Archive for March 15, 2020

The Sunday Intertitle: Nightie swimming

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2020 by dcairns

The Mating Call from David Cairns on Vimeo.

THE MATING CALL (1928) is directed by James Cruze, whose films, though not often great, are agreeably peculiar. THE GREAT GABBO would be a terribly good example here.

This one is produced by Howard Hughes and was controversial, not for its Ku Klux Klan storyline, but for its nude scene by René Adorée (why do I say “by,” as if she authored it?). It’s pretty startling — frame grabs of my copy don’t work in terms of showing what the moving images so clearly displays. Let’s just say it wouldn’t have the effect it does if RA were not so clearly brunette.

Hughes was known to use the N-word regularly, and the depiction of the Klan (or “clan” — they’re not 100% identical to the real deal but the deniability is minimal) is as a bunch of vigilantes keeping erring townsfolk — drunks and wifebeaters — on the straight and narrow by terrorizing them. Or, in one particularly recalcitrant case, tying the perp to a cross and bullwhipping him. The race angle is largely absent.

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The climax is typical of Hollywood vigilante movies — they get the wrong man, the hero, and tragedy looms. Kubrick, talking about why his humble narrator in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE had to be so very wicked, told Michel Ciment that vigilante movies always got it wrong by focussing on the danger of punishing the wrong man (THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, an excellent film, is the best example). But everybody always assumes they have the right man, and everybody knows the law makes mistakes too, so this argument wouldn’t ever sway a torch-burning mob. The argument should be about the wrongness of ex-judiciary punishment.

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The movie, based on a Rex Beach source novel, ends with the vigilantes and cops faking evidence together to ensure a “just” outcome, making this probably the second most repellant Klan-based movie in Hollywood history. Apart from the nude scene. Although the general sexing-up of the issues involved calls to mind Terence Young’s gross THE KLANSMAN.