Snowglobe City

The first two times I landed in New York it was snowing, knee-deep, powdery stuff. The city has always seemed to belong in snowfall to me ever since. Maybe that’s what I liked so much about the world of Marion Gering’s 24 HOURS, a Paramount melo from 1931. New York in Gering’s vision is a purely art deco construction, from the streets and ‘scrapers to the night clubs and Clive Brook’s chiseled chin.

Better yet, the title sequence is a floating camera prowl through the concrete canyons with credits embossed on building facades, a senselessly elaborate, elegant and hyper-unreal anticipation of Fincher’s PANIC ROOM titles, where the lettering floats blimp-like down Fifth Avenue, casting shadows on the storefronts. And Gering returns obsessively to his toytown, breaking up the action to show the passage of time via an obviously fake art deco tower clock, looming over the characters like Fate.

Asides from the reliably stiff, unappealing Brook, we get Kay Francis in a smothering array of gowns, and Miriam Hopkins — I want to say “at her most shrill,” but that’s not really true, she had seven or eight higher storeys of mania up there. But she’s certainly at her most, um, provincial. “I wouldn’t give ya change for a pow-stage stay-ump!” she squawks at “shivering hophead” hubby Regis Toomey.

Movie roves around with the languid feeling common at pre-code Paramount, despite its urban setting and gangster sub-plot. Perhaps as a result, while Warners movies compress a week’s worth of plot into 65 minutes, this one feels like it could do with more running time. When Hopkins is murdered (which would’ve happened twenty minutes into a Warners movie, if only to stop her singing), Brooks is accused, and then suddenly he’s cleared, reunited with his swanky wife, and off the liquor, and the movie is over. The moral seems to be pro-marriage and anti dabbling with showgirls, which can only lead to homicide. I resented the way Hopkins character, a decent woman despite the grating qualities, was essentially used as a twelve-step program for the slumming millionaire.

Visually the film is often very impressive, though, with a fluid moving camera which gets excited about odd things, and even throws in a zoom lens for one shot (Paramount seems to have had sole custody of this hi-tech device: Mamoulian got to use it in LOVE ME TONIGHT). The moody nocturnal snowscapes of the city give way to bright daylight and a feeling of location work conjured by surprising perspectives ~

Gering seems to have done his best work in pre-codes, where he helmed several Sylvia Sidneys and an early Cary Grant or two, before his movie career fizzled. But he revisited the world of the naughty in later years, with a mondo Japan effort entitled VIOLATED PARADISE (1963). As the missing link between pre-code and mondo, Gering bears further investigation…

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26 Responses to “Snowglobe City”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    Erle C. Kenton was King of the Zoom at Paramount (i.e. FROM HELL TO HEAVEN (33), which has an extended sequence at a racetrack consisting of zoom shots; and SEARCH FOR BEAUTY (34), with a female character’s binoculars zooming in on a man’s groin).

  2. David Boxwell Says:

    There is a crazy-sublime moment in Gering’s THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP (32) when Tallulah Bankhead shimmies up a rope from a submerged submarine, wearing a pearl necklace and a little black dress.

  3. Just watched Search For Beauty! It also has zooms on leering lechers, and a couple of other interesting/grotesque touches. One of the most lubricious pre-codes ever, with Buster Crabbe, Ida Lupino and Toby Wing providing pulchritude of various types. I’ll have to write something on it.

  4. The Devil and the Deep is the other Gering I’m itching to see. Him and Rowland Brown are my latest pre-code discoveries, but Kenton keeps revealing interesting angles too.

  5. David Boxwell Says:

    D & D is now available here in the States on a TCM/Universal (“Exclusive”) Cary Grant 3-disc set.

    I am impressed with Kenton’s version of the Island of Dr. Moreau (32), THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (assuming he was the sole director). Kenton was Laughton’s first American director, and he lets CL ham it up hugely in both films.

  6. David Boxwell Says:

    Correcting myself: IoLS not Laughton’s first film at Paramount (D & D was).

  7. Island of Lost Souls is one of the greatest of all horror films. Karl Struss was DP. Laughton runs happily amok, as does Bela Lugosi. None of the subsequent versions captuure what this first one does.

  8. I am utterly facinated by Laughton’s off-centre jazz beard. What perverse impulse led him to this facial asymmetry? It’s a tonsorial masterpiece.

    Kenton has a love of rhythmic movements, including a repeated thrusting track-in on the mutinous beats-men, and echoed in some of his musical work in Search for Beauty — he seems like the progenitor of Sam Raimi at times.

    His version of Wells is the only one to get the perversity of the concept. I rather enjoy the Frankenheimer-Stanley abomination, for Brando’s surreal sabotage and the feeling that you’re watching a movie made of outtakes, but it doesn’t deliver on the story’s implications, or Stanley’s demented take on it. What, no House of Pain?

  9. Laughton is nothing if not a compendium of perverse impulses. I love his get-up in this film, which includes riding boots and a small whip. There’s a great scene of him lolling on the operating table of his lab with his legs coquettishly crossed.

  10. You call that whip small? I’ve led such a sheltered existence.

    Something about Laughton seems extraordinarily modern. Perhaps its his approach to the character as casual (that lolling you note), and also the fact that he approaches the disturbing in an indirect manner — rather than the sepulchral delivery of a Karloff or Lugosi, he finds way to unsettle that have to do with the man’s attitude to what he does and what’s around him.

    This movie strikes me as the most underrated and underseen of the thirties horrors — for years I struggled to see any copy at all, and the one that came out on VHS proved almost inaudible. But it’s a really great film.

  11. Arthur Penn R.I.P.

    Mickey One was always my favorite — more than Bonnie & Clyde (which is scarcely chopped liver as you well know.)

    In Mickey One he gave us The Lenny Bruce Story as Lenny himself might have told it. Lord knows Lenny would have loved a shiksa God like Warren to play him.

    Plus there’s Hurd Hatfield in his most important performance next to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the always lovely Alexandra Stewart. PLUS Lorenz Hart’s brother Teddy.

    And as you can see from this credit sequence the film is a true expression of Waren in all his Warrenness. Far more that Shampoo in many ways.

    The only thing left to say: “Have you heard anything from The Lord?”

  12. Still haven’t watched my copy of Mickey One. Now might be the time. Penn got a standing ovation in Edinburgh a couple years back, after a very entertaining Q&A.

    His best story was “We had rigged Warren and Faye up with all the explosives and blood. It was going to take a day to do. One take. And for some reason — I wish I’d kept the piece of film — Warren did not react when the explosives went off. He was just standing there, smiling slightly, as a piece of his head blew off, and behind him, Faye Dunaway was dying and dying in the most convincing way…”

  13. Christopher Says:

    Pre code HoPkInS mAdNeSs…

  14. David Boxwell Says:

    Hatfield was also gloriously weird in Penn’s THE LEFT-HANDED GUN (58), as the “stalker” of Paul Newman’s cute lil’ J.D. Billy the Kid.

    MICKEY ONE’s pure velour cinematography (by Ghislain Cloquet) is a thing of beauty on the just-issued on-demand DVD (Sony Classics) here in the States.

  15. David Boxwell Says:

    Miriam Hopkins – Arthur Penn link: THE CHASE (66). Even Penn couldn’t fully tame her scenery-chewing predilections.

  16. Well, that’s a kind of overheated movie, seems like they’d be at home there.

    My next Hurd viewing will either be Mickey One or Diary of a Chambermaid, that’s for sure.

  17. Cairns, re the subject of your original post, the only thing that would make it sound more wonderful is if you’d invented the whole thing.

    David E. – is that clip (SEARCH FOR BEAUTY) for real? Looks like deleted footage from Guy Maddin’s SISSY BOY SLAP PARTY.

  18. Apologies for changing the subject but… I read your piece on Little Me and I know a festival that would be interested in screening it, if they could track down a print. (It’s Cinevent, who incidentally will be showing the silent version of another Viertel film you wrote about, The Passing of the Third Floor Back.) Any idea who has it or where your copy may have come from? Feel free to email or however you prefer…

  19. Jaime, the clip is real! Search for Beauty has naked men, and women in transparent costumes, and lots of sleazy dialogue!

    Mike, Little Friend came from Australian television, I think, although I don’t know which channel. Probably the Australian Broadcasting Corporation or whatever they’re called. Hope a print can be traced (maybe the British Film Archive?), more people should see it.

  20. Oops, Little Friend. I have a mental block calling it Little Me, which is something else entirely! Anyway, thanks for the info.

  21. [...] was smoothly directed by Marion Gering, of DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA and 24 HOURS fame. In place of Capra, I might actually suggest everybody spends the next ten years watching Marion [...]

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