Not Wanted On Voyage

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

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My late friend Lawrie Knight was an assistant director in the 1940s. He did some work for the Boulting Brothers, among others — I’m not sure what the film was. One time, he found himself trapped in a kind of airlock with one of the twins — not sure which, let’s just say Roy. Or John. The airlock was the space between the outer and inner doors of the studio, and just as they had passed through the outer doors, the red light had come on, signalling filming (not doubt under the aegis of the other brother, John. Or Roy.) So they were stuck at close quarters for a few minutes.

During the awkward silence, Roy (or John) noticed Lawrie’s school tie. And because it was a tie from one of our better public schools, he immediately started treating Lawrie a lot better, And Lawrie, who would confess to being a bit of a snob himself at times, was appalled, thought “You idiot,” and generally thought far less of John (or Roy) Boulting thereafter.

I mention this because TRUNK CRIME, an early (1939) opus, produced by John and directed (and edited) by Roy, deals with school in a way, and conveys a rather anxious view of it, perhaps anticipating the brothers’ 1948 film THE GUINEA PIG.

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Manning Whiley plays an over-aged college graduate who takes a hideous revenge on the young man who’s bullied him since their days at public school, even to the point of once burying him alive. At the start of the story, the bully and his drunken pals break into Whiley’s digs and trash the room in a home invasion scenario only slightly less brutal and shocking than that in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Deranged with impotent fury, Whiley proceeds to drug his arch-enemy and lock him in a steamer trunk, having informed him just as he becomes insensible of his intention to ship him to his cottage in the country and sink him in quicksand.

It’s an unusual scenario: the victim is utterly unsympathetic, and the villain is someone you feel a lot of compassion for, but you can’t quite go along with what he’s contemplating doing (I nearly can: I hate bullies). Of course, Whiley is forever bumping into people who randomly want to open his trunk and have a shufty inside, and even Patch the dog, who gets his own screen credit, is very curious. It’s all very ROPE — some of the plot developments don’t quite convince or compel, and Boulting should have hired someone else to edit it — when we edit our own stuff, we often don’t try hard enough to solve our directorial mistakes, accepting them as somehow inherent. But it has a very nice denouement — we suspected the movie’s heart was in the right place, and it is.

Fiona, wandering in midway, couldn’t believe it was called TRUNK CRIME. There’s even a newsstand bearing the slogan ANOTHER TRUNK CRIME, so presumably this was a common phrase in 1939. I can’t seem to find out exactly what it meant, but I doubt it typically involved doping people, packing them up and submerging them in a handy quagmire. “Does he have a trunk?” she asked. “He has two,” I replied, which is true. There’s some unnecessary detail about Whiley planning to substitute one case for another. “Should it be called TRUNKS CRIME then?” But I think that might have suggested a crime committed by a swimmer.

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Manning Whiley is good at being high-strung, that’s for sure. His every utterance is a-quiver with neurasthenic fervor. He also looks oddly Japanese. I see he was born in Australia… well, anything’s possible down there.

The movie also features a shockingly young and unrecognizable Thorley Walters, though once you get over the shock, his acting style is quite consistent. The bluff, ruddy, dopey Dr. Watson manner he assumed in all his Hammer performances has quite a different effect when filtered through the personage of a gangly youth — he’s much more of a P.G. Wodehouse twerp from the Drone’s Club. Interesting.

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Walters, left.

Boulting, anticipating Carol Reed, is not shy about getting his Dutch tilts out. (Why are they called Dutch tilts? Isn’t Holland notoriously flat?)

The Whit Sunday Intertitle: Crossing Delaunay

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2015 by dcairns

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Marvelous Mary came back from the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at the Tate, clutching the catalogue and full of enthusiasm. I was totally unable to procure the Delaunay-designed 1926 movie LE P’TIT PARIGOT, a clip of which had entranced Mary, so we settled for Marcel L’Herbier’s LE VERTIGE, costumed by Delaunay the same year, which the IMDb doesn’t even know she did (sharing screen credit with Jacques Manuel).

LE VERTIGE is pretty slow and dull dramatically, but the production design by a team including top architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and Delaunay’s husband Robert, is really striking. Sadly, there aren’t many of the striking patterns she made her name with. L’Herbier’s lover and star Jaque Catelain does turn up with a nice robe at the 105 minute mark, and there’s a Mexican stand-off at the end by two men both attired in fabulous scarves, but that’s your lot.

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Compare with the designs for LE P’TIT PARIGOT ~

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Or this stunning set of jammies modeled by architect Erno Goldfinger (whose name inspired the Bond villain) ~

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If I owned a set of jim-jams as stylish as that, I wouldn’t think twice about detonating a nuclear device in Fort Knox either.

Still, LE VERTIGE has something else: a storyline which seems closely connected to Hitchcock’s similarly-titled 1959 necrodrama. The movie opens at the height of the Russian revolution. The jealous General Mikhail (Roger Karl) shoots his rival Jaque Catelain in full view of his straying spouse, Emmy Lynn. Then the revolutionaries burst in and bayonet the prone philanderer. So he’s dead, right? Shot in the heart and bayoneted by the entire Russian revolution, he’s dead. Rumours of his death are not only NOT exaggerated, we can say they don’t go nearly far enough.

So imagine Emmy’s surprise when Catelait turns up on the Cote D’Azur years later, alive, smirking and driving a speedboat. The same smile, the same lipstick, the same guyliner. Positively the same Catelait.

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She now attempts to recreate this passionate affair with the doppelganger of her lost love, and it works pretty good too, from what one can gauge between passionate fadeouts, but she still has that jealous husband.

“Did Hitchcock see this?” asked Fiona. We agreed it was possible, but perhaps more likely that Boileau et Narcejac, the writing team behind the novel D’entre les Mortes, Hitchcock’s source, saw it. In VERTIGO, Both Kim Novaks are the same character. In LE VERTIGE, there are two Catelains, their resemblance coincidental. Jimmy Stewart’s vertigo is a literal acrophobia, but it’s also a spiritual terror, a fear of falling out of one’s place in time, into the past, and a desire to do so. That feeling is already present in LE VERTIGE, and accounts for all Emmy Lynn’s swooning fits, I guess.

More Sonia Delaunay to enjoy — in colour! (And with the promised intertitles.)



Cummings and Goings

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 23, 2015 by dcairns

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SEVEN SINNERS is a title which kept getting trotted out — the one Lewis Milestone made in 1925, long thought lost, has just been rediscovered, which is cause for rejoicing. The unlikely pairing of John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich resulted in a delightful romp for Tay Garnett in 1940. But the version I looked at was from Britain in 1936, and it’s a fairly naked attempt at doing a THIN MAN knock off with American stars — Edmund Lowe and Constance Cummings, who made England her home, it seems, and went on to triumph in BLITHE SPIRIT.

I don’t imagine any of those movies have a good reason to be called SEVEN SINNERS. This one doesn’t. It just sounds good.

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Lowe, who has a lovely mellifluous voice, is a drunken detective a la Nick Charles, and Cummings plays an insurance investigator supposed to accompany him to Scotland to investigate missing jewels. Sadly, they never make it north of the border, but their adventure instead hinges upon murder and train-wrecking, and shunts them from Nice (at carnival time) to Paris and on to London and then the English countryside. All fun stuff.

The train angle stems from the involvement of author Arnold Ridley, who wrote THE GHOST TRAIN and THE WRECKER — the spectacular full-scale smash-up from that accomplished silent thriller is recycled here as stock footage. The whole film may well have been written around it. Elsewhere, director Albert de Courville (best known for: nothing at all) mocks up colossal derailings by spinning the camera and mixing together multiple images to suggest Lowe’s intoxicated experience of being thrown to the ceiling in a spinning corridor.

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Messrs Launder & Gilliat are credited with the script, and do a fine job simulating the kind of patter stars like, say, Myrna Loy and William Powell would throw off in Hollywood productions. It should seem a poor cousin to those movies, but it actually manages to carve out its own little corner and curls up in it like a shaggy dog, looking vaguely pleased with itself but not smelling too bad. Each scene is based around an amusing bit of investigation, the logic connecting them is playful but solid enough, and the business transacted within them is frequently amusing too. Hitchcock would have asked for more real sense of jeopardy — British comedy-thrillers tended to fall heavily on the first quality and scrimp on the second — but it’s all perfect undemanding afternoon entertainment.

“A minute to strip. A minute to dress. I’ll be back in a minute,” says Lowe.

“Better make it two,” says Cummings.

As always with these things, you’re left wishing there was a whole series with these characters. Maybe they’d finally reach Scotland.

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