Fleshy rogue

It was rather unfair of me to suggest Ray Milland as good casting for the as-yet-imaginary David Cameron biopic THE TAPIOCA LUNGFISH. It doesn’t reflect the warmth with which I regard Milland, one of cinema’s finest Welshmen. Mainly it was due to his uncanny ability to suggest shiftiness, a quality I controversially suggested was due to his ever-so-slightly bulbous face, another point of comparison with Cameron. As a paunchy, bloated character myself, I felt qualified to judge.

Milland wasn’t always a trifle chubby — we see him in the excellent Cagney vehicle BLONDE CRAZY as a near starveling, his face a sort of skin tent erected on a knobby stick framework. It’s a shock just to see this unconvincing impersonation of human physiognomy, and a second shock to recognize Milland, somehow concealed behind it. His wan and wispy features look like they might snap off in a moderate-to-high wind, and his overall appearance suggests some dust that’s got on the celluloid. Where is the beloved roly-poly cad we know and love?

Actually, revisiting the film, I find both shocks have paled — seeing Milland stripped of his apple-cheeks was initially alarming, and it’s weird seeing him in the more noticeable cosmetics of the 1930s, but he doesn’t actually look bad. Just not himself.

Flash back further, to THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, his 1929 debut, and we see a perfectly balanced flesh-to-Milland ratio. The fellow’s probably just out of the Guards, at his physical peak. It looks like he starved in Hollywood for the first couple of years, then made a success and started eating rather too well.

Anyway, thanks to a recommendation by the Self-Styled Siren, in a typically delightful piece running down her most enjoyable vintage viewings of 2011, we watched SO EVIL MY LOVE, which is prime Milland untrustworthiness, giving the lie to Billy Wilder’s rather harsh assessment of his former collaborator (“Not an Oscar-winning actor” — expressing his view that it was his own script for THE LOST WEEKEND which won for Milland). He’s paired with Ann Todd, whose somewhat icy demeanour is extremely well-used.

It’s a gaslight melodrama with shades of noir, and forms a nice trio of Lewis Allen-directed fog thrillers, along with ghostly THE UNSEEEN and THE UNINVITED. Mutz Greenbaum (AKA Max Greene) shot it, with the glossy and pellucid shadows of his German origins. This may be what got him the gig on NIGHT AND THE CITY.

Chronology — Milland was having a very good year, with THE BIG CLOCK also on his schedule. Weirdly, we watched Moira Lister’s previous movie, another tale of homicide in London, WANTED FOR MURDER, the previous evening. She makes little impression in her fleeting appearance there, but she’s wonderful in the Allen film, seizing the chance to embody a zestful, venal slut.

The movie also has great work from Geraldine Fitzgerald, whose fate calls to mind UNCLE HARRY in the same way that Todd’s evokes MADELEINE, and from Raymond Huntley, whose wonderfully dislikable face (dis)graced innumerable British films but very few Hollywood productions.

Anyway, so inspired by it was I, I immediately dashed off a couple of limericks, which after suitable analysis and manipulation by the excellent Hilary Barta, are available to view at Limerwrecks, here.

At that same site, some more poetic appreciation of DR PHIBES, a fellow who will long be celebrated in song and doggerel. This one’s a collaboration with Hil, this matched pair is by me, and here’s another. But there are others, occasionally with titles by me — scroll around and enjoy!

29 Responses to “Fleshy rogue”

  1. Last weekend I saw Milland in Billy Wilder’s American directing debut, The Major and the Minor. Ginger Rogers pretends to be 12 years old to get a half-price ticket on a train, and Milland does wonders managing to keep a straight face as the man who falls for it – even though she doesn’t look a day under 31 – and pretends to be her uncle to hide her from the ticket collectors. Even by today’s standards Wilder manages to avoid indelicacy, though I’d imagine that nowadays the very idea of an older guy like that sharing his sleeper compartment with an underage girl would be unthinkable, unless it was a film about paedophilia. (I particularly liked the character of the younger sister – a smart, no-nonsense schoolgirl who loves chemistry.)

  2. Martin and Lewis remade it as You’re Never Too Young with Jerry in the Ginger Rodgers role. One particular number in that version “Face the Music” was an obsession of Fassbinder — who paid it copious hommage in In a Year of 13 Moons.

  3. I saw The Major and the Minor a few weeks ago myself, in a lovely big-screen print, and during the ticket-buying scene I kept thinking something seemed familiar. I had completely forgotten You’re Never Too Young: I must have seen it 25 years ago or more, proving perhaps that you’re never too young but you can be too old.

  4. Jenny Eardley Says:

    I suspect that Ray Milland lost a lot of weight when, like Cary Grant and Errol Flynn, he had to SWIM TO AMERICA to become a star. That’s how I remember it, anyway.

    I also enjoyed a film on the recommendation of the Self-Styled Siren. “Sleeping Tiger”, which fits in with my drive to fill in the blanks of my Dirk Bogarde knowledge. I thought it was one of his best performances that I’ve seen.

    It looks like you’ve solved one problem – Raymond Huntley is the man for the Cameron gig. The George Osborne casting problem seems insoluble, unless anyone knows a way to make Satan rise again?

  5. I wrote about Sleeping Tiger way back in Joseph Losey Week (when the world went JOSEPH LOSEY MAD) and posted a couple of YouTube clips which may still be around.

    YES to Huntley as Cameron!

    B Kitre remarked of You’re Never Too Young that Lewis’ leading lady deserves special recognition for playing against Jer as if he was a kid in spite of his chunky jewelry and VERY HAIRY HANDS.

  6. Raymond Huntley is a reference point for “Tot” in The History Boys She says the school principal reminds her of him — which is why she refers to the principal as “The Awful Warning” (ie. what you’ll end up like if you keep to the status quo.)

  7. Frears and Lambert discuss Huntley as one of the inescapable faces of British Film in Frears’ 100 Years doc (“Bollocks to Truffaut,” he wanted to call it).

  8. It was also rather unfair to compare David Cameron to a lungfish; the latter is a delightful and fascinating creature, comparatively handsome as far as fish go, a possible evolutionary precursor of mankind, and thus undeserving of association with the Conservative party, which represents devolution.

    There’s fine early-mid-period Milland—i.e., between starveling and bulbous-chubby-cheeked—in EASY LIVING, where he manages to convincingly impersonate a young man of vitality and charm who is stubborn rather than shifty. Where that Milland went is anybody’s guess.

  9. David Boxwell Says:

    Reggie was also a cowpoke in the self-directed Republic western A MAN ALONE (55). It’s better than you would think it would be.

    He started out looking like Ivor Novello’s little brother.

  10. Thing with Two Heads — he’s certainly gained some weight THERE!

    One of the things that makes him oddly attractive in So Evil is that his wickedness is all on the surface, he makes no effort to disguise it, merely to charm.

  11. Christopher Says:

    I cut my teeth on Ray Milland in the 60s ,but it wasn’t his weight that was usually discussed,it was his hairpiece…magic hairline

  12. Must’ve been a shock when he finally decided to bare the dome… wonder if Sir Christopher Lee will ever flash his scalp.

  13. Christopher Says:

    When did Lee start wearing one?..I’ve wondered when Milland started, as his hair has looked the same all thru his career till around the time of Frogs :o))

  14. Maybe always? I only recently was told about Lee — I previously thought his bald head in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was a triumph of makeup, but apparently it’s au naturel.

  15. I will have to catch this. I’ve always liked Ray Milland, probably due to his roles for Tourneur, Lang and Hitchcock. As to Milland inspired limericks, there are a few earlier ones linked to here:


  16. Thanks!

    Milland seems able to embody archetypal characters for all his directors: the baffled hero for Tourneur, the embittered writer for Wilder, the sympathetic wife-killer for Lang. Plus he was probably the best of Leisen’s regular stars (I like Fred MacMurray fine, but I have to grit my teeth a bit for John Lund).

  17. Lovely. i’d forgotten just how good the start of Alias Nick Beal is. Overall, I prefer Night Has a Thousand Eyes, but that’s pretty excellent…

  18. One of the most entertaining experiences I ever had on the old 42nd Street was seeing The Thing With Two Heads at the Anco Theater. If only I had a tape recorder to record the comments from the audience…priceless! Unfortunately, the theater had a pungent aroma, too.

    You nailed Milland’s approach perfectly about he’s totally unsubtle about the evil, and figures he’ll just get by on charm. I enjoyed So Evil My Love quite a lot myself. Immediately raced to the computer to look up the actual case that inspired it.

    Loved those trailers, especially Panic in Year Zero. In the mid-80s at the old LImelight, I met Milland briefly at a NYC publicity party for a schlock mystery video he was in. A trouper to the end. He told me that he made more money from The Man With the X-Ray Eyes than any of his films, after I told him that seeing the movie in my adolescence made me want to become an eye doctor and discover an X-ray eye serum.

    Interesting footnote re Raymond Huntley–he of the officious persona embodied the original stage role of Dracula in London, eventually taken over the mighty Lugosi in New York! How would cinema history have been altered if Huntley had done the part in NY and made the Universal movie instead of Bela??

  19. Fiona says: “THAT’S where I heard his name!” I never made the connection myself. I must try to see some pictures of him… I have the Skal book…

  20. http://www.updown.org.uk/outofcos/oocbefo1.htm

    Heh. “I must confess, I have always regarded the role of Count Dracula as an indiscretion of my youth.”

  21. “Indiscretion of my youth!” Expressed perfectly in the Huntley persona!

  22. David, Re: John Lund: A lesser actor, certainly, but he’s interestingly downbeat as the title insurance investigator on the radio show Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, “The man with the action-packed expense account.” Maybe he’s easier to take in voice only.

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