Friday, August 12, 2005

Movies In Your Future

Upcoming movies on TCM (all time Central):

13 Saturday
1:00 PM Cimarron (1960) A pioneer couple plays a major role in the settling of Oklahoma. Glenn Ford, Maria Schell, Anne Baxter. D: Anthony Mann.

Edna Ferber is a name that comes up with more movies than you'd expect for someone whose work I think few people have read anymore.

I know nothing of Ferber's work except when it comes up in conjunction with a movie made from one of her novels. I probably first read her name in conjunction with Show Boat, published in 1926 (Show Boat for what it did for musical theatre deserves its own discussion at a later time), but Ferber won the Pulitzer Prize in 1925 for So Big, which was made into a movie three times. In 1952, she Giant the novel Giant from which the classic James Dean movie was based. From what I gather, "sprawling" and "generational" are often used to describe her novels. (For the stage, she wrote "The Royal Family" (1927), "Dinner at Eight" (1932), and "Stage Door" (1936) all of which were made into movies.)

Ferber's novel Cimarron was published in 1929. It is a Western and I can attest that, at least, the two film versions based on that work are sprawling and generational. The story moves from the opening of the Oklahoma territory in 1889 to its admission as a state in 1907. During those years we follow Yancey Cravat, one of those people who yearn for what is over the hill, from his staking his claim during the land rush to reconciliation with his family. The first version, released in 1931, was awarded the Oscar for Best Picture. The second version, airing today, is better just because there had been almost thirty years of advancement in moviemaking and audience expectiations, but on a continuum of movies neither, in my opinion, are that good.

However, it is rare that two versions of the same story are airing this close together and by watching both, I think you'll appreciate how far movies had developed. Glenn Ford is actually capable of subtilty, especially when compared to Richard Dix, while Anthony Mann, whose Winchester '73 may be considered the beginning of the maturation of the Western, shows an appreciation for the subject matter that Wesley Ruggles, director of the first doesn't really have. In the end, though, this version of Cimarron, while better constructed than the first, is best viewed on a lazy weekend afternoon.

16 Tuesday
11:00 AM The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) A man remains young and handsome while his portrait shows the ravages of age and sin. Hurd Hatfield, Angela Lansbury, Donna Reed. D: Albert Lewin.

Then there are movies that I like that I really can't explain why. This is one of those movies. It is based on the Oscar Wilde story of the same name and Wilde gets a shout out in the movie when his trial is mentioned. Personally, I've always seen Lord Wotton, the character played by George Sanders, as standing in for Wilde, but that is just me.

Dorian Gray could be considered a psychological horror movie or a retelling of the Faust legend without the overt appearace of Mephistopheles, it depends on what you see when you watch the film. Is there anyone who doesn't know the basics of Dorian Gray's plot? This is one of those movies that draws you in as you find yourself hating and pitying Dorian; you hope for some kind of happy resolution. You start watching it and before you know it an hour has passed. It also makes some of the best use of color ever to create a shock for the audience.

Beyond the story itself, you get to see George Sanders playing another cad, always enjoyable. Dorian Gray was also Angela Lansbury's third movie and her performance would result in her second Oscar nomination. Hurd Hatfield, in his second film, plays Dorian Gray and I get the feeling he spent the rest of his career trying to either find a role as good again or escape the typecasting of this role. Of course, by 1966, it all became moot when Hatfield appeared on The Wild, Wild West in the episode "The Night of the Man-Eating House." His character, in the custody of James West and Artemus Gordon, escapes into a house where his youth is restored.

18 Thursday
5:00 AM Cimarron (1931) A husband and wife fight to survive in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory. Richard Dix, Irene Dunne, Edna May Oliver. D: Wesley Ruggles.

This is one of those movies where the parts are greater than the whole. The scene of the Oklahoma land rush is exciting and may be the reason that the movie did win the Best Picture Oscar. Also good is Edna May Oliver playing the sort of tough character role she is best known; I've looked for a good picture, but could not find one, though you would know her if you saw her. She was called "horse faced," her face was long, and her voice had a kind of quiver to it that I associate with middle-aged New England school marms.

Oliver is an actress that I've learned to appreciate over the years; her role in the 1935 David Copperfield is particularly well played and is where I began watching her in movies differently. However, I admit that for many years her voice and face scared me, probably because those were the attributes that Friz Freleng chose to accentuate in The Hardship of Miles Standish, a 1940 Warner Bros. cartoon that found the caricature of the actress cast in the role of Priscilla.

In the lead role, Richard Dix does not come off as well, though, in fairness, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role. Dix also started on the stage, but unlike Oliver didn't appear to know how to tone down his acting. In Cimarron it often feels like he is striking a pose and that he is projecting to balcony in movement, if not voice. I'm not saying that Dix couldn't act, but may have had a problem knowing how to control a performance unless given proper direction. Compare Glenn Ford's work in the second version to Dix and I think you'll see what I mean.

21 Sunday
1:15 AM Shenandoah (1965) A Virginia farmer fights to keep his family together during the Civil War. James Stewart, Rosemary Forsyth, Doug McClure. D: Andrew V. McLaglen.

This movie at this time is particularly worth watching. The synopsis provided describes the movie at its most basic, but the reason Charlie Anderson (James Stewart) is fighting to keep his family together is that he believes the Civil War is not his war. At one point Anderson says to his wife,
"There's nothing much I can tell you about this war. It's like all wars, I suppose. The undertakers are winning it. Politicians talk a lot about the glory of it. The soldiers, they just want to go home."
(In the atmosphere today, could as politically conservative an actor as Stewart, who retired from the U.S. Air Forces Reserves as a Brigadier General, his final mission a bombing run over North Vietnam, even dare to say those words?)

His sons get involved, though, and when one is captured by Union soldiers believing him to be in the service of the Confederacy, Anderson finds himself involved as he goes to rescue the boy. Like most of James Stewart's movies after World War II, there are shades of gray in the beliefs of the characters and is not as absolute as John Wayne's The Green Berets, for instance. Unpopular wars are not new to the United States or this century and often the bravest people are those who see a confrontation for what it is and refuse to get involved.