At the fourth annual Noir City festival in San Francisco, Jonathan Marlow cornered actor Farley Granger to discuss his fabled and fascinating career.
Granger had the good fortune to work with a number of great directors over the years -- Luchino Visconti
, Alfred Hitchcock
, Anthony Mann
, Henri Verneuil
-- and his performances were always memorable, contributing greatly to the best qualities of every movie in which he appeared. If the following conversation ignites your interest, he and his good friend Robert Calhoun have written a book, Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway
, which expands greatly on the stories that you'll find here. This much anticipated autobiography finally hits the shelves in February.
Given your fascination with classical music, how did you meet Aaron Copland while shooting your first feature?
: I didn't know who he was. This man came up to me on the set and he said, "I've seen the rushes. They're very good and you're very good in them." And I said, "Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. Are you working on the film?" When he said, "Yes," I said, "Well, what do you do?" He said, "I'm writing a few tunes for the film." And I said, "Oh that's wonderful." A few days later he sent me El Salon Mexico
and I realized that he wasn't just the songwriter that I thought he was. Through the years, we became very good friends. I loved him a lot. I thought he was terrific.
What was your experience working on North Star [Granger's first film, released in 1943]? You didn't entirely know what you were in for, I suppose?
: It was amazing. I really enjoyed it very much. There were so many important actors in the film: Walter Huston
, Erich von Stroheim
. I enjoyed it a lot.
Did you have a personal background in music at all?
But you were cast in Rope as a pianist. At what point was the music of [Francis] Poulenc selected for the film? Before you joined the cast?
Did you learn to play the piece?
: I played part of it.
How did you get on with John Dall?
: Oh, fine. Fine.
Was it challenging to deal with a film that was shot in these roughly twenty-minute segments?
: Definitely. The camera was enormous. I'd never seen such a great big thing in my life. A lot of times, we had to do scenes over because things went wrong. We would rehearse for a day or two and then shoot it. Sometimes the color wasn't right. It would change as we would go from one room to another?
: Tell him why, Far! The hard thing about it was that they put the scenery on wheels so that he [Hitchcock
] could shoot in continuous takes.
: He shot a reel at a time. As they were moving the scenery in a walking or a tracking shot, all the lighting guys were also moving lights with them. That's why the color would change.
Was it distracting to have all of these extra people on the set?
: It was, sure. But we got used to it. I think we had to do four scenes again because the color was just wrong.
And the color temperature is changing throughout the film. For instance, by the end of Rope, it is evening outside?
: Yes. There was an enormous set of New York behind the window that went on forever.
Were there a lot of rehearsals before you started shooting?
: Oh, yes.
Did you approach your work on this film differently than a film made in a more traditional manner? Is shooting a film the same as acting on the stage?
: Not exactly the same. You've got to use other techniques. Film is weighed down much more than the theater, as far as the acting is concerned. You have to be louder in the theater, for instance.
Do you bring something different when you act for television?
: I bring the same thing that I do when I work in theater. I played a part once on a two-hour television show where I ran about twenty-four changes. That's kind of insane because you're running from one set to another?
..during live television?
There was a period when the studios were doing condensed one-hour television versions of films that were already well known. You starred in The Heiress and Laura, the latter of which I think is really fantastic. You had a good director on that. I think John Moxey is quite underrated.
: Really? What has he done?
He directed Circus of Fear, for instance; a great Hammer film with Christopher Lee. But I digress. I wanted to talk a bit about your work with Cathy O'Donnell in They Live By Night, which you made the same year as Rope, and then later with Side Street. What was your experience working with Nicholas Ray?
: I loved working with him. I thought that he was a terrific, terrific director. He knew what he was doing. If he wanted to talk to you about something, he'd put his arm around you and walk you away from the set a bit. It was very private, between the two of you, rather than saying, "Why don't you go up there?" Yelling it, like a lot of them did.
It was an early experience for you. Your career was just beginning when you made that film. You were working with actors, outside Ms. O'Donnell, that were pretty well established. They already had relatively long careers. Was it ever intimidating for you?
You were fearless!
: They couldn't have been nicer.
: You said at one point in They Live By Night
that you fell?
: Yes, I hurt myself.
: ?and Howard Da Silva
picked you up and carried you back.
: Carried me to the hospital.
: He was a very caring guy, very supportive.
: They were terrific.
You were fortunate that a number of these films are considered to be iconic of the "noir" period. Side Street, in particular, was one Anthony Mann's darker films. It unfortunately doesn't get seen all that often but it's fantastic. Was it good to work again with Cathy O'Donnell, since you obviously worked well together?
: It was. I enjoyed it.
And director Anthony Mann?
When Eddie [Muller] was putting this program together, I was hoping that he would also screen Edge of Doom, which I still haven't seen?
: I hated it. It just doesn't work and I knew it wouldn't because the book was stupid and terrible. Mrs. Goldwyn decided to do it?
: The Catholic Mrs. Goldwyn [Frances Howard].
: It just didn't make sense and it was awful. I went to the premier in New York and the next day I left for Europe. It's a dumb movie. It doesn't reveal anything about the characters. The big thing is that I take the crucifix [spoiler] and hit the priest with it and kill him. That's the gimmick. That's it! The end.