Archive for Cesar Romero

Lubitsch’s Final Touch

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2017 by dcairns

Ernst Lubitsch had a sensational end run, with TO BE OR NOT TO BE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT and the less celebrated but easily equal CLUNY BROWN. Before those three is the less stellar THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING, but then you have THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and NINOTCHKA. The only blots on this celluloid landscape are the Preminger intrusions, A ROYAL SCANDAL, produced and heavily supervised by Lubitsch, and THAT LADY IN ERMINE which Lubitsch began but died before finishing, with Otto Preminger stepping in to complete, uncredited.

A ROYAL SCANDAL isn’t all that bad, and it does have a wonderful moment where William Eythe (of Who the hell is William Eythe? fame) steps out of a tight two-shot with Tallulah Bankhead, paces the room, distracted, and is then surprised to have himself wind up back in a tight two-shot with Tallulah Bankhead, who has nipped round the back of the camera, unseen, and positioned herself in his path. A witty, self-conscious and wonderfully silly use of screen space.

THAT LADY IN ERMINE doesn’t have the benefit of a live Lubitsch to watch over its late production and post-production, and so it’s a lot more uneven. Still, it’s not exactly terrible. Preminger’s broad, ham-fisted approach to comedy (see SKIDOO and Vincent Price’s delicious line, “Otto had the sense of humour of a guillotine,”) pushes through the smooth understatement of Samson Rafaelson’s script, to create a giddy sense of goofiness that doesn’t feel under anybody’s control.

Hard to know if that script would have played markedly better under Lubitsch’s baton, because there’s a prevailing sense of derangement. The movie is a kind of operetta, with a few songs (by Frederick Hollander, so not bad, but not his best) and a Ruritanian setting. So it’s harkening back to Ernst’s early 30s Chevalier productions at Paramount. But, as they say, something new has been added, or several somethings.

First, Technicolor™! While it’s true that the colour in HEAVEN CAN WAIT is a little ugly and adds an unwanted heaviness to the proceedings (20th Century Fox tended to pump up the chroma to almost Goldwynesque levels of vulgar intensity), it really can’t harm such a surefooted and charming work, any more than the sexism and the contortions to get around the censor can. Here, with less ideal circumstances, the colour does hurt, even though it’s cinematographer Leon Shamroy’s trademark golden honey light and cobalt blue shadows, which I usually like. ladled over fairytale kingdoms and dream sequences and Hungarians, it gets a tad gooey.

Then there’s the cast. Lubistch had a genius for getting adept light comedy perfs out of unlikely thesps. Preminger didn’t. Lubitsch knew he could coast along on the sheer surprise of Gary Cooper being funny, and Jack Benny being dramatic (and funny). Here we have Betty Grable, who’s sometimes funny, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who can play anything, but can’t BE a husky Hungarian warlord. Preminger has good fun with his fatuousness, which Lubitsch might have tamped down. Further down the list, Reginald Gardner returns from CLUNY BROWN as milquetoast cuckold #1, and Cesar Romero plays milquetoast cuckold #2 a little uncertainly, as if he’s not quite sure why his character’s meant to be funny. His presence along with Grable’s recalls Preston Sturges’ THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND, another late film, the following year, where “Butch” is even more miscast. Fox films had this problem a lot, it seems to me — the contract players got shoehorned into movies they weren’t suited to. Walter Abel is a skilled farceur, and some of the weird innuendo is pleasing — there’s a sense of a sado-masochistic thing going on between Abel and Fairbanks, his superior officer, which is amusing. Plus, gratuitous Harry Davenport.

Betty sings, several times, a song with the lyric “What I’ll do to that wild Hungarian,” and Lubitsch seems very pleased indeed with his double entendre and with his use of the word “Hungarian” as a kind of all-purpose punchline. Or maybe it’s Preminger’s cackles we seem to hear.

A few gruesome cartoony sound effects showcase Otto’s leering comedy style, but mostly the problem is a subtler one of feeling, a sense that nothing is quite right. The story involves not only the fantasy of musical numbers and mythical realms, but paintings coming to life at midnight and a long flashback and a couple of long dream sequences. Double voodoo, and triple voodoo. And the feeling, as with yet another, but far better Sturges late film, UNFAITHFULY YOURS, that if so much of the movie is dream sequences, what’s left for us to take away rom it? (I never felt this really answered the question of what’s wrong with the often-brilliant UNFAITHFULLY, but it was Sturges’ own pet theory.)

Still, as a vaguely Christmassy (at the end) romance about marriage and dreams and fidelity, maybe you could double-bill it with EYES WIDE SHUT (also completed after it’s auteur’s demise, though at least shooting was finished) for a nice festive Fever-Dream Double Feature?

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Commingling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2016 by dcairns

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Already, after just one FULL day of viewing in Bologna, things are getting blurry. BATMAN: THE MOVIE was one of the last things I saw in Edinburgh, and here comes Cesar Romero, the Joker himself, as a stage-door Johnny in William Wyler’s Sturges-scripted THE GOOD FAIRY (“A lot of early Sturges scripts have only a few recognizably Sturgesian lines, but this one is all Sturges all the time,” is how I pitched it to a fellow patron) and here comes Alfred the butler in MARNIE, screening in an archival Technicolor print. Everything is intermingling.

Also viewed — Mariann Lewinsky introduced her Krazy Serial programme of serial installments from a hundred years ago, saying that she had been urged to commemorate the Futurist manifesto, published right here in Bologna in 1916, but “it’s a terrible document. And the futurists, who took a great deal from cinema, gave nothing back. Whereas the Dadaists, who took nothing from anywhere, gave a great deal back.” So by creating a collage of incomplete serials, she pays homage to Dada and to Krazy Kat, who is also celebrating his centenary.

Jacques Feyder’s LE PIED QUI ÉTREINT (THE CLUTCHING FOOT) is a parody of serials, and specifically THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (I know this only because I saw a couple of episodes in Bologna two years ago), with that show’s Clutching Hand replaced by “the man in the green scarf”, a masked figure in an outsize baby carriage, limbs spasming in horrible spasticity, bare feet grasping at convenient props such as the old-fashioned car horn affixed to his perambulator. He’s my new role model.

More on this later, hopefully — it’s the greatest set of nonsense ever assembled.

These disconnected fragments of narrative have been assembled alongside one another to throw up precisely the kind of random connections that make film festivals so confusing — the final stage of this syndrome is when characters from the films seem to appear on the streets, or characters from the streets in the films. I’m not quite there yet, but it’s still early days.

The Shirley Temple of Doom

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by dcairns

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WEE WILLIE WINKIE reminded me I must read more Kipling. I doubt his original story has much in common with this John Ford movie, but this John Ford movie has a fair bit in common with his others. FORT APACHE, for instance. In both films, Shirley Temple arrives at a fort surrounded by hostile Indians, meets Victor McLaglan, there’s a blonde who’s forbidden to see a young officer by the commanding officer who is her relative. But in the more innocent, less martial world of wee Shirley, everything does not have to end in bloodshed.

There’s some very cute stuff — Fiona pronounced Private Winkie’s kilt and uniform “adorable” and we actually laughed at McLaglan’s antics. The American cinema’s premier silverback mountain gorilla, he overplays everything but his build is so large the grandiose gestures and mugging seem perversely delicate.

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THE COMPANY: C. Aubrey Smith’s crusty colonel is maybe a bit too appealing from the start — he could do with having been gruffer, since he’s all we have as an antagonist for most of the film. You would never know June Lang was a gangster’s moll in real life, she seems so demure. Cesar Romero may be an unlikely Pathan but Willie Fung is preposterous. He was preposterous even when playing Chinese, which is what he actually was, so I suppose one shouldn’t expect anything else. He’s very much in the vein of African-American comedy relief figure Snowflake — but please let’s not call him “the yellow Snowflake.” At any rate, his appearance is enough to make Woody Strode’s performance as a Chinese warrior in SEVEN WOMEN seem a model of sensitive and convincing ethnic casting.

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Some of the time, though amusing, the film seems a touch impersonal for Ford — it’s nicely shot, and amusing, but there’s not much meat to it. But Shirley’s rendition of Old Lang Syne is a high point of Fordian sentiment, beautifully lit and staged, with erstwhile broad comedy characters deftly about-turned for emotional effect (including Clyde Cook, one of very few actual Scots in the film — still, that’s a few more than there are actual Indians).

NB — written Saturday night, after which I read Kipling’s Mrs Bathurst, one of the first works of literature to feature the cinematograph, and a dazzling modernist work which I must write about.