• U.S.

Cinema: The New Pictures, Oct. 11, 1948

9 minute read

Red River (Howard Hawks-United Artists). When people discuss the real art ists in picturemaking, they seldom get around to mentioning Howard Hawks. Yet Hawks is one of the most individual and independent directors in the business. Even when he has a vapid chore to do, he gives it character; when a picture really interests him, he gives it enough character to blast you out of your seat. Red River, which Hawks produced and directed, clearly interested him a lot. It is a rattling good outdoor adventure movie.

Red River is a yarn about the first cattle drive over the Chisholm Trail, from deep Texas into Abilene, Kans., soon after the Civil War. It is also the story of the fierce character duel which develops, along the way, between the tyrannical boss cattleman (John Wayne) and his intransigent foster son (Montgomery Clift). Mr. Clift takes time out for a little romance with a “dancing girl”*(Joanne Dru), but essentially this is a movie about men, and for men.

The story originally appeared in the Satevepost and, in many respects, is just an average piece of hack fiction. But it is worked out with sincerity and vigor, and is amenable to movie treatment. Director Hawks gives even the relatively silly episodes with the girl a kind of roughness and candor which make them believable and entertaining. And when Hawks concentrates on men working, or contesting leadership, or merely showing what they are made of, the picture practically blows up with vitality and conviction.

There is a constant illusion that you are watching an extraordinary effort to get cattle across a certain immense expanse of difficult and threatening country, that you are learning a lot about how such a job feels and gets done, and that the perpetually wrangling players are important not so much of themselves, but because the whole success or failure of the attempt depends on these people. The attempt is really the story, and the “background” is really the hero of the piece, and its villain.

Hawks obviously likes and understands men, grand enterprise, hardship, courage and magnificent landscape. The greatest satisfaction of this picture is continuous and unobtrusive. It is the constancy with which all outdoors, and all human endurance of it and effort to conquer it, keeps bulging the screen full of honest and beautiful vitality, like a steady wind against a well-trimmed sail.

Red River is not only a fulfillment for Director Hawks, it is a high promise for Actor Montgomery Clift, who plays the thorny young man with a fresh blend of toughness and charm. This is Cliffs first picture, though his second, The Search (TIME, March 29), was released ahead of it. No one “discovered” Monty Clift jerking sodas or selling shoes. Twenty-eight years old this month, he has spent half his life in the theater ( The Skin of Our Teeth, The Searching Wind, There Shall Be No Night). He is that rare bird with both screen personality and acting talent. Rarer still for a newcomer, he is getting his own way about contracts. He refused to play pretty juveniles or mannikins, and the dread of being “owned” by Hollywood made a seven-year contract no more inviting than the seven-year itch.

When offers came, he demanded to see scripts. M-G-M showed him a few, but nothing that interested him. He made a test for another producer, who greedily insisted on a long-term contract, then threatened to have Clift blackballed for refusing to sign.

Clift recently finished his third picture, William Wyler’s The Heiress. Now he is committed to Liberty Films, a Paramount subsidiary, for three more (which must be directed by Wyler, Frank Capra or George Stevens). Meanwhile, he is free to accept offers from Broadway, where he is also in great demand. One offer is for Lillian Hellman’s forthcoming dramatization of the best-selling The Naked and the Dead. Clift doesn’t know whether he’ll do it : he hasn’t seen the script yet.

Isn’t It Romantic? (Paramount) leans heavily, for inspiration, on such Broadway musicomedies as Oklahoma! and Carousel. The idea is to give the wholesome nostalgias of small-town U.S. life a coat of sophisticated varnish and, if possible, a new lungful of life. As it turns out, the picture smells more of varnish than of fresh air.

The story doesn’t greatly matter: a bluffing old Confederate veteran (capably hammed by Roland Culver) is deceived into fronting for an itinerant salesman (Patric Knowles) of wildcat oil shares. The wildcat is also a tomcat, and Veronica Lake, the prettiest of the colonel’s three daughters, falls for him. The second daughter (Oklahoma’s Mary Hatcher) sings a good deal, and the youngest (Mona Freeman) is on hand with wisecracks. There is also a cook (Pearl Bailey), and a comic swain (Billy De Wolfe).

More importantly for cinemusical purposes, there are plenty of occasions for songs and production numbers, cued in more or less naturally. ‘Boys & girls bicycle to a picnic under leafy shade and sing about it en route; Billy De Wolfe sings At the Nickelodeon; Pearl Bailey clears away dishes or flicks a dust rag at a bannister while she chaws out a couple of songs.

The trouble is that in its Tarkington-esque aspects, the show is completely lacking in genuine remembrance, ease and spontaneity. The cyclists are pretty to look at, but as artificially gay in spirit as so many madrigal singers. As a Midwestern servant of the early 1900s, Pearl Bailey is about as believable as Salvador Dali’s autobiography, but she does whatever she does with such queenly conviction and emphasis that she is by all odds the best thing in the show.

Julia Misbehaves (M-G-M). During the amatory hurly-burly of World War I, Julia (Greer Garson), a hoy-de-hoyden of London’s music halls, marries a landed gent (Walter Pidgeon). They break up before long and, for their child’s sake, Julia nobly awards the father 100% custody. The years go by, and Julia, now a middle-aging tramp, gets an invitation to her daughter’s posh wedding.

When she gets to the villa in southern France, her mother-in-law (Lucille Watson) is insulting and the landed gent is embarrassed and disturbed (he’s still in love with her). Only her daughter (Elizabeth Taylor), who sneaked mother the invitation, is thoroughly human. Julia misbehaves with a rounder (Nigel Bruce) in order to buy presents for the child; she also helps negotiate the girl out of the arms of her fiance into those of her true love (Peter Lawford). Finally Julia winds up in a mudhole, laughing her head off, in testimonial of love reborn, at Mr. Pidgeon.

This semi-farcical rehash of Madame X, etc. might have been an entertaining movie, but it is done without gaiety, irony, style or even simple fun. MGM, long the world’s No. 1 star-polisher, has mishandled the stars in the show. Elizabeth Taylor, who is just beginning to move into grownup roles, is one of the loveliest girls in movies; but here she is made-up and hair-done and directed into tired, tiresome conventional prettiness. Miss Garson has beauty, vitality and professional know-how. These are all visible, yet the performance is almost never joyous or even convincing. It looks as if she herself is trying her level best to be everything that Metro has made of her, and nothing that she really is.

The whole idea of the picture seems to be that it will wow the fans to see Miss Garson in tights, floundering in the mud, playing at comedy. But it is no news that Greer Garson has good legs (vide Random Harvest), or that she is a skillful comedienne (vide Valley of Decision); nor is it particularly funny to see dignity, whether real or superimposed, mucked up.

For the Love of Mary (Universal-International) is a plot-heavy little picture with a deceptively simple beginning. Mary (Deanna Durbin), a telephone operator, has just moved from the Supreme Court switchboard to the White House switchboard. This is construed as a promotion. She immediately gets chummy with the President; he gets chummy right back.

Mary is engaged to a young attorney (Jeffrey Lynn) who is the pet of the Supreme Court. But she doesn’t want to marry him, and she hates the way he calls her up during working hours. She is also carrying on a sort of wry flirtation with an aggressive ichthyologist (Don Taylor), who is trying, with no help from her, to put through a personal phone call direct to the President. So she stands both of them up in order to keep a date with a Navy lieutenant (Edmond O’Brien), who is the pet of the White House. However, the lieutenant is nominally engaged to the daughter of a newspaper publisher who could, it seems, make or break the Administration; and the ichthyologist owns a Pacific island on which the U.S. Navy has illegally made expensive installations. From there on, the plot begins to prove how intricate a plot can get; before it’s over, practically all the brass and big-wiggery in Washington is standing helplessly on its ear—all, more or less, for the love of Mary.

The mere fantastic nimbleness of the story is rather amusing, carried along at a good reckless clip. The directors and players go at it as if it really could happen—even as if it were happening, authentically, in Washington. Miss Durbin, when she gets a chance, sings as nicely as ever. It adds up to painless pastime and, if that’s the way everyone is carrying on in the nation’s capital, the Republicans’ chances look better than ever.

*Johnston Office euphemism for prostitute.

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