Today in Movie History: June 9

Orson Welles’ filmmaking career wasn’t always a pretty one, mostly fueled by a desperate need to fund his own projects and leading to some very intriguing results. Few are most fascinating than The Lady from Shanghai, his 1948 noir thriller in which he co-starred along with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Rita Hayworth. Their deteriorating cat-and-mouse relationship — augmented by the obsessive jealousy of studio head Harry Cohn — could have made a good movie in and of itself. Instead, we got this one. Widely panned upon release, it’s now considered a masterpiece, aided by the famous hall of mirrors finale that wrote the book on how to handle such scenes. It opened today in 1948.

Beneath that squats the curious case of Cars, widely viewed as the runt of the Pixar litter and existing mainly at the behest of studio bigwig John Lasseter. Though not without its charms, it tries too hard to deliver on a very weird concept, and the mini-franchise that has sprung up around it hasn’t done it any favors. (We’ll let you know how part 3 does when we see it). It opened today in 2006.

Also Star Trek V came out today in 1989. We’re not including a clip because… well, have you seen it?

Only Angels Have Wings: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Review by: Robert Trate
Starring: Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell, Richard Barthelmess, Sig Ruman
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Written by: Buck Henry (screenplay), Charles Webb (novel)
Original Year of Release: 1939
Run Time: 121 minutes
Rated: NR
Spine #806

When the Criterion Collection announced that Only Angels Have Wings, featuring Cary Grant and directed by Howard Hawks, was going to be their 806th title, I wondered what movie this was. Cary Grant is a favorite of mine ranging from everything from Bringing up Baby to North by Northwest. Hawks is another favorite, who belongs in the same breath as Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, and John Ford. So what was this film and how come I never heard it mentioned with the other great films of 1939? If you don’t know, 1939 is considered one of, if not the best, year of movies ever. It includes Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gunga Din and Wuthering Heights, to name but a few. Oddly enough Only Angels Have Wings features not only Cary Grant, but Thomas Mitchell, who also starred in another one of those 1939 films I just mentioned. I figured I was in for a real treat, a film I have never seen before from a great director with a stellar cast. What I got was Only Angels Have Wings.

That might sound harsh, but the toughest thing for any critic is to separate yourself from the legends who are on screen. Depending on where a film falls in their careers, they might not have mastered their craft yet. This can be said of the director. After Only Angels Have Wings, Hawks would go on to direct His Girl Friday, Sergeant York, The Big Sleep and Red River. So did I unfairly hold this film to the director’s work he hadn’t made yet? Yes, but such is the problem with discovering films. If not for actors and directors, we would never go looking for a film about an airmail delivery group in South America and its death defying pilots. I simply saw Grant and Hawks on the poster and I was in.

The trailer for this film is incredibly misleading (seen below). What you think you are going to get is a His Girl Friday type of picture with smooth talking pilots and ballsy talking women who love each other, but just can’t find a way to tell each other properly. This is partially true. Before we get in too deep, let me tell you about what the film is about. Only Angels Have Wings is about an airmail delivery service in a South American town call Barranca. The pilots have to fly over the Andes to get the mail through. The adverse weather conditions make this extremely dangerous. Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) and Dutchy (Sig Ruman) need to get as many deliveries in by a set date and they will land a huge contract. This contract will enable them to buy better planes and pay their pilots a decent salary. Right now, the pilots do it for the love of flying and know nothing about what Geoff and Dutchy have in the works. If they did, these two men feel as if the Pilots would take additional risks, ones they can’t live with.

This took over 30 minutes to be revealed. The film opens with two hot shot pilots meeting a nightclub singer named Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur). After talking her for dinner and drinks we learn that one of the men has to take the dangerous flight over the Andes. This is good 15 minutes into the film. As we settle in with these two characters, we know that neither one of them is the lead, so we have very little investment in them. We just keep waiting for Grant’s Geoff to walk in the door. When he does, in the confines of the story, we see him as more of a heal as he hits on Bonnie. We know that one of these other guys is going to die, because we have to establish how dangerous this job is. A coin toss decides, basically, who gets to be in the picture and who gets to supply Jean Arthur with a lot of hate for Cary Grant.

After the young pilot dies and a strange wake is held, Bonnie is practically jumping into Geoff’s arms. If your suspension of disbelief is starting to waiver, fear not, because Bonnie practically disappears from the film, for a while, and its main plot, getting the mail through, takes over. The real plot involves Bat Mac Pherson (Richard Barthelmess) as a blacklisted pilot who arrives in Barranca with his young wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth). We quickly learn that Judy is the one who got away from Geoff. Yes, there are some twists here. To add one more layer to the film, Bat Mac Pherson is responsible for the death of Kid Dabb’s (Thomas Mitchell) brother. Kid is the most seasoned pilot and Geoff’s most trusted friend next to Dutchy.

While this is all unfolding, I was constantly asking, who is the main character, where is this going, and has everyone been introduced? It’s as if we walk into Rick’s Cafe Americana in Casablanca and two Elsas walk in and one of them disappears only long enough for you to forget she is part of the story, only to appear again. To trim away Jean Arthur’s part is essentially how you have to watch Only Angels Have Wings. Once the plot of meeting their deadline for mail deliveries takes hold, the film really flies. An added bonus is the tension between Bat Mac Pherson and Kid Dabb which divides the pilots. Can Geoff trust Mac Pherson or will he let down his fellow flyers again? The film is a character piece, but it seemed as if Grant and Hawks weren’t sure how to portray Geoff. Should he be the man with everything to lose, including love, or be the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants pilot who will risk everything for his dream. Only Angels Have Wings is a film that marks a turning point for Hawks’ future endeavors because those mistakes were not evident in his next pictures with Grant, His Girl Friday.

This is one to watch for the director and perhaps even the star that had to learn a thing or two about making movies. Not a complete loss, just over convoluted with characters that supplied nothing to the actual story at hand.

 

Special Features:

New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray

Audio excerpts from a 1972 conversation between filmmakers Howard Hawks and Peter Bogdanovich

New interview with film critic David Thomson

Howard Hawks and His Aviation Movies, a new program featuring film scholars Craig Barron and Ben Burtt

Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1939, starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthelmess, and Thomas Mitchell, and hosted by filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille

Trailer

PLUS: An essay by critic Michael Sragow

New cover by Francesco Francavilla

 

Gilda Blu-Ray Review

Review by Robert T. Trate

Starring: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready

Directed by: Charles Vidor

Running time: 110 minutes

Year of release: 1946

Spine #795

“Gilda, are you decent?” Rita Hayworth then tosses her hair back and says “Me?” This was my first introduction to Hayworth, but it was not in her star turning performance as Gilda. In fact, it was because that scene is featured in director Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” that I first saw the actress. She pops up on screen, in a movie that is nearly completely void of women, and thus gives the story’s hero a means to escape. Since Criterion decided to release the film within the film, Gilda (spine# 795), I figured it was high time I actually watched.

Gilda is considered to be a film noir, a genre that was created due to the impact of World War 2. This is pointed out by director, Martin Scorsese, who discusses Gilda with fellow director, Baz Luhrmann, in the Blu-ray’s special features. In hindsight, I think I would have had a great appreciation of Gilda if I would have watched these two directors discuss the finer points of the film and its culture significance. More often than not, classic films can get lost in time because of their culture impact. They end up shaping the very films we see today. So when Baz Luhrmann discusses why they don’t make films like this anymore and how Hayworth’s hair style and dance numbers inspired characters from his own film, Moulin Rouge, I know that there probably won’t be too many surprises.

Glenn Ford plays Johnny Farrell, a hustler who finds himself in Argentina near the end of World War 2. He impresses a casino owner, Ballin Munson (George Macready), and the two men form a quick friendship. Johnny quickly rises through the ranks of Ballin’s organization and begins to run his casino. Out of both respect and admiration, Johnny is not out to swindle Ballin, but work with him. After the war is over, Johnny learns that Ballin’s casino is actually a front for a cartel. Johnny can deal with the police, cartel members, and even the Nazis; however, it is when Ballin introduces Johnny to his wife, Gilda (Hayworth), that everything begins to unravel.

Anyone with half a brain can see that Johnny and Gilda have a past together. Both say that they are new people and starting fresh, yet Gilda quickly falls into her old ways of playing with men at the casino. Johnny, not wishing for his friend and boss to lose the one thing he really cares about, Gilda, does his best to keep her on the straight and narrow, even with her multiple advances at him.

Despite Gilda being a “film noir” with its voiceover, heavy shadows, and femme fatale, I found the film to actually break a lot of the “noir” conventions. In many ways, it was closer to a darker version of Casablanca. Only here, there is no greater good and all our characters are villains.

A sore thumb of this film is Gilda/ Hayworth’s musical numbers. I’m all for the steamy night club with a raspy singer who teases us and drives 1940’s censors crazy. In this film however, the dance numbers seem fun and almost out of place. Outside of being the owner’s wife, why is Gilda permitted to sing and dance? Oh, because she is Rita Hayworth. That really isn’t a great story motivator.

Glenn Ford, who would go on to play a great bad guy in 3:10 to Yuma (spine #657), is passable here, but our film’s true villain, Ballin (Macready), is more likable than both Gilda and Johnny. I should be rooting for the two lovers, right? I also appreciated Ballin’s subterfuge that Christopher Nolan lifted for his Dark Knight Trilogy. A classic piece of film history was dropped on me there, but, again, that moment inspired another.

 

Gilda has its place in history and is a star making turn for Rita Hayworth, which earned her the title “Hollywood’s Love Goddess”. With that being said, there is a  better selection of film noir out there to watch. I did enjoy watching Hayworth’s turn as the bad girl and will now look to her filmography for other films in which she appeared.

 

Disc Features:

 

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 2010 by film critic Richard Schickel
  • New interview with film noir historian Eddie Muller
  • Piece from 2010 featuring filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann discussing their appreciation for Gilda
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Sheila O’Malley
  • New cover by Jessica Hische and Eric Skillman
  • In his career as a writer, Robert has made Doctor Who giggle, asked Ahsoka Tano what underwear she was wearing, and spoke with a Raptor from Jurassic Park. Follow Robert on Twitter @TheMovieLord.