Archive for Bela Lugosi

The Sunday Intertitle: Love is a Battlefield

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2011 by dcairns

Now honestly, is that a proper question to ask of Pola Negri?

The film is Rowland V Lee’s BARBED WINE –

Sorry, BARBED WIRE. We shall overlook the forgivable calligraphic entanglement. It’s not primarily about WWI trench warfare though, but about a POW camp set up at Pola’s farm, where she falls in love with prisoner Clive Brook. The movie, being silent, feels free to cast Polish Pola as a Frenchwoman, English chin Clive as a German, and Bavarian Gustav Von Seyffertitz as a Frenchman. Which isn’t any kind of problem here: what’s odd is that Hollywood continued with this kind of counter-intuitive national casting after sound came in, and still occasionally does it.

Big Head of Pola. This gorgeous moment may be the work of an uncredited Mauritz Stiller.

Despite the melodrama surrounding her, Pola is admirably restrained here — gone is the kohl-smeared vamp of yore, performing via an admixture of violent semaphore and demented facial calisthenics. Her solemn, muted work in this movie is a revelation. Brook, the chin of England, comes pre-muted, but apart from a weeping scene which initiates some ghastly mugging, he’s a good match for Pola’s dignified turn. Her teary moments show her abandoning glamour altogether and becoming convincingly distraught, which is to say unattractive. This was, and still is, unusual. As Juliette Lewis once complained, “There are some actresses who do crying scenes and they still look pretty. Like, you could have sex with them while they’re crying!”

Christmas behind barbed wire — the tinsel on the tree is easily explained (you simply shred several spent cartridges with a potato peeler and voila!) but where they got the false head for the contortionist Santa Claus is a mystery with deeply sinister undertones. I kept anxiously checking out the prison guards to see if any of them had got suddenly shorter. So disturbing is the satanic Santa that he fully earns the German name for Father Christmas, Weihnachtsmann, which sounds like some kind of boogieman, as likely to steal your child’s eyeballs as to stuff his stocking.

Credited director Rowland V Lee is a curious case. His SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is arguably as camp and hysterical as James Whale’s BRIDE, and there’s a striking moment when Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi enter a room, talk for a moment, then step forwards and Rathbone expresses surprise at the presence of the monster, comatose upon a table, revealed by a tracking back of the camera. Since the monster must have been plainly visible to Rathbone since the moment he came in the door, this is a vivid and surreal illustration of the principle that things which are offscreen exist only provisionally in films, sort of like Schrödinger’s cat. But in BARBED WIRE his filming is eloquent and expressive, the only really goofy moment being a flashback to something we just saw five minutes earlier, but even that is explained by the filmmaker’s understandable desire to show the audience what a character is talking about. But the really sublime stuff is probably Mauritz Stiller’s — I don’t know the story behind his partial involvement, but I guess it’s a typical example of the shabby way he was treated in Hollywood.

In Micheal MacLiammoir’s memoir Put Money in thy Purse, he reports Orson Welles adopting some Mitteleuropean director’s name for the close-up: “Big Head of Pola.” Since Hitchcock also used the term Big Head for the same reason, I vote this excellent expression be revived and given pride of place in dictionaries of film terminology. After all, “close-up of Pola” is clearly a vague and ambiguous expression, since it doesn’t specify which portion of her the camera should focus on. I mean, there’s a dazzling choice.

In a stirring (silent) speech, Mona’s brother evokes a great march of the war’s fallen. His assertion that post-war bitterness, if not replaced by love, could result in another war to end all wars is horribly prophetic for 1927…

Emersonian

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 16, 2011 by dcairns

More Limerwreckage drifts your way –

(1) about Hope Emerson’s nasty turn in CAGED.

(2) another ode to Ygor, as played by Bela Lugosi in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN etc

A friend reports via Facebook that her eight-year-old son just asked her “Did Einstein really kill people?” Turns out he meant Frankenstein.

Things Roddy said during “Dracula”

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2009 by dcairns

Hammer horror: perversely seasonal. DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS.

Roddy sure likes his vampire movies. He watched the Hammer DRACULA, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, over three days, and found room for the Universal DRACULA with Bela Lugosi too.

Gotta love the way the theme music to DRACULA — better known as Swan Lake — warbles like a faulty gramophone.

And then they take care to explain all about vampires before we see any, and then cut ahead to Castle Drac to see the Count rising from his sepulchral slumber, along with his pet bugs and opussums. It’s all about clarity — establish that he’s a vampire, see? because if you don’t do that, the extreme reticence with which the film treats his blood-drinking makes him look like a sexual pervert. Dracula descends on Dwight Frye: fade to black. Upon a little waif in a dark street: fade to black. Frye creeps up on an unconscious woman: fade to black.

Ben Hecht wrote that Hollywood’s insistence on fading out for sexual interludes led him to imagine rampant intercourse whenever a film faded out for any reason whatever: the DA rogers the judge across his desk, the coach assaults his team, the chorus line fall upon, de-bag and ravish Warner Baxter. All is fade-out depravity.

At a not-too subconscious level, this erotic subtext is a big part of Roddy’s love of vampire movies.

“Oh, there’s the castle, ho ho!”

“Uh oh — David!”

“Where’s the female vampires, can’t even see them…”

Roddy keeps up a running commentary of non-sequiturs during most films, as well as baths, trips to the bathroom, and any other activity that doesn’t fully occupy his mouth muscles.

Love the track in on Lugosi during his first entrance, perversely accompanied by opossum squeaks. Reminds me of Deneuve and the cats in BELLE DE JOUR — the similarity is so striking that I suspect an influence. After all, Bunuel was just getting into movies when DRACULA came out.

“Oh, there he is!”

“You look busy writing there, David.”

Dracula: “I never drink…” and then the word “wine” is drowned out by Roddy, the teetotaler, declaring “Good man!”

“It’s only a bat, for God’s sake!”

“What’s happened there. What’s he doing? What’s he — uh oh!”

“They’re nice girls. Well, they seem friendly.”

When the asylum nurse calls Renfield a loony, “Loony, ho ho!”

“Do you think there’s such a thing as bats?”

Roddy, as usual, speculates on what he’d be like as a vampire: “I’d have to wear a black jacket, a red-black cloak, black shoes, and then I’d be like that Dracula.”

So if you happen to encounter a short, stout man, caped, black-jacketed and shod, naked from the waist down, do not be unduly alarmed.

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