Archive for Val Lewton

The Prussians are Coming!

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by dcairns

MADEMOISELLE FIFI, with Simone Simon.

Guy de Maupassant is a fave of mine, although I’ve only read his short stories, not his novels. Among these morally complex, twisted works, are a few atypically simplistic propaganda-type pieces dealing with the Franco-Prussian war, one of which, Mademoiselle Fifi, became half of a fine Val Lewton/Robert Wise drama at RKO. The other half of that movie was based on the considerably more complex Boule de Suif, in which the Prussians may be brutes and tyrants but the French are self-centred snobs and hypocrites. Lewton skillfully uses the simple story to counteract some of the anti-propagandistic aspects of the complex one, so as to wind up with a film that could be released in wartime without drawing accusations of giving succour to the enemy.

This week’s edition of the Forgotten, over at the Daily Notebook, looks at PYSHKA, the last silent movie made in the USSR, and a much more faithful, hard-line version of Boule de Suif. I suspect you’ll find the images there most bracing.

PYSHKA.

Three facts about Guy de Maupassant which I carry in my mind:

One day while swimming he saved the poet Swinburne from drowning. As a reward, Swinburne gave him an ashtray made from a human hand, and this formed the inspiration for Maupassant’s first published story, The Hand, a creepy and hilarious thunderstorming mystery.

Maupassant liked to paint fake syphilis sores on his erection and chase his mistress round the room with it. What a card!

Contracting the disease for real, GdM wound up dying, blind and insane in the asylum. Towards the end, he was convinced there were diamonds in his urine.

Asides from the films cited above, the movie most alive to the spirit of Maupassant is perhaps Ophuls’ LE PLAISIR. Interesting how the marvelous overcast skies of PYSKHA (that amazing combo of heavy clouds and bright sunshine blasting in from the horizon line) followed Ophuls around and crept into his last shot.

LE PLAISIR, with Simone Simon again.

If the weather had been different that day, all cinema would be changed. For me, anyway.

UK: Le Plaisir [DVD]

US: Le Plaisir

Max Ophuls Collection: Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948), Earrings Of Madame De.. (1953) + Le Plaisir (1952)

Ruthelma

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 8, 2011 by dcairns

In THE SCARLET EMPRESS, her best-known movie, Ruthelma Stevens is understandably blown off the screen by Fraulein Dietrich, but when I saw her in her two movies with Adolphe Menjou as DA/sleuth Thatcher Colt, I was impressed by her quality of seriousness and intelligence. But, for whatever reasons, Ruthelma never made it as a star — her turn as Sam Jaffe’s mistress in SCARLET EMP was virtually her last credited role.

Sternberg obviously remembered her though, because he used her again for a bit in JET PILOT, which seems to be her last film of all. Among the movies she graced in her later years, wearing her years graciously but quite openly, is Val Lewton’s last movie as producer, which happens to be the subject of this week’s edition of The Forgotten: in APACHE DRUMS, Ruthelma plays dance hall proprietor (read: madame) Betty Careless.

Fiona’s reaction on reading the sign outside the dance hall: “I want to be Betty Careless!”

Here’s more on Ruthelma (that NAME!) from an avid fan.

Buy a Ruthelma classic:  The Scarlet Empress (The Criterion Collection) (See all Dramatic Classics)

Life and Lim

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by dcairns

More noir limericks at Limerwrecks — one with a Cornell Woolrich theme, the other venturing into Val Lewton terrain. Because obviously, what Val Lewton needs is a good limerick.

Through Edinburgh streets rides a cabbie

His appearance sepulchral and shabby

But if you’d be his fare

You’d better beware

Lest you wind up a corpse on a slab, eh?

STOP PRESS: here’s more identical twin action.

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