Archive for Andy Devine

Final Curtain for Mr. Curtiz

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2018 by dcairns

This is a hilarious directorial credit: an unresurrected Christ lying just below the moniker of a man moments from death himself. Well, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

The idea of making a study of late Curtiz would normally only occur to somebody actually writing a book on the Hungarian-born filmmaker, because the view has long been that Curtiz had a strong sense of visual style but no particular set of obsessions to make a traditional auteur of him. So why look at his later, not-so good movies?

Curtiz made every kind of film, it seems. (Those who claim to have made every kind of film tend to be lacking in the horror, sci-fi and musical departments, but Curtiz made those too.) He brought a strong visual sensibility, but apparently cared nothing for themes and not much for actors or story. His boss, Jack Warner, wrote: “I had a general conversation with Mike Curtiz in the usual Curtiz manner in the dining room at noon, and all he talked about were the sets and that he wants to build a fort somewhere else, and all a lot of hooey. I didn’t hear him say a word about the story. In other words, he’s still the same old Curtiz—as he always will be!”

B. Kite is very good on this here. (Scroll down past my nonsense.)

B. also once opined to me that Curtiz maybe only works in black & white, though perhaps it’s truer and fairer to say that a certain quality of Curtiz comes through strongest that way. I think his two-strip terrors MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM and DOCTOR X. are terrific, so maybe Curtiz is still Curtiz with two strips of colour, but loses out with three. There are definitely good colour films made by Curtiz: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, WE’RE NO ANGELS, etc. But they don’t quite have the distinct visual splendour of his WB monochrome movies. B. sees him, I think, as a very pure channel for the WB house style.

Still, the first thing to be said about Curtiz’s last three features is that they’re visually lovely, at least in places. All three are widescreen, and he seems able to adapt his tight compositions to the 1:2.35 frame ratio more comfortably than I would imagine 1:1.88 might suit him. A degree of difficulty helps him, and widescreen and academy ratio are both hard to compose for (snakes and funerals on the one hand, bungalows and bulldogs on the other).

   

THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1960) is frequently absolutely gorgeous, which matters a lot because it doesn’t quite find the right tone: you feel like some very good humour is being reported to you by somebody who doesn’t quite get it. Eddie Hodges (Huck) and Archie Moore (Jim) are decent, but don’t seem to gel with each other or anybody else. The rest of the cast go for big and broad: Tony Randall makes the most and then some of a series of phony accents, partnered up with Mickey Shaugnessy to create a team similar to the bad guys in Disney’s PINOCCHIO; Buster Keaton forms another of his unlikely double acts with Andy Devine, and doesn’t get to MOVE; Finlay Currie is fine as always. The best completely straight perf is Neville Brand, authentically scary and nasty as Pap Finn.

Now, as far back as THE EGYPTIAN in 1954, Peter Ustinov had formed the impression that Curtiz was not all there. He had always laboured under a considerable linguistic handicap (his mangling of the language was legendary, and wonderfully poetic at times — “Bring on the empty horses!” was evocative enough for David Niven to use it as title for one of his memoirs), and this combined with age and his disengagement from his actors maybe made him not the ideal man to do Twain. But he had succeeded at many other unlikely subjects in the past.

The Cinemascope stiffness, coupled with Curtiz’s own, the big, forced performances, and a lot of overplaying whenever Huck has to invent a “stretcher,” combine to stifle most of the comic possibilities here, so what we get instead is some moderate suspense and a pageant of grotesque characters and attractive settings. Ted D. McCord does a great job shooting it and Jerome Moross provides a typically ebullient score. It’s not poor, but it’s not quite alive.

Never mind, FRANCIS OF ASSISI (1961) is a religious epic, so you wouldn’t ever expect it to be alive, and it sure doesn’t disappoint. Saint-to-be Francis is played by a series of beautiful matte paintings of Bradford Dillman, Stuart Whitman is his frenemy/rival, and Dolores Hart the girl he throws over for God. She’s the only one in the film who breathes any humanity into her role, struggling against stiff dialogue and stilted situations. There’s a surprising lack of miracles and the animal-taming bit is given very  little play, surprisingly. Finlay Currie is fine as always, promoted from riverboat captain to pope, a big step up for an Edinburgh man.

   

Lots of spectacle, some of it impressive. The landscapes and the groupings of people fill the frame inventively, but Curtiz’s signature camera moves are becoming ever less frequent. He’ll push in occasionally; follow people about a little; but the grand sweep of his glory days when he’d hurry on to a set at an acute angle to the action, letting foreground furniture flash past, that’s all gone.

Bradford Dillman is someone I quite like, but he’s hopelessly adrift here. I’m not sure who could animate the script’s plaster saint. Occasional lines referring to Francis as “little” make you imagine someone intended him to be mild-mannered and tiny: by chance, Mervyn Johns is to hand, and I thought to myself, “Get me a young Mervyn Johns.” It can only work as a character part, as it’s so sexless. (Dillman could have slid some sly sensuality in there if there’d been the faintest opportunity: isn’t that what he’s for? Those lips!)

Piero Portalupi shot it and Mario Nascimbene provides the choral uplift.The film Curtiz bowed out on, however, was THE COMANCHEROS, released the same year (Curtiz died, aged 75, the following year). It’s pretty fair, I guess. If I liked John Wayne a bit more, or Stuart Whitman at all, I might call it an impressive finish for him. I think Whitman is miscast as a New Orleans gent on the run for killing a man in a duel. A lot of this movie is supposed to be enjoyable because of the spectacle of the plebeian Duke shoving his highfalutin prisoner around, but Whitman isn’t enough of a toff. You need Peter Lawford, probably. Wow, I never thought I’d type those words.

John Wayne had quite a track record of late films, didn’t he? After all there’s this, RIO LOBO, which was Howard Hawks’ last; BIG JAKE, George Sherman’s last; JET PILOT, a late Sternberg; BLOOD ALLEY, a late Wellman; TRUE GRIT, a late Hathaway; and THE CONQUEROR, which killed just about everyone in it. He also directed his own last film as director, BIG JAKE THE GREEN BERETS, and starred in his own last film as actor, THE SHOOTIST, a conscious self-elegy. I guess he just liked working with old guys when he was old, The most charming moment in THE COMANCHEROS is when Wayne signs into a hotel using the pseudonym “Ed McBain” and we notice that cinematographer William H. Clothier and the rest of the crew have checked in ahead of him. Curtiz hasn’t checked in, probably because he’s too busy checking out.

The best scene is a poker game where the single-source lighting is really beautiful and Wayne looks SO different and so much more interesting. Also playing is Lee Marvin, a bad guy with half a scalp (you could probably build a whole other Lee Marvin out of the bits Marvin had removed in his various characterisations). Elsewhere, the Arizona and Utah settings are epic and prehistoric. The finale is a bit pathetic: leading lady Ina Balin has to get over the death of her bad guy father in abound four seconds so she can look overjoyed at the happy ending. See also the studio-imposed finish of ONE-EYED JACKS.

Elmer Bernstein does the music on this one, and although it’s a bit more stately than THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, as befits Wayne’s age and lumbering gait, you get the idea. It seemed kind of weird to me how the music stays celebratory during life-and-death conflicts and chases. Shouldn’t we be taking this seriously?THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN: Starring Rockwell P. Hunter, Rhoda Penmark, Maj. Marvin Groper, Hunk Houghton, Daisy Hawkins, Link Appleyard, Rollo Treadway, Reinhardt Heidrich, Winnie the Pooh, Tom Fury, Johnny Farragut and Magwitch.

FRANCIS OF ASSISI: Starring Big Eddie, Lisa Held, Orvil Newton, Prof. Thurgood Elson, Dr. Stern, Mrs. Karswell, Bob Cratchit and Magwitch again.

THE COMANCHEROS: Starring Ethan Edwards, Orvil Newton again, Little Bonaparte, Liberty Valance, Lt. Greenhill, John Driscoll, Charlie Max and Garbitsch.

PAROXYSM

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2018 by dcairns

Renfield Lane, Glasgow, named after Dwight Frye’s most famous character. And, when the image of Joe Dante appeared on the screen inside The Old Hairdressers, he had a picture of Dwight Frye on the wall behind him. Synchronicity, or just good planning?

To Glasgow, to Scalarama’s presentation of Joe Dante’s THE MOVIE ORGY, in its five-hour form. This is essentially a mash-up/collage of footage from movies, TV shows, commercials, trailers and other ephemera, with appearances by Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, Richard Nixon, Abbot & Costello, Ann-Margret, Elisha Cook Jr, Conway Twitty, and future Dante players Christopher Lee and Peter Graves, among many, many others.

I wouldn’t have attempted photography if I hadn’t sat at the back (near the bar) but sitting at the back meant my photographs were crummy.

This was — maybe — the first time the movie has screened without Dante in attendance — which is the least exciting world’s first I can imagine — except it’s such a rarity it still felt like an EVENT — and the auteurless showing did have a prerecorded intro from the Great Man which set up the circumstances of the film/thing’s original creation and its campus screenings, the sociopolitical circumstances, and the fact that baby boomers got a nostalgic kick out of re-seeing TV commercials and kids’ shows of their youth (in that era, such stuff screened briefly and then vanished into oblivion). The movie plays somewhat differently to a modern audience, who have no history with much of this material, but the extracts are so well-selected that pretty much everything is funny in and of itself AND in the way it’s juxtaposed with the clip before and the clip after…

I was present in my combined role of critic and disease vector, distributing cold germs free of charge to the people of Glasgow. My physical discomfort, developing into a horrible attack of dyspepsia after I had one pint of the beer on tap (nothing wrong with the beer, just my body), did not prevent me enjoying the thing hugely. There are moments in there that resemble my own modest movie trailer mash-ups, but devised by Dante when I was around a year old.

I recognized ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN and THE GIANT GILA MONSTER and EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS and THE BEGINNING OF THE END which are dismembered and redistributed throughout the film/experience in serial form, but I’d never seen (or heard of) SPEED CRAZY (William J. Hole Jr), COLLEGE CONFIDENTIAL (Albert Zugsmith) and though I thought I knew what TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE was, I now realize I’d been confusing it with INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, somehow, and I have to see the whole thing.

SPEED CRAZY is a sort of hot rod crime flick in which the maniac anti-hero snarls “Don’t crowd me, Joe!” in literally every scene. Bigger laughs each time.

That’s probably possible, but getting hold of TV show Andy’s Gang, in which a senescent Andy Devine drones hymns at bored kids, accompanied by a cat and mouse strapped into exoskeletal harness costumes which force them to play musical instruments, may prove trickier.

Oh wait, we have YouTube!

Happy nightmares!

Dante described the film/organism as a kind of Rosetta stone of his future work, and indeed numerous points of connection can be drawn, but the real link is THE MOVIE ORGY’s very postmodernity, its vision of a great ocean of pop culture in which all this stuff floats and intermingles, so that Chuck Jones and Roger Corman are artists, but they’re also sources, pumping out raw material that flows into this great Solaris/Matmos, which surrounds us but also penetrates us, and binds the universe together.

There are also several things in the film which can be enjoyed sort-of unironically, like the above Abbot & Costello routine, from IN SOCIETY. I dimly remember seeing this as a kid and finding it funny but also baffling and disturbing, which is exactly how I responded seeing it again. It’s a variation on the more famous “Slowly I turned” routine, in which someone is crazy but only Lou (the fat one) sees it. Only here, Bud (the thin one), also sees it, but just kind of refuses to acknowledge it. And it’s not one crazy person  the whole population is crazy. It really has the quality of a nightmare and what makes it more upsetting is that it doesn’t have any logic or justification other than using repetition as a structure. It’s really a bad dream, but a funny one.

Also also, more mysteriously, there are some more lewd and scurrilously satirical sketches, in the movie/event, which might be Robert Downey Sr. skits or something, I’m not sure. Like the smoking surgeon in the clip above. And an amazing epic heaven sequence with the camera craning over a limitless cloudscape of harpists — really impressive kitsch visuals, and what the hell is that from, Joe?

“Now it’s time to say good-bye…”

Oh, and one more thing. Don’t crowd me, Joe!

Big Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by dcairns

Yesterday —

9am THE ROAD BACK — major James Whale, a rediscovered director’s cut. Huge production values and a brilliant script by R.C. Sherrif which mingles humour with the tragedy. “It was nice to see Andy Devine being given big things to do.” If it has a flaw, it’s an over-literal approach to emotion, an on-the-nose quality, so that if a character is written as wistful, Whale casts the most wistful guy he can get and has him play it wistful. This cuts down on the humanity you get in something like THE MORTAL STORM or (showing here later) LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW?

10.45am SHERLOCK HOLMES. Kept my seat and let them project another movie at me. This was William K. Howard’s 1931 tongue-in-cheek travesty, with Clive Brook dragging up and Ernest Torrence hamming it up. I’d seen a very fuzzy copy in which it was clear Howard was trying interesting things, mainly montages in between the scripted pages — on the big screen, in splendid quality, his direction seemed even more dazzling. Second John George sighting this fest.

12 DESTINATION UNKNOWN. Early thirties Tay Garnett is a mixed bag, but after HER MAN wowed everyone last year, we had high hopes for this. Visually, it doesn’t deliver anything like the same panache, but it fascinates by its oddness. A semi-wrecked rum-runner drifts aimlessly, becalmed. The gangsters, led by Pat O’Brien’s mild wheedle, have control of the water supply. The sailors, led by Alan Hale’s ridiculous Swedish accent, want to get it. Nobody is sympathetic. Then Ralph Bellamy turns up, effulgent. Everyone seems to think they recognise him — from long ago when they were innocent. A religious parable is clearly being palmed off on us, but we’re also tempted to anticipate the line, “He looks like that guy in the movies, what’s his name, Ralph Bellamy.”

The creepy Jesus pulls off one startling miracle, changing wine into water.

Very spirited work from Chas. Middleton (Ming the Merciless), who actually throws in a dog bark at the end of a line, out of sheer joie de vivre.

Fish and chips for lunch, with Charlie Cockey.

14.15 KINEMACOLOR — running late I missed the explanation of how this miracle process worked, but the results are striking, and became even more so when I remembered to take off my sunglasses.

16.00 I remained in my seat to see MILDRED PIERCE, stunningly restored — better than new? “I’m so smart it’s a disease.”

18.15 THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. In a way, I was remaining in my seat to see the thing that terrified me on a small black and white screen as a kid. Here it was on a huge colour screen and I was front row centre, looking right up that cyclops’ nose. I guess they’ll never be able to get the grain remotely consistent — that would be remaking, not restoration — the cave entrance, which I assumed was a matte painting, looks very granular indeed, as do the titles. During monster bits, the monsters are much finer-grained than their backgrounds, but oddly the matte shots with tiny Kathryn Grant seem very sharp. All this will be less problematic on a smaller screen and if you’re not front row centre, of course. The efforts to get the film looking as good as it can (faded Eastmancolor negative — the image is now vibrant again) are appreciated.

Dinner with friends Nicky, Sheldon, et al.

22.15 CARBON ARC PROJECTION. More early colour processes, two vintage projectors. Beautiful. I was very tired and snuck away before the end.