Category Archives: 1940s

Yellow Sky (1948)

*. What? You mean Gregory Peck is playing a bad guy? Wearing a black hat and heading a gang of outlaws whose second-in-command is a sneering Richard Widmark? Is such a thing possible?
*. Well, not really. Perhaps his hat is actually blue, since he’s an ex-Union man. And just before the final battle, when you see him in the moonlight, the way the scene is lit makes it look like his hat has turned if not white then a lighter shade of pale. I wonder if that could have been deliberate.
*. And of course Peck does turn out to the hero. You knew that. You knew there was no way he wasn’t going to be pairing up with Anne Baxter in the end. That’s destiny, in Hollywood.
*. For a while though it seemed as though Yellow Sky really was going to be something different. And by different I mean dark. Peck not only has a dark hat and a chin full of stubble, he’s a sexual predator. Sure it’s just a question of time before “Stretch” (Peck) claims “Mike” (Baxter) as his woman (and their names revert to more traditional gender norms), but what he practices is more than rough wooing. And indeed Mike is threatened throughout with rape by the gang. There is an atmosphere of menace that follows her about from her first appearance and the men start commenting on her sensuous appearance (“when she tucks in that shirt . . .”), culminating in Stretch’s admonishment to “stop swingin’ your hips all over the place!”
*. The setting is also darker than the usual Western locale. There’s a punishing desert (shot on location in Death Valley) like we’d get in later spaghettis, and instead of the usual frontier town there’s a ruin (literally a demolished movie set built by Tom Mix in the 1920s).
*. The plot might have been darker as well. The men falling out over a woman and a treasure in gold recalls The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, released the same year. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a movie that also takes a familiar Western narrative or myth and casts some shade upon it.
*. At one point I was hoping for the return of the Apache at the end in the role of the cavalry, saving Stretch and Mike and Grandpa from Dude and the gang. That, however, would have been a turn of the screw too far in 1948.

*. I was interested in seeing this one because I’d heard that it was considered to be an adaptation of The Tempest. At first glance I didn’t see much of a connection. A group of people stumble upon an isolated place where an old man lives with a young woman (his daughter in The Tempest, his granddaughter here). That’s basically just the old story of the farmer’s daughter. Aside from this, what connection is there? Where is the magic of The Tempest? The music? Where are Caliban and Ariel? Grandpa is a prospector, which sort of sounds like Prospero, but aside from that . . .
*. This made me curious to find out what the source was of this connection. The only reference I found was to an essay by an academic named Tony Howard. Howard’s essay, however, only mentions Yellow Sky a couple of times. The first is in passing, in a paragraph where he talks about how Hollywood basically “kept its distance” from Shakespeare in the 1940s and ’50s except to “use the plots as raw material for mainstream genre films” like Jubal, Joe Macbeth, and Yellow Sky.
*. The second reference is a little meatier. Howard says that in Yellow Sky the “elemental metaphors” of The Tempest “are reversed. Shakespeare’s sea gives way to thirst, and the magic island becomes a ghost town.” Hm. Well, I guess. But that’s not much. The only other connection made is that the film also deals with the “Caliban question,” which is presented as “Can any of these degenerates be redeemed?” This makes no sense to me no matter what angle I look at it. Was Caliban a degenerate in need of redemption? Is Stretch meant to be Caliban then?
*. I don’t want to make a big thing out of this though. I mean, Forbidden Planet is only slightly more related to The Tempest, and that connection has become canonical. For what it’s worth, Wellman himself apparently said that he had no idea there was any connection. And the thing is, Shakespeare basically adapted other people’s stories, using them as his “raw material,” but The Tempest has no known source. The reason being it doesn’t really have a story. It’s more just riffing on a couple of generic situations, of the kind that were popular in improv theatre at the time. It seems to me that what we’re dealing with here are the same basic tropes.

*. Given the talent involved it was hard for this movie to go wrong. With William Wellman directing and Lamar Trotti adapting a W. R. Burnett story you would know you were in good hands. Then you can sit back and enjoy moments like the wonderful shot of the gang coming out of the desert beneath Peck’s horse, or the dark, still portraits of Dude and Lengthy waiting for Stretch in the saloon. As with so many Westerns, it’s a final gunfight that is all anticipation. When the actual bullets start flying we cut, leaving Mike to discover what happened later, as at the end of Stagecoach.
*. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t end there. That would have been too dark. There’s a really silly coda as the gang makes good, returning the money to the bank they robbed at the beginning. Mike has a nice new hat that symbolizes her adoption of a more traditional form of womanhood. The West was safe, for now.

Castle in the Desert (1942)

*. The last of the 20th Century Fox Chan films with Sidney Toler, and while nothing new I still thought it was one of the better entries and not one that registers any dropping off.
*. The set-up is delightful. It’s basically a manor-house mystery, only the manor in this case is a medieval castle that’s been built out in the desert by a “scholarly millionaire” who thinks that by not having a phone he’s living like they did in the Middle Ages. In a castle. In the desert. Like I say, delightful. Delightfully silly.
*. Apparently the castle is based on Scotty’s Castle, a Death Valley villa still operating as a tourist site that I’d never heard of. I’d thought of it as a cross between Hearst Castle/Xanadu and Manderley. These would have been locations in everyone’s mind since Rebecca had just come out in 1940 and Citizen Kane the year before. Not to mention that the scholarly millionaire’s family name is Manderley. But scholars say Scotty’s Castle is what was meant, so there you have it.
*. This Manderley fellow (Douglass Dumbrille) has married a Borgia. Yes, one of those Borgias, a descendant of the infamous Renaissance Italians. He also wears a black mask over half his face and suffers from a weird psychological condition that makes him suffer anxiety attacks whenever his social status is threatened. What a weirdo! And then there’s a mystic kook named Madame Saturnia making surprisingly accurate prophecies, Henry Daniell playing . . . someone shady, Jimmy Lee running around in armour, and the usual gang of suspects (a doctor, a butler, a lawyer, a beautiful young woman, a handsome young man).
*. I don’t think the various plots make a lot of sense, but at least this time I could follow the basics of what was going on.
*. Busy and with decent production values it’s a lot of fun throughout. They might have gone on forever but with the coming of war it wouldn’t do for Fox to have an Asian hero. Monogram would pick the series up though, and Toler, who had purchased the film rights, would continue to star. Things would kick off in 1944’s Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, with Charlie working for the U.S. government’s war effort. But the later movies would be a big step down in budget and quality. For the good Chan movies, this was pretty much the end of the line.

Charlie Chan in Rio (1941)

*. The penultimate Fox Chan film, and they were running so low on material they had to recycle, or remake, The Black Camel. It’s the same basic plot, complete with the pin stuck in the shoe that leaves scratches on the floor, though some of the roles are a bit different.
*. This is kind of disappointing, both for showing a lack of creativity and for the fact that The Black Camel was a better version of a not very good story in the first place (though one that was actually based on one of the original Earl Der Biggers novels).
*. Harold Huber is back again. He’d been a police chief in Monte Carlo in Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo, a police detective in New York in Charlie Chan on Broadway, a gendarme in Paris in City in Darkness, and now he’s the chief of police in Rio. He gets around almost as much as Charlie. That’s versatility.
*. This isn’t one of the better Chan movies, but it has a few nice touches. There’s a gag they use a couple of times when someone asks for a presumably alcoholic beverage and Charlie changes this to lemonade and coffee. There’s the first use of subtitles to show Charlie and Jimmy exchanging information in what I assume is Mandarin in order to fool the guests, with a joke at the end that the Chinese maid doesn’t know what they’re saying, as she was raised in the U.S.
*. Victor Sen Yung has more to do, and while the role is as limited as ever he’s pretty good at carrying things. We leave off with him being called up by the army, which would have been a good note to end on.

Dead Men Tell (1941)

*. You know you’re well into formula territory when you can joke about it. There’s a scene included in almost all of these Charlie Chan movies where a group of people are gathered together in a room where some conclusive bit of evidence is going to be revealed when all of a sudden the lights go out and the killer escapes. Sometimes this even happens a couple of times in the same movie. In Dead Men Tell it happens, but off-screen, so that when Jimmy Chan tells his dad about what happened, Charlie can smile at what he calls “the old story.”
*. A simple enough plot, for a change, but one that I still couldn’t make any sense of. Old Miss Nodbury has it in her head that she’s going to dig up a treasure buried by a pirate ancestor on Cocos Island, and for some reason has invited a bunch of likely suspects to go with her. She thinks someone is out to rob her so she rips her treasure map up into four parts and gives the pieces to some of the other passengers on the ship she’s chartered.
*. That ship never actually sails, as she’s killed by someone dressed up like a pirate (peg leg, hook for a hand). Charlie, who has come on board looking for his irrepressible Number Two Son (I’m not sure what he was up to), finds himself leading the investigation into who killed the old lady.
*. I say I couldn’t make sense out of the plot because it has characters tossed at us who are just plain weird (like an escaped con posing as a newsman and a psychiatrist accompanied by her creepy patient) and who have nothing to do with the crime. In fact, Miss Nodbury’s treasure quest is all a red herring and the case comes down to a tale of old-school revenge being carried out by two fellows who have assumed new identities.
*. Apparently the pirate treasure is worth $60 million. That made me raise an eyebrow. In movies of this period $10,000 is usually considered a fortune. So I plugged $60 million into an inflation calculator and it said the same amount today would be worth $1.1 billion. That’s a lot of pirate gold.
*. There’s not much else to say. I found this a pedestrian outing, with the only dramatic highlights being Jimmy Chan falling into the water over and over again. But I have to note the presence of Kay Aldridge. She’s one of those actors from the golden age that never went on to become big stars but which, when you see them now, you’re struck by how beautiful they were. You’re just sitting there watching some hum-drum B-picture from the day and then all of a sudden you see someone who makes you go “Wow.”
*. Aldridge got her start as a model and was a cover-girl for some major publications before appearing on screen, sometimes as as what was called a “living statue” role where she basically just had to stand around and look pretty. She’d retire from movies a few years after this, when she married for the first time. Eye candy? She’s playing Laura Thursday, which is a tiny part, but in a movie like this her appearance is a treat.

Murder Over New York (1940)

*. Perfunctory entry in the series that has Charlie chasing after another saboteur. A tight enough plot, as far as these things go, but . . .
*. The casual racism is a bit much this time out. At one point the police round up every Hindu in New York, looking for the villain’s assistant. His name is Ramullah, but as things turn out every Hindu man’s name is Ramullah! Consternation! In any event, the chief is amazed at how there are so many “Ali Babas” in New York when the line-up is filled with a whole eight suspects. That’s a lot of Hindus. One of them is also tagged as being a “fakir” who the chief immediately spots as a “faker” (he makes the joke). He turns out to be Shorty McCoy (Shemp Howard, uncredited) with some shoe polish on his face. Well, at least the real Ramullah is played by a Hindu actor. That’s something.
*. Then there is a Black man, playing a frightened butler, who is one step up above Stepin Fetchit (Mantan Moreland was waiting in the wings). I don’t know why they even brought the Black guy in. Under questioning he says he is “completely in the dark.” To which Charlie sharply responds, with no sense of humour, “Condition appear contagious.” Ugh.
*. There’s a weird moment when Charlie mentions that the former wife of the villain may not recognize her ex (as we later find out he’s had plastic surgery) and says that the leopard may have changed his spots. This seems a mangling or misprision of the proverb about a leopard never changing its spots. A fumble from the master of the aphorism? Or intentional?
*. Moves well enough, with lots of action and the usual gang of suspects. Also as per usual even the innocent characters try to outdo each other in looking as guilty as possible. Adds up to another bit of product from the assembly line, and only of interest to committed fans.

Week-End at the Waldorf (1945)

*. Grand Hotel had been sent up as early as 1932 (the year of its release) in Blondie of the Follies, where Marion Davies did Greta Garbo. Vicki Baum’s novel hadn’t really been a comedy though, and the movie, while it had some light moments, was ultimately a bittersweet melodrama if not quite tragic.
*. In 1945 America wasn’t in much of a mood for tragedy, or European interwar ennui, so this update of the story veers toward bedroom farce and screwball bits. We’re also in New York, not Berlin. So the ballet dancer is now a movie star (Ginger Rogers), the Baron is a war correspondent (Walter Pidgeon), the dying man (Van Johnson) has a hope that surgery will be successful (if he can only discover “the will to live”), and the stenographer (Lana Turner) is actually a good girl.

*. That last point is a headscratcher. Joan Crawford was brilliant in Grand Hotel playing a secretary with few scruples. You would think Lana Turner could have just walked into such a part. But instead she’s a peroxide-blonde sweetie, holding out for her sick flyboy. Oh well. Next year she’d have a chance to go full tilt in The Postman Always Rings Twice.
*. I didn’t know the Waldorf Astoria hotel was still there. But I looked it up and it is. Still quite a fancy destination, I guess. There were no rooms available when I checked online so I can’t tell you how much it costs for a night. Apparently they filmed some of this movie on location (mostly just the exteriors) and the hotel had wanted the movie shot in colour to play up its luxury. The studio balked.
*. The book Irene (Rogers) is reading (or at least shown holding) at the party is titled The Whiskey Rebellion. As chance would have it, I’d just finished reading The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hogeland the week I saw this movie. Now Irene can’t be reading Hogeland’s book, which was only published in 2010. So I wonder exactly what book she has. It seems an odd thing for a movie star to be holding at a party. I mean, today you couldn’t imagine a movie star holding a book of any kind at a party. Is it a history she’s reading, or a novel? Now I’m curious.

*. Week-End at the Waldorf was very popular and made a lot of money, so I guess MGM knew what they were doing. This kind of light entertainment doesn’t age well though. It seems a ramshackle affair to me too, at least in terms of plot construction. We’re introduced to the hotel by a narrator’s voiceover, but this character will have no role to play in the rest of the film. There are three major storylines, none of which intersect and none of which is particularly interesting on its own. There’s competent direction by the prolific Robert Leonard. Xavier Cugat plays himself and there are a couple of musical numbers.
*. There’s one cute and knowing scene with Roger and Pigeon where he acts out the part of the Baron in the relationship between Barrymore and Garbo in Grand Hotel and she gets the reference. Aside from that it’s hard to think of anything memorable about this. But then, I don’t think being memorable was the idea. You check in to a movie like this for some star-watching. I’m sure I couldn’t get the heist plots of the different Ocean’s movies straight today either, but they were fun at the time. That’s all that’s going on here too.

Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940)

*. Believe it or not, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum starts out looking like it’s going to be something different. A killer named McBirney who’s been sentenced to the electric chair escapes from the courthouse and goes to visit a doctor who has a lucrative business performing plastic surgery on criminals seeking a new identity . . . while running a wax museum as a front! But McBirney is so impatient to get his revenge on Charlie (whose evidence had sentenced him to the chair) that he’ll risk everything to take our hero out even before the bandages are off. A trap is set . . .
*. In other words, not the usual whodunit and on the whole a pretty basic set-up. Until the second half, when things become bewilderingly complicated in the usual fashion. Even the murders are bizarre, from a rigged electric chair to blowguns firing darts dipped in tonga, “a poison used by the Dayak headhunters of Borneo.”
*. What we end up with then is not much different, and not much better, than the usual run-of-the-mill Chan adventure. Victor Sen Yung is the sole bright spot, even if he has to work harder than usual to sell the gags. The business of having someone turn the lights out while they run off or destroy some evidence had become an obligatory scene in the series, and here they use it twice.
*. Not bad. Maybe slightly above average, especially for the Toler Chans. The setting had unrealized potential to be used for more than just the usual “dummy” jokes played with the various effigies, but it still gives the proceedings a nice bit of atmosphere. But Toler is stiff as usual and the plot again tries to cram way too much into too small a box.

Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)

*. There’s a story behind the title. This is one of the relatively few Charlie Chan movies to be based on one of the novels by Earl Derr Biggers, in this case Charlie Chan Carries On. Now Charlie Chan Carries On had been filmed previously. It had been the first of the Warner Oland Chans, released in 1931, but the only prints had been destroyed in a big fire at Fox which resulted in the studio wanting to remake them. I don’t know if this was because they figured it was something the public wanted or because they figured nobody would even remember the earlier movie so they could just do some recycling.
*. In any event, this all led to a legal suit because the Biggers estate wanted the credit that the movie was based on an original screenplay and not the novel because that way they’d get more money (I’m not sure how this worked, but that’s how it’s explained in the documentary The Chan Era). The credit ended up saying that it was based on a Biggers story, even though it’s quite a loose adaptation.
*. Given that it had an actual literary source I was expecting something a bit tighter. As it is, even after having just watched it I’m not sure I can explain what it was about. Charlie is alerted to the fact that one of the members of a tour group is a strangler. He joins the group on a cruise from Hawaii to San Francisco hoping to uncover who it is. I’d go into more detail, but the plot synopsis you get on the IMDb is nearly 4,000 words! It’s just too confusing to sort out in a few sentences here.
*. Confusing and not at all satisfying. I didn’t care who it was running around in the mask at the end. Nor is there anything entertaining going on. The usual Chan formula is in play. Jimmy Chan bumbles around. They trap the killer but the lights go out and the killer escapes, etc.
*. A few points stand out. In the first place, I mentioned in my notes on Behind That Curtain that it was maybe the first movie I’d seen where you see a character tying their shoes, or at least where this act is made the focus of attention. But in City in Darkness the business of tying shoes comes up again, and in this movie shoelaces are a clue. I wonder why there was such consistency.
*. Another point has to do with spanking. In a couple of earlier movies Charlie identifies his sons (both Lee and Jimmy) from behind when they have their bums stuck in the air, saying he is able to do so because he was acquainted with this part of their anatomy because he’d administered corporal punishment on them when children. This movie begins with Charlie about to administer a spanking to one of his younger sons only to be interrupted by an old friend.
*. Attitudes have changed toward spanking children. I’m against it, but in 1940 I suppose it was fairly common. It doesn’t make me warm to Charlie very much though. Especially since Toler’s Chan is a cold fellow to begin with.
*. Finally, one clue Charlie picks up on is the way the bed has been made in a hotel room. The sheets have been tucked in the wrong order. Of course today all we have is fitted sheets, but back in the day any cleaning lady or nurse had to know how to make proper hospital corners! Now how many people alive today know how to make hospital corners? It’s yet another lost art.
*. Not a cruise worth taking, I’m afraid. It’s surprising that they made a story this weak into a movie twice, but the first is lost and the second best forgotten.

Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)

*. War is in the offing, and it’s interesting, from a historical point of view, to look at this movie and see how everyone knew where things were going even before Pearl Harbor. In any event, Charlie is stationed in Panama helping to protect the canal against sabotage by a spy named “Reiner” (or “Ryner” as it appears in the subtitles; I’m not sure if the film gives any indication how it’s to be spelled so I go for the more likely option).
*. Reiner’s identity is unknown, as is the matter of who they are working for (though the German-sounding name is a big hint). The reason they can’t be identified is because the man sent to Panama to give Charlie a heads-up is killed by a poisoned cigarette. Finding Reiner is then what drives the plot, with the usual cast of suspicious types to choose from and the bumbling of Jimmy Chan (Victor Sen Yung) being of little assistance.
*. Though it’s the usual formula, and you’ll guess who Reiner is by keeping that formula in mind, there were a few noteworthy things about this one.
*. In the first place, hats off to the stunt man doubling for Manolo who jumped from that balcony. I’ve mentioned before about how much attention spectacular stunts get, when it’s really the more obvious things, like jumping from any kind of height onto a hard surface, that I find most impressive. Like Cornel Wilde dropping from one level of the waterfall to another in The Naked Prey, or the man jumping out of the plane onto the tarmac in Bullitt. I like how the commentaries for both those movies point out just how impressive those jumps were. Well, the jump from the balcony here is just as eye-popping. I really don’t know how he managed to get up after that.
*. Another thing I’d credit this one with is the villain, who is more interesting than usual. Now that’s really not saying much because almost all of the villains in these movies are instantly forgettable. Indeed, I can’t think of any off the top of my head except for Cesar Romero in Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (remember that Bela Lugosi in The Black Camel and Boris Karloff in Charlie Chan at the Opera were not the principal villains).
*. Finally, it seems as though Sidney Toler was starting to relax a bit into the role of Charlie Chan. He’s still pretty robotic, but there are moments, like the sly look he gives Jimmy when he ribs him about a dangerous older woman, where he shows more of a human side.
*. So not a bad entry in this series, with some added historical interest. It was neat watching an aircraft carrier entering into the locks and realizing that war was on the way and that these ships would soon be seeing action. I wonder what aircraft carrier that was and what its story was. Otherwise, though the series was now in full gear, Charlie’s time, at least at Fox, was running out.

Macbeth (1948)

*. William Shakespeare and Orson Welles. Two towering geniuses, with the greatness of Welles’s Othello and Chimes at Midnight being stunning testimony to what their union could bring forth.
*. But . . . Homer does nod. Witness this adaptation of Macbeth, which, though not a terrible movie, I think has to be considered an artistic failure on almost every level.
*. Welles certainly had excuses. A limited budget (around $800,000) and a ridiculously tight shooting schedule (23 days), for starters. Still, he knew how to stretch a buck and was a fast worker (at least when it came to shooting, editing was another matter).
*. No, if you want to know why this movie doesn’t work you can’t use that excuse. Instead you have to look at what were, however constrained, creative decisions that just didn’t work.
*. Contemporary reviewers were particularly harsh on the use of dialect. A review in Life Magazine famously opined that, with his burr, “Orson Welles doth foully slaughter Shakespeare.” It’s hard to disagree. Frankly, I don’t see any point in doing the Scottish play in a Scottish accent. When Macbeth (Welles) complains here of having been left with “a barrrren sceptre in my grrrrrripe,” I just had to roll my eyes. He’s not fooling anyone.
*. Then there are all the bizarre design elements. This looks like a movie put together from a rummage sale of old Hollywood costumes and props. We see people armed with what appear to be tiny tridents and others with crosses. At the end, Welles throws a spear that looks borrowed from an old Flash Gordon serial. There are Viking helmets and others with Celtic crosses sprouting out of them. Macbeth’s crown looks like an upside-down footstool.
*. The weird costumes (far weirder than the witches’ appearance) fit with the otherworldly sets. Does Macbeth even have a castle or does he just live in a cave, with some steps leading up to it carved out of a cliff? The interiors have the cheap SF look of shiny rock walls and bare floors. Jonathan Rosenbaum: “the unabashed B-movie artificiality of the sets confirms that Welles wanted to draft something closer to a charcoal sketch than a finished canvas.” Well, that’s a nice way of putting it, making what was probably more of a grim necessity into an aesthetic choice.
*. For what it’s worth, Welles thought the setting was a cross between Wuthering Heights and Bride of Frankenstein. He got a lot more than that in here.
*. There are two things I’d flag about this crazy, stylized-Stone Age look of the film. In the first place, it’s very theatrical. Most of the movie was obviously shot on a studio set, and when you add on Welles’s penchant for long takes (which, in this film, are overdone to no real purpose), you really have the sense of a filmed play. That’s not a look any movie wants to end up with, even they are filmed plays.
*. The second thing about the design is that it’s silly. Some of it probably wasn’t meant to be, but still is. When Malcolm’s forces are marching through Birnam Wood and are told to chop branches from the trees I felt like I was watching the Python troupe meeting up with the Knights who say Ni and being asked to fetch a shrubbery. The helmets with the crosses didn’t help.
*. At other points, however, I think Welles must have been aware of the joke. Once we see Macbeth in power he promenades to what sounds like the comical notes of a tuba. With his royal bulkiness wrapped in furs to go with the musical cue you might think you’re looking at the march of “Rooty,” A&W’s Great Root Bear.
*. The play’s big moments are disappointing. The murder of Banquo is a joke and his ghost is just ho-hum. The “tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech is given over a shot of swirling mist. Birnam Wood just appears as some men holding branches coming out of that mist. The imaginary dagger is scarcely more than a cue. The witches are barely seen.
*. For some reason the character of a Holy Man is added. I can’t figure him out at all. The Christian imagery just feels tacked on anyway.
*. Even when he was young Welles liked playing old men: titans whose life has fallen into the sere. I don’t think this helps him with Macbeth because the play has a natural pull in this direction already. Macbeth goes from being an ambitious up-and-comer to a burnt-out case pretty quickly. In the final acts he’s a man who’s weary of it all and though he shows some of the old spark on occasion (we’d call him bipolar today), mostly he just wants an end. The thing is, Welles is so comfortable with this kind of character that he makes him seem even more enervated than usual, and I found the latter half started to drag.
*. Jeanette Nolan has a promising introduction, with a very sexy “unsex me here” soliloquy, lying on her back in furs with a bust that looks pretty ambitious all on its own. But after this Welles doesn’t give her that much to chew on, and keeps most of the close-ups for himself. To be honest, I found many of the other characters indistinguishable.
*. The direction is less inventive than it may appear at first glance. Aside from the long takes there are a lot of high- and low-angle shots that work to exaggerate the odd shapes of the sets even more. In all of this I didn’t feel like there was anything that enriched the play very much or that took it in any new directions.
*. But while it may be a mess, and a poor movie overall, it is Welles, and Welles is always at least something. There are ideas here that might have worked.
*. As already noted, upon its release it was savaged. It has since rebounded in the eyes of critics, to the point where I’m sure a Criterion release must be in the works. I think everyone needs to pump the brakes on revision. This is not a good movie, though it’s definitely worth checking out for what does, and more often doesn’t, work.