Archive for the FILM Category

Phantom Lim

Posted in FILM with tags , on June 7, 2023 by dcairns

I don’t know what it means either.

An Unamerican Untragedy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2023 by dcairns

Is Chaplin spoofing Dreiser when Verdoux takes Annabella Bonheur out for a lonely row? It seems more likely that the reference is to the Paramount film version of AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY (1931) than to the source novel — a film directed by Chaplin’s old protege Josef Von Sternberg. The only remaining artifact, then, of their brief collaboration (until A WOMAN OF THE SEA turns up).

Annabella’s innocence is clearly stated at the scene’s outset, after the huge establishing shot which establishes not just the scenery but the tininess and isolation of the boat.

“Not a soul anywhere!”

“Perfect,” agrees Verdoux, with his most sinister smile. Dramatic irony/poignancy! Although I’ve swapped the shots around in the above two-panel set, to make it appear that they’re looking at each other. Blogs are no respecters of the 180 rule.

Chaplin, I think, understood that any strong dramatic situation can also be a strong comedic situation, with just a slight tweak.

More ironic exchanges, and Verdoux’s “anchor” is introduced: a rock with a rope around it and a noose on the loose end. Probably pretty effective if tied tightly, although the wearer would no doubt bob to the surface once the intestinal gases had done their work, and they would look very much as if they’d been murdered.

How you’d ever get the rope around Annabella’s big yapping head is a question that need not detain us at this point. Chaplin now goes out of his way to make Annabella once again a character in need of murdering, scolding Verdoux for his failure to promptly hand her a fishing rod. “Oh, don’t be a fool – by the time you bait the hook the fish’ll be gone.” Snippy AND irrational, two negative feminine stereotypes in one persona. Martha Raye’s lightning changes between sweet and vicious certainly keep things interesting.

Hooking Verdoux’s hat is a nice gag, timed so well that it survives uncertain framing (boats DRIFT, even when anchored — I suppose bodies do, too). Verdoux, meaning “sweet worm,” is I suppose interchangeable with the bait, which may be why he snags his trousers on the fishhook too. And that leads me to speculate that his “sweet worm” persona is the bait by which he catches his prey. The guppy-mouthed Martha Raye as Annabella is connected to a fish here, when she mistakes her reflection in the lake for a big one — the one that got away, I guess.

Chaplin’s lightning transition from malign, noose-wielding maniac to simpering idiot when Annabella turns is almost cartoon-fast. Somehow it works, despite there being no real way for him to change pose during the turn of a head, and without undercranking too. The simper was memorably seen in another lightning-change sequence back in 1917, in THE CURE:

Chaplin likes the gag, so he repeats it. In my recent conversation with Ian Lavender, he pointed out Chaplin’s tendency to milk a gag, contrasting this with Buster Keaton’s once-and-we’re-done technique. The Keaton approach is more difficult and challenging, requiring more material — and you could argue that Buster wore out his imagination with it (though other factors were at play). But Chaplin’s repetitions WORK, as you can hear for yourself whenever you see the film with an audience. The childish delight in repetition is a powerful force. Something silly happening repeatedly has a chance of getting even funnier with each cycle.

“Are you sea-sick?”


“Shame on you, a man who’s live at sea all his life. Oh, captain, really!”

Raye seems to struggle with making the above exchange sound natural, and one can hardly blame her. Billy Wilder complained that Chaplin’s dialogue was infantile, and he’s not entirely wrong — at times, it’s rather clumsy, and it never reaches the elegance of a Sturges or a Mankiewiecz or Wilder & Brackett. You could sometimes accuse him of the same ineptitude as George Lucas. “My dialogue isn’t the best but it gets you from A to B,” claims Lucas, which makes me reach for a Sturges line: “By way of Cincinatti with a side-trip through Detroit.” These guys who aren’t strong with dialogue aren’t elegant enough to be simple, they pad it out with irrelevancies and an oppressive weight of unneeded verbiage.

It also feels like a Winsor McCay speech bubble, with words crammed in willy-nilly to fill space. Oh!

But then Verdoux attempts to use, presumably, chloroform, and Annabella’s sudden movement (she somehow thinks she’s caught a fish with her naked hook) causes him to topple backwards and drop the soporific hanky over his own face. This is the film’s best visual gag sequence, is what I’m saying — almost the only one to serve up regular, effective gags of this kind, and I think it’s made possible by the Dreiser set-up. Good situations make for good gags. A strong dramatic problem forces your character to try outrageous solutions, and then more outrageous things can go wrong…

Chaplin looming — as best a 5’5″ man can loom — over Raye, recalls George O’Brien in SUNRISE — another possible influence. (Carl Mayer’s script surely drew inspiration from Dreiser’s 1925 novel, which might be why the murder scheme in the Murnau film makes no sense, has no real motivation — it’s a stray piece of plot imported from elsewhere).

Verdoux now talks Anabella through the art of lassoing fish — and again, she is the fish, but now the worm has turned. But he’s interrupted by an appalling sound: yodeling. This is the part that cracks Fiona up. Yodeling saving a life, rather than merely immiserating it, is pretty funny. And this particularly goofy overdubbed yodeling: it sounds like it’s being done right into the mic. Maybe a case of Tatiesque elimination of aural perspective for comic effect? Maybe not consciously chosen as such though.

Then, after he’s already given up his homicidal plans, Verdoux is topped into the drink by Annabella. Excellent cartoon reactions from Raye: she goes from one “extreme” to another, holding each pose for mere frames:

Annabella eventually saves her beau, but only after yelling for help to the oblivious yodellers, and then she berates him for standing up in a boat, which she was doing also. Infuriating. But not enough to allow Chaplin to contemplate offing her. She’s kind of the sand in the criminal vaseline.

Rhyme and Punishment

Posted in FILM with tags , on June 5, 2023 by dcairns

It’s a three-lim circus! Here’s your next:

Hmm… is the fete of a mythical king a real fete? Or a fete worse than death?

A smashing indictment… I wouldn’t say “no” around about now.