An illustration of Burt Lancaster’s star persona from 1946-1949, as if dreamed by Steve Thompson in Criss Cross: a man back from war and traumatised, desiring and doomed, imprisoned by the past and also because he did something wrong once; physically powerful but none too smart; beaten, manipulated, masochistic, punished, on the run; in a world he can’t understand; delirious and raging.
This is a continuation of my attempts to learn video editing and was a means through which I learned about zooms, blurring and waves. The parameters were that I would use no voice-over, insert clips from all his late forties films (though they only get named, upon their first appearance) and re-anchor periodically to Steve Thompson in the hospital scene from Criss Cross. Some of the transitions are still too rough, and I would have fixed them had I had more time, but cumulatively I think the video presents a vivid picture of Burt Lancaster’s star persona in the late forties and offers a variegated depiction of masculinity in crisis,
When I saw the above at the opening of Rope of Sand (1949), I immediately assumed I´d be watching a Warners film. That´s where the combination of Henreid, Rains and Lorre would normally be seen in a 40s films, as you might recognise from Casablanca. But it´s not: Rope of Sand is a Paramount film.
This led to two thoughts. The first is that in all the current talk of ‘world-building’ in cinema we should recognised that the studio system offered a short-cut to such worlds. Of course, in a sense, each film creates its own world, like but unlike hours. Yet there´s also a sense that an MGM world is very different in the 40s from a Paramount or Universal one. And it´s not just that they had their own set of distinctive designers, cameramen, processing etc. but also that they had a distinctive grouping of supporting players that peopled those sets, wore those customs, took the different types of light in different ways. Lorre in the 40s was Warners just as William Demarest was Paramount
The second thought is that Burt Lancaster´s career is key to an understanding of changes in Hollywood brought on by the 1948´s Paramount decree and the coming of television. He was under contract to Hall Wallis at Paramount from 1946, became a star in his first picture — The Killers –at the height of the studio system. Yet in the years from 1946 to 1951, he starred in Paramount Pictures through his Wallis Contract (Desert Fury, 1947; Variety Girl, 1947, I Walk Alone, 1947; Sorry Wrong Number, 1948; Rope of Sand, 1949) in Universal Pictures through his Mark Hellinger contract (The Killers,1946;, Brute Force, 1947;, All My Sons, 1948; Criss Cross, 1949). He also starred for Warner Brothers (The Flame and the Arrow, 1950; Twentieth Century Fox Films (Mister 880, 1950);MGM Vengeance Valley, 1951); Columbia (Ten Tall Men). And he´d already produced his own film, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948).
Thus in five short years, Burt Lancaster had inhabited the various world associated with most of the major studios and created his own production company, something unthinkable just a few years before. Starring for different studios would become the norm for stars in the following decades but by then, even as movies kept being produced, often by the stars themselves, studios slowly ceased to connote distinctive´worlds’ .
Burt Lancaster not only can ‘bear the burden of sexual objectification’ but he gets propositioned all the time in cinema, even when it´s for nefarious purposes such as Corinne Calvet´s here. Note how he´s lit,to maximise what Calvet and the audience might see in him, and note how he insists on his retirement, the focus on his desirability unusual, even in a leading man, the assertion of his ´retirement´an insistence and return to rigid gender roles. :