A Handbag?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by dcairns

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Valerie Hobson, unlucky in love — at 17, she married Henry Frankenstein, and at 38 she married John Profumo and became a classic Tory wife, standing fragrantly by her man as he became embroiled in a sex scandal that brought the government down. In between, she played the wife of James Robertson Justice in VOICE OF MERRILL, which we watched in a moment of weakness. (Network UK provide an invaluable service to cinephilia by releasing all these duff movies and TV shows. Some are actually good.)

JRJ brings the only entertainment to be had in VOM, playing an irascible playwright with a heart condition, a sort of Waldo Lydecker acid wit specialist. But the sight of his heart pills clues us in to the fact that he’s likely to fade out before the movie does, and we’re left with the insipid leads and some workaday investigating officers. Valerie may be fragrant and decorous, but she’s never exactly interesting unless the script works hard to make her so — even playing an adulteress, she’s a little dull.

What I wanted to talk about is the opening murder scene. Director John Gilling, who made a name for himself later at Hammer but had been around for ages, writing for Tod Slaughter and Arthur Lucan (and Bela Lugosi), begins and ends the sequence on two rather curious notes. First, we follow a pair of shoes, stalking the streets of nocturnal London — a time-honoured cliché that’s unlikely to raise eyebrows in itself. Yet it goes on so long it becomes hilarious, starting to resemble some avant-garde experiment in audience endurance. Next, a sultry secretary is shot and in the affray a vase of flowers is toppled. Gilling pans from the tabletop with the spreading puddle of water, to where the water is now drip-dripping to the floor. And ends the scene with a closeup of the water dripping into the victim’s handbag.

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What’s this about? I know purses make excellent sexual symbols, qua MARNIE, but this is just bizarre. If it’s intended to be sexual, it’s WAY too explicit. Then there’s a discomfort about seeing the leather splashed with non-drinking water. The trope of the mobile camera, scanning a crime scene like an investigator, is another time-honoured cliché, but tradition has it that we must end on an element redolent with significance. There’s no clue to the handbag. The water doesn’t make it any more important.

Had Gilling begun the scene AFTER the murder, the handbag might have made an excellent opener. I recall Eisenstein writing in The Short Fiction Scenario that a murder scene might begin with a shot of a shoe on the floor. The audience asks “Hello! Why is there a shoe on the floor?” and they are intrigued, ensnared. Well, they wouldn’t ask that in our flat, where Fiona, the Imelda Marcos of Leith, has covered the entire floor with shoes. Rather than stepping over them, it is easier to step into them, and cross the room slipping into a different pump with every step. No wonder I couldn’t find my bank card when I dropped it.

“Hello! Why is water dripping into a handbag?” we would have asked, a useful question which the scene could have answered by panning UP to the spilled vase, and then onto the corpse. Instead of asking this, we ask a lot of useless questions with no answers, most of them concerning Gilling’s grasp of visual storytelling.

Of course, if we want to give Gilling credit for being a second Bunuel, the wet handbag might have a defense. Think of the mucky stick in GRAN CASINO. “The effect was marvelous,” wrote Don Luis.

 

Roll Credits

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2014 by dcairns

lester credits from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The last of the deleted scenes from PICTUREWISE 3, my Richard Lester piece. Ending with an unmade film seemed too similar to the first installment (available on the Blu-ray of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT).

Images are from Bob Willoughby’s The Platinum Years, which Lester recommended highly as about the best set of movie stills he’d seen. I picked the book up in Toronto and scanned the relevant pages on PETULIA.

I somehow got the impression from Lester’s impassioned description of Joseph Conrad’s VICTORY — which lays emphasis on aspects that are lightly brushed over in the screenplay he commissioned from Pinter — that the book has a real personal significance for him. Without speculating on what that is (the dollarbook Freud approach), I thought illustrating it with images of Lester would be a suitably oblique approach, having rejected the idea of using lots of stills of book jackets, illustrations etc…

Richard-Lester-behind-camera

UK: A Hard Day’s Night: 50th Anniversary Restoration [Blu-ray]

US: A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD)

PICTUREWISE III

Playboy Criminologist

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2014 by dcairns

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As soon as I saw a news headline in THE GAY FALCON describing George Sanders’ character as a “playboy criminologist” I knew that was the job for me. Though I’m not sure — is 46 too old to start in that line of work?

And yes, the film is called THE GAY FALCON and George does say “This seems to be my night for using back doors.” Get your sniggering over with.

Indecisiveness: George just finished playing THE SAINT in a popular RKO series and handed the job over to Hugh Sinclair, and then they create a near-identical series for him about The Falcon, with Wendy Barrie, who was his romantic interest in three Saint movies, playing different characters. Here she seems set to be just a guest star, but the Falcon’s fiancee, Nina Vale, mysteriously dropped out of movies after one appearance so Barrie returned to replace her with not a word of explanation.

This movie sets up Arthur Shields as a dumb Irish cop stereotype, foil to the Falcon, but he’s replaced for two follow-ups by James Gleason (knot together three strands of sinew then stretch to breaking point), who played similar stooges to crime-solvers Barbara Stanwyck (THE MAD MISS MANTON), Edna May Oliver (PENGUIN POOL MURDER and sequels) and William Powell (THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD and TAKE ONE FALSE STEP)  Peggy Ann Garner and pals (HOME, SWEET HOMICIDE) and probably others. If he wasn’t available, Sam Levene would do it and no one would know.

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Dibble by lamplight.

Allen Jenkins becomes the main element of consistency across the Sanders entries in the series, appearing as hapless sidekick “Goldie” Locke each time, but the writers only decide to make him a spectacular malaprop in the later films (“Me and my neck prefer to remain in magneto.”)

The writers are Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, fresh from the Saint films, though for THE FALCON TAKES OVER they adapt Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely and change Marlowe into the Falcon.

And apparently Dr. Terwilliker himself, Hans Conried, made such a hit as a police sketch artist in the first film (he’s hilariously bored and aloof) that they brought him back as a hotel desk clerk in the second film and a shady playboy in the third.

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Turhan Bey, an oiled baby with a moustache, plays a jewel thief in the first film and a psychic in the third.

George’s manservant changes from an old Chinese guy to an old English guy, vanishes for an entire film, and then comes back as Keye Luke. And, as in a dream, no one else seems to notice.

In the fourth film, THE FALCON ‘S BROTHER, George meets his screen brother, Tom, played by his real brother, Tom, who the takes over the series for nine more films while George seeks his pleasures elsewhere. Conway is like dilute Sanders: listening to them together is uncanny, they’re so similar, but you notice the edge and the droll lassitude in George, the source of his Georgeness. Tom is theoretically handsome, but he’s like a walking argument against the importance of handsomeness — George, with his big fat head, like an Arcimboldo sausage-face, is a consistent pleasure and wonder to look at, whereas the eye slips off Tom, can find no purchase on his smooth frontage. Tom was nicer, they say, and his blandness fitted him perfectly for Val Lewton films, which thrived on colourless leads, low-key as the lighting.

This FALCON episode is like the INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS of the series — not only is George rendered comatose for most of the action while his brother goes investigating (nobody worries, it’s just like “He’ll be fine as soon as he COMES OUT OF HIS COMA.”), but Jenkins and Gleason have been replaced by cheaper, crapper actors playng characters with different names but the exact same attributes and histories and roles.

A guy comes home and finds that everything in his apartment has been stolen and replaced with identical replicas…

Even the writers have been replaced: Root & Fenton wrote delightful material: repetitive, of course, but that’s part of the charm. Their replacements create blotchy carbon copy dialogue that sounds like a distorted echo of the previous films, piped through the lips of wan replicants.

…He asks his flatmate, “What happened here?” …

And still, this is nothing compared to Warner Bros Perry Mason series, where not only the co-stars but the genre (straight mystery or broad, drunken comedy) changed from show to show, with Allen Jenkins playing different characters and Mason’s girl Friday, Della Street being played by a beauty parade of contract starlets — just to confuse things, Ann Dvorak appeared twice, so the series was not even consistent in its inconsistency.

…His flatmate says, “Who are you?”

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Anyhow, the films are slick, fun and forgettable, just like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY only half as long and about ten thousand times cheaper and quieter. Also, nobody wears frocks made from caterpillar tracks, which is either a relief or a disappointment depending on your taste.

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