Archive for October 29, 2008

People Cat

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2008 by dcairns

The Shadowplayhouse has been haunted of late. Strange noises in the night, phantom shapes glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, small morsels of food vanishing overnight.

A rodentalgeist has crept within these walls, nimbly eluding our traps, squeaking in hilarity at our feeble attempts to exorcise it, and ignoring the patient attention of Tasha, our Siamese sentinel. Until this morning, when Fiona was awakened by a SNAP, and then exultant mewlings and scamperings from Tasha. Fiona just assumed T was having a “mad half-hour”, until she arose and found a mouse, slain by a trap, hanging from Tasha’s cheerful jaws.

Now, I take this as an imposture — Tasha was trying to claim credit for killing the mouse, despite the evidence of the appended trap still clinging to the beastie’s throat. A cat lie. Fiona disagrees.

Nevertheless, having recently screened Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE to students, who found much cruel humour in the frequent shots of a kitten being stuffed into a shoebox (gift-wrapping pets has since gone out of fashion), I decided to entertain Tasha by telling her the story of that film. Of course, I had to adapt it somewhat for her attention span and cultural prejudices.

“Once upon a time there was a kitten in a box.”

“A man gave the kitten to a girl, but it didn’t like her.”

“So he took it back to the pet shop, where it went into a cage with some other kittens. The man left with a canary, which died. But the kitten was no doubt purchased by some lovely people and lived happily ever after. The end.”

I guess the kitten being jammed into the little box is the central concept of the film in metaphorical form — the animal within. But the best parts of the movie are far from this kind of symbolic, artificial stuff, and more to do with the way light falls in empty, impersonal spaces, the echo of little sounds, and the quiet delivery of muted actors.

Another thought — I was tickled by the character of Simone Simon’s neighbour, Connie Leon, a gratuitous Scot of the kind one never expects to encounter in a Hollywood film but sometimes does (see RUSHMORE for a more recent example). No obvious reason presents itself for her broad Scottish accent, as she advises everyone not to disturb the crime scene, linking her to the zookeeper, another Scot, Alec Craig, although he has suppressed his accent for the role. Both characters pop up to offer helpful words of solid commonsense advice. I’m always pleased by inappropriate Celtic intrusions of this kind.

Crippen Yarns

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2008 by dcairns

Lots of interesting thoughts spring to mind while watching Robert Lynn’s DR CRIPPEN, photographed by “Nick” Roeg, though not many of them have little to do with the film at hand —

1) Good to see Inspector Walter Dew in a movie! Not only did this real-life copper arrest Dr. C. (Donald Pleasance) for the murder of Mrs. C. (Coral Browne), but he was in reality one of the first officers on the scene when Mary Kelly, last of Jack the Ripper’s victims, was found dead in her flat. Dew actually seems to have slipped in the blood.

2) Striking how much of the Crippen story finds its way into REAR WINDOW. Like Crippen, murderer Lars Thorwald is a henpecked husband with a young mistress who murders and dismembered his wife and attempt to abscond with his mistress. The voyeurism angle in Hitchcock’s film is so strong that it actually helps for the murder to be simple, archetypal and rather familiar.

3) Poor Coral ends up buried beneath the fuel in the coal bunker, which reminded me that “Coral” is only one letter away from “coal”.

My friend Lawrie told me a Coral story. She was rehearsing a play, and was wearing a rather strange and voluminous fur hat. Distracted by this, the director asked her if she was quite comfortable in it. “No,” she replied, in that cultured and tremulous, yet formidable voice, “to be quite honest, I feel as if I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole.”

4) The most interesting moment is when Browne suddenly becomes sympathetic, pleading for her husband’s affection. The film switches track and she reverts to full-on castrating nastiness soon after, but the change deepens everything, and stops the movie becoming a sort of misogynist tragedy of a downtrodden male.

5) “Why is (young, glamorous) Samantha Eggar attracted to (bald, eerie) Donald Pleasance?” I wondered, before a rather striking moment when he slides down out of shot while kissing her and the camera holds on her ecstatic face. A Nicholas Roeg moment? The suggestion seems to be that Donald has powers of eroticism unknown to the typical Edwardian male. As a doctor, his familiarity with ladyparts allows him to pleasure his mistress in a manner not normally possible in British historical drama…

6) Eggar looks funny in drag. Like a prehensile Edward Fox.

7) Beautiful shot: