Friday, February 6, 2015

Robert Ryan (1909-1973)

As the cruel and narcissistic magnate in
Marcel Ophuls
 Caught (1949). 

“I have been in films pretty well everything I am dedicated to fighting against.

Looking menacing even as the hero of
Berlin Express (1948) with Merle Oberon.

[1971 Films and Filming interview] 
“The myth about the actor being one thing and portraying another is not true. He may play a part which has nothing to do with his own life, but his size as a person shows through no matter what he does.

Getting knocked around by Hal Baylor
in The Set-Up (1949).

[1949 AP interview] 
“I like stories about guys who get knocked around, because most people do get knocked around.

As an unhinged big city cop in On Dangerous Ground (1951), with Ida Lupino.

[on Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC hearings
“I was involved in the things he was throwing rocks at, but I was never a target. Looking back, I suspect my Irish name, my being a Catholic and an ex-Marine sort of softened the blow.

With John Ireland in a quintessential B picture, Horizons West (1952).

[1971 interview on Hollywoods classic era
“The conformity of the material was a problem, true. But the old system had virtues. [They] would gamble once in a while on an offbeat picture.... We all had to go to film school, and we worked in hordes of pictures — B pictures — which were shot very fast.

As the minatory crime boss looming over Robert Stack and
Shirley Yamaguchi in House of Bamboo (1955).

“...young actors often play for themselves and overlook the mechanical skills an actor must have like speech, or how to ride a horse, or at least look right on one.... [they] wait for their magic moment as if their mere presence is Gods gift to humanity, and find out over the years that this isnt the case.

The eminently unlikable Colonel Everett Dasher Breed
in The Dirty Dozen (1967).

[1967 Films and Filming interview on his role in The Dirty Dozen
“[Colonel Everett Dasher Breed] is a West Point officer, a very obnoxious character who feels that this whole operation is very irregular, besides having a great dislike for Major Reisman (Lee Marvin] personally. There are no subtleties at all...he becomes as close as being the villain of the piece.

Embittered sheriff Cotton Ryan in the underrated
western Lawman (1971).

[1971 Films and Filming interview on Lawman
“[Michael Winner] creates a really electric atmosphere on the set because hes an unpredictable man, and thats good because the repetition and boredom of making movies can have its effect on the whole picture, and Id say that nothing like that ever happens when hes around.... His approach is radically different. Every other director Ive worked with followed more or less the usual pattern — they film the whole scene in what we call master shots with all the actors involved and then move to medium shots, close-ups and so forth. Winner doesnt work that way. In fact, Ive never shot a master in this picture. He does something we call cutting with the camera.... Cutting with the camera means you only shoot what youre going to use. It has one disadvantage, at least to the older ones of us. We, in this case, have to rely on [Winners] camera technique to give what we call a sustained performance, but Im perfectly willing to see the results.

Ryans charismatic villain steals the spotlight from
upright James Stewart in The Naked Spur (1953).

“Im fated to work in faraway, desolate places. I envy Cary Grant because he makes all his pictures in Monte Carlo, Paris or the Riviera, while I make mine in deserts with a dirty shirt, a two-day growth of beard and bad food.

An outmoded example of dark, complex masculinity.

My favorite Robert Ryan films: Crossfire (1947), Berlin Express (1948), Caught (1949), The Set-Up (1949), The Racket (1951), On Dangerous Ground (1951), The Naked Spur (1953), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), House of Bamboo (1955), Day of the Outlaw (1959), Billy Budd (1962) The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1968), The Wild Bunch (1969), Lawman (1971), The Outfit (1973).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kenneth Tobey (1917-2002)

Publicity still for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953).

“I played so many parts in war movies, I ought to get a military pension.” 

Laying down the law in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950).

[From Tom Weavers book Double Feature Creature Attack
“I’d done a picture for Howard Hawks called I Was a Male War Bride that was supposed to be a daily job, but Cary [Grant] and Ann [Sheridan] laughed so hard at what I did ... that Hawks kept writing in new scenes for me. And at the end of the picture, he said to me, You know, Im gonna star you in a picture someday. Nothing more was said. So I kept my eyes and ears open as far as his next picture, and when I read about The Thing in a paper, I called him and he said, I was just gonna call you. Come on in and see me. So I dont know if there were any other people up for it.

Giving Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan the business in
  I Was a Male War Bride (1949).

[1972 Photoplay interview on who really directed 
The Thing from Another World (1951)] 
“Howard Hawks. Technically, of course, Chris Nyby directed it and is given screen credit for it ... He was new at directing and Mr. Hawks maintained a kind of overseeage (sic) on the picture ... Howard has a wonderful ear. He can hear reality a mile away. Hed listen to a scene during a rehearsal and, if it didnt sound normal or if it sounded a little stilted, hed say, Lets do that again. Lets just listen to it and see what happens. So wed do it again, and hed say, What youre saying there doesnt seem to fit somehow. Can you think of anything youd like to say instead? We went on like that a good deal.

Something wicked this way comes for Tobey and
Margaret Sheridan in The Thing from Another World.

[1982 interview on John Carpenters remake of The Thing
“Kurt Russell is a damn good actor, and gave an excellent performance as MacReady. The special effects were absolutely remarkable. Ive never seen effects like those in the film before. Rob Bottin is obviously very talented. In fact, I met him when we were interviewed together on TV, and hes a very sweet guy. I havent seen any of John Carpenters other movies, but I think hes a very good director, although he was somewhat limited by his material. He showed a wonderful aptitude for handling the dramatic scenes ... 

About to make the titular creature in The Thing from
Another World
really, really angry.

On the other hand, while I appreciated that Carpenter tried to put Campbells story on film, I now realize that was an almost impossible task. I doubt if the story could be told in visual terms. Because of the internalized drama, I think it could only be told in narrative form, where everything doesnt have to be shown. The way Carpenter did it, he ran into some trouble, because he had to have so many graphical special effects.

Looking none too credulous with Mona Freeman
in Angel Face (1952).

[From Double Feature Creature Attack
“I’ve loved being an actor — thats what I do, thats what I enjoy doing. Its hard work — most people think its a cushy job, but its really not. Ive been in it for fifty-three years or something close to that, and Ive enjoyed ... most of it. The long waits between jobs sometimes are not much fun, and the long waits on the set waiting for a scene to come up are not enjoyable, either. But Ive become accustomed to the way it works and I feel Ive had a career. Maybe not a great career, but what the hell. I wont retire, Ill just be found one morning, dead, with one shoe on and one shoe off. And with a script clenched in my hand!

At the controls in the Cold War-era space rocket
drama X-15 (1961).

My favorite Kenneth Tobey films: He Walked by Night (1948), I Was a Male War Bride (1949), Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), The Thing from Another World (1951), Angel Face (1952), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Down Three Dark Streets (1954), The Steel Cage (1954), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), X-15 (1961), Marlowe (1969), Airplane (1980).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jan Sterling (1921-2004)

Rarely was there an It Girl with so much It.

“I adored Hollywood because I’d always wanted to be a movie star. Maybe in some funny Freudian way, it was my way of getting more attention than my baby sister, who was pretty with curly hair. We all have drives we don’t completely understand.” 

Elmer Batters would love to have photographed
those legs and feet.

[1987 Toronto Star interview on playing bad girl roles] 
“Well, you’ve got to smoke and drink a lot. And you’ve got to be a busty blonde, like me. If you look at the old Hollywood movies, you’ll notice that the nice girls were almost invariably flat-chested.

Looking moody in this publicity shot for Caged (1950).

[1952 Saturday Evening Post interview on her character 
in Ace in the Hole]
“Lorraine Minosa ... was a pretty deplorable person, judged by any standards. She had over-bleached hair, a strident voice and practically no ethics. She happily capitalized on a cave-in accident that threatened the life of her husband, and her reaction to churchgoing was: I never go to church, because kneeling bags my nylons. 

Despite these things, the role appealed to me more than any other Ive played ... It was a difficult, important and interesting part. I couldnt make Lorraine a sympathetic character, but I tried hard to make her an understandable one. Instead of hating her, I wanted audiences to walk out after the show wondering what they might have done if, like Lorraine, they had been in poverty and repeatedly disappointed by life.

Forbidden fruit in Ace in the Hole (1951).

Getting Billy Wilder as a director was like winning a sweepstakes to me, and working with Kirk Douglas was pure pleasure. Kirk and I agreed that in the scenes of violence we would dig right in and make it as real as possible, which was fine except in the scene where he was supposed to choke me with a fur stole. He suggested I say Kirk if he pressed too hard, and I thought that was a good idea — until the choking started. Then I discovered I couldnt say a word, so I just turned purple and passed out.

Rehearsing the choking scene with Kirk Douglas and
Billy Wilder on the set of Ace in the Hole (1951).

[From Sterlings May 1952 Modern Screen Take my 
word for it column]
“Frankly speaking, I believe that movie stars are entitled to speak up in public and give a certain amount of advice. I dont hold with the idea that no star should admit to being a Republican for fear of annoying the Democrats, or that if she changes the color of her hair she mustnt ever admit it ... Im for Ike, even through Im a Democrat, but I wont be unless he surrounds himself with those I believe are the right people.  

Delivering payback to conniving warden Ida Lupino in Women’s Prison
(1955) as scissors-wielding cons Cleo Moore and Vivian Marshall wait their turn.

“I am against folks insisting that every girl should be an expert cook ... Maybe she’ll marry a man who can work miracles in the kitchen, like I did. No one in their right mind would call my husband, Paul Douglas, a panty-waist, but hes superb in the kitchen. (Matter of fact, for me hes superb in any part of the house.) 

Looking pensive in this publicity still for
The Harder They Fall (1956).

“If you are afraid of anything, I may have a helpful formula: Don’t keep your fears a secret. Admit them. Let those of your friends who are dinner table psychologists work you over. Their advice probably will be next to worthless, but youll laugh at what they think they know.

All smiles as she ties the knot with actor 
Paul Douglas in 1950.

My favorite Jan Sterling films: Caged (1950), Mystery Street (1950), Union Station (1950), Appointment with Danger (1951), Ace in the Hole (1951), Womens Prison (1955), Female on the Beach (1955), 1984 (1956), The Harder They Fall (1956), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), High School Confidential (1958).

Monday, January 19, 2015

James Wong Howe (1899-1976)

A study in concentration, circa 1940s.

I believe that the best cameraman is one who recognizes the source, the story, as the basis of his work.

Shooting The Alaskan, 1924.

Sometimes its not how much light you use to get an effect, its how little you use and still make it work. There are a lot of rules to be broken in photography, and youve got to have courage.

With his Academy Award for The Rose Tattoo, 1955.

[From Hollywood Cameramen, 1970, by Charles Higham]
I have a basic approach that goes on from film to film: to make all the sources of light absolutely naturalistic. If you are in a room and the scene is taking place at a certain time of day, try to find out where the light would come from, and follow that, dont impose an artificial style.

Shooting Watch on the Rhine, 1943, with (from left) director Herman Shumlin and assistant director Dick Moder.

[On Humphrey Bogart]
What I liked most about him I suppose was that he was honest, he never minced his words. Believe me, ninety-nine percent of the people in Hollywood go through life and never say what they mean, but Bogart wasnt like that. There was no baloney about him.

Shooting a scene from Body and Soul on roller-skates, 1947.

[From Hollywood Cameramen, 1970, by Charles Higham]
On Body and Soul I myself got on roller-skates to shoot the boxing scenes and they pushed me around. I wanted an effect where the boxer is knocked out and he looks up into a dazzle of lights; with a heavy, fixed camera, youd never get that.

Holding his Academy Award for Best Black-and-White Cinematography for Hud. Leon Shamroy (right) holds his Oscar for Best Color Cinematography.

[On John Frankenheimer]
I dont think John really understands dramatic values; hes more or less mechanically inclined: lenses and camera and all that. All thats my job; he ought to worry about the story and the actors.

With Samantha Eggar on the set of The Molly Maguires, 1970.

[From Hollywood Cameramen, 1970, by Charles Higham]
Sweet Smell of Success was exciting; it was a pleasure to work with Sandy Mackendrick. I used varnish to give the look of the film a glitter, in the bars, many of them real in New York. I used very small bulbs; photoflood effects worked well because we had so much polish on the walls it made everything shine. The whole film shimmered; few films have that look.

On the cover of International Photographer, 1975.

My favorite James Wong Howe-photographed films: Seconds (1966), Hud (1963), Bell, Book and Candle (1958), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), He Ran All the Way (1951), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), Body and Soul (1947), Pursued (1947), Kings Row (1942), City for Conquest (1940), They Made Me a Criminal (1939), The Thin Man (1934), and dozens more dating back to 1923.