Archive for March 23, 2009

This Was Your Life

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2009 by dcairns

Eammon Andrews is a murdering swine!

From THREE CASES OF MURDER. It’s a slightly strange idea, getting a loveable TV presenter (from This is Your Life) to present your compendium murder movie, but I guess Roald Dahl hadn’t been thought of. Say what you like, for me this works, especially as there’s something disturbing about his casual approach to homicide — checking his victim has truly expired before adding the word “efficient”. Cold-blooded, Eammon.

Eammon recounts three tales of murder, two of which I’ve briefly referred to here, the third of which is of actual serious interest. Also, two of the stories involve supernatural or unexplained elements, while one doesn’t. So the movie isn’t terribly well thought out, structurally. It longs to be an Amicus horror anthology avant la lettre, but doesn’t quite have the guts. But my favourite episode, IN THE PICTURE, is like a Twilight Zone episode gone inexplicably queer.

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Wendy Toye directs, and this was obviously her reward for the well-received short THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD. Unprepared to give her a full feature to direct, Wessex Film Productions allowed her a third of one, and brought her composer Doreen Carwithen along too. This despite the fact that Toye had already proved her reliability with THE TECKMAN MYSTERY, a whodunnit starring Margaret Leighton. The year of THREE CASES, 1955, Toye also directed two more features, the domestic comedy RAISING A RIOT with thick plank Kenneth More, and ALL FOR MARY, a sort of romcom in the Swiss Alps. Toye complained that her more ambitious ideas were more or less automatically nixed by the studios, in the dull days of John Davis’s reign at Rank, and the decline of British cinema from its post-war heights.

But in the short format she was unfettered. I’ve just discovered that another short film, ON THE TWELFTH DAY, which I remember fondly from my childhood when it used to play on TV at Christmas, was directed by Toye. It’s charming, imaginative, and cinematic, as I recall. And IN THE PICTURE is something else. Building on the nakedly sadistic and fantastical elements of THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD, it capitalizes once more on an eccentric and florid performance from Alan Badel, who appears in all three segments of the anthology. (I hadn’t realised that Badel was ever so famous that featuring him in this way would make sense. A pity Hammer didn’t pick up on his colourful talents, he could have been their own Vincent Price.)

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Badel plays Mr. X, who is both the long-dead artist responsible for a curiously disturbing landscape painting, and its principle inhabitant. X strikes up a conversation with an attendant in the gallery where the picture hangs, in what seems rather strikingly like a homosexual pick-up, then leads him intothe painting itself. Toye achieves this effect with a perfect blend of special effects and strong direction, and over the shoulder shot that changes to a POV, zooming up the oily garden path to the house in the painting, until the door opens and the characters enter frame again…

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Inside, all is floaty dutch tilts, with the camera swinging smoothly from one jaunty angle to the next, as tattered draperies drift in the breeze. Mr X introduces the gallery guard to his wife, whom he treats with supremely weary contempt, and finally to the monomaniac taxidermist Mr Snyder. It all ends rather badly for the poor guy, who is entirely blameless and undeserving of his fate.

Mr X is a fascinating figure, played to the hilt by Badel with a lot of camp theatricality (I first saw Badel in one of his last roles, playing Count Fosco in The Woman in White on TV — an indelible impression). He’s fantastically indifferent to anything human, but devoted to his painting — to the point of living in it. His entire motivation is to light a candle in the upper window, in order to complete the effect — but it’s clear that this painting will never be complete, its artist can never be satisfied with things as they are.

While the taxidermy subplot certainly comes out of left field, and its never quite made clear whether the inhabitants of the painting are demons or the damned, these elements of incompletion or confusion actually make the film more unsettling, imaginative and stimulating. It opens up dark and hostile worlds.

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Intertitle of the Week: of It-Girls and Intertitles

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2009 by dcairns

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From Dorothy Arzner’s THE WILD PARTY.

If you’re like Fiona and I, one of the symptoms is a willingness to watch anything with Clara Bow in it. Clara, who suffered an irrational fear of microphones, made relatively few talkies. THE WILD PARTY, her first, is a fascinating early attempt at sound film-making, using inter-titles (see above) for scene-setting between acts, and serving up lashings of pre-code spice, and HOOP-LA, her last, is a slightly desultory carnival melodrama enlivened by racy attitudes and a nude swimming scene.

But none of this prepared us for the hilarity of CALL HER SAVAGE…

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Seven years’ bad luck…

The movie gets off to a rough start by following two generations of Bow’s ancestors, explaining how she gets her “savage” nature — her grandfather was a murdering adulterer and her father was an Indian. Now she’s “Nasa Springer,” (great name!) a simple rich Brooklynese girl from Texas with a tendency to flip out and literally bullwhip everything in sight ~

Believe it or not, we actually stopped watching around here, convinced that the film was uninteresting, so we watched Frank Fay (Fay by name and fey by nature) ironically cast as GOD’S GIFT TO WOMEN, which deserves a lot more attention sometime, but then we returned to Clara and found that actually the movie is a demented work of anti-genius that’s well worth anybody’s time. The peculiar and slightly sinister racial attitudes, the camp singing waiters (I didn’t think it was possible for anybody to be more camp than Frank Fay and be in a movie, but WRONG AGAIN), the endless parade of improbable scandals, cat-fights, mental breakdowns and dead babies, this is like watching seven years of daytime soap compacted into 88 minutes of fast-forward debauchery. We were left giddy and google-eyed.

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As fine a display of mincing as you could hope to see.

Based on this experience, I’d say that CALL HER SAVAGE and GOD’S GIFT TO WOMEN make an ideal Fever Dream Double Feature, provided you watch one film inside the other, forming a sort of bad film sandwich. Both movies exploit the shady entertainment value of the cat-fight, with Bow tackling Thelma Todd while the Fay vehicle pits Joan Blondell against Louise Brooks.

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But only CALL HER SAVAGE utilises the less-known dogfight, with a noticably bra-less Bow wrestling a huge mutt. This kind of scene, bra-less dog wrestling, never quite caught on, I suspect.

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And then there’s the early scene where Clara elevates music criticism to the level of contact sport, a sequence apparently intended to establish her as an adorable hot-head rather than out-of-control psychopath ~

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Footnote: Clara’s horse-riding mishap seems an attempt to hark back to her glory days in silents ~

HULA.

‘It’ Plus Clara Bow: Discovering the “It” Girl