Archive for Dick Smith

Otto Complete

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2015 by dcairns


Revisiting an old favourite — it’s Otto Preminger Week, Slight Reprise.

I think it was Guy Budziak who sent me a DVD of Otto Preminger’s THE CARDINAL some years back — thanks, Guy! — I immediately watched and drooled over the magnificent Saul Bass title sequence, then put it away, meaning to watch the rest later. Having finally done so, the main benefit received is probably that it got me to finally start reading Chris Fujiwara’s Preminger study, The World and His Double. The movie does embody a lot of the positive AND negative things about the Preminger style and personality.

Fujiwara cites plenty of testimony from concerned parties that Preminger mercilessly mistreated his leading man, Tom Tryon, eventually driving him to quit acting altogether. (Preminger felt Tryon should thank him for his subsequent successful career as a novelist.) Tryon’s own account is harrowing and heartbreaking — but I’m surprised that co-star John Huston’s version isn’t included. Huston claims he noticed Tryon was looking nervous and suggested that Otto might try soothing his star rather than berating him. Otto approached the trembling thespian from behind and bellowed “RELAAAAX!” in his ear.

It probably isn’t true, but poetically it is clearly COMPLETELY true.


The perfect match of pillars and font (typographic, not baptismal)

The film also got me looking up Catholic history to see if the movie was fair and accurate. It’s not too shabby. Preminger apparently added all the stuff about the Austrian Anschluss, which the source novel didn’t deal with. The film shows faithfully how the church in Austria initially welcomed Nazi annexation, only turning against it when the Nazis started repressive measures against Catholics. But the movie can’t find room to show how Pope Pius XII pursued policies of appeasement and neutrality, decrying war crimes in generic terms while refusing to be specific. However, we do get to see some prime chickenshit religiose humbug in a sequence dealing with segregation in Georgia. When Ossie Davis comes to Rome to report his church being burned by the clan, the Italian cardinal berates him for his inflammatory behaviour in protesting that a Catholic school wouldn’t teach black children.

The fact that Tryon’s character stays with the church after this almost makes him a difficult character to respect, although in fairness he travels to Georgia and tries to help out. His biggest problem as a lead character is that he allows his sister to die — she’s pregnant, the doctor needs to sacrifice the baby’s life to save her, and Tryon refuses. Even Preminger knew this was a character flaw: whatever the law of the church says, as fellow humans in the audience we demand that Tryon’s character save his sister. No movie star could really play that part — the kind of characters movie stars play would somehow resolve things — or God would help out with a miracle and the sister would live.


Tryon flanked by Lynley Mk II (right) and Dorothy Gish (left).

In a really creepy piece of filmmaking, Preminger casts the same actress, the lovely Carol Lynley, as both sister and grown-up niece (the movie’s story covers decades, and it seems like it too). It’s as if an act of cinematic metempsychosis has resulted in the mother literally living on in her daughter, so that the priest’s act of murder is erased. As Fujiwara observes, Preminger directs this sequence with so little conviction that the apparent intended meaning is substantially undercut.

Weirdness alternates with dullness. For the first twenty minutes, the script (Robert Dozier plus uncredited Gore Vidal and Ring Lardner — neither of whom knew the other was at work on the same project until a chance meeting exposed the farce) is content to offer no actual drama at all, just uncomfortable actors exchanging information, plus bits of ritual and music and nice location shooting. Then Cecil Kellaway brings in a little conflict, playing an avuncular rotter in a dog collar, whose sins are so petty, venial and squalid that it’s surprising Otto got the OK from the church, especially after his rows with the Catholic Legion Of Decency (CLOD, I call them) on previous movies.


And then we get John Huston, and things get MUCH better. Also Burgess Meredith, at whose deathbed Huston has a moment that actually really moved me — not an emotion I expected to get from a Huston performance, though I often enjoy him.

Cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who restrains his usual Deluxe Color glorious excesses, was apparently quite smitten with Romy Schneider… one can well believe it.


The movie was make-up supremo Dick Smith’s first credit, and he had to age Tryon throughout the movie. He was apparently a last-minute replacement for the great Maurice Seiderman (CITIZEN KANE), who quarrelled with Preminger and, as a parting gesture, ran his electric razor in a line right up the back of Tryon’s head. Poor Tryon, he got the worst of every encounter. Poor Smith, he had to spend months gluing little bits of hair to the back of Tryon’s scalp.

Fujiwara is probably right to regard this as major Preminger, but he does note the difficulties it presents — Tom Tryon is sort of right for it, but does not provide a strong centre.

Dwight MacDonald wrote of Preminger, “A great showman who has never bothered to learn anything about making a movie,” which is totally off-base. But he added, hilariously, “… no one is more skilled at giving the appearance of dealing with large, controversial themes in a bold way, without making the tactical error of doing so.” In a sense, he has Preminger cold, but a more sympathetic reading — that the former lawyer was always inclined to view a problem from both sides, if at all possible — is equally valid. When dramatic weakness or oppressive censorship impacts on this approach, the result can be dullness, as in several long sequences of THE CARDINAL. When Preminger is able to pilot a strong script through the cultural hazards, the results are striking.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 10, 2014 by dcairns


One can’t help but be fascinated by the moment in GHOST STORY when Craig Wasson, playing his own brother — wait. He’s not playing Craig Wasson’s brother. I don’t know if he even has a brother. He’s playing the hero’s brother, and in the same film he also plays the hero, Don Wanderley. Interesting choice of name. Musical.

Anyhow, as David Wanderley, the brother Wasson has a moment which one can’t help but be fascinated by, when, backing away in terror from the rotting, cadaverous visage of Alice Krige (achieved by means of Rick Baker effects, I hasten to add), he crashes through the window of the skyscraper he’s in and plunges to his death many storeys below. What makes the sequence fascinating is that, like John Vernon in POINT BLANK, he performs his death plunge nude, but unlike Vernon he goes full frontal. And, in a bit of gratuitous realism that fairly boggles the mind, Wasson’s genitals are seen to WAGGLE IN THE WIND.



Extensive pretend research has failed to establish how Dick Smith and Rick Baker managed to make Wasson’s balls waggle about so realistically — did they attach wires? No. Did they have a wind machine blasting up Wasson’s arse? No. Did they paint the privates with flesh-coloured metallic paint and then position magnets at — NO!

I am forced to conclude that Wasson got the part, a leading one in a large production also featuring John Houseman, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr and Melvyn Douglas, by virtue of his ability to make his generative organs wag about at will. His highly developed cremaster muscle, which granted him this superhuman power, would stand him in good stead in Brian DePalma’s BODY DOUBLE (scenes deleted).

This Youtube clip (at twenty seconds in) denies us the full majesty of the effect, since a piece of genital fogging has been despatched — Fly, my beauties! — to cover what we are forced to call the offending area.

Genital fogging, it seems to me, is one of the last great areas of artisanship left to cinema. Like the workshops full of ladies stencil-tinting films in the early silent days, the film industry continues to support squadrons of dedicated artists, hunched over the reels of celluloid in their berets, delicately wielding their cans of spray-on fog, clouding the private parts of the great and good. Japan alone supports over a million of them. If we should ever throw off our prejudicial attitude to the lower abdomen, what shall become of these trained professionals. One pictures them, squatting on the sidewalk or standing by freeway off-ramps, with a cardboard sign reading WILL FOG GENITALS FOR CHANGE, blurring the cocks of passing strangers for a few cents.

You might suggest that they could find work doing faces, making people anonymous when they testify to traumatic experiences on television, but no. Whole other skill.


Actors who have naturally foggy genitals of their own are highly prized. B**t R******s may not learn his lines, but his smudgy nuts ensure he is never out of work.

Crawling from the Limerwreckage

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2012 by dcairns

Three supernatural blaxploitation limericks comin’ atcha —




I must say, the possession make-up in ABBY affects me much as Dick Smith’s makeup on Linda Blair did — both seem crude,  well over the top and unconvincing — but somehow they’re all the more upsetting for it.