Tag Archives: Barry Fitzgerald

Noirvember II #2 – The Naked City (1948)

pdccueqhThe Naked City (1948)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Albert Maltz (screenplay), Malvin Hald (story, screenplay)
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor

Note: We previously covered director Jules Dassin in last year’s Noirvember feature of Night and the City.  Check it out here.

The hot, bustling streets of New York City are the real star of Jules Dassin’s seminal film noir The Naked City.  Filmed entirely on location in the big city, Dassin’s film is quite unique and very much ahead of its time by not being confined to a sound stage like many of its contemporaries.  Impressively, this film came before Dassin’s biggest successes – Night and the City and Rififi – and serves as one of the early indicators of Dassin’s skills behind the camera. Director of photography William H. Daniels was honored with an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his brilliant photography of New York City. Daniels managed to capture the feel of a true film noir despite filming a majority of the scenes in broad daylight, creating a relentlessly hot, muggy atmosphere in the process.  When we’re not under the bright sun, Daniels captures breathtaking images of New York City horizons at sunset, giving us a wide variety of photography.  Daniels’ skilled eye, combined with Dassin’s prowess behind the camera, and frequent narration from Mark Hellinger gives The Naked City an almost documentary-like feel.

Starring veteran actor Barry Fitzgerald and the young Don Taylor, The Naked City is procedural in every sense of the word.  Fitzgerald plays Lieutenant Dan Muldoon, who we follow as he investigates the apparent murder of a young woman named Jean Dexter.  Dexter is thought to have been drowned in her bathroom, and drugged using prescription sleeping pills.  Rookie detective Jimmy Halloran (Taylor) accompanies Lt. Muldoon through the proceedings. The two question a wide range of suspects and connections, including Dr. Stoneman (House Jameson), who prescribed the pills, Frank Niles (Howard Duff), who carried out an affair with Dexter, and a veteran professional wrestler turned burglar named Willie Garzah (Ted de Corsia).  Muldoon and Halloran come to the conclusion that multiple suspects are responsible, and pursue any lead they can find.  This leads to the veteran Muldoon handling much of the questioning, and Halloran on the New York City streets.  What ensues is a thrilling, suspenseful, and unpredictable turn of events that will see Jean Dexter’s killer apprehended by the authorities – but at what cost?  Find out in Jules Dassin’s excellent The Naked City!

It’s difficult not to compare The Naked City to Night and the City.  They were released within two years of each other, directed by Jules Dassin, prominently feature a moody big city atmosphere, and oddly enough feature professional wrestlers in their story.  If there’s one thing that sets The Naked City apart from Dassin’s later noir masterpiece, it’s that the former has much more personality to it.  The Naked City features elements of humor throughout, often delivered through Mark Hellinger’s excellent narration.  Hellinger’s narrator helps to personify the city of New York, further pushing the sprawling metropolis as a lead character in The Naked City.  He gives voices to the people of New York, who are going about their daily routines without knowing anything about the events taking place in the film.  The personality is furthered even more through William H. Daniel’s incredible photography, the suspenseful and enthralling crime story as told by screenwriters Albert Maltz and Malvin Hald, and some terrific early direction from Jules Dassin.  The combination of these elements creates a truly memorable and unique film noir experience, which I did not expect going into The Naked City.  It’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s beautiful – It’s everything film noir should aspire to be.
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What I Liked:

  • William H. Daniel’s cinematography really adds a lot to the film.  His photography brings New York City to life.
  • Barry Fitzgerald’s performance as Lt. Muldoon is a perfect anchor, bringing a lot of veteran instincts to a film featuring a great deal of newcomers and first time actors.
  • The score by Miklos Rozsa and Frank Skinner adds suspense and levity to the film, especially in its last act.
  • The final scene on the Williamsburg Bridge is terrific and feels well-earned and satisfying.
  • Mark Hellinger’s narration is humorous and insightful, it really brings the film together.  Hellinger also served as producer on the film, but died before its release.
  • The procedural elements never get too bogged down in the nitty gritty details, which definitely helps the pacing of the film.

What I Didn’t:

  • At times the reasons behind the murder of Jean Dexter felt contrived, but that pretty much sums up the motives of criminals in film noir.
  • The character of Willie Garzah should feel like more of a threat.  He does for a brief moment, only for it to crumble almost immediately.  

Having now seen three of director Jules Dassin’s most famous films, I can absolutely appreciate what he did for the genres of film noir and crime, but also for movies as a whole.  Dassin understands suspense and the importance of a strong build-up like few others – any comparisons to the works of Alfred Hitchcock seem well warranted.  The Naked City is a stylish, fast-paced crime procedural that will please viewers of any background.  It features stunning on-location cinematography, a fun lead performance by Barry Fitzgerald, sharp writing, editing, and pacing.  It truly is everything a film noir should be.  It probably won’t change your life in any meaningful way, but I think it’s safe to call it a classic of the genre.  Jules Dassin’s The Naked City is highly recommended.

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John Ford Feature #8 – The Quiet Man (1952)

Poster_-_Quiet_Man,_The_01The Quiet Man (1952)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Frank S. Nugent (based on The Quiet Man by Maurice Walsh)
Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond

As you may have read in my brief summary post about why I chose to cover the films of John Ford for an entire month, the man still holds the record for most Academy Awards won for Best Director.  He won the award The Informer in 1935, The Grapes of Wrath in 1940, How Green Was My Valley in 1941, and finally for 1952’s romantic drama The Quiet Man.  The John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara starring film would be released to tremendous critical acclaim and box office success, and is still widely recognized as one of Ford’s greatest films.  It’s perhaps most notable for being such a departure compared to the violent westerns that filled most of his career, and might just shock you by how light and playful it initially comes off.  Instead of focusing on common Ford settings like the desolate western plains or the Pacific, the film takes place entirely in a small Irish community and features a cast full of Irish descendants.  It brings with it John Ford’s subtle sense of humour (perhaps more overt here), impeccable eye for photography, and a cast full of lovable and recognizable faces.  The Quiet Man once against featured the incredible cinematography of the great Winton Hoch, who would once again bring home the Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1952.  On top of bringing home awards for Directing and Cinematography, Ford’s drama was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  The inspiration for the film – much like those in the cavalry trilogy – once again came from a story in The Saturday Evening Post, this time written by Maurice Walsh.  On top of starring the team of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, The Quiet Man also features John Ford company regulars Victor McLaglen (The Informer), Barry Fitzgerald (The Long Voyage Home), Ward Bond (They Were Expendable), and Francis Ford (The Informer).  Unfortunately for Ford, the film would prove to be his final movie to be nominated for Academy Awards, despite his career continuing on for nearly fifteen years.

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Sean Thornton (John Wayne) is an Irish-American former boxer who has just moved back to his native land in order to reclaim his family’s farm in this tiny community of Inisfree.  Upon his arrival he is met with warm greetings from a townful of odd and interesting characters.  He meets and very quickly falls in love with Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), who has a reputation around town as a fiery young independent woman.  Mary Kate also happens to be the unfortunate sister of the loudmouth bully Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), who had his sights set on Thornton’s family farm.  After the Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick) sells the farm to Thornton, an angered and jealous Will Danaher refuses to allow him to marry his younger sister.  After some trickery by the townspeople, Will is led to believe that the Widow Tillane wants to marry Will, but only on the grounds that Mary Kate be out of the house.  After a whirlwind romance, Sean and Mary Kate are quickly married and Will finds out the truth about the Widow.  Enraged, he refuses to allow Mary Kate to take her dowry, which has been passed on to her by her late mother.  Sean, being American and not understanding Irish traditions, refuses to speak with Will on the matter and is branded a coward by his new wife.  The marriage quickly falls apart, and the locals conspire to have Will return Mary Kate’s rightful inheritance to her.  With a coward husband and no dowry, Mary Kate boards a train to leave for greener pastures, but is quite literally dragged away by her husband.  Will the foreign Thornton confront the traditional Will Danaher and get his wife what rightfully belongs to her, or will he stand by and watch his marriage crumble before it could ever even gain steam?  Find out in John Ford’s Academy Award-winning The Quiet Man.

The Quiet Man was a very difficult film for me to review coming off the heels of the thrilling cavalry trilogy that preceded it.  Luckily, what I found was incredibly charming (if old-fashioned), funny, and beautiful film with a great deal to love about it.  Maureen O’Hara once again steals the show, this time as the incredibly strong and independent Mary Kate Danaher, who is an incredibly progressive character for the era the film was made in.  John Wayne’s performance as Sean Thornton is equally impressive, showing off more of his newly recognized acting abilities and proving that he has more range than just playing cranky, cynical men of the old west.  Thornton isn’t exactly a romantic or strong-willed character, but he’s always interesting to watch on screen because the character is quite a mystery for most of The Quiet Man’s runtime.  The former boxer turned Irish immigrant character works well for Wayne, and his brooding, yet charismatic screen presence never fails to compel.  The true standouts of the film are the once again incredible technicolour cinematography from Winton Hoch, coupled with some very restrained direction from John Ford.  His tried and true method of not distracting the audience with overly-complicated camera maneuvers works wonders, and instead the film focuses purely on storytelling and getting the best performances possible out of its cast.  Hoch’s bright and colorful cinematography is perfectly suited to the Irish countryside, and there’s something to marvel at in nearly every frame of the movie.  The film is also very well-written, especially comedically.  It opens with a hilarious example of slapstick humour that still works today, and continues by giving its entire cast of oddball characters their own unique personalities and eccentricities.  I can honestly say that I laughed out loud more than once during my two viewings of The Quiet Man, something that has rarely happened during my Ford marathon.  It’s clear throughout that John Ford is proud of his heritage and very passionate about Ireland, and that passion and interest in the setting and traditions add a great deal of genuine atmosphere to the film.  Unfortunately, there are a few moments that just didn’t work for me throughout.  One scene in particular involves Wayne’s Thornton giving off some awfully rape-y and abusive vibes towards O’Hara’s Mary Kate.  Not only does Sean Thornton corner his new wife in her dark room, but he throws her onto her bed hard enough to break it, staring a hole through her the entire time.  Maybe I’m crazy, but the entire sequence added nothing to the supposed romance between the two leads, and instead felt out of place and old-fashioned in the worst way possible.  Luckily, these moments are few and far between and aren’t enough to derail what is largely a terrific and charming film.  

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The Quiet Man is a restrained deviation from John Ford’s usual work, and is surprising in how successful it is.  The comedy, terrific lead performances, beautiful Irish setting, and subtle direction make for a truly remarkable and memorable film, and one that has absolutely earned its reputation as being one of Ford’s best.  The Quiet Man was a tremendous surprise, and a film I can easily say comes highly recommended.

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John Ford Feature #2 – The Long Voyage Home (1940)

Original_movie_poster_for_the_film_The_Long_Voyage_HomeThe Long Voyage Home (1940)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Dudley Nichols (based on The Moon of the Caribees, In The Zone, Bound East for Cardiff, & The Long Voyage Home by Eugene O’Neill)
Starring: John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Barry Fitzgerald, Wilfrid Lawson

1940 was an incredible year for film, and a very noteworthy one for John Ford.  His film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s famed novel The Grapes of Wrath was released and immediately became a smashing success, winning Ford an Oscar for Best Director, and picking up six other nominations including Best Picture.  His second film released in 1940, The Long Voyage Home, was released at the end of the year, and managed to be a big hit in itself.  While not as successful as The Grapes of Wrath – which is widely regarded as one of the best films of its time – The Long Voyage Home still managed to pick up six Oscar nominations of its own, competing with Ford’s other, arguably better film for Best Picture.  Also released in 1940 were Alfred Hitchcock’s Best Picture winning Rebecca and also his Best Picture nominated and criminally underrated Foreign Correspondent Charles Chaplin’s magnum opus The Great Dictator, George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, and Powell & Pressburger’s The Thief of Baghdad.  Though the film is set during World War II and features the war prominently, it was released just one year before the United States, and John Ford himself, would enter into the war. While The Long Voyage Home was fairly successful at the time (and was even one of John Ford’s favorites), the film has been somewhat lost to time.  The film is only remembered for picking up several Academy Award nominations, starring John Wayne in something of a supporting role, and for featuring the cinematography of the great Gregg Toland.  Toland is perhaps best known for shooting Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane the very next year, and also had a hand in the photography of Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, Best Picture winning The Best Years of Our Lives, and 1939’s Wuthering Heights, for which he picked up an Academy Award for Best Cinematography (black and white).

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Ward Bond as Yank in one of The Long Voyage Home’s more touching moments.

The Long Voyage Home sees a band of misfits aboard a British steamship, travel from the West Indies to Baltimore, and then back home to England.  Notable characters aboard the ship include their leader Drisk (Thomas Mitchell), young Swede Ole Olsen (John Wayne), the steward Cocky (Barry Fitzgerald), Smitty (Ian Hunter), and the strongman of the gang, Davis (Joseph Sawyer).  The crew of the SS Glencairn love to drink hard, party harder, and generally seem to make the best of their long stretches at sea.  Soon after a visit gone wrong by a group of beautiful young local ladies, the crew sets off to pick up some valuable cargo for their return trip home.  They soon discover that the cargo is in the form of high explosives, and the crew quickly descends into chaos after the reveal.  They are soon coerced into continuing their mission by their captain, and head for the dangerous and war-torn waters that will get them home.  After an accident caused by rough seas late one evening, a member of the SS Glencairn’s crew is severely injured, and eventually dies.  The death causes the men on the boat to lose a great deal of morale, and eventually the men start to suspect that one of the crew members among them is a German spy.  After restraining the suspect and discovering what his secrets truly are, the ship is suddenly attacked by an enemy German plane.  Will the motley crew of the SS Glencairn ever make it home from their long and treacherous voyage, or will the paranoia and dangers of the second Great War get the better of them?  Find out in John Ford’s The Long Voyage Home.

After seeing some of John Ford’s most famed and beloved films and enjoying them a great deal, I began to see that one of his largest criticisms (or praises, in some cases) is that his films never seem to focus entirely on the story at hand.  Instead, Ford turns his cameras on his characters and the settings in which they inhabit.  For better or for worse, his lack of storytelling applies fairly well to The Long Voyage Home.  While there is an overarching narrative told through the film, we are simply dropped onto the SS Glencairn to observe the behaviours of its crew, and from there we are expected to pick keep up with the story and piece it together as we go.  The photography throughout the film is beautiful, dark, and foggy.  The atmosphere is thick with tension during any scene taking place at night, and we really feel like we’re inhabiting the SS Glencairn ourselves.  The musty old ship almost becomes a character unto itself, and I even began to feel oddly sentimental about it.  Thomas Mitchell’s outing as Drisk is very strong, and his performance becomes one of the highlights of the movie.  John Wayne’s performance as the young, hulking Swede Ole Olsen isn’t particularly remarkable or noteworthy, but it’s very fun to watch him play against type.  Normally Wayne speaks little, and his characters are brooding and mysterious, but in The Long Voyage Home, Wayne’s Ole just seems like the gullible young farmer that he is.  I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t yet seen the film, but what I will say is that it’s surprisingly dark and dour at times.  The endnote is a particularly tragic one, and left me genuinely shocked when the credits rolled.  The reveal of the supposed “spy” and subsequent attack by the German plane is incredibly tense, and as a result really effective.

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John Wayne as the young Swede Ole Olden in 1940’s The Long Voyage Home.

While I can’t call The Long Voyage Home a masterpiece by any means, I can absolutely say that I enjoyed my time with the film.  The cinematography is terrific, the raucous drinking scenes with the crew are fun to watch unfold (if only to see how chaotic they might get), and the characters and ship itself become genuinely sympathetic and relatable in the film’s best moments.  It may not be John Ford’s greatest achievement, but there’s no reason in my mind why this film has been forgotten the way it has.  The Long Voyage Home is recommended.

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