Yes.

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2017 by dcairns

New video essay written by me and edited by Stephen Horne. Part of our series for Criterion, Anatomy of a Gag (previous installments on Tati and Etaix).

This one is on Hal Ashby’s BEING THERE, new to the Collection. Hope you enjoy!

The Birds and the Beef

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2017 by dcairns

Another “song” from KISS AND MAKE-UP. Why am I so good to you?

Edward Everett Horton was not particularly known for his singing, though his number in THE GAY DIVORCEE, paired with Betty Grable of all people, is oddly pleasing. Here, his vocal weakness is made exponentially greater by Helen Mack, who matches him bum note for bum note.

What a hot mess of a film. I’ve been reading James Harvey’s Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, from Lubitsch to Sturges, which I can’t recommend highly enough, and he makes a crack about how Paramount films of the thirties tended to fall apart in the third act with alarming regularity, something I hadn’t particularly noticed. But by God this film certainly makes that FEEL true, though in all honesty it starts falling apart shortly after the opening credits. Every time you think it can’t crumble any further, it manages to fracture a little more. Horton has some funny lines early on, so there was somebody of talent involved (asides from the design and camera department who make it all LOOK lovely — as Lubitsch said, “The Paramount Paris is the most Parisian”). My guess is the good stuff flowed from the typewriter of credited scribe George F. Marion, who has some amazing credits.

Some images ~

This last one, with the Venetian blind shadows infecting Cary’s robe, calls to mind THE CONFORMIST.

And because we need SOME quality to get us through the day, here’s James Harvey — who has little to say about this movie and who can blame him? — describing Grant and Constance Bennett in TOPPER ~

She is small and gleaming and sinuous: her body, draped in glittering bias-cut gowns, droops in a dramatic art-deco curve from shoulders to slightly out-thrust hips. She leans back, against a piano or a husband, with her long elegant fingers splayed and upraised, like someone who is always drying her nail polish. The effect is both voguish and feline. Grant, the one she leans into, is as big and dark as she is slight and fair. And there is something feline about him, too–a hint of danger, a look of sheathed-claw contentment. They look so smashing together that the production stills are almost better–certainly more elegant and suggestive–than the movie is. Grant’s role, practically a supporting one, doesn’t give him much to do, but with it he becomes an icon of thirties glamour and fun.

Good, eh?

The Sunday Intertitle: Hooves of Doom

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 19, 2017 by dcairns

NO MAN’S LAW is a 1927 western romp starring Rex the Wonder Horse, whose oeuvre I have not really investigated until now. More intriguingly still, it’s a Hal Roach joint, and so features players such as James Finlayson and Oliver Hardy, who plays villain Sharkey Nye. Ollie was about to make his first film in actual partnership with Stan Laurel (a movie I hope to see on the big screen next weekend), but at this point he was still playing a lot of baddies. He’s been given an eye-patch and a rather fearsome scar disappearing up under it, allowing us to vividly imagine the horrible empty socket…

Looking the part as he does, all Ollie has to do is avoid using any of the gestures that would later become trademarks of his comic persona. It wouldn’t do if Sharkey Nye suddenly started coyly fluttering his necktie, for instance. Fortunately, he has no necktie, so Ollie isn’t tempted in the direction.

The problem arises when Nye catches leading lady Barbara Kent (of LONESOME fame) indulging in a spot of skinny-dipping. Kent has been equipped by the scenarists with an unsuitable character name, Toby Belcher, which makes her sound like a Restoration roué who should be played by Hugh Griffiths, but she’s been equipped by Nature with a lissome form which the ultra-clear lake water does little to conceal. This isn’t the problem, by the way. I have no problem whatsoever with this.

The problem is that Ollie is now called upon to espy the bathing damsel and perform a reaction suggestive of malign lust. This is an emotion not usually called for from “Babe” Hardy, and I’m not sure it’s in his repertoire. What he decides to do to suggest malign lust is hitch up his belt over his belly with a firm tug, which is the Universal Oliver Hardy Symbol for girding one’s loins for battle. It’s more usually followed by slicing off the top of somebody’s derby or pelting them with a lot of rice pudding. To make it suggest immanent, rapacious lechery when it has those other associations (from later films) is a big ask. I mean, the pants-hitch is a perfectly sound dramatic choice, and if it were anyone else doing it, I think we’d accept it without question as a valid encapsulation of malign lust. But how could Ollie know that future audiences would be watching his career out of sequence?

Anyway, Rex is on hand to drive the leering Nye away and save young Belcher’s honour. At film’s end, Nye is still unreformed, and indeed even deeper-dyed in villainy, and so Rex takes the law into his own hooves and simply tramples the big fellow to death. This is a bit disconcerting, and not just because it’s Ollie’s chubby, cherubic fist we see uncurling in death. Hyperintelligent animal heroes are all very well, but we prefer it, I think, when the dog summons help when the leading lady is tied to the railroad track, rather than leaping on the baddie and tearing his throat out. Likewise, a horse hero should, I feel, confine himself to racing to the rescue, expressive whinnying and the like. Equine homicide I disbar.

It’s an interesting notion, though — there have been several films about intelligent, killer cars, but nobody so far as I know has made a western horror film about an evil horse. They could call it something like EVIL HORSE.

(Probably it will turn out that several such films exist, most of them also featuring Cary Grant singing.)