Saturday, December 06, 2014

Two utterly related films

A bargain basement Grapes of Wrath, Three Faces West (Bernard Vorhaus, 1940) follows Dr. Braun (Charles Coburn) and his daughter, Leni (Sigrid Gurie, the Norwegian Garbo; check out her curiously intimate IMDB biography), two refugees from Hitler, to the States where they offer their services to a small town ravaged by unforgiving Dust Bowl winds and drought. Leni immediately despises the town's shabby living conditions and is determined to leave the following morning. But Dr. Braun's humanitarian impulses win out and Leni soon falls in love with John Phillips (John Wayne), a farmer who will lead the town to reportedly greener pastures in Oregon.

For the first half of this solid-plus effort from Republic, Vorhaus exhibits a leisureliness that should please Ford fans. For instance, it takes almost half an hour in a 75-minute film for Dr. Braun to make the final decision to stay in the town. That leaves time for a love triangle and a rogue farmer battling The Duke for power en route to Oregon. The triangle is extinguished in a rushed denouement which is a tad disorienting. But the speed up serves to underline the formation of the heterosexual at the end as the arbitrary imperative that it is, always a welcome reminder.
Best part occurs when John takes on the Soil Conservation Division of the Department of Agriculture which deems his town "doomed": "You can't shove us around to match pretty pins on your maps. We're not swivel chair farmers. And we're not licked yet!" He'll have none of that bureaucracy! But of course, they are licked and John's humbled capitulation to moving west makes this a very different kind of western (which to some might mean it's no kind of western at all).

As per the cynical practice of so much exploitation cinema, The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (Charles W. Broun Jr., Joel Holt, Arthur Knight, 1968) is a Frankenstein's monster of a film. Slapped together to capitalize on Mansfield's car crash death in 1967, it's a sleazy mondo film comprised of abandoned footage from another mondo film shot in 1964 called Jayne Mansfield Reports Europe and filled out with scenes from several Mansfield films, new material featuring bad body doubles and eliciting Kuleshov-effect-abusing reaction shots of Mansfield, and, of course, stills of the car crash. I was all prepared to quote the windy, awkwardly phrased, ├╝ber-camp narration from Ms. Mansfield until I discovered that it was performed by her voice dubber Carolyn De Fonseca. Turning Mansfield herself into a Frankstein's monster in this manner brought out the prude in me and I soon lost the humor in (oh ok) such howlers as "The Eiffel Tower......[that's a real pause, by the way] was built in 1889. That's so long ago! And high!" So for me, the chief pleasure was in its glimpses of pre-Stonewall gay life in visits to an "underground" bar and a drag contest as well as some staged cruising.

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