Archive for A Edward Sutherland

Posh Lust

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2021 by dcairns

The curious thing about A WOMAN OF PARIS is the clash of sophisticated comedy and naive melodrama. Maybe “comedy” is wrong, but there’s certainly wit in the way the action unfolds.

My two favourite parts are the restaurant kitchen and the decadent party, both of which have their share of humour. The straight drama stuff is Lubitschian in the sense that BROKEN LULLABY/THE MAN I KILLED is Lubitschian: the ironies and delicate reveals have the form of Lubitsch gags, jokes of indirection, but without being funny. Lubitsch finds an interesting alternative to comedy in bitterness: the QUIET PLEASE sign in the hospital where the war wounded are terrified by the sound of the gun salute celebrating the end of war, for instance. Chaplin faces the strange contradiction of subtle indirection being used to tell a story full of essentially corny contrivance. It doesn’t quite take the curse off it.

The girl on the left makes a distinctively French gesture, so that I at first assumed Chaplin had cast an authentic demoiselle, but then I realised he’s probably just acted the movement out for her to copy.

But in our first Parisian scene (no wide shot with Eiffel Tower, just lots of unmistakeable Frenchness), everything works in his favour, because the only plot in motion is the establishing of Edna’s new life as a rich man’s lover.

And the rich man is Adolphe Menjou, which is more good news. His sly ovine features, a kind of Al Hirschfield caricature brought to life (the line of his nose is clearly the work of a pen-stroke, neither genetics nor rhinoplasty could carve something so nifty), peer out across the decades, and improbable set of shapes on an improbable movie star. Lubitsch would acquire him, and much else, for THE MARRIAGE CIRCLE, the film which cemented the American style of Uncle Ernst. Adolphe, that light-footed reactionary swine, reportedly acted by numbers (“I think I’ll do a forty-two followed by a seven”), and is also said to have nimbly copied Chaplin’s direction — CC would act out every role for his cast to mimic. But Menjou’s mimicry emerges as pure Menjou. He’s the only actor here who has Chaplin’s elaborate grace, magnetism, breezy arrogance.

“Don’t sell it!” Chaplin would tell Menjou. “Remember, they’re peeking at you.”

Edna is fine, but just not that interesting. It’s said that Chaplin wanted to set her up as an independent star because she was getting too old to play ingenue roles opposite him. And the plot here skips over the part where she’d have to make the transition from new-in-town virginal innocent to metropolitan sophisto. Here she is, transformed. The movie, by the way, becomes a fantastic fashion show at this point, which is one of its main pleasures. The fashions of the 1920s being SO much more sexy and elegant than the frumpery Edna started off with ten years before.

Henry Bergman!

The actor playing the gigolo is Philip Sleeman, whose subsequent roles include “dance hall Lothario,” “lounge lizard,” “night club lizard,” “masher in night court,” “zeppelin reveler” and “spectator at stoning.” Just one of those faces. It’s caricature by casting: his appearance suggests not the attractive type who would appeal to a rich older lady, but the inner corruption that would lead a man to such a career.

In the kitchen, both the film’s production designer, Arthur Stibolt, and assistant director A. Edward Sutherland (left), appear. In the night club, the two technical advisors on naughty Parisian matters appear: Harry D’Abadie D’Arrast and Jean de Limur. Both would go on to directing careers, the latter, an actual comte, directing Menjou in MON GOSSE DE PERE for Pathé-Natan in 1930 (Menjou’s only French production, I think, though he did one or two French-language versions of his early talkies). Eddie Sutherland went on to direct (and marry Louise Brooks), and another of the A.D.s, Monta Bell, also had a substantial producing-directing career.

Another Chaplin associate, Josef Von Sternberg, would hire Menjou to play basically the same role in MOROCCO.

Fiona pointed out that the business with the gamey game bird in the kitchen is “very Chaplin” — his obsession with food, particularly smelly food.

Chaplin had fairly detailed notes for this one, but still filmed in sequence so he could refine the story as he went along, and the thing did change a fair bit. The whole restaurant sequence is striking because, having established Edna’s new situation, it does nothing else. Chaplin just wants to spend time in this environment, and let the audience soak up the atmosphere. He’d just been to Paris, so he was hot on the subject, but he’d long wanted to do something around the romantic-sounding Latin quarter — THE IMMIGRANT had started out with that setting.

I should also mention — A WOMAN OF PARIS is a Late Film: Chaplin was working on the music when he died. Which may account for some strange bits in the score where the emotional tone seems way off. But it’s always preferable to have a Chaplin film with Chaplin music.

TBC

Talking, No Pictures

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

So, we still haven’t finished with CLOSE HARMONY, I’m afraid. The picture may be lost but I am listening to the soundtrack and relaying to you the mental images it provokes, so that this vanished early talkie can live, breathe and jump again.

Now read on…

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This section opens with a loooong silence, broken occasionally by coughing or shuffling noises. It reminds me of the remix of the John Lennon track Two Minutes Silence. The guy who did a cover version had to pay royalties to Lennon for the use of the complete silence, but his “remix” on the B-side was ruled to be a completely new composition because he’d added a few little coughs.

I’m trying to get my imagination going to fill in the picture for you here but I don’t have a lot to go on. Acoustically, I’d say it’s an interior. So we’re in a room somewhere, possibly with Charles “Buddy” Rogers shuffling his feet and nursing a slight bronchial condition. Then, dialogue breaks out — we now know we’re dealing with Buddy and Nancy Carroll, but the visual aspect remains mysterious. They could be disembodied spirits floating in an ethereal void. Maybe everyone was dead all along?

Now somebody’s singing scales. Jack Oakie? Buddy’s rival combo seem to be falling out, and this seems to be the result of offscreen activities by Nancy, setting them against each other. I say “offscreen,” but everything in this movie is offscreen. I guess I should say “off-mic”.

Now a brief convo between Oakie and the fifty-foot maid, in which we learn that Nancy has stood him up. This bombshell is followed by another pensive silence, during which to be honest anything might be happening. Oakie might be strangling the fifty-foot woman in a fit of rage, or vice versa, or the scene might have ended and a new one begun in at a deserted dog race, a beached canoe or a bottling plant during a power failure. After some seconds, the aural quality of the nothing that’s happening changes, and we perceive what might be a heavy rainfall.

John Cromwell circa 1940s

John Cromwell brought to you by the miracle of photography

Cutting through the crackling spatter trills a female voice — impossible to figure from the cast list who she is, but she strikes up a chat with a glum Buddy. He thinks Nancy has jilted him because she hasn’t let him in one her plan to sow discord amid the rival band by flirting with each member in turn. WHY she hasn’t simply explained this is mysterious, unless it’s because the plan is so sleazy. Anyhow, Buddy now goes off with this other girl — at 45 minutes in, the plot is finally starting to thicken, to a nice stodgy Charles “Buddy” Rogers consistency.

Sudden loud jazz! We’re at the party where all the rival band are waiting for Nancy. “Wait? I’ll grow a beard!” remarks one. The music stops and what we take to be thunderous applause breaks out, though it sounds like an audience of sea lions. A more gentle tune begins — we’ve heard it before, it’s “All A-Twitter,” the favourite tune of America’s new president.

Buddy’s date is now mentioned by name, so we can deduce that the actor is Greta Granstedt in one of her few roles that actually has a name. The character she made a habit of playing, according to the IMDb, was “minor role,” occasionally branching out into “extra” or “blonde.” And she kept this up for 29 years. Also at the IMDb, a Jim Kalafus supplies some exciting biographical detail for Greta ~

“Greta Granstedt was the San Francisco room-mate of explorer Bessie Hyde, who vanished, under mysterious circumstances, along with her husband Glen, while attempting to become the first couple to navigate the length of the Grand Canyon solo. Miss Granstedt’s parents were aboard the liner San Juan, which sailed between San Francisco and Los Angeles, when she sank less than three minutes after colliding with a tanker. Mr. Granstedt survived, his wife did not. According to the newspapers, they were en route to L.A. to visit with their actress daughter when they were caught up in the August 1929 disaster.”

So that disaster happened the very year CLOSE HARMONY was released. We don’t know if Greta is smiling through her tears as she plays this very scene.

gretag

Greta in something else.

“Ain’t you glad you got me here all alone?” asks Oakie, suddenly, so we’re somewhere else, but not far away — we can still hear music. So I’m guessing he and Nancy have passed noiselessly through the French windows and are maybe out on some rooftop under the moonlight. Moonlight itself makes no sound, unless it sounds like Jack Oakie. I guess that’s possible. Just as, in colour movies, moonlight is portrayed as being blue, when in fact it is colourless and so dim as to render everything else colourless too, perhaps a similar convention existed in early talkies: whenever there’s moonlight, dub in some dialogue from Jack Oakie. So my impression that Oakie is in this scene in person may be a misapprehension. Perhaps Nancy is talking to the moon.

“Gee, it must be great to play on Broadway,” says Nancy, which doesn’t clear things up any. I mean, you could equally well say that to the moon as you could to Jack Oakie. If anything, the moon seems a more plausible listener. Nancy now gets her interlocutor to bad-mouth the character played by Richard “Skeets” Gallagher, Oakie’s musical partner. So I’m starting to think he’s not the moon. I don’t see why the moon would have a strong opinion on Skeets. I’m also visualising Skeets listening in on this, his face aflame, ears incandescent. I think such a thing was well within his range as an actor, and if not, well, *I’m* the one visualising this picture now, so I can easily render him capable of furious jealousy worthy of Othello. Though I don’t know if he would find it more natural to project such emotion at jack Oakie or at the moon. It may be there’s no real difference.

To be concluded…

Hardcore Phonography

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 6, 2017 by dcairns

I’m twenty minutes into the surviving soundtrack of CLOSE HARMONY, “watching” it with my eyes closed and attempting to visualise the long-lost pictures.

Now read on…

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CHARLES “BUDDY” ROGERS: But I’m gonna amount to something, so that…

NANCY CARROLL: Yes?

CBR: So that…

NC: Yes?

CBR: So that…

NC: So that what?

I’m visualizing the needle skipping on the soundtrack. Nancy Carroll and I are both agog with anticipation.

CBR: So that you’ll marry me.

After what one imagines has just happened during the preceding several seconds of wordless audio hiss, one feels she may HAVE to.

CBR: Say yes!

NC: Oh, you brute!

Having the actual sound here is helpful, since Nancy’s line reading is playful and ironic, which may not come across in the transcription. But if you recall what Buddy is like in any of his other talkies, you would probably surmise that she MUST be being playful and ironic. Buddy is about as threatening as hay.

closeharmon

Another silence, broken by strange murmurs and coughs. Either they’re kissing again, or we’ve faded out. Or both. And you know what THAT means.

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! A full minute of instrumental, during which I try hard to imagine Sam Raimi thrill-cam shots swooping over a shiny dance floor, but my brain remains trapped in a soundproof booth, watching static action from too far away. Then Buddy starts reedily singing that he’s “All A-twitter, About a Girl!” The man’s savage sexual passion is simply overwhelming. It’s a pleasant number, though.

Wet-sounding applause, then we suddenly cut to slightly crackling silence. Perhaps we are observing the next scene, whatever it is, from a fireplace? Then a bunch of characters say hello. They might be standing in the fireplace, I suppose, if it’s a big Charles Foster Kane job.

Buddy is going to talk to his new boss, Max Mindel, about a contract. This chat is preceded by another ten seconds of silence, so I’m assuming Mindel has a huge, Mussolini/Harry Cohn type office for Buddy to cross. Perhaps accessed through a fireplace, like the secret Nazi room in THE LAST CRUSADE. Mindel offers a forty-eight week contract. Another looong pause as Buddy reads the damn thing. Either that or he’s looking tenderly into Max Mindel’s eyes. Or making a birdhouse.

There follows a wordy contract negotiation scene not as enjoyable as the one in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, despite the presence of a dialect comedian. Harry Green as Max Mindel is croaking through the thickest set of lisps plus Russian-Jewish accent you ever heard, or didn’t hear. The upshot is, Mindel, who is unrequitedly in love with Nancy, realises that hiring Buddy will allow him to marry the girl, so Mindel rebels against the plan. “If you don’t get married before you earn a thousand dollars a week from me, then all your children will die bachelors!”

Buddy leaves, in real time, so that his conference with Nancy outside takes ten seconds of crackle to arrive at. Easy to imagine him scrunching through the autumn leaves that lie thickly upon the anteroom floor. Nancy, learning the negotiations were a bust, goes to talk to Mindel, and oddly enough it takes her only two seconds to reach him. Presumably she knows a shortcut. Perhaps she slides down a firepole. Anyway, the negotiations go on, but fall apart again when Mindel learns his board have booked a new act. Hard to tell what the act is called — it sounds like “Barnum a& Bindle.”

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ!

To be continued…