Archive for Ann Todd

Fleshy rogue

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2012 by dcairns

It was rather unfair of me to suggest Ray Milland as good casting for the as-yet-imaginary David Cameron biopic THE TAPIOCA LUNGFISH. It doesn’t reflect the warmth with which I regard Milland, one of cinema’s finest Welshmen. Mainly it was due to his uncanny ability to suggest shiftiness, a quality I controversially suggested was due to his ever-so-slightly bulbous face, another point of comparison with Cameron. As a paunchy, bloated character myself, I felt qualified to judge.

Milland wasn’t always a trifle chubby — we see him in the excellent Cagney vehicle BLONDE CRAZY as a near starveling, his face a sort of skin tent erected on a knobby stick framework. It’s a shock just to see this unconvincing impersonation of human physiognomy, and a second shock to recognize Milland, somehow concealed behind it. His wan and wispy features look like they might snap off in a moderate-to-high wind, and his overall appearance suggests some dust that’s got on the celluloid. Where is the beloved roly-poly cad we know and love?

Actually, revisiting the film, I find both shocks have paled — seeing Milland stripped of his apple-cheeks was initially alarming, and it’s weird seeing him in the more noticeable cosmetics of the 1930s, but he doesn’t actually look bad. Just not himself.

Flash back further, to THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, his 1929 debut, and we see a perfectly balanced flesh-to-Milland ratio. The fellow’s probably just out of the Guards, at his physical peak. It looks like he starved in Hollywood for the first couple of years, then made a success and started eating rather too well.

Anyway, thanks to a recommendation by the Self-Styled Siren, in a typically delightful piece running down her most enjoyable vintage viewings of 2011, we watched SO EVIL MY LOVE, which is prime Milland untrustworthiness, giving the lie to Billy Wilder’s rather harsh assessment of his former collaborator (“Not an Oscar-winning actor” — expressing his view that it was his own script for THE LOST WEEKEND which won for Milland). He’s paired with Ann Todd, whose somewhat icy demeanour is extremely well-used.

It’s a gaslight melodrama with shades of noir, and forms a nice trio of Lewis Allen-directed fog thrillers, along with ghostly THE UNSEEEN and THE UNINVITED. Mutz Greenbaum (AKA Max Greene) shot it, with the glossy and pellucid shadows of his German origins. This may be what got him the gig on NIGHT AND THE CITY.

Chronology — Milland was having a very good year, with THE BIG CLOCK also on his schedule. Weirdly, we watched Moira Lister’s previous movie, another tale of homicide in London, WANTED FOR MURDER, the previous evening. She makes little impression in her fleeting appearance there, but she’s wonderful in the Allen film, seizing the chance to embody a zestful, venal slut.

The movie also has great work from Geraldine Fitzgerald, whose fate calls to mind UNCLE HARRY in the same way that Todd’s evokes MADELEINE, and from Raymond Huntley, whose wonderfully dislikable face (dis)graced innumerable British films but very few Hollywood productions.

Anyway, so inspired by it was I, I immediately dashed off a couple of limericks, which after suitable analysis and manipulation by the excellent Hilary Barta, are available to view at Limerwrecks, here.

At that same site, some more poetic appreciation of DR PHIBES, a fellow who will long be celebrated in song and doggerel. This one’s a collaboration with Hil, this matched pair is by me, and here’s another. But there are others, occasionally with titles by me — scroll around and enjoy!

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Paradine Syndrome

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2009 by dcairns

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A virtual clone of a short from REBECCA.

I must have tried to watch Hitchcock’s THE PARADINE CASE a half-dozen times. Now I can say that I’ve actually seen it, but I can’t say much more (proceeds to write several hundred words). The movie seems to slide off me.

Despite specialising more or less in crime thrillers, Hitch stayed out of the courtroom as much as he could (I can recall the divorce court in EASY VIRTUE, the inquest in REBECCA, but note how Hitch keeps the camera in the jury room in MURDER while the verdict is read out offscreen, and how he spies on the trial at the opening of NOTORIOUS, peeking through the door as if superstitious about entering. Hitch also, famously, avoided whodunnits, except here and in MURDER. I accept most of his arguments against them (the whodunnit us an intellectual game, like the crossword), and also observe one more uncomfortable fact — he’s not very good at them.

Gregory Peck is Anthony Keane, counsel for the defense, a notoriously passionate lawyer who falls in love with accused murderess Mrs Paradine ([Alida] Valli), jeopardizing his marriage and his career, while trying to pin the guilt on either her murdered husband (suicide), or the groom (Louis Jourdan0 with whom she may have been having an affair.

Hitchcock himself reckoned THE PARADINE CASE was miscast, with Louis Jourdan too suave to be a horny handyman (yet LJ is the most compelling figure in the film by a country mile) and certainly David O Selznick’s screenplay, written during the shoot, is a big problem, verbose and lumbering and devoid of sympathetic characters or dynamic momentum. Fascinating players like Charles Coburn and Charles Laughton are somewhat wasted, while less-than-fascinating players like Gregory Peck and Ann Todd are spread thin, and at their least appealing. And Selznick’s dialogue keeps on about how fascinating Valli is supposed to be, but the screenwriter doth protest too much. And when did Selznick decide he was a WRITER?

The dispiriting shoot consisted of Selznick’s new pages coming in sometime in the morning, so nothing could be shot until afternoon, and still Selznick would moan that the filming was going too slowly. Hitch had large, expensive sets built, and was marooned on them for ages, as the bloated production sweated money from every pore.

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Clone of shot from YOUNG AND INNOCENT.

On the plus side, there’s Lee Garmes’ lustrous and lambent lighting, moody and noirish and serving up numerous striking shots, especially of Valli and Jourdan. I quite liked the tetchy, affectionate relationship between Coburn and his daughter, Joan Tetzel, which has a bit of energy, but they mainly discuss what everybody else is up to, until the trial, when JT sits in the public gallery explaining the events to Ann Todd, and to us in the audience, like some kind of benshi film describer. Actually, a huge amount of the film consists of descriptions of thing it might be nice to see. Nobody investigates the murder. When the trial finally starts, all at once we get a lot of plot information, which kind of adds up to a realization that the prosecution doesn’t really have any case at all.

Where was I? Oh yes, the positive side. Well, if Coburn and Tetzel = Hitch and Pat, then Peck and Todd could be Hitch and Alma. Their introductory scene does actually do a fair job of portraying a happily married couple approaching the danger zone where they take things for granted, and making us care about the relationship. But once the case begins, Peck’s baffling amour fou for the glum and uninteresting Valli robs him of all sympathy, and since he’s pretty inactive as a character, we can’t replace sympathy with intrigue.

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I heard that a friend had postulated a gay subtext, in the form of a relationship between Peck and Jourdan, but I can’t see any narrative evidence for this — nothing makes sense unless we accept that Peck is smitten with Valli. But there is some hilarity in this theory, since every line exchanged between Peck and Jourdan becomes an obscene double entendre — “What was your object in entering by the back way?” “But you intended to come on me!”

Laughton is a (bitter) joy — Hitchcock complained that “Every picture with Laughton is a war,” but he must have realized that the actor enhanced any film he touched. But if you took out the scene where Laughton is rebuffed by Todd, then his character would be reduced to a standard high court judge, and he could still behave in mostly the same way in the courtroom: he’s showing bias, it’s true, but Peck is such a dick it’s hardly surprising. I’d favour Leo G Carroll too.

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Clone of a shot from EASY VIRTUE.

But since we have Laughton’s unnecessary character, we get Ethel Barrymore as his wife, and their miserable relationship is one of the film’s most effective elements. I guess it’s a film about couples. Oddly, I’d just seen Ethel in MOSS ROSE, her previous production. Must write a little piece about that one. It has Peggy Cummins.

Hitch tried to film in long takes but Selznick objected, insisting on close-ups to break things up. No wonder Hitch indulged himself with ten-minute-takes as soon as he was free from his contract. Falling behind schedule, Hitch managed to save time by shooting the court scenes with multiple cameras, which upset the actors, who couldn’t see each other for equipment.

I always find Ann Todd rather cold and brittle, which isn’t bad per se, but I also get the impression that she’s an inherently savage actress who’s being held back by her directors. David Lean certainly held her down. I’d like to see her allowed to let rip.

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Clone of a shot from NOTORIOUS, itself cloned from SUSPICION.

But nobody lets rip here. The movie is interesting for its resemblance to two of Hitch’s earliest, least successful talkies — MURDER, in which a woman accused of murder is defended by a high-class gent. In both films, the gent travels to the countryside and stays in a cottage overnight, although MURDER exploits this for humour. And Peck’s arrival at the country house made me think of THE SKIN GAME, in which a woman with a shady past is threatened with exposure. It’s not too promising that those are the films one is reminded of.

Hitch, diplomatically, was still negotiating for a possible renewal of his contract with Selznick, even as he attempted to set up his own production company with Sidney Bernstein. The desire for artistic control warred with a need for financial security, but the experience of THE PARADINE CASE must surely have decided him that his future lay elsewhere.

para6Clone of a shot from NO. 13.

I am Giggling…Why?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by dcairns

“The secrets of the analyst’s couch are like those of the confessional, only more interesting.” ~ John Collier.

Two films touching on the theme of psychoanalysis, then: Compton Bennett’s THE SEVENTH VEIL, whose very title suggests a relation between the seductive and the psychotherapeutic, and I AM FRIGID…WHY?, a demented dollop of Euro-sleaze from the febrile “mind” of Max Pecas.

THE SEVENTH VEIL is a woman’s picture from Gainsborough Films, makers of “classy” bodice-ripping romps like THE WICKED LADY and THE MAN IN GREY. All these films helped make a star out of James Mason as Britain’s leading attractive brute, raping and beating his way across the Flowers of Young English Womanhood to the delight of repressed 1940s audiences.

T7V takes James away from the period trappings, where he could safely say things like, “It’ll make a change, taking you by force,” and sets him up as a rich, neurotic cripple who forms a controlling obsession for his young ward, Ann Todd, a brilliant pianist. (This reminds me of Ann’s namesake SWEENEY TODD — you wait ages for a movie about a man lusting after his ward, then two come along at once. The only other one I can even think of is BATMAN AND ROBIN.)

Ann T is the star and female sensibility through which events are filtered, but they get further filtration from smooth-talking head-shrinker Herbert Lom (full name: Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru — I’ve been known to recite this at parties so be warned) who is treating her for suicidal depression and a fixated belief that her hands are paralysed, which they aren’t.

HCAKZS puts her under hypnosis, and she sorta drifts into flashback…

…and we realise what a big influence this flick had on Hollywood melodramas like POSSESSED, etc. Even the “technical terms” used, like narcosis and mutism, are the same. Todd’s case history emerges from these induced flashbacks, and we see her as a schoolgirl, entrusted to the “care” of James Mason, a distant relation in every sense:

Masonry

Ann T. espies Mr. Mason’s pussycat. “Would you like to stroke her?” he offers. She demurs tremulously.

Poor Ann has already failed to win a music scholarship after being caned on her hands, but the chilly Mason senses her talents and sets about molding her, Svengali-fashion, into a star. This rampant control-freakery soon extends to breaking up relationships with perfectly nice men. After YEARS of this, Todd finally rebels, tells her Wicked Uncle that she’s leaving…

Hot Toddy

Mason is kind of affecting here, because he wants to reach out to her, but his neurotic coldness won’t let him, and so —

Whack-O!

In an iconic moment of British ’40s melodrama, a wigged-out J.M. tries to smash his beloved’s fingers with his cane (Mason is Romantically Crippled, like Byron). Fleeing with her podgy German portrait-painter beau, Todd gets into a car-crash and injures her hands, though not seriously.

Now Lom has the facts. Like the best Freudian detectives, he seeks out the “suspects” and gets additional info from them, then calls them all together. Podgy Teuton, Mason, and Todd’s first love, the wise-cracking yank. Lom then effects a MIRACLE CURE simply by PLAYING A RECORD to Todd, who descends the stairs into the roomful of waiting swains, ready, like Lassie, to go to the one she loves the most.

And she chooses… well, it might be unfair to give this away. But if I say “the highest paid actor” and “the one more in need of psychiatric care than herself” you’ll probably get it. It’s a fascinating turn of events because the film gives absolutely no clue as to how this relationship is now supposed to work. A.T. has been cured of her fear, but will her new lover be able to express the tender emotions that have completely defeated him thus far? Is this going to be an s.m.-type relationship? Does Herbert Lom know what the hell he’s playing at?

The ending feels like a very bold piece of provocation: we are being asked, What do we think of this? Can we make sense of it? The filmmaker, of course, is copping out of his usual responsibility, that of telling us what to think. This means the film is either incomplete, devoid of meaning, or mature, treating its audience as thinking beings. I’d say Compton Bennett has actually hit on a way of EXPLOITING inconclusive narrative for financial gain.

Everybody’s very good in this movie. Mason gets to be brooding and uptight. Ann Todd is a revelation: always a slightly cold actress, here she exhibits an impressive range, even convincing in ponytails as a schoolgirl — she does an even better job that Joan Fontaine in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN. Neither can convince as teenage, physically, but both do a great job with childlike body language. Certainly better than Sandra Julien in I AM FRIGID…WHY?

frigid hair

Sandra, as the virginal Doris, is rendered frigid by the trauma of rape in a greenhouse, then must Walk the Earth in search of sexual kicks that might break through her psychological block. These include Kubrickian masked orgies, fey spanking sessions, and listless lesbianism, all filmed with oppressively coloured-gel-lighting, soft-focus and starburst filters until you’re aching for somebody to OPEN A BLOODY WINDOW.

Eyes Wide Apart

Orgy and Mess

Spankyman

There’s also the “theatrical troupe” glimpsed in the vid above:

Mr Boomtastic

But Doris only finds true happiness at the movie’s end, where she is able to have pure, loving consensual sex… in the greenhouse she was raped in… with the man who raped her.

Botanic antics

The psychoanalytic narrative seems to have been seen as a great excuse to abandon all narrative logic and have characters behave in a totally incredible way. Since understanding human nature is the speciality of SCIENCE, it’s OK for the behaviour in these films to make no sense to the audience.

I kind of have to hand it to Max Pecas for making a film as ludicrous as IAF…W? and still managing to have it be so outrageously offensive. Despite its campy surface (the men, though nominally straight, all seem like gay stereotypes) the flick seems to seriously propose the idea that revisiting a trauma can cure it — a popular Freudian fantasy (still big in Scientology), but even if Pecas was determined to follow this narrative (while making an erotic film about frigidity, itself a perverse idea)…still. The film can only be acceptable if we see it as 100% sexual fantasy and 0% sexual politics, but can a film entirely rid itself of any relationship to life? And should it?

The Audience

“I want to take you to the dernieres limites d’erotisme.” ~ Alain Cuny, EMMANUELLE.