Archive for October 16, 2019

Mata Hardly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2019 by dcairns

Yes. Yes. DARLING LILI is very interesting. I didn’t feel any of the bits worked, exactly, but they were interesting bits.

It’s kind of fascinating that in 1968, when they were planning this film, they thought Julie Andrews would be good casting as a German spy. Or they thought that would be a good change of pace for her, anyway. And within her range. And it might be, but then you’d have to do something with the idea.

We don’t at any point in the film consider WHY Lili Smith is a spy — we’re told she’s half-German, and that’s it. She also has a devoted German spymaster, Jeremy Kemp (very good perf: obviously he’s in love with her). But there’s nothing else. As far as we can tell, she doesn’t ever question it.

Lance Percival rehearses Blake Edwards’ bit from his special Oscar acceptance.

(But what I viewed is the 2hr 16 min director’s cut available to me, not the 190 min roadshow version. The version I saw needs MORE shortening to move efficiently — but maybe if you added back at least some of the footage Edwards himself deleted, it would attain virtues more important than efficiency.)

It’s commonplace for these kind of stories, going back at least as far as DISHONORED, to feature characters throwing aside patriotism in the name of love, but we have no idea if Lili is patriotic about Germany while she’s going around singing patriotic songs about England as part of her cover. So does her apparent change of heart mean anything?

But the other side of the conflict, the love story, is equally undercooked. Rock Hudson shows up with a gypsy band to take Julie for a picnic at 3 a.m., which is quite dashing. But then we never hear them talk. What do they have in common? Can we watch this relationship develop and get a sense of when the lady spy’s performance of romance starts to shade into the real thing? Never happens. Instead there’s a long farce scene of her mercilessly prickteasing him and trying to provoke him into giving away military secrets. While, in a node to past Blake Edwards, not one but two Incompetent French Detectives bumble about on the roof in the pouring rain. Nice to see Jacques Marin, who seems to be turning up in everything I watch this year, and Andre Maranne (so good as Herbert Lom’s assistant in the later PANTHER films), but when you have TWO I.F.D.s as a team, maybe some of Clouseau’s desperate inner tension is lost (pace Sellers, he KNOWS he’s an idiot, but he’s trying all the time to stop everyone else noticing — and because he’s an idiot, he never gives up, even when it should be obvious that the gig is up).

The funny thing in this film is the perpetually squiffy Lance Percival as T.C. Carstairs. Rock Hudson at one point says his name is Twombly-Crouch, but then he never says it again and my dream of hearing Rock Hudson repeatedly say Twombly-Crouch is cruelly shattered. Percival gets the best dialogue — a perfect Wodehousian pastiche of blithering idiocy fighting its way through ferocious affability and a haze of alcohol. An entire film about Twombly-Crouch would be nice and now I have to see more Percival, I’ve neglected him. I don’t think I even noticed he’d died in 2015.

Remarkable how Edwards, at various points in his life an alcoholic, a pill-popper, a compulsive philanderer, is just as gleeful in his drunk jokes as his nervous breakdown jokes and his physical pain jokes.

I was a bit surprised to see Julie Andrews do a striptease here. I knew that S.O.B. was heavily inspired by this production but I still wasn’t expecting a flash frame of Mary Poppins’ left nipple. I put it to you that nobody expects that, ever. Except possible Blake Edwards, but even then I wouldn’t speak with certainty.

Maybe the edgier bit is Andrews WATCHING a striptease. Very intently.

Edwards certainly liked spending money! Although he didn’t want to film in Europe owing to weather considerations. But it seems like Ireland was the only place to shoot WWI planes, and not many places look like Paris. Although, owing to rioting French students, a lot of this was shot in Brussels. Doubtful if studio sets would have been cheaper.

Anyway, the massive scale of the production, with Edwards’ typically elegant filming style, results in every scene packing a lot of lustre. There are very good bits. But because the characters are basically puppets and nothing is at stake — the outcome of the war never felt urgent or important to me — this is another war where nobody gets hurt — no story momentum is built up. And whenever a problem appears — how can Julie spy on Rock for both sides at once? — it’s dropped while we get a song, an aviation sequence, and perhaps a reprise. (It’s not clear why the Incompetent French Detectives never consider that Julie might be the female enemy spy confidante of Rock they’re seeking. Well, they ARE I.F.D.s, I guess.)

Apart from being a German agent who betrays her lover to get secrets from him, Julie’s character also frames him and an entirely innocent stripper for treason, which you would expect would get them shot. To save them, when she has a change of heart, she flees to Switzerland, which it’s argued MIGHT save Rock, though this sounded ropey to me. Then there’s an action sequence involving planes and a train, which seemed wrong from the start, since again Rock and Julie are not free to interact — he’s up there and she’s down here. Well, I say “here,” I mean on the way to Swistzerland.

It’s not even a proper musical, in a way. The numbers are all performed on stage, when actually bursting into song in the middle of a scene might help this movie maintain its souffle-like attitude of floating above the mire of war. And might help bind the songs to the action. In CABARET, which makes the same exact approach seem brilliant and innovative, the songs seem to comment on the action and are perfectly placed in the story. Here, they always feel like interruptions, except for maybe the saucy song which makes a key character point and may be one of the rare instances on record of nudity being essential to the plot.

This film just missed being the perfect thing to have on a marquee in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Robert Evans was too busy messing about with it so it didn’t come out until the following year. But if you want to watch the death of Old Hollywood (“Even the way it died is beautiful” ~ David Lynch), here it is. Even though the talents involved were not old and would go on to do lots more — this KIND of film was finished.