Archive for Anthony Asquith

The Sound of Beau Belle

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2022 by dcairns

Rewatched MY FAIR LADY and loved it up until that ending.

(Beautifully designed, of course, by Cecil Beaton, and Rex Harrison on top form, and Audrey I think is GOOD but it’s a shame her singing is dubbed. Incredibly, they get away with having her sing a bit in her own voice, then go through a door and Marni Nixon is pouring out of her throat on the other side. And it sort of works.

Still, Audrey must have been looking at Sexy Rexy and thinking, How come he gets away with speak-singing his lines, and I have to be revoiced by a complete stranger?)

Looked back at Asquith’s PYGMALION and it’s the same, only different.

Asquith made his film while George Bernard Shaw was still alive. Shaw was adamant that Eliza Dolittle shouldn’t end up with Professor Higgins. He had his reasons worked out. Higgins, he wrote, had an impossibly strong and perfect mother, and no lover or wife could hope to live up to that. But, though the Higgins mother is indeed impressive when we meet her, I don’t think we necessarily draw that conclusion. Our objection to the romantic pairing is mainly that Higgins has treated Eliza abominably and there’s little reason to think he can change. And there’s no indication that Eliza LIKES being treated like a dog. It doesn’t have the shuddersome taboo quality of MARTHA or even THE SEVENTH VEIL.

On the other hand, the audience is strongly influenced by the fact that the two spend the whole film sparring, and in the romantic comedy genre that usually means they end up together. Both titles, that of the original play and that of the musical, imply that this is to be a love story. Eliza has another, arguably more suitable romantic interest, but he gets very little time to make an impression, so we are tempted to file him under S for schnook. Even when he’s played by the highly suitable Jeremy Brett and gets a glorious song, The Street Where You Live, it’s hard for him to acquire the necessary weight. He’s also somewhat ineffectual, but in Shaw’s mind, that was why he’d be a good match for the powerhouse that is Miss Dolittle. She could run him efficiently, which is what he needs. But the audience doesn’t necessarily make the leap to that conclusion.

So neither partner seems quite suitable. It’d certainly be difficult for a rewrite to make Higgins seem like a reformed character, and while GBS was on the scene, such a thing was unthinkable. In this light, Asquith’s solution was pretty clever.

He has Eliza (Wendy Hiller) return to Higgins (Leslie Howard). Higgins, taking her return entirely for granted, tells her to fetch his slippers, like a dog. Asquith shoots this from Eliza’s point of view, so the film ends on the back of HH’s head. We never see her reaction.

SOMEHOW Asquith got GBS, who had script approval on all films of his work, to sign off on this. I think he managed it b reusing the slippers line from earlier in the play, so there are no words here GBS hasn’t written, and by not showing Eliza’s reaction he could argue that it’s entirely possible that she storms off in a huff two seconds after The End fades out. It’s highly unlikely that most audience members would reach any conclusion other than that HH and ED were to be married, but a tinge of plausible deniability has been preserved.

George Cukor, filming MY FAIR LADY, doesn’t go in for ending on close-ups, and certainly not close-ups of the backs of people’s heads. One of his great qualities is his withholding of clpse-ups for the longest possible time, so that they really have an impact, but another of his great qualities is his theatricality. He ends the scene with a wide shot Audrey Hepburn standing in the doorway, Rex sitting smugly in his armchair, waiting for the curtain to fall. Audrey steps slowly towards him, accepting her fate. The fact that we’ve seen Rex’s self-satisfaction rather than the back of his hat, and his head tilting the other way, and Audrey’s look of docile adoration, changes this from a cunning bodge to a full-fledged betrayal of GBS’ intentions and an endorsement of male supremacy. Rex must have been happy about that, and I guess Audrey just went with the flow.

So I think that ending isn’t likely to be a popular one anymore, it certainly felt like a cold slap to us. A lot of really enjoyable old movies end with unacceptable pairings. We just watched BEAUTY AND THE BOSS, and rooted for the girl to wind up with David Manners, only for her to go for Warren William, on a double bill with CROONER, in which we rooted for the girl to wind up with Ken Murray, only for her to wind up with David Manners.

There’s a good modern dress Dutch film of PYGMALION, made the year before Asquith’s. At the end of this one, when HH gives Eliza (the excellent Lily Bouwmeester) an errand, she has a ready reply:

MY FAIR LADY stars Holly Golightly; Julius Caesar; Pendlebury; Crabbin; Mrs. Henry Vale; Sherlock Holmes; Rance Muhammitz / Dave; Matron – Staff; Angelica Muir; Ayesha; Garbitsch; Mrs. Cratchit; Alfred the butler; and Og Oggilby.

Going Underground

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 20, 2021 by dcairns

Can any filmmaker have run out of spoons so early and so catastrophically as Anthony Asquith? His silent films are great, even when they have one foot in sound (A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR). I’ve been unable to see THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS, and have heard great things about his 1931 war movie, THE BATTLE OF GALLIPOLI. THE LUCKY NUMBER has definite moments. But sometime after that, his whole approach seems to change, and the expressionist shadowplay is replaced by photographs of actors talking, talking, talking. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is certainly well cast, but I glanced at it recently and was pretty put off by the flat and unimaginative filming. There was Miles Malleson, talking about a book, which he had in front of him, but which was completely framed out. Asquith, I felt, was not only not thinking in pictures, delivering mere literal coverage, he wasn’t even paying attention to the WORDS.

But look!

UNDERGROUND, screened at Hippfest with Neil Brand’s exuberant and eloquent score, is entirely something else. It makes an epic (melo)drama out of pieces of everyday life — admittedly ending in a spectacular running battle between hero Brian Aherne (very appealing) and the brute, Cyril McLaglen. The days when a brute might be played by someone named Cyril. And when the Underground and Battersea Power Station could form dynamic, menacing and even glamorous settings for movie action.

The kind of thing Britain is now absolutely unable to do, it seems — though maybe Edgar Wright’s return to London will provide some visual energy.

More here.

The V.U.P.s

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2020 by dcairns

Anthony “Puffin” Asquith’s transmutation from the spectacular UFA-esque pure cinema of A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR to the “well-made play” school of swank British tedium is likely to remain a headscratcher. Maybe he got all his excitement from the rumoured wild parties, leaving only a rather turgid display of craftsmanship for the movies.

Don’t give him Cinemascope, for God’s sake! Worst thing you could do.

So here’s THE V.I.P.S, with a Rattigan script, Burton & Taylor (and Louis Jourdan makes three), Orson Welles and Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith (probably the main draw, nowadays — well, she’s about the only survivor).

It did turn out to be an adequate afternoon timewaster — Orson, playing a caricature of Korda and looking like a boiled owl, is funny, as is Margaret Rutherford. The Burtons’ stuff is a drag. David Frost does a fun self-parody, though Peter Cook could have done it with more relish. He and Richard Wattis seem like the only ones really trying to be entertaining. Oh, and Elsa Martinelli is fun, and actually IS glamorous.

The conceit, that airports are glamorous and exciting, and tax problems and cash-flow problems and marital problems are glamorous and exciting when they afflict movie-star types, is hilariously dated.

It’s a PLAY. The compositions, admittedly, are pleasing. The camera pushes in occasionally. Otherwise, the cinema does not intrude — until the last reel, where Liz staggers across the concourse, searching, searching, searching for her Dick, and Puffin throws in some reasonably frantic POV shots scanning the throng.

Miklos Rosza insists it’s all very emotionally significant but he’s lied to us too often in the past.

Very good costumes — not for the glamour, for the CHARACTER. And we did get an emotional charge from the Rod Taylor/Maggie Smith romance, maybe because we like RT so much and Smith is so good at projecting silent adoration and concern (and anything else you ask her to project, of course). It tapped into our affection for the actors.

The V.I.P.s stars Gloria Wandrous; Thomas Becket; Stefan Brand; Anna Maria ‘Dallas’ D’Allesandro / Mama Tembo; Madame Arcati; Minerva McGonagall; Pongo (voice); Unicron (voice); Princess Panthea; Louis D’Ascoyne; Albert Prosser; Jock McTaggart; Bob Trubshaw; Miss Tonks; Frith (voice); Old Fred (voice); Wallace (voice); Mr. Stringer; Blackaver (voice); Mme. Dubonnet; Mr. Meek; Louis XIII (voice, uncredited); Violet Bradman; and Ives ‘the mole’.