Delmer Daves
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Dopo aver sceneggiato musicals e melodrammi per Borzage e Berkelly, Daves esordi' alla regia con un retorico film di guerra, Destination Tokyo (1943, sulla missione di un sommergibile nel porto della capitale), The Very Thought Of You (1944), a domestic comedy, e un ancor piu' retorico film sui reduci Pride of the Marines (1945, sull'ostinato isolamento di un soldato rimasto cieco).

Si rivelo' con un thriller noir, Dark Passage (1947):

Bogart, condannato ingiustamente all'ergastolo per l'omicidio della moglie, evade dal carcere e, braccato dalla polizia, si rifugia nell'appartamento di Bacall, una giovane studentessa che aveva seguito il suo processo e crede alla sua innocenza, e anche perche' suo padre era stato vittima di un'ingiustizia simile. Solo in casa, Bogart scopre che Bacall e` amica della donna che lo inchiodo' con la sua testimonianza. Bogart va a trovare un amico fidato e parla della maligna pettergola. L'amico non ha dubbi che lei agi` per vendetta, perche' era innamorata di Bogart ma non corrisposta. Un taxista lo riconosce e decide di aiutarlo presentandolo a un chirurgo plastico che e` disposto ad aiutare un criminale. (La cinepresa riprende soltanto gli altri, non inquadra mai l'evaso). Bogart si fa cosi` operare per cambiare i connotati. Ha un incubo durante l'operazione. Si risveglia con il capo fasciato, e il dottore gli intima di non provare a parlare. Per la prima la cinepresa lo riprende di fronte.
Bogart torna dall'amico ma lo trova morto. Non puo` parlare, ma sentiamo la voce nella sua testa. S'incammina barcollando e raggiunge l'appartamento di Bacall. Qualcuno segue tutte le sue mosse. Bacall ha appreso dai giornali dell'assassinio del suo amico. Bogart trascorre la convalescenza comunicando con carta e matita.
La maligna pettegola va a chiedere protezione proprio a Bacall, perche' teme che Bogart voglia vendicarsi di lei. Anche il corteggiatore di Bacall arriva e anche lui disprezza la maligna. Anche lui era coinvolto nella storia dell'omicidio, perche' era stato il suo ragazzo: la maligna, gelosa, lo fece pedinare perche' sospettava che lui avesse una tresca con la moglie di Bogart, ma lui scopri` il detective privato e lo pago` per pedinare invece lei e scopri` cosi` che Bogart la visito` di nascosto la notte dell'omicidio. Dietro l'omicidio si cela pertanto una torbida storia di tradimenti. Il corteggiatore di Bacall e` un uomo nobile e gentile, ma Bacall non lo ama e lo mette alla porta. Bogart era nascosto nella camera di fianco e ha ascoltato tutto. L'uomo che lo segue di nascosto e` appostato di sotto.
Bogart e` guarito: si libera della fasciatura e riprende a parlare. Deciso a scoprire chi ha ucciso lui e la propria moglie, Bogart saluta Bacall e comincia la caccia. Ma un poliziotto insospettito dal suo comportamento vuole vedere i suoi documenti, e Bogart deve fuggire: in tal modo diventa di nuovo un ricercato, anche con la faccia nuova. Ha appena preso alloggio in un hotel che il misterioso pedinatore si fa vivo, rivoltella alla mano: e` il ricattatore che lo ha pedinato sin dal primo giorno e vuole denaro per tacere. Bogart lo porta in un luogo isolato, lo disarma e lo costringe a parlare: prima di morire nella colluttazione, questi gli rivela che un'altra persona lo stava pedinando, e l'auto e' quella della maligna.
Bogart capisce che e' lei l'assassina e va a trovarla per smascherarla. Non riconoscendolo, lei lo lascia entrare. Poi presa dal panico, confessa tutto (di aver ucciso la moglie per eliminare una rivale, di aver ucciso l'amico per alienargli Bacall, di essere possessivamente, morbosamente pazza di lui), ma non solo rifiuta di firmare la confessione, gli ride in faccia perche' le prove sono contro di lui e tutti i testimoni sono morti. Nella sua folle estasi, pero', precipita dalla finestra: un'altra morte che la giustizia addebitera' a Bogart. Bogart riesce pero` a fuggire in Messico, dove Bacall lo raggiunge.
Daves ammucchia gli stereotipi del noir (la perfida erotomane, l'intrepida e fedele innamorata, l'eroe solitario, duro e orgoglioso benche' perdente in partenza contro il proprio fatale destino) in una trama improbabile sostenuta da una suspense grossolana. L'elemento originale del film e' la cinepresa soggettiva: per tutta la prima parte la cinepresa inquadra cio' che Bogart vede, e infatti non si vede mai il suo vero volto e anche poi la cinepresa mostra spesso cio' che l'attore vede.

Broken Arrow (1950) apre la serie dei suoi western con una storia non solo filo-pellerossa ma anche attenta al folklore dei pellerossa. La trama e' melodrammatica:

Stewart, avendo un tempo salvato la vita all'attuale capo indiano, conduce trattative di pace, che andranno in porto nonostante dei bianchi uccidano sua moglie, una pellerossa. Dopo gli inferiori Return of the Texan (1952), Never Let Me Go (1953) e Drum Beat (1954), altro melodramma con sacrificio per la pace di una principessa indiana, Jubal (1955) mette in scena un dramma psicologico ambientato in un ranch. Shep (Ernest Borgnine) is a good man who finds a man lying on the road. He takes him to his ranch, feeds him, gives him a bed and offers him a job. Jubal (Glenn Ford) is very reserved, and one of Shep's men, Pinky (Rod Steiger), does not trust him. Shep's wife, instead, likes him. Realizing that her attentions can be dangerous, and probably disliking unfaithful wives, Jubal is hostile to her. Pinky is jealous: he has been having an affair with Shep's wife for a while, but now she rejects him. Pinky is usually in charge while Shep is away, but Shep chooses Jubal as the foreman. His instinct tells him that he can trust Jubal. Needless to say, this only increases Pinky's hatred for the newcomer. Shep is a man with a heart of gold who doesn't realize that he has been cheated on and that he is basically throwing his wife into Jubal's arms. One day Pinky leads the men to scare away a caravan of religious people who stopped on Shep's land because some of them got sick. Jubal instead orders him to leave them alone. One of them, Reb (Charles Bronson), joins the men and becomes Jubal's trusted man. A girl, Naomi, is fascinated by Jubal. Shep's wife hears about it and is jealous. She visits Jubal at night to confess that he hates her marriage of convenience. Jubal is faithful to his boss to the point that she asks him whether he would be take her if Shep died. Jubal feels no sympathy for the woman, he simply despises her. Instead Jubal takes a romantic walk by the lake with Naomi. He tells her the heartbreaking story of his childhood, the first time ever he does so with anyone. She tells him that there is no hope for them because he is not a member of their community, but wants him to be the first man to kiss her. Shep's wife has not given up: she wants him, and she makes it very clear that she's not looking for a new husband, just a lover. Jubal rides away, disgusted. But Pinky tells Shep that Jubal is his wife's lover. The doubt of betrayal turns Shep mad. Shep rides home. He finds his wife asleep alone and feels reassured but then his wife wakes up and thinks (hopes) that it is Jubal. Shep confronts her and she, wishing to hurt him as much as possible, says that Jubal has indeed slept with her. For the first time she tells her husband how much she hates him. Shep grabs a gun and looks for Jubal, who is drinking at the saloon with Reb. Shep would kill Jubal if Reb didn't throw a gun at Jubal. Jubal kills Shep. The town folks, who loved Shep, heard (and believe) Shep's accusation and decide to organize a posse to lynch Jubal. Pinky brings the news to Shep's wife, guessing what really happened (that she incriminated Jubal) and blackmails her. She has lost one gentle tyrant to fall into the hands of a much worse one. She tries to escape but he finds her and rapes her. Reb brings Jubal, seriously wounded, to the religious community, hoping that they would hide him. Most of them, ungrateful, don't want to get involved. Only Naomi's family is willing to take the risk. The posse led by Pinky searches the whole area and eventually figures out that Jubal is hiding in one of the wagons. Jubal decides to take off in order to save the lives of the good people. When Pinky arrives with the posse, Reb tells him that Jubal is waiting for him at the ranch and offers to ride along with him. The whole posse rides towards the ranch, with Pinky predicting that they will find Sheb's wife murdered (maybe because he knows she's dead). Jubal instead finds her still alive, although dying. When the men arrive, she can still accuse the real killer. The men start circling around Pinky, while Jubal takes off with Reb and Naomi. The Last Wagon (1955) Un mezzo indiano, Windmark, che ha vissuto vent'anni con gli indiani, vuole vendicare la morte della moglie e dei due figlioletti, assassinati da quattro fratelli, e uno per uno uccide tutti i colpevoli meno l'ultimo, lo sceriffo, che lo arresta dopo una lunga caccia; si accodano ad una carovana, i cui membri, compreso il colonnello che la guida, prendono le difese del prigioniero contro la crudelta' del suo carceriere. Una ragazza, Jenny, e il suo fratellino sono i piu' premurosi. Il colonnello ha due figlie, una meticcia avuta da un'indiana, buona e generosa, e l'altra bianca, perfida, invidiosa e bigotta, avuta dalla moglie defunta. Quando il truce sceriffo prende a pugni un ragazzo inerme che gli ha offerto da fumare, il prigioniero riesce ad afferrare un'ascia e ad ucciderlo. Il colonnello decide di consegnarlo alla giustizia. Una notte i ragazzi vanno di nascosto a nuotare lasciando il prigioniero di guardia; quando tornano al campo, trovano i carri distrutti e gli altri massacrati. L'unico superstite e' il prigioniero, rimasto intrappolato sotto il carro al quale eralegato. Il ragazzo piu' anziano e la perfida sospettano che lui sia un complice degli indiani e vorrebbero ucciderlo, ma Jenny, convinta della sua innocenza e del fatto che soltanto lui li puo' salvare, lo libera. Nonostante l'ostilita' di quei due, il prigioniero prende il comando e organizza il ritorno; li guida verso la salvezza in un territorio ostile, pullulante di indiani e serpenti a sonagli, nonostante la continua diffidenza del ragazzo piu' anziano, e nel frattempo fa innamorare la bella Jenny. E' lui ad avvistare un plotone di indiani che li aspetta e a consigliare loro la startegia giusta per mettersi in salvo, nonostante in tal modo venga arrestato.
Al processo racconta la sua storia e il giudice lo condanna soltanto... a sposare Jenny.

3:10 To Yuma (1957) e' il capolavoro psicologico e di suspense di Daves. A stagecoach runs through the prairie. It is held up by armed men led by Ben, who intend to steal the gold. A cattleman, Dan, stumbles on the robbery while he and his two children are looking for their cattle, and witnesses the killing of the stagecoach's driver. Ben takes the horses of the cattleman and of the children, to keep them from alerting the marshall. The man wisely stays calm and avoids confrontation, even though his children expect him to act. He wants no trouble with the rest of the world: he only wants to take care of his family in peace. The gang rides to town and gets a drink at the saloon. It is a very small town in the middle of nowhere, whose families have been battered by a drought. Ben tells the pretty barmaid that the stagecoach has been held up. The girl wakes up the marshall, who puts together a rather pathetic posse. Ben's men take off in one direction, and the marshall's men take off in the other direction, while Ben stays behind to romance the girl, whom he has recognized as a singer from another town; and she lets him kiss her. When the marshall meets the cattleman and the stagecoach's owner, he learns that the bandits are the men he just met in town and that their leader is the famous Ben. One of his men noticed that Ben stayed behind at the saloon, but the marshall seemed reluctant (fearful) to go back and arrest him. Dan helps trap the gang leader, who is not shocked at all: he knows that his men can easily outgun the town and free him before the town can put him on a train. The marshall knows it too. He offers money to two volunteers who want to guard the dangerous prisoner till the train comes. Dan, the best shot in town, first refuses but then decides to accept because he needs the money for his farm. A drunkard also accepts, determined to redeem himself. The two tense volunteers and the smiling prisoner take the stagecoach as a disguise and hide at Dan's farm. Ben is not the ferocious barbarian that his reputation claims. He's more like a gentleman. Dan invites him to share their dinner, and he sits politely at the table and charms the lady. Overnight, the men ride to the town of the train station. They arrive at dawn: there isn't a soul around. Dan barricades himself with the prisoner in the only hotel, while the drunkard patrols outside and the stagecoach's owner sits in the hall of the hotel. Dan tells Ben that he is doing this only for the money. But Ben offers him a lot more money, and Dan refuses. In the street below, the funeral of the stagecoach driver is taking place. The brother of the dead man is furious that the boss of the dead man does not take part in the funeral. He insults him. The business man tells him why he could not leave the hotel. But this creates a problem instead of solving one: the brother, determined to get his revenge, breaks into Dan's room and tries to kill Ben. Dan has to save Ben's life.
It turns out that one of Ben's men has been sleeping in the hotel's hall, waiting to see if his boss was taken there. The shot tells him where the boss is, and he rides away happy. Dan and the stagecoach owner realize that it is just a matter of time before the entire gang shows up: the disguise has failed. Worse: the sheriff is out of town. And the mourning brother turns out to be a coward, ready to kill a handcuffed man but fearful of confronting an armed gang. Dan was already tense, but now he has reason to fear for his life. The only person who is quiet and relaxed is the prisoner. He sardonically comments that it can't be difficult to find enough volunteers in town willing to take Dan's side: in reality, he knows that very few men will want to risk their lives. The volunteers gathered by the stagecoach's owner are deployed around the hotel. But the truth is that Dan has only one major asset: Ben is his hostage. Time goes by, full of angst and suspense. Each move is charged with danger, tension, uncertainty. Ben toys with Dan's nerves. Everybody else senses death.
Ben's gang rides through the barren landscape of cactuses and enters the small poor town. Seeing so many bandits, the few volunteers abandon the stagecoach's owner, Dan and the drunkard to their destiny, while the bandits take position around town. The drunkard is killed (hanged in the saloon), while Dan kills the first bandit who tries to shoot at him from a roof. Dan tells Ben that he will kill him if his men shoot again, and Ben tells his men they can only shoot once (meaning kill Dan). All the inhabitants hide in their homes. They know that Dan has no chances against a gang. Even the stagecoach's owner decides to desert him. He is alone. There is only one carriage in the street: it is Dan's wife, who is coming to beg him to give up. But Dan just can't give up, especially now that a drunkard has been killed for upholding the law.
The clock strikes the hour: it is time to walk to the station. They only have a few minutes to cross town, but there are bandits everywhere waiting for a chance to kill Dan and free their boss. The train is arriving. Dan takes advantage of a cattle to cross the street, always using Ben as his shield. The bandits surround the train, ready to shoot Dan when he boards. The train is about to leave. Dan takes advantage of the cloud of steam and approaches one of the cars. The bandits are right in front of him. There is no way he can jump into the car without getting shot, unless Ben volunteers to jump with him. And Ben does just that: he basically saves Dan's life by jumping in front of him. He tells Dan he did it only to return the favor (Dan saved his life at the hotel), but maybe he did it also because he envies the honest life of a hard-working simple man with a loving wife; or maybe he did it for his wife, who is anxiously waiting for her man and waves happy at the train: Ben smiles too.
Cowboy (1957), based on Frank Harris's "My Reminiscences As a Cowboy" (1930), e' uno dei western piu' realisti di sempre: descrive la dura e amara vita dei cow-boys cosi' com'era, tratteggiando in particolare le figure di un apprendista e di un veterano. Frank (Jack Lemmon) is a clerk in a luxury hotel of a big city. He is secretely seeing the daughter of one of the rich guests (a Mexican aristocrat) and has just sent her a poem... that she never received. His boss orders him to move just these guests to another room because the whole floor is to be taken by an even richer customer, cattle baron Tom (Glenn Ford). Frank is happy to have an excuse to go upstairs and visit the girl, but his father has intercepted the poem and, besides being insulted that the hotel wants him to change room, he smashes Frank's hopes to marry the girl. The cattle baron walks into the hotel leading an army of cattlers just when Frank is saying goodbye to the Mexican girl. Frank seizes the first opportunity to meet the cattle baron and apply for a job as a cowboy. It has been the dream of his life. He has the romantic vision of the prairie. But Tom thinks he is an idiot, besides being a tenderfoot. While they chat, Tom is taking a bath in the tub and shooting at the cockroaches on the wall. That night Tom loses badly at cards and Frank rescues him with all his savings. Tom, drunk, accepts Frank as a partner.
The following day the cowboys are leaving and Frank shows up dressed like the tenderfoot that he is. Tom offers to pay him back, but Frank does not want money: he really wants to be a cowboy. Tom reluctantly has to take him along as a partner.
Frank is soon initiated to the life of the cowboy, which is hardly romantic at all. One night the cowboys play with a rattlesnake, that ends on someone's face and bits him on a vein. The man dies and the cowboy who started the joke simply proceeds to steal his boots, and the men are shocked by Frank's outrageous reaction not by the irresponsible and selfish actions. Tom has to stop along the way at the farm of the Mexican family, where Frank sees again his Maria and... her new husband. Frank is heartbroken. The cowboys are invited to a party at the farm, with cowboys on horses trying to snatch live kitchens from mounds of sand in which they have been buried. Then Maria's husband shows off his skills at taming bulls. Frank immediately volunteers to match the Mexican's courage, but Tom takes his place rather than lose a man. Later Frank realizes that the Mexicans are about to cut the throat of one of the cowboys, but the other cowboys go back to sleep as if nothing happened. Tom beats Frank until Frank accepts to forget about the whole incident (if they tried to save their man, the entire Mexican village would attack them). But Tom is getting tender towards the stubborn Frank. Frank, on the other hand, is getting tougher. Frank's rural journey is an initiation to real life. When Frank goes by himself on a mission to retrieve some cows, despite some Indians who are hanging out in the area, Tom is suddenly worried. And when the Indians attack Frank, Tom orders to use the herd to save his life, a highly unusual decision by such a cynical leader. This move does save the life of Frank, but Tom gets wounded, and Frank has turned into a cynical leader himself. He criticizes Tom's decision to waste cows to save a life (Frank's own life) and assumes command of the crew, using the same tough style that Tom used. He even decides that the cows lost in that incident are from Tom's herd, not his. Tom soon realizes that he created a monster. Tom's parallel journey was an initiation to a different kind of life, one in which feelings do matter.
On the way back the two finally find the right balance, as Tom is the only one to help out Frank. By the they reach the usual hotel, they are real partners. They bath together, and Frank shoots a cockroach on the wall.
They have both become humane sociopaths.

Badlanders (1958), che e` in pratica un remake in chiave western di Asphalt Jungle, e' un incrocio tra il gangster e il western.

Kings Go Forth (1958) e' un bellico melodrammatico che racconta le avventure di due soldati (Sinatra e Curtis) innamorati della stessa ragazza (Wood).

Hanging Tree (1959) racconta la storia di due uomini e una donna che si mettono in marcia in una zona selvaggia per cercare l'oro; la donna e' stata guarita dalla sua cecita' da un dottore che ora li aiuta economicamente. Quando pero' il filone viene trovato, i due uomini vorrebbero eliminare il dottore e la donna deve sacrificare tutto il suo oro per salvarlo.

A Summer Place (1960) e' un melodramma: due ex-amanti, ora felicemente sposati con prole, si ritrovano nel luogo in cui si amarono e, mentre il loro amore rinasce, si innamorano anche i loro figli, che alla fine ottengono il permesso di sposarsi.

Susan Slade (1961) is a boring and badly-acted melodrama.

A middle-aged man has accepted an offer by his company to leave the mining operation that he founded in Chile and retire to a house by the ocean with his own laboratory. He thinks he owes it to his wife and his daughter Susan. On the ship the naive Susan falls in love with a young man, Conn, the son of a wealthy family, who is bound for Alaska on a climbing adventure. The father's boss from the corporation shows them their new house, a gorgeous mansion. Later the same boss plays god in the opposite manner: he sends to jail a former manager, guilty of embezzling money from the company. His son Hoyt cries in vain that his father is innocent: his father hangs himself in his cell. Susan and the young man know each other because she keeps her horse in his stable. Everybody shuns him except her. They in fact become good friends: he is an aspiring writer and she encourages him. Susan checks the mail frequently but there are no letters from her love. She is getting more and more anxious. It turns out she is pregnant. Her mother tries to convince her that Conn was not truly in love with her, not knowing how serious the situation is. Then one day the phone call finally comes: Conn's father informs her that Conn died on the mountain. She tries to commit suicide but is saved by Hoyt. Susan finally confesses to her mother. Her mother comes up with a plan to save her reputation. Her father has just been offered a new job in Guatemala and was planning to turn it down, but it is now convenient to go abroad for one year and then return with a baby. They will tell everybody that it's the mother's baby, not Susan's. Upon their return Susan's father has a heart attack and dies. Welles, the son of her father's boss, whom she has known since she was a baby, is in love with her. Hoyt too has been waiting for her. One is very rich and the other one is a struggling writer. One is the son of the man who ruined the father of the other one. Both want to marry her, neither knows her secret. She tells Hoyt that she has chosen Welles (her mother's suggestion), but just then the baby has an accident and they rush to the hospital. Both Welles and Hoyt join them there. Susan cannot lie anymore and tells them that she is the mother, not the sister, of the baby. Welles backs off but Hoyt remains.

Spencer's Mountain (1963) racconta le traversie di un padrepovero che vuole mandare il figlio all'universita'.

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