A Refurbished “Thief”

thief of bagdad lc repaired

A very handsome 2K restoration of Douglas Fairbanks’s 1924 “The Thief of Bagdad” is the first library release from the Cohen Media Group, a new distributor that has acquired the rights to what was once known as the Raymond Rohauer Collection. Among the 600 or so other titles in the collection are quite a few treasures that have remained buried because the source material needs some major restoration; here’s hoping that Charles Cohen, the CEO of the new company, will be continue the fine work in evidence here with, for example, Frank Borzage’s 1925 “The Lady,” William K. Howard’s 1926 “Gigolo” and Roland West’s 1928 “The Dove,” just to pick a few of the more tantalizing titles in the catalog.

Fairbanks’s “Thief” has certainly not looked this good since its first release; the dust has been effectively busted without losing the texture of the images, and the color tints have been rendered with taste and restraint. The score, by Carl Davis, comes to us from the old Photoplay edition. Though the director of record is Raoul Walsh, this is one time when I’d assign the authorship to its star, producer and writer, in the person of Mr. Fairbanks, as well as to the great production designer William Cameron Menzies, who began construction the amazing art nouveau sets before Walsh was hired to direct. My New York Times review is here, along with an account of Criterion’s release of the seminal cinema-verite documentary “Chronicle of a Summer,” by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin.

56 comments to A Refurbished “Thief”

  • alex

    Reading through the NYT piece ‘s juxtaposition of BAGDAD and Walsh’s Bogart masterpieces, REGENERATION and THE BIG TRAIL came to mind. Suddenly we have, beyond an action director of great longevity, a director of great range.

  • David Cohen

    So glad to see someone is making use of the Rohauer Collection. I remember being told in college in the 1980s by people who claimed to know such things that Rohauer had ordered that his whole collection would be destroyed at the time of his death. This, obviously, is so much better an outcome.

  • Robert Garrick

    Rohauer was a fascinating character–eccentric, ruthless, and hated by many. Kevin Brownlow, as courtly a man as walks the earth, called Rohauer a “pirate.”

    It’s almost enough to recall Robert Mitchum’s line about Jane Greer in “Out of the Past,” after someone said: “Nobody is all bad.” Mitchum rejoindered: “She comes the closest.”

    Yet now that Rohauer has been dead for a quarter century, we have hundreds of valuable films in one place, ready for preservation and projection. I’ll bet at least a few dozen of those films would be gone without Rohauer.

    To find out why Rohauer mutilated the titles on Dreyer’s “Vampyr,” why he intentionally made lousy copies of his films, and why he told people that Bill Everson was languishing in prison, I highly recommend a short (seven page) essay by William K. Everson himself.

    It’s available online (a PDF file) and I’d be happy to post the link, but I’m not sure we’re allowed to do that here anymore. If you search “Everson on Rohauer” and have some remedial browser skills, you should be able to find it, via the NitrateVille website.

  • alex

    Nice Oscar memorials to Andrew Sarris, and some others (e.g., Tonino Guerra) .

  • This is great news about The Thief of Bagdad.

    Walsh made a fantasy film earlier, which I’ve never seen: Peer Gynt.
    And later The Horn Blows at Midnight

    Fantasy episodes in “realistic” films:

    spirit of War in France: What Price Glory?,
    flowers in dream: Going Hollywood,
    puppets, Rube Goldberg drawing: Artists and Models,
    Cupid: College Swing,
    dog is bad luck: High Sierra,
    tea leaves and doorbell: They Died with Their Boots On,
    tall tale about drunk and spontaneous combustion: Uncertain Glory,
    very smart dog: The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw,
    smart chimpanzees: A Private’s Affair

    Dreams:

    musical number: Going Hollywood,
    hero has words-only nightmare: Every Night at Eight,
    fever dream while wounded: Pursued,
    hero and women in dream: The Naked and the Dead

  • As to the Rouch film, Rouch brought Michel Brault aboard to teach the techniques that he (and his Quebecois colleagues) had recently begun exploring. Brault and Rouch were both drafted by Eclair to serve as consultants in development of its 16mm cameras.

    I vowed to buy Thief as soon as it appeared on Blu-Ray — but ImportCDs filled my order twice (for some unknown reason). Looking forward to seeing at least one of those copies…

  • Photoplay has been circulating a beautiful print of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD in live cinema events with Carl Davis as conductor. I had the pleasure to visit his Helsinki concert of this movie in 2004 where our Radio Symphony Orchestra was playing. Carl Davis’s score is based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade which may also have inspired the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius, and I imagined to hear a Sibelian touch in the performance. If anybody has seen both the Photoplay and the Cohen Media Group versions of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD it would be interesting to hear comments of comparison.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Sarris joins Manny Farber as (IIRC) the only critics cited in the memoriam.

    The key great not included was Oshima.

  • jbryant

    Tom: I think Andy Griffith got the shaft, too, even if his biggest claim to fame will always be his TV work. That said, I’d hate to be in charge of who’s in and who’s out every year. The Oscar website has an in memoriam page that includes 115 people (including Nagisa Oshima). I can’t seem to find out how many names made the show’s montage, but I’m sure it was considerably less. God forbid they sacrifice a couple of minutes of a musical number or comedy bit to honor a few more of their own who passed on.

  • Robert Garrick

    Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems like the obituary portion of the Oscar telecast has become a much bigger deal in recent years. I have friends who want to speculate about who will get the “last card.” I don’t remember that happening in the 1970s.

    Critics were traditionally not included in the list because they weren’t members of the Academy. Gene Siskel died on February 20, 1999, about a month before the 71st ceremony, which was held on March 21. Siskel didn’t get a slide, but after the official tribute was over host Whoopi Goldberg ad-libbed “Gene, honey, wherever you are, here’s to you.” Then she gave a thumbs-up, which got great applause.

    I believe Tom is correct when he lists Manny Farber (2008) and Andrew Sarris as the only critics to be formally honored on the show. Sarris would have been pleased: He enjoyed the Oscars, though he called them “vulgar” and laughed about them. But he always tried to predict the winners, and he was pretty good at it.

    Some people are already wondering why Judith Crist didn’t make the list if Sarris did. She reviewed films for the New York Herald Tribune, for the Today Show, and for TV Guide. To the lay public, she was vastly better known than Andrew Sarris.

    Pauline Kael’s death in 2001 got no mention, formal or informal, on any Oscar show.

    Andy Griffith’s omission is notable when you realize that Jack Klugman, who was less of a movie star and less of a TV star than Griffith, did make the list. (So did Don Knotts, in an earlier year.)

    According to CNN, there were 114 death slides on Sunday night. If jbryant is right and there are 115 people on the Academy’s website, including Oshima, one wonders if he alone was deleted for some reason.

  • Barry Putterman

    In related news, a book chronically how THE SEARCHERS connects with both our cultural and actual history was reviewed by Jim Hoberman in this week’s Times Book Review.

    And, Warner Archive has released a nine film Wheeler & Woolsey box set. One can almost hear Gregg Rickman celebrating clear across the country.

  • D. K. Holm

    On an unrelated note: Wow, Jonathan Rosenbaum is 70 today!

  • Tom Brueggemann

    JBryant et al

    The NYTimes a couple weeks ago had a front page (news section) story about the Academy and their list, and how it has become the most difficult and secretive aspect of the entire production.
    The biggest protest over omission seems actually to have been for actress Lupe Ontiveros.

    Happy Birthday Jonathan.

  • Blake Lucas

    What I honestly don’t get, though I guess it’s naive to say so, is why we need seemingly hours of lame jokes, terrible musical numbers like homages to the likes of “Chicago” and “Dreamgirls,” yet they couldn’t give just a few more minutes to make the In Memoriam sequence so much more inclusive and genuinely reflective of film history.

    Something always hurts if you care about these remembrances. It was especially true for me this year in the omission of Harry Carey, Jr. Is that just wishful thinking on my part because he was a supporting player?–consider all the masterpieces he was in; his place in the Ford stock company, of which he was about the last (but long may Maureen O’Hara live), and his wonderful book COMPANY OF HEROES that was so illuminating, and by turns charming and moving, about that experience; his connection through his father to the very beginning of Ford and one of the great bodies of work in all cinema; and finally, the simple fact that he himself was always such a wonderful, valuable and professional actor, who could rise to his great roles when he got them.

    And yet, while so many who contributed creatively to movies always get left out, some agent or executive who simply worked the business side always seems to get a place there.

    Well, I guess you get what you deserve if you watch the Oscars, pretty much meaningless for its whole history (except of course when most deserving winner HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY won best picture).

  • David Cohen

    You think at some point they could do a half-hour show just “in memoriam.” I’d forgotten about Harry Carey Jr., though I did notice they omitted Ann Rutherford. … Of course, a separate show might eliminate the classiest thing about the Oscars.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    It would be easier for them to do 10 than 40; tougher to do 40 than 100 – the higher the number, the greater the anger if omitted.

    Lots of factors go into this – balancing different branches of the Academy; a bit of an advantage if one is a member; varying the race/nationality/gender of those included. Personal acquaintance/involvement in the community seems to help. Being an LA rather than East coast person sometimes is an asset. Past winners and to a lesser extent nominees get an edge.

    I agree about Harry Carey’s importance, but even if they had 100 I doubt he’d by their standard rise to the level of being included.

    They left out Marty Richards, who produced Chicago and was its sole Best Picture recipient, so it was a tough group to get into this year.

  • Happy Birthday, Jonathan Rosenbaum!

    Raoul Walsh certainly left his favorite images and motifs all over The Thief of Bagdad.

    The hero is always climbing up to the heights, that are a favorite Walsh locale.
    There are containers with men inside.
    A thief as hero.
    Roses linked to the heroine.
    A scale model of the city: Walsh films often contain maps and models.

    Circles are everywhere. The hero is even dressed in circles, with circles on his clothes and big hoop earrings.

  • “Well, I guess you get what you deserve if you watch the Oscars, pretty much meaningless for its whole history (except of course when most deserving winner HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY won best picture).”

    That’s true Blake, but it’s the quid pro quo for maintaining the Margeret Harrick Library. A portion of the revenue generated by the awards ceremony and telecast goes toward the library, the most worthwhile endeavor that the Academy sponsors in my opinion.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Sunrise is actually the greatest Best Picture winner.
    The first year’s winners were determined by a committee. Wings won best production, Sunrise won unique and artistic film. The Academy in the mid-1930s allowed Paramount, which reissued Wings with a new score and some dialogue, to call itself the first best picture winner (Fox apparently didn’t object, having no use for Sunrise). Despite the Academy maintaining to this day that Wings was the first winner, contemporary records show that Sunrise was the final award announced.
    The irony is that is was an accidental winner – the committee had initially chosen The Crowd (was an amazing competition), but Louis B. Mayer, who headed the committee vetoed it, despite it being an MGM film, since he hated it.
    The first year arguably had two other best pictures – The Circus (for which Chaplin won an award for his multiple contributions) and The Jazz Singer were removed from competition and honored separately.

  • Michael Dempsey

    “How Green Was My Valley” and “Sunrise” are both supremely worthy Best Picture Academy Award winners.

    So is “Lawrence of Arabia.”

    But beware: excessive cogitation upon the Oscars can lead to terminal brain-freeze.

  • Blake Lucas

    Thanks for finding a page in that silver lining playbook, x. The Herrick library is indeed a special blessing, perhaps especially for those of us who live in L.A., and I know the invaluable resource it has always been for me.

  • jbryant

    Robert: Yes, the in memoriam count on the Oscar site was 114 when I first saw it, and it had jumped to 115 when I revisited to research my earlier post. Though I didn’t look at the entire slideshow, my guess was they added Lupe Ontiveros (whom Tom mentioned) after protest arose.

    Good points about the Andy Griffith snub being even more of a head-scratcher considering the inclusion of Jack Klugman this year and Don Knotts in a previous year. Though I certainly don’t begrudge Klugman’s inclusion, his film career was strictly supporting, albeit in some fine films. But Griffith toplined a few features before his TV success, and had a couple of nice supporting roles afterward. Don Knotts’ greatest triumph, of course, was as Barney Fife on TV, but he did become a bona fide movie star for several years in the 60s, so his inclusion was well-deserved.

    I’ve always assumed Andy Griffith was well-liked in the industry, but the in memoriam snub, along with the fact that he never got a single Emmy nomination for THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (during which time his co-star Don Knotts won five), makes me wonder.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Since Best Picture comparisons are on the table, here’s something I tossed out there in the wake of the sixth-best-out-of-nine Oscar nominee’s winning: http://queenannenews.com/main.asp?SectionID=83&SubSectionID=399&ArticleID=33896&TM=12117.36

  • Robert Garrick

    I don’t want to fall into the trap of picking nits out of that mostly excellent list from Richard T. Jameson. But here are some quick and fairly random comments.

    First of all, I notice that “Best Years of Our Lives,” the big winner from 1946, appears nowhere on Jameson’s page. That film is among the strongest winners of the top Oscar.

    Other good choices for “Best Picture” by the Academy that have not often been mentioned here: “An American in Paris” and “My Fair Lady.” Dave (I think) would add “Forrest Gump” and “Titanic.” I would disagree with Richard here; I don’t think “Argo” is comparable to these films and I doubt it will wear as well.

    I think Jameson underrates “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “The Sting,” both of which he places somewhere south of “Argo.”

    Finally–and boy, is this a confession and I fully expect to be banned from the site for making it–I’ve always liked “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music.” I like a lot of other Robert Wise films too, particularly “The Set-Up” and “The Haunting.” Wise might not be an auteur–a point Michael Dempsey has made about some other people–but back before I was sophisticated enough to know about the auteur theory I knew Wise’s name, because it was on a lot of my favorite films.

    It isn’t easy to make a successful film out of a great Broadway musical. There are beautiful sequences in both of the Wise films; they’re faithful realizations of the underlying material; and both films were spectacular financial and critical successes in their day. Before I knew I wasn’t supposed to like them, I loved them; and I still enjoy watching them, though mostly I cherish my memories of seeing them on giant screens back in the ’60s. “The Sound of Music” was particularly arresting when seen in its original Todd-AO.

  • jbryant

    I haven’t seen ARGO (bringing my total of unseen Best Picture winners to seven), so obviously can’t play the comparison game. But I too like several of the titles Richard places it above, including THE STING, ROCKY and DRIVING MISS DAISY. I also enjoyed THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, and will risk banishment by saying I’ve never fully understood the general hatred among cinephiles for A BEAUTIFUL MIND and CHICAGO.

    As for whether any of these “deserved” Oscars, my choices for the year’s best almost never win, mostly because they’re never nominated. Picking 1952 at random–I may have fun watching THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, but that was also the year of IKIRU, UMBERTO D, FORBIDDEN GAMES, CASQUE D’OR, THE WHITE SHEIK, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, THE MARRYING KIND, ON DANGEROUS GROUND, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, THE QUIET MAN, THE NARROW MARGIN, EUROPA ’51, Naruse’s LIGHTNING and MOTHER, and even MY SON JOHN, all of which I’d rate much higher. Oh, and KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, THE LUSTY MEN, BEND OF THE RIVER, PARK ROW, MONKEY BUSINESS, THE SOUND BARRIER, SCARAMOUCHE, RANCHO NOTORIOUS, CARRIE, ANGEL FACE, FIVE FINGERS…well, you get the idea, and I won’t even open the can of worms that is HIGH NOON. (Note: Yes, I realize that the U.S. release dates for some of those foreign language films may not have actually been 1952.)

  • jbryant

    My comment editor doesn’t seem to be working, so here’a a correction to my above post: THE QUIET MAN did get a Best Picture nod, so it doesn’t belong with my other examples.

  • Junko Yasutani

    I do not believe that Academy Award is true evaluation of movie. Winning movie is helped for box office, that is all.

    Motion Picture Academy does good thing to have important library as X and Blake have mentioned. Also, Academy has contributed to preserving Kurosawa Akira films, so even if Awards is meaningless Academy is doing some good.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well I haven’t watched a an awards show for about thirty years, so I’m hardly an expoert on the subject. Nevertheless, even when I did watch these shows, I wasn’t tuning in for serious film history or criticism. That’s kind of like looking for gourmet food at McDonalds. The show is about current events and competition and that was what I expected to see. Which is to say that I don’t turn on the World Series looking to find the Hall of Fame.

    However, while current awards shows bore me, I recently saw recordings of two of the first televised Academy Awards shows from the 50s. And those I found fascinating. It was a real charge to see Robert Surtees get up from his seat in the audience and come on stage and get his award (he wasn’t allowed to give a speech). Likewise watching Charles Brackett who, as Academy president, had a large speaking part. Getting an opportunity to see these people whom I only knew through their work behaving in a quasi normal situation was a delight

    So, I think of the awards shows as something like newsreels. They will, in time, become film history. And maybe fifty years from now this year’s show will be similarly interesting to the cinephiles of that time.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Robert Garrick, thanks for your characteristically thoughtful response to my “Oscar perspective.” And thanks especially for pointing out the omission of The Best Years of Our Lives, something that was entirely accidental as I hastily keyboarded titles while looking at a sea of abbreviations–and sometimes just years–I had jotted down while watching Tuesday-night television (great “Justified” episode from John Dahl!). Swear to God, I had Best Years earmarked for the highest category, despite its having been consigned to “solemn goiter” class by Manny Farber.

    Similarly, at 3 a.m. I had awoken to the realization that somehow I had left out the Best Picture of 1929-30. So All Quiet on the Western Front is now in, as Best Years will be as soon as I sign off this page.

    I had given some thought to acknowledging Sunrise because of that odd awards split in 1927-28–it would, of course, nestle right there alongside How Green Was My Valley–but this was done for a neighborhood weekly paper and I wanted to keep the display footnote-free. But thanks, Tom Brueggemann, for the fascinating information that Sunrise‘s award was the last to be announced at that earliest Academy ceremony.

  • alex

    RTK,

    A nicely conceived parlor game of the sort that used to grace ESQUIRE– but an exercise sure to provoke quibbles and worse.

    Some of mine: Yes, GREATEST SHOW is too much fun to be clearly topped by ARGO, but ARGO sure tops THE ARTIST and SLUMDOG.

    LESS POSITIVELY, is ARGO the first winner ever to be inferior to ALL it ‘s year ‘s fellow nominees (ZERO DARK clearly included if we forgive it its grave JFK-like fantasy).

  • As time passes I find less and less of Argo enduring, save for Affleck’s atmospheric use of the Saul Bass Warners logo and grainy Techniscope, but no recent Oscar can possibly bother me any more than Tom Hooper’s.

  • Alex

    Oliver C.,

    Well, at least Hooper didn’t get his Oscar for LES MIS.

    A film so wretched I forgot it was a nominee in writing “ARGO the first winner ever to be inferior to ALL it‘s year‘s fellow nominees.” Compared to Hooper’s LES MIS, A KING’S SPEECH might have been directed by Dreyer or Bresson.

  • David Cohen

    Richard, very much like your list. Am pleased to see someone thinks fondly of ANNIE HALL, which strikes me as one of the more unlikely best picture winners.

  • alex

    One problem with comparing Oscar winner is keepng clear headed about the general deterioration in US film quality since about around 1975 or1980.

    Just saw THE CAIN MUTINY and although I ‘d never been a big fan of either the film nor the Color films of Dymitrich, it ‘s one smart, affecting, subtly constructed Upper Midbrow entertainment. A lot better than ARGO — though a mere best picture nominee–a
    nd a nice exmple of conservative intelligence as loosed to mere Foxiness.

  • Gregg Rickman

    No Oscars for Wheeler & Woolsey; what does that tell you? Barry wrote: “Warner Archive has released a nine film Wheeler & Woolsey box set. One can almost hear Gregg Rickman celebrating clear across the country.” Well, I’m certainly pleased, although I was hoping for Criterion….

    I happened to be reading Anita Loos’ “Cast of Thousands,” one of her several memoirs, the day after the Oscar telecast. In it she quotes H. L. Mencken on the Algonquin Round Table: “their ideals were those of the vaudeville actor; one extremely ‘in the know’ and inordinately trashy.” (40) I can’t say this applies to my experience of Parker, Benchley et al, but who could write a better description of Seth MacFarlane?

  • Brian N

    “Well, at least Hooper didn’t get his Oscar for LES MIS.

    A film so wretched I forgot it was a nominee”

    So nice to read this because I have not kept up with the films from last year and had no idea what people thought of them. After seeing the Oscars and the film clips of LM I thought it might be a spectacle if nothing else and went to see it in a theater two days ago. This is the film that would not die; it just slumbered. It felt like it went on forever. I was shocked when it was over and the night had not fallen into daybreak. Every pore of my body was screaming at me to leave but I am a committment guy and once in a theater I need an earthquake to make me leave. Even more ridiculous than this being nominated was Anne Hathaway getting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress – she sings a song, smudges her face with dirt,cuts her hair and gets an award? There had to be fifty performances more worthy.

  • Robert Garrick

    “The Caine Mutiny,” particularly the last forty minutes or so, is quite gripping. Who’s the auteur? Edward Dmytryk’s contribution is all but invisible, and the film is lit like an episode of “Bonanza.” I think you have to give most of the credit to Herman Wouk. It’s the best courtroom scene in film history, except maybe for the one in “Bananas” (1971) or the one in “Duck Soup” (1933). And obviously, Humphrey Bogart is brilliant. Jose Ferrer is good too.

    But there’s another actor in “The Caine Mutiny” who carries the entire film, and once again he’s unforgettable when he’s playing against type, as a cad. To most Americans, Fred MacMurray’s name conjures up Disney films from the 1960s, and “My Three Sons.” But to people here, I’m guessing, MacMurray’s name is connected first to “Double Indemnity” (1944) and “The Apartment” (1960), then to films like “The Caine Mutiny” and “Pushover” (1954), a lower rent variation on “Double Indemnity,” with Kim Novak providing the temptation.

    Billy Wilder saw something in MacMurray that other directors didn’t see, and nobody could possibly have been better than MacMurray in those two Wilder films. But MacMurray didn’t like that public image, and after “The Apartment” he very consciously sought out a more wholesome persona. He did fine, and he made a lot of money, but it was a loss for the film world.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, for some here Fred MacMurray is most securely connected to the romantic comedies and comedy/dramas he made at Paramount from 1935-1945. For others, it is 50s dramas and westerns such as THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW and FACE OF A FUGITIVE. It is a long and varied career that goes far beyond Disney and Billy Wilder films.

    Also, I believe that we need to get past accepting every offhand remark Sarris made in “The American Cinema” as Gospel. For me at least PUSHOVER has a lot more in common with DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD than it does with DOUBLE INDEMNITY. I’d be interested to hear whether Blake sees it that way as well.

  • jbryant

    As someone who grew up with MacMurray as the star of “My Three Sons” and Disney films, it was quite a revelation when I eventually saw his great, dark work in the Wilder films and THE CAINE MUTINY. Then a second revelation to discover the earlier Paramount stuff, especially MURDER, HE SAYS, which immediately became one of my favorite comedies. I guess you could say I experienced his career backwards.

    An odd MacMurray anecdote: Ages ago, at a flea market of sorts in my hometown of Henderson, Kentucky, I happily acquired a promotional still from MURDER, HE SAYS (how it ended up there, I’ll never know). Returning to the same place at a later date, I found a framed, autographed head shot of MacMurray, but I couldn’t afford it at the time. Much later, now with funds, I returned looking for the photo, but it was gone. Disappointed, I hopped in the car for the long drive back to film school, turned on the radio and heard the news that MacMurray had died.

  • Robert Garrick

    I only saw “Pushover” for the first time last year–I loved the first fifteen minutes, in particular–and I didn’t realize until now that Sarris mentioned it in his book. But he’s right, of course!

  • Blake Lucas

    “For me at least PUSHOVER has a lot more in common with DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD than it does with DOUBLE INDEMNITY. I’d be interested to hear whether Blake sees it that way as well.”

    Yes, I do.

  • Barry Putterman

    I believe that Sarris called PUSHOVER a poor man’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY in his Richard Quine entry. You could look it up.

  • Robert Garrick

    One Fred MacMurray film that I’ve wondered about, since seeing it a single time thirty-five years ago on late-night Chicago television, is “Flight for Freedom” (RKO, 1943). The director was Lothar Mendes. It’s loosely based on the life of Amelia Earhart, and it has a fair amount of wartime propaganda mixed in, which is one reason why it’s gotten no love over the years and tends to feel dated. MacMurray’s co-star is Rosalind Russell.

    I liked the film, and I remember one extraordinary sequence in it, near the end, where Russell is torturing over a momentous decision. It’s an extended scene, with almost no dialogue. The setting is tropical and the rain is pouring down. In my memory, the lighting, the rain, and the art direction combine to make that scene a real dark night of the soul.

    I don’t know if the film would stand up to a repeat viewing. But that sequence has stuck with me for a long time.

  • jbryant

    I think where PUSHOVER is more similar to DOUBLE INDEMNITY than DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD lies in the character of the protagonist. In both the MacMurray films, he’s a seasoned, cynical white collar professional, and he knows what he’s getting into almost immediately (in fact, in PUSHOVER, he’s more the instigator of the crime than Novak is). Rooney is a car mechanic with big dreams of racing, and the femme fatale seduces him into the bank heist scheme in a much less straightforward way than Stanwyck, stringing him along without revealing her motives for quite some time (and, unlike Stanwyck, she’s acting on orders from her man).

    So I don’t know that PUSHOVER necessarily has more in common with one or the other; seems like plenty of similarities to go around.

  • Robert Garrick

    Yes, jbryant, I agree. With “Drive a Crooked Road,” we’re careening into Hugo Haas territory. The Rooney character is weak and is astonished that such a good-looking dame would be interested in him. With MacMurray and the shady women, it’s a far more even match.

    “Pushover” and “Road” are both Quine films, though.

  • Blake Lucas

    I imagine when “Pushover” was written (Roy Huggins), it was like many films of its type in terms of narrative. In casting, someone might well have remembered Fred MacMurray in “Double Indemnity” and so with him in the role, a comparison is perhaps inevitable.

    As I read jbryant and Robert, you are looking more at the narrative and less at ambiance and tone and how these characters are treated once they are there. MacMurray’s character is as you describe but so much less inclined to be glib and cynical, and Quine has his own style, very different from Wilder. In terms of the story and relationships, Quine will see something like this differently than Wilder, and his body of work proves that. I’m not taking sides on the two films, by the way, but I think “poor man’s “Double Indemnity”‘ is very unfair to the underrated Quine.

    I believe something along the lines of what I’m suggesting about it is what Barry had in mind in observing that “Pushover” has more in common with “Drive a Crooked Road” which doesn’t mean they are just the same. For me “Pushover” also has more in common with “Strangers When We Meet” “Full of Life” and even “Operation Madball” as a whole work of art than it does with “Double Indemnity.”

    Barry may have asked how I saw it because I wrote on “Drive a Crooked Road” in the most recent issue of UNDERCURRENT (sorry, it’s still hard for me to provide a link) and I still always hope someone who likes the movie will want to read that piece.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes, something like that Blake. There is a sense of emptiness that the male characters feel within themselves in the Quine films which spark a romantic yearning for the female characters, and a sense of ambiguity about the female characters (and this is where STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET comes in and why Kim Novak is the iconic woman of Quine films) that keeps the male in a constant anxiety. At the end of PUSHOVER, the MacMurray character is in the same position as his character in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, but his last line to Novak as she is being escorted away by the police is something along the lines of “we didn’t really need the money did we.” To which Novak gives her most enigmatic stare in response. If that resembles DOULBE INDEMNITY in any way, I fail to see it.

    And so, if this be Hugo Haas territory (speaking of glib, cynical and unfair) let us make the most of it.

    And yes Blake, both the film and your UNDERCURRENT piece should both be getting more exposure.

  • Robert Garrick

    Blake, thanks for the tip on the article, which I enjoyed. I put your name and the word “Undercurrent” into a search engine and it came right up.

  • alex

    What a very excellent review
    , INDEED, of CROOKED ROAD.