attending the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs got underway on Friday, May 15th, with my first-ever viewing of THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME (1947). I shared my impressions of the film at length yesterday.
After lunch the next film on the schedule was the starkly beautiful ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), starring Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino (seen in the still at the left). I reviewed ON DANGEROUS GROUND here in 2006.
I hadn't seen the film since that time, and it was just as good as I remembered, with Ryan's performance as an anguished, angry police detective a beautiful portrait of a broken man. He's matched by Lupino as a blind woman living an isolated country life; some of their scenes together made my eyes mist, they are both such moving actors. As Alan Rode said in his introduction, this is "one of Robert Ryan's greatest roles."
George Diskant's black and white photography of snowy Colorado is stunning. It was also fascinating to hear strains of Bernard Herrman's later score for NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) appear in his score for ON DANGEROUS GROUND.
Author J.R. Jones, author of the new biography THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN, was interviewed by Alan Rode after the movie. I'll be reviewing the book here as soon as I have time to finish reading it; what I've read thus far is excellent.
Jones said it was a challenge to get Ryan "on the page" as he was very private. He didn't live a "Hollywood" lifestyle, living quietly in North Hollywood, where he was involved in activities outside of acting such as the founding of the Oakwood School. Ryan's children told the author their father was "hard to read," and those who knew Ryan loved him yet said they didn't know him well.
Jones named ON DANGEROUS GROUND as his favorite Ryan performance, and said Ryan's own favorites included THE SET-UP (1949), INFERNO (1953), THE NAKED SPUR (1953), BILLY BUDD (1962), and his last film, THE ICEMAN COMETH (1973).
I was interested to learn that after Ryan was widowed in 1972, he developed a relationship with John Farrow's widow, Maureen O'Sullivan. Whether they might have married we'll never know, as Ryan himself suddenly passed on in 1973, just a year after his wife.
As it happens, the next film of the day was THE BIG CLOCK (1948), in which Farrow directed O'Sullivan. I first reviewed THE BIG CLOCK here in 2009.
As a Ray Milland fan, I love the very stylish THE BIG CLOCK, which Foster Hirsch said in his introduction is about "control and what will happen if people lose it." He also pointed out the interesting aspect that the characters are in such a sterile, meticulously designed environment, dominated by the title clock, yet they "can't regulate themselves."
I was interested to learn that despite being married to the director, O'Sullivan had to try out for her role; it was noted that it wasn't a particularly flattering role, either, as her character regularly nags Milland -- though with some reason, as he constantly flakes out on his commitments to her and their son. Farrow and O'Sullivan were one of two married couples who worked on the film, the other pair being Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. Lanchester is absolutely hilarious as a dizzy artist who is the single mother of several children.
A side note for members of the Bess Flowers Fan Club: Everyone's favorite bit player made her sole appearance at the festival in a conference room scene early in THE BIG CLOCK.
CHICAGO CALLING (1951), described by Alan Rode as "the saddest movie you'll ever see."
I found it easier to watch the film the second time around, knowing what was coming in advance. Duryea is remarkable, and there's also very nice work by the rest of the cast; I especially enjoyed former child actress Marsha Jones (aka Marcia Mae Jones) in a couple scenes as a waitress. The film is a fascinating record of the decrepit Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles.
Duryea, who was the highest-paid freelance supporting player in Hollywood, didn't take a salary for the film, working solely for a percentage of the profits. There was no profit, so he made nothing, but he said he was glad he'd done it because the role "made my wife cry," which he said was the "highest compliment" he could receive from someone whose opinion he so respected.
A highlight of the festival was Alan Rode's interview with Gordon Gebert, who had an impressive career as a child actor, including a large role opposite Duryea in CHICAGO CALLING.
Gebert said that Duryea was clearly "a father" and had "infinite patience."
Gebert said that the filming in "a seedy part of town" near the Angels' Flight Railway was a different world from where he lived in the San Fernando Valley. He said that the location work in Downtown Los Angeles, along with a trip to San Francisco to film THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951), helped awaken his interest in architecture and building.
Professor of Architecture at City College of New York. He's married to a professor at Vassar College.
Gebert said that his parents managed his earnings carefully, and that he had enough banked to pay for his college education as well as his first home. He said that while at times as a child he wished he could simply go play with the other kids instead of working, as the years went by and he realized what unusual and remarkable experiences he'd had, he was grateful.
The lights wash out the faces in this photo of the interview, but I include it to give a sense of the setting at the Camelot Theatre. Alan Rode is seated at the left and Gordon Gebert is on the right.
Some of Gebert's other Hollywood memories:
*He had appeared in a play at Drake University in Iowa, and after moving to California from Des Moines, his parents took him to the Pasadena Playhouse, where he was cast in a production of LIFE WITH FATHER starring Victor Jory. He was spotted at the Playhouse by an agent, and his first movie role was in COME TO THE STABLE (1949).
*Joel McCrea, with whom he appeared in SADDLE TRAMP (1950), was "a great guy." Unfortunately SADDLE TRAMP's director, Hugo Fregonese, was the only person Gebert did not like working with, saying he was "horrendous" and would pit the children in the film against each other, taking lines away from one child and giving them to another.
*He remembers his costar in THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), Charles McGraw, as "a very funny guy." Gebert also particularly remembers the crew rocking the train set back and forth to simulate movement. He's pictured here with McGraw and Jacqueline White, who played his mother in the film.
*Audie Murphy, whom Gebert played as a boy in TO HELL AND BACK (1955), was "a lovely guy."
Gebert's other films included THE FLAME AND THE ARROW (1950), 14 HOURS (1951), NIGHT INTO MORNING (1951), and FLYING LEATHERNECKS (1951).
Coming next: Day Two of the festival!