Silvera, Frank


Silvera, Frank
(1914–1970)
   Frank Silvera, an actor who appeared in KILLER’S KISS and FEAR AND DESIRE, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He attended Northwestern Law School before turning to the stage. He mostly played villains in Hollywood movies in the 1950s and 1960s. Silvera appeared in Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata! (1952), opposite MARLON BRANDO, so working for the neophyte director STANLEY KUBRICK on Kubrick’s first two low-budget features was something of a comedown for him. In Fear and Desire (1953), Kubrick’s very first film, Silvera is Mac, one of four soldiers trapped in enemy territory in an unspecified war.
   “With the exception of Frank Silvera,” Kubrick told Jeremy Bernstein, “the actors were not very experienced, and I didn’t know anything about directing any actors. ” Silvera plays Mac as a tough brute of a soldier. When the group happens upon the enemy’s command post, Mac convinces Corly and Fletcher that they should attempt to assassinate the enemy general. Mac, who is an angry, primitive type, is determined that they should exterminate the general; as he explains to the others,“I’m thirty-four years old, and I’ve never done anything important. ”When the war is over, he continues, he will spend the rest of his life fixing radios and refrigerators. Hence he wants to do something significant for once in his life. Mac, comments NORMAN KAGAN, is a “burning, chaotic jumble of hatred and self-hatred. ” Mac raves,“You try every door, but the knobs come off in your hand. . . . It’s better to make your life all in one night!” Mac, along with Corby and Fletcher, approach the general’s headquarters, leaving Sidney (PAUL MAZURSKY), the fourth member of their little band, behind to guard a native girl whom they have captured. Mac shoots at the sentries guarding the general, in order to draw their fire away from Corby and Fletcher, who successfully rub the general out. Although they all get away, Mac himself is seriously wounded by the guards.
   Still, he manages to get aboard the raft that Sidney has commandeered, and they float down the river together. Sidney is dazed and confused as a result of his attempted rape of the native girl, whom he killed when she tried to escape from him. Mac and Sidney are soon joined by Corby and Fletcher, and they escape on the raft back to their own lines. “The ideas which we wanted to put across were good,” Kubrick commented to ALEXANDER WALKER; “but we didn’t have the experience to embody them dramatically. ” Nevertheless, a great deal of the thought-provoking content of the movie does come across, especially in Mac’s insistence on lending some meaning to his empty life by doing something courageous while he still has a chance. Silvera agreed to appear as the villain in Kubrick’s second opus, Killer’s Kiss (1955), provided that he received top billing since, once again, he was the only truly experienced actor in the cast; but he, like the rest of the cast and crew, worked for modest salaries. (Kubrick saved money by shooting his bleak FILM NOIR on location in lower Manhattan. As with Fear and Desire, Kubrick handled most of the production chores himself: lighting, camera work, sound recording. )
   Kubrick was shooting a scene in a Greenwich Village loft one chilly night, and—already a perfectionist-he took a long time to light the set. The disgruntled technical crew and the actors began to gripe about the cold, the long hours, and the low pay. Silvera complained in particular that he had passed up the chance to do an off-Broadway play to stay with this movie. Kubrick listened patiently and then announced that they would knock off for the rest of the night. After all, he really could not afford to alienate these people who were willing to work for him in such stringent conditions.
   Killer’s Kiss is the story of Davy Gordon (JAMIE SMITH), a third-rate boxer, who falls for Gloria (IRENE KANE), his neighbor in a rundown apartment building. When Vince Rapallo (Frank Silvera), Gloria’s boss, picks her up to drive her to Pleasureland, the dance hall where she works as a hostess,Vince eyes Davy coming out of the building next to Gloria, on the way to his next fight. Vince’s possessiveness is immediately apparent when he inquires how long Gloria has known Davy. “He just lives in the building,” Gloria replies in a bored tone of voice.
   There follows a series of shots of Davy in his dressing room getting ready for the fight, intercut with shots of Gloria dancing with a succession of anonymous partners in Pleasureland to canned music from an old phonograph. In his office,Vince turns on his television set to watch Davy’s bout and invites Gloria in on the pretext of seeing the fight. By the device of Gloria and Vince looking at Davy’s match on TV, Kubrick neatly joins the two parallel lines of action for a moment. The TV fight announcer describes Davy’s career as one long promise without fulfillment. The announcer’s remarks prove to be prophetic, as Davy is summarily flattened by his opponent. As Davy lies on the mat and the announcer gives an obituary for Davy’s career in the ring, the scene returns to Vince’s office, where he is busy seducing Gloria. It almost seems as if the neurotically jealous Vince feels that he has won Gloria from Davy by having had her watch the hapless prizefighter lose the bout.
   The disconsolate Davy goes home to bed. He is shortly awakened by Gloria’s screams, as Vince breaks into her apartment and attempts to assault her. But Vince flees when Davy bursts into Gloria’s apartment to save her. The next morning, Gloria tells Davy of her past history, which is tinged with Freudian guilt. Davy tells Gloria of his plans to return to the family farm in Seattle in the wake of his failed boxing career; she agrees to go with him, so that they can start a fresh life together.
   Davy accordingly asks Albert, his manager, to pay him for his last fight immediately, so that he can make the trip to Seattle with Gloria. Albert agrees to meet him at 8:15 P. M. in front of Pleasureland, where Gloria must go to tell Vince that she has quit her job and to pick up her last paycheck. This situation sets up the intricate and ironic plot twists that lead to the climax of the picture. While Davy awaits Albert in front of the dance hall, two drunken Shriners snatch his scarf and he pursues them down the street. In Vince’s office Gloria once more turns down his offer to stay on as his mistress. Angered when Gloria sneers at his pathetic efforts to keep her,Vince throws her out without paying her salary. Unbeknownst to Gloria, Vince sets in motion a plan to dispose of Davy, his rival for Gloria, and to kidnap Gloria in the bargain. But in the very next scene Vince’s plans go awry.
   For this scene Kubrick places his camera at the top of the stairs that lead up to Pleasureland from the street. Below, Albert can be seen through the double glass doors as he stands next to Gloria. Both of them, unknown to each other, are waiting for Davy, who has not yet returned with his scarf. One of Vince’s henchmen goes down the stairs and through the door and motions Gloria to come upstairs with him, while his partner waits on the landing above. As the first man accompanies Gloria back up the stairs, toward the camera (and past a sign that warns, “Watch Your Step”), the other hood proceeds down the staircase, away from the camera, and takes up a position outside the building next to Albert. When Davy returns with his scarf, there is no one in the doorway in front of Pleasureland. Vince’s boys, who think Albert is Davy, have backed him into an alley where they bash the luckless fight manager’s head in. Meanwhile, Gloria and Davy finally meet in the doorway at Pleasureland and then go back to the tenement to pack. But when Davy goes to Gloria’s room to meet her after he has moved out of his own room, he finds that she and all her belongings are already gone. This shock is followed by another, as he overhears the building superintendent being informed by the police that Davy is wanted for the murder of his manager.
   Davy tracks down Vince and forces him at gunpoint to take him to the warehouse loft where Gloria is being held. At the warehouse, Vince’s men overpower Davy, but he escapes by jumping through a window to the street below. Davy runs down streets and through alleys, up a fire escape and across rooftops in his efforts to elude Vince and the hoods. At one point, Kubrick stations his camera on a flat rooftop and watches Davy jog from the farthest edge of the roof toward the camera, thereby giving the viewer the feel of Davy’s exhausting flight without ever moving the camera. Finally Davy takes refuge in a warehouse storeroom filled with department store mannequins. Vince finds him, nonetheless, and the two men face each other for what both of them know is going to be a struggle to the death. Vince comes at Davy with a fire ax and Davy defends himself with a pike-tipped window pole; Davy may have been a failure in the boxing ring, but he is younger and stronger than Vince and manages to finish off his opponent. Davy’s killing of Vince is, of course, ruled self-defense subsequently. Kubrick held Killer’s Kiss in only slightly more esteem than he did Fear and Desire, regarding them both as amateur efforts. Yet Killer’s Kiss, which he made outside the Hollywood studio system, nevertheless was distributed by United Artists, a major company, although it mostly played as a second feature. Silvera continued acting in movies, including some Westerns like Hombre (1967) with Paul Newman, and his last film, Valdez Is Coming! (1971) with Burt Lancaster. After completing the latter movie, his untimely death occurred when he was accidentally electrocuted by a faulty home appliance.
   References
   ■ Bernstein, Jeremy, “Profile: Stanley Kubrick,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 21+;
   ■ Kagan, Norman, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick, rev. ed. (New York: Continuum, 1989);
   ■ Walter, Alexander, Stanley Kubrick, Director (New York: Norton, 1999).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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