Archive for September, 2010

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue…”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on September 30, 2010 by dcairns

Lloyd Bridges in THIRD PARTY RISK.

A very middling thriller: two-fisted lyricist Lloyd is distracted from recording Spanish folk tunes by a plot involving compromising showgirl letters, industrial secrets, and Finlay Currie as the world’s least convincing Hungarian. The whole thing is goofily enjoyable like an episode of The Saint accidentally inflated to feature length. Ferdy Mayne and Roger Delgado add swarthiness and suavity.

Director Daniel Birt seems quite bored with it all, adding to my half-baked theory about British cinema — there were periods, notably the late forties and mid-sixties, when the quality produced by the best filmmakers was so high, it raised the overall standard. Moderately gifted directors couldn’t help but be inspired by the startling stuff around them, and raised their game accordingly. Birt’s films in 1948 (the climactic year of that boom), co-written by Dylan Thomas, are almost startlingly good. THE THREE WEIRD SISTERS (his first film, Nova Pilbeam’s last) and NO ROOM AT THE INN have Gothic panache and very modern flourishes, as well as controversial church-bashing and subversive morbidity, but just six years later he’s directing with one eye on oblivion. What happened to him, or rather, what happened to British filmmaking?

The question is raised over at The Daily Notebook in this week’s The Forgotten.

Snowglobe City

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by dcairns

The first two times I landed in New York it was snowing, knee-deep, powdery stuff. The city has always seemed to belong in snowfall to me ever since. Maybe that’s what I liked so much about the world of Marion Gering’s 24 HOURS, a Paramount melo from 1931. New York in Gering’s vision is a purely art deco construction, from the streets and ‘scrapers to the night clubs and Clive Brook’s chiseled chin.

Better yet, the title sequence is a floating camera prowl through the concrete canyons with credits embossed on building facades, a senselessly elaborate, elegant and hyper-unreal anticipation of Fincher’s PANIC ROOM titles, where the lettering floats blimp-like down Fifth Avenue, casting shadows on the storefronts. And Gering returns obsessively to his toytown, breaking up the action to show the passage of time via an obviously fake art deco tower clock, looming over the characters like Fate.

Asides from the reliably stiff, unappealing Brook, we get Kay Francis in a smothering array of gowns, and Miriam Hopkins — I want to say “at her most shrill,” but that’s not really true, she had seven or eight higher storeys of mania up there. But she’s certainly at her most, um, provincial. “I wouldn’t give ya change for a pow-stage stay-ump!” she squawks at “shivering hophead” hubby Regis Toomey.

Movie roves around with the languid feeling common at pre-code Paramount, despite its urban setting and gangster sub-plot. Perhaps as a result, while Warners movies compress a week’s worth of plot into 65 minutes, this one feels like it could do with more running time. When Hopkins is murdered (which would’ve happened twenty minutes into a Warners movie, if only to stop her singing), Brooks is accused, and then suddenly he’s cleared, reunited with his swanky wife, and off the liquor, and the movie is over. The moral seems to be pro-marriage and anti dabbling with showgirls, which can only lead to homicide. I resented the way Hopkins character, a decent woman despite the grating qualities, was essentially used as a twelve-step program for the slumming millionaire.

Visually the film is often very impressive, though, with a fluid moving camera which gets excited about odd things, and even throws in a zoom lens for one shot (Paramount seems to have had sole custody of this hi-tech device: Mamoulian got to use it in LOVE ME TONIGHT). The moody nocturnal snowscapes of the city give way to bright daylight and a feeling of location work conjured by surprising perspectives ~

Gering seems to have done his best work in pre-codes, where he helmed several Sylvia Sidneys and an early Cary Grant or two, before his movie career fizzled. But he revisited the world of the naughty in later years, with a mondo Japan effort entitled VIOLATED PARADISE (1963). As the missing link between pre-code and mondo, Gering bears further investigation…

Gorilla Gorilla

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 28, 2010 by dcairns

As previously noted, I am in search of two separate gorillas, THE GORILLA from 1927 with Walter Pigeon, and THE GORILLA from 1930, also with Walter Pigeon, both depicted in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. And I *shall* see every movie illustrated in that book. Unfortunately, both GORILLAs are officially lost films, and cannot be “seen” in the conventional manner except by trained mystics such as the late F. Gwynplaine Macintyre.

Still, I have scored the 1930 ape off my list, and I will tell you how. By Googling the movie (there is indeed no limit to my Kevin Brownlow-style detective-work) I came across an article at a blog called Undead Backbrain, where discussion had taken place some time back about some mystery footage of a giant gorilla stalking the streets of Manhattan. An expert in gorilla suits (and there are, it seems, such things),  identified the costume worn as one frequently used by ace gorilla impersonator Charles Gemora, but never after 1930. So, since KING KONG was made in 1933, what could be made of this pre-1930 giant ape?

The solution proved to be fascinating, but I’m not sure the full repercussions of the revelations have been sounded out.

It seems the two short clips, visible here and here, were part of a publicity film, or trailer or something, used for the 1930 THE GORILLA. The movie, later re-re-made by Allan Dwan with Bela Lugosi and the Ritz Brothers, dealt with a master criminal who disguised himself in an ape costume, Scooby Doo style, in order to enact his reign of terror. The giant ape was a symbolic representation of the pall of fear in which the rampaging crook held the city. So, somebody (possibly GORILLA helmer Bryan Foy) did film a giant gorilla terrorizing New York, several years before Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack enlisted Willis H O’Brien to animated the Eighth Wonder of the World…

The KONG poster I owned as a kid, recently spotted in both THE DEADLY SPAWN and Raul Ruiz’s THE BLIND OWL.

What this suggests to me is highly significant. According to Kong history, Merian C Cooper conceived the idea of a giant ape on the loose, climbing the Empire State Building. It took him a while to realise that this was the end of his story, so he then traced the ape’s origins back to get to the beginning. Cooper had visited Komodo Island, where prehistoric-style man-eating lizards roamed, and so he postulated such a location as the great ape’s birthplace.

What’s unexplained in this account is where Kong himself sprang from, apparently fully-formed. Well, we often can’t trace the exact beginnings of an idea. But Cooper was not a writer, not primarily a fiction filmmaker — he was a documentarist and producer. And not to put too fine a point on it, he never had another great creative idea like that in his life. (I’m not doing him down, how many of us have?)

If we assume that Cooper saw the GORILLA publicity material, which I think is near-certain, we can imagine his thought processes. “What a shame this doesn’t happen in the movie! What a shame this is just a metaphor… wouldn’t it be much more exciting if it really happened?” This, to me, is the kind of inspiration a producer would have.

So KONG is born, and very glad we all are. Meanwhile, using the dubious argument that a part can stand in for the whole (movie cloning!), I’m declaring my quest to see the 1930 THE GORILLA complete. As for the 1927 version, that’s going to be trickier…

Afterthought: isn’t it a shame they didn’t fly Charles Gemora and his monkey suit to Japan, to make GAMERA VS GEMORA?