Arlecchino Cinema > 14:30


Jacques Tourneur
Introduced by

Miguel Marías


Monday 29/06/2015


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Andrew Sarris singles out Great Day in the Morning among Tourneur’s Westerns as a successful case of the director’s “gentility” raising the genre “to a new, unaccustomed level of subdued, pastel-colored sensibility.” Sarris’s preference of Great Day to Stranger on Horseback and Wichita, films that he claims “lack both excitement and the compensating sensibility of Great Day in the Morning” (he doesn’t comment on Canyon Passage), no doubt reflects not only his appreciation of a certain visual sophistication that Great Day possesses more obviously than do the other two films (in particular, the film’s muted color schemes) but also his refusal to credit Tourneur with a genre attitude that might be expressed through other means. […] The film takes place in 1861 in Denver, where Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack), a Southern adventurer, is lured by rumors of a $ 2 million gold cache intended to help the South in the event of war. The action of Great Day in the Morning charts the rise and fall of Pentecost’s control of events. […]
Two of the key stages of Pentecost’s story – his kiss with Ann and his confession to Kirby in the cave – take place in partial darkness. In the scene with Ann, the two pass from a relatively light room to a relatively dark one, so that as the dialogue becomes more intense, their faces become less visible, until at the embrace, they’re in complete shadow against a dimly lit wall. At first she resists, the she puts her arms around his neck , whereupon he pushes her way, both from him and from the camera, suddenly and drastically changing the composition of the static two-shot. Previously the two were in profile; now she is in full face and farther from the camera, precariously isolated on a deeper plane of the visual field. Then, as he goes out camera right and she turns to follow him with her eyes, her face goes fully into shadow. Darkness signifies a barrier between what can and what cannot be known about the characters’. At the paroxysm of the action, when, after so many equivocations, we want to see the characters’ real nature exposed, Tourneur conceals them behind this barrier. Hampering the denotative or representative function of the image, darkness marks its powerlessness, or its refusal, to ‘speak’ the action. Nor does the sound track carry the burden of meaning: the critical actions in the scene with Ann are gestural, not verbal; the dialogue between Pentecost and Kirby in the cave seems merely a formality: we’re surprised by Pentecost’s confession of love for Boston and by Kirby’s offer to let Pentecost escape, but these last-minute peripetia have less force than Kirby’s silent gesture of giving Pentecost a canteen of water, Pentecost’s grateful expression as he takes it, and the camera’s rising slightly as he lifts the canteen to take a drink (one of the film’s few lyrical moments). In the love scene, we might take the darkness to signify the eruption characters’ repressed instincts.

Chris Fujiwara, Jacques Tourneur The Cinema of Nightfall, McFarland & Company, Jefferson 1998

Cast and Credits

Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Robert H. Andrews. Scen.: Lesser Samuels. F.: William Snyder. M.: Harry Marker. Scgf.: Jack Okey, Albert S. D’Agostino. Mus.: Leith Stevens. Int.: Virginia Mayo (Ann Alaine), Robert Stack (Owen Pentecost), Ruth Roman (Boston Grant), Alex Nicol (Steven Kirby), Raymond Burr (Jumbo Means), Leo Gordon (Zeff Masterson), Regis Toomey (Father Murphy), Carlton Young (Gibson), Donald MacDonald (Gary Lawford), Peter Whitney (Phil). Prod.: Edmund Grainger per Edmund Grainger Productions, Inc. · 35mm. Col.