Archive for Perry Mason


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


Louise Brooks pictures seem to be quite popular. Here’s one from

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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