Archive for Charade

The Home Film Festival

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2018 by dcairns

It was rainy last Sunday so I suggested we have our own film festival at home. Try it!

An eclectic program, decided at random. First I watched THE ORE RAIDERS, and blogged about it, then I popped on THE BLACK WINDMILL (1974), which always looked like awful tommyrot when on TV, but it’s Don Siegel therefore worth a try.Reader, THE BLACK WINDMILL is indeed awful tommyrot, but with impressive credits. TV pan-and-scan showings, which I recall seeing bits of, ruined it utterly — the pleasure is all in Siegel’s framing and blocking. Ousama Rawi, the former Mr. Rita Tushingham, shot it, beautifully — there’s some particularly nice anamorphic city lights. Antony Gibbs, of PETULIA and PERFORMANCE, cut it, less successfully than one might have hoped, though the neatest bit is a long take from a locked-off position as bad guys frame the hero with a nudie photo staged in his own bedroom. Roy Budd, of GET CARTER, provides a GET CARTER type score, with added tabla drums. Veteran costume designer Anthony Mendleson makes his leading man look ridiculous. I think there’s a good argument for leading men dressing conservatively, as Cary Grant suggested. They don’t date, and anyway, why would a spy dress like THIS?I suppose, in a crisis, he could always turn sideways and hide behind his necktie.

A distinguished cast includes cast includes Harry Palmer, Dr. Crippen, Empress Alexandra, Elizabeth Bathory, Sheik Abu Tahir and Maya the shapeshifter from Space 1999.

   

Fiona only joined that one midway, then insisted on some Bette Davis so we ran JEZEBEL, which we hadn’t seen in ages. I’ve often felt that the Germans in Hollywood had more racial sensitivity than native-born filmmakers, but although the black characters here all get bits of characterisation, and Eddie Anderson underplays for once, the movie never misses a chance at a cheap joke. When Henry Fonda says he feels haunted, wrinkled retainer Lew Paton stammers, “H-haunted?” in terror of spooks.

Still, the soapy story compels, and Bette is playing a perverse, willful, stroppy filly much like herself. She adored Wyler’s disciplinarian approach, and dialled down her excesses. When she reacts to the news that Fonda has married, her face registers a dozen emotions and calculations at lightning speed, subtly enough that you can believe smiling Margaret Lindsay doesn’t notice them, and visibly enough that you can see Fonda does.

Also great work from Richard Cromwell and, shockingly, George Brent, whose sleepy approach to acting here becomes electrifying when he’s given something of real interest to play. His character is supposed to be a dynamic old-school swashbuckler, and by playing it with indifference he actually adds a convincing edge to it. This guy is so dangerous because he doesn’t advertise it.

The cunning use of POV shots I noted in THE ORE RAIDERS is present here, as Bette, embracing Fonda, makes particular note of the stick he’s left by the door. All her behaviour in the ensuing scene is an attempt to provoke him into using it on her, which he refrains from, much to her disappointment. Did I mention Bette’s character is a touch perverse?

Co-writer John Huston was drafted in to direct a duel scene, and in a film full of smart grace notes, delivers one of the neatest, as the duellists take ten paces, clear out of frame and two puffs of smoke issue in from the edges of the screen, rendering the battle an abstraction, its outcome a mystery.

We followed this with another, contrasting Bette movie, LO SCOPONE SCIENTIFICO (1972), which I’ve tackled at greater length elsewhere. Let’s just say that, cast as a kind of monster-goddess, Bette again is playing a character remarkably like herself: indefatigable.

Short subject: PIE, PIE, BLACKBIRD with Nina Mae McKinney and the Nicholas Brothers when they were small. She does an adorable rasping trumpet honk thing with her voice, an orchestra plays inside a giant pie, and the Bros. dance so hard, everybody turns into a skeleton. Will, if anybody was going to cause that to happen, it would be them.

It’s very funny to me that the props man couldn’t find a child skeleton — there was, it would seem, little call for such items — so he’s removed the shin-bones of an adult to make it dance shorter. Incredible to think that young Harold performed all those moves without knees.

Then MIRAGE, based on regular Shadowplayer Daniel’s recent recommendation. Sixties Edward Dmytryk, when he’s supposed to be washed up, but there’s some interesting stuff afoot, not all of it pulling in the same direction, but still. Stars Atticus Finch, Felix Unger Oscar Madison, Anne Frank’s sister Margot, Willie Loman’s son Biff, Gaetano Proclo and Joe Patroni. Which is to say, Walter Matthau and George Kennedy are reunited after CHARADE, which was also scripted by Peter Stone, and Matthau and Jack Weston are together, prefiguring A NEW LEAF.

Stone’s script is witty as usual, perhaps too witty — there’s a good sense of Kafkaesque nightmare going on in the crazy amnesia/conspiracy plot, but you have Gregory Peck being all Gregory Peckory, stiff and bashful, and then making quips, and the sense of waking nightmare rather deserts one.

BUT —

Dmytryk, a former editor, has discovered direct cutting — he’s seen MARIENBAD, in fact — or maybe the previous year’s THE PAWNBROKER. As Peck thinks back on baffling recent events, or retrieves fragments of memory from his earlier, lost-time spell, we cut in hard to snippets of dialogue from earlier or brief flashes of action. Best of all is a subway scene where the sound of the train continues unabated over glimpses of Walter Abel falling out of a skyscraper. Then he cuts to a watermelon hitting the ground and bursting, something that’s only been mentioned earlier. It’s a non-diegetic watermelon, perhaps the first of its race.

It’s dazzling and disturbing and would still look pretty nifty in a modern film. What makes it sellable to the great public of 1964 is that the odd technique is tied directly to the plot gimmick. Anyway, it’s very nice indeed, and makes you realise how conservative most cutting still is. Given Dmytryk’s late-career wallowing in turgid airport novel stuff, I wish he’d enlivened his work with this kind of monkey business a lot more. For a guy who’d sold out, who had to shore up his sense of self-worth with spurious justifications, accomplishing a nice piece of work like this must have been some kind of relief.

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I Am Groot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2017 by dcairns

Walter Brennan as Groot in RED RIVER.

I had a tooth pulled yesterday. It had been panging away badly. It had once been a heavily filled thing, more edifice than natural outcrop, but the back came off and the filling came out, so as to present only a facade to the world, like a western street in a movie backlot. So the dentist pulled itup by the groot, which turns out to be about the cheapest form of treatment you can have — only £12.50.

But now I’m rather sore. And sympathised more than I might have with Kirk Douglas and his finger-removal scene in THE BIG SKY. This drunken amputation was planned for RED RIVER but John Wayne didn’t think it was funny. When he saw it performed he realised it WAS funny after all, and his trust in Hawks grew. It’s quite a strong scene for its day.

Arthur Hunnicutt performs the op. If Arthur Hunnicutt ever met Walter Brennan, would there be a huge explosion?

Meanwhile, as I type this, Fiona is on the toilet watching CHARADE. She’s been having a Cary Grant film festival today as she prepares for a colonoscopy tomorrow. She’s going to star in a film, or a film’s going to be shot inside her anyway. To prepare for this, you have to drink cement or something, and it means you spend a lot of time on the lavatory. Might as well spend it with Cary Grant.

While I was trying to sleep through the throb in my jaw, and Fiona was drinking cement or whatever it is, she watched HIS GIRL FRIDAY and yesterday we both watched MONKEY BUSINESS (the Hawks, not the Marx Bros). Fiona is well-read on the subject of chimps and observed that the young ape who swings from a lamp and batters scientists on the head is making his “play face.” So s/he was having a good time on a Hawks set, as actors tended to do. Andy Serkis can stand down.

 

Coelacanth Buy Me Love

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-05-16-10h00m54s183So, they just found a warm-blooded fish, huh?

This is an entry for For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon, a very worthy cause. Click for more entries, and PLEASE use the Gort button at bottom to donate.

MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS may be dumb — and it is dumb, dumber than a continent of hammers — but at least it nips along at an agreeably peppy pace. When a prehistoric fish is delivered to the college’s top scientist, water leaks from the ice it’s packed in, and anything absorbing that water regresses back along its evolutionary pathway — a friendly Alsatian becomes a ravening sabre-tooth dog, and the chummy sexist scientist mutates into a Neanderthal brute — all within the first fifteen minutes. The movie’s over an hour later, and quite a lot more bad craziness has transpired.

Director Jack Arnold, who made lots of “classic” fifties sci-fi (TARANTULA, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) and one authentic masterpiece (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN), doesn’t try to dignify this malarkey more than it deserves, and can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but at least turns in a shapely sow’s ear with perfect hearing.

It turns out that the plasma of gamma-irradiated coelacanths only has temporary effects, so our hero mutates back from his simian rampage with nothing worse than a hangover. The college floozy who was pursuing him isn’t so lucky ~

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She’s apparently died of fright — I think the filmmakers wanted to be clear that there hadn’t been any Neanderthal funny business, after so much talk about man’s lower instincts. But for some reason she’s been hung from a tree by her hair, which leaves her corpse floating uncannily, like a ghost. I think this is inspired the popular idea (originating God knows where) of cavemen dragging their brides about by the hair. Indeed, later the ape-man does a bit of hair-tugging.

The movie now has a problem. It can throw in random shit like a giant de-evolved dragonfly it’s just invented (hmm, the page in my biology schoolbook dealing with giant prehistoric dragonflies appears to have been GLUED IN) but to keep the action going it has to have the hero accidentally does himself again, which it achieves by letting the dragonfly bleed into his pipe. The hero SMOKES DRAGONFLY BLOOD and this causes him to regress once more. Now he starts to suspect he’s the one who’s been terrorizing the campus and killing people, so to make sure he doses himself again — and again!

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I like his busts. You got a prehistoric John Randolph on the left, then a George Arliss, a cro-magnon James Coburn, and finally a very collectible George Kennedy. Probably the last two were built for Universal’s stone-age remake of CHARADE, a project cancelled when it was pointed out that postage stamps hadn’t been invented in the neolithic era, and that the original CHARADE hadn’t been made yet anyway.

What’s in a name? Our scientist is called Blake, the same as Christopher Lee’s fiendish alter ego in I, MONSTER, the film which pointlessly changes the names of the leads from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde while retaining the plot and all the supporting characters’ names. When Dr. Blake calls Madagascar to learn more about his fish’s provenance, he speaks to a Dr. Moreau. Well, that explains everything.

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There’s a pretty accomplished lap dissolve transformation when we finally see it, and Arnold comes up with a couple of other nice gimmicks to avoid expensive trick work (and repetition), but the ape-man is more of a rubber mask, hairy gloves and a ripped lumberjack shirt than a fully evolved makeup (and why do lycanthropic types always seem to wear checked shirts?).

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This was a lot better than the similarly-plotted THE NEANDERTHAL MAN (1953), which I thought was awful. But since being impressed by the same director’s THE SCARF (1951), I’ve kind of wanted to see THE NEANDERTHAL MAN again. EA Dupont couldn’t have regressed that far in two years, could he? You bet he could — the hero of MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS regresses millions of years in seconds.

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