Archive for Bernard Vorhaus

Leftward, ho!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2019 by dcairns
The very welcome return of Chris Schneider to Shadowplay's pages -- he's been looking at THREE FACES WEST, directed by Bernard "Mad" Vorhaus, and he's dug up some interesting stuff...

One thought that occurs while watching the good-looking, if not exactly compelling, THREE FACES WEST is “What does this Republic Pictures drama of dust-bowl farmers have in common with the Billy Wilder SUNSET BOULEVARD? The answer? Both of ‘em allude to the luxury car Isotta Fraschini.

Only in SUNSET BOULEVARD the car, which belongs to silent star Norma Desmond, is real and rentable, whereas in THREE FACES WEST it’s an impossibility, the stuff of foolish jokes. The daughter of a refugee Viennese doctor (Sigrid Gurie), who has been sent with her father (Charles Coburn) to bring medical aid to a North Dakota full of dust and influenza, thinks that when John Wayne says “jalopy” he’s referring to a make of Italian car. “First cousin to an Iscotta Fraschini,” chuckles Wayne — who’s a local leader. The word “Anschluss,” meaning Nazi Germany’s overtaking Austria, is soon to follow.

This is 1940, you see, the year GRAPES OF WRATH was released. The director and cinematographer are Bernard Vorhaus and John Alton, the pair who later made notable noirs THE AMAZING MR. X and BURY ME DEAD. Wayne, the male lead, has already appeared in his star-making STAGECOACH role, but the John Ford cavalry films are in his future.

The phrase “left-ish” — or, at least, “Popular Front” — comes to mind … and would even if first googling *didn’t* produce a Vorhaus bio in Spartacus Educational. Vorhaus had just made a Dr. Christian film, with script by Ring Lardner Jr. and Ian McClellan Hunter, concerned with medicine for the indigent. But it’s startling, in any case, to see Wayne in this context, the man who later would walk away from the family at the end of THE SEARCHERS involved in anything as communal as creating an Exodus-like convoy from the Dust Bowl to humid Oregon.

It seemed to indicate the writers’ left-wing cred that the radio show which connects Wayne with Coburn and Gurie is called We The People. But nah. This show actually existed, was broadcast on CBS from 1937 to 1949. Still, the name allows Wayne to say “We The People — left holding the bag!”

THREE FACES WEST is built around the equation of old-time pioneers with present-day (read early-‘40s) refugees. Pre-echoes of CASABLANCA occur when Gurie’s loyalties are torn between a fiancé in Vienna, who saved her life and turns out not to have died, and the more immediate Wayne. Not much suspense there. Not many of the Expressionist gestures I was hoping for, either, from director Vorhaus, although several gorgeous night shots with blowing wind and a single light-source indicate the hand of the d.p. who later shot T-MEN.

Coburn probably comes off best among the performers, although Gurie is affecting. Wayne has an unconvincing drunk scene, and another director might’ve advised him not to make a fist when talking about his desire to fight. Still, the camera loves Wayne’s *jeunesse doree*. As his recent costar Louise Brooks wrote, a shade backhandedly, “This is no actor but the hero of all mythology brought to life.” (Voice off: “No actor, you say?”)

There’s a chase, a wedding. Wayne gets handed an awkward line or two like “It was I who argued we stay here and fight.” A salient phrase of Victor Young’s score keeps sounding like the Warren & Dubin song “I’ll String Along With You” … although that’s probably because the words “Three Faces West” and “You may not be an angel” have the same rhythm. Not compelling, on the whole, but a film that’s historically notable and displays signs of virtuosity — says the writer before slamming the door and driving off in his imaginary Iscotta Fraschini.

*

The cast, as David Cairns might say, includes Ethan Edwards, Marya Volny, Benjamin Dingle, Pa Joad, Connolly the Barman, plus a cameo by Charles Foster Kane III.

Linkages

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on December 6, 2018 by dcairns

The Late Show expands over to The Notebook with a new edition of The Forgotten, in order to consider Bernard “Mad” Vorhaus’s SO YOUNG, SO BAD, the quote quickie king’s penultimate film, his last US one before the blacklist slammed the door in his face. Girls in prison! Tracking shots into empty rooms! Careful with that fire hose! Here.

Stars Victor and Muriel Laszlo, Altaira Morbius and Googie Gomez.

Plus, we have new entries! Friend and collaborator Scout Tafoya weighs in on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND at Apocalypse Now, with an individual approach I just loved, swerving midstream to also encompass Bud Boetticher’s last western.

And another friend, Jaime N. Christley, takes a radically different approach to the same/a similar subject at his Filmsaurus, here. Both are must-reads, I promise you. Tears in my eyes.

And we have another MUMMY limerick, because you can never have too many MUMMY limericks (apparently).

Tomorrow: more links (I hope) and a new edition of The Shadowcast!

Swiss Cheese

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on January 3, 2015 by dcairns

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Actors: when your director asks you to do this, refuse politely.

DUSTY ERMINE — why IS it called that? — is an early thirties Hitchcockian light thriller helmed not by Hitch but by the considerably less-renowned Bernard “Mad” Vorhaus, celebrated for THE LAST JOURNEY in Britain and later THE MYSTERIOUS MR X in America. Helped by considerable, impressive and frequently dangerous-looking location work in the Swiss Alps, he makes a fun show out of a slightly rambling yarn about forged banknotes, a lovable ex-con uncle, and strong-willed filly and an equally pigheaded but rather incompetent Scotland Yard detective. I’d rate it as highly as a minor Hitchcock thriller of the same period, say THE SECRET AGENT (also Swiss-set in part).

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But what provides most interest is a couple of actors better known for later roles. Katy Johnson, the tiny Mrs. Wilburforce from THE LADYKILLERS, looks much the same but is considerably sturdier. One always knew that Mrs. Lopsided had steel in her hunched old backbone, and she makes quite a formidable matron here, moving about with disconcerting speed and forcefulness.

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The chief villain — well, the shambolic story doesn’t quite have one, but a junior one with quite a bit of screen time is played by Margaret Rutherford, in her first credited role. It’s a surprise to see her as a baddie, so beloved was she in harmless eccentric roles from BLITHE SPIRIT on. Her method of adapting her particular instrument to this challenge is fascinating. Her habit of straightening her back and sinking her head into her “chest” while ringing her hands enthusiastically, can be performed, with only slight change of emphasis, so as to create a peculiarly disagreeable effect, cockroachlike in its repulsiveness. Perhaps what’s most peculiar is the thought that such strange posturings, in other films, are extremely appealing.

Can be bought: Dusty Ermine [DVD]