Archive for Warner Bros

Dial “H” for Hubbard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2013 by dcairns

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To Filmhouse to catch the last 3D screening of DIAL “M” FOR MURDER. I’d seen the film before, and written it up for Hitchcock Year, and seen it again in 3D on video with Japanese subtitles and red-green glasses which mess up the colour cinematography, but this was my first ever big screen 3D screening. Most satisfactory.

John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard is the chief source of pleasure, with Anthony Dawson’s vulpine assassin a strong runner-up (curiously, both men have more famous name-sakes).

Hitch’s restrained use of the stereoscopic process to chart the dimensions of a room is beautiful, but I also found myself enjoying the worst aspects of the film — the grainy London location shots. Warners refused to pay for Hitchcock to shoot 3D in London, so the street scenes and dock scene were filmed flat. Hitchcock sticks a few foreground objects in to try to add a bit of depth, but the fantastically grainy rear-projection is distracting, and in at least one place surreal –

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Robert Cummings, the Butcher of Strasbourg, approaches his friends’ flat in a taxi — the view through the windscreen shows a flat street scene gradually enlarging — no sense of it getting closer, it just looks like it’s being blown up. We’re inside a 3D taxi driving up a flat street. It’s quite boggling. It’s like this London cab has it’s one zoom lens at the front. That’d be quite a good scam: you get in, pay for your journey, and instead of taking you there, they just zoom in. Then you pay up, get out, and find you’re still where you started from. Only then does the cab roar off, taking your money before you can protest. I’m surprised they haven;t attempted to rip the tourists off that way.

Since Hitch and the 3D camera and his stars never went to London, I got very interested in a scene late on where Grace Kelly is driven up to her flat, gets out the car, and approaches the door. How could this be achieved without Grace going to London?

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Close, skeptical viewing provides the answer. The woman getting out the car is NOT Grace, but a reasonably similar stand-in. Hitchcock follows the dictum laid down by Michael Powell, who had to shoot many of Roger Livesey’s scenes in I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! with a double. Don’t have your lookalike skulk around behind a cape like that dentist pretending to be Bela Lugosi in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Simply have the phony stride boldly up to the camera in full view. The audience is expecting to see an expensive movie star, and that’s just what they will see if you give them no reason to doubt it.

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Hitch then cuts quickly to Chief Inspector Hubbard watching from the window. When he cuts back, the stand-in is gone and Grace Kelly is there, standing in a Hollywood studio in front of the rear-projection screen showing a London street (and which formerly also showed her double). Deuced clever, these movie johnnies.

Afterbirth of a Nation

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on June 13, 2012 by dcairns

STORM WARNING is a terrific-looking Warner drama that wants to attack the Ku Klux Klan, but is afraid to get into exactly what that organization does and why it’s bad.

At one point prosecutor Ronald Reagan (!) learns that his right-hand man is a former member. He seems just curious, and kind of charmed, by this revelation. The guy tells him he joined because he wanted to do some good — Reagan is fine with this, although it’s about the least convincing explanation for membership I can imagine — then he says he got out because he discovered the thing was a crooked, money-making racket. Yeah, that’s the trouble with the Klan. They were fine before they went kommercial.

So, fashion model Ginger Rogers (!) stops off in this hick town to visit her sister, Doris Day (!) — and stumbles right into a lynching. One of those white-on-white lynchings you hear so much about. Seems the victim was a journalist who got caught trying to write an exposé on the Klan’s nefarious activities — so nefarious that Warners cannot allow us to ever know what they are. I half-suspect Warners of killing the guy, actually.

When Ginger realizes that one of the guilty men, Steve Cochran (no “!” for you, Steve) is her sister’s husband, and sis is pregnant, she does everything she can to avoid testifying — but Reagan is SO insistent. (Did Ron and Ginger sit around between takes plotting world domination, or did they just trade chimp stories? Oh, Ginger hadn’t made MONKEY BUSINESS yet? Well, maybe she did it on Ron’s recommendation. “Bonzo was super, and he didn’t try to bit my face off once.”)

Paul Roen (High Camp) compares this film to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and there’s certainly the bestial caveman thing going on in Cochran’s beetle-browed sweatiness, but there’s no suggestion that Ginger finds him anything but repellant. Doris manages to sell her sympathetic, simple-minded wife/sister role so that she’s moving rather than annoying — aware of the difference between right and wrong but simply unequipped to process what’s going on around her. Ginger is so tough we’re never really concerned for her, despite a rape attempt and a whipping — the film is nothing if not sadistic, in a noir fashion. Cochrane is memorably repellant. Reagan is… quite adequate.

All the sadism is there to torture Ginger for failing to do her civic duty, putting her pregnant sister’s well-being above her legal obligation to testify against Cochran. And this would work fine, is even a story that could be politically compelling while failing to deal with the Klan, but Reagan’s scenes diffuse the tension. His narrative purpose is to tiresomely point out to Ginger her correct course, and he does this well enough, but because he’s a leading man the script also gives him redundant scenes of his own. These are all intended to convince us that lynch mobs don’t face prosecution, despite the efforts of noble authority figures, because the communities protect the guilty. The last part of that statement is true, but we all know that the authorities colluded in the crimes. The movie does semi-implicate a couple of prison guards, but that’s as far as it will go.

The characters occupy such well-defined, stereotypical positions, either all good or all bad, that it must have been hard to get real life into the film, but at some point one of the writers has decided to cram in some strange humour, and a new kind of animation flares up for five minutes. The inquest into the central murder features a radio newscaster wandering the crowd trying to get vox pops from reticent or surly locals (we’re in the South, but nobody has a particularly southern accent), but keeps emitting tetchy whispers to his associate “Don’t step on the cable!” Then, we see the jury sworn in: “Raise your right hand. Your right hand.” A snarky touch — in a movie so anxious not to alienate the southern audience, suddenly suggesting that the average citizen is a moron probably wasn’t wise, but it’s very funny in an “oh dear” kind of way.

Everything I’ve seen from director Stuart Heisler has been good so far — nothing’s been quite great, but I’m certain there’s a masterpiece out there. THE BISCUIT EATER, THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL, AMONG THE LIVING, THE GLASS KEY, all are recommended — there’s real visual panache and emotional commitment in all of them.

Night of the Long Schnozz

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on May 30, 2012 by dcairns

In BOSKO’S PICTURE SHOW, we get to see an entire 1933 cinema programme, including wurlitzer sing-a-long, newsreel, short subject and feature, condensed into a single cartoon. We also get a particularly startling gag in that fake newsreel. After an intertitle announcing that a famous screen heartthrob is taking a European vacation, we cut to this image –

Jimmy Durante: “Am I mortified! Am I mortified!”

The joke is as funny as cancer, but since this is Warner Brothers we can at least be sure it comes from a warm place.

It all hang from Durante’s nose — let’s see if we can unpick it, if you’ll forgive the expression. The first assumption (and all jokes are based upon shared assumptions, often in the form of stereotypes) is that Jimmy Durante has a big nose, and some Jewish people have big noses, therefor J.D. might be taken for a Jew (he was Italian-American and Catholic). This means that if Jimmy Durante went to Nazi Germany, he would be in danger of being personally murdered by Hitler. Hilarious!

While the idea of laughing at this stuff seems ghastly now, Warners probably deserve points for talking about this stuff so early, even if they’re not doing it in a way that treats the subject with the seriousness it deserves.

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