Archive for David Manners

Maximum Effort

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2019 by dcairns

We started yesterday with King of the Movies — a 1978 BBC special in which the nonagenarian Henry King reminisces about his career. This accompanied an extensive BBC2 series of his films, an astonishing event to think of now. Unwisely, the show was programmed opposite an actual King film, which meant we had, for once, a relatively sparsely attended event in which the air-con could really roll up its sleeves and get down to business. The show itself was highly enjoyable, with King a terrific raconteur.

THE WARRIOR’S HUSBAND (1933) is a startling Fox film, from a Broadway play which had been a hit for Katharine Hepburn. Elissa Landi, in the lead, seems to have modeled her performance on KH, with lots of thigh-slapping and chin-jutting.

The story deals with gender war — Amazons versus Greeks — but the style is pure Loony Tunes, with “You Great Big Beautiful Doll” played on the soundtrack as Ernest Truex admires himself. Warrior women include Marjorie Rambeau and Maude Eburn (her helmet visor forever slamming shut with a cartoon twang), and David Manners turns up to show us what a real man looks like (!). Also two quick moments of interest amid the generally cheesy jokes: two black male dressmakers put their arms around each other — the comedy is blurring the lines between 1933 servant class and ancient slave class, between men performing women’s roles and men being gay, between men as female dressmakers and men as camp tailors. And then there’s Landi’s bath scene, resting chin and elbows on the brim of a huge raised bath, before throwing herself backwards into a backstroke, affording a few frames’ glimpse of what DeMille framed out in her milk bath scene with Claudette Colbert in SIGN OF THE CROSS.

Well, Fiona fell asleep in this film, which is not a distinguished picture but a very odd one. And then she did it again in TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH, which is a very good Henry King picture with Gregory Peckory cast against type and compelled to do some real acting.

The early scenes contain the boldest stuff — violence, blood and dismemberment are not shown, but they’re DESCRIBED in graphic detail. Based on what I saw in MEMPHIS BELLE and THE COLD BLUE, the depiction of the US Air Force’s activities in Britain is fairly accurate. Unusually, there’s no flying stuff until near the end, when sadly the movie becomes a fruit salad of model effects, studio process shots and footage from Wyler’s aerial documentary and additional material courtesy of the Luftwaffe.

Peck’s mission is to discover what “Maximum Effort” really means — how much a flight crew can take without falling apart psychologically. Well, we had reached Maximum Effort at Bologna, after eight days, so we staggered through Buster Keaton’s MY WIFE’S RELATIONS — a version incorporating both Cohen Media’s restored footage and Lobster’s newly-discovered ending, which may never be shown again — and then collapsed back at our Airbnb.

I’m still convinced the film would work better if you put BOTH endings together, but there’s no evidence it was ever screened that way…

Today’s the last FULL day of Il Cinema Ritrovato but there are more screenings tomorrow and our flight back is on Monday. More to come.

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Age Cannot Wither Him (more than it already has)

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by dcairns

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THE MUMMY (1932) is historically unique in being the only Universal horror movie with a main title carved out of waffles.

It’s also a really beautiful movie, and Universal’s Blu-ray does it justice. Sadly my images here are from the DVD as I don’t have Blu-ray frame-grabbing skills or technology yet. A lot has been written about the film so I can’t swear my observations are original, but here, in the interests of promoting a spectacular new box set, are my ~

TEN PLUGS OF ANCIENT EGYPT

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1) David Manners’ character name here is absurdly apt: Frank Whemple. One just can’t imagine another actor embodying that name so perfectly.

2) I love how Karloff’s magic pool shows him flashbacks of Ancient Egypt without sound — because sync sound is a new development in Hollywood, so obviously they couldn’t have had it in Ancient Egypt.

3) They’ve shamelessly cloned the plot of DRACULA, but it gets even more interesting now that the threat isn’t just foreign, but non-white. The movie becomes a struggle for the soul of the half-English, half-Egyptian Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann). Obviously, her Aryan side has to win.

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4) Helps that Karloff is so thin — he actually has the perfect physique for this, whereas he needed padding out for FRANKENSTEIN.

5) That opening scene — “He went for a little walk” — is really a perfect horror short. It would stand alone without any trouble.

6) Karloff’s mummification scene gave me nightmares, or at any rate disturbed me deeply as a kid, watching the BBC2 Friday night horror double feature. Don’t know if I had actual nightmares, but I was too scared to sleep right away. I guess I saw DRACULA the first week but wasn’t allowed to stay up any later for FRANKENSTEIN. The second week must’ve been THE MUMMY and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, because I didn’t see the Whale films until a few years later. In week three, though, I saw SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and found that far more exciting than the two more languid movies I’d thus far experienced.

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7) I love Karl Freund’s theatrical lighting changes — where did he get that idea? There’s the lighting change on Karloff’s eyes which shows his hypnotic power, and there’s the mood lighting around Boris’s psychic paddling pool.

8) Zita Johann (in her Vera West costumes) is indeed alluring. She was married to John Houseman but John Huston put her through his windscreen in a drunk driving incident, and did that lead to divorce? One can picture Huston trying to explain what she was doing in his car: “I put her face through the windscreen but that’s as far as it went, honest!” (She was OK.)

9) Edward Van Sloan doesn’t seem to be doing his strange quasi-Scottish accent here. Where did a Minnesotan with a Dutch name acquire that posh Kelvinside lilt?

10) Can’t wait to watch the Jack Pierce documentary, but Fiona would kill me if I ran it without her.

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Buy this thing ~

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray] [1931][Region Free]

Pre-code Love

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2012 by dcairns

My scavenging through the archives to find films for my Forgotten Pre-Code season at The Daily Notebook naturally threw up some interesting entries that didn’t make the final cut — here are some thoughts.

THE GIRL IN 419 (1933)

This medical/crime thriller was one of the best things I saw, but arrived too late to be prominently featured. Thanks to La Faustin for the disc. Dr James Dunn refuses to let patient Gloria Stuart die — “She’s too beautiful!” and falls in love with her while she’s still comatose. You’ve seen her act, there’s really no point waiting. If the central love interest is a trifle anemic, the comedy relief from Vince Barnett and the villainy from William Harrigan and Jack LaRue more than compensate. La Rue gets a spectacular death scene, after shooting everyone in sight. One survivor is David Manners, whose slightly bland demeanor is brilliantly exploited by the script’s final moments. Although this is a Paramount Picture, the social microcosm and throwaway black humour is reminiscent of the best Warners capers. Jules Furthman wrote the story, no doubt laying down the creepy, sick tone — he was Sternberg’s go-to-guy for scriptwork at this point, and the medical gallows humour here parallels the death row skittishness in Sternberg’s THUNDERBOLT.

DOWN TO THEIR LAST YACHT (1934)

~ is even weirder than it sounds. It starts out with a family of millionaires, busted by the Crash, reluctantly agreeing to sail a bunch of horrid nouveau riche types around on the titular last yacht. Shipwrecked on an uncharted island, they fall under the thrall, if “thrall” is the word I want, of Mary Boland, an insane dowager who’s declared herself Queen of the native population. The plot disintegrates before our eyes, nobody seems to know who or what the film is about, but every so often there’ll be a sideways snarl from Ned Sparks or a bit of fey haplessness from Sterling Holloway. A fever dream.

THE WITCHING HOUR (1934)

This is the earliest Henry Hathaway job I’ve seen. It’s a slightly stagey mystery/drama/thingy with telepathy, hypnosis and a ghost thrown in. Best thing in it is Sir Guy Standing, who previously I’ve mocked because I find his name funny, but he’s wonderfully natural for a theatrical knight. (ERROR — I am confusing Standing with John Halliday, who looks a touch similar and gives the best perf in this) I guess he never made a canonically recognized great film, although LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER was rumoured to be Hitler’s fave.

Sir Guy John Halliday plays the owner of a gambling house who can always anticipate raids due to his mysterious sixth sense. One evening he hypnotizes his prospective son-in-law, as you do, to cure him of a phobia pertaining to cat’s-eye rings. Unfortunately, he unconsciously implants a post-hypnotic suggestion to kill Halliday’s enemy, which the obliging youngster does. Much of the plot turns on the quest to find a lawyer eccentric enough to take on this case — while one can appreciate the difficulty of such a chore, it’s just about the least interesting tack the drama could have taken. Hathaway directs with somewhat bloodless efficiency, but with some nice low angles.

THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN (1930)

Vaudevillians Gus Van and Joe Schenk lack screen chemistry, but Bessie Love plays her ukulele nicely, and you know how I love a good uke. Interesting to trace Love’s progress from Hollywood starlet to character actress in Britain (THE RITZ, REDS, THE HUNGER). And no, that wasn’t her real name (it was Juanita Horton).

THE HOUSE ON 56TH STREET (1933)

Oddly structured but affecting, with Kay Francis suffering and Ricardo Cortez dependably oleaginous. Robert Florey merits more love: he made a slew of great pre-codes, some decent 40s films, and some excellent TV episodes (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits). Pair him up with John Brahm as a pro with expressionist chops. It all dates back to THE LOVE OF ZERO in 1927, with cardboard designs by William Cameron Menzies. Nothing as baroque here, but Florey was in synch with the pre-code era, for sure.

UP THE RIVER (1930)

Early John Ford, but really it’s primo Maurine Dallas Watkins, the snappy women-in-prison stuff being the highlight. This is also Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart’s only movie together (it’s a co-ed prison), but Bogart isn’t really Bogart yet — the rather preppie young fellow can act a bit, but doesn’t compel attention. Tracy is in his loutish, disorderly, proletarian Irishman mode, much better value than his stolid paterfamilias trudging later on. The surviving print is incomplete, with some missing scenes and some scenes spliced into blipverts by absent frames. This adds a not-unpleasant, but quite unintended William Burroughs feel to the jaunty hi-jinks.

BIG CITY BLUES (1932)

Mervyn LeRoy, in his most insanely prolific phase, presides over this little beauty. Eric Linden is the naive goof trying to make his way in New York, Walter Catlett is his rip-off artist distant relative taking him for a ride. The mood darkens when an uncredited Lyle Talbot and Bogie crash the party. Bogie gives us a news bulletin —

I enjoyed this so much I forgot to even notice the solution to the whodunnit part. Most of the film is Linden and la Blondell, typically soulful. Grant Mitchell bookends it with a nice turn as station agent, commenting on our hero’s prospects, or lack thereof, in the big smoke.

MIDNIGHT CLUB (1933)

When Billy Wilder pitched DOUBLE INDEMNITY to George Raft, what the actor wanted to know was “When do I flip my lapel and show her the badge?” He assumed his character, outwardly a stinker, must turn out to be an undercover cop. Well, MIDNIGHT CLUB is the origin of that misconception, with Raft flipping his lapel for fire-and-ice Helen Vinson. This diverts the film from its weird starting point, in which heist team Vinson, Clive Brook and Alan Mowbray operate under the noses of the law by hiring lookalikes to impersonate them at the titular club, providing a foolproof alibi. These unruly doppelgangers threaten to develop into some kind of storyline, but never do. Hall & Somnes, who helmed this, also made the more successful GIRL IN 419 (see top). Alexander Hall went on to a long-ish career, Somnes packed it in.

CHILD OF MANHATTAN (1933)

Lugubrious rewrite of a Preston Sturges Broadway hit, with only a few moments of real wit —

“While my carriage was detained, I looked around.”

“Naturally, Miss Sophie.”

“Naturally or not, I looked around.”

Nancy Carroll seems like she could have handed out the required pep if they’d given her the authentic Sturges script, but John Boles would have dragged it down no matter what. Watchable, in a thin way. Luis Alberni would get some proper Sturges dialogue in EASY LIVING — I can’t work out why Sturges didn’t pick him up for his rep company of gnarled bit-players. Still, we’ll always have Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis.

This scene strikingly anticipates the big shopping trip in THE PALM BEACH STORY. You can certainly see how such sequences would have resonated with depression-era dreams.