42nd Street and Times Square Theaters: THE GLASS WALL (1953)

5 May

I bought the DVD set, “Bad Girls of Film Noir, Volume 1,” because it contained THE GLASS WALL and I wanted to share screen grabs of some of the movie’s scenes shot on 42nd Street. In watching the film again, I was disappointed at how few shots of the street it contained and had second thoughts about doing an entry on it. But then I looked more closely at some of the other Times Square shots in the film and noticed a couple of things that merited further research. And I then noticed a scene shot inside one of the Deuce’s landmarks. So I chose to go forward. The Times Square scenes were shot in the spring of 1952 and all the film titles on the marquees were released that season.

The film is about a man named Peter Kaban, a  refugee or “DP” (Dispaced Person) from Hungary who had spent time in a concentration camp during the war and a DP camp afterward and has stowed away on a ship to New York in the hope of entering the U.S. and starting a new life. He is caught and questioned by a sympathetic immigration officer who asks if he knows anyone in New York who can sponsor him. Yes, he responds, he knew an American soldier during the war, a man named Tom whose life he saved and who told him he was a jazz musician who played clubs in Times Square. That’s all Peter knows. When told it’s not enough to keep him from being sent back to Hungary, Peter jumps off the ship and heads to Times Square to search for Tom. (Kaban is played by Vittorio Gassman, an Italian actor making his first American film.)

First, I want to showcase the shots we do see of 42nd Street early in the film (at the 13-minute mark).

When Peter first exits the subway at the 42nd Street/Times Square stop, he is seen on location with the lights of the Deuce behind him.

That’s BATTLE OF APACHE PASS on the marquee of the New Amsterdam behind him.

We then see some shots of Gassman photographed against a projected backdrop of the lineup of marquees along 42nd Street.

The marquee of the Victory curiously trumpets the double bill being showcased at the adjacent theater, the Lyric: BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON, a cavalry western starring Ray Milland and Helena Carter, and THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS, a melodrama starring Joan Crawford and Dennis Morgan. (Was the Victory not running films at this time?) I’ve seen both films and I’ve also read the Ernest Haycox novel on which BUGLES was based.

As Gassman heads out into Times Square, in the direction of the Rialto on 7th Avenue, the camera pans with him as he moves through unwitting passersby on the street…

…one of whom looks into the camera (foreshadowing shots from SHAKEDOWN, 1988, which I showcased here on April 19).

(Shades of Weegee!)

The shots then shift to Times Square.

One marquee is showing RED MOUNTAIN, a very good Civil War western about Colonel Quantrill, with the formidable starring quartet of Alan Ladd, Lizabeth Scott (star of two other films in the “Bad Girls of Film Noir” set), Arthur Kennedy and John Ireland (very effective as Quantrill).

The theater is the Globe and I have to confess I’m not sure where the Globe was in Times Square. My research into it found a couple of different theaters in Times Square that took the name of the Globe years later, neither of which was this theater. Now, as to why the marquee is trumpeting RED MOUNTAIN as a “thriller” and not a western, I can’t say.

This fraction of a marquee, showing what is evidently THE MARRYING KIND, was the Victoria.

In looking over the screen grabs and compiling a list of visible film titles in the shots, I noticed a couple of marquees offering film titles I’d never heard of.  Here, the Loew’s State, glimpsed from a distance in the first screen grab at the top of this entry, is offering TOMORROW IS TOO LATE, starring Italian actors Pier Angeli and Vittorio De Sica.

I checked up on this film and learned that it’s an Italian film from 1950 that was released in the U.S. in Italian with English subtitles. The fact that a foreign film was playing the Loew’s State, one of Times Square’s biggest theaters and located on Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets, means it had to have quite a reputation at the time and made inroads into the American market that few foreign films by lesser-known directors had made. (This film’s director was Léonide Moguy.) Here are the first two paragraphs of Bosley Crowther’s review of TOMORROW IS TOO LATE from The New York Times, which offer some clues as to why the film is not better known today:

“A tender but oddly old-fashioned and at times even downright naive little drama exhorting enlightenment in the teaching of sex to children is contained in a mild Italian picture, “Tomorrow Is Too Late,” which had a surprising big-time opening at Loew’s State on Saturday. The slight boldness of the subject and the magnetic presence in the cast of Pier Angeli and Vittorio De Sica, two top-notch Italian “names,” are the only conspicuous reasons for its presence in such a large house.

For the fact is that this little picture, co-produced and directed by Leonide Moguy and played in the Italian language with English subtitles affixed, has none of the biting realism of the more popular post-war Italian films, none of the sharp and ruthless candor that has made those pictures ring so smashingly true. Rather, it poses a problem that was burning even before World War I, and it does so in a style of emotional drama such as was popular in that time.”

Later in the film, we see a marquee announcing a film called THE SOLDIER SAINT.

This turns out to be a Spanish film from 1949 and its full title is LOYOLA, THE SOLDIER SAINT. The marquee does indeed include LOYOLA in the title, but in tinier letters. I looked up The New York Times review of this film, signed by H.H.T. (Howard Thompson) and it tells us that the film was released in an English-dubbed edition:

“Sincerity of intention is a fine thing in a religious film biography and “Loyola, the Soldier Saint,” at the Holiday, has it in commendable abundance. But unlike a French counterpart called “Monsieur Vincent,” which did become glowingly alive, this Spanish attempt to dramatize the life of the Jesuit Order’s founder remains far better suited to sectarian group audiences than to commercial theatres. It is a stiff, slow and unimaginative screen package, with genuine but ponderous spiritual overtones, holding little pertinence and, for that matter, only a minimum of conviction.

Simplex Religious Classics, the distributor, has endeavored to present this offering on an earthly and earthy plane by dubbing in English dialogue (ineptly, as it happens) and bracketing the narrative in a simple, forthright lecture by Fordham University’s Father Alfred J. Barrett, who also aided behind the camera.”

I’ve always been curious about where and when English-dubbing became a common practice and I find it interesting that two foreign films were playing Times Square at the same time, one with subtitles and one dubbed. The theater playing SOLDIER SAINT is identified in the review as the Holiday, which turns out to be a relatively small theater at 47th Street and Broadway that I knew first as the Forum and then as the Movieland, as seen in a shot I took in 1987:

The giveaway is the presence of “Playland” seen next door in the GLASS WALL shot, but simply labeled “Arcade” in this picture. Playland was there well into the 1970s and possibly the 1980s.

(And Burger King replaced the Horn and Hardart here.)

Another piece of cultural history is revealed in yet another shot from the film. Look at the marquee on the left in this shot:

Yep, that’s Audrey Hepburn in the stage production of “Gigi,” a role later played on film by Leslie Caron. This was the year before Hepburn’s big screen success in ROMAN HOLIDAY, a role for which she won the Best Actress Academy Award. “Gigi” was a play on Broadway but was turned into a musical for Hollywood. According to IMDB, Hepburn was offered the film role but turned it down.

Later in the film, still on the run, Peter seeks refuge in a 42nd Street landmark.

I had a pretty good idea what this place was and it was confirmed for me by the sign seen behind the revelers in this shot:

Yes, this is the famed Hubert’s Museum, “Home of the Trained Flea Circus,” a penny arcade with assorted attractions that stood on the street for decades. I remember visiting it myself in the late 1960s. (According to one website, it was in existence from 1925 to 1969.) There was even a short documentary film about the place that I saw when I worked at the New York Public Library’s film collection in the 1980s. (By the time I visited Hubert’s, though, the denizens of the place looked nothing like the people in this scene.)

As a film, THE GLASS WALL could have tried to forge a penetrating drama about the problems of displaced persons in the postwar era and could have tracked Peter Kaban’s fate as he finds his contact, Tom, and then negotiates the legal system to find a way to be allowed to stay in the country. That’s the film I would have liked to see. Instead, in the hands of B-movie screenwriter-turned-director Maxwell Shane, the film is satisfied with being a routine chase melodrama, with Peter, a wanted man with his photo on the front page of the Daily News, making contrived connections with down-and-outers who are sympathetic to his plight and endeavor to help him, even as their actions delay his efforts to find Tom, who’s pretty visible, as it turns out.

(Although it’s doubtful that such an incident would have made the front page of the Daily News at a time when the Korean War was raging and the Cold War was heating up, the newspaper headline does serve a dramatic purpose throughout the film.)

Gloria Grahame plays the first of his helpers, a petty thief named Maggie…

Robin Raymond plays Tanya, a stripper, also of Hungarian descent, who takes him home.

One of the most dramatic scenes in the film–and possibly the most honest–involves Tanya’s fight with her hoodlum brother (Joe Turkel) over whether Peter should be allowed to hole up with them.

It all culminates in a chase that ends at the new United Nations building, the “Glass Wall” of the title, where Peter enters a room labeled “Commission on Human Rights” and gives a brief exhortation in front of an empty room, including the line, “As long as there is one displaced person without home, there won’t be peace!”

This is believed to be the only feature film to get permission to shoot inside the U.N. building until THE INTERPRETER in 2005, 52 years later.

Regarding writer-director Maxwell Shane, I should point out that I happen to like a lot of his movies, including the low-budget noir mystery, FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1947), based on Cornell Woolrich and starring a 20-years-before-Star Trek DeForest Kelley, and its 1956 remake, NIGHTMARE, starring Kevin McCarthy and Edward G. Robinson and filmed on location in New Orleans. It’s just that when he finally tackles a weighty subject requiring a little more thought and dramatic heft than usual, he gives us a great Italian actor walking (and running) dazedly around Manhattan for 80 minutes. I wanted more.

Still, despite the film’s dramatic weaknesses, it remains a valuable record of New York in 1952, especially as a document of Times Square and areas of Manhattan where poor and working people lived and struggled within shouting distance of the theater district.

For the record, here’s a link to my IMDB review of the aforementioned BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044456/reviews

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4 Responses to “42nd Street and Times Square Theaters: THE GLASS WALL (1953)”

  1. Robert Regan May 9, 2012 at 12:26 PM #

    Another good column, Brian. As I always say, film is a time machine, in more than one way.

  2. Michael Shepley June 21, 2012 at 9:28 AM #

    Brian, this is fascinating and a valuable addition to NYC scholarship as well as cinema. Thank you!

  3. Hi, I was directed here by a member of our film forum Silverscreenoasis.com where I’d devoted a thread to Vittorio Gassman, who was a great actor and left many great movies behind both in Italy and in the US. His US films aren’t as well known as the Italian ones and I didn’t know what to expect when I watched The Glass Wall, what I found was a fast moving picture with two great performances by the lead and a love story to New York that was a bonus. I love the location work in the movie, I’m so glad you’ve taken the time to break down the film into recogniseable chunks for film fans. New York looked beautiful on the film, it’s somewhere I’ve never been but I can’t imagine that it would ever be more beautiful than when this movie captured it. Thank you for taking time to leave this post, I found it very interesting and informative.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Times Square Theaters: Then and Now | Brian Camp's Film and Anime Blog - April 27, 2015

    […] There once was a movie palace on that site, the Loew’s State, dating back to 1921, which was turned into a twin-plex sometime in the late 1960s. Here’s how it looked in the THE GLASS WALL (1953), which I wrote about here on May 5, 2012: […]

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