Archive for Bert Glennon

The Sunday Intertitle: Personally Embroidered by Darryl F. Zanuck

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 28, 2019 by dcairns

The embroidered intertitle is a rare enough beast to be worth remarking on. This one features in John Ford’s DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, and the fact that it’s 1939 (yet also, simultaneously, the American Revolution), makes the appearance of such hand-crafted text all the more remarkable.

The movie needs to fall back on silent narrational technique, (OK still very much a thing in the pre-code era) it turns out, because of its uncommonly loose, baggy structure, itself at least in part a consequence of the shapelessness of the historical events covered. I found that, while I could appreciate the reasons for the episodic approach, I prefer Ford when he has a tighter story to weave (or sew). I’m not a keen enough Fordian to indulge his more rambling yarns, though it was nice to see an Indian character (Chief John Big Tree) treated, despite the inevitable ethnic humour, with enough sympathy that he could be entrusted with the kind of jovial domestic violence joke usually reserved by Ford for the Irish.

“Sir!… Sir!… Here’s a good stick, to beat the lovely lady.”

Henry Fonda is well suited to the frontiersmanship etc, but Ford gets rather an overwrought turn from Claudette Colbert: she perhaps has her limitations, but I have never seen her be shrill and grating and hysterical as she is here. It might be understandable, given the situations, but it’s hardly appealing or fun to watch.

In common with BLOOD AND SAND, the movie delivers quite a lot of value for John Carradine fans, who did great work for Ford the same year in STAGECOACH.

The second-hand DVD I picked up turned out to be a fuzzy, out-of-sync Korean bootleg (“An enjoyable film that is still very good!” cries the blurb) but curious and dedicated Fordians are recommended to the Twilight Time Blu-ray, which purportedly does astonishing justice to the Technicolor work of Ray Rennehan & Bert Glennon.

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37 Views of Laird Cregar

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2019 by dcairns

Well, maybe not 37…

Fiona wanted some Technicolor Laird, so we ended up running both THE BLACK SWAN and BLOOD AND SAND. The former, directed by Henry King, is pretty good fun: co-writer Ben Hecht treats it like a gangster movie: the pirate genre gives him license to dispense with moral or sympathetic characters. On first meeting Maureen O’Hara, Tyrone Power forces a kiss on her, gets bitten, punches her unconscious, slings her over one shoulder — then Laird turns up, as Sir Henry Morgan, (“when evil wore a sash,” reads a title card) and he actually throws her away.

It’s all a bit of a rape fantasy, but with a respectable back-and-forth power struggle (O’Hara brains Ty back with a rock) and a conclusion that playfully confirms a relationship based on play, drama, and mutual respect. The filmmakers’ confidence that they can get away with the dicier material is kind of impressive, but of course, it was a different era, the 17th century. They’re really convinced the audience wants to be ravished by Power. He even gets to share a bed with O’Hara, via a complicated bit of censor-circumvention where they have to pretend to be married and their lives depend on it.

Laird’s Morgan is a lovely creation, though George Sanders, unrecognizable in red whiskers and a prosthetic nose, takes some getting used to.

Then there’s —

BLOOD AND SAND, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, is a much more artistic affair, the rich Technicolor starting off surprisingly muted. There’s some weird system in place at Fox where Ray Rennehan, maybe the first DoP to master the medium, gets paired with another, highly regarded cinematographer again and again (I just watched DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, where he works with the great Bert Glennon; here it’s Ernest Palmer. Was it a scheme to get more cameramen trained up in the process?)

Laird plays some kind of matador critic. I guess that must be a thing. Does it pay better than film critic? When I’d seen bits of this on TV, it was always Laird, grinning biggly from the stands while Ty decimates Spain’s bovine populace. But Cregar gets to swirl a cape at one point, too. He moves beautifully — Fiona reports that he once replaced a friend in the chorus and made an effective Chorus Boy of Unusual Size.

Hey Presto

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2009 by dcairns

Mad Magician web classic poster

THE MAD MAGICIAN is the second of Vincent Price’s horror flicks, after HOUSE OF WAX (factor in SON OF SINBAD and Uncle Vinnie must be one of the most persistently three-dimensional of actors, for reasons I can’t quite fathom), and despite boasting a story by Crane Wilbur, who scripted the earlier film, and direction by John Brahm, who had brought expressionist/noir chiaroscuro stylings to two Laird Cregar shockers (THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE), it’s easy to see why it doesn’t have the same killer rep as Andre De Toth’s wax museum penny dreadful.

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Obviously shot on a lower budget, MM is black and white, but a slightly gray and washed-out kind, not quite up to the usual standards of Brahm or ace cinematographer Bert Glennon. I suspect the technical difficulties of the 3D resulted in over-lighting, or something. I can’t think of any b&w 3D movies with outstanding cinematography, actually. And Brahm doesn’t do too many of the great off-balance compositions and slow advances that made his Cregar movies deliciously spooky — I suspect Price’s physog just doesn’t inspire him the way lovely Laird’s bloated kisser obviously did.

The plot has compensations — Price may be the only killer in screen history to frame his first victim for his second victim’s murder, and he attempts to repeat the trick with a third target. The gimmick is rubber masks, which Price has developed as part of his job designing tricks for magicians (imagine if the BBC’s Jonathan Creek went bad — and not in the sense of slowly running out of ideas and charm and droning on endlessly with a mounting sense of desperation, because obviously that couldn’t happen). He also uses lethal tricks such as a buzz saw and a crematorium to dispose of his enemies, although ex-wife Eva Gabor is despatched via simple strangulation. Which is odd — you’d think she was the kind of person who could inspire a far more creative homicide.

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Actually, the film’s most surreal moment is when the script requires Price to slap Gabor, something he just can’t do with conviction. Price is an ungainly actor, a brilliantly athletic face mounted atop a stiff, bumbling frame, with a bandy lope of a run — only his hands seem to obey his mind, forming beautiful flourishes in the air. They might wield a whip or pull a maleficent lever, but slapping a face is something they draw the line at.

The whole thing is reasonable fun, slightly unpredictable, vestigially original and worth watching for the Brahm completist, which is me. It’s interesting that Brahm really got his mojo back on TV, where some of his Twilight Zone episodes are even more visually inventive and striking than his best movies. In this he was not alone — Jacques Tourneur, whose late features are largely a sorry bunch, whether compared to his 40s and 50s masterpieces or to run-of-the-mill studio pablum, managed a terrific Zone episode, Night Call, which I recommend to all his admirers, and Mitchell Leisen’s The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine, with Ida Lupino, could serve as his epitaph.

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We watched THE MAD MAGICIAN flat. A guy with a paddle-ball routine turns up, as in HOUSE OF WAX, and the buzz saw looks like it would be fun in 3D, spitting splinters and sawdust in our faces. With Brahm at the helm, it seems likely that some of the more interesting effects are less obvious and can only be discussed after an “in-depth” viewing.

Hooray! Some clips —

And actually that does look a lot more interesting than the flat version would suggest… (You might have to double-click the image to call up an anaglyph version.)