Archive for Brian Aherne

Juarez: What is it good for?

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2019 by dcairns

I can’t believe we watched JUAREZ right after NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA. How many films about impotent yet oppressive emperors can a person’s system withstand? We were about to find out.

The film is turgid, uniting the occasional leaden tendencies of director William Dieterle (exemplary in his fleet-footedness when Jack Warner cracked the whip or when entrusted with taut thriller material, fully living up to his German nickname “The Iron Stove” when pursuing some dim idea of “quality”) with the dullness of the standard biopic, the worthy period drama, and the “prestige” super-production. Co-writer John Huston blamed Paul Muni, cast as Juarez himself, for insisting on more lines. Muni talks slowly and low, which would work if he said little, but he’s dragging out great long speeches. “It was always heavy weather with Muni.”

Muni also seems to be wearing a FALSE HEAD, something like a Klingon.

In terms of performance, up-and-comer John Garfield and flatliner Brian Aherne (as the hapless Emperor Max) do best. Brian has to act through a ludicrous whorly beard. I think they should have abandoned historical likenesses for this movie, though they needed someone who could more plausibly suggest Indian heritage than Muni. Of course, we were watching for Bette’s mad scenes, which are indeed OTT, but not as hysterical as we’d hoped. But her character’s slide into insanity does give the film it’s best, by far, cinematic moment. After arguing her husband’s case with Napoleon III (an oily Claude Rains, always welcome), building into greater and greater frenzy of emotion, she breaks down completely, her hold on reality snapping. Claude turns into a Halloween devil, lit from below, which is slightly absurd (he’s already got the melodramatic villain’s twirly waxed mustache) —

And Bette flees the room —

Into OUTER DARKNESS. A completely black void, extending in all directions forever. Into this abyss she runs, and Dieterle’s camera plunges madly after her, and we’re swallowed up.

Now THAT’S expressionism. I can say it made the film worthwhile, though if I’d seen the clip in isolation that would have served me just as well. But then that would have made me watch the whole film, which would have been an even more unrewarding experience if I’d already seen the good bit.

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Freud Vs Marx in the World Series of Love

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2018 by dcairns

THE LOCKET is best-remembered for its Russian dolls structure, with a flashback embedded in a flashback inside another flashback. Like INCEPTION, we go in, and in, and in, then out and out and out. But there are more pleasures than that, as any decent marital guide could tell you.

Director John Brahm was great at what animators call “extremes” — he could frame shots in such a way that the composition alone created a skewed, intense emotion — see this shot of Larraine Day, filmed from INSIDE her wedding veil. The ending of his version of THE LODGER seems composed almost entirely of extremes — Laird Cregar brought out the be(a)st in him.

Screenwriter Sheridan Gibney told Patrick McGilligan about writing this one, and being forced to compromise the ending by the Production Code. He wanted it to end with Larraine Day walking down the aisle with new hubbie Gene Raymond. The censors said she couldn’t, as she was a thief who had driven one man to madness and another to suicide. Gibney’s argument was that we didn’t know this — we have only Brian Aherne’s word for it, and he’s maybe mad… An interesting test case: the censor decided that crime must not pay, even when it’s only maybe crime and maybe never happened.

The IMDb lists blacklistee Norma Barzman as co-writer — Gibney didn’t mention her. But it’s tempting to see the two writers as embodying warring stances, the Freudian and Marxist influences on the script. Larraine Day is crazy, afflicted with kleptomaniacal compulsions caused by a traumatic incident in her childhood when she was unjustly accused of theft by nasty rich lady Katherine Emery (maybe the film’s best performance, and a character who’s horribly convincing because she’s so certain she’s in the right). This sequence is buried in the deepest flashback of the set, the primal scene/inciting incident at the heart of Day’s, and the film’s, psychosis.

The Figure in the Carpet is Mitch!

Surrounding this traumatic memory is the Robert Mitchum section, and he plays an artist with a chip on his shoulder about rich folks, so the theme is continued, but kind of reversed, since in this story the rich people are nice and Mitchum is wrong to mistrust them. Mitchum’s story ends with one of the film’s periodic plunges into delirium and hysteria, and this sets up a similar freak-out in the Brian Aherne narrative (do keep up). Aherne’s story is less obviously about class, though he does continued to insist he has no money. He’s a psychiatrist who goes off his trolley as his doubts about his spouse — Day again — eat away at his nerves. At the climax of his breakdown, the art theme from the Mitchum storyline and the madness one from Aherne’s collide, in the movie’s most psychedelic image —

Mitchum’s crap Dali knock-off of an eyeless Cassandra suddenly acquires eyes — Larraine Day’s eyes!

Whew! And then we emerge, gasping, back into the present tense, where Day is about to marry the wealthy Raymond, completing a climb up the social ladder, and it turns out she’s marrying into nasty Katherine Emery’s family. The “stolen” locket that started the whole thing off is now hers by right. But this triggers a mental collapse, signified by flashbacks appearing in the carpet — the film has been so overstuffed with embedded narratives that they’ve spilled out and are now seeping into the furniture. Having swithered* between a cod-Freudian view of the problem, a superstitious one — Day’s madness infects Aherne — and the class-centred argument that social injustice screws us all up — the film now finds mercy for its demoness, with Raymond deciding to stick by her until she can be cured, despite Emery’s aghast reaction (good to see she really is the horrible person she appeared as in Day’s own flashback — but with this beat, the movie closes the door on the possibility of any of our various narrators being unreliable).

The above probably doesn’t make a lick of sense to you if you haven’t seen the movie. So see the movie! What am I, your mother?

*Your lovely Scots word for the day.

The Sunday Intertitle: Not Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2016 by dcairns

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Strange title card from SHOOTING STARS (1928). This one has strange credits, also — it has a scenario by one John Orton, it’s directed by one A.V. Bramble, but it has in addition a non-specific authorial credit — “By Anthony Asquith.” Since Asquith is known to us a director, one tends to ascribe him credit, but heaven knows how the workload was actually divided.

I like A.V. Bramble because his name is A.V. Bramble.

Sad to say, the astounding A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR is unique in the Asquith oeuvre, a Germanic, doomladen, yet quirky drama. A late silent, it contains a naughty parody of early talkies — and then Asquith plunged into talkies himself and immediately came to embody the British tradition of quality, making respectable, theatrical, well-acted movies which are kind of D.O.A. from a cinematic perspective. I don’t know, I have a vague plan to attempt to watch THE V.I.P.S sometime, just to see if it’s really as dull as I remember (I remember it as eight hours long and entirely composed of actors in an airport doing their income tax. Possibly this is a distorted memory.)

But if COTTAGE is the one supernova in Asquith’s career, UNDERGROUND has quite a lot of verve and makes London’s subway into an epic adventure setting, and SHOOTING STARS is the other lively one, with much to commend it. (I’d be very interested to see his other silent, THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS if that ever becomes possible.) Like UNDERGROUND this has the star quality of the underrated Brian Aherne, and character actor Donald Calthrop (Hitchcock’s BLACKMAILer), and its setting behind the scenes of the British film industry immediately endears it to silent movie buffs. The fact that we’re introduced to the crew as they shoot a western just makes it better. British westerns are so scarce that there’s no slang name for them — “fish and chips western” has occasionally been bandied about, but apart from CARRY ON COWBOY there’s very little to apply it to (HANNIE CALDER and A TOWN CALLED BASTARD are the others that come to mind. “The crookedest film I ever did,” was Dudley Sutton’s verdict on the latter).

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There are a few moments where Asquith runs mad, creatively, too, such as his subjective camera swinging-from-a-chandelier shots…