Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Tennessee's Partner

La giungla dei temerari. US © 1955 RKO Radio Pictures. D: Allan Dwan. Dal racconto omonimo di Bret Harte. SC: Milton Krims, D.D. Beauchamp, Graham Baker, Teddy Sherman. DP: John Alton. ED: James Leicester. AD: Van Nest Polglase. M: Louis Forbes. C: John Payne (Tennessee), Ronald Reagan (Cowpoke), Rhonda Fleming (Elizabeth 'Duchess' Farnham), Coleen Gray (Goldie Slater), Tony Caruso (Turner), Morris Ankrum (il giudice), Leo Gordon (lo sceriffo), Chubby Johnson (Grubstake McNiven), Joe Devlin (Prendergast), Myron Healey (Reynolds), John Mansfield (Clifford), Angie Dickinson (Abby Dean). P: Benedict Bogeaus per Filmcrest Productions Inc. Premiere: 21 settembre 1955. 35 mm. 87'. Col. Da: George Eastman House per concessione di Sikelia Productions. Cinema Jolly (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti, 3 July 2013

Paola Cristalli: " "My friends call me Cowpoke". "My name's Tennessee, and I don't have friends". Two lines in perfect chiastic structure,  and we go from there. The fact that the two actors uttering these are short on movie star charisma (Ronald Reagan and John Payne) adds a captivating touch of understatement to the scene, and accentuates the shy quality of the friendship that here begins. Dwan, probably, didn't think of it that way: when asked by Bogdanovich if he would have preferred John Wayne for Tennessee, he answered, stunned: "Of course I wanted John Wayne. Anyone would have wanted him". And yet Dwan's post-war period on the Poverty Row was, as historians now recognize, the golden era of his career. The imposed belt-tightening didn't intimidate him; rather it honed his skills and finetuned the emotions. Tennessee's Partner doesn't even take advantage of vast landscapes or of majestic nature that will be found in The Cattle Queen of Montana. This western is, like many of that era, a more intimate personal voyage, a voyage autour de mon set carefully and artistically crafted and brimming with irony. The set pieces offer the standard western fare: saloon, porches, the sheriff's office; but what a wonderfully acerbic invention is the boarding house/bordello called "The Marriage Market", run with ethical righteousness and a solid business sense by the 'Duchess' Rhonda Fleming, "a tawny, sweaty blue-eyed beauty, with a red mane and a hot breast" (Roger Tailleur). And what is marriage, after all, in this late 1800's, in the Wild West territory as well as in the big towns of both Atlantic coasts, if not a marketplace? Here, at least, there is a hand painted sign that wipes out any hypocrisy. The Duchess' boarding house, where dainty blondes offer caviar and sweets to their clients, surrounded by flowers: and while the western enters the territory of its golden decline, the basic conflict of its mythology, the opposition of Desert and Garden, can even find a  refuge amid  the aromatic  irises in this Madame's boudoir - perhaps the most memorable Madame on screen before Robert Altman's Mrs. Miller... Running throughout the film is the story of the search for gold, triggering a spiral of greed and cowardice, but much of this takes place off-screen: as always, "evil is present in Dwan's stories, but gets no more attention than it deserves" (Michael Henry Wilson). As Lourcelles states, even the  black  and  white  "manichaeism" of the Bret Harte novel, that counterpointed the innocence of the prairie boy with the cynicism of the gambler, finds dramatic shading and ambiguity in spite of itself: it will turn out to be Tennessee's loyalty and his determination to do whatever it takes to keep his friend from marrying a gold-digger that drives Cowpoke toward his tragic end - but all handled with such stark simplicity, where the soundtrack highlights each fist with a drumbeat. Dwan nurtured "a visceral distaste for desperation" (Lourcelles); he detested unhappy endings. The final image is the kiss of a woman who always wanted to be kissed as if she were a chaste newlywed, but when it comes down to it, she gets on fire and kisses as a lover would. Moments earlier, however, we found  ourselves around the tomb of a young innocent, and are moved by a voice whispering: "...I didn't even know his name". A western from 1955, long lost in B-movie purgatory, ends as films like Il sorpasso, or Last Tango in Paris will later come to end, with the same words there magnified by the hypersensitivity of modern cinema and ultimately this is no less of a film, in its scope and in its noble genre: Tennessee's Partner too is an adventure of identity and loneliness." Paola Cristalli

The story of Tennessee who saves his partner Cowpoke from a marriage with the no good Goldie. It's also a gold rush story, a gambling story, and the story of a "particular house" which is called The Marriage Market. A story of greed, yet also a story of friendship, loyalty and courage. Although Tennessee has the appearance of a selfish crook, he does help the illiterate Grubstakes and also Cowpoke who is naive with women.

In other hands this could have been a routine number. In Allan Dwan's hands there is a true spirit in it. There is a spark in the performances. The mise-en-scène is well conceived, the editing is brisk, there are constantly interesting touches in the storytelling. There are no big stars in the cast, but Allan Dwan creates an inspired ensemble of them.

Again Allan Dwan casts a satiric look into lynch mob mentality, and again women get to speak out frankly against mob behaviour: "Shut up you laughing hyenas".

There is also a lot of humour in the entire concept of the movie. Prostitution was not supposed to exist in movies approved according to the Production Code, yet the central milieu is The Marriage Market which is about nothing but.

Memorable lines of dialogue: "A good gambler doesn't have to cheat". - "I don't have any friends". - "I didn't even know his name".

A fine Sikelia print, just slightly getting red.

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