Archive for Come and Get It

A rhinoceros at each end

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2017 by dcairns

That’s the structure of HATARI! A bunch of scenes with a rhinoceros at each end. In between, we have a bit of animal action, then a fade-out, a scene at the bar or piano, fade-out. It’s a test-case of Hawks’ ideas about the dispensibility of plot.

I would dispute that HATARI! is a good movie. I think it shows Hawks become lazy and overconfident, or at any rate somehow not gathering the narrative elements, situations, actors and dialogue he needs to work the miracles he could pull off earlier. He talked later about having wanted to pair John Wayne with Clark Gable and, failing that, feeling that there was no other leading man strong enough to make an interesting dynamic with the Duke. So he dispensed with interesting dynamics altogether.

Oh, nobody likes to talk about the film’s complete disinterest in Africans, or the fact that the characters are CATCHING WILD ANIMALS FOR CIRCUSES. So I’m not going to either, but I would feel rotten if I didn’t at least flag it up. It’s akin to the way the horrific deforestation in COME AND GET IT becomes just a colourful backdrop for Hawksian hi-jinks, where in the source novel it had been part of some kind of ecological message. Hawks’ disinterest in making points is part of what makes him such a relaxed and beautiful artist, but… well, let’s just say I’m kind of glad he never made his Vietnam war film.

As RIO BRAVO got remade as EL DORADO (RIO LOBO is sometimes claimed as another remake but the resemblance is slight — mainly I noticed the inadequacy rather than the similarity), HATARI! can be seen as another version of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, with the setting and central job changed. The difference is that OAHW (apart from being better in every way) has fatalities all over the place, a real sense of danger. The outcome seems uncertain, and the romance keeps boiling away, clearly heading somewhere. The outcome is uncertain in HATARI! too but none of the possibilities seems that interesting, and in spite of the film being called, literally, DANGER!, there’s not much sense of jeopardy, although he does his usual trick of arranging an accident in scene one — Bruce Cabot gets gored by a rhino (Africa’s revenge for KONG) to show how risky this activity is. But then we’re allowed to forget about the risks for long stretches, while the romance constantly seems ready to resolve itself peaceably. If they’d acknowledged the glaring age difference between Wayne and Elsa Martinelli, that might actually have helped.

Let’s look at the earlier Hawks “hang-out movies.”

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT is the loosest — I can never remember the plot. It’sera film of moments. The ending resolves nothing I can recall, but is an outstanding moment. But the movie is full of strong dramatic situations, ever if they’re strung together in a slightly haphazard way. It works like magic.

RIO BRAVO has a really terrific central set-up that glues it together. With a strong spine, it can grow all kinds of wavy limbs and branch off in different directions and treat its plot with discourtesy, but it needs that jailhouse seige.

The other major Hawks films mostly don’t even try to be that loose.

HATARI! never tries to be other than likely likable, and I’m not sure that’s a category you can aim for. Aim higher, and if you land there, be content, you’re in good company. And speaking of company ~

We have John Wayne, now too old to be a compelling romantic lead, at least with a slip of a girl like Elsa Martinelli. And other than being strapped to the front of a jeep like a drawling hood ornament, he doesn’t have anything else to do. The last sound of the film is him, throwing up his hands and going “Aaawww…” He speaks for me.

Supposedly a photojournalist, but Elsa stops taking pictures after one scene. She’s beautiful (if rather thin, here), charming, chic, but not quite the Hawksian woman the film would need (but it would need better SITUATIONS for such a character to shine in). I like her a lot but wish the film had something for her to do despite photogenically washing elephants and hyenas.

Good Hawksian lobework from the man Kruger.

I’m intrigued by Hardy Kruger and Gerard Blain, who seem to be enacting the gay dynamic of Monty Clift and John Ireland in RED RIVER, alternately sparring and flirting, with the addition of some unconvincing chasing after the same gal as alibi for the Unresolvable (due to Breen Office) Sexual Tension. I could write pages on Hardy as a fantastic, unconventional movie star of the period, and he comes closest of the supporting players to sparking some fire here, but none of the mini-conflicts thrown into the air land anywhere fertile, so he’s surrounded by wilted scenes and relationship. Early on, Hawks films him tugging his earlobe, a classic Bogart gesture. So I reckon Hawks liked him.

Red Buttons is an acquired taste, like polystyrene. I don’t mind him too much. I guess he has the Roscoe Karns part, and doesn’t overact as much as RK would’ve, but sure tries. He’s fine. The scene where he drunkenly keeps trying to get Wayne to re-describe how a rocket went off is pretty damn funny.

In interviews, screenwriter Leigh Brackett sounded pretty frustrated with the way Hawks kept resorting to old tricks. There’s some good business early on here with Bruce Cabot needing a transfusion and Blain turning up and squaring off with Kruger, and then turning out to have the blood type they need. It’s tight, amusing and PLOTTED. It makes me wonder if Hawks didn’t start out with a rigorous script and then progressively drop it in favour of woolly stuff spitballed on the set. We know he shot twice as much animal stuff as he could use, and hoped to maybe get another film out of it one day.

Is this Hawks’ Bunuel movie? It has a close-up of an ostrich, like THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, and a scene played out twice, with identical blocking and dialogue, like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL. Bunuel never did a scene with a leopard in the bathroom, but he woulda if he’d thought of it.

It’s impossible to dislike a movie that spends so much time filming Martinelli walk about with baby elephants (a benefit of the story’s bagginess), and has Henry Mancini’s jaunty “Baby Elephant Walk” theme, but it’s certainly possible to be frustrated by it.

Hearing Angela Allen’s stories from the location shooting of THE AFRICAN QUEEN and ROOTS OF HEAVEN, as I was luck enough to do a month ago, I kind of wish Hawks had made a movie about THAT. A film crew at least has a schedule.

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Snowflake of Lumberton

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 14, 2009 by dcairns

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What? Yes!

Snowflake, the black American comic actor showcased in numerous ’30s and ’30s films, and best-known for his appearances in Preston Sturges comedies, is a disturbing figure when seen with modern eyes. A gifted comic, he is generally cast in demeaning roles, as a half-witted servant or train porter, and he plays them to the hilt, without any obvious desire to subvert the stereotype or turn the joke around. At the same time, he’s an appealing sort of fellow, so his appearances often create a kind of sadness that colonises his scenes in a film and threatens to spill over. Another weird thing is that he always seems to be playing a character called Snowflake — in COME AND GET IT, he doesn’t get any lines or even any bits of comedy business, he just stands around grinning, but is referred to by Edward Arnold as “Snowflake” several times, raising the unresolved question of how Edward Arnold knows this guy so well.

Looking around the internet, not much seemed to be known about him — even his real name was in question — and then it turned out that, naturally, Diarmid Mogg of The Unsung Joe had uncovered the facts in the case of M. Snowflake, and he was kind enough to pass on to me the article he’d sourced (since Snowflake is actually TOO PROMINENT a movie actor to be featured on Diarmid’s very special site). Fascinating to discover that Snowflake, real name Buster Hayes (how can anyone called Buster require a nickname?), was born in the town where BLUE VELVET is set. Just think, if he had lived, he could have played one of the old guys working in Kyle MacLachlan’s garage.

Diarmid says:

“Well, Snowflake’s a guy who everyone’s got an opinion about, but no one knows anything about him beyond what they see on screen (which is pretty damning, obviously). How strange. He’s not even in “Blacks in Black and White”, my seemingly exhaustive reference book on black cinema. I guess people just can’t take him these days.

It’s quite unusual to find that someone as prolific as he was never appeared in the syndicated gossip or humour columns. Obviously, it’s partly because he’s black, but Clarence Muse appeared in the papers often enough.

Anyway, I can only find one decent article on him, but it’s a good one.”

Note — like Snowflake’s performances, this article is very much “of its time.”

FEBRUARY 12, 1942

Lumberton’s Only Actor, Snowflake, Tells How He Crashed The Movieland On Recent Visit To His Old Boss Here

By Ray Pittman

Lumberton’s only movie star is a toothsome darky by the name of Snowflake and one can look a far ways before he’ll find a more genteel colored man and yet a more determined cuss when the spirit gets behind him.

Snowflake, for example, went to a moving picture house in Chicago close to a decade ago and saw for his first time the antics of a slim, dark negro named Snowball, who was packing them in back in the thirties.

Snowflake, at that time Buster Hayes, decided point blank that he was going to be a movie star. He went back home, packed his grip, and hopped the rails for Hollywood.

In a matter-of-fact way, and in double quick time at that, the Raynham darky became a movie star—and one who has played in 360-odd pictures in his nine years in Hollywood.

He was never in doubt, was Snowflake. that he’d finally get in pictures. But the way he made the grade was, he’ll admit, just a little bit freakish though on conformity with the accepted Hollywood-crashing procedure. Let Snowflake tell it, as he told this Robesonian reporter during the actor’s recent visit to his old home here:

“Two Genulmans”

“I wuz in Los Angeles walking down the street when I sees two gennulmans standin’ on the corner. I commenced t’ask the gennulmans if they knew wheah I could find a job in the Moving pictures and they says ‘Yes, go to the Hollywood B and B club and tell ‘em there you wants a job.’ I went to Hollywood, but couldn’t find any such club, so I started back to Los Angeles.”

Here Snowflake believes he became confused and ended up on the set of some studio. At any rate, “two gennulmans” again enter the scene.

“I sees these two gennulmans standing together talking and by this time I’m broke. I commence to thinkin’ and wondrin’ how I’m goin’ to get back to Los Angeles and all at once I feels my harmonica in my pocket. I asks these gennulmans if they would mind me playin’ them a little tune for a dime. Well, instead, one of them gives me a dime and I tells him, ‘Thank you, SUH!’ and stahts to leave.

“About that time I heahs one of the gennulmans say to the other gennulman, ‘Hey, Weeks, he’s just the man we need,’ and then the other gennulman hollers at me and says, ‘Hey, come back heah, son!’ So I comes back.”

And to make a long story short, Snowflake was hired on the spot, he says, to do a bit part in Honeymoon Lane. The “two gennulmans” turned out to be “Mistuh Gawge Weeks and Mistuh Eddie Dowling”, the former a producer of his day and the latter the star of Honeymoon Lane.

Well, Snowflake, still going strong, has been in Hollywood ever since, playing bartenders and porters and valets and funny men in pictures of all sorts. Of late he’s appeared quite a bit in pictures starring Don Barry, the Red Rider.

In fact, if you went to the Pastime theatre Saturday, you saw Snowflake yourself. He was one of the ranch hands of the heroine of “Bad Men of Missouri”

Worked For Dr. Dowman

The adopted son of Moriah Munn of the Raynham section, Snowflake-Buster got his start in this world as a general handyman to Dr. E. L. Bowman when the Lumberton doctor was starting out with a practice in the town of McDonald. Dr. Bowman had one of the early “Model Ts” in this section and Snowflake swears he was chauffeuring it for the Doctor when he was only 12 years old.

In his early teens the wanderlust hit Buster and he hopped a work train out of .Lumberton, went to New York, and finally secured work on a train making a New York-Chicago run. It was on the Chicago end of this run that he first saw the show featuring Snowball and for the first time in his life gave a thought to making a living as a movie actor. Snowflake says he rode the rails back into New York, then chucked the works to go to Hollywood and become a movie star.

“I thought Hollywood and Los Angeles was just around the corner. As a matter of fact, I’d never heard of either one of them before.”

The Snowflake-to-be finally got to the West Coast, but not without a deal of hard work. He had to roll up his sleeves and do a little out-and-out work of every nature after his very very slim roll thinned out.

After he reached Los Angeles, he drove a truck for a while. But not for long. Snowflake was headed for the lights.

He’s Satisfied

He holds no grudge with the life Hollywood has handed him, and  is more than satisfied with the money and the compensations his roles have rewarded him with. He’s been married twice, and has dabbled in chicken and turkey farming.

As for the matrimonial ventures, Dr Bowman will tell you that the first of his wives “married him for his money”, then induced him into the chicken farming business.

Snowflake will laugh at this, as he did the other day in the Lumberton doctor’s office, then said: “I didn’t like chickens, ain’t never liked chickens. I got tired of lookin’ at ‘em” Snowflake divorced that wife; he’s getting along fine with his second.

Snowflake looked plenty “Hollywood” the other day in his green sport shirt, gray trousers, and yellow convertible automobile. But with it all he was just plain home folks and doggoned glad to be back in Lumberton for a few days.

It was his second trip home since he left Lumberton. The first time he was gone for 13 years, but he now plans to come more often.

Snowflake’s in his thirties and is perhaps a quarter of a century younger than is his stepmother, Moriah Munn of Raynham. Moriah has been mighty good to him in those years, he’ll tell you, for it was the little colored women who took him as a several-day-old baby and cared for him until he was able to fend for himself.

Mother Disappeared

There’s one thing that bothers Buster, and outside of that he belies his looks if he never had a care. Buster wants to know what became of his folks, and especially his mother, Bernice Hayes, who hasn’t been seen in these parts since soon after the birth of young Snowflake (His real name’s Fred).

If anybody is able to enlighten Buster as to the whereabouts of his mother, please shoot a postcard
in to the Robesonian. It will be forwarded to Snowflake out in Hollywood, and the boy will certainly appreciate it.

And if you want to see Lumberton’s only movie actor on the screen, just watch for the new production “Palm Beach Story” starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea.

Snowflake will be the big, scared bartender on a fast train. But we’ll bet he gets in one good solid grin so you can recognize him.

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I came, I saw, I got it

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2009 by dcairns

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COME AND GET IT, directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler, begins with a dinner-bell ringing over the main title. I admired its obviousness. When, as the second line of the film, a kitchen boy cries, “Come and get it!”, my admiration increased. A couple of scenes later, espousing his philosophy of TAKE-TAKE-TAKE, aspiring oligarch Edward Arnold says, “Who’s going to pass up a million bucks just lying on the ground saying ‘Come and get it!'” I knew I was in the company of a film that would spare no effort to ram its points home. This extended to the way the world of the film sometimes seems to contain just the one song, “Alma Lee”, which is sung automatically whenever anybody suggests a bit of music, or whenever Frances Farmer shows up, or whenever Edward Arnold thinks about Frances Farmer.

For the third auteur of COME AND GET IT (maybe the second, since Wyler took the job under protest, and concentrated on following orders in a workmanlike manner) is Sam Goldwyn, and for some reason when a producer takes creative charge of a project, the obviousometer rises until the needle is in the red, swinging back and forth and bludgeoning the viewer with every plot point.

The story goes that Hawks departed from the script prepared, a faithful rendition of Edna Ferber’s tale of rampant capitalism, concealing this from producer Goldwyn, who was ill abed with an infected gall bladder. When the boss was well enough to view rushes, he flipped, firing Hawks, and calling in Wyler. Wyler refused the job and Golwyn flipped further, becoming so hysterical that his wife rushed into the room and set about his legs with a fly-swatter, hoping to calm him. (This gives us a charming insight into life with the Goldwyns, I feel.) Deciding that if he valued his career he’d better show willing for once, Wyler agreed to take the job. Nobody seems to know how much of the finished film is Hawks and how much Wyler.

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THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE II.

Certainly the opening half-hour feels like Wyler, with Arnold as Barney Glasgow, a macho tough guy like Victor McLaglan in A GIRL IN EVERY PORT, only more driven and ambitious, like John Wayne in RED RIVER. To Hawks, this kind of ruthless go-getter is essentially positive, although he may need to have his egocentrism tempered by calmer friends. Arnold’s best pal, Walter Brennan, is the same Walter Brennan you always get in a Hawks film, only here he has a yumping Yimminy Swedish accent (he actually does say “Yumping Yimminy” at one point).

While we’re on the subject of stereotypes, the infamous Snowflake actually turns up as a train porter, and is referred to as “Snowflake” by Arnold. Well, if you can’t have any lines, at least getting referred to by name by the star is something, I guess. It’s weird because I was just discussing Snowflake with Diarmid Mogg of The Unsung Joe, and he’s kindly passed on some Snowflake research he’d done, which will form the basis of an upcoming post.

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Snowflake (far right) does his thing.

The early scenes of logging feel very Hawksian — manly men and tough women, engaging in dangerous work without complaint, drinking and fighting and singing and loving. In fact, the spectacular logging scenes are the work of the second unit, and constitute the best stuff in the picture. While the score is playing sweeping romance and adventure, we get image after image of death-defying lumberjacks dynamiting colossal frozen stacks of logs into the river — Wisconsin is being massively despoiled before our eyes, but Goldwyn’s composer doesn’t seem aware of it, even though one of the things Goldwyn was mad at Hawks for was his neglect of the novel’s environmental theme.

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Once Arnold is rich, and we jump forward twenty years so that the first Frances Farmer (saloon-singing floozy with a heart of gold) is dead, and her daughter (sweet but scheming) is grown up, the film enters a more civilized phase, and Hawksian echoes become harder to detect. This oddly-inflected shot of Frances Jnr ironing seems more like the work of Wyler, but a Wyler who is struggling to engage with the material. His habit of cutting straight down the line from master shot to medium shot is in evidence, so it does seem like the first 40 minutes are mainly Hawks and the last hour mainly Wyler/Goldwyn.

(Goldwyn’s “perfectionism” has strange, arbitrary limits — when Brennan’s niece, a waitress, serves Arnold in a hotel, we cut to a shot excluding her, and Arnold remarks, “She’s a nice girl.” Since as far as the audience knows, she’s still standing right in front of him, this seems weird behaviour. In fact, she’s left. I can’t imagine a blunder like this in either a Hawks or a Wyler movie.)

“Come and get it!” cries Arnold, inviting his friends to lunch in the dining car. He’s taking his old logging chum Brennan back to Chicago, mainly so he can keep the young Farmer around. Smitten with the first Farmer, whom he passed up in favour of a rich society wife, he’s equally smitten with the younger, and she’s prepared to exploit the married older man’s affection in order to get ahead. It’s not certain if Hawks could have found sympathy for Farmer’s character here, and he was notoriously loathe to deal with characters he didn’t like, so this may have been the part where he started messing with the plot.

In fact, the key to her character is that while she realises at once that Arnold finds her attractive, she does NOT realise that it’s because of his suppressed love for her late mother. Not knowing of the earlier affair, she has no way of suspecting this, so she doesn’t realise how emotionally vulnerable the old fellow is.

“You have a paper cup and my daughter wants to marry you.”

In Chicago, where Arnold has an opulent office that throbs with the ERASERHEAD-like thrum of industry, sounding like Arnold’s heart trying to explode, there is Arnold’s family, including his son, Joel McCrea. In another irony (this film is choked with them), the more environmentally-minded son’s big idea for the family business is, wait for it, paper cups. McCrea has a thankless role, though not as embarrassing as his part in BARBARY COAST, the other Wyler-Hawks-Goldwyn mash-up. (BARBARY COAST is a near-classic, though, thanks to Miriam Hopkins, Edward G Robinson and Walter Brennan — as a portrait of a wild and lawless land, it’s like the film GANGS OF NEW YORK could have been if it had a plot worth caring about. SATYRICON is the film GANGS could have been if Scorsese had been allowed to dispense with plot altogether.)

“You know, the more I think about that paper cup of yours, the better I like it!”

McCrea is soon smitten with Farmer, leading to the undignified sight of father and son sparring for the girl’s affections. It’s pretty obvious that Hollywood morality will prevail, with the soap opera resolved happily for the youngsters, perhaps less so for Arnold, and any pro-environment or anti-capitalist message swept discretely under the rug. THERE WILL BE BLOOD this ain’t.

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Arnold’s daughter (the lovely Andrea Leeds from STAGE DOOR), with whom he also has an oddly flirtatious relationship, come to think of it, gets a subplot of her own, adding to the film’s sense of fragmentation, although at least her story reflects on Arnold’s — like him, she has to choose between a socially advantageous marriage and true love. And impressively, she tells Arnold that if she’s forced to marry the rich schnook, she’ll cheat on him. (it’s 1936 and the Production Code rules supreme, so this is a surprising statement.)

What seems likely is that Hawks realised that the first part of the story made excellent material for him, but the later developments had no appeal, either for him or the audience — since Hawks had what moguls like Goldwyn always liked to imagine they had, a genuine visceral sense of what the public wanted. And since Hawks, like a few of those moguls, notably Zanuck, had a writer’s appreciation of story and character, that sense was actually grounded in craft.

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Wyler, who had just made a great film (DODSWORTH) about the emotional travails of a successful capitalist, was now forced to participate in a mostly mediocre one. I don’t blame him for any of the film’s weakness. All he can do, without having been involved in casting or choosing of costumes or setting up the script, and evidently feeling no affinity for the material, is work on the visual values, so the film becomes more pictorial, and Frances Farmer gets some beautiful closeups with her lace hat shading her face. Although moments later, there’s a nicely dramatic composition as Arnold catches his son with his prospective mistress.

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This is followed by another, and then another, as if Wyler was putting all he could into at least making the ending play like something you might want to see. It’s vintage W.W., big, emphatic and architectural shots that express oceans of dramatic tension and barely-suppressed violence. Then Arnold’s wife (the same one from EASY LIVING) talks sense into him, and we get A SHOT TOO FAR, this rather amusing fake deep-focus effect, where a gigantic triangle vibrates in the foreground as Arnold pretends to strike it from four feet away.

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“Come and get it!”