Archive for Cecil B Demille

The Death of the Arthur: Merlin Alexanderplatz

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2023 by dcairns

Sick as a dog today, so the only thing you’re getting out of me is episode two of THE ADVENTURES OF SIR GALAHAD: Galahad’s Daring. I guess I’ll keep going until it stops being fun or I run out of bad puns for titles. Desperation, you may note, has already set in.

The amusing detail that convinced me this was worth persisting with actually happens in part one, but it’s repeated in the episode 2 recap, so it’s fair game.

Venturing into the Enchanted Forest in pursuit of the stolen Excalibur, following a tip-off from Morgan le Fay, Sir G is attacked by a tree. It’s a full-on Tabanga manifestation, but FROM HELL IT CAME is still eight years in the future, which caused me to wonder if the dendritic menace might be a WIZARD OF OZ leftover. But it’s too crappy for that — I think they actually went to the trouble of building it, or had it lying around from another serial (it does seem kind of shoehorned, or shoetreed, in).

Rubbery arms like sawn-off tentacles.

I’m forced to keep watching because the serial seems to be casting Merlin as a villain, Morgan le Fay as an elfin, ironic heroine. This is probably a trick, but it’s something that requires explanation at some point. So I’m invested.

The serial, like so many before it, violates one of Ronald Knox’s ten rules of mystery writing — not more than one secret passageway. The ninja knight who purloined the sacred sword escaped the imaginatively named “sword room” through a secret panel. Another trick entrance allows him, or someone, to smuggle it out of Camelot into the waiting hands of a couple of the warlike King Ulric’s men, who have been riding through the countryside of a hostile power, right up to Camelot, in full national dress. Great spies, these fellows.

Sir G. has acquired a comedy sidekick, the portly Sir Bors (one of the killer rabbit’s victims in MONTY PYTHON’s revisionist history). Fat-shamed by Guinevere in episode one, he’s meant to be comedy relief, but is played by Charles King, a specialist in serials (they had their own casting pool, it seems) who did a lot of westerns. So he’s here for equestrian rather than dramatic skill. His sits on every laugh line like it was a big horse, stifling it beneath the fat arse of his non-talent. IMDb pics show him as a black-whispered desperado, which I think he’d be better at.

The Lady of the Lake, a dimpled blonde, has a speaking part, which seems wrong, but is at least new (maybe that’s why it seems wrong).

King Ulric wears a hilarious false beard, as if he’s ashamed of appearing here. He’s played by one John Merton, another serial specialist, whose main roles outside the chapter-play form are in are for Cecil B. DeMille, which may tells us something about CB’s priorities. His main henchman is called Bartog, but the chap doesn’t look remotely like he has a concerto for orchestra anywhere in him. They’re both hearty, cheery fellows, not outstandingly villainous.

All the sneaking around and detection (Sir G spots a sword-shaped case and deduces, with Holmesian insight, that it could contain a sword) has been making this feel like a spy serial, but now Ulric comes very close to saying “We’ll cut them off at the pass,” hinting at the genre terrain all concerned are more comfortable with.

The episode runs out of time before actually reaching a real cliffhanger, so it does something I haven’t seen before, it cuts ahead to predicaments our endearingly schlubby heroes will face in part 3, Prisoners of Ulric. Makes me wonder what a Nic Roeg movie serial would be like…

Teacher Training

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2021 by dcairns

Bombed back to the silent age? Something I learned thanks to this year’s Pordenone Festival of Silent Film — as a result of WWII and the Japanese occupation, sound production ceased in the benighted country, and even sound projectors were scarce, but cinema refused to die out altogether. So a fresh batch of silent movies was produced, relying on what the Koreans call a Byeonsa, equivalent to the Japanese Benshi, a live, in-person film-describer storyteller.

Many of the films from Korea’s second silent age are now lost, but we were treated to THE TEACHER AND THE PROSECUTOR (1948), with a recorded Byeonsa narration by Sin Chul. The film survives, gleaming through a patina of scratches and with a subaquatic ripple effect caused by the warping of the celluloid. It begins with quick cuts of the main characters, so the narrator can introduce them — shots clearly filched from elsewhere in the film, as in a movie trailer. Making me wonder if this was originally a sound film repurposed as silent due to the problems of exhibition. I unfortunately dropped off before I could form a firm theory about this.

The narration was certainly interesting. Sin Chul has a throaty, sing-song delivery, his voice at times degenerating into a gasping gargle, but always passionate, like one anxious to convey something with his last breath or death rattle. Delivered against dead silence — did Korean cinemas, or Japanese ones come to that, not employ musicians? — this made for eerie listening. It was quite interesting to experience, until weariness got the better of me.

Education, education, education, as Tony Blair is always saying. (“Why does he keep saying that?” is the best line in IRIS.) Teaching also played a role in PHIL-FOR-SHORT (1919), a charming story of love and self-determination, almost we might say feminism, directed by C.B. DeMille’s former directing partner Oscar Apfel. As co-director of maybe the first surviving Hollywood feature, Apfel’s decline to extra work or bit part acting is a sad story, especially when we see him here at his height, getting terrific performances esp. from the delightful Evelyn Greeley as the titular tomboy, managing the story very smoothly, and serving up live-action intertitles on a Grecian theme — the titles are actually superimposed over moving images. All this and a nubile Edward Arnold in an early perf.

The script is by Clara Berenger & Forrest Halsey, and makes a passionate argument for non-conformity and vivacity against prudishness and hypocrisy. Hugh Thompson is an amusingly unlikely leading man — I’d forgotten that I’d previously seen him in THE GRUB STAKE with director/star Nell Shipman, making him a bit of a feminist icon, possibly.

The whole movie had attractive columns of nitrate decomposition shimmering like flames up both sides, what I call an added attraction.

Oh, and the feature was preceded by LE MÉNAGE DRANEM, themed around the notion of cross-dressing and role reversal, but this Pathé short was a pretty unpleasant affair, though in spectacularly good nick. Dranem is henpecked by his trousered termagant of a wife, before turning the tables with a vicious display of entirely uncomedic domestic violence. There should have been a warning. It did end with a smile of sorts, as accompanist José Marìa Serralde Ruiz played a kind of death march over the family outing, mother, perambulator and numerous sprogs parading down a Parisian street, a witty critique of the patriarchal assumptions, and then the last kid in line is so intent on picking his nose that Dranem has to steer the little bastard through frame and away from the traffic.

Dranem seemed an unappealing lout. He was a boulevardier and he does appear in one of the funniest and most horrible short comedies ever, which Paul Duane and I were reduced to unexpected hysteria by on a visit to the Cinematheque Francais — Dranem plays a country bumpkin who mistakes a phone booth for a public lavatory. Explicit facial expressions of grunting and straining as he performs the act of physical evacuation before the unflinching gaze of the cinematograph, trousers round ankles, buttocks occluded by some merciful bit of scenery. He departs, relieved, and the next customer gets a nasty surprise.

I can’t remember what this film was called, probably something like DRANEM SHITS IN A PHONE BOOTH.

Here’s one of the man’s songs:

Stage Door Connie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2021 by dcairns

Talentless poet and war veteran Arthur Phelps (Conrad Nagel), blinded by an exploding cigar given him by New Mexico bar girl Poll Patchouli (Dorothy Dalton), is obsessed with French ballerina Rosa Duchene (Mildred Harris) — but Poll tricks him into marrying her by putting on an ‘Allo, ‘Allo accent — I suppose, being blind, he’s more easily fooled by her Franglais intertitles — Poll also leads him to believe that a slender volume of recipes is his poetry, accepted by a publisher at last — but when a miracle eye doctor comes to El Paso, Poll realises she must shatter Senor Phelps’ illusions by giving him his sight back — bitterly disappointed by what his restored sight shows him, Phelps divorces Poll, who sets fire to his shack in revenge, but it’s OK, in a way — he’s just struck oil and is now rich, enabling him to zoom off to Siam where Rosa is enchanting a young Prince (John Davidson) — Phelps rescues a lamb that was going to be thrown into an alligator pit as a sacrifice to buddha (bloodiest of the eastern gods) — Rosa challenges her two suitors to rescue her opera glove from the “sacred reptiles” — the Prince has a go but requires rescuing by Phelps — both Phelps and the Prince realise that Rosa is No Good and Phelps returns to the arms of Rosa, who at that moment gets stabbed by her gaucho paramour John Rodriguez (Theodore Kosloff) but the wound is non-fatal and the recuperating Poll kisses Phelps while their dog, Chum, tries to get in on the final clinch. Fade-out. Painting of a jester for no obvious reason.

That’s a condensed version of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1921 crazed romance FOOL’S PARADISE, shown at/streamed from Pordenone Festival of Silent Film. It’s what I call an epic.

I have made nothing up, distorted nothing. I’m reminded of a line in Gilliam’s BARON MUNCHAUSEN: “This is exactly the sort of thing no-one ever believes.”

“Cecil has a habit of biting off more than he can chew,” said brother William, “and then chewing it.”

This farrago of implausibilities is visually sumptuous, with costumes by Mitchell Leisen, Clare West AND Natasha Rambova — my guess is, Rambova did the ornate ballet, Leisen may have done the exotic stuff, but he could do realism too, so that may have been West. Cinematographers Alvin Wyckoff and Karl Struss, both super-talents, shot it.

Pordenone likes to shine a light on lesser-known talents, and fest director Jay Weissberg made special mention of screenwriters Sada Cowan & Beulah Marie Dix. DeMille had this whole staple of female screenwriters who helped him target his films, very successfully, at the female cinemagoer’s heart. It is hard, at this historical distance, to imagine anyone taking this cascade of nonsense seriously, except Cecil himself. But you can imagine them enjoying it. We enjoyed it. I hadn’t seen a lot of Conrad Nagel. I feel I have now.