Archive for A Girl in Every Port

The Sunday Intertitle: No Great Sheikh

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2017 by dcairns

Why a Howard Hawks Week? It just seemed like fun, and there are enough films I’d enjoy revisiting and enough I haven’t seen. Hope you enjoy.

FAZIL is an unapologetic dose of orientalism, and a late silent/soundie — it has a recorded music score and occasional roughly-synched representations of sound effects such as horses’ hooves, plus a bit of vocalisation — a vague stab at the  call to prayer, and a gondolier’s song, complete with superimposed music and lyrics (as a guide for cinemas which can’t play sound yet?)

It may be Hawks’ only soundie, but I haven’t seen TRENT’S LAST CASE, although I long to. I’m a Raymond Griffith obsessive.

FAZIL stars the quite un-Hawksian Charles Farrell, best-known for his Borzage collaborations, as an unlikely sheikh, with all the barbarity such romantic figures are supposed to have. The culture-clash plot sends him to Venice, so even the film’s representation of the west is exotic and romantic. My fuzzy, grainy copy is just barely good enough to let you see that this is a beautifully photographed film: lots of soft lighting and soft focus and shallow focus. It’s shot by L. William O’Connell, who lensed A GIRL IN EVERY PORT for Hawks the same year, alongside Murnau’s now-lost FOUR DEVILS. Yet he seems to slide into B-pictures as soon as sound arrives, his only big picture being SCARFACE, where he’s paired with Lee Garmes who usually gets credit for the more interesting stuff (Hawks certainly stressed Garmes’ inventiveness in interviews).

That gondolier’s song has a plot role to play, accompanying the central lovers’ first glimpse of one another, from opposite windows across a canal. Hawks crosscuts reverse angles, moving closer as the love-at-first-sight builds, and throws in tracking shots drifting past each lead from the gondolier’s point of view. It’s a very elaborate set-piece, quite removed from his usual, later low-key, apparently effortless mode of presentation. Very interesting to seen him stretch himself, as with the expressionist effects in SCARFACE.

Hollywood has already caught on to the idea of selling sheet music — so that gondolier’s ditty follows the characters about from canal to soirée. where a dissolve sweeps all the other dancers from the floor, leaving Farrell and Greta Nissen alone at last. Then the dance ends and the surrounding throng fades back into existence. There’s nothing else like this in Hawks, so it’s very interesting indeed: what one wants to balance it is some trace of the filmmaker to come.

We also get Mae Busch, always welcome, and John Boles with his huge cranium. To me he has the look of a man smuggling a busby under his scalp.

Censor-baiting screen narrative — we go from Farrell & Nissen on a gondola to her lying in bed in what’s obviously his apartment or hotel suite at dawn. Quelle scandale! Some dialogue, some kisses, and then an intertitle tells us we’ve slid from Venice to Paris during the fade-out and a newspaper headline informs us that the lovers are newly wed. Sex happens during fade-outs, but a lot more than that can go on, it seems. (“At least I had some fun with that.”)

It’s interesting that these Arab barbarian lover types are never played by actual movie tough guys — from Valentino to Novarro to Farrell, they’re all elegant rather than rugged. Farrell is a great big hunk of man, but we know he’s a softy from his other movies, and though he begins this one by having an insubordinate head scimitared off, his attempts to play the master of the house come across as petulant, the result of weakness rather than strength, and I suspect Hawks saw it that way too, frowning from behind the camera. (Actual quote from Hawks on Hawks: “Christ Almighty, can you imagine Charlie Farrell as an Arabian sheikh?”)

Big harem scene, staged as a proto-Busby Berkeley sex fantasy of flesh and art direction. The lovely Nissen — vivacious in TRANSATLANTIC but merely lovely here — comes close to swooning at the perfumed horror of all those diaphanous scanties. Remember, exoticism is racism’s sexy sister. You wouldn’t be seduced by racism… but the sexy sister? You might weaken. And be lost.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Primeval Genius

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2011 by dcairns

Howard Hawks was probably right to reckon that his movies came into their own when they started talking, but that doesn’t mean his silents are devoid of interest — they’re just damned hard to see. A GIRL IN EVERY PORT at least ought to be more widely available, but it was made at Fox and so has vanished into a black hole (not even light can escape, though the great Ford & Borzage box set did manage to make it out, a lone blip alas). And so to FIG LEAVES —

A nice dinosaur with long eyelashes.

We open in the Garden of Eden, envisaged as part of stone age times, so Darwin and Biblical Creation co-exist happily. The scene-setter is a cave-man getting walloped by a giant chimpanzee, leant height by forced perspective sets courtesy of William Cameron Menzies. In fact, that might be one of the giant chimps from the Menzies-designed THIEF OF BAGDAD, minus the fetching black satin shorts Mitchell Leisen provided. How many chimpanzees in Hollywood were there willing to be subjected to optical illusion growth?

From there we go to Adam’s love shack, where he (George SUNRISE O’Brien) and Eve (Olive “the Joy Girl” Borden) snooze in their twin beds, a trickling sand device eventually tipping a coconut onto George’s noggin to wake him. This delightful prelapsarian Flintstones fantasy world segues into a slightly less interesting contemporary section, essaying standard domestic comedy situations with a pronounced sexist slant surprising and disappointing in Hawks (and his male and female writing partners).

I kind of wish they’d kept it all stone age — the main advantage of the modern stuff is some snazzy fashion show bits of catwalk finery by Adrian. I guess cro-magnon times offered fewer opportunities for flapper garb, although I did admire George’s fur mankini.

Generally, Hawks romcoms can be divided into those which have goofy gimmicks, and those that have strong, interesting and convincing story worlds. This one is firmly in the same category as MONKEY BUSINESS, which — hey! — had a chimp in it too. And begins with Hawks’ offscreen voice directing Cary Grant. I like MONKEY BUSINESS. It’s not great or anything, but it’s fun. And so with FIG LEAVES.

Pin-Up of the Day: Louise Brooks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2008 by dcairns

This is what happens when you try to photograph Louise Brooks off your TV set. If you’re not George Hurrell it’s just not going to work. Let’s see what I can leech off the internet…

Plenty of gorgeous photographs, including some nice early nudes if you want to go Google ’em, but not much of her in her superhero costume. She’s really a daredevil girl who leaps off a mile-high ladder into a tub of water, soaking a happy Victor McLaglen (he’s always happy), but with the cape she really ought to be a costumed vigilante, perhaps going by the name of Sexygirl, fighting the forces of evil by shagging them into submission, which was pretty much Brooks’ mission in life at this time anyway.

She’s a prototypical Hawksian woman — self-driven, smart and sassy, but the plot has her down as a gold-digging bitch. Wisely, Hawks, who penned the storyline, avoids giving her any kind of downfall: she simply pockets McLaglen’s life savings, then drops out of the film altogether, presumably to fleece another cheerful sucker in another film. McLaglen returns to the meaty embrace of Robert Armstrong, just as happy as before, neither sadder nor wiser.

It amazes me little has been done to examine this vein of homoeroticism in Hawks, actually… but at the same time I’m totally NOT amazed. Somehow the films both welcome this reading — Hawks spoke openly of “a love story between two men” — and render it irrelevant, by foregrounding it and shrugging “So what?”

While the pummeling, two-fisted punch-ups serve as a substitute for more intimate man-on-man action, somehow there’s no real frisson of naughtiness in it. By contrast, in an Italian western like Bava’s ROY COLT AND WINCHESTER JACK, the fist-fights are more or less explicit acts of love between men who can’t express their feelings any other way, and in Cottafavi’s LEGIONS OF CLEOPATRA, poor Cleo (Linda Cristal) is reduced to the status of beard, watching irrelevantly (or not even present) as male protagonists wallop seven shades of shit out of each other to demonstrate how very masculine they are… Truly, Italian popular cinema of this time just reeks of repressed passion, which is fascinating considering the kind of culture it’s emerging from.

Oh, alright then:

UK residents can check out Brooks’ work here:

Diary of a Lost Girl [1929] [DVD] [2007]