Archive for Perry Mason

Playboy Criminologist

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2014 by dcairns

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As soon as I saw a news headline in THE GAY FALCON describing George Sanders’ character as a “playboy criminologist” I knew that was the job for me. Though I’m not sure — is 46 too old to start in that line of work?

And yes, the film is called THE GAY FALCON and George does say “This seems to be my night for using back doors.” Get your sniggering over with.

Indecisiveness: George just finished playing THE SAINT in a popular RKO series and handed the job over to Hugh Sinclair, and then they create a near-identical series for him about The Falcon, with Wendy Barrie, who was his romantic interest in three Saint movies, playing different characters. Here she seems set to be just a guest star, but the Falcon’s fiancee, Nina Vale, mysteriously dropped out of movies after one appearance so Barrie returned to replace her with not a word of explanation.

This movie sets up Arthur Shields as a dumb Irish cop stereotype, foil to the Falcon, but he’s replaced for two follow-ups by James Gleason (knot together three strands of sinew then stretch to breaking point), who played similar stooges to crime-solvers Barbara Stanwyck (THE MAD MISS MANTON), Edna May Oliver (PENGUIN POOL MURDER and sequels) and William Powell (THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD and TAKE ONE FALSE STEP)  Peggy Ann Garner and pals (HOME, SWEET HOMICIDE) and probably others. If he wasn’t available, Sam Levene would do it and no one would know.

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Dibble by lamplight.

Allen Jenkins becomes the main element of consistency across the Sanders entries in the series, appearing as hapless sidekick “Goldie” Locke each time, but the writers only decide to make him a spectacular malaprop in the later films (“Me and my neck prefer to remain in magneto.”)

The writers are Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, fresh from the Saint films, though for THE FALCON TAKES OVER they adapt Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely and change Marlowe into the Falcon.

And apparently Dr. Terwilliker himself, Hans Conried, made such a hit as a police sketch artist in the first film (he’s hilariously bored and aloof) that they brought him back as a hotel desk clerk in the second film and a shady playboy in the third.

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Turhan Bey, an oiled baby with a moustache, plays a jewel thief in the first film and a psychic in the third.

George’s manservant changes from an old Chinese guy to an old English guy, vanishes for an entire film, and then comes back as Keye Luke. And, as in a dream, no one else seems to notice.

In the fourth film, THE FALCON ‘S BROTHER, George meets his screen brother, Tom, played by his real brother, Tom, who the takes over the series for nine more films while George seeks his pleasures elsewhere. Conway is like dilute Sanders: listening to them together is uncanny, they’re so similar, but you notice the edge and the droll lassitude in George, the source of his Georgeness. Tom is theoretically handsome, but he’s like a walking argument against the importance of handsomeness — George, with his big fat head, like an Arcimboldo sausage-face, is a consistent pleasure and wonder to look at, whereas the eye slips off Tom, can find no purchase on his smooth frontage. Tom was nicer, they say, and his blandness fitted him perfectly for Val Lewton films, which thrived on colourless leads, low-key as the lighting.

This FALCON episode is like the INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS of the series — not only is George rendered comatose for most of the action while his brother goes investigating (nobody worries, it’s just like “He’ll be fine as soon as he COMES OUT OF HIS COMA.”), but Jenkins and Gleason have been replaced by cheaper, crapper actors playng characters with different names but the exact same attributes and histories and roles.

A guy comes home and finds that everything in his apartment has been stolen and replaced with identical replicas…

Even the writers have been replaced: Root & Fenton wrote delightful material: repetitive, of course, but that’s part of the charm. Their replacements create blotchy carbon copy dialogue that sounds like a distorted echo of the previous films, piped through the lips of wan replicants.

…He asks his flatmate, “What happened here?” …

And still, this is nothing compared to Warner Bros Perry Mason series, where not only the co-stars but the genre (straight mystery or broad, drunken comedy) changed from show to show, with Allen Jenkins playing different characters and Mason’s girl Friday, Della Street being played by a beauty parade of contract starlets — just to confuse things, Ann Dvorak appeared twice, so the series was not even consistent in its inconsistency.

…His flatmate says, “Who are you?”

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Anyhow, the films are slick, fun and forgettable, just like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY only half as long and about ten thousand times cheaper and quieter. Also, nobody wears frocks made from caterpillar tracks, which is either a relief or a disappointment depending on your taste.

Beaches

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by dcairns

Agnes Varda and Chris Marker, the cat.

Forgot to mention how much I enjoyed THE BEACHES OF AGNES, an autobiographical essay-film by Agnes Varda. An 18 Certificate warned us of “strong sexual imagery,” which turned out to be one shot of man with an erect penis. I almost asked for my money back, then remembered that ten or so years ago the film probably couldn’t even have been shown uncut in the UK with such an image. So I guess it qualifies, barely, as a strong sexual image.

But it isn’t all penises, the film is charming and moving and produces regular striking images of the kind Varda has specialized in throughout her career, but which have been rarer in her recent tiny-budget documentaries, because houses made of film-strips and beaches decorated with mirrors require a little bit of time and money to set up. Somebody’s apparently given Agnes a bit of cash to make this one, and about time.

What else have I seen that I’ve forgotten to tell you about? There was THIRST, by Chan-Wook Park (OLD BOY), which Fiona liked a lot more than me. The borrowings from THERESE RAQUIN (previously filmed by Marcel Carne) sat oddly in a vampire movie, and the lead character’s moral decline never became as obvious to him as it needed to, in order to provide a dramatic catharsis. Lots of icky imagery and some beautiful visuals. The idea of a modern vampirism arising from an experimental treatment for an AIDS-like illness struck me as a bit tacky, though. (Although this disease afflicts celibate men, which at least is original.) OLD BOY is still this guy’s best movie by a squid-s length, although I’M AN ANDROID (BUT THAT’S OK) has considerable charm and oddity value.

Finally tracked down BACHELOR FLAT, Frank Tashlin’s widescreen bedroom farce with Terry-Thomas, Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer and Jessica Dachshund (a dachshund). The stand-out scene is the one everybody talks about, Jessica dragging a dinosaur bone along a beach (the shot CinemaScope was invented for), but T-T is on great form, Tuesday is as cute as a whole row of buttons, and there are some nice visual tropes. The only Tashlin left for me to see now I think is THE LIEUTENANT WORSE SKIRTS.

Been enjoying the 1930s Perry Mason films with Warren William (and later a couple other dudes), a widely disparate series of “thrillers,” some of which are pure slapstick and some of which rely a little more on drama. Mason’s secretary, Della Street, seems to be played by a different actress in every film, whereas Allen “Office Dibble” Jenkins turns up playing different characters. Michael Curtiz’s super-snappy THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE is the stand-out. Thanks to regular Shadowplayer mmedin for the discs.

Also, time for an update on the strange quest known as See Reptilicus and Die…

Louise Brooks Plays with the Shadows

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2009 by dcairns

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Louise Brooks pictures seem to be quite popular. Here’s one from http://theendofbeing.blogspot.com/

Hope to get my hands on THE CANARY MURDER CASE soon. A Paramount silent Philo Vance murder mystery with William Powell as the Great Detective, it was sonorized while Louise was off in Europe, I think. Anyhow, she refused to have anything to do with the sound version, so they used another actress’s voice. And this may have started the story that her voice was no good — that, and her absence in Europe for a year or two, basically killed her Hollywood career.

You can hear her talk in the B-western OVERLAND RAIDERS, with John Wayne, and in interviews conducted years later. Nothing wrong with her voice.

UPDATE: grabbed THE CANARY MURDER CASE, and a very odd bird it is. William Powell is Philo Vance, of course, the right man in the right role (although a bit too B-movie for Powell’s aspirations, it seems. There’s at least one Basil Rathbone Vance movie, which is going to seem odd: Rathbone playing a different detective

What’s peculiar about TCMC is the way they’ve “sonorized” it, preserving all the expensive wide shots from the silent shoot, even though they move at the wrong frame rate. If you’ve seen Howard Hughes’ HELL’S ANGELS you’ve already seen this kind of thing in action. As in HA, a bit of dubbing has also occurred, but it basically centres on Louise’s character, who speaks mainly with her back to the camera, or over other people’s closeups (a double was used, extremely effective, for many of the rear views). Then we cut to a beautiful closeup of her as soon as she’s finished speaking. It’s all done with the maximum of craftiness, making the best of a bad job, but it’s goofy and demented rather than convincing. The voice they’ve chosen is pretty horrible, but suits the trashy showgirl character, I guess. I haven’t seen this kind of counterintuitive cutting elsewhere save for a couple of the more tortuous moments in Welles’s OTHELLO (moments of weird cutting justified by the synchronisation problems, and rendered strangely more glaring in the restored, fully sunk-up version).

In short: I like it! This kind of B-thriller requires, in no particular order:

1) A charismatic leading player. Check.

2) Plot, and lots of it. Check.

3) Some kind of peculiar quirk, either intentional or accidental. (The PERRY MASON films have all kinds of these, from gaping plot holes to ill-advised tonal shifts to the way they keep shuffling the Warners players around: you get different actors playing the same role, and the same actors playing different roles. Even Perry himself changes, twice. Watch three back to back and it’s literally dreamlike.) And that’s where the panicked last-minute soundtracking really scores.

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