Film Review: Wind Across the Everglades (1958)

Also known as: Across the Everglades, Lost Man’s River (working titles), Inferno Verde (Uruguay), Muerte en los pantanos (Spain)
Release Date: September 11th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Budd Schulberg (uncredited)
Written by: Budd Schulberg
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Burl Ives, Christopher Plummer, Gypsy Rose Lee, Chana Eden, Mackinlay Kantor, Emmett Kelly

Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“Ah! The sweet-tastin’ joys of this world!” – Cottonmouth

I never knew about this movie, which is odd, as I have grown up and lived near the Everglades almost my entire life. I’m also a fan of Nicholas Ray’s films but I am also mostly just familiar with his work in film-noir. Needless to say, this was an interesting discovery, as I was perusing the content on FilmStruck (a streaming service every cinephile should get).

What’s fantastic about this film is its use of on location shooting. This was legitimately filmed within the Everglades, which is really impressive for a motion picture that came out in 1958.

Having lived on the edge of the ‘Glades, I know that the production must have been an insane undertaking. The swamps are a hell of an undertaking just trying to hike them and since this film really gets into the murk, lugging all that heavy equipment had to be a hell of a workout. Plus that heat, the humidity, the never knowing when the hell you’re going to get instantaneous downpour from the heavens, the bugs, the snakes, the alligators, the boar, the bears, the panthers, the snapping turtles, all of it, man. So I can’t give enough props and respect for the crew that captured this beautiful picture.

I really loved that this film put its focus on environmental conservation, especially in the Florida Everglades. I loved the opening sequence that showed a train arriving to Miami around 1900 or so. The lavish outfits of the women and their love of fashionable plumage was a good addition to the film’s backstory of showcasing how mankind doesn’t really give a crap about how it wrecks the planet, as long as they can achieve the level of status that affords them the luscious plumage of birds being hunted towards extinction. I’m not a super lefty or anything but pillaging nature for fashion is pretty f’d up, just sayin’.

Anyway, Christopher Plummer (in his first starring role and only his second film) shows up in Miami, which is pretty much just a swamp with a train station in 1900. He makes a goofy mistake and finds himself forced into being a game warden for the Audubon Society. He is warned about a man named Cottonmouth (Burl Ives), who has a posse that kills wild birds for their feathers. The two men cross paths and make their intentions clear to one another.

As the film progresses, Plummer’s Murdock falls in love with the job, the wild around him and pretty much sees God’s hand in it all. This isn’t a religious film, he just goes on some tangents about natural beauty and whatnot from the perspective of a dude from 1900ish America.

The two men, despite their rivalry and being on opposite ends of the law, develop a respect for one another, which all comes to a head in the film’s climax. This isn’t a predictable film. It actually feels a lot more realistic than Hollywood’s standard theatrics of the time.

It’s worth noting that Nicholas Ray was fired before the film was completed and Budd Schulberg, the film’s writer, took over and then handled the editing. His lack of experience is apparent in how the film is cut and paced but Ray’s vision still comes through in the framing of most of the shots and the general cinematography. There are just a handful of things that come off as weird in the film. For example, when Murdock, talking about the majestic birds, refers to the sun gleaming off of their feathers, a shot of birds in silhouette is cut over the dialogue. But maybe getting all the wildlife footage was difficult and this is all they had to work with in post-production.

I really liked this movie, despite its few flaws. Plummer and Ives had a good chemistry, the direction was mostly pretty good and it just taps into the history of a place I call my backyard.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Nicholas Ray films: Hot Blood, The Savage Innocents and Bitter Victory.

Film Review: Party Girl (1958)

Release Date: October 28th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Written by: George Wells, Leo Katcher
Music by: Jeff Alexander
Cast: Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Lee J. Cobb

Euterpe, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve been out with the mobs before. Most of the time all they want to do is wear their cash around. By the end of the evening they’re usually too drunk to for anything else.” – Vicki Gaye

A classic film-noir in color?! That’s crazy talk! But that’s what this film is. But it is also more than just standard noir and it came out at the very end of the style’s classic run throughout the ’40s and ’50s.

Party Girl is directed by Nicholas Ray, who also did the film-noir classics They Live by NightIn a Lonely PlaceThe Racket and On Dangerous Ground. He also directed Rebel Without a Cause.

We also get to see Robert Taylor and Lee J. Cobb come together in this picture, bringing it a supreme level of gravitas. Cobb plays a sadstic Chicago mobster during the height of the city’s organized crime. Taylor plays the nice guy lawyer that is the confidant to Cobb’s Rico Angelo thus making him the one man that knows all the man’s dark secrets.

Taylor gets in a little too deep, Cobb gets a little too paranoid and well, we get a classic noir tale of deception, betrayal, twist and turns. Plus there is a beauty thrown in and also a sneaky ex-wife that has some devious plans of her own.

I liked Party Girl but I wouldn’t call it a noir classic even though it came out in the classic era, has a good cast and is directed by a noir maestro. But it is certainly worth your time, considering that you are into these sort of films.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Nicholas Ray films I already mentioned: They Live by NightIn a Lonely PlaceThe RacketOn Dangerous Ground and Rebel Without a Cause.

Film Review: On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Release Date: December 17th, 1951
Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino (uncredited)
Written by: A.I. Bezzerides, Nicholas Ray
Based on: Mad with Much Heart by Gerald Butler
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, Ed Begley

RKO Radio Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Why do you make me do it? You know you’re gonna talk! I’m gonna make you talk! I always make you punks talk! Why do you do it? Why?” – Jim Wilson

What an opening score! The theme by Bernard Hermann over the opening credits really gets the energy in this film flowing from the get-go. And to be honest, this is one of my favorite scores he’s done alongside Psycho and Citizen Kane. The rest of the film lives up to the great score but the music has a lot to do with the energetic pulse that this classic film-noir has. In fact, part of this score was used as the opening theme to the hit television show Have Gun Will Travel in 1957.

This was directed by Nicholas Ray whose work I really loved in the pictures In A Lonely Place and They Live by Night. Like those films, this noir has a lot of spirit and a talented cast that gives it real gravitas.

It is also been said that Ida Lupino directed some of this picture, which is probably true as she went on the be very good behind the camera when she wasn’t stealing men’s hearts on the silver screen.

Along with Ida Lupino, the film stars Robert Ryan and Ward Bond. Ed Begley Sr. even has a brief role, as a police chief.

Ryan plays a mean New York City cop, Jim Wilson. After hurting a man he was questioning and having a history of losing his cool on the job, his chief sends him upstate to catch a murderer in a small town. He is sent to cool off, literally, as the place is covered in snow and even referred to condescendingly as “Siberia”.

While there, Wilson teams up with Walter Brent (Ward Bond), the father of the victim who was murdered. The two quickly find the killer but he runs off towards a house. When the two men get there, they meet the blind Mary Malden (Ida Lupino). It is revealed that she is the sister of the murderer and we also learn that her brother, the killer, is a young boy that is mentally challenged. Wilson feels for the boy and he develops romantic feelings for Mary. He is pitted against Brent, who is bloodthirsty and on the hunt for justice.

The dark and brooding New York City and the snowy countryside have a very strong contrast to one another and it is in that bright countryside where Wilson finds himself and becomes a changed man.

The outdoor scenes are majestic and well shot. Visually, this falls into the noir style while also giving a fresh spin on it with the snowy environment. It looks familiar but it also looks fresh.

One thing that makes this picture stand above most film-noir is just how emotionally touching it is. Ray also accomplished this in his other noirs, most specifically In A Lonely Place. Initially, you don’t like Jim Wilson but as the film rolls on, you connect with him and alongside him, fall for the sweet and soft Mary. You begin rooting for Jim and you want to see Mary find real piece of mind and to feel safe.

On Dangerous Ground was a nice surprise. I didn’t expect anything exceptional but I should’ve known better with Ray behind the camera, as I haven’t seen a film of his that has disappointed me yet.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: They Live by Night (1948)

Release Date: August, 1948 (London)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Written by: Charles Schnee, Nicholas Ray
Based on: Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Cathy O’Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva

RKO Radio Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll take steps a block long. Anyone gets in my way, I’ll stomp ’em!” – Chickamaw

While They Live by Night isn’t my favorite Nicholas Ray picture, it was the start of his career and was a much better film than most director’s first efforts.

The film is also a sort of prototype to Bonnie and Clyde, not officially, but it shares a very similar narrative about two lovers on the run from the law. However, the original novel could have been inspired by the real life Bonnie and Clyde, who met their demise in 1934, just three years before the novel Thieves Like Us was published.

The story starts with some prison escapees fleeing towards freedom in 1930s Mississippi. The men decided to rob a bank. One of them, a young man named Bowie, was wrongfully convicted of murder and feels that he can use the money from the bank heist to pay for a lawyer that can prove his innocence.

Things go sideways, Bowie is hurt and finds refuge with the daughter of a gas station owner. The two fall in love and plan to live an honest life away from all the crime and violence. Keechie, the girl, gets pregnant but at the same time, the two men from Bowie’s gang return, demanding his help. Of course, things go sideways again.

The film was well shot and very well directed and it even featured some innovations. For instance, the helicopter shot during the opening credits was pretty unique for 1948 and it kicked this film off with a lot of energy. Also, being a mostly noir picture, it leaves behind the genre’s typical tight interior sets and spends a good amount of time in the wide open spaces of the rural Mid-South, the same geographical region where Bonnie and Clyde committed their robbery spree. They Live by Night is a wide open picture compared to most of the films like it.

The starring duo of Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger were pretty much newcomers to the big screen but they held their own and their love for one another seemed genuine. O’Donnell was especially good and you feel nothing but sadness for her, as she is thrown into a heartbreaking and perilous situation.

They Live by Night is a very well made motion picture. There isn’t a whole lot that you can say about it that could be negative. It has a good director, nice cinematography, treads some original ground and has good acting. If you like Bonnie and Clyde, you’ll probably enjoy this too. Nicholas Ray would go on to make some better movies but this one still holds a special place.

Film Review: In A Lonely Place (1950)

Release Date: May 17th, 1950
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Written by: Edward H. North, Andrew Solt
Based on: In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes
Music by: George Antheil
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame

Columbia Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” – Dixon Steele

The thing I love about In A Lonely Place, is that it features Humphrey Bogart in his best sort of role. He has always been great but his best performances don’t come from being a straight laced macho man of yesteryear. No, Bogart shows the exceptional actor that he is in roles where he has a lot of inner conflict and is able to convey weakness and genuine character flaws. It’s roles like this one that make me feel closer to who the man was than him being the smooth talking tough guy that dominated motion pictures in his day.

Also, Gloria Grahame, an actress I haven’t gotten to know as well as Bogart over the years, was the perfect compliment to Bogart’s Dixon Steele. Her character, Laurel Gray, plays his neighbor and finds herself a bit infatuated with the handsome Hollywood writer. When he is suspected of murder, she is even further drawn to him, believing that there’s no way he did it and that he’s just a really interesting man with a lot worth exploring. As she discovers his deeper emotional issues, she feels as if she can help him just by being in his life.

Of course, things go sideways because this is a film-noir and it is directed by the super intelligent cinema craftsman Nicholas Ray. There are a lot of layers to this picture and some nice twists and reveals but ultimately, the murder doesn’t become the central point of the plot and sort of takes a backseat, as these two lovers become further infatuated with one another. Unfortunately, this is a story about romantic tragedy and has an incredibly sad ending due to the circumstances of everything that develops over the course of the film.

The sad result doesn’t make this a film not worth watching. In fact, quite the opposite. In A Lonely Place sort of exists as a lesson to the weight and power of true love and how you can cave from it, if you aren’t careful and don’t allow yourself to have trust and respect. While this isn’t one of the top Bogart pictures that usually comes off of the lips of old school film aficionados, it is indeed one of his top performances. It is the best I have ever seen Grahame but I also haven’t seen her in a whole lot – something I am trying to rectify.

I don’t know what it is about Nicholas Ray and the magic touch that he has but he takes great actors and gets even greater performances out of them. Mix that in with his stellar directing, his eye, his conscientious shots and his use of tremendous cinematography and you’ve got yourself a true auteur of the highest caliber. While his oeuvre may seem simplistic when compared to the works of Kubrick, Lynch and Scorsese, Nicholas Ray existed on a level that most directors didn’t in his day. Besides, there was a real complexity to how he created his simplicity. His films were well orchestrated understatements. It might not be immediately noticeable or go over the head of the casual film viewer but a meticulous and genuine craftsmanship is apparent in everything Ray shoots.

In A Lonely Place is pretty close to perfection and one of the best motion pictures for any of the people involved with it. While it isn’t as remembered as it probably should be, I like when a great film takes a backseat in the car ride through history, only to be discovered later, as a nice surprise for those who delve deeper and are always looking for something they might not have found without a little effort on their part.