Monday, June 30, 2014

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1953 Retro Hollmann Awards: Part 2

It's Day Two of the Retro Hollmann Awards, honoring the best of 1953! 

Yesterday, The Cruel SeaPickup on South Street, Titanic, and The War of the Worlds all picked up one award each; The Importance of Being Earnest got two!

And this is a rare treat -- one of the acting categories here doesn't have a single Oscar nominee to correspond with! Is it Best Actor? Best Supporting Actress? Find out as the awardage continues...

3. Beneath the 12-Mile Reef
Bernard Herrmann

4. Invaders from Mars
Raoul Kraushaar

2. Lili
Bronislau Kaper

1. The Robe
Alfred Newman

5. Shane
Victor Young

So closes the entertainment portion. Continue after the jump for more...

2. All the Brothers were Valiant
Randall Duell/Cedric Gibbons, art directors
Hugh Hunt/Edwin B. Willis, set decorators

Oh my God. I mean, the entire scene where they've got the whale blubber and meat on the ship and are boiling it and cutting it up -- that's worthy. So much going on! The captain's quarters are unassuming, impersonal, not clearly his. That dingy little boat where the pearl pirates hang -- well, as I said, it's dingy, it's bleached, it's a disaster. And it all works.

5. Invaders from Mars
William Cameron Menzies, production designer
Boris Leven, art director

A child's point-of-view of the unfamiliar -- how Caligari-esque is that police station, narrow, spindly, and haunting? The scaly caves and clean interior of the spaceship. Even just that broken bit of fencing, ending in oblivion. Clever ... and nightmarish.

1. The Robe
George W. Davis/Lyle Wheeler, art directors
Paul S. Fox/Walter M. Scott, set decorators

From my profileCall me a sucker for Technicolor marble but I am so in love with the look of this film. Look at the wealth on display! It's big, it's unnecessary, it's the decadent Rome of Caligula! It's also a great difference from the modest intimacy of the Palestine village where the Christians live.

4. Shane
Hal Pereira/Walter H. Tyler, art directors
Emile Kuri, set decorator

Rather rustic, in a "what the hell are we really fighting for" sense. Gives you an understanding that, no matter what, home is home, your property if your own, and it's worth fighting for. The mud and dirt, the faded signs and bleached roofs, the rickety interiors -- fantastic detail!

3. Titanic
Maurice Ransford/Lyle Wheeler, art directors
Stuart Reiss, set decorator

From my profileThe elegance of that ocean liner is fully realized -- and would eventually be reused for other studio films that needed a cruise ship! Long before Cameron's ship set sail, we had this Titanic -- just as opulent and ostentatious, just as vivid, just as grand. And points, too, for that iceberg!

1. Clark Gable as Victor Marswell

Is this the best Gable performance since Gone with the Wind? -- the ads say so, and I'm inclined to agree. Gable is effortlessly masculine, which helps when you're playing a safari guide, but he also surprises in romantic, vulnerable aspects. He's just as taken aback by his tender feelings as we are, but we also see that it's more than that. It's the man he is vs. the man he'd like to be; romance as identity crisis. More, please!

2. Alec Guinness as Captain Henry St. James
The Captain's Paradise

Who knew Alec Guinness could be so sexy? And make no mistake, he is sexy -- in a classy, well-bred kind of way. What a talent it takes, to effortlessly play such a charming cad, the kind of man you want to befriend, the kind you'd consider letting your sister marry -- but with a secret that seems to bother him not at all. A beguiling selfishness you can't help but love.

4. Fredric March as Karel Cernik
Man on a Tightrope

Tense -- he makes your chest tighten as he organizes an escape from Communist rule, balancing his roles as leader, father, husband, savior. A cool customer, even under pressure, we see him slowly start to unravel as the situation gets more out of control. Courageous, desperate -- and not always on the right side of things. Love it.

5. Clifton Webb as Richard Ward Sturges

Webb plays a snooty member of the upper class who pays off a 3rd-class passenger to get on board, pursuing the family that his estranged wife is attempting to sweep back to the States. Webb is wonderful here, entitled and snooty but nevertheless human, a man who's worked hard to maintain a lavish lifestyle -- now facing his own shortcomings and mortality, first by his wife, then by the iceberg. It's a performance that brought me to tears.

3. Richard Widmark as Skip McCoy
Pickup on South Street
This has been one of the most difficult performances to write about, and I'm not sure why. But I remember my first viewing, watching his performance, thinking, "Oh, he does not give a shit." Because Skip really doesn't care whether you like him or not, or even if he's the hero of his own story. He's not completely rotten, but he'll knock your teeth out. A smart-ass, easy-going, charming, frustrating. What magnetism!

3. House of Wax
Gordon Bau, makeup artist

Not just the monstrous burns on his face and hands, but the Vincent Price makeup that goes over it -- no, really. Vincent Price was covered in burn makeup, then in Vincent Price makeup. Kooky!

4. Knights of the Round Table
Charles E. Parker, makeup artist

Wigs! Wigs and spirit gummed facial hair for all!

1. Man on a Tightrope
Arthur Schram/Fritz Seyfried, makeup artists

You've got your clown makeup, your glittery maidens, Eastern European mustaches, and the bloody wounds of a brawl -- and gunshot wounds, of course.

2. Seminole
Joan St. Oegger, hair stylist
Bud Westmore, makeup artist

The painted bodies of the Seminoles; the caked mud of the in-over-their-heads soldiers; the sweaty, sweaty sweat of South Florida.

3. Joan Greenwood as Lady Gwendolen Fairfax
The Importance of Being Earnest

Killer line readings. This, surely, is how Wilde is meant to sound -- stuffy, somewhat sexy, tossed off carelessly, as though the speaker were not at all aware of how clever she was being. But she's here just for the recitation of, "And though I distinctly asked for bread and butter, you have given me cake." Comic genius.

4. Allyn McLerie as Katie Brown
Calamity Jane

Pre-Anne Hathaway, there was Allyn McLerie. It's not just the resemblance: McLerie has a knack for comedy, giving this maiden fair a neurotic physicality. Equally believable as a naive newcomer, confident stage chanteuse, or blushing object of affection.

2. Marilyn Monroe

Of the three roles the immortal MM took on in '53, this was clearly her best: a dangerously sexy femme fatale, a calculating viper who can turn on the charm while manipulating people to suit her own desires. Beautiful, deadly, and weak. She gets in your head and remains long after the movie ends.

5. Jean Peters as Vicki Lynn

An interesting companion to her Pickup on South Street performance. Here, Vicki Lynn is a reg'lar gal, but once opportunity falls into her lap, she goes for it. Peters is in marvelous form here, playing Vicki as remembered by several people -- at one moment, she's the impulsive sister; now, the ungrateful lover; now, the object of untouchable obsession. Peters' performance is a full characterization that's still adaptable to everyone's view of her. She's my new favorite.

1. Thelma Ritter as Moe Williams
Pickup on South Street

From my profileFrom the very outset, Ritter's tie-selling stool pigeon is exhausted. She picks up extra bucks by ratting out her neighborhood, but in a roundabout way, never directly saying someone's name. You can see in her interactions with Richard Widmark that it's a kind of understanding. She's a good egg, but desperate times, you know? -- and for Moe, it's always desperate times. Her Big Monologue is the culmination of all the shuffling and sighing, and that single take on her alone should've won her the gold.

4. Beneath the 12-Mile Reef
A.I. Bezzerides

I'm always impressed when genuine suspense and drama can be squeezed from unexpected topics like...well, like sponge-fishing! Yet what we're given is a story about families, about the tension between white and immigrant Florida, about the call of the sea. We explore the 12-mile reef, not just because we are desperate, but because we must come face-to-face with whatever nightmares the ocean tosses at us -- we must look them in the eye, we must die and survive, we must return with a new respect. This is Florida.

2. The Captain's Paradise
Alec Coppel/Nicholas Phipps, story by Coppel

From my profileIt's a story that's rife with possibilities for over-simplification or misogyny, but it's a well-crafted, tightly-structured piece with genuinely surprising twists and a clever framing device -- the narrator is the awed first mate, so it's all presented as a "genius" plan by a great man. Now, I can delve more into those individual elements that tickled me so: the characterizations of the women, growing deeper as the film continues; the dialogue, often hilarious, never forced; the twists and turns that develop without cheap tricks or cheats. Sparkling.

1. Pickup on South Street
Samuel Fuller, story by Dwight Taylor

Writer Crush Tuesday: Samuel Fuller. What a perfectly-written thriller! It doesn't make a big deal of the Commie plotline; rather, it's concerned completely with Skip McCoy, petty thief, who lives like Travis McGee and thieves like the Artful Dodger; Candy, who's had it rough but possesses a good heart; and Moe, the ol' stool pigeon who's just tired. This is the life they know, and they're getting pretty...exhausted. It's not about politics or morality; it's about people.

3. Titanic
Charles Brackett/Walter Reisch/Richard Breen

From my profileGenuinely surprised at some of the choices here -- from centering the story on a couple about to divorce, with little chance for reconciliation, to the ultimate decisions of who lives and who dies. I love that they wrote a quiet scene for the Captain, watching the youths as they sing together, late into the night; I love the revelations Barbara Stanwyck gets to unleash on Clifton Webb; I love "Nearer My God to Thee." Grace and beauty.

5. Wicked Woman
Russell Rouse/Clarence Greene

Pure, delightful trash. A pulp drama you want a paperback of -- and not a single shot or dead body to be found! You think this might be the tale of a woman with a past trying to make good -- nuh-uh. She really is a wicked woman, and she doesn't care who she has to rob, fuck or destroy to get her way. Nasty little tale of people too dumb or too desperate to know any better.

I finally bring 1953 to an end tomorrow with my pick for Best Picture of the Year -- an addition to Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Original Song. I'll also bring 2014 to some sort of beginning with a review of the first half, and hopefully I'll finally get to my early Oscar predictions. Stay tuned...

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1 comment:

Andrew K. said...

I am fascinated by your choices for supporting actress, not necessarily unhappy but didn't expect those choices- or those thoughts.

The score for THE ROBE truly is spectacular.

(I'll be spending the next week catching up slowly but surely with your 1953 work.)