CineSavant Column

Tuesday August 27, 2019


Author Steve Haberman sure comes up with some good finds — he’s been circulating some great BTS footage viewable on YouTube. A B&W ‘Vincent Price Interview’ presents the favorite actor in a fine mood, and shows some a couple of unusual BTS shots from the filming of Masque of the Red Death. You’ll have to turn your audio gain way up.

From the same film archive, Haberman points us to a brief spot of silent newsreel footage at Cannes. The highlight are shots of Tippi Hedren and a clowning Alfred Hitchcock promoting The Birds.

And I have a book review today.

I barely know Toby Roan but I enjoy his deceptively casual, highly informative audio commentaries on discs as varied as Bend of the River and Lisbon. Toby has a new book out on a research subject dear to him, Marlon Brando’s one shot at film directing: A Million Feet of Film: The Making of One Eyed Jacks.

The story has been a source of Hollywood conjecture since the middle 1950s, with the impossible-to-pin-down Brando seemingly taking the multi-million dollar production very lightly. Stories abound of women enamored over the actor-casanova, including famous actresses, that spun out of control or even tried to commit suicide. A lady librarian I worked at UCLA for was an ex-dancer who had film experience in the 1950s including a visible part in The King and I. She happened to have been part of the enormous Monterey Fiesta scene in One Eyed Jacks and, when asked, seemed thoroughly scandalized by Brando’s behavior — the way she described it, he worked his way through most every female member of the cast.

But author Roan sticks mostly with a high-road view of how this giant movie came about. Brando was given the benefit of the doubt by Paramount, and they were apparently so grateful to have him under contract that they put up with massive costs over several years, while he took time off to film movies for other companies. The movie was first planned to be filmed back in 1956 or ’57!  Roan has the direct research to show how Brando brought in and then discarded some of the biggest up’n’coming talents in Hollywood, making the final show a puzzle of varied creative input from the likes of George Englund, Charles Neider, Rod Serling, Guy Trosper, and Calder Willingham. Roan identifies Sam Peckinpah as a major contributor (with documentation). This is believable, considering that a couple of highly recognizable One Eyed Jacks scenes return in Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

Roan must sort through conflicting accounts of the show’s development to ascertain the likely truth on several issues. Both the movie and Brando show up in more than a few show-biz memoirs, crediting every step in the process differently. We either have to think that Brando was oblivious to the details of running his own production company, or that he cleverly used that impression to suit his needs. This perhaps includes drawing talent to the show, and then getting rid of them so he could direct the film himself. Did he intend that outcome all along?  The biggest potential collaborator — or creative red herring — was the hotter-than-hot director Stanley Kubrick, straight from Paths of Glory. Was Brando using Kubrick, or were they both using Paramount? Brando dumped Kubrick at the very last moment before filming began (in one telling of events).

The movie’s form changes radically every step of the way, even after filming began. The final film never seems out of control, but the danger was certainly there. The involvement of actors Karl Malden and Katy Jurado is interesting, and the story of actress Pina Pellicer is heartbreaking. Ben Johnson’s documented admiration for Brando and the movie is impressive, even if influenced by a year of highly-paid high-visibility employment. And as icing on the cake we find out that the insane rumors about actor Timothy Carey are true, actually, more than true. His rough treatment of actress Margarita Cordova resulted in real injuries. Maybe Kubrick found a way to control Carey on his own film, but it seems doubtful. The wild-card actor’s antics outrageous behavior on the set, including suggesting that Cordova have sex with him ‘to make the part real,’ would be hard to believe if not so well documented.

The shooting of Brando’s picture is packed with interesting anecdotes and re-adjustments that are reflected in the final print — such as the dropping of an elaborate flashback structure (excellent idea).

One Eyed Jacks was filmed in VistaVision — the 35mm Technicolor prints I saw when young were incomparably beautiful. Toby Roan carries the story through the show’s wrap-up and exhibition, to the present day, when we finally have a good Blu-ray of the movie after years of cloudy rights issues. Roan’s prose is straightforward and clear, a good thing when thinking of the complicated timeline he has to lay out. As opposed to some other, more casual film books, A Million Feet of Film: The Making of One Eyed Jacks ends with an impressive bibliography and appendices. It’s the real deal, an authoritative film history.

And finally, a musical break,

— which starts as a nod to critic-scholar David Cairns and his diverting, frequently hilarious Shadowplay page. Last Saturday (August 24) Cairns uploaded a treat for fans of the soundtrack to L.A. Confidential in his blog entry ‘Paramount Unimportance’.

The item in question is an on-screen rendition of the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer tune Hit the Road to Dreamland, sung by Mary Martin, Dick Powell and the Golden Gate Quartet in the 1942 film Star Spangled Rhythm. Give it a shot — it’s a guaranteed spirits-lifter.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson