Archive for Cliff Robertson

The Little Woman

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

The Doll family, according to the IMDb, made very few film appearances. The best known of the foursome are better known by different stage names — Harry Earles (originally Kurt Schneider) and sister Daisy (Hilda Schneider) appear in Tod Browning’s FREAKS in central roles, and in small parts (sorry!) in THE WIZARD OF OZ and THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. But Fiona thinks she may have spotted Daisy elsewhere.

An older Daisy — we think — flirts with Cliff Robertson in THE BIG SHOW (1961), a stultifying 20th Century Fox circus pic that just about did for Esther Williams’ career. The distinctive helium-squeak voice and German accent (the film was shot on locations around Munich) convince us that this must be Daisie or one of her siblings. She gives a more relaxed performance here than in FREAKS, and is the high point of the film if it’s really her. If it’s not really her, there is no reason to watch this movie. Really terrible.

And in E.A. Dupont’s MOULIN ROUGE (1928), which we just enjoyed at HippFest (well, Fiona fell asleep, but she couldn’t help herself and she consumed the film eagerly on video later), a troupe of little people are seen performing at the Casino de Paris, and again the female lead in the act looks like Daisy. And in yellowface, yet. Which part of this act is most offensive? Oh, and the fiendish Mandarin seems like a dead ringer for Harry.

The show documented in MOULIN ROUGE evidently featured a whole array of little people, so it makes sense that they’d hire the Doll family in order to bulk up the numbers. It’s a veritable Parisian Munchkinland.

Advertisements

Haskell looks out

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television, Theatre with tags , , , on October 27, 2012 by dcairns

My favourite image from THE BEST MAN. Cliff Robertson is pretty great as the vicious “man of the people” — kind of a forerunner of Martin Sheen in THE DEAD ZONE.

Cinematographer Haskell Wexler alternates between a simple, theatrical style (often shooting most of a scene from one angle, merely punching in for closeups — a television approach) with some mockumentary handheld sequences which neatly blend crowd scenes from a real Democratic convention with staged action. The beauty of the above shot might even be accidental — Robertson’s hands are pin-sharp but his face is very slightly blurred. The effect is stunning when the shot flashes up, and seems to work as analog of the character — an instinctive reactor, his hands are concrete but his mind is somewhat cloudy…

Cliff Hanger

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2011 by dcairns

I recall seeing bits of MASQUERADE (1965) — always the same bits, too — on TV over the years. Being a moderate admirer of Basil Dearden, I finally decided to see the whole thing. It’s — moderately good. Cliff Robertson is an American ex-serviceman at a loose end, recruited by former comrade Jack Hawkins to protect an Arabian prince from his evil uncle (regular pseudo-arab Roger Delgado, the Master in Dr. Who). Pitched at Hitchcock romp level, and from a novel by FAMILY PLOT’s Victor Canning, it suffers from a major plot twist heavily telegraphed by modern standards, and easily predictable to anyone who’s previously seen Hawkins as a disillusioned soldier turning to crime in Dearden’s THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN.

Bizarre nod to Bunuel?

Still, the cliffhanging is suspenseful, and co-scenarist William Goldman serves up his first reversal in a long career of rug-pulling, when Robertson, imprisoned in a  circus cage, tries to reach a set of keys dangling just out of reach. He espies some bamboo in a neighbouring cage, and hatches the plan of assembling a rod to fish for the keys — trouble is, the cage is occupied by a very nasty vulture. Much agonized pecking later, Cliff does manage to rig up a key-catching stick — only to discover than none of the keys fits his lock. Of course: why would the bad guys leave the keys to HIS cage in plain view?

The reversals come ever thicker and faster, until, like Goldman’s later screenplay for MAVERICK, it becomes rather hard to be surprised anymore. But more damaging is the misogyny, a tonal pain in any ostensibly lighthearted flick. Marisa Mell is a free-spirited circus girl, sporting bruises from hairy ape boyfriend Michel Piccoli. “I don’t mind,” she tells Robertson. “Say, you’re pretty kinky, baby!” he exclaims, thus putting the film’s portrayal of abusive relationships on a psychological par with the apache dance.

His later line, “I’d give you a smack in the face only I’m afraid you might like it,” doesn’t help matters. I still didn’t like the line when it was plagiarised for ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA years later. By all means, abuse masochists, that’s what they like, but don’t make fun of ’em! One also wants to say to the writers: “She’s your sexual fantasy, mate. Why are you having a go at her?”

Nobody seems too bothered by Goldman’s sexism, which strikes me as a constant in his work. It doesn’t quite spoil THE PRINCESS BRIDE, a truly charming film, but it forms a bit of a stain. Probably less harmful to my enjoyment than the tacky production values, but when you have Wallace Shawn and Mandy Patinkin and Peter Cook etc, and some very very funny jokes and characters and plotting, you can get away with murder. I get the impression that Goldman’s status as some kind of screenplay guru puts him either above criticism or beneath contempt, so nobody looks too closely at the actual strengths and weaknesses. (His analysis of some of his own flaws in Adventures in the Screen Trade is often very telling, though.)

Dearden’s nicest bit of direction comes when a dopey Robertson wanders dazed through a castle at night — sudden Carol Reed infusion of canted angles, vaseline-smeared filter making fairy-tale dream-effect — but it’s all so out of keeping with the rest of the movie, which has totally neglected Hitchcockian POV and expressionist tricks, that it sticks out like a sore, soft-focus thumb.

Still, the sight of Charles Gray dangling from a helicopter is worth anybody’s 102 minutes. Deus Ex machina!

Buy Goldman’s book —

UK: Adventures in the Screen Trade

US: Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

Eclipse Series 25: Basil Dearden’s London Underground (Sapphire, The League of Gentlemen, Victim, All Night Long) (Criterion Collection)