Archive for Ava Gardner

Bathtime for Babyface

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 6, 2010 by dcairns

Mickey Rooney bathes like this every single day of his life.

For more interesting things you didn’t want to know about the man who married Ava Gardner–and cheated on her–head over to the new Forgotten at The Auteurs’ Notebook, where I attempt to express my admiration for the Great Man, while simultaneously bellowing in horror and clawing helplessly at my eyeballs.

Zee and Co.

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2009 by dcairns

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James Mason is Hendrik van der Zee, the Fying Dutchman, in Albert Lewin’s PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, which we were inspired to watch by the passing of its cinematographer, the great Jack Cardiff. And I quickly remembered the words of my late friend Lawrie: “We were all so excited when it came out. And then we were all so disappointed.”

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A viewer sinks into lassitude. Or Lassie-tude?

It’s easy to see why members of the British film community would have high hopes for the movie — here was British talent like Cardiff, designer John Bryan, and actors Nigel Patrick, John Laurie and Marius Goring (South African by birth, but who’s counting?) united with Hollywood talent like Ava Gardner and Brit expat James Mason, in a film by the maker of the much-admired PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. In fact, with his aspirations to self-conscious literary and painterly effects, Lewin was the kind of filmmaker perhaps more admired by Brits than Americans. 

And the disappointment is easy to understand too. While PANDORA is beautiful, with stunning images served up on a regular basis, the ponderous script and lack of dramatic tension make it a wearying experience. It’s tempting to blame the framing structure for giving the end away, but there are plenty of movies that get away with that. There’s the fact that the film is stuffed full of nightclub singers, race drivers, archaeologists and matadors — nobody seems to have a proper job. And yet there many movies that throw together impossibly glamorous or eccentric characters and we love them. Certainly it’s a problem that everybody talks in a ponderous, pseudo-poetic way. When they quote scads of verse from memory it’s actually a relief — it sounds more natural. Perhaps the biggest problem lies in this movie being basically an original story, “inspired” by the legend of the Flying Dutchman — Lewin’s best films are adaptations, and he was an elegant and respectful conveyor of other people’s stories.

There are moments when the dialogue becomes so windy and carbohydrate-rich that it almost works, in a MARIENBAD kind of way. The trouble is, although nobody seems like a real person, they don’t quite attain mythic status, which is presumably the intent. With the rich colours, florid verbiage and striking of attitudes, the proceedings ought to stand a good chance of attaining camp, but nothing doing. Maybe because the prosaic narration, delivered by antiquarian Harold Warrender, an actor who looks like he could aspire to drollery if the script permitted it, flattens the mood like a giant fly-swatter made of print. Even the “exciting” attempt at the land-speed record gets broken up by Lewin’s unending prose. Action scenes are not usually aided by voice-over exposition.

It is a tale told by an archaeologist. Devoid of sound and fury, trying to signify everything.

Only a few moments at a wild party in the middle show Lewin’s surrealist streak, and allow the intrusion of a welcome gust of humour ~

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Still, even as we felt the life oozing from our frames, we would be moved to declare,”That’s beautiful!” every few minutes. It was a kind of dispassionate declaration, since if there’s one thing above all that the film isn’t, it isn’t moving. But beauty like this is uncommon.

RIP, Jack.

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Shots in the Dark

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2008 by dcairns

THE BRIBE is a film I’ve long wanted to see, maybe partly because of those clips in DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID. Robert Z. Leonard’s 1949 noir provides the footage of Charles Laughton, Vincent Price and bits of Ava Gardner, recycled into DEAD MEN’s patchwork plot. The name “Carlotta”, upon which the Steve Martin / Carl Reiner movie turns, also comes from THE BRIBE.

Ultimately, nostalgia for the spoof is much of the reason for watching Leonard’s film — it’s a minor movie which rarely catches fire, despite an exotic, sultry setting and a lurid rogue’s gallery of villains. Robert Taylor is too dull and earnest to seem in danger of corruption, even by Ava, and for added bore factor there’s John Hodiak. At least the role of tortured drunk gives J.H. something to get his teeth into.

Apart from Gardner’s singing and complaining about the heat (Ava Gardner complaining about the heat is a strangely erotic spectacle), the main point of interest comes right before the climax, where Leonard suddenly pulls out all the stops and produces a whole bunch of weird tropes.

A tiny, sweltering hotel room. Taylor has Vincent Price at gunpoint, even firing off a warning shot to stop Vinnie leaving. Charles Laughton, his face a sweaty pudding, watches anxiously, eyes darting from one combatant to the other. Leonard films Price from a low angle, emphasising his authority and weirdly graceless bulk.

With lupine cunning, Price swipes the light switch to OFF, and the room goes black. Taylor fires, and price fires back, muzzle-flare piercing the gloom in angry strobes.

Leonard’s camera (actually, cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg’s) swishes anxiously around, scanning the velvet darkness for signs of life and danger. It doesn’t seem to be tied to anybody’s P.O.V.

Madly, Laughton’s eyes are still darting about, the only things perceptible in the all-encompassing night. We realise that Laughton has been got up in black-face just for this moment, so that his eyes can hover in the dark like a cartoon’s.

Taylor glides into piecemeal visibility, his body criss-crossed by countless unmotivated diagonal shadows.

Laughton’s disembodied orbs float silently back into obscurity.

BANG! Fireworks erupt outside (it’s the Fiesta di Carlotta), visible through the window by virtue of rear projection, but because the cameraman who shot them had to pan about a bit to keep the flashes framed correctly, the bursts of Greek Fire seem to swim madly around, as if the hotel had come loose from its foundations and started drifting to and fro, like Dorothy’s house on the way to Oz (Friends of Dorothy / Friends of Carlotta?)

Price, a perfect profile in silhouette, takes aim: he sees Taylor illuminated by the pyrotechnics. His shot shatters the dresser mirror — it was only Taylor’s reflection he saw. Having thus compressed the entire climax of Welles’ LADY FROM SHANGHAI into one shot, Leonard relaxes slightly for the chase and fight climax, which is nevertheless photographically rather impressive:

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