The Morning After: Jul. 16, 2012

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Hud


A more intimate affair than the sprawling family epic Giant, Martin Ritt’s filming of Hud blends weighty human drama with social injustice in a compelling blend of performance and story. The film stars Paul Newman as the eponymous child of a cattle rustler whose cocky self assurance masks a troubled soul. He drinks too much, chases too many women and sees his father’s farm as his only savior when dad finally kicks the bucket.

Newman’s father is played by the stellar character actor Melvyn Douglas who plays the rancher whose lifetime of hard work has left him tired, but knowledgeable. The discovery of a mysterious dead cow deep into his vast Texas property triggers an investigation that could lead to a diagnosis of Foot and Mouth Disease, a particularly infectious disease that plagues cloven-hoof mammals. A tattered tapestry of mistrust and disappointment also plagues the relationship between father and son and is witnessed by the 17-year-old child of Douglas’ late son played by Brandon De Wilde.

The film uses its cast particularly well, Douglas being the standout with Patricia Neal as their housekeeper, the only woman in the house, coming a close second. Douglas’ character is hard to admire at first, representing the old fashioned stoicism that was slowly slipping out of active use, but as his inflexibility begins to create more than passing tension between he and Newman, who gives his own solid performance. Neal conveys a sense of warmth and balance in the rather tumultuous household, always seeming cooler than a cucumber even when Newman is attempting to seduce her. There are a lot of complex emotions on display in the film and getting too detailed about them can ruin some of the more challenging scenes in the film, so suffice it to say that you should watch Hud not just for its performances, but also for the indelible slice of life fading out of existence in the American South.

The Caine Mutiny


The studio went out of its way to assure the audience that acts of mutiny had never been carried out on U.S. Naval vessels, suggesting that the film’s fictional nature should not have been a slight on the Navy. Those assurances are unnecessary considering the overall positive spin in Edward Dmytryk’s seafaring exploration of military discipline and how simple men can let complex issues cloud their minds and a narrow viewpoint turn success into failure.

Many of the premises presented by The Caine Mutiny would be unpopular today. Its sanitized depiction of naval matters belies a studio reliant on military cooperation to tell its stories. And with the production code still in force at the time of the film’s release, it’s not hard to see why. Fresh out of Princeton and Naval Officers School, Ensign Keith (Robert Francis) arrives on a rusty mine sweeping ship with a hands-off captain and a serious lack of discipline. After several disagreements, the captain is taken off the ship and replaced by the more discipline hungry Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) whose strictness causes significant friction with everyone on the ship, including the previously approving Keith, Queeg’s XO Lt. Maryk (Van Johnson) and the ship’s communication officer Lt. Keefer (Fred MacMurray). As Queeg begins to display fits of paranoia, the inability to accept responsibility for problems he creates and an unhealthy focus on regulations implants the idea in Keefer’s mind that he suffers from a mental illness, which he, in turn, convinces Keith and Maryk of.

For an actor who played a lot of questionably upstanding men, a role like Queeg, while not entirely a departure for Bogart, was still a bit of a stretch. He makes Queeg a generally unlikable character. Johnson is excellent as Maryk and MacMurray does a fairly rousing job as Keefer. There are two weak links in the cast for me. Ostensible lead Robert Francis seems ill-fitted to his role, never giving the intimate moments he shares with love interest May the passion and appeal they needed. His character isn’t particularly compelling, which could be based on the way the role was written, but Francis didn’t give it any boost. Even more frustrating was the great José Ferrer who delivers his performance as Naval lawyer Lt. Greenwald in a frustratingly flat monotone and a righteous indignation that makes his speech at the end of the film less compelling. The scenes in the courtroom where he’s defending Maryk for his declaration of mutiny against Queeg are a bit more interesting because he does what lawyers do best, expose the situation without dealing with the heart of the issue. Were his performance less gruff it might have been something more interesting.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Click here to read the review

1 Comment

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  1. fail to mention – Newman would have found it easy to use his own charisma to make Hud attractive; making him repellent, is the trick. A true study of an amoral character. Not done often in film. Rivals Christe in “Darling”.

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