Archive for Albert Dekker

Cahn Can’t

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2019 by dcairns

The most memorable bit of dialogue in Edward L. Cahn’s DESTINATION MURDER (1950) is the bit they shoehorn in to justify the title: “This is the work of killers, and killers have only one destination: murder!”

Which should give you an idea of the kind of rot we’re dealing with here.

Elsewhere, we have Albert Dekker as “Armitage,” who refers to himself in the third person, like Trump. “Armitage is in the mood for music!” So Hurd Hatfield turns on the player piano. “Armitage wants his music LOUD!” declares Armitage, so Hurd turns the volume up, though how loud can the Moonlight Sonata really go?

Loud enough to drown out the screams of the tortured, apparently, as Armitage uses the opportunity to viciously beat a blackmailer with his belt (doubled up, with the buckle swinging… Dekker seems to have been a freak in the sheets, and he’s given this some thought, I fear).

The pairing of Dekker with womanhating sidekick Stretch Norton (Hatfield) jibes well with his s&m leanings to make this quite a kinky picture when it can be bothered. Which isn’t often enough.

Armitage must be constantly irritated underneath somebody’s borrowed hair, because even though he makes a point of calling himself by name all the time, the rest of the cast can’t decide how to pronounce his name, some favouring a soft, French kind of pronunciation.

Hurd Hatfield wants to know who sprayed Silly String all over his fireplace.

My favourite other bit was the beginning — like CITIZEN KANE (with which there’s an unlikely link) and SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, “The End” comes up almost immediately, and we’re in a cinema where some gum-chewing jerk (East Side Kid Stanley Clements) nips out for a smoke, promising his date he’ll come back with popcorn, then jumps in a limo, gets driven to some house, changing into a delivery boy costume en route, rings the doorbell and tells the resident he has a package for him, then, having established the guy’s ID, shoots him right through the package before getting a lift back to the cinema where he can rejoin his date/alibi before the intermission between two features is over.

I would have been fine if the movie had ended at that point, but instead it goes on for a long 72 minutes, filmed in Cahn’s trademark “style,” which you could call “lean” or “economical” if you wanted to make a case for him, but might more accurately be described as “burned out.” All the scenes in head cop James Flavin’s office are shot from the same three angles, for instance.

Cahn’s films of 1931 are incredible. What’s the year he stopped caring?

DESTINATION MURDER stars Jane; Dr. Cyclops; Dorian Gray; Stanislaus ‘Duke’ Covelskie; Dallas Hart; Second Mate Briggs; Pat Garrett; and Charles Foster Kane – Aged Eight.

“Western Union forever!”

Forbidden Divas: A Lousy Kind of Love

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2019 by dcairns

I’ve been blessed with a trio of great guest-Shadowplayers this week — third up is regular contributor David Wingrove, celebrating the divine Kim N. ~

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

A Lousy Kind of Love

“Everybody was always sleeping at my house. That’s the one thing I’ll always remember. Everybody was always sleeping.”

–         Kim Novak, Middle of the Night

At a booze-fuelled New Year’s Eve shindig somewhere in upstate New York, one overdressed matron turns to Kim Novak and says: “You’re a very attractive young woman.” The understatement is so glaring that it provides a rare moment of hilarity in Middle of the Night (1959) a film that is otherwise quite relentlessly glum. Here as in most of her films, Kim Novak has a quality that is almost translucent – like a Classical Grecian head carved exquisitely on a priceless antique cameo. If she has a limitation as an actress, it is that she is just too luminously beautiful to play a woman who is in any way plain or ordinary or dull. It is no accident that her most successful roles – and the ones audiences remember – show her as haunted by some queer and otherworldly presence. The witch who longs to be a mortal in Bell, Book and Candle (1958) or the girl who may be a ghost in Vertigo (1958) or the starlet possessed by a dead movie queen in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968).

The whole point of Kim Novak is that she is not quite real. Yet there she is on a screen just in front of us. It is enough to make you believe dreams do come true, after all. So whose idea was it to cast her as a dowdy secretary – lonely, divorced and embittered – suffering through a May-December romance with her much-older boss (Fredric March)? The script delineates him repeatedly as 56 (!) but he and the other characters carry on as if he were well into his eighties and reliant on life support. Kim gives the role her considerable all and turns in a jittery, nervy and overemphatic performance. She suggests a Vogue cover girl who has been required, in the middle of a shoot, to play Nora in A Doll’s House. Her work is never embarrassing but, on a scale of conviction, it ranks somewhere between Michelle Pfeiffer as a frumpy greasy spoon waitress in Frankie and Johnny (1991) and Catherine Deneuve as a grimy Mid-Western factory worker in Dancer in the Dark (2000). An audience can only resent these women in their futile attempts to look ordinary. Most of us can do that more than adequately for ourselves.

Middle of the Night is based on a Broadway play by Paddy Chayefsky – who was, in the 50s, a sort of Tennessee Williams for socially conscious New York Jewish heterosexuals. March plays a wealthy businessman in the Garment District who has recently lost his wife. He is bored by his domineering and over-protective sister and his materialistic, rather vulgar offspring. He is irritated beyond endurance by his business partner (Albert Dekker) who boasts relentlessly about his sexual exploits with “tootsies.” Of course, Dekker has a secret. (Is there anyone in a Chayefsky play who does not have a secret?) That secret is revealed portentously towards the end of the film. This self-styled ladies’ man is, in fact, impotent. This being the 50s, the dialogue puts it rather more coyly: “I haven’t been good for a woman for two years.” All this palpable middle-aged angst is used as ‘motivation’ for the fact that March feels irresistible attracted to his young secretary. Does a man actually require motivation to feel attracted to Kim Novak? Some might say that all he requires is a pulse. Failing that, an artificial pacemaker will do just as well.

As the secretary, Kim tries her damnedest to look like someone’s idea of an everyday working girl. The credits reveal that her plain and sensible wardrobe was specially designed for her by Jean Louis. That is an indication of just how well she succeeds. Being a Chayefsky character, she has had no end of pain in her own life. She is recovering from a disastrous three-year marriage to a jazz musician. Although the script is too decorous to say so, it is clear their mutual attraction was based entirely on Sex. (Tennessee Williams would have made him a truck-driver or a dock-worker and posed him provocatively in a tight-fitting string vest, but Chayefsky has no flair for eroticism of any sort. A dash of Raw Sex might actually stop his characters yacking for five minutes.) Having been so badly bruised emotionally, Kim is all too vulnerable to the attentions of this adoring older man. She enters into an affair with March – but more as a relief, it seems, than as any sort of erotic awakening. To his considerable amazement, she accepts his proposal of marriage.

Incredibly enough, Kim’s mother (Glenda Farrell) turns out to be the only working-class mother in captivity who objects to her daughter marrying a kindly and courteous older man with lots of money. She urges her to dump March and go back to her penniless, two-timing musician. Why? Chayefsky’s pretensions to gritty realism are hollow at the best of times – but this particular piece of dramaturgy reveals what a fundamentally absurd writer he is. Kim gets the same argument from her best friend, who is played by Lee Grant in one of her first movie roles. Lee Grant is by no means a more gifted screen actress than Kim Novak. She is simply more adept at playing Paddy Chayefsky’s brand of highly polished, impeccably crafted junk. Nobody could ever make a silent film out of a Chayefsky play. Like that of Neil Simon (his comedic alter ego) his work consists of dialogue and nothing but. Yet Novak, like Garbo, has the ability to convey more with a mute flicker of an eyebrow than most actors with a full-blown Shakespeare solo. She slogs her way dutifully through this thick verbal porridge, like Garbo in the film of Anna Christie (1930).

It is not entirely a surprise when Kim – assailed by self-doubts and brow-beating from her family circle – gives in to temptation and has a one-night stand with her no-good ex-husband. She makes the mistake of telling March (again, why?) and he takes the news rather badly.  He tells the poor girl that hers is “a lousy kind of love.” Having been adapted with painful fidelity by Chayefsky himself, the script splits their relationship into easily digestible dramatic chunks. The lovers go from fancying one another (Act One) to adoring one another madly (Act Two) to being unable to stand the sight one another (Act Three) with barely a hint of transition in between. That is the way plays work. Alas, it is the way films do not. The director Delbert Mann (who won an Oscar for his 1955 film of Chayefsky’s Marty) dishes it all up with stifling reverence – as if it were Strindberg, at the very least.  It takes an acute visual sense to make a successful film of a stage play, as David Lean did with Blithe Spirit (1945) or Alain Resnais did with Mélo (1986). Judging from his work here, Mann seems to lack any visual sense of any sort.

Alfred Hitchcock, who immortalised Kim Novak a year before in Vertigo, complained famously that most movies are just “photographs of people talking.” It’s too bad that Middle of the Night is barely even that.

David Melville

Bonita, Meet Belita

Posted in Dance, FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2018 by dcairns

  

SUSPENSE (1946). Directed by Frank Tuttle, script by Philip Yordan, who probably hadn’t started fronting yet, so he probably did write it. Here, Bonita Granville, in rare vamp mode, tranmogrifies into ice-skating queen Belita.

Starrng Belita, Captain Mark Markary, Dr. Cyclops, Nancy Drew, Friar Tuck and Toothpick Charlie.

The only ice-skating noir film — apart from MURDER IN THE MUSIC HALL, which also has an intriguing cast (the Honorable Betty Cream, the Spirit of Christmas Past, Trigger).

Eugene Pallette’s last movie before he retreated to his fall-out shelter to await Doomsday. The plot is basically GILDA, without the homoerotic overtones, or any overtones, really.

Well, Albert Dekker does have a cat, which might mean he’s gay. But he also smokes a manly pipe, so he can’t be gay. I’m confused. He and his wife, Belita, have separate beds. But then, everybody in 1946 had separate beds.

“How can I know what you’re talking about if you don’t talk about it?” complains Huge Euge. He speaks for me.

The skating/musical numbers are pretty spectacular — Belita was a ballerina as well as an Olympic skater, so she can really move. Which is more than the rest of the film manages. It takes way too long to set up any source of the titular emotion, and doesn’t give us any reason to care. (But does GILDA? I can’t remember, but I remember it works like gangbusters.) So SUSPENSE succeeds only in moments and sequences — Tuttle may not have drilled his cast into a pacey rendition of the lines, but he stages some interesting angles once the plot finally gets going in the last act.

The drama is HUGELY helped by Daniele Amfitheatrof’s score — remember how much he contributed to LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN? Even if Ophuls complained that the Hollywood composer was like the man with the cheese in an Italian restaurant, always ready to dart in and spoon some more parmesan on our spaghetti when you’re not looking. “You have to watch him.”