Jo Swerling

Jo Swerling

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Leave Her To Heaven Review


Extraordinary
The second half of a double feature shown at The New York Film Festival with Drums Along the Mohawk, and introduced by Martin Scorsese under the auspices of Scorsese's The Film Foundation as a restored three-strip Technicolor masterwork, Leave Her to Heaven, was clearly a film that Scorsese holds close to his heart. Scorsese could be seen at the screening in his seat, his head cradled in his hand, absorbing a climactic courtroom scene with vindictive prosecutor Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), as if seeing the damned thing for the first time, when you know the guy must have seen the film dozens of times already. It certainly holds a peculiar place in Scorsese's personal life. He related at the screening how he first encountered the film in the middle of the night in a big house in Hollywood. Awakening by a dreadful asthmatic attack, he switched on a colossal Zenith TV, and saw an otherworldly close-up of Gene Tierney on the set that hovered over the Los Angeles landscape through the window of his room. He proceeded to watch the rest of the film "through long gasps of breath."

Leave Her to Heaven stakes out its territory in the form of a flashback, as novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) returns to a small lakeside town that has now become tainted with the aftertaste of murder. Homespun lawyer Glen Robie (Ray Collins) relates the sorry tale of how things came to such a pass and the film-length flashback begins -- noir fatalism in the blinding daylight. We are taken back to the genesis of all this misery, the ravishing but deadly Ellen Berent (played to evil perfection by Gene Tierney, in an iconic film noir role), who meets Harland on a train and quickly latches onto the poor sap, and soon her berserk compulsion for him drags the innocent Harland and his loved ones down into the dark waters of tormented possessiveness.

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Lifeboat Review


Excellent
Who would've pegged Alfred Hitchcock for a moral humanist? An appeal to our common humanism is not something we associate with a man whose métier was the psychological horrors perverting the patina of the white middle class. Lifeboat, then, is a rare instance (along with Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur, also from this period) in the 51-year directing career of the legendary suspense-master of socially conscious storytelling. In Francois Truffaut's famous interview with him, transcribed in Hitchcock/Truffaut, the director recounts how he intended Lifeboat to be a microcosm of the Allied war effort. Working from a story treatment by John Steinbeck and a script by Jo Swerling, Lifeboat became the director's appeal to the Allied nations to put their differences and personal biases aside, join ranks, and fight the Nazis, then overrunning Europe, as a coordinated, united force.

As a polemic, Lifeboat is closer to John Ford's similarly themed and conceived Stagecoach (1939) than to any of the director's own movies. Hitchcock changes the terrain from land to water and replaces Fords' frontier travelers with the similarly disparate survivors of a U-boat attack. We have John (John Hodiak), a working-class American stiff pitted against Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), the inveterate capitalist (read: Nazi appeaser), and Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), a saucy gadfly/columnist. Meanwhile, a gentle romance simmers between Alice (Mary Anderson), a lovelorn nurse, and Stanley (Hume Cronyn), a humble navigator. George (Canada Lee), a black cook (what else?) with a penchant for the Gospels stands as the group's moral pillar; he is apolitical and totally good-hearted. Hitchcock gives an episodic shape to Swerling's flailing narrative, focusing on the survivors' attempts to rescue one of their own, the wounded and mentally faltering Gus (William Bendix). As they do, they battle the stormy elements, the scorn and suspicion for each other that society has ingrained into them, and, chiefly, their collective mistrust for a Nazi U-boat sailor who's also in the dinghy, and in whom, despite his villainous credentials, they must invest their faith.

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Jo Swerling

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