WEIRDLAND: Boxing Fables: Robert Montgomery, Miles Teller

Monday, August 01, 2016

Boxing Fables: Robert Montgomery, Miles Teller

“Bleed for This” (2016) starring Miles Teller (Open Road). This marks the second attempt to get a boxing movie into awards season competition, after The Weinstein Company unsuccessfully launched “Hands of Stone” at Cannes in May.  Source:

The much-loved Here Comes Mr. Jordan has spawned two direct remakes and a sequel, but the 1941 original retains a unique charm that no other version has been able to duplicate. Why does it keep such a hold on our affections? Perhaps it’s the way it mixes elements in a way unique to its era—screwball comedy, slapstick farce, boxing fable, supernatural romance. Directed by Alexander Hall and released by Columbia Pictures, it boasts a just-crazy-enough premise—angels try to return the soul of a boxer, who has been mistakenly snatched by an overeager apprentice, to a ring-ready body back on Earth—yet has enough real-world pathos to leave a lasting emotional impact. The rollicking dialogue and gleefully complex plot, the film’s belief in friendship, destiny, and true love. 

Together, Montgomery and Rains, the tough guy and the seraph, work to put Joe back on Earth as the champion boxer he was meant to be. Montgomery, a lifelong conservative whose patriotism had spurred him to spend time driving an ambulance in France, had only recently returned to his home studio, MGM. But, despite his restlessness there, when Montgomery found himself loaned out to the perpetually low-budget Columbia, he wasn’t pleased about it. 

Columbia wanted Evelyn Keyes to resemble their top star Rita Hayworth, and thus they padded her figure and made her wear hairpieces to imitate Hayworth’s luscious mane. In addition to her hair and makeup discomfort, Keyes at the time was having a red-hot affair with the married director Charles Vidor. One day, she recounts in her autobiography, Montgomery drawled to her, “I hear you’re running around with a married man.” Unable to tell if he was joking, and not much caring either way, Keyes snapped back, “What business is it of yours?” 

The tenderness of Keyes and Montgomery’s love scenes is a small triumph of acting, and offers proof that on-screen chemistry is a mystery no scientist can ever solve. Presumably all hard feelings were, if not forgotten, at least soothed by Here Comes Mr. Jordan’s stellar notices and boffo box office.

In terms of film history, 1941 was a triumph. Hollywood’s output that year was staggering, even by the eccentric standards of what films got Oscar nominations, which list includes The Maltese Falcon, How Green Was My Valley, The Little Foxes, Suspicion, and Citizen Kane. (Here Comes Mr. Jordan garnered seven nominations, winning best story for Harry Segall and best adapted screenplay for Sidney Buchman and Seton Miller.) If you went to the cinema and sat through the newsreels, however, 1941 was terrifying. Even before Pearl Harbor in December, many Americans realized we wouldn’t be able to sit this one out much longer.

Then there’s Joe’s original accident, the plane hurtling toward Earth; we’re told 7013 pulled Joe out ahead of time because he couldn’t stand the thought of the boxer’s pain on impact. Even the pretty tune that Joe hilariously butchers on his ever-present lucky saxophone is “The Last Rose of Summer,” based on a poem by Thomas Moore about loneliness and death (the unheard lyrics start, “’Tis the last rose of summer, / Left blooming alone”). It takes sure hands at script and direction and a nimble cast to maintain the sweetness around such bitter pills.

Critic Dave Kehr once referred to Alexander Hall as “the guy who got the Columbia projects that Frank Capra turned down,” and indeed it is hard to discern a distinctive imprint from Hall’s direction. Aided by the black-and-white genius of Capra’s frequent cinematographer Joseph Walker, Hall’s direction is unobtrusive to the point of invisibility, though some compositions stand out. There is the prop of the grand piano slicing the frame, as Mr. Jordan explains to Joe that Farnsworth is being murdered upstairs, thus offering a fresh body for Joe to inhabit.

The backstage stairs that soar up in the last scene are at first romantic, as Joe’s last incarnation and Bette recognize each other across this world and the next, then poignant, when Mr. Jordan steps up to say farewell—for now. The real emotional climax, however, has come just before, when Max cradles the saxophone that has stayed with Joe through all his various guises. Gleason’s expression says Joe was like a son to Max—a son he’s lost three times now. 

The pleasures of Here Comes Mr. Jordan are not those you get from a visual stylist but those found from watching actors working at the very top of their abilities, in a clever plot with skillful dialogue. And actors are, after all, part of a film’s visual elements. A camera trained in stillness on Claude Rains is as good as or better than many another film’s flashy traveling shot, even when, as in several scenes, he’s out of focus, stretching elegantly in a chair in the background, listening to what’s going on.

Evelyn Keyes, discussing Here Comes Mr. Jordan, told a reporter in 1989, “I enjoyed doing comedy. It’s complex. You can’t think you’re being funny. Comedy is serious business.” Turning death into comedy is Here Comes Mr. Jordan’s serious accomplishment. Source:

Humphrey Bogart, Evelyn Keyes & Danny Kaye in front of the Dies Committee (of the House Committee on Un-American Activities), 1940

The director of “Whiplash,” Damien Chazelle, said that Miles Teller’s face drew him in, reminding him of a young Humphrey Bogart, Gene Hackman: men who could play dashing heroes, romantic charmers or troubled everymen. “There’s something very malleable about his face,” Mr. Chazelle said. “In terms of how you shoot it or light it, he can have this tough, battered boxer physique. Other times, he looks like a child: vulnerable. The great actors’ faces are these muscles of emotion.”

“I feel like a lot of actors of my generation are not proper actors,” Miles Teller said flatly in an empty hotel conference room. Filmgoers who have only seen Mr. Teller’s frisky bro comedies like “21 & Over,” or his bawdy romantic comedy “Two Night Stand” might be surprised by his bravado. As he demonstrated in the moving coming-of-age indie “The Spectacular Now,” Mr. Teller is capable of much more than the wisecracking, laid-back charm he exudes so naturally.

“I’m pretty hot now,” he said, flashing a wry smile with the self-aware, somewhat ridiculous and somehow sincere swagger that has become his improbably winning trademark. “I guess I was lacking sex appeal at the time. I don’t know if I found it.” Source:

Based on a true story, “War Dogs” follows two friends in their early 20s (Jonah Hill and Miles Teller) living in Miami during the first Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows small businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts.  Starting small, they begin raking in big money and are living the high life.  But the pair gets in over their heads when they land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan Military—a deal that puts them in business with some very shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the U.S. Government. The film is targeting an August 19th release. Source:

Teen Choice Awards 2016 — Choice Movie Actress Action/Adventure Winner: Shailene Woodley, The Divergent Series: Allegiant

It appears that Lionsgate is trying to salvage the Divergent franchise as best they can by positioning it for a television audience. Currently, the plan appears to be to complete the current story arc with the main cast with Ascendant, while using the film to introduce a new group of characters who will carry the spinoff television show. It’s not clear if any of the film’s cast will appear in the television show. Downgrading the film to become a glorified television pilot could help cut the company’s losses while appeasing fans of the series, even if it’s a huge blow to Lionsgate. Films such as Stargate and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have been spun off into extremely successful television franchises, and it’s possible that the company is hoping to score a similar level of success with DivergentSource:

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