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Tag Archives: Charles Bickford

Four Faces West (1948)

220px-Four_Faces_West_FilmPosterI’m becoming a fan of Joel McCrea. I didn’t realize it until I looked at how many of his movies I like: Sullivan’s TravelsThe Palm Beach StoryColorado TerritoryThe Most Dangerous GameThe More the MerriorStars in My Crown. And along with Gary Cooper and James Stewart, he has really connected me with westerns. But Four Faces West is a somewhat unusual western. As has been pointed out by others, no guns are fired, though guns are certainly pointed. No punches are thrown. There aren’t even any villains, really. Yet it’s far from a dull film.

While the town of Santa Maria, New Mexico welcomes the arrival of the famous Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford) as their marshal, a mysterious man (Joel McCrea) calmly sticks up the bank. Garrett makes a speech, and the man takes $2,000 (and not a penny more) and leaves an IOU signed Jefferson Davis. He then makes good his escape while Garrett and a posse set out after him.

The banker offers $3,000 dollars for the capture of the bank robber, dead or alive, which prompts droves of men to search for him with zeal and little regard for his life, while the unruffled Garrett just wants to do his job and find him before anyone can shoot him. But the bank robber, named Ross McEwan, gets on a train and meets nurse Fay Hollister (Frances Dee – who was also Joe McCrea’s wife), who helps him with a snake bite. He also runs into Monte Marquez (Joseph Calleia), who knows Ross got on the train around the place where the robber went missing and for a while neither Ross nor the audience knows what Monte’s intentions are, though it’s clear Monte realizes that Ross is the bank robber.

But the hunt is on and Ross can’t stay put for long, though he and Fay fall in love. He wants to pay back what he stole (he was perfectly serious about the IOU) because he’s already sent the money to his father for an unspecified loan. Fay realizes that he’s a good man (and she puts two-and-two together to realize who he really is) and wants him to turn himself in. As she tells him, if he keeps running eventually he really will turn into the criminal everyone says he is. He’ll have to kill, steal or be killed and he’ll never be the same man again (her prognosis sounds like the eventual end of Paul Muni in I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang).

Four Faces West was made one year before Colorado Territory, but while Colorado Territory contains a relatively decent train robber who would like to start a new life and finds love unexpectedly, the story is building inevitably to the tragic shootout at the end. In Four Faces, we seem to be building to a shootout, but somehow it never materializes. Instead, the confrontation largely happens in a sickroom, with hardly any words spoken. It’s an unexpected denouement.

0040370Because while Ross is trying to get away from Garrett and avoid several potential shootouts, he comes across a Mexican family dying from diphtheria and instead of making off with their horse and escaping, he decides to stay and nurse the family, even becoming somewhat ill himself. And it is in this house of sickness that we finally have all four characters – Fay, Monte, Garrett, and Ross – in the same place. And still no overt confrontation happens! Everyone knows exactly what is going on, but nobody says anything. Will Garrett arrest Ross? Will Ross turn himself in as Fay wants him to? Will he escape, since Monte wants to help him? Will we finally have a confrontation between Garrett and Ross?

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It is humane and compassionate with almost a chivalrous tone. Bullets are used to heal (Ross removes the sulfur from his bullets to use as medicine for the sick family) and the four main characters are all good. Joel McCrea’s Ross is like a knight of old, chivalrously going to the aid of others (though it’s hard to imagine Lancelot nursing sick people…at least in Thomas Mallory’s version of the knights) and he only “borrows” money because he’s desperate. I also enjoyed Charles Bickford as Pat Garrett – who is so cool he isn’t even disturbed by the fact that the robbery occurred right under his nose. He has no ego, just does his job and wants to uphold the law, but is not Inspector Javert-ish about it. And I love that in the end, when Ross is pointing his gun at him, Garrett doesn’t even feel the need to mention to Ross that he knows there are no bullets in his gun (though now that I think of it, Monte might have given him a gun, but Garrett didn’t know that).

Frances Dee plays the spunky nurse who believes in Ross, but wants him to turn himself in. She doesn’t want him to run for the rest of his life, though she is willing to go with him if he should chose to run. And Joseph Calleia great as Monte Marquez. We never do learn why Monte helps Ross. He likes him, he can see that Ross and Fay are falling in love and Monte and Ross become friends, though they never feel the need to actually acknowledge what they both know about Ross, though they both know the other knows.

As a random note, I have never seen anyone use a longhorn steer as a means of transportation before; it makes for an interesting silhouette against the desert and sky, cowboy riding cow. And as another random note, there is a child on the train with a knack for causing trouble and poking his nose into everything. The mother of this child spends the entire time trying to keep her child out of trouble and I kept thinking that what this bored child needs is a smartphone. Modern technology is wonderful!

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Song of Bernadette (1943)

220px-Song_sheetWhen my grandmother (Nana) was in high school, every year there would be a day when the nuns would announce that classes were canceled and they would show The Song of Bernadette. Nana and I were talking about the movie, which I had never seen, and she was curious what she would think of it now. We watched it and were both deeply impressed. It’s not theologically deep, but the heart of the film, the themes that it speaks to, and the story it tell is very moving.

The movie begins in 1858 in Lourdes, France. The Soubirous family are poor and living in an old jail while the father (Roman Bohnen) is out of work and the mother is struggling to keep food on the table (Anne Revere). Their daughter, Bernadette (Jennifer Jones) is a frail child, with asthma and she struggles in school. But she has a vision of a lady in white who asks her to come to a certain spot every day for a certain number of days and to have a shrine built there.

When people start hearing of her visions, it creates a disturbance in the town. Her parents do not initially believe her but eventually support her, with her mother, aunt and sister even going with her to the grotto where she sees the lady. No one else can see the lady, but soon people in the town are coming, too, and having communion there. This disturbs both Father Peyramale (Charles Bickford), who says the Catholic Church does not endorse Bernadette’s visions, and the city authorities, because they feel it reflects badly on them and is disturbing the peace, however peacefully.

Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones

But when Father Peyramale asks Bernadette to ask the lady for a miracle, a different miracle than he asks seemingly occurs. The lady tells Bernadette to wash in the spring, though there is no spring; but after Bernadette digs in the ground and washes her hands and face in the dirt, a spring is found where she dug and soon healings are reported. One man’s blind eye is restored when he puts the water over his eye (the doctor thinks he just pressed on the eye so much it excited the nerves) and one woman, in desperation, washes her dying and crippled baby in the spring and he is cured.

Soon people are coming from all over France to bath in the spring. Sometimes people are healed and sometimes not. Prosecutor Vital Dutour (Vincent Price) first believes that Bernadette is a fraud and when she proves sincerely to believe her visions, tries to have her committed for insanity. However, Father Peyramale comes to her defense, having begun to believe her. He wants the church to have a formal investigation of her claims and the miracles. It takes years and as she grows up, he suggests that she has a call on her life and should become a nun.

The acting is impressive, with Vincent Price, Charles Bickford and Anne Revere as especial standouts. And Jennifer Jones, who was twenty-four, married and had two children, is remarkably convincing as a child, and also quite moving.

Vincent Price and Jennifer Jones

Vincent Price and Jennifer Jones

The film is based on the novel by Franz Werfel about the historical Bernadette, who was canonized as St. Bernadette in 1933. Some things have been changed from history – Dutour is made into an atheist when he was actually a devout Catholic who was skeptical of Bernadette’s claims. But what the film has done with his character is to make him part of a tableaux of responses from people  to Bernadette, and I assume that the writers wanted an atheist to round things out.

It is not clear to me exactly what the lady wants. It’s a little vague. She asks for a shrine to be built and apparently causes there to be a spring that can heal people. But she never mentions God or Jesus or has a message to give. Even Father Peyramale has trouble when Bernadette tells him that the lady said she was the Immaculate Conception (how can one be a conception?). But where the film shines is in portraying the the different reactions of people to Bernadette and her visions and what it reveals about them.

The miracles attract all sorts of people: the devout, the desperate, the superstitious, the curious and the opportunists. There are people in dreadful poverty who have no hope, desperately seeking healing. The mayor is at first opposed to it all, but as the people come to his city (presumably spending money there) he gets the idea that he could sell bottled water from the spring. Dutour is opposed on principle. To him, it is a reversion to medieval superstition. There is the poverty of most people juxtaposed with the desire of the city leaders to modernize. Reactions to Bernadette range everywhere from belief to jealousy; some think she’s mad, some think she’s a fraud and liar, a few people care about her – like her family and the man in love with her, played by William Eythe – and choose to support her because they love her, though they are not sure what to make of her visions.

Roman Bohnen and Anne Revere as Bernadette's parents

Roman Bohnen and Anne Revere as Bernadette’s parents

In that way, the responses of the characters mirrors the response of many people to Jesus in the gospels. There are the droves of people seeking healing from the springs, as in the gospels people sought healing from Jesus. There is the skepticism from the religious community who are also concerned she will bring discredit to the church, as well as the concern from the civil authority. There are the people who ask for miracles as proof. There is the doubting, but loving family. There is the jealous reaction to her fame. There is pressure brought to bear on Bernadette, at first from her family, then from the church authorities and also from the civil authorities. All these things happened to Jesus.

The film opens with the quotation: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.” 

Dutour cannot believe because he is not willing; it’s out of the question and does not fit with his understanding of the world. The doctor (Lee J. Cobb) knows some things are occurring that he cannot explain, but he is essentially agnostic on the subject. He doesn’t know what to think. Gladys Cooper plays a nun who is antagonistic to Bernadette. She cannot accept that Bernadette could have been granted this gift of seeing the lady when she has not suffered as Gladys Cooper’s character has suffered through life. It turns out that Bernadette has suffered – she dies of tuberculosis of the bones, a very painful disease, and never once complains of the pain. Suffering in life is another theme of the film.

imagesHowever, Bernadette does not see the lady just because she is worthy or has suffered. There is a direct parallel drawn between Bernadette and the Virgin Mary. Bernadette sees the lady because, like Mary when an angel tells her she shall have a child, she has a receptive heart. She is willing to see, hear and to obey what the lady asks.

The movie leaves room to question whether or not Bernadette truly sees the lady. No one else sees the lady. Many of the miracles could have a natural explanation. However, there’s really no doubt by the end that Bernadette’s visions and the miracles are for real.

The movie is 156 minutes, but it goes by quickly and I found the film absorbing. It’s not just an intelligent movie, it is a well-made movie that is entertaining and reverential and stayed with me long after I had finished watching it.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Fallen Angel (1945)

Fallen_Angel_1945_posterIf anyone ever offers you the role of the good girl in a film noir, say no. It is one of the most unforgiving roles I have ever seen in the movies – like playing “the other woman,” a third wheel – and femme fatales were made to run away with movies. Unfortunately for Alice Faye, she said yes in 1945. An extremely popular star at 20th Century Fox, she was previously known for her musicals (I love her voice) and wanted to move on to more dramatic films; as Dick Powell managed to do in 1944, transitioning from singing tenor to playing hard-boiled detectives. But Dick Powell’s first foray into noir was with Murder, My Sweet and Alice Faye chose Fallen Angel.

It’s not that Fallen Angel is a bad film; it’s definitely worth a look and is fairly enjoyable, despite some plotting issues. And Alice Faye wasn’t even that bad in the role; it was just a role not even Bette Davis could turn to much account and it did not further her career. In fact, it was the last film she made for sixteen years. It did, however, further the career of Linda Darnell, who played the femme fatale.

Dana Andrews is Eric Stanton, a drifter and a con artist who drifts into Walton, a small town between Los Angeles and San Francisco. He stops at a tiny diner and meets Stella (Linda Darnell), who seems to have all the men obsessed with her. There is Pop (Percy Killbride), who owns the bar and is nuts about Stella. There is also Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), a married man and a retired cop who always comes into the diner just to gaze at Stella and who plays the same song on the jukebox that Stella likes called “Slowly.” There is also another guy who services jukeboxes named Atkins (Bruce Cabot). Stella does not seem noticeably impressed by all this attention.

Dana Andrews and Stella

Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell

Inevitably, Stanton falls for Stella, but though she likes him she is rather dismissive of him, too, since all he seems to be offering is the same line that all the men have offered through the years and she has decided that she’s done with that. She wants a home and a husband with a little money and she’s no longer giving anything unless there’s a ring. Stanton says he’ll marry her and promises that he’ll get some money, somehow.

Stanton’s plan to get money is to fleece June Mills (Alice Faye), daughter of a much respected former mayor, who plays the organ, likes books and lives with her protective older sister, Clara (Anne Revere). June falls in love with him quickly, but he soon realizes that he can’t get her money without getting married, which they do, despite Clara’s warnings that he’s no good.

When Stanton tells Stella what he’s done she’s even less impressed and they argue (I would be nonplussed, too, if a man told me he was crazy to marry me and then arrived to say that he’d married another woman, all for me).That night Stella is murdered. Judd is asked by the police to help with the investigation and there are no shortage of suspects: Judd himself, Pop, Atkins, Stanton and even Clara, who found out about Stella and seems just protective enough of her sister to be capable of it. Stanton, however, is afraid that Judd will pin the murder on him and flees Walton, with June coming along with him.

Alice Faye and Dana Andrews

Alice Faye and Dana Andrews

The rest of the film is part mystery and part romance, with the con artist redeemed through the unalterable love and faith of a good woman. June is probably the first person who ever believed in him. The trouble is that her faith seems a trifle willful. There’s nothing in his behavior to indicate that he might have a good heart, hidden, somewhere and her faith seems less based on anything we see in him and more on her apparent determination to have him. She loves him, she wants him, so she has faith. The result is that she gets stuck with some rather weak dialogue and not much motivation. Her role is to be patient and sympathetic. Alice Faye plays her gracefully, but there’s just not much to do with it and nobody can look good in a film when they are obliged to to be seduced and then stand by their man.

Linda Darnell, however, is a more interesting character. She’s more siren than femme fatale and one you can sympathize with. Stella is world-weary, a bit sulky, and has seen it all (except a ring) and been given promises by a lot of men. She’s a femme fatale who would rather be somebody like June (whereas June wants to be more of a Stella, which I assume is why she marries Stanton despite the fact that he’s obviously on the make). If Judd, Stanton and Pop are any sample of the kind of men Stella’s met through life, you can understand her attitude and I couldn’t help rooting for her to find what she is looking for.

Murder suspects - the landlady looks on as Charles Bickford, Bruce Cabot and Dana Andrews warily check each other out

Murder suspects – the landlady looks on while Charles Bickford, Bruce Cabot and Dana Andrews warily check each other out

Fallen Angel is kind of like a sequel to Laura. It has the same director (Otto Preminger), same leading man (Dana Andrews), same composer, (David Raksin), same cinematographer (Joseph LaShelle) and even same set designer and so forth. And a similar theme of obsession and ownership over a woman. The result is that it looks very good. It is the plot that falters. It’s a bit incredible and a trifle choppy and uneven. The acting is universally fine, however – even Alice Faye is not bad.

It’s too bad that Fallen Angel was Alice Faye’s last movie. Supposedly her role was cut down by producer Darryl Zanuck and Linda Darnell’s role was built up (Darnell went on to play many more sirens). Also, Faye was supposed to sing the song “Slowly,” which was removed from the film. When she saw the finished product, she wrote an angry note to Zanuck and left the studio. It wasn’t a decision completely out of the blue, however. She had recently given birth to her second child with husband and bandleader Phil Harris and when she finished making movies, she devoted more time to her family, also working in radio with her husband. She later said she was perfectly comfortable leaving her movie career behind, despite many of her fans’ and even Darryl Zanuck’s attempts to get her back into movies.

I think the moral of the story is, however: never play the good girl in a film noir.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Film Noir

 

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