Farrow wasn't by any means a great director but he was a very
interesting man and he made some very interesting movies. A devoted
Catholic and a serious student of Catholicism — he wrote a book about
the history of the Popes — he was also known as a mean son-of-a-bitch
on the set who liked to bully his actors and crew. After shooting
wrapped on California (above), star Barbara Stanwyck demanded that he make a public apology to everyone who worked on the production.
On the other hand, she gives a terrific performance in California,
way better than the mediocre script deserves, and the film is filled
with surprising passages, notably a number of extremely long and
complicated scenes played out in single takes with extensive camera
moves. None of these, however, is framed or choreographed
dynamically, so they don't have the excitement of the long takes found
in the films of Welles or Renoir.
California doesn't have a
coherent tone in any respect. It has odd, grandiose montages with
opera-like chorales playing under them, and conventional Western
musical interludes in which characters sing improbably. The
gritty, sexy frontier hustler created by Stanwyck seems to be from
Farrow didn't seem to have a good feel for genre or for script. Plunder Of the Sun (above), filmed entirely, and very evocatively, on location in Mexico has one of the most stylish and promising film noir
openings ever concocted, but the story just dribbles away, turns into a
conventional treasure-quest adventure. Again, a superb central
performance — this time by Glenn Ford, tense with understated despair
— is wasted.
Still, there's usually something in a John Farrow movie worth paying
close attention to — some flight of inspiration that redeems the
clunkiest programmer. He had a kind of ambition, a kind of
vision, but it seems to have come to him in fits and starts.
Maybe the frustration of that was the source of his on-set rages.