Archive for Billy Wilder

Teddy Kiss Atom

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2021 by dcairns

Caught a little of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG on the telly over Christmas, and then on Hogmanay we ran my new Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Suddenly realized that one of the Six Tumbling Piccolos, the acrobatic midgets who turn up (minus two of their number, unfortunately gassed) in an Inverness graveyard in TPLOSH, is also seen in Gert Frobe’s Vulgarian court in CCBB.

And in fact those seem to be the guy’s only credits. And his name was Teddy Kiss Atom. His brother, Charlie Young Atom, is also a Piccolo. Or I assume they’re brothers. Pretty wild coincidence if two midgets called Atom wound up in the same film by sheer chance.

And I know “midgets” is not the preferred term, but it’s what they call them in the film. I think it used to be sort of useful to distinguish people who are small all over, like these Atom chaps, from people with short arms and legs, like the TIME BANDITS, who were called dwarfs.

Other observations, since this is proving so illuminating —

“That little wizard Mr. Trauner”, Billy Wilder’s favourite production designer, provides a Swan Lake fake swan with a built-in fake reflection, complete with sculpted ripples. But my DVD isn’t working and I can’t framegrab from the Blu-Ray (a technical issue that may be fixed in 2021) so you’ll have to check it out yourselves.

I always assumed the Diogenes Club was some suitably grand location hired for the day, but the maniacs built it, for ONE SHOT. Wilder really burned up his studio clout with this one. A producer friend has told me that his job entails assessing “the appetite” of a film — this one, from the production notes by Trevor Willsmer supplied in the disc booklet, was apparently insaciable.

I love this out-of-time film. But when Fiona asked why it flopped so badly, the answer seemed simple: “It was old-fashioned, it had no stars, and it promised to be naughty but wasn’t.” Some slightly smuttier stuff hit the cutting room floor (whole storylines), but the stars thing is strange. Apart from Christopher Lee, cast in a role that wouldn’t particularly appeal to his fanbase (Mycroft, not Moriarty) although he’s fab here, we have Robert Stephens, a Wildean Holmes, who has picked up a lot of his then-wife (but not for long) wife Maggie Smith’s cadences (well, she got them from Kenneth Williams) and Colin Blakeley (I guess A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS is what got him the part), neither of them a box-office draw, but magically correct. Wilder had offered it to Peter O’Toole and Peter Sellers… Sellers hadn’t forgiven him for the heart attack on KISS ME STUPID… The female lead being described as German made me wonder if Audrey Hepburn was ever considered. Instead, Genevieve Page was cast and is great. Like everyone else, she didn’t have the most terrific time (Stephens attempted suicide)… there was a plan for more nudity, a test was prepared, and Page being a redhead it was decided she was too pale and her nipples needed circling with lipstick, “which gave me the feeling that my nipples had failed, somehow.”

I rented this several times on VHS back in the day and showed it to two friends, BOTH of whom insisted on stopping and rewinding to watch the comedy constable react to the street sweeper… he’s so wonderfully crap. He’s doing all the appropriate silent comedy moves, but just somehow off. And it turns out that shooting went on so long (that appetite) that the appointed actor, Bob Todd, became unavailable, and Stephens’ chauffeur took the part. (Had Sellers been playing Watson, they’d have been covered, since his driver did visual comedy quite ably in THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM.

Another thing TPLOSH perhaps has against is an unhappy ending… but then, it’s a tragedy from which Holmes & Watson will recover and we last see Watson… writing. Which can’t be an unhappy ending, from Wilder’s viewpoint.

The Wronger Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2020 by dcairns

I’d always meant to watch John Brahm’s 1939 criminal justice melo LET US LIVE, and now I know why I held off — I got a chance to watch it streaming from Bologna in a gleaming fresh copy, better than any grungy old version I might have tracked down.

Henry Fonda plays an innocent cabby wrongly convicted of armed robbery and murder. Maureen O’Sullivan is his bride-to-be, frantically trying to prove his innocence before he goes to the chair. The movie anticipates Hitchcock’s THE WRONG MAN in plot terms, but Brahm gives it all a glossy Hollywood expressionism more showy than Hitch’s gloomy death march.

How to account for Brahm’s fluctuating visual style — here in this relatively early work (he’d done his remake of BROKEN BLOSSOMS in the UK, and three B pictures for Columbia before this one) his arresting use of chiaroscuro and violently off-centre framing is fully developed. In later films it comes and goes. It could be the amount of prep time, the skills of the cinematographer he was working with, or the amount of enthusiasm he could muster.

(Brahm films to see: THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE, THE LOCKET, GUEST IN THE HOUSE, his Twilight Zones and some of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes. He never had what you’d call the best scripts to work with.)

One cut to Fonda’s face made Fiona gasp, exactly as happened in THE LODGER with Laird Cregar. Remember Billy Wilder’s line about a close-up being like a trump card in a game of bridge, to be used sparingly where it’ll really count? But how many times has a simple cut to a character, already established as being present in the scene, taken your breath away?

My new ambition — if I can get to direct one more thing, I’d like to make that happen. I know the trick — the face or expression must be new and arresting, and the face appear in an unexpected part of the screen in an unusual, off-centre composition. Now somebody give me a million bucks before I forget.

Bellevue to a Kill

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2019 by dcairns

Did someone at Bellevue Hospital feel that Billy Wilder’s presentation of the place in THE LOST WEEKEND — reputedly filmed on location, though you wouldn’t know it — gave the place a bad rep, and that another movie might balance out the negative publicity?

If so, THE SLEEPING CITY, a decent little noir trifle from able western hack George Sherman and crime specialist screenwriter Jo Eisinger doesn’t do the place any real favours. It’s from the shot-on-location phase of post-KISS OF DEATH noir, but not a ripped-from-the-headlines number — star Richard Conte shows up in scene one, in costume but out of character, to assure us that this is NOT a true story. Or I think that’s what he’s saying — he says it never happened at Bellevue or anywhere in New York, but that certainly leaves loopholes.

In the next sequence, a young interne is abruptly murdered — a very well-staged sequence, midway between docudrama and melo. Conte is an undercover cop from the “confidential squad” (which is the film’s alternate title) planted in the hospital to investigate. Colleen Gray is a lovely ward nurse, and there are excellent supporting perfs from Alex Nicol (bitter roommate) and some guy called Richard Taber, playwright-actor, as a creepy old fart called “Pop.”

If the hospital authorities were hoping for good press, they hadn’t counted on the effect of b&w cinematography on institutional architecture. The place looks terrifying, and expressionist homunculus Taber, by his very presence, turns it into a nightmare of sci-fi intestines. The plot, with suffering patients being prescribed painkillers they never receive, thanks to a dope ring, isn’t exactly reassuring either. It’s my strong belief that an investigation of the Bellevue employment records will reveal that their head of PR was dismissed around about 1950.