Tuesday, April 9

The Directors: Delmer Daves

While I had seen his films before 1959, it was that year that I really became aware of Delmer Daves in a big way.  As a teenager I was rather gaga over the young actors from Warner Brothers, Troy Donahue chief among them.  And all in a row Daves directed the four best films Donahue ever made... A Summer Place (part of my 50 Favorite Films), Parrish, Susan Slade and Rome Adventure.   Daves was rather well-known as a director who got out of the way of his actors and let them do their thing, which may have something to do with why Donahue wasn't a better actor.

Daves directed only 30 films and by the Donahue period, he was at the end of his career.  I thought he made wonderful movies... wonderfully entertaining at least.  None of his films were Oscar winners nor did any actor win an Oscar for one of them.  Nonetheless, he impressed the hell out of me and I came to look forward to his movies because they would be colorful (often westerns), have actors I quite enjoyed and were always, always entertaining. 

He was a San Francisco lawyer (who never practiced) when he ambled into Hollywood and got a job as a prop boy.  He would go on to do some acting and then became highly regarded as a screenwriter.  (One of the films he wrote but did not direct might be a favorite of yours... 1957s An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant.)  In addition to letting actors act, he thought a good screenplay would simply play out well enough to carry the film.  He ran a loose ship and perhaps that's why he worked with so many of the same actors over again.

Cary Grant was the star of Daves' first directorial effort in Destination Tokyo (1943), a bit of a dramatic departure for the star but a well-crafted movie which co-starred John Garfield.  The next year Daves directed a film I loved for its all-star cast and sentimentality, Hollywood Canteen, a salute to the real-life club where servicemen danced and schmoozed with Hollywood stars.  He helmed the least well-received of the Bogart-Bacall films, Dark Passage (1947) which was lucky to have Agnes Moorehead on board as a villainess.

Daves was probably most comfortable doing westerns.  He loved the outdoors and he had lived with an Indian family as a child.  In 1950 he directed the first of nine westerns, Broken Arrow.  It is arguably the film for which he is the most highly lauded.  Starring James Stewart, Jeff Chandler and Debra Paget, it was sympathetic to the Indians and a rollicking good time to boot.

In 1954 he steered Demetrius and the Gladiators with Susan Hayward and Victor Mature, a decent sequel to the popular The Robe.  The same year he made Drum Beat with Alan Ladd and a magnetic Charles Bronson, a B-flick that is a clear example of why I have always loved westerns.

Daves was a visual stylist who paid good attention to the landscape.  His stories were usually about hardship that came as a result of taming the land.  He was a hands-on director in this regard because he would personally supervise the shots of the landscape that one generally left to second-unit directors.

Drum Beat was the first of five successive westerns that Daves made in the mid-50s.  Three of them starred Glenn Ford in some of the best westerns he made...  Jubal, 3:10 to Yuma and Cowboy.  Also tucked in there is a well done Richard Widmark-starrer, The Last Wagon.  

Kings Go Forth came in 1958, featuring an oft-told story of two men in love with the same woman.  Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood starred.  It was a war story, as well, taking place in France where Wood has gone to live with her family and a family secret.  Not bad at all.

Daves and Gary Cooper on the set of The Hanging Tree

Before the Donahue films came another favorite western of mine, The Hanging Tree with Gary Cooper, the yummy Maria Schell, Karl Malden and George C. Scott.  Another colorful tale, this time involving a mysterious doctor helping to restore a woman's sight in gold-mining country.

You didn't think you were going to get away before we have a little chitchat on those Donahue films, did you?  In 1959 every American teenager saw A Summer Place.  Trust me.  Some of us had a vague recollection of Troy Donahue but we wanted him to be our BFF after seeing this film, the most successful of Donahue's career and also, by the way, of Daves' career.  Donahue and Sandra Dee were the young couple.  His mother and her father, former lovers, now unhappily married to others, resume their affair and everyone gets all wigged out.

Cut from the same cloth was Parrish.  Let's be very clear.  I bloody loved Parrish.  I even watched it the other night for God knows how many times.  Claudette Colbert returned to the screen to play his mother and then retired afterwards.  On the tobacco fields of Connecticut, Donahue/Parrish romances three girls, Connie Stevens, Diane McBain and Sharon Hugueny, while trying to accommodate rivals growers, Karl Malden and Dean Jagger. 

Pure soap suds was Susan Slade, quite dated if watched today, about a teenage girl (Stevens again) who gets pregnant by her fiance who has just been killed.  In order to make everything look A-ok with the neighbors and coworkers, Steven's mother Dorothy McGuire (Donahue's mother in A Summer Place) lays claim to the child being hers.  It is not my proudest movie fan moment but I know I must include Susan Slade in my Delmer Daves moment.

(McGuire, by the way, one of my favorite actresses ever, will be the subject of her own posting sometime after I finish my 50 Favorite Films.  She is the star of two of my favorite 50 and one more coming up.)

Pleshette and Donahue

Ah, Rome Adventure.  If this movie doesn't get you to Italy, nothing ever will.  It was slathered in pasta and beauty and emotions.  It released dopamine in my brain listening to the sounds of Al Di La, sung and heard throughout the film.  It had Troy Donahue and Suzanne Pleshette falling into step in the romance department.  Both were so damned beautiful.  Never mind that they would later marry in real life and it would last about an afternoon.

Two of the three films Daves directed at the end of his career were also ones which I immensely enjoyed.  Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara starred in Spencer's Mountain, a story upon which the enormously popular television series The Waltons was based.  Then there was Youngblood Hawke, which I just mentioned in my piece, 4 Recommended Soap Operas. 

Delmer Daves is not only largely forgotten by many, he would more truthfully not ever have been known by most of the public.  His films were always technically proficient but some would say they lacked substance and failed to get the attention that led to the red carpet on Oscar night.  But once I realized he was the same director of those Donahue movies, I was a true fan and determined that I would see all of his films... and I have.  He never had the fame nor the panache nor the ego of the Fords, Hitchcocks and Hustons, but I loved his work and know that he often wore three hats on his films... producer, writer, director.   I wanted you to know who he was. 

Review of 42

No comments:

Post a Comment