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January 23, 2009

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Ed Howard

Great stuff, Glenn. Brennan is truly amazing in Barbary Coast, far and away the most fun thing about the movie, precisely because he seems so thoroughly unmoored from everything else that's going on. And yet he also drives the plot in interesting ways, showing up at key places to nudge the characters in one direction or another, or to impart some new information. Mostly, though, he's just hilarious. He won the Academy Award for Come and Get It, and he's very good there too, but for my money he's even better here.

Brian

Great piece (as always). I love Hawks anecdotes, and the one you open with is wonderful (and tracks so well with what we can see in films like THE BIG SLEEP, too).

Just wondering-- and I hope this isn't weird, but-- I was thinking about how this Hawks piece and the one below it about your experiences working for Soderbergh speak to each other. The anecdote about "teeth or no teeth?" reminds me of your two questions posed to Soderbergh while filming, and I just wondered if you were thinking about your own acting moment when writing this up (or if you think it unconsciously affected your choice of film/topic).

Glenn Kenny

@Brian—No, not weird; it's an interesting question. But the correspondences are pretty much coincidental, I think. I interviewed the actor and director Laszlo Szabo a few weeks back, and he mentioned Hawks a couple of times, first with the "no story, just characters" anecdote, and then with a very moving story of Godard and Karina and him in the '60s, going to a Paris cinema to "see Stumpy" in "Rio Bravo." So when Ed announced the Hawks Blogathon, "Stumpy" was on my mind, and "Barbary Coast," featuring an Ur-Stumpy, if you will, seemed a perfect fit.

But I do see what you mean. The Sundance screening did take me by surprise, but it didn't speak to my choice of topic. Although as a late bloomer to speaking roles, I can't say I don't feel at least a slight affinity with Mr. Brennan...!

Campaspe

Awesome piece about an actor who frequently fails to charm me. I have absolutely no idea why Hawks cast Brennan in Come and Get It, other than his personal liking for Brennan. He might as well have cast Eugene Pallette. It's been a long while since I saw Barbary Coast but as I remember Brennan fit right in with that milieu, at least.

Small disagreement, though--for me, the definitive Brennan performance, for which I forgive him a lot, including Come and Get It, is Red River.

"You was wrong, Mr. Dunson."

Glenn Kenny

I was going to say that having Pallette and Edward Arnold on the same film set could well have caused California to tumble into the sea (like the song says), but then I remembered that they both were in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and didn't seem to cause any structural damage.

That said, Hawks knew that Brennan wasn't "right" for the part—the guy's supposed to be "the strongest man in the North woods"—and he did cast him largely because he wanted him around. And THAT said, what Brennan's performance in "Come and Get It," stock Swede accent aside, demonstrates is his rarely-tapped ability to underplay, which he also deploys in Lang's "Hangmen Also Die."

And yes, he is magnificent in "Red River."

S.F. Hunger

My favorite Brennan role is, alas, not in a Hawks film, but in Wellman's "The Westerner." I believe he won one of his three Oscars for that, and it was well-deserved. It's the most potent commingling of his grizzled humor and sad-old-man pathos, and he actually gets roughly equal screen time to star Gary Cooper.

C L Dawson

I purchased Old Rivers in the very early sixties, im 62 now and still enjoy it as much as i did then.

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