Archive for Bobby Driscoll

Think of India

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2021 by dcairns
It’s actually quite hard to find shots favouring Dean Stockwell’s face in this film where he has the title role…

It’s definitely a mistake to watch MGM’s KIM (1950) right after reading Kipling’s novel, but it would also be a mistake to watch it before reading the novel. So probably the best thing is not to watch it at all.

The three screenwriters have actually done a passable job of compressing and adapting a book that has several aspects that render it tricky. Kim ages from aged ten to at least fourteen, and the change in him is remarked upon by others. Still, Dean Stockwell was around fourteen and manages to suggest a fairly ambiguous age. Also in the book, Kim both speaks and thinks in more than one language. The writers manage to quasi-suggest this without ever showing it.

The most overt distortions have come in the service of Errol Flynn, preposterous casting as a Sunni Muslim Pathan, but given the lack of Indians in speaking roles, not really that preposterous compared with everything else. But now they have to give his character more leading man action stuff to do — they kill off Hurree Chunder (Cecil Kellaway, the only one who dares attempt any kind of Indian accent — his role was clearly intended by Kipling for Sydney Greenstreet, or would have been if the actor had been a bit older than 21 when the novel appeared, and if Kipling had been thinking of casting white folks as Indians in a movie version back in 1900) to give Flynn’s Mahbub Ali more to do. He obliges by chucking somebody off a cliff and then starting a rockslide.

All that I can kind of overlook, and I think you could just about make a passable Hollywood KIM even with all those changes. The numerous location shots are a help, even when they’re just used as rear projection fodder…

What I can’t forgive is the terrible flatness. Andre Previn seems to be asleep (maybe it’s the heat) — he provides a bit of martial splendor (absent in the book) but remains unstirred by scenes of nominal suspense. Director Victor Saville is one of very few Brit directors to go to Hollywood and totally give up any attempt at achieving cinema. His standard mode is the flat two-shot, and I do mean FLAT.

Dean Stockwell shows signs of being quite capable of playing his role, but I don’t think he’s been guided, and the camera doesn’t encourage us to consider Kim’s emotions as particularly important. You need Hitchcockian POV/reaction shot stuff to bring the character alive. It’s a bit like Bobby Driscoll in Disney’s TREASURE ISLAND — he’s a little powerhouse, not subtle but capable, but he’s under orders to emasculate every scene by playing it as a cheerful romp (Stevenson’s novel is a horror story).

Who the hell is this meant to be? He narrates the film, but the even credits don’t explain.

The biggest casualty of Saville’s disinterest is the Lama, played by a miscast Paul Lukas in his dullest manner. We get a voiceover — provided by some unexplained Indian — TELLING us that Kim grows to love the Lama, but the scant, desultory interactions depicted in flat and distant style give us nothing of this. I suppose it’s a typical Hollywood mistake to privilege the violent action stuff at the expense of character and spirituality, but there are plenty of movies of the time that do get this right. If Frank Borzage had been in charge, both the relationship and the religion would have come through strongly: Borzage believed, as does Kipling (speaking as Mahbub Ali), that all spirituality is a way to truth (Borzage would have insisted on kindness as a necessary tool). And he was at MGM!

Although Kim isn’t an easy book to film, it does have a number of very strong cinematic scenes. These are all either absent or ruined by Saville’s clumsy handling, except for the hypnosis bit, played by one of my favourite underused actors, Arnold Moss — the book is 100 times more powerful, and provides visuals that any competent director ought to have seized upon, but the material is so strong and Moss plays it so well that Saville actually wakes up very slightly and it becomes fascinating.

One weird thing: I’d seen bits of the movie as a kid, and now I understand why I was bored. No child focus. But I do recall the cliffhanging bit, and when I got to this passage in the book, describing the plunge — “No need to listen for the fall — this is the world’s end,” it rang a strong bell and I assumed the line appeared in the film. It SHOULD, but it doesn’t. I have this FALSE MEMORY of hearing the line as a kind and thinking “Is that TRUE?” Maybe I heard a similar line elsewhere. The child’s brain is strange — as Kipling knew.

Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon II

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2019 by dcairns

I picked up a second-hand copy of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon II for 50p. Now I have the set.

Kevin Brownlow quoted to me Anger’s answer to the question, “How do you do your research?” “Mainly by mental telepathy.” And so it has become sadly fashionable to debunk Anger’s investigations speculations lies, as in the commendable You Must Remember This podcast. Well, I never saw a bandwagon I didn’t want to jump on, even at the risk of upsetting the applecart, so I thought I’d have a go at fact-checking Anger using his own methods. Tuning my mental aerial to UHF, I leafed through the sordid pages of the discounted scandal sheet, and attempted to pick up Corrections from Beyond. This is what I come up with:

Page 96: “Meanwhile, back on d’Este Drive, left with a lonely libido in his spacious hacienda, along with his python-mistress, Elsie, a half dozen bed-trained dobermans, a talking macaw named Copulate, zoo-keeper Lionel [Atwill] maintained a rigidly disciplined schedule as a cog in the factory-studio wheel during the week.”

THE TRUTH: Yeah, none of that happened.

Page 127: “During production of Rebel without a Cause, James Dean was host to a thriving colony of crabs.”

THE TRUTH: There is no such film as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. The sentence should probably read, “During production of A THRIVING COLONY OF CRABS, Dean Jones was host to a raven without a caw.” Or maybe “During production of THE HOST, crabby Jim Dale was cause of a rebel colony, or craved a threnody.” Or maybe it shouldn’t be there at all.

Page 185: “After a three-year absence, [Bobby Driscoll] returned to the screen in 1958, in a B-programmer–Bernard Girard’s The Party Crashers. By a curious coincidence, his co-star was the lobotomized Frances Farmer, making her benumbed comeback after sixteen years away from the movies.

THE TRUTH: it’s hardly a “curious coincidence” that two actors happen to appear in the same film. Is it a curious coincidence that WHITE HOUSE DOWN co-stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx? In fact, my telepathy tells me that’s probably the film Anger was thinking of. Anyway, Frances Farmer never had a lobotomy, and by a curious coincidence, THE PARTY CRASHERS also stars Doris Dowling, Denver Pile and Onslow Stevens. Uncanny, isn’t it?

Page 235: “Shapely blond Carole Landis rose to stardom in Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. in which she played a primitive cavewoman. her 1948 Fourth-of-July suicide, provoked by unrequited love for Rex Harrison, caused a hullaballoo and a half for Mr. and Mrs. Moviegoer.”

THE TRUTH: Carole was a blonde, not a blond, and the cavewoman she portrayed for Roach, far from being primitive, was really a quite sophisticated troglodyte by the standards of the time (1940). Rex Harrison did not appear in the picture. Nor do George Moviegoer and his wife Ethel (nee Theatregoer). Landis’ tragic suicide cannot properly be called a “Fourth-of-July” affair since I doubt any festive tie-in was intended and anyway it occurred the following day.

Anger tastefully has a whole chapter on suicides. On the page opposite Landis, we get the following:

“A large quantity of sleeping pills had cured [Dorothy Dandridge] of her amnesia.”

THE TRUTH: Dorothy Dandridge did not suffer from amnesia, which cannot be treated with sleeping pills anyhow. I think the word Anger is groping for is “insomnia.” I think possibly it’s Anger who’s suffering from amnesia, or maybe aphasia.

Page 312: “[…] Claudette Colbert who was said to be among the first to advise the President to invade Grenada–she was far from delighted at the prospect of an island full of Reds so near to her palatial Barbados estate.

THE TRUTH: No such person as Claudette Cobert ever existed. Anger is evidently thinking of British actor Claude Hulbert (pictured). Though Hulbert never actually invaded Grenada, he was famous for his fussiness about being filmed from the correct side. Whole sets had to be rebuilt to avoid catching him from an unflattering angle. The most famous instance of this was on HEAVEN’S GATE (1980), where an entire western town had to be razed to the ground because it was facing the wrong way. This was all the more remarkable because Hulbert was not cast in the film, but perfectionist director Michael Cimino was taking no chance of offending the powerful star, who died in 1964.

A Woolrich Gallery #1

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2010 by dcairns

I once got into a silly argument with my friend Nicola about whether THE WINDOW was in colour or b&w. I clearly remembered the colours — proof, in fact, that sometimes the eye paints in what the film omits to record. I think also the all-American boy in a stripy top had formed a connection in my mind between Bobby Driscoll in THE WINDOW and little Tommy Rettig in THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR T, enabling me to “see” the colours of Bobby Dee’s shirt.

Maybe also the palpable sense of summer heat evoked by former DoP Ted Tetzlaff’s film (based on Woolrich’s juvenile Rear Window retread, The Boy Who Cried Wolf) added a wash of orange and red over my memories — although in fact, monochrome movies are often the best for making you feel a choking sense of humidity — see TOUCH OF EVIL for confirmation.

To threaten the life of a child, said Francois Truffaut (who filmed two Woolrich novels), is almost an abuse of cinematic power. THE WINDOW depends entirely for suspense on placing its miniature protagonist in peril, but we are reassured slightly by the fact that he’s the hero of the film, and he’s a star, so he’s probably going to make it through OK. Nevertheless, it’s disconcerting to find him playing in the ruins of a crumbling tenement in scene one, something modern American parents probably would tolerate, and which the city would take steps to render impossible. And when bad guy Paul Stewart punches the little mite unconscious later on, there’s a genuine sense of SHOCK.

Because the film is rooted in a fairly happy family, and the threat comes from entirely outside, and things are cleared up cosily by the end, perhaps we can’t call this true noir, but the visuals certainly fit. And Bobby looking up at the stars enables me to quote Woolrich’s memoirs. As an eleven-year-old boy, he looked up at the stars, and ~

“I had that trapped feeling, like some sort of a poor insect that you’ve put inside a downturned glass, and it tries to climb up the sides, and it can’t, and it can’t, and it can’t.”*

The other thing that haunts this film and gives it a darker edge is the melancholy fate of Bobby Driscoll. After his movie career did a slow fade in adolescence, he drifted into drug abuse. Apparently a talented artist, he hung out with Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd (he was apparently a promising visual artist), then vanished from view. An unidentified body found in an abandoned tenement was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave on Hart Island. A year and a half later, his mother approached the police, wanting Bobby to see his father, who was close to death. A fingerprint search matched Bobby’s name to his corpse.

Bobby Driscoll, RIP.

*Excepted from Francis M Nevins’ introduction to Night & Fear.

The Window [DVD]