Archive for Charles Ogle

The Sunday Intertitle: Another Fine Pyckle

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2017 by dcairns

What’s with the mania for replacing the title cards on silent films? The YouTube version above of this early Stan Laurel parody seems authentic, but the version I initially got off the Internet Archive has different, cruder titles and the credits are simplified down to nothing. It was interesting to learn from the more complete version that Tay Garnett wrote the titles, a fact the future director of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE fails to mention in his (terrific) autobiography.

This version might be more complete as regards credits, but all versions end EXTREMELY abruptly, in a way I doubt was intended. I mean, anything’s possible, and the film is a little shambolic, but I suspect there was originally more to it.

I used to look down on these efforts. Partly because you might occasionally get fobbed off with a Stan film when what you wanted was a Stan & Ollie. accept no substitutes — but the agreeably silly parodies Stan starred in (MUD AND SAND with Rhubarb Vaselino) have appeal. The lampooning of John Barrymore here is very accurate — Stan’s essaying of the transformation is excellent (the knees are the first bits to go evil) and his first appearance is actually really disturbing, owing to the way his wig distorts his features. Stan also throws in some sideways reaching, a hieroglyphic-type pose that seems to owe more to Charles Ogle or Max Schreck than to the mannerisms of the Great Profile. I suspect that pose perhaps dates back further in theatrical history, and was an accepted method of portraying supernatural menace.

(When I was a kid, the accepted mode of impersonating the Frankenstein monster was 1) stiff-kneed gait, yes, fine accurate, and 2) arms stretched out in front like a sleepwalker, something the monster doesn’t do –– except briefly I guess when in that one where he goes blind.)

There’s one very impressive set, but it has a French sign on it so it must’ve been constructed for another, more important film — ah, but are people still watching that film today? (Anyone know what it’s from?)

Producer Joe Rock also made Michael Powell’s first important film, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. Powell remarked that all his big breaks came from either Americans or Hungarians.

 

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Intertitle(s) of the Week: a film in intertitles

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on April 5, 2009 by dcairns

One of the many agreeably odd things about the Edison Company’s 1910 FRANKENSTEIN, OR LIFE WITHOUT SOUL, is the way the story is told entirely in a series of intertitles, with the imagery merely fleshing out the textual description. Quite often the title cards contain “spoilers,” describing what we are about to see before we see it, which might seem to detract from any sense of dramatic tension. But this isn’t all that uncommon for the era, an age in which DW Griffith’s RESCUED FROM AN EAGLE’S NEST can give away the ending in the title itself. Of course, involvement in a story doesn’t absolutely require ignorance of what’s going to happen next, otherwise we’d be unlikely to watch narrative-centred movies a second time, and Hollywood’s generic approach to story would be a lot less popular than it is.

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This almost sounds like a cheeky ’80s frat comedy. Starring Anthony Michael Hall as Frankenstein, with Jeffrey Jones as Dean Pretorius. I figure John Landis to direct.

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Probably the finest elision in screen history. Although we see Frankenstein heading out the door in his beanie, bound for Ingolstadt University of Macabre Science, we see precisely nothing of his investigations into the mystery of life. Director J. Searle Dawley has decided that the mystery of life is uncinematic.

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The intertitles not only pre-empt the action here, but they provide plot motivation and moral uplift. It’s kind of a distortion of Mary Shelley’s message, but it’s in the same rough area: creating human life is bad, unless your name happens to be God. We then get the creation scene (a dummy burning, filmed backwards) and Charles Ogle the monster, wearing the makeup that he designed himself (flour, fright-wig: a good look). But you don’t need to see that, when you can have this:

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He knows it’s evil, see, because it’s ugly. A natural though not inevitable pitfall of silent cinema was to portray deformed characters as wicked. Chuck Jones pointed out that in Disney’s THREE LITTLE PIGS, the pigs could all look alike, because they sounded different, and this was a development made possible by sound. I think it was always possible, but less obviously so. In fact, a lot of modern cinema still stereotypes characters based on appearance, not always in a horrible way. Cinema has such a strong visual component that this kind of thing is always going to be tempting. The important thing is to be conscious of it.

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Good composition here, with a lot of action seen in the mirror. Mrs. Frankenstein enters the narrative and becomes a bone of contention between monster and creator. Tragedy is averted when Ogle is appalled by the sight of his reflection, and flees.

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This one is starting to sound like a saucy ’70s sex comedy. Robin Askwith is Frankenstein, the sex-mad scientist, Dave Prowse is his horny sex-monster, Madoline Smith is a busty wench. One can actually imagine Hammer attempting this, perhaps instead of HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, to boost their ailing franchise. And perhaps it would have worked better than the wretched H.O.F.

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A happy ending! Brought about by totally supernatural means, violating the principles of science fiction which Mary Shelley adhered to, even though the genre hadn’t officially been invented yet. Mary clearly thought that Frankenstein’s crime was too great to be forgiven, however penitent he became, and not only exterminates the Baron, but all those near and dear to him. Her gothic novel is practically a revenger’s tragedy. The movies have always been partial to rescuing the creator, but I think for a truly satisfactory ending he has to die: the point of the story is that he’s sinned by playing god, and typically innocent lives are lost because of his creation. This is a remarkably bloodless, victimless version of the tale, so I suppose we can say that Frankenstein hasn’t really hurt anyone. Except the monster.

These intertitles are obviously modern repaired versions, surrounded as they are by crackly decaying nitrate stock. Still, they’re reasonably handsome.

Mental Vampires. REALLY Mental Vampires.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2009 by dcairns

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How is my (insane) quest to see every film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Moviesgoing, you ask? Well, most likely you don’t ask, but safe in my cyber-cocoon I can imagine you asking any damn thing I want. My quest, codenamed “See Reptilicus and Die,” is going swimmingly.

EXTRAORDINARY UNDRESSING (1901) by R.W. Paul is a frabjous trick film in which a theatrically drunk fellow attempts to remove his clothes (strange how many Paul films centre on male denudings, from HIS ONLY PAIR to A WAYFARER COMPELLED TO DISROBE PARTIALLY, which gets my vote for most syntactically contorted title prior to I AM CURIOUS, YELLOW) but is thwarted by a series of jump cuts which see him instantly re-clad in a wide variety of different costumes. Then a cardboard skeleton appears and scares the crap out of him. I’d give it a 5 on my Earlyfilmometer — which means it’s not as good as THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, but still better than FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.

FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is two-thirds thick-eared sci-fi turgidity, with chipboard actors flailing their shoddly hinged limbs in a script the consistency of porridge, but that last third is a doozy. From the moment a suspiciously-accented “Canadian” (the film is a British production in its entirety) turns up as a drooling loon, having had half his brain sucked out — by “mental vampires” — through the back of his neck (his demented yodelling is both authentically terrifying and very, very funny), things start piling on the oomph.

Stick with it. Amusingly boring at first and then — enter the Famous Eccles!

A crusty scientist (an expert in “sibonetics”) makes a page turn by the power of his mind; an invisible force rips a hole in a screen door; and then killer crawling brains, with wiggling antennae and waggling spinal cord tails are crawling up trees and flying through the air and sucking people’s nervous systems out through the backs of their necks, just as if they owned the place. It’s all down to an experiment in telekinesis that misguidedly leached energy from an atomic reactor being used to power an experimental radar system (WTF?) and if that doesn’t make sense, never mind, because the animated special effects by Ruppel & Nordhoff (who sound like trapeze artists but presumably aren’t) are Lynchian and very gory. Poor Kim Parker, as the busty heroine, who is quite the pluckiest and smartest character, and most alive performer, gets brain leeches on her head TWICE, which is twice more then the average B-movie starlet would merit, but survives the experience and ends the film happily embracing the timber protagonist. Watch out for splinters.

And then I watched the full ten minutes or whatever of the Edison FRANKENSTEIN (viewable here), a lovely experience. Charles Ogle’s monster actually reminds me of both Dave Prowse’s shaggy beast in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, and a character from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. the film is also striking for the way it is rendered redundant by its own intertitles, which fully explain the entire plot, including many plot developments that we haven’t yet seen. But the mirrorplay is excellent, and the creation scene (a puppet burning, shown in reverse) is eerily creative.