Three to Remember

three direcotrs

What do André de Toth, Michael Curtiz, and Leo McCarey have in common? These three directors were represented at the last Telluride Film Festival thanks to Alexander Payne, a Guest Director who introduced films from these cinematic stalwarts as part of his presentation on Forgotten Hollywood. Payne got his start with Citizen Ruth (1996), and then gave Matthew Broderick a memorable role in Election (1999), he cast Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt (2002), and followed this with an Oscar win for Sideways (2004). Payne’s selection of films for TFF was, as he was the first to admit, a selfish one: these were all rare films that he, personally, wanted to see on the big screen. In his introduction to Curtiz’ The Breaking Point he mentioned how TCM was to blame, because one day he woke up, turned on TCM, and only managed to see the last third of the film, which blew him away. But he’s always wanted to see the rest of it, and it’s not on DVD. Toth’s Day of the Outlaw? That 35mm print had to be secured by the TFF staff from Martin Scorsese’s personal archive. McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow? Well… if you have a PAL player and don’t mind buying the DVD from France, you’re in luck. But if you were in Telluride last Labor Day weekend, you had a chance to see rare 35mm print screenings of all three films that were sure to put you in the clouds.

Poster for: The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point

Of over 20 films screened at TFF 2009, this was one of my absolute favorites. The dialogue between John Garfield and Patricia Neal sizzled from word one and onward. The script was written by Ranald MacDougall based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel of To Have And Have Not. Garfield deserves special kudos for helping to develop the African-American role (and later paying the price by being blacklisted for “being too liberal” – a stress that aggravated a pre-existing heart condition and led to an early death at the age of 39).  Garfield plays the role of a husband and father of two girls who is trying as hard as he can to scrape a living off a fishing boat, but he keeps finding himself with bad cargo. It ultimately involves a lot of guns, blood, and death.

Here’s what Payne writes in the TFF program:

Warner Brothers released two Michael Curtiz films in 1950, both with the theme of a man pulled by unhealthy forces and torn between a good girl and a bad girl. Both were photographed by the great Ted McCord (Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and have terrific supporting performances by an African American, Juano Hernandez. The first was Young Man With a Horn, with Kirk Douglas loosely playing Bix Beiderbecke. The other was this faithful adaptation of Hemingway’s To Have And Have Not with John Garfield in his penultimate film, young and hot Patricia Neal as the bad girl, and a very moving Phylis Thaxter as Garfield’s wife. Its succinct, taut style almost mirrors Hemingway’s prose, and the grim violence of the last reel leads to a devastating final shot.

Poster for Day of the OutlawDay of the Outlaw

In the interest of full disclosure, I am sad to report that I missed this screening as it was concurrent to the Red Riding Trilogy (which I covered two weeks ago). But this is what my friend Kris Kerr (who did see it) had to say:

Day of the Outlaw is a risky, smaller-budget film that was actually shot in backcountry Wyoming during the winter. By the time you leave you are chilled to the bone, and only partly because of the setting. Robert Ryan is hard and focused as a rancher defending his way of life, determined to hold on to what is his–including a pre-Gilligan’s Island Tina Louise, ten years younger than you remember her, still hungry enough as an actress to dig deep. Equally hard-bitten is the heavy played by Burl Ives, a corrupt army officer who tries to hold on to civility even though his soul is rotten to the core. More “snakes in a pit” than sprawling, moralizing John Ford, it’s western noir that isn’t afraid to bite deep.

As an aside, modern films proclaim that “no animals were hurt in making this motion picture.” In 1959 Hollywood, that idea hadn’t yet arrived. There are scenes with horses stumbling through four-foot-deep snowdrifts, exhausted and barely keeping themselves upright. I have no doubt some of them collapsed as soon as the camera stopped. Then I realized that the actors were trudging–some on foot–through that same frigid Wyoming winter, probably for a tiny paycheck, and my esteem for the actors of yesteryear grew.

And here’s what Payne writes about the film in the progam notes:

What was it about Robert Ryan? How could an actor be so intimidating? There are so many things to commend this powerhouse low-budget Western in the snow – brilliant script, unblinking visual style that puts the camera and actors exactly where they need to be and cuts only when forced to, fine supporting players. But it’s Robert Ryan’s performance as a brutal rancher defending people he hates from marauders that gives the film its bite; you can’t take your eyes off him even when he has his back to you and a hat on. And his power and menage are matched by – who’d ever guess it? – Burl Ives as a leader of a gang of sadists and rapists. If all that weren’t enough, there’s the pre-Gilligan’s Island Tina Louse.

This one recently did come out on DVD and can be readily obtained at a good price.

A scene from Make Way for Tomorrow

Make Way for Tomorrow

It was made over 70 years ago, but this film has a lot in common with these troubled times where a record number of people saw their retirement savings evaporate or, even worse, found themselves unable to make their mortgage payments.  Based on the novel The Years Are So Long, by Josephine Lawrence, and scripted by Viña Delmar, this story is about an elderly couple, Barkley ‘Pa’ Cooper (Victor Moore) and his wife Lucy ‘Ma’ Cooper (Beulah Bondi), who run into hard times. They convene their three adult children and break the bad news: they’re losing their house and have nowhere to go.

Make Way for Tomorrow is that rare film that focuses on the problems that come with old age and dares to look at how we marginalize our elders or try to nudge them into retirement homes, but it does all this without being preachy or stodgy in the process. It’s a humanist drama laced with humor and heart – a mature work, but playful, endearing, and timeless.

Here’s what Payne wrote for this film:

Orson Welles said it would make a stone cry. Winning the Best Director Oscar for The Awful Truth the same year he made this film, Leo McCarey said they’d given it to him for the wrong picture. I’d heard about Tomorrow for years -it’s still unreleased in the U.S. on DVD – until finally I watched it alone on a flatbed at the UCLA Film Archive. I emerged into the bright light of day still in tears and remained under its spell the better part of a week. A companion piece to and influence on Ozu’s Tokyo Story, this is the rare 1930′s Hollywood movie that maintains emotional honesty straight through to the end. It also demonstrates again that only a narrative artist capable of comedy is truly capable of pathos.

I should mention that Payne also programmed three other international films as the Guest Director: El Verdugo, Daisan No Kagemusha: The Third Shadow Warrior, and Le Gagazze di Piazzi Di Spagna. I tried to see them all but can only vouch for El Verdugo – a great black comedy from Spain, shot in beautiful black-and-white, about a reluctant executioner.

Payne clearly enjoyed his role as Guest Director, and even mentioned how he felt he was getting more compliments on the streets of Telluride for the films he programmed than for the films he directed. Count me in as a fan for both.

Alexander Payne

0 Response Three to Remember
Posted By Maggie : September 20, 2009 1:29 pm

Now I REALLY want to see “Make Way for Tomorrow”. I’m trying to get some funding from UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity) to road trip over to the UCLA Archive from my home is Norman Oklahoma. If I make it over there, I will definitely set aside some time to watch it.

Posted By Maggie : September 20, 2009 1:29 pm

Now I REALLY want to see “Make Way for Tomorrow”. I’m trying to get some funding from UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity) to road trip over to the UCLA Archive from my home is Norman Oklahoma. If I make it over there, I will definitely set aside some time to watch it.

Posted By Patricia : September 20, 2009 6:28 pm

TVOntario’s movie program “Saturday Night at the Movies” ran “Make Way for Tomorrow” years ago and it is truly unforgettable and heartbreaking.

Thanks to TCM I saw “Day of the Outlaw” a few months ago. The fate awaiting baddie Jack Lambert is a corker. Must be seen!

“The Breaking Point” certainly sounds like a winner. It’s nice to know there are still treasure to be discovered.

Posted By Patricia : September 20, 2009 6:28 pm

TVOntario’s movie program “Saturday Night at the Movies” ran “Make Way for Tomorrow” years ago and it is truly unforgettable and heartbreaking.

Thanks to TCM I saw “Day of the Outlaw” a few months ago. The fate awaiting baddie Jack Lambert is a corker. Must be seen!

“The Breaking Point” certainly sounds like a winner. It’s nice to know there are still treasure to be discovered.

Posted By Suzi Doll : September 20, 2009 6:45 pm

All of these films sound like must-sees. It must have been a great experience to get to know them through the passion of a contemporary director.

Posted By Suzi Doll : September 20, 2009 6:45 pm

All of these films sound like must-sees. It must have been a great experience to get to know them through the passion of a contemporary director.

Posted By CHristopher Hyde : September 21, 2009 6:58 am

I saw Day of the Outlaw on rental via Netflix a few months back. It’s stunningly good.

Posted By CHristopher Hyde : September 21, 2009 6:58 am

I saw Day of the Outlaw on rental via Netflix a few months back. It’s stunningly good.

Posted By murf : September 21, 2009 2:40 pm

From what I knew Juano Hernandez was not black but Puerto Rican. He was just dark skinned.
Also, didnt he die in both those films mentioned?

Posted By murf : September 21, 2009 2:40 pm

From what I knew Juano Hernandez was not black but Puerto Rican. He was just dark skinned.
Also, didnt he die in both those films mentioned?

Posted By keelsetter : September 21, 2009 5:14 pm

Link below answers your first question:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juano_Hern%C3%A1ndez

And, spoiler of sorts here but, yes he’s killed in THE BREAKING POINT (I haven’t seen YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN). It should also be noted that Juano’s character was (imho) the smartest and nicest guy in all the film. But this is definitely one of those films were nice guys finish last, if they finish at all.

Posted By keelsetter : September 21, 2009 5:14 pm

Link below answers your first question:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juano_Hern%C3%A1ndez

And, spoiler of sorts here but, yes he’s killed in THE BREAKING POINT (I haven’t seen YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN). It should also be noted that Juano’s character was (imho) the smartest and nicest guy in all the film. But this is definitely one of those films were nice guys finish last, if they finish at all.

Posted By moirafinnie : September 22, 2009 10:45 am

I love these movies, and really envy your seeing any of them on a large screen. I would imagine that the impact of Make Way For Tomorrow is even greater in a theater, though I wonder if the intimacy of the story and the rapport between Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore is as fresh and tender as I recall.

I hope that you get a chance to see Young Man With a Horn soon. In the nine movies that cinematographer Ted McCord made with Michael Curtiz, this remains one of the most visually memorable, and was especially interesting to me for its use of real locations in N.Y. and L.A. And any movie featuring Juano Hernandez and Hoagy Carmichael is always worth seeing–even if they did fudge the ending of the Dorothy Baker novel, reportedly due to the interference of Jack Warner.

Thanks for sharing this experience here.

Posted By moirafinnie : September 22, 2009 10:45 am

I love these movies, and really envy your seeing any of them on a large screen. I would imagine that the impact of Make Way For Tomorrow is even greater in a theater, though I wonder if the intimacy of the story and the rapport between Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore is as fresh and tender as I recall.

I hope that you get a chance to see Young Man With a Horn soon. In the nine movies that cinematographer Ted McCord made with Michael Curtiz, this remains one of the most visually memorable, and was especially interesting to me for its use of real locations in N.Y. and L.A. And any movie featuring Juano Hernandez and Hoagy Carmichael is always worth seeing–even if they did fudge the ending of the Dorothy Baker novel, reportedly due to the interference of Jack Warner.

Thanks for sharing this experience here.

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