PTA's TCM Picks

Started by max from fearless, September 08, 2023, 10:51:52 AM

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max from fearless


Quote from: max from fearless on September 08, 2023, 10:51:52 AM

Nice find. I saw this too, and noticed that the first film might be a nod to Nolan, whose Oppenheimer is obviously inspired in part by PTA. His Kind of Woman (1951) is a Howard Hughes production.

The following is taken from the appendix of my Hughes biography of 2006 (an old, dusty view, in other words, but the writing is amusing here and there and suggests a rewatch might be hilarious) :

Opening under the credit HOWARD HUGHES PRESENTS, His Kind of Woman (1951) is a melodrama starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, directed by John Farrow, with extra footage shot first by Robert Stevenson then by Richard Fleischer. Perhaps the kindest way to describe this cobbled-together B-picture is 'gloriously absurd'. It is a movie with cool wit, warm romance, and brutal beatings. There are guns, dames, gangsters, gambling, money, eroticism, two happy musical interludes, pistol and belt whippings, light-hearted comedic moments and an exotic locale. The movie opens with a Third Man-style voice-over by an unspecified and 'worldly' narrator; segues through a couple of scenes out of a gangster picture; then relaxes into an atmospheric film noir aesthetic; subsequently shifting to a pseudo-sophisticated sheen, dwelling on a sparkling romance; finally ending up as an interminably lurid action thriller. It is a two-hour movie with a climax that lasts forty minutes—one 'whammy' after another occupying a third of the picture! Yet His Kind of Woman is a curiously flat affair. The whole film is pieced together as if to a specification. Attempting to be sophisticated, the film is vacuous. And the title is typical Hughes—having only a glancing connection to the plot of the picture, it has a spice of the 'sexy' and the 'cool' that would appeal to an audience's instinct for harmless, racy and forgettable thrills.

Like many of the other RKO movies released during Hughes' reign, His Kind of Woman is a bonanza of dream imagery from out of Hughes' unconscious. There are Hollywood players; airplanes and short-wave radios; Jane Russell; wealthy environments; payoffs of hard cash; a husband's annoyance at being caught in the claustrophobia of marriage; a rich and powerful man in the shadows pulling the strings; a Howard Hawks look-alike; also dialogue that resonates with Hughes' own character.

Robert Mitchum plays Dan Milner, a penniless Los Angeles drifter-gambler who is paid $50,000 by a wealthy underworld kingpin to fly to a remote resort on the tropical Mexican coast, where, at a swell hotel known as 'Morro's Lodge', he is to await further instructions. The laid-back Mitchum is a movie idol who never has to raise his voice. Cool, he always looks women up and down. Milner's waiting for the next step comprises the bulk of the movie. He will actually iron his paper money for relaxation. The middle section of the film is a dramatic 'holding pattern' featuring romantic interplay between Mitchum and Russell which has zero to do with the plot and resolution—what there is of it. Development and rising tension are lacking. The movie is one long set-up and one long pay-off (of Mitchum bustling about without a shirt on, gun in hand). It turns out Milner is ensnared in a scheme to have his identity stolen by a mysterious gangster named Nick Ferraro, who, recently expelled from the United States, and holed up in Italy, intends to murder Milner then step into his shoes in order to move freely through America once more.

Russell plays Liz Brady, an All-American girl from the sticks passing herself off as a millionairess with the name of 'Lenore Brent' in an attempt to "hook herself a man". She is visiting the Mexican resort as the mistress of Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price), a Hollywood star at play in the world. In her every scene Russell is made to look glamorous and alluring, decorated with a beautiful wardrobe, glittering earrings and glittering dresses. As for her acting in this film, Jane Russell is a collection of movements. She reminded me of a robot installed with instructions for moment-by-moment cues. Her appealing natural personality shines through here and there now and then.

Russell sings two forgettable songs passably. Her character is introduced while singing a song in an out-of-the-way cantina south of the border. The camera pans right from Mitchum, following the drift of the music to reveal Russell as she sings this part of the lyric: "What a view . . ." Her first close-up comes on the lyric, "Oh what a thrill when I see you." Later, Mitchum says to her, "I've heard better but it sounds like you do it for a living." Their characters experience a pure sexual attraction for each other. Russell is a beautiful woman presented for maximum effect of her physical charms (Milner says, "Beautiful is always interesting") but her character ends up as rather pathetic—she is locked in a closet for the duration of the film's fantastically protracted climax!

Here and there shots stand out for their well-designed geometry. (The cinematography is by Harry J. Wild.) There is a graceful, well-orchestrated establishing tracking shot through the busy lobby of Morro's Lodge—a beach resort that was built across three soundstages at RKO. Some of the film sets are scaled down to accentuate Mitchum's imposing presence—a trick used in some of John Wayne's films as well. The film's audio levels comprise an awkward dynamic range. Music and gunshots are extra-loud compared to the dialogue, a perennial Hollywood ploy to force the audience into the action. One shot of miniature work—an airplane landing in a storm—doesn't fool the eye, and neither for that matter does the storm.

As for the private Hughes resonances, here are some of them:

The plane that Mitchum and Russell take to fly down to Mexico is reminiscent in look to Hughes' H-1 plane.

The short-wave radio code-name for the gangsters' henchmen in Mexico is XFO—recalling Hughes' XF-11 airplane, the one he crashed into Beverly Hills in 1946.

MITCHUM: "I want information and I'm beginning not to care how I get it."

MITCHUM: "Well, you see how it is. Fools get away with the impossible." RUSSELL: "That's because they're the only ones who try."

A Federal Immigration Agent describes Mitchum as "A lone wolf without friends or relatives. A man who's made it his business all of his life to keep undercover."

This next exchange of dialogue is an example of the film's attempt at self-referential sophistication. INVESTMENT BANKER: "None of this nonsense about social matters. People don't go to the movies to see how miserable the world is. Popcorn! Be happy!" MOVIE ACTOR: "At my studio all messages are carried by Western Union."*

*(Footnote : This was a famous saying of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, at whose studio Hughes kept an office for years (1940s-50s) and shot and edited The Outlaw there.)

The climax when Milner is held captive upon an offshore boat is lurid with scenes of Milner in peril. Milner is beat up by three men. His shirt is stripped from him and his bare back is whipped with a belt. He is locked inside an engine room filling with scorching steam. Finally he is threatened with a hypodermic needle of a fast-acting brain-destroying drug. But this brutal Mitchum-in-peril business is interrelated with a series of comic scenes featuring Vincent Price playing a Hollywood actor playing at playing an Errol Flynn-like movie idol. Cardigan becomes inflamed with the romance of saving his new acquaintance Milner, and proceeds on a series of knee-slapping antics to his self-accompaniment of Shakespearean dialogue. This climax of two clashing tones may bewilder audiences.

While Vincent Price hams it up, an ex-Nazi plastic surgeon is threatening Milner's arm with a terrifying needle. The syringe business is drawn out for over five minutes of running time. The film keeps cutting back to it, Mitchum squirming in the grip of three henchmen, his arm veins threatened. The protracted hypodermic syringe scene—was this an unconscious 'cry for help' by Hughes that no one on the outside 'got'?

Other tidbits:

An extra in the background of Mitchum's opening scene in a diner looks a ringer for Howard Hughes, RKO chief—reminding me of Kubrick casting a Kubrick look-alike in Eyes Wide Shut. I think the extra was a fond joke played on Hughes by the moviemakers. The film is rife with private jokes.

A painting on a wall featured in the second scene of the film—a hotel bungalow sitting room—is similar to a painting in the first scene of Kubrick's The Shining—the colorful painting on the left side of Stuart Ullman's office doorway. Both are strange, childlike, 'blocky' faces of a related design, reminiscent of Aztec or Mayan motifs. (Remember that Stephen King's The Shining is haunted by 'Horace Derwent', a thinly-veiled Hughes character.)

His Kind of Woman
is substandard fare, even if highly entertaining to Hughes enthusiasts. The filming was drawn out for over a year and more, leading Mitchum finally to blow his top and storm off the set. Audiences might shake their head at the misappropriated expenditure of effort. It is a movie that should have been cheaper, no matter how much it cost. Watching it felt like a long haul, yet the movie was entirely evanescent.*

*(Footnote : "Hughes loved the film and excitedly made plans to exploit what his [Hearst newspapers] friend Louella Parsons was calling "the hottest combination that ever hit the screen!" On Wilshire Boulevard he hired a massive billboard and had the film's poster art—the stars in a languid horizontal embrace—loaded into a bright golden frame studded with gas jets ejaculating fire. The first night it was up and running, Hughes arrived at 3 a.m., stood on the street corner, and stared for some time at the blazing creation, Jane and Bob cuddling in the flaming sky. Then he got back into his car and ordered the whole thing torn down." Server, Robert Mitchum, 263; see also Higham, Howard Hughes, 149-50. ¶ "His Kind of Woman opened to mixed reviews—the New York Times called it one of the worst Hollywood pictures in years—and moderate earnings. The film would have registered a nice profit but for the nearly one million dollars Hughes had spent on five months of retakes, added scenes, and cast changes." Server, Robert Mitchum, 263.)


I need to see Paul's intro for these films.  A least two of them seem like odd choices.  (That might be exactly why he chose them, so...)

I'd seen Sweet Smell and Diner, but checked-out the other three.

"His Kind of Woman" odd.  Almost like 2 different films squished together. Mitchum and Russel were never two of my favorite actors, so I wasn't very engaged (Noir never did much for me, either)--and bailed before things got really weird in the last third. (There's an essay somewhere on the New Beverly site that very much likens the film to Pynchon and talks about how schizophrenic it is.) 

Night Ambush (original title "Ill Met By Moonlight") was also...odd.  Even Michael Powell didn't think much of the film: 

"Watching the movie again years later, Powell complained that he "was surprised by how bad the film was," happy or at least content with the setting and music but especially disappointed in the performances of the lead actors and his own direction, which "concentrated so much on creating a Greek atmosphere that [Powell] had no time, or invention for anything else."

"Victim", however, I really liked.  Definitely ahead of it's time. 

I don't have TCM, so hopefully his intros will be available somewhere...


Mitchum is great! His performances in The Lusty Men and Night of the Hunter are two of the finest from the Hollywood Golden Age.


Well now I know what I'm adding to the watch list on my max account.


QuoteOutside of the increase in directors and performers like Olivia Wilde and Spike Lee jumping on the network to talk movies, the directors are a daily presence in meetings on network programming. Mankiewicz said that, in one instance, it was Anderson himself who asked that TCM restore the "what's up next" spoken menus, read by long-time "voice" of TCM, Robin Bittman. "Paul Thomas Anderson said, 'You guys used to have the menus in-between the movies where they tell you what was coming up. Can we bring that back?"

Anderson's reps did not respond to TheWrap's request for comment.

He'll be on TCM on Saturday night to talk about Bugsy Malone and The Bad News Bears.


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