Archive for Blonde Crazy

Blind Tuesday: Justice is Blind

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2014 by dcairns

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A return of our intermittent series of posts on thrillers about the sightless. This one is kind of a departure though. Nobody in the movie is blind or pretends to be blind.

CRIME UNLIMITED is a 1935 Warner picture made at their UK studio in Teddington. Being post-code, it reconfigures some of the plot tropes of earlier films, adjusted to make them morally uplifting — for instance, James Cagney’s jewelry store scam from BLONDE CRAZY gets trotted out again, only here the perp is an undercover man seeking to ingratiate himself with a gang of heisters, so it’s all above-board, really.

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The leading lady is a heartbreakingly young and succulent Lilli Palmer, but of more interest to our jaded sensibilities is the fact that the hero is played by Esmond Knight. During WWII, Knight was blinded for real during a battle at sea with the Bismarck. He lost one eye and was almost totally blinded in the other — some sight returned to it in his extreme old age. He can be seen, minus glass eye, at the start of ROBIN AND MARIAN, but he played numerous sighted characters for Michael Powell, including a film director (parodying Powell’s own temperamental style) in PEEPING TOM and the Maharajah in BLACK NARCISSUS, which required him to ride a donkey through a forest. “I’ll be fine,” my friend Lawrie reported him as saying, “The donkey doesn’t want to hit a tree any more than I do.”

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Slightly eerily, the CRIME UNLIMITED features scenes where Knight is blindfolded and led to a baddie’s lair.

He also reports to his superiors by standing at a window and moving his lips. A deaf man in the building opposite reads his lips with binoculars and passes the info to Scotland Yard.

The movie is a reasonably enjoyable potboiler, well made (by Hollywood director Ralph Ince) and decently acted. Knight is an adequate leading man, but he was really waiting for a few years to pile on to turn him into a fine character actor. One does miss the more mature moral ambiguity of the pre-code era. One has to settle for fated social attitudes instead — Raymond Lovell plays a club owner in league with the crooks as a nasty Jewish stereotype. A good accents man, the portly Canadian would redeem himself during the war by specialising in Nazis.

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Fleshy rogue

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2012 by dcairns

It was rather unfair of me to suggest Ray Milland as good casting for the as-yet-imaginary David Cameron biopic THE TAPIOCA LUNGFISH. It doesn’t reflect the warmth with which I regard Milland, one of cinema’s finest Welshmen. Mainly it was due to his uncanny ability to suggest shiftiness, a quality I controversially suggested was due to his ever-so-slightly bulbous face, another point of comparison with Cameron. As a paunchy, bloated character myself, I felt qualified to judge.

Milland wasn’t always a trifle chubby — we see him in the excellent Cagney vehicle BLONDE CRAZY as a near starveling, his face a sort of skin tent erected on a knobby stick framework. It’s a shock just to see this unconvincing impersonation of human physiognomy, and a second shock to recognize Milland, somehow concealed behind it. His wan and wispy features look like they might snap off in a moderate-to-high wind, and his overall appearance suggests some dust that’s got on the celluloid. Where is the beloved roly-poly cad we know and love?

Actually, revisiting the film, I find both shocks have paled — seeing Milland stripped of his apple-cheeks was initially alarming, and it’s weird seeing him in the more noticeable cosmetics of the 1930s, but he doesn’t actually look bad. Just not himself.

Flash back further, to THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, his 1929 debut, and we see a perfectly balanced flesh-to-Milland ratio. The fellow’s probably just out of the Guards, at his physical peak. It looks like he starved in Hollywood for the first couple of years, then made a success and started eating rather too well.

Anyway, thanks to a recommendation by the Self-Styled Siren, in a typically delightful piece running down her most enjoyable vintage viewings of 2011, we watched SO EVIL MY LOVE, which is prime Milland untrustworthiness, giving the lie to Billy Wilder’s rather harsh assessment of his former collaborator (“Not an Oscar-winning actor” — expressing his view that it was his own script for THE LOST WEEKEND which won for Milland). He’s paired with Ann Todd, whose somewhat icy demeanour is extremely well-used.

It’s a gaslight melodrama with shades of noir, and forms a nice trio of Lewis Allen-directed fog thrillers, along with ghostly THE UNSEEEN and THE UNINVITED. Mutz Greenbaum (AKA Max Greene) shot it, with the glossy and pellucid shadows of his German origins. This may be what got him the gig on NIGHT AND THE CITY.

Chronology — Milland was having a very good year, with THE BIG CLOCK also on his schedule. Weirdly, we watched Moira Lister’s previous movie, another tale of homicide in London, WANTED FOR MURDER, the previous evening. She makes little impression in her fleeting appearance there, but she’s wonderful in the Allen film, seizing the chance to embody a zestful, venal slut.

The movie also has great work from Geraldine Fitzgerald, whose fate calls to mind UNCLE HARRY in the same way that Todd’s evokes MADELEINE, and from Raymond Huntley, whose wonderfully dislikable face (dis)graced innumerable British films but very few Hollywood productions.

Anyway, so inspired by it was I, I immediately dashed off a couple of limericks, which after suitable analysis and manipulation by the excellent Hilary Barta, are available to view at Limerwrecks, here.

At that same site, some more poetic appreciation of DR PHIBES, a fellow who will long be celebrated in song and doggerel. This one’s a collaboration with Hil, this matched pair is by me, and here’s another. But there are others, occasionally with titles by me — scroll around and enjoy!