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Archive for the ‘Anne Baxter’ Category

“We have a great deal in common…”
“You’re an improbable person, Eve, and so am I. We have that in common. Also, a contempt for humanity, an inability to love and be loved, insatiable ambition, and talent. We deserve each other.” — Addison DeWitt

All About Eve movie poster - Click for Larger VersionThere’s no doubt that All About Eve is one of Hollywood’s most iconic films. And while I can attest that it has top-notch performances by all the cast members involved (even Marilyn Monroe, who I can tolerate on a good day) and a knockout script filled with line after line of bitchy, witty comebacks, although I have to admit that when I need a Bette Davis fix, I prefer Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte which is one of my all time favorite movies.

Still, I can’t deny that All About Eve is a damn good movie and still remains extremely watchable after all these years (it’s showing tonight, on TCM at 8 pm EST.) It has that certain sophisticated *glow* that all 20th Century Fox movies have (at least from the Golden Era of Hollywood), which only adds to it’s mystique. But All About Eve wouldn’t be the classic it is today if it weren’t for the performances of Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and the always underrated Celeste Holm. It sounds cliched, but these actresses breathe life into the characters–you’re never bored by them, and they make the script work. Claudette Colbert was supposed to have played Margo Channing, but threw out her back while filming Three Came Home. A tragedy for Ms. Colbert, but can you imagine how radically different Margo Channing would have been? Bette Davis has that supreme ego (I mean this as compliment) that makes her Margo Channing the diva she was meant to be. I don’t think Claudette could have pulled it off.

Margo Channing, Diva.Eve (Anne Baxter) and Margo (Bette Davis)
Diva vs. Diva: Davis as Margo Channing and watching Bill Simpson leave with Eve (Baxter)

I first watched All About Eve about three years ago. As a classic film newbie, I knew it was one of the movies that I had to see, and after I watched it, I felt a bit let down. Perhaps I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate it. I’m really showing my age here, but I think I expected a good old fashioned chick fight that included lots of bitch slapping and name calling. Having been in one myself (a long, long time ago), let me tell you–they’re much more fun to watch than to be in. It’s the hair-pulling that hurts the most, although the name calling is a close second.

A telling sceneAnyway, when TCM premiered All About Eve during last month’s Oscar lineup, I decided to give it another go. After all, I’m older, wiser and can appreciate the subtlety of a well-timed quip now. Watching it through new eyes, I was surprised by certain “clues” to Eve’s character that director and writer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz sprinkled throughout. Eve (Anne Baxter) seemed a bit…manly, with her poise being the most telling clue. She didn’t move around the screen like the other women–no, there was something rough about her walk. She lacked femininity. But perhaps the most telling trait is in the way she and her female friend ascend the staircase after placing a phony sick call to Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). I’m always wary of people who “look” for homosexuality in films, since I think some of it is just pure speculation and projection, so I did a little research afterwards.

The truth finally comes outMy suspicions were confirmed: according to Mankiewicz biographer, Ken Geist, the character of Eve Harrington was originally conceived as a lesbian. When you know this little bit about Eve, the film suddenly takes on a whole new light–especially where her relationship with Addison DeWitt is concerned (an Oscar winning perfromance by the marvelous George Sanders). There are lines in the “reveal” scene that throw the viewer for a loop, particuarly in the statement where Addison proclaims, “You realize and you agree how completely you belong to me.” Perhaps Mankiewicz wrote this line so it appears that Eve and Addison are having a sexual relationship–but I find it hard to believe, since neither has ever been affectionate towards one another. Yes, Eve has passion running through her veins, but Addison doesn’t. He gets more excitement out of making sarcastic comments and watching everyone in the theater world stab each other in the back. For all that’s been written about his character, I’ve never gotten the impression that Addison was gay. If anything, I felt that he was somewhat asexual. For him, sex just came with the job, like overtime and health benefits. I’ve always thought that Marilyn Monroe’s character had a relationship with him, and if the code allowed it at the time, I’m sure he would have attempted to play Svengali to a man as well. Yet, I feel the proper description for both Addison and Eve is “chameleon”–they both adapt to the people surrounding them, calculate the situation at hand and sense who they can best use to their advantage. Except that Eve lacks the finesse and wisdom that Addison has. She thinks in the moment, while Addison considers the whole picture and this leads to Eve getting beautifully played at the end.

Meet Eve Harrington
Out of the shadows: Karen meets Eve

Another interesting characterization of Eve is her appearance. When we first see her, she’s emerging from the shadows dressed in a man’s trenchcoat and hat, giving off the impression that they once belonged to her deceased husband. Eve wants to come off as a girl who’s just making do with what’s at hand. But when you find out the truth–there was no husband!–you realize that Eve is a master at costuming herself for the situation at hand. That innocent-looking trenchcoat and hat make her look drab enough to gain sympathy from Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), who first spots her in that darkened alley (now film scholars note that homosexual characters in classic Hollywood films are “coded” this way–lurking in the shadows). Upon first inspection, Eve seems like a shy, sweet theatergoer who has nothing but admiration for Margo Channing. Since it’s all an act, you have to imagine the amount of planning and preparation Eve had to do in order to make her sob story work. In order to seem legit, you need to look the part as well as make it believable.

Addison’s Watchful EyeThe failed seduction

Later, when Eve attempts to seduce Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), she’s again in costume after taking over for Margo. It’s as though Eve cannot play herself–everything she does is a performance for the secret play going on in her mind. Unlike Karen, Bill doesn’t buy it–he flat out rejects Eve. Having seen and worked with all types of actors and actresses, Bill is much more cynical and hardened to the world around him. It’s an interesting comparison to Karen, who spends her free time painting and only observing the theater world from a wife’s viewpoint. She’s not actively involved and while it makes her a bit more naive, it also makes her susceptible to Eve’s plans.

Noticing PhoebeThe Real Eve?Phoebe Meets Addison
The Seduction Theory: Eve and Addison meet Phoebe, an “innocent” schoolgirl

Many people would say that the final scene between Eve and the mysterious Phoebe is the crowning moment of All About Eve. The main point is to let the audience know that in future years to come, Eve will be replaced by Phoebe and other aspiring, cutthroat actresses just like her. But those last five minutes or so tell more about Eve’s true personality than the entire film did. Not only is it the first time we see Eve smoking, but while talking with Phoebe, she drapes herself languorously on the couch. Clearly, Mankiewicz wanted the lesbian side of Eve to be finally revealed and when it is, it’s a bit off-putting. While she’s cold to others, she’s almost leering in her invitation to Phoebe. It’s obvious that she’s attempting to seduce the young woman by asking her to stay the night–yet, it’s Eve who’s being taken in for a sucker. Phoebe is pulling the same routine that she pulled on Margo. The two women even share physical similarities: the same husky tone of voice, a no-nonsense haircut and plain jane clothes. Phoebe is a chameleon as well. The only difference is that she reveals her cards to Addison when he drops off Eve’s forgotten award (and in the process, admits that “Phoebe” isn’t even her real name!). Her ambition is clear-cut. For all you know, Phoebe may be lying about her involvement in the “Eve Harrington Club”–after all, Eve lied about her non-existant husband and who says Phoebe can’t do the same?

The future and beyond…

While some critics claim that Mankiewicz’s portrayal of Eve is supposed to be an attack on lesbians, I only believe that to be a half-truth. Eve is just a terrible person. She may prefer the company of women in her private life, but it’s clear that in her public one, she’d sleep with anyone to get ahead. If anything, I think Mankiewicz succeed in showing us that the life of an ambitious actress is a lonely one. Even in the closing shot, where Phoebe stands among reflections of herself, I take that as a comment on being alone. Eve has no true friends. Addison considers her his “property”, a puppet he can use when he needs her. Margo and Karen have each other and Phoebe is just using Eve to get ahead in the world. Eve winds up with no one. Her ruthless ambition has cost her any close friendships. She will spend night after night alone, with only herself as company. On a related note, Is there any wonder why Bette Davis titled her first autobiography, “The Lonely Life”? Success certainly comes at a cost.

Margo + Bill = True LoveIn the scene where Margo rejects the role in Lloyd’s play, she bases her decision on her upcoming nuptials to Bill, saying, “It means I finally got a life to live. I don’t have to play parts I’m too old for just because I have nothing to do with my nights.” Margo has realized that true love is more important that the adoration of nameless, faceless theatergoers. Bill’s love is the only applause she wants now. She has put her own ambition aside to become a wife. In a case of fiction mimicking real life, Bette Davis and Gary Merrill eloped during the filming of All About Eve, where after, Davis put her career shortly on hold to become a housewife. The marriage, filled with bouts of drunken arguring, didn’t last and both parties would later say that Margo and Bill, not Bette and Gary, fell in love.

Of all the performances in All About Eve, my favorite comes courtesy of Celeste Holm. As Karen, the wife to the famous playwright, Lloyd Richards, she lives a very good life rubbing elbows with the theater elite. It’s a happy marriage. But when Eve gets hold of a cruel joke that Karen played on Margo, her happiness finally becomes threatened. Karen finally feels the sting of loneliness, albeit in a different fashion from Margo. Since Eve is now the new leading lady of Lloyd’s new play, the reheasals only bring them closer together, therefore pushing Karen out of the picture. Right before that fateful phone call, we see Karen lying in bed, musing about their relationship: “Everything Lloyd loved about me, he’d gotten used to, long ago.”

On the telephone

As an observer to the ups and downs of the theater, Karen knows how easily aging actresses are replaced. What makes an aging wife any different? It’s a scary thought, especially after witnessing exactly how manipulative Eve truly is. When Eve finally thinks she has Lloyd in her clutches, she tells Addison about her plan to steal him away from Karen, throwing in a few lies for good measure. This is what finally causes Addison to snap. Knowing that Karen is a good woman and also because Lloyd is a successful playwright whose plays can make or break actresses, Addison blows the roof off Eve’s plans, setting her straight. Attempting to upstage an aging, past-her-prime actress is one thing. To destroy a marriage is another. One wonders what he would have done if Bill gave into Eve’s temptations backstage.

Mankiewicz’s portrayal of the men in this film is especially positive–both Bill and Lloyd stay true to their ladies, and when you include Addison in that group, none of them are easily swayed by Eve’s poisonous charms. Lloyd only wants to do the best for his writing, Bill is madly in love with Margo and Addison is in love with his career. Since all three hold positions of power, they’ve seen every dirty trick in the book. Combine that with the male ego, and you’ll understand why they refuse to be undermined by a up-and-coming actress. It was easier for Eve to worm her way into Margo and Karen’s circle–she could pretend to identify with them, comfort them and offer compliments when needed. Men and woman are equally insecure, it’s just that women tend to wear their emotions on their sleeve. And for someone like Eve, this is all the bait she needs.

At face value, All About Eve is a great movie, but when you dig a little deeper, you find that there’s so much more to it than just backstabbing, betrayal and Margo’s famous line, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”. It’s about actresses and their vulnerabilities, a married woman facing her worst nightmare and how cruel and low some people can stoop to in order to get ahead in the world. It’s also about love, for it’s love that saves Margo Channing from herself and love that saves the marriage between Lloyd and Karen Richards. Without love, you wind up like Eve Harrington. Successful and adored, but lonely and used. And who wants to live a life like that?

This week’s MP3 doesn’t have to do with All About Eve, per se, but “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays could be the theme song to Eve’s devious plans. I love 70’s R&B/Funk and while it’s not classic movie related, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to post such an appropriate song.

Download: “Backstabbers” by the O’Jays 2.8 MB – Link will open in new window and download it from there.

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the movie poster for “I Confess” - Click for larger image

In the confessional boothMany people who have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953) say that it’s one his most underrated films. After seeing it last week, I have to agree with them although I wouldn’t be quick to say that it’s a great movie. It’s flawed, that’s for sure, but it’s also a good, solid film. I Confess is unlike any of Hitchcock’s movies since it lacks the mysterious glamour that’s found in his most famous works. The plot centers around a priest named Father Logan (played beautifully by Montgomery Clift), who is unable to tell the police about a murder since he is bound by the vow of confessional secrecy. Also complicating matters is the involvement of an old flame, Ruth (Anne Baxter) and a police inspector, Laurrue (Karl Malden), who is intent on finding out the truth.

There are two things that keep I Confess from being a great Hitchcock movie: the flashback romance between Father Logan and Ruth as well as the fact that we immediately know who the murderer is. While both ideas are necessary to the plot, their execution bogs the story down a bit.

Confessing to the wifeSince Hitchcock wastes no time in getting to the “who” and “why” of the story, you find out that Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) is the murderer. Otto is an employee of the church as well as gardener for the man he killed, local lawyer, Villette. After confessing his sin to Father Logan in the confessional, Otto then tells his wife, Alma (Dolly Hass) why he killed Villette–he stole $2,000 because he was sick of watching her work so hard. During the confession, Father Logan told Otto that he must give the money back–an idea that terrifies him since he doesn’t want to be caught. Grief-stricken, Alma fears that Father Logan will go to the authorities and report the crime and suddenly Otto realizes that he is bound to his Catholic vow. He must keep the confession secret.

What’s interesting about this scene is watching Otto’s manner change from panicked and fearful to annoyingly confident. He is no longer frightened. You can literally see the weight of his guilt lift off his shoulders. Otto has gained a tremendous amount of power, knowing he can commit murder and get away with it. His eyes become wide and the expression on his face turns manic with an almost sick kind of glee. There are no doubts in his mind that Father Logan will not go to the police. Otto has faith in his strength as a man of the cloth, but what he doesn’t realize is that his actions will end up hurting the person he loves the most: Alma.

While it’s interesting to start off the movie with a bang, it lessens the suspense throughout. Even though Ruth (Baxter) gets involved halfway through and you find out that Villette was blackmailing her, you still know that Keller is the murderer. Part of the fun of a Hitchcock movie is the big reveal or a murder committed either halfway through or at the end: Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train or the “two” Kim Novaks in Vertigo. And while the ending of I Confess is definitely exciting, the middle of the film has a tendency to lag.

Flashback romance - Anne Baxter and Montgomery CliftPart of the problem with the Ruth subplot is that it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. Anne Baxter is perfect for the part of Ruth. She does well with the material and she and Clift are well matched. But it’s the part itself that seems as though it was transported out of another movie, almost as though Hitchcock was trying to inject his brand of romance for the sake of adding it. For the most part, I Confess has a sharpness to it. The cinematography is fantastic and crisp, but with Ruth’s subplot it suddenly takes on a dream-like quality to reflect her obsessive love for Father Logan. Compared to the tightness of the rest of the script, it’s jarring, to say the least. Yet, Ruth flashback is essential to the plot since in trying to help him clear his name, she winds up doing more damage to his case.

Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift, an actor I’ve always liked, is beyond amazing in I Confess. I noticed that he doesn’t say much. Instead of dialogue, Hitchcock uses close-ups on Clift’s face to convey the emotions he’s going through. What’s amazing about his performance is that he expresses so much through his eyes. You see the agony that he’s going through, the internal struggle of wanting to tell the police even though he knows he can’t. Father Logan’s love for God and his devotion to the church is stronger than his own need.  As the story progresses and Otto becomes more and more aggressive, taunting Father Logan and lying about his own involvement, Clift does an amazing job at expressing his character’s fear of being arrested and hung for a crime he didn’t commit. I’ve seen quite a few of Clift’s films and I Confess is certainly one of his best. So much of the movie succeeds because of his performance. Clift’s Father Logan carries himself with a quiet dignity. There’s no doubt that he will honor the sacred vows he made when he became a Priest, no matter what the cost.

The heart of I Confess is rooted in the “C” word: Catholicism. After watching this and looking up various articles, I wasn’t very surprised to find out that Hitchcock was a Catholic throughout most of his life. If one is brought up in another denomination, the vow of Confessional secrecy that sets the plot into motion might not be familiar to some. Hitchcock uses various Catholic themes throughout, mainly religious fear, not to mention guilt, suffering and forgiveness. All the characters go through some sort of suffering throughout the film, but it’s Father Logan who receives the brunt of it. Here’s a man who devotes his life to God and winds up suffering for the sins of others (Otto’s murder and Ruth’s obsessive love for him despite being married) because he’s unwilling to break the promises he made to God. Hitchcock makes it quite clear that Father Logan is a Christ-like figure, most notably during the scene where he goes walking through the streets of Quebec. Clift is presented in a long shot, with a statue of Christ carrying the cross while being flanked by two guards in the foreground. It’s not subtle at all. This image is repeated later in the movie, during Father Logan’s trial. When you see him, he’s surrounded by two guards, while a large crucifix hangs on the wall across from his seat. It’s as though Hitchcock is setting up Logan by showing him what will happen if the jury finds him guilty: he will hang. Not only will he die for Otto’s sin, but Ruth’s as well.

Carrying the CrossModern symbolismDelievering the verdict
The religious symbolism throughout I Confess 

The tension between Father Logan and Otto is really what elevates the premise of I Confess. It’s almost unbelievable how brazen Otto becomes in taunting Father Logan, reminding him of his confessional vow as well as lying to the authorities and basically selling out the man who is protecting him. At first his faith in Father Logan is solid. At the beginning of the story, Otto tells Logan, “I have abused your kindness…you gave my wife and me a home–even friendship, so wonderful a thing for a refugee, a German, a man without a home.” But it becomes easier and easier for Otto to transfer his own guilt to the priest, therefore making him less and less sure of Father Logan in the process.

O.E. Hasse and Brian AherneDolly Hass as Alma
In the courtroom: Otto on the stand and Alma in the seats 

Father Logan isn’t the only one suffering at the hands of Otto–his wife, Alma also suffers as well. At first, she’s overly nervous, especially whenever she comes into contact with him. But it’s during Logan’s trial that the guilt of knowing her husband’s secret really begins taking it’s toll. When Otto testifies against Logan, and lies about the events of the night leading up to his confession, the dismay is clear on Alma’s face. With every negative testimony put against him, she grows more and more shaken. She knows the truth, but telling it would result in the death of the man she loves.

the fateful momentDolly Hass is wonderful as Alma. There’s a meekness about her that makes her perfect for the role, although in the penultimate scene, she drops it and shows a boldness in her quest do the right thing. In so many of his films, Hitchcock attempts to show you that every man has good and evil coursing through his veins and I Confess is no exception. After Father Logan receives his “Not Guilty” verdict (which is delivered with a few disparaging remarks by the foreman and judge), the crowd that waits outside the courtroom is hostile. As Alma and Otto watch Father Logan get shoved by the angry mob, Alma can take no more. Her love for Otto is trumped by the torment of wanting to do what’s right: clear an innocent man’s name. When she pushes her way through the crowd and approaches a police officer, Otto’s sense of fear takes over. He has no other choice but to shoot Alma to keep her quiet.

Here is the most interesting twist in the entire film: since Father Logan can no longer die for Otto’s sin, it’s Alma that winds up dying for it instead. She suddenly becomes the Christ-like figure in Hitchcock’s world. After suffering for her husband’s guilt, she winds up paying for it with her life. It’s a rather dark move, made even darker by the fact that this one of of Hitchcock’s only films that’s completely devoid of humor. It’s also important to note that in the original play on which this is based, Father Logan does die at the end, which would have made his Christ-like transformation complete.

Forgiveness - O.E. Hasse and CliftDuring the final moments of I Confess, Otto winds up falling into his own trap and thinking that Father Logan has told the authorities, winds up indicting himself. After shooting at the police, they shoot back and Otto is struck. As he lays dying, he finds out that Alma has died and asks forgiveness from Father Logan. It’s amazing that his love of Alma is what drove him to steal and murder, only to turn around and murder the woman he loved in order to save himself. This realization is what causes Otto to ask forgiveness before he dies, because if one is truly sorry for their actions, then forgiveness is granted. The workings of the Catholic church do come full circle in I Confess, which I thought was nicely done. You’re to believe that Otto, while not a truly bad man, got swept up in his own fear to the point where he became someone else entirely. Under the right circumstances, anyone can change.

a chance encounter between Logan and RuthWatching I Confess in today’s world, I find it interesting that Father Logan is made out to be a good priest and a good man. Even in his darkest hour and after aimlessly walking the streets of Quebec, he makes his way to a church and turns to God for solace and comfort. There’s nothing shifty about Father Logan, although the sudden appearance of Ruth does make you wonder a bit, but only momentarily.  Yet, if I Confess were made today amidst all the church scandals, there would be no doubting that Father Logan is guilty of something, in any way, shape or form. When Ruth and Logan meet at the crime scene and she utters the words, “We’re free!”, you can’t help but think something really tawdry is going on between them. You even doubt Otto’s confession for a moment, thinking that perhaps there was some kind of twist and Father Logan had done something to Villette before Otto arrived and finished him off. It’s amazing how modern thinking and controversies can shape one’s opinion on a movie that was made almost 50 years ago!

Karl Malden and Anne BaxterBut despite all it’s flaws, I Confess is still a good, solid Hitchcock movie. The cinematography by Robert Burks and score by Dimitri Tiomkin (who both worked on several Hitchcock classics) only elevate it above the standards of a normal film. Also worth mentioning are the strong performances of Karl Malden (to be honest, he’s always good) and Brian Aherne as Willy Robertson, a friend to Ruth and her husband and the prosecutor who grills Father Logan during the trial.

In my opinion, I Confess is one of Hitchcock’s most personal movies. In later interviews, he felt that I Confess was a disappointment, possibly due to it’s not being well-received at the time of it’s release. During the early 50’s, Catholics were not well liked throughout England and perhaps Hitchcock took their refusal to see I Confess (as well as many of his other films from that era) personally. I will never get the notion of disliking someone because of their personal beliefs, unless that person is trying to shove it down your throat. Perhaps audiences felt that’s what Hitchcock was trying to do with I Confess–which he wasn’t. Hitchcock was merely trying to tell the story a wronged priest and with the exception of the opening scene, not once is Father Logan shown consoling other parishioners on the rights and wrongs of the world. He’s just another wronged man, made guilty in the eyes of others because of uncontrollable circumstances and his devotion to God. He could fit in right next to Cary Grant in North by Northwest or Henry Fonda in The Wrong Man. It’s an interesting twist to a standard mystery. Combine that with the outstanding performance put in by Montgomery Clift and that’s exactly why I Confess, despite some weak points, still manages to hold up today.

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I’ve been on a big Gregory Peck kick as of late, which after four years or so, I’d say I’ve waited long enough. I’ve always read a lot of reviews where people complain that he’s somewhat of a “wooden” actor. I’ve never thought that about him, but I can understand where people are coming from. He has that stoic, clipped manner of speaking and what other people take as wooden, I take as calm and collected. To each his own though.

Gregory Peck shirtless
Gratuitous shirtless shot of Gregory Peck–because I can.

But for those people who do find him “wooden”, I’d highly recommend William A. Wellman’s 1948 western, Yellow Sky, where he’s anything but. He’s dangerous and sexy, while Anne Baxter matches him moment for moment. Its plot revolves around a gang of bank robbers that make their way through the desert, only to wind up in a deserted town called Yellow Sky. Soon after, they meet its only inhabitants, a woman nicknamed Mike and her Grandpa. However, when the gang realizes the two are hiding gold, they decide to make quick fortune by robbing them.

For all the William A. Wellman movies I’ve seen, this quickly became one of my favorites. Not only is it a solid western, but the relationship between “Mike” (Anne Baxter) and “Stretch” (Gregory Peck) is fascinating. Yellow Sky isn’t just a western–it’s a psychological one. Hands down Anne Baxter’s characterization of Mike steals the show here. Yes, she’s mainly known as the backstabbing bitch in All About Eve, but in Yellow Sky, she shows a great range of emotion. It’s sounds a bit trite, but Mike wants to prove that she’s just as tough as one of the guys, even favoring a men’s nickname instead of using her real name, Constance Mae. She lives by her own strict moral code. And while Mike is a tomboy, she’s a Hollywood tomboy. Petite in size, her hair is neatly coiffed and even though she spends the entire film in a non-nonsense blouse and black jeans, they show off her best assets. It’s no wonder that she elicits lust in most of the gang.

Since they’re the focus of the story, the main relationship is between Mike and Stretch. While Mike hates all the men, it’s Stretch that she seems to hate the most. Gregory Peck is fantastic in this role (but then I love when he plays bad boys). He constantly pursues Mike despite warning all the other men in his gang to stay away from her and Grandpa (John Russell). It’s almost as though he feels he has first dibs on her because he’s their leader. In their first meeting, Stretch asks her what she’s so afraid of, to which Mike defiantly answers, “Nothing.” It’s a lie of course, but there’s no way Mike can show any other emotion besides “tough.” She feels that even the slightest hint of femininity would be a sign of weakness and with the six men who just intruded their lives, Mike intends to be just as tough as them.

baxter_rifle.jpgIn addition to giving Stretch a mean right hook when he attempts to steal her rifle, she’s ready to shoot anyone at a moment’s notice. But what’s nice about the character of Mike is that she’s not a caricature of a tomboy. For example, she isn’t anything like Doris Day in Calamity Jane. Wellman was smarter than that. In less assured hands, the character of Mike could have easily been one to laugh at. You take Mike seriously because she is serious and Anne Baxter manages to bring her to life in a wonderful way. There’s nothing humorous about her. You don’t doubt for a second that Mike’s first instinct would be to shoot a man right below the belt. The only person she cares about is her Grandpa and she’d fight to the death to keep him safe. Her loyalty towards him isn’t just because he’s her Grandpa, but because he treats her with respect. In a conversation, he proudly tells Stretch that not only is Mike as “tough as a nut”, but that she was raised by Apaches. In so many westerns, anyone who is raised by Indians is immediately treated as though they have the plague. Not only do Grandpa and Mike have a good relationship with the Apaches, but Mike has turned out to be a real fighter. Her Apache upbringing is a source of pride, not shame, for him.

There are plenty of interesting scenes and one of them occurs at the watering hole, which is to be a source of trouble for Mike. After being accosted by the men, Stretch steps in and tells them to stay away from her and Grandpa. Immediately, Mike rewards him with a look of tenderness. It’s the first real emotion (besides anger) that we see from her. Is it because she sees Stretch respects not only her, but her Grandpa as well?

However, Stretch refuses to take his own advice and treks over to the house to see Mike. After tackling her to the ground and kissing her, Mike repeatedly headbutts(!) him and tells him “You stink!”, but not before wiping her mouth as though his kisses were poison. It’s interesting to see that Mike’s first reaction after physical violence is to verbally assault him. It’s a one-two punch of hitting him below the belt. She then ends their “rendezvous” by shooting at his head–although she aims to miss. Later, when she and Grandpa are Illustration of a Womanwalking back to the house, Mike tells him, “He made me feel..I don’t know.” But she does know. Mike has made her feel like a woman for the first time in her life. Wellman then cuts to Mike’s room, in which a picture of an elegantly dressed lady is pinned onto her wall. Seeing it fills her with disgust and causes Mike to angrily tear it into pieces. It’s a great moment of self-loathing–she hates herself for feeling something that she’s been trying so hard to suppress. Although having such a picture on her wall in the first place clues us into the fact that Mike longs to be as pretty as any other woman out there. In that one short scene, we sense Mike’s vulnerability for the first time. It’s easily one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie.

A famous Wellman shadow shot
Wellman was known for odd angles and shots. Here, Grandpa and Mike stand in near darkness.

What makes Yellow Sky so interesting is how the relationship between Mike and Stretch progresses. It’s not a full blown love affair–there are things that Stretch does and says that are questionable–yet it’s enough to gain Mike’s trust. Stretch is the first man besides her Grandpa to treat her with a respect. He doesn’t look down at her. It’s clear that even after their first kiss (albeit a forced one), Stretch is bothered enough by Mike’s disgust, that he appears the next day wearing a fresh shirt while his face is clean shaven. Upon seeing his efforts to impress her, Mike’s facade begins to crumble.

Bull Run saves the dayWhile the relationship between Mike and Stretch grows, the one between her and the rest of the gang is precarious. When she goes down to the watering hole a second time, she’s physically attacked by Lengthy (John Russell) while Half Pint (Henry Morgan) and Walrus (Charles Kemper) cheer him on, with the latter yelling, “Ride her cowboy, ride her!” It’s a particularly disturbing scene, especially for 1948. Since the code was in effect, the most you see is Lengthy pushing Mike against a tree while she tries to beat him away. But it’s clearly a prelude to rape. It’s even more disturbing when Walrus tells Stretch afterwards that she was asking for it. This scene also lets you know that Lengthy sees right through Mike’s tough act. He doesn’t see her as an equal. For Lengthy, she’s just another woman to take advantage of.

However, it has to be noted that the youngest member of the gang, Bull Run, (Robert Arthur) does respect Mike. When he sees Lengthy attacking her, he’s the only one to step in and pull him off, only to need saving by Stretch in the end. In some respects, both Bull Run and Stretch are somewhat alike. While they try to keep up their tough facades, their basic sense of decency hasn’t been corrupted yet and after such a particularly brutal scene, it’s refreshing to see. The only difference is that Bull Run is naive to the ways of the world, while Stretch has seen it all and is wise to the ulterior motives of his gang. This certainly affects the fates of their characters at the end of the movie.

Widmark, always the villianThe relationship between Stretch and Dude (Richard Widmark) is probably second to that of Mike and Stretch. When Dude sees that Stretch is falling for Mike, he knows that he’s of no use to the gang anymore. Women mean absolutely nothing to Dude. He was burned by an old girlfriend in the past and he’s nothing but bitter towards them now. Not only does he make numerous attempts to overthrow Stretch as their leader, but he’s also a silent witness to many moments where both Mike and Stretch let their guards down. He revels in their downfalls, knowing that the more Stretch becomes emotionally attached to Mike, the sooner he can make off with the gold. Greed is Dude’s only motivation in life. He and Lengthy are both soulless in their pursuit for the gold and when Stretch finally backs out of a deal that would wipe out Mike and Grandpa for good, the gang finally turns on him. It’s interesting to see that Mike is the only one who immediately tries to protect him. As the gang attempts to shoot him down, Mike covers him, therefore risking her own life so they can make their way back to the house together. It’s a nice twist, especially seeing the malevolence she had towards him when they first met.

Peck and Baxter

It’s another facet that makes Yellow Sky so interesting to watch–the gender lines become blurred when it comes to Mike and Stretch. In two separate, but pivotal scenes (the rape scene and the aforementioned shootout), they both save each other from possible death. Unlike most westerns, Mike’s character doesn’t suddenly turn into that of “damsel in distress.” If anything, it’s Stretch who becomes the damsel! Once he falls in love with Mike, therefore respecting her, his gang loses respect for him. Without Mike’s protection, he would be a dead man since it’s hard to fight when there are five against one. The roles have reversed and it’s an interesting path for Wellman to go down, but it’s certainly one that he treaded down before. Although the genres and situations are different, his 1937 film, A Star is Born is another movie that has similar gender relations. The up-and-coming actress (Janet Gaynor) becomes a star, while the once-famous husband (Fredric March) is reduced to the role of Mr. Vicki Lester. In order to save him, she must give up her own career and she doesn’t do it because she has to–she does it because she loves him. Yet, the literal death of her career becomes a figurative one for him. It’s heartbreaking to watch and for a director that was nicknamed, “Wild Bill”, he certainly had a sensitivity for relationships and how they work.

While Yellow Sky is a rough western with a love story thrown in, it’s not too sappy. In fact, it’s presented in such a way that you think Stretch is saving Mike from herself. Audiences back then may have thought that all Mike needed was the love of a good man to change her mind, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s the proof in the final scene (which I hate to spoil, since it’s so good) that Mike saved Stretch from himself as well. The building of their whole relationship was based on seeing each other as equals and in the end, that’s exactly what they are. Love saves the day and all that sappy stuff notwithstanding. They saved each other from themselves by letting their facades down and admitting that they needed love. What’s that old saying–No man is an island? I think it applies here perfectly.

It’s a shame to see that despite a dvd release, Yellow Sky isn’t that well-known today. Especially when you compare it to Gregory Peck’s other bad boy western, 1946’s campy Duel in the Sun. While the basis of that was a soap opera-type love story, Yellow Sky is so much more than just a love story between Mike and Stretch. It’s about the survival and relationships between people, no matter what the odds are against them. And that’s always a timeless topic.

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