Archive for Victor McLaglen

What I Couldn’t Tell Tag Gallagher

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 13, 2013 by dcairns

Victor McLaglan in John Ford’s THE INFORMER christens John Ford expert Tag Gallagher.

On a related note, please head over to The Forgotten. Because it’s Thursday.

La Rue Morgue

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 2, 2010 by dcairns

WHILE PARIS SLEEPS more than lived up to La Faustin’s recommendation. This racy, nasty pre-code unfolds in a fallen world of unbelievable cruelty and darkness, although it’s enacted on beautiful sets (Fox Films’ Paris sets may have been left over from SEVENTH HEAVEN, they certainly look similar).

Right at the start, war hero Victor McLaglan escapes from a hellish prison and heads for Paris. The wardens believe him dead, and smugly affirm that it’s for the best, when a man is already “mentally dead.” They also seem to have no sympathy for the fact that he got a letter saying his wife was dying and his daughter about to be destitute. This is a cartoonishly unsympathetic story world we’re in.

To confirm this, we get a scene of the daughter, Helen Mack, being kicked out of her apartment because her mother’s funeral cleaned out her savings. The vicious old concierge more or less advises her to go on the streets to earn her keep. The nice Helen has no intention of doing so, but the rest of the plot concerns a scheme to lure her into a life of sexual slavery, so perhaps she’ll end up like Mollie Molloy, her character in HIS GIRL FRIDAY.

Mack is really cute in this, with a slightly daffy, cockeyed Helen Chandler quality (but sexier). Fiendish Jack La Rue takes a fancy to her, and since we soon see him baking a snitch alive in an oven, this seems like a troubling development.

Of course, the boulangerie is a place of primal terror for all Americans. One thinks of the poor guy suspended by his thumbs in a baker’s basement in REIGN OF TERROR, as Arnold Moss politely asks Robert “Terror of Strasbourg” Cummings “Whyncha eat yer bun?” The association of French pastry-making with torture and murder is easy to explain: doesn’t every bakery in Paris have a sign above the door that reads “PAIN”?

The film’s other top pre-code moment is Mack’s nude scene, semi-espied through a translucent screen, as naughty La Rue peeps over the top. This scene is suggestive enough to make a BluRay release mandatory, so we can see how much detail is visible. I can’t stress enough how cute Helen Mack is… Anyway, La Rue’s hardboiled girlfriend Fifi (Rita La Roy) soon comes in and bashes him over the head with a French loaf, cementing the connection between bread and violence.

McLaglan is like Ron Perlman in CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, a hulking single-motivation man-muscle, pummeling his way through life’s problems with two fists, two neurons and an undying love in his heart. When he’s simple, he’s terrific. There’s an awkward scene, however, when he parts from Mack, having decided not to identify himself as her long-lost dad. He pauses, thinks, frowns, wipes away a tear, sniffs, sighs, and does everything but hold up a signpost reading “EMOTIONAL”. McLaglan is like Wallace Beery in that his boorishness is quite believable and strangely appealing as such, but when he does schmaltz it has a queasy effect akin to watching a balrog make kissy-faces.

Interesting how in this movie all the young lovers (Mack and William Bakewell, who’s just the right side of sappy) want to do is escape Paris and go live on a farm. Seems counter-intuitive to me, somehow. Still, the portrait of civilisation is so relentlessly unsympathetic, the idea of surrounding oneself with a protective screen of livestock makes a kind of sense.

Despite Lubitsch’s assertion that Paramount Paris was more Parisian than the real thing, Fox Films Paris is my favourite, a grimy, rough-hewn, round-edged place of stone and shadow and fog, with the awesome feeling of a gutter as viewed by a microbe. Of course, the prime bug is Jack La Rue, his nose spread across his face as wide as his shit-eating grin. Dwan at first seems almost afraid of that face, as if he’s not too sure what it’ll do to his camera, but at the very end of Dwan’s second big scene he finally steels himself tracks in on it, as JLR puffs and exhales satanically on his Gauloise.

Fatheads

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2010 by dcairns

The twin attractions of Erle C. Kenton’s GUILTY AS HELL (great pre-code title) are not really leading men Victor McLaglen (a side of mutton dotted with sharp little teeth in permanent death-rictus) and Edmund Lowe (jocular ex-matinee idol going to seed, and fast), it’s [1] the outrageous bad taste, which is at times genuinely foul, reminding us that the liberty of the pre-code era could be used in both good and bad ways, and [2] Kenton’s ridiculously pugnacious camerawork, which delights in thrusting faces and fingers into the lens in giant macro-close-up, or gliding through walls and between scenes as if the whole film were taking place on a series of closely-crammed sets. Which it is.

Movie begins with an elaborately staged murder, with Claire Dodd miscast as the corpse. Kenton pulls out all the stops like a ’30s American Argento ~

Fast-talking reporter Lowe explodes into the cop shop, where flatfoots sit around idly, listening to the radio. “Say, how much would you guys charge to haunt a house?” Then he exchanges wisecracks, insults, and out-and-out abuse with detective McLaglen. The partnership is much like McLaglen and Oakie in MURDER AT THE VANITIES: brassy, vulgar and stoopid. And yet they love each other.

Called to the murder scene, the police and press set out competing as to how outrageously they can disrespect the dead, insult the witnesses and pillage the crime scene. One cop raids the refrigerator, while Lowe pockets the photographs of the victim. Then he taps cigarette ash on the corpse. McLaglen tosses a scrunched-up gum wrapper at the corpse. “Bullseye.” Great character actress Elizabeth Patterson quite rightly expresses horror at these outrages, and we’re meant to be amused.

The movie never quite recovers from making its stars so hateful in the first minutes of the story, but things pick up when the putative good guys have to save an innocent man from death row (Richard Arlen, who always seems to be an innocent man on death row). They’re kind of obliged, y’see, since they put him there. The resulting confrontations see Kenton rehearsing for the 3D movie he’d never make ~

People sit up or step forward into leering, porous close-up, then jab their stubby digits in our eyes, giving the focus-puller repetitive strain injury. Fun stuff, if cartoony.

Result: Arlen the perpetual patsy is freed, the real killer snuffs it, and Lowe sits on his corpse. The End.

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