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Strange Bedfellows

sincerely hs small

The wonderful complexity of midcentury American culture is highlighted in this week’s New York Times column, with reviews of two star vehicles. Edward Ludwig’s 1948 “Wake of the Red Witch” often gets overlooked in the amazing run of movies — “Fort Apache,” “Red River,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” — that transformed John Wayne from pleasant leading man to major star, and while it doesn’t have the stature of those masterworks by Ford, Hawks and Dwan, it does have some haunting, fantastical qualities that represent a road not taken by Wayne. Ludwig, whose amazing, late “The Gun Hawk” recently turned up from Warner Archive, remains a perfect Subject for Further Research, with a long, varied and highly uneven body of work that has probably not yet yielded up all its glories.

In the shadow of Steven Soderbergh’s HBO Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra,” it’s easy to dismiss Liberace’s one failed shot at movie stardom, the 1955 “Sincerely Yours,” as pure camp. But, as directed by the infinitely resourceful Gordon Douglas, the film is actually a thoughtful attempt to translate Liberace’s appeal to the big screen. A remake of the 1932 George Arliss vehicle “The Man Who Played God,” from a script by Irving Wallace, the film turns its star’s otherwise undramatizable sexuality into something like a supernatural attribute, an undefined difference that allows him to sit apart from the common run of humanity, peering down through binoculars from his Fifth Avenue penthouse at the huddled masses in Central Park, and intervening when necessary to straighten out their lives. He’s like a benevolent version of James Stewart’s judgmental Jeff Jeffries in “Rear Window,” rewarding virtue rather than punishing transgressions, here captured in a new widescreen transfer from Warner Archives.

112 comments to Strange Bedfellows

  • Barry Putterman

    From the department of corrections: it was Robert Barret who played the judge in WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD. Grant Mitchell played Frankie Darro’s father. As such, my whole argument fails.

  • Alex

    Nice points, Barry, about the “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” “Wild Boys of the Road,” “Heroes for Sale” and 1932-33 as the epitome of the Depression.

    Real percapita GDP figures in $2000 (from the data files of Angus Maddison)are as follows for 1929-1934:
    6,899 6,213 5,691 4,908 4,777 5,114.

  • In terms of Liberace as a “supernatural” being, he joins the ranks of actors so odd they can only be rendered as in some cases man-children such as Pee-wee Herman and Harry Langdon, themselves somewhat comparable despite separation by decades.

  • “Frankly, I’m of the opinion that Lang was making up this business about FURY having a black protagonist out of whole cloth.”

    Lang claimed that he wanted to have a black protagonist but realized that he would’t get his way early on; this was what he wanted when he read the 4 page treatment from which the finished screenplay was developed. Instead, he compromised by showing African-American extras reacting to he lynching and subsequent trial. He claimed that these shots were either trimmed or eliminated. For example, there’s a black child on the porch of the hardware store where the mob goes to get the rope, and Lang says he shot a close-up of the boy grabbing his throat that was eliminated.

    This sounds credible to me, and it does confirm Lang’s inclusion of black people as part of the mise-en-scene if nothing else (as do a few other shots.) Of course, maybe including black extras was a bottom line decision because they were paid less than white extras, and Lang was trying to ennoble himself by pretending a concern for black people that he didn’t really have.

  • Alex

    With deeply radicall films like “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” “Wild Boys of the Road,” “Heroes for Sale” coming out in the US during the depth of the Depression, one might think that vigously reformist ones might come out in association with the heights of New Deal reform. However, I can only think “Grapes of Wrath,” which comes rather late. Any others?

    As for 60s radicalism, it does bear some radical cinematic fruits in the US, good (Shirley Clarke’s Cool World (1964), Dassin’s Uptight (1968), Penn’s Alice’s Restaurant, (1969) Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969)); bad (
    Penn’s The Chase (1966), Paul Williams’ Revolutionary (1970), Rush’s Getting Straight (1970)); and crazed (Lindsay Anderson’s If…. (1968)).

  • ” bad (
    Penn’s The Chase (1966)”

    Even in its present re-cut form “The Chase” is very good, certainly good enough to merit restoration even if only along the lines of “Major Dundee.” By the way, on the old laser disc release of “The Chase” there’s a fragment of dialog on the soundtrack without the corresponding shot, so maybe there are some surviving elements.

  • Steve elworth

    X. Thanks for defending The Chase. I did not know that about the laser disc.

  • Alex

    Actually, I’ve always enjoyed “The Chase” –heck, I love “Brother Where Art Thou” for more than the music– and was trying to adjust for any Dixiephobic distortion of my aesthetic assessment. (Gotta feel Solomonic when free access to the spiffy new DVD of THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT fianally comes my way and I give TSSB a third chance.)

    Thanks,359594, for notification that “The Chase” had been cut up and could use a fuller version. Any chance the version initially relased to theaters, which I saw in D.C. release week, was not cut up?

  • mike schlesinger

    Way ahead of you guys. I met Arthur Penn once at UCLA and asked if he’d be interested in putting it back together. He replied that the experience was too painful to revisit, but told me I was welcome to try and he’d certainly look at whatever we came up with. Alas, we found no surviving footage.

  • “Any chance the version initially relased to theaters, which I saw in D.C. release week, was not cut up?’

    No, it was cut before release. Also, the order of some sequences was changed according to Penn.

    “Alas, we found no surviving footage.”

    Thanks Mike. Alas indeed. Can you shed any light on the soundtrack anomaly that appears on the laser disc release? It doesn’t appear on the DVD.

  • alex

    The progressive politicization of “Strange Bedfellows ” along political economic and racial lines has proceeded with remarkable smoothness and is a marvel to behold.

  • mike schlesinger

    I’m guessing the laserdisc master contained the glitch and it went unnoticed; it’s not like it’s a widely-seen film, after all. I assume Grover caught it and fixed it for the DVD.