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Lewis Milestone, John Huston

This week in the New York Times, a glance at two fine films by directors whose work knew some wide variations in quality and commitment. From VCI comes at last a watchable copy of Milestone’s superb “A Walk in the Sun,” a film about men in combat made during the last months of World War II and governed by a reflective, mature sensibility quite at odds with the propaganda films to which wartime audiences had become accustomed; it looks forward to the postwar masterworks of Wyler (“The Best Years of Our Lives,” to which “A Walk in the Sun” could almost function as a prequel) and Ford (“They Were Expendable”). And Lionsgate has made good on its corporate promise to issue a do-over of their flawed release of John Huston’s “The Dead” last November. The missing reel has been restored (and the running time on the box has been accordingly updated from 72 to 82 minutes, so check the back before you buy). Those who purchased the abridged version can get a replacement copy by sending a scan of your receipt (you saved it, of course!) to

265 comments to Lewis Milestone, John Huston

  • Blake Lucas

    Kent, needless to say, mine crossed your last one.

  • arsaib

    Thanks for commenting, Blake. I couldn’t agree more. Another element that impressed me was the depiction of the rehabilitation process which Kennedy’s character went through in order to be able to function on his own (overall, his narrative certainly had the most in common with Harold Russell’s thread from BEST YEARS). While I was pleased to discover later on that BRIGHT VICTORY played at Cannes and Kennedy’s performance was recognized by the Academy and NYFCC, as far as I know it isn’t even out on VHS. Among Robson’s post-Val Lewton films that I have seen, I also admire CHAMPION and EDGE OF DOOM. I’d like to believe there’s more there.

  • dan

    in “conservative American life” i mean James Mason’s family life in BIGGER THAN LIFE. why we should strive to avoid it? We should only strive to do so if it is demanded of us as a pre existing term in society, and not because it is fundemntally wrong. If it is taken as the only ‘right way’ of living by the masses, then it is ‘false’, a reality forced upon us, other than achieved by us and our right for acting out of free will.

  • Joseph McBride

    I always liked Robson’s THE HARDER THEY FALL, a hard-hitting polemic against boxing written by Budd Schulberg. It’s Bogart’s last film and the one Belmondo pays hommage to in BREATHLESS. It’s on TCM at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Pacific time.

  • Joseph McBride

    I was giving my own evaluation of BEST YEARS vs. WONDERFUL LIFE. My favorite Capra film is MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. Capra and Wyler had a big falling-out during the blacklist period.

  • Blake Lucas

    Fair enough. Interesting for me, BEST YEARS is my favorite Wyler and WONDERFUL LIFE my favorite Capra (though MR. SMITH is likely second even if I was knocked out my Capra’s concise, brilliant handling of AMERICAN MADNESS on reviewing recently). Both are rich works–neither the least simplistic–and responsive to that important time, and they came out the same year.

    I want to add that Lewis Milestone has always been hard to get a fix on for me, though I’ve seen a number of war movies he’s made and he always seemed to do with them care and feeling. I do remember A WALK IN THE SUN with an especially positive feeling from seeing it on TV when I was pretty young, but have resisted the poor copies since I’ve been older so can’t say I recall it in any kind of detail. Dave’s comments were enticing to me and made me keen to see this new DVD that’s out.

  • I first saw IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE! not in the holidays but earlier and the film made me depressed, especially the finale. I think the main reason the film didn’t do well was that the style of the film was never one dimensional. It covers a great deal of history through the perspective of a passive bystander character(not unlike The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) and it alternates romantic comedy with social drama and satire and finally dives headfirst into a film noir landscape. That kind of mixture of tones makes little sense selling as a family film or a holiday cheer.

  • Nicolas Saada

    “Nicolas, I’m not sure why “very few people know BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES” in France. Can fifty year-old disputes between Bazin and the Cahiers “young Turks” have such an enduring influence?”
    They do JP ! They do. Look at what’s been going on with british film here ! A friend of mine raved recently about the documentaries by Grierson that were shown at le Cinematheque last yer. To me, Grierson was old news, as I had discovered his films through a class by Philippe Pilard at university. Everytime I mentioned his name, it was “oh, he’s a british director”…
    Of course you and Bertrand reahabilitated Wyler, but he’s not known at all in France. I amgoing to try to put together a screening of DODSWORTH to friends and film people here.

  • The ending of It’s A Wonderful Life! is disquieting, for me, because it’s so happy and miraculous. It is the love and acceptance accumulated over several years returned in one moment to George and it’s really overwhelming and by its nature transient. And for all the attempt at reconciliation, George is still alone because nobody in that room could understand the level of despair he went through that day.

  • craig

    Brad, my House of Mirth DVD was purchased at a supermarket. It is the standard region one Tristar release. The box says 140 minutes but the film runs 135 minutes. I searched on the web and found other listings of 135 for the film. If anyone owns a House of Mirth region one DVD I would appreciate it if you would pop it in the machine and check the running time.

  • alex hicks

    Joseph McBride,

    Hope it’s not too big a strtch to use the few references above to IT’s WONDERFUL LIFE to ask an historical questtion about it.

    Any truth you know of to the rumor I recall from like December, 1971, that Wisconsin-Madison film folk (e.g., Lightrap, WFS, Green Lantern) had a role in in getting IT’s WONDERFUL LIFE showing again starting around 1970?

  • A good friend of mine is utterly fascinated by IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and made a persuasive case for it as a horror film. Wish I could find his notes.

    In light of recent comments re that film and BEST YEARS, I think we’d be remiss not to observe what Leo McCarey was doing during these postwar years, particularly with GOOD SAM and MY SON JOHN. Talk about disquieting currents with studio veneer!

  • Barry Putterman

    Thanks for the clarification Dan. Rest assured that if the female characters in Judd Apatow movies are trying to enlighten me to live like James Mason in BIGGER THAN LIFE, I will use my free will and avoid them

  • Terrific piece, Arthur! Good, close reading. Also, while the parallels between GOOD SAM and EYES WIDE SHUT are strikingly appropriate, you placed just the right limit on the relationship between the two films.

  • Brian Dauth

    One of the great “disquieting currents with studio veneer” of the post-WWII years is NO WAY OUT — I can think of few (if any) films prior to its release where black characters were given both narrative autonomy in terms of their actions and narrative equality with regard to the action of the film’s white characters. No wonder the film had to be pulled quickly from distribution.

    Capra: I tend to like Capra films up to and including IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. After that, I like MEET JOHN DOE, WONDERFUL LIFE, and (for some odd reason) ARSENIC AND OLD LACE and HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT (first Capra I ever saw in grade school).

    DEEDS, HORIZON, YCTIWY, and SMITH seems bloated to me as if public and industry acknowledgement had calicified Capra’s talents and he began to make monuments instead of films. When he gets shaken up again after SMITH, he produces DOE which feels like he is bringing back the ragged energy of his earlier films. For me, Capra unsure of himself is more fun than Capra the great artist.

  • Junko Yasutani

    There is similarity between IKIRU and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the theme is similar, but IKIRU is not supernatural. Beginning image is similar: X-ray of Watanabe’s stomach looks like image of galaxy where angels are talking. There is Japanese idea that stomach is seat of spirit, that is why martial arts is emphasising hara (Japanese word for stomach when having spiritual meaning.) Watanabe and Baily are having meaningless life leading to death by cancer or suicide, but something happens to change them, from inside for Watanabe and coming from outside for Baily. Both movies is also having flashback structure. Contrast of movies is showing different attitude from Japanese and American view of life. Maybe this is too simple comparison, but it is interesting to me.

  • It’s just that I felt Mr. Rosenbaum’s feelings towards Kubrick’s film as a holiday film applied to GOOD SAM as well, in so far as the unmooring and destabilizing effect in regards to people during the holiday season. It applies also to the Capra film.

    The idea for my small blog is to see if I can write seriously about film. The main reason I cited that article and that quote was that it was a circulation among cinephiles and film buffs on underrated Christmas films(including Dave Kehr and Kent Jones over here) and not one person cited Good Sam which takes place during the holidays and where the department store boss beams in delight at the chiming of cash registers that Christmas brings about this time of the year and where the hero spends Christmas getting drunk in a bar. On one hand I felt miffed because Good Sam is my favourite Christmas film on the other hand, I was glad because it meant I could claim topical monopoly in talking about the film this year. I think it’s one of his best films, Cooper is great as that role and Ann Sheridan(who Hawks once dismissed to Bogdanovich by asking supercilously to name one great film she appeared in) is really great in that role.

  • skelly

    Craig wrote: “Brad, my House of Mirth DVD was purchased at a supermarket. It is the standard region one Tristar release. The box says 140 minutes but the film runs 135 minutes. I searched on the web and found other listings of 135 for the film. If anyone owns a House of Mirth region one DVD I would appreciate it if you would pop it in the machine and check the running time.”

    Craig – I have a region one release (Sony Pictures Classics) and the back of the case says approx. 140 minutes. When played my players says 134 minutes 53 seconds.

  • skelly

    Speaking of running times – is the 128 minute version of GOOD SAM available/still exist? I’ve only seen the 114 minute version on VHS.

  • The idea of It’s A Wonderful Life is a common idea in the immediate post-war landscape – the problem of being compassionate and trying to help people in an urban compartmentalized society. Rossellini’s films touched on that, especially Europa ’51 and Kurosawa’s film is another example, although there it’s not compassion so much as creating a personal identity with which he can live(and die) with. The flashback structure is different though. There’s nothing quite like the two part drama of Ikiru where the second half essentially splinters the story into bits of exchanges after the main character died. It goes further than Rashomon did in touching on human subjective interpretations. It’s also recalls the projection room scene in Citizen Kane only here it’s a funeral wake and it’s by characters who knew him(albeit superficially).

    Chris Fujiwara’s article also talks about it.
    The title gives it away.

  • Don’t know anything about the production history of GOOD SAM. My copy was acquired from a bootleg of the VHS given to me by a friend. Don’t know when it’ll come on a good edition since it’s so little known.

  • Nicolas and Jean-Pierre, what is Bazin’s status in France today? He after all was talking up Wyler. When I studied film history/theory in Stockholm in the mid-90s, Wyler was only mentioned as someone praised by Bazin, not as a filmmaker on his own terms.

    Myself, I’ve always been a big fan. Unfortunately I haven’t seen the early films, but most everything from THESE THREE and onwards, and almost everything he did from 1936 to at least 1953 is of a very high quality. He’s one of the best “mirror directors” (the powder-room scene in BEST YEARS…), his long held, deep-focus shots are often breathtaking, and the acting is hardly ever less than brilliant. I know that he gave actors a hard time on set, and his way of filming can be demanding, both for the actors and the viewer (and the cinematographer), but what results he got! I think it’s bold of him to have these long takes with people talking, arguing with each other, but there are no cuts, so we only see the face of one, and the back of the other, or several if it’s a group of people. There was a lot of intelligence and feeling in Wyler’s way of making films, and which continues to amaze me. My favourites are THESE THREE, DODSWORTH, THE LETTER, BEST YEARS, THE HEIRESS, and ROMAN HOLIDAY.

    After I had published a long article about Wyler some years ago, full of praise, my mother complained that she never heard about him and wanted to see something he had done. I lent her THE BEST YEARS, which she watched with my father, and they barely moved for the 170 minutes it was on. They were amazed by the story, the acting and the photography and my mother couldn’t believe “they made films like that so long ago”.

    Not a big fan of Capra, but AMERICAN MADNESS is by far my favourite. It’s excellent, and Walter Huston magnificent. It’s also an informative film about the banking system. The last part of MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON is also very good. But the best thing about Capra is Jean Arthur. (By the way, is there any other director who alludes to Lincoln as often as Capra?)

    John Berry has been mentioned, it’d like to recommend HE RAN ALL THE WAY, with John Garfield. That’s a really good film!

  • Kent Jones

    Fredrik, you might want to take a look at THE LITTLE FOXES – good mirror scene in that one two. His silents are nothing to sneeze at.

    Arthur S., congratulations on the topical monopolizing of GOOD SAM.

  • Blake Lucas

    Yet, in fact, as we walked in to see Sam Wood’s THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES one night, my colleague Dan Sallitt remarked hopefully “Jean Arthur has peaked many a director’s career.”

    And it’s true.

  • Blake Lucas

    Meaning of course that it’s kind of true–she is always an asset.

    Although WONDERFUL LIFE is my favorite Capra and MR. SMITH probably second, I’m kind of with Brian about him generally. His “great director” films after IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT are an uneven group (and that includes the other two with Arthur, wonderful though she is), while the ones before are generally brilliant and I mostly prefer them, AMERICAN MADNESS being perhaps the best of all of them, but the early Stanwyck ones are all good, LADY FOR A DAY, THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN, DIRIGIBLE for that matter (still haven’t seen its two Jack Holt predecessors). What’s even more interesting is how after peaking with WONDERFUL LIFE, he seems to complete falter–is there anything he made after that is more than lightly likeable at best–neither of the remakes is as good as the original, while with McCarey, AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER can stand on its own even alongside so wonderful a movie as LOVE AFFAIR.

    By the way, speaking of McCarey, MY SON JOHN, much discussed here awhile back, is on TCM in January. I’m not sure of the exact time but it’s late in the month.

  • Kent, I remember two scenes in particular, first a scene in the beginning when a man is polishing the sign with the name of the bank, in which we see the reflection of a horse and carriage on which is, I think, Teresa Wright. The second is the morning shave scene, with father and son. The son is played by Dan Dureya, but I’ve forgotten who played the father…

    I want to see all of his films, especially anxious to see COUNSELLOR-AT-LAW and THE GOOD FAIRY.

    Blake, the best thing about George Stevens is Jean Arthur (together with McCrea and Coburn) in THE MORE THE MERRIER. I’ve seen THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN once, a long time ago and I liked it. Was it just my imagination or does it have some jumpcuts towards the end?

  • @Frederik – not sure if this is a minority opinion or not, but for me, COUNSELLOR-AT-LAW is Wyler’s best film; I also like THE GOOD FAIRY, and the often-esteemed DODSWORTH; TOM BROWN OF CULVER is a lesser achievement but it’s fun; A HOUSE DIVIDED is a pretty good film with an incendiary Walter Huston performance

    @ Arthur S. – One of the “prime directives” of my 2010 list project will be to highlight films like GOOD SAM. One of the downsides of our quasi-auteurist culture is that, apart from Sarris’s AMERICAN CINEMA, much of the recognition of films like GOOD SAM is transmitted via oral history and – despite the fact that most of the handful of people who’ve seen GOOD SAM agree that it’s a masterpiece, it remains sidelined.

  • Barry Putterman

    A few random thoughts about the discussion:

    John Berry, FROM THIS DAY FORWARD is very good, but also TENSION, particularly the Barry Sullivan character. The blacklist seems to have totally sidetracked his career though. Unlike many others in similar positions, I can’t think of anything that he made post blacklist that is in any way memorable.

    Possibly parallel to how World War II affected Capra’s career. He might as well have been one of those characters in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. Still, I have to agree with Brian, when I found out that he made HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT my heart cockles rose to the level of white heat.

    I believe that there is some kind of rights problem regarding GOOD SAM. Maybe somebody knows details on that. It used to turn up on TV during the 60s often enough. But not lately, you know.

    Wyler before Goldwyn was at Universal and I love everything about their whole earie studio style in which even something like IMITATION OF LIFE seems to be taking place in some kind of dour pipe dream. Many of these films are hard to come by these days but A HOUSE DIVIDED is worth tracking down, if it is indeed trackable.

    One great film with Ann Sheridan in it? How about THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT?

  • dm494

    Fredrik, I think Capra uses some very fast time-lapse dissolves at the end of BITTER TEA, when Yen prepares to commit suicide. (The dissolves are reminiscent of AGE OF INNOCENCE-CASINO-era Scorsese.) At any rate, of the Capras I’ve seen, BITTER TEA is by far the most impressive.

  • DM494 (if that is in fact your name), thanks for the feedback!

    Barry, I second your nomination. And I of course nominate Hawks’ I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE, no surprises there. And ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES is great too. I wish I had seen THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. Oh, speaking of Hawks and Sheridan, did Hawks have a hand in directing INDIANAPOLIS SPEEDWAY?

  • Blake Lucas

    Sirk’s TAKE ME TO TOWN with Ann Sheridan is also an absolute delight. Hawks’ comment about her is strange given that WAR BRIDE is so good and was in fact of one of his films he himself named as a favorite on at least one occasion.

  • Barry Putterman

    Fredrik, INDIANAPOLIS SPEEDWAY is Warners’ lower rung remake of THE CROWD ROARS. It was common practice to remake “A” movie plots with lesser named stars and sometimes different settings in the studio system years. I don’t think that Hawks could have been forced to put a hand to INDIANAPOLIS SPEEDWAY, even with gloves on.

  • nicolas saada

    PLATINUM BLONDE is also a beautiful early Capra. YEN is one of my favorite films of all time. AMERICAN MADNESS has strange echoes with the recent recession, and a bank robbery scene which is as good as any hard boiled thirties films. BITTER TEA was available at some point on dvd in England. I do not understand why, for instance, you can find dvd’s of BITTER TEA HE RAN ALL THE WAY or TIGHT SPOT in England, HUMAN DESIRE in Japan, but none of the four in the States ! We are unlucky in france too : you can’t find a dvd of CHILDREN OF PARADISE, UN CONDAMNE A MORT S’EST ECHAPPE or LE CAROSSE D’OR…
    We have a Gordon Doulglas series starting in Cinematheque on january 6th.

  • Barry, they’re not in the same league with “Tension” or “He Ran All the Way,” but John Berry’s two Eddie Constantine films from the 50s, “Ca va barder” and “Je suis un sentimental,” are highly entertaining, and “Tamango,” with Dorothy Dandridge, is something to see. There’s another Constantine, “A tout casser,” from 1968 that I’ve always been curious about, not least because it was Johnny Hallyday’s first acting role (he is wonderfully monolithic in Johnny To’s “Vengeance,” which has just made it to the Chinatown video stores). I met Berry once at Bertrand Tavernier’s apartment in Paris — a little man in a black leather jacket, still as angry about the blacklist as if it had happened three weeks earlier, as were so many of the people marked by that experience.

  • Joseph McBride

    Alex, you are right that one of our thirty-five film societies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was pushing IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE in the early 1970s. I’m not sure which one, but I seem to recall that it may have been the late Tim Onosko’s. I think the seemingly simultaneous rush to canonize the film came largely because of its TV screenings (since it was then a PD film) and because of something in the Zeitgeist, but campus film societies also played their part.

  • Johan Andreasson

    “For me, Capra unsure of himself is more fun than Capra the great artist.”

    Brian, I like all of the Capra films I’ve seen up to and including IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but I think I get what you mean. Few directors better portray uncertainty and anxiety than Capra. To refer to the still ongoing discussion about Marxism in the earlier thread, to me no other director more vividly make me feel what it was like living in a time when democracy was hanging by a thread, and to many people it seemed like they had to choose between fascism and communism.

  • Johan Andreasson

    “(By the way, is there any other director who alludes to Lincoln as often as Capra?)”

    Fredrik, I think Ford can match him.

  • jbryant

    The box of my Republic VHS of GOOD SAM says 116 minutes, for what that’s worth.

    I’m a huge Capra fan (though I still haven’t seen much of his post-40s output). I recently caught RAIN OR SHINE (1930) on TCM, and it seems to be the least of his great pre-Code period. The chief attraction is the great Joe Walker’s typically fine B&W cinematography, with memorable shots of the circus setting, including a couple of ambitious tracking moves. The story is mostly a bust — typical behind-the-scenes circus stuff, a half-hearted romantic triangle — and it’s frequently sidelined for lengthy vaudeville-like routines, few of which have held up well. It’s an adaptation of a stage musical; Capra cut the songs but retained the show’s star, an incredibly talented performer named Joe Cook. Cook doesn’t work particularly well as a movie star: he’s slightly better looking than Joe E. Brown, but the camera doesn’t exactly love him. But he’s quite good at delivering the slick patter and sleight-of-hand of a born con man, and he’s nothing short of astonishing as an acrobat and juggler. Oddly, Capra keeps that light under a bushel until the film’s last 15 minutes or so, when Cook and a few others have to take over the show after the other performers go on strike. The climax is rousing, with a riot, a fire and a daring rescue. Capra puts these across in smashing fashion, but there’s really nothing for him to get his teeth into thematically, so it’s hardly surprising that this is a mere footnote in his career.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Nicolas, if you’re interested I wrote a piece on Gordon Douglas for POSITIF to coincide with the Cinematheque retro. I guess it’s in the January issue.

    Although I agree with those who deplore Capra’s decline after WONDERFUL LIFE, I have a rather fond memory of A HOLE IN THE HEAD (I haven’t seen it in a long time though). I thought the loser portrayed by Sinatra was quite moving and I remember a scene with him and Keenan Wynn at the races that is quite devastating. Great Song underneath the credits too: “All My Tomorrows” (semi-off topic: Shirley Horn’s version of the song in her album “You Won’t Forget Me” is sublime; Kent, have I said that before?)

  • Barry, OK, I get it. THE CROWD ROARS is the only film by Hawks I don’t like of those I’ve seen. But that was long ago. Should probably watch it again.

    Johan, yes perhaps. (But probably not if we divide the number of allusions with the number of films they each made!)

    Jaime, my favourite part of DODSWORTH is in the end, when Walter Huston comes to the boat to speak with Ruth Chatterton, and she thinks he’s come to stay with her, but he came to say he wouldn’t stay with her, and when she realises that he’s left she screams “He’s gone ashore!”

    Kent, as you’ve probably seen almost all of Wyler’s films, would you agree with Jaime that COUNSELLOR-AT-WAR is among Wyler’s very best? If two of you think so, I suppose I must order it, perhaps even tonight! (I must say that the titles of the earliest Wyler films have a certain poetic appeal. RIDIN’ FOR LOVE…)

  • dan

    Hi, maybe someone could help me with something…
    I’m re-reading an old short story by Mark Hlasko called THE NOOSE, later adapted to the screen as a very fine film by Wojciech Has. in one of the dialouges, the hero mentions a film he liked with James Mason, translated literaly as “THE UNWANTED CAN LEAVE”. It must be a case of bad translation, as i can’t recall any film with that title featuring James Mason. The story was published in 1956, so the film must have been made before that year. Anyone has an idea of what is the film in question?

  • Michael Dempsey

    Dan, perhaps the film you’re looking for is “The Man Between”, which was released in 1953. Carol Reed directed, from a screenplay credited to Harry Kurnitz, based on a story by Walter Ebert.

    Mason portrays Ivo Kern, a black marketeer trapped in cold war intrigues on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

    In any case, my memory of a single long-ago screening tells me that this is a much undervalued film, unfortunately overshadowed by its famous stablemate, “The Third Man,” whose inky, foreboding atmosphere it shares, though in a lower key. It would be great to see it re-surface on DVD.

  • Joseph McBride

    I saw RAIN OR SHINE in 35mm at Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato last summer (as part of their series of restored early-Capra films, which will be partially repeated at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive in January and February) and saw it again in the wee hours of last night on TCM. It’s actually a cockeyed masterpiece, with similarities to Samuel Beckett and a great sense of surreal visual and comic invention. Joe Cook is indeed amazing; when he does his acrobatics and juggling as a one-man show to save the beleaguered little circus, his feats, done without camera trickery, are almost miraculous. I disagree about the camera disliking him — he’s charming and riveting to watch throughout, and one of Capra’s lovable ordinary-guy heroes (“I didn’t think he was common,” Capra said of the so-called common man, “I thought he was a hell of a guy”). You have to get with the vaudevillian nature of the story, and the absurdist dialogue, but that’s where the Beckett resemblances as well as much of the fun come in (Cook is often seen looking like a Beckett tramp in a derby hat), as well as how the story is told about a circus troupe teetering on the edge of the abyss. It’s a one-of-a-kind movie.

    It works as a metaphor for Depression America (it was made in 1930), with Cook’s Smiley as a proto-FDR figure rallying his people to overcome disaster. The African American troupe member Nero (played by the great Clarence Muse) plays “Happy Days Are Here Again” on his calliope at key moments, including the ending (it would become the theme song of the New Deal). The opening titles are played over “Singin’ in the Rain,” and Nero also plays “Keep Your Sunny Side Up!” Capra was no New Dealer, and the film demonizes a labor agitator (the ringmaster, played by Al Roscoe) who stirs up unrest (one of his henchmen is dressed in a Russian costume), with the film taking the side of small business (Raymond Durgnat noted that Capra’s films are “propaganda for a moderate, concerned, Republican point of view”), but the result is the riot and fire, one of Capra’s best sequences showing the fickleness of the American crowd.

    The film is explictly about show business as a metaphor for life, and the threadbare but plucky circus could be seen as Capra’s take on Columbia Pictures, with himself as Smiley (and as a nod to his underappreciated boss Harry Cohn). Directing crowd unrest was one of Capra’s great skills (cf. AMERICAN MADNESS, THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN, MEET JOHN DOE).

    The circus is run by a strong Capraesque woman (Joan Peers), like the tent show in his recently rediscovered silent THE MATINEE IDOL, whose sign proclaims that they will put on their shows “RAIN OR SHINE” (TCM showed that film before RAIN OF SHINE last night). Joe Walker (and sound man Ed Bernds) did sensational work in RAIN OF SHINE, which has Walker’s characteristic lustrous sheen as well as some semidocumentary feeling. The script is by Jo Swerling and Dorothy Howell from the musical play by James Gleason and Maurice Marks.

  • Mike Grost

    A starter list of common subjects in Gordon Douglas:

    Highly educated, older British men who help the hero (film producer: The Falcon in Hollywood, Vitamin Flintheart: Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, scientist Gwenn: Them!)

    Strong working women (Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, woman scientist: Them!)

    Government workers coerced into unpleasant roles by their suave superiors (cops try to coerce the Falcon: The Falcon in Hollywood, undercover hero: I Was a Communist for the FBI, Fess Parker’s pilot: Them!)

    Militarized or quasi-militarized worlds, filled with men in uniform (San Quentin, Them!)

    Extreme, loud pinstripe suits (Dick Tracy: Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, Tierney: San Quentin)
    Leather jackets (friend’s bomber jacket: San Quentin, LAPD cop James Whitmore: Them!)

    Unusual California settings, shot on location (RKO Studios as a location, LA Coliseum: The Falcon in Hollywood, LA storm sewers: Them!)
    Underground chambers (basement prop room: The Falcon in Hollywood, secret room under Flora’s office: Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, LA storm sewers, ant nest: Them!)

    Strange changes of scale, affecting everyday objects (model airplane at film studio carried under arm: The Falcon in Hollywood, giant ants: Them!)

    Films which do not fit into standard genres, or which combine genres (a whodunit-like film without mystery: Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, science fiction / semi-documentary hybrid: Them!)

  • On the subject of Capra I would like to put in a good word for State of the Union, which makes an interesting companion piece to Mr. Smith … as a variation on the idea of the politician being a tool special interests who essentially muzzle him. Union has the added dimension of sexual intrigue, in which Grant Matthews is essentially seduced politically and sexually into his new role by Kay Thorndyke. The triumph of the marriage over infidelity at the end of the movie mirrors the triumph of the authentic man over the creature of the special interests. This, also, is a dark film, but as Robin Wood, Molly Haskell, and others have pointed out, the happy ending of the typical melodrama has a hard time erasing the disturbing view of society shown in the previous 80 minutes.

    Mr. McBride’s biography of Capra is especially good on this more or less neglected film, both how it fits into Capra’s work, and its background as well as the crisis Capra underwent around the time of its production.

    Sex as a fuel of politics hit the screen again a year later in All the King’s Men, though, being based on a novel, the book may have had an earlier influence in this regard on the play version of State of the Union. Later, The Candidate toyed with some of the same issues, such as sexual attraction kept out of sight, modifying one’s views in order to get elected, coping with powerful unions, and so forth, as if State of the Union and All the King’s Men hadn’t existed. In case anyone still doesn’t know this, State of the Union is also the film where Ronald Reagan reputedly got the “I paid for this microphone” moment during the New Hampshire primary in 1980.

  • dan

    Michael – I thought about the possibility of THE MAN BETWEEN, but do you really think someone could have traslated it so poorly to THE UNWANTED CAN LEAVE? well, it does make some kind of crazy sense if you take that film’s final reel into consideration… thanks Michael, it is indeed an undervalued Reed, but unfourtunatley not the only one. i have just as much (if not more) love for FALLEN IDOLE and OUTCASTS OF THE ISLAND, as i have for THE THIRD MAN.

  • Kent Jones

    Fredrik, it’s pretty good, but I can assure you that Jaime’s is a minority opinion. I would try to see HELL’S HEROES, his version of THREE GODFATHERS. I would strenuously avoid FRIENDLY PERSUASION.

    Dave, isn’t GOOD SAM bundled together with all those other Republic titles that were restored in the 90s? Same problem with MOONRISE, I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU, and so on. I forget the chain of ownership there.

    Jaime, I like the film very much, it’s provocative and it has an unusual point of view, but I don’t think it’s a masterpiece – not quite anyway. In very slight contrast to all the McCarey worship, I’ve come to think that a certain laboriousness crept into his work somewhere in the 40s.

    Dave, you were on the NYFF committee when we showed BOESMAN AND LENA, no? That was pretty good. I always heard good things about A CAPTIVE IN THE LAND, and I remember liking CLAUDINE. In any event, John Berry was indeed a lovely man.

    Jean-Pierre, STATE OF THE UNION is post-1946, and that’s not bad. Or is it? More importantly, have you heard Shirley Horn do “Lonely Town” with Quartet West and an orchestra? It’s on THE ART OF THE SONG.

  • RAIN OR SHINE has some fine traveling shots, that were apparently filmed silent, with sound added later. One shows nice young man Bart entering the circus, during rehearsals. He is filmed from the rear, as he walks forward, with the circus in front of him, in spectacular long shot. This forward movement, sometimes twisting to left or right along the curves of the circus and its rings, is a splendid traveling shot. It conveys much of the excitement of the circus. Since Bart is filmed from behind, he can talk and say hi to people in the circus without any need to synchronize his voice to his lips. The people speaking to him are often just unidentified voices coming out of the crowd. This made it easy to add these voices later, after the scene was shot.

    Later in the film, Joe Cook also enters the circus during a similar traveling shot. It is not as elaborate, but it is still good.

    Capra like entrances. His characters weave their way through a country club dining room in one graceful shot, which is repeated from the same angle, framed by palm trees, when the characters leave.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Mike Grost –
    Wish I had seen your list before seeing the 68th of 69 Gordon Douglas films this AM (Gold of the Seven Saints; out on the WB archive collection – now only have Skullduggery left to catch up with someday).

    Don’t see where this late effort fits into your list (Roger Moore was the co-lead with Clint Walker, but he played an Irish rogue, and was roughly the same age). It was largely filmed in Moab, Utah (outdoor aspect, not one as commonly used for Western locations; a bit also at the oft-used Red Rocks State Park north of LA). The objects shot out of scale I’d have to think about…