Archive for Blind Alley

Past Post

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 17, 2021 by dcairns

I’ve contributed an essay (text — I so rarely get asked to write pure text these days) to this juicy box set. My piece is on THE DARK PAST. Luckily I was already familiar with BLIND ALLEY, which it remakes. An interesting assignment — my first for Indicator.

I just worked out that I have seven finished extras due to come out, not all of them announced yet. And three more lined up, not yet fully written let alone cut.

The ones that you know about are this one, the Bill Rebane feature doc in the WEIRD WISCONSIN box set and the limited edition MAJOR DUNDEE disc for Arrow, and for Masters of Cinema the NAKED CITY commentary, the BRUTE FORCE video essay with Fiona, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, and HANDS OF ORLAC with Fiona again.

Somebody asked me if there was a complete list of my extras somewhere — I did publish one here, but it’s now considerably out of date. I’ll do another, but with all these things in the works, three more I can’t talk about yet, and several others just in the discussion stages, now might not be the time.

Ransom Note

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2016 by dcairns

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Never interrupt Ralph Morgan’s embroidery.

Charles Vidor was a very interesting stylist — some of his films are pretty ordinary, but then he’d do slightly mad things. GILDA, his masterpiece, has several eccentric flourishes, including a forced perspective shot with outsize dice as its very first image, and continually makes interesting cutting and framing choices that get more eccentric the more you think about them. His silent short, THE BRIDGE, (which you can see here) is full of striking moments, such as a double exposure of drumsticks beating with the chest of a prisoner about to be executed, making us not only hear but see and feel his pounding heartbeat.

MUSS ‘EM UP is a 1936 thriller based on a pulp detective novel by James Edward Grant (don’t know his work) — it’s faithful enough to the tone and conventions of Black Mask fiction to play like a true film noir, quite a few years early (even more so than Vidor’s BLIND ALLEY). Preston Foster is the hardboiled hero, and the un-starry but capable supporting cast comprise a fine net full of red herrings.

A wealthy man’s dog has been shot and he’s been receiving threatening letters. Gumshoe Tip O’Neil (Foster) moves in to crack the case, and finds that the entire family and staff are sharpshooters, making it tricky to narrow the field of suspects. Then there’s a kidnapping, and this happens ~

Ransom note from David Cairns on Vimeo.

So, Vidor tracks through the wall and on to another room — an Ophulsian trick, almost before Ophuls was doing it. What the roving camera finds in that room is the same group of characters, differently attired, at a different time of day. Again, like Ophuls in his very last films of the fifties, Vidor has TRACKED THROUGH TIME.

The other earliest example of this I can think of is the ambitious but slightly clunky shot in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP — “Forty years ago… forty years ago…” which takes us into flashback in a steam bath. Vidor’s version is earlier and possibly more successful, if less epic/romantic.

He repays watching.

Gertie Getting Guttered

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2016 by dcairns

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A full study of expressionist dream sequences in 40s movies (a trend seemingly begun by Charles Vidor’s BLIND ALLEY, 1939) would be fun to research. I’m particularly interested by those in comedy films, where the nightmarish imagery is often more disturbing and less funny than in the dark thrillers. Vincente Minnelli’s FATHER OF THE BRIDE would be a good example — ALL Minnelli’s comedies have a feeling of inexorable nightmare about them — and this one employs imagery later recycled with a straight face in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (the floor turning to quicksand).

GETTING GERTIE’S GARTER is a vigorous, unfunny farce made by Allan Dwan during a brief phase in his long, long career when he was working as a farceur — UP IN MABEL’S ROOM has the same plot and some of the same cast, and there’s BREWSTER’S MILLIONS too. Sex farces where the hero is a love rat trying not to get caught suffer from a lack of sympathy (and would get banned in the 40s), and those where the hero is innocent tend to be silly and undermotivated. (George Axelrod complained that THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH became rather trivial once it became a film and the hero could no longer screw the Girl upstairs and feel guilty about it.) Joe Orton could bypass the problem by highlighting it — unsympathetic protagonists make a satirical point in his work — he’s making a case for what he believes humanity and society are really like. And he makes it funny. The other farces I’ve enjoyed are mainly every single episode of Fawlty Towers, where the character’s neurotic confabulations are true to character.

GGG, typical of many stage farces, distorts character and has people doing things they would not, or could not, ever do, for the sake of plot. Having introduced the hero as a professor who’s absent-minded to the point of dementia, having him then turn out to be a quick-thinking, sociopathic yarn-spinner, and everyone he knows be incredibly dense and willing to accept absurd explanations for absurd actions, is problematic since it’s unbelievable not in real-world terms but on its own terms.

But the nightmare scene is eye-catching. Hard to believe it was made BEFORE Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR… but it was. I guess STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR’s extended legal nightmare scene was an inspiration. I include these images without the narrative points which explain them, because they’re better unexplained.

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