A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Two From Hawks

The Thing From Another World (Christian Nyby, 1951)
Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, 1952)

Oddly, the most "Hawksian" of these two early 1950s Howard Hawks movies is the one for which he is credited as producer and not as director. The fact that The Thing From Another World displays Hawks's typical fast-paced, overlapping dialogue and has a heroine who can hold her own around men has led many to suggest that Hawks really directed it. The rumor is that Hawks gave Christian Nyby the director's credit so that Nyby could join the Directors Guild. It was the first directing credit for Nyby, who had worked as film editor for Hawks on several films, including Red River (Hawks, 1948), for which Nyby received an Oscar nomination. He went on to a long career as director, mostly on TV series like Bonanza and Mayberry R.F.D., but the controversy over whether he or Hawks directed The Thing has never really quieted down. In any case, The Thing is a landmark sci-fi/horror film, with plenty of wit and some engaging performances, particularly by Margaret Sheridan as the no-nonsense Nikki, secretary to a scientist at a research outpost near the North Pole where a flying saucer has crashed with a mysterious inhabitant. Nikki's old flame, Capt. Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), arrives with an Air Force crew to investigate, and Sheridan and Tobey have a little of the bantering chemistry of earlier Hawksían couples like Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944) or Montgomery Clift and Joanne Dru in Red River. Though it's a low-budget cast, everyone performs with wit and conviction. The film has dated less than other invaders-from-outer-space movies of the '50s, partly because of its lightness of touch and a few genuine scares, though its concluding admonition, "Watch the skies," is pure Cold War paranoia at its peak. The screenplay is by Charles Lederer, with some uncredited contributions from Ben Hecht, both of them frequent collaborators with Hawks. Both of them also worked on Monkey Business, a very different kind of movie. It evokes Hawks's great Bringing Up Baby (1938) by featuring Cary Grant as a rather addled scientist, Dr. Barnaby Fulton, who becomes  involved in some comic mishaps brought about by an animal -- a leopard in the earlier film, a chimpanzee in this one. But the giddiness of Bringing Up Baby never quite emerges, partly because of a lack of chemistry between Grant and Ginger Rogers, who plays his wife, Edwina. The script involves Fulton's work on a rejuvenating drug that the chimpanzee manages to empty into a water cooler, thereby turning anyone who drinks it into an irresponsible 20-year-old. Grant is an old master at this kind of nonsense, but Rogers looks stiff and starchy and ill-at-ease trying to match him -- except, of course, when she is called on to dance, which she still did splendidly. Fortunately, there's some engaging support from Charles Coburn as Fulton's boss, who has a "secretary" played by Marilyn Monroe. ("Find someone to type this," he tells her.) Her role is the air-headed blonde stereotype that she found so difficult to escape -- "Mr. Oxley's been complaining about my punctuation, so I'm careful to get here before nine," she tells Fulton -- but no one has ever been better at playing it. Where The Thing From Another World succeeds despite a less-than-stellar cast, Monkey Business depends heavily on star power, for it gives off a feeling that its genre, screwball comedy, had played out by the time it was made.