Reckoning with Robson / The Northern Route
Born 102 years ago today in Montreal, Mark Robson (1913-1978) – like his fellow RKO alumnus Robert Wise – had a great mentor, producer Val Lewton, who saw in both Robson and Wise, then learning the craft of film editing, the creative spark that got both elevated to the director’s chair. And similarly to Wise, after debuting on some masterful Lewton-stewarded thrillers (The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam), he embarked on a career of great versatility that included some benchmark movies like Champion, Home of the Brave, The Bridges at Toko-Ri and two for which he scored Best Director Academy Award® nominations, Peyton Place and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. His next project after directing talented ensembles headed respectively by Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman in those last-named box-office hits, was an adaptation of a best-seller by the master observer of class consciousness, career ambition and moral dubiousness, John O’Hara. From the Terrace (1960), adapted by Hollywood ace Ernest Lehman with input from O’Hara, chronicles the travails of a restless World War II veteran who shuns the family business run by his cold, neglectful father in favor of striking out on his own. But his unease at never having enough propels him on a series of business ploys and troubled relationships – including an unhappy marriage – that fail to sustain him, and shady opportunities and business nemeses threaten to bring down all he has built. Melodrama this meaty resulted in compelling performances from newly-minted stars (Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward), Golden Age veterans (Myrna Loy, Leon Ames, Felix Aylmer) and charismatic newcomers (Ina Balin, George Grizzard, Elizabeth Allen, Barbara Eden, Patrick O’Neal). That they all register with diamond-sharp force is due to Robson’s knack for melding atmosphere, roiling emotions and sleek storytelling, with coolly lush cinematography by two-time Oscar® winner Leo Tover and a vibrant and varied score of romantic elegance by Elmer Bernstein (from the same year as his iconic The Magnificent Seven) sealing the deal. From the Terrace (with Bernstein’s virtuosic score showcased on an Isolated Track) debuts on TT hi-def Blu-ray January 19. Preorders open January 6.
Speaking of virtuosic composers, a birthday shout-out today also goes to movie music titan Alex North (1910-1991), whose screen work resulted in 15 Academy Award® nominations and finally an honorary Oscar® in 1986. His contributions to such films as A Streetcar Named Desire, The Rainmaker, Spartacus, Cleopatra, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Dragonslayer, to name just a few, are enmeshed in the fabric of each one’s impact on audiences. Twilight Time has two North-blessed titles in its hi-def Blu-ray catalog: the sultry William Faulkner adaptation The Sound and the Fury (1959), directed by Martin Ritt, and the ruminative and rousing Richard Brooks Western Bite the Bullet (1975, another of those 15 Oscar® nominees). In an interview from 2010, North admirer John Williams spoke of his long-time friend being at the early 1950s “a fresh air…a fresh wind coming to Hollywood at a very exciting time. His music went beyond the surface of the screen, it went to another place, deeper into the subject, and the time, and the people occupying their place in the film. I’m excited about whatever attention his music gets. I’m convinced that he was one of the best intuitive talents of his generation in our country.” Going the Northern route is indeed one of the best pieces of direction ever taken in Hollywood.