One of the most important forces in the history of American cinema was born in 1912, when Adolph Zukor (1873 – 1976) formed a production and distribution company called Famous Players. Already a wealthy entrepreneur when he entered show business around the turn of the century, the Hungarian-born Zukor began with penny arcades and then nickelodeons, small movie theaters that featured programs of one-reel films. Convinced that there was money to be made in longer films, in July 1912, he imported a four-reel French film starring Sarah Bernhardt as Elizabeth I which would become the first of his studio’s many box office successes.
Almost exactly one century later, the Harvard Film Archive launches a centennial tribute to Paramount Pictures, the name Zukor gave to his company in 1916 when he joined forces with producer Jesse Lasky and a distribution company named Paramount. The sensation created by Bernhardt’s Queen Elizabeth had helped lure famous stage performers into film studios and re-oriented moviemakers towards feature films. Meanwhile, Jesse Lasky sent Cecil B. DeMille to Los Angeles to shoot a Western in 1913, The Squaw Man, whose popular success ensured the careers of both men and led to the relocation of the US film industry to Hollywood.
True to its dramatic origins, Paramount has been of the most storied companies in American film history with Zukor and his successors amassing a dazzling stable of stars that upheld Zukor’s slogan of the original company —“Famous players in famous films.” Indeed, Paramount had one of the most robust rosters of movie stars of any of the major studios: Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March, and later Barbara Stanwyck, William Holden, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.
The 1930s and early 1940s marked one of Paramount’s golden eras with the studio attracting many of the most talented filmmakers in Hollywood, among them the emigres Josef von Sternberg, Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian and Billy Wilder who brought an air of European sophistication to the studio’s releases, offering a refreshing contrast with the acerbic grit of Warner Brothers and the homespun gloss of MGM.
Paramount’s second golden age arrived when Robert Evans was appointed studio production head, a position he held from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, a reign that saw the release of Rosemary’s Baby, the first two Godfather films, Serpico, Chinatown and The Conversation, a meteoric line-up that placed the studio at the very heart of the “new American cinema.”
Paying tribute to the “two ages” of Paramount, the Harvard Film Archive offers a series of the studio’s greatest films of the 1930s and Robert Evans years, while rounding out the transitional time before, between and beyond with such diverse classics as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (1915) to two underappreciated gems from the early 1980s that find Hollywood reflecting on its past: Robert Altman’s Popeye and Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. — David Pendleton
Film descriptions by Haden Guest and David Pendleton
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis,
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 82 min
A sparkling showcase for both "the Lubitsch touch" and the sophisticated art direction typical of Paramount's pre-war films, Trouble in Paradise follows a pair of jewel thieves who fall in love and drift from Venice to Paris, eventually forming a dangerous triangle with their intended victim and jeopardizing their devious plans. Quintessential Depression-era escapist fantasy of life and love among the idle rich, Trouble in Paradise is also a parable of class revenge and an affectionate satire of the cliché that “love conquers all.” Lubitsch brilliantly re-tools the slamming doors device of bedroom farce into the more elegantly and erotically charged euphemisms: footsteps on staircases, silhouettes on pillows, proper names as code words. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Billy Wilder. With Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund
US 1948, 35mm, b/w, 116 min
In A Foreign Affair, the famously jaundiced sense of humor shared by Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett was turned upon a remarkably timely subject: the interaction between the American occupiers and native Germans in war ravaged Berlin. The result is a deeply subversive comedy of manners that pits a corn-fed ingénue, played by Jean Arthur, against Marlene Dietrich’s sultry blackmarketeer, with both women vying for the affections of Army soldier John Lund, whose world-weary cynicism emblematized the Wilder anti-hero. Among the finest of Wilder’s early films, A Foreign Affair today remains strangely underappreciated—even despite Dietrich’s luminous presence in one of her great postwar roles. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Sidney Lumet. With Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe
US 1973, 35mm, color, 130 min
Lumet’s classic thriller is a mesmerizing character study of the eponymous Frank Serpico, modeled on a real-life New York City patrolman who made headlines in the late 1960s for risking his life to uncover systematic and festering corruption at the heart of the NYPD. The film that crowned Al Pacino as the leading actor of his generation, Serpico contains the key elements of 1970s American cinema – a vehement distrust of authority, a dystopian urban setting, complexly ambiguous anti-heros. Serpico also rehabilitated the reputation of Sidney Lumet, whose skill at taut realism and nerve-wracking tension found in this material its fullest expression since Twelve Angry Men fifteen years earlier. Print courtesy Paramount Pictures.
Directed by Howard Hawks. With John Wayne, Robert Mitchum,
US 1967, 35mm, color, 126 min
The autumnal El Dorado is the penultimate film by Hollywood master Howard Hawks and, with the earlier Rio Bravo and the subsequent Rio Lobo, forms a trilogy of Westerns that center on male friendships forged under duress. In all three films, John Wayne is a gunfighter who must rally a small group against a band of villains. In El Dorado, he comes to the aid of an old friend who has become a small-town sheriff, played by Robert Mitchum. In contrast to Rio Bravo’s sunny and seemingly effortless fusion of humor and action, the violence here is more pointed and the comedy more raucous. An emphasis on pain, injury and aging imparts poignance to this late example of classical Hollywood filmmaking.
Directed by Josef von Sternberg.
With Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 82 min
Josef von Sternberg’s pre-Code melodrama stars his frequent muse, the stunning Marlene Dietrich as a notorious prostitute who reunites with a former lover during a thrilling ride on the Shanghai Express. Hijacked by rebel Chinese, the train takes its medley of passengers on a dangerous trip through a stylized, dazzling mise-en-scène edged with clever dialogue. In this exotic dreamworld, glamorous appearances and pretense trick the senses, and morality is as incognito as the spies aboard. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian. With Gary Cooper, Sylvia Sidney,
US 1931, 35mm, b/w, 83 min
City Streets is a relatively early example from the gangster genre, but so imbued with poetry that it more closely resembles the rough beauty of Sternberg’s early crime films than the more violent works that would follow in the wake of Scarface’s success the following year. Paramount star Gary Cooper is the Kid, a sweet, roguish naïf working at a shooting gallery when he falls in love with a mobster’s daughter. Her ambivalence towards her father’s life of crime and the Kid’s resistance to becoming a gangster present the obstacles to the consummation of their love in this touching romance with exquisite cinematography by the great Lee Garmes. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Frank Tashlin. With Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis,
US 1956, 35mm, color, 109 min
Like Federico Fellini, Frank Tashlin turned from drawing comic strips to feature film making. Here he pays homage to his roots in this vehicle for the comedy team of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. In creating the best of the duo’s star vehicles, Tashlin also provides plentiful examples of the kinds of dazzling and outlandish visuals that earned him the admiration of Godard and a reputation as a precursor of Pop art. The plot creates rich comic satire out of the early 1950s concern that comic books were ruining the minds of a generation of young adults, with Lewis playing a would-be author driven to hysterics of fear and desire by his beloved Bat Lady comics. Print courtesy Paramount Pictures.
Directed by Fritz Lang. With Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds,
US 1944, 35mm, b/w, 86 min
Based on a novel by Graham Greene, Lang's rarely screened Ministry of Fear is the most stylized of Fritz Lang's American films, an Expressionist tour de force that uses extraordinary shadows and chiaroscuro lighting to channel the paranoia of a cruelly victimized man, just released from an asylum in England, into a vision of the menacing and intrigue-fueled world that awaits him. Ray Milland proves himself once again to be one of Paramount's most versatile stars by making palpable the angst and cold sweat of a man trapped in a nightmare, propelled by dark forces he somehow instinctively understands. One of several of Lang's films to explore wartime espionage themes, Ministry of Fear remains a thrilling and genuinely frightening evocation of London under siege. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Marlon Brando. With Marlon Brando, Karl Malden,
US 1961, 35mm, color, 141 min
Marlon Brando’s only directorial effort, One-Eyed Jacks is an example of the Westerns from the early 1960s that sought to revive the genre by creating more nuanced, ambiguous characters and more complex narrative situations than the usual shoot-‘em-up. Brando also stars as the outlaw Rio, who is betrayed and abandoned by his older mentor, known as Dad, and spends years in jail planning revenge. As befits such an Oedipal scenario, One-Eyed Jacks is rife with psychosexual undercurrents that bubble to the surface when Dad ties up Rio and gives him a public beating with a bullwhip. None other than Jonas Mekas praised the film’s ambition in the Village Voice even as he bemoaned Paramount’s interference in cutting the film down from four to two-and-a-half hours.
Directed by Billy Wilder. With Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
US 1944, 35mm, b/w, 106 min
Indisputably one of the greatest American film noirs, Billy Wilder's brilliant adaptation of James M. Cain's hard-boiled masterpiece immortalized Barbara Stanwyck as a platinum blond menace, a malignant variant of her Lady Eve, set out to destroy Fred MacMurray's arrogant Everyman. Co-written with Raymond Chandler (who makes a rarely noted cameo in the insurance office), Double Indemnity’s dazzling screenplay sparks with sexual innuendo and revels in the dark beauty of Los Angeles, wonderfully captured by the Wilder's bold use of non-studio locations. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. With Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield
US 1974, 35mm, color, 113 min
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation hit a deep social nerve in the proto-technological Watergate era, when political intrigue, taped conversations, and concern with surveillance loomed large in the public consciousness. Gene Hackman delivers a brilliant performance as a pathologically private wiretapper who – despite his detached disposition – is preoccupied with a previous assignment that ended in murder. On a new case, he gradually extracts the words of a conversation from the dense background noise, yet their meaning only grows more elusive and ominous, ultimately compelling him to intervene. Print courtesy of American Zoetrope.
Directed by Norman McLeod. With W.C. Fields, Kathleen Howard,
US 1934, 35mm, b/w, 68 min
W.C. Fields was a successful vaudeville and stage performer with a few films to his credit when he signed a contract with Paramount, which then built a string of star vehicles for him. The greatest of these is It’s a Gift, whose story was written by Fields himself, structured like a series of sketches featuring the comedian in the guise of a put-upon paterfamilias and small business owner. And in fact, much of the material here derives from Fields’ vaudeville routines, which by this point had been polished to a perfect gleam. His gimlet-eyed persona, unwaveringly unsentimental and gruffly indifferent to social niceties and family ties, is if anything more shocking now than it was in the 1930s. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Wesley Ruggles. With Mae West, Cary Grant, Gregory Ratoff
US 1933, 35mm, b/w, 88 min
Another comic stage star brought to the screen by Paramount, Mae West continued to provoke controversy during her time at the studio. Given her penchant for reveling in raunchy double entendres, West had already found herself the target of censors many times before coming to Hollywood. The suggestiveness of her two pairings with Cary Grant, She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel, is said to have hastened the onset of the Production Code. Here, she’s a circus entertainer and kept woman who falls for her patron’s business partner. Perhaps what most troubled the guardians of morality, more than the suggestive situations and risqué dialogue, is the reversal of conventional gender structures at work in the way West eyes Grant in these films, like a cat watching its prey. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Billy Wilder. With Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry
US 1945, 35mm, b/w, 101 min
Billy Wilder's jaundiced vision of human weakness and self-victimhood reached a Gothic apogee in his celebrated ode to an alcoholic writer pulled by a downward spiraling binge into Manhattan's lower depths. Ray Milland is extraordinarily convincing as a man struggling with addiction and his inner demons in a role that earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. The Lost Weekend was reportedly inspired by Wilder's difficult collaboration with Raymond Chandler on Double Indemnity during the darkest stage of the author's chronic alcoholism. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by William Wyler. With Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March,
US 1955, 35mm, b/w, 112 min
Adapted from a bestseller and a Broadway play, The Desperate Hours is an early example of a genre that has become commonplace, the home-invasion drama, with three criminals on the lam taking a middle-class family hostage in their own home. Although the film occasionally cuts away to the police investigation going on elsewhere, it derives its most pointed suspense from the battle of wills between the leader of the gang and the head of the household (the father, of course). As in The Little Foxes and The Heiress, Wyler had a special talent for creating drama in domestic settings by portraying them as spaces that fill with unspoken tension until conflict erupts to the surface. In The Desperate Hours, the tension is much more evident but no less effective. Wyler makes the most of his central location, frequently shooting through doorways in order to provide examples of his brilliance at deploying deep focus, which he uses here for the first time in widescreen (Paramount’s VistaVision). Print courtesy Paramount Pictures.
Directed by Mitchell Leisen. With Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche,
US 1939, 35mm, b/w, 94 min
The Cinderella story gets the screwball comedy treatment in this irresistible confection about the down-and-out rubbing elbows with the rich in 1930s Paris, with Claudette Colbert as a penniless showgirl and John Barrymore as her “fairy godfather” who uses money instead of magic. The usual sources of humor in the screwball genre – role playing and mistaken identity, protagonists trying to choose between love and money or duty – are given plenty of verve by the comedic timing from the film’s skillful cast and added bite from the screenwriting team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett at the top of their game. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Mitchell Leisen. With Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy
US 1935, 35mm, b/w, 85 min
In classic screwball fashion, a manicurist and a playboy, both on the make, meet and fall in love, but since each is broke and determined to marry for money, romance is out of the question – or so it seems. Such is the scenario created by the gifted Viña Delmar – who would later write the classic screenplay for The Awful Truth – and directed by Mitchell Leisen with his usual understated wit and elegance. Although often overlooked today in favor of Lubitsch, Hawks and Sturges, Leisen turned out a string of polished gems from the early 1930s through the mid-1940s at Paramount, where he began his career as a costume designer in 1919 and where he remained for over forty years. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by John Frankenheimer. With Rock Hudson, Salome Jens,
US 1966, 35mm, b/w, 106 min
With Seconds John Frankenheimer completed the so-called paranoid trilogy formed by The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May, both expanding and transforming the menacing conspiracy style of the earlier films with a dark turn into the realm of science fiction. In one of his most iconic roles, Rock Hudson stars as the victim of his own secret desires, a successful businessman who signs a Machiavellian plot with a mysterious "company" by accepting their irresistible offer to change his identity and lifestyle, effortlessly abandoning his home and wife to become an artist in Malibu. Seconds’ dark parable about masculinity and the American dream is enhanced by James Wong Howe's virtuosic black and white cinematography, with the veteran master audaciously using a dolly and fish eye lens to invent the film's unforgettable opening sequence. Print courtesy of UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Directed by Erle C. Kenton. With Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi,
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 70 min
While Universal is rightly considered the home of the Hollywood horror film, Paramount’s leading entry in the genre has lost little of its power to shock. Like its contemporaries The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong, Island of Lost Souls takes place on a remote island that harbors a dreadful secret. This adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau stars Charles Laughton as a particularly and peculiarly depraved mad scientist. The film rivals Tod Browning’s Freaks as the best example of the viciousness of the pre-Code horror movie; it would go on to influence both George Romero and Devo. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Roman Polanski. With Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway,
US 1974, 35mm, color, 132 min
If the vast majority of the 1970s Hollywood films now considered classics are either jaundiced reworkings of the genres of the classical studio era or paranoid thrillers about a corrupt political system willing to commit violence to consolidate its power, those two trends find their most powerful point of convergence in Chinatown. While many of the neo-noirs from the time look back to the 1940s or 1950s, this film unfolds in a pre-war Los Angeles desperate for water and ruled by powerful dynasties. In the course of the routine surveillance of an unfaithful husband, a jaded private eye finds something much more sinister, uncovering deep and dark currents of political and personal corruption beneath the city’s gilded surfaces. Richard Sylbert’s stunning production design and Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting music add vibrant life to the brilliant evocation of the banality of evil in Robert Towne’s screenplay and Roman Polanski’s chilling direction. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
Directed by Preston Sturges. With Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines,
US 1944, 35mm, b/w, 101 min
Preston Sturges made nearly all of his best films at Paramount, first as a screenwriter, then as a writer-director. His was an ambitious comic talent that sought ever more trenchant satiric targets. Thus it was that at the height of World War II, he filmed two screenplays tackling homefront attitudes towards the war effort, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero. The latter of these illustrates the disjuncture between the civilian idealization of returning troops and their actual experience by depicting the plight of a young man rejected by the army only to find upon his return that his entire hometown believes him to be a war hero. Although the film ultimately pulls some of its punches, the underlying caustic intent remains unmistakable, as does Sturges’ skill at creating unforgettably idiosyncratic character roles and colorful dialogue. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Jonathan Demme. With Paul LeMat, Candy Clark,
US 1977, 35mm, color, 96 min
Jonathan Demme’s ensemble comedy imagines a group of small-town Americans who use their citizen’s-band radios to broadcast outsized, imagined personalities, and then details the comic complications as these personas clash with reality. Paramount presumably hoped that the film would ride the coattails of the 1970s fad for CB radios to box office success, but the strength of Paul Brickman’s screenplay lies in its lyrical use of the technology as a means of creating and linking characters at once outlandish and believable. After a five-year apprenticeship with Roger Corman, writing and directing action films, director Demme first revealed in Citizen’s Band the offbeat humor and Renoiresque warmth that would characterize the best of his subsequent work.
Directed by Frank Tuttle. With Veronica Lake, Robert Preston,
US 1942, 35mm, b/w, 81 min
Eager to cement Veronica Lake’s rise to fame, Paramount designed as a showcase for her an adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, A Gun for Sale, which had been in the works since the novel’s 1936 publication. Lake was cast as the nightclub singer caught up in an ambiguous relationship with a hired killer. The film’s taut narrative displays a moral ambiguity remarkable for early 1940s Hollywood. Under the Production Code, sympathetic depictions of murderers were proscribed, and the project was clearly meant to present the singer’s police detective boyfriend as the hero. But fourth-billed Alan Ladd proved so indelible as the killer that he stole the movie and became one of Paramount’s most important male stars for the next ten years. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by George Marshall. With Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake,
US 1946, 35mm, b/w, 100 min
The dislocations affecting both returning veterans and civilians caused by the reintegration of troops following World War II are now commonly seen as part of the contributing factors to the unease, malaise and even paranoia that drive the postwar film noir, and they became a frequent narrative concern as well. Such is the case with The Blue Dahlia, about a returning Navy pilot who comes home to find his wife has been unfaithful in his absence. They quarrel, and when she turns up dead, he is wanted for her murder. Paramount hired Raymond Chandler to write the screenplay as a reunion for Lake and Ladd, and his particular ability to integrate both humor and poetry into hard-bitten dialogue gives the film much of its enduring value. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by William Dieterle. With Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott, Vivica Lindfors
US 1950, 35mm, b/w, 98 min
Charlton Heston made his screen debut as a petty gambler haunted by his past in this moody and crisply paced noir classic. Film noir's partial roots in German Expressionist cinema are made clear by the evocative shadow world conjured in Dark City and by the presence of emigre UFA director William Dieterle, still better known today for the successful bio-pics he directed after first coming to Hollywood in the 1930s. One of Paramount's few forays into the seedy underworld embraced by film noir, Dark City offered an effective vehicle for studio siren Lizabeth Scott, as an enigmatic beauty and potential savior for Heston, as well as a first pairing of Jack Webb and Harry Morgan, united as criminal equivalent to their later roles in Dragnet. Print courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Directed by Blake Edwards. With Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal
US 1961, 35mm, color, 114 min
Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is primarily a character study of Holly Golightly, a charmingly daffy gentleman’s escort in wartime Manhattan. Paramount transformed the novella into a present-day romantic comedy that has Holly cross paths with her counterpart, a handsome blond gigolo. The wisecracking couple on the make from Hands Across the Table thus becomes an endearing pair of young people adrift. That the film has become a classic of sorts, despite a horrific “yellowface” performance by Mickey Rooney, is testament to the enduring charm of star Audrey Hepburn, the powerfully winsome melancholy of Henry Mancini’s score and Blake Edwards’ skill at creating a sustained atmosphere of bittersweet romance.
Directed by Walter Hill. With Michael Beck, James Remar,
Deborah Van Valkenburgh
US 1979, 35mm, color, 94 min
Roughly based on a 1965 novel that was in turn loosely inspired by Xenophon’s Anabasis, The Warriors is a modern epic about a gang fighting its way overnight from the Bronx to its home turf in Coney Island. Despite violence said to be caused by the film during its initial release, it was a success and its popularity has grown over the years – recently spawning action figures and a video game. One of its early fans was Pauline Kael, who described it as both baroque and the visual equivalent of rock music. The film’s original blend of genres – the youth gang film, film noir, the Western – and its moody look, neon against urban shadows, are both hallmarks of the work of director Walter Hill. Print courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. With Sessue Hayakawa, Jack Dean,
US 1915, 35mm, b/w, silent, 59 min
When a rich but profligate Long Island society woman spends a large sum of money entrusted to her by a charity, she seeks to hide her misdeed by turning to a wealthy Japanese acquaintance for a loan, yet this choice proves to have dire consequences. Predating his spectacles of the 1920s, this early directorial turn by Cecil B. DeMille already shows signs of the director’s signature style – titillating the audience with risqué sexual content while disavowing that titillation. Justly praised as ahead of its time, the film’s chiaroscuro cinematography illuminates a complex but deeply troubling blend of racism and gender politics at work. Nevertheless, Hayakawa's smoldering performance as the supposed villain dominates the film – nearly making him the hero and ultimately making him a star. Print courtesy of the George Eastman House.
Directed by Blake Edwards. With Julie Andrews, William Holden,
US 1981, 35mm, color, 121 min
After 25 years as a successful director of comedies, Blake Edwards drew on bitter memories of his biggest flop for this manic but pitch-black satire on Hollywood filmmaking. The semi-autobiographical premise recalls Edwards’ attempt to remake the image of wife Julie Andrews from a family-friendly, wholesome star to a serious actress by casting her as a Mata Hari-like vamp in the 1970 Darling Lili. S.O.B.’s protagonist is a director who tries to salvage a failed film starring his wife by adding sex to it. Played by Andrews herself, the wife reluctantly agrees only to avoid ruin and to prevent her husband from killing himself, and in a case of life imitating art, her brief appearance bare-breasted dominated press coverage of the film.
Directed by Terrence Malick. With Richard Gere, Brooke Adams,
US 1978, 35mm, color, 94 min
Terrence Malick’s second film is set in the Texas Panhandle in 1916, with a plot out of the operas and stage melodramas of that era: lovers on the run pose as brother and sister to find work on a farm, only to have the ailing farmer fall in love with the young woman. Malick’s casting and laconic dialogue make earthy poetry out of this situation, which like so many of Malick’s plots is presented as a fall from Eden. With World War I just over the horizon, the loss of innocence detailed by the screenplay is juxtaposed with pristine landscapes beginning to be despoiled by early modern technology. It is the beauty of the film’s imagery that ultimately makes this trope convincing. As was his wont, cinematographer Nestor Almendros shot almost exclusively with natural light, as did Haskell Wexler who succeeded him. In shot after ravishing shot, these two bring Malick’s imagination to lucid life. Print courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Directed by George Stevens. With Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters
US 1951, 35mm, b/w, 122 min
Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift were immortalized as doomed lovers and emblems of lost youth in George Stevens' powerful adaptation of Dreiser's An American Tragedy, the extended close-up of their rapturous kiss one of the iconic expressions of classical Hollywood romanticism. In perfect counter to Taylor's ethereal and luminous beauty is Clift's tormented portrait of loneliness and guilt. Dreiser's allegory about American class inequity as a fateful, omniscient force is underscored by the figure of Raymond Burr's relentless prosecutor, a vision of thunderous, righteous sanctity that inspires fear and awe in the execution of the Law. Print courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Directed by John Farrow. With Ray Milland, Charles Laughton,
US 1948, 35mm, b/w, 95 min
One of the great noir thrillers, The Big Clock is tightly wound around the figure of a falsely accused man, a cocksure business executive deftly played by Ray Milland who is trapped by the machinations of his boss, a decadent corporate despot villainously and corpulently portrayed by Charles Laughton. John Farrow's love of complex camera movement and mise-en-scene is everywhere apparent in The Big Clock which uses dazzling long takes to build a remarkable tension. Print courtesy of Universal Studios.
Directed by Martin Ritt. With Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas,
US 1963, 35mm, b/w, 112 min
If Days of Heaven depicts the Texas Panhandle in an almost Biblical light – given the Edenic qualities and swarm of locusts – Hud presents the region as the site of a modern variation on Greek tragedy, with hoof-and-mouth disease as plague. Here the wheat fields give way to empty, flat stretches of ranch land, powerfully evoked in Cinemascope by James Wong Howe’s crisp, realist black-and-white cinematography. This landscape is the terrain for an Oedipal struggle between an aging cattleman and his wastrel son, with the son’s young nephew and the family’s servant as pawns. In Hud, the romanticized frontier of the Western is replaced by contemporary reality, wherein the strictures of small-town society exist against a backdrop of cow herding as big business. Print courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
To celebrate the final weekend of the Paramount centennial program, the Harvard Film Archive invites you to an all-night orgy of six—count ’em, six—pre-Code movies from Paramount, featuring girls about town, “cute brutes,” co-eds at wild parties, Joel McCrea in a swimsuit, Claudette Colbert as Queen of the Nile, Cary Grant and Randolph Scott in a ménage a trois, and more. Plus shorts and surprises to last until dawn!
Directed by Lewis Allen. With John Hodiak, Lizabeth Scott,
US 1947, 35mm, color, 95 min
Like Mildred Pierce, Desert Fury is a mother-daughter melodrama that evolves into a film noir—perhaps the only 1940s film noir in color. At the same time, the overheated dialogue, the tough female casino owner protagonist and an undercurrent of homoeroticism make it a kind of harbinger of Johnny Guitar. When the casino owner’s daughter starts dating a racketeer, people get upset: the girl’s mother, the racketeer’s very devoted sidekick and the local sheriff. Adding to the drama is the mounting sexual tension between the casino owner and the sheriff. Desert Fury is an excellent example of the gloss that producer Hal Wallis brought to noir during the years after he quit Warner Brothers and set up his own production company, finding distribution through Paramount. Print courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Directed by Otto Preminger. With John Wayne, Kirk Douglas,
US 1965, 35mm, b/w, 165 min
Otto Preminger was at the height of his fame and prestige when he signed a contract with Paramount in the early 1960s. His first film for the studio was the World War II film In Harm’s Way, which – like Ford’s They Were Expendable – stars John Wayne fighting in the Pacific, with the war’s toll on his private life as important as the battle scenes. Similarly reminiscent of Ford is a subplot about Wayne’s attempts to reconnect with his son, who has also joined the military. However, the combination of hard-edged realism with a large cast of stars young and old is pure Preminger. Critic Chris Fujiwara points out the film carefully balances images of destruction with images of consensus and concludes that “in no other Preminger film is the negative so shattering…, but in no other film is the positive so reassuring.” Print courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Directed by Robert Altman. With Robin Williams, Shelly Duvall,
US 1980, 35mm, color, 114 min
Except for his evident fascination with eccentrics, Robert Altman might seem an odd choice to direct a live-action film about the famous animated sailor. But in the end, this Popeye is another of Altman’s many investigations into the workings of a community. Plot and incident are less the point here than is the observation of Popeye and Olive Oyl, their son Swee’ Pea, their parents, their friend Wimpy and the other inhabitants of the seaside town of Sweethaven. While Altman tips his hat to the Fleischer brothers’ cartoons of the 1930s (originally distributed by Paramount), Jules Feiffer’s screenplay resurrects the populist sentiment of E.C. Segar’s original comic strips. Print courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive.