Archive for Allan Dwan

The Sunday Intertitle: Three Doug Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2014 by dcairns

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Watching three Douglas Fairbanks movies in fairly quick succession (though not, qua the title of this piece, in one night) they tend to blur together.

I just realized the problem — we actually watched four! So the title is even more inaccurate. Never mind. Moving on.

I want to dispose of REACHING FOR THE MOON quickly because it’s a really terrible film, actually causing Fiona to say “I’m getting sick of Doug’s boundless optimism.” He’s a dreamer who works in a button factory (pen-pushing, rather than more rewarding work like punching holes in the buttons: button-pressing?) who is obsessed with the power of VISUALISATION. He visualizes becoming the King of Vulgaria (first appearance of that pun? Certainly predates CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG by decades) and then we get a long dream sequence which does contain a few stunts but it’s already too late. The first half of the film is incredibly joyless, though New York street scenes of the teens do have a certain pleasure of their own.

We got into this marathon because of THE MATRIMANIAC which we watched ages ago, still perhaps my favourite. It’s short, has a good situation and daring stunts and very, very funny intertitles. Fiona loved it and so I thought it was time to try her on more. Of course THE BLACK PIRATE’s screening in Glasgow was catalyst.

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The first one we ran was maybe the best — THE HABIT OF HAPPINESS is short and sweet, though a little politically confused. Doug is scion of a wealthy family who, with his typical enthusiasm, is trying to redeem tramps by inviting them into his home. We first meet him aslep between two of the fellows. There’s a scrambled plot about stock-exchange shenanigans and a terrific fight at the end. It’s pretty simple which may be why I can’t remember much of what goes on. Oh, I remember embarrassing scenes of Doug trying to make tramps laugh. Kinda patronizing. But then writers Allan Dwan (who also directed) and Shannon Fife come up with a really nice meta-intertitle as Doug tells a funny story ~

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WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLL BY is much more complicated and inventive but maybe a touch protracted. It’s front-loaded with insane genius. The mad scientist living next door to Doug has decided to drive him to insanity and suicide for experimental purposes. All for the betterment of humanity, I suppose. Various stooges assist him, including Doug’s manservant, who encourages him to eat badly before bed, giving him indigestion and nightmares. Cue shots of onion and pie, played by actors in costume, trampolining Satanically in a large, spongy set representing the Fairbanks gut. And then a nightmare sequence featuring slomo, a two-storey interior set built in a tumbrel so Doug can climb the walls, and various other ahead-of-their-time tricks, including Bull Montana as a Fusellian embodied nightmare.

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This experimentalism ceases for the rest of the film, which devolves into a kind of disturbing sitcom as Doug’s job prospects and love life are thwarted by the wicked scientist. Then Doug finally has his brainstorm, and the movie visualizes Reason toppled from her throne by Despair and Worry and Jealousy. What follows looks suspiciously like some kind of neurological gang bang, until Sense of Humor reasserts himself and kicks the bad guys out. Very odd.

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The movie should really end with Doug performing a few heroic feats, armed with his rekindled optimism, but Doug, along with director Victor Fleming and the scenarists, can’t resist staging an epic flood so Doug can rescue the heroine. It looks forward to STEAMBOAT BILL JNR, actually, even down to the minister floating by on his adrift church in time to marry the happy couple.

THE NUT gets a little overcomplicated too, but has some delightful stuff. A shame Doug’s pal Theodore Reed didn’t direct more. Doug is a mad inventor in this one — which I wrote about previously — though the film tends to forget this slightly as plot complications pile up. There’s a very funny bit where he tries to win back his sweetheart by letting her promote her socially improving schemes for redeeming slum children to a roomful of influential men, but because Doug is unable to round up any actual influential men, he mechanizes some waxwork dummies instead. Reminiscent of Sid Grauman’s practical jokes, actually.

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The thing to do when exhaustion sets in with Doug’s modern-dress comedies is to switch to his period movies, so maybe I’ll finally get around to his THREE MUSKETEERS and IRON MASK?

Meanwhile: Blogneys!

Buy: Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer (His Picture in the Papers / The Mystery of the Leaping Fish / Flirting With Fate / The Matrimaniac / Wild and Woolly / Reaching for the Moon / When the Clouds Roll By / The Mollycoddle / The Mark of Zorro / The Nut)

The Sunday Intertitle: Gloria’s Technicolor

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 10, 2013 by dcairns

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STAGE STRUCK screens on Friday at the Hippodrome , Bo’ness, as part of their Silent Film Festival. It’s a charming slow-burn romantic comedy starring Gloria Swanson, displaying the knockabout skills honed wasted at Keystone, and which surface in her work unexpectedly from time to time (pratfalls in SADIE THOMPSON, creepy Chaplin imitation in SUNSET BLVD), and directed by Allan Dwan.

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Gloria plays a downtrodden waitress mooning after short-order cook Lawrence Gray, who’s obsessed with the glamorous actresses of the local showboats (we’re in small-town Ohio). She’s very knowingly having fun with her clothes-horse persona: a Technicolor dream sequence shows her in a variety of preposterous gowns, but during the rest of the movie her sartorial options are either practically limited or else disastrous experiments. Gloria’s beauty is unconventional enough for her to play just-plain-funny-looking without a hint of condescension.

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My copy of this is a bootleg produced by some entrepreneurial bandit who evidently smuggled a camcorder into a viewing room at some archive and filmed the VHS timecoded copy as it played on a TV screen — I’m picturing his camera tucked inside a grimy raincoat, lurching noticeably from time to time as he shifts furtively in his swivel chair. For an altogether better viewing experience, head to Bo’ness, where you can see it projected, on a big screen, with a live audience, live musical accompaniment, and the elegant surroundings of Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema. Should be quite an occasion!

The Sunday Intertitle: Douglas Fairbanks Hearts Miklos Jancso

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2011 by dcairns

Doug, the wonder boy of the silent screen, likes to unwind by meditating upon the long tracking shots of a ’60s Hungarian arthouse epic.

WILD AND WOOLLY (1917), directed by John Emerson and written by Anita Loos, is in many ways a companion piece to the previous year’s MANHATTAN MADNESS (Allan Dwan) — both are posited on east-west contrasts of Wild West buckaroo hi-jinks versus New York metropolitan shenangans, and both involve Doug being caught up in elaborate charades staged for his benefit, making each a prototype of David Fincher’s THE GAME.

In W&W, Doug is a cowboy enthusiast and businessman sent way out west, where the townsfolk try to impress him by putting on bar-room brawls, gunfights, a train robbery and an Indian uprising. This stuff has the delirious, cliche-wallowing strangeness of WESTWORLD. Things get out of hand when the Indians revolt for real, having figured out that an entire town firing blanks to impress a visitor will be a pushover. Now it’s up to the soft Easterner to save the day. Lots of clambering over rooftops, jumping on horses, etc, and a nice moment where Doug gains access to the ammo in his upstairs hotel room by climbing onto a ceiling beam in the downstairs bar and kicking his way through the floor of his room.

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