Archive for Dwight Frye

PAROXYSM

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2018 by dcairns

Renfield Lane, Glasgow, named after Dwight Frye’s most famous character. And, when the image of Joe Dante appeared on the screen inside The Old Hairdressers, he had a picture of Dwight Frye on the wall behind him. Synchronicity, or just good planning?

To Glasgow, to Scalarama’s presentation of Joe Dante’s THE MOVIE ORGY, in its five-hour form. This is essentially a mash-up/collage of footage from movies, TV shows, commercials, trailers and other ephemera, with appearances by Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, Richard Nixon, Abbot & Costello, Ann-Margret, Elisha Cook Jr, Conway Twitty, and future Dante players Christopher Lee and Peter Graves, among many, many others.

I wouldn’t have attempted photography if I hadn’t sat at the back (near the bar) but sitting at the back meant my photographs were crummy.

This was — maybe — the first time the movie has screened without Dante in attendance — which is the least exciting world’s first I can imagine — except it’s such a rarity it still felt like an EVENT — and the auteurless showing did have a prerecorded intro from the Great Man which set up the circumstances of the film/thing’s original creation and its campus screenings, the sociopolitical circumstances, and the fact that baby boomers got a nostalgic kick out of re-seeing TV commercials and kids’ shows of their youth (in that era, such stuff screened briefly and then vanished into oblivion). The movie plays somewhat differently to a modern audience, who have no history with much of this material, but the extracts are so well-selected that pretty much everything is funny in and of itself AND in the way it’s juxtaposed with the clip before and the clip after…

I was present in my combined role of critic and disease vector, distributing cold germs free of charge to the people of Glasgow. My physical discomfort, developing into a horrible attack of dyspepsia after I had one pint of the beer on tap (nothing wrong with the beer, just my body), did not prevent me enjoying the thing hugely. There are moments in there that resemble my own modest movie trailer mash-ups, but devised by Dante when I was around a year old.

I recognized ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN and THE GIANT GILA MONSTER and EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS and THE BEGINNING OF THE END which are dismembered and redistributed throughout the film/experience in serial form, but I’d never seen (or heard of) SPEED CRAZY (William J. Hole Jr), COLLEGE CONFIDENTIAL (Albert Zugsmith) and though I thought I knew what TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE was, I now realize I’d been confusing it with INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, somehow, and I have to see the whole thing.

SPEED CRAZY is a sort of hot rod crime flick in which the maniac anti-hero snarls “Don’t crowd me, Joe!” in literally every scene. Bigger laughs each time.

That’s probably possible, but getting hold of TV show Andy’s Gang, in which a senescent Andy Devine drones hymns at bored kids, accompanied by a cat and mouse strapped into exoskeletal harness costumes which force them to play musical instruments, may prove trickier.

Oh wait, we have YouTube!

Happy nightmares!

Dante described the film/organism as a kind of Rosetta stone of his future work, and indeed numerous points of connection can be drawn, but the real link is THE MOVIE ORGY’s very postmodernity, its vision of a great ocean of pop culture in which all this stuff floats and intermingles, so that Chuck Jones and Roger Corman are artists, but they’re also sources, pumping out raw material that flows into this great Solaris/Matmos, which surrounds us but also penetrates us, and binds the universe together.

There are also several things in the film which can be enjoyed sort-of unironically, like the above Abbot & Costello routine, from IN SOCIETY. I dimly remember seeing this as a kid and finding it funny but also baffling and disturbing, which is exactly how I responded seeing it again. It’s a variation on the more famous “Slowly I turned” routine, in which someone is crazy but only Lou (the fat one) sees it. Only here, Bud (the thin one), also sees it, but just kind of refuses to acknowledge it. And it’s not one crazy person  the whole population is crazy. It really has the quality of a nightmare and what makes it more upsetting is that it doesn’t have any logic or justification other than using repetition as a structure. It’s really a bad dream, but a funny one.

Also also, more mysteriously, there are some more lewd and scurrilously satirical sketches, in the movie/event, which might be Robert Downey Sr. skits or something, I’m not sure. Like the smoking surgeon in the clip above. And an amazing epic heaven sequence with the camera craning over a limitless cloudscape of harpists — really impressive kitsch visuals, and what the hell is that from, Joe?

“Now it’s time to say good-bye…”

Oh, and one more thing. Don’t crowd me, Joe!

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Fritz bits

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by dcairns

The real Heydrich was NOT shot in the spine, but in the spleen… my guess if, Fritz Lang may have seen images like this when injured in WWI (three horses shot out from under him) and chose to include it…

“Bert” Brecht’s scenario for HANGMEN ALSO DIE! includes a HUGE number of supporting roles, some with only a few lines. Director Fritz Lang fills the dramatis personae with memorable faces and wrings a whole panoply of peppy performances from them. In the lead, Quatermass McGinty (Brian Donlevy) is better than he ever was elsewhere, suggesting by minimal means the moral strain of a man who knows hundreds may die in consequence of his actions. America’s first largely prosthetic actor, not counting Kong, whom he slightly resembles, Donlevy never made a move without his elevator shoes, corset and toupée, but couldn’t do anything about his startlingly short arms, like those of a T-rex. Couldn’t Bud Westmore, who made Harold Lloyd’s special lifelike glove to hide his missing fingers, have knocked together a couple of arm extensions for McGinty?

Really good work from Walter Brennan, cast way against type as a professor — anti-Nazi films always have a professors, it seems, and professors everywhere have beautiful daughters, and so here we have Anna Lee, also excellent. These characters are even more moving in THE MORTAL STORM, as you’d expect with Frank Borzage in charge, but Lang’s harder edge also has its advantages. We also get Margaret Wycherly, looking like a haunted tree™ as usual, and Dennis O’Keefe, whose tendency to turn up whenever his fiance is in what looks like a compromising position, seems like good prep for all those farces he made later in the forties.

But I want to talk about smaller roles. Janet Shaw fascinated me. She played the dead-eyed slattern of a teen waitress in SHADOW OF A DOUBT and was just remarkable. Anytime she shows up in a film, I get fascinated. Here she’s a little TOO perky, perhaps, as a factory worker and patriotic saboteur, her eyes darting vivaciously around the faces assembled at a meeting of the resistance. But she has a great moment later when arrested, spitting fire and defiance at her captors.

See here and here for previous appreciations.

We also get Charles “Ming the Merciless” and Dwight Frye and a defenestrated Lionel Stander, star-spotters!

But the film’s array of Nazis is its best point (aside from Lang’s bleakly beautiful mise-en-scene, of course, and his crisp cutting, many scenes joined together by questions asked in one scene and answered in another, or phrases begun in one place and completed elsewhere. Is this where Welles got the idea for KANE’s scene-linking?).

The decision to have the “Nazis” play their roles as comedy is a surprising one. It doesn’t attract much comment in discussions of the film. HANGMEN ALSO DIE! is far from being a comic film, but its treatment of those running the Protectorate is almost Lubitschian. All the various types of Hollywood Nazi are represented here — and the idea seems to be to refute the German claims of superman status with an insistence on the pathetic, grubby human foibles that make these guys on the one hand, no better than the rest of us, and on the other, considerably worse.

There’s Heydrich himself, Hans Heinrich Twardowski (from CALIGARI) in a big rubber Mabuse nose, conforming to the stereotype of the Nazi pansy (usually Martin Kosleck’s department). This isn’t an accurate depiction of Heydrich, but the goal is partly just to INSULT, using exactly the terms we assume would be most offensive to the Nazis.

There’s the spotty Nazi (Tonio Selwart), with a big set of Marcellus Wallace sticking plasters on the back of his neck and a gleaming chancre on his brow, later seen lovingly squeezing a pluke in the mirror — an undreamt-of image in Hollywood cinema or anywhere else — I equate this to Dennis Hopper picking his nose in LAND OF THE DEAD (which I equate to stuff like Paul Wolfowitz caught licking his comb on camera) — a concentration on the undignified, messily human aspects of the supposed superman.

There’s the lightweight sadist (Reinhold Schunzel, THE THREEPENNY OPERA), not an imposing figure, more like a mean schoolteacher, but one with a whole state apparatus backing him up. He tortures an old woman using only a loosely assembled chair, and the power behind him. Personally, he’s a buffoon, with a Sig Ruman-like delivery, cracking his fingers as he gloats behind his desk. Without a desk and armed guards at his command, he’d be pathetic. He IS pathetic. Time will tell.

And then there’s the detective (Alexander Granach, the Shadowplayer from WARNING SHADOWS; Knock, the gibbering Renfield figure from NOSFERATU), the most competent figure we meet on the enemy side. He frequents whores and is addicted to Czech beer, so again, his lack of “purity” and his vulgarity and human frailty are front and centre. But he’s a worthy opponent. The big trick staged by the resistance in the film’s third act would never work if he were around to study it. His innate shrewdness and unerring mental leaps (signalled with a pantomime snap of the fingers) means he’s only ever a step or two behind the heroes, and frequently a step or two ahead. Thwarted for the moment, his finger-snap is exchanged for a first pounding into a palm. Very theatrical, but with all this comedy Lang is not only making a satirical point, he’s finding a way to leaven the  film’s grimness.

Lang wasn’t too great at comedy — the jokes in WESTERN UNION, with Slim Summerville slowly starving, seem sadistic and depressing. Sometimes, laughs can spill out into places they don’t belong, as in the campy, though still compelling, HOUSE BY THE RIVER. Lang is a harsh, heavy filmmaker and humour isn’t his element — but this kind of nasty wit seems ideally suited to his temperament and, crude though some of it is, it’s very effective because it’s so surprising in this context.

A lot of American films made fun of the Nazis — it was understood that they would hate this, and its was felt better to despise them and sneer at them than to be afraid of them. James Harvey in his book Romantic Comedy points out how strange it was, in this context, that Lubitsch’s TO BE OR NOT TO BE was thought to have gone too far. He identifies the problem being located in one line from Sig Ruman to Jack Benny, his insulting review of Benny’s acting: “What he did to Shakespeare we are now doing to Poland.” The joke turned auditoria ice-cold at the time, apparently — other attempts at humor by the Nazi characters are deliberately rather gross, but this one asks us to laugh at the effect it has on Benny. In other words, the Nazi wins this round, though he doesn’t know who he’s talking to. Audiences at the time were not prepared to laugh at the thought of Nazis winning anything.

Lang is on safer ground — the humour is present merely in how the Nazis are portrayed, by artful, expressionistic actors, whose style contrasts elaborately with the simplicity of the Americans playing Czechs (plus one Brit, Anna Lee). So there’s a satisfying (Brechtian?) distance between how the Nazis see themselves — superior, in a word — and how both the performances and the plot encourage us to see them — as nasty buffoons.

Or, as Fiona put it, it’s like a long episode of ‘Allo, ‘Allo!

It’s also defensibly close to reality — though the film omits the massacre of Lidice, it surprises by showing the Nazis murdering all the hostages they had promised to release, a smaller but dramatically equivalent atrocity. Lidice, in fact, boomeranged badly, becoming the signature crime used in propaganda to denounce Nazi Germany. The Nazis handed the Allies a club with which to beat them. It’s not funny, but it’s certainly oafish.

Vice Verse

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on April 6, 2013 by dcairns

gof1

Chaney Unchained.

Plugging away at GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN now at LimerWrecks — here, here, here here and also this collaboration  with ghost-host Hilary Barta. Despite the fact that the Universal monster series was really jumping the shark at this point, and GHOST OF is particularly hard to summon to memory, our odious odes are as fresh and pungent as ever.

There’s also this Edgar Allan Poe-m of which I am sinfully proud, and yet another on Dwight Frye.

And also lots by Mr. B, including a couple I feel deserve special mention — the true monsterworks here and here.

Alternatively, you could just read everything and using this link to the site.