The Sunday Intertitle: A Devil’s Carnival

vlcsnap-2016-05-28-22h48m21s244

Josef Von Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD (1927) brought the gangster picture back from obscurity — if Griffith’s MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY is the first wave, and Walsh’s REGENERATION inaugurates the second, this one starts another torrent which continues almost unbroken into the Warner Bros talking era.

Now that great confabulator Howard Hawks, a quasi-friend and sometime collaborator of Sternberg’s (they shared the screenwriter Jules Furthman) claimed that when he proposed a gangster pic to Ben Hecht, Hecht wasn’t interested because he felt the genre was played out. Hawks pitch of “the Borgias in Chicago” is said to have changed his mind. But if Hecht was afraid of repeating himself with SCARFACE (1932), would he have reprised so many of the earlier film’s tropes?

Bull Weed (the repulsive George Bancroft) looks up at a neon advertisement promising “The City is Yours.” Tony (Paul Muni) admires a sign which declares “The World is Yours.” Arguably, the second version is an improvement: Bancroft feels vindicated by a statement which is practically true, or feels true. Muni sees an unfulfillable promise, the lie of the American dream, of life.

Hawks stages a party aftermath strewn with streamers which closely matches the dying hours of the ball which Hecht had concocted for UNDERWORLD. Though I’m inclined to give Sternberg a little credit here — the idea of a society engagement for the underworld is delightful, whimsical. Hecht knew gangland from his newspaper days. Sternberg decried research and liked to work from a position of romantic ignorance.

vlcsnap-2016-05-28-22h47m24s191

There’s a contest for moll of the year. I love all the nicknames.

Hawks also claimed to have suggested Dietrich’s tuxedo in MOROCCO, which is possible, I guess. But, though some rumours suggest Hawks was bi, and he gave several of his leading ladies a masculine edge, perversity is really more of a Sternberg thing, and Dietrich’s girl-girl kiss would seem more up his street. But who knows? Hawks’ anecdotes all revolve, in a way that would be monotonous if he wasn’t such a good storyteller, around his own mastery of every situation, his brilliant creative decision-making and his ability to get everybody to do exactly what he wants. Then again, his films are usually good enough to make you believe he really was that proficient.

Did Hawks invent the money thrown in the spittoon in UNDERWORLD? Is that why he felt entitled to basically just steal it for RIO BRAVO? Or did he just figure it was worth doing again, thirty years later, since the audience has a short memory? At any rate, RIO BRAVO improves on the idea since it gives John Wayne more motivation to intervene in Dean Martin’s alcoholic degradation than George Bancroft had in pulling Clive Brook out of the gutter.

Funny, Fiona hates stuffed shirt Brook in SHANGHAI EXPRESS (“He’s a chin,” explained Sternberg to Dietrich, when she asked what he new leading man was like), but since enjoying his one directorial effort, ON APPROVAL, she is open to liking him. She liked him in this, and was rooting for him and Evelyn Brent (as “Feathers”). It helps that George Bancroft really is disgusting.

vlcsnap-2016-05-28-23h11m45s161

Advertisements

3 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: A Devil’s Carnival”

  1. There’s this suggestive anecdote from Leigh Brackett: “El Dorado was a direct rewrite of Rio Bravo. This is a long sad story. I wrote, what was to my way of thinking, the best script I had ever done in my life. It wasn’t tragic, but it was one of those things where Wayne died at the end. I sent it out to Howard and he said he loved it, it was great, and the studio loves it, Duke loves it, it’s great. Fine. So I’m feeling all warm and happy and I go out to do the final polish on it and it turns out we’re not going to do it at all, really. And the more we got into doing Rio Bravo over again the sicker I got, because I hate doing things over again. And I kept saying to Howard I did that, and he’d say it was okay, we could do it over again. On one scene I said, “You did that scene. I’m not going to write those lines again.” It’s where the girl comes into town, she gets off the stage, and blah blah blah. And I said to him, “I’m not going to do it again.” And he said, “Why not? It was good once, it’ll be just as good again.”

  2. Hawks did NOT suggest Dietrich’s tuxedo in “Morocco.” Long before she met Sternberg Dietrich was a “Male Impersonator” at lesbian night clubs in Berlin.

    Hawks is a MAJOR liar.

  3. Hawks claimed he had a really good story lined up for Rio Lobo, but decided to save it for another day because he didn’t care for the producers. So it became a bit of a Rio Bravo remake again. Of course, he never got a chance to make his really good story.

    Never save anything up, filmmakers!

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: