Archive for the FILM Category

Pie-Eyed

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 27, 2017 by dcairns

Biggest laugh sensation of this year’s Hippfest was THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY, because Laurel & Hardy are always the biggest laugh-getters anywhere they appear. This was on a triple-bill with PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP (a triumphal return to Bo’ness) and THE FINISH TOUCH (a debut), but was undoubtedly the crowning glory, and not just because it’s newly restored — it’s the best film of the (excellent) bunch.

The film had been missing its first reel for decades. It’s still missing a bridging scene in which Eugene Pallette (a rare L&H appearance for him) sells Ollie accident insurance on Stan. The loss of this scene is unfortunate, as it breaks the film in half, and the two halves are pretty slenderly related. To my relief, Pallette does turn up during the climactic pie fight, which is one of the biggest ever staged, and brilliantly inventive. It also features regular L&H enemy Charlie Hall, participant in their best slow-burn tit-for-tat routines, and the elegantly hilarious Anita Garvin.

But the restored bit is a prize-fight where Stan demonstrates his worthlessness (again) to Ollie, leading to the later insurance scam. This has been cleaned up like new by Lobster Films of Paris, and if it weren’t for the bridging photo-strip of the missing scene, you would think the whole film had been made yesterday, except it’s too good. Stan is failing to fight Noah Young, perhaps silent Hollywood’s pre-eminent plug (Bull Montana his main rival). Young battled Buster Keaton in ONE WEEK (I think) and Harold Lloyd in FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE (for sure), and here he’s almost as terrifying as Johnny Barnes as Sugar Ray Robinson in RAGING BULL. This amazing restoration should be good for his reputation, although unless Young, who died in 1958, enjoys another amazing restoration, he won’t know anything about it.

The Mother’s Day Intertitle: Young Things of Her Dreams

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 26, 2017 by dcairns

Don’t panic, Americans! We have Mother’s Day on a different day here. This one, in fact.

Suitably maternal image and intertitle from Nell Shipman’s THE GRUB STAKE, which opened the Hippodrome Silent Film Fest this year.

Today I caught up a bit — Buster Keaton’s THE HIGH SIGN and the very odd hal Roach comedy WHAT’S THE WORLD COMING TO started the day, which continued with Conrad Veidt in THE HANDS OF ORLAC, Chinese classic THE GODDESS, an episode of THE HAZARDS OF HELEN plus TEDDY AT THE THROTTLE, and finally, fuelled by ibuprofen and cola, BY THE LAW, a Jack London story adapted by Comrade Kuleshov. I hope to do something like justice to those later in the week.

Another packed day today — more on that later. Happy Mothers’ Day!

 

Newshounds

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2017 by dcairns

“Whatever made Eddie Buzzell think he could direct?” mused Groucho Marx, a thought captured by the eager pen of Steve Stoliar in his essential memoir Raised Eyebrows. Like it had been bothering Groucho for thirty-plus years since making AT THE CIRCUS and GO WEST and he finally had to give voice to it.

I’ve been more inclined to give Mr. Buzzell a pass — he did some passable films with some nice shots in them. But looking at the original LIBELED LADY, which Buzzell remade as EASY TO WED, does make me feel a bit less charitable. Neither film is great, both have enjoyable moments, but Buzzell’s tends to miss the joke a lot of the time.

(You can expect a lot of late-thirties / forties stuff for a while as James Harvey’s book Romantic Comedy causes me to look up films that have passed me by.)

Sleeves by Dolly Tree.

Of course, Jack Conway doesn’t have a huge directorial reputation either, but he knew his business, I reckon. And he has the unbeatable William Powell and Myrna Loy to work with instead of Esther Williams and Van Johnson, and Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in place of Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn. And best of all, he doesn’t have Ben Blue anywhere his version. Hate is a very tiring emotion, so somebody please name a film in which Ben Blue wasn’t a repulsive, unfunny bore so I can let go of this hate for him which is eating my soul.

“I didn’t think Spencer Tracy could do this kind of fast-talking newspaper thing,” said Fiona early on.

“Well, he can talk fast. I don’t know how funny he’s going to be,” I pondered.

“Oh he’s not FUNNY,” clarified Fiona.

But he’s not too bad. Outclassed by Wm. Powell, of course.

“I*am* too funny!”

Buzzell got the help of Buster Keaton for his main bit of visual comedy in EASY TO WED, as he had done for GO WEST. Conway and Powell work it out alone, and they’re gags aren’t as smart but Powell’s playing is a joy. The main fun in this, though, apart from Dolly Trees outlandish costumes (she mainly runs amuck on Harlow) is Loy, introduced with her back to the camera but instantly recognizable, and instantly FUN. Esther Williams could certainly be fun, but being a swimmer rather than an actress, she wasn’t as resourceful at finding the fun.

On paper, everyone in this story is kind of awful. Spencer Tracy stands Harlow up at the altar then makes her marry Powell for business purposes. Powell is trying to frame Loy on an adultery rap to kill off her libel suit against his newspaper. Loy ought to be sympathetic, but she and dad Walter Connolly (Cecil Kellaway in the remake) are terribly rude to Powell, BEFORE they know what a rat he is.

As you’ve never seen them before

What we have is the offspring of the hardboiled newspaper comedy and the screwball — unlike in THE FRONT PAGE and its offspring, nothing is really at stake here (the wellbeing of a muckraking newspaper doesn’t count) but the abrasiveness owes more to Hecht & McCarthy’s acerbic spirit than to the usual romantic comedy. In fact, Maurine Dallas Watkins, one of the writers, wrote CHICAGO — she has a bigger claim to inventing the newspaper comedy than anyone else. As the movie gets away from the newsroom and into the haunts of the wealthy, it does introduce a little more sweetness, but as the rich folks have been introduced as pretty tough, deceitful and boorish, we carry a lot of that sour feeling with us.

In both versions, the jilted bride is harshly treated and seems the most blameless figure. There are the usual dumb blonde jokes — when Powell marries Loy while still married to Harlow, her keen legal mind pounces: “That’s arson!” But her being dumb or common doesn’t justify any of the loutish treatment she gets from Tracy and Powell. It’s a colossal relief when Myrna is nice to her (as Harvey points out, Loy is always sympathetic to other women, always projects a sense of companionship rather than judgement). Sympathy may be the enemy of drama, as Alexander Mackendrick warned, but if you build a drama without any bonds of sympathy between the characters… you’re David Mamet.

Loy – instantly recognizable ESPECIALLY when incognito.

What I’m saying is that this is a rare case where I disagree with James Harvey, who likes this film more than we did. But the good news is, the original CHICAGO is playing at Bo’ness. THAT one I like!