Sunday, June 15, 2008

Clash by Night

In the days when I was young and even more foolish than I am now I wrote a lot of bad plays. One of my heroes back then was Clifford Odets, an angry young man of Thirties theater who wrote a play called Wanting For Lefty that redefined theater. Its influence is still apparent today.

Odets went to Hollywood where he lived luxuriously and lost some of his edge. But not all of it. While the script for The Sweet Smell of Success, for example, is always credited to Ernest Lehman it was in fact heavily revised by Odets. And virtually every moment of it SOUNDS like Odets.

Despite his time in Hollywood he still wrote the occasional Broadway play. Clash by Night is the story of Mae who drifts back to the seaport town where she once lived. She is burned out in ever way. She marries a rather dull man who worships her. They have a child. Then she meets the type of man she's always ended up with. The husband is played brillaintly by Paul Doiglas (yes, Paul Douglas) and the tormented stud by my favorite noir star Robert Ryan. His performance here is pure Eugene O'Neill. Fritz Lang adapted the play to the film in 1952.

The movie belongs to Stanwyck. I've probably seen this film twenty times in forty years. It's always Stanwyck who brings me back to it.

Quint at Ain't It Cool reviews it today and it's the most telling review of the piece I've ever read. Here'e a sample.

"Stanwyck is unbelievable in this movie. She’s four hundred different things at once. She’s a manipulator, she’s the puppet, she’s longing for real, true love, she’s a seductress of other men, she’s tired of life and she’s invigorated by life. She’s always moving. Her performance is multi-layered and fascinating. Just watch how she uses body language in this movie and what her eyes tell you.

"Alfred Hayes (screenwriter), adapting Clifford Odets’ play, gives her film noir dialogue, but in this melodrama setting. Her words are like bullets out of a machine gun, spurting poetically out of her mouth in quick bursts."

Give this a read and then get the movie.


Anonymous said...

I'll look out for this one, Ed. Ms. Stanwyck is one of my favorites. I saw her last week with Joel McCrea in a TROOPER HOOK, a Western. She pulled off an interesting role ahead of its time.

Ed Lynskey

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nothing Stanwyck couldn't do well. She's as good a comedienne as a dramatic actress.

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Ed, the film's ending seemed too tidy to me. Mae should have been left with neither man -- or her child.