All That Gab

A Fever Dream Double Feature, doubled:

Position 69, Production Code style

As part of Otto Preminger week some while back (remember, when the world went Otto MAD?) I attempted to watch THE MOON IS BLUE, figuring it had to be of some interest. And it kind of is, purely from the point of view of Otto’s elegant mise-en-scene. Some of today’s directors could learn a lot from Otto’s laid-back but economical but simultaneously kinda florid filming style. Some of today’s directors are beyond help, but many of those with a bit of talent could raise their game by studying what Otto does with the camera and the actors together — the DANCE.

But despite the panache shown in the camera blocking department, I couldn’t get through the thing (Cue standard mumblings about how the film’s daring-at-the-time defiance of the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency by permitting the utterance by characters of forbidden words like “pregnant” and “virgin” are no longer shocking. Cue perplexity that Catholics would object to these words when their entire religion hinges on a story about a pregnant virgin). It wasn’t that the sexual attitudes had dated and no longer titillated — there are plenty of romcoms and even sexcoms from this period and before and later where that just isn’t a factor in the massive amounts of entertainment dished up (although the sexcoms tend to date more than the romcoms, they eventually come around to being very enjoyable with a dash of irony). It was that the whole thing was unfunny, ponderous, smug, glib and extremely irritating.


Despite the IMDb’s listing, I suspect that F. Hugh Herbert, author of the play and screenplay, is also the writer of THE GREAT GABBO, a bad movie I can heartily recommend for it’s stupendous negative entertainment value and inspired lack of good judgement — Erich Von Stroheim doing cross-talk comedy, unpleasantly fast musical numbers, dancing insect people — the film with everything you never wanted.

I suddenly flashed on the perfect companion film for TMIB — TWO FOR THE ROAD. My God that’s annoying. The comparisons don’t end there. Both films feature attractive, personable leads, seemingly enjoying themselves, their co-stars and their material. Everything is in place for audience pleasure, except that the material (script by Frederic Raphael, in the case of TWO-FER) — and by material I basically mean dialogue, since that’s what you get — is nauseatingly whimsical and pleased with itself. While Stanley Donen doesn’t shoot with quite Preminger’s flair for blocking, he did, with cinematographer Christopher Challis (see also: the later Powell & Pressburger films; and THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) break new ground in filming car scenes without process photography, and the film serves up the usual delightful Audrey Hepburn fashion show.


But despite these virtues, I say this: if you ever find yourself faced with the necessity of performing an atrocity of some kind (a high school massacre, perhaps, or a spot of ethnic cleansing) and you feel a little too kind-hearted, too fond of humanity to really put your full enthusiasm into the task, watching these films back to back would probably turn you into a modern Genghis. But I don’t actually recommend this — incredible as it seems, the world is already violent enough.

The London Nobody Knows

Instead I recommend Patrick Keiller’s LONDON and ROBINSON IN SPACE, which will induce a dreamy, floaty, focussed-yet-sleepy form of happiness, relieving stress and gentle massaging the muscles of your soul.

9 Responses to “All That Gab”

  1. Don’t quite share your antipathy. A lot of the “clever” repartee on TFTR grates — as much in 1967 as today. But when I first saw it at Radio City the week it opened there’s a moment when Audrey goes rushing inot Albert’s arms that had me crying with for joy.

    As for The Moon is Blue , put it on a double feature with a lesser Rohmer like Le Beau Mariage. He took TONS from Otto. And are you aware of the German-language version of the TMIB he shot simultaneously with the American one?

    Of course when it comes to sophisticated sexuality Otto had Bonjour Tristesse and Anatomy of a Murder to leave Blue Moon in the dust.

  2. I bet the German TMIB is funnier!

    Vincent Price’s remark “Otto had the sense of humour of a guillotine” still rings true for me — Anatomy of a Murder may be his funniest film, I love it a lot.

    There are actually good things in TFTR, I guess. I remember the horrible family being well-drawn. And it catches Albert Finney just before he went to seed, and when he could still seem vaguely natural. But what drew Kubrick to Freddie Raphael as screenwriter remains mysterious to me.

  3. Both Jewish. Both social-climbers. But Kubriock opted out of society entirely eventually, whereas Rapahel stayed in stoking his bitterness and resentment. My late and much missed cineaste pal Jonathan Benair once said the Barry Lyndon was “Kubrick’s most Jewish film.” Wy? Because the message was “Try and rise above your station and God will strike you down and you’ll lose your leg!”

    Darling was supposed to be a big expose of “shallow values” in which “Diana Scott” was the villain. But then Julie Christie was cast in the part and Schlesinger knew from the nanosecond he saw the rushes that no matter what Raphael’s script said there was no way anyone could EVER hate Julie Chistie.

  4. Darling can’t expose anything as shallow because it’s too gloriously shallow itself — the opening image captures the level of sophistication: Julie Christie’s image replaces that of a starving African on a billboard. I sort of like the film but I can’t take it as seriously as Raphael probably meant it.

    By contrast, your friend’s reading of Barry Lyndon is bang on, but I’d like to think there’s more to it also!

    Raphael’s book on writing Eyes Wide Shut is fascinating — he has some of the same problems with the film as I do, but he’s so baffled by Kubrick’s overall intentions I’m amazed he could complete the assigment. Whatever’s going on in that film is beyond its screenwriter.

  5. Rapahel’s an old stick-in-the-mud. The shallowness of Darling is inextricable from its glory. A deeply silly film its delighted me for years. To begin with it made Julie Christie my favorite actress. Why? Because everything she did on screen was interesting. Couldn’t take my eyes off even her tiniest movement.

    The shoot was total chaos with everything shot out of eventual semi-chornology. Her big complaint was she didn’t know who Diana was suppsoed to be from one moment to the next. So she opted for the billiant solution of playing to the moment. Diana is thus totally sincere about whatever she’s doing when she’s doing it. When she’s doing something else she’s totally sincere about that.

    On a more personal note arling arrived just as I was suffering the aftereffects of a bad break-up, and it was a total tonic. After watching it I said to myself “Miss Self — why the long face? You could be in Capri right now sharing a hot Italian waiter with Julie Christie!”

    I’d hoped that “Oh he’s a terrible sweetie!” would pass into the language, but alas it hasn’t.

    And who could resist Laurence Harvey at his most elegantly debauched saying “Put away your Penguin Freud, Diana” ?

  6. Oh that all makes me smile and want to see it again!

    Schlesinger MUST have known that Christie would make the character appealing, unless he cast her without ever laying eyes on her. Interesting to imagine what would have happened if they’d cast Charlotte Rampling or somebody — probably it would have been more on-the-nose and much less interesting.

  7. You’re right. Daling was Raphael’s revenge against an old girlfriend who dumped him on the way to the top. Rampling would have played her hard as nails — which would have been more to Raphael’s liking. But the film wouldn’t have been the smash hit it was that way.

    Schelsinger was incredibly sensitive and intuitive when it came to actors. Think of Alan Bates in An Englishman Abroad, Billy Barty in Day of the Locust, Terence Stamp in Far From the Madding Crowd, and of course Peter Finch in Sunday Bloody Sunday. He really loved people.

  8. Waldo Salt had a nice story about Midnight Cowboy. They were doing a scene where Hoffman gets ill and might not be able to go to Miami. Schlesinger called Salt: “Get your arse over here, the fucking scene’s not working!” Where other directors might have just pressed on, or tampered with the script, Schlesinger had the sense to call the writer and find out what the intention was.
    Salt arrived and saw that Voight was being too caring. “Remember, Joe Buck is selfish. He’s not upset that Ratso is ill, just that it might interfere with his plans. If he’s too caring now it kills the ending where he really DOES connect with another person.”
    It might seem from this that Schlesinger missed a trick, but I’m incredibly impressed that he sot out the writer to solve a problem that way — NEVER HAPPENS.

  9. Actually Cukor did that quite a bit as well. Of course he was working largely with people who were true collaborators — the Kanins especially.

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