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Thursday, August 2, 2012

THE FUGITIVE (1947)

In 1947, author Graham Greene’s great film collaborator made a near masterpiece about a man on the run from the law, hunted, haunted & doomed. Owning up to a film’s worth of self-deception, denial & fear, he accepts death with tragic self-awareness and a hint of God’s grace. In outline, this might be Greene’s acclaimed novel, THE POWER AND THE GLORY, but it’s also a description of Carol Reed’s ODD MAN OUT, a film Greene had nothing to do with it. Reed & Greene would join forces the following year for THE FALLEN IDOL/’48, then go on to THE THIRD MAN/’49 and OUR MAN IN HAVANA/’59. Greene’s acclaimed man-on-the-run novel landed with John Ford & scripter Dudley Nichols who must have hoped to recapture the terse poetic tone they achieved in THE INFORMER/’36. But they wound up eviscerating Greene’s tale of a ‘whiskey’ priest (with a bastard child!), trapped in a Godless police state and running away from his destiny. And while THE INFORMER thrived in the artifice of RKO’s backlot, the real Mexican locations in Gabriel Figueroa’s gorgeous, studied monochrome lensing overpower what’s left of Greene’s story; and the religious sentiment gets buried under Richard Hageman’s ponderous score. As a Madonna figure, Dolores Del Rio looks up in beatific attitude like a Mexicali Luise Rainer; J. Carrol Naish hams mercilessly as the Judas figure; and poor Henry Fonda gets a coat of caramel-colored make-up and a long drink of slow-witted piety. Only Pedro Armendáriz, as the one true believer in the whole Junta, feels like he belongs in his role.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Even bad Ford can be pretty compelling. And THE FUGITIVE is so rapturously shot, it creates a certain cumulative power that you can release by watching it as a silent movie. (It also has the advantage of removing Nichols’ poetical yakking & Hageman’s musical treacle.) Try Manuel de Falla’s NIGHTS IN THE GARDENS OF SPAIN as background score. For some reason, this piece works with every non-comic silent pic.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: ODD MAN OUT certainly makes an interesting comparison . . . for those who’ve seen this. But why not watch Fonda grapple with Catholic guilt in Hitchcock’s perennially underrated docu-drama THE WRONG MAN/’56.

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