I observed three and half years ago that Douglas Sirk was mostly dismissed by critics of the ’50s and early ’60s for making films that were no more and no less than what they seemed to be — i.e., emotionally dreary, visually lush melodramas about repressed women suffering greatly through crises of the heart as they struggled to maintain tidy, ultra-proper appearances. I said this in a short piece called “Respectful Sirk Takedown,” but only because I felt that the cultists had taken things too far. I respect the bright fellows who claim that Sirk’s films deliver covert social criticism along with the trademark grandiose emotional sweep (or whatever you want to call it), but that ’50s soap-opera vibe sends me into spasms and I really can’t stand spending much time with the older, drearier versions of Lana Turner or Jane Wyman.
I can, however, stand and actually get into The Tarnished Angels (’57), which is now out on a Masters of Cinema region B Bluray. Largely, I suppose, because it was beautifully shot in black-and-white Scope — my all-time favorite format. It’s a moderately dull sit, but a lot of ’50s films had this kind of doleful-ish, “I guess we’re stuck with ourselves and our situation” vibe. The main characters (Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Jack Carter) walk around with mopey expressions for the most part. That’s one of the reasons Tarnished Angels feels a bit stiff, but I’ll take the mixture of Malone and infidelity over “repressed women suffering greatly” any day. I suppose I’m more favorably disposed because it’s more “male” (i.e., loosely based on a Faulkner story about flying at air shows). And Hudson’s smoothie behavior (he was always more of a mannerist than an actor) was more appealing in the ’50s simply because he was younger and tonier and less booze-addled than he began to seem in, say, Seconds or Pretty Maids All In A Row or McMillan and Wife. He drank and smoked like a fiend, and his best days were when that behavior hadn’t taken its toll and he looked really good, okay? There, I’ve said it.