Archive for the Theatre Category

Holliday Affair

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2016 by dcairns

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Well here’s a charming thing — THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC comes from a George S. Kaufman & Howard Teichmann play, stars Judy Holliday and Paul Douglas, and is directed by Richard Quine. A charming thing, maybe even a little classic.

Judy plays a pesky small shareholder of a huge company, Douglas plays the honest man who built the company, and there’s a delightful quartet of crooks who take over the business and hire Judy in order to stop her making a nuisance of herself at shareholders’ meetings. The crooks are, reading from left to right (1) blustering Fred Clark — a creep (2) dumpy Ralph Dumke — a dumkopf (3) oily Ray Collins — a louse, and (4) suave John Williams — a rotter. These guys are all tremendously good value, and though Judy has enough star power to keep the whole engine running beautifully by herself, it’s in the boardroom scenes with the wolves that Quine has fun with blocking, sliding his camera and his sleazeballs about in a graceful dance of deviousness.

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(1)                (2)               (3)               (4)

Quine’s formal prowess is also showcased in an ending which playfully blossoms into Technicolor™, some early freeze-frames on the rogues’ gallery, and a playful VO from George Burns. Elsewhere, office windows regrettably open onto grainy photographs of Manhattan, a cheapness which seems to have only materialised in the fifties (surely audiences have a right to expect sprawling miniature cityscapes with clouds moving on wires?).

The story is Capracorn with the corn seemingly reduced to homeopathic levels so that in fact the movie can pose as cynical and sophisticated, but thanks to Holliday and Douglas, who makes a genuinely affecting foil, it has a heart of pure mush. We found it delightful.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Four Keatons

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on May 1, 2016 by dcairns

 

Keatons - all four in wigs

I’m very glad I own the Kino box set LOST KEATON, even though the shorts Buster made for Educational in the 30s are only intermittently funny. Since Keaton had a measure of control over the stories and gags, you get to see both his potential as a talking comedian, and the problems he was up against.

Keaton’s rasping crow voice is always surprising when you hear it, but it works well with his persona. Meanwhile, his drink problem, and the passage of time, had begun to ravage his ethereal beauty, which was never essential to his comedy but served as an astonishing added benefit to it, as if God were showing us unaccustomed generosity.

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The sole intertitle in PALOOKA FROM PADUCAH

The low budgets of these shorts — and the somewhat poor condition they have survived in, partly explain why they’re not as funny as classic Keaton. The best you can say about their hissing soundtracks and cheap, cramped sets is that they’re better than some Hollywood B-product, and they sometimes remind one of the weird affect of W.C. Fields’ dreamlike THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER, perhaps the most Lynchian film made before Lynch’s birth (apart from those of Charley Bowers).

The other thing Keaton is up against is not sound itself, but the fact that undercranking is out of style. Henceforth it would only be used in extreme, caricatured form, but the slight lift it gave to the great clowns is gone — running, jumping and falling down now take a little longer, and are visibly effortful (Keaton himself may be slightly less fit but I don’t think that’s the problem). The accompanying grunts, exhalations, scuffs and thumps add an anchoring heaviness to the business, tieing the angels of silent cinema to the earth.

I would suggest that the Educational shorts might be best enjoyed by someone who had never seen Keaton — there are a few laughs, and there would be no sense of disappointment and anticlimax that comes from watching a gag from a great silent played less effectively with audio. But I myself first saw Keaton in one of these talkies, at a kids’ party where there was a film show — actual film, with a projector, because there was no home video. They showed LOVE NEST ON WHEELS.

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I still find this a deeply distressing image

This is one of the best Educationals, though the hayseed comedy could be seen as dated and offensive (Keaton never shied away from stereotypes, including those about his own people, the Irish-Americans). But as a kid, I was alienated from it to the point of being driven from the room. The plot had something to do with a mortgage, which immediately baffled me. The gags were lumbering and painful. Keaton liked roughhouse comedy — hell, he was raised on it and in it — and whenever someone gets his head stuck in a Keaton movie, some helpful soul will try to wrench it off. Here, the mortgage man gets his neck stuck in an elevator, and Buster tries to crowbar it out with a plank. Hideous close-up accompany the creaking wood sound effects and screams of pain to make the thing far too vicious for the sensitive child I was. And the people were strange and awful-looking — I have no memory of Keaton making an impression, but his mother and sister made me feel sad and frightened, just looking at them.

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Myra & Buster

But it is in these figure that much of the movie’s appeal lies. Buster is here accompanied by Myra, his mom, one of the original Three Keatons stage act, and Louise, his sister, as well as Harry “Jingles” Keaton, who was part of the act when it briefly became The Four Keatons. They can all act. Harry and Louise do some slapstick, and it’s interesting seeing a woman throw herself around so bruisingly. Not funny, so much, but interesting.

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Harry “Jingles” Keaton, left, and Buster, right

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Louise Keaton, relaxing between takes

PALOOKA FROM PADUCAH is another hayseed comedy, and this one has Buster’s dad, Joe, as well as Myra and Louise, so it’s the only film to star The Three Keatons. There’s plenty of rough stuff in this one too (it’s about wrestling, and Shadowplay favourite Bull Montana is the heavy), and Buster and Joe wear “Irish” beards as they did in the old days. The effect on Buster is disfiguring, but not as eerie as it was when he was, like, eight years old.

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Joe Keaton & Joseph Jnr. (Buster)

Look out for a big Buster Keaton project from me in the coming months!

Slipping one past the goalie

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2016 by dcairns

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Marsh and Pertwee of the Yard. Needless to say, there are no “tableaux” being enacted at this juncture.

I have to take my woolly hat off to Val Guest, who devoted a long, long lifetime to slipping sex and nudity into British movies. Of course, when it suddenly became easy to do so in the seventies, the practice became redundant and Guest gave us the charmless, gormless CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER and the very weird THE AU-PAIR GIRLS. (I’ve long held that the seventies British sex comedy was a government conspiracy to wipe out the working class by putting them off sex forever. Operation Prole-Wipe failed only because Robin Askwith is slightly too talented and not quite memorable enough, so that plebeian copulators did not have his gurning countenance superimposed over their vision as they went at it by night.) Guest claimed that WINDOW CLEANER would have been hailed as an art film if it had been foreign — I suppose in a sense it resembles Paul Verhoeven’s TURKISH DELIGHT as made by a nice old man. That niceness of course removes the closest thing to a point the Verhoeven movie could be claimed to have. AU-PAIR is creepy and peculiar and doesn’t even try to be funny most of the time. Some lovely girls, including Nick Drake’s sister Gabrielle, are served up in a lumpen, unerotic way, which typifies this genre, the only variation being when older, less shapely character actresses are also induced to submit the camera’s cold, unflattering gaze.

But the early, naughty years see Guest pulling off some surprising coups de cinema. For 80,000 SUSPECTS, Claire “most beautiful woman in the world” Bloom hand-picked her body double, then decided she had nice breasts and did it herself, in  blink-and-you-miss-it-and-regret-it-forever nip slip moment that is so fleeting it feels genuinely accidental. Guest fills the screen with basically topless dancing girls in highland (un)dress in ESPRESSO BONGO, and showcases an unclad and very shiny Janet Munro in THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE. And it’s a good job most 11-year-olds don’t have heart conditions or my schoolfriends and I wouldn’t have survived our visit to see WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH.

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MURDER AT THE WINDMILL is a fairly duff comic whodunnit, enlivened by solid comic playing by Garry Marsh and a young Jon Pertwee, and its setting at the Windmill Theatre in London, celebrated in MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS. “We never closed,” reads a sign, referring to the fact that the nude revue managed to stay open during the Blitz. The Lord Chamberlain, the theatre censor at the time (if you picture a dusty, cobwebbed octogenarian with an ear trumpet you are probably bang on) for some reason ruled that nude girls were artistic if they stood very still in tableaux vivant, but would become pornographic rape triggers if they trotted about. Oddly, he may have had some kind of a point: I finally figured out that Jesus Franco films don’t strike me as sexy because of the odd passivity of his female characters — they generally either stay still, or move about emotionlessly, so as to seem not quite human. And I am only attracted to humans.

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So cockneys were able to see naked girls behaving like naked statues. But this only applied to the stage. In British movies, nobody (except maybe the occasional baby) was nude, right? Not quite so — Patricia Roc goes skinny-dipping in the freezing North Sea in THE BROTHERS, invoking the seldom-cited “only in extreme longshot” ruling (see also Claudette Colbert in FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE). But most of MURDER AT THE WINDMILL is as full-clothed as any bluenose could wish. There’s one fan dance, which would never have been allowed at the Windmill — she’s MOVING, for God’s sake! The girl’s obscene!

But in the opening number, Guest decorates the stage with a couple of naked female statues who look surprisingly lifelike. Later, when the police reconstruct the boring crime (audience member shot from somewhere on stage), the statues’ places are occupied by identical girls in dressing gowns. Surprising! The old fox actually seems to have featured full-frontally nude adult women in a 1949 commercially-released movie.

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They seem to have managed to find naked girls without generative organs, like Linnea Quigley. I always assumed that nudes of the Pamela Green era of British smut had been airbrushed into featurelessness, but the movies did not possess airbrushing technology in those days — unless you could THIS shot in UN CHIEN ANDALOU —

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But Guest is moving the camera, so  dab of vaseline in the appropriate place wouldn’t do it on this occasion. We are forced to the conclusion that the girls must be wearing some form of fleshings, a conclusion I have resisted until this last sentence because I don’t like the word fleshings.

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