Archive for Alma Reville

The Sunday Intertitle: An Old Spanish Costume Drama

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on May 14, 2017 by dcairns

Alexander D’Arcy’s well-known thing is THE AWFUL TRUTH, where he’s really excellent as the French poppinjay caught up in farcical misunderstandings with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. His timing is superb. So I used to wonder whatever happened to him, why he wasn’t used more often and more prominently, especially as he’s so ridiculously handsome, if you like that kind of thing. Cheekbones you could open bottles with.

But now he’s turning up in everything — there he was in TOPPER TAKES A TRIP, watched for Screwball Week. He seemed somewhat amuck, like he wasn’t getting any direction from Norman Z. McLeod and didn’t know what he was doing. A certain special logic is important in fantasy films, and this one just didn’t have it, at any level. And then it seems I’ve seen him numerous times over the years, without tumbling to it. He got to be in a Kazan, but it was MAN ON A TIGHTROPE, maybe Kazan’s worst film (“Look, I’m not a commie!”) and he’s in LA KERMESSE HEROIQUE and A NOUS LA LIBERTE and FIFTH AVENUE GIRL and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE and THE ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE. And I have no memory of noticing him in any of those. THE PRISONER OF ZENDA is an exception, because I seem to remember noticing him, but I don’t remember what the experience was actually like.

Here he is in THE ROMANCE OF SEVILLE, co-scripted by Alma Reville, Mrs. Hitchcock, a 1929 soundie (music by Hubert Bath who scored BLACKMAIL) from British International Pictures. Lots of attractive location filming in Spain, courtesy of Claude Friese-Green.

The plot starts off on conventional lines, with Alexandre, as he’s credited, meeting his betrothed for the first time (arranged marriage, ordained since the cradle) and discovering she loves another. But soon this hackneyed plot crashes into another, as he rescues a maiden from burglars. Two hackneyed plots colliding can set up some interesting, unpredictable debris, just like with locomotives. B.I.P. seem to be trying to set D’Arcy up as their own Fairbanks, with a lot of leaping off balustrades and scaling balconies and the like. Then sound came in, catching the UK with its pants down (I suspect this one’s been hastily sonorized, so the frame-rate  in the location scenes is all herky-jerky), and they evidently dismissed him as too French. D’Arcy hit Hollywood, and seems to have made a living (and achieved immortality with his short appearance in AWFUL TRUTH).

The movie gets by without Spaniards, largely. Suave villain Esteban is played by Cecil Barry of Putney. Eugenie Amami, the betrothed, gets her exotic beauty from Wallasey in Cheshire.

Arline Lord wrote the story, and Alma is credited with scenario — I’m assuming she broke it down into scenes and maybe even shots. Bits of suspense and comedy business may be down to her, as when D’Arcy meets a love rival and reaches into his jacket — only to pull out a cigarette case and offer the chap a smoke with a dazzling smile. Hitchcockian, one might say, as long as one meant Mrs. Hitchcockian.

The movie is out on DVD from Network.

 

 

 

In the beginning…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 1, 2011 by dcairns

Fred Allen introduces IT’S IN THE BAG in his best pre-post-modern style.

Fred didn’t really make it to the UK — our loss, clearly. We did get Jack Benny, but only through his movies and live appearances, and the fame those brought him didn’t last much longer than their first release. It’s ironic, since one of his favourite jokes, trundled out again during his cameo in IT’S IN THE BAG (Rudy Vallee, Don Ameche and William Bendix also guest), is that his movies are terrible. Which isn’t true, as Lubitsch and Walsh fans can testify.

JB: “Twelve members for a Jack Benny fan club? Are you being too exclusive? Do you keep out the riff-raff?”

FA: “If we kept out the riff-raff we’d only have three members.”

JB: “What about my movies?”

FA: “Ah, even the riff-raff don’t go to see those.”

JB: “Have you tried giving away dishes?”

FA: “Yes, they threw them at the screen.”

JB: “Have you tried not giving away dishes?”

FA: “Yes. They bring their own dishes and throw them at the screen.”

(Benny’s jokes at the expense of his Walsh movie, THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT — and what a great title that is! — are echoed today by Jon Stewart’s dismissive references to his own efforts in DEATH TO SMOOCHIE — which is, itself, not an uninteresting movie.)

Anyhow, IT’S IN THE BAG is just about as entertaining as this opening suggests. Gags which break the third wall are used sparingly, so the film does have a little bit of reality left to disrupt. In general, no joke is too corny or too laborious to be included, but some of the worst ones are some of the best. Alma Reville, power behind the Hitchcock throne, co-wrote, which is fascinating: I don’t exactly know what to make of it, but it’s fascinating.

Here’s an earlier Fred short, just because.

The Death of Hitchcock

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2009 by dcairns

Get out your handkerchiefs, this could get pretty emotional. I’m not kidding.

Filming in England again for FRENZY, Hitch remarked, “When I enter the studios — be it in Hollywood or in London — and the heavy doors close behind me, there is no difference. A salt mine is always a salt mine.”

I’m fascinated by this turn of phrase, equating the Master’s life work with a penal sentence, and tying the image of the movie studio to the central image of the police cell, Hitch’s primal scene, harking back to the time he was locked in a cell as a small boy with no idea of when he would be released. I happen to believe that story, which is mentioned by a character in MURDER long before Hitch seems to have told it to the press as a simplistic Freudian explanation of why he was fascinated by crime and suspense.

We shall return to that cell later…

After FAMILY PLOT was completed and had been publicized, Hitch started work on THE SHORT NIGHT a spy thriller he had acquired ten years before. He worked on a treatment with Norman Lloyd for a time, then snubbed him when Lloyd balked at the idea of jumping straight into a screenplay. Hitch tried writing by himself, but he’d always used collaborators, and nothing got done. It must have been lonely and depressing. Then came Ernest Lehman again, despite Hitchcock’s having been rather tired by Lehman on FAMILY PLOT. Work went well, but Lehman resisted a rape-murder scene from Ronald Kirkbride’s source novel, and Hitch decided he needed another writer.

Universal fixed him up with David Freeman, who wrote about the collaboration later in The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock. Despite the fact that the action played out in England and Finland, they proceeded as if the film would get made: Hitch would simply have a second unit shoot background plates and he’d make the thing in the studio. Lew Wasserman, Hitch’s old agent and now head of Universal, let it be known that Hitch had made a fortune for the studio and if keeping him happy in his declining years cost them a couple of million, it was money well spent.

Hitchcock was arthritic, overweight, had a heart condition and a pacemaker, but the thought of making another film kept him going.

Meanwhile, Alma’s health was in decline: strokes left her disabled and confused. She resented Hitch’s going to work and  leaving her, and some mornings she would spew obscenities at him as he left the house. A stroke can have a disinhibiting effect on language: even little old ladies often say “Fucking hell,” as their first words upon recovering the power of speech. Robert Bolt though this was because the words sound so good, but it’s also due to the internal censor being knocked out of action. Alma Reville’s brain was behaving like Hollywood after the collapse of the Hays Code.

Charlotte Chandler’s “personal biography” of Hitchcock, It’s Only a Movie, ends in this unbearably moving fashion:

‘Near the end of his life, Hitchcock said that when he and Alma realized they couldn’t travel anymore, it was then that they really felt old. “We could have traveled,” he said, but it would have been like trying to make movies when you really can’t.

‘Hitchcock was a romantic, as was his wife. They had spoken about just one more trip to the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz, perhaps for Christmas, their favourite time to be there to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

‘”Neither of us wanted to disappoint the other,” he said, “by admitting to not believing the possibility existed. Then, Alma and I stopped talking about our next trip to St. Moritz. Each of us had come to understand that it wasn’t a place we wanted to return to, but a time.

‘”The worst thing, you know, is when you cannot go back to a place where you have always been happy,” he said, “because you are afraid that if you go back, you won’t be happy–not because the place has changed, but because you have changed.”

Finally, Hitch called a producer in and asked him to tell Lew Wasserman that THE SHORT NIGHT was off. “I can’t face him.” Within a day, Hitch’s office had been cleared. His staff were resentful that they’d had no warning of their approaching redundancy, but Hitch hadn’t known himself. For a while he still came into the empty office and had his haircut. Then he stopped coming.

Hitchcock went to bed. He refused food. If visitors came, he swore at them and drove them out. Hitchcock, whose brother had committed suicide, willed himself to die. His doctor said later that his system was still basically strong, and he could have gone on a few years, but he didn’t want to. It wasn’t exactly suicide, Hitchcock didn’t do anything to bring about his death. He just avoided doing the things that would keep him alive. If there was no movie, there was no point.

Jay Presson Allen’s screenplay for MARY ROSE, perhaps the most fascinating of Hitchcock’s unmade films, ends with a slow pull-back from a remote, magical, and sinister island, with this voice-over, quoted in Bill Krohn’s seminal Hitchcock at Work:

Well, that’s it. Let’s go back home now.

(ironically)

There, of course, it’s raining…

THE CAMERA begins to retreat. The Island grows smaller, smaller.

…as usual. And there’s a naughty boy waiting for punishment and an old villager who had the fatal combination of weak heart and bad temper. He’s waiting to be buried. All the usual, dependable, un-islandy things.

(He sighs deeply.)

You understand.

I think I do. It’s raining back home because it always seems to be raining when we leave a movie, doesn’t it? (Plus, the movie is set in Scotland.) The naughty boy awaiting punishment (in a police cell?) and the old man with the weak heart are both Hitchcock, at opposite ends of his life, aren’t they? (The Tralfamadorians see human beings as long centipedes, with baby legs at one end and old arthritic ones at the other). On the Island That Likes to be Visited, imagination rules. It’s a frightening, mysterious place, and Hitch had the power to go there in his mind and return at will.

Alma lived on for two years, “as happy as a clam,” according to daughter Pat. Although she attended Hitch’s funeral, she had no idea he was gone. “Hitch is in the next room,” she would whisper, confidentially.

I wondered what 2010 would be like now Hitchcock Year is done — odd, not having him around. But Hitchcock is always around when you’re talking about film.

“Hitch is in the next room.”

Best wishes to all Shadowplayers in the New Year!