Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Reap The Wild Wind (1942)

This review of "REAP THE WILD WIND" and critique of Cecil B. Demille appeared in Time Magazine in 1942. To be honest, I had never heard of the movie until I bought a five box set of Johne Wayne movies promoted by TMC and released by Universal. The set also includes THE SPOILERS, THE WAR WAGON, HELLFIGHTERS, and ROOSTER COGBURN. I bought the set mainly for ROOSTER COGBURN and HELLFIGHTERS, both of which I wanted to add to my Wayne collection (I have close to 100 of his films), but also because I had not heard of either THE SPOILERS or REAP THE WILD WIND. I watched the latter today. I think time turned out to be kind to this movie, as when I watched it I found the story to be quite entertaining, the colors rich and lavish, and the acting well done, particularly that of Paulette Goddard, just shortly after losing the role of Scarlett O' Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND. In fact, watching this film, you could very well imagine her in that role. At any rate, as you will see, Time Magazine didn't think much of the movie, which incidentally went on to win an Academy Award for Best Special Effects, or for the films of DeMille. I on the other hand, say give it a try. One intersting tidbit. It was because of an injury to his ear during the underwater sequences in this film, that Wayne was rejected by the Army during WWII.

Ray Milland Spanks Paulette Goddard

Reap the Wild Wind (Paramount) has all that money (about $1,800,000 worth) can buy: horrendous hurricanes, sailing ships to buck them; a monster squid, brave men and bold to tackle it; a dressmaker's dream of a cotillion; flora & fauna and seascapes galore; vermilion cockatoos and great red cheeses; red-coated slaves and monkeys in the rigging; rooms, houses, towns, cities, dripping with elegance and Technicolor.

What Reap hasn't got is what it takes, which money can't buy. This so-called saga of the seafaring U.S. of 1840 is seldom credible, only occasionally exciting. It has its moments (some Grade-A brawling, excellent underwater photography, an occasional astonishing set), but they are inadequate substitutes for real characters and a good story. The story itself is the successful fight of shipowners to break up a gang of salvage pirates among the Florida keys. Paulette Goddard is there, speakin' Southern and doin' her best to get a little honest salvage away from Raymond Massey, head of the highjackers and a rat, old-style. Romancing the pretty salvage wrecker around are Sea Captain John Wayne, who seems quite depressed, and Shipowner Ray Milland, who is anything but. He gets her. In the end, poor Paulette, surrounded by dead and dying salvagers, wails: "This is all my doin'."
No one but Cecil Blount De Mille could have made Reap the Wild Wind. He has been making this kind of picture, in one form or another, for the last 29 years. Its name is spectacle. He likes spectacles. So have the estimated 800,000,000 cinemaddicts who have paid some $200,000,000 to see Reap's 65 predecessors. So has Paramount, which banked most of the $55,000,000 in film rentals that have made it happy and De Mille rich.
Hollywood understands these figures, for Hollywood is still primarily interested in grosses. So is De Mille. That's why he went into the business and made his first picture (The Squaw Man) in 1913. A frustrated actor, son of successful and knowing show folk, he had already had his artistic wings clipped-by David Belasco, who purchased and took credit for a play (The Return of Peter Grimm) which De Mille wrote.
It was a permanent clipping. De Mille, almost singlehanded, bludgeoned the industry into big business, into a new knowledge of production values, and into an acceptance of stagecraft (genuine sets, etc.) -an important advance. He did this by dishing out a series of pretentious pictures which ran an enticing gamut from sex (Male and Female) and high living (Affairs of Anatol) to orgiastic uplift (The Ten Commandments). They earned him the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and a gold medal from the bathtub industry (for making cinemagoers bathroom-conscious).
Vain, shrewd, assertive, benevolent, half uplifter, half showman, at 60 De Mille is Hollywood's oldest successful movie maker. He got there by ignoring the art of motion-picture making, concentrating on expensive theatrics, and trimming his sails to the prevailing breeze. Reap is part of his latest excursion-pioneer Americana, a blend of history & hokum which has produced North West Mounted Police, Paramount's top grossing picture (about $2,500,000) of the last ten years. This calculated program has not produced one really fine motion picture, but it has long entertained the biggest segment of U.S. ticket buyers (modal age: 19).

If De Mille has a formula, beyond mere size (always colossal) and style (always his own), it is one long practiced by the rest of Hollywood. It is called "insurance." It works this way: after loading Reap with all the enticing ingredients he could think of, De Mille insured it against failure by adding the ingredients of recent successful escape pictures and doing them a bit bigger or better, plus Technicolor.
De Mille, outwardly charming and polished as an international banker, is actually a member of the fan-magazine audience that eats up his muscle-bound extravaganzas. He does all the acting for his cast on the set, and it is his performance, not theirs, that registers on the screen. Once his gift for spectacular effect was in tune with the times; today it is strictly from Dixie. But it is still boxoffice.

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