| A Modern Musketeer | He Comes Up Smiling
| Robin Hood | Manhandled
| Stage Struck
| The Iron Mask | Tide of Empire
| Man to Man
| Chances | Black Sheep
| Heidi | Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
| Suez | The Three Musketeers
| The Gorilla | Frontier Marshal
| Young People | Around the World
| Up in Mabel's Room | Abroad with Two Yanks
| Brewster's Millions | Calendar Girl
| The Inside Story | Sands of Iwo Jima
| Belle Le Grand | Montana Belle
| Woman They Almost Lynched | Sweethearts on Parade
| Silver Lode | Cattle Queen of Montana
| Escape to Burma | Pearl of the South Pacific
| Tennessee's Partner | Slightly Scarlet
| Screen Directors Playhouse: It's Always Sunday
| Screen Directors Playhouse: High Air | The River's Edge
| Most Dangerous Man Alive
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| 1910's Articles
Allan Dwan was a Hollywood film director.
Critical writing on Allan Dwan:
Some common characteristics found in more than one of Dwan's films include:
- Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios (2013) by Frederic Lombardi, a large biography and critical study.
- A giant critical anthology Allan Dwan: A Dossier available free here,
edited by David Phelps and Gina Telaroli.
- A notable article on Dwan is available on-line: Bill Krohn's
The Cliff and the Flume.
Minorities and Work:
- Characters on the move, from one locale to another
(New York, Kansas to Grand Canyon: A Modern Musketeer, crusaders: Robin Hood,
Iowa to New York: Night Life of New York,
heroine runs away to New York: Padlocked, Gold Rush: Tide of Empire,
hero returns from college to hometown: Man to Man,
heroine just back from Paris: Chances, French Guyana to Paris: While Paris Sleeps,
cruise: Black Sheep, Alps to Frankfurt: Heidi, move to country: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
France and Egypt: Suez, heroine back from abroad: The Gorilla,
characters move to Tombstone: Frontier Marshal,
traveling performers: Young People,
Eastern hero goes out West: Trail of the Vigilantes,
New York to Wistful Vista: Look Who's Laughing,
tour of Australia, Asia, Africa: Around the World, heroes back from war, cruise: Brewster's Millions,
girl moves in desert towns, Dr. Adams travels: Driftwood,
New York to Vermont: The Inside Story, New Zealand to Tarawa: Sands of Iwo Jima,
heroine comes from Michigan: Woman They Almost Lynched,
cattle drive, hero back from college: Cattle Queen of Montana, hoboes: It's Always Sunday,
son comes to New York to visit father: High Air, fleeing characters: The River's Edge)
- Economic processes (taxing the poor: Robin Hood,
selling invention to company, change for subway: Manhandled,
Gold Rush, founding of Wells Fargo, assigning deeds to property: Tide of Empire,
bank teller short in his accounts: Man to Man,
promissory notes, Customs: Black Sheep,
treatment of rich and poor by police: Heidi,
radio program sponsorship, signing talent: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
raising funds for canal: Suez,
Securities and Exchange Commission: The Gorilla,
bank opens: Frontier Marshal,
town meeting about economy, family acquires farm: Young People,
stolen funds recorded in ledger, raising funds for grazing land: Trail of the Vigilantes,
selling real estate including license needed and transfer clause, luring factory to town to cause economic boom, back dues at lodge, stock in company: Look Who's Laughing,
waiters labor union: Up in Mabel's Room,
currency exchange rates: Abroad with Two Yanks,
stock market, theater investing, maritime finance: Brewster's Millions,
bartering for clothes and medical care, jailed for alimony, getting a research grant: Driftwood,
money circulation, the Depression, getting credit, inflation and pricing, gold, bank holiday: The Inside Story,
stock market and running mines: Belle Le Grand,
selling songs: I Dream of Jeanie,
negotiating rewards for capture, informant's fees, stolen loot totals, record sum of money in bank: Montana Belle,
registering land, use of stampeded cattle: Cattle Queen of Montana,
city government, mob accountant: Slightly Scarlet,
trusting people and loaning them something valuable: It's Always Sunday,
choosing working class vs middle class profession: High Air,
selling farm: The River's Edge,
shore leave as contract obligation: Enchanted Island,
vending machine mobster, mob takeover: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Educational looks at technical and health subjects (vaccination, spotted fever from ticks: Driftwood,
pressure work and the bends: High Air)
related (educational film about earthworms made fun of: Young People)
- Conflict between government parties (Richard vs John: Robin Hood,
Louis Napoleon vs democrats in France, Disraeli election in Britain: Suez,
liberal vs conservative townspeople: Young People,
two towns rivals to get factory: Look Who's Laughing,
Mayor vs "radical" doctor over town projects: Driftwood,
US Civil War: Woman They Almost Lynched,
Native American factions, Cavalry and feds vs townspeople: Cattle Queen of Montana,
High Priest vs outside civilization: Pearl of the South Pacific,
city government: Slightly Scarlet,
two island tribes Happar and Typee: Enchanted Island)
related contrasts that are not political parties (traditional Hispanics in Old California vs Gold Rush: Tide of Empire,
school President election: Man to Man,
two views of masculinity: Sands of Iwo Jima)
- Young people, with ambitions in art or music
(novelist, sculptor: Manhandled,
woman aspires to be dancer: Padlocked, architect: East Side, West Side,
woman art student: Chances, builder: Suez,
girl wants to sing with band: Around the World,
composer, poet, painter, boarding house for artists: Calendar Girl,
painter: The Inside Story, soprano: Belle Le Grand, Stephen Foster: I Dream of Jeanie)
related (kids make wall painting of ships: Pearl of the South Pacific)
- Woman singers (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
saloon singer: Frontier Marshal,
heroine: Young People,
cheerleader in musical number: Rise and Shine,
with band: Around the World, Calendar Girl,
opera singer: Belle Le Grand, Jane Russell as saloon singer: Montana Belle,
heroine sings in amateur way: Pearl of the South Pacific)
related (woman orchestra: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm)
- Theaters (Stage Struck, marionette theater: Heidi,
saloon with stage: Frontier Marshal,
radio studio: Look Who's Laughing,
Abroad with Two Yanks, opera house: Belle Le Grand)
- People dissatisfied with small town or provincial life (A Modern Musketeer,
hero from Iowa wants to go to New York: Night Life of New York,
hero suffers shame and wants to leave town: Man to Man,
young residents want to change town's economic approach: Young People,
scientist wants to move to San Francisco: Driftwood,
painter talks of leaving small town to get customers: The Inside Story,
Cattle Queen of Montana, High Priest's son: Pearl of the South Pacific, The River's Edge)
- Ministers (Heidi, Driftwood, mob leader attacks minister: Silver Lode, hero: It's Always Sunday)
- Heroes with unconventional life styles that make those who live with them uncomfortable
(man forced to spend fortune: Brewster's Millions, research scientist in small town: Driftwood,
minister is soft touch: It's Always Sunday, rancher with do-it-yourself devices: The River's Edge)
- Parties, usually with highly dressed up characters (opening feast: Robin Hood,
at sculptor's studio: Manhandled,
opening banquet: Stage Struck, fiesta: Tide of Empire,
small town picnic: Man to Man,
soldiers' farewell in WWI: Chances,
Hollywood Party, cruise ship: Black Sheep, Christmas: Heidi, fete: Suez,
business luncheon: Look Who's Laughing,
Up in Mabel's Room, Abroad with Two Yanks, yacht: Brewster's Millions, Calendar Girl,
Belle Le Grand, wedding festival: Pearl of the South Pacific,
victory luau: Enchanted Island)
- Bunting for public celebrations (big money at town bank: Montana Belle,
Fourth of July: Silver Lode) related (campaign banner: He Comes Up Smiling)
- Newly rich people who have to be extravagant with rooms (hero: Brewster's Millions, Hope Emerson: Belle Le Grand)
- Strange gifts (girl's Christmas present for father: Heidi, baby: Young People,
fortune with conditions: Brewster's Millions, painting: The Inside Story)
Good Guys and Bad Guys:
- Black characters shown as good at their jobs, part of work in society
(Kentucky town: Man to Man,
policeman, seamstress, junk shop: One Mile from Heaven,
Eddie Anderson works along with white characters, is Naval war hero: Brewster's Millions,
one of the sandhog construction workers is black: High Air)
- Working women (store clerk: Manhandled,
telephone operator: Night Life of New York,
waitress: Stage Struck,
secretary in bank: Man to Man,
in bar: While Paris Sleeps,
reporter: One Mile from Heaven,
band singers: Around the World,
secretary: Brewster's Millions,
school teacher wants to contribute financially to marriage: Driftwood,
wife works as mannequin: The Inside Story,
Hope Emerson driving force behind mine: Belle Le Grand,
saloon: Woman They Almost Lynched,
cattle business: Cattle Queen of Montana,
heroine runs teak plantation: Escape to Burma,
secretary to candidate: Slightly Scarlet)
- Women who learn how to read (heroine: Heidi, Annabella: Suez)
related (hero teaches heroine English: Enchanted Island)
- Upper crust appearing characters who are crooks (A Modern Musketeer, Black Sheep,
Belle Le Grand, cattle baron: Cattle Queen of Montana, The River's Edge) related
(mobsters in fancy suits and "board of directors" meeting: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Bad guys masquerading as authorities (The Gorilla, Silver Lode, Pearl of the South Pacific)
- Villainesses (The Iron Mask, Black Sheep, housekeeper: Heidi,
Loretta Young: Suez, Virginia Mayo: Pearl of the South Pacific,
Debra Paget: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
related (faithless college girlfriend: Man to Man)
- Heroines dissatisfied with working class technological environments, look to infidelity
as solution (Manhandled, The River's Edge)
- Women who steal pearls (rich woman steals pearls for kicks: Black Sheep,
villainess wants to steal islanders' pearls: Pearl of the South Pacific)
kleptomaniac and pearls: Slightly Scarlet)
- Sinister upper class feminine women vs dynamic lower class women (Black Sheep, Suez)
- Gambling (bets on joust: Robin Hood,
wagering on frog race: Tide of Empire,
poker players honest and crooked: Black Sheep,
betting on horses: Brewster's Millions,
gambling house: Belle Le Grand,
frontier saloon with gambling: Montana Belle,
illegal casinos: Slightly Scarlet)
- Alcohol as problem (Doc Holliday as alcoholic: Frontier Marshal,
barley water promoted as temperance alternative: Silver Lode,
alcohol used a colonial tool: Pearl of the South Pacific)
people desperate for a drink (hero after jungle flight: Escape to Burma,
sister after release from prison: Slightly Scarlet)
- Characters falsely accused, become social outcasts (Robin Hood,
hero accused of robbery: Night Life of New York,
heroine's brother accused as outlaw: Tide of Empire,
hero and father accused of stealing from bank: Man to Man,
Grandfather accused of stealing Heidi, being mean man: Heidi,
Suez, Young People, Up in Mabel's Room,
Brewster's Millions, Driftwood, Belle Le Grand, Silver Lode, Cattle Queen of Montana,
hobos accused of stealing: It's Always Sunday,
hero falsely convicted of murder: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
The Natural World:
- Public jousts (tournament: Robin Hood, female boxing match: Stage Struck,
boxing: East Side, West Side,
frog race, horse race: Tide of Empire,
high hurdles track meet, throwing stones at hanging can: Man to Man,
college football: Rise and Shine,
sword duel: Around the World,
horse race: Brewster's Millions,
tug-o-war: Calendar Girl, Native American combat: Cattle Queen of Montana)
- Contests of skill (tennis, fencing: Suez, judo: Abroad with Two Yanks,
rifle fight training: Sands of Iwo Jima, shooting: Montana Belle)
- Paying attention to women spectators hurts athletes (Tyrone Power misses tennis ball: Suez,
dialogue about Bendix struck by football: Abroad with Two Yanks)
related (John Agar reads wife's letter and fails to see grenade: Sands of Iwo Jima)
- Characters wrestling on ground, often comic (heroine and boyfriend struggle for book: Her First Affaire,
brothers who always fight: Sands of Iwo Jima,
cat-fight between women: Woman They Almost Lynched,
hero and villain wrestle on floor of ship's cabin: Pearl of the South Pacific,
men roll down hill together in final fight: Tennessee's Partner)
- Feet expressing emotion (tired feet: Manhandled,
Bill Robinson as dancing cop: One Mile from Heaven,
men forced to dance by shooters in West: Frontier Marshal)
- One character trains another physically (Heidi teaches girl to walk: Heidi,
hero teaches prince to be athletic: Suez, Wayne trains Marines: Sands of Iwo Jima,
hero teaches kids baseball: It's Always Sunday,
brief training to be sandhog: High Air)
- Women and weapons (Charlotte Greenwood and rifle: Up in Mabel's Room,
women take part in shootout: Frontier Marshal,
heroine shooting: Montana Belle, Arlene Dahl and spear gun: Slightly Scarlet)
Engineered and Constructed: Environments and Objects:
- Desert locations (A Modern Musketeer, Suez, Africa concerts: Around the World,
Driftwood, Sands of Iwo Jima, The River's Edge, Mexican scrub: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Destructive storms (cyclone: A Modern Musketeer, sand storm: Suez, hurricane: Young People)
- Ordinary storms (rain: Suez, rain: The Gorilla, blizzard: Up in Mabel's Room)
- Large scale outdoor constructions and sets (flume: The Poisoned Flume, railroad tracks: A Modern Musketeer,
castle: Robin Hood, hurdles at track meet: Man to Man, war zone: Chances,
well, style, moving plank: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, canal construction: Suez,
outdoor stages for band: Around the World,
fence and canteen, plank on stage: Abroad with Two Yanks,
camp: Sands of Iwo Jima, houses and fence: Belle Le Grand,
bridge, street seen in depth staging through bank windows: Montana Belle,
house in pit: Cattle Queen of Montana,
gas station, Quinn's ranch: The River's Edge)
- Ambitious construction schemes (buildings: East Side, West Side,
canal: Suez, bridge repair: Young People,
new airplane factory: Look Who's Laughing,
hospital: Driftwood, mines: Belle Le Grand,
tunnel under Hudson: High Air)
- Water works (flume: The Poisoned Flume,
tipped pot of water: A Modern Musketeer,
boat with water in it: He Comes Up Smiling,
moat and drawbridge, Marian's stream, waterfall: Robin Hood,
water splashed on Swanson by car, woman washing dishes, sink in garage: Manhandled,
pitcher with batter: Stage Struck,
basin which heroes enter, well by heroes' house, fountain at twin's house, river channel in stonework: The Iron Mask,
Sutter's Mill where gold is discovered, buckets used against fire: Tide of Empire,
kid tips water bucket on man at picnic: Man to Man,
boyhood imitation of Suez canal discussed: Chances,
heroine and boyfriend fall in garden pond: Her First Affaire,
town fountain with laundry, snowball, slippery floor in monkey scene: Heidi,
well, hose: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
canal, bathing hut: Suez, horse trough, shot barrel leaks: Frontier Marshal,
barometer predicts hurricane: Young People,
bullet hole shot in milk-churn causes leak: Trail of the Vigilantes,
squirting flowers, seltzer bottle: Around the World,
Bendix doing laundry, digging well, bucket: Abroad with Two Yanks,
fire engine: Calendar Girl,
bathtub with bubble bath, straws, centrifuge, syringes: Driftwood,
Cider Cellar: The Inside Story,
well, fire engine, washtub, washing dishes, barometer in Brent's office: Montana Belle,
foot bridge: Cattle Queen of Montana,
tunnel construction under river: High Air,
shower, bubble bath, gas pump: The River's Edge)
- Sand, dust and earth, including "sand works" (sand whipped up in villain and chauffeur's faces by car: A Modern Musketeer,
father hoes earth in planter: Man to Man,
sand diviner, sand storm: Suez,
spinning wheel of stuck car splatters mud: Young People,
heroine sweeps dust on bad guy's shoes, maps drawn in ground: Montana Belle,
planting flowers in earth: It's Always Sunday,
shoveling dirt out of tunnel construction: High Air,
sand comes out of shower: The River's Edge,
hero turns to dust at end: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Digging in tunnels (opening blocked tunnel under prison: The Iron Mask,
tunneling under Hudson: High Air)
- Mass transit (subway in NYC: Manhandled, subway in NYC: East Side, West Side,
London subway entrance: Chances,
tunnel for transportation built under Hudson: High Air)
- Engineered objects (hero's invention to save gas in cars: Manhandled,
device used in theft: Man to Man,
unfilled lighter: Black Sheep,
radio local connection, remote radio: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
radio gives private messages: The Gorilla,
Jack Oakie tries to repair radio: Young People,
electrified sword: Around the World,
bugging: Slightly Scarlet, oven: The River's Edge,
electrical trap for hero: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Films within the film (film vs reality in sporting shot: Man to Man,
hero in film shown by scientist: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Television (early television mentioned: Young People,
early television: Brewster's Millions, political speech: Slightly Scarlet)
- Radio: unusual uses (radiogram sent to ship: The Gorilla,
radio used to spread message and contact doctor: Driftwood)
- Garages (hero works in garage: Manhandled, junk shop full of auto parts: One Mile from Heaven,
gas station where doctor is alerted: Driftwood, Harry Carey Jr.'s gas station: The River's Edge)
related (private garage in mansion: The Gorilla)
- Steamboats (Stage Struck, painted on stage backdrop: Frontier Marshal,
I Dream of Jeanie, Tennessee's Partner)
Sets and Locations:
- Secret passages (tunnel to woods: Robin Hood,
secret entrance to place cellars, secret door to king's chamber, cave entrance into prison: The Iron Mask,
concealed well: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
spy hole in ceiling: The Three Musketeers, old dark house: The Gorilla,
cave: Pearl of the South Pacific)
- Secret compartments (in wall: While Paris Sleeps, walking stick: Black Sheep,
safe behind painting: The Gorilla,
ring: Around the World, man hiding inside window seat: Up in Mabel's Room,
phone in figurine cover: Calendar Girl,
safe behind painting: Slightly Scarlet)
- Other hiding place (hiding place in desk for tag and letter: Driftwood)
- Bank vaults (Man to Man, The Inside Story) related (hero's safe in office: Montana Belle)
People in unusual motion in architecture:
- Interiors with more than one level (inn in Musketeer prologue: A Modern Musketeer,
castle: Robin Hood,
theater and boxes at start: Stage Struck,
tavern with balcony, prison staircase: The Iron Mask,
staircase: Hollywood Party,
grandfather's house with hayloft, church: Heidi,
radio auditorium: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, tennis court, fete, steps at end: Suez,
Cardinal's hall with staircase: The Three Musketeers,
staircase in house: The Gorilla, theater: Young People,
staircase at rooming house: Calendar Girl, opera house: Belle Le Grand,
barn with loft and ladder: Montana Belle,
staircase in saloon: Woman They Almost Lynched)
- Exteriors with more than one level (mansion facade: Manhattan Madness,
hero's office, steeple, Grand Canyon hotel: A Modern Musketeer,
alley with balcony: He Comes Up Smiling,
town square, palace square, musketeers' home with stairs: The Iron Mask,
mansion facade: The Gorilla,
balcony on building facade: Frontier Marshal,
building facades at finale: Montana Belle)
- Church towers (steeple: A Modern Musketeer, bell tower: Silver Lode)
- Staircases that turn corners (opening shot of feet descending stairs: Manhandled,
fraternity: Man to Man,
country house: Chances,
Fibber's home: Look Who's Laughing,
sisters house: Slightly Scarlet)
- Multi-unit dwellings where more than one character stays (Grand Canyon hotel: A Modern Musketeer,
castle: Robin Hood,
hero and heroine's apartment building, sculptor's building: Manhandled,
saloon with rooms upstairs: Tide of Empire,
fraternity house: Man to Man,
country house: Chances,
hero and heroine share cheap room: While Paris Sleeps,
cruise ship: Black Sheep,
hotel: Frontier Marshal,
hotels: Around the World,
country house: Up in Mabel's Room,
yacht, Mother's boarding house: Brewster's Millions,
rooming house for artists: Calendar Girl,
inn: The Inside Story,
yacht: Pearl of the South Pacific,
hotel: The River's Edge)
- Dormitories with rows of beds (girls school: Suez, barracks: Abroad with Two Yanks,
bunks on ship: Sands of Iwo Jima) related (Musketeers share bed: The Iron Mask)
- Room corners with built-in seats (heroine's room: Robin Hood, hero's office: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
bedroom window seats, bench in living room: Up in Mabel's Room,
hero's office: Brewster's Millions, bench by staircase: The Inside Story)
- Platforms on which people sit or stand (platforms for thrones at start: Robin Hood,
heroine as sculptor's model: Manhandled,
Archie stands on chair to give speech at party: Chances,
Egyptian royalty: Suez,
joyful hero jumps on couch: Up in Mabel's Room,
woman getting painted: The Inside Story,
Ringo's high chair in casino, saloon orchestra: Montana Belle)
Depth staging through architecture:
- Elevators and climbing (Fairbanks climbs up and down outside of mansion: Manhattan Madness,
characters moved by rope up and down Grand Canyon, hero climbs down telephone pole, up and down hotel: A Modern Musketeer,
Fairbanks climbs awning, building wall, lightning rod, ladder, telephone pole: He Comes Up Smiling,
hero moves down drape, climbs gate, walls: Robin Hood,
elevator in apartment building: Manhandled,
Fairbanks drops down from girlfriend's balcony, jumps down his own stairs, drops down prison stairs: The Iron Mask,
hero climbs up and down heroine's balcony: Tide of Empire,
slide down banister: Heidi,
pulling up hose: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
gorilla climbs down house: The Gorilla,
Scott enters film climbing down from balcony: Frontier Marshal,
Edgar Bergen climbs from one plane to another in mid air: Look Who's Laughing,
hero slides down tiny banister: Up in Mabel's Room,
office elevator: Brewster's Millions,
men climb down ship side on net: Sands of Iwo Jima,
mine elevator: Belle Le Grand,
ladder to ship cabin: Pearl of the South Pacific,
elevator down to tunnel: High Air,
rope on cliff: The River's Edge)
- People enter or leave by windows (Fairbanks: Manhattan Madness,
Fairbanks leaves office, pantry window in crooks den, window in canyon ruins: A Modern Musketeer,
Fairbanks while climbing buildings: He Comes Up Smiling,
hero leaves by window near finale: Tide of Empire,
Fairbanks leaps through and smashes window to get in house, leaves by same window: The Iron Mask,
heroine: While Paris Sleeps,
monkey enters through window: Heidi,
gorilla reaches in to Zazu Pitts through window: The Gorilla,
bedroom window farce: Up in Mabel's Room,
Bendix sneaks into barracks: Abroad with Two Yanks,
plank from window: Calendar Girl,
girl leaves doctor's home: Driftwood,
Andy Devine in office, outlaws in heroine's room: Montana Belle,
hero into woman's room: Silver Lode,
Bendix places himself into tunnel opening: High Air)
- Jailbreaks through windows (d'Artagnan escapes inn: A Modern Musketeer, Grandfather: Heidi,
heroine climbs out of her window using ladder: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
heroine sneaks out of girls school: Suez,
heroes under arrest escape out of theater window: Abroad with Two Yanks, heroes: Tennessee's Partner)
related (escape through hole in back wall: Enchanted Island)
- Climbing over roofs (Manhattan Madness, hotel: A Modern Musketeer, He Comes Up Smiling,
While Paris Sleeps, opening scene: The Gorilla,
climbing, hero slides on roof: Up in Mabel's Room,
over plank from window: Calendar Girl)
- Climbing trees (Manhattan Madness, He Comes Up Smiling,
Fairbanks climbs tree to convent window: The Iron Mask, over fence: Abroad with Two Yanks,
kid falls from tree: Pearl of the South Pacific,
palm tree: Enchanted Island)
- People suspended in air (bad guy hoisted in sling: Robin Hood,
Swanson lifted on subway: Manhandled,
Swanson hanging from dock at finale: Stage Struck,
villainess held upside down: The Three Musketeers)
- Swings (Stage Struck, Montana Belle)
- Vehicles run over fences (hero leaves town: A Modern Musketeer,
carriage escapes: The Three Musketeers)
- Depth staging through architecture, mainly windows (New Yorkers seen through apartment windows: Manhandled,
women watch chef through window: Stage Struck,
bank and barbershop seen on street through windows: Man to Man,
through restaurant window: While Paris Sleeps,
author seen through window: Her First Affaire,
street seen through window and door of junk shop: One Mile from Heaven,
monkey and organ grinder seen through window: Heidi,
through newspaper window, saloon window: Frontier Marshal,
through curtains in "Fifth Avenue" number, windows in newspaper office, windows in drug store: Young People,
town shot through train: Trail of the Vigilantes,
through French doors at party: Abroad with Two Yanks,
through artists' windows: Calendar Girl,
opening shot through bank window, bus, inn: The Inside Story,
through bank windows in finale: Montana Belle,
through fence grillwork: Escape to Burma,
through window at blast: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Sets seen through glass doors (through subway door, department store seen through phone booth: Manhandled,
street seen through window and door of junk shop: One Mile from Heaven,
street at inn: The Inside Story,
marriage mart: Tennessee's Partner,
terrace at mansion: Slightly Scarlet)
related (glass wall of auditorium: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
phone booth glass wall, greenhouse: Abroad with Two Yanks,
front yard seen through glass door, gas station with glass walls: Driftwood)
- Staging through doorways (recess in heroine's tent at start: Robin Hood,
subway door, Detroit company through door, street seen from hero's garage: Manhandled,
through doorways at heroes' home: Chances,
balcony, country house gate: Her First Affaire,
newspaper, saloon and stage, alcove in saloon: Frontier Marshal,
country home: Up in Mabel's Room,
bank: The Inside Story,
through cabin door, office door, bank door at end: Montana Belle)
related (entrance of king through large doorway from street: The Iron Mask)
- Faces seen through openings (Lugosi seen through oval door panel: The Gorilla,
Eddie Anderson revealed through washed window: Brewster's Millions)
Props and Imagery:
- Signals (bell in apartment building to signal phone calls: Manhandled,
bell at convent door: The Iron Mask,
bell on pub table: Chances, loudspeakers on ship: Black Sheep,
goat horn, trainman's whistle, carriage horn: Heidi,
kazoo, whistle, flashing light at radio broadcast: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
Marine bugle: Abroad with Two Yanks, fire alarm: Calendar Girl,
bell rung for dinner: The Inside Story,
alarms at mine disaster: Belle Le Grand,
shell made into horn: Pearl of the South Pacific,
whistle in tunnel construction site: High Air,
conch blown as horn: Enchanted Island,
police sirens: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Damaged communications (attack on carrier pigeon: Robin Hood,
intercepted message to Cardinal: The Iron Mask,
underwater cables damaged and repaired: High Tension,
phone lines out: The Gorilla,
cut telegraph wires: Silver Lode)
- Maps (map of palace: The Iron Mask,
globe in bank president's office: Man to Man,
maps on desk, rolled globe: Suez,
spy map of North Africa: Around the World,
spun globe in hero's office, library: Up in Mabel's Room, lawyer's globe: The Inside Story,
two maps of islands at military briefings, map of USA in canteen: Sands of Iwo Jima,
maps of casino drawn on ground: Montana Belle, globe: Pearl of the South Pacific,
police map and roadblocks: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Notebooks and pens and pencils (borrowed from constable: Chances,
used by Ritz Brothers detectives: The Gorilla,
hero's notebook: Enchanted Island)
- Photographs of characters (hero first seen in newspaper photo: Man to Man,
folded photo used in search: While Paris Sleeps,
Tom Brown's photos of family: Black Sheep,
reporter steals photo: One Mile from Heaven,
photo of Young on hero's desk: Suez,
Doc's sweetheart: Frontier Marshal,
photo of baby: Sands of Iwo Jima,
hero in magazine photos: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Images on signs (heart on Lovers Wheat Cakes sign: Stage Struck,
Coq d'or tavern: The Three Musketeers,
eye-and-keyhole drawing on detectives' car door: The Gorilla,
sign with stork in village: Heidi,
dog's tag with airplane drawing: Driftwood,
Birdcage casino, blacksmith's: Montana Belle)
Images on messages (image of broken coin on message: The Iron Mask, gorilla paw print on warning message: The Gorilla)
Animals, and humans who are like animals:
- Huge gifts of flowers, filling rooms (Brewster's Millions, Belle Le Grand)
related (heroine puts flowers in hero's room, hero brings bouquet for heroine: Manhandled,
stage filled with flowers for actress: Stage Struck,
wreath of flowers for barber's new shop: Man to Man,
girl has daisies in toes, heroine's garden: Driftwood,
heroine and vase of roses: Montana Belle,
gift of flowers found in heroine's home at start: Slightly Scarlet,
minister's wife given flat of cineraria flowers: It's Always Sunday,
heroes given leis of flowers: Enchanted Island)
- Comedy about engagement rings (Around the World, Abroad with Two Yanks, Brewster's Millions,
I Dream of Jeanie)
- Zany musical numbers with props ("Chicken Soup (Plucking Song)": The Three Musketeers,
piano and grapefruit: Around the World,
dance with water glass: Brewster's Millions)
- Enjoyment of food (hero gives heroine food: A Modern Musketeer,
King Richard at tournament: Robin Hood,
hero smells food cooking, we see food: Manhandled,
banquet, lunch wagon at end with lover's wheat cakes: Stage Struck,
food given to hungry heroine: While Paris Sleeps,
whole turkey for lunch, leg: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, canteen: Abroad with Two Yanks,
Mother as great cook: Brewster's Millions,
Charlotte Greenwood as good cook: Driftwood,
dessert at restaurant: The Inside Story,
sinister coffee break: Sands of Iwo Jima,
picnic: Montana Belle,
sandwiches and drumstick in kitchen: It's Always Sunday) related (housekeeper keeps food from kids: Heidi)
- Chandeliers (hero smashes family chandelier: A Modern Musketeer,
twin's room: The Iron Mask,
country mansion: Chances,
with monkey: Heidi, fete: Suez,
over dining room table: The Gorilla,
saloon: Frontier Marshal,
front hall, dining room: Up in Mabel's Room,
lawyer's house: The Inside Story,
bank: Montana Belle,
over wedding: Silver Lode)
- Tied up (villain straps himself to saddle to cheat in joust: Robin Hood,
sheriff and deputies handcuffed in comedy opening: Trail of the Vigilantes,
heroine manacled, Sheriff's office has row of manacles hanging from wall, Andy Devine tied up: Montana Belle)
- Heart shapes (hero's pillow: Manhandled,
Lovers' Wheat Cakes shaped like hearts: Stage Struck,
broken doubloon on necklace: The Iron Mask)
- The Man in the Moon (animation: Brewster's Millions,
song "I'm in Love With the Man in the Moon": Montana Belle)
- "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton" song (sung by school children: Young People, Sweethearts on Parade)
- Songs about New York City (title: East Side, West Side, "Fifth Avenue": Young People)
- Animals in cages or who escape (canary in cage, escapes and is chased: He Comes Up Smiling,
organ grinder's monkey escapes: Heidi,
gorilla gets out of cage: The Gorilla,
kangaroo in wheeled cage, aviary: Abroad with Two Yanks,
research animals in cages, dog put in jail: Driftwood,
bull breaks out of corral: The River's Edge,
lab animals: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
related (bees chase hero: He Comes Up Smiling,
bulldog chases couple: Her First Affaire,
speaking cockatoo mistaken for human: Around the World,
tiger hunt: Escape to Burma)
- People in cages too (hero in bank cage, in symbolic giant canary cage: He Comes Up Smiling,
jailer who makes portable wheeled cage for prisoners: Tide of Empire,
hero as bank teller: Man to Man,
heroine seen through bars of window: Her First Affaire,
Patsy Kelly locked in gorilla's cage: The Gorilla,
Joan Davis trapped by fallen hockey net: Around the World,
O'Keefe in giant dog net, O'Keefe in aviary cage, cage-like brig: Abroad with Two Yanks,
judge with cage-like office: Driftwood,
John Wayne seen through cage-like crib: Sands of Iwo Jima,
bank teller: Montana Belle,
sister getting out of prison exits through barred gate: Slightly Scarlet)
related (saloon named The Bird Cage: Montana Belle)
- Farm animals (d'Artagnan's father gives horse, stubborn mule on tracks, horses: A Modern Musketeer,
horses: Tide of Empire,
goats: Heidi, piglet: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
heroine's stubborn donkey: Suez,
braying donkey: Frontier Marshal,
rooster crows at dawn: Young People,
cow purchased by Bendix's dad: Abroad with Two Yanks,
elephants on teak plantation: Escape to Burma,
calf: The River's Edge)
- Women in groups scared of mice (toy mouse as practical joke: Black Sheep,
false cries of mice: Abroad with Two Yanks)
- Men bark like dogs (O'Keefe "talks" with dog: Abroad with Two Yanks, The Inside Story)
related (gangster Milton Berle laughs like horse: Rise and Shine, drunk says he's bird: Sands of Iwo Jima)
- Brothers (King Richard and Prince John: Robin Hood, The Iron Mask, Chances, Man to Man, Sands of Iwo Jima,
Dalton brothers: Montana Belle, Silver Lode)
- Sisters (Belle Le Grand, I Dream of Jeanie, Slightly Scarlet)
- Fathers and sons (A Modern Musketeer, Night Life of New York,
Tide of Empire, Man to Man, Black Sheep,
Grandfather and father, the Prodigal Son: Heidi,
hero and father, Viceroy and Prince: Suez, hero's rejection by father: Sands of Iwo Jima,
Cattle Queen of Montana, High Priest and son: Pearl of the South Pacific,
minister and young son: It's Always Sunday, High Air, The Restless Breed)
- Mothers of adult children (A Modern Musketeer, heroine's mother: Man to Man,
Chances, Young People, wife's mother: Up in Mabel's Room,
- Older family members, who conceal their relationship to a young adult
(While Paris Sleeps, Black Sheep, Belle Le Grand)
related (hero keeps quiet about convict father: Man to Man,
concealed adoption: Young People, a concealed boyfriend: The River's Edge)
- Masculinity (hero afraid of women: Robin Hood,
sensitive monogamous brother vs one with many girlfriends: Chances,
hero confident with women: The Three Musketeers,
hero afraid of wife: Up in Mabel's Room,
men lose confidence along with careers in Depression: The Inside Story,
two kinds of masculinity, intense male-male relations: Sands of Iwo Jima,
man discussed in "Gilded Lily" musical number: Montana Belle,
urban tough guy crooks, good guy cop who reads: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Complex relationships with a superior (hero and king: Robin Hood,
private and Sgt. Stryker: Sands of Iwo Jima)
- Phallic symbols, typically not regular guns (villain's knife: A Modern Musketeer,
lances: Robin Hood,
hero holds hat in front: Man to Man,
Grandfather's knife, bench in jail: Heidi,
rifle fight: Sands of Iwo Jima,
barometer in Brent's office, pitchfork in fight: Montana Belle,
strange post on ship: Pearl of the South Pacific,
John Payne's long camera, microphone in TV speech: Slightly Scarlet,
spears, chief's staff: Enchanted Island,
gas guns, flame throwers: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Offices, sometimes symbolic (hero: A Modern Musketeer,
bank president: Man to Man,
radio ad-man's filled with high tech mural: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
villain's at saloon: Frontier Marshal,
villain's: Look Who's Laughing,
hero: Up in Mabel's Room,
Consul's huge office: Abroad with Two Yanks,
hero's lavish office: Brewster's Millions,
inn owner Lockhart: The Inside Story,
George Brent's in casino: Montana Belle,
High Priest's book-filled office: Pearl of the South Pacific,
crime boss: Slightly Scarlet,
police good guy's book-filled office: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Two men dancing together (Bendix trains Loder: Abroad with Two Yanks,
Wayne trains recruit: Sands of Iwo Jima) related
(all-male Hopi dancers: A Modern Musketeer, Ritz Brothers cymbal dance: The Three Musketeers)
- Shirtless men (Fairbanks: The Half-Breed,
Fairbanks swimming: He Comes Up Smiling,
George O'Brien: East Side, West Side,
Jimmy Durante spoofs Tarzan: Hollywood Party,
Lance Fuller and island men, Dennis Morgan while swimming: Pearl of the South Pacific,
Tom, Islanders: Enchanted Island)
- Characters who have to act normal in the midst of zaniness
(historical figures who carry plot: The Three Musketeers, boyfriend, niece: The Gorilla,
singer Harry Babbitt: Around the World,
lady-like heroine, John Loder: Abroad with Two Yanks,
financial manager: Brewster's Millions)
related (young man acts idealistic in the midst of predatory characters: Black Sheep)
- Unusual episodes (hero has illusions or visions of possible adventurous lives: The Restless Spirit,
fantasy of Musketeers: A Modern Musketeer,
symbolic scene of hero in giant canary cage: He Comes Up Smiling,
prologue showing past restored: Robin Hood,
hero smells food cooking, we see food: Manhandled,
heroine's fantasy at start: Stage Struck,
storybook tableau at start, day to night dissolve at convent, phantoms after death at finale: The Iron Mask,
film vs reality in sporting shot, vision of father in water: Man to Man,
women whispering name in chorus on soundtrack: Her First Affaire,
storybook tale becomes musical number: Heidi,
transition to evening clothes: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
hero gets rid of plot by discarding ring: Around the World,
dream: Up in Mabel's Room,
animated dream sequence: Brewster's Millions,
montage showing Depression: The Inside Story)
- Special depictions of memory (memory of heroine as special effect: Robin Hood,
memory of heroine's dying message: The Iron Mask,
memory of heroine's voice at end: Suez,
hero recognizes heroine by comparing present to memory: Montana Belle)
- Prologues (A Modern Musketeer, Robin Hood, The Iron Mask,
hero at college: Man to Man, Frontier Marshal,
Young People, historical frame: The Inside Story, Belle Le Grand)
- Strange mirrors (knife used as mirror: A Modern Musketeer,
mirror at corridor end: Suez, sign painted on saloon mirror: Frontier Marshal,
distorting funhouse mirror: Abroad with Two Yanks)
related (hero looks at himself reflected in metal gauntlet, but reflection not shown on screen: Robin Hood)
- Regular mirror shots (heroine reflected in apartment window, disheveled in mirror at end: Manhandled,
queen seen in hand mirror: The Iron Mask,
hero and heroine reflected in water: Man to Man,
hero enters room with heroine in wedding dress: Brewster's Millions,
girl sees herself in new dress: Driftwood,
father and daughter in mirror in Lockhart's office: The Inside Story,
behind bar in "Gilded Lily" musical number, heroine's room: Montana Belle,
in women's quarters: Tennessee's Partner,
circular mirror on wall, rear-view car mirror: The River's Edge,
hero studies himself in mirror: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
Vertical Camera Movement:
- Camera movement, following characters through yards or gardens
(short walks on shore in front of steam boat: Stage Struck,
heroine's front yard: Man to Man,
lovers in garden: Chances,
author carries heroine to front door: Her First Affaire,
roses: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
walking past balustrade at night: Abroad with Two Yanks,
sidewalk and gate before front yard garden: Driftwood,
heroine and Karns on sidewalk with bushes: The Inside Story,
"I'll Go No More A Roving" and heroine in front yard garden: Sweethearts on Parade,
heroine in house yards and along fence: Belle Le Grand,
entering Native American village: Cattle Queen of Montana,
pan of sisters walking through front yard at start: Slightly Scarlet,
simple pans at gas station, Quinn's ranch: The River's Edge)
related interior tracks (along ship's decks: Black Sheep, through huge lobby: Brewster's Millions)
related (Silent Night: Heidi) related without camera movement
(Fairbanks in front yards: A Modern Musketeer)
- Camera movement of people on slopes
(pan as father carries daughter down steps of theater: Heidi,
camera in as Power goes up steps at end, camera out as Power backs down steps: Suez,
camera in on Marines leaving ship ramp, pan as heroine walks down steps: Abroad with Two Yanks,
camera movements starting or ending with characters on inn stairs: The Inside Story,
pan as Wayne moves up ladder on slope: Sands of Iwo Jima,
pan back and forth as people ride down forest slope: Montana Belle)
- Camera movements down bars following objects (shot glass pulled: Montana Belle,
body shoved down bar during fight: Woman They Almost Lynched)
- Path / reverse path camera movements (to back then front of junk shop: One Mile from Heaven,
matron moves down row of beds, heroine reverses: Suez,
window to roof and back, into study then back passing man in window, kitchen: The Gorilla,
Scott crosses street to saloon at start, returns: Frontier Marshal,
walking past balustrade at night: Abroad with Two Yanks,
crossing inn lobby: The Inside Story,
shot glass on bar, "Gilded Lily" musical number: Montana Belle,
"I'll Go No More A Roving" and heroine down and up garden path: Sweethearts on Parade,
heroine moves back and forth across cabin: Pearl of the South Pacific,
Dahl crosses mansion living room, then re-crosses to stair, Payne enters then leaves boss's office: Slightly Scarlet)
- Point Of View shots from moving characters (father arrives in town and sees young men: Man to Man,
men on wagons arrive in town and see heroine: Sweethearts on Parade)
- Stop-and-start movement down a row of people (drunk moves down people at bar: Black Sheep,
Marines waiting to go into battle on ship, Marines hear wounded man: Sands of Iwo Jima)
- People slowly ride down streets (bad guys arrive in town for finale: Montana Belle,
bad guys arrive in town at start: Silver Lode)
- People move down streets (people walking in small town: Man to Man,
hero briefly walks London street: Chances,
reporter in black neighborhood: One Mile from Heaven,
carriage chase: Heidi,
hero singing and riding at start, "Song of the Musketeers": The Three Musketeers,
Eddie Foy walks to stage depot: Frontier Marshal,
hero and boy enter town: Trail of the Vigilantes,
Cairo: Around the World,
heroine on sidewalks: Calendar Girl,
Wayne and friend after visiting woman: Sands of Iwo Jima,
Brady kidnaps rival during "Gilded Lily" number: Montana Belle)
- Depth staging down long narrow streets, with people and camera moving a bit along
(procession moves down drawbridge at start: Robin Hood,
down Paris street with rooms and bars: While Paris Sleeps,
corridor outside staterooms: Black Sheep,
dance at Louis XIV court, people leave theater aisle: Heidi,
fete: Suez, hotel corridor: Frontier Marshal,
upstairs corridor: Up in Mabel's Room,
outside Marine office, brig corridor: Abroad with Two Yanks,
Shayne and Lockhart on garden path to house: The Inside Story,
street where drunken Wayne is found: Sands of Iwo Jima,
street where jailbreak occurs: Tennessee's Partner)
- Pans introducing locales (track or pan shows hero entering saloon: Tide of Empire,
town at start: Heidi,
drug store, track through clothing store: Driftwood,
track shows inn: The Inside Story,
dance hall, Honolulu bar: Sands of Iwo Jima)
Staging and Visual Style:
- Vertical pans (Fairbanks climbs down tree: Manhattan Madness,
Fairbanks climbs steeple, pan down canyon, Fairbanks climbs ladder: A Modern Musketeer,
pan up to Robin Hood at window, up from bad guys, to Merry Men overhead in tree: Robin Hood,
from woman in window to lovers on ground: The Iron Mask,
small vertical movement showing saloon crowd: Tide of Empire,
along cane: Man to Man,
Scott climbs down from balcony: Frontier Marshal,
up windows with musicians at end: Calendar Girl,
down from sign to kids at start: Silver Lode,
islander climbs palm tree: Enchanted Island)
- Vertical crane or other motion of the actual camera up or down (Fairbanks climbs tree to convent window: The Iron Mask,
camera moves up as boyfriend stands up from floor: Her First Affaire, down from hayloft: Heidi)
- Long shots, showing characters against canyon backgrounds (A Modern Musketeer, Robin Hood,
opening shot: Heidi, The River's Edge)
- Full-body group shots of the characters (Man to Man, Chances, The Gorilla,
from saloon stage: Frontier Marshal, The River's Edge)
- Overhead shots (from battlements, women and scarves: Robin Hood,
Gloria Swanson leaves subway car, bargain basement shoppers: Manhandled,
battle between Cardinal's troops and assassins, fisherman seen from prison window: The Iron Mask,
people greeting Wells Fargo stagecoach (from balcony?), riders: Tide of Empire,
from upstairs windows: Man to Man,
camera movement showing kids in areaway in black neighborhood: One Mile from Heaven,
from hayloft, carriages seen in street from Heidi's window: Heidi,
downstairs and into waltz, hero's carriage leaves, rioters: Suez,
minstrels: The Three Musketeers,
heroine dancing, seen by men above, fire engine in street: Calendar Girl,
from ship down to small boat: Sands of Iwo Jima,
people getting out of wagon seen from hotel room: Montana Belle,
from bell tower: Silver Lode,
outside mansion: Slightly Scarlet,
from building down to street: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Overhead shots in landscapes (heroine and villains riding on canyon floor: A Modern Musketeer,
football field: Rise and Shine,
finale: Surrender, horse chase on road: Tennessee's Partner,
soldiers at finale: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Symmetric compositions, with left and right sides of screen as mirror-images (Fairbanks as bank teller, town with banner, alley with ladder: He Comes Up Smiling,
procession on drawbridge at start: Robin Hood,
banquet: Stage Struck,
frog race: Tide of Empire,
dance at Louis XIV court: Heidi,
Louis Napoleon at start: Suez,
Bela Lugosi slides doors: The Gorilla,
"Come and Get Your Happiness" musical number: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
final town meeting at end: Young People,
cheerleaders seen from above in long shot: Rise and Shine,
watching television: Brewster's Millions,
Shayne and Lockhart on garden path to house: The Inside Story,
Brady and opponent after fight, Cherokee in lake between trees, bank: Montana Belle,
opening shot of palace: Escape to Burma,
TV broadcast: Slightly Scarlet)
- Circular architecture (time clock at department store: Manhandled,
keg at fiesta: Tide of Empire,
bar at start: Chances,
arches in staircase hall, kitchen table, lights: The Gorilla,
the well, portholes: Abroad with Two Yanks,
hero's office furniture: Brewster's Millions,
bank vault door: The Inside Story,
wheel of fortune in casino: Montana Belle,
arches on porch: Cattle Queen of Montana,
ship deck at start: Pearl of the South Pacific)
- Octagonal architecture (palace throne room: Escape to Burma,
plaza with statue: Pearl of the South Pacific)
- Blue-orange with a touch of green (hero's office, heroine's rooms, meal: Montana Belle,
shack at start, restaurant, hotel lobby: The River's Edge)
- Red-blue color schemes, often vibrant (on deck at start: Pearl of the South Pacific,
jail with jailer in blue and pink: Tennessee's Partner,
red and blue, purple mansion interior with green plants, boss' office: Slightly Scarlet)
- Blue and pinkish white ("Gilded Lily" number in saloon: Montana Belle)
- Blue and white (below decks at start: Pearl of the South Pacific)
- Red-green color schemes (first scene at blacksmith: Montana Belle,
"I'll Go No More A Roving" and garden: Sweethearts on Parade,
pink and green terrace at mansion: Slightly Scarlet,
bath, dance at restaurant, trailer, police station: The River's Edge)
- Red-white color schemes (lunch wagon at finale: Stage Struck,
hero's wagon: Sweethearts on Parade,
gas station: The River's Edge)
- Red-yellow-blue color schemes (opening: Slightly Scarlet)
- Masks that cover the whole head (hero in helmet, mysterious knight: Robin Hood, The Iron Mask,
giant apple mask: Around the World,
head masks at fair: Abroad with Two Yanks)
related (basket over heads allows lovers to kiss in private: The Iron Mask)
- Other masks (boyfriend masks face as joke: Her First Affaire,
blue kerchiefs signaling the Dalton gang: Montana Belle)
- Elaborate headgear (woman's huge veil in Musketeer prologue: A Modern Musketeer,
Gloria Swanson's hat attacked in subway car: Manhandled,
Swanson's lace mantilla, tiara, silver grape leaves at start, hero's chef's hat, wheat cake on head: Stage Struck,
Spanish heroine's mantilla: Tide of Empire,
police spiked helmets, grandfather's big hat: Heidi,
Bill Robinson's busby: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
Loretta Young's hats, huge veils, crown, shiny helmet: Suez,
Porthos' hat denounced: The Three Musketeers,
heroine's odd-shaped hat: The Gorilla,
saloon singers' feathered hats: Frontier Marshal,
Charlotte Greenwood's striped hat: Young People,
Lucille Ball's big hat with veil: Look Who's Laughing,
big circular hat, Kyser's mortar board: Around the World,
top hat in dream: Up in Mabel's Room,
firemen's helmets: Calendar Girl,
lawyer's wife's bonnet: The Inside Story,
Hope Emerson's wig: Belle Le Grand,
heroine's big hats, towel on hair: Montana Belle,
saloon gals' fancy hats: Woman They Almost Lynched,
chief's buffalo helmet: Cattle Queen of Montana,
metal helmet: Escape to Burma,
hardhats in construction zone: High Air)
- Trenchcoats (officers: Chances, hero: The Gorilla,
William Lundigan's trenchcoat-like coat: The Inside Story,
white coat at start: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Dressy uniforms (hero at start: Stage Struck, heroes: Chances,
ship stewards: Black Sheep, Frankfurt officials: Heidi,
usher, toy soldiers in musical: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
French soldiers in Paris: Suez,
pilot: Look Who's Laughing,
officer in Australia, pilot: Around the World,
Marines: Abroad with Two Yanks,
returning vets: Brewster's Millions, firemen: Calendar Girl, Sands of Iwo Jima,
British officer: Escape to Burma,
policeman: It's Always Sunday,
policeman: The River's Edge,
police: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Boots (Musketeer prologue, riders: A Modern Musketeer,
Ian Keith: Her Love Story,
hero and others: The Iron Mask,
hero out West: Tide of Empire,
heroes on train: Chances,
hero, Cardinal's Guards: The Three Musketeers,
Randolph Scott: Frontier Marshal,
Dean Jagger: Driftwood,
villain: Cattle Queen of Montana,
overseer: Escape to Burma)
- Leather jackets (Eddie at newspaper: Young People,
Edgar Begren as pilot: Look Who's Laughing,
Dean Jagger: Driftwood, hobo, bridegroom: It's Always Sunday,
hero: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Bow ties (villain in crooks den: A Modern Musketeer,
Fairbanks: He Comes Up Smiling,
Frank Morgan: Manhandled,
Lawrence Gray: Stage Struck,
father: Man to Man,
news vendor at start: Chances,
Tyrone Power: Suez,
Eddie Foy's comedy bow tie: Frontier Marshal,
sophisticate Raymond Walburn: Rise and Shine,
soda jerk: Look Who's Laughing,
Dennis O'Keefe: Up in Mabel's Room,
lawyer Robert Shayne: The Inside Story,
waiters quartet singing "Man in the Moon": Montana Belle,
John Payne: Slightly Scarlet,
butler: Most Dangerous Man Alive)
- Tuxedos (at mansion: Manhattan Madness,
Ricardo Cortez: A Society Scandal,
Owen Moore: What a Widow!,
evening dress uniforms: Chances,
hero: Black Sheep,
white tuxedos on stage: Song and Dance Man,
band in white tuxedos: Around the World,
black tuxedo, white tuxedos: Brewster's Millions)
- White tie and tails (villain: A Modern Musketeer,
Chip in car at end: Manhandled,
at end: Stage Struck,
Lew Cody: What a Widow!,
men at party: Chances,
Tom Brown: Black Sheep,
Tyrone Power: Suez,
Bella Union saloon owner: Frontier Marshal,
family on-stage: Young People,
Jerry and others at gathering: Look Who's Laughing,
James Ellison: Calendar Girl)
- Daytime formal wear (Charlie McCarthy: Look Who's Laughing,
in dream: Up in Mabel's Room)
- Sticks (Dwight Frye with cane: Man to Man,
hero uses umbrella at start, Archie's cane: Chances,
walking stick with hidden compartment: Black Sheep,
family carries sticks on stage: Young People,
umbrella carried by sophisticate Raymond Walburn: Rise and Shine)
- Women in men's clothes (toy soldier: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,
Arabella in boyish clothes: Suez, show biz sequences: Young People,
Belle Starr dressed as male robber: Montana Belle)
men in women's clothes (Abroad with Two Yanks)
A Modern Musketeer
A Modern Musketeer (1917) is one of several films Dwan
directed with Douglas Fairbanks.
I found A Modern Musketeer disappointing. It has a few good sequences,
mainly in the first half of the picture. But much of the film is labored.
And like some other early Fairbanks comedy-adventures such as Wild and Woolly
(John Emerson, 1917), A Modern Musketeer suffers from racism, here
in its treatment of Native Americans. There is also an unpleasant rationalization
of women "wanting" violence. These early Fairbanks films are disappointing.
The upper class appearing villain, turns out to have a secret past as a criminal.
The bad guy in Belle Le Grand will be concealing a similar criminal background -
although not from the audience, as in A Modern Musketeer.
The cyclone sequence shows both good special effects, and good visual style.
It anticipates the big storm in Suez. The hurricane in A Modern Musketeer
shows much of the hero's home town.
The best sequence shows young Fairbanks' enthusiastic response, to the idea of
getting out of his small town. Millions of people must have shared this goal. The
sequence starts off in his living room, and winds up with him leaping all over yards
and buildings in his town. It shows a delight absent in much of the rest of the film.
Sand Works and Water Works
A Modern Musketeer has early, simple examples of two kinds of engineering constructions
that will play a role in later Dwan: sand works and water works.
Fairbanks attaches a flat car platform to the back of his auto, and has the villain
and chauffeur ride there. This causes sand to blow in their faces.
During the Musketeer prologue, d'Artagnan tips a pot of water from the fireplace
onto a villain. This is really simple, compared to the elaborate water works
in later Dwan.
In the second half, Fairbanks is shown against a panorama of the Grand Canyon,
in some spectacular shots. These reflect Dwan's technique, of long shots that embed characters
within a background.
Architecture and Movement
The shots showing the character being raised and lowered by a rope into the Canyon are
fascinating. The title cards explicitly compare this to an "elevator".
Like his other early Fairbanks movies, A Modern Musketeer shows Fairbanks
moving all over architecture.
Fairbanks climbs up or down multi-story architecture:
Fairbanks frequently moves through windows, a favorite Dwan action:
- An interior: the inn in the prologue has a balcony and rafters.
- Outside: Fairbanks' office building.
- The church steeple.
- The hotel with its roof and balcony.
Fairbanks' car runs over fences when he leaves town. This anticipates a clever escape in
Dwan's The Three Musketeers (1939), where the carriage moves over a fence.
- Fairbanks escapes out the inn window in the prologue.
- He leaves from his office window in the modern story.
- He also jumps through an inside window leading from the
crooks' den to a pantry, in the early melee.
- He enters an ancient dwelling in the canyon through its window.
There are two angled-overhead shots, looking down on maze-like architecture.
Both have walls open at the top:
- The crooks' den, with its partitions between rooms.
- The ancient Native American ruins in the canyon.
There are three vertical pans:
- Fairbanks climbs up the steeple.
- The camera pans down a canyon.
- Fairbanks climbs up a ladder in the canyon.
Dwan includes an overhead view, looking down from a balcony at the hotel.
This is not straight down, unlike the overhead shots in many later Dwan pictures.
Instead, it is on a sloping angle.
Similarly, a shot of the heroine, villain and guide riding on the canyon floor,
is from an sloping overhead angle, not straight down.
He Comes Up Smiling
He Comes Up Smiling (1918) is one of several films Dwan
directed with Douglas Fairbanks. Apparently, all that mainly survives from it
is the opening sequence. The sequence has Fairbanks scrambling all over buildings in his town.
This opening is delightful. Like the previous Manhattan Madness (1916)
and A Modern Musketeer (1917), it shows at an early date such Dwan subjects as:
All of this takes place in an urban environment, something that seems highly satisfying to me.
- Characters moving in and out of windows, instead of doors.
- People moving up and down walls and building facades.
- People climbing over roofs.
- Multi-story architecture: the alley Fairbanks leaps over has a
second story balcony on the left.
The town's street has a big "Vote for Dugan" banner over it. This will be
multiplied into large scale bunting decorating towns in later Dwan films.
Visual Puns: Humans and Animals
The opening implicitly compares the hero's bank teller cage, with the cage containing
the pet bird. Both seem imprisoned, albeit a bit gently.
We also see Fairbanks inside a huge birdcage himself: a bit of fantasy.
There is soon a second visual pun: Fairbanks plays on the cage grillwork, as if it were a harp.
Fairbanks has the bird climb up his fingers, as a form of exercise.
This echoes all the scenes of humans climbing, in both Fairbanks and Dwan pictures.
It is another example in Dwan of erasing the line between humans and animals.
So are all the humans-in-cage metaphors in He Comes Up Smiling and other Dwan films.
A boat in the water, itself has a region filled with water. This is perhaps a simple example
of the more elaborate water works in other Dwan films.
He Comes Up Smiling has some of Dwan's symmetric compositions.
These are not as purely symmetrical as in other Dwan films:
- The town with the banner has buildings on both sides. This is largely symmetrical:
but the buildings are different on either side.
- The alley with the ladder keeps having the ladder lean against one side or the other.
This has the ladder not standing straight up in the middle - as would be required by pure symmetry.
Instead, we get a kinetic quality, of alternating between two positions that are themselves mirror images of each other.
It is a kind of kinetic evocation of symmetry.
Fairbanks is an early example, of a Dwan hero wearing a bow tie with his suit.
One suspects that this was fairly common in real life in 1918. Dwan is still using this look for
John Payne in Slightly Scarlet (1956).
Fairbanks goes swimming shirtless and in his underwear. This is clearly an attempt to show off his physique.
A swimming Fairbanks had even less on in Dwan's The Half-Breed (1916).
Fairbanks's incredibly skimpy costume in The Half-Breed has a precedent.
It recalls that of real-life boxer Jim Corbett. You can see Corbett in an early film of
a boxing bout in the documentary Before the Nickelodeon: The Cinema of Edwin S. Porter
(Charles Musser, 1982). A delightful fictional film about Corbett is
Gentleman Jim (Raoul Walsh, 1942).
The canary is named Agamemnon. Agamemnon is a character in Greek mythology.
The play Agamemnon (458 BC) by Aeschylus is both the greatest Greek drama, and the greatest play by anyone
other than Shakespeare. Perhaps I'm stretching: but want to point out that Agamemnon
has features that anticipate Allan Dwan films:
- Heroine Clytemnestra is a working woman, ruling the city.
- A conflict between two governing groups: Agamemnon and Clytemnestra for control of the city.
- Characters on the move: Agamemnon comes home from the Trojan War.
- Water works: Agamemnon is stabbed in his bath.
- Women with weapons: Clytemnestra does the stabbing.
- High tech communication: the chain of fire beacons that spread news, at the start of the play.
Robin Hood (1922) is a lavish re-telling of the legend, with Douglas Fairbanks.
Robin Hood contains several Dwan themes:
- It has brothers: King Richard and his evil brother John.
- It shows a social and economic process: Prince John's oppressive tax on the poor.
- The hero is falsely accused and becomes a social outcast: King Richard accuses the hero
of disloyalty, when the hero tries to return to England.
- The hero's relationship with the king who commands him, is as complex as
private John Agar's with Sergeant Stryker (John Wayne) in Sands of Iwo Jima.
- Characters are on the move: off to the Crusades, crossing Europe.
- There is a big party: after the opening tournament. As in Chances,
this party is right before the characters go off to war.
- The heroine making the silhouette, anticipates a bit the more serious artist
characters who run through later Dwan films, such as the woman painter in Chances.
Dwan has a fondness for large scale water works, such as the canal in Suez and
The Poisoned Flume. There are several water works in Robin Hood:
The priory garden might be the medieval equivalent of the front yards in other Dwan films.
- The castle with its moat. This includes a drawbridge, seen in the film's dramatic first
shot of the action. There are also windows above the water, a climbable wall, and a boat
used by the hero to escape.
- Marian in exile, is glimpsed by a tumbling stream. This is one of the most beautiful shots
in the film.
- Fairbanks has a "shrine" by a waterfall, at his Merry Men headquarters.
Many of the crowd scenes, show countless lances with pennants, sticking straight up into the air.
I do not know how unusual or conventional this was in 1922. They form a major part of Dwan's
compositions. Raoul Walsh and Fairbanks would make similar effects in
The Thief of Bagdad (1924) two years later.
Taking Back the Town
The hero encourages the townspeople of Nottingham to revolt. They do, in a way that
recalls the French Revolution. Like the French revolutionaries of next year's Scaramouche
(Rex Ingram, 1923) they carry farm implements. These tools echo the vertical lances in the castle scenes.
Movies about the French Revolution were enormously popular, circa 1920.
Masks and Helmets
The hero makes a striking entrance, with his helmet concealing his face. This is both comic, and
Later, a helmeted knight of mysterious identity will enter the picture. This character seems
more taken from Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe, than from conventional legends of Robin Hood.
Dwan and Fairbanks will soon make The Iron Mask.
There is a secret passage from the Merry Men camp, through a tunnel to the woods and out
a tree stump. This recalls the secret passages in the walls of the old dark house in The Gorilla.
In the comic books, Superboy will have a similar secret exit from his house,
through a tunnel to the woods. He will also meet masked figures with concealed identities. One wonders
if childhood viewings of Robin Hood influenced the comic book writers.
Dwan likes large interiors, that show more than one level. The castle interiors are a prime
example, with their high balcony, windows and staircases. These are featured in one of the
film's best sequences, Robin's first raid on the castle.
Up and Down
Dwan's modern day films feature elevators, and mechanisms that help characters move up and down walls
and cliffs. In Robin Hood, the hero moves down the huge drape in the castle. He also
uses a sling to elevate the bad guy in his raid on the castle.
Robin Hood also includes memorable scenes of the hero climbing down the wall of the
castle, and up the gate of Nottingham.
The hero stands on a cliff, where Marian has disappeared. We see a panorama behind him -
although it is not as clearly photographed as in some of Dwan's other films.
Dwan includes what looks like vertical pans. There is a pan up to Robin Hood at the window, in his
first raid on the castle. Later, we pan up from bad guys, to the Merry Men overhead in a tree.
The scenes on the battlement are frequently filmed from a high angle, so that we can see down to the ground.
During the big fight, Dwan employs a high level, straight downward view.
Dwan also uses elevated angles, when it helps make the story clear. When the hero is pursued by the
maidens with their scarves after the joust, Dwan's elevated angle makes each maid clear and distinct.
Dwan similarly uses high angles, to show processions of the knights moving across the countryside.
When the hero recovers, we see his point-of-view struggle have his vision come into focus.
The hero's memory of the heroine, materializes as a special effects image of her.
In Montana Belle, the hero will recognize the heroine, when a brief flashback
representing his memory of her from a previous scene, is cut into his current look at her.
Both of these techniques are not uncommon in film history. I do not know how unusual they
were in 1922.
Manhandled (1924) is one of several films Dwan made with Gloria Swanson.
Manhandled recalls the short stories of O. Henry, with working class New Yorkers
caught up with society types. A charming O. Henry adaptation made nearly a decade before,
Young Romance (George Melford, 1915), has the characters working in a store,
like Swanson in Manhandled.
However, Manhandled is less of a comedy than many O. Henry films.
It has some comic set pieces, but much of it is a soap opera about Swanson wanting to party with the rich,
which sets her up for the attentions of lecherous upper crust men.
This aspect can be pretty grim.
Swanson impersonates a Russian countess. An earlier romantic comedy,
The Delicious Little Devil (Robert Z. Leonard, 1919)
has its working class New Yorker heroine claiming to be a famous European exotic dancer,
and having much career success thereby. The Russian countess episodes in Manhandled
give the film some much needed comedy relief. They are bubbly and fun.
Manhandled also recalls the marriage-divorce-and-infidelity comedy-dramas
of Cecil B. DeMille. These films, some of which starred Gloria Swanson, were big hits in their day.
In some ways, Manhandled looks like an imitation of them, although the heroine and hero of
Manhandled are merely engaged, not married like most of DeMille's couples.
In The Affairs of Anatol (DeMille, 1921), the husband hero keeps getting involved, fairly
innocently, in compromising situations that link him to other women. Manhandled
has something of a similar ambiguity. Although Swanson loves the hero, she keeps getting linked
to other men. Sometimes this is fairly innocent on her part: she accepts jobs from two of these men,
who wind up sexually harassing her. Other times, she is not so innocent,
either accepting dates or flirting with them. She keeps pushing the edge, often ambiguously,
of how far a woman can go to be involved with other men, and still keep up a
relationship with a steady boyfriend she hopes to marry. It is a risque plot,
and not really a pleasant one.
Links to The River's Edge
The situation of the characters at the film's start, anticipates that in The River's Edge:
The hero is not the cause of the heroine's problems in Manhandled. Society itself decrees
that working women like the heroine lead lives of hard work and discomfort. The hero is only
responsible, in that he is not yet a financial success, and unable to provide something better for the heroine.
- The heroine is distressed by her high tech environment, which she finds horribly uncomfortable and
emotionally crude: the store, its time clock and above all the subway in Manhandled,
the house full of gizmos and the malfunctioning shower in The River's Edge.
- The hero by contrast enjoys his environment and technology, and likes to create gizmos:
his pleasant garage and invention in Manhandled,
his ranch and inventions in The River's Edge.
- The hero optimistically looks to the future, and feels he is building up towards future success.
- The heroine sees only her miserable present, and hates it.
- The hero has a strong work ethic, and enjoys his life; the heroine works hard, but despises work as a lifestyle.
- The heroine decides that adultery and leaving her boyfriend or husband is her key to success.
By contrast, in The River's Edge the hero might be seen as the source of the heroine's problems.
He is choosing to have them live on his primitive ranch, at a time when better jobs and modern conveniences
are available in big cities.
The Party and the Artists
The party at the sculptor's studio is another of Dwan's expansive party sequences.
It includes those recurring Dwan types, young people in the arts: a sculptor, a novelist.
These men are a bit older and more established than many of the young artists in Dwan, however.
Title cards in which two artists discuss such aesthetic issues as non-representational art and
form vs content, seem genuinely intellectual.
Artist characters were common in silent films. Partly this is because painters, sculptors and their studios
were purely visual environments that came through great in a silent film, without sound.
Partly it is because such artists had great intellectual and social prestige in this era.
Dwan's heroes are often falsely accused of crimes, and suffer social rejection for it.
This is partially true of the heroine of Manhandled. Her boyfriend sees all the fancy clothes
she has been lent in her role as the Russian countess, and jumps to the wrong conclusion
that she is a kept woman. He then rejects her.
But some of his conclusions about the heroine are true. She does accept dinner invitations
from well-to-do men behind his back. And the latest one has led to her being mauled by this roue.
His perception of this is accurate. So the heroine is less falsely accused in Manhandled
than many other Dwan characters.
Also, it is only the hero who rejects the heroine. In many Dwan films,
the protagonist suffers massive social rejection and ostracism, or legal trouble.
The hero is an inventor. His device to save gas in cars is one of the
engineered objects in Dwan. He works in a garage, a mechanical locale.
The famous subway opening anticipates the tunnel builders in High Air.
What looks like a time clock at the store, is a complex machine.
The hero's attempt to sell his invention is perhaps one of Dwan's financial processes.
However, it is fairly simply told compared to the financial systems explored in other Dwan films.
One suspects Dwan likes the frenzied activity in the store and subway. At the very least,
these people are out living active lives and spending money. They contrast with the
frightening quiet and lack of economic activity in the depressed town in The Inside Story.
The heroine's attempts to get the exact change needed for the subway, are perhaps a very
simple financial process.
Water works are far less elaborate in Manhandled than in some other Dwan films.
Still, there are two scenes in which we see a woman washing dishes in her apartment.
The hero uses a sink at his garage.
The heroine gets her legs splattered by a car driving through a puddle, at the start.
This anticipates the heroine sweeping dust on bad guy's shoes in Montana Belle.
Up and Down
The climax of the comic subway scene has petite Swanson inadvertently lifted off the floor by
two men standing beside her, who do not realize what they are doing. Dwan characters are often suspended
in swings or in the air.
The sculptor's apartment building has one of Dwan's elevators, although its operation
is not much shown.
Dwan uses overhead camera angles, to show the heroine trapped in ferocious New York City crowds:
first when she tries to leave the subway car, later in the bargain basement store where she works.
Staging Through Windows and Doors
When the heroine is splashed with water on the street, she is in front of large windows.
One can vaguely see shapes inside. They play no role in the plot.
In the subway, we frequently see through the subway doors to the platform. Sometimes this is an open doorway.
Sometimes we see through the closed glass doors of the car.
The subway scene shows the heroine's difficulties in both entering the subway car's door, and leaving it.
Such ideas are perhaps linked to Dwan's long-term stylistic interest in shooting through doors.
The hero's garage has a large doorway, through which we can see the street. No plot action occurs in the street,
but we can see traffic.
Later, the heroine uses a phone booth at the store. Through the glass window of the door, we get
a huge "depth view" of the store.
The couple look at some of their neighbors. Each neighbor is framed through their apartment window.
The fact that the hero and heroine have rooms in the same urban building, and can look out
to see other people through windows across the way, both anticipate Calendar Girl.
Dwan likes multi-unit dwellings where more than one character lives.
The sculptor and Frank Morgan also live in the same apartment building, one more upscale than the
working class hero and heroine's.
We get our first glimpse of the Detroit parts company, through a door that opens.
Early on, the hero smells food in the apartment house - something he likes.
There is a cut to a shot of the food on a stove, apparently in someone's apartment.
This is an unusually told sequence, with something the hero can't see (the food), suggesting what he is smelling.
The scene also is an example of the enjoyment of food in Dwan.
Frank Morgan will later be famous in the title role of The Wizard of Oz, and
as the shop owner in The Shop Around the Corner. Even at this early date, he is playing a man
who is genial, in charge, but not really trustworthy and given to fraudulent schemes, in an unmalicious way.
His comic characters are not really intellectually deep, but they are energetic and inventive.
They are also a bit of a blowhard. It is a complex persona with plenty of good-natured appeal.
Young Ian Keith, who plays the sculptor, also appears in Dwan's next film Her Love Story (1924),
where he is another of Dwan's men in big boots. Twenty years later he will play the delightful ham
Shakespeare actor Vitamin Flintheart in Dick Tracy vs. Cueball
(Gordon Douglas, 1946).
Stage Struck (1925) is one of several films Dwan made with Gloria Swanson.
It is a romantic comedy. As in Dwan's previous Swanson vehicle Manhandled,
Swanson once again plays a working woman, this time a waitress. Both are "ordinary" people, just getting by.
Working women run through Dwan, and he usually treats them sympathetically.
With its waitress heroine and cook hero, and an opening banquet scene,
Stage Struck is another Dwan work that celebrates the enjoyment of food.
The Day Dream
Stage Struck opens with Swanson's day dreams of stardom as a stage actress.
This color sequence is delightful. It is highly exaggerated of course, but that is what makes it fun.
It also conveys archetypal, well-imagined images of stage success.
Dwan films often have episodes of non-standard storytelling: dreams, burst of fatally,
storybook images coming to life. They are usually highlights of the films in which they appear.
Swanson is seen in all sorts of costumes. These include the elaborate hats and headgear
that run through Dwan films: lace mantilla, tiara, silver grape leaves.
(Later we will see the hero's chef's hat, and the wheat cake the heroine flips on her head.)
Hero Lawrence Gray also gets an outfit popular in Dwan: a dressy uniform, in this case
a European style comic opera uniform, all in white in keeping with the light celebratory tone.
The architecture includes a favorite Dwan setting, a theater. The theater has boxes,
and is another Dwan interior with more than one story.
The flowers lavished on the heroine are examples of the huge gifts of flowers in Dwan.
The banquet is one of the bilaterally symmetric scenes in Dwan.
It is also one of Dwan's lavish, fun-filled parties.
The hero pours batter from a pitcher to make wheat cakes. This pitcher is a small kind of "water works".
It is used by the skilled hero in his work.
Depth Staging Through Architecture
When the hero cooks wheat cakes at the restaurant, he is near a window through which women watch him.
Lawrence Gray plays the short-order cook who is the object of Swanson's unrequited affections.
Mainly, Lawrence Gray was a really handsome man - the answer to the maiden's prayer.
He was also "fresh", breezy, and energetic, a type that was big for young men in the 1920's.
This sort of high energy, positive thinker, loaded with charm, still seems like a not-bad role model for men,
even if the characters he played also often had flaws or were superficial.
Gray as a playboy was the best thing about The Patsy (King Vidor, 1928), an otherwise
grim alleged "comedy" about a young woman treated badly by her miserable family.
Lawrence Gray had a pleasant singing voice, and he does a delightful job introducing
the Rogers & Hart standard "With a Song in My Heart" in the early talkie musical
Spring Is Here (John Francis Dillon, 1930).
The Iron Mask
The Iron Mask (1929) is a silent film swashbuckler that reunites Dwan with star Douglas Fairbanks.
The Iron Mask has story problems. The hero tends to react to what bad guys do;
he does not initiate actions or have personal goals. In the first half he mainly tries to rescue the heroine from bad guys;
in the second half he tries to save the king from the villains. These two rescues hardly form a "story" or "plot"
in the traditional sense. Such a fairly passive hero (and heroine) will recur in Dwan's next film
Tide of Empire.
The heroine and woman villain Milady from the first half seem taken from the original novel
The Three Musketeers. These characters and their plot have been modified a bit, and stuffed into
the plot of "the man in the iron mask", where they originally had no role.
The scenes near the end, where the three musketeers hold off bad guys so that d'Artagnan can move ahead on the road,
also derive from an episode earlier in the Musketeer saga than the "iron mask" story.
The Broken Coin
The coin is broken into two parts. D'Artagnan's part is roughly heart shaped.
It recalls the heart shape imagery in other Dwan films, which usually signifies romance.
However, the coin's shape in The Iron Mask is not explicitly heart-shaped,
unlike the romantic heart symbols in other Dwan.
The King's message includes a picture of his part of the coin, along with text.
This recalls the signs in other Dwan films, which sometimes include a picture as well as words.
Masks that Cover the Head
Dwan films like masks, including those that completely cover the head. The Iron Mask of the title is
There is an echo of this mask, early in the film. A woman kindly drops a basket over the head of
Fairbanks and his girlfriend, so they can have privacy while kissing.
The basket forms an odd sort of mask, completely covering both of their heads.
It looks unusual: one rarely sees anything like this in other films.
An interesting shot occurs early in the film: the King walks from the outdoors in a crowded street,
through a large open doorway, inside to a palace. The camera proceeds before him as he walks from
outdoors to inside. Dwan films like to look through doorways - but this is a complete transition
from outdoors to indoors. The camera moving in front of him, recalls the camera movements down streets
in other Dwan films.
Two large scale outdoor sets show Paris of the era.
One might be called the "town square". It has many high windows and balconies on the buildings.
D'Artagnan's girlfriend appears at one of these windows, and talks to d'Artagnan in the street below.
This is a common Dwan staging. Later, the hero drops from this window to the street, one
of many Dwan characters who scale buildings.
The other region is outside the palace, and might be called the "palace square".
It has a huge high balcony that runs around the square, and equally large staircases leading up to it.
This is used for appearances of royalty, crowds gathered to await the royal birth, and other public events.
There are some simple, fairly conventional structures in the exteriors, that serve as Dwan
- A basin in the public square, into which the heroes get chased by a crowd of women, in a comedy sequence.
- The well outside the heroes' home, with which they threaten the villain.
A torch is dropped down it, to show how deep it is.
- A fountain outside the home where the twin is raised.
- The bad guys dump a body in a river channel. It runs through elaborate stonework.
Links to High Air
Towards the end, the heroes go through a tunnel to the king's prison. This tunnel sequence anticipates
Dwan's much later High Air (1956), which is a modern-day film about men building a tunnel under
the Hudson River. Bother of these works are not just "tunnel films", but tunneling films.
They show heroes trying to dig and chip their way through a wall of rock, at the end of the tunnel.
Such active work reminds us that Dwan is an engineer, and his films have an engineering orientation.
SPOILER. Both tunnel films end with similar acts of self-sacrifice.
Vertical Camera Movement
The camera pans straight down from the woman at the window who drops the basket, to show Fairbanks and
his girlfriend below. Dwan likes vertical camera movements. They often show someone climbing up or down;
this one does not.
Fairbanks climbs a tree outside the convent. For a short distance, the camera climbs with him.
Then Dwan cuts to a fixed (non-moving) long shot, which shows the climb and tree as a whole.
The vertical camera movement might be one of the pans Dwan often used for such vertical shots:
but it looks more as if the camera is actually rising, perhaps on some sort of crane or elevator.
Tide of Empire
Tide of Empire (1929) is a silent film made by Dwan, at the very end of the silent era.
It has a soundtrack with music and sound effects, but otherwise is a pure silent movie.
Two Groups in Conflict
Tide of Empire is a Western of sorts, with the heroine's family being Spanish aristocrats in Old California,
and the hero being one of the Americans flooding into California after gold is discovered in 1848.
Tide of Empire shows these two worlds in collision. We get a detailed view of both the Gold Rush,
and the traditional Hispanic way of life in Old California. Both are treated fairly sympathetically.
For a film made so long ago, the Hispanic characters are treated with respect and dignity.
Dwan liked films about two conflicting government parties or groups. The traditional Hispanics
and the Gold Rush newcomers are perhaps related to this approach. However, neither is
actually a government party, and the two are only occasionally in conflict.
So this is not a pure example of this Dwan paradigm.
Tide of Empire mainly lacks appeal to me, although it improves as it goes along.
One problem is a paucity of plot.
Also, the hero and heroine seem passive, goalless and disconnected from the story.
Only at the end, when the hero tries to save the heroine's brother, is the hero purposively involved
in working towards some goal.
The heroine's brother is falsely accused of being an outlaw: he was actually forced to join the gang.
Such falsely accused people often become ostracized in Dwan; the local men try to lynch him, the Western equivalent.
The Gold Rush: Water Works and Finance
The Gold Rush combines two favorite Dwan subjects. It starts at Sutter's mill,
and gold is mainly sought at streams. These are examples of Dwan's beloved water works.
The Gold Rush also shows Dwan's interest in financial processes.
The Gold Rush is a major chapter in US history, one that is entirely driven by money.
We see the initial discovery, and later shovels and panning equipment entirely selling out
in California towns. We see whole towns on the move, emptied of people who've left
to hunt for gold.
The assigning of property through deeds is another financial process, that occurs later in the movie.
Tide of Empire shows the founding of the Wells Fargo company. We see the initial transport of gold
by them from California. The film treats this as the financial unification of the United States:
it enables gold to be transferred between California and the rest of the country,
making a unified economy possible. It is typical of Dwan to take an interest in such financial perspectives.
We also see the buying of gold, apparently by the Wells Fargo firm: this is a historically accurate part
of their real early business in California.
Dwan loves parties. The traditional Spanish fiesta is a an outdoor party staged on a lavish scale.
Cages for Men
An image that runs through Dwan is cages containing men. It is an odd image,
but it goes back at least to Dwan's Fairbanks films in the 1910's. It pops up with
startling directness in Tide of Empire. A jailer wants to join the Gold Rush, but feels he has
to stay bend and guard his prisoners. The hero blithely suggests a solution: build a mobile, wheeled cage,
and take his prisoners along to the Rush!
This leads to a series of comedy episodes. Comedy scenes in jails with a folksy jailer
and none-too-threatening mild-mannered prisoners return in Driftwood.
The long shot overview of the frog race is nearly symmetrical: a kind of composition Dwan likes.
The hero stands by a large keg at the fiesta. It forms a typical Dwan image: a huge vertical circle.
An elaborate track (or is it a pan?) follows the hero when he first enters the saloon.
This is the first we viewers have seen the saloon interior.
Dwan sometimes shows a new location by such a camera moving through it.
Later, another moving shot follows the hero as he moves swiftly towards and up the staircase in the saloon.
Still later, when the hero carries the brother into the saloon, a pair of shots follow the hero
into the saloon and up the stairs, along a similar path.
There seems to be a small vertical pan, showing the crowd in the saloon. Unlike in much of Dwan,
this is not following a climbing character. It moves from the crooks in the foreground,
panning back and up to show the crowd behind them, who are calling for their hanging.
A memorable shot shows a man following a trail of bloodstains in the hall. We see his boots,
as the camera looks down to the floor and blood marks. One wonders if this was inspired by
the camera following the footprints in Sunrise (Murnau, 1927).
Forty years later, Dwan still remembered experimenting with an early zoom lens, telling
Peter Bogdanovich about it. I saw one shot that looked like a zoom:
one of the nocturnal, panoramic cityscapes gets a slow zoom-out.
This shot shows the arrival of the Wells Fargo stagecoach to town. The zooming-out shows
more and more of the part of town closest to the viewer: the foreground, in other words.
This is as the stagecoach also drives towards the foreground.
A little later, there is a second zoom-out, very similar to this first one.
The second zoom-out shows the gang of crooks riding into town, rather than the Wells Fargo stage coming in.
This second shot shows a similar landscape in a similar way to the first zoom-out.
The heroine has a balcony, overlooking a huge panorama of the street.
This gives rise to level shots that include this panorama.
There are also similar high-level shots of the town, which do not include the balcony.
Later, we see a true straight-down shot of some men in the street.
This might or might not be from the heroine's POV on the balcony.
This is just after the Wells Fargo stage shows up in town. Dwan has celebrated their arrival first
with a zoom-out, then with this overhead shot.
He is doing everything he can to mark this scene with unusual shots.
A spectacular shot of the riders near the end, is from a fairly tight overhead view.
The heroine wears an elaborate lace headdress to the fiesta. She takes it off before dancing.
This is an example of elaborate head gear in Dwan.
While none of the men are in anything this spectacular, they all wear lively looking cowboy or Hispanic hats.
The Western hero is another Dwan man in big boots.
Man to Man
Man to Man (1930) is about a small-town young man who is ashamed of his
ex-convict father. Man to Man suffers from a lack of story and incident.
Mainly, it is an hour or so of the young hero suffering shame and social embarrassment -
often fairly unnecessarily. Peter Bogdanovich condemned the film, describing it
as "static": which seems fair. However, Man to Man contains a number of
Dwan's favorite subjects and staging techniques, which help give it interest.
Man to Man contains Dwan subjects:
- The hero wants to leave his small town and move elsewhere.
- The hero is falsely accused.
- The hero suffers ostracism. However, unlike other Dwan films,
the ostracism comes not from false accusations the hero suffers, but from
true revelations about his father being a convict.
- The hero runs for class president in a school election.
These are not quite the government political parties often found in Dwan.
- The fraternity house is a multi-unit dwelling with many different people residing.
- The family relationships are of many Dwan types: fathers and sons, brothers,
and the heroine's mother of grown children.
The hero, heroine and other characters work in the local bank.
In the film's second half, the bank teller hero suddenly becomes short in his accounts.
The film slowly demonstrates all the consequences of this, showing various
people's detailed investigations. Man to Man becomes an in-depth look
at a financial process.
Financial processes are a favorite subject for Dwan. The one in Man to Man
is a bit different from the processes in many other Dwan films, however.
Often, Dwan will show how some process affects society and the public:
for instance, the circulation of money in The Inside Story.
By contrast, the teller's shortage in Man to Man affects only the people
at the bank, not society as a whole.
Dwan like images of men in cages, like animals. The hero's bank teller area
is a giant cage. Dwan had previously shown Douglas Fairbanks as a bank teller
in a cage in He Comes Up Smiling. The teller area in Man to Man
is more emphatically cage-like than many banks in other directors' films.
A Working Woman
The heroine works as a secretary at the local bank. She is one of Dwan's
sympathetic working women. She often seems more intelligent and sensible than the hero,
in coping with the events of the story.
The heroine is loyal to the hero. She also urges him to stand up for his father,
and to defy public opinion.
She is implicitly contrasted with the hero's first girlfriend at college.
This woman likes the hero when he is a Big Man on Campus. But she is immediately
done with him, as soon as the troubles in his family background are revealed.
The two women anticipate a bit the hero's two girlfriends in Suez.:
- The college girl is a well-to-do upper class woman presumably, because she is attending college.
And she betrays the hero, being only interested in pursuing status. This anticipates
Loretta Young in Suez. The college girlfriend is not the sort of full-scale villainess
that Loretta Young will play in Suez, however.
- The heroine is a woman from a less prosperous class in society, working in a bank.
And she is deeply loyal and supportive of the hero through all of his troubles
and social ostracism. This anticipates Annabella in Suez.
Sports contests and public competitions are a favorite Dwan subject.
Man to Man opens with an entertaining college "high hurdle" track meet.
It is hard to tell if this is stock footage, with close-up shots of the hero
cut in, or whether the whole track meet was staged for the film.
An odd aspect: the hero's shirt has the letter K, with three numbers below it.
This is an unusual marking on an athletic outfit.
The hero holds his arm over it at one point, making it hard to see,
and otherwise is often shot from the side, concealing the lettering.
Later, there is a far more informal contest at the town party,
with the hero and another man throwing stones at a hanging can.
This picnic is the sort of old-fashioned civic celebration,
that anticipates a bit the setting for the tug-o-war in Calendar Girl.
Both contests offer pleasantly upbeat moments, which contrast with the grim tone
of much of Man to Man.
In a few Dwan films such as Suez, a hero loses a sporting contest,
when he is distracted by the presence of his girlfriend. Man to Man
is just the opposite. At both contests, a heroine is present, and the hero notices her.
But she seems to be successfully encouraging him on to victory,
rather than serving as some kind of distraction.
Construction, Sand and Engineering
Dwan films often have engineering and construction aspects. However,
these are less prominent in Man to Man. A few aspects can be read as construction:
SPOILER. The device used in the thefts is one of Dwan's engineered objects.
However, it is "lower tech" than some of the more sophisticated hight tech objects in other
- The opening hurdle track can perhaps be seen as an outdoor construction area.
It is full of dozens of geometrically arranged hurdles. And over to one side,
there is a wooden platform.
- The father is seen hoeing the earth in an large outdoor planter, in his front yard.
This is perhaps a simple example of the sand works sometimes seen in Dwan.
The hero of Dwan's It's Always Sunday will be planting flowers.
Dwan likes multi-story sets, but they are not prominent in Man to Man.
And there are no Douglas Fairbanks style scenes of the hero climbing such sets.
Two indoors areas feature staircases with upper landings: the fraternity house,
and later, the uncle's house. Dwan duly has scenes in which his hero ascends these stairs.
The big revelation about his father is staged on the fraternity house staircase.
There are also porch steps at the heroine's house.
Dwan films often show the enjoyment of food. Man to Man is a bit
the opposite: we see stress preventing the hero from being able to eat.
Man to Man is set in a small town in Kentucky. There is a "Southern atmosphere".
A big part of this are the numerous black characters who work in the town.
This portrait has both limitations and strengths. A negative: the way the black
people are subservient to the whites. And the way they always seem happy in all these
On the positive side, the black characters are depicted without the stereotypes so often
associated with Hollywood films of the era. The African-American characters are
honest, hard working, and good at their jobs. They speak with an accent,
but they speak coherent, logical English. They understand the world around them logically.
They make a huge contrast with the racist stereotypes played in other films by Stepin Fetchit,
a man depicted as stupid and lazy. Fetchit constantly mumbled incoherently,
implying he was too stupid to speak clearly.
By contrast, the blacks in Man to Man talk intelligibly.
When the father returns to town, a long take shows him being welcomed by many men,
who shake his hand in turn. Most of these men are white. But one of them is the
film's main black character Bildad. This puts the black man on a position of
social equality with the white characters in the film. It is only temporary,
unfortunately: later scenes will have him in subordinate roles.
The subservience to whites is certainly nothing to be pleased with, and
Man to Man can hardly be cited as any sort of ideal treatment of race.
Still, the avoidance of negative stereotypes should be noted and commended.
Some Dwan films have scenes using unusual or off-trail filmmaking or staging.
There are two notable scenes in Man to Man:
- The end of the track meet turns into a movie of the event. The size of the
screen-within-the-film then begins shrinking. This is complex and striking.
- The hero has a mental vision of his father talking. The vision is
staged as a reflection in the water.
Dwan likes moving camera shots in people's front lawns or gardens.
Man to Man introduces the heroine's house, by a moving camera shot
following the hero and heroine down the sidewalk in front of her front garden.
Later scenes are staged on the heroine's front porch.
Some camera movements are shot alongside the pond, where the town holds the party.
This area "in front of the pond" is not someone's front yard. But it has a bit of the same feel,
a vegetation-filled area in front of a large barrier (such as a house for a pond) through
which the characters move.
Dwan likes camera movements showing people walking down streets.
Several of these are prominent in Man to Man. The first walk to the bank
is an example.
A complexly staged movement: the father at the train station. People keep
entering the frame to shake his hand.
The father's first drive through the town is also a good camera movement.
Staging Through Architecture
In the film's second half, one sees out through windows and glass doors of the bank and barbershop,
to the street outside. The bank and barber's are across the street from each other.
A few shots represent looking down from upstairs windows:
In neither case, do we see the window framing this overhead view.
- An overhead view of the hero's girlfriend in her car.
This represents the hero's view from an upstairs bedroom window at his fraternity house.
- An overhead view of the father working in his front yard, seen from inside the house.
The shot from the train window also avoids the window frame. First we see shots actually
through the train window. Then a cut takes us to a moving camera shot without the train window as frame -
and this second shot shows the couple parked in the car.
In the previous scene, we had seen the train in back of the car.
The train and car form a pair seen from each others Point of View, just as
the bank and barbershop will be later in the film.
A brief scene in the bank vault, has a deep view through the vault door of the bank.
Costume designer Earl Luick shows his flair for men's clothes.
Luick has the hero and other young men in an endless series of good suits.
He also provides the hero and his fraternity brothers with an idealized array
of sweaters and well-creased trousers, that is a definitive look at college sportswear.
This is an idealized image of what nice young pretty boys wore in 1930.
Even the POV shot of the town's young men seeing the father at the train station,
shows the young men fairly dressed up, although not in such good suits as the hero.
The suits and sweaters, however, do not seem directly related to Dwan traditions.
The father (Grant Williams) is one of many Dwan characters in bow ties.
Chances (1931) falls into two parts: the early scenes at
home in Britain, and later World War I scenes in France.
The British scenes at the beginning are especially good. They point out the
importance of parties as settings for Dwan. This film opens first
with a social evening in a British pub, then a country weekend,
climaxing in a huge charity ball. The soldier protagonists have
three days leave... Lots of Dwan films put his characters in party-like
atmosphere. Black Sheep has them all on a trans-Atlantic
cruise, Suez opens with Parisian fetes and social encounters,
Abroad with Two Yanks has the men on shore leave, Up
in Mabel's Room mainly takes place at a party, lot of the
late Westerns take place in saloons, dance halls, etc. Dwan even
did a musical called Hollywood Party. Dwan was a well known
host, too. A party he gave in the 1920's was the real life model
of the most famous get together in American Literature, the party
in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella The Great Gatsby.
Such parties are cheerful and festive - yet people get to have
romantic encounters, and thrash out serious life issues. The parties
can involve both family relationships, and romantic encounters.
Family: there are two brothers in Chances, a father and
son in Black Sheep. Triangles: both brothers fall in love
with the same woman in Chances; the hero is chewed up in
the duel between his wife and old girlfriend in Up in Mabel's
Room, the hero is involved with two sisters in Slightly
These parties are more refined than Raoul Walsh's
boisterous saloons. Dwan's characters do not always have money
- but they tend to have a background of middle class refinement.
The parties are also much warmer and friendlier than Alfred Hitchcock's
duels over frighteningly stiff upper class restaurant meals (the
cocktails in the Oak Room where Cary Grant is kidnapped at the
start of North By Northwest, the early meal in Vertigo,
the buffet supper in Rope, which takes place at home, but
which has a similar feel).
Dwan's characters often commute from continent to continent. In
Chances, the heroine is just back from Paris, where she
has been studying art. In The Gorilla, the heroine is also
just back from abroad; Black Sheep takes place on an ocean liner.
On the train, the heroes reminisce about their boyhood, and the way they built
an imitation of the Suez Canal across their mother's lawn.
This is both an example of the many water works in Dwan,
and an anticipation of his film Suez.
Links to The River's Edge
The three main characters are in a romantic triangle, like the leads of
The River's Edge to come.
The pub, full of noisy, happy but well-behaved people, anticipates the
restaurant early in The River's Edge.
The parties allow Dwan's characters to be dressed up to the max.
This includes two Dwan favorites: dressy uniforms, and white tie and tails.
The fancy uniforms at the party are evening wear: combinations of tuxedoes and uniforms.
The huge boots worn by his heroes in Chances anticipates
Tyrone Power's big boots in Suez. The two brothers seem to interlock with each other,
while wearing these boots on the train.
The spectacular costumes in Chances are by Earl Luick, who also did Douglas Fairbanks'
costumes in Little Caesar (1930) and Union Depot
(Alfred E. Green, 1931). Douglas Fairbanks,
Jr. never looked so good either before or after, as he did in
these three films. Luick seems to know how to make him look like
a real leading man. The long shots favored by Dwan, which display
his actors' whole bodies, serve to make these uniforms visible at all times.
The working class news vendor at the start, is another Dwan character in a bow tie.
Throughout the opening scenes in Britain, Dwan emphasizes long
shots. He tries to keep all the actors involved in a scene on-screen
at once, viewed as a whole. If the drama narrows down to two people,
Dwan will move closer, until just those two are visible. Even
in this case, Dwan prefers to frame them so their whole bodies
are visible. Or Dwan can move to a medium shot, showing most,
but not all of the legs, of his two characters. Dwan has little
interest in cutting back and forth between close-ups of his characters.
Quite a few scenes at home are staged, so that we can see through
the doorway of one room, into another. This is true both when
just a few characters are visible, in the early shots at home
- and when big crowds show up in the home for the party.
Dwan includes an elaborate tracking shot, through the garden,
following Fairbanks and the heroine. A fence of vertical bars is in front of them,
giving a visual grid or mask to the shot. Such foreground material
in a lateral track is a trademark of both Sternberg
and Ophuls. It is quite rare in Dwan's
film, showing up in just this one scene. The grillwork perhaps suggests the
humans in cages that run through Dwan's films.
A later scene in the garden, during the party, has the couple followed by a moving camera.
But both the couple and the camera stop moving quickly. The camera executes a complex flourish,
What might be a pan, follows the hero as he briefly walks down a London street,
in the opening.
The elaborate wooden bar and booth at the pub, anticipate the
elaborate wooden staircase and its banisters in The Gorilla.
The outside of the bar is curved. The rest of the pub is full of circular features:
plates on a sideboard, a keg, circular tables.
The subway entrance in the previous scene, is also rounded.
Black Sheep (1935) one of Allan Dwan's most enjoyable works.
Black Sheep is a comedy with light-hearted crime elements. It takes place in "sophisticated settings":
a cruise ship.
It is the first of six films Dwan did with Claire Trevor. Trevor often played "bad girls" with hearts of gold,
which is the foundation of her character in Black Sheep.
Leading man Edmund Lowe was around 45 when Black Sheep was made. Lowe had a dry, delightful wit.
He often played "sophisticates", as he does in Black Sheep.
In the 1930's, Hollywood regularly made movies with middle-aged roués in the lead: Lowe, Warren William,
Adolphe Menjou. These were men who were quite convincing as sophisticated men of the world.
A Good Guy like a Rogue - and Links to Maverick
The hero of Black Sheep is a Good Guy, but one who behaves much like the clever
Rogues and con-men of much mystery fiction.
This is an appealing and ingenious combination.
Twenty years later, the hero of the TV series Maverick will be a similar
"Good Guy with the personality of a Rogue".
Lowe's protagonist in Black Sheep anticipates the hero of Maverick:
Edmund Lowe will play the villain in the pilot episode of the TV series Maverick.
This pilot episode is War of the Silver Kings (Budd Boetticher, 1957).
- Both are professional gamblers.
- Both are itinerant.
- Both specialize in poker.
- Both underline that they never cheat, but depend on their superior poker skills to win.
- Both are comic, and something of smooth, fast talking anti-heroes.
- Both run what are essentially con games, but which are designed to help innocent people
who have been swindled by well-to-do crooks.
The ship mainly consists of four kinds of spaces: salons, cabins, corridors and decks.
The decks seem to play a similar role in Black Sheep as the front yards
do in other Dwan films. The decks are public, outdoor spaces in front of the interior salons,
just as yards are outdoor areas in front of people's houses. Dwan often has his characters and camera
moving in complex ways along the decks, just as front yards are often the locale of camera movement
in other Dwan.
The finale at the Customs stands in front of the docked ship also have a "front yard" feel.
The region even has some picket fences, just like a yard might.
There are somewhat similar fences on the dock area in Abroad with Two Yanks.
Class and Architecture
Social class is a key theme in Black Sheep. It is built into the architecture of the ship.
First class passengers live on the upper level, second class passengers on the lower one.
Everything is startlingly more lavish on the upper level: salons, cabins, corridors.
It emphasizes how much more wealth the upper classes have, and how better they are treated.
Going up and down stairs takes one between levels - and between social classes.
Many Dwan works are organized around multiple level interiors.
In Black Sheep, the different levels directly express social class.
This metaphor is fascinating - but it is not generally found in other Dwan works,
as far as I can tell.
In many Dwan films, the multiple levels are all part of one big set.
In Calendar Girl, Dwan can follow his characters as they move up the stairs from one floor to another.
The sets of Black Sheep do not allow this, perhaps unfortunately.
Instead, we see characters going up the stairs on the lower deck.
Then there is a cut, and they arrive on the different sets of the upper deck.
It is OK, but not as dramatic as the linked, multi-story sets of Calendar Girl.
The ship has barriers between levels, with signs telling people not to cross.
This is a vivid visual metaphor for class distinctions. The ship's house detective enforces
these barriers. He makes a metaphor for the real life government and social obstacles to movement
The ship, like the rooming house in Calendar Girl and many other Dwan locations,
is a "multiple-unit dwelling where many people live."
The Opening Montage on Ship
Black Sheep opens with scenes of life about a luxury liner. One suspects that these scenes
are mainly stock footage, taken from some other film with a shipboard setting.
They look more lavish than the later scenes of Black Sheep, both in terms of their sets, and their
large crowds. None of the characters in Black Sheep appear in this opening montage of ship scenes,
which also suggests that they might be from some other movie.
There are brief shots, of the man singing the song used an accompaniment to the ship scenes.
One suspects that this footage of the singer was actually made by Dwan, as part of Black Sheep.
Styles of Characterization
Some Dwan films such as The Gorilla employ an extreme mix of characterization styles,
ranging from performers who act "normal" to wild comic characterizations.
The normal characters never notice that the people around them are zanies.
Instead, the "normal" characters relentlessly act normal, using traditional "realistic" acting styles,
in the midst of all the craziness around them.
Black Sheep has nothing this extreme. But the young man (Tom Brown)
does behave distinctly differently from much of the rest of the characters.
The other characters are mainly older, cynical, and predatory in their behavior, always trying to victimize or cheat someone.
By contrast, the young man is idealistic, painfully sincere, and emotionally sensitive.
He offers a relentless contrast in attitude to the other characters:
just like the "normal" characters do in a Dwan comedy.
The young man resembles the "normal" characters in another way: he never notices anything about
the other characters in the film swirling around him. No matter how cynical or biting or predatory
these characters are in Black Sheep, the young man never becomes cynical or sarcastic himself.
The hero (Edmund Lowe) and heroine (Claire Trevor) also have slightly distinct acting styles
from the other characters in the movie. Both hero and heroine offer wry comments on the action,
and clever one-liners. Their barrage of humorous commentary makes them different
from the "serious" characters around them.
SPOILERS. Black Sheep includes many favorite Allan Dwan subjects:
There are also favorite Dwan objects:
- The characters are on the move, from one locale to another.
- The shipboard festivities resemble the parties in other Dwan films.
- The characters include a father and son.
- A relationship is being concealed.
- Upper crust looking characters are actually crooked, although not quite in the simple way
of some other Dwan movies. The villainess is a real upper crust woman, but she is also a thief who steals for kicks;
the hero looks upper crust, but he is actually a professional gambler (honest and not crooked though).
- The poker games are perhaps the equivalent of the physical contests in other Dwan films.
- Photographs of the young man's mother and grandmother.
- The deliberately unfilled lighter, is perhaps a simple example of the engineered objects in Dwan.
It is transformed at the end: thus playing a role in the story.
- The cane has a secret compartment.
Dwan likes characters who get dressed up in formal wear. The hero's tuxedo and Tom Brown's
white tie and tails are examples of this. In Black Sheep, it is mainly upper class characters
like Tom Brown, the drunk and other first class passengers who are in white tie and tails,
the dressiest outfit that men can wear. By contrast, the lower class hero is restricted to a tuxedo.
He looks great in it, but not as well-to-do as the upper class men around him.
Heidi (1937) is the first of three films Dwan did with Shirley Temple.
Fathers and Sons
Although we don't see the son, the relationship between the Grandfather
and his son is a much talked about bart of the film's backstory.
Father-son relationships are important in Dwan. In Heidi,
the Grandfather rejected his son. This anticipates Sands of Iwo Jima,
where John Agar has experienced much rejection from his father.
It is clear that the Grandfather now repents of what he did. There is a moving scene
where he reads the parable of the Prodigal Son from the Bible. It is hard not
to wonder if this Bible story embodies a key aspect of the father-son relationships in Dwan.
A Hermit: Not Quite an Outcast
The Grandfather and the town have deeply rejected each other. This is close to,
but not quite the same as, the Dwan theme of "false accusations make someone a social
outcast". The roots of the trouble are in fact truthful: The Grandfather did indeed
disown his son, leading to him being rejected by the villagers in turn.
So this is not a false accusation. However, it has lead to a village view of the Grandfather
being just plain rotten - which is false.
Similarly, the Grandfather is partly a self-willed hermit, rather than a true outcast.
He has a choice, whereas outcasts don't.
I found it interesting that the Grandfather wants no part of the village school
or church. However, this difference is soon papered over. It is not developed,
or given a political dimension, the way many conflicts over government
in Dwan are.
The Grandfather is one of several Dwan characters dissatisfied with small town life.
Instead of running away to a big city or the Wild West, though, he becomes a hermit
in the mountains. Heidi is also typical of much Dwan, in that the characters
travel long distances (from the Alps to Frankfurt).
Late in Heidi, the Grandfather is falsely accused of stealing Shirley.
He doesn't become a social outcast, but he is persecuted by the police,
who refuse to believe him because he is poor.
Rich and Poor and the Police
The Grandfather is treated as an inferior human being by the police and
government officials, because he is poor. He only gets a better treatment when
Shirley mentions the name of a local rich man. Then the whole police force
and local government suddenly springs to attention.
This is clearly a social commentary. It is pretty striking and powerful.
It perhaps reflects Dwan's interest in economic processes. It also might reflect
the massive debate over Social Security, the government safety net program
enacted in 1935, and which collected its first taxes in 1937. This was the
first attempt in the USA to help older poor people, and still the key to drastically
improved lives for older Americans today.
The Grandfather is shown twice with phallic symbols:
- He carries a knife in a menacingly phallic way, in the early scenes.
- He breaks out of jail by ramming a long bench against the window.
Shirley Temple's ability to solve everyone's problems seems a bit hard to take,
or at least believe. It is credible that she could help the Grandfather:
they have a long term relationship. But she plays matchmaker for the pastor
after meeting him for just a few minutes! If they had made a film about the
Titanic with Shirley as a passenger, she would have prevented the ship
from sinking, and the boat would have sailed successfully into New York harbor.
On the other hand, Shirley's determination seems admirable. The film's subtext -
that "bravery will help people cope successfully with the Depression" -
must have been encouraging in those tough times. Also, Shirley Temple
seems a much better role model for young people than many characters in
post-1967 films. Modern US cinema often shows young people obsessed with
conformity, being hip and with it, and fitting in, as well as partying
as the greatest good. There is nothing conformist at all about Shirley.
She rejects any interest in good clothes, in favor of her Grandfather
and helping the little girl.
Shirley helps the little girl to learn to walk. She is one of several Dwan
characters who physically train others. She is more working class than the
little girl she teaches: also a common Dwan characterization.
Both the Grandfather's house and the church are that Dwan favorite,
interiors with more than one level.
A crane shot moves straight down from the hay loft to the ground floor.
This relates to the vertical pans found in other Dwan films.
The church set reminds one of the tennis court in Suez. Both are
rectangular enclosures, with people on upper balconies looking down
on the protagonist on the floor below. In both films, the people on the
upper level include authority figures, who are sitting in judgment
in some degree on the protagonist.
Bill Krohn aptly links Heidi's slide down the banister, with Fairbanks'
slide down a giant curtain in Robin Hood. Dwan films are full of characters
climbing up and down walls, trees, and every other vertical surface.
Dwan includes some of his patented overhead shots, looking down from
Heidi's window in Frankfurt to carriages in the street below.
One of the first things seen in the village, is a huge, elaborate fountain.
Women are doing their laundry. This has nothing to do with the plot. One suspects
it is just there because Dwan likes water works so much.
The snowball is also an unusual construction, involving a glass ball filled with water.
It is one of the most miniature water works in Dwan. The way it is linked to
memory of a lost childhood, and the way it gets smashed, anticipate the opening
of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941).
The slippery floor during the monkey episode, might also be loosely
thought of as related to water works. We see someone scrubbing with a bucket:
buckets being a common Dwan image in water works scenes.
The Louis XIV part of the dance number, has the symmetry of image sometimes
employed by Dwan.
The Louis XIV dancers also form one of Dwan's deep-focus corridors. There is some
camera movement, as is typical of such Dwan corridors, showing people
move down the corridor.
Animals, Escapes and Windows
The organ grinder's monkey runs away into the house, and gets chased as he moves around.
This recalls the escape of the canary from his cage in He Comes Up Smiling,
and Fairbanks' chase of the canary.
Animals are often symbolically matched in Dwan films with people who
are caged or escaped. The Grandfather is put in jail, and escapes.
And Heidi is essentially imprisoned in the Frankfurt house.
The Grandfather escapes out of a window, like several other
Dwan characters who break out of jail. And the monkey enters the house
through a window, recalling many human characters in other Dwan
films who enter or leaves buildings through windows. Before that, we
see a staging through a window, another common Dwan feature, with the monkey
and organ grinder seen in the street through a house window.
Another kind of Dwan animal imagery occurs in Heidi: farm animals.
Here, it is goats. Like the donkey in Suez,
the goats are recalcitrant, difficult to manipulate, and the center
of comedy sequences.
The Opening Shot
Some Dwan films show their characters against panoramas of canyons:
Douglas Fairbanks against the Grand Canyon in A Modern Musketeer,
more Southwest USA scenery in The River's Edge. The opening panorama shot
of Heidi has much in common with these films. However, it is of
a studio set, not a location filming of a canyon. And Shirley is off
to the right hand side of the shot on a ledge, not directly in front of the canyon
Christian themes and imagery run though Heidi:
Other religions are reverently depicted in other Dwan films: Islam in the Egyptian sequences
of Suez, Judaism with the dying soldier's prayers in Sands of Iwo Jima.
- The opening shot contains a large crucifix on a street.
- Heidi is shown praying several times.
- A minister is a character, and a major scene is at his church.
- Two Gospel parables are told.
- Christmas is celebrated, including a large scale performance of "Silent Night".
The remarkable shot showing people singing "Silent Night" in the street,
is one of the most complex camera movements anywhere in Dwan. It is roughly
in the same mode as some key Dwan camera movements, that follow people as
they move through front yards of neighborhoods: see A Modern Musketeer,
Belle Le Grand. The "Silent Night" shot differs in that it does not follow
an individual person's movements. Also, the square the film depicts is not
quite a front yard, although it might be the urban equivalent, being
the space outside a series of urban homes.
The "Silent Night" night shot opens with a look at two exterior
windows of the house. Dwan loved to shoot building windows from outside.
However, this shot differs from many in Dwan in that there are no
people in the windows, or real glimpses of the house inside.
When people leave the marionette show, the theater aisle forms one of Dwan's
deep focus corridors. And as is typical for Dwan, there is a little
camera movement along the axis of the corridor, following some people
walking along it.
Outside the theater, there is a camera movement following the father carrying
his daughter down the steps. Dwan liked camera movements of people moving on slopes.
This particular shot is slow and very gentle. The steps are brief.
Other shots follow the Grandfather in the streets. These are more generic camera movements.
Dwan regularly includes such "follow people in the streets" shots in his films.
The city official is in that Dwan favorite, a fancy dress uniform.
And like many Dwan characters, the police have elaborate, unusual headgear:
here, spiked helmets.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) is a musical with Shirley Temple.
Front Yards and Constructions
Dwan films are full of front yards. Some of the best scenes, visually, occur in the hero's front yard:
The movable plank in front of the aunt's house, is also a sort of construction,
although a small and simple one.
- The "style" (the steps over the fence) is the sort of construction Dwan favors.
- Even more startling is the covered well. In addition to being a
construction, it is also that Dwan favorite, a water work.
The water work aspect is enhanced by the use of the hose.
- When the hose is pulled up lifting the hero, it functions as one of the elevators in Dwan.
- Later, there is a good camera movement, showing the hero and heroine
walking past the rose bushes. Dwan likes camera movements in front yards.
Shirley Temple moves from part of the aunt's yard, next door to the hero's. Dwan likes
entire neighborhoods of front yards. However, I can't find a connection between this piece
of the aunt's yard, and the main set of the aunt's front yard.
When the characters first drive up to the aunt's house, Dwan's camera follows them through
the huge set featuring their farm and front yard. Later scenes will also take place in this set.
The Auditorium: A Multi-Level Set
The radio auditorium is seen in the first shot. This camera movement emphasizes that
the set is on more than one level. So do the late scenes in the movie, which
show the control booths high over the stage.
The opening shot involves men, walking high up behind the glass wall at the top of
the auditorium. First we see a uniformed usher. Then men in good suits looking down.
We see both the sponsorship of a new radio program, and the signing of talent.
Neither process is shown in quite as much financial detail as is found in some Dwan movies.
But there is still a fair amount of emphasis on the financial aspects.
There are also jokes about actions that might make radio networks go bankrupt. In 1938, at the height
of radio, this was simply far-fetched humor.
The two rival radio producers at the end, resemble the rival government parties in other Dwan.
After all, such men are in charge of and running the "country" of radio.
Engineering and Communication
Radio was high tech in 1938:
The radio advertiser hero's status as an advocate of high tech, is indicated
by the mural behind his desk. It is full of planes, radio antenna, gears and other
technology symbols of the era.
- There is a private connection, from a microphone to a radio in the hero's office.
- Later, there is a remote broadcast from the hero's farmhouse.
The hero's office is the sort of ultra-lavish place, that will be parodied in
Brewster's Millions. Both offices have built-in seats in one corner.
A number of signals run through the film:
- Slim Summerville plays on a kazoo, to summon the radio crew to dinner.
- Whistles are used in the ladder sequence.
- A flashing light alerts Franklin Pangborn he is on the air.
The all-woman orchestra in the opening "Happy Ending" number is interesting. Dwan featured
a woman art student in Chances, and a young soprano in Belle Le Grand. All
of these characters are treated with sober respect.
Enjoyment of Food
Food and its pleasures are featured throughout:
- The aunt gives Shirley a poultry leg, on her arrival at the farm, and Demarest steals it.
This recalls King Richard's lusty appreciation of food at the tournament that starts Robin Hood.
- Slim gives Shirley a hilariously too big lunch. In Brewster's Millions, we learn that
the mother generously always cooks too much food.
- The receptionist kindly gives Shirley candy.
- Shirley makes gingerbread men.
- The little girl sticks a lollipop in Haley's mouth.
There is an unusual transition. At the radio rehearsal, we see Brooks and Haley in their normal street clothes.
Then we transition to the actual broadcast, and they are now in formal wear. It makes an odd "jumping effect".
The "Come and Get Your Happiness" musical number is full of symmetry, something Dwan loves:
- It begins with Shirley singing alone. She has twin designs on her dress, and twin buns on the left
and right side of her hair. This emphasizes symmetry in the composition. Admittedly, all humans are symmetric.
But the hair and clothes underline the effect.
- When the chorus of women join in, we get a full-scale symmetric composition.
In the musical number at the end, dancer Bill Robinson wears a busby, and the chorus men are in elaborate helmets.
Fancy headgear runs through Dwan.
So do dressy uniforms. The toy soldiers in this number are examples. So is the uniformed usher at the station.
Shirley Temple is in a man's toy soldier uniform, in the final dance number. The women dancers in
Young People are also in men's clothes. This is a conceit that runs through many Hollywood musicals.
Allan Dwan's Suez (1938) and Sands of Iwo Jima
(1949) have some common features. Both have many scenes taking
place in vast outdoor landscapes in tropical latitudes. In both,
the landscapes have a sandy foundation, and are full of a combination
of natural scenery, and vast human enterprises taking place on
them - construction in Suez, soldiers camping out in the
latter film. In both, the heroes have to make their way through
a difficult life, showing personal determination and courage.
In both, public issues are paramount. In both, there are no clear
directions for the heroes: they have to use their own best ideas,
and are on their own, as far as any pre-conceived answers go.
They have to make a lot of difficult decisions and commitments.
In both, they meet gutsy women whose efforts mirror theirs in
taking on a difficult world. Both have men friends, too, and spend
a lot of interacting within groups. Both films have young men,
who are trying to follow in the footsteps of a distinguished father,
The hero of Suez is falsely accused of a crime, and subjected
to censure from large sections of the public. Such a situation
will recur in Dwan's Silver Lode (1954). Belle Le Grand
also opens with its heroine convicted in court for her husband's crimes.
Dwan's films can take place in times of social upheaval. Life
and society are not fixed and static; instead, great changes are
taking place. This can be as small scale as the changing power
in a city government in Slightly Scarlet, or as large scale
as the building of the Suez Canal in Suez. Dwan's lead
characters often trigger this social change. They seem to be riding
a huge wave of change.
The Suez Canal is the biggest of all water works in Dwan.
The heroine's bathing hut is perhaps a simple example of a water works, too.
The recalcitrant donkey who pulls it, recalls the equally difficult mule
on the railroad tracks in A Modern Musketeer.
Although it is not created by humans, one wonders if the rainbow should be
considered a water works, too. It is a large "construction" produced by
a rain storm.
Politics: Rivalries between Government Parties
Suez contains a fair amount of material about dictator Louis Napoleon
versus democratic forces in France. Such a topic was timely, with the real world
rise of Hitler and Stalin. It also embodies Dwan's long term interest in conflicts
between government parties and groups.
The election of Disraeli in England also gets a good deal of attention.
This too is a political conflict. The scenario could easily have avoided this,
simply by showing Disraeli already in power. Instead, there is fairly
extensive coverage of the election night itself.
At the school for girls, the whole scene is one long take camera movement.
First we see a matron move down the row of beds from left to right,
followed by the camera. Then the heroine moves from
right to left, back down the same row.
The camera moves in as Tyrone Power goes up the steps, in the ceremony at the end.
Soon, the camera moves out as Power backs down the steps.
At the fete near the start, there are some of Dwan's looks down long corridor-like rooms.
Some of these have Dwan's trademark "brief camera movements showing characters
moving along these corridors towards the camera". One corridor is made to look even
longer, by a mirror at its far end. Some of the rooms contain another
favorite Dwan image, elaborate chandeliers.
The fete has an unusual for Dwan 90 degree pan, showing people making
a right angle turn.
When Louis Napoleon is introduced at the tennis match at the start,
he is photographed at the center of a symmetric composition. Such compositions
run through Dwan. He is flanked on either side by similar views. This gives
a typical such Dwan composition: someone in the middle, with matching views on
What is unusual here is that Louis Napoleon looks at people off-screen, both to the left and right.
Dwan cuts to these off-screen people, and they are in matching, paired views!
These extra images preserve the symmetry of the shots of Louis Napoleon himself.
Loretta Young's fancy hats symbolize her corruption, her need for a
life of luxury. These hats also exemplify Dwan's interest in unusual headgear.
We first see Young in a huge hat with two veils on the side: something
very overdone! (The woman in the Musketeer prologue in A Modern Musketeer
wears a huge veil.)
Young's sinister motive - to wear a crown - also ties in with hat imagery.
Also unusual: the shiny helmets worn by the soldiers in Egypt.
The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers (1939) is a musical comedy version of the classic
The Three Musketeers is not very good: one of Dwan's lesser movies.
This inoffensive tale is full of dull material. I didn't like the
Musketeer sequence in A Modern Musketeer, or The Iron Mask
either. So maybe Dwan just doesn't connect with swashbuckling sagas.
The Ritz Brothers are often better than one might expect, with their
comedy relief episodes. On the other hand, the film's songs are often not so hot,
and the costumes are dull.
The Ritz Brothers act zany, while many characters around them play
the swashbuckling material straight. This contrast in acting styles
is also found in other Dwan films, such as The Gorilla.
However, in The Three Musketeers the zany characters are in a minority,
while in The Gorilla it is the serious actors who form
a small exceptional group in a film full of more comic players and events.
Song of the Musketeers
This song makes one of the better scenes in the movie. It simply shows the
Musketeers marching through Paris singing, while Dwan's camera tracks before them
in the city streets. The Paris buildings are a bit interesting, and remind
us that Dwan is an architecture-oriented director.
The song is reprised at the end, for a similar "march through Paris" finale.
The Rescue from the Cardinal's Palace
The next-to-last major sequence in the film, shows the heroes trying
to rescue the heroine, who is held captive in the Cardinal's chateau.
This sequence, while no masterpiece, is lively and successful
in the way much of the film is not.
The sequence has a logical (if comic) story, with each event following
logically from another. The rest of the film is often episodic, by contrast,
with little narrative cohesion or flow.
The sequence benefits from the best Ritz Brothers material: a cymbal dance.
The other song is also smoothly done.
Dwan also includes some of his trademark architectural style:
The final escape in the coach also has an inventive plot idea, involving the fence.
I haven't seen this gambit in other films. It leads one to reflections
on how ideas that don't fit into our standard ways of thinking can be
"invisible", just like the escape path of the coach.
- There is an overhead POV shot, looking down on the singers from a window.
- A reverse view shows another Dwan favorite, someone in a window seen from
- The hall has a giant staircase: one of Dwan's multi-level interiors.
There is dialogue explicitly mentioning that the hero is confident with women.
Since the majority of Hollywood heroes are also fairly confident with women,
this dialogue is not too conspicuous or startling. But it makes a contrast
with Robin Hood, whose hero is afraid of women. In both films,
the story spells out the hero's psychological state.
The Gorilla (1939) is an adaptation of a 1925 comedy-thriller
stage play, by Ralph Spence.
Camera Style: The Long Shots
Dwan films much of the movie in long shot. These shots fulfill
a number of functions:
- They are beautifully composed. Each
usually contains a good chunk of the architecture of the sets.
Within this, a large number of players are arranged in dramatic
tableaux. Both the architecture and the arrangement of the actors
make beautiful geometric patterns.
- The long shots help maintain
the spooky atmosphere that is so important to an old-dark-house
comedy. The shots always include plenty of the sinister mansion.
They also often include such atmospheric features as rain storming
against the window panes, fires blazing in the fireplace, and
lamps shining out against shadowy rooms. The long shots make the
action continuously show this mock-spooky background.
- Dwan has a trio of stars, the Ritz Bothers, who all need to be included
in the action. Long shots carefully include all three, and are
thus suitable for this kind of film. In addition, Dwan gets in
the rest of his cast as well, which features all sorts of talented
audience favorites: Bela Lugosi, Patsy Kelly, Lionel Atwill, etc.
Dwan usually frames the action, so that everyone in a sequence
is on-screen at once. This gives his shots a multi-focus effect,
displaying all his talented characters' performances. It is appropriate
for a story that has no single protagonist, but which is an ensemble
piece. Quite a few Dwan films focus on ensembles.
- The long shots help preserve the "play-like" effect. We see all
the action at once, as if we were watching in a theater. Of course,
the camera placement will eventually shift, to pick up on a new
set of events, unlike the fixed focus of a theater audience. Still,
we see a true global picture of events at most times.
Dwan's long shots are thus play-like, allowing a global view of
the action, and cinematic, in that they create beautiful compositions.
This is an unusual combination.
Dwan only rarely shifts to a close-up. Sometimes, he needs a scary close
view of a gorilla head, or to make clear some intricate bit of
business that needs to be seen closely. But he tends to do this
as little as possible.
Dwan sometimes cuts from one long shot to another. But he also
frequently includes camera movements. These have the effect of
adjusting the camera from one long shot position, to another.
Dwan can move in. Or pan to the left or right. Or make a lateral
camera movement through the set. In most cases, the moves are
designed to serve as "long shots in motion". They are
highly unusual, in this effect, which is not all that common in
film history. While these shots sometime reframe the image due
to the characters moving to a different part of the set, they
do not seem like pure accompaniments of walking characters, a
far more common type of camera movement.
The ensemble approach here returns in other Dwan films. The way
in which different groups of characters keep interacting with
each other, always moving the plot forward, is a kind of construction
also seen in some of these Dwan ensemble pieces. A non-farcical
example is The Inside Story (1948). It also shows up in
Dwan farces, such as Up in Mabel's Room (1944). Such great
critics as Peter Bogdanovich and Andrew Sarris loved Up in
Mabel's Room, and disliked The Gorilla, but I felt
exactly the opposite. Don't know what this difference of response
means, if anything.
Acting styles in the film are calibrated in strange ways. The
Ritz Bothers and Patsy Kelly do comedy, the uncle, his niece and
her boy friend do straight dramatics, and the other characters
are pitched somewhere in between. Dwan and his performers never
lose sight of their approaches. They are perhaps helped by the
"comedy relief" tradition of studio Hollywood film,
in which one character would supply a succession of jokes in an
otherwise serious film - see Alan Hale in Raoul Walsh's
Manpower, for example. The niece and boy friend are especially
good. They manage to keep on delivering apparently conventional
dramatics, when everyone else is mugging in all directions. There
is something a bit self conscious about all this, in a good way.
I think the audience is encouraged to enjoy these performances.
They are slightly heightened, and seem a bit tongue in cheek.
Edward Norris is particularly steady as the noble boy-friend,
always showing the exactly right pitch of concern for the heroine,
and proper level of response to the horror twists of the plot.
He is fascinating to watch, in a performance that is deliberately
cut loose by the director from a realistic context around him.
The Gorilla is in some ways an experimental film, in which
Dwan is playing in creative ways, taking apart conventional narrative
structures the way Alain Resnais would do with L'Année
dernière à Marienbad.
The heroine's gesture of grief late in the film, when she collapses
in a chair, seems stage-like. It is highly effective. It also
seems designed to be seen as part of a long shot - one of the
Ritz Brothers is also performing in the background. Dwan uses
such gestures, rather than focussing in on a close-up of the heroine.
The Gorilla (1939) is of the era that might be termed "pre-film
noir". True noir films begin in 1940, with Boris Ingster's
The Stranger on the Third Floor, and gradually emerge as
a genre in 1941-1942. The Gorilla (1939) is definitely
not noir. But it has a few features that seem to anticipate noir to come:
- It takes place mainly in the night and rain, the classic noir setting.
- Clocks play a suspense role in the main murderous
attack by the villain.
- Staircases are everywhere in the film.
- The hero is dressed in the sort of clothes that would be popular
in 1940's noir: sharp pinstriped, double-breasted suit, and a
trenchcoat over it worn as a raincoat.
- He definitely has a urban
look, and while the action all takes place at a spooky mansion
in the sticks, the opening newspaper accounts suggest the crimes
are urban in scope.
Architecture and Climbing
Dwan likes characters climbing. The Gorilla opens with the gorilla climbing on the roof.
Later, the gorilla climbs down the side of the house. Both climbing on roofs, and up-and-down, are common Dwan tropes.
The staircase is another Dwan set on multiple levels.
Secret passages are a recurring Dwan subject. So are hidden hiding places, such as the safe bend the painting
in The Gorilla.
Cars keep arriving at the front of the mansion, recalling Chances.
Path / Reverse Path Camera Movement
At the start, the camera shows the outside of the house. The camera moves from a window,
up to the roof. Soon it moves back along the same path in reverse: from the roof back to the window.
There is a delightful shot, just before dinner. The camera moves left-to-right with characters through the study,
but none of them are aware a man is pressed up against the window in the background.
It's both eerie and funny in its over-the-top quality. Soon the characters move left,
once again oblivious to the menacing man behind the window, who is only revealed in this second shot
at the end, when lightning strikes.
A nice long take in the kitchen with Patsy Kelly and the Ritz's moves from the table back to the sink,
then forward to the table again. Then it moves around the rest of the kitchen.
When Bela Lugosi slides the study doors shut for the first time,
the screen suddenly turns into a symmetric composition: a door on either side, surrounding Lugosi in the middle.
Dwan like symmetric compositions. In other Dwan films, some compositions are often built up
from rooms of people. This shot of in The Gorilla is simpler:
just a pair of doors. However, it is also more complex, in that it shows an asymmetric image
suddenly becoming symmetric, as the doors fill up the shot.
The shot also exemplifies the "rule of threes": a central object (Lugosi) surround by matching objects
on either side (the doors).
The arches in the staircase hall are rounded at the top. They are used to bring curves
into the compositions.
The kitchen table where Patsy Kelly works is circular. It is full of circular dishes.
Some lights are circular, and full of a circle of hanging fringe. These include the table lamp
on the study desk, and the chandelier in the dining room.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) plays a role in the plot.
This is an important US government agency, which regulates the stock market and finance.
It had only been in existence for a few years, since being founded in 1934.
It is somewhat astonishing to see such a modern, innovative institution being involved in The Gorilla.
This is an example of how important financial processes are to Dwan.
The SEC was created as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.
Its invocation in The Gorilla might also be a reference to the New Deal
and its liberal politics.
The SEC also shows up in the prose mystery novel Old Lover's Ghost (1940) by
Leslie Ford. Old Lover's Ghost was serialized in America's leading fiction magazine
The Saturday Evening Post. The SEC received attention in the era's entertainment.
The gorilla is one of many animals in Dwan films who escape from cages.
Patsy Kelly winds up locked in the gorilla's cage. This is one of several scenes in Dwan films,
of humans caged like animals. As in most such Dwan sequences, this is played for laughs.
SPOILER. The finale includes a human masquerading as a gorilla: something the plot has been hinting at
from the start: the police suggest the "gorilla" is a human killer. The breakdown of lines between
human and animals is also a Dwan theme.
On Fakery: The "gorilla" is obviously a costume, one that does not look very realistic.
It is easy to make fun of this. However, one suspects that the way the costume is obviously fake is deliberate.
20th Century Fox could easily have created a much more realistic or much scarier costume.
But The Gorilla is light entertainment, filled with comedy. The non-scary, obviously fake gorilla
turns its scenes into good-natured fun. It is hilarious to see the gorilla tailing after the Ritz Brother.
This delightful sequence wouldn't have been amusing, if the audience felt the man was in genuine danger.
Kids love stories about gorillas, and other big animals: dinosaurs, elephants, hippos.
Whenever DC Comics in the 1950's put a gorilla on one of the covers of their comic books,
sales would soar. The Gorilla is in part a film for kids. They get to see
a gorilla running amok, but not really doing anything bad. The fake-looking gorilla
isn't scary either. A good time can be had by the whole family.
Antecedents in Mystery Fiction
The Gorilla recalls the play The Bat (1920) by
Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood. Both works:
In The Gorilla, threats are made to kill a man at midnight in his home,
even though he is surrounded by detectives. Such "killings announced with warnings and a deadline"
are common in books, film and comics. An early example is the short novel The Four Just Men (1905)
by Edgar Wallace.
- Are "old dark house" thrillers, taking place at night in spooky mansions with sinister events.
- Have a master criminal named after an animal, who furnishes the title: The Bat, The Gorilla.
- Have a mysterious stranger wandering around the premises.
Frontier Marshal (1939) is a Western. It tells the story of Wyatt Earp and
Doc Holliday and the big shoot-out in Tombstone. It was remade as
My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946).
Frontier Marshal is not one of my favorite Dwan films.
It is racist in its treatment of the "drunken Indian" stereotype.
Its negative look at a "bad woman" is puritanical. It is only a little better
in these aspects than Dwan's early A Modern Musketeer (1917),
which also suffered serious bigotry problems.
In addition, the story is relentlessly violent. Its characters are
unlikeable, with few positive goals or values. I confess I don't
understand the perennial appeal of the Wyatt Earp and
Doc Holliday story. My Darling Clementine has wonderfully lyric
photography - but it has never seemed central to John Ford's work to me,
which is where many critics place it.
Entrance of the Hero: Camera Movement
One of the best staged sequences of the film is the entrance of the hero.
Unfortunately, this is also the "drunken Indian" scene. Still, its elaborate
camera movements are worth studying.
Earp (Randolph Scott) enters the film climbing down a pole from a balcony,
just like Douglas Fairbanks used to do. And Dwan follows him with a
vertical camera movement, just like he used to do with Fairbanks.
Scott moves across the street to the saloon, with two striking lateral camera movements.
These show Scott full figure, a favorite Dwan staging, and show his prominent
cowboy boots: also a Dwan favorite. After the shooting in the saloon,
Dwan promptly has Scott return back across the street. Dwan shows
Scott's return with the same two camera movements, only moving in the reverse direction.
The scene has the path / reverse path camera movements that are a key element
of Dwan's style. The parallelism is quite strong: both the trip over and the return
are broken down into the same two moving camera shots, with a reaction shot cut in-between showing onlookers.
Immediately after this, a separate shot follows Scott as he moves through
the crowd. This Sternberg style camera movement
has crowd members as foreground objects in a lateral movement,
behind whom we see Scott move. (Later, in the Bella Union saloon, the bad gal
will have some similar moving camera shots accompanying her as she makes her
way through the crowd.)
Soon after, Scott returns to the hotel. We see one of Dwan's deep focus
stagings down a corridor, inside the hotel. As is typical of Dwan in such corridor shots,
the camera follows Scott moving straight down the corridor as he walks along it.
Staging Through Doors and Windows
The newspaper, early in the film, shows the town street through the window and open door of the paper's office.
One can see from the saloon into the street, through open doors.
One can see the street from the office window at the Bella Union.
A character on the street comes up to the window, and talks to the men inside.
During Eddie Foy's stage show, a tableau shot shows the stage, the people in the audience,
and the street outside through the open doors of the saloon.
It is a spectacular example of tableau staging, taking in the entire group in the saloon.
An alcove in a saloon, has an open doorway through which one can see the saloon and its bar.
At the end, a sign announces that a bank will be opening in Tombstone.
This symbolizes a new level of civilization coming to the town.
This bank opening is a simple example of one of Dwan's financial processes.
Entertainer Eddie Foy is passed from one saloon to another, forced by crooked owners.
In an odd way, this anticipates the circulation of money in The Inside Story.
He is an "asset" being "circulated".
The horse trough is a simple example of Dwan's water works.
A barrel is shot, and water pours out of the bullet hole.
Eddie Foy's comedy bow tie is a spectacular example of the bow ties that run through Dwan's films.
There are other Dwan staples in the costumes:
- Randolph Scott's boots.
- The saloon singers' feathered hats are examples of the elaborate headgear in Dwan.
- The Bella Union saloon owner is in formal wear, white tie and tails.
Young People (1940) is a musical with Shirley Temple.
Economic and Social Processes: The Town Meeting
At the center of Young People is the Town Meeting. This is
explicitly set up as a look at traditional small town democracy in action.
Dwan loved to show economic and social processes at work. The meeting
involves both participatory democracy, and discussions about the economic
direction the town should take. Like the stock market sequence in
Belle Le Grand, this involves a large indoor gathering of a crowd
of energetic, eagerly participating people, in a dynamic meeting.
Like The Inside Story, Young People has a didactic intent.
Both films try to teach the audience a sociological lesson, with their portraits
of a social-economic process. Young People wants people in small towns to shake
off old ways, and start trying to connect themselves with up-to-date aspects
of the US economy as a whole.
The meeting brings out another persistent Dwan theme: young people
dissatisfied with their small town existence. Unlike, say, Douglas Fairbanks
in A Modern Musketeer, who merely leaves his home town when the chance arises, in
Young People the youth actually revolt, and try to change things,
politically and economically.
Young People is unusual, in that a sympathetic character is actually a named member of
a political party. Young newspaperman George Montgomery is explicitly a supporter
of the Democratic Party. And his old fogey opponents in the town are depicted
as enemies of the New Deal. I've seen few films this explicit about who the Good Guys
and Bad Guys are.
Dwan films are frequently about the political struggle between two groups.
The liberal townspeople versus conservative traditionalists in Young People is an example.
George Montgomery attacks the idea of "normal". He doesn't want things in town to be "normal": he wants them to improve.
Other Financial Processes: Acquiring the Farm
How the family acquires the farm is also a financial process, made clear in detail by the film.
Similarly, when Anthony Quinn sells his farm in The River's Edge, we see the financial
The "Fifth Avenue" song talks sympathetically about people window shopping
for what they cannot afford to buy.
Other Dwan films involve major civil engineering projects, such as the canal builder
in Suez. In Young People, civil engineering is discussed, but not shown
on screen. The town meeting discusses bridge repair. The good guys are in favor of it,
the bad guys opposed.
Late in the movie, the town gravel pit is also analyzed.
Technology and Communication
Shirley Temple mentions television, quoting from an article in Variety.
Television in 1940 was in its earliest stages as an entertainment medium.
Jack Oakie tries to repair the family's radio.
An educational film about earthworms is mentioned and made fun of. This is a bit odd,
because Dwan films themselves sometimes have educational aspects, especially about
financial processes, and sometimes about science.
Young People is another Dwan film with a major storm. People have to battle
the elements, just as they did in the big sand storm in Suez.
On a literal plot level, the events here are closer to those in A Modern Musketeer.
Both films show violent hurricanes, attacking small towns.
Events in the storm are sometimes staged on hills. The kids take refuge in a house at the top of a hill.
The lost little boy is rescued from a gully or ditch at the base of a steep incline.
This hilly terrain oddly anticipates some of the battlegrounds in Sands of Iwo Jima.
Several Dwan films include heroes who are falsely accused, and who become social outcasts.
The family in Young People are not quite accused of anything, other than
being city slickers who don't know the wisdom of traditional small town ways. But
they definitely become social outcasts.
When the drug store barometer correctly predicts a hurricane, it is disbelieved and described as broken.
This is a bit like the false accusations leveled at humans in other Dwan films.
The barometer might be seen as a kind of water works technology - although we don't see any fluids on-screen.
Dwan shoots his on-stage characters, against huge backgrounds of the theater. These
recall the shooting of characters outdoors, against scenic vistas. The theaters,
complete with balconies, are also examples of the multi-story architecture that runs through Dwan.
Depth Staging through Architecture
The "Fifth Avenue" song is staged both in front of curtains, and in a set behind them revealed when the curtain moves back.
Later, when "Fifth Avenue" is reprised at home, a dining room and its door curtain are used for a similar effect.
At the newspaper office, windows look out into the street.
Characters tap on the windows, extending the action into the street.
In the drug store, the street with the parents' car can be seen through the window.
The baby is an example of the strange gifts that sometimes occur in Dwan.
The concealed adoption is an example of family members with secrets in Dwan.
The family includes another of Dwan's mothers of adult children.
The jester in Robin Hood did everything the king did. In Young People,
both Shirley Temple and Charlotte Greenwood are always in the same men's clothes as
Jack Oakie. This gives them coherence as a team. It also suggests they are comic clones
of him, a bit like the jester and the king. Paradoxically, it also has feminist elements, suggesting
they are taking on men's roles and independence, rather than being restricted to
what 1940 regarded as a "woman's sphere".
The family costumes include that Dwan favorite, white tie and tails.
Eddie is briefly seen in a leather jacket, in the newspaper office. In 1940,
leather jackets were perhaps young men's wear. The clean cut, very young Eddie is an example.
See also the college types in Star Dust (Walter Lang, 1940).
Both Star Dust and Young People have costumes by Gwen Wakeling.
They are unusual in pre-war Hollywood films in showing people in leather jackets who
are not working-men like pilots or cab drivers. Next year will come another young man,
who is a crook and much less respectable, in High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941).
Charlotte Greenwood has a wild hat with stripes and a striped tail.
This is perhaps an example of the elaborate headgear in Dwan films.
Around the World
Around the World (1943) is a low-key film, showing Kay Kyser's band entertaining troops.
It is mainly a "concert film", showcasing the music and comedy numbers of members of Kyser's outfit.
Around the World is entertaining in a mild way, and the music and comedy routines are pleasant.
However, much of the film is not especially creative, and does little to express Dwan's
subjects, interests or mise-en-scène.
Kyser's band is on the move, traveling from locale to locale: a Dwan subject.
And we follow the progress of a young woman who wants to become a singer,
also a Dwan subject.
The singer's passport problems lands her in the office of the American Consul in India.
This official is as close as one gets in Around the World to Dwan's interest in politics.
Political aspects are downplayed here, however, compared to other Dwan films.
The Consul talks genially about coordinating his rulings on the singer with the Indian authorities.
This is perhaps a faint echo of the two political organizations/parties
that form a Dwan subject in other movies.
The Consul has a huge office, anticipating the hero's huge office in Brewster's Millions.
Many Dwan films show financial processes or occasionally technical subjects.
The closest Around the World comes to this is a comedy routine about
time zones in Australia and the USA. This routine is nonsensical rather than informative
or educational, unlike other Dwan films with technical subjects. The routine
anticipates a bit the more logically coherent, realistic discussion of
currency exchange rates between US dollars and Australian pounds in Abroad with Two Yanks.
SPOILERS. An unusual joke appears at the end of the ring episode. One character talks about
them getting involved in a (spy) plot concerning the ring. Kay Kyser throws the ring away,
and says there is not going to be any plot! This seems to be a joke, about the way
Around the World has no plot, and is just a string of comedy and songs.
Indeed, from this point on all mention of the ring vanishes from the picture - and the film resumes
its plotless, episodic quality. This self-reflexive reference to the actual plot structure of a film is unusual.
Earlier there was a joke about the Hays Office (the Hollywood censorship board)
and what they might think about some events in Around the World.
This too is a bit self-referential, although less decisively so than the dialogue about "plot".
Kay Kyser gives a patriotic speech about how American and Chinese soldiers are
working together, and flying together, to defeat the Axis. It treats the Chinese as fully equal partners.
This is commendable.
The only Chinese characters are very briefly seen. A Chinese hotel worker tells Kyser a garden is
decorated for his act. Later, we briefly see a Chinese soldier in the street.
These characters are non-stereotyped - but not very prominent.
A nightclub scene is full of Dwan subjects. It seems like part of a "real Dwan movie":
In a later scene, Ish Kabibble's invented musical instrument will perhaps be another
- Slapstick comedy about opening champagne bottles, and squirting seltzer, seem like simple,
small scale examples of Dwan water works. (Elsewhere in the film, men wear squirting flowers in their lapels.)
- The comic duel is one of Dwan's public contests.
- The sword is one of Dwan's engineered objects. This is one of the most inventive ideas in the film.
Singer Harry Babbitt does a comedy number in falsetto. His high-pitched voice anticipates a bit
the much more elaborate drag number in Abroad with Two Yanks.
He also does a Looney Tunes imitation in the same song.
Strange-voice comedy will return in the non-Dwan film
Ladies of the Chorus (Phil Karlson, 1948).
It was perhaps a 1940's kind of humor - and maybe encouraged by radio, then at its peak of popularity.
Throughout the rest of the movie, Harry Babbitt sticks to "normal", romantic singing,
and avoids comedy entirely. He is perhaps one of those Dwan characters who
"acts with non-comic realism in a comedy film".
Animals and Cages
Animal imagery runs through Dawn. It appears in Around the World in mild form,
centering on the line between humans and animals being blurred:
Joan Davis also gets involved in a stage act with dogs.
- A cockatoo who talks is mistaken for a human speaking.
- A man talks about visiting "Louise". It turns out Louise is not human, but a kangaroo in a zoo.
- Joan Davis' passport photo is of an anteater.
Dwan films sometimes show people in cages, like animals:
- Around the World has a joke early on, talking about a circus lady who goes into a lion cage.
- Later, a hockey goal net falls over on Joan Davis, trapping her.
The visual effect is a bit like seeing her through a cage.
Hats and Masks
A comedy routine climaxes with Joan Davis' head concealed inside a giant mask that represents a huge apple.
Her head is completely encased in the mask, a Dwan tradition.
A woman in Cairo wears a huge circular hat. Another woman at her table wears a complexly wound-up hat.
Unusual head gear is a Dwan tradition.
Kay Kyser appears in one scene as a college professor: a regular part of his stage act,
and not invented by Dwan. Kyser wears a traditional flat mortar board cap with his academic gown.
Wally Brown does his stand-up comedy routine, while playing the pilot of the plane.
He is outfitted in a really sharp uniform, a Dwan tradition.
Just before, the band had been saying goodbye to Australia at a dock.
This scene had been full of uniformed men, some in sharp dress uniforms.
The film emphasizes these men as sources of sexuality. Some are with women.
Others are men comedienne Joan Davis is trying unsuccessfully to get to romance her.
During some of the stage numbers, the band and singers are in white tuxedos.
Formal wear runs through Dwan films.
Up in Mabel's Room
Up in Mabel's Room (1944) is a farce, about a husband trying to recover a slip
he gave to an old girlfriend, before his wife finds it.
I think Up in Mabel's Room is a tedious farce, with often unpleasant characters and
situations, and little compensating visual style. It has a couple of good scenes
(the dream, the hero's brief outburst of joy), but mainly it is one of Dwan's least
enjoyable films. Admittedly, taste in comedy is a personal thing, and some expert
critics are on record as enjoying Up in Mabel's Room. Seeing a good husband
cringe in fear because his nasty tempered wife might discover that he (gasp!) had
another girlfriend long before he met her, just seems distressing to me, not funny.
The same is true of seeing another couple's marriage hit the rocks, because the husband
catches another man sneaking around her bedroom (she knows nothing about it, and is a faithful wife).
Nor does wreaking havoc on a third couple's wedding ceremony seem amusing - just unpleasant.
Some of this material does relate, however, to Dwan's theme of characters who are
One can see other thematic links. Most of Up in Mabel's Room transpires at a
week-end house party: Dwan's films are full of parties. And the wife's rotten mother
is another look in Dwan of mothers of grown children.
The Russian and his Labor Union
Mischa Auer's Russian waiter is mainly sympathetic, if comic. He claims to be of
royal blood, so he is likely non-Communist or even anti-Communist, although politics are
not discussed. I love the gag where Auer snaps his fingers at a flickering light,
and it goes back on.
There is a brief mention that Auer belongs to the "waiter's union",
and that the union frowns on unethical behavior by its members. Compared to
other descriptions of economic institutions in Dwan, this is short and simple.
Still, it is notable as a mention of the labor union movement in a Hollywood film.
Architecture and Motion
Up in Mabel's Room has a little of Dwan's trademark motion around architecture:
One of the film's best scenes in O'Keefe's outburst of joy half-way though, when he thinks
he has recovered the slip. He runs around the furniture and set, with a Douglas Fairbanks-like
exuberance. It recalls Fairbanks running joyously amok in his parents' living room
in A Modern Musketeer. O'Keefe is a little less extravagant than Fairbanks, but still
shows something of the same style:
- Characters enter and leave through windows. These are bedroom windows, and in
Up in Mabel's Room this is the stuff of bedroom farce.
- When people do exit from bedroom windows, they are climbing over roofs.
There is a nice scene of the hero sliding down an angled section of the roof.
- The windows have built-in seats. Such seats are a Dwan motif. But in
Up in Mabel's Room, Dwan goes one step better, and has a compartment inside one of the seats,
and comic Mischa Auer hiding inside. This combines another Dwan image: the
secret compartment used to hide something.
The "miniature", "pocket version" of these acrobatics make them especially charming.
Both take place in a single shot.
- He slides down a bannister. This is just a short bannister, on a few steps
leading down from one room to another. It is like a delightful miniature version of
Fairbanks sliding down the huge curtain in Robin Hood, or Shirley Temple
sliding down the huge bannister in Heidi.
- O'Keefe jumps up on a couch and over a small table. This is another Dwan character on a platform.
Staging Through Doors and Windows
The ground floor rooms in the house interlock, and Dwan regularly stages action so that we see from
one room through a doorway into another room. This is a standard Dwan approach. It is
nice enough in Up in Mabel's Room, and adds a bit of visual interest to the scenes.
One of the best such shots shows people putting together a jigsaw puzzle, in a far room seen
through a doorway.
Dwan has one of his through a window shots, when people outside watch action
in the house through a window.
A deep focus shot NOT linked to architecture: the hero burning his lipstick-stained
napkin in the fireplace in the background, while others talk in the foreground.
The brief dream sequence is the best part of Up in Mabel's Room. Its plethora of
characters in elaborate costumes anticipates the finale of Dwan's next film,
Abroad with Two Yanks. That finale is far longer and complex, however,
and set in the real world, rather than being a dream.
The hero's formal wear is part of a Dwan tradition, to have men dressed up. And the
hero's top hat also recalls Dwan's love of elaborate headgear. Dwan men are more likely,
however, to be in white tie and tails and other evening wear, than to be in the formal day
clothes of Up in Mabel's Room. These are most popular in real life at weddings,
and the clothes seem to have a wedding party look. This is in keeping with the
"problems of marriage" subject of Up in Mabel's Room as a whole.
The dream recalls a bit the daydream opening of Stage Struck. That too
eventually has leading man Lawrence Gray running around dressed-to-the-nines,
this time in a comic operetta style fancy uniform.
Abroad with Two Yanks
Abroad with Two Yanks (1944) is a farce, about two rival Marines competing for the same woman.
The early sections rely on farce conceptions, such as mistaken identity. The later parts
of the film are richer in mise-en-scène.
While it is a comedy, Abroad with Two Yanks anticipates Sands of Iwo Jima:
Dialogue talks about how Bendix lost a football play-off, when he got distracted
by a woman in the stands. This is an echo of the opening tennis scene in Suez,
where Tyrone Power gets misses a tennis ball, when he takes his mind
off the game to look at a woman in the stands. In Abroad with Two Yanks,
Bendix gets hit in the neck by a football.
- Both deal with US Marines who are stationed in Commonwealth countries in the Antipodes
during World War II: Australia in Abroad with Two Yanks, New Zealand in
Sands of Iwo Jima.
- In both, Marines get involved with genteel romances
with a kind-hearted, highly respectable local woman.
- Both films have comedy scenes, in which two men dance together.
- Both focus on enlisted men, with officers forming serious background characters.
- In Abroad with Two Yanks, Bendix quotes poems: Poe, Coleridge's Love.
In Sands of Iwo Jima, John Agar wants his son to grow up knowing Shakespeare.
- Both have fights interrupted by superiors, and passed off as judo practice.
When O'Keefe raises money for the ring, Bendix gets confused about currency exchange
rates between US dollars and Australian pounds. This is a brief example of Dwan's
interest in financial processes.
The judo match between Bendix and O'Keefe in the garden, is another example of
a contest in Dwan.
The most elaborate construction is the canteen. This is an outdoor stand, built
opposite a long picket fence. Nearby, a kangaroo in a wheeled cage is pushed by.
The canteen's food, coffee, sandwiches and donuts, is an example of the
enjoyment of food theme in Dwan.
O'Keefe climbs a tree and moves over a fence, in a way that would do credit
to Douglas Fairbanks.
There is also a plank, over the orchestra pit at the stage.
There are characters moving through windows: Bendix sneaking back into
the barracks, the heroes leaving through a window later.
We also see the heroes with their heads stuck out through portholes, the
"windows" of the ship. This recalls several shots in Dwan, in which we
see characters from outside buildings, through windows. Also: at the club,
Bendix and Loder stand outside, watching through a window.
The phone booth has a back wall made of glass. We see the set behind it
through the booth's wall. This is a bit like the glass doors elsewhere in Dwan.
The greenhouse is an elaborate window-walled room. We frequently see though these window walls.
The square dance is shown from outside the building, through open French doors.
The washing Bendix does on ship could be a simple example of water works.
We also see Jane Russell doing hand laundry in Montana Belle.
Dwan showed a woman doing dishes repeatedly in his silent Manhandled.
Also a simple kind of water works: scrubbing down the jail cell, including
a bucket that gets thrown.
But the film's true water works scene is cleaning out the well. It is a geometrically
striking large circular hole. The men actually get inside it. They also use
a special tool, hoe-like implements with buckets for bailing on the end. These can
be described as special water work construction equipment. Dwan includes shots
of dynamic things happening to the water: air bubbles coming up; the men
spewing water at each other from their mouths.
Abroad with Two Yanks has two shots with characters walking down angled slopes,
a favorite Dwan subject for camera movement:
Dwan has a pair of beautifully designed camera movements, with the characters
walking along the balustrade in the garden outside the party. One has Bendix and the heroine
move from right-to-left. Later, Bendix and Loder move back along the same path,
but in the reverse direction. This sort of path / reverse path camera
movement runs through Dwan. These camera movements also reflect another kind
of Dwan favorite: tracks through gardens or yards. The first movement
with Bendix and the heroine has many plants in the foreground, recalling
Sternberg. While this track is quite lateral, the
sequel with Bendix and Loder shoots them more on an angle, and with fewer
"romantic" plants and foreground objects.
- The camera moves in as the Marines descend the ship ramp, near the start.
This recalls the camera movement in on Tyrone Power, on the steps at the end
of Suez. It is not a strict side view, however, unlike Suez.
- The heroine walks down the steps of the Marine commander's office,
while the camera pans.
There is deep focus staging down corridors, with the heroes moving a bit
along them, accompanied by the camera. This too is a standard kind of Dwan scene:
A pan at the fair moves to the left, until we see the heroes in a strange distorting mirror.
- Outside the Marine commander's office, as we see past the building.
- In the corridor in the brig, as the prisoners leave.
Animals and People in Cages
Abroad with Two Yanks repeatedly shows both animals and people in cages:
This parallel between humans and animals in cages was also a main theme in
He Comes Up Smiling.
- The kangaroo is in a wheeled cage at the start.
- O'Keefe talks to the dog, and winds up in a large dog-catcher's net.
- O'Keefe winds up in the giant parrot cage in the greenhouse-aviary.
- The men also get stuck in the cage-like brig.
The fair at the end, has that Dwan favorite, masks. These are unusual
masks that cover the entire head, like the helmet Fairbanks wears in
Normal Performers and Zaniness
The heroine is remarkably refined and lady-like. She makes a deliberate contrast
with the rowdy, low brow heroes.
John Loder, a skilled performer, is deliberately clumsy with the pick-up lines
fed him by Bendix. This makes his character seem sincere and un-manipulative.
Like the heroine, he is a "normal" character floating through a zany farce.
Financial Processes - to the Max
Brewster's Millions (1945) is a comedy, about a man forced to spend one million dollars.
One can see what might have attracted Dwan to this project. Dwan's films are full of depictions of
economic processes. Brewster's Millions is virtually an encyclopedia of such financial systems,
shown in lavish and often realistic economic detail:
These systems are all played for laughs. But they also are educational looks inside these worlds,
just as in other Dwan films. As in The Inside Story, we see a great deal about money circulating around.
And as in Young People, there are often realistically named institutions, such as labor unions and
- The stock market, anticipating Belle Le Grand.
- Wills and inheritance.
- Setting up corporations.
- Bank runs
- How theaters and plays are funded.
- Labor laws and unions.
- Maritime and salvage law, and its economic aspects.
The hero's difficulties spending money, anticipate the "problems" the wealthy miner Hope Emerson
in Belle Le Grand has in furnishing her castle of a mansion in the most lavish way possible.
Both are nouveau riche former ordinary people, who now comically have to put up a front.
Brewster's Millions also recalls A Modern Musketeer, in contrasting a zany wealthy hero,
with the normal business people at a large company. Brewster's Millions is much less malicious
than A Modern Musketeer. In A Modern Musketeer, a worker is depicted as a wimp who is
less masculine than the wealthy hero, a nasty concept. In Brewster's Millions, the ordinary people
are treated with sympathy and respect. They know their job, do it well, and try to protect the hero
from what they see as his "madness". They are admirably honorable, showing genuine integrity in
Like other Dwan films, Brewster's Millions is full of working women.
The heroine has long been employed as a secretary. Her mother has run a rooming house.
We briefly see a woman cab driver: an artifact of World War II, when US cabs were frequently driven by women.
The hero is one of many Dwan characters who are falsely accused: this time of being a spendthrift or deranged.
Unlike many other Dwan heroes, this never leads to any sort of social ostracism. But he does get denounced
in the press, like the hero of Suez.
Valuing Black People
Brewster's Millions emphasizes its black character's skill at work.
Eddie Anderson is shown at good at his various jobs.
He is also shown as intelligent and perceptive in his comments.
Dialogue at the start stresses that Eddie Anderson is a war hero, having served in the Pacific fleet.
Normal Performers and Zaniness
In The Gorilla, such performers as boyfriend Edward Norris had to act "normal", in the midst
of all the zaniness going on. Their performances almost made The Gorilla a sort of experimental
Something a bit similar happens in Brewster's Millions, with the hero's financial advisor
(Herbert Rudley) and fiancée having to play it straight, in the midst of the financial absurdity in which they are
trapped. Herbert Rudley is especially convincing as a real financial expert. He understands the world of money
and management very well, and loyally tries to give good advice in all this zany chaos. It is a well-done
performance, and also carefully supported by the financial detail in the screenplay. One suspects that
both films' characterizations were carefully graded and conceptualized by the director.
The Lobby - and its Tracks
Several of Dwan's films feature memorable tracking shots, moving through front yards of buildings.
Brewster's Millions has an interior track that perhaps is analogous. The huge lobby of
Brewster's company is set up as a long, vast corridor, in front of a row of office doors of the characters.
This lobby is like a "front yard" of the various offices. And the doors are like the series of
neighborhood houses in A Modern Musketeer. Dwan has a spectacular tracking shot, past all
these doors, following the characters. Soon the camera reverses itself, and we get another move
down the corridor, in the opposite direction.
Later, Micky and Trixie walk down the same long lobby. They are followed by what looks mainly like a pan.
The lobby also includes that Dwan trademark, an elevator.
The hero sends massive amounts of flowers to the heroine, anticipating Belle Le Grand, and
all the flowers sent to the opera singer. The flowers are visually elaborate in both films.
The hero's office has a built-in seat, in a curving nook. Similarly, the heroine's room at the castle
in Robin Hood had a built-in seat, near her window.
The cast watches a horse race on television, in the office. Television was still something of a novelty
in 1945. People will later watch a newscast on TV in Slightly Scarlet. In both films,
the television set frames the image.
The office is full of circular arcs. The hero's desk is curved. The built-in seat is round.
Pictures are circular, there is a round table, a lamp with a rounded top on the hero's desk, spherical bowls.
While watching television, the hero stands in the middle in back, and two other characters stand on each side of him.
This is close to one of Dwan's symmetric compositions - except that the room behind the characters
is not symmetric.
Revealing a Face
At the opening, the face of Eddie Anderson is gradually revealed, as he removes soap from
a window he is washing. The gradual build-up of a face, reminds one a little bit of the construction
of the silhouette in Robin Hood. The parallel is not close.
Calendar Girl (1947) is a nostalgic musical set in turn-of-the-century New York City.
The heroine is a woman singer, a profession that runs through Dwan. Many of the characters are
aspiring young artists and musicians, also Dwan favorites.
One of the main joys of Calendar Girl is the way Dwan treats architecture and the sets.
The film recalls Dwan's pictures with Douglas Fairbanks. We have such favorite Dwan approaches as:
Many of the sets interlace considered as locations in the story, even if they are not
actually connected on the sound stage. There is a third story in the rooming house,
with a huge studio apartment; a dance studio; a sidewalk and street out front; and a restaurant
in the basement. Dwan has fun with this rich, complex geographical world, with the characters
constantly on the move.
- Multi-story architecture: a huge, two-story staircase set in the rooming house.
- Characters moving through windows: the heroine goes in and out of her room
through a plank laid in the window.
- People scrambling over roofs: The plank leads to a nearby terrace.
- Deep focus staging through windows: through windows in the rooming house,
we see across the way to windows in another building, and the people and rooms inside it.
Calendar Girl is loaded with camera movement. Combined with the elaborate sets,
the movements make the film resemble a huge wind-up toy. It seems like a delightful
Dwan often follows the characters as they walk through rooms.
Camera movements follow the characters from floor to floor, as they go down the large staircase.
Dwan is clearly having fun with these spectacular shots.
Towards the end, there is a vertical pan, as the camera moves from one window showing a
musician, to the window above also with a musician.
The camera follows the heroine down the sidewalk. Most notably, this occurs when
the heroine gets away from the crowds admiring her calendar painting.
Also recalling the Fairbanks film Robin Hood: the tug-o-war contest at the fireman's
picnic. Just as the knights jousted at the tournament in Robin Hood, so here too
do we have a public contest.
The costumes in Calendar Girl are festive. James Ellison is a splendidly dressed
Dwan young man, like Tyrone Power in Suez. Both men wear white tie and tails.
The firemen's uniforms are also good. Their huge helmets recall Dwan's interest in
elaborate head gear.
Links to Heidi
Driftwood (1947) is a drama about a little girl (played by Natalie Wood).
It recalls Dwan's earlier Shirley Temple vehicle, Heidi:
While Natalie Wood in Driftwood is intelligent and decent, she is not a person
who solves everyone's troubles: unlike Shirley Temple.
- Both are about little orphan girls, who wander about into foster homes.
- Both have a crusty old man who likes the girl: Heidi's grandfather, Walter Brennan in Driftwood.
- In both, the little girl is smart and articulate.
- Both have lots of animals - perhaps because these are "family films". (The research animals in Driftwood
are in cages, a familiar Dwan image.)
- Both have reverent scenes in a Protestant church, in which the little girl plays a prominent role,
somewhat implausibly but sympathetically.
- Both little girls are from poor, restricted backgrounds, and they are amazed by what they see of
more affluent or urban life.
- Both girls say things that affect the match-making of sympathetic couples.
- An ally of the girl gets in trouble with the authorities late in both films, leading to dramatic confrontations.
Small Towns, Politics - and Links to Young People
The hero is one of many Dwan characters who are dissatisfied with small town life.
He plans to move to San Francisco. And Walter Brennan wishes he were young enough to pull up stakes and join him.
Driftwood is one of many Dwan films with conflicts between political factions.
The town's second-rate mayor wants to build a park, the doctor hero wants the town to build a hospital.
The mayor brands the doctor a "radical". This recalls Young People, which also had
small town political conflicts over a building project, a dam. Young People also
explicitly labeled the good side as liberal, something of a rarity in Hollywood films.
The little girl actually compares the small town to Sodom and Gomorrah! This is because of
all the lying and disrespect for truth she sees there. (No one in the film seems the least bit gay,
and no queer reference seems intended.)
A highlight of Young People was the town meeting.
Driftwood has dialogue about a town meeting, but it is not shown on-screen.
Driftwood is full of that favorite Dwan subject, financial processes.
The hero feels he cannot marry because he is poor, and likely to be poor all his life
because he is a research scientist. At the end, he gets a research grant.
This is going to change his life: he can persist in his work, and also get married.
There is an educational aspect to this, as in several Dwan films. Driftwood is showing
the audience how important research grants are, and how much benefit they can provide to society.
Government money for research had been given during World War II, and would be greatly extended
in the post-war economic boom. Driftwood is advocating such grants,
and educating the public about all they can accomplish.
The arrival of the grant money at the end, and all the good it can accomplish, anticipates the
circulation of money in The Inside Story. Both Driftwood and The Inside Story
are educational films, designed to teach the audience.
Other financial processes appear. Earlier, we see the doctor hero bartering his medical services
The heroine is a school teacher, and she has been saving money out of her tiny salary in hopes of marriage.
The hero is horrified: he believes he should support the family. But Dwan and Driftwood
seems to support the heroine's actions and attitude. Unfortunately, this subject is forgotten
and never resolved during the film's end. It anticipates the working wife in The Inside Story.
A character is jailed for non-payment of alimony. This is only done in passing, and not much discussed.
It is mainly an excuse to get a harmless character in jail, for comedy scenes. This jail comedy recalls
Tide of Empire.
Education and Technology
Several Dwan films have educational aspects. Often these are about money. But Driftwood
educates about science: it teaches the importance of vaccination. This is still a timely topic.
Driftwood has technological environments:
It also has technological equipment, notably the centrifuge at the end. This is not quite one of Dwan's
engineered object: it has not been altered by his hero. But it is still a visually dramatic technological object.
- The lab on the hero's porch.
- The back room at the pharmacy, filled with medicines.
- The gas station where Dr. Adams is contacted. Gas stations and garages occur in other Dwan films too.
The finale has more and more characters participating in the doctor hero's technological world.
First the townspeople come in to get vaccinated. Then more and more people help the doctor
battle for the sick girl's life. This steady progression of involvement is interesting to watch.
It gives structure to the finale's events. The dog also gets much more deeply involved.
The scene where he answers to his real name is electrifying.
Bringing Dr. Adams in through radio broadcasts is also fascinating.
The little girl has never seen a bath tub and has no idea how it works. She is startled by the drain.
She winds up taking a bubble bath. A tub is far less elaborate than the "water works"
in many Dwan films. But it is fully discussed as how it operates.
Later, Margaret Hamilton, getting an opportunity to place a nice person for a change,
gives a mini-lecture on the use of straws, also new to the girl.
The centrifuge and syringes used at the finale, are also devices that manipulate fluids.
The girl is first seen with daisies between her toes: an unusual image. It does tie in with the
flower imagery in Dwan. Later, a painted daisy on china leads to revelation that daisies are the
girl's favorite flower.
Some Dwan films have large gifts of flowers that fill a room. The vase of daisies at the end is smaller,
but it is shown in close-ups that fill the screen.
Camera Movement and Front Yard
Susan's beautiful garden is one of many front yards in Dwan. It has a white picket fence:
yards are often fenced in Dwan. Such yards are often the center of long camera movements.
Driftwood is a little simpler, but there are camera movements:
These camera movements have stop-and-start patterns, enabling staging that supports storytelling and dialogue.
- The hero and girl walk down the sidewalk and into the gate.
- The hero and heroine move deeper into the yard.
- The hero and girl move back out the gate, and take a long walk along the fence down the sidewalk.
This last is the most elaborate and longest. It is broken up near the end by some closer two-shots.
Camera Movements Introducing Locales
Dwan sometimes introduces new locales by a pan, showing their layout. In Driftwood,
the first view of the drug store pans, following the hero and girl walking through it.
Soon, an elaborate start-and-stop long take, follows the hero and girl walking through the
judge's clothing store.
Staging through Doors and Windows
We can see out of the big doorway at the drug store, to the sidewalk.
The judge is first seen behind his teller-like cage, at his shop. It has a window-like opening.
The area is also one of the cages containing humans in Dwan.
Margaret Hamilton points her head through a window the the back of the drug store.
Near the end, the mayor and his son look through their front windows and see the girl across the street.
The gas station has glass windows. The camera looks through them to the attendant inside.
It also follows him out the station, with a camera movement.
Motion and Architecture
The girl escapes from the doctor's house through the window. Such window exits and entrances
are a Dwan tradition. They add drama to the story.
Dean Jagger is another Dwan hero with big boots. He also wears a leather jacket. Clearly, his
country scientist is being glamorized.
The Inside Story
The Inside Story (1948) is a didactic comedy-drama, about
the importance of keeping money in circulation. Dwan's films are full of
financial processes; The Inside Story is entirely built around one.
In addition to its central subject, The Inside Story is full of
educational discussions on many financial subjects: the causes of the
Depression, pricing groceries and inflation, getting credit, the US Government
calling in gold in the 1930's. The film is set during the 1930's
Bank Holiday, which is also discussed.
Like its successor, Sands of Iwo Jima,
The Inside Story has much on gender roles. The lawyer is devastated that
he can no longer support his wife. The Inside Story constantly
suggests that the man should accept that the times are rotten, and
that his wife and other women want to contribute too. However, in fact the
lawyer does not seem to learn this. He only becomes happy when his work
The father is terrified that he is going to be falsely accused of
stealing the money: but he never actually is so accused. Dwan films are
full of people who become social outcasts after false accusations. The father
in The Inside Story never becomes either actually accused, or a
There is a camera movement that goes almost 360 degrees around the inn lobby.
It follows the lawyer's wife through the windows as she walks outside,
shows her entering, and twirls around as she crosses the lobby to the staircase.
This is like a longer version, of many nice camera movements showing either
people entering the lobby, or moving across it.
Outside the lawyer's home near the end, we see a garden path out front. First,
lawyer Shayne and father Lockhart are in one of Dwan's symmetrical compositions,
with the pair flanked by the fences on both sides of the garden gate. Soon,
we have some of Dwan's "brief bursts of camera movement, following characters
as they move forward or back along a corridor, stretching directly away from the camera".
Shayne and Lockhart move down the path, the outdoor "corridor", the camera moves
forward or back with them.
Immediately following, we see the heroine and Roscoe Karns moving along
the fence. Flowers are in front of them. This is one of Dwan's tracks
following characters walking through front yards or gardens. Like other such shots,
it is elaborately composed, and has a rich beautiful feel.
Animals and Cage Imagery
Dwan films sometimes link animal sequences, with humans in cages.
The Inside Story has a bit of both. But unlike some other Dwan films,
they are not linked:
Much is made of the safe. Dwan films are full of concealed hiding places.
However, while the safe is certainly a hiding place, it is not concealed.
Everyone can see it in the lobby. The same is true of the safety deposit boxes
in the prologue and epilogue. These thus differ from the hidden safe
behind the painting in Slightly Scarlet: a true Dwan concealed
- The only animal imagery in The Inside Story is a brief scene
in which a man barks like a dog. This is less developed than the big
barking scene in Abroad with Two Yanks, but still comic.
- There is cage imagery, with the opening scene in a bank vault.
- The inn desk might also be considered a bit cage-like, although
this is a stretch.
Unlike many Dwan films, The Inside Story lacks an obvious water works.
This is perhaps a function of how stripped down and low budget it is.
But the film does have a finale in the Cider Cellar. This is the inn's basement,
full of casks from which one can draw cider. This is perhaps a form of water
works, or at least a kind of fluid (cider).
While having her picture painted, the lawyer's wife sits on a chair on an
elevated platform. This recalls the platform that the Egyptian royalty
st. on in Suez. She looks very aristocratic.
Window and Door Staging
The town is seen through the bank's plate glass window, in the opening scene.
Much of the film transpires in the inn lobby. We often see the street
outside, through the lobby's glass door or windows. Eventually, we also see through the
door in the opposite direction: from the street into the lobby.
Dwan stages many scenes through open doorways, such as the door between the lobby
and restaurant. Or the door leading outside from the lobby. His camera can follow characters
through such doors, a little - rarely in big sweeping moves, but in little paths.
There is not a hard-and-fast distinction in The Inside Story,
between staging through open doorways, and shooting through closed glass doors.
At one point late in the film, we see characters leave through the lobby open doorway.
Soon we get a second shot, taken through the glass of the same door, now closed.
The two shots both show the lobby interior from the street, and are filmed from
similar points. They have much in common, even though one is "staging through
an open doorway", and the other is "shooting through a glass door".
We also see people near the start, through windows of a bus.
The lawyer is one of many Dwan men who wear bow ties. His tie is of
a striking checkerboard pattern.
His wife has an elaborate bonnet, with two long trailing pieces of
cloth: an example of elaborate headgear in Dwan.
Sands of Iwo Jima
Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) is a war film. Despite having one of the few big
budgets of any Dwan sound film, it lacks the elaborate mise-en-scène of many
much cheaper Dwan films. It seems less elaborate visually than Abroad with Two Yanks
or Calendar Girl, for instance. While some of the discussions of sexual
roles and masculinity are interesting, the combat scenes are grim and depressing.
It is not a film I enjoy watching.
Sands of Iwo Jima is a strange movie.
Much of the film is a talk fest, outlining differing attitudes towards
masculinity. The two main antagonists, Sgt. Stryker (John Wayne) and
Private Conway (John Agar), have very differing views. But the film aligns these
views with character traits and behavior that today seem a bit unusual:
So we have the anti-macho liberal who has "family values" and a macho
military enthusiast who is linked to every sort of anti-heterosexual
situation the screenwriters could think of. This is very different from
how these types are portrayed in today's "culture wars".
- Conway sticks up for a less macho view of man. He also sticks up for
his individual rights, in a way that evokes political liberalism. But he is also fully linked
to "normal" heterosexuality and marriage. His main goal in life is to get married
and raise a family, something at which he succeeds.
- By contrast tough Sgt. Stryker, the proponent of toughness, has a failed marriage
in the past, and an opposition to heterosexual relationships for himself or
anyone else in the present. He also has a soldier friend Charlie Bass (James Brown),
a man who gives every indication of being in love with Stryker: something that is not
necessarily returned. Stryker himself dances with another male soldier,
as part of a training exercise, in a scene with gay undertones.
The conflict between these two types is a bit like the conflict between
political parties elsewhere in Dwan. The two men do represent different
philosophies of life. However, neither one is part of an organized political group.
Stryker keeps trying to impress himself on Conway. One wonders if there is an
element of gay courtship in his approach. Late in the film, Stryker saves Conway's
life by tackling him and bringing him to the ground. This image can be seen to have
a gay subtext.
Stryker's scene with the bar girl has an ambiguous construction. Going away with
a bar girl to her apartment can be seen as a heterosexual act. Yet, a gay man
can also visit a woman's apartment and form a friendship with her. The film
does not actually show deep heterosexual desire or experience in this scene.
Some of the introductory material about the other soldiers can be interpreted as homoerotic.
The soldier Regazzi (Wally Cassell) who wants to be an agent keeps rhapsodizing about the good looks of
another soldier (Richard Webb), who he hopes to make a star. Regazzi will look for other men
too, as a recurring comic bit.
The two brothers who keep wrestling recall the other people in Dwan films
who wrestle on the ground. There is an ironic reference to "brotherly love".
On the surface, this is just a derisive comment. But it also serves to open up
the possibility that wrestling can have romantic or sexual undertones.
Making two men with a close relationship be brothers, is also a way to put
male-male relations on screen, while getting past the censor.
Conway can be considered the Life Force, and Stryker the Death Force.
Conway keeps trying to plan for future life. Stryker is only interested in preparing for combat -
and implicitly, death.
Conway is portrayed in a respectful and often sympathetic manner. He is shown as a brave,
conscientious man who does his duty. He is emphatically not caricatured.
Sands of Iwo Jima is far more sympathetic to his position and character,
than accounts of the film sometimes suggest.
Conway hopes his son can take part in the life of the mind, mentioning Shakespeare.
This anticipates Dwan's later High Air, and working class man William Bendix's
hope that his son can become educated and work in a thinking man's profession.
A Bad Teacher
Dwan films are full of scenes where one person trains another, often in a physical
activity or skill. Stryker's Basic Training of his platoon at first seems
to fall into this tradition. However, the teachers in other Dwan films are
genuinely helpful to their students. Stryker instead deliberately injures one of his
men, when he is a slow learner. This is repulsive.
The Japanese are denounced by Stryker for their yellow skin. This is racism, and it
is seriously wrong.
Unlike many World War II films, Sands of Iwo Jima does not feature
a platoon of soldiers who are conspicuously from different racial groups.
Many of the soldiers here instead have WASP names. There are quite a few white ethnics,
but no one from a different race.
There is a conspicuous, sympathetically treated Jewish soldier. This is a good thing.
Some of the settings reflect Dwan traditions:
- The camp is one of Dwan's large outdoor constructions.
- The bunks on ship echo the dormitories with rows of beds in other Dwan.
- Men climb down the ship side on a net: echoing the climbing up and down buildings
in other Dwan.
Dwan films often depict the enjoyment of food. Such enjoyment is usually
depicted as something fairly positive. But the coffee scene in Sands of Iwo Jima
is as dark as possible: enjoyment of a coffee break is shown to have sinister consequences.
A big table of cakes is in the canteen. But none of our characters is seen eating cake.
There are some lateral tracks, that move down a row of men, starting and
stopping along the way:
Both of these are extremely somber, tense moments. A related shot: when Stryker is
dispersing the soldiers at night, breaking them off in pairs of two. This is also
a lateral stop-and-start track. But it follows a group of men walking, not a
fixed row of motionless men, like the other two shots.
- When the men are on the ship, waiting to go into battle.
- When the men hear a wounded soldier call out at night.
The film has two pans, introducing dance halls:
Stryker moves up a ladder on the hill containing the bunker on Tarawa beach.
Dwan pans along with him. This is another Dwan camera movement, showing men
moving on a slope. Dwan soon starts a second camera movement showing Stryker
going back down the hill - but this is brief and rapid, and not fully
a reverse of the earlier pan.
- One shows the wholesome dance hall where Conway meets his bride-to-be.
- The other shows a dive in Honolulu where Stryker meets the bar girl.
This second shot has an interesting reverse camera move finale,
which moves back in the other direction to the bar girl.
A more conventional camera movement shows Stryker and Bass walking down a sidewalk in
Honolulu, after Stryker has said good night to the bar girl. Dwan likes such
camera movements of characters walking down sidewalks - and so do countless
The early scene where the Marines discover Stryker drunk, is of a kind often
found in Dwan. It points down a long street, with some camera movement showing
men moving either forward toward the camera along the street, or away.
The Crib - and Humans as Animals
The baby is seen in a crib. The crib has vertical bars on its side,
and John Wayne is photographed through them. Perhaps it is a stretch,
but the crib might recall the pet animals in cages imagery elsewhere
in Dwan, such as the canary in He Comes Up Smiling, the
kangaroo in a wheeled cage in Abroad with Two Yanks.
The photography makes it look as if Wayne is inside the cage of the crib,
just as bank teller Douglas Fairbank's work cage at the bank
in He Comes Up Smiling suggested that he too was in a cage,
just like the canary.
Regazzi thinks of himself as a bird, when drunk in the canteen:
more of Dwan's imagery linking animals with people.
Belle Le Grand
A Mix of Genres
Belle Le Grand (1951) is a Western: most of it takes place
in Colorado in 1870. But in many ways, it resembles a Dwan historical epic
like Suez, more than it does a typical Western. As in Suez, the
characters are people who love to build vast enterprises: in Belle Le Grand,
these are mainly mines, but they also include gambling houses. The
performers are usually in fancy 19th Century suits and evening clothes, also
like Suez, rather than the cowboy gear of most Westerns.
A possible ancestor of Belle Le Grand: Silver River
(Raoul Walsh, 1948), which also deals with mining and
capitalism in the Old West.
Belle Le Grand is also a musical of sorts. It is full of songs
by Muriel Lawrence, a gifted real-life operatic soprano who would make three of her four films
with Dwan. She mainly sings "light" classical music showpieces here, and does a
The early sections of Belle Le Grand seem to be from yet another genre
of Hollywood film, the anti-bellum tale of the Old South. A little of this dubious genre goes a long way,
and one feels relief when the action moves forward in time to 1870.
Like other Dwan works, Belle Le Grand has something of an ensemble feel.
The characters often take turns, coming to the forefront of the action.
William Ching plays the hero's partner. The two are often together and very close.
They recall the brothers in Chances. Both tend to be similarly dressed, in suits,
evening clothes, etc - also like the brothers in Chances.
Belle Le Grand shows Dwan's fascination with large scale processes.
The stock market sequence is perhaps the most ambitious in any film
before L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962).
Its look at a complex economic process, here the buying and selling of stock,
recalls Dwan's look at the economy of money circulation in The Inside Story.
The look at 19th Century Western opera houses, the courtroom scene, and the picture
of a whole mining town and its way of life, are other large scale processes in the film.
Dwan includes an outstanding panning shot, near the start. This shows the heroine, moving
through a black district. The architecture includes a long running fence. The fence
recalls the massive flume in The Poisoned Flume.
The character's slow move through the front yards, contrasts with Fairbanks' mad dash through the yards
of his neighborhood in A Modern Musketeer.
Dwan moves the camera up and down between boxes at the opera. He also has a large staircase
in the mansion.
Montana Belle (1952) is a Western with a not very good story.
It concerns outlaws Belle Starr, the Dalton Gang, a third group of outlaws,
and people who want to capture them, all negotiating various deals, robberies, traps and double crosses.
All of this is routine, and makes for a succession of episodes that have no goals or narrative drive.
On the positive side, it has a few good scenes, including a well-shot finale.
There is much interesting atmosphere and imagery throughout the film.
The film was reportedly shot in late 1948, but not released till 1952.
Jane Russell works as a saloon singer: another one of Dwan's woman singers.
She has two good musical numbers, among the film's more enjoyable scenes.
The Dalton gang are more of Dwan's brothers.
The Finale: Depth Staging and Architecture
The finale at the bank is visually inventive. Dwan uses deep focus: we see the town outside
through large windows in the bank, and through its open doorway.
Action is staged both within the bank, and in the streets seen through the windows and doorway.
The bank is on an angle at the corner, producing further visual complexity.
The camera takes in huge swaths of action: events inside the bank, outside in the street,
on buildings across the street, including upper level balconies. Such a global view recalls
Dwan's long-shot staging in The Gorilla. However, the staging in The Gorilla
partly recalls its history as a stage play. By contrast, the finale
of Montana Belle is "the final shoot-out of a Western", a very
un-theater-like sort of film element.
Dwan creates an introduction to his scene: the shades are pulled up
on the bank windows, allowing to see this complex environment for the
first time. This is a bit like the curtain going up on a stage play.
The town at the end is full of red-white-and-blue bunting, celebrating the economic event
of the bank having record sums of money. This anticipates the bunting celebrating
the Fourth of July in Silver Lode.
Like other Dwan films, Montana Belle has economic processes:
These processes seem a bit simpler than in other Dwan films.
- A reward is offered for the Daltons, and the hero negotiates with an insurance company to
try to capture them - for a fee.
- An informer (Andy Devine) comically negotiates smaller fees with both good guys and crooks.
- A newspaper tells the total amount stolen by Belle Starr through her career: $200, 000.
- A big sum of money is deposited at a bank, as a trap. It is also treated as a step
in the growing economy of the American West, and a cause for public celebration.
Construction and Sets
The barn near the start has a loft, with a movable ladder leading up to it,
and a trap door. This is a Dwan multi-story set. The ladder is perhaps
a substitute for the elevators in other Dwan. (It is possible that this "set"
is actually two sets, one of the barn and the other of the loft, joined together through editing.)
A wooden bridge is over a stream. The heroine rides down the bank from the bridge.
A swing is on a tree.
Montana Belle has some simple water works:
- A well is on the farm at the start. People get water out of it into buckets.
- There is a tub for doing laundry.
- The heroine and hero wash dishes.
- A fire breaks out, at a barn. We see an antique fire engine riding to the rescue.
Dwan shows the fire engine - but the fire is represented only by a big glow of
orange light in the distance.
- What looks like a barometer is on the wall of Brent's office. It is also a phallic symbol.
A running gag has Devine using the world's smallest lasso. He first uses it
to capture shot glasses of whiskey. Then it plays a plot role later on.
The outlaw heroine's hands are manacled, at the start. These are soon removed with tools.
Later, the Sheriff's office has something I've never seen in another Western: a row
of manacles hanging from the wall. They play no role in the plot.
Later still, Andy Devine will be tied up with a lot of rope.
There is a funny scene, in which the heroine discourages a bad guy, by sweeping dust
over his feet. This perhaps recalls the sand imagery elsewhere in Dwan.
Maps and Signs
Two maps of the casino are drawn on the ground, in preparation for the Big
Robbery. Both the maps and the dialogue show the position of the manager's office
with the safe. When we get to the actual casino, we discover that the maps are
correct: the office really is in this corner of the casino shown on the maps.
Both the casino and the blacksmith's have signs, with a drawing of an object
symbolizing their business.
Symmetric Composition: Rule of Threes
Several shots have a principal object in the center, flanked by matching,
less important objects on each side:
Such structures appear in Art Deco architecture, where they are dubbed
"the rule of threes". While Dwan's images are not exclusively architectural,
they are rather similar compositionally.
- After Scott Brady's fight in the barn, we see his opponent held by two men,
one on each side. Then we get a similar shot of Brady, also restrained by two men,
one on each side.
- The Cherokee who discovers the hideout is first seen on his horse in the pond.
He is flanked on each side by thin tree trunks in the foreground.
- The bank at the finale has a central door flanked by matching windows.
In Rise and Shine, the main cheerleader is surrounded by two supporting cheerleaders on either side,
giving a similar "rule of threes" effect.
The camera pans with the characters, as they ride down hill through a tree covered slope.
Both the tilted slope and the thin forest add visual interest. Then the camera pans back,
picks up their pursuers, and then repeats the original pan, following the pursuers down the hill.
When Devine uses his tiny lasso to get the whiskey shot glass, the scene is in one long take
camera movement. First we follow the shot glass being pulled along the bar,
right to left. Then after the camera shows Devine, it follows the glass again,
as it is slid down the bar from left to right. This shot anticipates the catfight in
Woman They Almost Lynched, in which one of the women is slid down the bar as
the camera follows.
The shot also follows a Hollywood convention, perhaps:
The "Gilded Lily" number also is full of path /reverse path staging. At its start,
the camera moves past men at the bar. At its end, the heroine and camera move past the men,
in the reverse direction.
- Right-to-left movements are "hard":
Devine is pulling the shot glass with difficulty, effort and skill.
- Left-to-right motion is "easy": the glass is just casually slid down the bar,
in a light hearted manner.
The camera also moves in towards the heroine before she starts singing; then back out as she moves towards the audience.
In the middle of the "Gilded Lily" number, an interlude has Brady kidnapping a man at gunpoint.
The camera moves with the men as they walk down a town street: a Dwan tradition.
The camera moves with the robbers, as they enter the bunting-filled town at the finale.
We see nearly straight down to the street below, showing people getting out of a wagon.
Dwan soon suggests this is a Point of View shot, from a second story room
looking down on the street.
Blue and Red-Orange, with a bit of Green. Trucolor films tend to emphasize
"blue and orange" - at least in the way the surviving prints look:
Some of these scenes have a bit of green, especially from Brent's blue-green suit.
- George Brent's office has blue furniture and orange drapes, a pure orange-blue color scheme.
- The heroine's suite of rooms has somewhat similar colors, although its door drapes are a
rusty orange, and some roses are pink.
- A meal scene has an orange-and-related color scheme on the left, with the heroine, and a
blue-and-related-color scheme on the right, with the hero.
Red and Green. There is also a scene with a red-green color scheme.
In the first scene at the blacksmith's, the blacksmith has a red shirt,
while much of the rest of the scene looks green. Perhaps it is bathed in a green light.
White and Blue. The first song, "The Gilded Lily", is nicely designed in
a saloon with mainly white walls and many accents of blue.
The white gives the scene an expansive, open, airy quality.
The white background is often pinkish white, echoing Jane Russell's flesh tones.
Montana Belle is another Dwan film with a woman dressed as a man:
Belle Starr in disguise as a male robber.
The blue kerchiefs worn by the robbers are more Dwan masks. The blue color
symbolizes the Dalton gang. It is hard to understand why the Daltons wear an identifying
color: the whole idea of masks is to conceal identity, not to proclaim it with a color!
But it makes for a striking visual effect.
Woman They Almost Lynched
Woman They Almost Lynched (1953) is an exuberant Western. It is unusual in that its
lead characters are women. It perhaps influenced Johnny Guitar
(Nicholas Ray, 1954) the next year. In addition to being
Westerns in which female antagonists square off, both films also have Ben Cooper as a young outlaw.
The heroine is one of Dwan's "characters on the move".
The locals are deeply divided between the Union and the Confederacy. This is close to
a Dwan favorite subject, "two parties competing for government power".
These two groups are not quite political parties though: they are rival governments, not parties.
The big cat-fight shows Dwan's vigorous staging. It has a number of powerful camera
movements, which create a great feeling of energy. It also has Dwan's slightly overhead
long shots, which show the whole ensemble as if on stage.
The saloon includes a high level corridor-balcony, connected by a staircase to
the ground floor. Dwan's camera can move accompanying characters as they move along the corridor,
then down the stairs to the ground. The set is similar to some of the boarding-house stairs
in Calendar Girl. One wonders if it were actually the same set, reused from the earlier movie.
Sweethearts on Parade
Sweethearts on Parade (1953) is a musical.
I'll Go No More A Roving
"I'll Go No More A Roving" is the song sung, when the wagons roll into Kokomo.
Much of the number shows an archetypal Dwan locale and technique: a setting in a front yard garden,
filled with camera movement. Moving camera in front yards or gardens occur in many Dwan films.
The scene contains a path / reverse path camera movement. First we see the daughter move down the
garden walk, to the fence. Then later, we see the heroine move along the path in reverse:
up the walk from the fence to the porch. Both directions are filmed by Dan using camera moving.
However, while the paths are reverses of each other, the camera movement techniques are different in the two shots.
The scene also contains Point Of View (POV) shots, showing the heroine from the viewpoint of men on the
moving wagons. These shots too involve camera movement.
Much of the scene is in red-and-green color schemes. The vegetation is green, mixed in with flowers
in various shades of red. The first hero's wagon is red-and-white; the next wagon is red-with-pale green.
The red-and-white wagon recalls the lunch wagon at the end of Stage Struck,
which was also in red-and-white. However, the lunch wagon is bigger than the traveling wagons in Sweethearts on Parade.
The red-and-white wagon in Sweethearts on Parade is brilliantly colored and vivid.
"I'll Go No More A Roving" is a traditional sea shanty. It is also known as "Maid of Amsterdam",
according to the Wikipedia.
Silver Lode (1954) is a Western. Its hero (John Payne) is one of several Dwan
protagonists who are falsely accused and who become social outcasts.
The church bell tower is used to make overhead views looking down into the street, in the Dwan manner.
We also see the hero high up in a window of the tower, also a favorite kind of Dwan view.
Cattle Queen of Montana
Cattle Queen of Montana (1954) is a Western. The following discussion contains SPOILERS.
Please see the movie first - it has a number of unexpected plot developments.
Links to Robin Hood
Cattle Queen of Montana often resembles Robin Hood.
The depiction of Native American life recalls Medieval England in Robin Hood:
The conflicts between the Cavalry and the Federal Government on the one side, and the racist white townspeople
on the other, is also a conflict of government.
- Both are societies steeped in rich traditions.
- Both are locked in a conflict between two ruling parties, one good, the other oppressive and destructive.
Such conflicts over government also show up in modern-day Dwan films: Young People, Slightly Scarlet.
- Chiefs and nobles are key characters in both societies.
- Jousts and ritualized public combat play a major role in both societies.
- Both are depicted with spectacular art direction and costumes.
- Both contain idealized heroes: Colorados in Cattle Queen of Montana.
Like other Dwan films, Cattle Queen of Montana gives a detailed look at economic processes:
- Registering for land with the US Government as "pre-emption" is depicted in detail, including a
visit to the registration office. We also see a founding stone.
- The treatment and re-use of stampeded cattle is depicted in economic terms, both in white and
Native American society.
- We learn a lot about the education of the Native American hero at college.
Cattle Queen of Montana is another Dwan film with a negative depiction of small town life.
Here the townspeople are full of racial hatred and prejudice. The moving camera shots of them
looking on in disgust at the Native American hero are vivid echoes of the Civil Rights era.
The townswomen also engage in vicious sexual gossip about the heroine, linked to their racial prejudice.
The men in the town are later seen to undermine the efforts of the Cavalry and the US Government to find a
peaceful solution to white - Native American conflicts. These people are narrow minded, nasty, and quick
to use violence, especially against other races.
The heroine is accused by the townspeople of sexual misconduct with the Native American hero.
She is one of many Dwan heroes who are falsely accused, and who become social outcasts.
On the Move
The heroine and her father have just arrived in Montana on their cattle drive, as the picture opens.
Colorados is just back from college.
Lance Fuller gives a striking portrait of hero Colorados. He is highly articulate, and radiates nobility
without self-righteousness. Fuller worked steadily, but never became a star. He regularly appeared in
TV shows directed by the gifted Montgomery Pittman, including a gem of a performance as a comic rogue in
the Bat Masterson episode Double Trouble in Trinidad (1959).
Lance Fuller also appears in Pearl of the South Pacific. Once more, he is playing
a non-European man, one who is appealing and sympathetic.
Upper Crust Secret Villains
Dwan films often have upper class looking people who are secretly villains. In Cattle Queen of Montana,
the biggest local cattle baron is full of sinister secret schemes.
And Native American faction leader Natchakoa also is involved in secret activities.
Neither of these men is quite as upper class in appearance, as are some of the bad guys in other Dwan films.
Water and streams are everywhere in Cattle Queen of Montana. They are always flowing, visibly moving
water - never still lakes. They are some of the most lyrical shots in this film, notable for its quiet, lovely
views of nature.
Dwan has only a little construction involving water. We do see a small foot bridge over a stream early on.
Dwan films often contain large scale outdoor construction. Cattle Queen of Montana has a house built in
a huge pit. One suspects such houses in the ground might be part of real-life Western history. The house
is featured in more than one episode, as people hide in it, and pass through its rooms.
The villain's house exterior is also visually interesting. It has a porch, free-standing steps, and a
cross-shaped post with a hanging triangle.
Dwan likes camera movements, that follow people through front yards. Analogous shots in
Cattle Queen of Montana are two pans, that show the first entrance into the Native American
village. As is typical of such Dwan "yard shots", these pans are rich in spectacle showing the village.
Unlike many such Dwan shots, however, the characters on the move are in the background, instead of
in the foreground.
We see people standing on a porch, that is full of curved arches overhead. It makes for some pleasing compositions.
A peaked teepee roof interior, is echoed by a three-stick stand over a fire.
Zigzag ornaments on a teepee exterior are also striking.
Escape to Burma
Escape to Burma (1955) is an adventure film.
Working Women: Barbara Stanwyck
The heroine (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the working women often featured in Allan Dwan films.
She is extremely competent.
Escape to Burma follows up a similar Stanwyck role in a previous Dwan film Cattle Queen of Montana.
In both films, Stanwyck runs a difficult outdoor enterprise involving lots of large domesticated animals.
The Palace: Camera Movement, Symmetry and Geometry
Escape to Burma opens with a complex but symmetrical composition, showing
the throne room of the palace. Dwan loves symmetrical shots. Then the camera pulls back, moving into the throne room.
This camera movement itself preserves the symmetry of the composition.
Eventually, symmetry is broken. The camera moves along one side of the room, behind the pillars.
This and subsequent shots reveal that the room is octagonal. The pillars form the corners of an octagon.
In addition, there is an octagon built into the center of the floor.
This gives the room a "nested octagon" quality, with one octagon inside another.
Art director Van Nest Polglase will have another nested octagon set in Pearl of the South Pacific:
the plaza with the statute is octagonal, and has an octagonal platform at its center around the statue.
Animals and People
The elephants are viewed as similar to human beings. They have careers, are central to the economy,
have individual problems, grow old and retire. Dwan films often stress the similarities between animals and people.
This film offers some of the most concrete, realistic detail. The similarity is not treated
with simple-but-startling imagery, as in many Dwan films. Instead it is set forth with sociological realism.
Escape to Burma anticipates a similar sympathetic view of elephants-as-almost-people in India Matri Bhumi
(Roberto Rossellini, 1959).
By contrast, the tiger is an animal that menaces people.
Costumes reflect Dwan approaches:
- The British officer is in a dressy uniform.
- The overseer is in boots.
- The metal helmet is an example of the elaborate headgear in Dwan.
Pearl of the South Pacific
Pearl of the South Pacific (1955) is an adventure film.
Pearl of the South Pacific is unusual, in containing a scathing attack on colonialism.
Just as Westerns of the 1950's were taking a critical look at racial prejudice
and a renewed positive view of Native Americans, so does Pearl of the South Pacific
suggest that white exploitation of highly decent island natives is a terrible thing.
Pearl of the South Pacific looks at bad people using Christianity to achieve sinister goals.
It was made the same year as Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955),
which also looks at a "false prophet".
The Island: Dwan Themes
The island is governed in isolation from the rest of the world by the High Priest.
Other people want to replace this isolation and rule, by "civilization" from the outside world.
There are many debates in the dialogue, about the pros and cons of such a switch.
In some ways, this resembles a bit the Dwan subject of conflict between two political parties
who want to govern an area.
The Priest's son wants to leave the island, and see the outside world. He resembles the many Dwan characters
who are dissatisfied with small town life, and want to leave it. The outside world is symbolized by a globe:
this is one of several globes that appear in Dwan films.
The Priest and his son are also another of the father - son pairs in Dwan.
Pearl of the South Pacific resembles The River's Edge. Both have
locales full of honest, innocent people: the island in Pearl of the South Pacific,
the ranch in The River's Edge.
Both of these are invaded by crooks from the outside world,
who work by romancing the local inhabitants and seducing them away from their honest local partners.
Much is made in the opening conversation, about how the Dennis Morgan and Virginia Mayo characters
choose to pursue money, rather than their love for each other. This is not quite one of Dwan's
financial processes: it does not specify details of their money-making schemes.
But it is an example of how pursing a financial goal has hurt the characters' personal lives.
We soon get a negotiation between the three characters over the profits from the pearls.
The three main crooks are really corrupt. One of them is actually nicknamed "Bully".
They form an adulterous trio led on by greed, like the main characters in The River's Edge.
The Secret Cave
The secret cave is reachable only through an underwater route. It is another of Dwan's
The pond leading to the secret cave is a complex landscape, and it is filled with water.
But it is not quite one of Dwan's water works, being entirely natural, rather than man-made.
There is a strange post on the ship, near where hero Dennis Morgan controls the ship's wheel.
It has a rounded top, and two spheres on its side. It certainly looks like a phallic symbol.
The High Priest has an office, like quite a few Dwan men. His office is full of books,
like the police Lieutenant's in Most Dangerous Man Alive.
Both of these men are Good Guys, and one suspects their offices are symbolizing
being well-read, well-informed and intelligent.
The office is far-and-away the most Western or modern looking place on the island.
Everything else looks like a Hollywood version of traditional Polynesia. This symbolizes
that the High Priest is indeed a Western man, an outsider who has come to settle on the island.
Dwan films often show people climbing up the sides of buildings, or up trees.
The ship's cabin at the start of Pearl of the South Pacific is reached by a steep stair
that is more like a ladder. The heroine is introduced, by showing her legs descending this stair.
Later, a kid on the island falls out of a tree he climbed.
The camera follows hero Dennis Morgan, as he moves down the deck of the ship.
This shot ends, with the villain emerging from the ship's hold. This makes a graceful finale to the shot.
Virginia Mayo moves first down the length of the ship's cabin, then back in the reverse direction across
the cabin again. The camera accompanies her, in a path / reverse path camera movement.
The ship deck at the start is full of circles: the ship's wheel, portholes,
a large life preserver, the strange phallic post.
The plaza on the island is octagonal. It has a octagonal platform in the middle around the statue.
And the plaza as a whole is octagonal, with its boundary and shallow steps being laid out
in an octagonal pattern.
The opening below decks in the ship's cabin, is mainly designed in blue and white.
When the characters go on deck, red colors are added to the mix, including red portholes
and a red beam, and a pink life preserver. These reds are not pure, flaming red, but rather brick-red.
Along with characters in blue, we get a red-and-blue color scheme.
Characters dressed in blue, in an environment with red objects, anticipate the brief visit
to the crime boss' office in Slightly Scarlet.
The island men (other then the High Priest) are shirtless. This includes handsome Lance Fuller,
the High Priest's son George. As in other Dwan films with shirtlessness, this is designed to show off
a man's physique.
Dennis Morgan usually wears a shirt. But he takes it off for a swimming scene.
Lance Fuller also does a lot of swimming.
The shirtlessness echoes early Douglas Fairbanks films Dwan made. Fairbanks's
bare chest in The Half-Breed and He Comes Up Smiling was linked to swimming, too.
Tennessee's Partner (1955) is a Western.
The Jail Break
The partners leave jail, from a window: a typical Dwan "characters exiting through a window" scene.
The window is in green-and-yellow. This is also the color scheme of two of the
three buildings we see in the distance, outside in the street. The "yellow" on the left-hand building
is more orange-ish, however.
The jail window swings out into the street. It recalls a door that Douglas Fairbanks swings out
into an alley in He Comes Up Smiling.
Slightly Scarlet (1956) is a crime film. It is widely viewed as a "film noir in color":
a movie that bears a strong resemblance to the film noir crime thrillers of the era -
except for it being in color instead of black and white.
The kleptomaniac woman steals a pearl necklace. This recalls the rich woman who steals
a pearl necklace for kicks in Black Sheep.
The illegal casinos recall the casinos and gambling that occasionally appear in other Dwan films.
The opening contains a series of Dwan motifs:
- The sister gets out of prison. This is dramatized as a barred gated opening, and her walking through.
This is related to humans in cages - although we see the sister leaving a "cage",
rather than being inside one. We see the cage-like gate with its bars -
but we don't see the sister through these bars, just walking out after the gate is opened.
- John Payne's long camera seems like a phallic symbol. He is holding near his lap at a jutting angle.
(Later, the microphone used on the TV speech is also phallic.)
- The sisters walk through the front yard of their house. They are
accompanied by a moving camera: a pan.
- Gifts of flowers await one sister inside the house.
In the mob boss' office, we meet his accountant going over his crime empire's books.
The boss praises this highly competent-sounding man as a "financial genius",
and talks about his "advanced degree". This man recalls the financial expert who is the hero's friend
Brewster's Millions, although that man is entirely honest and good.
Both films depict finance as a complex field in which experts can make a major contribution.
Even back in 1925, Dwan's 2-color passages in Stage Struck were pretty flaming in their use of color.
Dwan's interview with Peter Bogdanovich stresses that Dwan kept pushing the Technicolor man
to greater extremes than said technician felt possible. Dwan loves red and white here.
The Opening: Primary Colors, plus Green. The opening has a lot of the primary colors
(blue, red, yellow) in it. The reds run a series of shades: The sisters' hair,
brick-reddish regions in the car interior, pink outside the car. We also see bright red credits
superimposed over the images.
Boss' Office: Blue and Red.
The boss's office is full of white walls, men in blue suits, and some light red furniture.
One of the men wears a red tie.
The Mansion: Blue and Red, with a bit of Green.
The mansion interior in Slightly Scarlet is really something else,
with its vibrating red-blue color scheme. The year before, in the previous Dwan-Alton
Tennessee's Partner, the jailer is in pink-and-blue clothes against blue-gray walls:
a similar color scheme.
There are occasional green plants in the mansion interior, for a touch of green.
The blue-red-with-a-little-green color scheme echoes the far more common
blue-orange-with-a-little-green color scheme, one popular among many directors.
The blue-red approach is probably a variation on blue-orange. However,
blue and orange are complementary colors, and hence a standard
"recommended approach" in color design. Blue and red, by contrast, create a
"vibrating effect" on the eye. They make an intensely vivid combination, one that
is fun and delightful, but terribly busy and perhaps distracting. The combination is
much rarer in color design.
The red-blue color scheme in the mansion sequences in Slightly Scarlet
is not just a matter of the sets from art director Van Nest Polglase.
It is also present in the costumes and hair of the characters.
In the first main sequence, we have Arlene Dahl in a blue dress and red hair
that matches the set. In the second main sequence, we have Ted de Corsia
in a light blue suit, blue shirt, and red tie, that also matches the set.
Even John Payne's brown suit seems to have a reddish tinge,
which seems to play off all the red in the set.
We see a live television broadcast, of a political speech. The effect is a bit like looking through a window.
The TV set itself looks like a window frame. Dwan loved staging through windows. This TV shot is a sort
of high tech window.
The image on TV is one of Dwan's symmetric compositions. The speaker stands in the center; two people are
seated on either side of him. This has a "rule of threes" effect.
The mob audience watching the speech in the crime boss' mansion are all-male, rough, tough and macho looking.
By contrast, the middle-aged people seated behind the reform politician TV speaker look like "civic leaders".
Three of the four are women. These are two contrasting views of society, and linked to gender.
Both groups appear in group shots, that are examples of Dwan's interest in tableaux staging.
When the TV broadcast is turned off, the room plunges dramatically into darkness.
Then the lights are turned on, also making a vivid moment. This recalls somewhat the screening of the
film-within-the-film in Man to Man: it takes place in a darkened room in the fraternity,
then the drapes are pulled open and light is let into the room. However, the lighting effects
in Man to Man are somewhat different, even though they involve a room darkened for viewing,
as in Slightly Scarlet.
One can see Dwan tropes in the mansion scene. The glass doors to the terrace echo
all the through the window shots in Dwan.
The hidden safe reflects the hidden compartments and secret passages in Dwan.
The right-angled series of shelves over the mantel in the crime boss' office are unusual.
Path / Reverse Path Camera Movement
When Arlene Dahl and John Payne first enter the mansion, they move from
right to left, with the camera following them. This shot has delightful staging,
with Dahl and Payne moving at different speeds and independently,
but in counterpoint. Soon, a second camera movement follows Dahl from
left-to-right, back across the living room. Her path is slightly different from
the first camera movement. But mainly, this is one of Dwan's paired
path / reverse path pairs of camera movements.
Another path / reverse path pair: Payne first goes into his boss' office, then leaves with his boss
and other men. The camera pans with Payne in both directions. It is one long take.
John Payne's bow tie is consistent with all the bow ties running through Dwan films.
Payne looks good - but one suspects that bow ties were already on their way out in real life in 1956.
Payne is in a bow tie because of Dwan tradition, probably. The tie also makes Payne stand out:
in the crowd of similarly dressed men in his boss's office, Payne is the only one in a bow tie.
It immediately makes him look different from everybody else. Payne is both the same as everyone else (similar suit)
but unique (different tie).
Screen Directors Playhouse: It's Always Sunday
It's Always Sunday (1956) is the first of Dwan's two episodes of
the TV series Screen Directors Playhouse. It is a light comedy-drama, with didactic lessons.
In some ways, it resembles a pilot for a situation comedy TV series, and one wonders
if the filmmakers had such a possible series in mind.
The opening shows the minister hero training various little kids in baseball.
This is another example of Dwan's subject one character trains another physically.
Next, much of the comedy surrounds people's attempt to get food: here, raiding the refrigerator.
This is an example of enjoyment of food in Dwan. The foods look lavish, at least in quantity,
with fixings for sandwiches spread on the kitchen table. (There is a Coming Attraction for this show,
at the end of George Marshall's episode Silent Partner.
It shows genial chaos on the set of It's Always Sunday, which finally passes the director by,
allowing Dwan to eat his sandwich! It is quite charming.)
The bulk of It's Always Sunday contains its most important Dwan subject:
a financial process. Here, the process consists of "trusting other people while you lend them something".
A valuable object (a car) is loaned among a circle of people. It eventually comes back to its original owner,
a happy ending. The circularity of the loaning recalls the circularity of the money being passed around in The Inside Story.
In The Inside Story, such circulation of money was seen as the chief way to get the economy booming,
and avoid a return of the Depression. In It's Always Sunday, the lending is not linked to such
an economic goal, but rather to a spiritual value and goal of "building trust".
The father loans the sports car to his son, the son loans it to the minister hero;
the minister hero loans it to two bums, a very risky move; The two finally decide to return the car,
but wind up passing it to an investigating policeman; the policeman gives the car back to the father.
A complete circle.
Much is made of the minister being a "soft touch". The film suggests this might have short term complications -
but is the right approach in the long run.
The hobos are more Dwan characters falsely accused, this time of stealing.
A Return to Dwan's 1940's Films
It's Always Sunday recalls Dwan's mid-1940's comedies:
- It reunites Dwan with the star of many of his 1940's comedies, Dennis O'Keefe.
- It is a light cheerful comedy.
- It is set in modern day America, in ordinary everyday surroundings.
- It teaches a lesson about a circular exchange of something valuable, as in The Inside Story.
- The hero is already married, by the start of the film.
The hero planting flowers in the ground, is a very small, mild example of the sand works
that run through Dwan.
A Family Film - and Religion
It's Always Sunday is a warm, very clean film, focussing on a happy family.
In this sense it it is a "family film". But it is not a "family film", if that term is
used to describe movies where a kid is the central character. The adult minister is the hero of
It's Always Sunday; his two kids are strictly supporting players. Nor does it deal with subjects
of special interest to children - although it is certainly suitable viewing for all ages.
Dwan's previous family films with child protagonists, Heidi and Driftwood,
also feature minister characters. In It's Always Sunday, a minister is the central protagonist.
All of these ministers are Protestant, although neither theology nor denominationalism is stressed,
in keeping with common Hollywood practice in the Studio era.
Reference works suggest Dwan was a Roman Catholic. But these films all have a Protestant background.
The hobo (Sheldon Leonard in a witty performance) wears a leather jacket, thus fulfilling the plot need
that he is better dressed than the hero. This is not too surprising.
More unusual is the sympathetic, very poor bridegroom, who gets married in a black leather jacket.
Screen Directors Playhouse: High Air
High Air (1956) is the second of Dwan's two episodes of
the TV series Screen Directors Playhouse. It is simpler and more restrained
in budget and style than many of Dwan's theatrical features. But it is involving and packs a punch.
This is another Dwan film about father-son relationships.
The subject matter, "sandhogs" building a tunnel under the Hudson River in New York City,
involves many favorite Dwan subjects:
The father and son at the construction, kept reminding me of the two brothers in
their war areas in Chances.
- The tunnel is a large scale construction project.
- The tunnel construction is a sand works: the men who work there are busy shoveling earth
out, to form the tunnel.
- The tunnel construction eventually becomes a water works: it is under the river,
and water eventually starts leaking in.
- The tunnel and associated shots of New York tunnel and subway, recalls the famous subway opening of
- An elevator leading down to the construction is seen early on.
(This might be stock footage.) It recalls the one leading down to the mine in Belle Le Grand.
- A whistle forms a communication signal at the site.
- The training the son gets as a sandhog, recalls the Dwan theme of
one character training another in a physical activity.
- The discussion about choosing a profession, and working class versus middle class jobs,
perhaps relates to Dwan's interest in financial processes.
- The sweat room and the pressure chamber are perhaps linked to Dwan scenes of
cages for men, although neither has bars or grillwork.
The shot of workers fleeing down the tunnel in the emergency is terrific. It creates a sense of panic
and abandonment. They disappear into mist at the end. This anticipates a famous sequence in
The Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964).
This shot does not contain any camera movement. In a theatrical film, Dwan might have
introduced a bit of camera movement, down the "long axis" of the tunnel.
One of the sandhogs is black. In 1955, this would be a pioneering bit of
racial integration. It recognizes the importance of the contributions of African-Americans to labor.
William Bendix plays the lead, one of the sandhogs. Bendix was famous for his working class roles,
starring in the TV series The Life of Riley. But Bendix portrayed a roughneck with an intellectual edge
for Dwan in Abroad with Two Yanks. In High Air, Bendix constantly speaks up for engineering,
people working with their brains, and the life of the mind.
All of the men other than Dennis Hopper are huge working class types.
This includes Hal Baylor, who plays the man with the bends. Baylor often played roughnecks in Westerns.
I had to laugh when Leo Gordon shows up as the supervisor. Leo Gordon was the archetypal macho tough guy,
in many films and TV episodes of the 1950's. The filmmakers are really laying it on thick by casting Gordon.
Dennis Hopper's role builds on his character in Giant (George Stevens, 1955).
In Giant Hopper played a young man who rejects his father's macho Texan lifestyle, and becomes a doctor instead.
In High Air the question is whether Hopper should follow his father's working class job,
or become an educated white collar professional: an engineer.
However, in High Air this educated job is something his father supports.
The River's Edge
The River's Edge (1957) opens well. The first half hour explores interesting locales:
a desert ranch, a gas station, and a Southwestern hotel. The visual style is good.
The characters and their relationships are interesting too.
Then the film suddenly turns into a crime drama.
The characters go on the run into the countryside, and leave all the locales of the opening behind.
A depressing narrative depicts people whose lives keep getting worse and worse.
The last hour is one of Dwan's least appealing films.
The River's Edge has an odd mix of genres. It is a crime thriller, but it is set
in the modern day West. In this it resembles Lightning Strikes Twice (King Vidor, 1951).
Shooting Characters against Vistas
Dwan had previously brought criminal characters to the Southwest US desert in
A Modern Musketeer. In both films, Dwan shoots the actors against panoramic vistas.
Both include canyons in the backgrounds. People are up high on a level ground; the scenery
drops away spectacularly behind them.
Characters also use rope to scale cliffs in both films.
Anthony Quinn is another Dwan good guy hero who maintains an unconventional life style that makes
those who live with him uncomfortable. He lives on a primitive ranch full of do-it-yourself devices.
This drives his city-bred wife crazy. The ranch is contrasted with a modern hotel, which has the
conventional modern technology of city life. Quinn resembles a bit the minister hero
of It's Always Sunday, whose constant charity and lack of fancy clothes are both admirable,
and awkward and somewhat uncomfortable for members of his family.
Ray Milland plays another Dwan crook who masquerades as a charming member of the upper classes.
The heroine can't stand her life at the ranch, and wants to move to a glamorous city. This recalls
young Fairbanks' discontent with small town life in A Modern Musketeer.
The hero of A Modern Musketeer tries to help a "woman in distress" near the beginning,
who instead remains loyal to her bad boyfriend. The plot of The River's Edge is related.
Rancher Anthony Quinn enters the film riding a horse, recalling Douglas Fairbanks' skill as a
horseman at the start of Robin Hood. By contrast, crooked big city slicker Ray Milland
enters driving a convertible.
Harry Carey Jr. gets a chance to show off his charm in a brief modern day role, near the start.
Carey plays a working class man - a garage mechanic, covered with grease. Carey seemed to get
working class characters in his modern day non-Westerns: see his cameo as a cab driver in
Niagara (Henry Hathaway, 1953).
The heroine wishes that there were "fun in our lives". This echoes the end of Young People,
where Jack Oakie talks about happiness being the most important attitude people can have.
The shower at the start, is perhaps an example on a small scale, of the water-works that run
through Dwan. These include the giant flume in The Poisoned Flume, and the canal in
Suez. Dwan was trained as an engineer, and such engineering works fascinate him.
The sand that comes out of the shower, also reflects the sand imagery elsewhere in Dwan.
See the sand-diviner in Suez.
Not just the shower, but other parts of the trailer are also engineered by the husband.
The oven he tinkers with, recalls the radio that has been hand-altered in The Gorilla.
The heroine's bubble bath, might be seen as a simple water works.
The gas pump used by Harry Carey Jr. is an engineering device to control fluids.
The Yards: Technical Environments
Both Harry Carey Jr.'s gas station, and Quinn's ranch, are first seen as examples of the
front yards Dwan favors. They have the elaborate architectural backgrounds often seen
in other Dwan yard shots. They also include pans, following Milland's car or Quinn's horse.
Both environments are technological, with gas pumps at Carey's station, and Quinn's wind-mill
being conspicuous verticals.
There is not a front-yard fence in Quinn's ranch, unlike quite a few Dwan yards.
But there is a fence around a corral.
The bull escapes from its corral. This is a close variant of a Dwan staple,
an animal escaping from its cage. As often the case in Dwan, the animal immediately
causes chaos for a human - but no real harm. Quinn gets knocked down, a bit like
Shirley Temple's getting comically attacked by the goat in Heidi.
In other scenes, characters encounter threatening animals: in this desert, a scorpion
and a rattlesnake. Threatening animals are less common in Dwan. There is a contrast between
the sinister scorpion, and the heroine's fancy pink slipper he is on. This perhaps has comic
Red and White. Harry Carey Jr.'s gas station is all in hues of red, brown and white.
Even his red hair is coordinated. He is working on a dark red vehicle, he wears white-ish clothes,
and there is a red-orange and white sign on his roof. The pink convertible both fits in, and stands out,
in this color scheme.
Blue and Red-Orange, with a bit of Green. The early interiors at the shack,
are in a mixture of red-orange and blue. This color scheme
runs through other 1950's filmmakers, notably Vincente Minnelli,
George Cukor and William Castle.
Quinn's blue denim rancher outfit, with a red scarf at the throat, fits in with this scheme.
So do the heroine's blue clothes, pink slippers and pink towel.
There is also a small green canister on the kitchen shelf, and a small green sugar-bowl on the table.
Green is frequently a supplementary shade in directors who use this color scheme.
The hotel lobby also has blue furniture, contrasted with reddish-brown wall designs, and a red-and-orange
stand for the gum-ball machines. The desk clerk wears a blue sport coat. It is a strikingly geometric place,
with round arched doors filled with rectangular window panels, and huge diamond-shaped decorations on the walls.
The restaurant has a blue juke-box, contrasting with lots of wood that can be considered orange-brownish.
Red and Green. The heroine's bath at the hotel is green tile. This is contrasted with her red hair.
The dance sequence at the restaurant has the couple mainly in off-white. But the background colors are
red and green. There is a woman in a green dress, and a man in a green-ish shirt. Another
woman dancer is in red-brown. The hero wears a red scarf.
There are several red accents on background tables. The barman wears a red coat.
Later, the trailer is green on the outside. It is green-and-red inside, with blankets and Milland's
red scarf adding to the color scheme, along with reddish wood. Green-and-red is also found
in Minnelli and Hitchcock.
The police station has bright red touches. This contrasts with the policeman's dark green uniform.
One suspects that its green color was chosen to make this color contrast.
All Gray. Dwan also uses monochrome harmonies. In the cave, Milland is shown sleeping against a gray wall,
under a matching gray blanket, and with his gray case.
Most Dangerous Man Alive
Most Dangerous Man Alive (shot perhaps in 1960, released in 1961) is Allan Dwan's final film.
Most Dangerous Man Alive is a strange combination of the gangster film,
the science fiction horror movie, and a super-hero movie.
This is not as fun as its sounds. Both the gangsters and the horror are pretty sinister.
There is little humor, human warmth or cheer in Most Dangerous Man Alive,
and hardly any sympathetic characters. It's a grim tale, with only a little entertainment value.
Gangster movies made a big comeback in the early 1960's.
Films like The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (Budd Boetticher, 1960) and
Underworld U.S.A. (Samuel Fuller, 1961) are now considered classics.
In the science fiction plot, the blast converts the hero's body, so that it absorbs metal.
He becomes a "man of steel". This recalls the comic book superhero
Steel Sterling, and how his body was transformed by a vat of boiling chemicals.
See Steel Sterling's origin story "The Man of Steel" (Zip Comics #1, February 1940).
Later, the phrase "The Man of Steel" would be taken over and applied to Superman.
In some ways, the transformed gangster serves as a "monster". Like other monsters rampaging in
1950's sf horror films, the gangster is a destructive force created by atomic energy.
Like them he is ultimately attacked by police and soldiers, mainly ineffectively until the finale.
But in other ways, the gangster is a super-hero of sorts. He has super powers, including
invulnerability. And he mainly attacks other gangsters, who are really bad guys.
However, he is not a true good guy, unlike genuine super-heroes.
He is an odd, in-between concept.
Other Dwan films have episodes showing the characters having fantasies (The Restless Spirit,
Stage Struck), dreams (Up in Mabel's Room, Brewster's Millions), or mental imagery,
or briefly taking part in fantastic events, such as the historical opening of A Modern Musketeer.
But Most Dangerous Man Alive is unusual in Dwan in being an out-and-out science fiction film.
Most Dangerous Man Alive suffers from script deficiencies, perhaps. It has situations,
but not really a full scale story or plot. And the characters are one-note and underdeveloped.
It does not show the expert characterization or storytelling of Dwan's best work.
Most Dangerous Man Alive does have consistent atmosphere. It is better visually than one might expect,
from such a low budget movie. While the characters are simple, they are consistently presented.
Links to Other Dwan Films
The soldiers, police and fighting recall Sands of Iwo Jima. Explosives play a brief role in both films.
Links to Slightly Scarlet:
The science and laboratory recall Driftwood. Both films have lab animals in cages,
and sinister medical events for humans. Both films have the hero in a leather jacket.
- The tough, somewhat older and none-too-handsome men who are gangsters and racketeers.
These men convey an idea of masculinity, centered on toughness, power, displays of criminal wealth,
and a wise-guy urban attitude. They exist in a corrupt world in which there are few good characters or institutions.
- Two gorgeous women who are romantically involved with crooks.
- A crook rather than good guy as hero - although this is in fact common throughout the gangster genre.
Most Dangerous Man Alive is not as filled with Dwan subjects as many Dwan films.
And some plot aspects are only tenuously linked to Dwan subjects. For example,
near the start we learn a bit about the gangster protagonist's vending machine empire, and see
other mobsters take over his racket. This might be linked, fairly distantly,
with the Dwan subject of financial processes.
The hero has been framed on a murder charge. He escapes, and tries to prove his innocence.
Dwan heroes are often falsely accused.
A trap is set for the hero, involving an electrified line powered by machines.
This is perhaps one of Dwan's engineered objects.
Policeman Lt. Fisher is as near as Most Dangerous Man Alive comes to having any sort
of Representative of Good. But he is far from the film's central character.
He does have an office with a huge wall full of books. Books and intellectuality were valued
in science fiction films and comic books.
Still, Lt. Fisher is far less central as a character than was, say, Federal agent Peter Graves
in Them! (Gordon Douglas, 1954). Unlike Peter Graves,
Lt. Fisher doesn't do anything heroic, and doesn't get the girl.
Desert and Dust
Much of Most Dangerous Man Alive is set in desert-like regions: a Dwan favorite.
The film was shot in Mexico.
SPOILER. The hero is turned to dust at the end. This perhaps relates to the sand works
and dust in other Dwan films.
The Flame Throwers
The flame throwers at the end seem like some of Dwan's phallic symbols.
The gas guns used earlier are also phallic.
Flame is rarely seen positively in earlier Dwan. Firefighters are good guys in Calendar Girl,
and there are firefighting episodes in Tide of Empire, Montana Belle.
Dwan films often have characters climbing up or ascending buildings, trees or cliffs.
There are no elevators in Most Dangerous Man Alive. SPOILER. But there are two scenes
where the hero kills people by throwing them from heights: once out of a high building window,
once off a mountain at the end.
The building window looks down to the street. We see some of Dwan's overhead shots,
showing the street far below.
The finale contains a landscape panorama, showing soldiers in a plain, seen from the high mountain.
Staging Through Windows
Dwan likes to stage scenes through doors or windows. We get a sinister variation on this in
Most Dangerous Man Alive, when we see the hero trapped behind the unbreakable window during the blast.
The gangster mansion has a gate with fancy grillwork. Dwan likes to shoot characters through it.
This is perhaps related to the scenes of humans in cages in other Dwan films -
although the gate is far from being any sort of cage.
The hero is seen through photographic imagery:
Both of the above are realistic elements within the story. They do not break the narrative surface of the film,
unlike some odd story telling elements in other Dwan.
- A magazine layout of photos, showing his glamorous life, displayed by another gangster.
- A film-within-the-film, shown by the scientist.
They recall the opening of Man to Man. The hero of Man to Man is first seen in
a newspaper article-with-photo celebrating his athletic prowess. Soon, he is seen in a movie of him in a track meet.
It is unusual to see a Hollywood film, with the hero mainly in a black leather jacket.
This is a tough jacket, full of zippers, and designed to be as macho as Marlon Brando's
legendary biker jacket in The Wild One. A man gets married in a black leather jacket in Dwan's
It's Always Sunday. One suspects Dwan liked this look, and wanted to use it.
The briefly seen butler is in one of Dwan's bow ties. While bow ties are common in Dwan,
they are actually rare on Hollywood movie butlers. One suspects that this too is a "Dwan look".
The gangsters are all overly-dressed in ostentatiously expensive suits.
Having gangsters display wealth by wearing the most expensive suits possible is a Hollywood convention.
These suits are mid-1950's Eisenhower era wear. They look very expensive. But by today's standards,
they also look ugly. A man in one looks like a hood dressed up. Today, it is hard to imagine a suit
like this worn by an honest businessman, however well-dressed or wealthy, or a man who wants to look good on a date.
They seem to convey a feel of Las Vegas style high living and corruption. Even in the 1950's,
one suspects, these suits were seen as a "gangster look", and not what the well-dressed man would wear.
Related clothes: villain Brad Dexter's in 99 River Street (Phil Karlson, 1953),
the protagonist's in Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955).
These films show swaggering men, who have emerged from a low-life background, perhaps.
Admittedly, Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly looks really sharp. This mid-1950's look was
sandwiched in between two other styles for men that today look much better:
A gangster carrying information at the film's start, is in a spectacular white coat,
shaped much like a trenchcoat.
- 1940's and early 1950's film noir pinstripes and double-breasted suits;
- 1960's Kennedy era suits, revived on Mad Men.
The police are also in suits that really look tough. There are few "normal" people in Most Dangerous Man Alive.
Everyone is part of a world of tough masculinity.
Other police are in elaborate uniforms, including Sam Browne belts. Fancy uniforms are a Dwan tradition.