Archive for An American in Paris

The Sunday Intertitle: Kid Stuff

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona had never seen THE KID — I have been slowly trying to raise her appreciation of Chaplin, a decades-long project that reached its apogee with A DOG’S LIFE, which she found delightful. She also got quite a bit of pleasure out of MODERN TIMES and THE GREAT DICTATOR. Oh, and the monkeys in THE CIRCUS had her on the floor begging for mercy, tears rolling down her face, sideways (because she was on the floor). She’ll always be a Keaton girl, which is fine, but I think you’re missing out on something if you don’t check out Chaplin.

THE KID seemed like a good bet because Chaplin is bolstered by a strong co-star. Fiona liked the dog in A DOG’S LIFE and Edna Purviance even gets to be funny in that one. And Fiona likes Paulette Goddard on principle. So I was staking everything on Jackie Coogan and on Chaplin’s chemistry with him. It worked!

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Things didn’t start too great, as the intertitle “A picture with a smile — and perhaps, a tear,” provoked the response “Oh fuck off,” which Chaplin had neglected to list in his catalogue of responses. If he had written “a smile — and perhaps a tear — or possibly an Oh Fuck Off” he would have been bang on the money.

But once Charlie gets landed with an unwanted baby, her attitude changed. Chaplin can be brutally UNsentimental, which only Walter Kerr in his majestic The Silent Clowns really acknowledges. Here, the comedy comes from the defenseless baby becoming a threat. Like Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp, or Tex Avery’s Droopy, you can’t get rid of it. When Chaplin opens a drain and briefly looks thoughtful, Fiona practically screamed in shock and then laughed in relief. “No, I can’t really do THAT,” Chaplin seems to think at us, as he closes the drain again, baby still in his arms.

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The baby then scene-changes into Jackie Coogan, and we’re pretty much home free. The little blighter is adorable and hilarious — Chaplin has schooled him in every move, you think, until you see his astonishing crying scene, which comes straight from the heart and can’t be faked or produced by imitation.

Chaplin (and his gag-writers) manages the action of scenes marvelously, developing situations into crises and finding unexpected ways to solve them. A lot of the comedy follows the baby problem pattern, turning a helpless and appealing infant into a deadly threat. The kid gets in a fight and a bulbous pugilist turns out to be the opponents brother. He’s going to pummel Charlie if his brother loses the fight. Charlie is now trying to sabotage his adopted son’s efforts. Or when Charlie, a door-to-door glazier, feels the watchful eye of a policeman on him — now the kid, suspected of throwing stones, becomes an incriminating item. Charlie must deny the association, gently kicking Jackie away with his foot. A father rejecting his son, writes Kerr, is monstrous. But here, because of the crafting of the situation, it’s hilarious. The kid is oblivious, uncomprehending, so we’re not tempted to emote at the wrong point. The man in trouble is the father.

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Chaplin still wasn’t so good at developing the whole arc of a story, and this remained his biggest difficulty. Starting out with more of a plan might have helped him, but then you look at the talkies… This leads him to the heavenly dream sequence, a heavy slice of whimsy — pointless, unfunny and positioned to paste over the fact that the plot is going to resolve itself happily without the protagonist doing anything. It’s exactly like the massive ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, only that’s entertaining in its own right. Chaplin’s paradise is more boring than Dante’s, and seems longer. “What has this got to do with anything?” asked Fiona.

But sooner than you think, the ending comes, and the film seems sort of perfect again. The good bits are sublime. The one bad bit disappears from memory like… like a dream upon awaking.

Criterion’s Blu-ray makes the film look like it was shot yesterday. Uncanny. My images come from the earlier DVD.

Slightly Scarlet

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2008 by dcairns

Superscope

Obscure wide-screen systems! I *LIVE* for obscure wide-screen systems.

lurid

Lurid titling is good also.

sisters

They are sisters! Rhonda Fleming is comforting Arlene Dahl. Nothing funny going on.

Number One With a Bullet

The film is lit by John Alton, who had an amazing track record in film noir. His work is often even more distinct than that of his directors, even when it’s somebody like Anthony Mann. Alton also lit the ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, but otherwise he didn’t get as much work as he should have because the unions disliked him for using so few lights.

I feel I should have liked this more — it combines fine noir credentials, with Alton lensing and a source novel by James M. Cain, with a women’s picture melodrama vibe. Should’ve been fabulous, but felt only intermittently so. Maybe it’s the John Payne factor, a terrible burden for any film, although I found him slightly more effective here than in THE DARK CORNER, a better film which he almost sinks. His amoral anti-hero character in this film would have been rather interesting had anyone else played it. Well, maybe not John Hodiak or John Lund or Jon Hall. Or Kent Smith. But anybody else.

Major Payne

Allan Dwan directs — it was something like his 370th film, a feat he could only accomplish by being literally immune to death. Victor Fleming once tried to hammer a stake through his heart, but it didn’t take. You know how your nose and ears continue to enlarge throughout your life? That’s what finally got him.

Rhonda's valley

But watching the film and finding the two redheads pretty appealing, I did some cyber-spadework and found Rhonda Fleming’s website, where she welcomes emails, although she’s very busy what with charity work and being a Christian and stuff. But I thought it would be cool to say “hi”, having communicated with very few Hollywood legends, really. I came up with a question to justify barging in:

“A question occurred to me about one of my favourite films — OUT OF THE PAST. I saw Jane Greer interviewed in a documentary called THE RKO STORY, where she talked about director Jacques Tourneur not speaking very good English. But Tourneur was born in America, and made all his films there, despite his father being French, so this didn’t seem right. I wondered what your memories of Tourneur are — I think he was a marvellous director and both Jane Greer and yourself were marvellously alluring and chillingly wicked in that film. Anything you can tell me would be gratefully received.”

It was actually Fiona who spotted that Greer’s recollections seemed inconsistent with the fact. A couple of days later I got a reply:

“I don’t recall too much about Director, Jacques Tourneur; it was so long ago.  However he just let me do it ‘my way’ and I don’t really remember any problem in understanding his English, but he obviously has been proven to be outstanding in directing us in roles that were diverse and full of mystery and excitement.  It was an honor to be a part of a great noir film.”

Which was very nice. It doesn’t clear up the question at all, but I can hardly blame Rhonda F. for not remembering a co-worker from sixty years ago. I can’t remember where I put my slippers.