Tag Archives: Grace Kelly

Grant3

Hitchcock and Grant: Darkness Behind the Charm

Hitch1

Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant brought out each other’s best attributes in their four collaborations from 1941 to 1959. Hitchcock was the only director who exposed the dark, brooding side of Grant’s suave image, with a sexual tension that somehow evaded the censors. Grant’s presence, in turn, lent a sophistication and elegance rarely seen in Hitchcock’s other works.

Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959) explored Hitchcock’s themes of concealment, degradation and emotional manipulation. By expanding Grant’s acting range, Hitchcock revealed a dark romanticism behind the charm — screwball humor on the edge of a precipice.

Undoubtedly, both men benefited from their partnership. However, imagine if neither had made Notorious and North by Northwest. Hitchcock’s reputation would have endured regardless, but for Grant, those films were essential. In fact, it was Hitchcock who lured Grant from an early retirement to make To Catch a Thief and, in the process, helped revive the screen actor’s career.

Hitchcock and Grant shared a common bond that became more evident with each successive film. They were lonely, insecure men who came from lower middle-class English backgrounds. Furthermore, both were somewhat fearful of women, perfectionistic in their working methods, and enthusiastic about black humor. These character traits helped provide the foundation of their professional relationship.

The element of danger in Cary Grant first emerged in Suspicion. Cut from the same stylistic cloth as Rebecca, Hitchcock referred to Suspicion as the “second English picture I made in Hollywood.” However, Hitchcock began shooting with an unfinished script, resulting in a troubled production and an uncertain dramatic tone.

Suspicion: A missed opportunity.

Suspicion: A missed opportunity.

In this disappointing adaptation of Francis Iles’ novel Before the Fact, Hitchcock cast Grant against type as Johnnie — a reckless, irresponsible playboy who later marries the shy Lina (played by an ineffectual Joan Fontaine, who somehow won an Academy Award for her performance). Only after their marriage does the naive Lina discover that Johnnie is a habitual liar and spendthrift with no money of his own. Because of mounting circumstantial evidence, Lina suspects that her husband is a murderer.

At this point, the film deteriorates into an endless charade as Lina’s belief in Johnnie fluctuates between guilt and innocence. Lina’s psychological tug of war becomes ludicrous once it is revealed that Johnnie never was a murderer — thereby negating everything that has come before.

If Hitchcock and Grant had their way, Suspicion would have evolved into a disturbing thriller rather than a missed opportunity. Unfortunately, RKO had other ideas and altered the framework of Suspicion with the same callous insensitivity that marred Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons.

When interviewed by François Truffaut in 1962, Hitchcock expressed dissatisfaction with Suspicion and revealed his original ending: “Cary Grant [was] to bring [Joan Fontaine] a glass of milk that’s been poisoned and [she] has just finished a letter: ‘Dear Mother, I’m desperately in love with him, but I don’t want to live because he’s a killer.’ Then, Cary Grant comes in with the fatal glass and she says, ‘Will you mail this letter to Mother for me, dear?’ She drinks the milk and dies. Fade out and fade in on one short shot: Cary Grant, whistling cheerfully, walks over to the mailbox and pops in the letter.”

Hitch3

The illuminated glass of milk.

Seen today, Suspicion is the weakest Hitchcock-Grant collaboration even without RKO’s interference. Grant’s portrayal lacks the polish and depth that would become evident in his remaining work with Hitchcock. Furthermore, there is an absence of sexual chemistry between the Grant and Fontaine characters. Hitchcock also sensed this lack of rapport and, in future films, made certain that Grant was paired with more romantically compatible costars.

The most intriguing development in Suspicion is Hitchcock’s expansion of Grant’s screen persona. During the film’s first half, Grant plays his scenes in a screwball-comedy manner that often is grating. However, in the second half, Hitchcock slows the tempo of Grant’s performance, thus revealing Johnnie’s sinister undertones. Johnnie emerges as a seductive and sociopathic menace not unlike Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt or Bruno in Strangers on a Train. If Grant (and the studios) had been more daring, he could have played the Joseph Cotten and Robert Walker roles.

Suspicion should be viewed as a blueprint for a more rewarding collaboration: Notorious. Apart from being one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, the film represents Grant’s strongest dramatic performance. His portrayal of Devlin remains so emotionally cold that it leaves no room for his traditional humor. Ben Hecht’s detailed screenplay also includes a self-revelatory comment by Devlin: “I’ve always been scared of women. I’ll get over it.”

Notorious: Grant's finest dramatic performance.

Notorious: Grant’s finest dramatic performance.

In Hitchcock’s cruelest and most disturbing romance, Devlin emerges as an unsympathetic sadist. The counterspy seduces and manipulates Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), an alcoholic nymphomaniac, into helping the U.S. government obtain secrets by marrying the Nazi spy Sebastian (Claude Rains), who actually loves her more than Devlin does.

With the casting of Bergman and Rains, the love triangle in Notorious is similar to Casablanca. However, in Hitchcock’s world, there is no stirring display of patriotism or sentimentality. One feels sorrow for Sebastian when Devlin cruelly locks the car door and drives off with Alicia, leaving Sebastian to face certain death at the hands of his fellow Nazis. Ironically, the humanity of Sebastian makes him a far more sympathetic character than Devlin, who cares little about people, except for the secrets and sexual gratification he can extract from them.

Though Devlin saves Alicia from a poisonous fate, it doesn’t redeem his mean-spirited treatment of her. Even when Devlin tells Alicia that he was “a fat-headed guy full of pain,” it isn’t entirely convincing. Herein lies the brilliance of Hitchcock, who finally strips Grant of his protective charm.

A cruel romance.

A cruel romance.

Notorious should have been the start of a new dramatic phase in Grant’s career. Instead, he played it safe by starring in a succession of comedies from 1947 to 1953. With the exception of his intelligent performances in Richard Brooks’ Crisis and Joseph Mankiewicz’s People Will Talk, Grant avoided serious roles during that period. Much was lost in the process.

Hitchcock’s fortunes waned after the release of Notorious. The filmmaker would not have another major critical and commercial success until Strangers on a Train in 1951. By the time Hitchcock re-established his cinematic artistry, Grant had retired in 1953 after a string of box-office disappointments.

The retirement lasted two years. In the end, it was Hitchcock who convinced Cary Grant to return to filmmaking. The master of suspense gave the actor a script he couldn’t refuse . . . and some Hitchcockian words of encouragement: “There isn’t a thing wrong with you, old man, that a first-rate screenplay won’t cure.  You’d be perfectly splendid in the part. One last thing: Grace Kelly has agreed to play the girl and a good part of the picture will be shot on the Riviera.”

Grant signed on the dotted line and began work on To Catch a Thief (only his second Technicolor feature — the first being 1946′s Night and Day). Hitchcock considered the film a “lightweight story,” yet it remains an important work from one of his most prolific periods. The director’s renewed energy is evident in the vividness of Robert Burks’ cinematography and imaginative use of the newly developed VistaVision process.  Though not terribly suspenseful, To Catch a Thief ranks among Hitchcock’s most stylish and elegant achievements.

Grant in his second Technicolor feature.

Grant in his second Technicolor feature.

Of course, the film’s soufflé-like quality would have collapsed without Grant’s flawless performance. As retired cat burglar John Robie, Grant revitalizes his screen presence. He is not playing Robie so much as he is playing Cary Grant — a suave, debonair man who looks good and knows it. This relaxed self-confidence is exactly what Hitchcock wanted.

The Hitchcock-Grant films utilize sex as a form of seduction and manipulation. To Catch a Thief is notable for the bold eroticism of Francie (played by a stunningly cool Grace Kelly) and her aggressive carnal desire for Robie. The offbeat nature of their romance adds to the lasciviousness, especially when Francie suddenly kisses Robie in the hotel corridor — her libido churning away. As in Notorious, Hitchcock effectively films Grant from behind in this brief encounter, making him the center of attention by focusing on the magnetism the viewer cannot see. When Grant turns to the camera, the look of bemused satisfaction on his face remains priceless.

Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto credited To Catch a Thief for its “classic Freudian notion of sex as larcenous” — a theme the director further developed in Psycho and Marnie. Most apparent is Hitchcock’s equation of jewelry to women’s bosoms, especially during Robie’s foray at the gambling tables and the now-classic “fireworks” sequence. When Francie invites Robie to her hotel suite, he knows what she is after and vice versa: “Look — hold them. Diamonds! The only thing in the world you can’t resist.”

Sex as larceny in To Catch a Thief.

Sex as larceny.

For Hitchcock, the fireworks scene in To Catch a Thief represented the cinematic equivalent of sexual rapture. “Sex on the screen should be suspenseful,” he told Truffaut. “If sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense. Sex should not be advertised.”

Hitchcock’s fascination with the paradox between the inner fire and cool surface reached its apex in North by Northwest — his last collaboration with Grant.  In this legendary cross-country chase-thriller, both men were at their artistic zenith.

Screenwriter Ernest Lehman crafted a story that he called “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures” — incorporating various ideas and set pieces that Hitchcock never could fit into his previous films. Most important, the role of complacent ad executive Roger Thornhill was written specifically for Grant, who could combine fear and desperation with a light comedic touch. Without Grant, it’s unlikely Hitchcock would have made North by Northwest.

Once again, Hitchcock uses Grant’s charm in a dark and manipulative fashion. However, it is Thornhill who falls victim to a series of unpredictable, nasty surprises. North by Northwest emerges as Hitchcock’s belated revenge on the Grant persona.

The surreal Mount Rushmore climax.

Interestingly, the film has been described as an unofficial sequel to Notorious with its psychosexual relationships and espionage sacrifices. Unlike previous Hitchcock-Grant efforts, North by Northwest evolves into a travelogue of the absurd. Thornhill is mistaken for a man who doesn’t exist and spends most of the film trying to track down the elusive “George Kaplan.”

Nowhere is this surrealism more evident than during the Mount Rushmore climax, with its mind-boggling urgency leading to Thornhill’s moment of truth. The final seconds not only are a moral redemption for Thornhill in his rescue of double agent Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) but also one of sexual fulfillment — emphasized in the suggestive closing shot. It is fitting that the final Hitchcock-Grant thriller ends happily.

With so much written about the Mount Rushmore and crop-duster chases, the auction sequence tends to get lost in the shuffle. This beautifully written set piece is tailor-made for Grant’s unique talents.

The auction scene works on several levels. First, there are elements of sexual blackmail and enslavement — another parallel to Notorious — emphasized in the tension between Thornhill, Eve and Van Damm (James Mason), with Eve emerging as the object of value. Also evident is the surprisingly mature love-hate relationship between Thornhill and Eve, who plays conflicting roles throughout the film. (Saint deserves recognition as Grant’s finest Hitchcockian costar — sophisticated and sensual, yet ice-cold and dangerous. Unlike Francie in To Catch a Thief, Eve is more subtle in her sexual desire.)

“I’ll bet you paid plenty for this little piece of sculpture. She’s worth every dollar.”

After Eve and Van Damm depart from the auction, Thornhill again must use his ingenuity and performing skills to extricate himself from yet another predicament (not unlike Robert Donat’s improvised political speech in The 39 Steps). When Thornhill begins his outlandish bidding, the scene turns into a rare display of “screwball suspense” — nonconformist humor with a menacing undercurrent that captures the essence of Hitchcock’s tongue-in-cheek thriller.

In retrospect, it was easy to see why North by Northwest became Cary Grant’s last film with Hitchcock. At 55, Grant managed to look younger than James Stewart in Vertigo, but knew his days as a leading man were coming to an end. By the time he made Stanley Donen’s pseudo-Hitchcock thriller Charade in 1963, Grant was unable to disguise his age — nearing 60, he looked too old as a romantic hero. When Grant turned down the lead in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, it was because he no longer could play “Cary Grant.” Unwilling to make the transition to character roles, Grant retired for good in 1966.

Though directors such as Leo McCarey and Howard Hawks helped unearth the full range of Grant’s comic talents, it was Hitchcock who discovered the darkness that lurked within the actor’s seemingly carefree and debonair persona. Only with Hitchcock could Grant afford to take risks. Hitchcock, in turn, transformed the elegant film star into a complex screen legend. From a director-actor standpoint, they were a perfect match.

Weekend_of_a_Champion-242214397-large

DVD Review: “Weekend of a Champion” (1972)

0012cham

After the appalling murders on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood hills in 1969, director Roman Polanski soon threw himself back into work, turning out his superior version of Macbeth. Footlose in Europe, he visited friends and kept busy in the jet-set circuit. 1972 brought the little seen but worthwhile Polanski directing effort, What? It also marked the production of an all-but-forgotten documentary about Formula One car racing, in which Polanski appears and takes a producing credit. Shown mainly at film festivals, Weekend of a Champion disappeared until 2013, where it garnered more festival bookings. The credited director is Frank Simon but Polanski’s input looks to have been just as important to the result.

Racing fans will go stark raving nuts over Weekend of a Champion, as it’s an ultimate insider’s view of the Monaco Grand Prix of 1971. Polanski’s cameras accompany ace racing champ Jackie Stewart through the entire experience. We see Stewart prepare for qualifying heats and perform in the big race, all excellently covered by the docu cameras. What sets the show apart from other racing films is the access to Stewart’s private thoughts and knowledge. He and Polanski were good friends and buddies, and Polanski accompanies him everywhere, asking questions. Jackie Stewart is articulate and expressive about his work and every detail of driving a Formula One car.

0012a

The classic Formula One movies are still John Frankenheimer’s overblown Grand Prix and the Steve McQueen vehicle Le Mans. The distinctive Monaco course with its twisting switchbacks and seaside tunnel ‘stars’ in the first race in Grand Prix, but can also be seen about three years earlier in Roger Corman’s colorful The Young Racers, which captures quite a lot of good racing action. Weekend of a Champion was filmed a few years later but the Monaco course is still the same treacherous-looking set of ordinary surface streets. The crash barriers and other ‘safety’ devices seem wholly inadequate, especially considering the crowds of observers that pack every inch of the course, practically begging to be hit by out-of-control racers. Jackie takes Roman through Monaco in an ordinary car, calling every spot on the course where he brakes and every place he changes gears. Stewart also points out the ordinary curbstones, which can be six inches tall. Just tap a wheel on one of those at 160 – 200 mph, and anything can happen.

In between qualifying heats Jackie walks part of the course with Roman, critiquing other drivers as they make a simple slalom turn. Jackie can tell exactly when they’re braking and accelerating, and has strong opinions as to what they’re doing wrong. He describes his own approach to racing Monaco as a concentration on road position and traction, not laying on the maximum speed at all times. He describes his passage through a lap as a smooth process. In a fairly hilarious exchange, Polanski says that he hears all this talk about fluid actions, but can’t correlate it to the way he thinks Stewart drives. Roman then mimes a frantic Jackie yanking the wheel three times a second and attacking the gearshift like he was playing a pinball machine.

0012b

Polanski and his cameras follow Jackie in and out of the hotel (with a balcony right over a prime racing viewpoint) for a brief walk past autograph seekers and right into the pits, which are also shockingly exposed to danger should a driver lose control of his car. For the first two days of the qualifying runs, it rains almost constantly. Jackie Stewart has special rain tires but hates Monaco when it rains, as it makes attaining a good speed all but impossible — the rain takes away his edge of experience on most of the other drivers. Jackie looks at the dark clouds and worries. It apparently almost never rains at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Accompanying Jackie Stewart at all times is his wife Helen, who indeed mans a clipboard with three stopwatches attached, just as racers’ lady friends do in Grand Prix. There is media and a fan presence, but either good security or a sense of decorum allows Jackie and Helen to move in and around the hotel without being mobbed. Jackie’s personal doctor is also on hand. Medical help for injured drivers at these races is not a given, and Jackie wants a dedicated medic there in case something goes wrong. The cameras follow the couple to parties, where they hobnob with various celebrities and movie stars but don’t overdo anything. On the morning of the race he’s already walking to the pits when he realizes that he’s only put on one set of special long-john underwear. It’s like back at the County Fair — he has no choice but to step off to the side and re-dress himself. In the post-recorded narration, Jackie notes that he’s tense over the weather, and that forgetting to dress properly is not a good sign. And he still has to greet Prince Ranier and Princess Grace before the race begins.

The beginning of the race is bright and sunny … and then the clouds arrive. Before the Grand Prix is finished, it will be raining again. But when Jackie Stewart slips into his narrow place inside the car, his attitude changes. He’s in his element, where all of his actions and judgments mesh into a perfect blend of car and machine.

Weekend of a Champion’s excellent coverage of the racing conveys the speed and excitement just as strongly as the feature films. It’s actually more exciting because we amateurs have been listening to Jackie Stewart’s ongoing comments and now understand much more of what’s going on. We see cars hobbling into the pit because they’ve tapped a curb and blown a tire or damaged a wheel. The famous driver Graham Hill hits a wall and shatters a front axle; he quietly contemplates the wreck as it’s taken off the course. As for Jackie, he starts in pole position and stays well ahead of the pack for a number of laps.

0012c

At about the eighty minute mark the original Weekend of a Champion comes to an end, and the 2013 edition jumps ahead forty years to see Jackie Stewart and Roman Polanski talk about the picture and Jackie’s life. They laugh, looking at the old footage when they both were lean and unwrinkled, and wore bushy 1970s sideburns. A Scot, Jackie made a poor showing in his school career and fell into the racing game while a mechanic. Self-conscious about his education, he found out much later in his life that he is seriously dyslexic. Jackie was a strong advocate for more safety in racing, changing the courses and getting things like crash trucks and proper medical care set up for injured drivers. Badly injured in one wreck, he found that the racetrack had no dedicated medical personnel. He was just left on a stretcher for an hour, and then put into a truck that got lost on its way to the hospital. Jackie lost numerous close friends to terrible accidents (we see some of the wrecks) and applauds changes in car design that make survival more possible (we see some of those miracles as well). He explains that a driver that raced for more than five years, had a 66% chance of getting killed. The two men reminisce about their close friend and Stewart’s teammate François Cevert, who died in a practice run.

Jackie Stewart comes off as a great fellow, and one much admired by Roman Polanski. In one amusing moment on the way to the pits, Jackie stops to talk to an Argentine sponsor. Even with the confusion of an interpreter, the language difference is no barrier to the driver’s charm. The director shares scenes with Stewart away from the track but the racing sequences belong to the “Flying Scot” alone. Interestingly, he retired from racing only two years later.


MPI Media Group’s DVD of Weekend of a Champion is a handsome encoding of this impressive docu. The enhanced widescreen image is bright, clean and colorful. The audio recording is excellent. Jackie Stewart’s Scots accent is not strong, but the helpful English subtitles have been provided. The movie carries all natural sound, and there is no music score.

A trailer picks out some amusing highlights, as when the nervous Jackie cuts himself shaving and then tells Roman that it’ll be good, because all Polanski movies have a lot of blood. Roman isn’t amused.

In terms of viewer accessibility Polanski’s film gives a better inside picture of Formula One racing than can be found in all of Hollywood’s racetrack epics. It’s a nostalgic look at racing at a time before technology and marketing took over… but also when the danger for drivers was much greater.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Weekend of a Champion

DVD

MPI Media Group

1972 – 2013 / Color / 1:78 widescreen / 94 min. / Street Date May 20, 2014 / 24.98

Starring Jackie Stewart, Roman Polanski, Helen Stewart.

Cinematography Bill Brayne, Pawel Edelman

Film Editors Hervé de Luze, Shawn Tracey, Derek York

Produced by Roman Polanski, Mark Stewart

Directed by Frank Simon

Supplements: Trailer

Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly?
YES; Subtitles: English

Packaging: Keep case

Reviewed: May 12, 2014

 

Text &#169 Copyright 2014 Glenn Erickson
 

Inherit-the-Wind-poster

The Still Relevant Musings of Stanley Kramer

I always tell people that the best part of my job as a writer is talking to people whose work I admire about the work I admire. There’s no better example of that then Stanley Kramer. He agreed to meet with me in November 1994 at the legendary Sportsman’s Lodge. The interview was for my book Lee Marvin Point Blank so consequently, Marvin was the main topic of conversation. Most of Kramer’s thoughts on Marvin went into my book but the opportunity to speak with the pioneering producer/director naturally bled into other topics. That which didn’t go into the book is presented here for the first time. Sadly, he passed away in 2001 (on Lee Marvin’s birthday!) and what survives here are the opinions, anecdotes and cantankerous musings of a filmmaker whose value can never be overestimated.

Skramer

Dwayne Epstein: As a producer, you did a film in 1952 called Eight Iron Men based on a play…

Stanley Kramer: Was Lee in that?

D: Yeah, he was. Do you remember anything about it?

S: No, not very much. But he must have impressed me because I used him several times after that.

D: What would be in a script that would make you think Lee Marvin could play the part?

S: My natural sense of genius. I mean why do you cast? You cast out of ego, too. You see it that way. People say to me, “Why did you use Gene Kelly?” or “Why did you use Fred Astaire in a dramatic part?” or “Why did you make the first picture with Marlon Brando?” Because I felt that I was doing something special.

D: And you were.

S: Not always.

D: You had the guts to at least try something different.

S: Try, yeah. That’s why I got into it.

D: How did Lee Marvin and Brando get along?

S: Not too well. Brando had done Streetcar and a couple of other things. I was the only one who made two films with him that didn’t make any money.

wildone

D: I always thought The Wild One (1954) was a big hit.

S: It was banned more places that it played.

D: Was there a rivalry between the two actors that transferred to the screen?

S: Since they played the heads of rival gangs, they played it that way.

D: Lee hid behind his personality?

S: He created a personality and hid behind it. He wasn’t that way, at all.

D: What was he really then?

S: Soft. Sensitive. Easy to hurt.

D: You saw that side of him?

S: I lived that side with him. I must have done about five pictures with him.

D: How would that sensitive side show itself?

S: Well, sometimes with another actor or actress. Sometimes with a director. It would depend. He wanted to do a good job much more desperately than his personality indicated.

D: So there was a sense of insecurity about him?

S: Sure, but he was very talented.

D: Having worked on The Caine Mutiny (1954), would you say there was a comparison between Bogart and Lee Marvin?

S: I don’t think so.

D: How would they be different?

S: Well, Bogart was a star incarnate, from the beginning. First time I ever got together with Bogart, for example, was in Hawaii, The Beachcomber’s Restaurant. There was a bout eight of us at the table and the film was starting rehearsals the next morning. We had all been settled in there for about three or four days. Around 11:00, I looked at my watch and said, “For all the guys that have to work tomorrow, I think it’s time to turn in.” Bogart said, “Wait a minute. What do you fancy yourself to be? Who are you, the producer of this picture? For Christ’s sake, dictating the time to go to bed and everything, that’s ridiculous! What’s your function here?” Fortunately, I thought of a line. I said, “My function is to see that recalcitrant actors get to bed on time.” He looked at me and just stared at me. Then, he broke out in a laugh. He said, “Okay.” That was all just before we started The Caine Mutiny.

D: Do you remember if Lee Marvin got along with Bogart, because I know he was enamored of Bogart?

S: Right, he was. I don’t remember. Too many other things going on.

D: The first film you directed, Not As A Stranger with Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin had a small part in that. What was it like working with him then? It was a pretty volatile cast with Sinatra, Mitchum, Broderick Crawford….

S: I don’t recollect. You’ll have to make it up.

D: [laughs] I won’t do that. Some critics said Gene Kelly was miscast in Inherit the Wind (1960). I thought he was wonderful in that.

S: I did, too. It’s hard to find reasons for that failure of that movie except I know some of the reasons. United Artists never went all the way down the line with it, to open it and do it, exploit it. It needed that. I thought Tracy and March would carry it, you know?

D: They were like titans.

S: They were titans, too. They had respect. That was a wonderful experience for me. Sometimes it goes, sometimes it doesn’t. When I was working on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), everybody said, “Christ, this will fold like an accordion.” Yet, they stood opposite each other. The guy kissed the girl in the opening scene.

D: The world didn’t come to an end.

S: No, maybe if it had we’d have made more money. If you have any personal questions, feel free to ask me.

D: What do you look for in a script? Obviously, you have a certain style of filmmaking like all great directors do…

S: No I don’t.

D: I think you do. I think you have a film that says Stanley Kramer on it.

tracy

S: How do you…That’s why I made a picture, the picture I made was It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, World (1963). That’s not a Stanley Kramer picture.

D: Right, since every now and again, you got to break the mold. No question about that. But chances are, if there’s a film that says Stanley Kramer on it, it’s not going to be a light piece of fluff. You tackled tough subjects mostly…

S: I didn’t think they were so tough when I tackled them. I made them because I believed in them and visualized it and thought, “Well, I could do this. Make a great thing out of it.” Doesn’t always turn out that way. That’s what makes a Christian out of you.

D: What do you look for in a script when you read it?

S: I don’t look for anything in particular. Surprise me! Shock me! Stun me! Intrigue me! Do something! I don’t know whether it jumps off the page but maybe I can visualize something. Chances are, if it jumps off the page, it wouldn’t be very good.

D: Did you ever think of directing a play instead of just films? You seem to be a very good actor’s director.

S: Who told you that?

D: No one. That comes just from watching your films. You give great showcases for actors in your films.

S: Well, then the film would be the showcase. But, nobody ever offered me a play script and I never thought of one so…I’ve directed stage productions, workouts, locally and so forth.

D: Interesting. When you cast Burt Lancaster as the judge on trial in Judgment at Nuremberg, was there a chance of casting Lee Marvin in that or any role in the film?

S: I’m sure I did along the way. Maybe there was some reason why he wasn’t in it. See, I had Tracy near the end of his life, since it was an all-star cast, I did that so I could get try to get an audience where it all jelled, because it never did sufficiently. We got an audience but not enough. Lancaster was a replacement. That part was set and agreed to and all negotiated out for Olivier to play. He got married. He married Joan Plowright. He said, “Unless you can postpone the picture for four months, it’s out.” I couldn’t. At any rate, Lancaster was one of those nasty…It didn’t work entirely because everybody else had a background of being German; Schell and all the defendants. But Lancaster read it and wanted it. I didn’t like the accent he played with.

D: He tried.

S: He tried and he performed pretty well.

D: You produced John Cassavetes’ first studio film, A Child is Waiting (1963). I’m guessing he preferred his own independent projects so he wasn’t crazy about the experience.

S: He wasn’t crazy about the experience because of me, probably. We had difficulties. He was a talented fellow. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put him in the job. But I had a self-centered idea about films. There can only be one dominant and you can’t do it by conference, by agreement. One guy has the concept and the driving force. That’s what I always felt to be true, anyhow. Cassavetes was young, unregimented, not accustomed to listening, and I was in his ear a lot. It was a project I would have done. I was busy on something else. The reason I didn’t direct it is I made the project go up to that point but it was the kind of subject most people wouldn’t be interested in, anyhow. We used a lot of people from the hospital

D: Burt Lancaster played the head of the hospital but would you have considered Lee Marvin for Lancaster’s role as the lead?

S: Yeah, I would have considered Lee Marvin for anything. I thought he was a hell of an actor.

D: Do you recall if you did or not for that role?

S: Probably not because Lancaster was a much bigger name. Some of those subjects needed a symphony of names. It’s always a confining thing. See, in the early days, Marlon Brando had never made a film, and that was good. Kirk Douglas hadn’t done anything, and that was good. There were other people. Jose Ferrer was not known in films. Gary Cooper was but Grace Kelly hadn’t. I had used a lot of people exciting in those days. Then, I began to switch cast, vis a vis Astaire or Gene Kelly, that kind of thing…dancers [laughs].

fools

D: On Ship of Fools (1965), how did Lee Marvin get along with Vivien Leigh?

S: I don’t know if there was anything personal going on between them. I would be the last one to ask about that. But, he got along very well. After all, he was a queer duck. Meeting him for the first time, for an actor who’s supposed to be playing with him, it must have been an experience for her, too. I’m sure it was.

D: Would you say there was a mutual respected for each other’s talent?

S: The respect that he had for her was unbelievable. What her respect was for him, I don’t know.

D: How did Lee Marvin get the part in Ship of Fools?

S: I picked him. If you ask me on what basis, I don’t know. Usually, casting is a feeling. [pause] I can’t stress enough that he was really two people. He had an outer facade and this terrible, sensitive, introspective underneath. How do you deal with that, as an actor? It’s not easy. He was very respectful of Vivien Leigh. The first scene they played together I remember very well because of Marvin. He came into the dining room, crossed the room and sat down at the table.

D: That’s right.

S: How do you know that’s right?

D: I’ve seen the movie several times. Wasn’t it the scene where he’s at the table and she comes in and he doesn’t get up for Vivien Leigh who sarcastically says ‘don’t get up.’?

S: You’ve seen it more recently. At any rate, he worked out the lines, how to cope with it and then did me the honor of discussing it. He often did that, very often. This was always deep with him because either he had something profound to say which people ought to listen to — he always seemed to be so surfacely amuck or rough. When you bear that, when you lifted the curtain and looked behind it, there was a lot to see.

D: So you’re saying there was much more depth to the man then people realized?

S: Not only much more depth but he was sensitive underneath. His sensitivity he protected as best he could. I always gave him credit of his intelligence. I remember…let me think a minute. I constantly had a feeling he left too soon. I think he had a lot more to say and do, I really feel that. I don’t think he ever crested, is what I mean

D: Have you seen a film in recent years and thought Lee Marvin could’ve done it?

S: Well, it wouldn’t be that obvious. I made a picture once called On the Beach (1959). Fred Astaire played a scientist in it. Everyone said, “What the hell is Fred Astaire doing in this? Can’t visualize it.” I visualize it somewhere along the line. I think he came through very well. It would be the same with Marvin. If Marvin, for example, played a hard…I often look for a role for something like a football coach or a college instructor so I could use him and stand out from that.

D: Well, Anthony Quinn in RPM (1970) was a college instructor. Did you consider Marvin for that role?

S: I don’t remember that. It was a gigantic failure. That’s what I remember most.

D: It was a game effort.

S: Unfortunately, you don’t get points for that. I’ve had a lot of game efforts [laughs].

D: During Ship of Fools, anything else in particular about it that stands out in your mind?

S: Well, I had a conglomeration of people in the film, as you know. It was the one and only experience I had with an actor named Oskar Werner. He happened to be one of the great actors of all time. He and Spencer Tracy, but I only made one picture with Oskar…He was very difficult for everybody. I made a pact with him. If our objectives, our high objectives were up there and clear to both of us, he’d get rid of all this crap and go for it, which he bought and did. Many times he would do something and say to me something he never said to anybody: “What do you think?” That was a big concession for him.

D: How did he get along with the other actors?

S: Fairly well. He and Signoret, I got together and made a pact with both of them. They made a pact with each other: Drop the resentment and the dislike and let the roles dominant.

D: Seemed to work. Their love scenes seemed very believable.

S: Of course. So many other things I was satisfied with most of the way. I remember one day I had a scene with Vivien Leigh and she was drunk, she was playing it. It occurred to us, on her walk down the ship’s corridor, do something, the Charleston. Just suddenly broke into it like it was on her mind. And she did it and went off quickly. Then she went on her way to the cabin. That was my idea. I want credit for that one!

D: What are you doing with yourself, lately?

S: I’m preparing to make a picture, yeah. That’s one of the things I’m doing. I also wrote another book.

KRAMER

D: Anything you can tell me about the upcoming film?

S: Well, I can tell you it’s present time. I have two projects. The first one, I’d like to be the story of modern Soviet Russia: After the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s a good love story. I got to bring it up to date. Changes every month.

D: Any casting in mind?

S: Well, the guy who’s dogging me the most is Max Schell. Last time Max Schell and I got together, he won the Oscar. This is very special, too. Good love story.

D: You mentioned a new book. Is it on filmmaking or your own experiences?

S: Well, running through it is film anecdotes, motivations, agonies, prejudices.

D: Any of the later films that weren’t necessarily hits with critics or audiences, say, The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) that you may have reconsidered casting?

S: I don’t recall, maybe. In terms of casting, you have to have a big enough ego and I had it. You visualize something, you get an idea, a thought, and you follow it through against the current. If it comes off, great. If it doesn’t, you made a mistake.

D: So, you’re saying casting against type worked for you a lot better?

S: No, it didn’t work a lot better but it worked, sometimes. Not always.

D: Can you think of an example where it failed?

S: Yeah, but I won’t tell you.

D: [Laughs] Okay, that’s fair. That seems like a good note to end on.

S: All right. Hope you got enough.

D: I sure did.

 

Back to top