A damned good western. I’ve now watched six Anthony Mann films from the 1950’s, and all six have been terrific. Further exploration is needed. Here we’ve got guilty ex-criminal James Stewart leading a group of settlers through increasingly hostile territory. Stewart meets kindred spirit Cole (Rancho Notorious star Arthur Kennedy) and they deal with arrow-shooting natives early on… rest of the hostility comes from white men in a gold rush who’d like to murder the settlers and/or steal their supplies, led by a mutinous Cole.

The group stops in Portland (which looks different these days) to buy supplies, drops off the arrow-wounded Laurie (Julie Adams) to recover. She seemed fond of Cole earlier, and when Stewart returns to Portland months later to find out why their supplies haven’t arrived, she’s shacking up with gambler Rock Hudson. Stewart causes trouble and they have to make a quick escape on a steamboat run by Chubby Johnson and Stepin Fetchit. Eventually Stewart has proven himself again and again, earning the trust of wagon train leader Jay Flippen and the love of his daughter Laurie (Rock barely seems to notice she’s gone, making eyes at her younger sister).

Lightly charming, stylish-looking comedy with a terrific performance by a neurotic Tony Randall. It’s a mistaken-identity plot with Doris Day as a supposedly high-powered executive and Rock Hudson as a supposedly slack party animal who underhandedly steals her clients, but the movie wastes no time eroding Doris’s power with its regressive sexual politics. Still in her thirties, Doris already seemed out of place in this innuendo-filled movie set in the immoral realm of advertising.

Doris and Rock (reuniting from Pillow Talk) run client accounts for competing NYC ad firms. He’s got trouble with party girl Rebel (Edie Adams of The Apartment) so shoots her in TV ads for a fake product (Vip) to shut her up. Randall is Rock’s boss, a spoiled rich guy who inherited the company but is unable to make decisions. To please his psychiatrist, Randall makes a decision: to air the Vip ads. Now Rebel is a star and everyone wants Vip, which doesn’t exist (the movie is quite cynical about the American public). So Rock hires a nobel-winning scientist to invent anything and call it Vip (he invents cheap candy wafers that get you drunk), while Doris mistakes Rock for the scientist and spends half the movie trying to win the Vip account from him, while Rock uses the opportunity to get her into bed and steal her advertising ideas.

Also featuring Alice from The Brady Bunch as Doris’s secretary, Jack Oakie (fake Mussolini in The Great Dictator) as the Southerner whose ad account Rock wins in an early scene by getting him drunk and throwing him a confederate-themed party, and Jack Kruschen (who acted with Doris in Caprice) as the real scientist, a prickly independent inventor who turns out to be easily bought out (again with the cynicism).

Katy’s take: “Oh Doris Day, why do you hate women?”

Why have I gotten Seconds and Targets confused? I wondered why Boris Karloff wasn’t listed in the opening titles, figured he’d be an unannounced surprise guest star or something. No matter.

Shot by madman James Wong Howe:

Arthur (John Randolph) is a middle-aged married guy, gets a call from his long-dead friend, follows instructions and ends up caught in a secret surgical cult. Prominently-eyebrowed Jeff Corey (sheriff in the Butch Cassidy movies) lays out Arthur’s options: let them remake him as Rock Hudson, or release him along with the life-destroying sex tape they shot while he was drugged.

Post-surgery, “Tony” (Rock Hudson) lives on a lovely beach house with a dedicated butler/watcher (Wesley Addy, Ralph Meeker’s disapproving boss in Kiss Me Deadly), works on his paintings all day. This plus massive surgery is what $30k bought in the sixties? He attends a naked wine orgy with the neighbors but doesn’t really feel like socializing, and has a tendency to shout about his former life when drunk – turns out all his neighbors are also middle-aged losers with new bodies and lives (Reborns).

John Frankensteimer:

Rock meets a cute girl (Salome Jens, title star of Angel Baby) on the beach, but this and the parties and paintings aren’t cutting it, so he sneaks off to check on his wife (this is a year after becoming Rock) and is recaptured by the company and united with his “dead” friend (Murray Hamilton, mayor of Jaws). Both Rock and his friend “died” in their previous lives in some awful, disfiguring accident, some dope’s body substituted for their own. Now they waste their days in an office, waiting to be the dope body for some other guy’s midlife crisis dream-come-true. Depressing movie, kinda.

Frankenheimer, a few years after Manchurian Candidate, gets a neat effect by attaching the camera to walking actors, exactly as done in Pi. Supposedly this is the third in a “paranoia trilogy”, with Seven Days in May the middle piece.


D. Sterritt:

When much of American pop culture was infatuated with the swinging, psychedelic 1960s, John Frankenheimer was focused on the decade’s darker side—the sour aftertaste of McCarthyism, the expanding military-industrial complex, the growing sense that technology might be controlling us instead of the other way around. … An early clue to the Company’s sinister nature is its shifty way of inducing Arthur to sign up. Instead of inveigling him with Faustian rewards of sex, glamour, and fulfillment, the Company stresses the emptiness of his current life, making him gaze into its vacant, lusterless eyes until he’ll do anything to look away.

Holy awesome, an incredible movie. The actors are OUT there, Rock Hudson all repressed, Dorothy Malone all seething sexuality, Robert Stack extreme in everything he does, and poor Lauren Bacall ping-ponging all over the place. The sweeping style announces itself right at the start with the best windstorm since David Copperfield, a speeding car and gunshots (movie starts at the end, just like all movies do today). Tons of over-the-top comic moments that had our appreciative audience chuckling (or howling, as in the ending when Malone suggestively strokes a phallic oil-well model while thinking about Rock).

Apparently based on the death of RJ Reynolds’ son. Robert Stack, fresh off Sam Fuller’s House of Bamboo (and doesn’t this movie display some Fuller-esque drama) plays the son and ROCK is his hard-working best-bud wingman. Rock (in the middle of a streak of Sirk films) is tied to Stack’s family but would like to get out and do something for himself. Dorothy (Artists and Models, Colorado Territory) is Stack’s spoiled, slutty sister who has always been in love with Rock. And Lauren (The Big Sleep, etc) is a hot thing first noticed by Rock but violently wooed away and married by Stack. The less-than-proud father of the big oil family is Robert Keith (Lt. Brannigan in Guys and Dolls).

When Lauren can’t conceive, Stack’s penis is blamed and in shame he turns to wild drinking and loutish behavior. Rock’s and Dorothy’s pent-up love issues can’t be contained and the thing explodes into a violent, windy passion when Stack beats his wife causing her to lose their baby (which he believes is Rock’s), and Dorothy accidentally shoots her brother in a fight. Closing court scene gives a somewhat believable happy ending (Dorothy has a chance to lock up Rock, but she proves herself an alright gal by setting him free).

Movie is gorgeous and wonderful. Sirk called it “a film about failure”. Laura Mulvey says the film “responds to these failures and frustrations by crowding the screen with answering images from the overtly Freudian to flamboyantly cinematic lighting, color and decor.” At oscar time, Dorothy Malone won best supporting actress, Robert Stack was beaten by Anthony Quinn, and Rock was nominated for Giant instead.

Mulvey again, on the greatest part of the movie:

In one of the film’s key moments, she performs a wild solo dance of rebellion in her bedroom. As her loud, jazzy music fills the house, her father slowly climbs the sweeping staircase, only to collapse and fall to his death. With Sirk’s instinct for melodrama (in the literal sense of music plus drama), the intercutting between the spaces occupied by father and daughter quickens to create an innovative, cinematic rhythm for a montage sequence that was rare in studio-system Hollywood.

Feb 2017: Watched it again with Katy, who was impressed and disturbed by all the psychology on display and isn’t sure what to think about this Sirk fella anymore.