The Sunday Intertitle: Unrest

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2022 by dcairns

Having introduced the Gamin, her unemployed father, and her little sisters, Chaplin now ruthlessly expunges all the relatives: dad is slain in a riot (more heavy-handed police tactics) and the siblings are taken away by social workers, a la THE KID. The G escapes pluckily.

As pathos goes, this is all somewhat formulaic. We haven’t known these supporting players long enough to get broken up about them, and I think Chaplin is counting on that because of course we never see the sisters again. They were basically there to give the G a sympathetic reason for stealing, and their extraction from the narrative puts her in a parlous situation when she eventually meets Charlie.

The two little girls were both called Gloria — Gloria Delson, who went on to be a vocalist in a ’40s big band, and Glora DeHaven, daughter of Chaplin’s friend Carter DeHaven, a vaudeville star, movie actor, and the film’s assistant director — also the guy seemingly responsible for the short CHARACTER STUDIES, with its remarkable all-star cast —

Anyway, these two cute kids are treated as disposable by Chaplin’s picaresque narrative, like Madame Verdoux later. In this case, one could even find a certain ruthlessness in the Gamin’s decision to abandon them to their fate.

Charlie, meanwhile, is just getting comfortable in prison when they go and release him, a nice irony. We learn of this through one of the film’s regular TALKING MACHINES, in this case a wireless giving a news announcement. It seems fitting — the talking machines always bring trouble for Charlie.

Immediately we get human dialogue reported by intertitle: Chaplin is quite unashamed of mixing up talking picture and silent technique. Interesting to learn that, like Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner or Malcolm McDowall in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Charlie is known by a numeral. Of course, Number Seven is a convenient thing to call him, since Chaplin is generally unwilling to settle on a name for the Little Fellow.

Stomach-gurgling scene with the minister’s wife. Really first-rate intestinal embarrassment. Chaplin apparently insisted on doing the sound effects himself, blowing a straw into water, but everyone warned him the results would be too exaggerated, and they were. So I don’t know for sure who executed the final effects, or how they were achieved, but they sound amazingly lifelike. They might even be the real thing.

The Breen Office apparently objected to the noises, but Chaplin won that round. He did remove a number of mildly risque references, and Simon Louvish’s biography tells us that by cutting the word “dope” from the nose-powder scene (as well as some effeminacy from Charlie’s needlepoint cell-mate Prince Barin), Chaplin was able to smuggle the drugs into his picture.

This is one of the scenes that was originally prepared with dialogue, which I guess makes sense since it’s a scene dependent on sound. The decision that MODERN TIMES would be essentially a lip-synch free production was made, it seems, on the day of shooting this. And we can be grateful.

Good yapping dog action. The dog is the only one crass enough to draw attention to the characters’ inner orchestrations. So Charlie and the minister’s wife have to not only ignore their own and each other’s noises, but the dog’s alert-cries.

When Charlie turns on the wireless to try to drown out the ruckus, the ad man who comes on MIGHT be Chaplin himself, but I’m unconvinced. Not quite high enough and too American? If it were him, it would give the lie to the notion that Chaplin does not speak any “real” words in the film.

Launched into the workplace with a helpful letter from the governor, Charlie in turn launches a half-built ship, a hopelessly expensive gag made possible by rear projection and a model shot. Chaplin is always supposed to have been behind the times, astonished by a camera crane in 1939, but here he’s picked up on effects technology that had only become widespread a few years earlier.

It’s a grand gag, though it’s lessened by being a trick. What mainly undermines the illusion is the blurry scaffolding in the model’s foreground: impossible for a real shot to have a sharp-focussed foreground character, a sharp distant boat, but a soft midground.

Richard Lester planned a variation on this gag in RED STAR, the never-produced visual comedy that was to have starred Robin Williams as a Stalin impersonator. The boat would have been a movie set, only existing on one side, like Cameron’s TITANIC. I keep wondering where Lester would have put the camera for the reveal. A good visual gag happens in one shot. But I guess you could cut to a view from off the stern like Chaplin’s, getting one laugh, while the actual gag would happen when the ship is launched to the bottom.

And now for the meet cute…

The Destroying Ray

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 21, 2022 by dcairns

At last I have a slightly better copy of FLASH GORDON now, so the quality of framegrabs will improve. And I can geek out to the opening credits and go “Yay!” and “Boo!” at the goodies and baddies. An important ritual.

You’re still stuck with YouTube, alas.

What a relief — the huge annihilating wave that swamps the screen at the end of part 4 passes, and our heroes (and a couple of villains) are still standing. They hurriedly leave the room. Not sure what could cause a huge a.w. to come and go like that in an underwater city that’s sprung a leak, but we can all be glad it wasn’t more lasting.

Great model shot of a fleet of rocketships, spinning lazily on their wires so that several of them are flying sideways or backwards.

Enter Prince Barin (Richard Alexander — Oliver Hardy was unavailable), or Pwince Bawin as I always think of him, thanks to Ornella Muti’s idiosyncratic line reading. A big man wearing body armour above the waist, and very little below the waist. Lurking shyly at the entrance to Zarkov’s workshop, as well he might. PB is, he tells Z, the rightful ruler of Mongo. What he’s doing lurking around the workshop with no pants on is never explained.

Montage of iguanas and rockets! This starts to get pretty abstract. Terrarium pyrotechnics.

Flash, Thun and the girls emerge from a cavern. Apparently the submerged city was pretty easy to get out of after all. Perhaps the destroying ray won’t be so bad either? Maybe more just an annoying ray?

A miniature rocky valley with miniature winged men circling like vultures! I once read an explanation, and I think it came from Larry “Buster” Crabbe, where he said the model crew would have the camera on a rotating platform with the model set, and the rockets would descend vertically, and the rotation of set and camera would make it LOOK as if they were descending in a spiral. Obviously nonsense. These little hawkmen are swinging round in circles just like the rockets.

Curious that the Hawk Men have actual wings, whereas the Lion Men just have beards (well, a beard) and the Shark Men just have skull caps and cummerbunds.

My Dad pointed out when I was watching this as a kid that generally when Flash gets into a fight with a group of bad guys, they come at him one at a time, the spare guys just standing idly by while he drubs their buddy. This is what is known as Fight Arranging.

Anyway, despite all this, and despite the hawkmen being encumbered by big rigid wings, Thun and Dale are soon all captive. Barin and Zarkov arrive in a rocket and help Flash defeat his attackers. Flash determines that Dale & Thun must be rescued, brushing aside Aura’s demand to be taken back to her father. “No, you’ve caused enough trouble already,” he says, peevishly. Rather ungrateful: if not for her, he’d still be getting tentacle-porned by the octo-sac.

Barin tweaks the door handles on his console and the rocketship lurches skywards.

Fade up the floating city! MUCH better than the underwater city. It wobbles about gently on beams of light, which as I recall are coal-powered. Later we will hear them described as “gravity rays,” which sounds good. In a hi-tech corner of the spacious throne room (left over from God knows what super-production) a couple of winged MDs do things to Dale Arden with neon tubes. But don’t worry — it’s sophisticated avian medicine. The throne itself looks to be an original prop — it’s too wonderfully goofy not to be. But maybe someone can prove me wrong.

King Vultan looks really good, I think. I sort of believe he has the power of flight more than I do with Brian Blessed. This is Jack “Tony” Lipson, otherwise a bit player, achieving low-budget immortality. Normally his characters have names like “Hefty Customer”, “Huge Turk” and “Fat Man with Newspaper.”

(Since we have Larry “Buster” Crabbe and Jack “Tiny” Lipson, it feels unfair that the other cast members have no nicknames. Feel free to chime in with suggestions, but I’d offer up Frank “Knees” Shannon for starters.)

Thun, played by Alan Moore, has been set to work shovelling coal in his shorts in “the atom furnaces.” The science here is all the more evocative by virtue of being, as the Wizard of Oz would put it, “technically unexplainable.” Along with the atomic coal there are slavemasters with bullwhips and those dials popularized by METROPOLIS, which possibly have something to do with balancing the city.

A lot of energy goes into keeping the Shark Men’s city underwater and the Hawk Men’s city airborne. Ming could cut down on his fuel bills by just setting them down amid the iguanas.

Finally something has been done about the single repeating rocketship interior, allowing director Stephani to shoot the crew frontally. A floating wall has been successfully floated, possibly with the aid of atom furnaces. So now we can enjoy the actors’ expressionless faces as they sway gently back and forth, pretending there’s a view. They’re facing the wrong direction to match the model shots, but nevertheless, the serial has taken a leap forward in decoupage.

Dale wakes up and is alarmed by Vultan’s maniacal yet eunuchoid laughter. Jean Rogers does some skilled bosom-heaving here, though outmatched in that department by Tiny’s steel-plated tits.

Barin’s rocket is fired upon by “the melting ray,” a nifty art deco searchlight. “Our resisto-force will soon be exhausted by the power of those melting rays!” pipes up a voice not easily identifiable as any of the characters in the rocket — possibly the director is feeding in lines himself again. I may soon be exhausted too.

Meanwhile (a word that gets used a lot in these things, I know) Vultan is feeling slighted. It’s implied that he’s tried to get Dale to pay the rent on his sky palace and she’s declined, so he now opens a sliding door and a striped bear pads into his chambers, the intention apparently being to intimidate the fair maiden into adopting a more convivial attitude.

Having dopily plodded into the room, Urso, for such is his name, shambles out again, his appearance so fleeting, so Bunuelian in its incongruity, that one can only conclude he came as a job lot with the iguanas or was rehearsing on the next sound stage for a production of Goldilocks and accidentally leaned against a freshly-painted picket fence. Anyway, he’s gone.

But don’t relax yet — Tiny, having abandoned the subtle approach, now comes lurching towards camera with an evil glint in his armoured moobs. That would seem like a pretty good cliffhanger in itself, but to cap it all the melting ray hits Barin’s rocket which promptly explodes (rather than melting, as one might expect) and plummets from the sky (rather than melting, as one might expect) and then it’s

TO BE CONTINUED

Making Faces

Posted in FILM with tags on May 20, 2022 by dcairns

The many faces of Claude Chabrol, but which are deliberate funny faces and which are just Claude? And which is your favourite?