Archive for Phillips Holmes

Heavy Sentences

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on July 16, 2014 by dcairns

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Fiona just read Boris Karloff: More Than A Monster, The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs and pronounced it good. “You really feel like you’re being taken day by day through his entire life,” she said. So I was charged with inserting some Karloffiana in the Panasonic. It had been probably ten years since we’d watched THE CRIMINAL CODE, which has dual interest as its sampled in TARGETS…

Boris rocks in this one. If it had been made at Warners it would have been crusading — but it’s a Columbia picture from Howard Hawks and so the tone is breezily cynical but disinterested in political analysis — DA Walter Huston jails juvenile Adonis Phillips Holmes and then becomes prison warden at the jug he’s banged up in, where he tortures him in solitary — and yet Huston is positioned as the film’s hero. In fact, if we disregard the appeals to sentiment and use of physiognomy-as-character, Huston can be seen as the bad guy (but with a mildly vicious guard inserted to soak up the audience’s hostility) while Karloff is the hero’s best pal who saves the day. The remaining weirdness is the inert hero, whose one self-determined act, refusing to snitch, is presented in passive terms. He’s a ping-pong ball batted about between Boris and Walter.

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The script forges a fascinating connection between two meanings of the title — the criminal code Huston lives by is the law of the land, which “Someone’s gotta pay!” for murder. The criminal code Holmes and Karloff must obey is the law that says No Snitching — and if somebody does snitch, then, well, “Someone’s gotta pay!”

In this fashion, the writers throw up felicities and clunkers in equal measure — Huston’s rat-a-tat delivery at times overemphasises the fact that much of his speechifying consists of a single, on-the-nose pronouncement of his position, followed by twenty or so paraphrases of the same statement. One gets the impression that his character is trying to persuade himself of something — maybe that he deserves the role of hero in this picture. When in doubt, he snarls “Yeah?” at anyone who’ll listen. A bit like Eddie G. Robinson’s “See?”

Karloff has to deliver American vernacular dialogue in a middle-class English accent, but mostly gets away with it. Though his face and sinister haircut suggest pure villainy — and he does kill a couple of people, even stalking one around a room in an exact preview of FRANKENSTEIN  — his character is actually pretty complicated. While Huston, in order to “save” Holmes, tortures him, Karloff refuses to let the young man take the rap for him. His malevolent activities are strictly for revenge, and you can understand his rage at the screw who grassed him up for taking a single drink while on parole.

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In the end, Karloff and Huston are both extremists, devoted to their own particular criminal codes at the expense of humanity. Holmes and romantic interest Constance Cummings are simple humanists, who don’t understand much about codes and things but know what decency is. Young Holmes, whose every appearance caused Fiona to swoon away (“And I don’t normally care for conventionally handsome men”), does eventually put forth a more sophisticated interpretation of the code — “It’s right for them.”

Features some great yegg types and as fine a display of yammering as you’re likely to encounter.

“You don’t get yammering like that any more,” said Fiona.

“No. It’s gone the way of the rumble seat.”

UK purchasers:

Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster
THE CRIMINAL CODE (Walter Huston, Boris Karloff) Region 2

US purchasers:

Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster

Karloff: Criminal Kind DVD

Things to Come That Went

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by dcairns

MEN MUST FIGHT (1933) is a truly interesting oddity. Along with GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE it forms part of MGM’s pre-code pacifist argument, and like the La Cava madness it’s also riven with internal contradictions.

We begin in WWI with Diana Wynyard indulging in illicit sex with young flyer Robert Y0ung who, being not yet a big star, is promptly slain. Wynyard, in the family way, accepts older gent Lewis Stone’s marriage proposal even though she doesn’t really love him.

But now we flash forward to the far future year of 1940, as distinguished by it’s even more streamlined art deco sets and videophones. The world stands once more on the brink of war — a Second World War! — and Stone and Wynyard are respected campaigners for peace, hoping their/her son, Phillips Holmes, will never have to fight.

But when some ambassador gets assassinated, the nation prepares for conflict — with the Eurasians. “Eurasian” obviously sounded vague enough to avoid offending anybody and costing MGM overseas box office. The only Eurasian we meet is the cook, played by Luis Alberni (whose culinary skills have not yet seen him promoted to hotelier — Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis in 1937’s EASY LIVING). So, war is coming, and Stone does what a lot of people do — says, effectively, “I hate war, but this is different.” The family starts falling apart and the question of whether peace can ever be a possibility is much to the fore.

The movie being from MGM, the most conservative of studios, I didn’t expect it to stick to its pacifist guns, if you’ll pardon the unfortunate expression, right through to the end, but I was still surprised by some of the turns the argument takes. Ultimately we’re encouraged to accept the inevitability of wars with a kind of amused shrug, but in the meantime we get a montage of the world’s nations, seemingly representing the varied people who just want peace — and the montage includes a parade of swastika-wielding Nazis. It’s really not certain whether any irony is intended here at all: the image is juxtaposed with a shot of Japan, but it’s of Japanese kids in school, so just what point is being made?

Poor New York gets almost as tough a time in movies as Tokyo — that same year it got hit by KING KONG and DELUGE. Enthusiasts of old-school special effects will dig this bombing, much of which looks extremely convincing — stay tuned for the 1930s Skype call, inaccurate mainly in the sense that they don’t get cut off or go out of synch –

Because I know Glenn Erickson will dig it.

Granny (May Robson) sums things up in a speech which is genuinely surprising, from this studio and era –

“The more I see of this world the more convinced I am that it ought to be run by women. LET the men crow and strut and fight and be ornamental. Like roosters. That’s the function of the male.”

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