Archive for August 8, 2017

I Want to be a Clone

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2017 by dcairns

If I keep watching MGM films from the thirties, will I become infected? While Warners films of the period have a salutary cynicism, the main ethos of Mayer & Thalberg’s studio is patriarchal snobbery (deep down it may be just as cynical, but it would take a Sigmund Freud armed with excavation equipment to dig the true beliefs out of Louis B. Mayer’s cerebellum). But they did make some good movies, and some interesting movies, even when that’s at the root. And sometimes they broke free from it altogether.

There’s a bit of class panic in AS YOU DESIRE ME, I guess, which is a Tichbourne Claimant/Martin Guerre identity crisis melodrama that’s part screwball (the first part), and where part of the anxiety rests on the possibility that Garbo may not be the long-lost amnesiac lady of the great house, but a long-lost amnesiac housemaid. Gasp! Since this is adapted from Pirandello, some trace of doubt is actually allowed to remain, and we’re left to assume that identity may not be wholly fixed and may not matter as much as we think. maybe it’s an act of faith — we have to believe we are who we are, and other people have to confirm it for us.

What an odd film this is! It’s another of the million films which seem to anticipate VERTIGO, with a doubled woman trying to impersonate her portrait at the behest of a bereaved, unbalanced man. But the best stuff is at the start, with Garbo rocking an electric-white hairdo while flailing around drunkenly and humiliating a wagonload of willing suitors. Then Erich Von Stroheim turns up as an author not in search of these particular six characters.

This movie should be remembered as the one where Erich is lighter, quicker and more charming than Melvyn Douglas, who is just starting out and way out of his comfort zone. Maybe he’s also picking up some of Garbo’s hambone tendencies, since she seems determined here to combine Norma Shearer’s phony attitude-striking with her own brand of loose-limbed semaphore, resulting in melodramatic staggers interrupted by bouts of vogueing. It’s somewhat enjoyable but surely a bad influence on impressionable minds like Melvyn’s.

Director George Fitzmaurice seems happy to let everyone do just as they please. Even Stroheim, the most fun character, has an odd moment where he gets so passionate his ears literally flap like Dumbo’s (above).

The thing kicks off with a splendid crane shot exploring a music hall’s audience while Garbo sings off-camera, and her regular DoP William Daniels has fun making her blonde locks glow like a magnesium flare.

Thanks to the various readers and Facebook friends who suggested this one!

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