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Angel And The Duke: The Movie, “Angel and the Badman”

Cover of "Angel and the Badman"

Cover of Angel and the Badman

John Wayne resists being entirely convincing as a badman (a compound word?) in the 1947 Western, Angel and the Badman.  This is the first movie Wayne produced, and he wanted it to have capital acting, but he himself does not really fill the bill.  Gail Russell does, however, as the “angel,” the naive Quaker girl who, like the other devout Friends, approves of generosity and disapproves of violence.  Russell is capable of innocence—and quiet appeal.

Wayne plays Quirt, a man not of the quirt but of the gun, for his outlaw ways.  Harry Carey shows strength and depth as the middle-aged marshal who wants to hang Quirt, and who bluntly tells Russell’s Penelope not to gaze “bug-eyed” at the varmint.  “There’s no future in it,” he murmurs, but Penelope loveth Quirt. . . The beliefs of the Quakers slowly induce Quirt to change for the better, even if he retains a take-charge, aggressive mind.  Except at the very end, this change is presented subtlely, wisely, in director James Edward Grant‘s script.

Besides Russell and Carey, other actors shine here as well.  Probably the only dreadful performance is by Lee Dixon as Randy McCall, Quirt’s former partner in crime.  Enacting a slimy nerd, he’s facetious.


French Film Ain’t What It Used To Be: “Man on the Train”

Cover of "Man on the Train (L'Homme du Tr...

Cover of Man on the Train (L’Homme du Train)

In 2004’s Man on the Train, Jean Rochefort plays Manesquier, a bachelor who offers lodging to, and befriends, a middle-aged bank robber named Milan (Johnny Hallyday).  Friendless and lonely, Manesquier finds himself secretly longing for the kind of gutsiness and abandon he sees in Milan, who, for his part, warms to the quiet conventionality that the old bachelor is beginning to hate.  Each man nigh unconsciously slips into behaving a bit as the other man does.  A kind of desperate role-playing, this, while the routine danger of death abides (Manesquier has health problems).  However, both men go to their individual fates—in screenwriter Claude Klotz’s almost nihilistic vision of the world.

Ingenious for its characterization, dialogue, direction (by Patrice Leconte) and cinematography, Man on the Train is nonetheless, sadly, a failure.  James Bowman has rightly commented on the film’s “willingness to romanticize criminals,” i.e. Milan.  Watch the film from beginning to end and you’ll see what Bowman means.  That’s bad enough, but another thought provoked is that of whether an aging intellectual would ever really envy an outlaw’s life.  Yet whether he would or wouldn’t, the matter ought to be examined with a more acceptable climax and denouement than  Klotz has purveyed in this movie.  That denouement is all that keeps Train from out-and-out nihilism, and it’s lousy.  Over and above, the film is thin and rather talky, not unlike Ingmar Bergman at his worse.

Leconte’s direction is tasteful and painstaking.  Klotz’s screenplay leaves much to be desired, but at any rate his dialogue is terrific.  No admirer of the music of Schumann, Manesquier nevertheless says he likes Schumann because he “appeals to my love of failure.”  In another sequence Milan, substituting for Manesquier in the tutelage of a boy, praises a fictional character, Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet, because she waits and waits for her fiance’s return.  Says the bank robber, “I think she’s magnificent.  People nowadays don’t have that kind of patience.”

(In French with English subtitles)

“This Gun For Hire” — This Movie For Viewing

Cover of "This Gun For Hire (Universal No...

Cover via Amazon

I’ve never read any of Graham Greene’s “entertainments,” as opposed to his serious novels, but the 1942 This Gun for Hire smacks of a good adaptation.

Alan Ladd is in it, and he ain’t no Shane:  he’s an icy killer (suitably acted), while Veronica Lake rightly holds down the iciness she displayed in Sullivan’s Travels.  This is her vehicle; with groundedness and class she enacts a singing magician (!) recruited for a righteous cause.  I liked her chemistry with Robert Preston. . . Director Frank Tuttle is uneasy with action scenes, but not, apparently, with actors.  All the same, the movie is entertaining.

Corinna, The Actress (The Film, “Die Schauspielerin”)

A German film from 1988, The Actress (Die Schauspielerin), directed by Siegfried Kuhn, is about an emotionally vulnerable but also strong-minded theatre actress (Corinna Harfouche) who discards her career in Nazi Germany in order to be with her relocated Jewish beau (Andre Hennicke).  Strange times, with their ludicrous (anti-Jewish) propaganda, drive the actress to do some strange things.  A major theme in the film is that political injustice, political evil, works on the mind.  Indeed, a person may even embrace what is fatal.

An East German production, Kuhn’s opus is subtle, unpretentious and lovely-looking.  Harfouche is extraordinary: talk about power, incisiveness and personality!

(In German with English subtitles)

Mamet Remained Interesting With “State and Main”

State and Main

State and Main (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David Mamet‘s film, State and Main (2000), concerns contretemps and obstacles between a moviemaking team and the citizens of a town called Waterford, Vermont, where the team is fashioning a film.  The characters captivate: William H. Macy‘s agitated director, Alec Baldwin‘s hugely popular actor and nymphet-loving pervert, Rebecca Pidgeon’s bright, affable bookstore owner, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s diffident scenarist, and many others.

Like the witty dialogue, the plot is fun except that a glaring defect springs up when Clark Gregg‘s pushy prosecutor tries to build a statutory-rape case against Baldwin when he certifiably has no case at all.  Gregg—his character—wouldn’t be that stupid.  But something else bothers me more:  Mamet, in truth, has nothing new to tell us about corruption or Hollywood folly, and that is entirely what his film is about.  All State and Main can do is dispense airy cynicism—well, that in addition to showing us that somewhere deep inside Mamet he is a glorifier of the past.  Not merely deep inside, of course, he is a conservative.

Mamet’s 1999 The Winslow Boy worked (as did his Phil Spector).  The present film almost works, but not quite.  Even so, it’s one of the most enjoyable failures I’ve seen, and if you can put up with airy cynicism you might enjoy it too.

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