Archive for Douglas Fairbanks Jnr

A Dunne Deal

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2012 by dcairns

In his magnificent memoir, Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights, the ebullient Tay Garnett’s chief complaint about his Hollywood career seems to be the number of times he had his titles swapped on him by producers. In the case of JOY OF LIVING, which started out as JOY OF LOVING, the author of the switcheroo was the Breen Office, who objected to the perceived Lubitschian lubriciousness of the original name.

It’s an odd film — torn between the travails of Irene Dunne as a Broadway star who’s working herself into the ground to support her layabout family (who include favourites Guy Kibbee and Lucille Ball), and the romance with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, who inveigles his way into her life, and the movie, coming across rather like a crazed stalker (as many romantic comedy lading men did in those days). Fairbanks also disturbs by doing Donald Duck impersonations (producers RKO also distributed Disney, so Fairbanks’ vocalisations are authentic), which makes him seem disturbingly like Lucio Fulci’s THE NEW YORK RIPPER.

For the first half, we weren’t sure this film was working at all. The Jerome Kern songs aren’t remarkable. The oppressive opening, in which Dunne is persecuted by admirers as soon as she gets off-stage, has a genuinely exhausting relentlessness (and a shot of Dunne’s face-cream, ruined by discarded cigarettes during an opening night party that’s invaded her dressing room, provoked an exclamation of sympathetic pain from Fiona), but is never actually funny, even with Eric Blore as a butler. In fact, the film throws all the character comics it can at the screen, not always effectively, BUT –

Franklin Pangborn as an orchestra conductor is great value. Garnett had used FP since silent days, and in HER MAN (1931) the comic even drops his traditional “flustered homo” persona to punch someone out. Everybody has to brawl in a Garnett movie. “Who’s Tay Garnett again?” asked Fiona. “He did HER MAN and SEVEN SINNERS, with the great brawls,” I said. “I want to see Irene Dunne brawling!” exclaimed Fiona, suddenly enthused. She got her wish!

(There’s nothing inherently funny, to our modern minds, about someone slapping a woman. Oh, I know, everyone used to think it was just great. What amuses me here is pure timing, most of it la Dunne’s. That, and Irene’s unusual reaction to each slap — there’s the beautifully judged pause, then the wise and insolent look which makes the whole affair kind of surreal, and diffuses most of the potential offense.)

When Fairbanks takes Dunne out to show her a good time on two bucks, we get drunkenness, a slapping dance, and Billy Gilbert bulging his eyes fit to pop. In Common Physical Complaints of Hollywood Character Comedians, a popular medical text of the ’40s, you can read how Gilbert once went too far in a double take on COUNTY HOSPITAL and popped his eyes right out of his head. They had to be pounded back into their sockets with small mallets, a process which took several hours. “It was like a game of Whac-a-Mole played with my face,” remarked the comic, looking like a panda afterwards.*

Garnett, a former Sennett gag-man, also finds work for his stunt-man buddies by staging an elaborate roller-skate rink sequence, featuring copious contusing pratfalls from the cast and their doubles. Gratuitous stuff like this actually gets the movie up on its feet so that by the end it feels pretty nearly successful. Not a classic, just a good fun film — a drunken Dunne makes anything worth seeing, so it wouldn’t really matter if everything outside of the beer hall was images of metal corrosion shot on dental film.

*Skeptics may point out that Whac-a-mole was introduced to games arcades in 1985, and Mr Gilbert died in 1971. “How, then, could he make that analogy?” ask the skeptics. To which I say, look at the man’s body of work. He was clearly ahead of his time.

Fencing on the Ceiling

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2011 by dcairns

A nice, Magritte-like image from SINBAD THE SAILOR, directed by Richard Wallace of IT’S IN THE BAG! fame.

Might as well have been called SINBAD THE BULLSHIT ARTIST though, as all the really interesting fantasy stuff with djinni and flying carpets is only mentioned by Sinbad in his implausible fish stories about his adventurous past. What’s onscreen is a perfectly acceptable, and blindingly colourful, swashbuckler, with virtually no fantastical story elements, but a fantastical LOOK. Douglas Fairbanks Jnr homages his famous pop with a long acrobatic chase through a shiny palace, availing himself of hidden trampolines and stuntmen in order to mimic dad’s athletic prowess, and throwing in some of Doug Snr’s trademark pantomimic gestures.

But it’s a slight waste of an opportunity for THIEF OF BAGDAD type fantasy, one can’t help but feel, even while enjoying the spectacle of an Arabian Maureen O’Hara and Walter Slezak.

Overcompensating?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2010 by dcairns

Another funny movie logo is Edward Small Productions — the contrast of the monolithic proportions with the name “Small” always makes me chuckle, and wonder what sort of fellow E.S. was. Did he have a sense of irony? I’m thinking maybe not.

The logo was attached to many films, but the one I just watched was THE CORSICAN BROTHERS. I wish I’d seen it as a kid, it’s the kind of simple, unpretentious swashbuckler I’d have enjoyed more then. As an adult, I was noting the influence on THE PRINCESS BRIDE, enjoying Akim Tamiroff as the baddie, and one more thing ~

The late F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre once told me in an email that he couldn’t work out how the filmmakers had achieved the scene where Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. fights himself. I was keeping an eye on the twin special effects throughout the film, and in my view, the fight is not the most mysterious part.

Here’s the two Dougs, meeting for the first time. Throughout, the filmmakers use different techniques to double Doug, so that we don’t settle into thinking we know how it’s being done. In this kind of locked-off shot, we might expect split-screen to be the answer, but the actor smack in the centre of the frame disproves that idea. And then one Doug extends a hand and has it clasped by the other.

A slight awkwardness about the way the hand extends suggests the answer. It’s coming from somebody else. If my copy were higher definition I suspect the join might be rather distinct. I think the Doug on the right is standing in front of a rear-projection screen, on which the other characters and the background are projected. If we could see that original shot, it might be rather amusing — everyone reacting to a brother who isn’t there, while a crouching stand-in thrusts forth a costumed arm at the appropriate moment.

Here’s the mind-blower ~

A cinch to do if you’re David Cronenberg with a motion control camera and Jeremy Irons, and even easier today with computers and all that. But this tracking shot, where two Dougs amble along together, was technically NOT POSSIBLE in 1941. So my assumption is that a different technique altogether has been used: not split screen, not matting, not rear-projection. Just a really good stand-in.

This fits in with Michael Powell’s advice that the correct way to use a double is not to have him skulk around, partially obscured, like Ed Wood’s dentist in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, but to have him boldly stomp through shot in plain view. It will never occur to the viewer that the fellow on-screen is not the fellow who was playing the part a second ago. I must say, if I’m right, they’ve found an excellent looky-likey for Doug.

This explains the fight scene later, where the Dougs circle one another, something that would be impossible if any trick effects were involved. But the shot above is actually much more striking because it’s closer, and slower-moving. Kudos to Gregory Ratoff for having the nerve to attempt it.

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