My Gleanings

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The "young turks" and Robert Wise

Recently, I read - I cannot remember where - the statement that the young critics at Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s and 1960s "disdained" the director Robert Wise. I decided to check that situation out and I discovered that things were not quite that simple.

So Big
François Truffaut reviewed in Arts on May 19 1954. He republished that review some 20 years later in The Films in My Life. This is quoted from that review:

Robert Wise is a director of importance who came to movie making from editing (he was chief editor to Orson Welles on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons). The first film he directed, The Set-Up [sic], attracted considerable attention, and, as we look back, his succeeding films, Born to Kill and Blood on the Moon, probably did not get enough attention. Using his own particular strength, Wise has made a kind of masterpiece from this long melodrama. His power as a director leads us to overlook the rather simplistic psychology of his characters.
(The Films in My Life / by François Truffaut ; translated by Leonard Mayhew. Page 166)

Truffaut place So Big on his 10 best films list for 1954.

The film was not reviewed in Cahiers du Cinema.

Executive Suite
from Philippe Demonsablon's review Cahiers du Cinema November 1954, page 48, my translation

The beautiful rigor of The Set-Up, Executive Suite, and The Desert Rats demonstrate that he [Wise] is not only capable of establishing a dramaturgy, precise and infinitely more subtle than that of Wyler, but also of pursuing with efficiency and insight a study of character. At what moment will Wise execute the leap in which characters, human elements strictly reducible to their dramatic implications will be remade into true beings? Should he never do this, his strong personality will merit the retension of our regard.

In François Truffaut : a guide to references and resources, Eugene Walz summarizes the review of Executive Suite which Truffaut published in Arts on September 22 1954

Executive Suite is one of those films in which the producer counts as much as the director.
(page 176, note 615)

The Desert Rats
from Philippe Demonsablon's review Cahiers du Cinema January 1955, page46, my translation

Then the miracle of this work occurs or rather become apparent. The very great talent of Robert Wise, in place of yielding to the temptation for a brilliant but "oh, how easy" development on the relativity of acts and motives, the work moves into the solitude and rigorous incommunicability of adventure.

Claude Chabrol placed The Desert Rats on his 10 best films list for 1954

Destination Gobi
from Philippe Demonsablon's review Cahiers du Cinema April 1955, page 47, my translation

Destination Gobi immediately anterior to the other [The Desert Rats] figures as a sketch, a first attempt where stylization stands out less and the spontaneity of the sketch more.

from François Truffaut review of Destination Gobi published in Arts on March 9 1955

[Everett Freeman's screenplay] is an important contribution to the most important effort that's being made in script-writing—breaking out of genres... We have to think of Huston except that the playfulness and casualness are on screen rather than behind the camera. Wise's work is unusually serious, intelligent, tasteful, direct and precise.

Truffaut collected this review as he had done Wise's So Big in his The Films in My Life which is available on-line at Google Books.

From the indexes for both Godard on Godard and Julia Lesage's Jean-Luc Godard, a guide to references and resources, it can only be concluded that Jean-Luc Godard never wrote about Robert Wise.

Robert Wise thumbnail critique Cahiers du Cinema December 1955 Special Issue -- American Cinema (page 63)
(Although the thumbnails in that issue of Cahiers are not signed, Joel Magny in the bibliography for his monograph Claude Chabrol credits ths thumbnail to Chabrol. )

Pure technician, his first films were strokes of brilliance, but he seems to have had a difficulty maintaining himself at that very high level, a lack without doubt of deep inner need. His "style" finally appears as a collection of tricks which meanwhile he uses with a consummate skill. If his screenplay is bad, he saves it only superficially, by illustrating it in an extraordinarily careful fashion, and this yields Executive Suite. If it is good, it yields The Set-Up. If it is intelligent and profound, Wise finds himself exceeded and it is Born to Kill. He is man who will not disappoint, if one does not ask too much of him.

Helen of Troy
Cahiers du Cinema
did not reviewed this film but in noted in Films released in Paris in March 1956,

The Americans fall flat on thier faces always doing Latin mythology. The Greeks for them will always be Celts and their lovers will be Tristan and Isolde. Thus, they once more have filmed the opposite of The Iliad. The dialogue is very often ridiculous. Rosanna Podesta is destined in now way to play Helen. Some beautiful battle scenes. (page 63 March 1956)

The film had been considered by the conseil des dix in February 1956. among the "young turks" only Jacques Rivette was a panelist on the conseil. He bulleted the film. Four other critics bulleted the film, from Cahiers Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Pierre Kast and from other venues Georges Sadoul and Jean de Baroncelli. The film received a total of two stars, one each from André Bazin and Simon Dubreuilh.

Tribute to a Badman
The October 1957 issue of Cahiers du Cinema noted the release of this film in Paris in the "Films released in Paris" section with the terse comment, "The worst film by Wise"

In the conseil des dix, the film managed only three stars, two from Henri Agel and one from Positif's Robert Benayoun. Two "young turks", Jean-Luc Godard and Charles Bitsch bulleted the film. The third "young turk" on the panel, Jacques Rivette abstained, as did André Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, J-P Vivet, Georges Sadoul, and Pierre Braunberger.

Somebody Up There Likes Me
Reviewed by Luc Moullet in April 1957 (page 52), a quote

In Hollywood, when they want to make a new work in the famous national "tradition of quality", they call on, if Wyler or Daniel Mann demand too much, one of these two great artisans who debut in the shadow of the great Orson, Robert Wise or Mark Robson.

This film received 6 stars from the conseil des dix, including one from François Truffaut, and from non-Cahiers critics, Henri Agel (1), Jean de Baroncelli (1), Georges Sadoul (1), and France Roche (2). Eric Rohmer was the lone bullet.

When I had originally published this post, I had not been able to find any evidence in Cahiers du Cinema that either Until They Sail or This Could Be the Night both Wise films and both released in the USA in 1957 and in Europe about a year later had ever been released in France. Since then, while trying to run down the release of William Wyler's The Children's Hour, I found that This Could Be the Night had been released in France in late 1961 some four after its release in America and three after it was released in Europe, And then, while trying to find information about the film critic Raymond Borde, I was lead to the site for the Cinématheque de Toulouse which he founded and there I discovered the Cineressources site, where I was able to find the French release date for Until They Sail which had been released in France in the spring of 1961, likewise long after its USA and European release.

Until They Sail
The "Films released in Paris" section of the May 1961 issue of Cahiers du Cinema capsulize this film:

The romantic adventures (with GIs) of four Englishwomen in New Guinea (sic). Wise abandons his customary tricks in favor of undiluted platitiude.

On the conseil des dix, two Cahiers critics - Eric Rohmer and André Labarthe - gave the film 1 star and two others - Jacques Rivette and Jean Douchet - bulleted the film. Four non-Cahiers critics - Jean de Baroncelli, Morvan Lebesque, Claude Mauriac and Georges Sadoul - gave it 1 star for a total of 6 stars while the other non-Cahiers critics - Michel Aubriant and Pierre Marcabru - bulleted the film.

Note added February 19: As happens so often, while I was searching for some information on another film, I found the information on This Could Be the Night (Cette Nuit ou jamais). The film was not released in France until 1961, about 5 years after its American release. Also, its French title was Cette Nuit ou jamais which is not to be confused with Michel Deville's Ce Soir ou jamais which translates pretty much the same. Deville's film was released in Paris about two months later.

This Could Be the Night
Not reviewed in Cahiers. The comment in the "Films released in Paris" section in September 1961 read:
A virginal schoolteacher becomes a secretary in a nightclub and wishes to remain so. This standard situation and these standard characters have found an adequate director.

In the conseil des dix that month, Jean Douchet gave the film 1 star while Jacques Rivette, Bertrand Tavernier, and Michel Mardore all bulleted the film. Luc Moullet, Fereydoun Hoveyda, and André Labarthe all abstained. (End of summer conseils were usually dominated by Cahiers regulars.) Henri Agel gave the film 2 stars.

Run Silent, Run Deep

Not reviewed in Cahiers. The blurb in the "films released in Paris" feature for in the August 1958 issue of Cahiers read:

Conflict of authority inside an American submarine. Middling surpriser and agreeable photography. Without pretentions, but without style.

Appears not to have been considered by the conseil des dix.

I Want To Live
Not reviewed in Cahiers. The blurb in the "films released in Paris" feature in the June 1959 issue of Cahiers read:

Reconstruction, according to journalists of the trial and execution of Barbara Graham, six years ago. The first half hour - the dissolute life of Barbara Graham - exasperates by its conventions, the second - the trial - interests by its procedure, the third - the execution - chills and shocks by its precision. One leaves reeling, lacking any taste for esthetic discussion. Unfortunately, susan Hayward remains an actress right up to the last jolt.

On the conseil des dix, the film was given a total of 6 stars. Jacques Rivette awarded it 2 stars, while Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard each gave it 1 star. Philippe Demonsablon and Henri Agel also gave it 1 star. Fereydoun Hoveyda and Luc Moullet bulleted the film while Charles Bitsch, Jacques Demy and André Martin abstained.

Odds Against Tomorrow
Not reviewed in Cahiers. The blurb in the "films released in Paris" feature for March 1960 read:

Police film with anti-rascism pretentions. It does not merit the the great reception that most of our confreres have given it. Interesting photography of New York and its environs.

On the conseil des dix, the film was given a total of 7 stars. Of the 4 Cahiers regulars on the panel Jacques Rivette and Jean Domarchi each gave it 1 star. Le Monde's Jean de Baroncelli gave the film 2 stars while Pierre Braunberger, Pierre Macabru and Georges Sadoul each gave it 1 star. The other 2 Cahiers regulars on that panel - Eric Rohmer and Luc Moullet - both abstained. Henri Agel and Claude Mauriac also abstained. No one bulleted the film.

West Side Story
This film was considered by François Weyergans in a double review with the Robert Drew/Richard Leacock documentary Primary in the June 1962 issue of Cahiers. Weyergans wrote in part,

West Side Story and Primary are like electronic calculation and mental calculation. On one side, premeditated invention and attention to detail, on the other side, immediate invention and improvisation. That is to say the difference between art and document.

Weyergans review makes almost no mention of Wise.
Among the Cahiers regulars on the conseil des dix that month, Jacques Rivette gave the film 3 stars, Michel Mardore and Michel Delahaye gave it 2 stars and Jean Douchet gave it 1 star. From the non-Cahiers contingent, Michel Aubriant gave the film 3 stars and Georges Sadoul gave it 2 stars.

Jacques Rivette listed the film as one of the 10 best films for 1962. Three other names more associated with film direction also listed the film among their 10 best for 1962 in that february 1963 issue of Cahiers du Cinema -- Jacques Demy, Bertrand Tavernier and Jean-Pierre Melville. Critics Jean-Louis Bory, Michel Aubriant, Jean de Baroncelli, and Henri Agel also listed the film in their respective 10 best lists.

Two for the Seesaw
Louis Marcorelles review appears on pages 68-70 of the November 1963 issue of Cahiers du Cinema. In that review, he wrote,

Wise has not cheated the conventions of the genre by artificial techniques which, in his work, too often mask his own uncertainty as to subject and actors.

The film was given 11 stars on the conseil des dix. Jacques Rivette and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze both gave the film 1 star. Henri Agel gave the film 3 stars.

The Haunting
Not reviewed in Cahiers, the comment in the "films released in Paris" section read,

If you want to make someone afraid, it is necessary to clearly chose between convention (which the script tries to avoid) and rigor (which the direction obstinately flees.)

In the conseil des dix, Jacques Rivette, Michel Delahaye and Jean Douchet all abstained. Positif's Robert Benayoun gave the film 3 stars.

Robert Wise Thumbnail -- American Cinema special issue Dec63/Jan64 page 178 credited to Pierre-Richard Bré.

No one, other than Melville, still dreams of paying him honors. He has, and for a longtime, a masterpiece to his credit - The Set-Up - owing to his audacity of the exoticism of shock of a milieu then little explored. After this knock-out, the heavyweight of American film returned to the canvas with Somebody Up There Likes Me. The merit of the ring was to accentuate better the qualities - that is, the faults - of this eternal editor who is forever recovering from his falls. First, the heaviness, accumulating from an inexorable seriousness and a pitiless boredom. It cannot be said that he makes short work of his punches or his cuts, since, in Odds Against Tomorrow, despite the lively score of the great Duke [sic], you do not know know if these are shots which last too long or if anything is happening. Nevertheless, there is West Side Story. It is necessary to render unto Robbins that which is Robbins' -- the impulse, the dancers, the grace, the force. And to Wise, that which is Wise's - the impulse of the cut dancers, the absence of air around the gestures or life around the hearts. all that he knows how to do with his fingers, with his fists is to lay, shot after shot, each sequence in the can. But wise knows only one continuity, that of easy effects and showing off. More intelligent, he might have simply let Robbins film the dances, more unthinking, he would have done the same. That is to say, he is not mean but only bothersome.
Note: actually the score for Odds Against Tomorrow is credited to Modern Jazz Quartet pianist, John Lewis.

The Sound of Music
Jean-André Fieschi's short review in the "Films released in Paris" section of Cahiers in March 1966 ended,

The Sound of Music, itself, justifies the addition to the conseil des dix of a sixth category, "not to see under any pretext"

Unsurprisingly, Fieschi went on to bullet the film in that month's conseil des dix, as did Michel Delahaye and Jean-Louis Comolli. Among the non-Cahiers critics on the panel, Robert Benayoun (Positif), Jean-Louis Bory (Arts), Henri Chapier (Combat) and George Sadoul (Les Lettres Françaises) also bulleted the film. The film collected a total of 2 stars, Albert Cervoni (France Nouvelle) and Michel Aubriant (Candide), each giving it 1 star.

The Sand Pebbles
For the "films released in Paris" section of the April 1967 of Cahiers, Jacques Bontemps wrote,

Between two free-for-alls, the crewmembers of this gunship ask themselves questions which would want to have a contemporary resonance, The tedium that we experience here is only the irritating for it. There is a flatness and a conformism that lights only feebly the Bergmanesque face (Ingrid, not Ingmar) of Candace Bergman.

Bontemps then went on to bullet the film in that month's conseil des dix, among other Cahiers regulars, Jean Narboni also bulleted the film, Michel Delahaye gave it 1 star and Michel Mardore abstained.
Henri Chapier and Michel Aubriant also gave the film 1 star. Albert Cervoni and Georges Sadoul bulleted the film.

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