The Main Event: Kirk Douglas in CHAMPION (United Artists 1949)

Kirk Douglas  slugged his way to superstardom in director Mark Robson’s CHAMPION, one of two boxing noirs made in 1949. The other was THE SET-UP , helmed by Robson’s former RKO/Val Lewton stablemate Robert Wise. While that film told of an aging boxer (Robert Ryan) on the way down, CHAMPION is the story of a hungry young fighter who lets nothing stand in his way to the top of the food chain. The movie not only put Douglas on the map, it was a breakthrough for its young independent producer Stanley Kramer .

Douglas is all muscle and sinew as middleweight Midge Kelly, and a thoroughly rotten heel. He’s a magnetic character, a classic narcissist with sociopathic tendencies drawing the people around him into his web with his charm. Midge has no empathy for others, not even his loyal, game-legged brother Connie (Arthur Kennedy in a solid performance), after he gets what he wants. And what he wants is the respect and admiration of the world, his bravado but a mask for his deep-seated insecurities brought on by his childhood poverty and abandonment issues. He treats the women in his life like dirt, seducing pretty waitress Emma ( Ruth Roman ), leering to her at the beach, “Well, shall we get wet?” (and how THAT quote got through the censors is a miracle!). Forced into a shotgun marriage by her father (Harry Shannon), Midge leaves her to hit the road to boxing glory. Later in the film, after Emma asks for a divorce to marry Connie, Midge brutally rapes her, then violently shoves down his own lame brother when confronted. Yes, Midge Kelly is a total shitheel, and Douglas’s acting will keep you riveted to see what new depths he’ll go to next. It’s a no-holds-barred performance that deservedly won Kirk his first Oscar nomination.

Emma and Connie aren’t the only victims in Midge’s merciless rise to the top. Fight manager Tommy Haley ( Paul Stewart ) takes the creep under his wing and trains him in the pugilistic arts, only to be first betrayed when Midge refuses to dive in a Number One Contender’s Match, then unceremoniously dumped for the lure of big money manager Jerry Harris (Luis Van Rooten) and femme fatale Grace Diamond (Marilyn Maxwell). Harris isn’t exempt as Midge seduces his young wife Palmer (Lola Albright), a naïve sculptor unaware she’s being used until Harris teaches her a valuable lesson. Midge even abandons his own mother ( Esther Howard ), arriving too late to visit her before she dies.

Carl Foreman structured his screenplay in circular fashion, with an extended flashback relating the bulk of the story. Foreman, who got his start working on Bowery Boys programmers,  and producer Kramer teamed for some great films: HOME OF THE BRAVE, THE MEN (Marlon Brando’s film debut), CYRANO DE BERGERAC, and the classic Western HIGH NOON, but the writer’s former Communist affiliations got him blacklisted by HUAC. Foreman won the Oscar for 1957’s superb war drama BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, though the statue was given to credited author Pierre Boulle (this was corrected 27 years later, the year Foreman died).

CHAMPION was nominated for six Oscars, including Douglas, Kennedy, Foreman’s screenplay, Dmitri Tiompkin’s  score, and Franz Planer’s cinematography, winning for Harry Gerstad’s stellar editing job. The ultra-realistic boxing scenes were staged by former Light Welterweight champ Mushy Callahan, who trained Douglas for the film. Midge Kelly is a repellant character, but Kirk Douglas makes him fascinating to watch, and as in all good noirs, he receives his just desserts in the end, a victim himself of his own lustful machinations. It’s a knockout of a film that pummels the viewer with a barrage of body blows before delivering its fatal punch, and is highly recommended.

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Cleaning Out the DVR #14: SEX & VIOLENCE, 70’S STYLE!

Groundbreaking 60’s films like BONNIE & CLYDE, THE GRADUATE, THE WILD BUNCH, and MIDNIGHT COWBOY led to the complete obliteration of the Production Code, and by the sizzling 70’s it was anything goes! Low budget exploitation filmmakers benefitted most by this loosening of standards as the following quintet of movies illustrates, filled with bouncing boobs, bloody action, pot smoking, beer drinking, and hell raising:

THE MUTHERS (Dimension 1976; D; Cirio H. Santiago) – A Filipino-made “Women in Prison” Blaxploitation actioner? Yes, please! Former Playboy Playmates Jeanne Bell and Rosanne Katon, future NFL TODAY commentator Jayne Kennedy, and ex-Bond girl Trina Parks are all trapped on a coffee plantation run by the sadistic Monteiro with no chance of escape… until there is! Loaded with gore, torture, kung-fu fighting, bare breasts, a funky score, pirates (that’s right, pirates!), and a slam-bang run through the jungle – what more could you ask for? Forget about some of the gaps in logic, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Fun Fact: The prolific Santiago produced and/or directed such Grindhouse classics as WOMEN IN CAGES, THE BIG BIRD CAGE, TNT JACKSON, EBONY IVORY & JADE, and VAMPIRE HOOKERS, among many others.

THE POM POM GIRLS (Crown International 1976; D: Joseph Ruben)- One of the better Crown International “teensploitation” flicks is a practically plotless but immensely fun outing dealing with the high school shenanigans of football players’n’cheerleaders, featuring a pre-REVENGE OF THE NERDS Robert Carradine as the school’s “class stud” and the ever-delightful Rainbeaux Smith as (what else?) a swingin’ cheerleader. Writer/director Ruben throws in every teen flick trope in the book: food fights, dirt bikes, a groovy “love van”, a football brawl, and a “suicide chicken” race straight outta REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE! There’s plenty of gratuitous nudity and hormones running wild on display, so if drive-in movies are your thing, you can’t do much better than this one. Fun Fact: Ruben went on to helm the mainstream films SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY and MONEY TRAIN.

VIGILANTE FORCE (United Artists 1976; D: George Armitage) – Crack open a frosty PBR and enjoy this slice of 70’s exploitation insanity. The small California town of Elk Hills is being torn up by rowdy oil field workers, so Jan-Michael Vincent recruits his Vietnam vet brother Kris Kristofferson and his crew to clean things up. But Kris has other ideas, and soon he and his boys take over the town, beginning a reign of terror that leads to a violent, explosive climax with Kris’s vigilantes pitted against Jan-Michael’s Green Mountain Boys. Kris is one crazy, mean sumbitch in this wild actioner! Bernadette Peters shines as his sexy off-key saloon singer girl, and Victoria Principal plays Jan-Michael’s more sedate sweetie (who takes a bullet in the back courtesy of Kris… I told you he was mean!). The better-than-average supporting cast is filled with Familiar Faces: Loni Anderson (as ‘Peaches’!), Antony Carbone, Peter Coe , Brad Dexter , David Doyle (Bosley on CHARLIE’S ANGELS), Paul Gleason, James Lydon, Shelley Novack, Andrew Stevens, and a cameo by the one-and-only Dick Miller ! Hang on to your hardhats and get ready for non-stop action. Fun Fact: The producer is exploitation king Roger Corman’s brother Gene, which explains Miller’s cameo and the casting of Carbone (THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA).

THE VAN (Crown International 1977; D: Sam Grossman) – Recent high school grad Bobby (Stuart Getz) buys the “love van” of his dreams in order to score with chicks in this quintessential 70’s teen sex comedy. Hollywood car customizer George Barris created Bobby’s dream machine, complete with 70’s staples like a waterbed, 8-track player, shag carpeting, and mag wheels. It’s a genuinely funny lowbrow drive-in flick featuring a pre-TAXI Danny DeVito as Bobby’s boss at the car wash, who doubles as a bookie. And remember: “Nobody calls Doogie a turd! Nobody!”. Fun Fact: The soundtrack by Sammy Johns includes his big hit “Chevy Van” as the movie’s theme song – even though Bobby’s van is actually a Dodge!

CORVETTE SUMMER (MGM 1978; D: Matthew Robbins) – High school student Mark Hamill restores a ’73 Corvette Stingray to it’s former glory only to have it stolen, so he hitches a ride to Las Vegas with wanna-be hooker Annie Potts to retrieve his baby in this uneven but harmless ‘B’ comedy. The film shifts into high action towards the end, and the finale doesn’t really satisfy, but Potts (in her film debut) delivers a wonderfully deft comic performance as the ditzy chick in yet another 70’s-style “love van” (they were everywhere!!). The supporting cast includes Danny Bonaduce, Philip Bruns, Eugene Roche, Kim Milford, and the ubiquitous Dick Miller! The glittery lights of late 70’s Vegas (set to a glittery disco soundtrack) make it almost worth your time. Fun Fact: This was Hamill’s follow-up to 1977’s STAR WARS , attempting to break free of his Luke Skywalker image. It didn’t work.

More “Cleaning Out the DVR”:

 

Stone Cold: Charles Bronson in THE MECHANIC (United Artists 1972)

Stone-faced Charles Bronson is perfect as an ice-cold, classical music loving hit man who mentors young Jan-Michael Vincent in 1972’s THE MECHANIC. I’d say this is one of Charlie’s best 70’s actioners, but let’s be serious – they’re ALL damn entertaining!

Arthur Bishop (Bronson) takes his work seriously, meticulously planning every assignment he receives from his Mafia boss (Frank De Kova ). Given a job to kill family friend Big Harry McKenna (Keenan Wynn), Bishop does the deed with chilling precision. McKenna’s son Steve (Vincent) is a stone-cold sociopath himself, and soon worms his way into becoming Bishop’s apprentice. Their first caper together goes sour, bringing Bishop’s boss much displeasure. Bishop’s next hit takes the two overseas to Naples, where they’re set up to be killed themselves, resulting in a violent conclusion and a deliciously deadly twist ending.

Bronson, after over twenty years and 50 plus movie roles, became an overnight success with the same year’s THE VALACHI PAPERS. He’s his usual stoic self as Bishop, but the character has a bit more depth. Bishop is prone to anxiety attacks, and trouble forming a meaningful relationship, causing him to visit a call girl (wife Jill Ireland in a cameo), paying her to read him love letters before sex. Bishop’s bonding with young McKenna was originally homosexual in nature as envisioned  by screenwriter Lewis John Carlino (THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA, THE GREAT SANTINI), but producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler (the ROCKY films) nixed the idea. Still, the relationship between Bishop and McKenna comes off almost as intended, as Bishop doesn’t seem to respond to anyone else, including the hooker.

Jan-Michael Vincent is good as the antisocial McKenna, and makes me wish he and Bronson had done more films together. Vincent is well known to fans of 70’s flicks for his roles in the TV Movie TRIBES, the Disney comedy THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHELETE, and a slew of drive-in fare: WHITE LINE FEVER, BABY BLUE MARINE, VIGILANTE FORCE, DAMNATION ALLEY, and DEFIANCE. He played Robert Mitchum’s son in the miniseries THE WINDS OF WAR, then headlined his own action series AIRWOLF from 1984-87. Vincent’s problems with alcohol and domestic violence have been well documented, and the actor, who lost a leg in a car crash, is now for the most part retired and living in Mississippi.

THE MECHANIC is the second of six films Bronson made with director Michael Winner, the last three being the first entries in the DEATH WISH series. Winner delivers (sorry, I can’t resist!) a winner here, keeping the suspense taut and the action exciting, including a cool dirt bike chase and the later scene with Bronson and Vincent chased by mobsters through a winding Italian mountain road. The film was remade in 2011 with Jason Statham in the Bishop role (and a sequel in 2016), which paled in comparison to this drive-in classic. Bronson and Winner’s DEATH WISH has been remade and is set for release this November, with Eli Roth directing and Bruce Willis in Bronson’s role. The trailer looks good, but like THE MECHANIC, it’ll be hard to top the original. We shall see…

 

Little Tin God: SHIELD FOR MURDER (United Artists 1954)

Edmond O’Brien  is big, burly, and brutal in 1954’s SHIELD FOR MURDER, a grim film noir about a killer cop trapped in that ol’ inevitable downward spiral. It’s a good (though not great) crime drama that gave the actor a seat in the director’s chair, sharing credit with another first timer, Howard W. Koch. The film, coming at the end of the first noir cycle, strives for realism, but almost blows it in the very first scene when the shadow of a boom mike appears on an alley fence! Chalk it up to first-timer’s jitters, and a budget that probably couldn’t afford retakes.

O’Brien, noted for such noir thrillers as THE KILLERS , WHITE HEAT, and DOA, stars as crooked cop Barney Nolan, who murders a bookie in that alley I just mentioned and rips him off for 25 grand. Apartently, this isn’t the first time Nolan’s killed, with the charges being swept under the rug as “in the line of duty”. Nolan hides his ill-gotten gains under the porch of a model suburban dream home he’s thinking of buying for himself and fiancé Patty Winters.

The 25 G’s belong to gangster Packy Reed, who of course wants his dough back. Reed’s two menacing goons threaten Patty, but are stopped by Nolan’s partner Mark Brewster. Then Nolan learns there was a witness, a deaf mute old man, and goes to try and bribe the old geezer, but accidentally kills him instead. Mark is called to investigate and finds a note the geezer wrote implicating Nolan in the bookie’s death. Nolan now becomes a hunted man, with the squad leader putting all cops on the lookout, leading to Barney Nolan’s unavoidable date with destiny.

There’s some shocking violence in the scene where Nolan, getting drunk at an Italian restaurant with a local floozie, spots the goons who threatened Patty, and savagely pistol whips them both. The final scenes, where the hunted Nolan engages in a gun duel with a goon at a high school swim meet, then is ferociously gunned down himself by his police brethren, are also well staged. O’Brien directed one other feature, 1961’s MAN TRAP, while Koch went on to a long career as a director (BIG HOUSE USA, UNTAMED YOUTH , FRANKENSTEIN 1970 , BADGE 373), producer (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, FOUR FOR TEXAS , THE ODD COUPLE, AIRPLANE!), and a stint as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

The cast is terse and tough, and includes John Agar as Nolan’s partner Mark, Emile Meyer as the no nonsense precinct captain, Claude Akins as one of the goons, and a blonde Carolyn Jones as the floozie. Sexy Marla English plays Patty; she’s best known for a pair of chillers, THE SHE CREATURE and VOODOO WOMAN. The rest of the cast list features Familiar Faces from the world of episodic TV: John Beradino (GENERAL HOSPITAL), William Boyett (ADAM-12), Robert Bray (LASSIE), Richard Deacon (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW), Stafford Repp (BATMAN), William Schallert (THE PATTY DUKE SHOW, STAR TREK’s “The Trouble With Tribbles”) and Vito Scotti, who was on just about every TV show made from the 50’s to the 70’s!

SHIELD FOR MURDER offers noir buffs a darkly good time, although I feel it’s definitely second-tier stuff. O’Brien and the cast make it worth watching, as does the intermittent outbursts of violence. Would I watch it again? Sure, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to do so. You Dear Readers will have to decide for yourselves.

 

Concrete Jungle: REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER (United Artists 1975)

REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER usually gets lumped in with the plethora of 70’s cop films, but I viewed it as a neo-noir. It’s structure tells the tale mainly in flashback, from the participating character’s differing perspective, and is dark as hell. I’m sure co-screenwriters Abby Mann and Ernest Tidyman were well aware of what they were doing: both men were former Oscar winners (Mann for JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG, Tidyman for THE FRENCH CONNECTION   ) familiar with the conventions of the genre. The solid cast features a powerhouse collection of 70’s character actors, led by Michael Moriarty’s patented over-the-edge performance as protagonist Bo Lockley.

Lockley is a young, idealistic cop caught up in circumstances beyond his control, snaring him in an inescapable downward spiral. The film opens with a pair of New York City detectives discovering the body of a young woman, who turns out to be one of their own, an undercover cop. Cut to a ruckus over at Saks’ 5th Avenue, where a disheveled Lockley, wrapped in a blanket, is being escorted from the building, charged with the murder, and put into the Bellevue Hospital Psych Ward.

The sensationalistic papers cry “Scandal!”, and the Commissioner (Stephen Elliot) assigns Internal Affairs Captain Strichter (Edward Grover) to untangle the mess. Through flashbacks, we, along with Strichter, uncover the truth. Undercover cop Patty Butler (Susan Blakely in her finest screen performance), disguised as a runaway teen called ‘Chicklet’, had infiltrated the life of known drug dealer ‘Stick’ Henderson to the point of being his live-in lover, without the permission of the powers that be. Only her superiors Lt. Hanson (Michael McGuire) and Capt. D’Angelo (Hector Elizondo) are aware she’s this deep undercover.

Hanson and D’Angelo look for a patsy to search for the missing “runaway”, and land on Lockley, a NYC Police ‘legacy’ who’s ill-suited to the job. Lockley’s been working with veteran ‘Crunch’ Blackstone (the amazing Yaphet Kotto), trying to learn the ways of the streets. The two men take different approaches to the job, with Blackstone’s pork-pie hat wearing, hard-assed cop a direct contrast to the compassionate, long-haired Lockley. Still, the older man develops a fondness for the naïve youngster.

Lockley takes his new assignment seriously, and almost blows Butler’s cover at a disco. He diligently tracks her to Stick’s apartment, where he discovers a cache of weapons slated for use by a black radical group. The cop and the dealer engage in a shoot-out, where Butler takes a fatal bullet from Lockley’s erratic barrage. A chase over the rooftops winds up with Lockley and Stick trapped in an elevator, surrounded by the law, with no chance of escape.

Michael Moriarty’s unhinged performance as Lockley foreshadows his work in Larry Cohen’s Q: THE WINGED SERPENT and THE STUFF. His Lockley is ill-suited for the job, and doesn’t understand that, as his mentor Crunch tells him, “Nothing is what it seems”. Tony King, the ex-football player who later became head of security for hip-hop legends Public Enemy, adds his menacing presence as Stick. Among the other Familiar Faces you’ll find Bob Balaban excelling as a legless street person, Richard Gere making his film debut as a lowlife pimp, and William Devane, Bebe Drake-Hooks, Dana Elcar, and Vic Tayback.

REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER was directed by Milton Katselas, more known as a Broadway producer/director and acting coach, whose filmography includes FORTY CARATS, BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE, and WHEN YOU COMIN’ BACK, RED RYDER?. He’s also known as a hard-core Scientologist, and was portrayed in the biopic SAL (about the actor Sal Mineo) by that film’s director, James Franco (which I’m sure my TSL colleague Lisa Marie Bowman will be interested in!). Cinematographer Mario Tosi (CARRIE, THE STUNT MAN) captures the gritty Times Square street life with a dark, gloomy eye, and Elmer Bernstein contributes a fine, sometimes even funky score. The neo-noir atmosphere and outstanding cast make this an interesting if not quite classic film that deserves a second look.

Roger of the Skies: VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN (United Artists 1971)

Producer/director Roger Corman finally cut ties with American-International Pictures after they butchered his apocalyptic satire GAS-S-S! Striking out on his own, Corman’s next movie was VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN, a World War I epic about famed German aerial ace The Red Baron and the Canadian pilot who shoots his down Roy Brown. There are grand themes, as Corman sought to make a statement on the futility of war, the end of chivalry, and the mechanized savagery of what was to be “the last war”. The film looks good, shot in Ireland, with exciting aerial footage, but despite all the outer trappings VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN is still a Corman drive-in movie.

John Philip Law also looks good as Baron Manfred von Richtofen, the aristocrat/warrior who became the feared Red Baron. Law was always great to watch, whether as the blind angel in BARBARELLA, the black-clad supervillain in DANGER: DIABOLIK, sexy Robin Stone in THE LOVE MACHINE, or the fabled sailor in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Unfortunately, his acting left a lot to be desired, for Law had the range of a popsicle stick, and was just as wooden. His Red Baron lacks the charisma necessary to make the audience care about him, and scuttles the film’s impact.

Don Stroud was originally slated to be Von Richtofen, but instead has the role of Canadian Roy Brown, who ultimately shoots down the Red Baron. Stroud adds some life to the movie with his performance, as he did in films like COOGAN’S BLUFF, BLOODY MAMA, ANGEL UNCHAINED, and JOE KIDD,  and as Mike Hammer’s cop pal Pat Chambers in the MICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE HAMMER TV series. A very underrated actor usually stuck in supporting parts or leads in ‘B’ flicks, Stroud gets a chance to shine here and runs away with the film’s acting honors.

There’s some incredible aerial action  shot by DP Michael Reed and choreographed by real-life RCAF pilot Lynn Garrison (who’s interesting life story can be read on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Garrison.  The planes were leftover from 1966’s THE BLUE MAX, and Corman shot the whole thing in Ireland rain or shine, believing a war wouldn’t take the day off because of weather, so why should he? The dogfights between Von Richtofen’s men and the British flyers are realistically done, though the climactic battle itself is, well, anti-climactic.

Barry Primus (BOXCAR BERTHA, NIGHT GAMES) is young Hermann Goering, member of Von Richtofen’s squad whose actions foreshadow Nazi atrocities to come. Veteran Hurd Hatfield (THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY) lends his touch of decadent elegance to the brief role of German plane manufacturer Anthony Fokker. Corin Redgrave (son of Sir Michael , brother of Vanessa and Lynn), Ferdy Mayne , and Stephen McHattie also appear in support.

Corman’s modern-day knights of the air saga isn’t a complete success, but is worth a look for fans of the auteur’s movies. I’d love to see what Quinten Tarantino could do with this material, preferably with a large part for Christoph Waltz. Are you listening out there, QT?

Sail Away: John Wayne in John Ford’s THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (United Artists 1940)

This is my third year participating in the TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film , and second entry spotlighting Big John Wayne . The Duke and director John Ford made eleven films together, from 1939’s STAGECOACH to 1963’s DONOVAN’S REEF.  Wayne’s role in the first as The Ringo Kid established him as a star presence to be reckoned with, and the iconic actor always gave credit to his mentor Ford for his screen success. I recently viewed their second collaboration, 1940’s THE LONG VOYAGE HOME, a complete departure for Wayne as a Swedish sailor on a tramp steamer, based on four short plays by Eugene O’Neill, and was amazed at both the actor’s performance and the technical brilliance of Ford and his cinematographer Gregg Toland  , the man behind the camera for Welles’ CITIZEN KANE.

THE LONG VOYAGE HOME is a seafaring saga detailing the lives of merchant marines aboard the ship Glencairn  on the cusp of World War II. The film is episodic in nature, as screenwriter Dudley Nichols wove the four one-act plays into a cohesive narrative. Duke is ‘Ole’ Olsen (no relation to the great vaudevillian), a sweet-natured young buck longing to return to his homeland and his elderly mother. Ole is a gentle giant of a man, whom the hardened sailors look out for, treating him as a kid brother. The naïve Ole has been out at sea ten years, trapped as the others are in a cycle of time on the ocean followed by spending all their dough on liquor and women when they hit port, forcing them to return to their cruel master the sea. This time around, they’re determined to make sure Ole gets back to his farm in Sweden, to break free of the lifestyle they are all caught in by fate and misfortune.

Wayne’s much-maligned Swedish accent isn’t all that bad, as some critics have harped on. Duke was nervous about doing the part justice, and had Danish actress Osa Massen (A WOMAN’S FACE, YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH) coach him with the rhythm and cadence of the language. His big scene at the bar, where he’s being set up to be shanghaied by the ship Amindra’s salty crew, shows Wayne’s accent was more than passable, and once again proves to the audience he could do more than just sit tall in the saddle and throw a mean punch at the bad guys. John Wayne, when the occasion called for it, could act.

Due to the structure of the screenplay however, Wayne doesn’t have to carry the film on his broad shoulders. Though ‘Ole’ is the glue that holds the film together, the rest of the ensemble all take their turns in the spotlight. The standout here is Thomas Mitchell , winner of the previous year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar for STAGECOACH, as the boisterous veteran seaman Driscoll, a two-fisted Irishman whose sad fate at film’s end will haunt you. Ian Hunter, an underappreciated actor, plays the role of Smitty, whom the others suspect of being a Nazi spy, but instead harbors another dark secret. Ward Bond , the rowdy Yank, is given a solemn death bed scene, and gets a chance to show off his own acting chops. Barry Fitzgerald seems to be preparing for his role as Micheleen in THE QUIET MAN as Cocky. Fitzgerald’s brother Arthur Shields is the philosophical Donkeyman, who never leaves the ship for fear of triggering his alcoholism. Mildred Natwick makes her film debut as the prostitute Freda, charged with the task of seducing Ole before he’s shanghaied. John Qualen does his own inimitable Swedish part as Axel, mentor and protector to Ole. Familiar Faces Billy Bevan, Danny Borzage, James Flavin, J.M. Kerrigan, Wifred Lawson, Cyril McLaglen (brother of Victor), Jack Pennick, and Joe Sawyer round out the rugged cast; most were members in good standing of Ford’s stock company.

The real star of THE LONG VOYAGE HOME is Gregg Toland, who Ford had compete trust in to create the film’s visual mood. Toland’s experimental deep-focus style, utilizing back projection, makes the film an illusion of reality, his heavy shadows and dramatic lighting schemes a definite precursor to what would become the film noir style. John Ford was no stranger to making art films, and together with Toland certainly achieves success. Orson Welles once said he watched STAGECOACH over 40 times before filming CITIZEN KANE; there’s no doubt in my mind he did the same with THE LONG VOYAGE HOME.

While it’s not the type of film one would normally associate with the John Wayne/John Ford canon, THE LONG VOYAGE HOME should be watched by fans of both men’s work. The somber mood is laced with black humor, the cast is superb, Toland’s influential camerawork is a marvel to behold, and it’s a chance to see a different side of John Wayne. Sandwiched between STAGECOACH and THE GRAPES OF WRATH, THE LONG VOYAGE HOME doesn’t get the attention the other two attract, but deserves a place in the pantheon of John Ford’s masterful film classics.