Archive for Edmund Goulding

The Sunday Intertitle: Cementing Relationships

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 21, 2014 by dcairns

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Original Shadowplayer David Ehrenstein sent me a heads-up by email, advising me to check out A LADY OF CHANCE, which has some plum intertitles. Norma Shearer is the titular hustler, a brazen con-artist working with Lowell Sherman (dropping down several levels of the social register from his usual playboys, but still delightfully suave and caddish) and brassy blonde Gwen Lee. Remarkable to see Shearer play hard-boiled — she gets to skulk, flounce, coolly calculate and flirt outrageously — I can’t think why she didn’t insist on playing bad girls full-time. She’s actually good at it.

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Sherman, that unassuming rogue, should be the subject of gigantic retrospectives — a wonderful player and a fine director too. I have definite issues with the whole MGM sensibility, but he’s someone who could channel it smoothly, his tendency to play the classier kinds of scoundrel or otherwise flawed characters militating against the studio’s habitual poshlust.

Another old smoothie, bisexual Brit Edmund Goulding, contributed to the script, but the titles are credited to Ralph Spence, “highest-paid title writer in the world at $5/word.”

You can buy it: A Lady of Chance, (1928)

The Sunday Intertitle: Marion of the Movies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2013 by dcairns

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Round at Marvelous Mary’s for steak pie, and sought to follow-up our previous screening of Clarence Brown’s THE SIGNAL TOWER with something more modern. We tried my disc of THE PALM BEACH STORY, but because Mary’s TV is stone age, the DVD player has to be connected to the TV through a VCR, and that set off the disc’s anti-piracy thingamajig, rendering the image unviewable. So we’ll have to have Mary round here to see it.

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No copy protection on SHOW PEOPLE, however. King Vidor’s comedy about going Hollywood is pretty simplistic compared to the elevated joys of Preston Sturges, but it’s truly charming. Stuffed full of guest stars, of whom we recognized John Gilbert and Charlie Chaplin (because they’re named) and Doug Fairbanks, William S. Hart and King himself. Oh, and Marion Davies as Peggy Pepper gets to glimpse Marion Davies As Herself, which takes the celebrity cameo gag to a whole new level. But as you can see, there’s a lot more I should have recognized.

Leading man Billy Haynes is a convincing boy-next-door, and the whole thing spoofs Gloria Swanson pretty heartily — Davies does a killer Swanson imitation whenever she’s acting stuck up. Vidor’s visual style is tamped down, but his compositions are very crisp as always, which helps the comedy.

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The purist in me notes that despite spoofing that part of Swanson’s career when she was a reluctant participant in Keystone comedies, the movie is one of those late silent era films which gets most of its laughs with the aid of intertitles. In a way, the silents were already straining towards talk. Slapstick is celebrated in a way that’s already nostalgic, for its simple sincerity rather than the skill of the participants. A wind of change is already rustling the stage scenery…

Insert Marion Davies boilerplate here — better at comedy, more talented than her CITIZEN KANE counterpart, etc. We recently watched BLONDIE OF THE FOLLIES (1932), a backstage melodrama notable mainly for the understated perfs director Edmund Goulding obtains from such masters of schtick as James Gleason and Zasu Pitts. (Perhaps Goulding was making up for the same year’s GRAND HOTEL, upon which nobody could possibly have imposed a unity of dramatic style.)  Davies herself is very fine in it. This had me in suspense as to how the movie would digest its Jimmy Durante cameo, since Durante underplaying was something I have trouble picturing. In the event, he explodes into the movie in full schnozz mode, and only the fact that he’s performing at a party prevents this explosion of vaudevillainy from tearing the film out of its sprockets.

Going Postal

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 20, 2009 by dcairns

The explosive opening of BULLDOG DRUMMOND’S BRIDE (perhaps an influence on the beginning of Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL?) captures a fascinating historical detail. Note how the character in the foreground grabs ahold of the wobbling post box to stop it falling over. It’s a little-known fact that until the 1960s, Britain’s “pillar boxes” were unfixed cylinders of cast iron, vulnerable to theft and toppling. A great metal canister like that could cause considerable property damage if it got loose on an incline, perhaps struck by a cart or levered onto its side by wanton schoolboys.

Many solutions were considered, including a scheme pioneered in Gloucestershire where the post boxes were simply enlarged to make them harder to unbalance. At over forty feet in height, the new models was unpopular with the citizenry, who disliked having to scale a set of metal rungs to reach the massive letter slot, like lighthouse-keepers ascending to their positions. Postmen demanded danger money for descending inside the great megaliths by rope ladder to collect the mail lying at the bottom, many of the parcels ruined by their plunge into the metallic bowels of the great column.

In addition, high winds could still occasionally blow the giant pillar boxes over, and the destruction they would then cause was stupendous. Fleeing Gloucerstershirians would be converted to jammy smears ‘neath the trundling tread of the unstoppable juggernaut, and entire cottages were reduced to bass-reliefs in seconds flat.

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A common reaction to this sort of thing.

All this obscure GPO history reminds me of a story from my late friend Lawrie Knight. Assisting on a TV pilot in, probably, the 1950s, he found that his director was Edmund Goulding, originally from England, and now blacklisted in the US following some kind of homosexual scandal. Goulding was obsessed with filming details like post boxes, saying, “They’ll love it in America!”

More interestingly, at the end of the day the sound recordist had a list of “wild tracks” that needed to be recorded: trains, animals, and the like. Goulding poo-pooed the idea of running around town looking for the required FX, and insisted on doing them all himself. At the end of each impersonation (locomotive, goose, dog, car door), Lawrie would turn to the recordist and ask how it was. “It could pass!” said the stunned sound man each time.

The second part of this post, in case you’re wondering, is true.

gouldingEdmund Goulding, human beatbox.

As for the connection to THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, maybe you can guess it? I think a prize can be arranged for a correct answer.