Sunday, March 7, 2021

Capsule Reviews - The Films of Nicholas Ray


A Woman’s Secret (1949) – Former night club singer Marian Washburn (Maureen O’Hara) confesses to shooting and seriously wounding her protégé Susan Caldwell (Gloria Grahame), but Marian’s longtime friend, piano player Luke Jordan (Melvyn Douglas), is convinced there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and with the help of Detective Jim Fowler (Jay C. Flippen) he sets out to solve the mystery surrounding this very bizarre crime. Told primarily in flashbacks (which also provide backstories for its main characters), A Woman’s Secret boasts several strong performances; Melvyn Douglas shines as the wisecracking Luke, as does Maureen O’Hara, who conveys a convincing vulnerability as the enigmatic Marian (yet it’s Gloria Grahame who steals the show as the ditzy but likable Susan). As for the story, it drags in spots and features a few too many characters; even Detective Fowler’s wife, Mary (Mary Philips), who fancies herself an amateur sleuth, gets in on the fun. That said, A Woman’s Secret is an intriguing mystery, and in the end proves a mildly entertaining diversion. But with Nicholas Ray directing and a script penned by Herman J. Mankiewicz (who also wrote Citizen Kane), it should have been better.
Rating: 6 out of 10

Flying Leathernecks (1951) – A flag-waving World War II extravaganza, Flying Leathernecks may not feel like your average Nicholas Ray film, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Major Dan Kirby (John Wayne) has just taken command of the Wildcats, a Marine Air Squadron stationed in the Pacific. Though he and his executive officer, Captain Carl Griffin (Robert Ryan), rarely see eye-to-eye, the two manage to put their differences aside when the Wildcats are transferred to Guadalcanal, providing air support for ground troops during one of the most brutal battles of World War II. The role of Dan Kirby - a rugged, no-nonsense career soldier who personally leads his men into battle was tailor-made for Wayne, who also manages to bring a little warmth to the character (a trip stateside and a reunion with Kirby’s wife, played by Janis Carter, is effectively touching). And while the part of Captain Griffin was a bit outside of Ryan’s wheelhouse, the scenes in which he’s facing off against Wayne’s Kirby are among the film’s strongest. Despite its overly-patriotic leanings, Flying Leathernecks also features some of the most violent battle stock footage of any movie from this era, with blood and carnage aplenty (added by Nicholas Ray, no doubt, a staunch opponent of warfare, to clue audiences in on the fact that war is, indeed, hell).
Rating: 7 out of 10

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