Archive for July 31, 2022

The Sunday Intertitle: The face in the ceiling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on July 31, 2022 by dcairns

During their little tryst, John Ridd and Lorna Doone make an arrangement — she can signal to him from a nearby promontory (pictured) and he’ll come running to the rescue. This proves to be a shrewd idea.

Amazing how quickly their relationship has blossomed: one meeting as kids and another ten years later and they’re sweethearts. This causes John to neglect the girl who fancies him back home, but I don’t imagine she’s going to be TOO important to the plot. But she must have some reason for being there.

Two particularly lovely frames result from this, one of which showcases Tourneur’s lifelong love of shadows and silhouettes, a tendency famously inherited by son Jacques.

Anyhow, the signal idea proves useful almost immediately. Sir Ensor is dying, and this causes the wilder young Doone men to run amuck. Lorna’s nasty suitor, Carver son of Counsellor, resumes his wooing, if you can call it that. Cousellor and Carver are both played by actors named McDonald, but whether they’re actually father and son, the IMDb does not say.

Sir E. is played by Frank Keenan, of whom the IMDb remarks, “Frank was considered a “furniture actor” on stage. While on stage he was so often drunk that he had to lean on or hold onto furniture to keep from falling down.” He’s well cast here, since Sir E. spends most of the time dying, either sedentary or propped against the wall.

Fortunately, Lorna has shown kindness to one of the Doone wives, “courted by violence” and is able to send her to signal John from the rocky outcrop. Some random male chum is sent to London with proof of her inheritance.

Carver gets the best line so far, as he plans a swift and nonconsensual wedding:

John to the rescue! And a pretty good rescue it is. Flinging himself off a waterfall in best Tarzan manner, he briskly arrives at the Doone stockade, bone dry (all that running). He tries bending the bars on her window, and is making fine progress when she’s removed from her cell. So then he rips his way through the thatched ceiling of the big house and snatches her bodily from the armed mob, laying a few men out with musket or fists.

Sir Ensor, who had seemed dead, then appears in the doorway, paralysing the Doones by sheer force of personality, enabling our young lovers to escape. E remains standing there for some time after he has actually died, a rigid sentinel — the most effective performance by a dead man until EL CID (or WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S).

All really exciting stuff. John Bowers, walloping his supporting cast, has to pull his punches a bit, since the use of camera angles to “sell” a fake punch had not been invented yet — I’ve heard, incredible as it seems, that it was John Wayne who adapted over-the-shoulder framing to the uses of action cinema, exploiting the camera’s inability to judge distance (it has only one eye, unless the movie is 3D). Actually, faked punches like this even work with human observers, of the two-eyed kind. The only reason they weren’t developed and exploited onstage is that the theatre audience is too spread out for the illusion to work consistently. You need a single viewpoint. Plus, of course, Duke Wayne never trod the boards.

But allowing for that, the fight is gripping, and the implausible victory is sold as convincing enough for dramatic purposes. A happy ending would seem to have been accomplished — but the film is only half over. What next?