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Saturday, June 17, 2017

THE BOTTOM OF THE BOTTLE (1956)

Intriguing adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel, relocated to the US/Mexico border from France(?), is just good enough to frustrate by not being better. A literal Am-I-My-Brother’s-Keeper story, its Cain/Abel dichotomy is complicated by not quite knowing which role Van Johnson & older brother Joseph Cotten play. (This idea, directly expressed in dialogue, must be straight from the novel.) On a dark & stormy night, escaped convict Johnson, held back by flash floods from reaching his family in Mexico, seeks help from long-estranged brother Cotten. Financially well off, but in a barren marriage to Ruth Roman, Cotten has cut family ties to gain success . . . and buried any guilt for it. Director Henry Hathaway (with cinematographer Lee Garmes, CinemaScope & Deluxe® Color) can’t quite pull this off (let down by on-the-nose writing & playing), but still gets some tremendous effects from the SouthWest ‘Country Club Chic’ look in the well-to-do interiors of Cotten and, in a wicked party scene, their friends Jack Carson & Margaret Hayes. The latter, a tv actress, is particularly fine reveling in the chance to play mischief-maker, goading the worst out of her guests for the entertainment value. A final set piece, as the brothers patch things up trying for the border, is all but flawlessly run by Hathaway . . . which unfortunately exposes the tag ending as something of a cop-out. (Be sure to look for Harry Morgan in a perfect little scene at a roadside diner to see how this great supporting actor pulls the best out of Johnson.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: With his M-G-M contract running down, Johnson did some of the best work of his career, often as borderline alcoholics. (In 1954 alone, heavy tippling in BRIGADOON, CAINE MUTINY and LAST TIME I SAW PARIS/’54.)

DOUBLE-BILL: Hathaway & Cotten are even more in their element in the TechniColor suspense of NIAGARA/’53.

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