One wet Saturday afternoon in the early seventies, when rain had disappointed the author and his three children of the Wimbledon finals, TV offered as a substitute The Last Voyage. Initial enthusiasm could not have been lower. And yet within fifteen minutes the assembly were chewing furniture in anxiety, quite as concentrated as we were to be next day by Stan Smith and Nastase.
Stone’s best movies are devoid of thematic interest; they are unashamed manipulations of tension. And on that basis, everything from The Steel Trap to The Last Voyage is totally compelling. Stone underlined the authenticity of his films by shooting on location whenever possible, by exposing actors and crew to real dangers, and by buying old trains, boats, and planes to blow' up or sink for finales. In fact, this effort is peripheral to the ruthless exclusion of all but plot from his films: the lip-smacking, traditional cross-cutting of his wife-editor, Virginia; a vivid eye for cliffhanging imagery e.g., an attempted rescue (in The Last Voyage) by Robert Stack of his daughter from a shattered cabin.
Invariably, he liked to present “ordinary " people with a sudden, shattering emergency that involves a race against time. Thus Julie has Doris Day piloting a plane for the first time in her life, and in Cry Terror James Mason is forced to serve die interests of a gang comprising Rod Steiger, Neville Brand, and Angie Dickinson. The comparison with Hitchcock is instructive. For, despite Hitchcock’s reputation for suspense, the Stone films are often technically purer. Ilow'ever, they are infinitely inferior because they are interested in that technique alone. The lesson by implication is that, whatever his claims, Hitch is concerned with much more than the mechanics of excitement.
Stone joined Universal in 1918 and he learned his craft, not surprisingly, on serials at Paramount. He formed Andrew Stone Productions in 1943, and it is to be emphasized that his early films were musicals, Stormy Weather being one of the first “Negro’’ films and offering Lena Home with the title song. That earlier taste revived in Song of Norway and The Great Waltz. The explanation of such a contrast in material is simply that Stone is not an artist and possibly that Virginia was the brains behind the cliffhangers (they separated, it seems, between Song of Norway and The Great Waltz). But that still leaves the engaging comedv of The Password Is Courage as an aside from so much urgency, and a film that blithely uses English villages as occupied Germany and encourages flagrant German stereotvpes.
Stone invented “disaster“ pictures before the world w'as complacent. Andrew Sarris has the last word: “One sobering deduction: If the Stones had made On the Beach, none of us would be around now to review it
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Born July 16, 1902
Died June 9, 1999