Archive for Edna May Oliver

The Sunday Intertitle: Old Scenes

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2023 by dcairns

So, in our Dickens double-bill, it turned out that, surprisingly, the director of RED-HEADED WOMAN was a better match for the author than the director of A WOMAN’S FACE, or maybe it’s only that the rambling picaresque of DAVID COPPERFIELD is less readily adapted to cinema than A TALE OF TWO CITIES, which is more of a rollicking thriller.

Both 1935 films resort to montages, title cards, hastily summarised scenes in order to compress their sources into a decent span of celluloid. At times, COPPERFIELD seems like lightning sketches stitched together with glass paintings and Vorkapich effects.

George Cukor abandons any hope of a unified style in his cast’s performances, wisely, I think, since it allows W.C. Fields and Roland Young to do their respective things to the fullest of their mighty talents. Fields is terrific, of course, a cartoon made flesh, even his costume design marking him out as an inhabitant of a different genre from everyone else. Young had a brilliant understated schtick as a light comedy sidekick, but when given anything more to do he always delivered — his Uriah Heap is strikingly oleaginous, viviparous, a cringing Gollum seething with pass-agg resentments. It’s hard to process the idea, though, that Freddie Bartholomew and Frank Lawton inhabit the same world, or film.

Freddie is a weird little phenomenon. Given business to do, he does it skillfully (wiping his hand after Heap has shaken it, with a barely-suppressed shudder). Given dialogue, he often appears extraterrestrial, inhuman. Asked to weep, he becomes a disgusting, bleating animal, repelling sympathy. Halfway through the film, we lose him, as Lawton is airdropped in to take up the role, replacing his younger self. Lawton is puppyish but a little dull. I guess Copperfield in the book is just an innocent set of eyes observing the other characters, but in a film we have to look at him.

Hugh Williams spends much of his small part appearing outwardly honourable, a waste of his oily talents — when the scenario permits him to hint at inner rottenness, he’s terrific.

Una O’Connor and Elsa Lanchester add pep — and make me wish James Whale had gotten to film Dickens. Basil Rathbone, whose non-Holmesian career was spent embodying evil, embodies it in a fresh way here, making of his wicked stepfather an alarmingly genuine sexual sadist who gaslights his wife and delights in beating her child. (The purportedly autobiographical FANNY AND ALEXANDER seems to have drawn its inspiration from this sequence, though in fairness not getting on with one’s stepfather is probably quite a common experience.) Herbert Mundin and Edna May Oliver are good living pen-and-ink caricatures. And the extraordinary Lennox Pawle, as the pixillated Mr. Dick — a kind of creature never previously or since represented on film — single-handedly justifies the whole enterprise.

Double Dickens

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on April 1, 2023 by dcairns

Tonight we’re watching THE PERSONAL HISTORY, ADVENTURES, EXPERIENCE, & OBSERVATION OF DAVID COPPERFIELD THE YOUNGER (1935), maybe the longest title of any MGM release? But that’s what makes it classy. On a double bill with A TAlE OF TWO CITIES (also 1935), which both feature Basil Rathbone, Elizabeth Allan, Edna May Oliver and E.E. Clive. I don’t *think* this will be confusing. But there may be possibilities for a mash-up.

I’ll report back.

Pig Race 2000

Posted in FILM, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2022 by dcairns

Sorry, the whole of PORKY’S ROAD RACE isn’t on YouTube, so you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you this Loony Tune by Frank Tash(lin) is the Warners 1937 animated version of DEATH RACE 2000. Tricked-out cars causing mayhem with tacks and glue and grease…

For some reason, it’s not just that, though, it’s a race of Hollywood caricatures

WC Fields is paired with Edna May Oliver, which might have been a good casting idea for a feature; Laurel & Hardy power a car jack with a see-saw; a very poor Charlie Chaplin, envisaged as a long thin chap in white trousers; Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh, but in a car.

Some of the references are quite obscure:

I guess this is meant to be George Arliss, Leslie Howard and Freddie Bartholomew?

And here’s one that required actual research:

Definitely John Barrymore. In a car called Caliban. Pursued by a woman in a car called Ariel (with an aerial). The first source I checked was baffled, as Barrymore had never appeared onstage in THE TEMPEST. But they did identify the woman as Elaine Barrie, his wife at the time. It turns out he’d played the part on the radio, as part of a 1937 series called Streamlined Shakespeare. I don’t know if a recording survives, but here’s Twelfth Night. Anyway, that seems like a moderately obscure set of references even for 1937. It’s a cartoon that needs annotated.

Of course, as in the other DEATH RACE 2000, there’s a Frankenstein, but instead of David Carradine it’s, naturally enough, “Borax Karloff.”

The concept overall is weird, there aren’t really any good jokes, and Tashlin’s fanboy side is charming but when he did gags about film technique rather than about movie stars, he was funnier. The closest thing to that is the disclaimer at the start, which starts great but fizzles out, but hey, at least it starts great.

Aaaaaaaaaand thanks to @GearGades on Twitter, here’s a link to the full toon: