For Reel

Deep Valley (1947)
August 28, 2016, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jean Negulesco
3 Stars
Deep ValleyThis quasi-noir from director Jean Negulesco plays as the director’s warm-up for Johnny Belinda in the way that it details a deeply troubled, abused young girl and the men who become catalysts for her redemption. In her last film for Warner Brothers (which she was leaving bitterly, having just refused a contract extension in favor of moving onto independent projects), Ida Lupino plays the farm girl who developed a severe stutter after her father (Henry Hull) hit her mother (Fay Bainter) in the heat of an argument years prior. One afternoon, she happens upon a sweaty, shirtless chain-gang, instigating an eventual revolution that sees her creating a temporary home with an escaped convict (Dane Clark). As in Frank Borzage’s Moonrise, Clark plays his character’s vulnerabilities quite well—if he doesn’t have the screen presence of a John Garfield, it works for his doomed, pathetic character. Lupino is too strong a performer to be convincingly “saved” by Clark, but the inverse actually works quite well. There’s a terrific scene where Clark nearly decapitates Lupino after mistaking her as someone who might blow her cover. Wordlessly, Lupino slowly retreats from the scene, the drama of the event convincingly played by Lupino’s understated reaction and the calm grace of her movements—whereas other actresses might have played it as an explosion, Lupino is simultaneously horrified and disappointed as she collects her thoughts. Deep Valley feels about a half hour too long, but Ted McCord’s cinematography (McCord would shoot The Treasure of the Sierra Madre the following year) brings an expressionistic edge to the southern Gothic aesthetic, with shadows and crashes of lightning creating a horrific atmosphere in the troubled household.

O. Henry’s Full House (1952)

Director(s): Howard Hawks, Henry Hathaway, Jean Negulesco, Henry King & Henry Koster
2 Stars
O Henry's Full HouseWhile living in New York, William Sydney Porter (pen name O. Henry) published over 300 short stories, many of those being churned out once a week for New York World Sunday Magazine. If many critics of the time regarded his writing as too-reliant on a gimmicky late plot twist (audiences, on the other hand, ate it up), his reputation has been rehabbed significantly in the last decades, with his sense of dramatic irony recognized as involving a dry, witty cynicism regarding life on the streets. 20th Century Fox would adapt five of O. Henry’s most famed stories for this portmanteau film in 1952, capping off the quintet with the classic “The Gift of the Magi.” Despite the talented cast and directors attached to the production, no one involved seems to arrive at what makes the author interesting—stories like “The Last Leaf” and “The Gift of the Magi” become overtly-sentimental and cute, translating none of the ache of the words on the paper. Ironically, only Howard Hawks’ “The Ransom of Red Chief” arrives at a tone befitting of O. Henry’s work—the sequence was so derided that it was cut from the theatrical release. Fred Allen and Oscar Levant, as a pair of deadpan kidnappers who hold an especially dangerous child for ransom, perform the comedic shadings of a sense of existential dread that O. Henry was particular good at. If it might be a stretch to refer to O. Henry as an author of dark comedies, the ground-level realism is of paramount importance in his writing, something that this adaptation of “The Gift of the Magi”, in particular, is missing entirely.