Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Jean Negulesco

Off on the Titanic, 1953: Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Wagner, Thelma Ritter...
and those MILLIONAIRE gals!

Jean Negulesco – a director whose life [which spanned the 20th century] is more interesting than any film! Born in Romania in 1900 he died in Marbella, Spain aged 93, in 1993 and was a director of note in the 1940s and 1950s, providing us with some interesting ‘40s noirs and those polished star-studded entertainments of the ‘50s. (Right, Negulesco with Sophia Loren and her stand-in Scilla Gabel, in 1957 on BOY ON A DOLPHIN, one of the first movies set in Greece - I love that little Greek travelogue at the start .... Greece was so undiscovered then!).

It reads like something devised by Hemingway, or as colorful as Hawks or Huston: He left home at 12, washed dishes in Paris, and worked in a field hospital on the Western Front in World War I. Then he returned to Paris and his art studies becoming an accomplished painter.

In the ‘20s he travelled across the United States, financing himself by selling his paintings and then he arrived in Hollywood and was soon at work in the movie industry as a sketch artist and technical advisor. He worked up to assistant director on movies like CAPTAIN BLOOD and signed a contract with Warners in 1940. His first feature was THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS in ’44 with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Negulesco's experience as an artist had provided him with a keen eye for effective shots and the ability to set a scene to create atmosphere. His HUMORESQUE was another vivid hit (a triumph of style over content) with great roles for Joan Crawford (one of her greatest) and John Garfield. He also directed Jane Wyman’s award-winning role in JOHNNY BELINDA, 1948.

He then became a contract director at 20th Century Fox – ROADHOUSE is a terrific little noir, which I first saw at a Sunday matinee sometime in the '50s and it remained a key movie for me, Ida Lupino is terrific as the hard-boiled chanteuse who is hired by the deranged Jefty (Widmark) to sing at his roadhouse, but once she falls for Cornel Wilde, it gets very tense indeed. He directed THE MUDLARK in England, and then that early TITANIC in ’53 with Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Wagner and Thelma Ritter. He then reinvented himself as the director for glossy entertainments, mainly Fox’s “3 girls sharing an apartment and looking for love” movies.

Like Rex Harrison with Mankiewicz, Clifton Webb was the ideal actor for Negulesco. He leads the cast in THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN, a massive hit in 1954 – but before that was HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, one of the first CinemaScope movies and a super hit cementing Marilyn Monroe as the new Fox star, and she proves a delightful comedienne here - MM in that red swimsuit was my first introduction to her. Then of course WOMAN’S WORLD in ’54, with Webb again leading a terrific cast [see next item]. I didn’t care for DADDY LONG LEGS, but simply love BOY ON A DOLPHIN, one of my key 1957 movies, where Sophia Loren dazzles as Phadrea – her scenes with Clifton as Mr Parmalee, the millionaire who wants the statue show them both to good effect. I first saw this when I was 12... a lot more on these are at MM, Loren, Bacall, 1957 labels..

A big hit in 1959 was THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, also written about here previously, as labels, with those 3 girls (originally 4 - Martha Hyer was almost snipped out) in the '50s Manhattan publishing world, with Joan Crawford "as Amanda Farrow" terrorising the typists in the typing pool. I love those moments with Hope Lange and Suzy Parker and those CinemaScope images....its a lush soaper on the level of IMITATION OF LIFE or A SUMMER PLACE.

His later films are best forgotten; he had moved to Spain in the '60s, to paint and collect art. THE PLEASURE SEEKERS (Ann-Margret, Pamea Tiffin, Carol Lynley and a reappearance by Gene Tierney) was his last interesting film in '64. Right: Carol Lynley & Gardner McKay. Other credits include JESSICA, A CERTAIN SMILE, COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS, THE RAINS OF RANCHIPUR - the Lana Turner/Burton one.

His biography “Things I did and things I think I did” in ’84 should be an interesting read - and I have just ordered it!

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