Archive for Hangover Square

Hey Moondog

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2008 by dcairns

Secret Passage

SECRET CEREMONY is a film maudit if ever there was one. Even many hardcore Loseyites find it hard to defend.

“Anyway, to go back to SECRET CEREMONY, here is how it was finally set up. I was sitting in Rome; I had just been doing the dubbing of BOOM!, Burton was going off to do WHERE EAGLES DARE, or whatever they do — shit — WHERE EAGLES SHIT — and we were all in the Grand Hotel. Elizabeth said ‘Why don’t we do something again?’ I remembered this script and thought she would be ideal for it. I got her the script a few days later from London, and she said ‘I’ll do it’, and we did it, at once. Now, of course, I brought [writer George] Tabori back in and we did a great deal of re-working, mostly out of that particular house.”

~ from Conversations With Losey by Michel Ciment.

(I like Ciment, he has a particular enthusiasm for the mad and visionary strains of British cinema that are at least as big a part of our culture — the valuable part of it — as social observation and all that muck.)

Justify My Love

So, having finished Tennessee Williams’ BOOM! (which is John Waters’ favourite movie for reasons that are evident if you can manage to see it ), while Burton is off where the eagles shit, Liz Taylor is parading around in various Christian Dior outfits in this deeply weird art movie in this weird house in Addison Road, London. The house had been a rest home for the mentally ill, run by some kind of religious organisation who had fallen on hard times — Losey’s regular collaborator Richard MacDonald ran amok in it and created one of the very best London houses in cinema — it stands alongside Asshetton Gorton’s work in THE KNACK and BLOW-UP, and John Clark’s in PERFORMANCE. The great London house films of the period.

Sausage, M'lady?

Munch chomp gnosh

Early on Liz, grieving her lost child, is adopted as mother by orphaned loony Mia Farrow, who cooks her a splendid sausage breakfast. And the film slams on the brakes and simply observes, with Farrow, as Liz wolfs down the lot. A whole breakfast consumed, in silence… It seems like a dreadful mistake at screenplay stage: The script must have said, “She eats the sausages,” and nobody thought anything of it, but it’s one of those sentences, like “The Indians capture the fort,” that really entails much more than it seems to. Yet somehow the film knows we want this. We want to see Liz eat those sausages. All of them. It’s pornographic, but we can’t look away. The fact that Liz is carrying, shall we say, a few extra pounds and Farrow, who does not eat, still has the emaciated spidery limbs she sports in ROSEMARY’S BABY, adds to the pervasive and enticing wrongness of it all. This is a terrible thing we are witnessing.

Later, Liz will pat her jowls reflectively and complain, “Christ, I’m so f=a=t,” her voice rising to a hoarse beep on the final word.

My Last Breath

What’s going on? All the characters are insane, as Losey admitted. This makes things pretty alienating for any audience member with a grasp of reality. And while Losey announced that Farrow’s character was “in every detail thought out as a hysterical schizophrenic,” I get the impression that his sense of those words may be rather loose. Jean-Pierre Melville also described Delon’s character in LE SAMOURAI as schizophrenic, and I have no idea what he meant by that. Autistic might be closer in that case. I think Farrow’s schizophrenia, like protagonist George Harvey Bone’s in Hangover Square, may be a plot device as much as a condition.


(Damnit, I now have private information regarding Farrow’s mental state at the time, but I don’t think I can repeat it. Never mind, Losey loved her, and she’s very good in his film.)

I think that by making Liz’s character so nutty, the film kind of disables itself, since if she functioned as a vaguely reliable guide to the labyrinth, she could get away with being distraught, maybe a bit irrational, but not this totally random screwball she is.

Moon Age Day Dream

Screenwriter George Tabori, who is no Pinter, obviously has no shortage of ideas, but his organisation is lacking. David Caute’s Losey book criticises the dialogue for muddling American and British idioms, but I got the impression that’s Liz’s character — a yank who fakes a Brit accent when she’s pretending to be the mother. It’s just about the one thing I was clear on. But it’s a throw-away film full of throw-away notions, like Farrow’s fear of “Moondog”, the God figure in a William Blake illustration on the bedroom mantel. It probably relates to her incestuous stepfather, and maybe when Robert Mitchum turns up (“C’mon, you know I’m harmless before lunch!” with an Irish beard and a bunch of flowers, we’re meant to be reminded of the sinister figure. But why “Moondog”?

Calypso is... like so

ALTHOUGH — the environments of the film are beautiful and the various performers do fascinating things. Mia Farrow essays her note-perfect English accent, also displayed in Anthony Mann’s swan-song, A DANDY IN ASPIC, and her physical acting is likewise remarkable, all flailing arms and manic grin so wide it threatens to crack the outline of her face and break out on its own. Liz is just Liz, she stomps about, giving her all, seizing on anything she can emote at. Robert Mitchum turns up and shows his bravery again, playing loathsomeness without apology. Decorative eccentricity is provided by Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown, who are always welcome round my place, but Losey’s use of the phrase “sort of comedy relief” in describing them is a clue to the fact that they’re not actually funny, just more neurotic whimsy.

Give it the grin

Richard Rodney Bennett did some fantastic music for Losey, and his stuff here is absolutely right for the film, a messed-up music box tinkle that helps make us feel as crazy as the characters. When Liz and Mia go to the seaside, a stunning resort filmed in Holland, the design and score lift us into a wonderful dream state. Then Mia Farrow shoves a stuffed frog up her dress and pretends she’s pregnant. Put this on a double bill with William Cameron Menzies’ THE MAZE, a 3D mystery in which the lord of a Scottish castle is secretly a giant frog, having never evolved out of the amphibian stage we all supposedly go through in the womb.

What makes you think I want a stain-proof dress?

Better yet, you know what this would make a great Fever Dream Double Featurewith? BOOM! is obviously a good choice, which might prove fatal if you didn’t have strong drink to hand, but try it with Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s THE DRIVER’S SEAT, also known as IDENTIKIT, which has lots of equally barking mad Lizwork in it, and an even louder frock. Liz gets very irate at the suggestion that she might want a stain-proof dress, at one point: a fine Liz moment. It’s from a book by Muriel Spark, apparently reasonably faithful in its adaptation. Ian Bannen is around to supply, what? Himself, I suppose.

Laird of the Underworld

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 12, 2008 by dcairns

Satan Met a Lairdy 

It’s impossible to imagine the suave, ebullient, boxy bundle of bonhomie in HEAVEN CAN WAIT as the same figure who, in THIS GUN FOR HIRE, in response to a killer’s suggestion, “I’ll bind her wrists with soft catgut,” whispers squeamishly, “Don’t SAY that! That’s a horrible word!”

The cregar's opera

Nor does the gentleman with the mephistophelean face-fuzz much resemble the haunted figure stalking the London streets in THE LODGER, of the gaunter variant in HANGOVER SQUARE. A different fellow altogether.

“Sometimes it seems like the whole world is coming to hell,” remarks Satan with a satisfied grin, behind a big desk in a big pearly-pink marble hall with just the hint of licking flames. Laird Cregar is Satan, basking in the attention of a first-rate director at last, the impish Mr. Lubitsch. “Nobody can play comedy who does not have a circus going on in his head,” the director once advised David Niven. Cregar cracks the whip in his own private cranial big top, and proves himself a graceful comedian.

Whoops Apocalypse

“Why is Satan so NICE?” asked Fiona as we enjoyed the film. Maybe because he’s got such a great job, maybe because Lubitsch isn’t greatly excited by evil characters. Satan has just dropped a little old lady through a trapdoor into the searing inferno below, but he’s still overwhelmingly charming and terribly polite. Beaming and slightly boiled-looking, he makes a sympathetic listener, a father-confessor to the hero (Don Ameche, equally sensitive) who has not encountered such an understanding friend since his grandfather (Charles Coburn) passed away.

It’s a small but prominent role. Cregar’s work as a heavy in thrillers and adventure yarns has given him the reputation as arch-bad-guy that makes his casting as Satan appropriate and pleasing to the public, and then together, Lubitch and Cregar unveil a whole new actor enfolded inside, like a flower within a bud.

Sympathy For the Devil

The Reveal

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , on March 5, 2008 by dcairns

Keep your eye on the suitcase, and watch for the slightest hint… of hanky panky.

Man with a Suitcase

This is all one shot. He goes to the drinking fountain, stoops to drink, occluding our view of the case…

The Fountainhead

…then straightens up and finds it gone!

The Vanishing

I love this kind of reveal, both for the spooky onscreen effect, and for the thought of the props guy carefully crawling in while the actor is blocking our view. These kind of things are great fun to do.

This is from Mirror Image, a Twilight Zone episode directed by John Brahm. I’d been impressed by Brahm’s visuals on THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE — he has a great sense of noir. But I’d also been distressed to read Brahm’s defence of 20th Century Fox’s bowdlerizing of Patrick Hamilton’s source novel Hangover Square. When Hamilton complained in the press, Brahm wrote back to argue that the studio’s changes, such as transplanting the book to a period setting, were necessary, since modern detection methods would prevent a serial killer from operating for long. Now, not only has Brahm been proven tragically wrong in his faith in “modern methods,” he’s missing the obvious point that there IS no serial killer in Hamilton’s book. He obviously hadn’t even read it.

Our Laird

Although it boasts great visuals and Bernard Herrmann’s walloping score, HANGOVER SQUARE is a travesty, and it’s all the more tragic since Linda Darnell and Dan Duryea are perfectly cast, and the wonderful Laird Cregar crash-dieted himself to death to play the lead part. He loved the book, and actually went on suspension from the studio when he saw the script they’d made of it (despite the title, there’s hardly even any drinking in the film). Cregar had earlier reported to Gorgeous George Sanders his intention to become “as slender as a sapling,” (despite the fact that Hamilton’s protagonist is always called “the  big drinking man”).

Cregar damaged his heart losing weight in a hurry, and HANGOVER SQUARE was his last film.

Hang Sq

So anyhow, I kind of took it against Brahm on account of those comments, and dismissed him as a filmmaker with a great eye but nothing behind it. A sort of ’40s Ridley Scott, maybe. But the above sequence is not only graceful and eerily effective, it’s genuinely CLEVER. Brahm’s thoughtful and restrained work, along with Vera Miles and Martin Milner’s intense performances, elevates a routine doppelganger yarn into something memorable and impressive. One of Rod Serling’s archtypal Twilight Zone themes is at work — the hand of the irrational reaching into ordinary lives and inexplicably twisting everything around. Had David Lynch seen the climax before directing the last episode of Twin Peaks? (Or did his inspiration come from Bava’s KILL, BABY, KILL or Powell and Pressburger’s TALES OF HOFFMAN?)

The Running Man 

I’m going to watch more of Brahm’s Twilight Zone episodes now (he did quite a few), paying particular attention to the one called… Shadowplay.

“We know that a dream can be real, but who ever thought that reality could be a dream? We exist, of course, but how, in what way? As we believe, as flesh-and-blood human beings, or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it and then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead… in the Twilight Zone?”


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