Archive for Act of Love

Victory Thru Ty Power

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2020 by dcairns

THIS ABOVE ALL turns up, unnamed, as a reference in Anthony Burgess’s novel of Excalibur, Any Old Iron, which is what got me thinking about it. And then the idea of doing something on Anatole Litvak came up, and the two things dovetailed.

(The novel also features a US serviceman turned novelist called Irwin Roth, who seems to be a nasty joint portrait of Irwin Shaw and Philip Roth. Oddly, Shaw was a writer for Litvak: he authored the source play OUT OF THE FOG derives from, and later co-scripted ACT OF LOVE. This started me wondering if Burgess, who did a lot of writing on unfilmed movies, ever brushed up against Litvak. Actually, this story is a bit like ACT OF LOVE, pitting love against war, but without any of the bite.)

THIS ABOVE ALL features, asides from the elaborate studio recreations of the blitz which Burgess remarks upon, some good atmospheric blackout stuff at the start. The romance seems interesting, but then the film goes on, and on… Ty Power, of course, is playing it American, despite his character being English. He has PTSD and is a deserter, an interesting set-up for a propaganda film. I’m assuming it was conceived and shot before Pearl Harbour, so it’s allowed to be pro-Britain but a bit anti-war. Power’s problems have potential, but only come up intermittently: everything kind of drags on. Wartime movies usually bring a tear to my eye: I’m easy. This felt like watching Paul Muni shove a piano up a hill.

Joan Fontaine has good moments, bad moments, and truly awful moments which seem more like aeons while they’re happening. At her worst, that woman could simper for England: here, she does.

Litvak is seemingly at sea in this increasingly turgid morass. He tries a few zip pans, but they seem unmotivated, forced. Like trying to get a conga line going at a funeral reception. The action is far from zippy. Incredibly, the source novel is by Eric Knight, whose fast-paced hardboiled thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up would have made a far better subject for this director. Knight also write Lassie Come Home. This one is tonally stranded in no man’s land between the two, a strange place to be. R.C. Sherriff, the poet laureate of Hollywood England, doesn’t seem to have found a workable cinematic structure in his adaptation.

Actors keep turning up, people we like. Thomas Mitchell, speaking truth to Power, essays a gratuitous Scottish accent, which is not disgraceful. It’s identifiably East coast, though it wanders up and down the shoreline a bit. Nigel Bruce does something rustic. You need these guys around because the central couple aren’t doing it. Whenever they were alone together after the half-hour mark, we prayed for an interloper to interlope them.

Very handsome photography by Arthur C. Miller, though

THIS ABOVE ALL stars Leonard Vole; Mrs. de Winter; Uncle Billy; Lord Willoughby; Doctor Watson; Mrs. Higgins; Professor Sorel; Mrs. Midget; Woodrow Wilson; Ethel Rogers; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Claire Lennartz; Dr. John Lanyon; Reverend Cyril Playfair; Inspector Lestrade; Old Tom; Leuwen Grayle; Uncle Arn; California Carlson; and Dai Bando.

The Pan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2020 by dcairns

Don Siegel is one of the best sources for Anatole Litvak stories in his memoir, A Siegel Film.

There’s quite a lot about Siegel’s montages for BLUES IN THE NIGHT, which a big part of that film. In one yarn, both Litvak (producer as well as director) and Hal Wallis (production supervisor) expect to see the montages first. Siegel is simply going to project the rushes for both men, but he’s advised if he does that, one of them will feel compelled to nitpick and his beautiful work will be undone. So he books two screening rooms, prints two prints, and Wallis and Litvak happily watch separately, giving the montages the OK. Now read on:

Later, when Litvak was dubbing the picture, he told me that he was
worried about the title song, ‘Blues in the Night’.

ME: I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s the best blues I’ve ever heard. If I
were you, I’d worry about your picture, which is five per cent as
good as the song . . .
LITVAK: (Annoyed) You think you’re pretty good, don’t you Don?
ME: (Fresh as usual) You said some pretty nice things about the
montages.
LITVAK: True, but when you dolly into the poster you could have had
someone walk past the poster. And you should have started on
that person and ended on the poster. You must always have a
reason for your camera movement, be it a dolly or a pan.
And you know something, he was right. He taught me a lesson I used for
the rest of my life.

I’m not always certain how truthful Siegel’s stories are. His recounting of the circumstances in which Barbara Steele departed the production of FLAMING STAR disagrees with hers’, and while Barbara might equally well be distorting the facts, her version MAKES SENSE, portrays both of them IN CHARACTER, and of the two of them, he seems to be the one who might have motivation to rearrange the facts to make himself look better.

But the above anecdote rings true, partly because it describes just the kind of shot Litvak is always doing. For instance, CITY FOR CONQUEST begins with a train coming towards us — it passes — and the camera is led, in apparently panning after it, onto a sign that serves as establishing shot:

ACT OF LOVE pulls off a more elaborate variation. We start on a passing train, seen from above. That pulls the camera round in a leftward pan to a road, at eye level, along which a bus advances. Now the lens is gravitationally tugged into another leftward pan by the bus, and we land on a piece of expressive graffiti which serves as a different kind of establishing shot, a sociopolitical one:

It’s close to a 360 pan, but operating on two levels, down at the railway track and up at the road.

This example is arguably a little fancy, but Litvak’s lesson is a good one! You can use people and other moving objects such as vehicles to motivate the camera moves you want to do anyway.