Unsettled by his experience in World War I, Lake Forest cutup Bill Murray resigns the shallow materialism of his friends and fiancee and sets out on the narrow path to spiritual enlightenment. This intensely embarrassing film clearly has great personal value for Murray (the real-life parallels become chillingly explicit when a subplot introduces a dope- and booze-addicted friend whom Murray is unable to save), but if the motivations are authentic, the result is anything but. The screenplay (cowritten by Murray and director John Byrum) shies away from specifying Murray’s spiritual achievements; instead of maturing, the character simply becomes more smug and condescending, and the movie’s ultimate subject is his fatuous self-satisfaction in the face of the other characters’ carefully delineated weaknesses. Not one moment in the film works the way it was plainly meant to. With Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, and Denholm Elliott. PG-13, 128 min.
The making and unmaking of this 1951 film were described in painful detail in Lillian Ross‘s book Picture, which was for years the definitive document on Hollywood philistinism. Certainly writer-director John Huston‘s original version would be preferable to the mangled remains (it was cut to 70 minutes during a power struggle between Louis B. Mayer and Dore Schary), though the sequences that survive suggest that Huston’s vision was not particularly compelling to begin with. It’s the earliest example of Huston’s propensity for sacrificing the humanity of his characters to artsy camera angles and distended compositions—what he gains in graphic power he loses in emotional force. With Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin, Royal Dano, and Andy Devine.
Underneath this Veronica Lake–Alan Ladd thriller (1946) lies Raymond Chandler‘s only original screenplay—a suitably hard-nosed affair about a war vet whose homecoming coincides with the murder of his unfaithful wife. Though it has the Chandler flavor and occasionally captures the feel of his sunbaked Los Angeles, the film falters under the uncertain, visually uninventive direction of George Marshall—wildly miscast here, when any vaguely sympathetic hack from Stuart Heisler to Frank Tuttle would have been just fine. With William Bendix and Howard da Silva.
A botch job by Sam Goldwyn, who exercised his power as producer by changing directors—from Howard Hawks to William Wyler—halfway through the shooting. Some sources hold that Wyler shot only the last ten minutes, working from Hawks’s script; others claim that Wyler reshot much of Hawks’s work. But the first part of the film, the best, is unmistakably Hawks, as Edward Arnold and Walter Brennan (in an early part, his first Academy Award performance) fight for the hand of Frances Farmer, against the background of the north-woods logging country. The Edna Ferber story (like her Giant) then shifts generations, and the action loses much of its scale. Farmer remains a wonder, in one of her few fully realized parts as an early and lusty version of the Hawksian woman (1936).
A journalist (arch-WASP Gregory Peck) passes as a Jew to get the inside story on anti-Semitism in America. A product of the dawning era of Hollywood’s social consciousness (1947), it earned three self-congratulatory Academy Awards — best picture, best director (Elia Kazan), and best supporting actress (Celeste Holm) — though it looks pretty timorous now. With Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, June Havoc, and Albert Dekker. 118 min.