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Friday, January 10, 2014

THE GLASS WALL (1953)

Long-lasting Italian leading man Vittorio Gassman worked comfortably in English, but only briefly tried the Stateside career route during his equally brief marriage to Shelley Winters (‘52-‘54). Here, he’s nicely cast as a Displaced Person, freshly arrived from Europe, who goes on the lam in NYC when the immigration authorities threaten to send him right back. He meets-cute with penniless Gloria Grahame just as she’s trying to steal a coat, buds up with her, then heads off to the Times Square nightclub scene hoping to find the clarinet-playing ex-G.I. he saved during the war. You’ll guess the rest, but there’s a nifty pivot halfway thru as Gassman stays on the run unaware that his wartime heroism has been confirmed. Yet the film barely touches its potential, largely because writer & occasional director Maxwell Shane hasn’t much gift for coordinating action scenes (and in a film that’s one long chase) and, even more crucially, because the NYC location footage (about 15% of the picture), some ‘stolen,’ makes the mock-up sets & process work look like cheap cop-outs.

DOUBLE-BILL: Sydney Pollack's last pic, the hopelessly bland thriller THE INTERPRETER/’05, claimed to be the first pic to get permission to shoot scenes inside the U.N. Building on New York’s East Side. But this little toss-away pic, made five decades earlier, got there first. In fact, some areas still appear not quite completed. (The main building with the eponymous glass wall officially opened in 1952 and this came out in ‘53.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Working in English, Gassman’s something like the young, less neurotic Montgomery Clift; solidly slim, naturally elegant, and just as handsome. Perhaps the similarity hurt his Hollywood chances just as his BITTER RICE/’49 co-star, Raf Vallone, may have been stymied by an even stronger resemblance to Burt Lancaster.

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