2012 October 10 • Wednesday
Jacques Tourneur is one of my favorite directors and there's a great deal of interesting information about him in this book. It sometimes reads like a cinema studies thesis, though, and often makes unsupportable leaps of faith to justify making Tourneur's body of work more cohesive than it is.
For example, Fujiwara asserts that when Gregory Peck's character in Tourneur's Days of Glory says that he has found "happiness in destruction", this is "a distorted echo of Oliver's remark [in Cat People] that he has 'never been unhappy'". I don't see any significant connection between these two lines.
In the next chapter, Fujiwara states that Tourneur's Experiment Perilous "revises the triangle of Cat People: a fascinating woman; a European man who tries to represent her as neurotic; and a plain uncomplicated American". Countless other movies have this triangle or a similar one.
Even if these and the other supposed connections in Fujiwara's book were not insubstantial or coincidental, they come from screenplays, which Tourneur never wrote. Fujiwara himself acknowledges this in the chapter on Berlin Express, when he notes the "The Lady Vanishes … was a recurrent source of inspiration for Tourneur or, at any rate, for the screenwriters of his films". A book like this should make clear the significant differences between the inspiration of the screenwriter and the inspiration of the director.
Tourneur's art was cinema, not writing. It seems that he only ever turned down a script twice, once with Devil's Doorway and another time with A Woman's Secret. (Instead of A Woman's Secreet Tourneur made Easy Living and Fujiwara is reasonable enough to grant that "The history of American film would not have been much different if Nicholas Ray had directed Easy Living and Tourneur A Woman's Secret.)
Tourneur responded more energetically to certain kinds of material, wanting so badly to make Stars in My Crown, for instance, that he offered to do it for free. Fujiwara is very good on Tourneur's actual art, the visual compositions and rhythms created by cutting from one shot to another. If his enthusiasm runs away with itself at times, at least it suggests the possibilities available to a director like Tourneur, even if they seem highly improbably at times.
While a bit academic for my taste, this book is well worth reading for anybody who loves Tourneur's work.