Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Showing posts with label Curtis Bernhardt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Curtis Bernhardt. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Bogart contemplates his actions
CONFLICT (1945). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

Richard Mason (Humphrey Bogart) has a bit of a problem. He's married to the somewhat demanding Kathryn (Rose Hobart of Mr. and Mrs. North), but hopelessly in love with her beautiful younger sister, Evelyn (Alexis Smith). What to do? What to do?The audience learns early on that Mason intends to murder his wife, but the fun is waiting to see how he does it, if he succeeds, and how and if he'll get caught. Bogart had no problem playing [somewhat sympathetic] villainous roles, as he also did in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (also with Alexis Smith), which his homely mug might have forced him to do in some alternate universe anyway. Bogart is fine, but he has formidable [in every sense of the word] competition from Sydney Greenstreet, as Dr. Hamilton, a friend of the Masons; Hobart and Smith are also good. The twists in the picture lead to a predictable but satisfying conclusion. Charles Drake plays a young professor who's in love with Evelyn, and you may not believe whom she prefers. Conflict is a smooth, well-played, and well-paced time-passer, thanks to director Bernhardt, and while not in the league of a Hitchcock classic, the picture  holds the attention and has some suspense. Supposedly Jack Warner offered this script to Joan Crawford for her first Warner Brothers assignment and wanted her to play the role of Kathryn, which is really just a supporting part -- she wisely took Mildred Pierce instead. It would have been interesting to see Bogart and Crawford together, however.

Verdict: Bogie is a bad boy. **1/2.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Laughton, Wyman and Vance with little Freddy 
THE BLUE VEIL (1951). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

In the maternity ward widow Louise Mason (Jane Wyman) asks to see her newborn but the doctor has to tell her that the child has passed away. Seeking employment, Louise is told [somewhat tactlessly] that she might enjoy being a nanny, a situation she at first rejects. However she becomes a nanny to the little boy of a widower named Fred Begley (Charles Laughton); this is only the first of many positions she has in this episodic film. As the years go by, Louise passes up her own happiness, such as with suitor Gerald Kean (Richard Carlson), when she feels the children she looks after need her more. There is an eventual custody battle over a child virtually abandoned by its mother, and a very moving wind-up. Wyman is excellent, as usual, and she has a stellar supporting cast, including a wonderful Laughton, a solid Carlson, Vivian Vance as Laughton's secretary, Agnes Moorehead and Joan Blondell as subsequent employers, little Natalie Wood as a needy child, and Don Taylor as one of her grown-up charges. This same year Vance became as famous as Wyman and Laughton when she took on the role of Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy; this movie proves there was more to her than Ethel [wonderful as she was]. A priceless bit in Blue Veil has a now-senior Louise being told that she's too old to look after children but she could always get a job as a maid -- such easy work!

Verdict: Tearjerker supreme. ***1/2.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


DAMON AND PYTHIAS (aka Il tiranno di Siracusa/1962). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

Pythias (Don Burnett) leaves his angry pregnant wife in Athens and travels to Syracuse on a political mission. There he encounters the thief Damon (Guy Williams of Captain Sindbad), but after some unpleasant moments the two become allies against the tyrannical King Dionysius (Arnoldo Foa), leading to Pythias being condemned to death. Impressed with Pythias' noble nature, Damon makes an amazing offer and sacrifice. This is an entertaining if unspectacular and pretty faithful rendition of the legendary platonic friendship with good performances from the two leads. Ilaria Occhini is zesty as Pythias' fiery and passionate wife, and Liana Orfei is fine as Damon's girlfriend. It's a surprise that veteran director Bernhardt (Possessed; My Reputation) helmed this foreign entry; this was his next to last film. Burnett is an appealing, attractive actor but he only made one more [also Italian] movie. NOTE: Available from Warner Archives Collection in a new remastered and widescreen edition.

Verdict: The ending almost brings a lump to your throat. ***. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012


MY REPUTATION (1946). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

Released in 1946, My Reputation was made -- and takes place -- three years earlier. Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) has just lost her husband after a long illness, and doesn't quite know how to handle the emptiness she's left with. She has two young boys, a difficult if somewhat wise old mother (Lucile Watson) and some good friends, including Ginna Abbott (Eve Arden), but the loneliness she feels can be crushing. On a holiday with Ginna and her husband Cary (John Ridgely), she accidentally meets Major Scott Landis (George Brent) and the two begin a decidedly unconventional romance... and soon gossipy tongues are wagging. This has a superb, sophisticated, literate script by Catherine Turney, and features another of Stanwyck's sterling star performances. The supporting cast -- Arden, Watson, Esther Dale as the housekeeper, Jerome Cowan as a lecherous married friend, Scotty Beckett as one of her boys and others -- are swell, and George Brent, if not on Stanwyck's level, strikes the right note throughout. This is a lovely, beautifully-made movie with a moving ending. Max Steiner's score is one of his best, and cinematographer James Wong Howe ensured that Stanwyck looks luminescent.

Verdict: Another great Stanwyck picture. ****.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


POSSESSED (1947). Director: Curtis Bernhart.

"We're all on the outside of other people's lives looking in."

Louise Howell (Joan Crawford) is a nurse for a sick, jealous woman (Nana Bryant) who thinks she's carrying on with her husband, Dean Graham (Raymond Massey). In truth, Louise is obsessed with an engineer named David Sutton (Van Heflin), who simply doesn't feel the same way about her. "I seldom hit a woman but if you don't leave me alone I'll wind up kicking babies," Sutton tells her. Louise marries Graham after his wife's death, but goes over the edge when the playing-with-fire Sutton starts dating her step-daughter, Carol (Geraldine Brooks). Watch out, David! Possessed can't seem to make up its mind if it's a psychological study, a thriller of a woman scorned, a story of unrequited love -- it almost turns into a ghost story at one point -- and doesn't quite succeed at any of them. Crawford's occasional over-acting could be blamed on the fact that she's playing a lady with a screw loose, but despite claims by other characters that Louise isn't legally responsible for her actions, she seems to know exactly what she's doing all right. Brooks is fine in her second film, Heflin is excellent as usual, and Raymond Massey is Raymond Massey. Many fans greatly admire Crawford's performance in this but she was, frankly, better in many other films. A big problem with Possessed is that while it holds the attention, it isn't a whole lot of fun.

Verdict: half-baked, semi-hysterical, and all over the lot. **1/2.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


LADY WITH RED HAIR (1940). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

The "true" if fictionalized story of Caroline (Mrs. Leslie) Carter (Miriam Hopkins) who goes on the stage after she is divorced by her husband. The film purports that Carter became an actress only to get money to fight for custody of her son, but in real life the boy actually stayed with his mother and was cut out of his father's will because of it. In the film Carter unrealistically tries to storm Broadway by coming in on the top instead of the bottom, but it is true that her association with David Belasco (a magnificent Claude Rains) helped put her over the top. The film doesn't make clear that she was considered the American Sarah Burnhardt in her day. Richard Ainley plays her second husband, and as the film suggests, their marriage did signal the end of her association with Belasco (although in the film he comes in at the end to help guide her in one last production). Miriam Hopkins gives a solid performance, but up against Claude Rains there is little she can do to steal the picture. The supporting cast includes such sterling players as Laura Hope Crews, John Litel, Victor Jory, and Cecil Kellaway. A very young Cornel Wilde has a small role, and you probably won't notice Alexis Smith or Craig Stevens.

Verdict: A lady you might like to make the acquaintance of -- on film, at least. ***.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


MILLION DOLLAR BABY (1941). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

When wealthy Cornelia Wheelwright (May Robson) discovers that her late father cheated his partner out of $700,000 she decides to do right by the man's only living heir, a salesgirl named Pam (Priscilla Lane). She moves into the boarding house where the young lady lives to check her out, meets her boyfriend Pete (Ronald Reagan) and the other residents, and winds up giving Pam a check for one million dollars -- and that's when the trouble starts. The movie is charming and entertaining for the most part, bolstered by some fine old character actors, and even Reagan and Lane are quite good (this is more Lane's meat than, say, Saboteur), but .... STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM.

The trouble with the movie is the characterization of Pam's boyfriend, Pete, who is a complete jackass. He can't deal with the windfall -- or rather the fact that his gal has more money than he does (although he claims is has to do with earning something and all that) -- so what does he do? He walks out on her! Packs up, moves out, leaves town with a band, and never gets in touch with her again. So what does she do? She conspires to win him back. Why, for Pete's sake [pun intended]?! Even more ridiculous she gives away all of the money. Yes, she doesn't even set aside any for her possible children's education or for emergencies. And the jackass approves. Sheesh

Lee Patrick and Helen Westley are fun as the ever-battling Miss La Rue and the landlady Mrs. Galloway, and George Barbier scores as Miss Wheelwright's bemused lawyer. Flora Robson, of course, is the best thing in the movie.

Verdict: Cute and entertaining, but oh boy -- what a dumb ending! **1/2.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


PAYMENT ON DEMAND (1951). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

"When a woman starts getting old, time can be an avalanche, and loneliness a disaster."

Released after All About Eve, but made just before that film was shot, Payment on Demand has long been considered the "lost" Bette Davis film, although it has been shown on TCM (albeit not recently). Joyce Ramsey (Bette Davis) thinks she runs the perfect household for her husband David (Barry Sullivan) and two daughters, but one day David tells her they've been out of love for years and he wants a divorce. Flashbacks then show how they met, courted, fell in love, and the gradual reasons for their marital disintegration. When the film first begins, Davis' acting is so broad and affected, her line readings so bizarre, that initially you think this is going to be another of her terrible latter-day performances, but there's method to her madness. Davis is fine in the flashbacks when she's playing a much younger woman. Her affected acting in the modern scenes is to give the audience a clue as to why David fell out of love with her. She's become something he can't stand, a callous snob, and her weird delivery of lines in the opening scene makes it clear that she's also so self-absorbed that she really isn't listening to anything anyone says to her -- hence her listless, if arch, replies. One of the best scenes has the now-divorced Joyce encountering an old friend Emily (Jane Cowl), who's taken up with a much-younger gigolo and delivers the line highlighted above. At one point David says "Loneliness is a general feeling of not being part of everything that exists." One of the problems with the marriage is that Joyce feels absolutely no real guilt for sort of stabbing David's business partner Robert (Kent Taylor, whom I didn't recognize without his mustache) in the back. Since this hasn't changed by the end of the film, one can't realistically imagine that she's changed enough for David to want to take her back. Natalie Schafer, Otto Kruger, Peggie Castle, Frances Dee, Richard Anderson and Betty Lynn are also in the cast.

Verdict: A bit dated but often quite arresting. ***.

Friday, May 9, 2008


A STOLEN LIFE (1946). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

Kate Bosworth (Bette Davis) falls for a handsome lighthouse keeper named Bill (Glenn Ford) but he finds that her twin sister Pat has a little more "frosting" on her and marries the latter, devastating Kate. This is an interesting study of unrequited love with a little melodrama thrown in for good measure. Despite some trenchant dialogue, this is essentially a pure soap opera and it's perfectly swell on that level. Davis is fine and successfully limns two separate personalities as Kate and Pat. Ford merely has to look cute and be pleasant and this he does adroitly. Walter Brennan is his usual peppery self as the other "elderly" lighthouse keeper (Brennan was only 52 at the time!) and Charlie Ruggles scores as the twins' wise and compassionate cousin. Dane Clark is okay as the bitter starving artist Karnock but frankly it would have been wiser to forget about him and show us scenes of domestic discord with Bill and Pat -- that certainly would have been more fun. Bruce Bennett has a small role as one of Pat's extracurricular interests. A bit on the slow side at times, but the photography by Sol Polito and Ernest Haller is excellent, as is Max Steiner's score. The FX blending the two sisters together -- Davis acting with herself (and doing very well!) -- are very well executed and seamless.

Verdict: Handsomely produced soaper. ***.