Archive for Cecil B Demille

Olive Borden IS John Ford

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2019 by dcairns

Pictureplayer magazine got several leading ladies to drag up as their directors, a thing not often enough done. Olive Borden had just experienced John Ford’s little ways in THREE BAD MEN.

Nobody ever does Fred Niblo. I’m impressed.

Bebe picks the wrong DeMille brother, from History’s viewpoint, though maybe not Art’s.

I’m not 100% sure the skirt is authentic. William DeMille said, “Cecil has a habit of biting off more than he can chew, then chewing it.”

This obscure choice may be why we don’t hear so much about Dolores.

Marvelous. Should really be a cigar, though, right?

The Sunday Intertitle: Riders of the Purple Prose

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2019 by dcairns

Having missed Henry King’s film THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH in Bologna by rushing to the wrong cinema, I was happy to discover I own a good DVD copy of it, so we ran that.

Frances Marion adapts the script, a bit stodgily I’m afraid, and gets rather carried away with her desert similes and metaphors right at the start.

The desert, then, is a molten bowl AND an unconquered empress AND a tawny siren (more dangerous than the smaller barn siren) AND the End of the Rainbow. The desert, too, is sunk into the earth, whispers promises, and crushes out the lives of men with her poisonous embrace (?).

I recall John Huston being very dismissive of Frances Marion’s writing ability in An Open Book, which rather shocked me because I’d been taught to admire her as a powerful woman of early Hollywood. It’s true that she’s not actually great at words. Her gift was structuring the crowd-pleasing narrative.

Actually — IMDb lists Rupert Hughes as uncredited writer of the titles, which makes sense: HE was a commercial hack. It also adds Lenore Coffee, another powerful woman of early Hollywood and part of DeMille’s stable, or harem, of female writers, as another unlisted contributor.

It’s in the story structure that TWOBW adds support for Henry King’s claim to an artistic identity, since the shape Marion has hewn from “the famous novel by Harold Bell Wright” mirrors that of the later IN OLD CHICAGO to an uncanny degree.

Both films open with a fatality in covered wagon times. The child who loses a father will become protagonist (in IOC there are three children, and the child in TWOBW will lose both parents and get adopted). And both films end with a giant disaster movie climax which purges the undesirable elements (but is a bit hard on the innocent citizenry) and resolves the romantic plot (will Tyrone Power be noble enough to win Alice Faye? Will Vilma Banky chose Ronald Colman or Gary Cooper?)

Colman goggles
Cooper mans the theodolite

Both the flood in TWOBW and the great fire of IOC are extremely gratifying spectacles of mass destruction and group jeopardy. My point, however, is that probably only Henry King was thinking about the earlier film when he came to make the 1938 super-production. Therefore King deserves credit as auteur — for ripping off Marion’s structure.

The Sunday Intertitle: DeMille’s Vision

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 17, 2019 by dcairns

Nyah, I seen better.

The LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD featurettes offer a lot of useful views of the film community in the twenties, and a lot of heavily staged vignettes of movie celebrities going about their business. The [TOP DIRECTOR/ACTOR] FORGETS HIS STUDIO PASS routine seems to have been a popular trope. Maurice Tourneur and Lloyd Hamilton both tried that one, though only “Ham” blacked up for it.

We are presented with DeMille’s luxury studio, then minutes later, with a shot of DeMille pondering his next screen story. An intertitle gives us invaluable background so we can interpret the image correctly.

But, for reasons best known to himself, C.B. has opted to play it not as “There is a lack of tension in the second act,” but as “I HATE MY LIFE.”

Figure 1 (above). He flips the heavy folder (around three hundred pages, by the look of it) closed with a contemptuous gesture, then stares at the binder as if contemplating throwing it at somebody’s head.

Figure 2. He gives it a really hard stare, as if to melt it with his heat vision. (Little-known fact: Cecil B. DeMille had heat vision. But it only worked on model boats. So he would always keep at least one model boat nearby in case he wanted to impress Florence Vidor with his heat vision.)

Figure 3. Cecil collapses in despair. He has realised that not only is his second act lacking in tension, but “Cecil” is an unimposing name and the dynamic initial “B” does not do enough to compensate, and anyway, heat vision is a rubbish superpower for a motion picture director, more counter-productive than anything.

Never mind, Cec!