Hair

vlcsnap-2014-03-30-09h59m55s53

The Mayans, we are told, had an incredibly advanced civilisation, despite never developing the wheel or metalwork. So they had to construct their dialogue and performances out of wood. And thus, alas, their dialogue and performances were no match for the leaden dialogue and performances of invading armies.

I really ought to watch TIGER BAY or YIELD TO THE NIGHT or the original CAPE FEAR as a palate cleanser, but my trawl through obscure J. Lee Thompson films instead led me to KINGS OF THE SUN in which Mayan king George Chakiris discovers Louisiana only to discover Indian chief Yul Brynner is already living there.

Of course nobody in this film can talk convincingly, the thick-ear epic dialogue seeming to choke on the miasma of brown face-paint (Shirley-Anne Field is excused fake tan, inexplicably). But if you can’t have good talk, you can at least have good hair.

vlcsnap-2014-03-30-10h00m14s212

Chakiris leads the way with his giant quiff and pony tail look, similar to Tony Curtis’s magnificent quiff-and-pageboy cut in THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH. George could stand on the spot and rotate slowly and you’d get a complete history of human hair from the early hunter-gatherers to the latest in singing Puerto Rican street gangs.

vlcsnap-2014-03-30-10h01m52s168

This dude opts for an innovative Mr. Whippy look.

Yul Brynner is excused hair, and gets a very funny introductory shot.

vlcsnap-2014-03-30-10h01m02s192

Yul is the whole show. He can’t fare much better than anyone else with the dialogue, although he puts it over better. It’s his movement, his snake-hipped prowl, his snapping jaws in the fight scenes. We have to wait half an hour for him, and waiting for Yul is like waiting for Groucho in a movie as wooden as this, but when he does turn up he walks like really good sexual intercourse would walk. EVERYTHING gets better when Yul is around — the lighting goes from TV movie-of-the-week flat to vivid and modeled (Brando was impressed, on MORITURI, by how Brynner roped the lighting in to aid his performance) — the camera moves go from big swooping crane shots, spectacular at first but quickly tedious since the actors stand around like a forest, spouting duff verbiage that sounds like it’s been auto-translated from the original Mayannaise, to striking mobile POVs and dynamic following shots showcasing the best of Thompson’s style. His cameraman is Joseph Walker, who shot Capra’s stuff. Capra usually worked multi-camera (perhaps as a holdover from the early sound days?) which seems to have helped him get all that life and bustle going. For all its cast of thousands, this movie has zero bustle, and seems incapable of imagining convincing activity for more than one character at a time. Brynner makes damn sure that when he’s on screen, he is that character.

My favourite Yul story is from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. To Steve McQueen: “If you don’t stop playing with your hat, I’ll take off my hat, and then we’ll see who they look at.”

Advertisements

5 Responses to “Hair”

  1. I wonder if Yul picked up those lighting tips during his relatively brief but tempestuous dalliance with Marlene…

  2. You know, I just bet he DID pick up those lighting tips from Marlene. It isn’t often one reads of actors having specific ideas about dramatic lighting.

    Of course, he MIGHT have gotten it from Hurd Hatfield, but that would be more speculative.

  3. He might have gotten it from George Platt Lynes as well. Platt Lynes took some marvelous nudes of Yul.

    This is clearly the strangest project George Chakiris has ever been involved in. Next time I see him I plan to ask him about it.

    A shame Jack Cole wasn’t on hand cause he would have had tons of fun choreographing a musical number of that Mayan temple with George (who he worked with many times)

  4. I think songs are about the only thing that would have saved this. George must have noticed that Yul was getting all the good shots and all the interesting lighting. And George is supposed to be a king. Yul’s only a chieftain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: