Out of the Past vs. Lady Bird

I have been thinking about the choices a director makes when making a film. What does a well-made film look like? I watched two films back-to-back on the plane to Italy, Lady Bird written and directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan, and Out of the Past directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum and the femme fatale played by Jane Greer.

I recognize it’s unfair to compare these two disparate films as one was a coming-of-age story, the other a film noir. One was made just this past year while the other sixty years ago. One was the directoral debut by a female while the other by an established male director. There is nothing similar about these two films.

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Unless you consider the quality of each film as an artistic offering. While Lady Bird was nominated for the top writing and directing awards of 2017, I could not help but scratch my head as to why this was so other than it was a political move on behalf of the Academy of Motion Pictures. I just didn’t think it was an interesting story or directed well. The scenes seemed desultory like mud thrown on a wall with little thought. I wouldn’t have noticed as much if I had not just seen Out of the Past. Wow! What a film. Tourneur took his time to frame each scene. He blocked his characters to take advantage of the space. There was movement. There were silhouettes. The staging was aesthetically balanced. Even the costumes played a visual role–don’t you love how Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) started the film wearing white, but as her devious nature became more apparent, her wardrobe darkened? The characters were interesting–Kirk Douglas was an affable villain. Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey was the anti-hero, private detective who you couldn’t help but root for since he tried to leave his notorious past behind and make an honest attempt as a working man and who fell for the girl-next-door. His relationship with the deaf and mute boy (Dickie Moore) revealed Bailey’s goodness in spite of his tough-guy bravado. Every character was interesting and added to the plot purposefully. It was a beautiful film to watch.

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Then there’s Gerwig’s effort. This, a Best Picture contender? It was not structurally interesting. The choppy editing to elicit the passage of time killed whatever emotional investment I had in Lady Bird’s friendships. The only aspect that was quasi-interesting was Laurie Metcalf’s performance as the overpowering mother. The brother and father were a wimpy, wasted pair in a lame plot. I genuinely like Saoirse Ronan as an actress, but her character here in this film was downright boring.

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Out of the Past in 1947 was not nominated for an award but was superbly constructed compared to Lady Bird. Maybe if I had not seen both back-to-back it would not have been so glaringly obvious. If you haven’t seen Out of the Past, I highly recommend it. Watch it for the plot. For what a well-made film should look like. For pure entertainment. For the record, I’m all for women directors. Jane Campion and Julie Taymor know what they’re doing. I just wish they’d pass along some tips to Greta Gerwig.

Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr

 

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Continuing my winter festival celebrating an actor I know too little about…

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison(1957) is a fine, fluffy tale starring Deborah Kerr as Sister Angela, the pretty nun engaged to Christ and stranded alone on a South Pacific island during World War Two. With her expressive face and good sport attitude, she and U.S. Marine Corporal Allison, played by Robert Mitchum are a perfect pair. Directed by John Huston, interior and exterior shots are interesting to watch, such as when the Japanese take over the island, and Mr. Allison is hiding on top of a storage cabinet in the shadows. The camera angles are from Mr. Allison’s point of view and the audience hides along with him looking down waiting for a chance to escape. Externally, the air raid was well done. You can find more details and trivia about the film at TCM site found HERE

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Sister Angela and Mr. Allison find a commonality by recognizing that their vocations are bound by rituals and devotion. Nuns seem to be a thing of the past, and I admire the strength of conviction of Sister Angela as she struggles with her feelings for Mr. Allison and her duty to Christ. Robert Mitchum is charming as the matter-of-fact Marine who succumbs to infatuation. He’s an orphaned boy in a man’s body, lonely and craving for someone to love. Their friendship and classy ending had me smiling for hours. John Huston captures the gorgeous coast line and island fauna of Tobago and Trinidad. Who cares that Mr. Allison had been drifting at sea for who-knows-how-long and arrives at the island with a perfect haircut that never grows throughout the film? The chemistry between Mitchum and Kerr created a feel-good classic for which Kerr was nominated for Best Actress and Huston for Best Adapted Screenplay from another medium. 4/5

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1920s Australian shepherding family, Ida and Paddy Carmody in The Sundowners (1960). A strength of the film is the director Fred Zinnemann‘s capturing of movement, be it the nomadic family, the husbandry of sheep herding, horse racing, or the Australian countryside. It is a beautiful film. Once again, Deborah Kerr is nominated for a Best Actress award. 3.5/5

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Mitchum and Kerr starred in three films together. Which one is your favorite? I have not seen The Grass is Greener (1960). Do you recommend it? Did you see their last television film from the 1980s, Reunion at Fairborough?

Robert Mitchum, Boston Criminal

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle(1973) in all its bleakness showcases Robert Mitchum as a petty Boston criminal who sells firearms to the mob and becomes a pawn as an informer for the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) official, Dave Foley (Richard Jordan). Mitchum is believable as the tired crook surrounded by winter’s dead trees, gray buildings, and slimy characters. Actor Peter Boyle gives the performance of his career as the hit man assigned to bump off Eddie Coyle. Suspense builds at the Boston Bruins hockey arena; the live footage of Bobby Orr and the violence on the ice reflects the cold game unfolding in the stands.

This 1970s crime drama is nothing like Scorsese’s crime drama, The Departed.  There’s no zippy music in the background. No violet shirts or leopard robes worn by an eccentric boss. You’ll visit no classy neighborhoods or experience melodrama in The Friends of Eddie Coyle. This is a gritty world of hit-men, suppliers, and fickle officers of the law. In this dog-eat-dog world, train stations and bowling alley parking lots are the arenas where victims are as valued as a mucus stained handkerchief. 4/5.

Do you prefer the realism here or Scorsese’s colorful, pretty world in The Departed? 

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