Archive for Donald Crisp

Donald Crisp’s Invisible Dog

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2021 by dcairns

(Now with FIXED SOUND)

Fiona immediately felt, on seeing the above scene from THE DAWN PATROL (1938), that I should excerpt it for Shadowplay. And, obviously, I agreed.

When did Donald Crisp go from the scary guy in BROKEN BLOSSOMS (and the scary portrait in THE NAVIGATOR) to the lovely cuddly guy in THE DAWN PATROL and GREYFRIARS BOBBY? Maybe it was when he started pretending to be Scottish. This obscuring Celtic veil got Crisp a few jobs — the above-mentioned pooch film, it’s alternate-universe version CHALLENGE TO LASSIE (what if Greyfriars Bobby was a collie?) and arguably HOW GREEN IS MY VALLEY (since in Hollywood terms, Scottish and Irish = Welsh) and MARY OF SCOTLAND and THE LITTLE MINISTER. But it’s not certain he couldn’t have grabbed those roles anyway just by his facility for doing a not-terrible Scottish accent (he’s one of the few actors trying to sound Welsh in HGIMV).

Anyway, this scene is adorable, as good as James Mason chasing his last pea round the plate in MURDER BY DECREE.

I ought to have more to say about this film soon, because we absolutely loved it. It’s much more Hawksian than the Hawks version.

Recalliery

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2021 by dcairns

Watching HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY I wondered if it appeared in time in 1941 to influence Orson Welles’ plans for THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS? (Welles being a big Ford fan after all. And there are thematic similarities in these accounts of a vanished past.) The idea to keep much of the narration from Richard Llewellyn’s source novel, and play it over dialogue-free scenes, and use montage to cover a story with a long span, apparently came from studio head Darryl Zanuck. It’s an approach which could easily be disastrous if applied clumsily, since you lose firmly dramatic scenes which grip, and gain, if you’re lucky/skilled, a more ethereal, intangible quality, poetic rather than dramatic.

Looking at Searching for John Ford by Joseph McBride, I learn about William Wyler’s crucial involvement, casting much of the picture and overseeing the design of the village, an incredible setting. Wyler chose Roddy McDowall for the lead — screenwriter Philip Dunne called Roddy the true auteur of the picture, and said “This solves our length problem, because they’ll never forgive us if we let that boy grow up.” The film was set to be four hours long and the kid was supposed to mature into Tyrone Power. Imagine. Technicolor was also considered at an early stage, Zanuck envisioning an epic to rival GONE WITH THE WIND. And, after all, it’s How GREEN Was My Valley, right?

Same year as KANE — and note the ceilings.

It’s all wondrous to think of, since although the book is the reason there’s a film, the principle things that make it a great film are Ford’s use of McDowall and the b&w cinematography of Arthur C. Miller, which is exquisite. Miller mostly wasted his gifts on indifferent Fox fodder. The Malibu Hills are not the Welsh Valleys, but the movie conjures its own version of Wales, complete with a cast of assorted accents — Donald Crisp, a cockney who affected Scottishness in real life, like Eric Campbell, Chaplin’s Goliath, makes the most consistent effort to sound right — Rhys Williams, playing blind boxer Dai Bando, is one of very few actual Welsh actors.

Another thing I wondered is if this movie invented the highlights reel — a closing set of flashback memories to certain golden moments in the preceding movie. When “Seems Like Old Times” plays for a second time in ANNIE HALL and we get glimpses of earlier scenes, that kind of thing. Reminding the audience how much they enjoyed the film, hopefully — with an indifferent film it’s infuriating — this movie is all flashbacks anyway, from a largely unseen present tense, so it’s a bold and interesting choice to repeat certain flashes. I can’t think of an earlier example. Of course it’s a clever Hollywood device to diffuse the downbeat effects of a tragic ending. Go into the magic past and end on something happier. Those memories will never fade. Things may be bad now, and uncertain to get better, but happiness is real — the past is still here. We just can’t quite step into it. Time may be an illusion, as Einstein said, but it’s a very persistent one. So this kind of Hollywood illusion is bittersweet — we’re presented with a joyful image but with a little thinking we can see past it.

The Sunday Intertitle: OK Boomers

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2021 by dcairns

Very weird double bill for our Saturday watch party — THE GOOSE WOMAN (Clarence Brown) and THE OKLAHOMA KID (Lloyd Bacon). Nothing really in common. The above was suggested as a very suitable Sunday intertitle, you can probably guess which film it’s from. Louise Dresser is speaking to Jack Pickford, America’s first rodent film star.

But OKLAHOMA KID is ram-packed with intertitles too, oddly since it’s a 1939 production. Felt good to be watching a Bacon film, since he keeps popping up in the Essanay Chaplins.

This one is famed for the surprise casting of Cagney and Bogart in a western. Shame it doesn’t have Allen Jenkins or Frank McHugh too. They basically play it like a gangster film, but since this is post-code it doesn’t have the bite and amorality: Jimmy enacts a William Hart “good bad man” arc, redemptive in nature.

The politics follow a slightly different arc: they at first seem very conventional — we’re shown Grover Cleveland (!) agreeing to (forcibly) buy Indian land he’d previously promised they could keep, but the movie seems to soft-pedal the injustice — no suggestion that the price isn’t going to be fair. But then…

CAGNEY: In the first place, the white people steal the land from the Indians, right?

CRISP: They get paid for it, don’t they?

CAGNEY: Pay for it? Yeah. A measly dollar and forty cents an acre, price agreed to at the point of a gun. Then the immigrants sweat and strain and break their hearts carving out a civilisation. Fine, great! And when they get all pretty and prosperous along come the grafters and land-grabbers and politicians, and with one hand skim off the cream and the other scoop up the gravy. Not for me. Listen, I learned this about human nature when I was but so high, and that is: that the strong take away from the weak, and the smart take it away from the strong.”

A primer in capitalism and empire-building, Warners style. Of course, Warners rarely follow through on their more radical impulses, but the movie does feature an attack on mob violence, before celebrating vigilantism of a more individualistic sort — Cagney announces he’s hauled in a wanted man. “Dead or alive?” he’s asked. “A little of each.”

And then Cagney is subsumed into civilisation and forcibly wed to Rosemary Lane (he has more luck with her than sister Priscilla). Is the film backing away from its earlier stance, or just admitting what happens to outlaws? Cagney himself went from leftist to self-described arch-conservative, so while it’s a disappointing ending it’s not necessarily dishonest, and the filmmakers probably hoped the ideas planted earlier might still germinate in moviegoers’ minds.