Monday, April 5, 2010

The Preminger Look

Nicol Williamson and Iman in The Human Factor (1979)

Gary Cooper in The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)

As Billy Wilder characters have a distinctive look that they give, that quick glance at the wallpaper that when combined with a bemused sigh makes a sort of wordless "That's life for ya," so Otto Preminger's men have a look.

Preminger's men -- these guys, like James Stewart or Nicol Williamson or David Niven or Gary Cooper or Frank Sinatra, who wear their graying hair in a way that reveals their foreheads and their widow's peaks and have the sort of manly faces that don't look right with beards but could handle a mustache -- represent a wide variety of background and behaviors, united by a shared lack of one quality: boyishness. Not to say that they're old and infirm, but they are never youthful. They act their age. Cary Grant, for one, could've never been in an Otto Preminger movie.

The look these men of a certain age give is a fixed stare, the eyes half open. Their hands are down on the table, or maybe fiddling with something. Sometimes a tumbler is in the right hand. They realize they're fucked. They're in check; the moment you catch that look in their eyes you know they're going to try their damnedest to not get to mate.

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