Archive for Ronald Reagan

Pipe Dream

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on April 5, 2014 by dcairns

Why am I so amused and bemused by this scene in the Don Siegel-directed melo NIGHT UNTO NIGHT, in which Ronald Reagan has an epileptic fit?

It isn’t because it’s Ronald Reagan — not everything he does is automatically funny. Admittedly, some aspects of his presidency were humorous, but I didn’t, on the whole, find the idea of this jocular, ruddy-faced buffoon hovering over the doomsday button particularly funny. I spent my adolescence in a state of terror. I would have probably been terrified anyway, for more general/biologically reasons, but I still hold him responsible for that part of my anxiety not linked to hormones.

And it isn’t because it’s an epileptic seizure — those aren’t funny at all, certainly no funnier than any other neurological malady.

It isn’t even the unlikely combination of Ronald Reagan having an epileptic seizure. Though that makes me smile a little bit.

It’s more to do with Siegel’s direction, which is weirdly ineffective and wrong. It turns out that his talent, on sure ground when dealing with direct, determined action — he would have made the best movie ever of a Richard Stark Parker novel if given the chance — falls apart when called upon to render the hallucinatory, the abnormal, the fugue-state. Instead of some kind of evocation of perceptual crisis, we get a low angle or two placing striking emphasis on Reagan’s smoking material. Pipes are just funny, I think, in a way that Reagan and epilepsy aren’t, always. Pipes are always a bit funny. Making a pipe the fulcrum of a dramatic neurological crisis experienced by Ronald Reagan is very funny.

And then there’s the dog. Interesting to note that was a montage director at Warners before his directing career took off. That’s not at all the same thing as being an editor. Siegel shot his own material to create montage sequences for other directors’ films, showing the passage of time, the development of a situation, or just the atmosphere of a place. It probably explains his admirable terseness. But nothing explains that very voluble dog, who barks and reacts for an extraordinary length of time. The shortness of the shots suggests that Siegel had trouble getting the mutt to understand his direction (Later he would have similar struggles with Shirley MacLaine, but succeed). It looks as if all the usable bits of dog footage have been spliced together — and then abandoned, left in the film without any narrative shaping. It’s quite peculiar.

But the pipe bit is the best.


Actor and Alien

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 14, 2013 by dcairns

Actor Grant Mitchell, a reliable if low-wattage character thesp in numerous Warner Brothers productions, particularly of the pre-code era, his grumpy paternalistic demeanour could be pointed at a wide variety of roles –


PREDATOR, a 1987 action movie with a vagina dentata alien in it.


The first distracting thing about Grant Mitchell is that he shares a name with a character in Eastenders. See also 1940s makeup artist Guy Pearce who always makes us think of the modern film star (and especially his lousy makeup in PROMETHEUS) and Universal music arranger Frank Skinner, who reminds Brits, rather against their will, of a comedian of the same name.

The second distracting thing about Grant Mitchell is that he looks a bit like a bulldog’s skull looking out of a potato.

The third distracting thing about Grant Mitchell is his resemblance to the Predator, although fortunately without the sexual overtones.

PREDATOR really is all about male sexual anxiety. It may be that the monster design was simply supposed to be upsetting, without any deeper psychological intent, deploying what Camille Paglia calls “displacement upwards” (she was talking about Bardot’s full sensual lips). Putting something in the wrong place can make it disturbing. But I think we’re entitled to read meaning into the decision to make the monster a castrating, fang-filled vulva. Especially with the largely male, largely musclebound cast, the sexist banter and the right-wing slant (we have to assume Arnie and his gang are Black Ops, working to overthrow a legally elected government, because that’s what secret American task forces have always done, and especially under Reagan). If it were a slightly better film, it would also be possible to appreciate the monster’s point of view more. It could play like FIRST BLOOD. As it is, I don’t sympathise with Arnie and company at all. The monster is outnumbered and on a foreign planet — sure, he chose to be there, but one has to respect his courage.

I guess if there were an early ’30s Warner version of PREDATOR, Grant Mitchell could play the monster (using a primitive version of motion capture, where the actors eyebrows are attached to a large puppet by lengths of dowling). Eugene Pallette as Arnie.


Posted in FILM with tags , , on May 1, 2012 by dcairns

Help! — a disruption in the space-time-cinema continuum has resulted in a number of classics from the 1970s now being made in the early 1930s instead. I’ll show you what I mean…

Ronald Reagan honestly believed that the guy who tried to kill him was obsessed with a film called TAXI! Well, now he’s right — James Cagney plays Travis Bickle, Loretta Young is Betsy, Guy Kibbee is Wizard, David Landau is Sport. The happy ending looks even more dreamlike.

THE GODFATHER now stars George Arliss as Don Corleone, with David Manners as Michael, Jack La Rue as Sonny, and Dwight Frye as Fredo. And it’s 68 minutes long.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS stars Jack La Rue and Loretta Young. It’s all filmed from the waist up, but if anything it’s more obscene.

STAR WARS stars El Brendel. Playing every role. Due to the wonder of special effects.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION stars Spencer Tracy, with Maurice Chevalier as the connection.

GREASE stars Astaire and Rogers. And I guess it must be set in the 1910s. Get out your antimacassars!

Suggestions welcome.


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