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

Friday, January 12, 2018

White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949)

James Cagney and Margaret Wycherly in White Heat
Cody Jarrett: James Cagney
Verna Jarrett: Virginia Mayo
Hank Fallon aka Vic Pardo: Edmond O'Brien
Ma Jarrett: Margaret Wycherly
Big Ed Somers: Steve Cochran
Philip Evans: John Archer
Cotton Valletti: Wally Cassell
Trader Winston: Fred Clark

Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts
Based on a story by Virginia Kellogg
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Music: Max Steiner

It still baffles me that Raoul Walsh's terrific crime thriller White Heat received only one Oscar nomination, and that one for the scenario devised by Virginia Kellogg, which was notoriously revised not only by Kellogg but also by the credited screenwriters Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts with much uncredited help from James Cagney and his friends Humphrey Bogart and Frank McHugh. Where were the nominations for Walsh's no-nonsense direction, Cagney's superbly over-the-top performance (especially the scene in which Cody Jarrett goes berserk on learning of his dear old mother's death), Margaret Wycherly's tiger mom, or even Virginia Mayo's tough broad? Mayo was one of the more underrated blond bombshells of the era. She could have been a rival to Dorothy Malone and Gloria Grahame for tough-girl roles, but under contract to Samuel Goldwyn, she got stuck in forgettable musicals and comedies in which she played the foil to fellow Goldwyn contract player Danny Kaye. The good reviews she got for playing Dana Andrews's cheating wife in William Wyler's 1946 The Best Years of Our Lives showed that she had more acting talent than Goldwyn had revealed, but with a few exceptions -- White Heat being the most notable -- she got stuck in movies that played off her beauty more than her acting ability. Edmond O'Brien also shines in the part of the undercover detective who buddies up to Cody, and a good deal of the suspense of the film hinges on his hair-breadth avoidance of having his cover blown. It's to the credit of Walsh, the supporting players, and the fleet of screenwriters that although Cagney's performance fires the film, it never completely burns it up -- there's always someone or something else to watch.

No comments: