The Sunday Intertitle: The Last Gun

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2017 by dcairns

Charley Chase (of all people) talks tough in SITTIN’ PRETTY, directed by Leo McCarey in 1924. A typically well-ordered yet lunatic farce plot, in which Charley impersonates a police officer (borrowing his prospective father-in-law’s uniform) in order to dispel a particularly shameless carjacker from his auto, then gets roped into police business — capturing a rampant lunatic (played by Charley’s brother, James Parrott).

This leads to the most famous bit, an early run of the mirror sequence from DUCK SOUP (1933, also McCarey). Charley confuses his prey by donning a false beard and impersonating his reflection.

Clearly, McCarey must have seen Max Linder’s rendition of this gag in 7 YEARS BAD LUCK (1921). Or some other version now lost to time.

While much shorter than Groucho and Harpo’s version, this sequence contains many of the same ideas, including business with hats, and the crazy man retreating to one side to formulate his next plan, slightly undercranked. It doesn’t play on a gradual escalation of mistakes by the reflection, which reach such lunatic heights in the Marxian routine — surely, we think, Groucho must have got wise by now… or by now…? In this version, Charley’s first ridiculous mistake causes his whole act to be rumbled.

Instead, the comedy comes from Charley’s supernatural adeptness at anticipating what the madman will do next, so that he appears in a derby, a top hat and a straw boater just as his opponent does. No explanation is possible as to how he manages this, so McCarey simply stays with the bamboozled loon for the duration.

Here too, we may see the 1933 refinement of the routine as a big improvement — rather than temporarily leaving his hero’s viewpoint, McCarey makes one hero (Groucho) the one who’s being tricked and another (Harpo), the trickster, so the comedy comes from the tension generated by Groucho’s failure to get smart and Harpo’s illusion-jeopardising blunders.

Nevertheless, the short (one-reel) SITTIN’ PRETTY is an uncommonly satisfying little comedy.

 

Advertisements

Deco Vespiary

Posted in FILM, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2017 by dcairns

DEATH AT BROADCASTING HOUSE (1934) — viewed on Talking Pictures TV — is in many ways a cut above the average British picture of its time, but I can never seem to focus on it. It’s set in BBC Radio’s magnificent art deco hub, a gorgeous building. That starts things off with plenty of interest. There’s a strangulation murder broadcast live to the nation (nobody suspects until afterwards, since the victim was playing the role of a man who gets strangled). Snuff radio! And director Reginald Denham delivers not only plenty of beautiful shots of sharp-suited men looking pensive in white rooms, but some positively experimental jump-cut treatment of the musical numbers (yes! musical numbers!). I really want to try more of his films but few are available. Maybe Talking Pictures TV will transmit a few more.

My problem with the film is that all the male characters are the same — acidulated queens spitting venom at one another.  This may be an accurate portrayal of the BBC at the time — it probably is — but after the initial amusement value, a certain monotony sets in. One or two such characters could certainly enliven a murder mystery with their barbed quips, but this is too much of a good thing. When Ian Hunter shows up as the man from the Yard, he’s just the same, another sarcastic prig. There would have been good mileage in having him a comparative innocent, horrified at the nest of media vipers he’s stumbled into.

Among the sniping bitches are Henry Kendall (RICH AND STRANGE), a nubile Donald Wolfit, and Jack Hawkins, who doesn’t look quite as alarming here as he did in 1932’s THE LODGER, but still hasn’t grown into that toby jug head, which looks peculiar atop a spindly young body.

The script is by Val Gielgud — yes, brother of the more famous John — who also appears, looking diabolical and debonair in a goatee that positions him perfectly as the alternate universe evil twin of dear, dear Johnny. His scriptwork is a little lacking in variety but he’s such a surprising presence I wish there was more of him to see. I shall have to make an appointment with MEN ARE NOT GODS, his only other talkie, which is the original of Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE. Sounds kind of great.

Peeping Tom, colour-blind

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 20, 2017 by dcairns

For some reason I suddenly became curious as to what Michael Powell and Leo Marks’ PEEPING TOM would look like in black and white.

Maybe this is partly because Powell’s forties and fifties films in Technicolor are so gorgeous. And PEEPING TOM, though shot by the gifted Otto Heller (THE LADYKILLERS, THE IPCRESS FILE), is in the grungier Eastmancolor process, and not half as beautiful. Arguably it shouldn’t be beautiful, as it’s a more squalid and grim story than, say, THE RED SHOES. But I think the moody, red-lit stuff was intended to be both sleazy and glamorous, and the muckiness of the image (not helped, probably, by the deterioration of the unstable film stock) detracts from that.

 

Monochrome gives the images a noir quality, doesn’t it? The location stuff gains a verité feel.

The gaudiness of the porn theme is definitely lessened, which is a loss. But it makes me think that, if it had been released in b&w, the film might not have attracted half as much critical opprobrium as it got. So we’d have lost some of the film’s transgressive ick factor, but Powell might have been able to make more movies. (Except that probably the film that really wrecked his career was THE QUEEN’S GUARDS, a major studio production which is really pretty terrible.)

Of course, we have to accept the film as it is. I was just curious. Now I’m wondering what other movies I might decolorize, like a roving anti-Ted Turner, with slimmer wallet.