Isn’t it Pharaonic? Don’t you think?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2017 by dcairns

I mention the prospect of LAND OF THE PHARAOHS for our Hawks binge, and Fiona declares at once, “That’s one of my favourite movies!”

Afterwards, she admitted it wasn’t.

But it made a great impression on her as a kid, because of the ending. “Buried alive with a lot of people with their tongues cut out!”

SPOILER ALERTIt’s like a great ending in search of a movie. And perhaps evidence that no movie about a giant construction project is ever any good (Civil Engineering: See Boring). we have SUEZ, WESTERN UNION, and this. There must be exceptions but I can’t think of any. Don’t say THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

Hawks had engineering training and I guess he got carried away by it. Later, he complained that the film didn’t have sympathetic characters — the slaves are theoretically “sympathetic” because they’re not mean, but they can’t engage our interest because they’re not active protagonists. Which is ironic, since they’re the only ones who do any work. But they’re not actively engaged in a personal struggle of their own, or minimally. They’re not DRAMATIC.Joan Collins plays a weird character — introduced as sympathetic, sent into sexual slavery to spare her father’s people from starvation, and swiftly sentenced to a lashing by Jack Hawkins — but then she becomes a monster of lust, ambition and avarice. If she were simply vengeful, destroying the dynasty (hah!) from within, it would be more consistent.

Despite the colossal sets, the spectacle isn’t very engrossing: Hawks ignores the lessons of CABIRIA and INTOLERANCE, which used the moving camera to involve us in the scenery and bring out the size of the construction work, combining them with a human scale. A bit of dollying in the pyramid interior could really have added to the feeling of being surrounded by great thicknesses of stone. Again, this only comes to life at the climax, where it’s fast cutting rather than camera motion that invigorates the action.My assumption is that after Joan gets entombed alive with the mutes, they all have sex. Am I wrong to think that?

I mean, what else are they gonna do?

(It was major Hawks collaborator Ben Hecht who suggested you could entertainingly read every single fade-out in Hollywood history as an ellipsed sex scene. This is a thought experiment which will liven up any dull B-movie.)

“I don’t know how a pharaoh talks,” is a classic line, and a decent objection to this kind of malarkey. Language gets deracinated. And you could see how the problem would be particularly devastating to Hawks. In the end, apart from the stunning climax, the film’s value is as a course correction that led to RIO BRAVO, a film in which practically everybody is an admirable Hawksian professional, even the baddies, and the talk is casual and plentiful and easily peppered with idiomatic spice.

Fishing Reels

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 17, 2017 by dcairns

Zita Johann!

Continuing to trawl (apposite verb here) through the lesser Hawks films — we come to TIGER SHARK, considered over at The Forgotten.

The male must go through

Posted in FILM on August 16, 2017 by dcairns

Cary Grant gets in bed with Ann Sheridan and literally keeps one foot on the floor, appeasing the Hays Code.

Fiona wanted to watch TWENTIETH CENTURY again, and what was I going to do, refuse? But first we watched I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE, which I don’t think she’d seen. I *know* I’d seen it, but I’d blanked the first half. The movie does get progressively funnier, so that the really strong bits are largely in the last section, where it kind of finds its subject — it’s what Hollywood charmingly called a “delayed fuck” picture, in which Grant and Sheridan spar, flirt, get married, and then have their honeymoon night endlessly delayed. And what delays it in this case is military red tape, a novel situation. And added to the sexual flirtation is sustained sleep deprivation.

For some reason, the sleepless hero is a staple of film noir, including Hawks’ own THE BIG SLEEP. (I just started reading Gregory McDonald’s Fletch books and the insomnia trope returns in Carioca Fletch.) Not so much in comedy, maybe because we know insomnia is kind of agonizing, not the short sharp shock of slapstick violence. And indeed, Hawks is mercilessly mean to Grant throughout the film, and it does feel like torture.

True, Cary’s character, a French (!) officer, is unsympathetically loutish to begin with, an aggressive and chauvinist skirt-chaser. The backstory of failed seduction and pranking that’s set up at the start is familiar from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, hinting at HH’s script involvement there (but Charles Lederer is a credited co-writer on both). By the time romance has blossomed, though, we’re ready to forgive him, as Sheridan has. Not so Hawks.

Asides from finding Kafkaesque contrivances to keep Grant from the marital bed, or any bed at all, a persistent theme of emasculation is played out, culminating in the actualisation of the title with Grant in drag, wearing a horse’s mane for a wig. Along the way, there’s a series of bizarre but inescapable bits of sexual symbolism — a doorknob comes off in Grant’s hand, and the movie ends with a small key being chucked through a porthole — at which the Statue of Liberty immediately appears. One wonders if the whole film is a riff on post-war male anxieties — they take your uniform and gun away, and they expect you to get married and look after kids and other women’s stuff.

I wonder if this would be funnier with John Wayne — and this is literally the only Cary Grant comedy I can imagine saying that about.

Or Bogart?