Nothing But the Night

Twitter has a purpose after all and, as it turns out, it’s nothing to do with fomenting revolution in Iran. When Jon Melville, a Twitterverse friend as well as a real-life one, tweeted that he’d acquired the new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, but had no means of watching it, I invited him round for dinner with alacrity (alacrity is a special sauce popular in Scotland). I have a player than can handle discs of different countries of origin, but not many discs to watch on it.

The Criterion disc is splendid, of course, as are the extras, but enough has been said elsewhere about that. Nor am I going to regale you with details of the splendid vegetable casserole Fiona prepared, nor the mulled wine quaffed. I want to talk about the film, for several posts, but where to begin?

A dull but perhaps original thought that came to me was that, boy, the Coens have been pilfering this movie for years. I haven’t seen TRUE GRIT yet, but have heard that the score relies heavily on Leaning on the Everlasting Arm, the hymn sung by Mitchum in Laughton’s classic. Which seemed like kind of a miscalculation: there are plenty of hymns to choose from, so why use one that will forcibly remind the audience of a great film, while they’re trying to concentrate on yours? The comparison is unlikely to be flattering, and I say that as one who admires six or so Coen films, and bits of some of the others.

“He was especially hard on the little things,” says Nicholas Cage of the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse in RAISING ARIZONA. “It’s a hard world for the little things,” says Lillian Gish in NIGHT.

“The Dude abides,” says the Cowboy in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. “They abide and they endure,” says Gish.

Even the use of jingling bells on the soundtrack to make Peter Stormare’s axe attack on Steve Buscemi “more Christmassy” — a whimsical idea in FARGO, or so it seemed to sound designer Skip Lievesay, who executed it — is anticipated towards the end of NOTH, where it’s startling but completely sensible.

I’d heard that the Coens liked to screen THE CONFORMIST and THE THIRD MAN to their crews before a shoot, which made sense as a way of getting the idea of self-conscious style into everybody’s head. The specific connections never seemed obvious until MILLER’S CROSSING, which features a hit in a forest and a romantic rejection at a funeral — but most of MILLER’S CROSSING is swiped from Dashiell Hammett anyway. The NIGHT OF THE HUNTER connection makes complete sense because of the idea of a mythic or biblical resonance being infused into a story with genre elements. Think of the reconfiguring of elements of SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (chain gang, freight car, picture show) into the narrative structure of Homer’s Odyssey in O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? Or the dybbuk, a wraith from Jewish mysticism, who turns up in a seemingly unrelated prologue to A SIMPLE MAN. All this could stem from a love of the way Laughton’s movie, taking its cue from Davis Grubb’s novel, interlaces the mundane with the numinous.

And that influence is a good thing, and it’s nice that some modern filmmakers have attempted to take up the gauntlet flung down by Laughton. Of course, the Coens don’t tend to take their characters and themes seriously enough for this stuff to actual resonate with anything outside cinema, but that’s them. I’m just not sure I like the paraphrases, in the same way I don’t much like Paul Schrader’s swiping of the end of PICKPOCKET for his AMERICAN GIGOLO. If you happen to see the more recent film first, it is apt to interfere with your first viewing of the older classic. Does the end of PICKPOCKET seem as “transcendental”, to use Schrader’s word, if you’re struck by a powerful sense of deja vu and see Richard Gere’s face superimposed over that of Martin LaSalle?

45 Responses to “Nothing But the Night”

  1. Isn’t pilfering what the Coen Brothers do best?

  2. It always seemed odd to me that Laughton directed this film; to American audiences he always seemed so archetypally British, and Night so archetypally American. Looking it up; Laughton was very fond of the U.S., and took alot of flac from his countrymen for not returning to Britain after the war.

    The Gothic ‘spook-house”aspect of Night anticipates Psycho, and even Baby Jane, but it does seem like an “odd duck” film for 1957.

    Trying to associate it with another American film, I can only come up with Sunrise, made by another European. it may be the way a pastoral setting is used in each.

  3. I see Moonrise as an even closer fit, and that one’s by an all-American filmmaker (though of immigrant stock). I guess Laughton had lived in the US long enough to pick up a feeling for the atmosphere, and the book is very accurate and specific in its sense of place.

    Yes, the Coens are habitual magpies, and what they bring of themselves is an ironic/snarky distance, a sort of refusal to really put anything personal into the work. Strong stylists, assured storytellers, with great taste in actors and a gift for dialogue… but I do find something lacking, perhaps increasingly.

  4. OK, it’s high time I took the gloves off about this, and you’ve provided me with the opportunity to do so. THE COENS STINK ON ICE!

    This has been my carefully considered opinion ever since I walked out of Blodd Simple halfway through the first reel when the camera tracked down a bar counter to a passed-out customer, criend -up to pass over him, and then craned down to continue on its way. This bit of blatant smart-assery was, as it turns out, the overture to the Grand Old Opry to come.

    The Coens stock in trade is the creation of exquisitely stupid characters devised expressly for an audience to feel superior to. As America is a highly anti-intellectual country, whose ignorant citizens take pride in their smugness, the Coens fit right in.

    That Laughton should make the greatest of all American films is no surprise in that its clear from as far back as The Old Dark House and ,i>The Hunchback of Notre Dame that he was most at home with horror. The Night of the Hunter is that most exquisite of hoorro films in that it shines a light on that most absolute of villains Fundamentalist Christinity. It presents this in the fomr of story about Goood (Lillian Gish) and Evil (Robert Mitchum, or as he said on the set “Present!”)

    Gish’s Miss Cooper is nominally Christian. She reads Bible passages, but tellingly mixes them up. It should not be forgotten that her backwoods orphange is her way of doing penance for her rejection many years before of her (dollars to donuts gay) son. Unlike the Chuch which conerns itself with the worship of Death and the regulation of sexuality, she’s all about Life,and approaches sexuality with a refreshing matter-of-factness. Most of her children are the issue of “unwed” mothers. One of the, Ruby< is reaching adulthood and is sorely tempted by her budding sexuality. But Miss Cooper doesn't attack or punish her. How can she? She is The Life Force Itself.

    And in many ways far more powerful than God –mwhose place she takes in the sky at the film's very start.

  5. I understand the new Criterion edition includes a suite of rushes. All the rushes were printed and were saved by Elsa Lanchester who prior to her passing donated thm to the UCLA Film Library. A few eyars back an hour’s worth of them were shwon — and they were a revelation.

    More about that as our postings continue.

  6. David E – I admit I have enjoyed one or two of the Coens’ films (BARTON FINK and O BROTHER spring to mind) but for the most part their work strikes me as cold, derivative and profoundly uninteresting. I’ve tried and failed to sit through Coen ‘classics’ like FARGO and THE BIG LEBOWSKI. The spirit is willing, but the flesh simply says no.

    A few years ago, I attended a press conference by the late great Marco Ferreri. Somebody asked if there were any younger directors he especially disliked. Without hesitation, he said “I fratelli Coen” and then went on to explain. His notion of good film-making, he said, was to have a wealth of ideas but not to overuse any of them in case they got stale.

    The Coens, he said, were the opposite: “They have one idea in each film, or maybe two, and spend the whole movie beating it to death. That’s not good cinema!” I’d never thought it that way before, but what he said made perfect sense – and I suddenly realised why I don’t really respond to their work.

  7. So nice to get some back-up from the masterful auteur of Dillinger is Dead, The Audience, La Grande Bouffe, Bye Bye Monkey and the exquisite Don’t Touch The White Women.

  8. I remember when they first came out with Blood Simple, I had the thought that at least they were different, and the ’80s weren’t a very good period in film so I hung on through Raising Arizona, which I thought was cheap and smartass but with a couple of good jokes. Then came Barton Fink where I finally realized they were total jerks, and Hudsucker Proxy which revolted me with it smartass sentimentality. I quit them right there.

  9. I give them a bit more credit, while I am growing more aware of their limitations. The depressing aspect of Hudsucker is that it’s modeled closely on Sturges and Capra but eschews all real emotional engagement. They’re incapable of wearing their hearts on their sleeves for an instant — I’m hoping maybe True Grit will develop the signs of maturity slipping through in parts of No Country.

    What’s weird about the way they curry favour with anti-intellectuals is the way they attempt to have their cake by making self-consciously smart-assed films. I like cartoons so I probably liked Raising Arizona best. Miller’s Crossing showed up their lack of content, and with the flamboyance toned down it became an issue. Barton Fink is creepy because of their apparent insistence that anybody who appears to be serious about art must be a fraud.

    The two-and-a-half hours of material put together by Robert Gitt on the Criterion disc make it worth buying even if the complete film didn’t exist. Both an essential insight into Laughton’s thinking and technique, and a brilliant making-of guide to film.

    Oddly, Simon Callow says he doesn’t find the film scary at all, mainly funny, which makes me wonder if he has nerves of steel of just lacks sensitivity to the gothic. His love of Welles and Laughton suggests that the latter can’t be so, but I’m mystified.

  10. They strike poses suggestive of Struges and capra. That’s all. They have none of the former’s knowledge of society and how it works and are far too rancid to buy the latter’s sentimentality.

    The repeated refrain of “It’s for the kids” in The Hudsucker Proxy made me want to physically assault them.

  11. I think when Blood Simple came out, its quoting style worked, in that it functioned as a kind of anti- autuerism. Even the fact that it was made by brothers, questioned authorship or signature. At least, that’s how I think it came across at the time.
    The problem is, of course, that the re-treading became their signature. I think that’s why their films tend to have this unpleasant necro-phile aspect to them.

  12. On the Coens, I’ve never really been interested in any of their films (Miller’s Crossing looked quite interesting, but beat the Irish lyricism thing into the ground, and it has been so long since I last saw it that now I’m not sure if I remember the film or the copycat lager adverts that used the music and imagery more!), but one thing that seared itself into my brain was finding out in some news report or other that the Coens, and I think Frances McDormand, were all in some sort of ski-lodge in Aspen over the Christmas when the YouTube video of Saddam Hussain’s hanging splashed all over the internet.

    For some reason (and it shouldn’t really be seen as their fault I suppose), but that stuck with me – the mental image of the Coens in a Rules of the Game-style chateau watching the stage managed events unfold as being the perfect target audience for Bush’s snuff film New Year gift.

  13. “That Laughton should make the greatest of all American films is no surprise in that its clear from as far back as The Old Dark House and ,The Hunchback of Notre Dame that he was most at home with horror”

    And don’t forget Island of Lost Souls, with Laughton as Dr Moreau and by far the best, scariest (and most violent, and tragic!) film version of the H.G. Wells story (albeit it doesn’t really have much competition from the deeply average Burt Lancaster/Michael York 70s version or the execrable Brando/Kilmer one), and a film which seems to be teetering on the edge of oblivion without a good home video release (I don’t think it has ever been released on DVD). This is a film I’d particularly love Criterion to licence from Universal, spruce up and release.

    I’ve always thought Laughton’s lunatic father/priest/doctor Moreau in that film could have a relationship with Night of the Hunter (with a dose of Cocteau’s Beast!) – all of those skewed and corrupted family values turning nightmarish.

  14. David, Night of the Hunter is full of homages itself, and beyond Griffith:

    Which is not a bad thing at all, I love Laughton’s bold ecclecticism ;D

    As for Laughton directing so an American movie, small wonder: he quite felt the pressure of class system in his childhood/youth (his parents sent him to an expensive schools where other kids beat him for being an “inkeepers’ son”, and therefore an alien of sorts)… One of the things that struck him in his first trip to the USA was to discover that birthright was not as important as long as you had something good to offer (which Laughton had in spades).

    The “not returning during the war” thing I have always regarded as a quaint argument: as a young (and not at all famous man) he had served in the trenches during First World War… Service enough, in my opinion. He went to the USA as his own production company (Mayflower films, with Eric Pommer as a partner) has failed financially: He had to accept a contract with RKO, and then MGM, in order to pay British taxes (go figure). He was already 40 and possibly of better use to the cause working in films like THis Land Is Mine… Some who slurred Laughton for working in the USA conspicuously posed in uniform striking very patriotic poses, but did actually no front line fighting: they were, logically, of more use doing films… But, hey, they could have spared Charles the bitching!! (he had, after all, done some *real* fighting, without bragging about it)

    And since Ferreri has been mentioned… You should see some films of his early Spanish period, like “El Pisito” and “El cochecito”, two ferocious black comedies which, fifty years after being made, still tell a lot of things about Spanish society.

  15. El Cochecito is one of the three films merting Josef Von Sterberg’s approval in Fun in a Chinese Laundry.

    The other two: Last Year at Marienbad and P&P’s Tales of Hoffman

    Thanks for mentioning Island of Lost Souls, Colinr. The sight of Laughton in jhodpurs and riding boots lolling on his operating table as he toys with a whip is . . .scrumptious.

  16. Christopher Says:

    One of the many pleasures of the current True Grit is that it dosen’t smack at all of being a Coen Bros. film…A delight and real crowd pleaser.

  17. I like the Coens’ True Grit a great deal, and reading the source novel it becomes clear that it’s simply a careful and skilful adaptation of a very very good book, done with as little ego as the brothers are able to muster.

    I’d also like to say a word for Davis Grubb’s source novel for NOTH, which is often maligned at the expense of James Agee’s script, but which is actually a sensitive and beautiful piece of Southern gothic. Laughton loved the book first, and it provided the impetus for what is, I think, one of the greatest films Hollywood ever produced. In fact I’m thinking of buying a multiregion BluRay player just because of this one release.

  18. John Seal Says:

    I’m a reasonably big Coens admirer, but True Grit is one of their lesser (dare I say worst?) efforts. I have no idea what they saw in the story. Perhaps my dislike of almost all things John Wayne has coloured my perception of the film…or maybe it’s just not very good.

  19. The Coens and the Tarantinos of this Earth will always thrive as long as there are uninformed viewers, and even then. They’re like even the best comic book artists, they use their swipe files mercilessly. They do their homework, tho – I find little lines from obscure Hammett short stories littering “Miller’s Crossing” so it shows tenacity, at least. I always thought Laughton’s masterpiece was pifered by everybody who had a look at it, frankly – it’s a catalog of potential steals, sadly, and way too many dollars have been made by the copycats, but butts in the seats is the measure of success, so the Coens and their ilk will alwyas be “relative” geniuses.

  20. Had Bertolucci made Red Harvest as he had hoped we wouldn’t be talking about Miller’s Crossing.

    Or Quentin Tarantino for that matter.

  21. There are parts of Hobson’s Choice that remind me of Night of the Hunter – the drunkard’s fall and the dreamy boat ride. The heavy use of setting and environment as metaphor: HC upstairs/downstairs, NH wilderness/house. And both have sinister protectors as father figures. Maybe Lean’s direction sparked something in CL.

    Also, on the subject of the Coens and pilfering. I’ve always though of the Coens as the inverse of Woody Allen. Woody Allen faithfully remakes his favorite story’s with his comic character as protagonist. Examples: “War and Peace” – Love and Death, “Crime and Punishment” – Match Point, “8.5” – Stardust Memories, “Autumn Sonata” – Interiors, “Pygmalion” – The Purple Rose of Cairo, “The Trial” – Shadows and Fog, etc…

    Inversely, the Coens faithfully invent their favorite filmmaker’s best film they never made to the best of their imaginations.

    Obvious examples are: Hitchcock – No Country For Old Men; Sturges – O Brother Where Art Thou; Capra – Huddsucker; Chandler – Lebowski; Made-for-TV-movie – Fargo; Kafka – The Man Who Wasn’t There.

    So Allen is co-opting through the center, kinda like Duchamp’s mustache on the mona lisa, and the Coen’s are just co-oping just the frame, rarely the meat. And neither party really nicks jokes. Except in-house.

    [NOTE: Tarantino is not respectable because he steals from both the center and the frame, which calls into question himself (who appears, occasionally, in large and small roles, but always for no good reason).]

  22. Quentin thinks he’s his own good reason.

    No Country For Old Men is a lot closer to Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street than anything by Hitchcock IMO.

  23. Lean the Methodist should’ve clashed with Laughton, but they got on beautifully, and always hoped to work together again. Lean even toyed with casting Laughton in Kwai, in the Guinness role (because he didn’t much like Guinness), thinking maybe he could lose some weight to play a starving POW. I think somebody suggested that if Laughton could lose the weight, he probably would’ve done so already, and that was that.

    Lean uses the elements as expressions of drama and character, like Shakespeare, and that seems to find its way into NOTH.

    I don’t see No Country as Hitchcockian, particularly. Maybe more Peckinpah. But most of all Corman McCarthy — the Coens use literary influence as shamelessly as cinematic, with Chandler, Cain, Hammett, all figuring.

    Maybe David E would admit they’re not quite as creepy with it as QT?

    I spoke to Joel once at a Film Fest event and asked him about one of their published script’s intros, which embarrassingly I hadn’t realized was a spoof/fake. He was nice about it and didn’t make fun of me for missing the joke, so I have some kind feelings for the bros.

  24. What stays with me about NOTH is its dreamy quality–and the fact that the sense is never of nightmare (which it should be), but of early summer, all-the-time-in-the-world dream. The night float down the river, where even the spiderwebs are abstract, ethereal, and beautiful. It’s as if the message is, well, a deeply Christian one: even in the midst of life we are in death. Even when you’re dreaming, you’re dying. Danger is ever present.

    And oh, Mitchum. Mitchum. Who better? Hearing him introduce himself makes me want to smoke, drink whiskey, and be more Southern thany my roots allow. That voice, and that presence.

    I watched NOTH once with friends, and one acquaintance laughed the whole way through; she played the role of the person at a silent film screening who snickers at overacting. I couldn’t believe anyone would willfully cut themselves off from enjoying such a great work of art; we weren’t destined to stay friends.

    Finally, to the Coens. The film of theirs that continues to work for me is The Big Lebowski It’s not perfect, and the cult around it has gotten to be a bit much, but it brings me joy every time–and that joy, unlike with most of their work, is rooted in love for these characters. I’m looking forward to True Grit, if only because the novel is so strong, so strange, and so full of that sort of love of idiosyncrasy that I can’t imagine a better vehicle for them.

  25. Christopher Says:

    I loved The Big Lebowski..would have loved it more if John Goodman had toned it down a mile or 2…I also like No Country For Old Men ,which,like True Grit dosen’t have the Coen eccentrics..

  26. “Maybe David E would admit they’re not quite as creepy with it as QT?”

    It’s a photo finish.

    NOTh is a waking nightmare. It’s “dreamlike” but Billy Chapin is always wide awake — as is Gish. Mitchum doesn’t sleep either but that’s because he’s something on the ordewr of a zombie.

    Clearly the Coens were hoping to cocktail up something along the smae lines with Javier Bardem in No Country For Cineastes But he’s an automaton — more on the order of an unbalanced “replicant” than a genuine moral menace. Consequently he’s no scary in the slightest (though the Coens think he is.)

  27. Nobody around me liked when I said that QT was a ripoff artist. Somehow, with members of the crowd of film lovers I was a part of, this was a badge of distinction, the “ironic quotation” which is often not ironic at all. I really don’t understand why lifting large pieces from film or literature became respectable, but I’ve seen it in other artistic fields as well, a sort of “creativity is overrated” gob of spit landed on those who expect originality.

  28. Well it depends on who’s doing the liftin. In Film Socilaisme Godard “samples” Adieu Bonaparte, The Battle of Marathon, Battleship Potemkin and Welles’ Don Quixote

  29. Christopher Says:

    I see Tarantino more of celebrating his love for film,than trying to rip off other filmmakers..It was really tiresome in the Kill bill films..But Inglorious Bastards was a real joy.

  30. Re. Gloria’s commenting on Laughton making “so an American movie” (“so American a movie”?), I thought of another Brit, Hitchcock, and SHADOW OF A DOUBT. Hitchcock’s film doesn’t possess the rural dreaminess of Laughton’s, but both films display an appreciative sentiment for American culture, an American familial way of life in Hitchcock’s case. I sense a similarity in the two men as men, both overweight, both gifted, both if not self-loathing then self-conscious and not entirely self-confident because of their physical shortcomings. Not sure what I’m getting at here but I do detect a parallel, a connection, correct me if I’m mistaken.

  31. Arthur S. Says:

    THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER likely had a bigger and more felicitious influence on Terrence Malick, the poetic mixture of pastoral themes, religious imagery in a crime story, at least of the first two films he made – BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN. His next film is about childhood in the 50s, the era in which THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER was made(though projecting childhood in the Depression).

    One issue I have about the following of NOTH is that people call it a “horror film”(even the summary on Criterion’s DVD page), it’s an anti-genre film, using elements from several traditions but fitting in nothing. It’s scary and more frightening than many would-be horror films but it’s not built on generating fear. I feel that the Coens in their better films like FARGO responded to that mix of genres which in their weaker films and in QT’s work becomes an end in itself rather than means or tropes in a grander vision.

    Laughton being British means that he was very conscious about putting NIGHT OF THE HUNTER in a wider range of American culture. In this case there are literary references(Hawthorne and Twain) and film references(Griffith) but the use of those traditions is to create something authentic and bold and adventurous. Truffaut described it as “a newstory read by children as if it were a fairy tale”, which signifies Laughton’s Brechtian sensibility.

    We might not have Bertolucci’s RED HARVEST but we do have Wim Wenders’ HAMMETT and that’s more noir-like for me than anything I fratelli Coen have achieved.

  32. I never minded Godard’s steals since he was never mainstream and he pretty much originated that style of film/literary reference many years before it became hip to do in American film.

    NOTH a horror film? I never saw it that way. I equally don’t understand Callow finding it funny.

  33. Laughton would have been great in Kwai. There’re too many sweating stick figures in that film you get confused who’s who.

    On how Hitchcockian No Country is or not, I think I started by noting that Psycho has famously non-traditional sequencing of the death of the main character. No Country, at least memorably if not famously, as well as another film about a psycho, copies this effect with out stealing the sequencing or the scene. And I moved on from there and found some interesting things.

  34. Yes, but that comes from the book, which the film follows pretty closely. The main difference being that the Coens feel the need to tip us the wink that they’re not taking it entirely seriously.

    That line about “bad artists borrow, great artists steal” or whatever it is does rather suit JLG. By literally quoting chunks of footage or dialogue he obliges himself to transform them via context. QT and the Coens may see themselves as post-modern, free to draw from the great world of film that’s our heritage, but they’re not subverting anything, like Tashlin. Their attitude would be more, “We can do this, because why does it matter?”

  35. I think most people see Night as being extra-genre, but in order to talk about it, the tendency to put it into a one. Its sort like the blind men talking about the elephant, saying that its a hose, or what not, but only as a half truth, in order to point to something that’s bigger, and more difficult to define.

  36. Guy, Pardon my English (i’m obviously not a native ;D)

    The Hitchcock/Laughton analogy is quite spot-on: you were getting somewhere indeed.

    We could go on further: Hitchcock also became an American citizen. He and Laughton weren’t posh kids. They both were born Catholics and attended Jesuit schools. And their wives were quite “professional” at the job: being “Mrs. Hitchcock” or “Mrs. Laughton” was something that required special dedication to Alma Reville and Elsa Lanchester.

    I’ve a picture of both somewhere around, they look like the Thompson twins, sort of.

    Dave, Mndean… Having just sampled part of the Criterion edition, I don’t think that Callow described the film as funny: he was referring to certain scenes, which certainly have a touch or slapstick, such as when Preacher steps on a can in the cellar and falls.

  37. Hitchcock’s relationship Alam was quite different from Laughton’s relationship Elsa. The hitchcock’s were an entirely loving couple. Laughton and Lancaster were something else. Not only did she bother his boyfriends, she would sometimes raise such unholy hell that he’d race to over to Chris and Don’s just for a bit of peace. (It’s covered in the first volume of Isherwood’s diaries.)

  38. I didn’t mean both ladies to be identical, but of course they both acted as a support to their husbands… A bit less so in Elsa’s case: reading between lines her own account I think she was quite frustrated that Charles was not a… more conventional husband

  39. david wingrove Says:

    I seem to remember Hitchcock once implied that his wife Alma had ‘saved’ him from becoming a homosexual. Nothing and nobody – not even Elsa Lanchester – could ‘save’ Charles Laughton. It may seem off these days that anyone should wish to be ‘saved’…but it really wasn’t that long ago.

    In retrospect, Laughton’s troubled sexuality informed many of his great screen performances (and, in my view NIGHT OF THE HUNTER too) while Hitchcock’s cinema is rich in gay subtexts for those who want to see them – and I don’t just mean ROPE, REBECCA and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.

  40. Judy Dean Says:

    I’ve tried, really tried, with the Coens but, after painful viewings of Burn After Reading and No Country for Old Men, decided they would join Lars von Trier and Mike Leigh on my very short list of people whose films I will no longer see.

    There’s a school of thought that their work divides into two categories – the serious and the light, but to me it’s all one – lacking heart and substance.

  41. “A lie and no heart,” is actually how Gabriel Byrne is described in Miller’s Crossing.

    I found Burn After Reading painful too, in a way that’s for me true only of The Ladykillers and chunks of Intolerable Cruelty. In their other work, the problematic emptiness is at the very least less shrill. I can take emptiness if the artist is a good scat-singer, but shrieking emptiness is pretty hard to take.

    Those of you who have read Laughton bios — he clearly didn’t get on too well with Hitch (who found him “very difficult”) so is it fair to say he got on better with people he was more different from? After all Sternberg, a fellow masochist, couldn’t handle him, but he hit it off with Cortez, Mitchum, Winters…

  42. In his marvelous memoir “Original Story By” Arthur Laurents is most insightful about Hitchcock and matters gay. When he was hired to do a page one rewrite of the script the Production Code’s chief objection to Patrick Hamilton’s play was their belief that “My dear fellow” was “homosexual dialogue.” Arthur moved the action to New York and “slipped one past the goalie” far too many times to mention in his recreation of upper-crust New York gay life in the immediate postwar period, complete with a “beard” who the boys were passing around amongst themselves that the selected victim intended to marry. As the script progressed Arthur wondered whether Hitch knew he was gay — and it quickly dawned on him that he did. THEN he wondered if Hitch knew he was having an affair with Farley — and just as quickly he realized that he did.
    Funniest of all is a dinner just before production attended by Cary Grant and his then-wife Betsy Drake. Hitch wanted Cary to play Rupert — and for obvious reasons he turned him down. At the dinner Betsy was going on and on and on and on about herself until Hitch — by that time well into his cups — suddenly burst out “Oh she’s SO full of shit!”

    Oh to have been a fly on that wall.

  43. Heh. Laurents said that Hitch was fascinated by anything unusual going on in people’s sex lives. He’d come a long way from the young man who, on his first movie, didn’t understand the actress who said it was her time of the month.

  44. Ah, give poor Betsy a break…she was married to Cary Grant and that can’t have been an easy life.

    The poor girl was the Katie Holmes of her day!

  45. One of the wives… and I think it may have been Dyan Cannon… cited Cary’s addiction to punitively spanking her in their divorce papers. I’d like to think Katy doesn’t have that problem, although given Scientology’s retrograde attitude to women, anything’s possible.

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