Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter (1955) is the most marvellous film. Based on the 1953 novel of the same name, by Davis Grubb, it is haunting and terrifying in equal measure, but still manages to leave the audience with hope at its conclusion. Ground-breaking for its time, it was directed by actor Charles Laughton, and while at the time it was a financial and critical failure, it is now held up as one of the great moments in cinema. Sadly, Laughton never directed another film.

By all accounts one of the things that made this film special was Laughton’s method of direction; keeping the camera rolling rather than stopping for new takes, talking with the actors instead of at them, taking on their thoughts and opinions as vital to the film.

Peter Graves did not have a large role in this film, but it was a pivotal one, as so many of his parts seem to be. He plays Ben Harper, a  man desperate to provide more for his children during the hardship of the Great Depression. To this end he robs a bank and kills two men, and hides the money where he believes no one will find it. Only he and his son know where it is. Even in prison, facing execution, he will not reveal where the money is hidden. His cell mate, disturbed preacher Harry Powell, played by the outstanding Robert Mitchum, hears Ben talking about the money in his sleep, and intends to get it any way that he can.

Peter Graves’ scenes in this film are few, but intense. We see him driving up to the house, skidding to a stop and running from the car, hiding the money and urging his son to never tell anyone where it is. We see him being brought down and cuffed by police officers, and later we see him in a convict’s outfit in a jail cell, where he meets Mitchum. One of the best things to happen for Peter Graves’ acting is a great director, and Laughton draws a marvellous character out of him; vulnerable, scared, brave, determined, and full of love. Producer Paul Gregory said of him, ‘I’d seen the young actor, Peter Graves, and thought of him for the father. He was certainly good in this. There’s an enormous under-the-surface talent in him - I still think Peter has not had his moment.’ (Jones, Preston Neal. Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter. New York: Proscenium Publishers Inc, 2002. p.90)

There’s a long passage from the book I need to reproduce here that concerns both Laughton’s style of direction and Peter Graves’ experience while filming. (I hope this is considered fair use, since it is on a non-profit blog. I would seriously suggest buying this book if you are in any way a fan of this film.)

‘The film had only been shooting for a few days, and this was Peter Graves’ first day of work as Ben Harper. When the young actor asked Laughton a question about the character, (as he subsequently related to Miss Lanchester’s researchers), “Charles . . . took him to a corner of the set, and they sat on a wooden bench and talked quietly about his part. He was gentle and soft-spoken, but he immediately got to the roots of  the problem. He had a fabulous sense of communication with actors. A real desire and an ability at talking solidly about what he wanted.” And, what impressed Graves the most, he asked the young actor for his point of view. By way of contrast, a few months previously, Graves had been acting in The Long Gray Line, a film directed by the legendary John Ford. When, at one point, Graves had started to say, “About this character, I think...” Ford said, “Shut up. Don’t think in my picture.” Now, when Laughton called, “Cut and print” on the Hunter bunk scene, Graves went over to the director and asked, “Was that alright?” Charles replied, “You don’t have to ask that question. Do you think it was alright?” “Yes,” said Graves, “I think it was.” And, at that moment, he found himself thinking of phoning John Ford ... Going from working for Ford to working for Laughton, the actor decided, was like “walking into heaven.”’ (Jones, Preston Neal. Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter. New York: Proscenium Publishers Inc, 2002. pp. 147-8)

There is one extra scene from the story which is not to be seen in the film. It is a short extra filmed for the Ed Sullivan Show, and can be found on the special edition of the dvd, in which Ben Harper is visited by his wife Willa (Shelley Winters) in prison. It’s worth buying the special edition for this scene alone, along with the other special features such as a documentary on the making of the film. The dvd contains a two and a half hour ‘treasure trove of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage,’ audio commentary, a documentary, and various interviews and other features.

Here are some promos and screenshots from the film and the Ed Sullivan Show. A lovely little collection of behind the scenes photos can be found here, on the BFI website, although only one features Peter Graves. One day, I hope to do my own screencaps of the Peter Graves parts of the film.

Ben crouches down to talk to his son John (Billy Chapin) about hiding the money,
after the robbery before the police arrive.

Charles Laughton steps in to give direction to Billy Chapin, as John Harper.

A very similar shot to the first one, as Ben talks to his son, but the positions are a little different.

In this German lobby card the police have Ben Harper on the ground and are cuffing him.
Is the officer on the left holding his head out of kindness or as restraint?

Ben with the money in one hand and the gun in the other. Oh, hands...

The first of two behind the scenes shots with Robert Mitchum. How I wish there were film of this.

This second behind-the-scenes shot also has Laughton in it.

Ben in the jail cell. I'm not sure where this screenshot came from.
I would guess here but there's no watermark on my copy.

Below is a sequence of screenshots from the Ed Sullivan Show clip featuring Peter Graves and Shelley Winters performing live as Ben and Willa Harper, as Willa visits Ben in prison. Willa begs Ben to tell her where the money is hidden, but he refuses to tell her because he doesn’t trust her to be sensible with it. This scene does not occur in the film.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Mission: Impossible S4E02 - The Numbers Game

On analysis TheNumbers Game is a pretty strong episode, but it sits uneasily with me and I don’t know why. Torin Thatcher, playing an ageing dictator, is very strong. His scheming young wife Eva, played by May Britt, is great, if perhaps a little too Scandinavian (although the accents in this are, to be honest, all over the place, zigzagging from the Baltic states, over to Sweden, down to Germany.) This is one of the perfect psyche out episodes where a man is compelled by his own insecurities and fears to do what he never believed he would. Perhaps what really hurts is that you know that with Rollin and Cinnamon on board, and a year in the past in terms of fashion, it would have just that extra edge of slick. I’m not sure what happened between early 1969 and late 69, apart from Star Trek being cancelled and the Beatles crashing towards their inevitable end, but things are taking a downturn, aesthetically. But – and this is a big but – Paris displays a lovely abundance of glossy, flopping hair and beautiful hands, and for that we can forgive him for not being Rollin. Also, we get Lee Meriwether in her first episode of this season, and don’t we wish they’d made the decision to keep her as a regular?

So why does it sit uneasily? I really don’t know. Perhaps it’s that the colours are just a little more garish, that the location shots look so undeniably Southern California, that Paris’s scar looks too much like something plastic, and the supposedly solid bunker looks like it’s built from the plywood and paint that it probably is. Perhaps it’s because the team of Barney and Willy is broken up and we don’t get any of the looks between them. You know the looks. Barney spends most of the episode mostly inactive in a tunnel, while Willy plays a lawyer, which is always hard to take. On the plus side we get Jim and Paris in uniform and arguing, Germanic (let’s leave it at that) accents aplenty, an excellent psychological erosion of a man’s mind, and a well-played bad guy. Let’s go and look at the pretty pictures.

Well, hello, Jim. Aren’t you looking rugged, with your button-down collar and rust-red tie and that rather lovely looking jacket? Jim’s at the docks. He spends a lot of time at the docks, and luckily this is early enough that he’s not wearing ill-advised check trousers and deck shoes.

Jim’s at one of those telescopes that you pay to look through. It seems rather an industrial area for one of those.

I’m sorry, but he’s just looking rather lovely with the wind ruffling his hair and the sun catching him from behind. But hey, this is a Peter Graves blog. This is what you came here for. If you came here for Leonard Nimoy, be grateful for the opportunity to gaze on two perfect men in one blog.

Jim is listening very seriously to his mission, which is to recover the number of a Swiss bank account from an ageing former dictator to prevent him from returning to power. Just the kind of mission Jim likes.

Oh good lord, Jim. Hands.

Again. Oh good lord. The only man to make smoking sexy.


*whimpers again* The only way he could be hotter in this scene would be if he were doing his ‘strolling around with his collar open and shirt sleeves rolled up’ thing.

Of course Jim and Barney are both looking very smart for the briefing, as they talk about switching Gollan’s (the dictator’s) radios.

Dr Ziegler, not so hot.

Willy is looking buff and hot too, and manages a wonderful tone of voice when talking about Gollan’s young wife Eva, ‘I’ll keep her busy.’

I bet you will, Willy.

And here’s Lee Meriwether again, as Tracey, looking glorious. It’s such a shame she wasn’t made into a permanent character.

And Paris. Finally Paris, looking rather sultry in his jacket (is that herringbone? We had a settee in that pattern) and his under-the-collar silk neckerchief. Hello, Paris.

Jim. For no reason other than eyes that are blue and a cute voice and general wonderfulness.

Gollan’s schloss looks curiously like a southern Californian mock-historical mansion. But we won’t dwell on that. Gollan’s schloss doesn’t have blue eyes or a silken neckerchief or any of those other needful things. To put things in short, Gollan’s not well, he goes off down to his underground bunker with Denesch, his plotting underling, to talk about his bank account. Blah blah, they’re not pretty. Meanwhile our doctor is coming to visit him, but he’s not pretty either. I’ll allow that Lee Meriwether is pretty, in her nurse’s uniform, but we only get a brief glimpse.

Okay, let’s have a brief cap of this pair, Gollan and Denesch in the underground bunker, which really needs Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen to come round and make it a bit more homely. Gollan is nicely played by Torin Thatcher, with a kind of dictatorial teddy bear look. Denesch has a proper Nazi villain look with his slick blondish hair, and is played by Don Francks. Denesch is trying to persuade Gollan to leave everything to him instead of his wife.

‘Vomen. Vomen are notorious for changing their mind, General,’ Denesch reminds him.

Don’t we all want a lift to a secret bunker that’s cunningly hidden behind a sliding shelf in our enormous bookcase? I know I do.

Here we all are. Tracey looks particularly hot in her nurse’s uniform and Eva, Gollan’s wife, is a perfect 1960s doll (the kind of slightly domineering type.) While Tracey and the doctor go in to work on Gollan, Eva and Denesch bitch at each other in the corridor. They are only interested in power, not in Gollan’s health, except as in regards to how soon he will die.

Tracey’s cloak and medical bag cover a multitude of sins. While the doctor attends to Gollan she is swapping his radio for the team’s rigged one, which has a tape inside to simulate war erupting.

Meanwhile... As Gollan falls seriously ill, Jim and his team are dropped off on a bridge by an ambulance. Jim is wearing a sexy uniform. It’s all good.

Men in uniform. Very nice.

Oh, Jim, do you have any right to keep being so pretty?

This may not be the best shot of it, but I’m reliably informed by a dear friend that it was seeing this rear scurrying through the undergrowth that first alerted her to the fact that there was something special in Peter Graves.

I can’t help but wonder if Barney’s thinking, ‘Hang on. They all get to scurry through the undergrowth in camo. I get bright blue overalls and red wire cutters. This isn’t fair.’ And he’d be right.

Jim helps the others up a slope so they can enter the passages behind the bunker (useful, those passages). Hey, Jim. I’d climb your rope, baby.

For once Barney wears goggles to do his awesome Barney-work. He really should wear them more often. Too often he’s there squinting up at a ceiling he’s sawing into with grit cascading into his eyes.

That’s a nasty fake scar that Paris has got.

Oh my god, Jim. (Meanwhile, up in Gollan’s room, another doctor convinces Eva and Denesch that Gollan is seriously ill and needs a tracheotomy, on site.)

Barney has the slightly smug look of a man who knows he’s awesome. As my nine-year-old says, Barney should be the star of this.

Meanwhile, Tracey looks hot while the doctor puts Gollan in an oxygen tent and steams it up nicely.

They’re in. Jim takes his helmet off. His hair is mussed. The team go about replacing radios and the like down here, too.

Our boys waiting to get into the lift. Jim looks curiously boyish.

There’s no nonsense about them. Pull back the blankets and grab the guy. Stat.

Meanwhile Paris, who has glorious hair in this episode, gets out the blow-up-Gollan. No party is complete without one. Well, if you’re having an inflatable dictator party, anyway. And I do know someone who’s been to a dictator party. Not an inflatable one, but close.

This thing really is quite freakishly realistic. Lee Meriwether says in the Mission: Impossible Dossier “One day we were filming Torin in the [oxygen] tent. We broke for lunch and forgot all about him – he’d fallen asleep.” Apparently they thought he was the dummy. (White, Patrick J. The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. (London: Boxtree, 1996), p.235)

I just like this little silent look that Jim gives Tracey as the lift door closes. I’m not sure exactly what he means by it, but I get the feeling he’s not liking leaving her up there.

Jim and Paris wonder if they really signed up for hauling old men about in enclosed spaces. As he bends to the bunk bed Jim gets a brief and unexplained feeling of being somewhere like this before, of striped suits and Robert Mitchum on the upper bunk...

Jim makes himself look dusty in preparation for Gollan coming round.

In a nice segue, up above, Eva is primping herself in a similar but opposite manner. Tracey delivers a message, ostensibly written down by Gollan before he lost consciousness, directing her to phone a certain number...

...and on the other end is Willy. Willy, the buff lawyer.

What a delightful moment as we get Jim bending over a desk, and Paris sitting on it, swinging his legs like a schoolboy. This is what Gollan sees after he comes round and staggers into the main room of the bunker.

Barney gets to sit outside in the tunnels, directing all of the television and radio broadcasts.

Jim is looking harassed and pretty.

Paris is also looking harassed and pretty, and very floppy-haired, but he’s rather more disaffected than Jim.

Poor Gollan is beside himself at the evidence that war has broken out.

Jim pretends to be peeved at Gollan’s interruption. You’d be peeved too if people had been setting off atomic bombs above ground.

So Gollan is convinced that the capital and the water reservoirs are irradiated and the country is under martial law. Unhappy.

‘What does it mean?’ he asks, and the doctor says in a hollow voice, ‘World War Three is about to begin.’

Gollan’s actor does a wonderful job of looking like a dictator who really is, in the end, a frightened man who knows he is past his use.

The doctor has Gollan on one hand and a supposedly dying man on the floor on the other. Jim’s orders are to keep him alive no matter what, using the last of the penicillin that they have, setting the scene for a conflict between Gollan’s care and the dying soldier. Jim is completely indifferent to Gollan, which is the perfect way to work on the self-important ex-dictator’s psychology.

Oh. Hand. Wrist. Sinews. Dark, shiny, floppy hair. Oh.

This needed a second screencap. Nimoy is particularly pleasing whenever he puts on his German/Russian persona, especially when he’s being a rather insubordinate wise-ass as he is here.

All Barney gets to do through all this is sit in his tunnel monitoring what’s going on inside and controlling the broadcasts. I want to say poor Barney, but really it’s the best place to be.

Meanwhile Jim is being terse and masterful, insisting the doctor treats the soldier, not Gollan.

‘You are of no military importance,’ he tells Gollan, and you can see the shock in Gollan’s eyes. We get a stand off between Jim and the doctor, and the doctor wins. Another psychological tactic to make Gollan feel the doctor is on his side.

I do love Paris’s lanky, loose, fed up bearing.

So we learn that the dying man is a colonel with vital information. Paris and Jim stage an argument to give another string to the psychological number being worked on Gollan.

Gollan really does love Eva, even though she is only using him. When Jim tells him that everyone ‘up there’ is dead he is stricken with the need to get to her. (Yes, this is a picture of Jim, and the doctor’s head, but as we’ve established, Jim is prettier than Gollan.)

Paris is still doing his phone thing, and we need a screencap of this because... Well, because. Because it’s prettier than watching Gollan trying to get to the lift to find Eva.

And still Paris is being pretty on the phone as he taunts Gollan with the answer, ‘Maybe never,’ to his question, ‘How long before we can go up there?’

Meanwhile, up on the surface, Willy is still being a buff lawyer, trying to entrap Eva into betraying herself as a self-interested money grabber who is after nothing but the number of Gollan’s Swiss bank account. Go Willy!

Meanwhile meanwhile, the doctor is about to give Gollan penicillin when Jim takes it from him, telling him it must be saved for the dying soldier. Gollan is increasingly scared and desperate.

Jim is increasingly pretty. When Gollan wails that he will die Jim says coolly, ‘Yes, this is a time of great personal sacrifice for us all.’ This is one of the great lines highlighted in the Mission: Impossible Dossier.

Paris is still doing his pretty-on-the-phone thing. Really, he should get a job as a receptionist.

Up on the surface Eva is coolly telling Denesch that ‘on my husband’s behalf I have decided to postpone the invasion indefinitely.’ I can’t honestly remember what this invasion was, but Denesch is royally peeved. This episode is chock full of psychology, pitting person against person.

Denesch has been pushed too far and is determined to go down to the bunker. Oh dear... Tracey calls down to the bunker while the ‘doctor’ stalls.

Jim has an ‘oh f*ck’ moment.

‘Trouble. Put him out fast,’ he tells the doctor. Also his hand is pretty.

It’s all going on now as they scurry to clear the bunker.

Paris rushes back for some stuff. His hair is floppy...

Jim is having to carry Gollan around again...

Denesch is nearly at the bunker...

Oops. Jim notices a helmet left behind...

He goes back but doesn’t have time to grab it, or to get back through the hole. He’s left hiding in the other room...

Denesch is as observant as a mole. Although to be fair, I’m not sure most of us would notice that helmet, and even if we did our first thought wouldn’t be that there’s a troop of people down there attempting to extract the Swiss bank account number from Gollan by devious psychological means.

Denesch is busy forging Gollan’s signature on a document passing control to him on Gollan’s death. Naughty boy.

Back in the bunker after Denesch has left, Paris is being insubordinate and floppy-haired again as Jim instructs him to try to get something on the radio.

While he’s alone in the room with Gollan he starts trying to loot it for valuables. It’s as if Gollan is already dead.

So Gollan starts trying to bribe Paris to help him... We’re getting closer. He’s offering the combination to the safe...

Paris really does look quite pretty here...

Meanwhile the doctor up top tells Denesch and Eva that Gollan is dead. Eva is not exactly overwhelmed with grief.

I don’t quite know what to do with myself at moments like this. Too much hotness. Jim gets Barney to start up a radio broadcast saying that many European cities have been destroyed.

Jim gets flashbacks to Robert Mitchum again...

And while he’s asking Gollan what’s wrong, Paris jumps him.

Paris looks masterful with Jim’s gun.

‘Give me the gun,’ Jim says. ‘Sergeant, give it to me.’ Now he’s having flashbacks to sitting in a stagecoach with a girl named Julie.

‘I will give you the gun,’ Paris retorts, ‘piece by piece, starting with the bullets.’

Paris kindly gives Jim one of the bullets. This is his ‘I am now shooting you’ face.

This is Jim’s ‘I have just been shot face.’ Oh, thighs...

Paris is unrepentant as the doctor accuses him of planning this with Gollan.

Meanwhile, Willy. He looks curiously like Paul Eddington with the grey in his hair. He’s about to give Eva the fictitious number to Gollan’s account. But Denesch challenges her, telling her of the papers (which he has forged.) So. They’ll be going to the safe again, and Willy is completely thrown out.

Paris finally has his hands on the safe, and a gun in his hand, and is furious with Gollan because the currency in there is worthless since the war began.


Of course this is all part of the design. With a gun on him Gollan is ready to hand over the number of the bank account.

Meanwhile, as the little group of Willy, Eva, and Denesch come in, Tracey senses trouble... Oh dear. Our guys only have a few moments...

Paris holds life for Gollan in one hand, death in another.

The lift is descending...

4-9-7-4-3. Gollan recites the number. Paris plays it cool, saying he could be telling him any numbers...

You can just see the lift coming down in the background, as Gollan gets the computer to confirm he’s telling the truth.

And there it is. Just as the lift doors open.

Gollan sees Eva, Denesch, and Willy step out of the lift.

Willy does his thang, and everyone gets mobile. The dead come back to life. This is a WTF moment for all of the poor hoodwinked baddies.

Because Eva is a lady the only thing she can do is grip the back of a chair.

Jim gives Gollan the, ‘well, you brought it on yourself by being a bad man,’ look, nods, and goes to leave.

Barney transmits the bank account number just in time.

This is a little diorama of dejection, because everyone has either lost something or been exposed for what they are.

Oh my god, broad shoulders...

And off they go, another mission possibled. Good work, chaps.