Archive for Diane Baker

The Home Film Festival

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2018 by dcairns

It was rainy last Sunday so I suggested we have our own film festival at home. Try it!

An eclectic program, decided at random. First I watched THE ORE RAIDERS, and blogged about it, then I popped on THE BLACK WINDMILL (1974), which always looked like awful tommyrot when on TV, but it’s Don Siegel therefore worth a try.Reader, THE BLACK WINDMILL is indeed awful tommyrot, but with impressive credits. TV pan-and-scan showings, which I recall seeing bits of, ruined it utterly — the pleasure is all in Siegel’s framing and blocking. Ousama Rawi, the former Mr. Rita Tushingham, shot it, beautifully — there’s some particularly nice anamorphic city lights. Antony Gibbs, of PETULIA and PERFORMANCE, cut it, less successfully than one might have hoped, though the neatest bit is a long take from a locked-off position as bad guys frame the hero with a nudie photo staged in his own bedroom. Roy Budd, of GET CARTER, provides a GET CARTER type score, with added tabla drums. Veteran costume designer Anthony Mendleson makes his leading man look ridiculous. I think there’s a good argument for leading men dressing conservatively, as Cary Grant suggested. They don’t date, and anyway, why would a spy dress like THIS?I suppose, in a crisis, he could always turn sideways and hide behind his necktie.

A distinguished cast includes cast includes Harry Palmer, Dr. Crippen, Empress Alexandra, Elizabeth Bathory, Sheik Abu Tahir and Maya the shapeshifter from Space 1999.

   

Fiona only joined that one midway, then insisted on some Bette Davis so we ran JEZEBEL, which we hadn’t seen in ages. I’ve often felt that the Germans in Hollywood had more racial sensitivity than native-born filmmakers, but although the black characters here all get bits of characterisation, and Eddie Anderson underplays for once, the movie never misses a chance at a cheap joke. When Henry Fonda says he feels haunted, wrinkled retainer Lew Paton stammers, “H-haunted?” in terror of spooks.

Still, the soapy story compels, and Bette is playing a perverse, willful, stroppy filly much like herself. She adored Wyler’s disciplinarian approach, and dialled down her excesses. When she reacts to the news that Fonda has married, her face registers a dozen emotions and calculations at lightning speed, subtly enough that you can believe smiling Margaret Lindsay doesn’t notice them, and visibly enough that you can see Fonda does.

Also great work from Richard Cromwell and, shockingly, George Brent, whose sleepy approach to acting here becomes electrifying when he’s given something of real interest to play. His character is supposed to be a dynamic old-school swashbuckler, and by playing it with indifference he actually adds a convincing edge to it. This guy is so dangerous because he doesn’t advertise it.

The cunning use of POV shots I noted in THE ORE RAIDERS is present here, as Bette, embracing Fonda, makes particular note of the stick he’s left by the door. All her behaviour in the ensuing scene is an attempt to provoke him into using it on her, which he refrains from, much to her disappointment. Did I mention Bette’s character is a touch perverse?

Co-writer John Huston was drafted in to direct a duel scene, and in a film full of smart grace notes, delivers one of the neatest, as the duellists take ten paces, clear out of frame and two puffs of smoke issue in from the edges of the screen, rendering the battle an abstraction, its outcome a mystery.

We followed this with another, contrasting Bette movie, LO SCOPONE SCIENTIFICO (1972), which I’ve tackled at greater length elsewhere. Let’s just say that, cast as a kind of monster-goddess, Bette again is playing a character remarkably like herself: indefatigable.

Short subject: PIE, PIE, BLACKBIRD with Nina Mae McKinney and the Nicholas Brothers when they were small. She does an adorable rasping trumpet honk thing with her voice, an orchestra plays inside a giant pie, and the Bros. dance so hard, everybody turns into a skeleton. Will, if anybody was going to cause that to happen, it would be them.

It’s very funny to me that the props man couldn’t find a child skeleton — there was, it would seem, little call for such items — so he’s removed the shin-bones of an adult to make it dance shorter. Incredible to think that young Harold performed all those moves without knees.

Then MIRAGE, based on regular Shadowplayer Daniel’s recent recommendation. Sixties Edward Dmytryk, when he’s supposed to be washed up, but there’s some interesting stuff afoot, not all of it pulling in the same direction, but still. Stars Atticus Finch, Felix Unger Oscar Madison, Anne Frank’s sister Margot, Willie Loman’s son Biff, Gaetano Proclo and Joe Patroni. Which is to say, Walter Matthau and George Kennedy are reunited after CHARADE, which was also scripted by Peter Stone, and Matthau and Jack Weston are together, prefiguring A NEW LEAF.

Stone’s script is witty as usual, perhaps too witty — there’s a good sense of Kafkaesque nightmare going on in the crazy amnesia/conspiracy plot, but you have Gregory Peck being all Gregory Peckory, stiff and bashful, and then making quips, and the sense of waking nightmare rather deserts one.

BUT —

Dmytryk, a former editor, has discovered direct cutting — he’s seen MARIENBAD, in fact — or maybe the previous year’s THE PAWNBROKER. As Peck thinks back on baffling recent events, or retrieves fragments of memory from his earlier, lost-time spell, we cut in hard to snippets of dialogue from earlier or brief flashes of action. Best of all is a subway scene where the sound of the train continues unabated over glimpses of Walter Abel falling out of a skyscraper. Then he cuts to a watermelon hitting the ground and bursting, something that’s only been mentioned earlier. It’s a non-diegetic watermelon, perhaps the first of its race.

It’s dazzling and disturbing and would still look pretty nifty in a modern film. What makes it sellable to the great public of 1964 is that the odd technique is tied directly to the plot gimmick. Anyway, it’s very nice indeed, and makes you realise how conservative most cutting still is. Given Dmytryk’s late-career wallowing in turgid airport novel stuff, I wish he’d enlivened his work with this kind of monkey business a lot more. For a guy who’d sold out, who had to shore up his sense of self-worth with spurious justifications, accomplishing a nice piece of work like this must have been some kind of relief.

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Sacrifice

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2016 by dcairns

quit

Regular Shadowplayer Mark Medin sent me this 1926 ad/announcement by one John McDermott who, true to his word, never lifted megaphone to mouth again. Harold never called. I thought it would make a nice little item for The Late Show which, characteristically, is running past its alotted week…

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We also watched THE 300 SPARTANS, believing it to be the last film by cinematographer-turned-director Rudolph Maté. It isn’t, but it’s a very late one, followed briskly by SEVEN SEAS TO CALAIS, ALIKI MY LOVE, and a massive coronary. I’d had quite good reports of SPARTANS via chum David Wingrove, who characterised it as an unusually literate and intelligent peplum. True — that doesn’t quite turn it into a wholly dignified, proper film — it’s still a peplum. But a peplum with pep.

Lots of Brit acting talent to give it “class” — David Farrar of all people plays the dastardly Xerxes, and for once seems to be enjoying himself. “He’s a terrible actor,” pronounced Fiona, which is pretty severe but pretty true. I have to acknowledge that the one film he’s genuinely good in, THE SMALL BACK ROOM, could still be improved (great though it is) by the casting of any other Brit leading man of the era. Kenneth More wouldn’t be any worse, though less handsome. Dirk Bogarde would be better, David Niven would be better, Roger Livesey would be totally wrong but vastly better…

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But anyway, he’s a decent pantomime villain here, and then there’s Ralph Richardson, who has evidently shot all his scenes in the studio, necessitating overdubs to explain why he’s somehow always indoors. After hearing Ralph debating Laurence Naismith (whose presence along with Kieron Moore and certain Greek locations gives it all a very Harryhausen feeling) it’s a shock to have yank Richard Egan dumped in our lap like a giant concrete bicep.

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But as the movie develops, you get used to him. I can’t say I ever worked up any kind of rapturous pleasure at his screen appearances, but I grew accustomed to his face, to the extend that I would have been sincerely sorry if, say, Donald Houston had bitten it off or something.

The story itself is martial, stirring, hawkish stuff, but it slightly soft-pedals the brutality of the Spartans and does a goodish job of presenting them as characters we should support (although the emphasis on Persia being a “slave empire” is undercut by young Barry Coe, i think it is, promising to bring back a flock of Persian slaves for cutie Diane Baker. Face it, everyone in history is awful).

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“About your Immortals, sire. We might have to change the name.”

The whole time I was watching, I was imagining little Frank Miller seeing this innocent, rather noble entertainment, which even manages a bit of emotion, as an awestruck kid, and then years later giving us his comic 300, and thence the movie 300, which dehumanizes, brutalizes and stupidifies the original on every level. The remake LOOKS nice, in its way, but it’s a horrible, fascistic, mean-spirited thing. A film for our times. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zack Snyder becomes Trump’s Riefenstahl.

Let’s Kill Gandhi

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2011 by dcairns

NINE HOURS TO RAMA is Mark Robson’s two-hour Gandhi snuff film, a well-meaning, sometimes-skillful fictionalisation of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, gone awry in its own commercialism…

Starting promisingly with a snazzy Saul Bass title sequence, in which Malcolm (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) Arnold provides authentic-sounding (to me, anyway) Indian music, the movie gets itself in trouble as soon as acting is called for — while numerous small roles are taken by Indian performers, the major parts, except that of Gandhi himself, are played by western stars — I mean stars in films made in the west, not cowboys, fortunately. John Wayne would have been too much.

As it is, Jose Ferrer is remarkable acceptable-looking, and doesn’t try to talk or act in any kind of embarrassing faux-Indian way. In fact, he doesn’t seem to act at all, which makes him rather impressive — just the right kind of figure to lead the policier part of the story. Unfortunately, handsome Horst Buchholtz is not greatly more convincing as an Indian than he was as a Mexican in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and his role, as a tortured fanatic with a traumatic backstory, calls for lots of histrionics and hysterics. Not only is he fervid and shouty, he’s probably the screen’s most incompetent killer, getting drunk, picking up a prostitute (Diane Baker, typically excellent once you get over the shock of the sari etc), practically telling her his mission, being so pissy to his superiors that they plot his own assassination as soon as he’s finished the job…

Nelson Gidding (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE THE HAUNTING) gives Buchholtz lots of flashbacks to motivate him and build sympathy, which doesn’t work because (1) Horst is inescapably a whiny little bitch in this film and (2) he’s going to kill Gandhi. The movie’s trying to get us to root for him to change his mind, but mainly we’re rooting for him to fall under a bus.

Robert Morley, looking like a rugby ball.

It’s odd, this racial miscasting. One can admit the need to have stars in order to get the film made at all, and so we have Jose and Horst, but were Robert Morley and Harry Andrews really thought to contribute that much of a box office draw? Both good actors, they elicit a shudder of discomfort immediately upon recognition in this unsuitable context. And even allowing that two more familiar names in the credits might have some influence upon an undecided customer pondering which film to see, can the same be said for Francis Matthews or Harold Goldblatt? A shortage of Indian actors can’t be the excuse, since the location work was all performed in India and one can see from Satyajit Ray films of the period that the middle-class characters tend to pride themselves on speaking good English…

Fortunately, J.S. Casshyap plays Gandhi, and he’s excellent, as is the writing in these scenes. It’s inspiring sometimes to have basic stuff about non-violence spelled out by someone who can convincingly embody it. Casshyap, more commonly a writer than actor, underplays magnificently and is as compelling as Ferrer, over whom he also has an ethnic advantage.

Giddings’ solution to writing a series of characters who would not in reality be speaking English is to strip the speech of idiom and contractions, making everybody sound like Data from Star Trek, and then he throws a persistent mannerism of saying “isn’t it?” a lot, so that everybody has that Paul Verhoeven oddness to their delivery. Still, that’s far less damaging than his habit of hamstringing the dramatic tension by jumping back into flashback at every opportunity, so that the promised countdown is devalued — it’s Nine Hours to Rama, then ten years to Rama, then eight hours, then six months…

Robson’s editorial background shows itself in some slick sequences though, and his experience as assistant on CITIZEN KANE no doubt influenced his handling of the flashbacks, cued by long dissolves with theatrical lighting fades which cause Horst’s face to hang about in the frame as his surroundings melt away. This is done rather more obviously than in KANE —

The best bit is the ending — spoiler alert: Gandhi dies. If you don’t plan on seeing this movie, by all means watch the ending here, it’s quite impressive. Horst’s mild-mannered cohort has worried about whether their victim will bless them when he’s killed — such a thing is perversely horrifying to both would-be killers.

Pretty bold stuff. But, from a commercial point of view, if you’re going to do an assassination movie based on a true life political figure where we all know the end result, maybe it’s more satisfying to pick an incident where the assassin doesn’t succeed. Unless the subject is Hitler.