Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer reports on the Otto Preminger being held at the Film Forum in New York City.
Carroll O'Connor and John Wayne are among the cast of superstars in Otto Preminger's great WWII epic.
On Tuesday night, I attended a rare big screen showing of Otto Preminger's underrated 1965 WWII film In Harm's Way. The screening was part of a Preminger film festival hosted by movie scholar Foster Hirsch, author of the acclaimed new biography of the mercurial director, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King. In planning the screening, it appeared that the invited guests were the ones who have gone in harm's way: Patricia Neal had to back out due to illness and earlier in the day, I spoke with her co-star in the film, Jill Haworth, who informed me that she was battling pneumonia and would also have to cancel her appearance. Nevertheless, your intrepid editor soldiered on in the company of Cinema Retro contributors David Savage and Tom Lisanti. For us, the film itself was enough of an attraction to merit attending. Not surprisingly, Foster Hirsch's introductory remarks were informative and entertaining, helping to deflect from the abscence of Ms. Neal and Ms. Haworth. New York City has never been John Wayne Country and trying to induce residents of Manhattan to attend a Wayne war movie would seem to be as practical as trying to sell ice cubes to an eskimo. However, the screening was well attended and Hirsch assured the audience that although he is no fan of Wayne's work in general, he believes In Harm's Way represents the actor's finest screen performance. That may seem to be an overstatement, but in watching the film again, there is no question it ranks among the top of Duke's career achievements. Refreshingly, he willingly plays a role amidst an ensemble cast in which every actor gets several big, memorable moments. Thus, this is not a typical "John Wayne movie". He plays a flawed character who makes mistakes in judgment and pays the price both mentally and physically.
May 1965: Preminger attends the 18th annual Cannes Film Festival with In Harm's Way cast members Barbara Bouchet and Hugh O'Brian, who play illicit lovers in the film.
Preminger does an amazing job of showing off the talents of an incredibly talented cast that includes top names such as Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Henry Fonda, Tom Tryon (who was under contract to Preminger) and Dana Andrews with an excellent and eclectic cast of character actors such as Burgess Meredith, Brandon de Wilde, Sterling Holloway, Carroll O'Connor, Franchot Tone, Barbara Bouchet, Slim Pickens, Bruce Cabot, Hugh O'Brian and Patrick O'Neal. The film resembles From Here to Eternity in that it is primarily a sweeping tale that examines how the attack on Pearl Harbor affects the individual love lives of the main characters. Whereas Eternity culminates with the battle, Preminger's film begins with it. The screenplay by Wendell Mayes, based upon James Bassett's novel Harm's Way, captures the essence of navy life. (I know as I was brought up a navy brat.) The technical aspects of the film are superb. Preminger's opening tracking shot is one for the books, a seemingly endless sweep across as U.S. Navy gala on Honolulu with the participants happily ignorant of the devastation that is only hours away. This is one of the most glorious looking black and white films ever produced and earned the Oscar nomination it received for cinematographer Loyal Griggs. Preminger's notorious use of phony looking miniatures during the climactic naval battle does compromise the film somewhat, but never fatally. Jerry Goldsmith's unique and unsettling score is one of his best and Saul Bass' magnificent final credits were justifiably cited by Foster Hirsch as a work of art.
There was a down side to the evening, however. Although Paramount provided The Film Forum with an excellent 35mm print, I realized mid-way through the movie that at least one major scene had been inexplicably deleted: a sequence in which Paula Prentiss becomes distraught that naval officer husband Tom Tryon is being summoned back into the war zone. In a highly provocative scene in terms of its sexual content, she begs her husband to "leave me with a baby." Although the scene does not play a pivotal role in the overall narrative, it does flesh out the relationship of these two important characters. Following the screening, audience members engaged in a Film Forum tradition of lingering to discuss the movie. Foster Hirsch also noted the missing scene and film historian Bruce Eder noted that he discovered two other relatively inconsequential scenes missing. Thus, Paramount gets a mixed report card: they deserve credit for preserving an excellent print of the film, but it's inexcusable that it has been altered from Preminger's original version.
Next week at the Film Forum, Foster Hirsch will host a rare screening of Preminger's The Cardinal. The Film Forum is obtaining what is perhaps the only surviving theatrical print of the movie. For details, click here
CLICK HERE TO ORDER IN HARM'S WAY DVD FROM CINEMA RETRO'S AMAZON MOVIE STORE. tTHE DVD CONTAINS VINTAGE FEATURETTES ABOUT THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE.