Warner Archive Roundup

The Warner Archive continues to release an enormous amount of the WB back catalog, at a rate impossible to keep up with. Here is my vain attempt to catch up, covering a group of four films made up of bad men and one very bad woman. The most famous title is Nicholas Ray’s Born to Be Bad (1950), a devious noir/woman’s picture in which Joan Fontaine uses her seductive wiles to marry the heir to a family fortune. Then there is a trio of manly ne’er do wells, with Peter Graves leading a mercenary force in the spaghetti western The Five Man Army (1969), Robert Mitchum doing the same in a priest’s habit in The Wrath of God (1972), and Rod Taylor carousing his way through Dublin in Young Cassidy (1965).

Nicholas Ray shot what was then titled Bed of Roses in 35 days, from June 20th to July 30th of 1949. It was a project that the head of RKO, Howard Hughes, had indefinitely postponed in 1948, one of the provocations that caused the production head Dore Schary to quit. It had gone through seven screenwriters and five directors before Ray took over, with Joan Fontaine in the lead role. Even Fontaine was wary, with her husband William Dozier writing to Hughes, “I’m afraid Joan’s enthusiasm for this project has not heightened any with the passage of time.” It was an adaptation of the 1928 novel All Kneeling by Anne Parrish, divulging the seedy story of Christabel Caine (Fontaine), a manipulative ladder-climber eager to seduce every man she meets and then marry the one with the most money. Her target is Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott), the scion of a wealthy family already engaged to Donna (Joan Leslie), the whip-smart assistant to Christabel’s Uncle John, a publisher. Christabel also has the acidically funny Nick (Robert Ryan) on a string, who is one of John’s up and coming authors. Despite all the studio snags, Ray orchestrates a deliciously cynical melodrama of sexual power plays. It is a movie of lush upper class interiors, and Ryan has the characters constantly shifting in the frame, as seen in the bravura opening sequence, in which Donna is preparing a dinner party. Donna is a blur of preparatory focus, walking in and out of rooms while Ray returns to a fixed shot of the hallway. Eventually Donna is speedwalking toward the camera, and trips to the floor over a suitcase inconveniently placed in the hall. It is the introduction of Christabel, who is sitting patiently in a room to the right. In this clever bit of choreography, Christabel is visualized as a roadblock to Donna’s best-laid plans.

Ray is aided by richly layered performances from Fontaine and Ryan. Fontaine uses a girlish hair-flipping exterior to hide her designs, letting diabolical smiles slip out once the other characters leave the frame. Ryan is a wisecracking rogue who sees through Fontaine’s exterior, describing her dual personality to her face, and yet unable to tear himself away from her. In a damning kiss off at one of her ballroom parties, following her marriage to Curtis, Ryan tells her, “I love you so much I wish I liked you.” And yet a few scenes later he’s back in her arms, ready and willing to believe her latest bedside conversion.

If Born to be Bad exhibits the genius of the Hollywood studio system, then The Five Man Army is representative of that system’s decline. As the Paramount Decision dismantled the vertical integration of studios, they scrambled to find new ways to gain audiences. The spaghetti western was one such avenue, and as the success of these products became clear, studios cut in on the action. The Five Man Army is a U.S.-Italy co-production distributed by MGM. Although Don Taylor is credited with directing the film, various reports have producer Italo Zingarelli (the pseudonym of director Giulio Questi) and even the young co-screenwriter Dario Argento taking the reigns after Kelly had to depart early to take on a TV production. There is a marked difference between the early, dialogue heavy scenes and the epic, almost wordless train heist takes up nearly the entirety of the last half-hour of the film. I haven’t found any reliable sources on the matter, but whoever ended up sitting behind the camera, it’s an effective Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven style mercenary film, capped by a surging Ennio Morriconne score and that extraordinary finale. Peter Graves, then famous for his role on Mission Impossible, headed the international cast, which was made up of mountainous Neapolitan tough guy Bud Spencer, the stereotyped silent Japanese “Samurai” (Tetsuro Tanba), tiny Italian firecracker Nino Castelnuovo, and Midwestern American James Daly. This roughshod group follows Graves’ immaculate white helmet hair in his attempt to rob an army train filled with gold.

The Wrath of God (1972) is a similarly post-Paramount Decision product, filled with aging Hollywood stars and shot in Mexico. Robert Mitchum, in a nod to his seminal psycho in The Night of the Hunter, plays a lapsed priest, only this time he’s a robber during the Mexican Revolution, using his priestly garb as a passkey through the country. It also features Rita Hayworth in her final feature performance, playing the mournful mother to Frank Langella’s psychopathic son. Mitchum is rounded up by a local strongman to take out Langella, aided by a feuding Englishman and Irishman – Jennings (Victor Buono) and Emmet (Ken Hutchison). Mitchum is as laid back as ever, his laconic priest passively taking in the casual indignities and random slaughters imposed upon the Mexican people. But when he finally rouses himself into action, and flings a tommy gun from behind his robes, it’s a deliriously entertaining moment.

There is nothing so daring about Young Cassidy (1965), a rote bio-pic about the early years of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey (named John Cassidy in the movie – one of O’Casey’s pseudonyms). Originally developed by John Ford, he had quite the job when assailed by a strep throat (and his usual alcoholism), and DP Jack Cardiff stepped into the director’s chair. Ford biographer Joseph McBride suggests that Ford was unhappy with the script and casting, and that his ailments were intentionally self-inflicted to get him off the film. The producers denied his request to shoot in black and white and refused to let him shoot in the old-fashioned Limerick instead of the modernized Dublin. Sean Connery was originally cast in the O’Casey role, but had to back out when he had to fulfill his contract in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964, released before Cassidy). So instead of the Scot, the Australian Rod Taylor took over the role. He manages a decent Irish accent, but gets lost in the episodic script, which is a succession of disconnected macho escapades. The pleasures of the film are exclusively provided by the actresses – a luminous, playful Julie Christie as a Dublin prostitute, and a furtive, hesitant Maggie Smith as O’Casey’s patient girlfriend, until that patience runs out.

As ever, the Warner Archive is an essential resource for the curious cinephile, whether you’re an auteurist or a genre aficionado. This post hopefully suggests that it’s more fun to be both.

0 Response Warner Archive Roundup
Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : October 30, 2012 2:03 pm

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Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : October 30, 2012 2:03 pm

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Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : October 30, 2012 2:09 pm

Sorry but my first Comment has gone.
Just want to say “The 5 Man Army” is great.An underrated Gem.
But the Directors Name is Don Taylor,not Kelly.
The Warner Archive´s soon became my favorite Label.
The brought out “Villain”lately too.
Great British Gangster Flick.
Richard Burton as a Homosexual Sadistic Gangster.
Kind of the Kray Twins rolled in one.
And Ian McShane is in it too.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : October 30, 2012 2:09 pm

Sorry but my first Comment has gone.
Just want to say “The 5 Man Army” is great.An underrated Gem.
But the Directors Name is Don Taylor,not Kelly.
The Warner Archive´s soon became my favorite Label.
The brought out “Villain”lately too.
Great British Gangster Flick.
Richard Burton as a Homosexual Sadistic Gangster.
Kind of the Kray Twins rolled in one.
And Ian McShane is in it too.

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : October 30, 2012 2:15 pm

You are right Ghijath, thanks for the catch. I must have been thinking of the Detroit Tigers bench player.

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : October 30, 2012 2:15 pm

You are right Ghijath, thanks for the catch. I must have been thinking of the Detroit Tigers bench player.

Posted By Emgee : October 30, 2012 4:20 pm

“Born to be Bad exhibits the genius of the Hollywood studio system” I’d rather say the genius of Nicholas Ray, not to mention his otherwordly patience with the seriously unhinged Hughes. I mean:”seven screenwriters and five directors before Ray took over”, that’s way beyond eccentric. The studio system only worked when capable hands were at the helm. Hughes singlehandedly wrecked RKO like an expensive toy.

Posted By Emgee : October 30, 2012 4:20 pm

“Born to be Bad exhibits the genius of the Hollywood studio system” I’d rather say the genius of Nicholas Ray, not to mention his otherwordly patience with the seriously unhinged Hughes. I mean:”seven screenwriters and five directors before Ray took over”, that’s way beyond eccentric. The studio system only worked when capable hands were at the helm. Hughes singlehandedly wrecked RKO like an expensive toy.

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : October 30, 2012 5:03 pm

Emgee, I agree with you on Hughes, but as you say, BORN TO BE BAD got made even in spite of meddling execs, because the quality of the collaborators provided by the studios were so high. It’s not just the talents of Nicholas Ray, but DP Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST) and the sterling cast that made BTBB so memorable.

That’s what I mean by “genius of the system”. Now, the system didn’t work for every feature, not even close, but so many movies were produced that each artist got to hone their craft, and when the right project appeared, impressive works of art came out of it. These days directors and DPs are lucky to make one movie every couple of years, so they’re not getting the same quantity of experience – although they may have more freedom at times. You may still disagree, but I hope I clarified what I was trying to convey.

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : October 30, 2012 5:03 pm

Emgee, I agree with you on Hughes, but as you say, BORN TO BE BAD got made even in spite of meddling execs, because the quality of the collaborators provided by the studios were so high. It’s not just the talents of Nicholas Ray, but DP Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST) and the sterling cast that made BTBB so memorable.

That’s what I mean by “genius of the system”. Now, the system didn’t work for every feature, not even close, but so many movies were produced that each artist got to hone their craft, and when the right project appeared, impressive works of art came out of it. These days directors and DPs are lucky to make one movie every couple of years, so they’re not getting the same quantity of experience – although they may have more freedom at times. You may still disagree, but I hope I clarified what I was trying to convey.

Posted By Emgee : October 30, 2012 5:20 pm

Emmet, my time to agree: even under Hughes (mis)direction RKO made a lot of great movies and even under the factory conditions they applied the studios were able to quickly turn out unforgettable movies. Nowadays they indeed have more freedom, but when directors flop, there’s no system to back them up. Just a one-way walk to the exit.

Posted By Emgee : October 30, 2012 5:20 pm

Emmet, my time to agree: even under Hughes (mis)direction RKO made a lot of great movies and even under the factory conditions they applied the studios were able to quickly turn out unforgettable movies. Nowadays they indeed have more freedom, but when directors flop, there’s no system to back them up. Just a one-way walk to the exit.

Posted By Kingrat : October 31, 2012 1:15 pm

I don’t like BORN TO BE BAD quite so much as you do, but it’s certainly worth seeing. And that actor who’s so much fun as the obviously, if not explicitly, gay pal of the bad girl–can that really be the usually wooden Mel Ferrer?

Posted By Kingrat : October 31, 2012 1:15 pm

I don’t like BORN TO BE BAD quite so much as you do, but it’s certainly worth seeing. And that actor who’s so much fun as the obviously, if not explicitly, gay pal of the bad girl–can that really be the usually wooden Mel Ferrer?

Posted By swac44 : October 31, 2012 4:06 pm

I have a hard time keeping up with Warner Archive releases, but I also hate shelling out $20 for a title only to have it show up on TCM within a week of me getting it. Good thing I spotted Born to Be Bad on the TCM schedule recently and have it waiting for me on my DVR. I’m sure I’ll enjoy my viewing of it, but I doubt it would have been a keeper, much as I love Ray’s work.

I just read elsewhere that there will be a Warner Archive release including Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s early talkie shorts and some early, pre-Stooges comedy shorts starring Shemp Howard. Now that’s something I can look forward to buying.

Posted By swac44 : October 31, 2012 4:06 pm

I have a hard time keeping up with Warner Archive releases, but I also hate shelling out $20 for a title only to have it show up on TCM within a week of me getting it. Good thing I spotted Born to Be Bad on the TCM schedule recently and have it waiting for me on my DVR. I’m sure I’ll enjoy my viewing of it, but I doubt it would have been a keeper, much as I love Ray’s work.

I just read elsewhere that there will be a Warner Archive release including Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s early talkie shorts and some early, pre-Stooges comedy shorts starring Shemp Howard. Now that’s something I can look forward to buying.

Posted By monkeymind2000 : October 31, 2012 8:44 pm

Glad to hear how enjoyable The Wrath Of God is. Frank Langella is pretty scathing about it in his book “Dropped Names”, but has great anecdotes about working with Mitchum, and having an affair with Hayworth!

Posted By monkeymind2000 : October 31, 2012 8:44 pm

Glad to hear how enjoyable The Wrath Of God is. Frank Langella is pretty scathing about it in his book “Dropped Names”, but has great anecdotes about working with Mitchum, and having an affair with Hayworth!

Posted By Juana Maria : December 23, 2012 12:51 pm

I’m glad some one besides me has seen the “5 Man Army” and likes it! I watched some of it late one night on TCM,but got too sleepy and went to bed. I’d love to see it again. I love Westerns as you’ve probably noticed by now. Ha ha. I have seen “The Wrath of God”,I can’t say it is my favorite,because frankly it isn’t. I would rather be watching “the Magnificent Seven”. To me this film is similar to “Kelly’s Heroes” where you got a bunch of guys really in this for themselves but yet they’re the heroes. I know I not the only one who think Frank Langella is handsome in this film! I know he hates this film. I don’t care. It so spaghetti Western I just love it. Except for the scene where the little boy,Pablito gets shot! I also thought it was Mario Brega as Jurado but it was Gregory Sierra! Wow! I remember him on “Gunsmoke” and “Murder She Wrote”. I always think of him being skinny and the Jurado character is huge! Maybe I made a mix up of who is who. I don’t know. I love Westerns and am super duper thrilled when others do too!

Posted By Juana Maria : December 23, 2012 12:51 pm

I’m glad some one besides me has seen the “5 Man Army” and likes it! I watched some of it late one night on TCM,but got too sleepy and went to bed. I’d love to see it again. I love Westerns as you’ve probably noticed by now. Ha ha. I have seen “The Wrath of God”,I can’t say it is my favorite,because frankly it isn’t. I would rather be watching “the Magnificent Seven”. To me this film is similar to “Kelly’s Heroes” where you got a bunch of guys really in this for themselves but yet they’re the heroes. I know I not the only one who think Frank Langella is handsome in this film! I know he hates this film. I don’t care. It so spaghetti Western I just love it. Except for the scene where the little boy,Pablito gets shot! I also thought it was Mario Brega as Jurado but it was Gregory Sierra! Wow! I remember him on “Gunsmoke” and “Murder She Wrote”. I always think of him being skinny and the Jurado character is huge! Maybe I made a mix up of who is who. I don’t know. I love Westerns and am super duper thrilled when others do too!

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