• U.S.

The New Pictures, Sep. 19, 1949

7 minute read

White Heat (Warner) is in the hurtling tabloid tradition of the gangster movies of the ’30s, but its matter-of-fact violence is a new, postwar style. Brilliantly directed by Raoul (Roaring Twenties) Walsh, an old master of cinema hoodlumism, it returns a more subtle James Cagney to the kind of thug role that made him famous.

Playing a paunchy, mother-dependent killer, Cagney empties his pistol into his victim with the calm, preoccupied expression of a pedestrian waiting for a street light to change. There is none of the shock technique of The Public Enemy —no audience-deafening gun blasts, no close-ups of the killer’s eyes or of the sickening sprawl of the corpse. The new brutality is streamlined. .White Heat is sprinkled with an improved type of wrist action in blackjacking, so effective that the camera does not even bother to examine the victim. The traditional movie chase, with its essentially simple machinery, has evolved into a studious, highly technical battle in which the combatants use telephones, oscillators, triangulation equipment and poker faces.

White Heat cuts so deeply into the characters of its big-time hijackers that for once movie gangsters look as humanly criminal as the “wanted” faces on a post office bulletin board. The leading character, a scientific hijacker, is completely abnormal, but Cagney plays him in a stodgy workingman style that makes him as believable as the most ordinary man. Blandly out of contact with reality, the hijacker is seen in a typical shot collecting refuse in the prison workshop, a dumpy figure wearing an expression of near-senile rumination and apparently having the time of his life. His mother (Margaret Wycherly) is a fierce, puritanical type who pampers her son with his favorite strawberries and treats federal agents as though they were bureaucratic busybodies. Another odd creation is the restlessly affectionate gun moll (Virginia Mayo), a swirly blonde with a complicated mobile technique for kissing, getting out of bed and looking in the mirror.

Form-conscious Director Walsh can set up a trivial shot of gangsters listening to a car radio in a windswept mountain lideout, and make grey weather, the texture of trees and the vitality of the figures add up to visual pleasure. An unaffected director of home and bedroom scenes, he even manages, without bathos or leer, to jet away with a shot of Cagney sitting on lis mother’s lap.

That Midnight Kiss (M-G-M). Producer Joe (“No one’s going to get sick or die in my movies”) Pasternak is an expert at turning out box-office musicals (Three Daring Daughters, In the Good Old Summertime). His favorite theme is the American dream that the tot on the living-room floor may one day turn out to be another Schnabel or Flagstad. In this case, the American living room is the usual Pasternak plush job, heavily furnished with grand pianos, helpful celebrities and enthusiastic prodigies.

As usual, Pasternak begins with a pretty soprano (Kathryn Grayson) warbling an aria. An itinerant celebrity (Jose Iturbi) is beating the fake rosebushes for young opera stars. Tunneling into this setup is a manly young truck driver (Mario Lanza) who has just the bouncing good looks and tenor voice to team up with the soprano.

The dizzy foolishness of this sodapop operetta is made more foolish by its opulence. Every good thing about it is lavishly doubled or tripled. There are two prodigies and two frustrated opera-singer parents kicking them up to stardom, two comics (Jules Munshin and Keenan Wynn) and two imperturbable renegades from the fine arts (Ethel Barrymore and Jose Iturbi). Among the players, only Thomas Gomez (whose portrait of a tenor warming up his tonsils spoofs both tenor and script) seems to be having any fun in the machine comedy.

The one pleasant surprise in That Midnight Kiss is Mario Lanza, a young (27) tenor with the spry, nonsensical air of a chipmunk and an Americanized-Caruso voice which gives style and seriousness to the whole production. His least appealing quality, which Metro will apparently exploit for some ten musicals, is the smily, complacent bounce which places him in Hollywood’s long list of boys who rouse the maternal instinct.

Easy Living (RKO Radio) looks for half a reel like a football yarn. Then it turns into a turgid, second-rate soap opera about a professional football hero (Victor Mature) and his overambitious career-girl wife (Lizabeth Scott).

In his deep-chested, dim-witted fashion, Mature loves his wife. But Lizabeth loves nothing but penthouses, stylish parties and Wall Street wolves who, for a consideration, can boost her to success as an interior decorator. Her pushing ways cost Mature a chance for a secure job as football coach at the state college. The job goes instead to his buddy and teammate, Sonny Tufts.

At this point, to stir up the suds a bit, Mature develops a bad heart and is told to quit the gridiron for good. Not daring to tell his wife, he takes to drink. For several reels the script shuffles about in this shoddy dilemma until it stumbles into a shoddier solution. Halfback Mature’s recipe for mending a broken marriage: smear your wife’s lipstick across her chin, beat her about the face and tell her you love her. All in all, Easy Living is no great shakes either as education or entertainment.

Top o’ the Morning (Paramount) is a strained reworking of one of Paramount’s most profitable formulas: the Bing Crosby-Barry Fitzgerald blend of Irish-American humor and whimsy. The first of the series, Going My Way, was a ripe, full-bodied sample of straight dramatic comedy. The second, Welcome Stranger, was a diluted blend of the same ingredients. Top o’ the Morning is a heavily watered-down concoction, pleasant to the taste but lacking in punch.

The story is a rickety yarn about the disappearance of the Blarney stone from Blarney Castle, and how a U.S. insurance investigator (Bing) helps the local police sergeant (Barry) to catch the thief. The crime, of course, gets far less footage than Crosby’s crooning and a romance between Bing and the sergeant’s sloe-eyed daughter (Ann Blyth).

More aggressively Irish than a swinging shillelagh, Top o’ the Morning carries a top-heavy complement of assorted brogues, lively jigs and Gaelic gobbledygook. Arthur Shields, brother of Irishman Barry Fitzgerald, acted as technical adviser. The film’s best feature: a handful of little-known traditional Irish airs—one of them a love tune sung by Ann Blyth. Its severest handicap: two typical jukebox tunes which Bing is required to sing a few too many times.

Saints and Sinners (London Films) is a muggy Irish shenanigan. Like many a European movie, it takes an arty, patronizing view of the lower classes. Its argument is that every peasant is a darlin’ in wolf’s clothing, quaint by virtue of his avarice, hypocrisy and superstition. This reworking of a sentimental notion turns up nothing new except some well-oiled character acting.

The plot opens with a bonny-faced convict (Kieron Moore) returning to the postcard hamlet of Kilwirra to clear himself of the robbery charges against him. In the process, he inadvertently proves all the other villagers dishonest. The philosophical implications of this gentle-paced idyl are sometimes furthered and sometimes obscured by the emotional didos of a ponderously melancholy siren (Christine Norden) and a fiercely spiritual little barmaid (Sheila Manahan).

Standing up, Miss Norden looks like a monument to the dress industry; but her more becoming pose is lying down. England’s new matinee idol, Kieron Moore, has an unusual change-of-pace style of acting. He gives the effect of a meandering block of dispossessed concrete that suddenly pauses and sparkles whenever an actress appears on the scene. Saints and Sinners allows the Abbey Players to have a histrionic field day in the Irish countryside.

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