Directed by John Ford, Updated

DATELINE:  America’s Master Director

Johns Wayne & Ford

Johns Wayne & Ford

A documentary on the career of American film master John Ford really came about shortly before he died in 1971. A few years ago, Turner Classic Movies produced an update with newer interviews to go along with the original insights into Hollywood contrarian Ford.

This is one of those documentaries that will send you scurrying to watch the classics of the past: Directed by John Ford.

The result is to bring back Peter Bogdanovich decades later, with other modern masters like Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorcese, and Steven Spielberg, noting the importance of Ford to history.

The original narrator was Orson Welles—and his voiceovers continue with some amusing anecdotes added by Bogdanovich.

The heart of the film is always the clips of an endless 140-movie filmography of sheer brilliance, legendarily American.

We could fill the page with notable titles to remind you of what you have missed or should see again. If John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda, are not enough, you might also ask Maureen O’Hara, another staple of his movie stock company of actors.

Use of musical motifs transcend his films whether set in Ireland or the Old West. His panoramas and vistas show invariably minor characters against the progression of history. And, Ford covered it all: from Revolutionary War, Old West, to World War II, as settings.

His films have composition that give peace and still-life of painting with deep emotional wallops. Color movies only gave his canvas more depth, but black and white looks documentarian.

Spielberg, among others, give more than cursory interviews. You have here insights into what challenge there was working with a genius of the first order: the belligerent, irascible curmudgeon who was John Ford.

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Nuclear Waste and A Safe Place

DATELINE: MOVIE MUSHROOM CLOUDS

Don't Believe It!

 

You know you are slipping in the movie business when they slipped one past you.

This week we learned that Jack Nicholson, Orson Welles, and Tuesday Weld once appeared together in a real movie, not a roast, not an awards show, not as summer stock actors. It’s called A Safe Place, and we urge you to find one and not watch this drivel, but we loved the songs used in the score.

Yes, director Henry Jaglom actually convinced these three stars to make a movie with him in 1971. If you never heard of A Safe Place, it’s because this movie has been kept in one—a vault buried beneath underground nuclear blast sites in Nevada.

We generally won’t review terrible movies because it is too depressing for our butcher knife to slice and dice like Freddy Kruger.

If you ever have the misfortune to see this movie, please let us know what it is about. We love conundrums and allegories, but we also like logic and common sense. If Sherlock Holmes ever saw this movie, he would howl unlike the dog in the night.

No, we haven’t a clue. Apparently Tuesday Weld is a time traveler caught up with her father magician (Welles) and her first husband (Nicholson), but no one can remember what’s happened to them.

Welles repeatedly does bad magic tricks and says the word, “Remember,” to the camera. He used to sell wine more convincingly on TV commercials.

Jaglom still makes movies, but this film put an end to the acting career of Phil Proctor. He stuck to voiceover work for the most part ever after being introduced here. Yes, seeing is believing. Believe us.

Jodorowsky’s Dune Beats Lynch’s Dune

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

 jodorowsky's dune

We can think of a couple of great movies that never made it to post-production: I, Claudius with Charles Laughton as the Roman Emperor, and Dune, the Jodorowsky version. Both were made later in an era better able to handle the themes and technical aspects.

Years before David Lynch made an abysmal version of Frank Herbert’s Dune, Alejandro Jodorowsky—one of the great experimental filmmakers and artists—put together pre-production for an original epic. Now comes the documentary telling how it failed to be filmed in Jodorowsky’s Dune.

Studios wouldn’t accept the director: he was a gaucho warrior from South America—and he’d likely be out of control. His previous two movies were staggering achievements outside the system. 

Now nearly 40 years after his greatest film project was denied him, he and his producer Michel Seydoux put together a documentary to tell the tale.

Jodorowsky’s film and artistic team would have blown away audiences—or chased them away. His ideas then went into dozens of 1980s movies from Alien up to Prometheus, from Flash Gordon to Star Wars. What could not be done with special effects in the 1970s was possible a few years later.

Jodorowsky had seduced great minds to join him in his endeavor. Orson Welles, Salvatore Dali, David Carradine, and Mick Jagger, were the cast.

Like a cult leader, Jodorowsky could charm everyone—and even as an old man, you can see his energy, his integrity, and his style, in this film about the unmaking of Dune.

What a crime it is for the true visionary to be refused the union card for Hollywood, but the great filmmaker could rise above it—and even took pleasure in the Lynch’s inability to translate Herbert.

Those who love movies and great art on film owe themselves a chance to see this intriguing story of what might have been.

Orson Welles and His Confidential Report

ArkadianDATELINE: MOVIE MASHED POTATOES


Orson Welles loved to make movies—even if he had no money or production assistance. He scrambled to film piecemeal and put it together later. Sometimes this worked because of his prodigious talent. Other times he left the work looking like a half-eaten sandwich.

Mr. Arkadin (sometimes called Confidential Report) was made during the 1950s—edited by various hands in various locations. It is pure Welles and even though it is half-baked and contains elements of sheer lunacy, it is a pastry to be devoured in small bites off the a la carte menu.

Welles wrote, directed, and starred as the mysterious reclusive billionaire with a daughter fixation. In a glorious beard and wig, Welles can be frightening as only all-powerful billionaires like Howard Hughes or Aristotle Onassis could. He also wrote a novel version of the movie, showing how much the byzantine tale meant to him.

Alas, Welles could not play the young detective too—and he went with stalwart leading man Robert Arden, one of the most cornball actors (duly noted in the script). Arkadin hires Arden’s ne’er-do-well to investigate his own self, Arkadin’s early years. He has allegedly amnesia and wants to know who he was before he made his billions.

A few of Welles’s friends show up in hilarious bits—like Michael Redgrave playing a femmy gay refugee (an in-joke as Redgrave was gay in real life) with endless references to “weenies, my dear.”

Misha Auer, Akim Tamiroff, and Patricia Medina, also show up, though we never know which ones Arkadin murders, wants to murder, or will murder.

Welles probably never took the film too seriously. It was the making of it that gave him fun and satisfaction. His set-ups and locations are brilliant, but the final product is liable to give viewers indigestion.

Actor Goes Anonymous, Not Pseudonymous

 

DATELINE: DAMNED SCRIBBLING ACTORS

ImageJames Gertrude Franco-Stein

James Franco takes the same road as Errol Flynn, Orson Welles, George Sanders, and Kirk Douglas, by penning novels as part of his Renaissance Man act. Nathaniel Hawthorne once complained of his competition as “damned scribbling women.” Now we have an army of scribbling actors.

Mr. Franco has written a novella called Actors Anonymous about acting in movies, which likens the experience to being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous on the fame track. With his talents sewn together like a Mary Shelley novel written by Gertrude Stein, he is now Franco-Stein.

James Franco directs serious movies, acts in frivolous movies, trods the boards in Broadway plays, and now writes up a storm in Actors Anonymous, his experimental novel that has him hiding in many guises between the lines.

Eschewing traditional narrative and storyline, Franco reverts to the old Faulknerian style of multi-narrative voices, all roles acted by James Franco. It is reminiscent of his film As I Lay Dying, the multi-narrative novel of Faulkner he directed last year.

Franco may be writing autobiographically, but he is a chameleon actor. We were most impressed with his knowledge of Hollywood history—especially since our writing partner for almost 20 years has been Jan Merlin, another major actor turned writer. Merlin’s face was known as the bad guy in nearly every Western on television in the heyday of Westerns.

The young actor-Oscar host-novelist seems to be cramming a great deal of artistic aspiration into a small window of opportunity. We give him accolades for the energy he brings to his endeavors.

As with Franco’s directoral efforts, his novel is not for everyone. Indeed, his movie fans may be lost in the rich references to old stars and behind the scenes antics. From our limited knowledge of Hollywood business, he is on the money—much to the consternation of his pot-head fans of Pineapple Express.

We would have taken some pleasure had Merlin and Russo written this novella, but Franco beat us to the punchline.

Shanghai Surprise, the First Time!

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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               Gilda Meets Kane in The Lady from Shanghai

One of Orson Welles’ final attempts at a Hollywood mainstream production came with The Lady from Shanghai, starring his then-wife Rita Hayworth. They were trying to be an early version of Burton & Taylor, but found they mustered closer to Sean Penn & Madonna.

The film has all the hallmarks of Welles, but worse yet, he plays a sailor with an Irish brogue that seems to have come from watching too many Barry Fitzgerald movies. We keep waiting for him to sing “Tura-Lura-Lura,” that old Irish lullaby.

On top of that, Gilda herself is a bleached blonde. In those days, such a daring hair color change proved Miss Hayworth was more than a pretty face. She was an actress.

As for the big man himself, he takes turns either sucking in his gut or wearing a moo-moo shirt loose over the excess.

Many Welles team players dot the cast, including the delicious villain Everett Sloane as Bannister, Rita’s well-to-do nutcase husband with steel braces on his legs–and the ever-familiar Erskine Sanford as the judge. Glenn Anders may sweat more diligently than any actor ever on film as Bannister’s creepy law partner.

The movie is a treat of off-kilter camera angles and even more off-beat faces. All this was too much for studio-bound Hollywood production companies who wanted their movies with more matter and less art. Welles also created production furor at Columbia Pictures.

Whatever else the production became in fact and in legend, it is hypnotic like the proverbial train wreck. We become gawkers on the road to perdition, and it is entertaining to rubberneck.

The film ran nearly three-hours uncut, which is a tad long for a cheap noir satire, though you can still spot fleeting Errol Flynn near the yacht he rented to Welles for the movie. Flynn’s pet dog, a Dachshund, steals every scene he’s in, having learned well from Errol.

The movie’s famous ending is the Hall of Mirrors extravaganza that is a hoot and a half. They don’t make’em like this anymore. Actually, they never did make’em like this—excepting Orson Welles.

We still think this movie is high comedy, not melodrama.

Whatever Welles intended the story to be, it becomes a ridiculous crime noir to savor, reminiscent of Touch of Evil, which he would make a decade later.

 

Magnificent Wellsian Movie

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

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When you return to a 1942 movie and find it stuns with its perfection, you figure Orson Welles must be involved.

Indeed, The Magnificent Ambersons was the second film by Welles. He was hitting his stride with a Booth Tarkington novel about affluence abuse at the turn of the 20th century. Welles is only the narrator in this film, not the star, but his hand is everywhere.

Before long, he would be drunk with the power of his own genius and never could discipline his talent to meet the studio age on its own terms.

He brought back all his Citizen Kane cronies for this one:  Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, and Ray Collins. For his leads, he went with Anne Baxter as Lucy and Tim Holt, a surprising Western star, as George Amberson Minifer, the spoiled scion of mid-American affluence.

Cotten also surprises playing much older as Baxter’s entrepreneur father.

The first 30 minutes of the movie are utterly mesmerizing, a romantic depiction of life in small town American, including a bash in the Amberson mansion, and a sleigh ride that has never been equaled since 1942.

Yes, the film is a profligate tour de force by a show off and showman. But, you stand back in awe at the kid in the candy store that Welles claimed to be. He makes RKO’s usual tail end double-bill fare look something out of a time warp.

Welles knew something about storytelling and characters in an age when both were prized. Today’s noisy filmmakers might learn a thing or two by watching how to use movie techniques to illuminate fate.

For more Ossurworld insights and reviews, you can read MOVIE MASHUP and MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE. Both collections are available at Amazon.com in ebook and softcover.