Archive for Deborah Kerr

Forbidden Divas: The Greeks Have a Word for Her

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2021 by dcairns

Shadowplay is delighted to welcome back David Melville Wingrove with another of his Forbidden Divas. Now read on!

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

The Greeks Have a Word for Her

“You don’t know what it means to have no choice.”

~ Ingrid Thulin, Games of Desire

Early on in Games of Desire (1964) we watch as Ingrid Thulin drifts her way through yet another dull diplomatic cocktail party. We are in Athens and she is the wife of an ambassador. (The country he represents is left politely unspecified.) Thulin wears a long white gown that is draped like an antique Grecian robe. Her arms are bare and so is one of her round and shapely shoulders. Her blonde hair is piled high atop her head and her adorably too-wide mouth is stretched in the sort of smile that threatens to extend all the way round and meet above the nape of her neck. It is her mouth, in fact, that saves her face from bland and anonymous prettiness and renders her entrancing and perverse. One of the guests looks at her and exclaims: “You look like Aphrodite!” What sounds like an absurd bit of hyperbole becomes, in that moment, no more than a bald statement of fact.

Not many actors could bear comparison with a Greek mythological goddess. But Ingrid Thulin is the most radiantly glamorous Swede since Greta Garbo and shrugs it off as if to the manner born. Of all the actresses in the Ingmar Bergman stock company, she it was who built the most adventurous and satisfying career away from her dour Svengali and his highly rarefied dimension of Nordic gloom and doom. Her work ranged from films with other Great European Auteurs – The Damned (1969) by Luchino Visconti or La Guerre Est Finie (1966) by Alain Resnais – to such frankly tawdry fare as the psychedelic giallo Short Night of the Glass Dolls (1971) or the all-star Eurotrash disaster epic The Cassandra Crossing (1976). She even made a foray into soft-core porn as the madam of a Nazi whorehouse in Salon Kitty (1976) where she appeared to be having a whale of a time and came out with her dignity defiantly (and miraculously) intact.

This may or may not be welcome news but…Games of Desire is far more the latter type of movie than it is the former. It is vulgar and lurid and sensational and written and directed by two Germans (their names are Hans Albin and Peter Berneis) who deserve fully to be every bit as obscure as they are. But then just about any nonentity can look classy in a classy production. It takes a truly great actress to look stellar in an unapologetic piece of junk. It may not come as a surprise to learn that Thulin’s radiant exterior in this movie hides a profoundly troubled soul. Her husband (Paul Hubschmid) is a prissy, poisonous closet case who is trying to instil his handsome blond secretary (Bernard Verley) with his enthusiasm for all things Greek. He even has the effrontery to fly a psychiatrist in from Rome to analyse his wife – as if the parlous state of their marriage were somehow her fault!

Being of a practical nature, Ingrid knows better than to waste her money on doctors. No sooner has the last of her guests gone home than she high-tails it out of the embassy and heads for a squalid white hovel at the foot of the Acropolis. There she changes out of her chaste white robes and into a figure-hugging dress of black silk. (The kind that makes wandering about in the nude look like a sudden attack of modesty!) She lets her hair hang loose and wraps it in a tacky gauze scarf spangled with giant sequins. Then she heads to a sleazy bar in the red light district and offers herself for sale to room full of horny sailors. An urgent question springs immediately to our minds. If she gets arrested for hooking, will her husband’s diplomatic immunity be enough to get her off?

She certainly does not lack for clients. Before too many scenes have elapsed, she is shacking up with a stud (Nikos Kourloukos) who works on the docks. He has smouldering dark eyes and a mouth that is overpoweringly sexy in its cool, cruel perversity. His sister (Claudine Auger) is a tramp who strips in the bar for money and even (or so it is hinted in one scene) performs live sex shows in the side. Whatever money she makes goes to her no-good lover/pimp and she is distinctly unreceptive when her big brother lectures her on her morals. “You pay for a woman,” she tells him. “I pay for a man. The only difference is that men are a lot more expensive.” To be fair there is a certain logic to that and the script hints that brother and sister are (or at least have been) incestuously involved. Just in case we miss the point, the young lady is given the name of Elektra.

The sister is also – as her name suggests – a vengeful and vindictive little minx who tumbles rather more quickly to Ingrid’s secret double life than her husband or her lover seem to do. She muscles her way into a job as Ingrid’s personal maid, seeing this as a means to scheme and blackmail her way to a better life. Would it be giving away too much to say she sets out to seduce the husband’s gay lover? Games of Desire has enough plot to fill several seasons of your average afternoon soap opera. The fact it all gets telescoped into a mere 90 minutes makes the melodrama even more deliciously overheated than it was to begin with. If you fear you might get lost amid its multiple twists and turns, just remember that nothing that is even the least bit credible has any chance of ever happening. All the rest should follow very neatly from there.

The dialogue is wondrously overripe and studded with the sort of non sequiturs that might well pass for Art if only they were directed by Bergman. “Did you know that Siamese cats are monogamous?” asks the psychoanalyst apropos of nothing. When Thulin gets a tad overwrought and takes to driving her car along a perilous winding road, Auger reminds her: “It takes an expert to drive a car over a cliff and get out in time.” Has neither of these women ever seen Deborah Kerr in Bonjour, Tristesse (1958) and whatever happened to plots with coherent motivation? Games of Desire is the sort of rampantly insane melodrama that actresses in the studio era used to go on suspension to avoid making. But much like Greta Garbo, Ingrid Thulin not only has the power to turn Trash into Art. She even dazzles us to a point where we can no longer tell which is which.

David Melville

Dordogne Among the Dead Men

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2021 by dcairns

More J. Lee Thompson — EYE OF THE DEVIL was originally to be called DAY OF THE ARROW and then THIRTEEN, which would seem to have jinxed it. They started shooting on September 13th, also.

Sid Furie was originally slated to direct, and a few distinctive “Sid Furie shots” appear, but these seem to have been shot by Thompson and the resemblance is a matter of fashion. Not many directors shoot down through lampshades, it must be said. Within a year or two directors got all self-conscious about this kind of self-consciousness. The minute they found themselves crouching behind a potted fern, viewfinder nosing through the leaves, they would say to themselves, Oh God no, not a Sid Furie shot!

After Furie, Michael Anderson was attached, but got ill early in the shoot. Or did he? There are a number of questions hanging over this one. Did he fall or was he pushed?

So it became a Thompson film, starring Kim Novak, and then two weeks before the end of filming, Novak was out. The official story was that she’d injured her back in a fall, but everyone stressed the fact that she’d be fine, but she couldn’t work for a few months and so the film would have to be restarted with a replacement.

But David Hemmings, who makes an early appearance, indiscreetly reveals in his very readable memoir that Novak departed after rowing with producer Martin Ransohoff at a press conference. Hemmings reports that he can no longer recall what Ransohoff said to offend Novak, nor if she was justified in her outrage, but he had an indelible memory of Novak stubbing her cigarette into his one good eye…

Nothing that horrifying happens in the film, which is nominally a scary movie…

Anyway, that’s Novak out, but co-star David Niven comes to the rescue, roping in Deborah Kerr, making the film a kind of Powell & Pressburger affair since Flora Robson also appears.

It’s a kind of WICKER MAN/ROSEMARY’S BABY plot, but much less gripping and more guessable than either, and the horror at its heart is strangely uninteresting. But the film itself is sort of fascinating.

Thompson is treating it as an exercise du style, pulling in a lot of nouvelle vague influence — the opening blur of flashforwards, which has no real reason to exist, is certainly modernist and flashy — then MARIENBAD seems to be the order of the day. Thompson tracks incessantly and cuts before his movements finish, which pre-Resnais was considered filmically ungrammatical, though obviously this was always false (exceptions existed for cutting from a shot tracking with a character, to their POV, for instance, as seen so often in Hitchcock).

The direct cutting approach, unfortunately, lops all the tension out of the film. No sooner has the thought of a character going somewhere scary been planted, than we cut to them arriving, or already there. And yet MARIENBAD itself is quite a spooky film. Maybe because it combines sudden jumps in time (which promote nervousness) with funereal creep. This movie’s had all the creep excised.

It has Donald Pleasence doing his whispery bit, but the eeriest presences in it are Hemmings and Sharon Tate, as a twisted brother and sister. One’s first response to Tate is that she’s surely dubbed. Publicity at the time suggested she took lots of voice lessons to acquire a posh English accent and a deeper voice — but, as we know, the publicity people on this film were not always completely truthful.

In a way, it doesn’t much matter if Tate’s using her own voice — certainly there’s a lot of (pretty good) post-synching going on — the combination of the plummy purr and her striking beauty and stillness is quite uncanny. A slight feeling that her voice isn’t coming from her body but from somewhere beyond adds to the character’s sinister presence/absence.

Critics complained about her immobile face, evidence that the weekly film reviewer’s job is to notice anything fresh or interesting an actor does, and then condemn it. They trashed Anjelica Huston on first sight also.

This vertiginous sequence, part of the evil games Tate’s character indulges in, is genuinely alarming, partly because real child endangerment seems to be occurring. Sure, the shots are framed so that someone can always be hanging onto the kid, and ropes and harnesses may be involved, but it still seems dodgy.

Elsewhere, Niven gets some terrific stuff acting hypnotized — a mode of Niv we’ve never seen before. And there’s a relatively early example of a downbeat ending — not only does evil triumph, but it’s going to carry on perpetuating itself and triumphing down the generations. If the film had come out when it was new it would have perhaps had more impact, but it seems to have crept out incrementally over the course of about three years.

I’d love to see the outtakes — Michael Anderson’s stuff, Kim Novak’s. And I wonder if the MARIENBAD approach was established by Furie at the planning stage (it seems like something he might come up with) or Anderson (if Thompson were taking over early in the shoot it seems he’d want to match what had been filmed) or Thompson, who certainly went to town with it. “He’s given this film everything,” attested Niven.

EYE OF THE DEVIL stars Sister Clodagh; Sir Charles Lytton; Ernst Stavro Blofeld; Devon Miles; Queen Elizabeth I; Caligula; Sarah Shagal; Dildano; Sgt. Wilson; Lady of Lyonesse; Tsarevitch Alexei; Bunny Lake; and Vivian Darkbloom.

Holy Crap

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2021 by dcairns

Having watched QUO VADIS, like a bunch of 1AD flagellants we had to watch THE ROBE, just in time for Easter.

In the Nero Vs Caligula death match, I think Peter Ustinov’s Nero is a more human, interesting and vividly vile characterisation, but Jay Robinson’s Caligula is a more extreme, ballsy and uniquely preposterous screen performance.

Moving on from that, this should be the movie where Richard Burton solidifies his grasp of screen acting, but for whatever reason (film shot out of sequence, latter parts being more conducive to hamminess) he gets worse as it goes on. Once he gets religion he’s unbearable — as is often the way irl.

Jean Simmons is able to do less with her pagan Roman that Debs Kerr managed with her Christian. The bit-players (including Jay Novello, Percy Helton and Leon Askin) are encouraged to chew the scenery, which is fairly nutritious material — the quality may not always be great but the portions are enormous.

Burton claimed to have learned proper screen acting from Liz Taylor on CLEOPATRA. He should have learned it from Victor Mature here. The Big Victor is an underrated guy — he does lots of good, understated, simple work, and then when he’s called on to blow the roof off, boy, does he!

The Big Victor showing off all the junk in his neck that shouldn’t even be there in my opinion

Of course, he comes a cropper when he has to signify divine rapture, in a really weird scene where Vic and Dick appear to be trying to outdreadful one another.

As W.C. Fields was said to have read the Bible for loopholes, so do authors like Lloyd C. Douglas (who wrote the book QV comes from), and Lew “Ben-Hur” Wallace. They find ways to weave their fictitious characters through the New Testament without breaking it. It can be amusing to study. Demetrius (Big Victor) runs through the streets of Jerusalem trying to warn Jesus of his imminent arrest, but can’t find him. Early Christian Dean Jagger is felled with an arrow, which is fine, because the Good Book only mentions a guy named Justus in passing and doesn’t say he WASN’T shot with an arrow.

The Robe is a perfect biblical MacGuffin — the thing everybody wants but the audience doesn’t care. In fact, I didn’t care about anything much. Those who dismiss Wyler’s BEN-HUR as trash need to take a look at this. BEN-HUR is skilled trash.

I liked the music, which is full-on Alfred Newman, though the crashing stab accompanied by thunderclap which follows Judas (Michael Ansara) introducing himself was an eggy moment.

I think the indigo thunderclaps are a modern interpolation

I was reading somewheres — I think it was a Medium article — about how the Seventh Day Adventists evolved from a doomsday cult that had to rewrite its own mythos when the apocalypse failed to happen on the appointed day. And if you think about it, it’s fairly obvious that Christianity itself kind of did the same thing.

The appearance of a Messiah had been (fairly) long-prophesied. Jesus turned up, presenting himself as said figure, come to liberate the Jews from oppression. His followers were enthused.

Then: disaster! Jesus is crucified. Far from freeing the Jews from Roman rule, he is horribly executed by the Romans. The Christian sect looks sure to die out, it’s central premise having fallen apart in spectacular fashion.

But, asks somebody, What if he didn’t die? Also: What if dying was the whole point? It might work!

If the Bible was a modern screenplay, somebody would definitely have foreshadowed the crucifixion, put something in earlier to make it clear this was always the endgame. That’s what they do in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. As it is, the Bible has that first-draft quality. Jesus sacrificing himself to redeem humanity is kind of a deus ex machina.

Director Henry Koster demonstrates that the Holy Ghost is a less compelling off-screen presence than Harvey the invisible rabbit. Burton’s Damascene conversion isn’t as moving as Josephine Hull’s was in that other movie.

Image 1: the purplish Leon Shamroy wraith is Jesus, in horizontal and profile cruciform view. Image 2: an arm nailed to cross-beam, with lots of duplicate hands floating around just because

Pretty crazy dream sequence. Points awarded. “I didn’t know it had anything like this in it!” Fiona exclaimed, momentarily aroused from a pleasant bad-movie torpor.

THE ROBE stars MacPhisto; Young Estella; Tumak; Klaatu; Insane Actor; Rodion Pavlov; Sokurah the Magician; Robert Kraft; Exeter; Dr. Pretorius; Zeta One; Peripetchikoff; Angry Horse; ‘Scamper’ Joad; The Dear One; Massimo Morlacchi; Xandros the Greek Slave; Toothpick Charlie; and the voice of Ned Flanders (an early Christian).