Archive for August, 2020

Forbidden Divas: Many a Rainy Night in Brooklyn

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2020 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove returns!

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

MANY A RAINY NIGHT IN BROOKLYN

“Did you ever see a crocodile yawn?”

– Lynne Overman, Her Jungle Love

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Has there ever been a film so bad that a halfway decent volcanic eruption could not put it right? “That is clearly a metaphysical speculation,” writes Oscar Wilde, “and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference to the actual facts of life, as we know them.” But then neither has anything else in Her Jungle Love (1938). So the question still strikes me as entirely valid. The climax of this movie is not just any old eruption. It brings with it a cataclysmic mudslide of ravenous man-eating crocodiles – who slither their way into a crumbling pagan temple and set about devouring much of the cast. I should add that the cast of this movie is quite a small one. At no point are the hungry reptiles in any danger from overeating.

But where is this temple and what is anybody doing inside it? It all starts when a pilot crash-lands his plane somewhere in the Malay Archipelago. Two other pilots head off in search of him and manage – with remarkable efficiency – to crash their own plane and go missing on the exact same tropic isle. (The islands of the Malay Archipelago number in the thousands, so this really is quite a slick bit of navigation.) These two pilots are Ray Milland and his annoying comic sidekick Lynne Overman. Both actors were popular stars at Paramount Pictures in the 30s. That gives us all the reassurance we need that they will not be allowed to go missing for too long.

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The island seems at first to be deserted. But of course it is not. It is inhabited by a winsome jungle maiden named Tura. She is played by Dorothy Lamour in a gallon of fake tan and a daringly skimpy line of sarongs designed by Edith Head. She does not live entirely alone in this paradise. She frolics through the vibrant green palm trees by the dazzling blue Technicolor lagoon along with Gaga – a lovably mischievous chimpanzee – and Meewa – a cute and frisky lion cub. There is no sign of any adult lions or, indeed, of any other primates on this island. We can only assume that a third plane loaded with circus animals must have crash-landed somewhere in the vicinity.

A former Miss New Orleans of 1931 and future co-star of the Road movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour was one of those Hollywood icons who never even pretended to be an actress. Her assets were her lithe and curvaceous physique (not everyone looks good in a sarong) as well as her voluptuous Technicolor lips and her dark and sultry bedroom eyes. Her dialogue in Her Jungle Love consists almost entirely of ugga-wugga gibberish, which makes it one of her more successful dramatic roles. Even strumming on a ukulele – as she is required to do in one scene – appears to strain her acting skills to breaking point.

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But alas, there is room for only one Queen on this or any other tropic isle. That role is reserved for J Carrol Naish as Kuaka, a villainous Malay prince who rules over a tribe of head-hunters that inhabit a nearby cove. His followers seem to be exclusively male; all of them are muscular and bronzed and clad in the skimpiest of loincloths. Kuaka himself wafts about in an iridescent peacock-green kaftan and with turban to match. He sports on one finger an emerald so splendiferously large and vulgar that Elizabeth Taylor might reject it as just a shade too ostentatious. He demonstrates his ascendancy by wearing even more eye make-up than Tura and speaks invariably in a low and sibilant hiss.

You have been wondering what had happened to that first missing pilot. The answer, to put it plainly, is Kuaka. He keeps the boy for quite a suspiciously long time as his private prisoner. Then he trusses him up like a mummy and sacrifices him to the Crocodile God. The rotter even hypnotises poor Tura and forces her to take part in the ceremony. He does at least dress her up in the film’s most memorable outfit: a long and trailing white cape with a headdress of white egret feathers and seashells. This man may be a savage and proud of it. But he does at least have some idea how to accessorise.

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Need I add that in the course of this blood-soaked ritual, Dorothy Lamour gets hypnotised and shoved into a basket and impaled with giant spears and resurrected and brought back to life as if by magic and none of it alters her facial expression one iota? She looks only mildly perturbed when Kuaka suggests getting married, so the two of them may rule over the island together. Even a girl who has spent most of her life in a coconut tree must surely realise this is what is described in sophisticated circles as a mariage blanc. It seems quite wildly unlikely that sex could ever be a part of the deal.

By this time, Dorothy has fallen in love with Ray because…well, because he’s there and somebody has to. His pal, meanwhile, has formed what appears to be a tender inter-species ménage à trois with her animal friends. (A scene where the chimp kisses Lynne Overman is by some measure the raunchiest bit of the movie.) It goes without saying that Ray has an overpoweringly dreary fiancée (Dorothy Howe) who nags her henpecked father into taking her off in his yacht to search for him. We start to worry that she might actually find him. I mean, where on earth is that Crocodile God when he is really needed?

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In the litany of sublime absurdities that make up the script, my favourite is the way Ray and Lynne manage to crash their plane without in any way damaging their portable gramophone. According to Lynne, this machine kept him company on “many a rainy night in Brooklyn.” Her Jungle Love may not be appreciably better or worse than The Jungle Princess (1936) or Typhoon (1940) or Aloma of the South Seas (1941) or any of Lamour’s umpteen other sarong pictures. Still, it is a well-nigh flawless antidote to rainy nights in Brooklyn.

David Melville

Pg. 17, #14

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on August 10, 2020 by dcairns

Cruising on Commonwealth Avenue, Special Officer James Mellon and Sergeant John Driscoll of Homicide heard the dispatcher’s message over their radio. Mellon swung the car round. ‘They’ll want us over there anyway, may as well go now.’ A moment later the order came sending them to 77 Gainsborough Street, too. A few minutes after eight o’clock Officer Mellon walked into Apartment 3F. As he came through the door he found himself in a tiny foyer; directly before him the living-room desk with a lamp, a telephone and the tiny Latvian flag. Mellon’s first impression was of neatness. The very floor gleamed. A policeman was seated near the desk making out his report. Mellon glanced automatically to the left, towards the rear, bedroom section of the apartment. ‘Where’s the body?’ he asked.

*

He was so small that they towered over him and as they crossed the second threshold and came into his home it was they, the two senior policemen, who caught the full impact of that first unforgettable scene.

*

Once partly used as a showroom for new Chrysler cars, the lobby underwent a comprehensive restoration in the late 1970s. the work brought many features back to their original glory, notably the red-veined African marble walls and the elevators’ plush laminated wood interiors. Although an observation level once existed at the base of the spire, there are now no public areas on the upper floors, and visitors must content themselves with admiring Edward Trumbel’s lobby mural depicting diverse images on themes of transportation.

*

An officer searches an abandoned building for clues: in a stairwell he finds the skeleton of a forty-year-old man. A tracking dog returns to its master — with the skull of an adult female in its jaws. The weekly citizen area-sweeps routinely turn up caches of guns and stolen goods. Peaceable burglars panic at road-blocks.

*

Remembering the girl he fell asleep, and when he woke up he went to the telephone, without thinking, and asked the hotel operator to get him Corbett at Ryan’s Gymnasium, and call him back. A moment later the telephone rang. He answered it, and Corbett said, “Hello, is that you, Joe?”

*

Joe chirped. I read Jean’s card. ‘”Jean-Paul Pascal, artist painter”. And good friend to princes,’ I said. Joe nodded.

*

‘But what is the black spot, captain?’ I asked.

*

You know the drill… seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books. Splitscreen image from THE BOSTON STRANGLER.

The Boston Strangler, by Gerald Frank; The China Governess, by Margery Allingham; The AA Essential Guide to New York; by Mick Sinclair; The Killings in Atlanta, by Martin Amis, from the collection The Moronic Inferno; Dear Baby, by William Saroyan; An Expensive Place to Die, by Len Deighton; Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson;

The Sunday Intertitle: Babylas Zoo, AKA Menagerie a Deux

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2020 by dcairns

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MADAME BABYLAS LOVES ANIMALS is from the age when intertitles were optional (1911), it seems, or maybe they got lost. But it does have an attractive main title card, which has been removed from the porno English-language version, MRS PUSSY LOVES ANIMALS ~

I sought it out because I was impressed by LE MANOIR DE LA PEUR (1924) and wanted to see more from its two directors, Alfred Machin & Henry Wulschleger, but there’s not much available. Wulschleger is only represented by CAPITAINE FRACASSE, which I’d seen but only because his co-director was the great Alberto Cavalcanti. I rather ignored HW.

This one is a very short Machin comedy with a childishly simple premise: Madame Babylas loves animals so much she adopts everything she sees. Since she lives in the country with her exasperated husband, her household is soon exploding with livestock.

A panther chases a pig out of the house in one striking (and concerning) moment.

Madame Babylas ends the film consoling her poor porker, bandaging it and kissing its ear. Pig looks very chill.

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It’s a very, very simple plot but the movie manages to make it quite incoherent. Maybe there’s an hour of lost footage. There was apparently a whole series of shorts about M. Babylas (Louis-Jacques Boucot) but Madame (uncredited, identity unknown) and her dumb chums have taken over this one entirely.

Machin was a hot-shot young producer who set up Pathé’s production base in Belgium, then in Holland. But prior to that he’d been their man in Africa, and he was fond of placing animals in his movies thereafter, particularly the panther Mimir. (The IMDb says, “Mimir is an actress…”)

LE MANSION also has a displaced African beast, but I’ll tell you about that next week…