The Reveal

Keep your eye on the suitcase, and watch for the slightest hint… of hanky panky.

Man with a Suitcase

This is all one shot. He goes to the drinking fountain, stoops to drink, occluding our view of the case…

The Fountainhead

…then straightens up and finds it gone!

The Vanishing

I love this kind of reveal, both for the spooky onscreen effect, and for the thought of the props guy carefully crawling in while the actor is blocking our view. These kind of things are great fun to do.

This is from Mirror Image, a Twilight Zone episode directed by John Brahm. I’d been impressed by Brahm’s visuals on THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE — he has a great sense of noir. But I’d also been distressed to read Brahm’s defence of 20th Century Fox’s bowdlerizing of Patrick Hamilton’s source novel Hangover Square. When Hamilton complained in the press, Brahm wrote back to argue that the studio’s changes, such as transplanting the book to a period setting, were necessary, since modern detection methods would prevent a serial killer from operating for long. Now, not only has Brahm been proven tragically wrong in his faith in “modern methods,” he’s missing the obvious point that there IS no serial killer in Hamilton’s book. He obviously hadn’t even read it.

Our Laird

Although it boasts great visuals and Bernard Herrmann’s walloping score, HANGOVER SQUARE is a travesty, and it’s all the more tragic since Linda Darnell and Dan Duryea are perfectly cast, and the wonderful Laird Cregar crash-dieted himself to death to play the lead part. He loved the book, and actually went on suspension from the studio when he saw the script they’d made of it (despite the title, there’s hardly even any drinking in the film). Cregar had earlier reported to Gorgeous George Sanders his intention to become “as slender as a sapling,” (despite the fact that Hamilton’s protagonist is always called “the  big drinking man”).

Cregar damaged his heart losing weight in a hurry, and HANGOVER SQUARE was his last film.

Hang Sq

So anyhow, I kind of took it against Brahm on account of those comments, and dismissed him as a filmmaker with a great eye but nothing behind it. A sort of ’40s Ridley Scott, maybe. But the above sequence is not only graceful and eerily effective, it’s genuinely CLEVER. Brahm’s thoughtful and restrained work, along with Vera Miles and Martin Milner’s intense performances, elevates a routine doppelganger yarn into something memorable and impressive. One of Rod Serling’s archtypal Twilight Zone themes is at work — the hand of the irrational reaching into ordinary lives and inexplicably twisting everything around. Had David Lynch seen the climax before directing the last episode of Twin Peaks? (Or did his inspiration come from Bava’s KILL, BABY, KILL or Powell and Pressburger’s TALES OF HOFFMAN?)

The Running Man 

I’m going to watch more of Brahm’s Twilight Zone episodes now (he did quite a few), paying particular attention to the one called… Shadowplay.

“We know that a dream can be real, but who ever thought that reality could be a dream? We exist, of course, but how, in what way? As we believe, as flesh-and-blood human beings, or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it and then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead… in the Twilight Zone?”

6 Responses to “The Reveal”

  1. Brahm may have departed from Patrick Hamilton but wouldn’t dismiss Hangover Square offhandedly. It was a crucial influence on the young Stephen Sondheim, who dragged his best friend Jimmy Hammerstein to see it over and over. There’s a shot of music pages in ti and Sondheim was trying to copy them down as best he could. Home video would make this quite easy but that was decades off. In any event he wrote Bernard Herrmann a letter of apreciation — and got a response. it seems that Sondheim was living in the very neightborhood that Herrman, and his best pal Abraham Polonsky, grew up in as children.

    Sondheim has said the entire score of Sweeney Todd is a hommage to Herrman in general and Hangover Square in particular. Tim Burton’s truly great fim rendition of the Sondheim musical evokes Hangover Square frequently, and the deligthfully insane Guy Maddin recreates that films flaming piano finale in the finale of his The Saddest Music in the World.

  2. Chris B Says:

    ARGH! I didn’t want to see the quality of that Twilight Zone set. Now you’ve confirmed it looks stunning, that means I’ll end up buying, ffs!

    You never told me that you made a feature follow up to CRY FOR BOBO, David C?


  3. dcairns Says:

    I love the burning piano — which has no equivalent in Hamilton. They should have changed the character names and title and made it as a wholly original film — the filmed Hamilton’s amazing book with the same cast!

    I’ve now watched Brahm’s Twilight Zone episode Shadow Play and it has some stunningly original work, including split screen and theatrical lighting fade-ups. I have an obscure thing called Guest in the House also, with Ann Sheridan, which I need to look at.

  4. dcairns Says:

    Chris: Scream for Bobo, perhaps.
    The Zone discs are indeed fine quality, but since I owe you plenty of movies you should let me copy one of the first two series for you.

  5. Chris B Says:

    I ordered Season 1 about ten minutes ago. Which, until the release of the next three Artificial-Eye Bresson discs, will be my last purchase, I think.

    – What was in the briefcase?
    – My, er, papers. My business papers.
    – And what do you do, sir?
    – I’m unemployed.

    I would love a DVD of your short films, mentioned it whilst I was up there but completely forgot once I got back.

  6. dcairns Says:

    Season 1 has 3 directed by Mitchell Leisen and several Brahms and a very great many fantastic guest appearances by personages at the beginning (Paul Mazursky, Warren Oates) or near the end of their careers (Thomas Gomez, Cecil Kellaway).

    Will copy my showreel pronto.

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