The Flamin’ Mamies

A Fever Dream Double Feature

Mame

I watched THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER recently and didn’t get a lot out of it, despite the gorgeous lifelike colour by Deluxe. I have a suspicion that Raoul Walsh just doesn’t work in widescreen. He was one of the first directors to get a crack at it, directing THE BIG TRAIL in a prototypical ‘scope format back in 1930. That’s a film that seemed to me to suffer from an excess of DISTANCE. We watch the characters interact in scenic longshot for a rather long time then, when Walsh senses that a change is due, he cuts to an even WIDER shot. We never get close to John Wayne or El Brendel (do we even WANT to?) — and Walsh is a director who can get a great deal out of his closeups, as anyone who’s observed the rhythmic cutting together of tense faces in OBJECTIVE, BURMA! will have seen. I know this is an early talkie and I’m asking a lot of Walsh at this stage in the development of cinema, but if you check out THE BAT WHISPERS made in widescreen around the same time by a lesser director, Roland West, you can see the format being used in a manner that’s both dramatically effective and formally very pleasing. So I think the widescreen maybe just gets in Walsh’s way.

Jane Russell dyes her hair red and is mean moody and magnificent underneath it as Flamin’ Mamie Stover, Honolulu hooker, but nothing else catches fire dramatically. “It’s not good enough to watch,” I protested, but Fiona gamely carried through to the end and was bitterly disappointed. “Why’d she give all her money away? Aren’t women ALLOWED to have money?”

Flames of Passion

I thought of Jane’s flaming tresses as I watched FOREVER AMBER, a 20th Century Fox super-colossus that pits Linda Darnell, her tresses likewise painted strawberry blonde (director Otto Preminger really wanted Lana Turner), against the plague, the Great Fire of London, King Charles II (a rather muted George Sanders), her puritan family, and the Catholic Legion of Decency, who tried to ban the film.

Reading Otto’s memoirs, I started to suspect him of confabulating, and this was confirmed by his bloated period romp, which he claims had all the snogging cut out at the CLoD’s behest, and a nonsensical prologue added to add much-needed moral guidance. Not true — the prologue gives historical context only, and there’s plenty of lip-locking from Linda and the various men in her life.

This was Zanuck’s baby, and Preminger was forced into making it, despite hating the book. Otto did manage to get the script rewritten, and brought along cameraman Leon Shamroy, who proves himself just as seductive in Technicolor as he would be later with gorgeous lifelike color by Deluxe.

Sign of the Cross

The thing is dramatically broken-backed — Darnell plays a Bad Girl, but she’s never scandalously wicked, just pragmatic. She’s also resilient to the point of being dull: seconds after escaping rape in Newgate Prison (here pronounced “Nougat”) she’s flirting with a Highwayman as if nothing had happened.

Faced with a story and leading lady not of his choosing (though he got magnificent work from her in FALLEN ANGEL), Otto compensates by making the whole thing a visual feast. At 138 minutes its rather a LONG feast, but the design and photography, and Preminger’s masterful blocking, at least mean it’s never short on sensual pleasures.

Leon Shamroy is like a Mario Bava avant la lettre, painting the scenes with coloured light that may not have any practical source, but which creates mood and renders emotion visible and is a delight in purely pictorial terms too. Think of his intense orange-and-blue night scenes in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and his juke-box hues in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. Despite its period setting, this has a similar hallucinatory saturation. Shamroy depicts the prison scenes bathed in green and orange light, and there’s no possible naturalistic reason for it.

Jailhouse Rock 

The more muted style of the foggy duel scene almost made me wonder if he’d managed to screen LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS:

Wilde

The Fog

The Duellists

According to your taste it’s either an illustration of how much a director and his team can add to an unsatisfactory project, or how little.

All the Colors of the Dark

“Unhand me, you rapscallion!”

7 Responses to “The Flamin’ Mamies”

  1. I rather like The Revolt of Mamie Stover No big deep-dish defense, really. Just enjoyed it from moment one with Jane march/sashaying across the screen in a way that looks forward to Anna Karina in Made in U.S.A. You’ll find appreciative exegesis of this relic of the Buddy Adler administration in the Edinburgh Festival Raoul Walsh book.

    In Tashlin’s Will Success Spoli Rock Hunter, “Rita Marlowe’s” dog is called “Shamroy” in honor of the great DP.

  2. Yeah, I’m interested to read the EIFF book, having read about it. I know Linda Myles slightly, who directed the festival back then (glory days!) and has gone on to a fascinating up-and-down film production career.

    The Shamroy tribute is very sweet, although maybe kind of barbed too. A poodle?

  3. This year, Edinburgh festival has a Jeanne Moreau and Shirley Clarke retrospect!!!

  4. VERY happy to hear about the Shirley Clarke tribute. She was a great filmmaker and a teriffic person whose legacy stands on the edge of being forgotten.

  5. I presume they’re hoping la Moreau will attend. I might have a chance of getting a better photo taken with her!

  6. Here, BTW, is the most recent picture of Jane. She went to the Oscars and gave the place some class!

  7. Beautiful. I like Jane a lot. I don’t even begrudge her trying to convert Frank Tashlin to Christianity during one of his divorces, she meant well by it.

    Mark Cousins did a very good TV interview with la Russell (and a slightly more fraught one with Moreau), and Wednesday I’m seeing him interview Jansco.

    It’s all happening!

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