Night Moves

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 26, 2015 by dcairns


Charles Vanel directed one feature film. Learn more in this fortnight’s Forgotten, over at the Notebook. Link.

The Big Wheezy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2015 by dcairns


Pneumonic plague in New Orleans — that’s the set-up for Elia Kazan’s tense drama PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950), which he claimed marked a turning point in his work. Having previously worked with the actors and filmed everything in medium shots — what Hitchcock would call “photographs of people talking” — here he decided to shoot it like a silent movie, to trust long shots and to try to make a story that could be understood without the words. I didn’t try watching it with the sound down, but the visuals are certainly a million times more dynamic than the staid GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT. (His first, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, is an exception because DoP Leon Shamroy handled the visuals, which made for some powerful, expressive compositions.) And he decided to follow the influence of John Ford, and “trust the longshot,” instead of shooting everything in medium shot, what he called a “theatrical style,” what we would call a televisual one. Kazan was also building on the use of all-real locations, a fashionable approach at Fox, which he had first exploited in BOOMERANG! (1947). The result: Kazan has abruptly become a filmmaker.

If the filmmaking is exciting — the dance of cast and camera is thrillingly choreographed — the world-view is quite conservative. New Orleans has been ethnically cleansed for the occasion, with only a few black sailors to represent the city’s ethnic mix. Sure there are some immigrants, a Greek restaurateur and an Irish dwarf (the ultimate minority?), but the story contrasts a respectable suburban naval doctor (Richard Widmark) and a tough cop (Paul Douglas, partnered more comfortably with Widmark than he was with Leslie Phillips in THE GAMMA PEOPLE) with the various disease-harbouring low-lifes who must be tracked down, arrested and decontaminated. So I’d argue the comfortable middle-class viewpoint stops it being noir. On the other hand, the family scenes (with Barbara Bel Geddes) are nicely drawn, and cute. And the lowlifes — what lowlifes they are! (But shouldn’t that be “lowlives”?)


“Walter” Jack Palance (he would soon drop the first name) and Zero Mostel make a remarkable team. Palance, especially sinewy here, basically lost a layer of fat when burned in WWII. Mostel seems to have inherited that layer. The two men, one lean, impossibly dynamic and snarling, the other baggy, perspiring and whimpering, almost manage drag the movie down into the sewer where a good noir should live. You can practically see the germs swarming around them. Palance shoves and rolls Mostel before him, then drags him. The highly physical chase sequence at the end looks about to kill both men, though it isn’t as hair-raising as the opening, where Kazan has Patient Zero (Lewis Charles) wander in front of an oncoming train, for real, escaping messy death by seconds.


Perhaps aptly, Kazan cast himself as a mortuary assistant.

This criminous double-act reminds me oddly of the cat and fox in  PINOCCHIO — ridiculous in themselves, they are nevertheless capable of bringing great harm.

Mostel has a dual role, as goofy cat to Palance’s wily fox, and as conscience to Kazan. I suspect every pre-testimony Kazan film features at least one incipient blacklistee, haunting the scene. Mostel is paunchy wraith from the future.


Robert R. Service with a Smile

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2015 by dcairns


Start as you mean to go on — the opening shot of THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO.

I got out my French Tex Avery box set — the gift that keeps on giving — and we ran two toons, both based on the same Robert W. Service — DANGEROUS DAN MCFOO (Warner Bros, 1939) and THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO (MGM, 1945). The former features a Droopy prototype voiced by Mel Blanc to sound almost exactly like Elmer Fudd. The latter features Droopy himself, along with the wolf and the ubiquitous Red Hot Riding Hood figure, here recast as “the lady known as Lou.” Lou in the first film is a little dog styled after Bette Davis (though I still say the voice sounds more like Katherine Hepburn, a hound of a different pedigree). In the second film, Lou has a Mae West purr and a fuller figure. Plus, she’s a human, which I find helps make her attractive, though it does raise uncomfortable questions about her exact relationship with Droopy.



In a few years, Avery’s comic style had advanced markedly, with more absurd jokes and violations of filmic reality, and also much better character design. The WB films are still trying to be cute, even though Avery’s cartoon universe has only limited, and very subversive, uses for cuteness.

Both films rely heavily on puns to take the mickey out of the serious V.O. (the exact same extracts from the poem are read in both films), but the imagery this results in is far more bizarre in the MGM film. Oddly, for a wolfie movie this is fairly restrained — his reactions to Lou’s showgirl routine, apart from the initial eye-pop (“Go ‘way, boys, you bother me,” Lou tells the hovering orbs), are just about physically possible, or anyhow they’re versions of things that are physically possible. The wolf kicks himself in the head, howls, bays like a donkey, and bites chunks out of a wooden beam. The gags in RURAL RED RIDING HOOD reach far loftier heights of insanity. My favourite here is the wolf seizing his own neck and bashing his head off the tabletop — his head and neck become a long, flapping, fapping length of semi-tumescent gristle — Freudian readings are, as ever, quite redundant with Avery.


Though a lesser work on every level, the earlier film, viewed as a sort of preliminary sketch, is fascinating, and there are some good, bizarre gags. When the referee of the impromptu boxing match between the proto-wolf and proto-Droopy investigates an allegation that the bad guy has something in his glove, he shakes lose a horseshoe, then another, then another, then an entire horse. Sort of predictable, but it does yield the delightful image of a horse emerging from a glove. Freeze frame it!


You see — nothing impossible about that at all.

The boxing match (pretty sure there isn’t one in the Service poem) naturally requires a bell to signal the rounds, so Avery naturally has a trolley-car rocket into the saloon for that purpose.


On the other hand, the remake-thing has a barroom piano player say, in Jimmy Durante voice, “What a repulsive way to make a living!” which is inexplicably the best thing ever. And it has this ~


And this ~


And this ~



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