Archive for October 12, 2008

Pin-Up of the Day: Louise Brooks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2008 by dcairns

This is what happens when you try to photograph Louise Brooks off your TV set. If you’re not George Hurrell it’s just not going to work. Let’s see what I can leech off the internet…

Plenty of gorgeous photographs, including some nice early nudes if you want to go Google ’em, but not much of her in her superhero costume. She’s really a daredevil girl who leaps off a mile-high ladder into a tub of water, soaking a happy Victor McLaglen (he’s always happy), but with the cape she really ought to be a costumed vigilante, perhaps going by the name of Sexygirl, fighting the forces of evil by shagging them into submission, which was pretty much Brooks’ mission in life at this time anyway.

She’s a prototypical Hawksian woman — self-driven, smart and sassy, but the plot has her down as a gold-digging bitch. Wisely, Hawks, who penned the storyline, avoids giving her any kind of downfall: she simply pockets McLaglen’s life savings, then drops out of the film altogether, presumably to fleece another cheerful sucker in another film. McLaglen returns to the meaty embrace of Robert Armstrong, just as happy as before, neither sadder nor wiser.

It amazes me little has been done to examine this vein of homoeroticism in Hawks, actually… but at the same time I’m totally NOT amazed. Somehow the films both welcome this reading — Hawks spoke openly of “a love story between two men” — and render it irrelevant, by foregrounding it and shrugging “So what?”

While the pummeling, two-fisted punch-ups serve as a substitute for more intimate man-on-man action, somehow there’s no real frisson of naughtiness in it. By contrast, in an Italian western like Bava’s ROY COLT AND WINCHESTER JACK, the fist-fights are more or less explicit acts of love between men who can’t express their feelings any other way, and in Cottafavi’s LEGIONS OF CLEOPATRA, poor Cleo (Linda Cristal) is reduced to the status of beard, watching irrelevantly (or not even present) as male protagonists wallop seven shades of shit out of each other to demonstrate how very masculine they are… Truly, Italian popular cinema of this time just reeks of repressed passion, which is fascinating considering the kind of culture it’s emerging from.

Oh, alright then:

UK residents can check out Brooks’ work here:

Diary of a Lost Girl [1929] [DVD] [2007]

Erotic Intertitles of the Week

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 12, 2008 by dcairns

From Howard Hawks’ A GIRL IN EVERY PORT. Titles written by Malcolm Stuart Boylan. Photographed off my TV because I couldn’t get the frame-grabber to work on this disc.

This would be a sexier film if perhaps Louise Brooks had more scenes — waiting for her to show up in the second half is AGONY — and if she were complimented by more winning leading men. The thought of Louise in any kind of menage with hulking gorilla Victor McLaglen smacks of the bestial. Although I guess some people are into that. Robert (KING KONG) Armstrong as McLaglen’s bulbous buddy, is a bit more attractive, but somehow gets absorbed into the same muscular, macho, jaunty, sentimental vibe whenever he shares the screen with Big Victor.

What this means is that Hawks was right to say that his films really got going when sound came in. The Hawks ethos can’t really flex and extend and become sophisticated without opening its mouth. The clipped verbiage of intertitles allow insufficient room.

(Oddly, it’s very easy to read Vic’s lips. I say oddly, because most  of the time he doesn’t seem to HAVE lips. He’s all toothy grin, like a musclebound skeleton.)

Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable movie, making horrible activities like barroom brawling seem fun and innocent, the way Raoul Walsh would. Hawks really fits into that beautifully-crafted late-20s scene, where the compositions and editing have a precision and grace that kind of got discombobulated for a while when talking started in Hollywood pictures.

Louise Brooks’ role really deserves to have more said about it — so I’m going to say it…

“He’s sorry.”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2008 by dcairns

Necessary background: in FIRST A GIRL, Jessie Matthews has disguised herself as a young fellow in order to get a break in show-business. This is where the leading man discovers her secret, and… he’s sorry?

It’s either a direct homosexual allusion, a joke on effete British leading men, or both.

Directed by Victor Saville, FIRST A GIRL is a remake of the German VIKTOR, VIKTORIA, which formed the basis for Blake Edwards’ VICTOR, VICTORIA, which is also pretty bold about gender and sexuality themes — only forty years later.

Jessie M deserves a chapter of her own in any Encyclopaedia of British Rumpo — her fondness for seriously diaphanous costumes ran afoul of the American censors, and her dancing impressed Fred Astaire. she had offers from Hollywood but stayed in England to get married (to that chap in Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE) and have a kid. By the time she was disillusioned with that, America was no longer calling. She was a working-class cockney girl who trained herself to talk incredibly posh, and somehow it goes with her cheeky chipmunk smile. Her husband, by contrast, was a posh lad who trained himself to speak cockney, leading to music hall success.

Like Barbara Windsor, Jessie always pissed in the dressing room sink. You don’t want to use the toilet — who knows who’s been in there?

Her leading man is Griffith Jones, best known (to me, anyhow) as the villainous Narcy (Narcissus) in Cavalcanti’s THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE, just about the best British noir ever. According to my friend Lawrie, Jones had a slight bitter streak: “Of course, they don’t want sincere acting nowadays,” he would grumble, when “in his cups”.

Victor Saville, who directed Jessie in a number of successful British musicals, did go to Hollywood, where he directed Rita Hayworth in TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (memorable scene: a young man dances to a Hitler speech on the radio), Errol Flynn and Dean Stockwell in KIM, before tanking spectacularly with THE SILVER CHALICE, which sent him back to England and a long retirement.

NB: though Hitchcock’s BLACKMAIL is often listed as Britain’s first talkie, Victor Saville’s KITTY, which is half-silent and half-talking (BLACKMAIL’s first reel is also mute) was apparently first. I wonder what it’s like?