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    Frankly Outspoken

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Born 95 years ago tomorrow, Irving Ravetch (1920-2010) was a team player whose screenplay collaborations with his wife Harriet Frank Jr. (still with us at age 98) resulted in several profoundly moving and thoughtfully effective films of ideas and insights into the human condition. Most of these are part of another vital collaboration, that of the scribe couple with director Martin Ritt. Ravetch suggested Ritt, then a veteran television director who was blacklisted from working during the House Unamerican Activities Committee-shadowed mid-1950s because of his past affiliations with “leftist” organizations such as the Group Theater and the Federal Theater Project, to direct the Ravetches’ William Faulkner adaptation that became the all-star box-office hit The Long, Hot Summer (1958). It marked the first of eight memorable projects the trio would craft over the next 32 years (including the acclaimed Hud and Norma Rae), three of which are available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. The Sound and the Fury (1959) was a revisit to the world of Faulkner, an intense and sultry look at an aristocratic Southern family falling apart amidst changing times, centered on the clash between protective patriarch Yul Brynner and his rebellious step-niece Joanne Woodward. The ensemble cast, including Margaret Leighton, Stuart Whitman, Ethel Waters and Jack Warden, supplies additional heat and conflict in a picture that Walter Mintz of Film Literature Quarterly judged “every bit as important to film and literary criticism as Faulkner’s original.” Hombre (1967) originated from the pen of Elmore Leonard, and Ritt and the Ravetches transformed it into a riveting Western saga tackling prejudice, greed and hypocrisy through the tale of stagecoach passengers pursued by bandits, and their reluctant reliance on an Apache-raised white man (Paul Newman) who is ultimately roused to defend them. Another great cast – Fredric March, Richard Boone, Diane Cilento, Barbara Rush, Cameron Mitchell and Martin Balsam – personifies the unsavory and occasionally honorable impulses of desperate characters at odds with each other. Conrack (1974) is a poignant, unstinting yet uplifting look at a teacher who strives to bring a sense of wonder and curiosity to a population of black children on a remote island off the coast of South Carolina. Adapting Pat Conroy’s memoir The Water Is Wide, the writers and filmmaker open a lovely window into the rapture of learning and a showcase title role for Jon Voight as what Pauline Kael called “a teacher with the soul of an artist…just about the lustiest, most joyful presence in current films.” The presence of Ravetch, Frank and Ritt on the TT label is also a deep well of great movie sustenance.