Anthony Mann Festival at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood.
So far I've been at every evening of the festival except for the opening night, and I'm loving the chance to see so many widescreen Westerns for the very first time on a big screen, while also revisiting some of Mann's earlier "B" films and crime movies.
Tonight's double bill started off with STRANGE IMPERSONATION (1946), which I reviewed via a Kino DVD in 2011. Like Mann's STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944), this is one wild movie.
Some of STRANGE IMPERSONATION's absurdities seemed heightened in a big screen viewing -- Brenda Marshall and Hillary Brooke both lusting after a mustachioed, milquetoast William Gargan?! Brenda Marshall supposedly looking unrecognizable after plastic surgery, when all she does is dye her hair? One wonders if the cast pondered any of these questions at the time they made the movie!
The movie also has some delightfully hokey moments, such as Gargan trying to kiss Marshall in the laboratory, as she puts him off with the immortal line "Stephen, remember -- science!"
Still and all, this is a completely entertaining 68 minutes and it's hard to ask much more of a "B" film, especially when shown in a lovely 35mm print.
Victor Mature; my husband has termed the film "weird" and I can understand why, but at the same time I enjoyed it quite well despite some flaws. Those flaws started with the too-jolly Western music bookending the film; the filmmakers seemed to be trying to emulate the music of John Ford's cavalry pictures but I felt it didn't match this movie's tone.
In turn, THE LAST FRONTIER seems to foreshadow LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992); of course, there were earlier film versions of the classic story, but the Daniel Day-Lewis version is the one I've seen and found myself mentally comparing to the Mature film. As in MOHICANS, Mature's Jed Cooper roams the frontier with two male companions, one a father figure (James Whitmore) and the other an Indian (Pat Hogan).
The decision-making clashes between Jed and Col. Marston (Robert Preston), with their mutual love for a refined woman (Anne Bancroft) also standing between them, also calls the MOHICANS storyline to mind.
When the movie ended I thought "Well, that was different!" and wasn't sure it completely worked, and yet as I ponder the film further while writing this, I'm struck that it was a movie which offered much to reflect on, and perhaps I liked it more than I'd initially realized. Mature once again demonstrates that he was way underrated as an actor; so good as quietly brooding types in films such as KISS OF DEATH (1947) and CRY OF THE CITY (1948), here he plays an exuberant wild child of the West, seemingly incapable of conforming to the rules of "civilized" society.
I'm not sure if I found the prospect of a continued relationship between Jed and Corrina believable, and yet I wanted to think it was possible. Jed may be unrestrained and uneducated, but he also has the intuitive smarts to immediately size up people and situations, as well as formidable skills as an outdoorsman, so if he's able to add to that the maturing that the ending implies has and will take place, perhaps it's believable at that.
Corrina had apparently settled for marrying the colonel to be "rescued" from being a spinster, and they have a proper yet distant relationship, with the Colonel pushing away her attempts to connect with him on a deeper emotional level. (The Colonel at least appreciates she's a "fine woman" who wouldn't let Jed abandon her silly husband to the Indians!) Corrina has a second chance at what would be a far different relationship; she and Jed don't have common backgrounds but she now has the prospect of passion and being truly wanted.
Guy Madison is appealing as the captain who hires Jed as a scout, and I'll be seeking out more of his Westerns. Grizzled James Whitmore pulls off being the man who raised Jed, despite being several years younger than Victor Mature! This is the second '50s film in which I've seen Anne Bancroft -- the other being NIGHTFALL (1957) -- and I definitely find this early work more interesting than what she would do in the '60s and beyond.
The cast also includes Russell Collins, Peter Whitney, Mickey Kuhn, Guy Williams, and Jack Pennick, who played countless soldiers in his long career, several of those for John Ford.
The film runs 98 minutes, with a screenplay by Philip Yordan and Russell S. Hughes based on the novel THE GILDED ROOSTER by Richard Emery Roberts. This Technicolor movie was filmed in CinemaScope by William Mellor.
THE LAST FRONTIER is available on a widescreen DVD. It can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.
It also had a VHS release under its TV title, SAVAGE WILDERNESS.
It can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.
Earlier films seen in this series: DR. BROADWAY (1942), which was paired with the previously reviewed TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945); THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955), shown with the previously reviewed STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944); and THE NAKED SPUR (1953), shown with the previously reviewed HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948).
I strongly encourage my fellow Southern Californians to check out future nights in this series, as it's been terrific having the chance to delve deeply into Mann's films.