Archive for December, 2018

Ealing Hands

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2018 by dcairns

When I think of it, there are a surprisingly large number of Ealing films I haven’t seen. Now that I’m interested in Pat Jackson (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty), my attention focussed on THE GENTLE TOUCH (aka THE FEMININE TOUCH), a typical Ealing group dynamic movie about student nurses. Of course, an Ealing take on this subject is quite a bit from, say, a Roger Corman one, but it’s not exactly devoid of “shocking” material, from suicide to questioning the cruelty of God to some frank talk about virginity and colostomy bags.

And all in luminous Technicolor! It’s a surprising choice of subject to show off the process, but Paul Beeson’s work is radiant, excelling in a sunset scene where the golden light and blue shadows recall Leon Shamroy’s Hollywood work.

Best-known ministering angel is probably flame-haired Adrienne Corri, a Scot cast as an Irishwoman on account of all that red hair. She plays it with her strongest Scottish accent and a couple of notes of stage Irish. But she’s fun! Belinda Lee is the soft-spoken lead, good actor but written insipid; Diana Wynyard is the Matron and she’s AWESOME — good in the original GASLIGHT, but better here, and Mandy Miller from MANDY is a child patient with a dicky heart. Delphi Lawrence marries a doctor (“I thought he was a confirmed bachelor!”) and is automatically fired because nurses aren’t allowed to marry in 1956, apparently (!).

Very glad I saw it. Some of the compositions in group shots are stunning, and there are some snappy montages, but otherwise we don’t see Jackson’s more bold and imaginative choices, which I suspect he only resorted to when working on nonsense he thought was beneath him. Too bad, that.

But hey, Technicolor! 

Jackson did another medical drama, WHITE CORRIDORS, which I’m curious about, and I also want to see his early documentary/quasi-documentary stuff (some with Humphrey Jennings).

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The Sunday Intertitle: Monkeyboots

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 16, 2018 by dcairns

Criterion have just announced their new releases, among which is Harold Lloyd’s THE KID BROTHER. Stephen C. Horne and I have contributed a video essay to this one, the first Anatomy Of A Gag piece to grace an actual Blu-Ray, I believe.

While going through the Lloyd family photo collection — an amazing trove of behind-the-scenes pics — I was kinda startled to be faced with a full-frontally naked man, stripped off to film a river scene. I immediately saw the possibilities for a truly exceptional edition of Film Directors With Their Shirts Off, but on reflection, is a nude Ted Wilde something we really need to see?

THE KID BROTHER might make a good Christmas present for the cinephile in your life, dare I suggest?

I’m currently in the edit on a Criterion project for the New Year… more later.

Tried to make me go to Ahab

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2018 by dcairns

Bits of John Huston’s MOBY DICK had Fiona’s jaw hanging open. If you could only reach into the screen, peal Gregory Peck’s image off it and replace him with someone else — Walter Huston would be right if his son had made it earlier — John himself would have been excellent, and you can see Peck straining to give Hustonian line readings — and one can imagine other leading men of the period being terrific — Robert Ryan was born to it (see BILLY BUDD), Trevor Howard could have nailed it, Robert Mitchum would have done something really surprising. Sterling Hayden had already worked with Huston so I can’t understand why he wasn’t thought of. Peck is certainly trying, but it’s a matter of essence, not just skill or willingness. And Peck’s essence is stiffness. “They’ve given him a nose and a scar and a wooden leg and he still can’t do anything!” declared a friend. He works himself into a suitable pitch, he takes risks, and none of it is particularly convincing or effective.

Maybe some of it is physiognomic: they glued on a fresh nose, but they can’t conceal the sensuous lips, which tend to look petulant rather than fierce.

However, this lack at the film’s centre seems to energize Huston — his blocking becomes both ornate and muscular, the build-up given to Peck’s appearance as Ahab is tremendous, and Philip Sainton’s score really gives it the hard sell — tragic that he never scored another film (apparently he was scheduled to do A KING IN NEW YORK, but quit, perhaps not wishing to merely transcribe his director’s humming.

Ossie Morris’s b&w/colour hybrid cinematography is consistently striking, and the whole thing has a visceral, weighty quality that even survives the unavoidable model shots — editor Russell Lloyd became a regular Huston collaborator after skillfully intercutting real whales, life-sized replicas, men and boats at sea and in the studio tank, and model shots completed months after principal photography, flicking from one to the other with such energy that the reality shifts are almost seamless. FX wise, it’s a weird case of the whale being impressive without being convincing; this at least places it a notch higher than Bruce the shark in JAWS who is neither. I mean, you know it can’t have been easy, but your hat remains on your head.

Richard Basehart is good — not too interesting, which seems right for the cypher-like Ishmael. A younger actor might have been more “right,” but Basehart being the wrong type adds the right kind of interest. His speech also has a Huston-like quality, and in Joe Losey’s FINGER OF GUILT the same year, he delivers cinema’s first full-on Huston impersonation, anticipating Clint Eastwood in WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART and Daniel Day-Lewis in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Best in show: Harry Andrews, who implausibly just seems to BE his hearty whaler character, and Leo Genn’s pensive Starbuck who can make underplaying hit hard.

An 8/10ths masterpiece. The Hollywood Gold Series Blu Ray delivers solid picture values (much better than the DVD used for these images).

MOBY DICK stars Atticus Finch, Ivan Karamazov, Sir Clifford Chatterley, Sir Lancelot Spratt, the 13th Earl of Gurney, Joe Gargery, Bob Cratchit, Tom Fury, Charles Foster Kane and the voice of the Lawgiver.