Archive for March 14, 2008

Quote of the Day: Stolen Face

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on March 14, 2008 by dcairns

 Martin Bormann

Billy Wilder on his friend, Otto Preminger:

“Tantalised by his mystique, I have devoted the last decade to unravel it. After the most laborious detective work, after scanning literally thousands of documents and photographs, after analysing and comparing samples of handwriting as well as of fingerprints, I have come to the irrefutable, if maybe not too surprising conclusion that Otto Ludwig Preminger is in fact none other than the elusive and dreaded Martin Bormann.

Otto Preminger on the set of Exodus

“He has been capable of perpetrating this brazen deception by using his modicum of talent for acting, by shaving his head three times daily, by wearing elevated shoes and having his face re-shaped by a plastic surgeon in Luxemburg. A xeroxed document in my voluminous files on Preminger attests that the operation was performed by a Dr Thomas Frick-Hutzmann in the Luxemburg Landesspital on 11 August 1945. Looking at his new face, there is no doubt that a sloppy and rather unflattering job has been done. However, one better remember that the delicate operation had to be performed by the usually quite competent surgeon while blindfolded.”

~ From Behind the Scenes of Otto Preminger, by Willi Frischauer.

Signs

Phone Crawford

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 14, 2008 by dcairns

Dana Andrews calls. Joan Crawford hangs up on him.

He calls again, this time using a MASSIVE TELEPHONE.

Joan call

Sorry, Wrong Number

Booty Call

Phone Call From A Stranger

Joan Booth

The Mouthpiece

It’s so huge that when Joan flees the house and gets in her car and drives off through the snowy landscape, she can still hear the phone ringing in her ears.

This telephone is as big as the whisky bottle that attacks David Farrar in THE SMALL BACK ROOM, or the phone in DIAL M FOR MURDER that’s so huge you need giant plastic digits to operate it. And it’s as persistent as the phantom phone that haunts Robert DeNiro through several scenes of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.

That’s some phone!

Kenyon passages

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2008 by dcairns

Daisy, Daisy 

Otto Preminger’s 1947 masterpiece DAISY KENYON has just been released to DVD in the US in a package of films noir, but in fact one of the striking things about it (and there are several) is how outside of genreit is. While Otto shoots it in a somewhat more “cutty” variation of the style he deployed successfully in LAURA and FALLEN ANGEL (a Shadowplay favourite, most specially for Linda Darnell’s fabulous footsore entrance), there are no criminal activities front and centre (although one trial scene intrudes, reminding us that although Preminger trained as a lawyer, he’s quite willing to play fast and loose with courtroom etiquette) and we’re not dealing with a tale of corruption or madness or any of those noir subjects.

Angels Wash Their Feet

FALLEN ANGEL.

The natural pigeonhole of DK might be the women’s picture, given the title and the casting of Joan Crawford at the apex of the film’s love triangle. But (1) David Hertz’ adaptation of Elizabeth Janeway’s novel isn’t interested in conventional melodramatics, (2) Preminger tends to stifle big showstopping scenes in the interests of preserving a certain smoothness of pace, and (3) Joan Crawford is on remarkably restrained form. What the typical JC perf offers its audience is spectacle — the costumes, the grandstanding theatrics, the camp — which is one of the two main pleasures of the women’s picture genre. Here she seems like a person — a Crawford first. Otto doesn’t encourage intimate identification with the characters either, which would be the second pleasure of the WP: the pleasurably masochistic involvement with a suffering female lead. Here, everybody is equally tormented, but our engagement is with the characters as fellow humans, not as glamorous extensions of ourselves. For this to work, the people have to seem real and complex and surprising, and apart from some slightly overwritten dialogue, they really do.

It’s a truly uncommonly adult movie. Apart from distancing itself quietly from genre concerns, it opens up new terrain by presenting a group of characters with more or less likeable and dislikeable traits, and allowing us to form our own judgements — which are sometimes upset by the revelations of the advancing narrative. In this, it feels maybe more like a ’70s New Hollywood work, or our idealised idea of one. And such is the individual, and private nature of the film’s moral compass, that you can’t use the Production Code to figure out how it’s going to end. I can’t recall a ’40s Hollywood film that left me so uncertain as to how it would turn out. So many emotional issues are raised that, inevitably, a few are left hanging at the end, which also seems appropriate and rather ’70s.

Glenn Kenyon

The copy I watched was an off-air recording from a few years ago, ripped from VHS, so I still have the pleasure of a proper DVD copy to look forward to, the better to enjoy Leon Shamroy’s glowing visuals. Shamroy was the king of Technicolor Gorgeous Lifelike Color by Deluxe at 20th Century Fox, but his monochrome work here, though less showy than the eye-searing hues of THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT or LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, already looks very fine.

Incidentally, I was curious as to how Preminger and Crawford got on together. Though Otto would sometimes claim to have entirely forgotten the movie, in his autobiography he recalls J.C. as professional and generous: “When the film was finished she gave me gold cuff links. I later discovered that she always gave her director cuff links at the conclusion of shooting. Once at a party there were four of us wearing identical sets.” La Crawford had fond memories of Otto too, crediting him with whatever success the picture had, though hinting that the success might be limited. They’re both wrong — like LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, this is a Hollywood picture that transcends genre in such a way that nobody working on it seems to have recognised how special it was. 

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