Archive for Edmund Goulding

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.


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.

Miriam Hopkins, Witchfinder General

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 2, 2008 by dcairns

“You’re all against me!”

Warner Bros’ two films that pair Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins are a remarkably symmetrical set.

Apart from the obvious similarity of title, THE OLD MAID and OLD ACQUAINTANCE both take place over several decades, and in both films Miriam is repeatedly mean to Bette until some kind of righting of wrongs is effected at the conclusion. While MAID was directed by English emigré Edmund Goulding and ACQUAINTANCE by Vincent Sherman, both are examples of the Warners’ house style in its domestic drama mode, which trumps any stylistic fingerprints of the directors (both of whom were highly talented fellows with long lists of excellent films behind and before them).

“Curse you, John Loder!”

Bette, of course, had a tendency to war with any actress cast opposite her (though an exception was made for her good friend Olivia DeHavilland), and Miriam also had a tendency to connive, so neither of these shoots could have been particularly pleasant. While both actresses are equally effective in MAID, in their second collaboration, something seems to have happened to Miriam.


Admittedly, Miriam did have a tendency to be cast as nags, scolds and neurotic bitches from hell, both before and after this movie (but check out her work for Mamoulian, Lubitsch and Wyler — she could also be sexy, funny, charming or tragic), but she reaches some kind of apogee of shrill, gesticulating ham here. My guess is, Sherman, overcome by the strain of refereeing the two divas, withdrew to Bette’s camp and left Miriam to do as she pleased. It’s certainly a flamboyant display.

“You again!”

The character as written is annoying enough, and intentionally so (the film’s best-known moment features Bette giving her “friend” a good shake, which still provokes cheers from audiences today, or at least it did in our audience of two), but Miriam plays the part to the hilt and beyond. The expression “give it both knees” seems a very apt one here. Miriam gives it her all, knees, heart, arms, teeth. She flails and pirouettes around the set like a palsied ballerina swatting flies. Her voice rises to a SHRIEK on EVERY other WORD. She’s hysterical when she should be restrained, possibly with a straitjacket. “Like a drag queen,” was Fiona’s assessment, although we’ve seen drag queens underplay more than this.


The film is a good old “women’s picture”, but Hopkins’ thespian malfeasance does have negative effects, enjoyable as it is. How can we feel glad when the two friends are reunited at the end (to spend their latter years “fighting over an ear trumpet,” as Bette predicts, probably correctly) if Miriam is so insanely awful? Burning her at the stake would seem a more upbeat coda.

Too much, even from behind.