F.: Susan Lumsdon. M.: Antoinette Ford, Walter McIntosh. Mus.: Sam Petty. Prod.: Claude Gonzalez, Frans Vandenburg. DCP. Bn e Col.
The Big Clock, John Farrow’s best known film, is brilliantly directed, but after watching it the viewer may feel little the wiser about how he saw the world in which he lived and what he thought about power, integrity, or the will to survive. Nor will enlightenment on these matters necessarily be gleaned from the other films (among the more than 40 Farrow directed) that have any kind of reputation today: Five Came Back, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Alias Nick Beal, Where Danger Lives, His Kind of Woman, Hondo. If such an interesting obscurity as Plunder of the Sun is any indication, Farrow’s work can repay attention, however much time one takes to explore it. His artistic identity remains, however, elusive.
Frans Vandenburg and Claude Gonzalez’s welcome documentary, John Farrow: Hollywood’s Man in the Shadows, recounts Farrow’s career film by film, providing a solid portrait of an able artisan with an exceptional talent for orchestrating long takes. The filmmakers emphasize their subject’s Australian origins and his Catholicism, and they address his notorious womanizing and his dreadful temper, though they refrain from speculating on what kind of psychic legacy he must have left his children. Mia Farrow, his daughter with Maureen O’Sullivan, was not interviewed for the film, but her brother, John Charles Farrow, recreates their father strikingly, not only with his measured and wry recollections but also by his lookalike features. A clip of a public speech by the director’s grandson, Ronan Farrow, serves as a placeholder for the issues raised by the #MeToo movement and what they imply for our view of the Hollywood in which John Farrow thrived.
For all his facility with the medium, there is definitely something in Farrow’s work that does not belong just to cinema. John Farrow: Hollywood’s Man in the Shadows is an indispensable reference for anyone interested in finding out what that something could be.