Fourteen Hours (1951)- Henry Hathaway

 ★★★★★

 

The idea of a film centered around one desperate man standing on the ledge of a New York building is a difficult one because there are so many unanswered questions that arise. How do you keep the audience entertained when, in all actuality, very little is happening? How do you deal with a main character that just stands there, and in fact, doesn’t even really want to talk to anyone? And finally, what happens at the end of the film?  Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)All of these questions had to have played heavily on director Henry Hathaway’s mind when filming his noir, suspense drama, “Fourteen Hours” (1951), but fortunately his talent for great storytelling and an extensive cast of sensational actors help turn this possibly entertaining film into a memorable movie, with an exorbitant amount of humanity under the surface.

In a New York City hotel, an emotionally tormented young man named Robert (Richard Basehart) steps out his window onto the ledge. The moment of desperation is seen from the street below by a traffic cop, Charlie (Paul Douglas). Charlie rushes up to the room where he sits on the ledge as well, trying patiently to get Robert to come back inside.

The event turns into a circus, with people filling the streets below, engrossed by the human drama that has presented itself to them. Taxi drivers place bets on what time he will jump, people walking to work stop, frozen, waiting to see what will happen. Even the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is cancelled. Richard Basehart and Barbara Bel Geddes in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)Obviously with a title like “Fourteen Hours”, you can guess that things aren’t resolved quickly, as every step towards a resolution just seems to make things worse.

The acting in this movie is the kind of stuff that directors dream about. Richard Basehart gives a towering performance as the sad, mentally unstable young man at his own personal crossroad. It amazes me how intense he is without being able to move more than a couple of inches the entire picture. He acts through his expressions. He eyes speak for him (his fear, his anger, and regret) present themselves with little dialogue and almost no physicality. It’s Paul Douglas who does most of the talking. The majority of his dialogue goes unanswered…but he keeps talking anyway. He is the driving force of the script, but being an amazing actor, he knows that he can’t take the focus off of Basehart, Richard Basehart in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)so Douglas keeps his perfect performance controlled.

The aspect that helps “Fourteen Hours” to shine is the inclusion of sub-plots that transpire during the 14 hours, and the performances given by the enormous cast of supporting players. Both of Robert’s parents (Agnes Moorehead & Robert Keith) show up to “help”, but end up bringing back years of family dysfunction and drama. His former fiance (Barbara Bel Geddes) also arrives, with Bel Geddes giving a brief, but touchingly memorable performance. And then there are all the individuals involved indirectly, whether down on the street or hiding in the hotel, trying to come up with new ideas; Howard Da Silva as the police chief, Martin Gabel as a psychiatrist, Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget as two strangers who meet on the street, even Grace Kelly shows up in her screen debut as a woman in the midst of a divorce, who reconsiders after witnessing Robert’s plight. Everyone who appears on the screen adds to the film’s intensity by acting a human as possible.

It’s been said that “Fourteen Hours” is, possibly, Henry Hathaway’s best film. As a fan of westerns and film noir (both of which he made in abundance), it would be hard to pick which one of his classic pieces of cinema is “best”. He spent an entire career making great movies that all continue to be enthralling because of Richard Basehart and Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)his underrated skill as a director, and his uncanny ability to entertain an audience. “Fourteen Hours” is a unique film for him, and it is obvious that he was excited at the challenges that filming this type of story would offer. Although it has faded in popularity over the years, it is a film that deserves to be revisited and appreciated by a new audience.

Although “Fourteen Hours” goes out of its way to tell the audience that it wasn’t based on real events, the screenplay (masterfully penned by John Paxton) was based on an article in The New Yorker by Joel Sayre, who was in fact writing about the suicide of John William Warde in 1938. The details are quite different, but it did (unfortunately) serve as inspiration.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

★★★★

 

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 1964 psychological thriller from director Robert Aldrich. Although it is a somewhat Hush Hush Sweet Charlotteoverlooked movie today, it was made with a high quality, as well as being commercially entertaining and successful.

Deep in Louisiana in 1927, a young girl, Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis), has decided to run away with her married lover, John Mayhew (Bruce Dern). Her father, Sam Hollis (Victor Buono), finds out about his daughter’s plans and he tells John that his wife, Jewel (Mary Astor), has already been to see him about this matter. Sam convinces John to tell Charlotte he was staying with Jewel, at a big party at the Hollis estate the following night. After John breaks things off with Charlotte, John is brutally murdered with a butcher knife. He has his hand cut off and is decapitated, but they never findHush Hush Sweet Charlotte the missing body pieces. Charlotte comes into the party with her dress covered in blood, but the police are unable to figure out who the killer is.

The movie then shifts to 1964. Charlotte’s father died the year after John’s murder, and Charlotte lives on their plantation alone. Her only visitors are her housekeeper, Velma (Agnes Moorehead), and her childhood friend, Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten), who is now a doctor. Charlotte is being evicted from her home to make way for a new highway, but she has refused to leave. Charlotte writes her cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), and asks her come help save Hush Hush Sweet Charlotteher home. Miriam lived in the Hollis home when she was young, but has not been back for many years. Miriam and Drew used to date as well, but he broke it off after the scandal of John’s murder.

The final days that are spent in the Hollis home offer a variety of thrilling encounters between all of the main characters, in an attempt to solve the mystery that has been haunting the Hollis family for the last 37 years. Thrown into the mix is a life insurance investigator, Mr. Willis (Cecil Kellaway), who is in town to try and discover why the life insurance policy was never collected after John’s murder.

The early 1960’s were full of thrillers in theaters. Movie masterpiecesHush Hush Sweet Charlotte like Peeping Tom (1960), Psycho (1960), Cape Fear (1962) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Also in 1962, director Robert Aldrich released his film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It was a critical success, being nominated for five Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nomination for Bette Davis. In addition to its awards, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? was extremely productive at the box office. After its success, Aldrich decided to make another thriller, and since it worked so well the first time, he re-teamed Bette Davis and Joan Crawford for his leads. Somewhere along the way, Crawford decided she didn’t want to work with Davis or Aldrich again and Olivia de

Hush Hush Sweet CharlotteHavilland (being great friend of Davis) decided to take her place.

The movie itself worked out beautifully. It was the seventh highest grossing film of 1964, and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for the always brilliant Agnes Moorehead. The only downside to the movie was the similarities to Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte received mostly positive reviews, but if it would have been a different director/producer and a different leading actress, I think this movie would have received even better reviews than it did. . Of course without Davis and Aldrich it wouldn’t have been nearly as goodHush Hush Sweet Charlotte of a movie either.

A sure way to make a great movie is to team Bette Davis with Olivia de Havilland. Then just for good measure, grab Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor, and make sure every scene is filled with as much talent as possible. I had never seen Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte before, but I definitely will be watching it again, regularly. It was beautifully filmed, well-written, superbly acted and great fun for a dark house in the middle of the night!

 

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

★★★★

 

I will try to get through our quick conversation about Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons without going off too much on any crazy tangents. Bare in mind, I said I would TRY, I am making no promises. Welles directed this movie, and it was released on July 10th 1942. It stars Joseph Cotton, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, and Agnes Moorehead.

The story is about a man named Eugene (Cotton), who is in love with Isabel (Costello). Isabel decides not to marry him because of a drunken mistake one night. Instead, she gets married to someone else, and has a spoiled rotten son named George (Holt). Eugene then marries and has a daughter named Lucy (Baxter). Fast forward twenty years and Eugene is now a widower, who seems to be contemplating marriage to Isabel’s sister, Fanny (Moorehead). Isabel, also, realizes that she doesn’t love her husband. Then Isabel’s husband dies, and it is time for everyone to wonder who Eugene will really marry. Meanwhile, George thinks he is in love with Lucy, but when he finds out that the town is spreading improper rumors about his mother and Eugene, he becomes angry and begins to try to protect his family.

Well, I think that’s the story. At least part of the story, it’s really hard to say exactly what is going on, because there is a hour of the movie that just flat out isn’t there. When Orson Welles made The Magnificent Ambersons he was fresh off his success with Citizen Kane, and he was ready to take his film making to the next level. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, when he turned in his first cut of the movie, the studio, who had the authority to re-edit, took the 148 minute version, and chopped, sliced, hacked, and pulled apart his movie, so that it could be seen as the 88 minute “half-movie” that is now available. Doesn’t that sound appealing? The worst part is Orson Welles is the only person known to have had his full cut of the movie, but the studio sent it to him while he was in South America, and nobody knows what happened to it. The studio (RKO) burned all of their copies to free up space in their vaults. I would like to think Orson Welles’ copy is sitting somewhere, waiting to be found and brought to my doorstep.

Now to talk about the good part of the movie. The acting is great. As with all Orson Welles movies, everybody in the cast knows what they are doing. The professionalism of the actors shows in the final product. Agnes Moorehead, as Isabel’s sister, Fanny, is particularly great. The cinematography is also extremely well done. Stanley Cortez made 70 something movies in his career, and he is truly an incredibly talent. Robert Wise was the editor, as he was with Citizen Kane. Unfortunately, he was involved in the “new cut” of the movie, and even re-filmed some of the new scenes for RKO, including the new “happy” ending, without Welles help. In total, The Magnificent Ambersons was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Moorehead). It was Orson Welles’ second movie, and his second Best Picture nominee. On The Magnificent Ambersons he wrote the screenplay, produced, narrated, and directed.

I have heard and read about this movie most of my life. Some people said it was better than Citizen Kane. I have been waiting passionately to see it for a long time. It was released on video in the 1980’s, but was not released on dvd for years. In September 2011, The Magnificent Ambersons became available exclusively on Amazon, in a two set with Citizen Kane, on blu-ray. Then in January 2012, it became available by itself. By now, it would be hard to live up to the expectations in my mind, and I’m sorry to say that I was disappointed overall. What you can see is great, it’s what we don’t see that is so disappointing. If you’re interested in seeing what happens when you stifle a brilliant director’s imagination, then you can buy this movie on Amazon for around 11 dollars.