the top rank of my wish-I-could-see-it-again list.

  • BLACK ROBE is still easy to obtain in R1 DVD (it’s been available since 1998). Check Amazon.

  • Nicolas Saada

    D.Cairns, although I am the first who would find merits to few of Zinnemann’s films like ACT OF VIOLENCE or FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, I would add that they are negligible in regard of Kurosawa’s body of work. Zinnemann never directed something as taut and impressive as any of Kurosawa “contemporary” films of the 40′s and 50′s.

    As I said before, I doubt that the qualities found in films by Stevens, Wyler or Zinnemann should pave the way to the excessive revision of the canon of film (to quote Paul Schrader’s splendid essay).

    I would add that I never found “thematic consistency” an evidence of the auteur. To me, the style says it all.

  • Nicholas, you’ll be glad to hear I don’t consider Zinnemann the equal of Kurosawa. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I said anything to suggest that he might be.

    The discussion had more to do with making the point that a didactic approach was not automatically evidence of poor filmmaking.

    As to the revising of the canon, I think it’s quite a positive thing that there’s no one inviolate canon – you’ll find ample evidence that Stevens, Wyler and Zinnemann are considered canonical filmmakers by many. It depends who you ask. But if there’s only one canon and it was set by Cahiers in the sixties, I wonder if it’s of any real use.

    You are entitled to define an auteur any way you like. But it’s a little hard for me to take your personal definition fully into account when I’m not writing specifically to you.

  • jbryant

    I don’t have cause to mention it very often, but I like several of Bruce Beresford’s films a great deal. At least a half dozen of them strike me as great or near-great: DON’S PARTY, BREAKER MORANT, TENDER MERCIES, BLACK ROBE, MISTER JOHNSON and even DRIVING MISS DAISY. I also like RICH IN LOVE.

  • mike schlesinger

    And his most recent film, PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING, is an absolute charmer.

    Answering a question upthread: I have it on reasonably good authority that Warner Archive will definitely be releasing the 6 Perry Masons before year’s end.

  • Brad Stevens

    I watched Beresford’s EVELYN last night. Beresford’s mise en scene is highly impressive – I love the way he composes for the widescreen frame, and stages compositions in depth, with relevant action in both foreground and background, and significant character interactions glimpsed through doorways. But there’s a strong element of misogyny here, which I also recall being present in TENDER MERCIES. Nonetheless, I’m interested enough to watch more Beresford films.

  • Alex Hicks

    Hawaii!

    How unsuited the ultimately delictate sensibilioty of the director of the LITTLE ROMANCE and HENRY ORIENT was to that task majestic cast.

    If only a multidirector mega-effort could have been done, say with Terence Malick doing that tome’s natural history of the island, Fred Schepisi doin the segment about the idigenous peopl befor Cook’s coming, Zinnemann perhaps doing the portion on the missionaries, John Ford on the those final ’40s patriots and 50s entrepreneurs, “The Golden Men… (But who the segment on anti-Chinese discrimination?) How great are the challenges of adaptation!

    Might we have transcended the unevenness and progressively more and more entropic unfloding of the great bestseller of 1959-1960.

  • “If only a multidirector mega-effort could have been done”

    In a way, the existing films have multidirectors, Hill for “Hawaii” and Tom Greis for “The Hawaiians” (1970) with a screenplay by James R. Webb. This segment begins 20 years after “Hawaii” and covers another 30 years of the story including the anti-Chinese discrimination episode.

    Of course, Michener’s benign liberal take wouldn’t do today because the Kanaka Maoli have produced their own histories (“Dismembering La’hui,” “Native Land and Foreign Desires,” “To Steal a Kingdom,” etc.) A movie version of the life of Kamehameha I with the The Rock as Kamehameha was blocked by concerted efforts of various Kanaka groups. The year before “The Hawaiians” was released the modern sovereignty movement started as Kokua Kalama and then Kokua Hawai’i; Save Our Surf was a precursor movement.

    “Princess Ka’iulani” (2010) with Q’Orianka Kilcher as Ka’iulani (speaking of Terence Malick)covers the overthrow of the Kingdom by the Big 5 under the leadership of Lorin Thurston and Sanford B. Dole, and Ka’iulani’s failed efforts to obtain redress.

  • Alex

    I was being facetious about any effort to make anything out of Micherner’s Hawaii, which is (to this 60-ish Hawaii reader) very pedestrian and more and more incoherent with each new era/section after the two fine openning sections, the pre-human ” From the Boundless Deep” and the pre-Cook/Western “From the Sunswept Lagoon.” This with the Pulitzer Prize winning Tales of the South Pacific is the only rewarding writing Micherner ever did, unless one like pop history in 1000 page tomes of sub-Edna Ferba style melodramatic saga. (The planter background of Marquand’s “Think Fast, Mr. Moto ” probably has better hawaii social fiction).

    Acrually, i guess I;m saying a try at “From the Sunswept Lagoon” might have ebeen worthwile, though I can’t imagine who could have succeeded (Murnau? Schepisi?)

    Of course, source quality and film quality don’t generally correlate, and i can Imagin the Gries film, of which I know nothing, being A-okay.
    Didn’t get the Ka’n’;iulani /Terence Malick corss refeence

  • “Didn’t get the Ka’n’;iulani /Terence Malick corss refeence”

    Q’Orianka Kilcher plays Pocahontas in Malick’s “The New World.” I agree that he’d be the ideal director for “From the Sunswept Lagoon”

  • jbryant

    I haven’t read HAWAII, and remember very little about the first film, but I kind of enjoyed THE HAWAIIANS when I saw it about four years ago on TCM. Some of the time jumps can give you whiplash, but it’s mostly an involving story, well made by Gries. Tina Chen easily steals the picture as a tenacious Chinese girl who rises from simple laborer to business-savvy matriarch, and Charlton Heston (in stalwart bastard mode) was born to play characters named Whip Hoxworth who wield a big stick to fight off lepers.

  • nicolas saada

    D.Cairns, I am afraid youare very optimistic about the canon: in France it’sbeen revised every ten years or so, to the point that directors lile Bergman, Kurosawa or even ford seldom make itin conversations amongst the you ger genereations of cinephiles, who haven’t seen even one pre-code film in their lives. So, although I am sorry I was too harsh in myprevious post, the canon is completely loose at the moment. The one you mention, the “cahiers” is gone.
    The “canon” i refer to was theone set by Paul Schrader in his wonderful sight and sound piece. It’a a very interesting piece. I have always found it difficult to speak of an artist outside style. I think obsessions , or maybe recurrent themes, are part of the thing. But I am always reluctant in speaking of thematic theories About directors. I think what I likethe most about Stevensand Wyler has to do with the skill they deploy, the preciseness withthe actors,their sense of placement and space. But I don’t seeobvious thematic connections between THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and GIANT.