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.