New DVDs: Fritz Lang

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Fritz Lang was one filmmaker who couldn’t help investing himself in every shot he took — a truism underlined again by Fox Home Video’s very nice new edition of Lang’s 1941 “Man Hunt.” The film is at once a piece of highly topical propaganda, urging America’s entry into World War II just months before Pearl Harbor made any more editorializing moot, and a timeless Langian study in space and shadow. My New York Times review is here.

326 comments to New DVDs: Fritz Lang

  • Brad Stevens

    “Also, I have read that George Sidney directed all sound stage scenes, including death scene. Also, Andrew Marton is sometimes mentioned as additionl director, even Billy Wilder for comic cabin scene between Trevor Howard and Brando.”

    Peter Manso’s biography of Brando conatains a detailed and seemingly well-researched acccount of the production. George Seaton (not George Sidney) directed Brando’s death scene (though nothing else). Billy Wilder suggested parts of the ending (Fletcher Christian proposing to the mutineers that they return home to face justice), but didn’t direct, or even write, anything. No mention of Andrew Marton.

    The DVD has some interesting promotional documentaries dating from the film’s original release, and the only director visible in any of them is Carol Reed! The narrator only refers to him as ‘the director’, presumably hoping to disguise the fact that the film had more than one.

  • Jaime

    Kent, Welles said all kinds of s***, and while that comment, without context, seems wrong, evidence that he understood and respected the difference between an actor’s craft in one medium and another is available to us…

    To Bogdanovich, he spoke about visiting a film set and watching Gary Cooper doing a take; Welles didn’t think he registered at all, until he saw dailies. He then remarked that the opposite was true of Feodor Chaliapin, whose magnificence was muted on film.

  • Alex Hicks

    On the one hand, THE GRADUATE and AMERICAN BEAUTY and, though “extravagantly ‘symbol-laden” films,” are realistifc film in the sense that they are received as direct, telling commentaries on their social mileux and times. On the other hand, I can’t see how THE GRADUATE can be termed 1960’s “the most celebrated film,” whether the competion is THE SOUND OF MUSIC or THE GREAT ESCAPE, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or 2001, 8 1/2 OR PIERROT LE FOU. It’s just money making, mass film lit classic that was initially well reviewed and has had some pop and critical legs. (Ditto at a lower level for the late 1990s BEAUTY.)

    Finally, genre film neglect? Think Zemeckis and Peter Jackson.

  • Kent Jones

    Jaime, I think Welles was doing what a lot of people do: speaking generally but actually describing himself. I never saw Welles on the stage, but I’m sure his acting there was identical to his acting in films.

    “maybe the question of craft vs. presence that’s been debated here isn’t so important” – except when it is. Certain films by certain filmmakers depend quite heavily on the craft of their actors. Maybe other films by the same filmmaker do not. I think it’s very important to avoid establishing any general rules.

    “What counts most to me is an actor’s contribution to the film, not the performance standing on its own” – is there actually anyone here who feels otherwise? If there is, they haven’t made themselves known.

  • Kent Jones

    Alex, I think that Zemeckis and Jackson make films in a particular genre that Mike dislikes.

    There may be no such thing as the “most celebrated” film of the 60s, but THE GRADUATE was hugely influential, that’s for sure. As Monte Hellman once told me, “There are certain very strong stories or ideas for films that touch the core of the psychology of the audience so profoundly that they absolutely cannot fail. I think THE GRADUATE is not really a very good film, but it’s a great film because of just what it is.”

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Peter Manso’s biography of Brando conatains a detailed and seemingly well-researched acccount of the production. George Seaton (not George Sidney) directed Brando’s death scene (though nothing else). Billy Wilder suggested parts of the ending (Fletcher Christian proposing to the mutineers that they return home to face justice), but didn’t direct, or even write, anything. No mention of Andrew Marton.’

    That is better than hearsay Brad. Did Manso say why Carol Reed quit?

  • Alex Hicks

    Kent, Having recently viewed TEXASVILLE and CAT’S MEOW on, in effct, the basis of your psoitive asasessment at dk.com, I’ve enbtertaineda question. Do you recommend Bogdanovitch’s DAISY MILLER. (Just look for an entertaining evening’s viewing with the wife in front of the tube.)

  • Mark Ising

    Kent, “LIBERTY VALENCE” may be the most wonderful typo to appear on this site to date, and there have been a lot of wonderful ones.

  • Michael Dempsey

    According to “The Man Between: A Biography of Carol Reed” by Nicholas Wapshott (1990), “‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was one of the first films to humour every whim of a star actor [and] Marlon Brando was at the height of his powers as a box office star.”

    According to Wapshott, Brando drove original screenwriter Eric Ambler crazy with mindless re-write demands that caused Ambler to quit the production.

    Allegedly, Brando did pretty much the same to Reed after shooting began, to the point where the director was “suffering acute stomach pains caused by gallstones.” Brando was also said to be intent on getting Reed fired so that he could take over the direction of the film himself.

    Reed, in turn, wanted Trevor Howard to replace the undirectable Brando in the role of Fletcher Christian, a notion MGM wasn’t about to accept. This led to further talk of replacing Reed (as Lewis Milestone eventually did, at least nominally).

    “Reed told Howard how things stood and a delegation from the cast was quickly sent to [producer Sol] Siegel, declaring that if Reed was sacked, all the British actors would rip up their contracts. Reed was embarassed by this show of solidarity and convinced them that, far from being sacked, he was quitting. A combination of Siegel’s threats and Reed’s cool reason ensured that the cast remained intact. Reed accepted defeat and, in a noble but futile gesture, returned his fee to the studio.”

    Wapshott also claims that “apart from the stone-fishing and Captain Bligh’s awkward dance scenes, little of [Reed’s] footage remains [in the completed picture].”

    It should be noted that Wapshott’s book has a short bibliography but no endnotes.

  • Kent Jones

    Mark, I suddenly realized what I had typed just at the instant I pressed the “Say It!” button. Always glad to provide a little levity.

    Alex, I haven’t seen DAISY MILLER since it was released, but I remember liking it. Maybe Dave has seen it more recently? at the time, everyone complained about Cybill Shepherd. It was a little like the complaints about Tim Holt in AMBERSONS 30 years earlier, but the 70s critics may have had more of a point. But it’s by Bogdanovich, so it’s absolutely worth seeing. Truthfully, the man’s never made a bad film, or a dishonorable one. I would check out THE THING CALLED LOVE and THEY ALL LAUGHED. And I’m sure you’ve seen his incredible expanded version of his John Ford documentary.

  • James L. Neibaur

    I thought Bogdonovich did a rather good job recapturing the 30s screwball comedy sensibility with What’s Up Doc, but his attempt at revisiting the Hollywood musical with At Long Last Love was a complete misfire. I think the movie of his I like best is Noises Off — great fun for theater buffs.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I saw DAISY MILLER twice, once way back when and once a couple of years ago. I liked it very much both times and actually do think it’s one of PB’s very best films. I praised it highly in “50 ANS” — I never understood why everyone put down Cybill Shepherd, who is perfectly fine in a difficult part. It seems that the critics blamed the character she was playing while believing they were blaming the actress. Or else it was just a concerted hatchet job so that both PB and his girlfriend got their commeupance. Excellent screenplay — by no less than Frederic Raphael — of a supposedly “impossible to adapt” novel. The film was shot, beautifully, on location where the action of the book takes place. A great treat, IMHO.

  • I love They All Laughed. It’s beautiful and moving. The film also signaled a change in Bogdanovich’s style, the introduction of what I guess you could call the Traveling Players Style, seen at its strongest in the equally underrated Texasville.

  • Kent Jones

    I remember liking ILLEGALLY YOURS, too. His Pete Rose TV movie is good. I never saw THE PRICE OF HEAVEN or his TO SIR WITH LOVE sequel. His Tom Petty movie is for people who REALLY love Tom Petty, which I never have, but it’s pretty good.

  • I’ve never seen the Pete Rose film – but really liked TO SIR WITH LOVE 2: it has excellent storytelling and character development. DAISY MILLER is underrated, too.

  • dm494

    Kent, I figured that John Wayne is dear to many people who comment on this site, not least you and Blake. That’s why I thought I’d get “killed” for what I said. People tend to be very passionate about their favorite actors. As I recall, Dave once said that Joan Crawford illustrated how movie stardom and good acting don’t always go hand in hand; his statement prompted a furious reply to the contrary from an ardent Crawford fan.

    Regarding Orson Welles’s claim: other actors have said the same thing. I think Alec Guinness once said it, and I know Christine Lahti and Helen Mirren have, although in Mirren’s case she may have just been saying what she thought her interviewer wanted to hear. You’re right that nonprofessionals can give good performances on film, but I don’t see how that distinguishes film from theater acting–nonprofessionals have been used in experimental theater–e.g. in Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater–and besides, the expectations one has about the performances a director will elicit from non-actors are very different from those one has about performances given by professionals. Another thing is that people who appeal to intimacy to motivate the distinction between screen acting and stage acting often don’t seem to realize how stage performances can vary with the theaters in which they’re given: there are big theaters and small theaters, theaters with incredible acoustics, theaters that are miked. It’s not always the case that an actor is performing in a theater where he has to project enormously. Insisting on the stage/screen distinction seems like a way of smuggling in some kind of cinematic essentialism, and the notion of screen acting frequently requires us to overlook just how various film performance can be. Likewise, it’s often assumed that stage practice is uniform, as if all theater were like Shaw, and things like vaudeville or commedia dell’arte had never existed.

    There are, I’ll admit, differences between film and theater acting, but they seem to be mostly of degree rather than of kind, and, article of faith though this may be, I believe that any professional actor who’s good on film can, with enough experience, also be good on stage. But I don’t want to play down the differences at the expense of denying the obvious. It seems indisputable to me that stage acting is generally more difficult than acting on screen; and there is, in consequence, a level of craftsmanship, of proficiency, in stage actors that exclusively screen actors seldom attain. I take that as an argument that every professional actor ought to put in some time on the stage.

  • Kent Jones

    dm, I think it’s as simple as this: on stage, you’re acting in a continuous performance for an audience; in cinema, you’re acting in a discontinuous performance for a camera. Obviously there are overlaps, and the relationship is always changing.

    When I was growing up, John Wayne was a name that lived in infamy. I did not have the same kind of attachment to him when I was a kid that I did to Bogart or Cagney or any number of other people. I came to admire him over the years, more and more.

    I agree with Dave about Joan Crawford. But there’s real force there. I do think she was very good in Borzage’s films, MANNEQUIN in particular.

  • Alex Hicks

    Thanks, Folks, for the Bogdanovitch tips.

    Acting’s Mansion has many rooms, Welles’ a very theatrical one (cf. Carringer’s Kane book on Welles use of Toland’s deep focus mastery to transfer Mercury Theater acting and directing styles to film.)

  • Adam

    I realize I’m replying late on this, but I just have a few thoughts I’d like to add. Regarding Brando’s playing with the glove in ON THE WATERFRONT, I believe that simply dismissing it as “actorly” implies a failure to recognize the various and multiple functions it serves – functions that make the “choice” so emotionally affecting and dramatically effective. That is to say, as with many of Brando’s choices throughout his career, the genius is that it “works” on a number of different levels.

    First, on the level of character, his trying on the feminine glove serves to show Malloy’s sensitive side – his deeper yearnings to express his sensitivity which he has been forced to suppress in his rough-and-tumble waterfront environment. Second, on the level of pure symbolism, his playing with the glove represents his sexual desire for Edie: inserting his fingers into her glove, of course, symbolizes the desired sex act with Edie. Finally, on the level of narrative, Brando’s choice gives Eva Marie Saint a solid motivation for staying in the scene rather than just walking away; simply put, Edie can’t get her damn glove back from Malloy.

    Thus, rather than being seen as merely “actorly,” Brando’s choice should be recognized as extremely meaningful: it accomplishes multiple tasks even beyond its immediate emotional impact. Again, it’s important to realize that many of Brando’s choices throughout his career worked in similar fashion. Indeed, these complex yet seemingly spontaneous choices were largely what made him so special as an actor.

    Regarding the distinction between acting on stage and acting on screen, Ron Burrus, Stella Adler’s long-time protege and a terrific acting teacher in his own right, describes the key difference in this simple way (and I presume he is here echoing Adler herself): with theater acting, the focus is aural, whereas with film/TV acting, the focus is visual.

  • Kent Jones

    Adam, the distinction between “actorly” and “performative” means a great deal to some people, less to others, like myself. I agree with you about the glove.

  • Brian Dauth

    Adam: I do recognize the functions that Molloy playing with glove serves. In fact, it is the obvious and unsubtle ways in which these functions are evoked that cause me to experience the scene as actorly. The big heterosexual male palooka with the unacknowledged (but just below the surface) sensitive side is a common trope, and I do not find it moving or meaningful. But that does not mean I do not recognize either the methods employed to evokse it or the function such a trope is intended to serve. I also realize that for some spectators, the figure of the heterosexual male “tough on the outside, but soft on the inside” speaks to them in an intimate way that is foreclosed to me.

  • Adam

    Hi Brian – Brando’s choice with the glove may be unsubtle, as you say, for an astute viewer like yourself, but let’s keep in mind that it’s taking place behind and beneath the dialogue and movement, which renders it somewhat subtle to begin with. More importantly, although you may dismiss the “heterosexual male ‘tough on the outside, but soft on the inside'” theme as being limited, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s one of the key themes of the entire film, and it is the actor’s task to evoke his film’s themes, which Brando manages to do here magnificently. If you do not like this theme, then I believe your issue should be with Kazan, not with Brando. Brando, through this choice, is serving the film first and foremost, which I would think renders it the furthest thing from being actorly.

  • Adam

    Just to clarify some of my terminology, the “heterosexual male ‘tough on the outside, but soft on the inside,’” as Brian describes, paints a character type; this characterization develops into a theme in regard to Brando’s gradually growing comfort in expressing this sensitivity.

  • In the commentary and making-of for “Man Hunt” it’s presented as fact that Lang met with Joseph Goebbels and was offered the job of running UFA. In reality, there is a great deal of back and forth on the accuracy of this tale, told routinely by Lang. Goebbels’ records of the meeting apparently make no reference to anything other than the banning of “Das Testament.” The part about Lang fleeing Germany without money also appears false. This is a fine DVD otherwise, but you’d think they’d allow for that shadow of a doubt. I reviewed the “Man Hunt” DVD on DVD Spin Doctor.

  • Hannu Björkbacka

    I’ve bookmarked Mr. Kehr’s fine pages, but only now noticed the incredibly interesting comments, as well! Thanks a million, since I’m a big film fan and don’t get that many a chance to catch good opinions and friendly arguments about cinema in such an entertaining mode.
    Many thank to Dave Kehr for his fine article on Man Hunt – I think it was here that I noticed for the first time that the film was out on DVD. I have collected nearly all of Lang’s dvd’s but had never seen Man Hunt. Of course now I got it I reviewed it for my newspaper Keskipohjanmaa and a Finnish dvd-internet source. What a great film and worth the wait.
    I also like tremendously how the conversations float from one subject to another in an associative way. Of course from Lang to Losey, why not?
    I think nobody’s mentioned Lang’s most underrated film Moonfleet? It’s a gorgeous looking film and full of passion and tenderness and a touching story of a chil’d view towards adult concerns (like Losey’s The Go-Between!)
    Somehow Moonfleet also brings to mind Losey’s The Boy With Green Hair, which has been out on dvd for years here in Finland, but not officially in the U.S.? There seems to be a dvd also in France.
    What a great film it is, and a classic it will remain as long as there are children and wars.
    I’ve loved it since I saw it as a 10-year-old (in black and white!) and it hadn’t lost any of its magic when I’ve watched it as a grown-up. (Well, maybe the parts fantasy parts with the king… but these are amply compensated by the terrific dreamlike scenes of the war orphans). The film has expressionistic elements – which of course brings us back to Lang… Who was not famous for his portraits of children, but got a good performance out of Man Hunt’s fine young Roddy McDowall. Moonfleet’s child actor has been blamed a bit, but I think Lang used him so well, that his lack of skill doesn’t hurt the film.
    And of course Dean Stockwell did a great job in Green Hair – perhaps his best child portrait – along with Jacques Tourneur’s magnificent Stars In My Crown.

  • In case no one else makes the salutation, here’s a welcome to you, Hannu Björkbacka!