Archive for August, 2022

Der Fooey’s Face

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on August 12, 2022 by dcairns

THE GREAT DICTATOR continued.

The Jewish barber — now identified as such — is hospitalized for mental trauma. The second time in as many films Chaplin has consigned himself to the psych ward. It’s not exactly clear why this theme, a natural one for Chaplin given his mother’s mental illness and his father’s alcoholism, suddenly starts emerging now. Maybe something to do with the death of his mother in 1928. The subject of mental illness becomes available to him.

It’s a somewhat strange turn of events — the barber hasn’t shown any signs of cracking up in the WWI sequence, although admittedly absolutely everything that happens to him is extremely stressful. But unlike in MODERN TIMES there’s no foreshadowing. It feels very much like a plot device, which it is.

A straightforward newspaper montage takes us across the interwar period, and we get to see a lot of Tomanian newspapers, and it’s now asserted that the spelling is “Tomainia” not “Tomania” as the opening credits had it.

Sidenote — Chaplin, since he was inventing a fictitious set of European nations (Tomania but also Bacteria and Osterlich), could have invented a fictitious persecuted minority. It is of course SO much better not to. By saying “Jewish” frequently and proudly, and showing recognizable but not overly stereotyped Jewish characters, Chaplin showed more courage than any other filmmaker in Hollywood. Of course, the reason given for nobody else being so bold is that the studio bosses were themselves mostly Jewish, and didn’t want to draw personal attention to the fact. Goebbels drew personal satisfaction from this squeamishness.

Since a good crackpot theory is always worth running with for a short distance, as long as you don’t take it too seriously, here’s mine:

The Jewish barber is invalided out of the war, like Hitler. And then Adenoid Hynkel, who is also suspiciously like Hitler, appears and rises to prominence. It can be argued that the Great War has split Chaplin’s character in two. The Jewish barber loses his memory of recent events. Hynkel BECOMES recent events. A lid has been ripped from the id. Chaplin’s dark side is unleashed.

The World War One sequence is a strange thing, storywise. Its only useful purpose, other than getting laughs and making for a visual opening sequence, and introducing the minor character Schultz, is to set up the Jewish barber’s nervous collapse, and this it refuses to do. The film COULD have enjoyed the symmetry of beginning with Hynkel’s speech and ending with the barber’s. It COULD have introduced Hynkel during the Great War scenes, perhaps playing with mistaken identity to prefigure the climax.

Of course, Chaplin’s narrative looseness is partly a product of his need to go where the comedy is. Charlie/Jewish barber suffering in WWI is funny, whereas Hynkel suffering would be weird and uncomfortable. Having portrayed a fantasy of repetitive mental strain injury in MODERN TIMES, Chaplin couldn’t find a tasteful way to do PTSD/combat shock/shell shock here, so he elides it.

Anyway, the trauma of the war’s end creates a schizoid Charlie, his innocent side becoming EXAGGERATEDLY innocent — wiped clean — and his bullying, egomaniacal side — that aspect of the Tramp character and also definitely that aspect of Chaplin’s character — becoming EXAGGERATEDLY malign. It’s often said that Chaplin has more fun playing Hynkel than the Jewish barber, which is certainly true, I think, but it’s also a result of where the comedy is. Hitler is a very rich subject for a comedian, a subject Chaplin was uniquely well-placed to exploit. The Tramp, to whom the Jewish barber is a very very close relation (at least), has proven himself also extremely rich… It’s not that he’s been mined dry, it’s more that the ghetto isn’t such a great environment for humour. The film has to be quite careful with this stuff, and cautiousness isn’t conducive to slapstick. We’ll look later at how Chaplin wrestles with this problem.

But now — on to Hynkel’s big speech!

Cox’s Orange Pippins: Ringo Stars

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2022 by dcairns

Lots of spaghetti westerns on YouTube!

Above are A PISTOL FOR RINGO and THE RETURN OF RINGO, Duccio Tessari’s two RINGO movies with Giuliano Gemma and his five hundred Joan Crawford teeth as “Montgomery Wood” as Ringo. The Ringo Kid, of course, was John Wayne’s protag in STAGECOACH, and just as everybody and his nephew rushed to make Django knock-offs using the character name without permission, this can be seen as Italians claim-jumping a piece of established mental real estate, though nobody was likely to believe that these films had any official connection to Ford’s classic.

Tessari, one of Leone’s writing team on A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, apparently wasn’t interested here in using the hardboiled YOJIMBO model to upend Western movie morality, as the Sergios had done. His films tend to be nicer — even his gialli have sympathetic characters sometimes.

I just acquired The Pocket Essential Spaghetti Westerns by Howard Hughes (not that one), who traces Tessari’s influences to Hollywood B-pictures and serials, though mercifully his cowboys do not sing (but both these movies have a lugubrious balladeer warbling saccharine over the Morricone title themes). Leone, feeling the need to shore up his intellectual credentials with some smart references, claimed he was influenced by silent cinema and neo-realism, and that the western was fundamentally European because Homer invented it. But Tessari’s second Ringo flick (which, as is the way of these things, enjoys zero continuity with the first) really IS a Civil War version of the Odyssey, or the last section of it anyway, the homecoming. (It’s the RETURN of Ringo not in the sense of his being recognizably the same character, but in the sense that this Ringo incarnation returns home after an absence.)

I do like the jokey start of the first film — check it out.

Too Darn Hot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2022 by dcairns

It seemed like a good time to rewatch THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE. Val Guest was on fire himself in the early sixties, providing us with one of my favourite crime films, HELL IS A CITY, and the pop satire EXPRESSO BONGO. I need to give 80,000 SUSPECTS, STOP ME BEFORE I KILL! and JIGSAW a fair try.

Guest, originally a writer of music hall influenced comedies, more or less alternated these thrillers with daffy comedies and other lighthearted stuff, which were generally less interesting. And he was also clearly concerned with getting a bit of sex into British cinema — he had continental flair, with his beret and his nudes — surprise glimpses of Janet Munro, Claire Bloom and Diane Cilento show that the British censor could sometimes be more lenient than his US counterpart, if a filmmaker was willing to take the risk.

Co-written with Wolf Mankiewicz, TDTECF presents an intelligent, stylish apocalypse drama — it largely gets around the inherent problem that the human characters are given little to do in the face of a planetary crisis, in fact it makes a suspenseful virtue of their separation from the real action — the earth is tipped towards the sun by atomic tests — maybe it can be course-corrected by further nukes? — meanwhile our protags are simply trying to live their lives, and reporting on it all from Fleet Street, care of the Daily Express (an actual tabloid whose actual recently retired editor, Arthur Christiansen, appears, more or less as himself).

The movie depends a lot on grainy stock footage of various disasters, and on paintings and photographic backdrops of London (FX by Hammer’s Les Bowie) which depict the effects of a heat wave in ways that may feel familiar to those of us currently experiencing life on earth (I assume most of my readers are experiencing life on earth — apologies if this excludes anyone). Edward Judd is an acerbic, alcoholic hack, the first in a series of somewhat unsympathetic sci-fi heroes he’d essay — he’s a fantastic jerk in THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, but I can’t remember if either INVASION or ISLAND OF TERROR holds the rightful place as third film in an Obnooxious Bloke Science Fiction Trilogy.

Though Guest is European in his sexual frankness, his sensibility also skews American in his respect for genre conventions, and so this is a fast-talking reporter film in the Hollywood vein, with Judd, Christiansen and the always excellent Leo McKern barking out their dialogue as if commentating on a steeplechase. And the talk is well filmed, especially in those newspaper room scenes, with complex blocking and overlapping dialogue.

Add in the novelty of the opening and closing minutes being tinted gold, which has an authentically claustrophobic, hot, stifling quality — with b&w, you can mentally paint in your own colour, but tinting takes away that possibility. And that ending, a classic, and a very ballsy move. I think the two headlines idea — one saying EARTH SAVED and one saying EARTH DOOMED — is brilliant, and could have supplanted Judd’s final monologue, and the closing shot on a crucifix has to be a cynical sop to those Hollywood conventions, which always seemed to reference the deity in the last minutes of an sf movie — and anyway, Guest was Jewish (Valmond Maurice Grossmann). So, call it showmanship.

The whole thing’s on YouTube, but for how long?