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May 08, 2006

Belated Glenn Ford Birthday Double Feature

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The Green Glove
Rudolph Mate - 1952
Alpha Video Region 1 DVD

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The Violent Men
Rudolph Mate - 1955
Columbia Pictures Region 1 DVD

Even before I knew that Glenn Ford's 90th birthday was coming up last May 1, I was planning to see The Green Glove. This was a film I vaguely recalled seeing on television when I was maybe seven years old. There was have been something about the title, more than the actual movie, that stayed in my memory. Whatever mystique Glenn Ford may have had seems to have dissipated over the years. In retrospect, it seems difficult to realize that not only was Ford a top star in the Fifties and early Sixties, but his name was enough to get films the greenlight, as illustated in Frank Capra's autobiography. While Ford's appeal as a star seems to be that of the reliable everyman, his filmography is interesting for the number of films he did, sometimes back to back, with the same director. Ford's peak as a star is bracketed by his pair of films with Fritz Lang in 1953, and two films with Burt Kennedy about 11 years later. In between are the two films with Rudolph Mate, two with Vincente Minnelli, and several with George Marshall. With The Green Glove planned, I thought it would be interesting to compare it with a second Ford film directed by Mate. It should also be noted that Mate was the cinematographer for Gilda, the film that elevated Ford to stardom. Given that Mate worked essentially as a director for hire, viewing his two films with Ford suggest that there are stylistic and thematic elements in Mate's films worthy of deeper consideration.

Rudolph Mate is remembered primarily as a cinematographer. Like several of his peers, his best work was for other directors. Mate was mostly a journeyman director. If he didn't have a distinct visual style, his films reveal touches that are reminders of some of his work with Carl Dreyer in particular. I am thinking of how often Mate places the camera to look up at his characters, or how he finds the opportunity to photograph the action in silhouette. Somewhat analagous to Dreyer, the characters Ford portrays for Mate are both outsiders in hostile environments. While The Green Glove has quasi-religious elements that make the theme more obvious, both films are about men who find redemption by placing a greater good above self-interest.

The Green Glove also boasts a Hitchcock connection with the screenplay by Charles Bennett. Ford is a down on his luck American who returns to France to recover a crusading knight's gauntlet, the green glove of the title, that he stumbled upon in World War II. Informed of the glove's great monetary value by the art collector (smuggler?) working for the Germans, Ford acquires the glove in the confusion of an attack and allows a French partisan to store the glove on his behalf. The film bears some similarity to The 39 Steps as Ford is pursued from Paris to Monte Carlo and southern France by the police who suspect Ford of murder, and the art collector's thugs seeking out the gauntlet. Ford is accompanied by Geraldine Brooks, and like The 39 Steps, there is a scene involving the unmarried couple comically forced to pose as husband and wife. Filmed on location in France, the cinematography is by Claude Renoir. The visually qualities would be better evaluated on a DVD made from a good quality print rather than a video tape transfer. Especially interesting is the scene of Ford being chased through a rocky trail by villainous George Macready, his former Gilda nemesis. While Ford is filmed scrambling against the rocks, it is Macready who is filmed almost heroically as a shadow against the sky.

The Violent Men starts off fairly routinely. Ford is cattleman ready to sell his ranch to the man who has been buying out, or forcing out, other ranchers to gain monopoly on "the valley". The basic premise is one seen in too many Westerns. Ford is a former civil war captain who doesn't wear a gun. The film hits high gear with the sub-plot involving the land-grabbing rancher, Edward G. Robinson, a cripple with legs shot following a shootout against some other ranchers. Robinson's wife, Barbara Stanwyck is secretly carrying on with Robinson's younger brother, Brian Keith. The shades of villainy within one family make for perverse entertainment. Added to the mix is Richard Jaeckel, virtually reprising his role from The Gunfighter as the punk who doesn't know when to back down. What makes The Violent Men an interesting moral tale is that when Ford decides to literally fight fire with fire, the film becomes a study of violence spinning out of control with unexpected consequences. Ford, who has moved to town to recuperate from the Civil War, is still described as a stranger even after living there for three years. "The valley" that the ranchers are fighting over is arid and rocky, a hostile environment. Even though the ending is formulaic, The Violent Men offers the pleasure of a film where Glenn Ford is not an entirely good guy, and Robinson, Stanwyck and Keith display varying degrees of humanity.

Posted by peter at May 8, 2006 05:23 PM

Comments

Glenn Ford absolutely leaves me cold, despite his having made some undeniably good films. He has no special anything on screen, and his star status in his heyday puzzles the hell out of me. I have The Green Glove but I suspect it's also a lousy DVD transfer. I'll probably watch it anyway. George Macready was always a treat.

Mate probably DOES deserve a serious appraisal. His cinematography for Dodsworth was also breathtaking.

Posted by: Campaspe at May 12, 2006 11:01 PM

It may be worth mentioning that The Violent Men is based on a novel by Donald Hamilton, author of The Big Country, filmed by William Wyler.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at May 13, 2006 08:02 AM