Archive for December 21, 2008

Intertitle of the Week: Santa’s Little Helper

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2008 by dcairns

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Fingers crossed. “Let’s hope it’s a good one / Without any fear.”

Frame-grabbed this a while ago and forget what it’s from, but at a guess, I’d say Tod Browning’s THE UNHOLY THREE, perhaps the greatest silent film on the theme of ventriloquism. Why weren’t there more? I blame the talkies.

Apart from Lon Chaney Snr. in drag as Mrs Grady, old lady, the film also boasts little man Harry Earles disguised as a baby. Earles’  fearsome scowl makes it a memorable characterisation: this cigar-chomping tot could easily lick Baby Herman from WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? The idea that a cute little “diddums” might suddenly turn into a hard-boiled career criminal as soon as the adults’ backs are turned is an alarming and compelling one. This is because it’s what really happens.

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In the sound remake (Chaney’s only talkie), Earle’s very aggressive, German-accented delivery enhances the part even more.

In FREAKS, Earles gives his best-known perf, as Hans, the hapless circus midget persecuted by Cleopatra the trapeze artist, who marries him for his money (Wait — he has money, and he still exhibits himself for a living?) Able to play babies, criminals, unlucky romantics and a singing munchkin, Earles had a pretty impressive range, considering he was about four foot tall and, going by normal aesthetic criteria, a rubbish actor. But Robert DeNiro couldn’t do what he did, and with such apparent ease.

Earles lived to be 83, by which time he had to be fed with the aid of a microscope. Treated for a chest infection, the little trouper perished when the antibiotic attacked him instead of the virus.

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Quote of the Day: The Incredible Bulk

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 21, 2008 by dcairns

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Josef Von Sternberg on Emil Jannings ~

“He was a magnificently bulky man who had the many characters he had portrayed firmly embedded in his person, and had a powerful array of demons everpresent in his make-up. Fat and ungainly, with a complete memory for his own tricks, shifty like a pellet of quicksilver, agile in his repertoire of misbehaviour, he was the perfect actor. His forte was to portray the zenith of personal misfortune; his limpid eyes brimming with misery, he could pucture debasement in the most abject terms. To be humiliated was for him ecstasy. Shrewdly aware of his own pranks, powerful as he was as a box-office figure, he would always choose the most formidable directors to restrain and guide him. Aside from his objections to my choice of Dietrich, he opposed me every step of the way. This cannot be seen in the film, even I cannot see it. He gives a competent performance and there is no trace of any obstruction and the untold blocks he laid down to his interpretation and that of the others. As THE BLUE ANGEL recedes into time, he becomes more and more effective. And that he ended his days as a senator of culture for the Nazis (and to me he boasted that his mother was a Jewess) will be forgotten long before the perishable celluloid crumbles into ashes.”

(But I’ll just remind you in case you were likely to have already forgotten.)

Also, in this introduction by Von S:

“The workmen assigned to me were competent. One of them brought his eleven-year-old daughter to watch the scenes and when I objected, saying that she would be corrupted, he remarked ‘Ach, die ist ja schon so verborden!’ (But she is already so corrupt!)”

Image from the mighty Six Martinis and the Seventh Art.