Salient.The Newspaper of Victoria University College. Vol. 19, No. 4. April 6, 1955
Quo Vadis . . . Kazan, Reed, Huston, Lean
Quo Vadis . . . Kazan, Reed, Huston, Lean
Owing to circumstances that were perhaps—to be truthful—well within my control I have been unable to see a film for review this week. There is, however, a letter appearing in this issue that directs its remarks against Salient's film critic. I will not defend myself, but I hope that the following "article" (rather more a loose collection of thoughts) will in a round about way give something of my side of the case. In the meantime thanks to the correspondent for acting as a stimulus.
The cinema in the last 18 months has seen many changes—Cinema Scope, VistaVision, the downfall of 3-D, the decision of Marilyn Munroe to become a director. The film frame is no longer of a standard size; and, what is more, makers of films (the directors) have had to make the decision as to whether they will stick to the orthodox film size or work in that vastly different medium—CinemaScope. However, that is their business. All I am concerned about is the progress of the directors wo have grown to admire—men such as Elia Kazan, Sir Carol Reed, John Huston, David Lean.
We have recently seen pictures that are, in their ways, disturbing and reassuring. "On The Waterfront," "Hobson's Choice," "Beat The Devil." "The Man Between" and The Wages of Fear." They were disturbing if they posed serious questions as to the artistic and creative, progress of the directors; they were reassuring if they showed evidence that the directors are not becoming stale or artistically and creatively cheek-mated. Let us consider these films separately.
Ella Kazan's "On The Waterfront" (disturbing). In this film Kazan shows that he is supreme as a technician. It is his most showy and cleverest film to date and a different film from his first big success, "Panic in the Streets." A recruit from the theatre, Kazan in "Panic in the Streets," showed that he had mastered cinematic technique—but in a quiet, unobtrusive way so that the theme and plot of the story' were able to come through in their own right.
But then with "Viva Zapata" "Streetcar Named Desire" and "Man on a Tight-rope" the ostentatious displays of cleverness began to creep in, until the saturation point was almost reached in "On The Waterfront." If Kazan keeps this up, he has only to have one weak script and his work will be labelled clever and' brilliant, but empty and shallow. At present he is making John Steinbeck's "East of Eden." Is he going to restrain himself or is he going to weaken Steinbeck's story by giving us too much startling technique?
David Lean's "Hobson's Choice." (reassuring): After "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist"—very good adaptions of Dickens in mood and character—Lean suffered a relapse with "The Passionate Friends" (a total misfire) and "The Sound Barrier" (script trouble). He seemed to have difficulty In finding suitable subjects. The trouble was that he had nothing significant to say; he was more a story-teller than a creative artist. We accepted that; but was he afraid to enlarge his range of stories, was he too willing to stick to moods that he had created successfully in the past? This question was answered firmly in the negative by his comedy "Hobson's Choice". Not a brilliant film, full of small mistakes and marred by a serious one. But it is a film that showed that Lean is prepared to show versatility in observations of life. With an increasing range, David Lean is sure to produce films of greater significance in the future. And it is indeed fortunate that his wife. Ann Todd, has shown her true talent in a recent stage production of "MacBeth."
Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear": (disturbing): is a film of the type that is dangerous. In many ways a brilliant film, and probably the most gripping I have seen. It Is nevertheless deceiving. We have a picture of human nature carefully prepared by the director in the early sequences—filthy dogs making false love in the drink-sodden and smoky atmosphere of a dirty and depressing town. But later during the truck ride the climaxes which should have added significance to the early sequences are thwarted by the directors desire to get the most suspense possible out of the moments. All the director has done is to present an unpleasant view of human life by piling squalid detail upon squalid detail. Brilliant technique may deceive some, but the few fatal lapses revealed that that director really had no deep feeling for human nature—whether pleasant or unpleasant. Are other directors going to deceive future audiences in the same way?
John Huston's "Beat The Devil": (disturbing and reassuring). John Huston has made a name for himself as a producer of "tough" films. But "Beat the Devil"—a holiday film and a parody—shows that Huston knows that such films are made up of key tricks and devices and this film is Huston's declaration that he will not be mastered by such tricks and cliches. Huston's is a fresh talent, and after seeing "Beat the Devil" we may be reassured that he has not settled into an artistic groove. But the slap-dash method of his narrative and the lack of control shown in this film and also In "Moulin Rouge" Is disturbing. In his future films are we to miss the terseness and concise construction of "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Asphalt Jungle"? Let "Moby Dick" give us the verdict.
Sir Carol Reed's "The Man Between" (disturbing): is alas as unlike "Beat The Devil" as it is similar to "The Third Man." Following the old theme, began in "Odd Man Out." of the outcast in society "The Man Between" shows how hampered Reed is by a weak script. This time the director was forced to impose a strong technique to make the film entertaining. Tricks became obvious tricks, and the details pointing to atmosphere became obvious details pointing to obviously cinematic atmosphere. The characters and situations consequently became larger than life and the finale forced and theatrical. "The Man Between" was just a poor shadow of "The Third Man" and most of us feared that Reed was becoming stagnant all washed up. Where would he turn next? Had his talent dried up or would he have the courage to try new fields of expression? Apparently Reed does not lack courage. He has just recently finished "A Kid for Two Farthings," a story of East End children. It is a fantasy; and fantasy needs different treatment from the melodrama of "The Third Man" and "Odd Man Out."