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).
Considering how stupid the whole idea was—to remake a Rudolph Valentino silent with Glenn Ford—this 1962 feature picture is surprisingly passable, particularly when you turn off the sound track and concentrate on the sumptuous visuals provided by Vincente Minnelli. It’s no classic, but there’s more integrity here than anyone would have a right to expect. With Ingrid Thulin, Charles Boyer, Lee J. Cobb, and the two horsemen of 40s melodrama, Paul Henreid and Paul Lukas.
Fred Schepisi‘s 1978 Australian film adheres to the classical form of the national epic, with its rhyming, foreshadowing passages, its inclusive journey motif, and its charismatic hero, whose actions bring forth the new country. But all of the values have been inverted: Schepisi’s hero is half white, half aborigine; all of his honor, sacrifice, and earnestness bring him only scorn and disaster, and finally he revolts. It’s the death of Jimmie, the last quixotic revolutionary, that gives birth to modern, white Australia. The film is formally precise and visually stunning, with strange, hollow interiors and eccentric, original wide-screen compositions against brooding landscapes. A complex experience, brewed equally from myth and irony. 122 min.
A critic-proof movie if there ever was one: it isn’t all that good, but somehow it’s great. The first part, in which the gracefully moving camera of George Cukor (soon to be replaced) establishes the ordered world of Tara in elegant visual terms, is really very fine. But the last half is all slow, desultory denouement, and the death of the little girl is the dirtiest kind of screenwriter’s trick. No one I know of has yet solved the secret of this 1939 film’s apparently timeless appeal, though I’d guess it has something to do with the elaborate mechanisms of fate, history, and sex brought to bear on Scarlett, whose overweening libido must be punished as magnificently as it has been celebrated. The striking color overlays, which are the film’s sole stylistic eccentricity, were the contribution of that cryptic auteur, production designer William Cameron Menzies. Victor Fleming signed it, though there were many, many fingers in this particular pie. 222 min.
Sergio Leone’s comic, cynical, inexplicably moving epic spaghetti western (1966), in which all human motivation has been reduced to greed—it’s just a matter of degree between the Good (Clint Eastwood), the Bad (Lee Van Cleef), and the Ugly (Eli Wallach). Leone’s famous close-ups—the “two beeg eyes”—are matched by his masterfully composed long shots, which keep his crafty protagonists in the subversive foreground of a massively absurd American Civil War. Though ordained from the beginning, the three-way showdown that climaxes the film is tense and thoroughly astonishing.