Archive for Alan Ladd

The Death of the Arthur: Knights of the Two Semi-Circular Tables

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2023 by dcairns

Cornel Wilde’s SWORD OF LANCELOT (1963) is on YouTube, so I had a look.

Wilde’s THE NAKED RUNNER PREY has a decent reputation, I feel. Criterion released it, though that was in the early days and possibly it was cheap. His NO BLADE OF GRASS is an ugly mess, botching a compelling John Christopher apocalypse novel. It’s possible that he only found the right kind of material once, because LANCELOT ain’t it.

There’s a lovely brutish insensitivity to his directorial choices which may be instructive. The opening credits play out over still photographs by the great Karsh. The idea of getting a world-class photographer to shoot your stills is a fine one — Kubrick was about to do the same by getting Weegee to shoot the set of STRANGELOVE. Showcasing the results in the movie itself proves to be a very silly idea: there’s a reason why period movies often use archaic fonts or calligraphy, old-fashioned illustrations, scrolls and stuff. Photos (and photomontages, as here) feel modern. Karsh’s images make me feel like I’m looking at either set photography, in which views of the camera crew, boom operator or script supervisor would not be out of place, or at news pictures of a historical reenactment society on manoeuvres. The film might as well begin with a caption in some Gothic text saying AD 1963.

Wilde, leading man as well as director, has, however, come up with a plan that aims to keep him from sticking out like fellow Americans Robert Taylor in KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE or Alan Ladd in THE BLACK KNIGHT. Lancelot is French. Wilde will play him weese un out-rah-jos Franche ack-sont. It’s a bold effort and probably not the worst French accent ever. (Lancelot is never played by an actual Frenchman, except in Bresson’s LANCELOT DU LAC where everyone else is French also. But if Franco Nero can play French — STOP PRESS he can’t — Wilde is entitled to have a go.)

The rest of the casting is erratic and unstellar, though Wilde has noticed that the lovely Reginald Beckwith (above, far right) — the comedy medium from NIGHT OF THE DEMON — is at heart a medieval man, so he’s positioned him as a court jester. It’s never been recorded that Arthur had one, but after all why shouldn’t he?

Good big set for CAMELOT, but Wilde’s attempts to explore it with camera moves are hesitant, wobbly and un-epic. The round table is two C-shaped bits, which is just nuts.

Disguising Wilde’s accent leaves the only other American, Wilde’s wife irl, Jean Wallace, awfully exposed as Guinevere. She’s introduced as mute witness at a joust, which Wilde stages better than the dialogue scenes, with decent build-up, ritualistic presentation of the weaponry, etc. I’m waiting for her to sound like Lina Lamont.

To prepare us for this jarring moment, Wilde carefully seeds the trial by combat with shots of extras wearing ludicrous nylon wigs.

He does get away with quickly including a rear projection shot of himself charging on horseback — filmed tight enough and cut quick enough that it’s not too distracting, and we don’t see the stuffed horse he’s being bounced around on. It’s effective enough that it MIGHT actually be a location shot with Wilde seated on a dolly (which would have made a great behind-the-scenes snap for the opening titles).

And then, the duel ends with a surprisingly graphic sword chop down through the opposing champion’s helmet, anticipating the gore effects of Bresson and Gilliam. Wilde seems to be most at home with violence — the most facile form of cinematic drama. Still, I enjoy a good head-cleaving as much as the next sedentary pacifist. It’s also fun to imagine the effects team lovingly packing the helmet with meat and bags of finest Kensington Gore. The out-takes would be amusing to see also.

Finally JW gets a line, as Lancelot escorts Guinevere to be married to Arthur. It’s decently worked out as a story — better than CAMELOT. The young knight gets a chance to make an impression on the Queen-to-be BEFORE she meets her much older spouse (Arthur is Brian Aherne). Wilde’s co-writer is Richard Schayer, who had a hand in FRANKENSTEIN back in ’31, and wrote the story for THE MUMMY the following year, which would be more impressive if that story weren’t a straight rip of the Lugosi DRACULA.

And Wallace copes well — she’s discernibly American but is talking as far back in the throat as possible, and managing to interpolate some vaguely English vowels. Pretty creditable and not as distracting as Wilde’s ‘Allo ‘Allo! performance.

Delivered into a studio pond for a sexy swimming scene with Lancelot (who has been established as the first man in England to use soap, giving him another erotic advantage over smelly old Arthur), Wallace is required to shout instructions to her maidservant, at which point her attempts at an accent falter and her inner Lamont emerges a little.

The costuming department has done some interesting and innovative work to enable Wallace to appear in a wet and clinging shift without offending, or poking, the censor’s eye with verboten mammary papilla. It’s quite hard to figure out what’s going on here — the bosom seems to have support, and be covered with more than the filmy fabric seen on the upper slopes. It looks to be a somewhat concealed cantilever bra. This of course would be an anachronism, but the attempt at boundary-pushing sexiness suggests to me that Wilde may have been more actively involved than previously suspected in the celebrated moment in THE BIG COMBO where co-star Richard Conte descends out of frame while kissing Wallace. Director Joseph E. Lewis claimed credit for the innovation and said Wilde, producer as well as star, wasn’t in on it. But now I wonder. Sex and violence seem to be Cornel’s bag.

Against my better judgement, I’m going to finish watching this. Which means this piece is now —


Maybe I can do some kind of crazy joint review with the last hour of ADVENTURES OF SIR GALAHAD?

Deathwatch UK

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2022 by dcairns

This is very distracting. We’ve all seen the front door of 10 Downing Street multiple times recently, so we know it’s not of the revolving variety. But the occupants of the building sure behave as if it were. Perhaps there’s an ejector seat behind the PM’s desk? Liz Truss is now gone after a mere six weeks in the job, the shortest premiership in British history, making Boris Johnson look like Thatcher or Blair. The previous record-holder had to drop dead to get out of the position.

Still, Truss was at least consistent in her inconsistency — having U-turned on every promise made, she departs a day after quoting Labour spin-doctor Peter Mandelson’s famous and derided “I’m a fighter, not a quitter.” Her time in office shorter than the leadership contest that put her there.

Apparently there are a set of rules about how you get to be pm, but having put the matter to a party-wide vote last time, this time they’re going to elect the leader with just m.p.s voting, since the party as a whole has apparently gone insane. It seems like a conclusive defeat for government by fantasy wish-fulfillment. But maybe not. Where politics is concerned, my motto is, “Things can always get worse.” I just realised it’s an inversion of New Labour’s slogan/theme song “Things Can Only Get Better.” Should have noticed that.

(Since I typed that five minutes ago, I’m hearing that the party membership WILL be voting. I should join.)

It’s distracted me, this chaos, from finishing the monographs I’ve accidentally started writing on THE GREAT DICTATOR and ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE. And the one I’m reading on SHANE, the BFI Classics edition by Edward Countryman & Evonne von Heussen-Countryman (BFI Film Classics). it’s quite enjoyable and I’m learning things, but I’m surprised by what it leaves out. No mention of the wirework yanking Elisha Cook Jr out of frame when he’s shot, a movie first. No mention of the exaggerated shatter glass sounds during the bar fight. Discussion of the amplified gun shots and echo effects is welcome, and there’s some medium-close analysis here and there, counting shots and minutes devoted to specific sequences.

I was confused by the line “On the first day of filming Stevens managed to get eighteen takes with nine set-ups […] That sounds like two takes per set-up, a very low average, and not what one would expect from the meticulous Stevens. I would like to see set-ups listed first, and then a clear statement about the average number of takes, although in fact the number of takes isn’t very important to the point being discussed, which is GS’s rate of progress. Nine set-ups is not TOO bad for a day interrupted by bad weather, though given the way Stevens liked to cover his action from every possible angle and distance, his crew may have already started wondering if the job would ever be finished.

My mum, going from memory, actually came up with something the book leaves out, the other day. She liked Van Heflin more than Alan Ladd, and she noted that when the two men are chopping wood, Ladd is shirtless and oiled with sweat, and Heflin’s torso is sheather by the upper half of his long johns. To handicap him, to give Laddie the erotic advantage. She thought that was unfair.

But I’m enjoying the book — Stevens, a fascinating figure, doesn’t get written about much — oh, I see that my man Neil Sinyard did a book on him in 2019. I should get that. Maybe you should too?

Paramount Unimportance

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2019 by dcairns

The title PARAMOUNT ON PARADE was taken.

Watching STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM because it’s an Alan Ladd – Veronica Lake movie is a bad idea — they share no scenes, aren’t in the good bits, and don’t really do the things we like to see them do. It’s moderately good fun to see Lake spoof her image in the Sweater, Sarong & Peekaboo Bang number along with Paulette Goddard (?) and Dorothy Lamour, none of whom can sing terribly pleasingly, and it’s, well, strange to see Ladd take part in a pointless, desultory little sketch set in an expressionist pool hall. But then, none of the sketches in the film is any damn good.

Some of the musical numbers are pretty fine, though —

Stick with this one! It’s all about the Golden Gate Quartette (sic).

There is actually a plot, though the movie is forced to suspend it for large swathes of its runtime. It gets us from one musical sequence to another, shoehorns in a bunch of cameos, and the best of these, for both film-historical and entertainment reasons, are those of C.B. DeMille and Preston Sturges. Sturges does a great trip as he angrily exits a screening room. Not quite up to William Demarest standards, but very funny, especially for his furious look right at the camera department.

George Marshall directs, but it’s no BLUE DAHLIA.