Movie Diary 5/7/2023

The Big Country (William Wyler, 1958). It doesn’t match the Jerome Moross music. The story itself – a range war – is small for such a sprawling canvas, and although Wyler creates some impressive widescreen shots, the pace is sluggish; the actors look stupefied by all those takes demanded by the director. (There’s one shot, of Charlton Heston riding up from a deep distance in the background to join Charles Bickford riding in the foreground, that predicts the famous camel-ride-from-a-pinpoint in Lawrence of Arabia.) It’s a pacifist picture, and there’s something impressive about how doggedly it sticks to the principles embodied by Gregory Peck’s newcomer to the violent west. The staging of the big fistfight between Peck and Heston, in the middle of the night in a huge empty scrubland, is ghostly, and at the end of it Peck says, “Now tell me – what did we prove?” In both that existential visual plane and the peacenik sentiment, this is a post-WWII movie. The performances are hopelessly in different keys – Carroll Baker flashing 50s neuroticism, Jean Simmons underplaying with English modesty, Burl Ives and Chuck Connors bringing the bacon as members of a stinky varmint family. The whole thing pales next to what Budd Boetticher was doing with the western in the same era. And yet I do like its idea of the absurdity of violence, and Peck’s refusal to indulge in that.

Another Woman (Woody Allen, 1988). It is certainly more bearable than its predecessor, September. But is it too much to ask that some humor exist in the serious Allen numbers? My original thoughts are here. Another idea: along with the borrowings from Ingmar Bergman, Allen’s career is regularly marked by the influence of certain mid-century texts like Death of a Salesman, especially the idea that what we see is happening in the mind of a central character, and we thus move fluidly to and from places and memories.


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