Desert Island Movie#1
There is a game I used to enjoy playing by myself that I’d like to share with you although I haven’t played it in a long, long time. Maybe it’s because I’m older and have less imagination than I had before. But anyway, here goes.
It’s the old “Desert Island” thing. They used to play it with books way back then when reading was a more popular pastime. The question was; “If you were stranded on a desert island forever and ever which 10 books would you want to have with you?”…Now the same question substituting the word movies for the word books. This question is not as easy as it sounds if you’re going to play the game seriously because it requires that you review in your mind all the movies that you’ve seen then narrow the list down for a variety of reasons. And none of these reasons can have anything to do with critical acclaim, awards won or the film’s designation as a classic or a piece of cinematic shit. It only has to do with you and how you emotionally, more than intellectually react to the film in question. But let us not completely discount the intellectual aspect because that counts for something too. Just don’t give it too much weight.
It’s been so long since I’ve played this game that I’m finding it difficult to get started again. But I’ll take a stab at it.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks-1953).
To my rational mind this is a stupid, somewhat harmless musical expertly made but without the grace notes and sublime pleasures of an MGM-Freed Unit creation. But the women! Oh my God, the women, the women, the women. By that I mean Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Russell and Monroe, Monroe and Russell and Russell and Monroe. Were there ever two more beautiful, sexy and seemingly available women presented so lavishly, so lovingly and so abundantly on the screen? To my eyes and mind no, never. Over the years when asked about this film I always describe it as the most heterosexual musical I’ve ever seen. And that it has the healthy potency of a good strip show. Every time I look at this film I fantasize and dream, dream and fantasize about so many possibilities that it makes my head spin. And when it comes to the ladies who would I choose If I had to? In my mind it’s always a photo finish with Russell winning by a very slim margin. But then I look at the “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” number and I’m not so sure anymore. But then Russell’s court room spoof of the same number stops me in my tracks and I’m confused once again. Another knockout moment is the “When Love goes Wrong” number. I think of those two kids with the women and how close they were to magic and didn’t, couldn’t realize it. I didn’t when I first saw the film so why should they? In fact when I think about it I was about the same age as they were. But then as the years went by the film keeps coming back and taking me in its arms. Or am I the one who’s doing the embracing? Either way we have each other and will never let go.
So there you have it, the first of my desert island movies. There will be nine more as the weeks go by. But play along with me. Send me a list of your desert island ten. Why should I have all the fun?
A scene between John Garfield and Marie Windsor in the crime drama written and directed by Abraham Polonsky in 1948.
Windsor: You’re wide open, Joe. I can see into you without looking.
Garfield: Don’t bother. Besides, it’s not nice to do.
Windsor: More interesting when you have a rock for a husband like mine. He’s a stone that man. The whole word are rocks and stones to him.
Garfield: Why tell me? Tell him.
Windsor: I never tell him anything. Makes me feel unnecessary.
Garfield: If I make you feel necessary, I’m making a mistake.
Like Budd Boetticher, Andre De Toth was a frequent collaborator of Randolph Scott’s. The Westerns these two men made together may not rival the perfection of The Tall T (a pure Western, in the same way that Detour is pure Noir) but they are nevertheless strong entries in the genre.
Especially Riding Shotgun.
Riding Shotgun is a fast picture. It clocks in at 73 minutes (the right length for kind of gutsy cinema of old Hollywood). Somehow, whether intinially or not, it picks up on the paranoia of the Cold War era (McCarthyism in particular) with its portrayal of mob mentality and justice. I won’t say a lot about it because all I really need to say is SEE IT.
Having skimmed the surface of De Toth’s work, I find him one of the forgotten great directors of cinema.
Andre De Toth (left) showing Gary Cooper what’s up.
From : The Cathedral of Godard
The Gospel According to Godard
To be or not to be. That’s not really a question.
Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.
I pity the French Cinema because it has no money. I pity the American Cinema because it has no ideas.
To me style is just outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can’t be separated.
I don’t think you should feel about a film. You should feel about a woman, not a movie. You can’t kiss a movie.
One of the most striking signs of decay of art is when we see its separate forms jumbled together.
All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.
A story should have a beginning, middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.
Film is like a personal diary, a notebook, or a monologue by someone who tries to justify himself before the camera.
Instead of making film we’ll make cinema.
At the moment we are able to do cinema we can no longer do the cinema that inspired us.
Paradise for Hire
In the mid 1950s the island wasn’t the tourist destination it has now become. Five or six tourist ships a month were average and there was really only one major hotel to accommodate those who wanted to come and spend a few days in the sun. So anyone who stayed longer, that is any American generally white, who stayed more than 3 to 4 days stood out. And that’s how it was with that trio that arrived, they stayed at our big hotel (The Hilton) and was here for about two weeks walking all around, asking dozens of questions and taking pictures all over the place. They were a friendly group, especially the tall thin guy who seemed to be in charge. There was another man and an attractive blonde woman. Both seem to be in their mid thirties somewhere while he looked to be about ten years older. As a trio they were so conspicuous that after a while everyone was wondering who they were and why they were here. That mystery was quickly cleared up by a story in our local paper accompanied by a photo of them wearing sunglasses and sun hats. The man who seemed to be the leader was Rodney Bennett* or RB as he preferred to be called, a television producer. The other two were Ben and Gail, his assistants. They were on the island scouting it as a possible location for a TV series he was planning to produce called Paradise for Hire. A weekly series about three young detectives (two guys and a girl) who solve crimes and get into all sorts of adventures both romantic and comedic. “But we’re just looking now nothing is settled. We’ll be looking at other islands as well. But I have to say one thing; your island is absolutely beautiful and unspoiled. That’s makes it so attractive.”… One day later they were gone.
Two months later they were back but only two of the original three. Gail wasn’t with them. Instead they were accompanied by Boyd Evans, a familiar looking character actor who mostly played villains in westerns. In life he was tall and quite impressive to encounter. This time they weren’t staying at the Hilton but at The Hampton House an older but equally luxurious hotel. Almost immediately RB called a press conference to announce that he had chosen us as the primary location for the series and that Boyd Evans would be playing the owner of the detective agency. “He’s going to be the anchor of the series and will show up in virtually every episode giving out assignments or actually participating in some of the adventures himself.” Then he went on to elaborate about all the plans they had for the series and how it was going to put on display every week all over the nation the natural beauty of this fabulous island. A large room at the Hampton House was designated as the command center for the production and a buzz was in the air. Everyone was excited. A high profile TV series would be shooting on our streets, all sorts of name guest stars would be visiting and a lot of the local people would be involved in order to supply local color. For businesses this could be a bonanza and a real boost to our tepid tourist trade as well. RB could be seen everywhere shaking hands and asking questions. Parties for all three guys were hosted in several places including Government House where the Governor personally welcomed them. The actor Boyd Evans was a friendly and outgoing guy who told all kinds of fun inside stories about the stars he worked with which endeared him and the company to everyone.
The buzz, the hosting, the wining and dining went on for more than a month but no stars or cameras had arrived as had previously been announced. There were “logistical issues” RB explained and his assistant Ben was dispatched to deal with them. A week later Boyd had to leave due to a prior commitment but promised he would be back. Another month went by and RB was still around assuring everyone that things were still in place. “We just have to get those bastards at NBC and Warner Brothers off their ass and move on this thing.”
Now by this time he had been staying at The Hampton House for nearly three months and apparently signing for everything including large tips for waiters and room service personnel. The management began to get anxious and started demanding payment. RB had promised that the production would take care of everything out of its budget but now the hotel was getting skeptical about the whole thing. Finally they evicted him with a public announcement in the paper declaring him a fraud and urging local merchants not to extend him or his bogus production company any more credit…RB quickly moved to another hotel and announced that his company was legitimate and that the series was going to be shot here. There were just some legal delays, that’s all. But he also announced that he was suing The Hampton House, its owners and management for defamation of character and doing damage to his professional reputation. He also accused them of illegally listening in all his long distance phone calls and said that they would pay dearly for invading his privacy in such a low down, shameful, criminal manner. He was accompanied by two lawyers who said that they had the goods on the Hampton House and was proceeding rapidly with the lawsuit. That they had an unimpeachable witness who would testify to their illegal practice.
Well it turned out that that “Unimpeachable witness” was a middle aged Latino woman who had been working as a switchboard operator at the hotel. Apparently unbeknownst to anyone she had been having a clandestine affair with RB and I guess told him about the electronic eavesdropping. Upon mention of her name she was fired by the hotel and named as a co-conspirator with RB in defrauding the hotel of its services. Unused to this kind of publicity she went into hiding but couldn’t avoid the harsh glare of publicity as RB and the hotel hurled accusations and insults at each other with her as the central figure while lawyers drew up briefs and called for motion after motion in their so-called million dollar law suits.
Then one morning the whole thing came to a halt when the woman was found dead in her house by her daughter. She had committed suicide leaving a note that said she couldn’t take the pressure any more. Her death put a chill on everything and quietly, without any noise or fanfare the suits and counter suits just seemed to evaporate. RB left the island and was never heard about or seen again. And it was never ever verified if he really was a legitimate producer or a con man just trying to make a score.
More than 20 years passed before a TV series was shot there and it wasn’t called Paradise for Hire or any such name. The show lasted for one season and was gone. And the only thing left from that sorry episode, at least in my memory is how an unsophisticated woman forfeited her life for something that was never going to be in the first place.
There are glorious aspects to motion pictures and movie making, this wasn’t one of them.
* Note: All the names used in this article are fictitious.
I’ve always been able to work with anybody that doesn’t want success. Jazz musicians don’t want success. They have these little tin weapons. They don’t shoot. They don’t go anywhere. The jazz musician doesn’t deal with the structured life. He just wants the night, like a kid.
- John Cassavetes (Actor/Filmmaker)
It is the ultimate of rugged individualism. It’s going out there on stage and saying it doesn’t matter how anybody else did it. This is how I’m going to do it.
- Gary Giddings (on playing jazz)
Whoever said that a good man was hard to find just ain’t looking hard enough.
- Alberta Hunter (Blues singer)
I’ve never been interested in success. I’ve always been interested in experimentation.
-Orson Welles (Actor/Filmmaker)
My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water