Archive for EA Dupont

Rated “Arr”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2021 by dcairns

Screenplay by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg

LONG JOHN SILVER, AKA RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND, directed by Byron Haskin, isn’t any good, but it does have Robert Newton in the title role, and Rod Taylor in a showy supporting part. E.A. Dupont’s RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND, a different film, doesn’t have either of them and REALLY isn’t any good. It’s one of those late-career travesties like Tay Garnett’s CHALLENGE TO BE FREE which is so incompetent and uninspired on every level that it baffles and infuriates, is hard to shake off.

Nevertheless, I did not fail you, reader, I watched the whole damn thing.

The early scenes rewrite Stevenson by showing that Captain Flint secretly survived, and, you know, RETURNED TO TREASURE ISLAND, re-hiding his treasure and killing Long John Silver. Difficult, I suppose, to engage first-class talent for a short prologue sequence like this in a low-budget film, but Dupont, who may have been ill or just very very tired, or disgusted with the whole business, gets a guy from New Jersey called Dayton Lummis to do a Groundskeeper Willie Scottish accent for Flint, and a guy from Indiana called Robert Long to play Long John Silver. His name may be what clinched him the part. He seems… really ashamed to be in a film.

This part of the story is narrated by Tab Hunter, who is not one of nature’s born narrators. The cutting is fantastically terrible. Dupont at his best does have a kind of titanic, granite quality to his images, that seem to fall into their places onscreen with thumps, like stone blocks slotting into place. But now everything’s ill-fitting and higglety-pigglety.

I suppose the parrot acquits itself fairly well, but frankly I have seen better parrots.

Fastforward to the present day, and we are to believe that the Admiral Benbow Inn is a real place, where a burglar is trying to steal a map of Treasure Island. Another guy bursts into shot, they duke it out, leave frame, and a lampshade falls down. That lampshade is showing more initiative than the rest of the film’s cast. Both thugs leave, and the people who belong to the inn enter shot and have a boring discussion. Dupont is very much about flat two-shots in this movie, and here he props his actors against a mantel for even greater stasis and stiltedness.

Still, one of the thesps is Dawn Addams, in vibrant p.j.s. She and Tab will bring an inappropriate porny horniness to the proceedings, though this is not convincingly projected at each other, but outward at us. It’s this softcore flirtation with the lens that makes the movie seem so much like an animated smut mag, with less skin.

The old codger speculates that the burglar was after the map, and Dawn says, magnificently: “Willie! Superstition. Probably tramps.” One of the great lines. No cut-up or fold-in method could produce such eloquent word salad — only the combined typewriters of Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg, who scripted a couple of other late Dupont’s: THE NEANDERTHAL MAN and THE STEEL LADY.

Now the crumbly remains of Porter Hall come shimmering into view — a terrific character man, member of the Preston Sturges stock company, you’ve seen him in everything from THE THIN MAN to ACE IN THE HOLE. This is his last movie too, and it looks it. He classes the joint up, but he’s still required to stand in flat two-shots, sharing the non-space with non-actors. He announces that it’s night-time, which we would not, frankly, have known from the photography. He also tells us that Dawn’s character, Jamie Hawkins, is the direct descendant of Jim-Lad.

From the hat and coat he carries, I’m assuming he was one of the bad guys earlier, but clearly a stuntman was carrying out the action.

Turns out the clues to locating the treasure are encoded within Captain Flint’s personal Bible — proof that you can make the good book say anything you like. This plot turn is not too bad, but we’ll have to subsist on it for seventy-five minutes.

Soon, poor old Willie has been shot by one of the hoods. This is one of those movies where normal people stand around calmly conversing over corpses. “Poor Willie,” says Dawn Hawkins. “He was a best friend.” She doesn’t even stoop to examine him. (What’s maddening is that the film’s poor director was a very good writer and could have fixed all of this if he’d been allowed, or bothered.)

The shadowy baddie behind all this — although we don’t for a moment trust Porter Hall — is a blind guy called Newman, a sort of Blind Pugh Junior, which I think I’m going to call him.

Everybody’s off to Treasure Island! Dawn dons a sexy low-cut number and declares her love of adventure. “Well, it’s nice to be young,” says the grizzled Captain Cardigan, nonsensically.

She’s going for an evening swim when she overhears the crew talking mutiny — like her forebear in his apple barrel, only she’s on a rope ladder by a porthole in her swimsuit. I don’t mean the porthole is in her swimsuit. Though it would enhance the entertainment prospects if it were. Dawn Hawkins listens impassively as the men plan to cut cards for her favours. Again, stuff that doesn’t belong in a family film, but there it is. She tells Porter Hall about it and he says he has everything under control.

“For almost a year I had lived on Treasure Island alone,” narrates Tab Hunter as Tab Hunter in a fluffy beard rises into view amid the palm trees, “the involuntary master of my domain,” getting a snigger from the Seinfeld fans.

Tab is going to spend the film shirtless. As shirtless as the day is long. And this is June, so that’s very shirtless indeed. He will, however, I predict, get a shave and a haircut.

Dawn rises and puts on a cute sailor cap and a sexy halter top in case the mutineers cut cards for her favours. And sure enough, they’ve taken over the ship. Captain Cardigan is tied up in knots. Porter Hall turns out to be leader of the mutineers. Gentlemen, I am shocked.

The original Treasure Island is a virtually all male show, with Jim-Lad’s mum, Mrs. Jim-Lad, given nothing to do and dropped from the story as soon as decently possible. So Treasure Island, as conceived by RL Stevenson, is lacking in bondage scenes. Pollexfen & Wisburg have fixed that. A good director for this would have been Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Anyhow, Dawn Hawkins escapes but Captain Cardigan gets a hole in him. All this is narrated by Tab with a disinterested, dreamy quality more suitable, I would have thought, for Brideshead Revisited, not HORNY TREASURE ISLAND.

I’m not kidding about Tay Garnett’s last film, by the way. The sound of “loveable” wilderness person Mike Mazurki humourlessly intoning “HA. HA. HA,” will follow me to my mausoleum. Compared to that, this is a delightful romp. Still, every single movement the actors make is self-conscious, awkward and weird. I’ve heard of director’s shooting rehearsals for spontaneity, but this looks like Dupont was aiming more for uncertainty. And he’s achieved it, masterfully.

Dawn and Tab shack up in an abandoned fort and Dawn naturally has to take a bath, gawped at by the lecherous parrot, who is no doubt a direct linear descendant of Captain Flint’s parrot. He doesn’t quite caw “Pieces of ass!” but his squawks have a lubricious flavour. And yes, Tab has a shave. Evidently he could have done this at any time, but he didn’t have anyone to look his best for.

Porter Hall in Decent Line Shock: “Ever see a cat at a mouse hole? We’ll emulate that patient creature, gentlemen.”

Now Dawn swims out to the ship wearing short jeans and a knotted shirt. Bouncing on deck, she manages to avoid the anticipated display of clingy charms. The distractingly sexy films are always the ones that don’t deliver.

Incidentally, I’ve started wondering — this movie is set in the same fictional world as Stevenson’s novel. Which means Treasure Island, the novel, doesn’t exist in this movie. So it’s not clear how everybody seems to know the story.

It turns out Porter is responsible for Blind Pugh Junior’s signature disability, having blown him up with careless dynamite, but the scene in which we find this out is very ineffectively staged, a flat two with the actors facing forward. Hard for one guy to menace the other without being pointed at him. I presume they had no time to make this film. Otherwise it could’ve been a lovely fun picture to make, if the weather was good.

As the story goes on, sadism rears its ugly-beautiful head. Blind Pugh Junior whips Jim-Lass as she’s bound to a tree, while Tab, shirtless, bound and perspiring (which sounds like a law firm for perverts) writhes on the ground at everyone’s feet, getting kicked. My.

As if that isn’t enough, the Blind Pugh Junior, who lost his sight in a dynamite accident arranged by Porter Hall’s character, Maxie, gets blow up twice more. And survives, though we last see him pinned under rubble in a sealed-off cavern, taking potshots at Porter. He must be cinema’s most exploded man.

“We met Maxie. He was reduced to a harmless cipher with fear,” drones Tab.

Some of the cave scenes seem to be shot in a real cave, some against a cliff face in broad daylight, and some with some kind of day-for-cave gimmick that has turned the colours psychedelic. The entire film could have been improved by that treatment.

Our heroes get the treasure, since they’ve blown everyone else up. That’s how civilisation works.

I say, Tab!

RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND stars Todd Tomorrow; Zeta One; Judge Alfalfa J. O’Toole; Lost Motorist (uncredited); and Bit Part (uncredited).

Drowning in a Sea of Bliss

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2021 by dcairns

ON SUCH A NIGHT might not qualify as a forgotten gem but its certainly a curio. Grant Richards (as “Nicky Last”) is going to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit but a flood gives him a second chance. His new wife, Karen Morley tries to rescue him with Alan Mowbray’s travelling magic show but they’re pursued by the real killer, Eduardo Ciannelli (as “Ice Richards”) and a fast-talking newspaperman (Roscoe Karns) and they all end up stranded by the flood in a southern mansion full of stereotypes of one kind or another (white-bearded colonel, superstitious black servants).

The verbose and ebullient Mowbray (as Professor Ricardo Montrose Candle) seems to be inhabited a role conceived for WC Fields — florid speech, including “comic” racism (“My suntanned friend”), elaborate endearments, legerdemaine, perhaps with Lupe Velez as the missus ( “My little cactus flower.”) Here, she’s played by Milly, much later in THE CONFORMIST as Trintignant’s mum. Such recasting would have moved this movie towards INTERNATIONAL HOUSE territory. Despite the thriller aspects — which show signs of promise early on — it’s halfway to such lunacy anyway. WC Fields in a disaster movie is an inspiring thought. You could get him to say the title: “Why, it’s a veritable towering inferno.” “My, my, my, this is quite the Poseidon adventure.”

And yes, E.A. Dupont directs. There’s a bit of unchained camera business going on, but it doesn’t rise to the spectacular. Still, it’s a peculiar and different film, an independent production now seemingly extant only in a ratty, fuzzy form. I’ll take what I can get: several of Dupont’s US films aren’t discoverable at all…

Oh, and Mowbray speaks of composing a song to be entitled “Drowning in a Sea of Bliss,” but since he never gets anywhere with it, I’m attempting a set of lyrics.

I’m drowning in a sea of bliss

Sinking down for your liquid kiss

It’s not that surprising

The water is rising

With the sound of a terrible hiss

A dum-dee dee dum…

ON SUCH A NIGHT stars Philo Vance; Pendola Molloy; Oscar Shapeley; Dr. Satan; Madre di Marcello Clerici; Granville Thorndyke; Dr. Lupus Crumm; Mrs. Leeson; Himmelstoss: Capt. Englehorn; Teeler Yacey; ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ Brewster; Uncle Cato; Black Mammy (uncredited); Little Joe Jackson; Yankee on Street (uncredited); and Fantastic Brown.

Bish Bosh

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2021 by dcairns

Getting back into E.A. Dupont.

The accepted narrative, accepted by most who even think about old Ewald, is that he was a big innovator in VARIETE (“the unchained camera”) but was too turgid when sound came in (ATLANTIC and the world’s longest, least dramatic dramatic pause) and then just foundered and floundered in B movies.

Given that Dupont had to struggle with formidable opponents in his career — Hitler AND the Dead End Kids — his downward career arc, or spiral, is understandable. But ATLANTIC actually has, along with the turgid stretches, some riveting and innovative sound filmmaking — it’s maybe the scariest Titanic movie — and CAPE FORLORN is quite stupendous. Then there’s THE SCARF, a clever and stylish B noir where Dupont shows he’s still got it. He can take the breath away with just a shot of someone in a chair in a room, doing nothing (this happens TWICE).

THE SCARF was Dupont’s comeback film after a decade out of the biz, resulting from an incident on HELL’s KITCHEN where he slapped one of the Dead End Kids for mocking his accent. While I don’t condone slapping youngsters (by 1939, were any of the kids actually kids?), I can see why Dupont’s immigrant status might have been a sore spot for him, and hitting the Dead End Kids seems to have been a popular way of dealing with them. Cagney once hit one of the Dead End Kids with one of the other Dead End Kids, and they didn’t fire HIM. (“I think they thought they were dealing with Bogart or something,” he wrote of the provocation leading to the head-knocking).

Anyway, THE BISHOP MISBEHAVES is before all that, but it shows that Dupont was already in B-movie terrain. But it also shows that he was cured of his earlier slowness by 1935. In fact, his first Hollywood film was the sexy, funny and very fast LADIES MUST LOVE at Universal.

BISH is from a play by Frederick J. Jackson, who also wrote THE GREAT GAMBINI, which I like. Edmund Gwenn plays the titular bish, an addict of crime fiction who gets the chance to play detective when he stumbles on a real robbery, conducted by sympathetic young lovers Maureen O’Sullivan and Norman Foster (one of the medium-sized lug’s more appealing roles) against nouveau riche crooks Reginald Owen and Lilian Bond (wey-hey, Lilian Bond!). There are atmospheric scenes in Limehouse (including a flash of opium den in a montage) and a charming Hollywood England feel throughout. Effervescent yet criminous.

Edmund Gwenn is a lovely actor, though he doesn’t really need to play his part an octave higher than usual. I guess the clergy are supposed to have had all their testosterone sucked out of them. Even the nuns. Gwenn has a mild manner anyway, and he’d have been even more loveable in his natural register. Bond and Owen, playing lower-class, don’t so much drop their aitches as throw them strenuously over their shoulders. You can feel them striving to remember not to sound pukkah.

The theatrical origins of the story are pretty obvious, and when a character remarks how he was nervous when anyone approached the vase in which some loot was hidden, and we realise we hadn’t been aware of this, it’s clear that Dupont is no Hitchcock. He’d concentrated on the dialogue, and forgotten to shoot closeups of the vase and the anxious glances.

But there’s some good filmmaking — a bit where everybody leaves the scene and the room stands empty could have seemed hideously stagey, but Dupont twists it into cinema with a dramatic track-in on the door.

The director’s compositional gift for snug, squarish groupings is in some evidence, and he’s helped by the fact that Gwenn has a 1:1.33 head. Dupont’s smutty side — he’s really rather salacious in unexpected ways and places — manifests itself around Lilian Bond and her low-cut gown. It’s a modest movie that shows an increase in speed and efficiency, but a loss of individuality.

Fortunately, Dupont wasn’t licked yet. More on him soon, I hope.

THE BISHOP MISBEHAVES stars Dr. Athelny; Jane Parker; Mrs. Morehead; another Dr. Athelny; Casper Gutman; Billy Boyle; Gladys; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Hives – the Butler; Black Dog; Dr. Doremus; Amschel Rothschild; Tabbs; ‘Sugar’ Steve; and Jameson.