Lure of the Wilderness (1952)

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I was in here six years afore I found my way out. In the early 1900s, Zack Tyler (Tom Tully) and his son Ben (Jeffrey Hunter) are fur trappers living near Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. In the course of searching for their dog in the swamp they discover Jim Harper (Walter Brennan), a fugitive who has been unjustly accused of a killing, and his daughter, Laurie (Jean Peters), who has developed very few social skills due to her 8 years spent living in the wild. Zack becomes convinced of Jim’s innocence and attempts to set up a proper criminal defence, while Ben and Laurie begin to fall in love. But Dave Longden (Jack Elam) smells a rat and starts to think like the lynch mob that drove out the Harpers all those years ago…  What did we ever do to you ones on the outside to get this?Adapted by Louis Lantz from Vereen Bell’s 1941 novel Swamp Water (previously adapted by Jean Renoir and also starring Brennan, Walter Huston, Dana Andrews and Anne Baxter), this is a colourful, lyrical action-adventure tale, getting the full-blooded Twentieth Century-Fox treatment including an OTT score by Franz Waxman. Director Jean Negulesco always had an eye for the worthy visual (even if the Technicolor might mute the Southern Gothic sensibility) but he was not noted for his interaction with performers.  However Brennan is always worth watching and hearing him perform a song and witnessing him wrestle a ‘gator is worth the price of admission. Irish actress Constance Smith has a small but meaty role as Zack’s feisty jilted girlfriend and the fight she inspires between Hunter and her new beau helps the film attain the kind of liveliness this material demands. The midpoint sequence is the best – the murk of the swamp comes to wild life as Hunter and the darkly enchanting Peters get to know each other a little better. Just like coming back to life

 

Anne of the Indies (1951)

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Have no fear – you’re under my protection! After Captain Anne Providence (Jean Peters), notorious female pirate captain of the Caribbean, picks up Pierre (Louis Jourdan), he claims he can find a treasure map in Jamaica. Some of her associates think he’s a traitor, but Anne has fallen in love with him. When she sails the Sheba Queen to Jamaica, Pierre goes inland to locate the map but secretly meets with British Navy officers, who have forced him to spy on the infamous Edward Teach better known as Blackbeard (Thomas Gomez ) and Anne.  He is really Captain LaRochelle, a former pirate captain.  When Anne finds out she swears revenge by kidnapping Pierre’s wife  Molly (Debra Paget) and planning to sell her into slavery ...  Blackbeard never forgets an insult. It’s not the best looking pirate film as the colour’s a little clogged and the darkness overwhelms the costuming and tone but it’s a fast-moving, lively affair, with plenty of opportunity for scenery-chewing.  On that front, Gomez takes the cake with Herbert Marshall running a close second as Dr Jameson. There are good sea battles and even a bit of bear wrestling. You’ll fetch one hundred English pounds, at least 99 more than you’re worth! The female rivalry is something to behold, redeemed by a great sacrifice at the fiery conclusion. Fun stuff that could have been a lot longer, given the real-life antecedents. Written by Philip Dunne, Arthur Caesar and Cyril Hume from a story by Herbert Ravenel Sass. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. No man sails with me who no longer respects me

 

Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

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These girls in love never realise they should be dishonestly honest instead of honestly dishonest. American secretary Maria (Maggie McNamara) is a newcomer to Rome, seeking romance. I’m going to like Rome at any rate of exchange, she declares. She moves into a spacious apartment with a spectacular view of the city, with agency colleague Anita (Jean Peters) and the more mature Frances (Dorothy McGuire) who’s working for the reclusive novelist (Clifton Webb). They fling their coins into Rome’s Trevi Fountain, each making a wish. Maria is pursued by dashing Prince Dino di Cessi (Louis Jourdan) whom she steadfastly deceives about her origins and interests which she regrets upon meeting his mother; Anita finds herself involved with a forbidden coworker, translator and wannabe lawyer Giorgio (Rossano Brazzi) on an eventful trip to a family celebration at their mountain farm; and Frances receives a surprising proposal from her boss John Frederick Shadwell (Clifton Webb) for whom she has nursed a well-known crush since she came to Rome 15 years earlier. They move through the worlds of society, art and music. But there are complications – not to mention strings attached, which prove surprisingly moving. All three women return to the Trevi where the water is switched on again, as though just for them … Adapted by John Patrick from John H. Secondari’s novel, this is the glossy, beautiful movie that brought tourists in their millions to Rome, its Technicolor process luxuriantly wallowing in the staggering architecture and location scenery heightened by CinemaScope. From the title tune by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn (delivered by Sinatra), to the pure romance (with some surprisingly tart insights about feminine deception and compromise) and gorgeous scene-setting, this is just dreamy. Directed by Jean Negulesco.

Apache (1954)

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Diversity is a troublesome moniker as yet – Robert Putnam concealed the results of his study for years for fear of alienating his leftist paymasters:  it doesn’t work, communities fail, charity nosedives and people don’t thrive. Effectively, we all do better among our own. (It’s not rocket science, bub.) In terms of how Indians were dealt with as a cinematic phenomenon it was tackled afresh and quite radically in a series of Fifties westerns with an enduring theme – how to reconcile opposing cultures on the same piece of land. Geronimo surrenders and one of his braves Massai (blue-eyed Burt Lancaster) would prefer to be given an honourable death rather than carry on as a whupped Indian living between two distinctly different worlds.He goes on the run from a prison train with Nalinle (Jean Peters) and battles it out with his own as well as the Army. The original ending to the screenplay adapted by James R. Webb from Paul Wellman’s novel was too tough even under the direction of legendary Robert Aldrich – Massai is shot in the back by federal troops. So a more uplifting lie was created, what we call a Hollywood Ending. Sometimes the truth is just a plain picture. With a notable performance by John McIntire and an early appearance by Charles Bronson (Buchinsky), Lancaster produced with Harold Hecht. Not for the PC crowd.

Niagara (1953)

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Marilyn Monroe’s makeup man, Whitey Snyder, never did get to learn the secret to her glossy lips – that she kept to herself. And they’re the first natural attraction you admire here – as she feigns sleep in the motel room while her psychologically disturbed Army vet husband Joseph Cotten prowls around, convinced she’s cheating on him. She lies in a tangle of bedsheets, clearly nude, teasing him. Another couple is due to take over their cabin but Monroe says her husband is too disturbed right now. And Jean Peters, the wife, sees her in a clinch with a hot young hunk at the Falls. She reports the sighting to hubby Max Showalter who can appreciate Monroe’s derriere. She does an awful lot of walking in constrained costume, always photographed from the rear. Monroe insists that a certain record is played by the youngsters at the night-time dance and sings along, lost in a lust-filled reverie. Her plan to off hubby is signalled by another sound, the bells from a nearby tower. In a nod to Strangers on a Train, there is a clue to the crime in the men’s shoes. And Monroe doesn’t last the whole film through, foreshadowing another Hitchcock outing, but not before she’s in hospital, entirely free of sexuality, frightened, in rougher sheets, the lipgloss gone. And when Cotten returns, he holds her bejewelled lipstick case, opening it to reveal the ruby red stain that should be on her lips. It makes me think about Theresa Russell’s bustier when Art Garfunkel first sees her in Bad Timing and it has all those psychosexual connotations too. Monroe’s femme fatale in Technicolor is as great a natural phenomenon as the Niagara Falls. Sexy, sultry, sulky, sullen,  scornful, scheming. Staggeringly beautiful.