Monday, March 20, 2017

OVP: The Flame and the Arrow (1950)

Film: The Flame and the Arrow (1950)
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Virginia Mayo, Nick Cravat, Robert Douglas, Frank Allenby
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Oscar History: 2 nominations (Best Cinematography, Score)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

Most people, in my experience, rarely "have" to see a movie, mostly because unless you have a spouse that's insisting on it, a job/education that requires you to for work, or have OCD about seeing all of the Oscar nominees (the box I check on the census), you don't actually have to see movies unless you want to do so.  As a result, most people don't end up seeing movies starring the same actor over and over again unless they like said actor.  As this is not the case for me, critically-lauded performers that I don't appreciate oftentimes come onto my purview, and this was the case recently with Burt Lancaster.  Lancaster, who falls into that "clearly has talent, but are too hammy or sure of themselves to be natural in all roles" camp of actors that also includes Paul Giamatti and Spencer Tracy, is someone that I don't actively pursue and only ever really see if he's in the OVP.  This was the case recently with The Flame and the Arrow, but thankfully, despite my reservations, this movie became the exception to the rule, as for perhaps the first time ever I left finally getting why people clamor toward Lancaster.  This movie was a delight.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film takes place in 12th Century Italy (you'll be forgiven for not figuring that out-taking the modernity out of their pictures was never a Warner Brothers strong suit), and is centered around Dardo (Lancaster), a swashbuckling roustabout who makes his life in the mountains, and comes across the Hawk (Allenby), a ruthless count who also has a beautiful niece named Anne (Mayo) and has stolen away Dardo's wife as his own.  The film follows as Dardo initially befriends Anne's other paramour the Marchese (Douglas), and then slowly (after kidnapping her) gets Anne to fall for him too, eventually going back to try and barter with the Hawk, who has stolen his son, and in the process Dardo saves the day, killing the count and getting both Anne and his son as his own.

On paper, it's that simple, and it's a blissfully short film at 88 minutes long, but it doesn't play as being too abbreviated, and indeed, hits most of its marks well.  Lancaster and Mayo have a charming chemistry, and perhaps more crucially for the plot, so does Robert Douglas as the frenemy to them both (in the end, perhaps in the only plot point I thought was a bit too convenient, he turns bad again for no apparent reason, but that's a small caveat).  The fight sequences are lively and boisterous, particularly the climactic and extended final scene, and the movie, nominated for best cinematography, takes wonderful advantage of the Technicolor, experimenting with gorgeous moonlight and most impressively, minimalist light in a battle in the dark.  All-in-all, this was a gorgeous picture as well.

As for Lancaster, I've never seen him so breezy and charming.  His natural handsomeness and rakish demeanor feel more like Errol Flynn than overacting, and I was kind of left in awe.  Virginia Mayo, never as big of a star as she probably hoped to be, is also terrific and lively, though an Oscar nomination for either would seem a bit ludicrous (it's not that kind of movie).  The film did nab a Best Original Score citation, and deservedly so-Max Steiner uses some Italian elements, but mostly relies upon rousing strings, timpani, and trumpet to get across a strong action adventure accompaniment.

Any apprehensions I had about seeing the movie were wiped away pretty quickly, and I officially now have a movie I can cite where I loved Lancaster, but I want to hear from you.  Does anyone else have a bit of an allergy to Lancaster, and was this an exception or are you still taking shots?  What do you think of the career of Virginia Mayo, who had two undisputed classics but never became an eternal household name?  And where does The Flame and the Arrow rank on your personal favorite scores and cinematographies of 1950?  Share below!

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