William Bendix

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Macao Review


Grim
In 1952, Josef von Sternberg was one of the few American directors with the audacity to proclaim himself an artistic genius. In the 1930s and into the 1940s, von Sternberg rode the tsunami of his artistic pretensions through a decade-long string of Marlene Dietrich films at Paramount and concluding with 1941's sweetmeat of the outré, The Shanghai Gesture. After that, von Sternberg was hoisted up on his own petard and his imperious attitude left him unemployed until, of all people, Howard Hughes took the bait and hired him to direct the doomed films Jet Pilot and Macao. The latter was a Robert Mitchum-Jane Russell star vehicle that, in spite of a collection of subsidiary directors (Nicholas Ray, Mel Ferrer, Robert Stevenson) brought in for salvage work, permitted von Sternberg to indulge in his penchant for weird exotica and lurid lighting effects and camera angles. As a result, Macao is a load of atmosphere and malarkey in search of a coherent storyline.

Andrew Sarris has written about von Sternberg that "his characters generally make their first entrance at a moment in their lives when there is no tomorrow," and Macao toes the Sarris company line. In a story that could have been hatched by S.J. Perelman, Macao, after an under-cranked chase scene, settles in on an ocean liner breezing into the freakish Oriental port of Macao ("a fabulous speck on the earth's surface"), the dangers ahead cued by the ship's barometer which indicates "Unhealthy for Plants/Unhealthy for Humans." Since this is not a nature documentary, the focus is on two humans -- Nick Cochran (Mitchum), on the run from an unclear fate in New York City, and Julie Bensen (Russell), high-tailing it from Hong Kong (when a customs inspector asks what she did in Hong Kong, she responds, "You don't really want me to tell you, do you?"). The two meet cute after Julie hauls a stiletto heel at a randy cha-cha dancer's torso but instead manages to clip Nick's noggin, who is passing by her cabin at the time. Nick and Julie immediately gravitate to each other, since not only are they the stars but also the coolest and most unflappable characters in the picture. The half-assed plot involves something about enticing villainous nightclub owner Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter, whispering his dialogue like an incantation) outside the three-mile limit so that he can be arrested, and Nick being mistaken for a New York detective and chased around by Halloran's sinister thugs (with Philip Ahn's knife-wielding Itzumi being particularly impressive).

Continue reading: Macao Review

Detective Story Review


OK
It's just another day at the precinct for Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas)... well, that's what we're supposed to think anyway.

Detective Story takes place almost entirely within a detective squad room of a police station. Originally a play, the film focuses on the dramas -- large and small -- that go on during this fateful day. A woman (Lee Grant) is hauled in for shoplifting. She spends the entire day just sitting there, waiting. Another man is brought in for stealing from his boss in order to fund his girlfriend's expensive tastes, while her sister begs for the cops to let him go. Two burglars are given the shakedown. And, in what drives the film's most critical plot forward, McLeod spars continuously with a suspicious doctor for reasons unknown. When McLoed's wife (Eleanor Parker) shows up, it'll come to a head.

Continue reading: Detective Story Review

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.

Continue reading: Lifeboat Review

Detective Story Review


OK
It's just another day at the precinct for Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas)... well, that's what we're supposed to think anyway.

Detective Story takes place almost entirely within a detective squad room of a police station. Originally a play, the film focuses on the dramas -- large and small -- that go on during this fateful day. A woman (Lee Grant) is hauled in for shoplifting. She spends the entire day just sitting there, waiting. Another man is brought in for stealing from his boss in order to fund his girlfriend's expensive tastes, while her sister begs for the cops to let him go. Two burglars are given the shakedown. And, in what drives the film's most critical plot forward, McLeod spars continuously with a suspicious doctor for reasons unknown. When McLoed's wife (Eleanor Parker) shows up, it'll come to a head.

Continue reading: Detective Story Review

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