Archive for John Ford

Thursday’s Child

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on February 13, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-02-13-10h30m14s211vlcsnap-2014-02-13-10h30m23s48vlcsnap-2014-02-13-10h30m39s209

Shirley Temple as Philadelphia Thursday in John Ford’s FORT APACHE reacts to the sight of a cavalry officer having his ass spanked.

Very early in this smart, revisionist, conflicted western, our Shirl is shown reacting joyously, first to the sight of John Agar shirtless — her expression cycles through shock, fear, shame, and winds up on “This is great, and it’s totally not my fault that I happened to walk in and see this, so I’m going to enjoy it!” — and then to the sight of him getting spanked — expression saying “This is REALLY shocking — but fun!”

These non-prudish reactions make us like the smooth, creamy Philadelphia, but they also made me think that perhaps the reasons audiences didn’t embrace Shirley in adult roles was that she was sexual, while still using the same palette of performance that had been her stock-in-trade in the thirties. Here, she even does the adorable, momentary trying-not-to-laugh routine, which involves a tightening of the corners of the mouth as they attempt to hold back a smile — Shirley only ever holds back for an instant, and we know it must be a trick because she does it so often and so consistently in her kiddie performances, but it ALWAYS works — we smile too. Seeing this in an adult perf, the public might feel that she was tainting their memories of Curly Top, or that she was making visible the adult qualities that had always been a part of the child star’s persona. It feels wrong to say that Shirley Temple turns you on.

In the sense that she creates a cognitive dissonance, that she has one foot in an earlier age of film storytelling, Shirley might be the perfect star for FORT APACHE, a movie that succeeds in being iconoclastic and placing the US cavalry on the wrong side of the Indian wars, and does not quite succeed in frantically back-pedaling out of danger and leaving us with a comfortable printed legend, all our revered institutions standing proud and unblemished.

The most beautiful tribute.

The ’68 Comeback Special will appear later today.

The Monday Intertitle: Victor McLaglan is stalking me

Posted in FILM, literature, Sport with tags , , , , , on December 16, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-12-15-16h57m20s88

So I’m reading Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, the last of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books that I’d yet to read — I read them all out of order and with decades between the first batch and the second, I’m afraid — and there’s a reference to heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, a man much disliked by his opponents, partly out of racism. But Fraser, for balance, quotes actor Victor McLaglan’s memoir, Express to Hollywood (which sounds like it’d be a worthwhile read). Before his acting career, VM was a boxer, as his face amply testifies, and he fought Johnson, of whom he writes, he “fought like a gentleman,” and “was undoubtedly the hardest man to hit whom I’ve ever met.”

I like the genteel “whom” — and the inference that McLaglan presumably tried to hit every man he met. I can believe it.

vlcsnap-2013-12-15-16h57m47s108

But the very same day, I received in the post my copy of the marvelous Lost & Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive, published by the good people at the National Film Preservation Foundation. And featured amongst the treasures (all deserving of the name) is a trailer for STRONG BOY, a presumed-lost John Ford film starring McLaglan himself. Indifferently reviewed at the time, the film looks mouthwateringly desirable to us today, and the trailer itself offers up exciting clips and some charming animated title cards.

My theory, Part 1: Welles = Universal Horror

Posted in Comics, FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2013 by dcairns

wellesrichardiiiIt was at Norman Lloyd’s house that we saw this Al Hirschfeld cartoon, published in the New York Herald Tribune in 1938, predicting the roles to be taken on the New York stage by the leading players that fall.

Norman is top left — Hirschfeld always drew him this way, though Fiona thought it a dubious likeness.

Orson Welles is dead centre, as Richard III with flat-topped head and lank black wig. In the end he never played the role, something he blames John Houseman for, I believe, in My Lunches with Orson.

But the image suggests to me Boris Karloff, and ties in with my theory that Welles was influenced, probably in childhood, by the Universal school of horror.

Was Karloff’s monster a good model for Richard III? Possibly not — the personalities are quite different. But Welles’ putative performance as the disfigured, limping king might easily have been influenced by the monster, who had so recently returned to the screen in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. And there is at least one image in existence of a teenage Welles playing Richard on stage at the Todd School with a big, built-up head like the one in Hirschfeld’s cartoon.

Then there’s the Mercury Theater radio production of Dracula, which owes nothing much to the Universal movie but certainly displays a keen interest in, and aptitude for, gothic horror.

CITIZEN KANE’s opening has much of the feel of a ’30s horror film — Xanadu is not only dark, looking, shadowy and surrounded by desolation, it is a painting, like Castle Dracula. If few were convinced by Pauline Kael’s suggestion that Welles’ old-age make-up bore the influence of Peter Lorre’s Gogol from MAD LOVE, we can at least agree that part of the movie’s style is at times somewhat Gothic — and this fed into the 1943 JANE EYRE, which Welles influenced greatly (though he disparages the production in My Dinners with Orson.

vlcsnap-2013-09-16-17h48m24s100

And Welles’ MACBETH would be the clincher — I’m certain Welles said something, somewhere, about BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN being a visual influence on his papier-mache and dry-ice Scotland, “a violent charcoal sketch of a great play.” Whale occupies exalted ground, since Welles has comparatively few cinematic antecedents — he borrows liberally from Eisenstein in his first two Shakespeare films, and the smooth matching of his theatrical sensibility with Gregg Toland’s cinematic one obviously helped form him as a filmmaker, but apart from that, Whale is just about the only source you can point to. (He learned basic film grammar from running STAGECOACH, and maybe there’s some stylistic influence — but nothing that couldn’t be explained easier by Toland’s help and Welles’ pre-existing fondness for chiaroscuro.)

frankenstein_1931

Part two of my theory tomorrow, and starting soon — a major Shadowplay series on CITIZEN KANE. What else is there to say about that film? Maybe nothing, but I will say it with different punctuation.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 358 other followers