Once again I’m taking part in a blogathon – this time it is the Universal Backlot Blogathon, organised by Kristen of the Journeys on Classic Film website. A number of bloggers are taking part and covering a wide range of films made on the Universal backlot , to celebrate its 100th anniversary – please do visit Kristen’s site and take a look at the other postings.
First of all, a confession… I’ve belatedly realised that the film I’ve chosen to write about, William Wyler’s thriller The Desperate Hours starring Humphrey Bogart, was in fact mainly filmed on Paramount’s sound stages, with specially-built sets including a seven-room family house. Only some exteriors were shot on the Universal backlot. However, the way this film cranks up the tension to unbearable heights does have something in common with Universal’s famous horror films, even if in this film the horror unfolding is all too realistic, and the monster is just a man with a gun.
This is a second contribution to the John Huston blogathon currently running at Adam Zanzie’s Icebox Movies site.
From the title of this John Huston movie, The Mackintosh Man, I was half-expecting to see star Paul Newman – oddly cast as a British secret agent – dressed in a Bogart-style raincoat and wandering through grey, damp streets. However, as soon as I saw the film’s glorious Technicolor sunshine, I realised the title had nothing to do with raincoats.
In fact the film’s title is drawn from the name of Newman’s boss in the film, played by Harry Andrews – and the film itself is a lavishly-produced 1970s thriller moving from London to Ireland to Malta. (For a fan of The Maltese Falcon, it’s nice to know that Huston actually made a film in Malta!) I’ve seen some reviews suggest that this movie is Huston’s homage to Hitchcock, and I can see that there are some similarities, with the puzzling plot and the casting of Dominique Sanda as the enigmatic “ice blonde” heroine, “Mrs Smith” – but for me the tension never really builds up to Hitchcock levels.
When you look at the list of Robert Wise’s movies, it seems amazing that he isn’t better-known – which is why it is so good that Joshua over at Octopus Cinema has organised a blog-a-thon about his work, to which this is a contribution.
Somebody Up There Likes Me, starring Paul Newman and Pier Angeli, is one of my favourites out of his movies that I’ve seen so far, and if anything it seems to get better with repeated viewings. I hesitated before watching because, on the face of it, it’s a boxing movie – a biopic of world middleweight champion Rocky Graziano, based on his autobiography – and I’m not a fan of the sport. However, it’s really far more than that, showing how Graziano, originally called Barbella, grew up in poverty and dabbled in crime before turning his life around, and the fight scenes, powerful though they are, take up only a relatively small part of this movie.
After first seeing the film on TV, I’m very glad I got hold of the DVD, since it has a good commentary track with detailed reminiscences by Wise himself as well as contributions from Paul Newman and Martin Scorsese. Film historian Richard Schickel mentions in the commentary that one reason Wise is sometimes overlooked might be that he isn’t identified with any particular genre, but worked in just about all of them. Bearing this out, it strikes me that this film alone touches on many genres in the space of under two hours – starting out as a cross between a gangster movie and a film about juvenile delinquents, then turning into a prison movie and briefly an army one before it really gets into the boxing story, which is also a romance. The film focuses just as much on Rocky’s relationships with his mother (Eileen Heckart) and his girlfriend and later wife, Norma (Angeli) as it does on the boxing. Indeed, the posters and lobby cards I’ve seen, possibly designed to persuade women to go to a boxing picture, seem to go more on the romance than on the fighting.