14 Hours

Ring a Ding Ding

14 Hours (1951)

     At last I have triumphed over one of my movie checklists. 14 Hours concludes my viewing of all Grace Kelly Movies but unfortunately had very little of the princess. Being her first film, I knew she did not have a lead role, but she still leaves a memorable impact in this striking picture. From her appearance, one would not think this was Kelly’s first appearance on the big screen (she had done some TV dramas prior). She’s done up in her typical fashion: fur coat, black veil headpiece, glistening blonde hair, which belied her 21 years of age. Oddly, she would next make High Noon in which she looks the least like the Grace Kelly moviegoers came to know.

     Kelly was offered a stock contract with Fox after completing the flick but declined it to return to the theater, where she had worked on Broadway and in her home state of Pennsylvania. She was trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and also did some modeling work in the early days to supplement her income. Her real break-out role was the aforementioned High Noon, in which she was cast as a Quaker bride because of her inexperience and natural reserved personality. With only 11 motion pictures to her credit, Kelly was choosy about which films she would take on, and frankly, Green Fire might be the only stinker among the bunch. It was actually in her least glamorous role, the wife of an alcoholic in The Country Girl, that landed her a Best Actress Oscar. She was also nominated for a supporting role in her third film, Mogambo.

     I will contend that High Society was a splendid end to Kelly’s Hollywood career, although I know Philadelphia Story purist will disagree. She married Prince Ranier and became princess of Monaco in 1956, just five years after making 14 Hours. Director Alfred Hitchcock, with whom she made three features, tried to lure her back to the movies after starting her new life, but scenes such as a marital rape in Marnie did not sit well with the people of Monaco. Unfortunately, Hitchcock failed to adequately replace the golden-haired star with Tippi Hendren, Eva Marie Saint and Kim Novak. So Kelly remained in Monaco, making a visit to her Hollywood haunts with her children in the ’60s. Princess Grace died prematurely in 1982 after suffering a slight stroke at the wheel of her car while traveling with her daughter down a road allegedly featured in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. The daughter was fine, but Kelly died from her injuries.

     14 Hours itself is a pretty great film. It is entirely centered around a man (Richard Basehart) perched on the ledge of a hotel 15 or so stories up. The film commences with him on the ledge and follows until he is finally inside after what I assume to be 14 hours. One traffic cop (Paul Douglas) manages to gain the prepared jumper’s confidence and talks to him throughout the whole ordeal trying to determine what has upset him. Kelly shows up as a high society woman visiting her lawyer’s office in order to finalize a divorce. The office provides her a view of the building. The streets are also blocked and crowded with what looks to be half the population of New York. Besides the action in the hotel, a couple small plots unfold among the spectators. Kelly’s character finds compassion after watching the man for a couple hours and decides not to follow through on the divorce, to her husband’s delight. Two young people standing next to each other in the crowd fall in love, lose each other and are reunited. Agnes Moorehead comes in as the man’s mother and gives a great performance as a patronizing matron. Barbara Bel Geddes also shows up as an ex-girlfriend, who might be the source of his anguish.

     The movie uses only diegetic sound until the story’s resolution, but it is not a quiet film. Always in the background is the sound from the street below as the thousands of spectators mutter concern and hedge their bets. This serves to really focus attention on the very human aspects of the film. The picture seems less like a movie and more like an actual crisis unfolding. Without music to tell the viewer when to be on-edge, the audience is left constantly nervous. 14 Hours might have inspired in part the contemporary Phone Booth, which takes place entirely in and around a phone booth, but also has some sinister stuff going on that this film lacks.

     Douglas really gives a splendid performance as the middle-aged, lower-ranked cop who seems to be the only one who truly cares about the man’s troubles. 14 Hours did not do well at the box office despite critical acclaim, so it is understandable why such a good picture has faded into cinematic history. This is not one that I have ever seen scheduled on TCM, so I had to Netflix it. Good thing it is available on DVD.

Sources: Grace Kelly: A Life in Pictures by Jenny Curtis; Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

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Around the World in 80 Days

Gasser

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Around the World in 80 Days is one of the lesser acclaimed Best Picture winners and understandably so. The 3+ hour movie offers an epic adventure marked by little excitement and characters that are difficult to love or identify with. David Niven‘s Phileas Fogg, who takes up a wager that he cannot circumvent the earth in 80 days, is uptight and cold. Despite this he manages to attract Shirley MacLaine‘s Indian Princess Aouda, who Fogg and companions rescue from a ceremonial burning alive. The only endearing character is Passepartout, played by an actor known only as Cantinflas. The Spanish gentleman’s gentleman, womanizer and gymnast gives the film is comical edge and heart.

Returning to MacLaine, I am reminded of how many older films used white, American actors in roles of a different ethnicity. I at first did not recognize MacLaine being so young and with tanned skin. She really does not look Indian, but it must have been more important/convenient to have an American actress play the role. This sort of casting I found most off putting in the 1944 Dragon Seed, which features an all-star American cast for a film set in China. Katharine Hepburn, Agnes Moorehead, Hurd Hatfield, and Walter Huston are made up to look Japanese and their presence perhaps points to a severe lack of valued, Asian actors in Hollywood at the time. Although a few Chinese actors are included in 1937’s The Good Earth, Paul Muni was cast as the lead character. That film, along with The Story of Louis Pasteur, have me avoiding all Muni roles now. I have also seen Abner Biberman cast — and painted — multiple times as characters of a different ethnic background. In his first role in 1939’s Gunga Din, Biberman plays and Indian character; in (again) Dragon Seed as a Japanese soldier; in 1945’s Back to Bataan as a Japanese Captain. I guess the guy just had that look.  The examples from my memory, however, all occurred in 1945 and earlier, so why could Hollywood still not locate a naturally exotic-looking character for Around the World in 80 Days? Did MacLaine really have the sort of star power to be a necessary contribution to the film?

Around the World in 80 Days is marked by a fabulous cast of famous side characters. A pudgy Peter Lorre shows up for a scene, Marlene Deitrich rattles off a few lines and Frank Sinatra gets photographed from behind for numerous shots before showing his face. The movie could really be enjoyed more as a game to spot the famous cameo than as a work of cinematic art. But at least I can check it off my list.

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