Kampf Klassic

KAMPF UM ROM is a rather sad spectacle in some ways, being the penultimate completed film(s) — it’s a two-parter like DIE NIBELUNGEN — of Robert Siodmak. It’s produced by Artur Brauner, who had invited Fritz Lang back to Germany to remake THE INDIAN TOMB and resurrect the shade of Mabuse in THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR MABUSE, before embarking on a series of enjoyably cheesy Mabuse remakes and sequels without Lang, and making a lurid remake of DIE NIBELUNGEN with director Harald Reinl. Semi-retired and in uncertain health, the great Siodmak was somehow induced to lend his name and talents to a giant Euro-pudding epic about the fall of Rome, filled to bursting with difficult multinational stars: Orson Welles, Laurence Harvey, uh, Michael Dunn…

And Honor Blackman. I take some indecent glee in being the first human to post nude photographs of Pussy Galore on the internet. But I hasten to add that from all I know of HB, she’s not going to be ashamed — she’s going to think, “Damn, I look pretty good!” Some actor friends of mine have worked with Miss Blackman fairly recently, and reported that she’s still got it (and that’s IT, in the Clara Bow sense).

What this movie really needs is Maria Montez, but Honor does the honours as best she can. I can’t judge the film too clearly on the basis of a pan-and-scan copy in German without subtitles (and yet the trailer is in widescreen — damn you, UFA Home Video!) but it’s fun to see how Welles’s “ironic pauses” still work when dubbed into another tongue by another actor, and the sets and costume design are fabulously absurd. I might try and write an overview of the different crowns Welles wore in his career as a “king player” — the thorny square he dons in MACBETH is a ludicrous high-point, but the giant’s arm-band squeezed around his skull in our topmost image is also to be cherished.

Shooting appears to have been a painful slog for the ailing director, and when an interviewer visiting the set asked him that standard journalistic question, “What made you accept this project?” the Great Man replied, “That’s a question I ask myself every morning.”

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29 Responses to “Kampf Klassic”

  1. James Naremore pointed out in his book The Magic World of Orson Welles that Welles as King MacBeth unmistakably resembles the Statue of Liberty. Although I find the film a really well made serious take on the play(if inferior to the other Welles-Shakespeare collaborations), the slow march when a sullen MacBeth prostatrates on his throne wearing that crown and taking a swig from his gourd had me laughing in splits, it’s bonafide unintentional camp. Or is it unintentional? With Welles you can’t tell.

    Poor Siodmak. Should have gotten out the game in true Douglas Sirk fashion, with the biggest hit in Universal at that time(to be superseded only by another John Gavin black-and-white film made a year later).

  2. Welles does indeed go for complicated and conflicted responses, where laughter can occur at moments which ought to be inappropriate. It’s probably the reason his film work never attained popularity in America, where all kinds of stylistic excess were tolerable as long as the intended effect was obvious.

    I’ve still to see much of Siodmak’s later work, but Nights When the Devil Came is a little masterpiece, and several of his European projects made post-Hollywood are at least respectable.

  3. What we need is a Siodmak Year!

    Can’t think of anything more esoteric.

  4. david wingrove Says:

    I’m with David E on that one. Siodmak is a big name, but so much of his work is relatively unknown. Plus, any director who could make not one but two movies about identical twin sisters (COBRA WOMAN and THE DARK MIRROR) is definitely worth commemorating!

  5. Maybe 2010 should be the Year of the Orson, including his acting work, his fictional portrayals along with the films he directed.

  6. Tom Farrell Says:

    Thanks for the pictures of Honor, David. It was also good to see again that nervous clip from Orson’s unseen film, which was similar to the editing on “F For Fake.”

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    A topless Honor also appears in a back issue of a long running fanzine devoted to Hammer horror. LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS. Also, I remember the MFB comment about Reinl’s epic being filmed in the Yougoslavia of the Winnetou films. “One thinks that whenever Kriemhild finds herself in a tight spot that Old Shatterhand and Winnetou will suddenly appear and ride to her rescue.

  8. F For Fake is far and away my favorite Welles film.

  9. Tom Farrell Says:

    Nick Ray liked “F For Fake” a lot even though he wanted to strangle Orson for making disparaging comments about him. Really your favorite Welles film, David?

  10. I worked with Honor B a few years back myself and she’s a very striking woman still. She shared some memories of the recording session for Kinky Boots (“We just turned up and read what was put in front of us” is my general recollection, and was a lot of fun to work with, though she managed to make herself slightly unpopular with the crew, with mildly scatalogical results that I will share with you over a pint sometime, David.

  11. Good heavens! “Mild scatology” sounds like a BBFC warning label.

    I love F for Fake but I’d be divided between Chimes at Midnight and Touch of Evil as favourites. And probably a few others, depending what day you asked me.

    What did Welles say against Ray, Tom?

    No theme for 2010, but maybe I’ll do a themed week once a month. I certainly have enough obscure Siodmak’s to fill seven posts.

    The Yugoslavian overpopulation of films reminds me of Andre DeToth’s trouble making Play Dirty in Almeria, when his WWII soldiers were likely to be interrupted by the arrival of Red Indians filming Shalako just over the dunes.

  12. Yes, really.

    Welles said something derisively offhand about “Cahiers” critics declaring him (Welles) as one of the key American filmmakers along with Nicholas Ray — pronouncing the name as if it were unbelievabky obscure and unimportant — like “Sonny Tufts?”

    “It’s always that second name that gets you,” Welles said.

  13. Tom Farrell Says:

    Welles also claimed to have saved Ray’s “King of Kings” from incoherence by writing and reading the narration to the film. Welles also probably resented Ray for remaining close friends with his old nemesis named John Houseman.

  14. Ah, that could be.

    I thought Ray Bradbury wrote the KoK narration? Welles certainly delivers it brilliantly, but there’s little danger of incoherence with such a familiar story.

    I shall be watching the movie, in the right ratio at last, in time for Easter.

  15. Welles could be a great sourpuss, couldn’t he? Still a great man. Interesting that the only American film-maker he claimed to admire after his time was Stanley Kubrick although he claimed to not have seen Barry Lyndon because he was waiting for a cut that was less than two hours. This from a guy whose movies were forever forshortened.

    My favourite of his is Chimes at Midnight followed by The Tragedy of Othello – The Moor of Venice, The Magnificent Ambersons, F For Fake and Touch of Evil.

  16. Tony Williams Says:

    I remember a recent performance by Honor in NEW TRICKS where she played a thinly disguised version of Fannie Craddock.

  17. My favourite Welles would be Chimes at Midnight, Othello, Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil.

    Speaking of favourites, does anyone have a favourite Rohmer?

  18. I have to agree with the brilliant suggestion of a Siodmak year! I think out of the Welles films either Magnificent Ambersons or F For Fake are my favourites at the moment – I’ve cooled a little on Citizen Kane on a recent rewatching a few months ago, so maybe I have to spend some time apart from it to appreciate it better when I return!

    La Collectioneuse is my favourite Rohmer so far, though I don’t know what that says about me! (and I still have to see many, many of his films to make a more confident pronouncement of my fave!)

  19. I’ve seen so little Rohmer it doesn’t make much sense to speak of favourites (better ask me for my favourite Sax Rohmer), but Die Marquise von O impressed me hugely.

    Impossible to choose a fave Siodmak, of course. There’s nothing in it between The Killers and Criss Cross, and Uncle Harry and Phantom Lady fascinate likewise.

  20. Cobra Woman!

  21. david wingrove Says:

    Yes, COBRA WOMAN!! Anyone who doesn’t love that film should be drummed out of the cinema for excessive and gratuitous good taste!

  22. My favourite Rohmer is the first film of his that I saw – Le Rayon Vert with the incomparable Marie Riviere. Amazing film. Then I love L’Anglaise et le Duc which for me is one of the masterpieces of the last ten years, as is Triple Agent, haven’t seen his latest, supposedly his last! I haven’t yet seen his more famous films like The Aviator’s Wife or La Collectioneuse. Ma Nuit chez Maud is an amazing film as well.

    Perceval le Gallois which was a real experiment and risk for Rohmer flopped but it’s a real sensual feast. Rohmer insisted on an artificial studio atmosphere because he felt medieval castles and forests were too modernized and transformed to truly take audiences into the past. So he made it from the ground up. It’s faithful to Chretien de Troyes and the medieval way of storytelling(down to the music) and amazingly it’s funnier than the Monty Python film for being so faithful and exact. His documentary on Louis Lumiere where Jean Renoir and Henri Langlois talk about the Lumiere films how they weren’t what people assume as amateur, simple work anyone could do, is also fine and obviously central to Rohmer’s own aesthetic.

  23. For me Criss Cross is the better film because the storyline is less arch than The Killers and more grounded in the tensions and emotions of the characters. I plan to deal with that later on. Christmas Holiday is well…Christmas Holiday and it’s a deeply moving film.

  24. Absolutely. I like both the alternating bleakness and humour of The Killers and the stark, unrelieved grimness of Criss Cross, especially that deadly final shot.

    Cobra Woman is really in a class of its own. If only Kampf um Rom had that kind of lunacy.

  25. La Collectionneuse is marvelous. Among its many pleasures is one of the finest performances ever given by a film critic — Eugene Archer of the New York Times. It also contains a walk-on by (of all people) Donald Cammell.

  26. Christopher Says:

    Son of Dracula and The Killers on a double bill

  27. Cobra Woman and The Dark Mirror! And maybe I’d double The Killers with Looking for his Murderer, a Billy Wilder-scripted comedy about a suicidal man who hires a hitman… maybe the first version of that old chestnut?

  28. La Collectionneuse is excellent. I also have a soft spot for Rohmer’s Contes des quatre saisons, especially Conte d’été (A Tale of Summer) and Conte d’hiver (A Winter’s Tale)

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