Archive for Clive Brooks

The Sunday Intertitle: A Devil’s Carnival

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2016 by dcairns

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Josef Von Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD (1927) brought the gangster picture back from obscurity — if Griffith’s MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY is the first wave, and Walsh’s REGENERATION inaugurates the second, this one starts another torrent which continues almost unbroken into the Warner Bros talking era.

Now that great confabulator Howard Hawks, a quasi-friend and sometime collaborator of Sternberg’s (they shared the screenwriter Jules Furthman) claimed that when he proposed a gangster pic to Ben Hecht, Hecht wasn’t interested because he felt the genre was played out. Hawks pitch of “the Borgias in Chicago” is said to have changed his mind. But if Hecht was afraid of repeating himself with SCARFACE (1932), would he have reprised so many of the earlier film’s tropes?

Bull Weed (the repulsive George Bancroft) looks up at a neon advertisement promising “The City is Yours.” Tony (Paul Muni) admires a sign which declares “The World is Yours.” Arguably, the second version is an improvement: Bancroft feels vindicated by a statement which is practically true, or feels true. Muni sees an unfulfillable promise, the lie of the American dream, of life.

Hawks stages a party aftermath strewn with streamers which closely matches the dying hours of the ball which Hecht had concocted for UNDERWORLD. Though I’m inclined to give Sternberg a little credit here — the idea of a society engagement for the underworld is delightful, whimsical. Hecht knew gangland from his newspaper days. Sternberg decried research and liked to work from a position of romantic ignorance.

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There’s a contest for moll of the year. I love all the nicknames.

Hawks also claimed to have suggested Dietrich’s tuxedo in MOROCCO, which is possible, I guess. But, though some rumours suggest Hawks was bi, and he gave several of his leading ladies a masculine edge, perversity is really more of a Sternberg thing, and Dietrich’s girl-girl kiss would seem more up his street. But who knows? Hawks’ anecdotes all revolve, in a way that would be monotonous if he wasn’t such a good storyteller, around his own mastery of every situation, his brilliant creative decision-making and his ability to get everybody to do exactly what he wants. Then again, his films are usually good enough to make you believe he really was that proficient.

Did Hawks invent the money thrown in the spittoon in UNDERWORLD? Is that why he felt entitled to basically just steal it for RIO BRAVO? Or did he just figure it was worth doing again, thirty years later, since the audience has a short memory? At any rate, RIO BRAVO improves on the idea since it gives John Wayne more motivation to intervene in Dean Martin’s alcoholic degradation than George Bancroft had in pulling Clive Brook out of the gutter.

Funny, Fiona hates stuffed shirt Brook in SHANGHAI EXPRESS (“He’s a chin,” explained Sternberg to Dietrich, when she asked what he new leading man was like), but since enjoying his one directorial effort, ON APPROVAL, she is open to liking him. She liked him in this, and was rooting for him and Evelyn Brent (as “Feathers”). It helps that George Bancroft really is disgusting.

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Snowglobe City

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by dcairns

The first two times I landed in New York it was snowing, knee-deep, powdery stuff. The city has always seemed to belong in snowfall to me ever since. Maybe that’s what I liked so much about the world of Marion Gering’s 24 HOURS, a Paramount melo from 1931. New York in Gering’s vision is a purely art deco construction, from the streets and ‘scrapers to the night clubs and Clive Brook’s chiseled chin.

Better yet, the title sequence is a floating camera prowl through the concrete canyons with credits embossed on building facades, a senselessly elaborate, elegant and hyper-unreal anticipation of Fincher’s PANIC ROOM titles, where the lettering floats blimp-like down Fifth Avenue, casting shadows on the storefronts. And Gering returns obsessively to his toytown, breaking up the action to show the passage of time via an obviously fake art deco tower clock, looming over the characters like Fate.

Asides from the reliably stiff, unappealing Brook, we get Kay Francis in a smothering array of gowns, and Miriam Hopkins — I want to say “at her most shrill,” but that’s not really true, she had seven or eight higher storeys of mania up there. But she’s certainly at her most, um, provincial. “I wouldn’t give ya change for a pow-stage stay-ump!” she squawks at “shivering hophead” hubby Regis Toomey.

Movie roves around with the languid feeling common at pre-code Paramount, despite its urban setting and gangster sub-plot. Perhaps as a result, while Warners movies compress a week’s worth of plot into 65 minutes, this one feels like it could do with more running time. When Hopkins is murdered (which would’ve happened twenty minutes into a Warners movie, if only to stop her singing), Brooks is accused, and then suddenly he’s cleared, reunited with his swanky wife, and off the liquor, and the movie is over. The moral seems to be pro-marriage and anti dabbling with showgirls, which can only lead to homicide. I resented the way Hopkins character, a decent woman despite the grating qualities, was essentially used as a twelve-step program for the slumming millionaire.

Visually the film is often very impressive, though, with a fluid moving camera which gets excited about odd things, and even throws in a zoom lens for one shot (Paramount seems to have had sole custody of this hi-tech device: Mamoulian got to use it in LOVE ME TONIGHT). The moody nocturnal snowscapes of the city give way to bright daylight and a feeling of location work conjured by surprising perspectives ~

Gering seems to have done his best work in pre-codes, where he helmed several Sylvia Sidneys and an early Cary Grant or two, before his movie career fizzled. But he revisited the world of the naughty in later years, with a mondo Japan effort entitled VIOLATED PARADISE (1963). As the missing link between pre-code and mondo, Gering bears further investigation…