Running Wild

crashout hs small

There are times when it’s hard to tell the difference between Lewis R. Foster and Lewis D. Collins, but “Crashout,” Foster’s powerful, independently produced film noir from 1955, isn’t one of them. The film unites practically every great supporting player in the genre — William Bendix, Arthur Kennedy, Luther Adler, William Talman, Gene Evans and Marshall Thompson, with no-extra-charge appearances by Beverly Michaels, Percy Helton, Tom Dugan and Morris Ankrum — for a jailbreak story that might have been written by Jean-Paul Sartre, but is actually credited to Foster (an Oscar winner for the dubiously “original” story of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”)and the producer Hal E. Chester. One suspects that other, invisible hands may have been involved. Suspect number one is Cy Endfield, a longtime associate of Chester (from his debut with the “Joe Palooka” films to the major “Underworld Story” of 1950), who at the time of “Crashout” was living in London to escape the blacklist; number two is Ida Lupino, whose production company, The Filmmakers, originally distributed “Crashout,” and whose influence can certainly be felt in the casting of Talman (so brilliant as the psychopathic killer in Lupino’s 1953 “The Hitch-Hiker”) and the stoic resignation of “Crashout”‘s two primary female characters, a failed singer played by Gloria Talbott and a single mom played by Michaels (usually cast as a floozy, but quite affecting here as a woman who’s seen it all). The film has just been released in a good Blu-ray edition from Olive; my New York Times review is here.

I’ve also slipped in a couple of paragraphs on “In Old Arizona,” the 1928 western that was among the first features to take sound technology on location, and also happened to cost Raoul Walsh his right eye. Walsh was set to direct and to star as the Cisco Kid (his long dormant acting career having been revived by the success of “Sadie Thompson” earlier that year), but left the film after a few days when a jackrabbit jumped through the windshield of his car and forced him off the road. In a development as unexpected as it is encouraging, Fox Home Entertainment has released a beautifully restored Blu-ray of the film (though one suspects that the studio’s interest was driven less by appreciation of Walsh than the fact that the film won a best actor Oscar for his replacement, Warner Baxter). I’d be willing to bet that the openings sequences, which establish the small western town where much of the action is set with the kind of brilliant foreground-background tension Walsh would go on to exploit in “The Big Trail”) are Walsh’s work, and the better definition of the Blu-ray reveals what sure looks to me like Walsh himself, demonstrating some fancy horsemanship in some long shots during a round-up scene.

Speaking of Walsh, I’ll be at the Pacific Film Archive this Thursday to introduce his magnificent 1932 western romance “Wild Girl,” and participate in a conversation with the critic Michael Fox. Please do stop by if you’re in the area — I can’t vouch for the chat but I can promise that the movie is good. I’ll be back on Saturday for screenings of “The Lawless Breed” and “Pursued.”

318 comments to Running Wild

  • Carnival = death in Corman’s MASQUE OF THE RED …And Hitchcock frequently equates death with carnivalism, in an “ironic” manner.

  • Brian Dauth

    First, I am enjoying this conversation and will say that what follows has more questions than answers – I am still trying to figure it all out. As per Gregg’s suggestion, I am first going to define some elements that contribute to my understanding of essentialist thought and my problems with this approach.

    1) Buddhism – my experience has confirmed what is known in Buddhist thought as the interdependent web of existence. Everything gives rise to everything else and is conditional. When I look back at my ten year old self, I do not see a core or essence that carries through unchanged to my present, decades-older self. I do not find what x refers to as a “timeless, sacred core or essence” (though I agree with Gregg that the positing of such a core as a premise of liberal humanism was a great advance in Western thought. But it may well be that – a few centuries down the road – such a notion has reached it sell-by date: Wendy Brown, Janet Halley and Gayitri Spivak have all written eloquently on this subject).

    In terms of aesthetics, a belief in such a core can lead to commentary along the lines of “Director/writer Goodcraft explores the dark/light urges that exist in us all” or “Art work XYZ appeals to the ??? in us all” or “It is hard to see how anyone could argue against the greatness of this work.” Even before I knew there was such a thing as postmodernism, I did not care for this style of critique.

    So I must disagree with Barry that the “many roles we perform are parts of ourselves” since I could, for instance, post something here that made it appear I was a pathological hater of women/short people/left-handed people, but such pathology is not part of me even though I could act it. The interesting question that comes up is whether the knowledge of how to perform a pathology (or the acting of it) is equivalent to having the pathology. I think if Whitman were alive today, rather than containing multitudes, he would say that he performed multitudes.

    And here is where I think the disagreement begins. As Barry P. said: “[t]he question rather would seem to be how truly, deeply and comprehensively [performance] represents human nature.” First, is human nature a core (or what is often called a soul) or does human nature arise from a series of biological/chemical processes? If a person who is depressed can take some pills or change their diet or engage in exercise and, as a result, no longer be depressed, can the timeless core model be sustained? Are there any aspects of this core which cannot be altered by intervention, and if not, what does this say about the core? Isn’t it necessary that the core (at least as posited by liberal humanism) be unchanging and universal in order to justify the social order(s) predicated upon it?

    2) Gender/Sexual Fluidity: As my husband says when he runs a workshop or teaches a class, there is no chromosome that makes one want to wear a dress. There is a concept he uses called the genderbread person which identifies four continuums in human existence: gender identity; gender expression; biological sex; and attraction. Human beings can exist at different points along these continuums during their lives, and one’s position on one continuum is not determinative of her position along any of the three remaining continuums. For me, such fluidity argues against the sex/gender/attraction binaries maintained by essentialist thinking.

    As for my comment about Godard: it occurred to me as I watched NOUVELLE VAGUE at the New York Film Festival that the movie did not like women – in fact, the specific scene was when a woman in high heels was walking along the edge of a swimming pool. I suppose over time I have become sensitive (though not intentionally) to the vision/attitude a film has toward gender/sex roles and identities and their subsequent performances since such attitudes have had a tangible effect on my life.

    Fredrik: you write “If you say that a person performs, it has to be in relation to something, but you seem to have gotten rid of that relation.” I have not gotten rid of that relation – I have just relocated the “something” that the performance relates to from inside the person to outside of the person. I would argue that your statement that “if there is no real, essential you, there can be no performances either” cannot be true if the tenets and truths of Buddhism are true. As I stated above: I can enact a pathology that I do not possess. I do agree that a concept of truth is necessary if we are to have to a concept of lies, e.g., you are reading this post because I typed it on a computer and then used said computer to post it to the Internet. If I wrote “I sang this post into a cheesecake and it appeared on Dave’s site,” it would be recognized as a lie by all. But the truth I would violate is a truth that has been established through social agreement: we have agreed to call what I am doing typing and the tool I am using a computer. Truth is socially constructed: as a queer man, the truth of my existence during my lifetime has gone from being a sexual deviant to a person with an illness that can be/must be cured to a minority presence to be tolerated but not granted equality to an almost equal member of society. I have truthfully occupied each of these states/situations during my life, while what was inside of me has been a biological/chemical process that resulted in sexual desire for men – and even that desire has evolved/shifted over the course of my life. One could also ask if a person is gay if he has the desire to have sex with men, but never acts on it – is it the internal desire or the external act gives rise to the truth of a person.

    Peter: I agree with your statement that “we have to talk about something or another steadfast in order to talk about aesthetics and ethics at all,” but I do not think that the something steadfast need be some timeless core or universal human nature. In fact, I would argue that what we are engaged in right now is exactly the steadfast thing we need – crossing discourses emanating from different social positions. As Spivak argues, the Tower of Babel is what saves humanity, and not the globalizing, universalizing attempt to create one language, one culture, one human nature (I cannot recommend more highly her recent book: “An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization”). The fact that we still speak about Baroque art is the steadfast thing and we cannot (and do not even need to) draw any conclusions about its universality with regard to either its production or appeal. The attention paid to and ethical conduct of the discourses Baroque art gives rise to are where we can ground the possibilities for a better tomorrow; in fact, claims of universality or essentialism might actually work against this goal.

    It is almost 3:00 a.m., so addressing dm94’s thoughts about Resnais will have to wait until later. Also, as I wrote I had an insight I will try to develop when I am not so tired: for me, performances in Cukor films are not rooted in the sex/gender of the characters – X is doing that because that is how wo/men act – nor are they universal behaviors – they seem to occupy a third way. Sorry for the vagueness/incompleteness of this idea (and of my entire post for that matter), but I wanted to get it down.

  • Brian, for a man half-asleep I think you did pretty well! Also, since you argue that “I could, for instance, post something here that made it appear I was a pathological hater of women/short people/left-handed people, but such pathology is not part of me even though I could act it.” it would seem that we are agreeing because this is exactly what I meant. There is a difference (or what I earlier called a relation) between the real you (who do not hate women) and the performance of the Brian who pretend to hate women and it is this difference/relation that makes the women-hating Brian a performance.

  • It’s hard to think of a case in which carnivals aren’t equated with death, from Tod Browning to “Ministry of Fear” to “Nightmare Alley” to “Tarnished Angels” . . .

  • Robert Garrick

    “Carnival of Souls”; “The Funhouse”; “House of Bamboo”; “Man in the Dark”; “Freaks”; “Lady From Shanghai.” There are a zillion of them. A rare exception is the recent film “Adventureland” (2009), where the amusement park is a metaphor for the protagonist’s sexual and romantic awakening. Also, in “Ed Wood” (1994), Mr. Wood announces that he likes to dress in women’s clothing while he’s stalled on a dark ride with his girlfriend.

  • dm494

    Not to mention CARNIVAL OF SOULS. But isn’t there a fondly depicted, albeit not exactly Bakhtinian, carnival in THE TREE OF THE WOODEN CLOGS?

  • Other ominous overtone scenes with carnivals are in:
    GUN CRAZY (Joseph H. Lewis) where the hero and heroine first meet in the gun shooting contest.
    SOME CAME RUNNING (Minnelli) the amazing tragic finale in the Centennial celebration.
    NIGHT TIDE (Curtis Harrington) The pier amusement park.
    SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (Jack Clayton) Ray Bradbury’s personal mythology of sinister carnivals.

    I’ve looked for counterexamples. Carnival celebrations in Latin America are treated positively in IT’S ALL TRUE (Orson Welles) and YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (Minnelli), although the latter is admittedly often eerie.
    And the Gene Autry TV show has THE CARNIVAL GOES WEST, a wholesome parable.

    Agnès Varda actually likes carnivals and fairs. They show up positively in Du côté de la côte, her ravishing color film about the Riviera, and in The World of Jacques Demy.

    There are a long series of 1930’s and 1940’s prose mystery tales in which a carnival or fair is a background for a murder mystery or a big fight with the bad guys.

  • Johan Andreasson

    I haven’t seen Feyder’s CARNIVAL IN FLANDERS since the early 70s, but if I remember the plot correctly that film would be one of the rare exceptions: The women in the town use the carnival to ensure peace and prosperity.

  • Barry Putterman

    And THE HANGED MAN, Dave. But PLEASE, save us from ourselves by posting a new thread so that we can gracefully change the subject. Why, I’m even prepared to argue that you can NEVER have Too Much Johnson if it will help rescue us from this tar pit.

    Nevertheless, despite my repeated protests, it is my essential nature to engage, so I will just comment as briefly as possible on two points Brian seems to have wafted in my direction.

    First, I will take a very different tact from Fredrik regarding the point he selected to comment about. As a preface I will state that as a short left-handed person I am outraged that Brian is allowed to mercilessly attack my core nature here on this web site. However, if Brian were to write such a post, the central issue would not be whether he actually believed these prejudices, but rather what was he trying to communicate through posting them. Sarah Silverman, for instance, is a performer who regularly expresses such prejudices in her act and there are a number of befuddled people who believe that those are her actual beliefs. But she is relying on her audience to understand that it is the manner in which she is expressing those views which communicates something quite different. It is a little something called irony, and I have been known to employ that tactic on occasion. In fact, the basis of performance is to create some kind of gap between the actor and the material so that its content can take on multiple dimensions. To insist that the performer is fracturing the notion of an essential nature by doing so is to misunderstand the very nature of performance.

    Then there would be the notion that if one took drugs or changed diet or did exercise (or all of the above) then their depression would be cured, proving that human nature is nothing more than chemical reactions. But DO these tactics actually cure depression? They work very well for some people, are somewhat helpful for others and a complete waste of time for still others. If depression could be cured through the simple tips offered above, there wouldn’t still be the countless number of people who suffer from it today. But even for the people who are positively affected by these tactics, are their depressions being cured or are they only having some of their more obvious symptoms calmed? You can pour novocaine over a toothache and it will stop hurting. But you haven’t done anything to treat the rot which is causing the pain and it will return if you stop taking the novocaine.

    Well, everybody else mentioned in Brian’s post can return comment on whichever points they choose to engage as well. Personally, I’d rather go to the carnival and participate in some mayhem.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘1) Buddhism – my experience has confirmed what is known in Buddhist thought as the interdependent web of existence. Everything gives rise to everything else and is conditional. When I look back at my ten year old self, I do not see a core or essence that carries through unchanged to my present, decades-older self.’

    That is universal Buddhist belief. There is classic Buddhist analogy of wheel. Wheel is hub, spoke and rim, but which is essential part? Buddhism denies timeless unchanging self since Buddhism regards physical body as part of self, and physical body grows and ages. Mind changes too, old idea is replaced by new idea, belief changes. Following similar course from moment to moment but not identical. Looking at picture of myself when 5 years old I see similarity to 55 year old woman of today. Thing I believed when 5 years old I do not believe today. Where is unchanging core?

  • Alex

    I don’t think Orwell’s outrage at the Communist purges in Barcelona, however much it left Orwell’s dedication to socialism uncompromise,failed to enormously complicate his attitide toward the course of the official “anti-fascist” struggle’S anti-democratic and repressive risks become manifest — — INDEED ATROCITIES IN BARCELONA.

    I don’t think Hemingway was ever “cynical” of the “anti-fascist” cause, only unsettled enough by anti-democratic, repressive risks that threatened to compromise the cause to voice some hints of irony and disillusion. If anything, Heminway is slow to aethetically assimilate or intellectually integrate the Stalinist complication — for example to reconcile his sketches of Goltsz or collective peasant bllodletting against Señioria and Church with the Jordon’s unaltered idealistic simplicity, viciating the great literary powers of FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. However much one might lament Dos Passos move way right, it’s Dos Passos, not Hemingway who comes off well in the Juan Robles affair (e.g., Koch’s “The Breaking Point,” the Gelhorn biographies). Good thing at least that Hemingway didn’t come off with the nearly Mr. Deeds-ish of Jordons when his attitude to the actual course of the pursuit of the Republican cause was touched on in THE SNOWS OF KILAMAJARO.

    (The HBO/Kaufman HEMINGWAY AND GELHORN is too aesthetiocally poor to endorese, but it strikes me as pretty good history by docudrama film standards.)

  • x359594

    “However much one might lament Dos Passos move way right, it’s Dos Passos, not Hemingway who comes off well in the Juan Robles affair (e.g., Koch’s “The Breaking Point,” the Gelhorn biographies).”

    Koch’s “The Breaking Point” is tendentious b.s. Alex. For a more accurate account that refutes many of his claims see the relevant chapter in Paul Preston’s “We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War,” and in his “The Spanish Holocaust” he revisits the Robles affair and concludes that Robles was in fact a traitor.

    The elephant in the room is the civil war within the civil war on the Republican side. Orwell very accurately identifies the factions: on one side were Stalinists, liberals, and right wing socialists committed to preserving capitalist democracy and on the other the anarcho-syndicalist industrial unions, peasant anarchists, Trotskyists, the POUM (whose militia Orwell joined,)and left socialists. In the beginning they held power and as Orwell writes, “…the Spanish working class did not, as we might conceivably do in England, resist Franco in the name of ‘democracy’ and the status quo; their resistance was accompanied by–one might almost say it consisted of–a definite revolutionary outbreak. Land was seized by the peasants; many factories and most of the transport were seized by the trade unions; churches were wrecked and the priests driven out or killed…For the first few months of the war Franco’s real opponent was not so much the government as the trade unions. As soon as the rising broke out the organized town workers replied by calling a general strike and then by demanding–and, after a struggle, getting–arms from the public arsenals. If they had not acted spontaneously and more or less independently it is quite conceivable that Franco would never have been resisted.”

    Hemingway took the Stalinist-liberal position and was hostile to the anarchists and the POUM as he made clear in his dispatches and in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” By contrast Orwell and Dos Passos were sympathetic to the revolutionaries, though Dos Passos came to believe that economic democracy was a pipe dream and that its promise had been co-opted by the Stalinists.

  • Peter Henne

    “The fact that we still speak about Baroque art is the steadfast thing and we cannot (and do not even need to) draw any conclusions about its universality with regard to either its production or appeal.”

    Brian, For someone going at length to talk about “essentialism,” you have not grasped the distinction between accidental/essential properties on any account right here. Either that, or you are giving me a slanted reading. May I suggest reading the article on Essential vs. Accidental Properties in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Now I’m done with this.

  • Alex

    x359594,

    Thanks for the very informative post, especially the Preston reference. (I”ve found Koch uncongenially right wing but assumed he probably had his main facts right.)

    Glad you’re not too hard on Dos Passos, whose work though the late 1930s I love and whose ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG MAN has always struck me as politically incisive –though in retrospect clear a kick off to his runaway over to the National Review crowd.

    So, do you think Hemingway expresses missgivimngs about his Civil War commitments in the lit KILAMAJARO

  • Alex

    Brian Dauth,

    Do you think Huston was homophobic early on, esp. in MALTESE FALCON?

    What do you think of the charge that he’s misogenistic?

  • “do you think Hemingway expresses misgivings about his Civil War commitments in the lit KILAMAJARO?”

    The flashbacks in the short story and the movie are not identical, so there’s no Spanish Civil War episode in the Hemingway story. The movie version is a kind of fantasia of Hemingway tropes, and his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was a best seller for years so Casey Robinson referenced that with the Civil War scenes with that in mind.

    Hemingway didn’t return to Spain until 1952 when he made discreet inquiries about some friends who disappeared after Franco’s victory. Throughout his life he continued to support the Spanish Refugee Aid Committee in NYC. He never renounced his earlier support for the Republican cause in public or in private.

  • Alex

    Finally re-saw KILAMAJARO, despite misgivings about the prospect, and found it interesting and intemittently rewarding. The Cinematography by Leon Shamroy and Art Direction by Lyle R. Wheeler are extraordinary ;and when King and his script stick to conveying protagonist Harry Street’s (i.e., Peck’s) thoughts –his recollections- through the imagery enhanced if not provided by these — as well as to advancing the narrative by rapidly cycling through bits of actors performances deeply embedded (mostly as as faces and figures)in this visual mise-en-scene — the film can be splendid –as in Harry’s introduction to Paris and Cynthia. (Ava Gardner could hardly make her more enticing, though she’s at a lose as to how to elaborate Cynthia.)

    Peck is not up to the extended solo acting stints imposed on him in his very extended “near-death” bed scenes, and both he and Gardner and Heyward are wretched in the extended Peck-Gardner and Peck-Heyward duets (in part because these are stuck with trite and graceless profundities when the script turns to spiritual illuminations of lonely Peck and the spiritless romantic pairings at the center of the film).

    Although cinematography and art direction are much less rich (if just fine) in THE MACOMBER AFFAIR that I also saw this weekend, in MACOMBER everything is crip and moves forward on a strong emotional thread. Peck is left to the Eastwood-like minimalism at which he excells -especially as a dignified, manly, smart-enough lover. All roles follow the logic of the insightful and tightly written. It’s like reading Hemingway, although a little dialogue is need to round out ex[osotion and the end ghoes a tad sentimental toward ‘s Joan Benett’s nasty Margot.

    I found the corruption of Street/Hemingway’s service to the Spanish Republic into Spain as the venue for Street/Hemingway’s search for the Holy Grail of a rediscovered Cththia/Gardner easy to marginalize in King’s Cold War era predictable depoliticization of Hemingway’s most ambitious lyric-memoir and predictably obvious and ham-handed strain for an allegory of “redemption.” (Just unravel the riddle of the presence of a frozen leopard atop Mr. Kilamajr and you shall be redemedm Street’s Uncle tells Harry in hardly the least ponderous of the film’s Mike-Nichols-like histrionic duets.)

  • Alex

    Continuing on early August these like — acting versus its cinematic setting, King, Huston, and the perenial Ford (not to speak of evil Kael clones)… .

    In his rich “The Reluctant Star” (New Yorker, 08-26-2013), David Denby see Ava Gardner in the “The Barefoot Contessa,” about as I see her in “Snows of Kilamanjaro,” writing that after a “startling entrance, Gardner looks lost during most of the movie.” However, he adds “though it’s really not her fault” a caveat that might apply to her generally awkward performance in “Snows of Kilamanjaro.”

    Writing directly on “The Sun Also Rises” (1957), Denby provides some indication he does not find King’s touch the surest: “She was a Hemingway type of woman… and even played Lady Brett in “The Sun Also Rises” (1957), but the movie built around her was miscast and tedious.” (He’s all praise Re Lady Brett Ford’s ”Magombo” and Huston’s “The Night of the Iquana.”)