For The American Scholar, I’ve posted short essays on the movies listed here, with brief excerpts from each:
— Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear
https://theamericanscholar.org/the-shadow-of-evil/#.Xn5LrNJKiM8 (“The Shadow of Evil”)
<<< Horror is what we feel witnessing the aftermath of a fatal car wreck. Terror is what we feel in anticipation of something terrible that has not yet happened.
What Cape Fear (1962) offers is a pure example of a third kind of sensation, one that attracts even as it repels: menace. Menace is Robert Mitchum as Max Cady, newly released from an eight-year prison sentence, a cigar in his mouth and a Panama hat on his head, into the heat of summer in a small, southern town. Cady embodies evil and Mitchum embodies Cady, a character who is as cunning as he is vicious.
Although he plays an unreformed sex offender who beats up women and has no business gaining control of the viewer’s attention, Cape Fear is Mitchum’s picture from the moment he appears on the scene, confronting the attorney who put him behind bars. “Hello, Counselor. Remember me?” Cady is back with a vengeance. >>
— William Holden, in two POW films, Stalag 17 and The Bridge on the River Kwai
The slam-bang conclusion of The Bridge on the River Kwai is magnificent, and I shall say nothing more about it here except to reveal that the movie’s last word is “madness!” At the end of Stalag 17, Sefton takes wire-cutters to cut through the barbed wire, rescue a lieutenant the Germans want to kill, and guide the two of them to freedom. Duke: “The crud did it.” Harry Shapiro: “I’d like to know what made him do it.” Animal: “Maybe he just wanted to steal our wire cutters. Ever think of that?” >>>
<<< A great scene: lovesick Peggy confronts her parents, saying they can’t understand her because they “never had any trouble.” To which Milly responds, turning to Al: “We never had any trouble. How many times have I told you I hated you, and believed it in my heart? How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me, that we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?”
I am always moved by a scene in which Fred climbs aboard a discarded bomber, his “office” during the war, which is now rusting in an aircraft boneyard. The scene has no words, just music, as Fred sits and stares into his turbulent past and blank future. This may be my favorite moment in the film, but there are others very nearly as affecting, including the one in which, at a formal dinner of bank officers and trustees, Al gulps down too many highballs but manages not to hiccup when he makes a speech that begins unsteadily but ends with eloquence. >>>
<<< Gentleman’s Agreement is one of two late 1940’s pictures that wrestle with the ugliness of anti-Semitism. The other is Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire, also from 1947, a noir featuring three Roberts: Robert Young as an investigator, Robert Mitchum as a friend of a suspect, and Robert Ryan as a demobilized soldier who brutally murders the hospitable Jewish man whom he and his army buddies meet in a bar. But while Crossfire centers on a homicide for which the only motive is drunken anti-Semitism, Gentleman’s Agreement deals with the sort of suburban, exclusionary anti-Semitism practiced by those who claim that “some of my best friends are Jews.” >>>