Archive for Edward Arnold

Teacher Training

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2021 by dcairns

Bombed back to the silent age? Something I learned thanks to this year’s Pordenone Festival of Silent Film — as a result of WWII and the Japanese occupation, sound production ceased in the benighted country, and even sound projectors were scarce, but cinema refused to die out altogether. So a fresh batch of silent movies was produced, relying on what the Koreans call a Byeonsa, equivalent to the Japanese Benshi, a live, in-person film-describer storyteller.

Many of the films from Korea’s second silent age are now lost, but we were treated to THE TEACHER AND THE PROSECUTOR (1948), with a recorded Byeonsa narration by Sin Chul. The film survives, gleaming through a patina of scratches and with a subaquatic ripple effect caused by the warping of the celluloid. It begins with quick cuts of the main characters, so the narrator can introduce them — shots clearly filched from elsewhere in the film, as in a movie trailer. Making me wonder if this was originally a sound film repurposed as silent due to the problems of exhibition. I unfortunately dropped off before I could form a firm theory about this.

The narration was certainly interesting. Sin Chul has a throaty, sing-song delivery, his voice at times degenerating into a gasping gargle, but always passionate, like one anxious to convey something with his last breath or death rattle. Delivered against dead silence — did Korean cinemas, or Japanese ones come to that, not employ musicians? — this made for eerie listening. It was quite interesting to experience, until weariness got the better of me.

Education, education, education, as Tony Blair is always saying. (“Why does he keep saying that?” is the best line in IRIS.) Teaching also played a role in PHIL-FOR-SHORT (1919), a charming story of love and self-determination, almost we might say feminism, directed by C.B. DeMille’s former directing partner Oscar Apfel. As co-director of maybe the first surviving Hollywood feature, Apfel’s decline to extra work or bit part acting is a sad story, especially when we see him here at his height, getting terrific performances esp. from the delightful Evelyn Greeley as the titular tomboy, managing the story very smoothly, and serving up live-action intertitles on a Grecian theme — the titles are actually superimposed over moving images. All this and a nubile Edward Arnold in an early perf.

The script is by Clara Berenger & Forrest Halsey, and makes a passionate argument for non-conformity and vivacity against prudishness and hypocrisy. Hugh Thompson is an amusingly unlikely leading man — I’d forgotten that I’d previously seen him in THE GRUB STAKE with director/star Nell Shipman, making him a bit of a feminist icon, possibly.

The whole movie had attractive columns of nitrate decomposition shimmering like flames up both sides, what I call an added attraction.

Oh, and the feature was preceded by LE MÉNAGE DRANEM, themed around the notion of cross-dressing and role reversal, but this Pathé short was a pretty unpleasant affair, though in spectacularly good nick. Dranem is henpecked by his trousered termagant of a wife, before turning the tables with a vicious display of entirely uncomedic domestic violence. There should have been a warning. It did end with a smile of sorts, as accompanist José Marìa Serralde Ruiz played a kind of death march over the family outing, mother, perambulator and numerous sprogs parading down a Parisian street, a witty critique of the patriarchal assumptions, and then the last kid in line is so intent on picking his nose that Dranem has to steer the little bastard through frame and away from the traffic.

Dranem seemed an unappealing lout. He was a boulevardier and he does appear in one of the funniest and most horrible short comedies ever, which Paul Duane and I were reduced to unexpected hysteria by on a visit to the Cinematheque Francais — Dranem plays a country bumpkin who mistakes a phone booth for a public lavatory. Explicit facial expressions of grunting and straining as he performs the act of physical evacuation before the unflinching gaze of the cinematograph, trousers round ankles, buttocks occluded by some merciful bit of scenery. He departs, relieved, and the next customer gets a nasty surprise.

I can’t remember what this film was called, probably something like DRANEM SHITS IN A PHONE BOOTH.

Here’s one of the man’s songs:

Sadie McKee’s Story

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2017 by dcairns

As opposed to Robert McKee’s Story.

This piece is ALL spoilers.

SADIE MCKEE is MGM and 1934 — right on the join between pre-code and post-code. So Joan Crawford can sleep with a man out of wedlock, marry another man for money, divorce him, and still end up alive at the end, ready to win the man she always wanted (Franchot Tone, art doing its best to imitate life, life not being quite up to the challenge).

Still, MGM’s class-consciousness is apparent. Like Joanie’s early soundies and talkies (OUR BLUSHING BRIDES, OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS), the movie is indecently obsessed with analysing the right and wrong way to marry money. Sadie is the daughter of a cook who ends up a rich lady, and in the end she has her mum come and live with her — as cook. And her best friend, the inestimable Jean Dixon, clearly coded as a prostitute, is now the maid. That’s kind of odd.

That aside, what a terrific film. Clarence Brown was one of MGM’s finest directors, and though somewhat known as a woman’s director (which at MGM meant Joanie and Garbo) works wonders with the leading men. Franchot is always pretty good, of course, though he always looks like some kind of reptile — a gecko or a turtle perhaps. Mellifluous voice. By playing a blue-blood blue-nose stiff-necked moralist who’s wrong on all counts he allows the film to shake loose at least some of its Metro dignity.

Gene Raymond as a louse helps some more — great musical moments, singing “All I Do Is Dream of You.” A love rat who’s convincingly romantic, until Esther Ralston, channelling Mae West, steals him off. He’s even better than Franchot.

I like the first version best, but the second one has the marvelous DRAWER FULL OF CHORINES that slides out from the stage, like something from the morgue at the Copacobana. You didn’t know they had one there, did you? But of course they do — gotta keep the customers on ice until they can figure out Who shot who?

And then Edward Arnold, as the drunken millionaire — one of his best turns, encapsulating in quick succession how nice it would be to be drunk all the time and then how horrible it would be to be drunk all the time. Really surprising how brutal they let him get, after considerable screen time spent on establishing him as a sweet-natured souse. The only part that’s unconvincing is his reformation, but I guess they were saddled with that. He also gets a musical bit, snoozing through a great rendition of “After You’ve Gone” performed by Gene Austin and novelty jazz act Coco & Candy.

This bar is one of my favourite places in the film. The sleek Cedric Gibbons automat is pretty amazing too, like a porcelain spaceship, but the bar has Akim Tamiroff as the very enthusiastic manager. When Arnold orders champagne for everyone, Tamiroff has a giggling fit like he’s been pumped full of helium and nitrous oxide. Elated to the point almost of BURSTING. He’s a happy fellow.

Huge swathes of Joanie’s career are unfamiliar to me — one thing I’ll allow the rather shabby Feud — it’s got us watching Joan. Good as her three menfolk are in this, they’re all there to bask in her light.

Blind Tuesday: Guide-dog Friday

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2011 by dcairns

MGM racism: waiting to see which one will make a remark about watermelons first.

I’ve only managed to see one of Fred Zinnemann’s short subjects made at MGM, which is frustrating: surely his CRIME DOES NOT PAY episodes will reveal something of the noir skills displayed later in ACT OF VIOLENCE. The short I did see is THE OLD SOUTH, a very peculiar piece of work indeed. Seemingly made to pave the way for GONE WITH THE WIND, educating audiences who might not know their history, it’s highly unusual for a Hollywood product of the day, since it’s rather hard to get a sense from it of what we’re supposed to think and how we’re supposed to feel. This is because the movie is terribly afraid of offending anybody, although it seems far more afraid of offending southerners than, say, black people.

Zinnemann, who I guess was only doing his job, eventually atoned by making the splendid MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, but first there was his B-movie phase. KID GLOVE KILLER is a forensic procedural that plays like a kind of 1940s CSI. Of course, it’s warmer, with a sweetly banal boss-assistant relationship between Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt. Zinnemann was pretty pleased with the results, considering, and returned to the procedural format with DAY OF THE JACKAL and, sort of, THE NUN’S STORY.

He was much less happy with EYES IN THE NIGHT, but looking at it now, it’s a very enjoyable picture. Edward Arnold plays Duncan McLean, blind detective, who,  aided by his intrepid German shepherd, Friday, and by Allen Jenkins and Mantan Moreland, investigates a spy ring storyline that somehow carries elements of MILDRED PIERCE and THE RECKLESS MOMENT. The taboo of filial ingratitude is softened by making the offending offspring a stepdaughter (Donna Reed!) and a happy ending is of course provided.

Zinnemann complains in his autobio that his blind man couldn’t remember his lines and blew take after take, while his dog was good for one take and would afterwards get nervous and hide (he faced a similar performance discrepancy with Sinatra and Clift in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, which weirdly also features a character named Friday). In spite of this, the team were successful enough to appear in one more picture, THE HIDDEN EYE, directed by Richard Whorf.

The blind detective was created by Baynard Kendrick, and unless I’m misremembering, his other senses were so acute, he could read ordinary writing by running his fingertips over the print. The movie version isn’t so superpowered, but he’s a master of judo (somewhat unconvincing, when he’s played by the portly E.A.) as well as smart and quick-witted. So’s the script — it throws in a quote from Milton, a gaggle of plot twists, family melodrama, and lots of good business for the dog. The other sidekicks are somewhat underused.

O loss of sight, of thee I most complain! Blind among enemies, O worse than chains, dungeon or beggary, or decrepit age!

“Where are you?”

“In the dark. In the dark, Hanson — in MY kingdom!”

Guns blaze in the dark! ANd when I try to get a good frame of the muzzle flare, I find this surreal image — the gun arm thrust through some canvas screen, NOT part of the movie scene, presumably an attempt to get complete blackout for the effect.

Despite what Zinnemann saw as its corniness, the movie did well enough to land him an A picture, THE SEVENTH CROSS, about which much more later. Yet that triumph was followed by two unsuitable kiddie comedies, MY BROTHER TALKS TO HORSES and the other one, starring six-year-old “Butch” Jenkins — “a perfectly, normal, charming little boy, who had no talent, could not remember his lines and hated being in movies, but was made to carry on by his mother, whom he feared and adored.” Maybe this negative experience partly explains why Zinnemann became such an expert director of children. But that’s also down to his experience in documentary with Flaherty, working with non-actors but trying to capture authentic behaviour.

Zinnemann’s book is very good, though he tends to ruin his funny stories with exclamation marks and the like. By his own admission, he wasn’t the most lighthearted of filmmakers. But I like his anecdote about what happened at MGM after he started turning down scripts —

“There was a long, long corridor in the executive building — known as the ‘Iron Lung’. Entering it at one end I would see the tiny figures of associate producers in the distance, coming toward me, spotting me, turning around and disappearing into offices, stairways or toilets. […]

“A third script arrived. It was lousy. When I turned it down, Eddie Mannix, the General Manager, sent for me.

“He did not look amiable. ‘What’s all this?’ he asked. ‘You have no right to turn down assignments.’ I said it was a bad script and I didn’t know what to do with it. Mannix looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You know damn well that MGM never makes a bad picture.’ Pause. ‘We preview it; if there’s something wrong with it we fix it.’ To this day, I don’t know if he was serious, but I doubt it. Then he said, ‘You could do very well in this company, you could be a good man for us, but you’ve got to learn to do what the boss tells you.’ He mentioned the two least good directors on the lot and said, ‘Look at them, they are the two best men I’ve got; they never give us any trouble.’ I could only shake my head.”

Zinnemann was suspended, which meant his pay stopped and he couldn’t work anywhere else and the time spent on suspension would be added to the end of his contract. Suspension would last until the picture he had turned down was ready for release.

“Three weeks later Mannix called me again. He seemed embarrassed. ‘I’ve been looking for an excuse to put you back on the payroll,’ he said, ‘but I can’t find one, so I’m putting you back anyway. After all, Fleming and Brown turn down scripts too.”

Not all stories about Mannix, the ruthless studio fixer, are so heartwarming… But this is a classic Zinnemann story: it comes on like entertainment, it turns out to be full of perfidy and injustice, and ultimately it’s about human decency and dignity.

Ann Harding (left) and Donna Reed, who is the other connection to FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.