Fair Weather

First full day in Bologna and we scored four out of four.

While our friends Nicola and Donald were viewing PEPE LE MOKO — can’t go wrong there — we took a chance on Franju’s NOTRE DAME, CATHEDRAL DE PARIS. I happen to think Franju’s short documentaries are even better than his features, which are of course frequently great. But he’s uneven — half the shorts are dullish, half are inspired cinematic poetry of the highest order. This was a good one, we thought, and in widescreen and colour! Of course, as Meredith Brody remarked afterwards, it played entirely differently under the present circs. I watched it with my jaw hanging open at the magnificent framing and a tear in my eye at the poignancy.

Afterwards, two half-empty plastic sacks of plaster in a corner of the Cinema Modernissimo, still in mid-restoration but opened as a pop-up for the festival, made me see a couple of weatherbeaten stone saints, and I realised I was seeing with Franju’s eyes, the eyes of a surrealist and a visionary poet. I wondered how long that would last. Then I emerged into the rain-slicked streets of Bologna and my eyes became those of a mere tourist again.

Henry King’s STATE FAIR is a masterpiece — a great piece of writing, particularly (a small army of ink-stained wretches laboured to convert Philip Strong’s Stong’s novel to a screen play). The subject of a week-long fair combines with a theme of impermanence, and a romantic scene is undercut with the image of a billboard advertisement for the fair peeling in the rain — to reveal THE END underneath.

Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres are a lovely couple, and so are her parents, Will Rogers and Louise Dresser. Sally Eilers, admired in BAD GIRL last year, is seductive. Norman Foster is the same charmless lump he appeared as in all his youthful movies, but he’s perfectly cast (and I love his “comeback” in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND). A nubile Victor Jory plays a barker.

Terrific long tracking shots from King, and elaborate rear-projection shots of the fair, with some funny touches like two dialogue scenes between hogs, shot and cut just like regular conversations. Subtitles, however, were not provided.

John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, newly restored, looked magnificent — you can see a tiny crumb of charcoal flake from Lautrec’s pencil, and you can see the peeling edge of a prosthetic chin stuck to a dancer. I was struck by the strange similarity of the female characters’ faces — not an actual resemblance, just a sense that they had something in common. Then I realised that they all had lips Lautrec might have drawn.

This film is better than we’ve all thought.

Script supervisor Angela Allen, 90, was on hand to reminisce and answer questions.

We gathered in the Piazza Maggiore to see MIRACLE IN MILAN but the rain, forecast to end an hour before, was getting heavy. I might have braved it, but the womenfolk dragged me to the safety of the Cinema Jolly to see Felix E. Feist’s THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, which was a really clever and slick B-noir, with Lee J. Cobb underplaying for the only time in his life, while John Dall as his brother projected every nuance from his face in letters a mile high.

It was produced by Jack Warner’s son and had a character named Quimby in it who was much as you’d expect.

More tomorrow!

11 Responses to “Fair Weather”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    As television-watching child, I was much impressed by the phantasmal visitors to dying Jose Ferrer in MOULIN ROUGE.

    Later, I was much impressed by the embroidered robe (I think it was) worn by STATE FAIR bad girl Sally Eilers.

  2. Ehsan Khoshbakt told us that a scene where Eilers drops her kimono was censored when State Fair was re-released post-code when Will Rogers died. The scene is still present but fades out seconds earlier with Eilers’ back filling the frame.

    Thanks, Tony!

  3. bensondonald Says:

    “State Fair” is one of the Will Rogers films not available on disc here.
    I’ve seen the first Rogers & Hammerstein version; agreeable rural nostalgia. Also bits of the 1960s remake. The acton moves to Texas, where farm boy Pat Boone competes in an auto race instead of pitching rings and hooks up with hot Ann-Margret (Viva Lost Virtue). The two films now function as time capsules of two different eras; I’m sure the Rogers original would provide a corresponding perspective.

  4. I think the King version is on YouTube, in terrible shape, as is The Man Who Cheated Himself. The print shown here of the former looked good but was peppered with splices, making a disc release sadly unlikely.

    Man Who has been beautifully restored by the Film Noir Foundation.

  5. “Philip Strong”
    Philip Stong, actually. Did he inspire Hedley LaMarr?

  6. ehrenstein47 Says:

  7. The finale in THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF is the absolute apotheosis of the noir convention: the wrecked out shell of industry standing in for America.

  8. Ken Abramson Says:

    “a nubile Victor Jory” , an oxymoron before breakfast that may follow me through the day.

  9. And the coda, with Cobb’s resigned performance, is awfully good.

  10. Who else could go from “ring toss barker” to King of the Fairies inside a decade?

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