Archive for Bull Montana

The Sunday Intertitle: Three Doug Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2014 by dcairns

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Watching three Douglas Fairbanks movies in fairly quick succession (though not, qua the title of this piece, in one night) they tend to blur together.

I just realized the problem — we actually watched four! So the title is even more inaccurate. Never mind. Moving on.

I want to dispose of REACHING FOR THE MOON quickly because it’s a really terrible film, actually causing Fiona to say “I’m getting sick of Doug’s boundless optimism.” He’s a dreamer who works in a button factory (pen-pushing, rather than more rewarding work like punching holes in the buttons: button-pressing?) who is obsessed with the power of VISUALISATION. He visualizes becoming the King of Vulgaria (first appearance of that pun? Certainly predates CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG by decades) and then we get a long dream sequence which does contain a few stunts but it’s already too late. The first half of the film is incredibly joyless, though New York street scenes of the teens do have a certain pleasure of their own.

We got into this marathon because of THE MATRIMANIAC which we watched ages ago, still perhaps my favourite. It’s short, has a good situation and daring stunts and very, very funny intertitles. Fiona loved it and so I thought it was time to try her on more. Of course THE BLACK PIRATE’s screening in Glasgow was catalyst.

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The first one we ran was maybe the best — THE HABIT OF HAPPINESS is short and sweet, though a little politically confused. Doug is scion of a wealthy family who, with his typical enthusiasm, is trying to redeem tramps by inviting them into his home. We first meet him aslep between two of the fellows. There’s a scrambled plot about stock-exchange shenanigans and a terrific fight at the end. It’s pretty simple which may be why I can’t remember much of what goes on. Oh, I remember embarrassing scenes of Doug trying to make tramps laugh. Kinda patronizing. But then writers Allan Dwan (who also directed) and Shannon Fife come up with a really nice meta-intertitle as Doug tells a funny story ~

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WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLL BY is much more complicated and inventive but maybe a touch protracted. It’s front-loaded with insane genius. The mad scientist living next door to Doug has decided to drive him to insanity and suicide for experimental purposes. All for the betterment of humanity, I suppose. Various stooges assist him, including Doug’s manservant, who encourages him to eat badly before bed, giving him indigestion and nightmares. Cue shots of onion and pie, played by actors in costume, trampolining Satanically in a large, spongy set representing the Fairbanks gut. And then a nightmare sequence featuring slomo, a two-storey interior set built in a tumbrel so Doug can climb the walls, and various other ahead-of-their-time tricks, including Bull Montana as a Fusellian embodied nightmare.

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This experimentalism ceases for the rest of the film, which devolves into a kind of disturbing sitcom as Doug’s job prospects and love life are thwarted by the wicked scientist. Then Doug finally has his brainstorm, and the movie visualizes Reason toppled from her throne by Despair and Worry and Jealousy. What follows looks suspiciously like some kind of neurological gang bang, until Sense of Humor reasserts himself and kicks the bad guys out. Very odd.

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The movie should really end with Doug performing a few heroic feats, armed with his rekindled optimism, but Doug, along with director Victor Fleming and the scenarists, can’t resist staging an epic flood so Doug can rescue the heroine. It looks forward to STEAMBOAT BILL JNR, actually, even down to the minister floating by on his adrift church in time to marry the happy couple.

THE NUT gets a little overcomplicated too, but has some delightful stuff. A shame Doug’s pal Theodore Reed didn’t direct more. Doug is a mad inventor in this one — which I wrote about previously — though the film tends to forget this slightly as plot complications pile up. There’s a very funny bit where he tries to win back his sweetheart by letting her promote her socially improving schemes for redeeming slum children to a roomful of influential men, but because Doug is unable to round up any actual influential men, he mechanizes some waxwork dummies instead. Reminiscent of Sid Grauman’s practical jokes, actually.

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The thing to do when exhaustion sets in with Doug’s modern-dress comedies is to switch to his period movies, so maybe I’ll finally get around to his THREE MUSKETEERS and IRON MASK?

Meanwhile: Blogneys!

Buy: Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer (His Picture in the Papers / The Mystery of the Leaping Fish / Flirting With Fate / The Matrimaniac / Wild and Woolly / Reaching for the Moon / When the Clouds Roll By / The Mollycoddle / The Mark of Zorro / The Nut)

The Sunday Intertitle: Moral Turpin-tude

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2011 by dcairns

The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding– 
Riding–riding– 
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door. 

Tom Mix as Dick Turpin? Some instinctive urge for variety must have goaded William Fox (the lifesblood of El Brendel not yet coursing through his arteries) — Mix was a great cowboy star, but could he not play other roles? As long as there was a supporting role for  Tony the Wonder Horse.

With its cartoon character names — Lord Churlston and Squire Crabtree are churlish and crabby as you might expect — this movie really shows how childish Hollywood was prepared to be. Perhaps only nostalgia makes it appealing, because I’d have no time for a modern movie as stupid as this. Turpin is rewritten as a Robin Hood figure (he even has Alan Hale, longterm Little John to various Robins, as sidekick), which outdoes the romanticism of his popular fiction appearances to date: the real guy was a murderer and thief with no redemptive charitable impulses: they hanged him in York.

As is so often the case with Fox productions, the sets are impressive (and the film impossible to see in a good condition print), and the crowd scenes reputedly feature Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard boosting the numbers, but good luck spotting either of them. At least Bull Montana is clearly visible as a prize fighter.

“That sounds like something out of Blackadder!” observed Fiona.

Director John G. Blystone finished his days directing Laurel & Hardy — probably regarded as a step down from this in industry terms, but I can think of worse fates. At least his immortality is assured. Outside of the highwayman genre, comedy was very much his bag, and he was Buster Keaton’s collaborator on OUR HOSPITALITY. The film of his I most want to see is THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1924), no relation to the Vincent Price version of I Am Legend — this is that rare bird, an apocalyptic hillbilly comedy.

The Sunday Intertitle: Total Victory

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2010 by dcairns

Bull Montana does what Bull Montana does best.

It was Hogmanay, in Edinburgh, the most Hogmaniacal city on this particular hemisphere of the planet, and we were all set to go round to friend Nicola’s to celebrate in comfort and warmth and alcoholic haze but (1) Nicola got a stinking cold and (2) I got a stinking cold, which meant Fiona and I celebrated in front of the TV with a good film, which is my answer to any crisis anyway (my late friend Lawrie, octogenarian, frequently housebound, paralysed down one side, after watching any decent film: “Ah, life is good“).

The film chosen was VICTORY, about which you can read a bit here (am I David Bordwell’s publicist? Or just a long-distance stalker?) — apart from its many dramatic and aesthetic merits, the film may contain cinema’s earliest over-the-shoulder shot, we learn. One of the great things about the o-t-s shot is that, used sparingly, it can still seem as fresh as when Maurice Tourneur tried it out in 1919. In THE KNACK, Richard Lester avoids the standard shot-reverse-shot formula so consistently that when he does do it, near the start and near the end, it seems almost like some crazy sixties gimmick he’s come up with, along with jump-cutting the actors around a park or winding the film backwards.

VICTORY is a 9-10ths faithful 1-crucial-10th travesty of Joseph Conrad’s novel, which incidentally Lester once planned to make with a screenplay by Pinter. The Great Harold’s script perhaps short-changes us on the romantic aspect of the story, which Tourneur and his scenarist Jules Furthman (later of Sternberg-Hawks affiliation) allows more expression, as you’d expect, but they cop out on the tragic ending. The result is a slightly weird moral to the story which equates true love with homicide — both are things you apparently have to be prepared to do if you want to live a full life. Hmm.

Mmm, that Rembrandt lighting, by René Guissart, about whom I need to learn more. He shot the 20s BEN-HUR, is all I know.

BUT — the film is visually a treat, with many many striking images. Conrad’s dastardly villains are one part of his novels that the movies can really get down with — see James Mason in LORD JIM as a frinstance — and here we can exult in Wallace Beery, Lon Chaney, LOST WORLD man-myth Bull Montana and a terrifying fellow called Ben Deeley as the psycho-albino Mr Jones, who becomes somewhat less terrifying as the film progresses but starts off as the most terrifying specter I’ve ever seen in a silent movie. Scarier than Chaney!

Some primo villainous musing from Deeley and Chaney.

Nevertheless, Chaney is impressive, with an unpleasant makeup and some impressive athletic work, and that powerful presence and ability to distort his body in expressive, expressionistic ways. What a performer he was. This shouldn’t really be considered as “a Lon Chaney movie” — it’s early in his career and he has only a supporting part, but in many ways, it utterly IS — the grotesquerie and violence, faithfully transferred from Conrad (a moment where a character falls face-first into a bonfire is an unconvincing special effect but memorably wince-making all the same) seem to exact prefigure Chaney’s later stick-in-trade.

Maurice Tourneur, whose work is nearly all hard to see via legit channels, is somebody who really should be honoured with a fat box set sometime. Here’s what’s available just now in the USA — I highly recommend it all. Nothing whatever is available in the UK.

The Blue Bird

The Poor Little Rich Girl

The Last of the Mohicans (1920 – Silent)

Before Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee, N.J. – Early Moviemaking in New Jersey

NB — if you follow the links and buy anything from Amazon, I get a percentage!

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