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,
Matin Scorsese reflects on lockdown. He uses superb images from Hitchcock´s The Wrong Man of Henry Fonda being locked up, unjustly, bewilderingly, frighteningly, shadowy bars encircling Fonda´s handsome face. Scorsese uses a similar trope on his own face at the beginning, shadows from the blinds in front framing his face. Behind him, the video monitor offering a choice of films to project. He then reflects on what we can learn from this lockdown about our loved ones, the value of existing, of merely breathing, if we can. The images he chooses to end his lockdown diary are from Siodmak´s The Killers with Burt Lancaster´s Swede, in jail after having taken the rap for Kitty (Ava Gardner) holding on to her green kerchief with the harp on it, dreaming of her. The sequence begins 4.20 min into the film with the Swede asking Reardon (Vince Barnett), his cellmate, how come he knows so much about the stars. An interesting sequence to end the lockdown diary with.
You can see a longer version of the scene, and in better quality below. Significantly, the scene begins 48m16 seconds into a film that that is 1h44m long, i.e. almost bang on in the middle of the film. It´s Reardon´s flashback, and his equanimity is not shared by the Swede, feverish with anxiety and worry about not hearing from Kitty. Scorsese´s choice of ending and beginning gives a particular resonance to his lockdown musings. But those who know The Killers will know that the Swede comes out of jail only to have all his hopes dashed, to walk into another type of prison, and that he´s lonely, forlorn and hopeless, in a situation with no way out. After the Swede´s first jailing, his first lockdown, the only solution he can find for his problems is to wait for someone to come and kill him.
With thanks to Andrew Moor for bringing Scorsese´s lockdown short to my attention.
Another scammy publication. I´ve now learned how to tell: the cover is numbered as p. 1. I now also see that it´s by the prolific Mandy Rennie. I can´t quite call it a vanity production, firstly because the book itself is so badly produced, and secondly because you have to go to Amazon to find the name of the author: it´s nowhere in the book itself. What´s of interest to me is that there is a whole book on Ava and Burt, who appeared in three films together — The Killers (Siodmak, 1946), Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer, 1964) and The Cassandra Crossing (George P. Cosmatos, 1976) but, if memory serves, only share scenes in The Killers. So an interesting example of the impact of casting in one film on the popular imagination (if one can use such a loose term) across decades. And that there’s a book demonstrates that there must be a public interest in the pairing beyond myself.
Most of the photos in the book are from one photoshoot to publicise the film and are easily available online. Adrian Garvey has pointed out to me that there is considerable information on them:
…though the book does include a more complete group photo:
Neither the book,nor the link to the UMKC Special Digital Collections provides information on the photographer, so if anyone knows the name do please let me know
Burt Lancaster became a star in The Killers (1946), his very first film. There is probably a combination of many different reasons as to why: the time the film was released in, the story, the production, the role, the performance. Surely, Burt Lancaster’s looks had a lot to do with it. And on top of that, how Robert Siodmak directed cinematographer Woody Bredell to light him was surely the perfect mise-en-scène not only for his looks but for his stardom.
You can see him below as a man in the throes of suffering, physically and emotionally. In the movie, he’s looking, mainly at Ava Gardner, and to-be-looked at, by us; the desiring subject in pain pictured as that which is most desirable:
Ron Moule has pointed out to me the similarity of the image above to Bernini´s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa below:
You can see other images, only from the first forty minutes of the film, below:
Sheldon Hall informs me that The Killers was first shown on British TV under the intriguing and suggestive title, A MAN AFRAID, presumably so as not to confuse it with the 1964 Don Siegel version:
It´s extraordinary how often Burt Lancaster´s looks are referred to in his early films, even at moments when he´s not visualised as an object of desire for viewers, such as in a bar scene in the clip below from Criss Cross where Steve Thompson, the character he plays is referred to as a ´swell-looking, well-built man’:
or even by Steve´s own mother, though here admittedly to drive home to her son that he can do better than Yvonne De Carlo. It´s a fascinating recurring trope in his late forties films and beyond, particularly so since he is often also depicted as the subject and one the audience is encouraged to identify with. The femme fatale, be it Ava Gardner in The Killers or Yvonne De Carlo in Criss Cross, is the objects of desire to such an extent that even swell-looking, well-built men will long for and be made to weep over them.
I love action movies. Like musicals, they’re spectacular, rhythmic, visually inventive, and something of a lost art. It’s like filmmakers have forgotten how to do a shootout or a fight or a car chase in ways that rev up the senses. For a time, no one filmed action better than John Woo. He was clearly influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville, who made films that were sparer, neater, better. Woo in turn, for better AND worse, influenced Tarantino, Rodriguez and many others. Seeing the Woo-Chow Yun-Fat films in the early nineties was a thrilling revelation: the sheer inventiveness of shot after shot, often each a surprise, the whole ‘number’ thematically coherent, the calm cool presence of Chow Yun Fat himself, the musical structure of the scenes. New, thrilling, and you only have to look at them now to see how Tarantino stole everything from Woo. I also loved how these brilliant action sequences, often designated ‘operatic’ or ‘balletic’, were in turn strung together through the most melodramatic of structures (brotherly loyalties tied by being on different sides of the law in A Better Tomorrow; the blind nightclub singer in The Killer, the hospital setting in the last part of Hard-Boiled etc.) It’s hard to pick a favourite of Woo’s films with Chow Yun-Fat but today I choose Hard-Boiled, if only for the extraordinary sequence in the tea-rooms with the canary and for the equally extraordinary hospital shoot-out scene at the end. These are films that made me think of the visual sublime in films of that period, the way the camera would show violence and brutality, slow it down to make you see the beauty of the bodies and bullets in motion, and then cut from slow motion to normal speed…and splat! Awe and terror at the beauty and horror that is, followed by death, but in Woo’s case also accompanied by great wit. Some of the best action sequences ever filmed.