August 14, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/14/backfire-1950-virginia-mayo/Backfire (1950) with Virginia Mayo
That “White Heat” girl turns it on again!
Directed in 1950 by veteran director Vincent Sherman, Backfire is fairly easy to describe if you can follow riddles wrapped in enigmas double bagged with confusion.  Another example would be flashback in a flashback in a flashback.
Moviegoers of the time must have had the same confusion.  Both posters and taglines for the film lean heavily on the success of the earlier 1949 film White Heat.  It was a good marketing plan, as both feature Viriginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien on the screen working through a script from Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.  There’s a fly in this ointment, however.  Backfire was completed in 1948 and if anything the studio (Warner Brothers) knew it was a weak picture and hence shelved it.  The great success of White Heat gave them the idea to capitalize further.
Virginia Mayo sadly is the one ‘A’ star in Backfire and her association with both pictures puts her squarely in the crosshairs.  Neither the poster art depicting her as a femme fatale or the tagline which hints at the same are accurate.  If anything, Mayo’s role (Julie Benson) in the film as nurse and love interest of Gordon MacRae (Bob Corey) is, with the exception of one important scene late in the film, an extremely minor one.
The film starts smartly enough, with Bob convalescing in a hospital through several surgeries.  Julie is his nurse and of course they’ve become an item.  While staying at the hospital Bob and fellow war veteran Steve Connolly (Edmond O’Brien) share dreams of their plans for buying a ranch together.
But as Bob’s release date nears, Steve disappears.  A mysterious woman appears on night at the foot of his hospital bed (we  find out later this is Lysa- played by Viveca Lindfors).  She warns Bob that Steve is hurt and needs help.
Finally Bob is released but confronted by the police chief (Ed Begley) who is following up on leads that Steve is involved in a murder.  This is the fairly strong and engaging first act.
From here the film deteriorates into a miasma of flashbacks, each one launched as the chief begins an interrogation of a new suspect.  Though the flashback motif worked with great success in Citizen Kane and The Killers, among other films, here it simply confuses.
At the end of these flashbacks, the few highly engaged viewers can piece together a murder mystery involving secret identities, fixed boxing matches, gambling, and call girls.  But by the end of the film neither the viewers or the cast seem to really care and most are (like I was) simply happy that the journey is over.
In the hindsight of the over sixty years since the release of Backfire it is perhaps more than a bit unfair to be so critical of the film.  It was intended, per Jack Warner, to be a ‘B’ film whose intent was only to get idle contract players to generate some revenue.  Director Vincent Sherman thought (more or less correctly) that the script was weak and convoluted.  Filmed immediately after 1948’s The Adventures of Don Juan, Backfire made had found Sherman wishing again for the alcoholic Flynn.  Another holdover from Juan, Viveca Lindfors went on suspension briefly due to her concerns over the film as well.  The larger ‘tell’ is that the studio held it for two years, waiting for the right time to capitalize with it.
Often incorrectly labeled as a noir film, Backfire is simply a murder plot with a few sparsely applied noir attributes.  The strong first act gives the best sense of noir, with its overall blurred perception of reality through illness, surgery, drugs, and the like.  From there any atmosphere dissipates with the breeze and it may as well be Perry Mason.
I mentioned earlier that most of the cast seems exhausted and simply going through the paces by the end of the picture.  One of the reasons may be that most of them are here only on spot duty- appearing for brief and sometimes random moments.  Mayo has a bit part outside of one strong scene.  Gordon MacRae, though present mostly throughout, seems perhaps out of his depth.  His depiction of Bob is much like that of a passenger on a train- simply waiting for what he is going to see next.
Edmond O’Brien is the only one who drives any sense of urgency and passion on screen.  In spite of the material, he is still engaged and gives a good performance.  Dana Clark and Viveca Lindfors sadly fall more into the Mayo camp here, with nothing much to do either.
At the end of the day, Sherman was most likely correct in his assessment of the flaws of the film.  They are mostly created by the script, which meanders from one flashback to another, tossing in coincidences along the way until all belief and logic is suspended.  For what it is worth, all involved seem to have done the best with what they were presented.  Director Sherman and cinematographer Carl Guthrie turn in a well shot and atmospheric film which includes several well paced action sequences.  But the flaw remains tying everything together cohesively.
As movie critic for The New York Times Bosley Crowther wrote in 1950 “In this case, the title is descriptive of the effort expended by all. A short and sweet observation covers “Backfire”: It does!”
Even now it is hard to disagree with Crowther’s diagnosis. Perhaps this did need to gestate a bit before coming out. True too that some of the key elements were reformed in a more mature form in the much more successful White Heat.

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/14/backfire-1950-virginia-mayo/

Backfire (1950) with Virginia Mayo

Movie Poster for 1950 film Backfire, with Virginia Mayo and Gordon MacRae.

That “White Heat” girl turns it on again!

Directed in 1950 by veteran director Vincent Sherman, Backfire is fairly easy to describe if you can follow riddles wrapped in enigmas double bagged with confusion.  Another example would be flashback in a flashback in a flashback.

Moviegoers of the time must have had the same confusion.  Both posters and taglines for the film lean heavily on the success of the earlier 1949 film White Heat.  It was a good marketing plan, as both feature Viriginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien on the screen working through a script from Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.  There’s a fly in this ointment, however.  Backfire was completed in 1948 and if anything the studio (Warner Brothers) knew it was a weak picture and hence shelved it.  The great success of White Heat gave them the idea to capitalize further.

Virginia Mayo sadly is the one ‘A’ star in Backfire and her association with both pictures puts her squarely in the crosshairs.  Neither the poster art depicting her as a femme fatale or the tagline which hints at the same are accurate.  If anything, Mayo’s role (Julie Benson) in the film as nurse and love interest of Gordon MacRae (Bob Corey) is, with the exception of one important scene late in the film, an extremely minor one.

backfire 1950 virginia mayo gordon macrae 2The film starts smartly enough, with Bob convalescing in a hospital through several surgeries.  Julie is his nurse and of course they’ve become an item.  While staying at the hospital Bob and fellow war veteran Steve Connolly (Edmond O’Brien) share dreams of their plans for buying a ranch together.

But as Bob’s release date nears, Steve disappears.  A mysterious woman appears on night at the foot of his hospital bed (we  find out later this is Lysa- played by Viveca Lindfors).  She warns Bob that Steve is hurt and needs help.

Finally Bob is released but confronted by the police chief (Ed Begley) who is following up on leads that Steve is involved in a murder.  This is the fairly strong and engaging first act.

backfire 1950 virginia mayo gordon macraeFrom here the film deteriorates into a miasma of flashbacks, each one launched as the chief begins an interrogation of a new suspect.  Though the flashback motif worked with great success in Citizen Kane and The Killers, among other films, here it simply confuses.

At the end of these flashbacks, the few highly engaged viewers can piece together a murder mystery involving secret identities, fixed boxing matches, gambling, and call girls.  But by the end of the film neither the viewers or the cast seem to really care and most are (like I was) simply happy that the journey is over.

In the hindsight of the over sixty years since the release of Backfire it is perhaps more than a bit unfair to be so critical of the film.  It was intended, per Jack Warner, to be a ‘B’ film whose intent was only to get idle contract players to generate some revenue.  Director Vincent Sherman thought (more or less correctly) that the script was weak and convoluted.  Filmed immediately after 1948’s The Adventures of Don Juan, Backfire made had found Sherman wishing again for the alcoholic Flynn.  Another holdover from Juan, Viveca Lindfors went on suspension briefly due to her concerns over the film as well.  The larger ‘tell’ is that the studio held it for two years, waiting for the right time to capitalize with it.

Backfire with Edmond O'Brien and Viveca LindforsOften incorrectly labeled as a noir film, Backfire is simply a murder plot with a few sparsely applied noir attributes.  The strong first act gives the best sense of noir, with its overall blurred perception of reality through illness, surgery, drugs, and the like.  From there any atmosphere dissipates with the breeze and it may as well be Perry Mason.

I mentioned earlier that most of the cast seems exhausted and simply going through the paces by the end of the picture.  One of the reasons may be that most of them are here only on spot duty- appearing for brief and sometimes random moments.  Mayo has a bit part outside of one strong scene.  Gordon MacRae, though present mostly throughout, seems perhaps out of his depth.  His depiction of Bob is much like that of a passenger on a train- simply waiting for what he is going to see next.

Edmond O’Brien is the only one who drives any sense of urgency and passion on screen.  In spite of the material, he is still engaged and gives a good performance.  Dana Clark and Viveca Lindfors sadly fall more into the Mayo camp here, with nothing much to do either.

Backfire (1950) with Dane ClarkAt the end of the day, Sherman was most likely correct in his assessment of the flaws of the film.  They are mostly created by the script, which meanders from one flashback to another, tossing in coincidences along the way until all belief and logic is suspended.  For what it is worth, all involved seem to have done the best with what they were presented.  Director Sherman and cinematographer Carl Guthrie turn in a well shot and atmospheric film which includes several well paced action sequences.  But the flaw remains tying everything together cohesively.

As movie critic for The New York Times Bosley Crowther wrote in 1950 “In this case, the title is descriptive of the effort expended by all. A short and sweet observation covers “Backfire”: It does!”

Even now it is hard to disagree with Crowther’s diagnosis. Perhaps this did need to gestate a bit before coming out. True too that some of the key elements were reformed in a more mature form in the much more successful White Heat.

August 12, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/12/lauren-bacall-youll-missed/Lauren Bacall, You’ll be MissedCoverage at: Lauren Bacall Passes at 89

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/12/lauren-bacall-youll-missed/

Lauren Bacall, You’ll be Missed

Lauren_bacall

Coverage at: Lauren Bacall Passes at 89

August 7, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/07/whistle-stop-1946-ava-gardner/Whistle Stop (1946) with Ava Gardner
She Spelled Trouble For Every Guy That Made A Play For Her!
1946’s Whistle Stop is usually remembered today – if at all- as the big break for Ava Gardner.  And that remains one of the few memorable tidbits of what on the surface should have been a fairly memorable picture.
Based on the novel of the same name by Maritta Wolff, Whistle Stop tends to leave one bewildered and more than a bit confused, because frankly much of the film is simply unexplainable.  Ava Gardner is Mary, and as the movie opens she is returning from a (presumably) self imposed exile to the big city of Chicago.  Why she left is alluded to in the way of a flashback, but no indication is made of why she comes back.
George Raft is Kenny, Mary’s one time boyfriend and general louse around town.  Kenny generally drinks and womanizes his way around the sleepy little town and this is presumably why Mary left in the first place.  Tim Conway is Lew, a fairly successful businessman about town, owning both a nightclub and sponsoring an annual carnival.
Mary tries to reconcile with Kenny but becomes in dalliances with both men.  What she sees in either of them is never clear and her emotions flit from one to the other with a rapid swirl only surpassed but the sound of the toilet in your bathroom.  She doesn’t seem to know what she wants, which could allude to quite a few things, but like most other things in Whistle Stop, there are not even any attempts at answers.
Outside of Gardner’s emergence as a star in one of her first credited roles the only bright spot is Victor McLaglen as Gitlo.  Gitlo is perhaps the only dynamic character in the film.  He has had some trouble with the law in his past (and present), and works the bar in Lew’s nightclub.  Though credited as part of the supporting cast, he is nigh on stealing away the entire picture.
As Kenny and Lew battle for Mary’s charms, Gitlo convinces that a good way to win this competition of indifference would be to rub out Lew.  They concoct a plan to not only rob him of the take from his recent carnival, but also to make him disappear.  Mary figures out the plan and shares everything with Lew, so of course it isn’t long until Lew turns the tables on the two and frames them for murder.
On the run from the police (and how did they find out about the murder?) Kenny takes a bullet in the arm.  After dropping Kenny off with a friend in Detroit(!) Lew and Gitmo manage to kill each other in a wonderfully mis-staged gunfight.  Mary and Kenny head down the road arm in arm to live happily ever after.
Whoa!  How many unexplained jumps can we have here?  Again, how did the cops find out about the murder Lew frames Gitmo and Kenny with?  Why’d Mary foil Kenny and Gitmo’s earlier plot, only to head off with Kenny in the finale?  Why did Mary come back to town and what does she see in either of these schlubs- I mean one is a drunk and the other a gangster?  Why does no one seem to question where Mary’s money comes from or ponder why she lounges around in a sheer dressing gown constantly?
The only character with any type of redeeming qualities is Gitmo, who at least is honest in his lack of ethics or adherence to the law.  The others simply make no sense.  McLaglen brings his acting chops into play here and lends the only on-screen class to what for the most part remains a picture of unkept potential.  Watch for the scene of Gitmo playing cards with Kenny, as it is by far the best of the picture.
Raft seems miscast as he is old enough to be Gardner’s father here, but that has been a Hollywood tradition since the beginning of time.  Clearly though, here little or no attempt is made to present him in a youthful light.  Although already coming down from his peak years of 1940-42, Raft is stuffy and stiff, only coming to life in the fight scenes.  Otherwise, he fits into dudsville rather well.
Clearly designed to be the launch pad for Ava Gardner, arguably the last home-grown star of the studio era, Whistle Stop does succeed in pushing her into the spotlight, and wonderfully so.  Though still displaying probably more than the studio desired of her native North Carolina drawl, she is photographed wonderfully here.
But though she looks wondrous, what makes this a plum as well is that this is still the pre-star Ava Gardner.  Here she is still in full on development mode, with Ava in some scenes coming across in her mid-50s glory- full of great facial emotions and well-played dialogue.  At others (and quite often here, to be honest), she is clearly the scared newcomer looking to find her way in Hollywood.
Filmed on a shoestring budget, there isn’t a lot of money in front of the camera, as sets are shabby and nondescript.  For this viewer, it looks like all the budget went into getting a few ‘names’ to add credibility to this farcical tale of mediocrity.
While hinting at and definitely filmed in a style that harkens one to think of noir, the total lack of cohesive plot or engagement with the audience makes Whistle Stop come up far short in most all areas.  Not even a relatively atmospheric Dimitri Tiomkin score can do much to help this buzzard become a swan.

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/07/whistle-stop-1946-ava-gardner/

Whistle Stop (1946) with Ava Gardner

1946 whistle stop

She Spelled Trouble For Every Guy That Made A Play For Her!

1946’s Whistle Stop is usually remembered today – if at all- as the big break for Ava Gardner.  And that remains one of the few memorable tidbits of what on the surface should have been a fairly memorable picture.

Based on the novel of the same name by Maritta Wolff, Whistle Stop tends to leave one bewildered and more than a bit confused, because frankly much of the film is simply unexplainable.  Ava Gardner is Mary, and as the movie opens she is returning from a (presumably) self imposed exile to the big city of Chicago.  Why she left is alluded to in the way of a flashback, but no indication is made of why she comes back.

George Raft is Kenny, Mary’s one time boyfriend and general louse around town.  Kenny generally drinks and womanizes his way around the sleepy little town and this is presumably why Mary left in the first place.  Tim Conway is Lew, a fairly successful businessman about town, owning both a nightclub and sponsoring an annual carnival.

whistle stop 1946 2Mary tries to reconcile with Kenny but becomes in dalliances with both men.  What she sees in either of them is never clear and her emotions flit from one to the other with a rapid swirl only surpassed but the sound of the toilet in your bathroom.  She doesn’t seem to know what she wants, which could allude to quite a few things, but like most other things in Whistle Stop, there are not even any attempts at answers.

Outside of Gardner’s emergence as a star in one of her first credited roles the only bright spot is Victor McLaglen as Gitlo.  Gitlo is perhaps the only dynamic character in the film.  He has had some trouble with the law in his past (and present), and works the bar in Lew’s nightclub.  Though credited as part of the supporting cast, he is nigh on stealing away the entire picture.

As Kenny and Lew battle for Mary’s charms, Gitlo convinces that a good way to win this competition of indifference would be to rub out Lew.  They concoct a plan to not only rob him of the take from his recent carnival, but also to make him disappear.  Mary figures out the plan and shares everything with Lew, so of course it isn’t long until Lew turns the tables on the two and frames them for murder.

whistle stop 1946 4On the run from the police (and how did they find out about the murder?) Kenny takes a bullet in the arm.  After dropping Kenny off with a friend in Detroit(!) Lew and Gitmo manage to kill each other in a wonderfully mis-staged gunfight.  Mary and Kenny head down the road arm in arm to live happily ever after.

Whoa!  How many unexplained jumps can we have here?  Again, how did the cops find out about the murder Lew frames Gitmo and Kenny with?  Why’d Mary foil Kenny and Gitmo’s earlier plot, only to head off with Kenny in the finale?  Why did Mary come back to town and what does she see in either of these schlubs- I mean one is a drunk and the other a gangster?  Why does no one seem to question where Mary’s money comes from or ponder why she lounges around in a sheer dressing gown constantly?

whistle stop 1946 5The only character with any type of redeeming qualities is Gitmo, who at least is honest in his lack of ethics or adherence to the law.  The others simply make no sense.  McLaglen brings his acting chops into play here and lends the only on-screen class to what for the most part remains a picture of unkept potential.  Watch for the scene of Gitmo playing cards with Kenny, as it is by far the best of the picture.

Raft seems miscast as he is old enough to be Gardner’s father here, but that has been a Hollywood tradition since the beginning of time.  Clearly though, here little or no attempt is made to present him in a youthful light.  Although already coming down from his peak years of 1940-42, Raft is stuffy and stiff, only coming to life in the fight scenes.  Otherwise, he fits into dudsville rather well.

whistle stop 1946 3Clearly designed to be the launch pad for Ava Gardner, arguably the last home-grown star of the studio era, Whistle Stop does succeed in pushing her into the spotlight, and wonderfully so.  Though still displaying probably more than the studio desired of her native North Carolina drawl, she is photographed wonderfully here.

But though she looks wondrous, what makes this a plum as well is that this is still the pre-star Ava Gardner.  Here she is still in full on development mode, with Ava in some scenes coming across in her mid-50s glory- full of great facial emotions and well-played dialogue.  At others (and quite often here, to be honest), she is clearly the scared newcomer looking to find her way in Hollywood.

Filmed on a shoestring budget, there isn’t a lot of money in front of the camera, as sets are shabby and nondescript.  For this viewer, it looks like all the budget went into getting a few ‘names’ to add credibility to this farcical tale of mediocrity.

whistle stop 1946 1While hinting at and definitely filmed in a style that harkens one to think of noir, the total lack of cohesive plot or engagement with the audience makes Whistle Stop come up far short in most all areas.  Not even a relatively atmospheric Dimitri Tiomkin score can do much to help this buzzard become a swan.

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