Archive for Brigitte Helm

Bobs, Shingles and Grifts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2022 by dcairns
Från bildens baksida: “Enrique Rivero och Brita Appelgren”

Three from Pordenone —

As part of the Ruritanian season, HIS MAJESTY THE BARBER was a sprightly Swedish-German comedy. The Swedish aspect was more to the front. There’s an old barber in a small own whose grandson is secretly the heir to a Ruritanian throne. The young fellow falls for the daughter of a hair tonic lady mogul whose product offers “giant Lorelei hair”.

The original title is either HANS KUNGL. HÖGHET SHINGLAR (HIS KING. HIGHNESS SHINGLER) — a rare two-sentence title — where is the rule against that written, and why don’t we see it more often? — or MAJESTÄT SCHNEIDET BUBI KÖPFE (MAJESTY CUTS BOB-HEADS). And indeed, barber-monarch Enrique Rivero, later star of BLOOD OF A POET, is seen administering both bobs and shingle-cuts to the film’s ladies. The film is very nimbly directed by the splendidly-named Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius, and boasts a really excellent third-act twist. Didn’t see it coming.

The older barber played by Julius Falkenstein is named André Gregory, which I add to my short list of real actors’ names turning up on fictional characters (Kent Smith as Oliver Reed in CAT PEOPLE, Robert DeNiro using Robin Williams as a pseudonym in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA).

The plot twist in that one is implicitly democratic — it may not be necessary to be a crowned head of state in order to secure a romantic happy ending (your chances may actually improve). The plot twist in Anthony Asquith’s THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS is entirely predictable, and provides a clue towards the filmmaker’s (here, writer as well as director) precipitous decline in imagination: his attitudes are rather conservative/conventional.

Still, for fans of A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR, which includes me, this movie does have a lot of mobile camera, sequences of inventive dazzle (AA has clearly imbibed Eisenstein at one film society or another, and thought, “How can I apply intellectual montage to a silly romp?”) and Nora Baring. The star, however, is Mady Christians, appropriately shingled, who is delightful. Paul Kavanaugh as her suitor fulfils all of his early potential by being OK.

Asquith’s antic montage and camera are greatly enhanced by the scenes of London, especially public transport, which follow neatly on from UNDERGROUND. Here, it’s the open-topped omnibus that takes centre stage.

Both the Asquith and MANOLESCU featured detectives hunting fugitives on trains, but that was about all they had in common. Viktor Tourjansky’s film lacks in both plot and character sympathy (until Dita Parlo appears in act III) but is awash with style, both filmic and fashion. Ivan Mozzhukhin is the titular swindler, seduced into crime by Brigitte Helm. The international crime spree motivates a travelogue of glamorous locales, and melodramatic high points include a dream sequence filmed in negative, complete with black-on-white intertitles.

Fiona finds Mozzhukhim physically repellent and nothing about his character here was likely to overcome that. Helm, a kind of humanoid rivulet — long, thin, liquid and luminous — provides allure for two. I liked it more than Fiona did, but it seemed like one of those literary adaptations where the idea holding it together has been lost in translation, so we end up with what Homer Simpson would call “a bunch of stuff that happened.”

One con trick involves a valise initialled V.T. — the director cheekily signing his own film, or just making use of a prop he had handy?

Manolescu here and “Monescu” (Herbert Marshall) in TROUBLE IN PARADISE may be distantly related, but there are no chuckles to be had in the Tourjansky.

Otto Smash

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2022 by dcairns

BONJOUR TRISTESSE is beautiful, odd, trashy at times — it perfectly captures the feeling if an endless summer, but brackets its lustrous Saint-Tropez Technicolor with monochrome scenes in Paris that make it all too clear the idyll is doomed. Preminger only mixed colour with b&w this one time, but it seems appropriate to his perversity that he used monochrome for the present tense. Of course it makes a clear emotional point about the joy having drained from our young protagonist’s life (and suits the particular looks of St Tropez and Paris) but of course it doesn’t withstand a literal-minded interpretation, and at the same time it’s too obvious to sublimate into symbolism.

Somewhat random side-note — just stumbled upon the fact that, while filming the Great Fire of London for FOREVER AMBER, Otto nearly incinerated Linda Darnell, eerily anticipating her eventual tragic fate by some years. It was a piece of collapsing set that did it, or nearly. And I thought, My God, Otto had form, because he nearly burned Jean Seberg to death making JOAN OF ARC, and did in fact take her eyebrows off. It may be unfair to blame him wholly, since a director is somewhat at the mercy of what the pyrotechnics people say is safe, but on the other hand, fish stinks from the head, and a director is quite able to say “That sounds kinda risky,” or “I’d like some more safety measures in place.” Otto instead follows in the tradition of his fellow Viennese Fritz Lang, who came close to creating Brigitte Helm on METROPOLIS.

There’s a smouldering death here, too, but off-screen, represented by a great black smoke signal against the azure Mediterranean sky, produced by car crash (see also ANGEL FACE), and anticipating Otto’s own accident when he was struck down and badly injured by a car (I imagine the driver’s astonishment at Mr. Freeze suddenly impacting his windscreen).

We’re in the world of Françoise Sagan, based on the novel she published at nineteen. Her youth seems to grant her a strong insight into the thought processes of teenage Cecile (Jean Seberg), with the slight disadvantage that everyone else behaves like an adolescent too. The one real adult, supposedly, Deborah Kerr’s character, is as extreme as everyone else, really, just in a different direction.

I wonder what the shoot was like? I mean, it looks like heaven: Paris and the Côte d’Azur (with Otto now starting his later shoot-it-all-on-location phase), attractive people, and David Niven on hand to stop Otto getting too beastly — Niv had stood up to Michael Curtiz (“Vhere is your script?” “I don’t need it.” “Run and get it!” “YOU fucking run and get it.”) and knew that all bullies are cowards. (It’s possible that everybody’s a coward, and bullies have just discovered a peculiarly extrovert way of handling it. It [a] works for them and [b] makes the world a more hideous place.)

The movie is a fashion show (Givenchy, Hermès, Cartier), and an art show, and a parade of beautiful, rich, foolish people we shouldn’t have any sympathy for and mostly don’t. But I found I still felt for Seberg’s spoilt brat a little, perhaps because Seberg herself was so tragic. Otto was determined to make her a star — she’d been roasted for JOAN OF ARC and the American critics wouldn’t accept her as French here either, as if it mattered. You accept she’s Niven’s daughter even though he’s English playing French. And if they’re French, what is the heavily-accented Mylene Demongeot? Doesn’t matter.

Critical hostility to Seberg was probably mostly about her flat Iowan accent, which Austrian Otto was perhaps not sensitive to — she can seem bad even when she’s emotionally on point — I remember her being wooden in THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, which came after this. Efforts to deaden the accent add layers of self-consciousness to someone whose charm ought to be in their naturalness. This is the movie where it all kind of fits.

Niven is very fine also, in a role with uncomfortable echoes of his own life — not the creepy Elektra complex stuff, the idea of the playboy who finally tries to settle down, only for fate to knife him in the back. Deborah Kerr seems like the kind of woman who could reform him. And here’s Martita Hunt, maybe the only actor to appear for Otto in the forties, fifties and sixties?

BONJOUR TRISTESSE stars Sister Clodagh; Squadron Leader Peter Carter; St. Joan of Arc; Milady de Winter; Lieutenant Joyce; Georgette Aubin; Mr. Silence; Miss Havisham; Lord Desham; Jackson’s Doxy; Sir Hugo Baskerville; Adrian Baskerville; and the Fiddler on the Roof.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2020 by dcairns

I got an email from my New York chum Jaime Christley about GW Pabst’s ABWEGE, streamed from Pordenone, and I liked it so much it put me off writing anything about the film myself, so I’m just publishing it here.

Frame-grabs are by Jaime and also Mark Fuller, who can get them to work even though I can’t, suddenly.


I forgot I’d already seen ABWEGE but yes, it looked great. One of Pabst’s most haunting images is the junkie at the party – MORE haunting after she’s had her fix than before. Pabst can go toe to toe with anybody in depicting the gilded rot of the continental leisure class of that era, but even with his talent for vivid, packed images, he’s a lot more sly than he lets on. Plenty of “let the audience put 2 and 2 together.”

Maybe too much Gustav Diessl and his furrowed brow? Lang knew well enough in THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE that a little Diessl goes a long way. (Actually, looking at what I’ve seen him in – several Pabsts! – I tend to like him. I don’t know what makes him come across like a paperweight here….. might just be my mood.)

Jaime N. Christley


DC again. Note: Diessl famously plays Jack the Ripper in PANDORA’S BOX, and Louise Brooks always claimed that Pabst cast him in that role because he was “her type.” Psychological manipulation being Pabst’s metier.

The only other thing I wanted to talk about in this louche and lustrous presentation was the dancing. First we get Lutz and Lola doing their celebrated Intrepid Crouch —

Then there’s Brigitte Helm doing a startling visualisation of what it means to literally melt in a man’s arms. Impossible to represent this in still images but worth trying anyway. Sorry, I don’t know who I’m stealing this frame-grab from:

Wait, yes I do, Donna Hill. Thanks!

Helm’s entire form becomes snakelike, bending seductively in places it shouldn’t be able to bend, like the serpentine woman in THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, then she takes it further and becomes a snake made of butter dancing in an oven. It is something to see.