Archive for Allan Dwan

Shadows

Posted in Dance, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2017 by dcairns

Allan Dwan’s ONE MILE TO HEAVEN (1937) got popped into the Samsung at Fiona’s suggestion — she wanted to see more Fredi Washington, and this was the seminal IMITATION OF LIFE star’s swan song. It’s an odd film — perhaps the finest cast of tulpas ever assembled.

The most prominent doppelganger was child star Joan Carroll (billed as Joan Carol for some reason, possibly to save on type). An alarmingly precise Shirley Temple clone only without the singing or acting, this moppetganger plays Fredi’s daughter, and the plot revolves around the vexed question of whether the blonde sprog could be the black woman’s natural offspring.

The second animate thought-form in the cast is Sally Blane, lookalike sister of Loretta Young, a sort of lorettaganger if you will, who turns out to be the child’s natural mother, now a wealthy socialite who believes the child dead.

The rest of the players aren’t exactly shades or walkers, but they have their uncanny aspects. the actual lead is Claire Trevor as a fast-thinking reporter, looking startlingly fresh in this pre-STAGECOACH role. Her anything-for-a-story approach actually makes her, in a sense, the heavy of the piece, threatening Fredi and little Joan’s happiness, but the film deftly distracts us from this by putting her up against a trio of flyblown heels, fellow reporters who are nasty chauvinists, forcing us to root for Claire, in a slightly conflicted way.

Also present: Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who’s partly on hand to help make us believe that this is a Shirley Temple picture, partly to add to the sense of a black community, which Fiona identified as the movie’s strongest asset. Bill plays a tapdancing policeman (Dwan proves to be an inept filmer of dance, alas) — when else have you seen a black cop in a thirties movie? We also see black shopkeepers, including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson in unconvincing old age drag. The black people in this film aren’t train porters, maids and shoeshine boys: Fredi is a seamstress (for once, this profession is not a Code-friendly synonym for prostitution), and there’s a real sense of urban community, with the district NOT represented as a dystopian ghetto. Sentimentalizing poverty is another problem, of course, and this isn’t that more realistic than the rural black community in TALES OF MANHATTAN, but it does offer at least an alternative representation to the prevailing stereotypes of the thirties and after.

We see Robinson shuffle at the policeman’s ball, where we also meet a fresh-faced copper played by Lon Chaney Jnr. Sadly, we don’t get to see HIS act — I’m imagining either a lycanthropic quick-change routine or a magic show where he crushes rabbits INTO his hat.

I haven’t seen Robinson in anything since I was a little kid. Shirley Temple movies, like Jerry Lewis movies, seemed to be on A LOT. Interesting how Temple still connects strongly with little kid audiences (try it on your offspring, if you have any — they make a brilliant platform for cinematic experiments), and a shame how they aren’t being exposed to her. But my memory of Robinson was “old guy who dances” — he’s not old at all, just bald and, as Fiona remarked, absolutely gorgeous. His eye-rolling minstrel business IS embarrassing (Fredi was asked to do this earlier in her career and simply refused), and Dwan’s insistence on fragmenting the dance numbers into close-ups of feet (but dance happens with the WHOLE BODY) and face (but you NEED TO SEE THE FEET) is endlessly vexatious.

But but but. This lightly likable film deserves all kinds of credit for the many little ways it departs from the toxic norms of representation of its day.

Did you catch the story about the Memphis, Tennessee cinema taking off GONE WITH THE WIND due to complaints about the film’s racial insensitivity? I must admit, I kind of thought GOOD. That apologia for slavery has had a free pass for way too long. I think it should be screened — but screened kind of like the way BIRTH OF A NATION is screened, with discussion and context or at least shared awareness. It’s not AS nasty a film as BOAN, and Hattie McDaniel is a fine actor who deserves appreciation, but it’s problematic enough that simply calling it a “classic” and looking the other way never struck me as adequate.

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Canal Knowledge

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 21, 2016 by dcairns

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Well, after five and a half majestic hours of Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON on the big screen I ought to have plenty to blog about this week. But my first observations are going to be pathetically trivial.

Being a newcomer to this movie — I purposely held off on watching it until I could see it projected with an audience — I’m not sure how much new footage may be included in Mr. Brownlow’s latest restoration. And my unwatched DVD turns out to be taken from Francis Ford Coppola’s somewhat pruned version of the movie — he de-restored it a bit for US consumption, apparently feeling himself better qualified to produce a director’s cut than Gance himself. So all I can say is that the version currently screening in select venues turns out to have more Annabella than the Coppola cut. I don’t know if this is because FCC thought we could do with a life of Bonaparte containing about 30% less gamine, or because more footage of the elfin one has since turned up. Here she is ~

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The upper intertitle made me smile, because there happens to be a film called SUEZ, directed by Allan Dwan, dealing with the construction of the famous canal, and Annabella is in it, along with her then husband, Tyrone Power (what should we call that marriage – lavender, open, or just plain peculiar?).

SUEZ is a pretty dull film. Zanuck’s Fox was just the kind of studio where somebody would make the assumption that a large civil engineering project would automatically make a good movie. But if you look in the Yellow Pages under “civil engineering” it says “see boring,” and rightly so.

Annabella provides the only minute of interest in the film, using her breasts.

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Seconded to Alexandria to prepare the canal, Ty Power immediately chances upon a runaway bathing machine and a naked damsel in distress, played by his offscreen wife. Though her character is supposed to be anxious to conceal herself beneath the conveniently opaque waters of her oasis, Annabella herself seems more interesting in bobbing up and down and revealing as much as possible.

And so, a unique sight for 1938 — a topless woman covering her breasts with her hands. Might not seem that shocking, but I can’t think of any similar view in a film of that period.

Tyrone is the perfect gentleman, returns the bathing machine, Annabella gets dressed, and then, in a bit of screwball slapstick, the couple both fall in the water. Cue 1938’s second surprise image, the wet shirt scene ~

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This is, in motion, even more explicit than it looks here. Annabella’s shirt becomes a translucent membrane, clinging to her boyish figure like a second skin. Ahem.

I realize I am probably apt to overrate the importance and interest of female breasts in the scheme of things. But this double violation of censorship norms seems to require a theory to explain it. The only explanation I can come up with is a rather sad one: the Breen Office allowed Annabella’s breasts to make themselves known because they are very small, and they didn’t think they counted.

I think they count, Annabella! And everyone thought you were much cuter than Josephine in NAPOLEON.

Pretty lame to be pondering this after seeing the wonder that is Gance’s masterpiece, I know. But that movie has a bunch of much more fulsome and unabashed nudity, so in a way I’m being restrained by focussing on this modest sample.

(As ace researcher Christine Leteux discovered, there was once even more of Annabella in NAPOLEON. I mean screen time, not flesh. Intriguingly, the deleted scene linked to here is more dramatic than anything remaining of A’s performance in the film.)

Sheep Shape

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2016 by dcairns

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BLACK SHEEP is an obscure Fox picture from Allan Dwan which is suprirsingly solid, amusing, charming, and touching.

Trivia: one of the stars is Adrienne Ames (pictured, left). She married actor Bruce Cabot. According to the IMDb ~

“In 1938 the pair appeared before a US Tax Appeals Board to explain why she wrote off more than $9000 in wardrobe and jewelry on her 1934 tax form, which she claimed was necessary for “professional reasons” (as was her maid). She claimed that her “daily expenses” included flowers, massages, taxis and beauty work.”

This is somehow perfect — the way she plays her role in BLACK SHEEP is entirely consistent with her real-life behaviour! “Stay away from that vampire,” advises Edmund Lowe.

I made this cute little picture the subject of this fortnight’s Forgotten.

At the Notebook.