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The Shootist

Portrait in Black

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I watched Portrait in Black last night for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Not more than a minute after it finished, Ben Mankiewicz is telling me how it bombed at the box office and is known for being so bad, it's good!  I had some qualms with the ending of the film, but the vast majority of the movie seemed fine to me.  I did question having Sheila be the one who wrote the letters, but it was certainly a plot twist I wasn't expecting.  There were plenty of chances to go with a more cliché ending that you see in other films.  It would have been interesting if Blake was the one who wrote the letters, but that would probably have made the story too long.  Ben also said that critics claimed Anthony Quinn was miscast.  I'll admit that I had trouble with it in the first few scenes, but he played his part well.

So, am I alone in really liking this movie?

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Sorry, I have to agree with Ben M. 

I watched the "Portrait in Black" last night and when it was finished my husband asked me why I was groaning. I said "I just watched one of those so-bad-it's-good movies. But this one was REALLY bad."  It was just so schmaltzy, the music had too many maudlin violins playing, and Quinn was completely and thoroughly miscast, in my opinion.

I have been enjoying some of these later Lana Turner melodramas and enjoyed some of them. But she and Ross Hunter seem a deadly combination. I think she's better off with Douglas Sirk or Walter Mirisch. I'm watching "By Love Possessed" right now and it's miles better than "Portrait" so far. 

I guess it's our differences in taste that make TCM a place for all of us who love all kinds of classic films.

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3 hours ago, The Shootist said:

I watched Portrait in Black last night for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Not more than a minute after it finished, Ben Mankiewicz is telling me how it bombed at the box office and is known for being so bad, it's good!  I had some qualms with the ending of the film, but the vast majority of the movie seemed fine to me.  I did question having Sheila be the one who wrote the letters, but it was certainly a plot twist I wasn't expecting.  There were plenty of chances to go with a more cliché ending that you see in other films.  It would have been interesting if Blake was the one who wrote the letters, but that would probably have made the story too long.  Ben also said that critics claimed Anthony Quinn was miscast.  I'll admit that I had trouble with it in the first few scenes, but he played his part well.

So, am I alone in really liking this movie?

I like it too...but probably for different reasons. The casting is intriguing. Basehart and Quinn previously costarred in LA STRADA, so it's interesting to see them team up again, this time in a glossy Hollywood melodrama. Lloyd Nolan is always dependable. And this was Anna May Wong's last film. Her previous picture was 1949's IMPACT. Then we have Sandra Dee again as Lana's daughter, repeating their relationship in IMITATION OF LIFE with some variation. So there are a lot of connections we can make to earlier films.

Also I think the production values are superb...it's what we come to expect with Ross Hunter. So even though the story has great implausibilities, and it's ultimately just a hollow showcase for Lana, it's still fun in a strange sort of way. 

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First time ever watching this movie, and I found it to be nothing more than a second rate Postman Always Rings Twice. 

Think I'll stick with the original. Heck I think I'd almost rather watch the 1981 remake again before I ever lay eyes on this flick again.

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I thoroughly enjoyed "Portrait in Black" - well-written,well-directed,well-produced and well-acted.

The plot twist at the end was so unexpected.

It's proof - that the female is so much deadlier than the male.

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5 hours ago, TopBilled said:

I like it too...but probably for different reasons. The casting is intriguing. Basehart and Quinn previously costarred in LA STRADA, so it's interesting to see them team up again, this time in a glossy Hollywood melodrama. Lloyd Nolan is always dependable. And this was Anna May Wong's last film. Her previous picture was 1949's IMPACT. Then we have Sandra Dee again as Lana's daughter, repeating their relationship in IMITATION OF LIFE with some variation. So there are a lot of connections we can make to earlier films.

Also I think the production values are superb...it's what we come to expect with Ross Hunter. So even though the story has great implausibilities, and it's ultimately just a hollow showcase for Lana, it's still fun in a strange sort of way. 

I love Portrait in Black and I bought the DVD several years ago.

It's one of the most entertaining, suspenseful and exciting films I've ever seen.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that not every film noir has to be on the artistic level  of Vertigo or Double Indemnity in order to be an enjoyable credible film.

It's okay to watch a film for entertainment value and not to necessarily have to do an in-depth  critical analysis. Although I think the plot moves a lot faster than some Hitchcock masterpieces, which I find more to my liking.

As Top Billed pointed out, Ross Hunter Productions are well presented in terms of the set and costume design. In the 1930s and 40s people were always impressed with the designs they saw by Adrian, Orry-Kelly and Travis Banton. Their costuming enhanced the female star, thus enhancing the whole production. Jean Louis does just that, and exceedingly well, for Lana Turner. It is unabashedly a movie star's vehicle and Lana looks and acts the part.

Lana's  looks and her acting style contrast with Anthony Quinn who is a Powerhouse in this role between frustration and force.

Top Billed has already mentioned the wonderful casting, including the often underrated Sandra Dee. But I would be remiss not to mention Ray Walston. Ray Walston is an actor who worked a great deal on Broadway and on series TV. I can only wish that he made more movies, but the few that he made, such as this one, shows what a controlled and concise artist he was. For me, appreciating his performance is the key to  understanding the whole movie.

This film has something for everyone. Yet my feeling is maybe some people might be putting this film down because they may see it as just another vehicle for Lana Turner-- but what's wrong with that?  She's an actress who knows how to conjure up real anguish, fear and emotion. Having learned her craft well at MGM, proving that she was not just another extremely beautiful face.

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32 minutes ago, Princess of Tap said:

 

 

 

This film has something for everyone. Yet my feeling is maybe some people might be putting this film down because they may see it as just another vehicle for Lana Turner--

Or maybe we just don't happen to like the film? 

I confess I have never been much of a fan of Lana Turner (The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Bad and the Beautiful are the only films that she really impressed me in) but I gave this movie a go just for the heck of it. Just because I didn't enjoy it doesn't mean I went into it expecting another Postman or Double Indemnity (never saw Vertigo). I just didn't like it.

This movie had absolutely NOTHING for me, so we'll have to agree to disagree there too.

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10 hours ago, marcar said:

Sorry, I have to agree with Ben M. 

I watched the "Portrait in Black" last night and when it was finished my husband asked me why I was groaning. I said "I just watched one of those so-bad-it's-good movies. But this one was REALLY bad."  It was just so schmaltzy, the music had too many maudlin violins playing, and Quinn was completely and thoroughly miscast, in my opinion.

I have been enjoying some of these later Lana Turner melodramas and enjoyed some of them. But she and Ross Hunter seem a deadly combination. I think she's better off with Douglas Sirk or Walter Mirisch. I'm watching "By Love Possessed" right now and it's miles better than "Portrait" so far. 

I guess it's our differences in taste that make TCM a place for all of us who love all kinds of classic films.

Marcar-- I bought  By Love Possessed the same time that I bought Portrait in Black. It had a great cast, but I was disappointed with the film in general. It had a lot of dull parts - - but I really liked the scenes with Lana and Efrem Zimbalist.

I don't know if you watched Falcon Crest on TV. As much as I loved the old movie stars, it wasn't Jane Wyman that got me hooked on this show; it was Lana Turner's guest starring role. I think it's one of the best things she ever did.

If You ever get a chance,  you must check it out.  I believe it's one of the last things she ever did.

BTW-- I'm a real sucker for the Jane Wyman/ Sirk movies too. LOL

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Falcon Crest was one of my all-time favorites, so I know exactly what you're talking about. Everyone else was into "Dallas" and "Dynasty" but every Friday night (if I remember that right) I was immersed in the wine country. And I loved Lana's guest episodes and her outfits.

Thanks for the memories. I had forgotten that show. I'm going to look around and see if it's available anywhere. Honestly, it's the only one of those 80s "costume dramas" and by that I mean "big shoulder pads and lots of chiffon and sequins, that I would watch then and now.

Happy New Year!

 

 

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I'm so-so on the movie but have an abiding respect for Lana. I though she was admirably restrained. Did she look good to me because everyone else was over the top? It's tempting to think so but I think not. I did double takes on her smoothness. No one will agree with this, but I am firm. Lana, who does not impress me overall with her acting, was good in this.

Is there an emoji for ducking?

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Just to interject a quick something about Lana Turner here.

I too have never been all that impressed with her, BUT last week during TCM's showing of the 1948 version of The Three Musketeers and of which I might have seen a couple other times in the past, I have to admit after concentrating on Turner's performance in it this time, I thought she was absolutely GREAT as the evil Lady de Winter.

(...okay, and now that I've gotten this of my chest, back to her in this turkey of a Ross Hunter film)

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Films like Lana Turner's in which the lady and her glamour are the star are gone.

For me, today,  they have a real fascination.

I wonder if she was difficult to work with.

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Lana Turner has always come across to me on the screen as exactly what she was - an artificial, manufactured studio movie star, no matter how glamourous her appearance or plush her surroundings. She's far from the only one that falls into that category, of course - Hedy Lamarr is another that comes to mind, for example.

Her lavish soapy Ross Hunter or Douglas Sirk productions of the '50s and early '60s are not my cup of tea, I fully admit. I saw Portrait in Black a couple of years ago and thought it okay, if obvious, as superficial entertainment. A visual glamour fest for the female patrons with some thriller content (the main reason I watched it) thrown in.

I did like Turner in two films, and they're probably the same two that most others single out regarding her - The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Bad and the Beautiful. She and Garfield had explosive chemistry in their film together. I never saw Turner with that same kind of chemistry with any other leading man, and I have to wonder how good she would have been in that film if, say, Joel McCrea (one of the original casting choices for Postman) had been in the project instead. Did Garfield's presence make her dig deeper as an actress?

Let us just be grateful that they went with Garfield, something for which I think Lana should have been grateful, as well, when she looked back upon the effectiveness of that production, as well as her performance in it.

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As she got older, as she got more famous, as she became synonymous with beauty and glamour, Lana Turner was rarely capable of even a passable performance.

But you didn't go to see "an actress"; you went to see a glamour icon.

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I'll admit that I haven't seen Portrait in Black, but I recorded it, because I like Sandra Dee.  Based on the opinions of those here on the thread, I look forward to watching it, to see if I share the same opinion.

Like many here on this thread, I am indifferent to Lana Turner.  I don't dislike her and have seen many of her films. She doesn't deter me from a film, usually if she's in the film, she's fine, nothing special, but not awful.  I'd rather watch Turner in a film over Kathryn Grayson or Butterfly McQueen any day of the week.  To me, Turner is "generic pretty blond actress."  She is pretty, but for me, her beauty isn't anything special or overwhelming.  

I liked Turner in Postman Always Rings Twice and I thought she was fine in Ziegfeld Girl.  I also liked her in The Bad and the Beautiful.  I think Turner's persona works well in the over-the-top melodrama and glamour films, because her overall aesthetic fits into that world.  I liked Turner in Imitation of Life and thought she did a great job.  I recorded Peyton Place and look forward to watching it.  I also recorded a bunch of Turner's "fluff" movies, because sometimes a fluff movie is all I have the energy to watch. 

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1 hour ago, rayban said:

As she got older, as she got more famous, as she became synonymous with beauty and glamour, Lana Turner was rarely capable of even a passable performance.

But you didn't go to see "an actress"; you went to see a glamour icon.

And by the time she made THE BIG CUBE in 1969, people went to see a fading glamour icon.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 9.19.54 AM.png

I'm glad folks mentioned her special guest-starring role on Falcon Crest in the early 1980s. She was very much a diva and she caused numerous problems on that set. It reached a point where Wyman, who had casting approval and approval over pretty much everything on the show, refused to do scenes with her.

The biggest issue which was a no-no in Wyman's book is that Lana was notorious for late arrivals to the set. Wyman found her unreliable and unprofessional. Wyman went to morning mass, then reported to the set. But she simply wouldn't wait hours for Lana to show up to do their scenes together (and who could blame her).

So Wyman was filmed first delivering her dialogue to a stand-in. Then when Lana finally got there, Lana's part in the same scenes was shot with a stand-in for Wyman, who had gone on to rehearse other scenes with other costars, or was on her way home. Their material was spliced together in the editing room and viewers were none the wiser.

At the end of the season, Wyman told the writers to kill her off, because she wasn't going through another season of this. They had already started limiting Lana's appearances, where she'd do an episode or two then be off screen for a few episodes then turn up for another episode, etc. It probably could have been a huge on-going part if Lana had cooperated more. Lana's character had a spectacular and very sudden death in the cliffhanger. 

Lana wouldn't have another important television role until she did a two-part episode of The Love Boat in 1985. 

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2 hours ago, rayban said:

Films like Lana Turner's in which the lady and her glamour are the star are gone.

For me, today,  they have a real fascination.

I wonder if she was difficult to work with.

I'll bet she was like Joan Crawford, remembering the names and personalities of the crew because she knew they could help her look her best. Costars would be another matter, of course.

I'm Team Lana all the way, especially when it comes to her late-career melodramas and comedies (Bachelor in Paradise with Bob Hope and Who's Got the Action? with Dean Martin). What I love about her in particular is the studied, self-aware intensity with which she approached every moment, big or small. She wasn't the kind of actress who would ever disappear into a role; it was always Lana front and center and, for me. there's a kind of giddy thrill in getting to watch. Nothing slice-of-life about her, and I think that's what the fascination rayban mentioned is all about. We all know moviemaking is artifice, but to see that fact laid so bare with Ross Hunter's not-of-this-world sets, Jean Louis' determinedly chic frocks, and Lana's well-modulated scenery chewing is, in a funny kind of way, an affirmation of why I love movies in general. Personally, I think Portrait in Black was Ross Hunter's attempt to do for Lana what he had recently done for Doris Day in Midnight Lace, to dress her up in designer duds and scare the crap out of her for our delectation, with lots of loving close-ups of our fretting heroine. The crassness, the "Hollywoodiness" of the whole enterprise was probably what made it the box office failure Ben M. referred to, especially in a decade which was beginning to move at warp speed toward "enlightenment" of various types. It's definitely a throwback to an earlier era of filmmaking and I think it's the disconnect between that style and the time in which this movie was made which makes it even more fascinating, especially at a remove of many decades now.

Lana, Susan Hayward (Back Street, Stolen Hours, I Thank a Fool) and, to a lesser extent Joan Crawford persisted in the kind of "women's" roles which had been a Depression and wartime staple, but whose hold on the public imagination was waning. There's a kind of holding-back-the-tide element to Lana's later roles which makes the effort all the more admirable and endearing. It's beyond "camp" (and I was never exactly sure what that was supposed to mean); she was a torchbearer for a style of moviemaking whose time was passing in front of her (and our) eyes and her films from that era are a bittersweet reminder of when a movie was unironically a movie.

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23 hours ago, The Shootist said:

I watched Portrait in Black last night for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Not more than a minute after it finished, Ben Mankiewicz is telling me how it bombed at the box office and is known for being so bad, it's good!  I had some qualms with the ending of the film, but the vast majority of the movie seemed fine to me.  I did question having Sheila be the one who wrote the letters, but it was certainly a plot twist I wasn't expecting.  There were plenty of chances to go with a more cliché ending that you see in other films.  It would have been interesting if Blake was the one who wrote the letters, but that would probably have made the story too long.  Ben also said that critics claimed Anthony Quinn was miscast.  I'll admit that I had trouble with it in the first few scenes, but he played his part well.

So, am I alone in really liking this movie?

Lana's always a dish so yes, I liked it.

 

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In "Madame X", Lana Turner's "aesthetic" is quite obvious - she was attracted to turgid melodramas in which a woman suffered, suffered, suffered.

Surprisingly, in the last half of the film, she does try to give a performance.

And, sometimes, in the last half of the film, she is quite effective.

But an old revered melodrama like "Madame X" needs a great performance - to work on its' contrived levels.

Lana Turner couldn't do it.

But she did try.

And, when Keir Dullea says that, as soon as he saw her, he loved her - Lana Turner's screen persona fades into the material.

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20 minutes ago, DougieB said:

I'll bet she was like Joan Crawford, remembering the names and personalities of the crew because she knew they could help her look her best. Costars would be another matter, of course.

I'm Team Lana all the way, especially when it comes to her late-career melodramas and comedies (Bachelor in Paradise with Bob Hope and Who's Got the Action? with Dean Martin). What I love about her in particular is the studied, self-aware intensity with which she approached every moment, big or small. She wasn't the kind of actress who would ever disappear into a role; it was always Lana front and center and, for me. there's a kind of giddy thrill in getting to watch. Nothing slice-of-life about her, and I think that's what the fascination rayban mentioned is all about. We all know moviemaking is artifice, but to see that fact laid so bare with Ross Hunter's not-of-this-world sets, Jean Louis' determinedly chic frocks, and Lana's well-modulated scenery chewing is, in a funny kind of way, an affirmation of why I love movies in general. Personally, I think Portrait in Black was Ross Hunter's attempt to do for Lana what he had recently done for Doris Day in Midnight Lace, to dress her up in designer duds and scare the crap out of her for our delectation, with lots of loving close-ups of our fretting heroine. The crassness, the "Hollywoodiness" of the whole enterprise was probably what made it the box office failure Ben M. referred to, especially in a decade which was beginning to move at warp speed toward "enlightenment" of various types. It's definitely a throwback to an earlier era of filmmaking and I think it's the disconnect between that style and the time in which this movie was made which makes it even more fascinating, especially at a remove of many decades now.

Lana, Susan Hayward (Back Street, Stolen Hours, I Thank a Fool) and, to a lesser extent Joan Crawford persisted in the kind of "women's" roles which had been a Depression and wartime staple, but whose hold on the public imagination was waning. There's a kind of holding-back-the-tide element to Lana's later roles which makes the effort all the more admirable and endearing. It's beyond "camp" (and I was never exactly sure what that was supposed to mean); she was a torchbearer for a style of moviemaking whose time was passing in front of her (and our) eyes and her films from that era are a bittersweet reminder of when a movie was unironically a movie.

I couldn't have said it better.

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So what is it about these kind of turgid glossy melodramas that so draws gay men to them? Is it Turner herself, a glamour icon (a la Crawford or Dietrich, etc.), or is it the over the top dramatics, or both? Is there a campy appeal? Just curious.

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1 hour ago, TomJH said:

So what is it about these kind of turgid glossy melodramas that so draws gay men to them? Is it Turner herself, a glamour icon (a la Crawford or Dietrich, etc.), or is it the over the top dramatics, or both? Is there a campy appeal? Just curious.

Probably hard to answer without stereotyping or over-generalizing. I'm sure it works differently for all gay men and other fans of these stars. Judy Garland is another one who had a large gay following. Maybe it has to do with the sense of the impossible, the ultra unreal. When something borders on kitsch or camp, there's a whole impossible quality about it, but that's what makes it fun to play and fun to watch. Tallulah Bankhead if she were around would likely agree.

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1 hour ago, TopBilled said:

Probably hard to answer without stereotyping or over-generalizing. I'm sure it works differently for all gay men and other fans of these stars. Judy Garland is another one who had a large gay following. Maybe it has to do with the sense of the impossible, the ultra unreal. When something borders on kitsch or camp, there's a whole impossible quality about it, but that's what makes it fun to play and fun to watch. Tallulah Bankhead if she were around would likely agree.

I agree that the "impossible quality" is a big part of the appeal. I think it's the can-do spirit of these gals with the odds stacked against them, persevering in the face of any number of credible or incredible obstacles, which draws me and probably a lot of other gay men to these films. Good taste may or may not enter into it, but the sight of some drama queen "suffering" in an endless array of high fashion frocks just tickles me. To straight men and to women this may sound condescending, but I swear it's not. It's the idea of making molehills out of the mountains confronting us which is the appeal and if you can look pretty darn good doing it, where's the harm? To recent generations this way of coping may not be as central, but as someone who's old enough to have seen and loved Portrait in Black in its original theatrical release I can vouch that movies and stars like this filled a very real void in the lives of many who hadn't yet mastered appropriate ways of expression to give a name to what the real problems were.

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3 minutes ago, DougieB said:

I agree that the "impossible quality" is a big part of the appeal. I think it's the can-do spirit of these gals with the odds stacked against them, persevering in the face of any number of credible or incredible obstacles, which draws me and probably a lot of other gay men to these films. Good taste may or may not enter into it, but the sight of some drama queen "suffering" in an endless array of high fashion frocks just tickles me. To straight men and to women this may sound condescending, but I swear it's not. It's the idea of making molehills out of the mountains confronting us which is the appeal and if you can look pretty darn good doing it, where's the harm? To recent generations this way of coping may not be as central, but as someone who's old enough to have seen and loved Portrait in Black in its original theatrical release I can vouch that movies and stars like this filled a very real void in the lives of many who hadn't yet mastered appropriate ways of expression to give a name to what the real problems were.

Great comment. And if a gay producer or gay director was in charge of the film, his own attitudes about these scenarios were obviously filtered through the performance of the grande dame. 

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Right, a gay movie producer could enshrine the allure of ultra-glamourous stars like Lana Turner in the face of life's difficulties as they moved against these impossible odds in an  almost-protective cocoon of knock-out fashion that said, "I will survive". 

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