Archive for January 19, 2023

A murder is announced

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 19, 2023 by dcairns

Last couple of days I’ve felt a bit better, so even though the GP didn’t think what I’d got would respond to antibiotics, maybe he was wrong. Or else maybe it’s just getting better on its own.

One good thing: since New Year when I first got sick, I’ve written most of my next book. I won’t publish it right away, probably, don’t want to “flood the market”, heh. Meantime, if anyone can suggest ways to publicise the current one, or can review it on Amazon, or can bit it up on social media, that’s something I’d greatly appreciate. And if you know any famous authors who might be tempted to provide a blurb for Vol.3, that would also be amazing. I’m very pleased at having had Anne Billson and David Quantick and Mark Millar and Sean French (film writer and one half of Nicci French) contribute blurbage for the first two vols.

I’ve had a few Canadian sales so here’s a link to encourage further Canuck customers.

Back to MONSIEUR VERDOUX, as promised. After his opening preamble, Chaplin introduces the Couvais family, with an unusually complex camera movement. From a caged songbird he tilts and pans, a little raggedly, down to a snoring Couvais male, and from him to a smarter, more studious, altogether more CONSCIOUS Couvais, who shushes him; he moves his chair to evade the distracting noise, and camera tracks back to keep him view, which gives us a better view of a couple of the Couvais ladies. One of these is the great Almira Sessions from the Preston Sturges stock company. Sturges employed Conklin, Chaplin borrows Sessions, but he would let Sturges use a clip from one of his silents in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS. The doorbell jingles and this causes the camera to pan, in a slightly mysterious but natural-looking way, onto a third Couvais female, who is knitting. She is also Jimmy Dean’s grandmother in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.

Bickering ensues. The Couvais family is no happier than the later groupings in Nick Ray’s masterwork. Because they are noisy and spiteful and querulous, we are being set up to not pity them when tragedy strikes. It’s a frequent device in black comedy, but I like it better in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, where most of the victims are amiable and blameless, and sympathy (of any meaningful kind) is withheld merely by comic distance, irony.

There is some slapstick here with a tray getting banged by someone’s head and then tipped so soup pours into the snoring man’s mouth, but it’s not really funny. The people are too obnoxious — there’s nobody to be concerned for, which seems to me a usually-necessary element of slapstick. But it sets up that this is a comedy and some fairly broad business is going to get put across.

One of the women — Eula Morgan, I think — is giving a performance even louder than the others, with a lot of silent-movie Italianate hand gestures, almost getting us into the perfidious realm of the Keystone Explicatory Pantomime. She makes me long for the scene to end.

The gist of it is that the absent sister Thelma — not the most French name, French people can’t even SAY Thelma — has run off with a man, drawing out all her savings. A photograph of this potential Bluebeard is produced. Everyone crowds into a theatrical grouping to admire it:

And then, having introduced Chaplin in photographic effigy, we dissolve to an establishing shot and another intertitle — which I;m inclined to save for Sunday.

Overall impression of this scene is that Chaplin isn’t half the dialogue director Capra or Sturges or Hawks were at this time. And he’s a little overeager to get laughs out of a straight exposition scene, which might have been better played as a slightly flat melodrama. As Sydney Pollack put it — and these are words to live by — “Let the boring crap be boring crap.”