Archive for May 6, 2015

Monkey, Karloff, or Bust?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-05-23-01h22m55s189From THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND.

But I have nothing to say about that film. Instead I’m going to talk about our Boris Karloff/John Farrow/Crane Wilbur double feature.

Wilbur scripted and Farrow directed THE INVISIBLE MENACE in 1938 — a murder mystery set on an island military base, in which Karloff’s casting at first seems like an absurdity — how can you have a whodunnit with Boris lurking about? But in fact it’s a moderately clever story, and Boris is agreeably used against type. All the characters are jerks, which is sort of interesting.

z220px-Poster_of_the_movie_The_Invisible_Menace

“There was no invisible menace!” Fiona complained at the end.

“Maybe there was,” I suggested. “It just chose not to declare itself.”

This leads me to my new theory, which is that every movie contains an invisible menace, it’s just that usually they are content not to do anything. Eventually, this theory will supplant that one about the auteurs.

Was hoping for some of John Farrow’s trademark tracking shots, and there was some decent work, but most of it was as unobtrusive as the titular menace.

west-of-shanghai-1

WEST OF SHANGHAI is more problematic, given the casting of Karloff and Vladimir Sokoloff as Chinese generals. But Hollywood really had no choice but to indulge in such creative casting — the one thing everybody knows about the Chinese, of course, is that there just aren’t enough of them. If they were as numerous as, say, the Irish, movies could fill their Chinese general roles with real Chinese, maybe even with real Chinese generals. Instead, we have one Russian and one Anglo-Indian with a Russian name. Also Ricardo Cortez, an American of Austrian Jewish origins with a Spanish name, if that helps.

Most places are west of Shanghai, come to think of it, aren’t they? A film with such a title could easily be set in Lewisham.

Karloff is required to speak pidgin English, which he does with impeccable diction (albeit a thlight lithp), which doesn’t work at all. The character is meant to be a thug, something Boris could only manage in his younger days. Dignity, always dignity — knowing that the film is bunkum and he’s ludicrously miscast, he just does his own thing, playing a loutish warlord waging revolution like a bemused vicar wondering why the crusts haven’t been cut off his cucumber sandwiches.