Friday, March 07, 2014

Norman Foster and Brighty of the Grand Canyon (film fest friday)


Norman Foster (December 13, 1903-July 7, 1976)

  I love it when I discover a new director. It's frustrating when I can't get to see the new director's stuff. This case is very odd becuase I've already seen a dozen of his films and didn't know, yet I can't get at the two that might well be valid great arts films. Norman Foster, even though I didn't it before recently, directly most of the Charlie Chan movies, most of the Mr. Motto movies, and the most Schlocky thing of all time, Batman tv show! So even though I've seen a lot of his work until recently I had only seen his shlock, although fun shlock. I love the Motto movies I love the chan movies, but they are not great art. There's a good chance that Journey into fear and Navajo are great art films. I can't get them. He was hand picked by Orson Wells to direct Journey into fear (1943).

 Foster supported independent film and directed them at a time (50s and 60s) then they were not popular, at a time when "indie" meant "cheap" not "chick" not "cool" not "intellectual."  Yet his 1952 film Navajo  sounds like a great art film. It's about  Navajo boy who is forced into a white man's school were they seek to eradicate his culture from his thinking to press him into a mold, and his struggle to learn more about his culture and to remain Navajo. Those works are hard to find and I can't get them.I would love to see them.

Foster was born John Hoeffer December 13, 1903 (died July 7, 1976 (aged 72). He began his professional career as an actor. He was married to actress Claudette Colbert a major box office draw at the time. They had a violent breakup and for some reason after that he turned director. That married was from 1928 50 1935. He began directing the Motto films (he was not the first to direct them) his films were enormously popular. He was on the only B movie director to always finnished on time and under budget. He had a reputation for getting the job done, which may be why Wells selected him. The Charlie Chan movies were very popular too.

 The only one of his independent films I've been able to find is "Brighty of the Grand Canyon." A story about a Donkey.


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Cast overview:
Jiggs the Donkey ...
Joseph Cotten ...
Jim Owen
Pat Conway ...
Jake Irons
Dick Foran ...
Old Timer, the Prospector
Karl Swenson ...
Dandy Curran ...
Homer Hobbs
 (from the IMBd page)

 Based upon Marguerite Henry's 1953 novel of the same title. The story is set in 1905, Teddy Roosevelt is a character in the film. He makes a speech about the great canyon needs to be preserved. The high profile star (the only one) in the film is Joseph Cotton, the same who co-starred in The Third Man with Orson Wells. Cotton was a major star in the 30s and 40s, he was old and by Hollywood standards of the time forgotten by the time he made Brighty. The best actor in the film by far he turns out to steal the show in the end. Pat Conway who played the murderer also does an excellent job. Both are so good and effortless I never even though about their acting. It never occurred to me "hey they can act" I just watched them. The boy I boy I said "He's not a professional actor." Teddy Roosevelt I said 'He's not doing a bad job. With those two I just watched the film. The old Timer was not too corny. He's a corn ball character in the first place (the crusty old timer prospector), the actor did a good job of trying to pull off an uncorny corn ball character.

This is not a  great art film. It's nice, it's better than a Disney movie but not far above the Swiss Family Robinson or something. I would rate it "a fine film." Not a great film but very nice to watch.

The old timer is Brighty's Human companion. Every review says he is only known by that name and the IMBD only lists him as such but the scrip clearly referees to him more an once as Hezekiah Appleyeard. You can't really say he "owns" the Donkey, the system was not for prospectors at the Canyon to own their own donkey and keep them in a pen at their house. The Old Timer just grabs whatever Donkey is near and uses him as a pack mule for a wile then let's him go. When he needs another he gets which one is handy. The Old Timer always tells Brighty "you can go run and play now, just come when I need you." He always did. They met when the young Donkey got his face full of cactus needles trying to eat a cactus. The old man pulled the needles out and they were fast friends and stayed together.

The Joseph Cotton character  know as "uncle Jim" ran a trading post and acted as tour guide to this hunting mountain lions. He guides TR in a hunt in the film, and listens to him say "bully" and make speeches about the Canyon around the camp fire. the President gives him a rifle with a name plate on the stock saying "from President Teddy Roosevelt to Jim Whatever.. blah blah."

The Old Timer discovered a major gold strike. He is working the claim as an escaped criminal (Jake Irons played by Pat Conway) who accepted his hospitality around the fire one night, follows him to see where the strike is. He murders the old man and begins to work the claim himself.  The Donkey is heart broken. He wanders about with the old man's hat in his mouth, which he found lying around, and seeks the old man's body braying terribly as if  crying. He knows he crook did it and he will not near him even though the crook keeps drafting him to work as a pack animal and beating him to make him work. At one point Brighty jumps out of a ferry cages to an icy river 30 feet below. The boy who works at Uncle Jim's story and Uncle Jim begin to suspect the old man is murdered. He never shows up, they find his camp deserted. They see Brighty alone with the old man's hat. They alert the sheriff and the word goes out to look for a murderer although they do not know who to look for.

Eventually the murderer turns up at the store. The boy truges in the snow as it's coming down to the store to warn Uncle Jim that the murderer is has been spotted (an escaped convict). Jim returns form hunting to find the convict ransacking is store and stealing his TR rifle. The boy, the convict and the Uncle are all snow bound in the store with the Donkey who is sick. They see that the convict has the old man's watch, his Donkey, other things that belonged to him and they coax him into saying incriminating things. Jim slips the Donlkey's medicine to the convict in his tea and he get's sick they force him to reveal that he did kill the old man. The convict hits Jim and knocks him out and escapes. Jim hunts him down in the snow and finds him hanging off a cliff. He saves him but he also takes him back to face trail for murder. I wont tell the reader about the Donkey being shot at the end so as to leave some surprise.

All in all it's a movie made for 12 year old boy in the 1950s. It's not a bad little movie. I'm anxious to see Navajo that's the one I really wont to find. Until then I'm happy for having seen Brighty.

1 comment:

tinythinker said...

"I wont tell the reader about the Donkey being shot at the end so as to leave some surprise."