Mistletoe and Whines

In a very special festive edition of The Forgotten, I delve into THE HOLLY AND THE IVY, a powerfully depressive, and therefore somehow cheering, British Christmas movie.

Somewhere in there I make the, perhaps startling, allegation that there’s something inherently Christmassy about the actor Denholm Elliott. This may require amplification.

My mental association of the talented, biesexual, inebriate actor with the festive season perhaps stems from TRADING PLACES, in which he played a comedy butler, something every British actor is required to do at some stage in his career, unless he’s Judi Dench. The movie takes in the holiday season as part of its narrative sweep (we get Dan Aykroyd as a Bad Santa), and Elliott has a scene where he comes in with a tray and rounds off a scene where the heroes are planning their counterattack on the nefarious Duke brothers, with the line, “Not if we beat them to it. Eggnog?”

Elliott did the final word “As if I were adding fire to their brimstone,” and the crew laughed. Landis, a man of sure, yet perhaps conventional, comic instincts, yelled “Cut!” He was outraged that a performer was getting an unintended laugh. “That’s not supposed to be funny!” Elliott pointed out that the crew had thought it funny. “What do they know?” demanded Landis, with the tact he’s famous for.

The line reading is still in the film, though — having gotten over his shock, Landis recognized that an additional laugh in a comedy was not, after all, a disastrous occurrence. The lesson may be that it’s a mistake to think that the director’s job is to realize the scene the way he’d envisioned it. His job is to envision it, and then realize it better. Or, as Orson Welles delightfully put it, a director is someone who presides over accidents.

One Response to “Mistletoe and Whines”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dcairns, dcairns. dcairns said: A Christmas edition of The Forgotten: https://dcairns.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/mistletoe-and-whines/ […]

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