Archive for Aline McMahon

Auto Camp

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2017 by dcairns

So, I don’t know these things, not being American — is Big Ed’s Gas Farm in Twin Peaks a recognisable kind of thing? Do service stations get called stuff like “gas farms” in the US? In pre-code HEAT LIGHTNING, sisters Aline McMahon and Ann Dvorak run an “auto camp” out in the desert, and the characters who pass through (a multifarious bunch) accept the name as if it were an entirely familiar concept. To us, it’s like a service station with a tiny motel out back.

Brilliant film. Part of Warners’ unofficial program to document the full panoply of American life. They had to do an auto camp eventually. I’m a little sad they never got around to making a film based entirely in an automat. I love automats.

McMahon & Dvorak and Preston Foster & Lyle Talbot provide drama, while such interlopers as Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, Glenda Farrell, Edgar Kennedy and Jane Darwell provide comedy. The balance is spot on. It has the structure of a play, but never seems theatrical, thanks to the WB house style and the atmospheric location shooting.

Something strange and interesting — since the cafe is a central part of the action, and it has big windows, the film features an unusual fluidity between indoors and outdoors. Some scenes are simultaneously both, like a conversation conducted by the sisters through a screen door (in which Mervyn Leroy is guilty of one of his semi-regular confusing line-crosses). Either Warners shot on location at a real auto camp or they built the whole place in situ.

Never do this.

And then a funny thing happens when night falls. Since location night shooting without obvious light sources would be a real headache, and since the story requires lightning bolts to illuminate the sky, the second part of the film switches to the studio. The whole set of buildings is reconstructed in an artificial landscape, with each rock, each joshua tree replaced by an identical replica.  We seem to have relocated, yet not to have moved. The black cyclorama representing the night sky is lit up by quick flashes, and it’s some of the most convincing movie lightning I’ve seen, far better in terms of realism than all those jagged animations, which always wiggle about too long, determined to be appreciated as spectacle.

The slightly uncanny doubling of the film’s sole setting reminded me of another service station, the sinister Convenience Store known as The Dutchman’s, recently seen in Twin Peaks. (We have convenience stores too, sort of, but usually without petrol pumps.) And that in turn reminded Fiona of the fatal service station in Sapphire and Steel, which TP co-creator has surely seen…

The Lynchian conceptual link is cemented by the fact that this seems to be the ur-text of a persistent noir meme, in which a character — McMahon in this case — leaves behind a shady or corrupt life in order to work at a service station — a meme continued by Burt Lancaster in THE KILLERS, Robert Mitchum in OUT OF THE PAST, Brian Donlevy in IMPACT, and finally (to date, so far as I’m aware) and most strangely, Balthazar Getty in LOST HIGHWAY…

Steele yourself

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 4, 2014 by dcairns

Barbara_Steele

Daniel Riccuito’s article on Beautiful Babs, which I had a tiny frozen hand in, has a new home, at MUBI. Here. Substantially reworked from the version that appeared at The Chiseler, and so worth your time revisiting.

Festival burnout struck me on Wednesday and I fell asleep during Heinosuke Gosho’s gentle comedy THE BRIDE TALKS IN HER SLEEP (1933) — I have never fallen aslep in a movie in my life, but my usual nocturnal insomnia and the warmth of the venue had me slipping into Morpheus’ embrace the instant the lights dimmed. So since then I’ve been aiming myself at the kind of stuff that keeps you awake — Freda’s THE HORRIBLE SECRET OF DR HICHCOCK, Pabst’s Hitler film THE LAST ACT, the restored LADY FROM SHANGHAI. And an early night tonight.

McMahon Overboard

Posted in FILM with tags , , on January 26, 2011 by dcairns

Lo! From Cousin It to It Girl.

Images from GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933.

Chiseling again! Over at The Chiseler, by the miracle of virtual teletype, you can read a new article, or, as ace editor Daniel Riccuito puts it, “seance”, on the subject of the divine Aline McMahon, a favourite and to my mind greatly underappreciated screen goddess of the quirky kind. I’m reasonably pleased with the piece, which emerged in a single session of rapturous transport, only I don’t think I did justice to the McMahon lips, impossibly long, slender yet elaborately flared labial extrusions from an alternate universe where kisses are measured in aeons.