Archive for Gene Raymond

White Squaw

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2013 by dcairns

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Majestic as David Chierichetti’s book Hollywood Director is, and as I’ve said before it deserves to be counted among the very best filmmaker profiles ever assembled, I think perhaps it underrates BEHOLD MY WIFE, his 1934 melodrama. With its implausible and hokey plot, its Amerindian impersonations by Sylvia Sidney and Charles Middleton, and its wayward tonal shifts (any film with both a tragic defenestration AND Eric Blore as a bumbling valet has got some major ground to cover), it can’t possibly be counted among Mitchell Leisen’s best directorial efforts. But he seems to invest a lot of effort into keeping the thing afloat, maybe because it has a trip to Mexico in it and Leisen was mad about Mexico, maybe because Gene Raymond and Sylvia S seem like agreeable leads for a Leisen film.

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The show is stolen, however, by Ann Sheridan as the unfortunate defenestree, whose plunge to street level curtails her role in terms of duration: nevertheless, she packs a lot into her few minutes of screen time, ably suggesting an honest working girl all excited about her approaching nuptials to society swell Raymond, until his sister (Juliette Compton) arrives to call it off. She lies, pretending that Raymond is a serial dalliance kind of guy who enjoys toying with women’s affections. She does it with every apparent sympathy, but as Sheridan descends into powerfully rendered despair and starts sobbing, she heads for the door with an air of exultation, like a child who’s just gotten away with something deliciously naughty. A pretty hateful character, which is worth remembering when we get to the end of the movie…

With Sheridan’s powerhouse perf over with, we follow the distraught Raymond: justly blaming his family for his sweethearts death, he motors off south, drinking and driving recklessly. Cue Vorkapichian madness of spinning wheels and superimposed relatives murmuring “Disgrace!” over and over again.

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A father in every hub cap. Sexy Jesus HB Warner does his Vorkapich thing.

Crashing his roadster conveniently close to a bar, he makes the mistake of buying whiskey for an Indian (a young Dean Jagger) and gets shot for his trouble. Sylvia nurses him back to health and eventually falls in love with the rather obnoxious rich kid. Not before a deliriously sadomasochistic bullet removal scene, where she distracts him with tales of Indian torture and revenge as she digs around in his bicep with the sterilized tweezers.

Raymond marries Sydney purely to shame his family — of course he’s eventually going to realize he really loves her, but not before SS can languish in some of her trademark suffering and heartache. Leisen moves mountains to keep as at least slightly invested in Raymond, selfish prick that he is, and just about pulls it off. A third act murder may just push the story over the Precipice of Madness, but you can’t say it isn’t fun.

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Chierechetti dismisses the story as ordinary, and one can see what he means — it isn’t amazingly skilled or deeply meaningful — but what strikes one at this added historical distance is how barking mad it all is. In a sense, that’s business as usual for 1930s Hollywood, but for devotees of the peculiar, this elegantly shot (by Leon Shamroy) movie has much to commend it. Watch particularly for the moment in Sydney’s shack when the sun suddenly comes out, offscreen, and a glow sweeps across the dingy interior, illumining it with love’s radiance.

Meet the Smiths

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by dcairns

MR AND MRS SMITH — dispel all thoughts of Brangelina, that two-headed monster, for this is Hitchcock’s first American comedy, made at RKO on loan-out from Selznick, as a favour to Carole Lombard, with whom he’d wanted to work for some time. She’s one of the Hollywood star Hitch wrote about while still in England, and when he move to LA she became, essentially, his landlady for a while.

Where did I read this?

Hitchcock bumps into Carole Lombard outside the screening room, where he’s just viewed the rushes. She’s come to see them, but she’s late. Hitch assures her that the rushes are fine and she’s good in them.

“Fuck that, how do my new tits look?”

And who, commenting here, pointed out the fascinating deliberate continuity error where Robert Montgomery’s socks change their pattern according to his and Lombard’s emotions?

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I always thought that the little guy who brings the bad news, was played by Warner Brothers voice artist Mel Blanc. Maybe when I saw it as a kid, my Dad looked at the guy and said “Elmer Fudd!” It’s not, though, it’s a fellow called Charles Halton. Why did nobody put Blanc in a major movie role?

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It’s subtle, but it’s there.

First time I saw the film I liked it fine. Second time I disliked it quite a bit. This time it seemed pretty good to me. I will say that, thanks to our auteurist appreciation of Hitchcock, and his fame, the movie gets a little more attention than it deserves. HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE is a ten-times-better screwball comedy, I’d say, also written by Norman Krasna and starring Lombard, but directed by the less-celebrated Mitchell Leisen, and very few people have seen that compared to SMITHS.

The Smiths, lawyer husband and sexpot wife, who have a tempestuous but successful three-year marriage, learn that the partnership is not strictly legal, due to some convoluted zoning problem, and break up. He (Robert Montgomery) tries to win her back, mainly by acting like a dick. His buddy Jack Carson is useful for audience sympathy purposes, because Carson’s character is an even bigger lout than Montgomery.

Then Montgomery’s other pal, Gene Raymond, starts wooing Carole, which at least gives Montgomery something to be aggrieved about. But instead of making Raymond the heavy, screenwriter Norman Krasna types him as a classic romcom schnook. I always like schnooks. I often like them better than the hero.

Raymond gets the funniest scene, when he’s drunk. Very fine physical work, lurching and sort of bobbing in the air, and a refrain of “Thank you,” which gets more absurd with each repetition. This comes after a disastrous date where the couple get caught in a broken fun-fair ride. This reminds me of the story of Hitch sending his daughter up on a Ferris wheel and tipping the operator to kill the engine and strand her aloft. I wonder what Hitch would have done with a really black comedy, where he could let his sadistic side have free reign?

There are quite a few moments in this film when I had trouble understanding the character motivation. Is Lombard really through with Montgomery, or is she just testing him? At the end, she rejects Gene Raymond because he won’t beat up her “husband,” then allows herself to be trapped in her skis by the guy she wanted beaten, and the movie ends in a rather peculiar bit of play-rape. I could never figure that out.

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The movie is extremely elegantly shot, though, with a gliding camera and flying furniture which escapes the path of the dolly with invisible sideways movements. I’d like to say more about this film, but the Edinburgh Film Festival is eating up too much of my time — so over to you!

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