The Sunday Intertitle: Bokononism and the phallic power of Paul Henreid

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A lovely thought from the start of RED GARTERS, begun by Mitchell Leisen, who was fired and replaced by George Marshall, who brings a heaviness to the proceedings that’s quite counter-productive. Stylised sets require the right blend of stylisation and reality from the performances, and as striking as the film looks, it doesn’t quite get there.

But I was reminded of it when we watched THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, prepared by John Huston but executed by Bryan Forbes. Ironically, a few years later Forbes in turn would be removed from the ocean-bound suspense drama JUGGERNAUT and replaced by Richard Lester, who made a wee classic of it. CHAILLOT begins with a title echoing RED GARTERS’ invocation of the Bokononist comforting lie ~

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MADWOMAN stars Katherine Hepburn who doesn’t seem mad at all — she lacks the air of vulnerability to embody the script’s sentimental idea of a “holy innocent” type of insanity. And the film’s politics is slightly sappy and hippyish too. Huston claimed he quite because producer Ely Landau wanted the film to say the “the young people are going to hell” whereas Jean Giraudoux’s source play was an attack on the faceless moneymen who rule the world. Huston, as so often is the case, was clearly lying his ass off, because after his departure Landau produced a film about the evil moneymen — directed by Forbes who was, I believe, a fairly conservative sort of chap.

But what a cast — if Hepburn is a bit miscast, Danny Kaye is terrific (straight acting stops him being cutesy) and the bad guys, embodied by Yul Brynner (never better; relishing the chance to play a really extreme character), Charles Boyer, Paul Henried, and even John Gavin, are hugely entertaining. Add in Sybill Thorndyke, Giullietta Masina and Margaret Leighton, plus Donald Pleasence, and you have a guarantee of at least some kind of interest, even if the filmmaking never quite arrives at the kind of consistency Forbes was capable of (Why two cinematographers?). I didn’t see this as the disaster some have called it, just as an intriguing oddity.

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Good bit with Henried as the  military-industrial complex, displaying his many erect missiles.

And then I saw SIREN OF BAGDAD, a truly appalling Sam Katzman Arabian Nights travesty directed by a young and desperate Richard Quine, and once again Henried’s virility is the source of humour ~

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Inadequate dirk? Try a little magic, and ~

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Schwing!

Contrasted with Hans Conried’s lack of rigidity in the shaft ~

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It’s all downhill from here, apart from some odd comedy when Conried is transformed into a glamorous blonde (uncredited, but I think it’s Vivian Mason) who is hilarious even without Conried’s goofy lilt dubbed on. The titular Siren is Patricia Medina, whom we like, but it’d take a greater magician than either Henried or Quine to save this mess.

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7 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Bokononism and the phallic power of Paul Henreid”

  1. Katherine Hepburn WAS Mad — but not in the way Giraudoux wrote.
    Forbes may have been “Conservative” but The Stepford Wives is one of the most radical films ever made.

  2. Maybe we have to credit Ira Levin with the satire there — it’s all in the concept. William Goldman felt Forbes betrayed the idea by casting his wife, an English rose rather than a Barbie Doll, but Forbes was always going to cast Nanette in everything.

  3. For years, Nanette was the face of Fairy Liquid washing-up liquid in the UK, bringing a similar glassy perfection to the role.

  4. DBenson Says:

    On SIREN OF BAGDAD, I thought some recognition was due for the pretty blonde who channeled Hans Conried during a dance number. Not exactly “All of Me,” but a nice bit.

    My favorite Arabian Nights mess is SON OF SINBAD, which I first assumed employed the girlfriend of every executive on the lot. Later I read it was Howard Hughes kissing off all the girls he promised to get into the movies.

  5. That girl’s terrific! If only she’d won starring roles in comedies.

    Yes, I’m crazy about Son of Sinbad. Here’s one of my limericks on the subject: http://limoday.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/rko-oakie-okay.html

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