Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival: Day One

My first day 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.

The final film of the day was Dan Duryea starring in the tragedy 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.

Gebert left acting before he turned 20 and obtained a Bachelor's degree in architecture from MIT and a Master's from Princeton, and he is now a 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).

*Robert Mitchum, his costar in HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), was "a pro...could really work with other people." He also remembers Elizabeth Taylor coming to visit her close friend Janet Leigh on the set, and marveling over how beautiful Taylor was in person. Gebert is seen here with the infamous train set from the film.

*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!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all this glorious information,Laura . Can't wait to get the new Robert Ryan book and look forward to your review. I'm so glad the author rates ON DANGEROUS GROUND so highly. I love it too.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Wow,only Day One and loads of really interesting and fascinating facts! Really enjoyed hearing of Gordon Gebert's memories and distinguished subsequent life.

In 1965 in the UK a new late night chat show "The Eamonn Andrews Show" came on TV. Boy, I'd like to see some of those shows again. He got a lot of visiting stars from across the pond. I particularly recall two couples of great interest to me then, and now. Joseph Cotten and his wife Patricia Medina - I really liked Cotten in his films and was surprised how very shy and reticent he was in person. His wife did all the talking!
The other couple was Jessica and Robert Ryan. He was already a firm Jerry favourite actor, and that has only been enhanced over years. I recall strongly how 'un-Hollywood' he was. He really didn't like talking about himself, preferring to discuss certain causes with which he was involved. He was even dressed unusually, having come on in a heavy-knit woollen jumper rather than suit. Despite his quietness, he really stood out.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I love your movie field trips. This stuff from Gebert is really neat. What a great experience to have him there as a guest, sharing his childhood memories working in Hollywood.

5:49 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

ON DANGEROUS GROUND is also my favorite Robert Ryan performance and I like your description of his character very much. But Laura, it's really not right to cite this title and not mention Nicholas Ray--he was not just some assigned director; it was his project and his adaptation of the novel and unlike THEY LIVE BY NIGHT producer John Houseman did not believe in it as Ray did and by his own statements only supported him unhappily. This exceptionally beautiful film barely got any notice when released but is now revered, so that's a vindication for Ray. As for Ryan and Ray, Ryan is the ideal Ray actor, made for that director's world, his face alone a landscape of alienation.

If you can ever give yourself to over four hours of characters sitting around a bar, the film of O'Neill's THE ICEMAN COMETH is the finest work of director John Frankenheimer and Ryan is again sublime in what he knew would be his final movie; though written many years before, his role might have been written for him.

8:51 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Regarding Duryea being the highest paid free lancer in Hollywood, it should be noted there was some pretty stiff competition for that title. Cary Grant, Claudette Colbert, James Stewart, and by the end of 1953, Clark Gable and John Wayne. Many more.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

By the way, since Laura mentions her favourite 'bit' player, Bess Flowers, may I put in a mention for another 'bit' player - Kermit Maynard.
Actually, Kermit starred in some small movies in the '30s but he quickly became the ultimate player in literally hundreds of westerns, both big and small screen, where he could be seen as part of the crowd, posse, outlaw gang or whatever. Most of the time he never spoke a word but he was easily spotted as he always wore the same shape hat (see discussions on this matter elsewhere!).
Actually he was the brother of star Ken Maynard (big western star, big ego). Kermit was one of Hollywoods best horsemen.
Just wanted to bring his name to folks' attention!

10:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Vienna, I'm so delighted you are enjoying my reports! Hope you enjoy the book also. :)

Jerry, that's a great story about seeing the Ryan interview.

Jacqueline, I love that, "movie field trips." They're so much fun! It was a treat to listen to Gebert.

Blake, thanks for calling attention to the impact of Nicholas Ray on the film. There were a couple interesting anecdotes in the film's introduction about Ray being inarticulate communicating with his actors yet getting amazing things on screen -- it was said that Robert Mitchum called him "the mystic." P.S. That's a fantastic description of Robert Ryan.

Barrylane, perhaps I should amend that description to "highest-paid freelance character actor"! Now that I think of it, I think that was implied in the description I heard that evening.

Jerry, I'm going to have to start watching for Kermit Maynard now! I'll go looking for a picture of him and his hat so I can more easily pick him out of the crowds. I really enjoy looking for those unsung faces who were nonetheless such an integral part of the films of the era.

Thanks so you all so much for the feedback, it's a joy to be able to attend an event like this festival and then share it all with you here. Really hope that some of my readers who are able will make the trip to Palm Springs for a future festival!

Best wishes,

10:19 AM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

Fascinating stories. Thanks for sharing!

11:24 AM  
Blogger KC said...

Such great information! Thank you for sharing. Interesting to hear that Robert Ryan was so elusive. That doesn't surprise me though. I loved hearing that Gebert's parents saved his earnings for him. You hear so many horror stories about child actors losing it all.

11:10 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Robby and KC, it's my pleasure! Hopefully in a few years when your little ones are older you'll each be able to visit the festival yourselves!

Thanks for reading and taking the time to let me know you enjoyed it!

Best wishes,

11:25 PM  

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