A Little Strike Addendum and an Idle Thought

Courtesy of friend and colleague Bob Lamm, allow me to direct your attention to another excellent source of info on the WGA labor stoppage. Nikki Finke, whose industry column is one of the better features in LA Weekly, is doing an apparently daily update on the strike, which can be found here. I've been an admirer of her reporting for a while, so it's a pleasure to finally have a reason to draw your attention to it.

(You know, I've always wanted to use that phrase "labor stoppage" because it sounds like something your plumber would say -- 'yeah, Mr. Robinson, you got a labor stoppage here, but I can disconnect the valves and clean it out.' It also reminds me of one of my favorite legal phrases 'collateral estoppel,' which just rolls off the tongue like underheated roofing tar.)

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The other night the b.w. and I watched Wake of the Red Witch, a not uninteresting 1948 John Wayne vehicle from Republic. The film, which is the answer to a mildly amusing trivia question (from whence came the name of Wayne's production company, Batjac?), is a peculiar hybrid, part Conradian South Seas adventure, part mystical romance, with a slightly rickety flashback structure of the sort that was by then old hat. (If you want to see a film with a really bizarre flashback structure, try Passage to Marseilles or The Locket.) What I found intriguing was the dilemma facing Edward Ludwig and the producer(s); who could possibly play a central character who is a Byronic, doomed Gothic swashbuckler, a brute physical force of nature, a wistful romantic and a possible sadist. Sure, John Wayne is the first name that popped into my head, too.

The problem isn't Wayne; he actually does a creditable job with much of the part. There certainly wasn't anyone else at Republic who could have played the multifarious Captain Ralls. (Wild Bill Elliott? Roy Rogers? Nelson Eddy? John Carroll?) In fact, I'm hard put to think of another actor of the era who wouldn't have foundered on the various shoals of self-contradiction presented by the material. My first thought was Gary Cooper, thinking of his work in Morocco and Peter Ibbetson, which has an ending not unlike that of Red Witch. Margo thought the young Cooper too effete for Ralls; she may be right, but the Cooper of '48 is just too old. Think how the wear is beginning to show in his face in The Fountainhead. I thought briefly of Olivier, but he lacks the commanding physical presence of Wayne. Gable is too self-aborbed (and not that good an actor). James Mason could handle all the emotional posts this human pinball bounces around but, again, the physical action just wouldn't be believable. Brando was too young in '48 and unknown, although he is one of the few American actors who might have had the range and presence to bring it off. Clift is too reactive and physically slight.

Well, it was Wayne, had to be Wayne I suppose. and as one of the handful of films in which the Duke dies at the end, it's worth a look. It certainly won't make you re-evaluate Edward Ludwig, who worked on a couple of other Wayne vehicles, The Fighting Seabees (another film in which Wayne dies) and Big Jim McLain, which I have always thought of as a dry run for The Green Berets in the love-it-or-leave-it-political-embarrassment sweepstakes. It is, after all, the only motion picture ever dedicated to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.


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