Archive for Edward G Robinson

Fortnight Elsewhere

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2013 by dcairns

I don’t know, I thought MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL was pretty good for what it was.

The film is TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN, in which Vincente Minnelli dives into la dolce vita with Kirk Douglas and Edward G Robinson shooting a euro-pudding super-film in Rome, 1959.

Here, they seem to have acquired the wallpaper from VERTIGO.

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Maybe it’s the fault of Irwin Shaw’s source novel, but the movie, often seen as a follow-up to the Minnelli-Douglas Hollywood melo THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, sometimes seems to lack logic — characters do whatever is required to bring on the next emotional frenzy. One second Robinson is scorning his desperate wife’s suicidal tendencies, the next she’s sympathising with him about his creative crisis. Their joint betrayal of another character at the end seems under-motivated or under-explained, but is nevertheless powerful — it’s a movie where power, exemplified by the jutting, dimpled Easter Island chin of Mr Douglas, is more important than sense. Just like the industry it deals with, in fact.

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George Hamilton is quite good, stropping about pouting, Rosanna Schiaffino is sweet, Daliah Lavi is a lot of fun as a luscious but fiery diva. We get a few minutes of gorgeous George MacReady, and Erich Von Stroheim Jnr plays an assistant while simultaneously BEING the real-life assistant director on the picture. Douglas does his usual muscular angst, amped up to eleven.

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In fact, everybody’s playing it big, broad, and on the nose, including composer David Raksin, who seems to be competing with Claire Trevor for the Volume and Hysteria Prize (given out every year at Cinecitta). I didn’t mind, though — there are acerbic comments on life and movies which sometimes feel accurate or at least heartfelt, and Minnelli trumps up an incredible climax as Kirk falls off the wagon and endures a long night of the soul in a series of Felliniesque night spots. As with SOME CAME RUNNING, Minnelli has saved so many of his big guns for this sequence that it almost feels like another movie, that other movie being TOBY DAMMIT. If Fellini influenced Minnelli, it obviously worked the other way too, as Terence Stamp’s nocturnal Ferrari phantom ride seems very much influenced by the screeching rear projection ordeal Kirk puts Cyd Charisse and his Lambourgine through.

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Vaulting Ambition

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 28, 2012 by dcairns

GRAND SLAM (1967) is a jolly heist movie, a multi-national co-production, and a pretty good time. The casting rather lets it down, I feel, even though on paper it’s magnificent — Edward G. Robinson, Adolfo Celli, Janet Leigh and Klaus Kinski getting together to rob a safe full of diamonds during the Rio Carnival seems pretty irresistible.

In fact, the first two actors only appear briefly at the beginning and end, as the brains and the moneyman. Robinson, old and ill, carries so much emotional resonance that you simply can’t flash him up onscreen then remove him and expect us to be OK with that. We want a whole movie about this old guy.

Janet Leigh is around more, but slightly wasted in a “You’re beautiful without your glasses” cliche of a role. She’s the bank employee who must be seduced in order to obtain a crucial magnetic key.

So the team actually boosting the gems is Argentinian George Rigaud as an English butler with a sideline in safecracking, Austrian Robert Hoffmann as the French playboy who must seduce Leigh, and Italian Riccardo Cucciolla as, amazingly, an Italian toymaker with a talent for electronics. And Kinski as Kinski.

KK is at his peak, physically and maniacally, and is pretty hot stuff to watch.  The others are a disappointment, and Hoffman’s blandness makes him a completely incredible loverboy. Plus his seductive technique seems to consist solely of buying flowers. There’s a point where that gets creepy, as even Travis Bickle discovered.

But what we get is some good eleventh-hour twisting, a beautiful vault with some nifty suspense, the spectacle of the carnival (which I was mainly indifferent to), and a bizarre scene where Robinson looks through Celli’s catalogue of super-thieves, in order to pick his team. Here’s what he finds (and I’m not making any of this up) ~

Aristocrats, Atomic scientists, Card cheaters, Charities, Clergy, Doctors, Drugs, Electro-technicians (Edward says YES to this one), Espionage, Gold, Homosexuals (Edward raises an eyebrow, but really, you never know when you might need one), Industries, Judges, Military, Movies, Newspapers, Oilmen, Pentagon, Playboys (again, Edward says YES), Plutonium, Police, Politicians, Poisons, Safecrackers (YES again), Steel, Syndacate Killers (sic), Television, Theatre (European rather than US spelling), Tipsters, Unions, Uranium, Vatican (Edward: “Vatican?” Celli, shrugging, “Why not?”), War criminals.

Eddie G can’t decide between military and “syndacate” killers, so Celli chooses for him — military it is, and Corporal Kinski is duly hired.

I personally would like to see the sequel where Robinson returns to rob the bank again using an alternative team consisting of a nuclear physicist, a viscount, an archbishop, Truman Capote, J.R. Ewing, Alfred Lunt and a dyslexic hitman.

The Dirty Thirties

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2011 by dcairns

Time for another pre-code round-up. During Fiona’s nasty flu a few weeks back, we watched a bunch of early thirties Hollywood flicks — usually just over an hour long, snappy and fun, they’re easy to follow but hard to predict.

CHINATOWN NIGHTS

Not a hit with Fiona, this 1929 William A. Wellman gangland epic seems to have been a silent movie hastily sonorized: wide shots toddle along at 20 fps, with all the signs of having been post-synched: lip-flap and unconvincing background atmos galore. Meanwhile the close shots have been cheaply re-shot to incorporate dialogue.

While it’s impressive how quickly American film developed a fluid and expressive approach to filmed speech, it’s always interesting to catch them unprepared during the first couple of years: Florence Vidor, as a socialite slumming it in the Chinese ghetto, is terribly stilted, and even Wallace Beery and Warner Oland are painfully slow and careful in their enunciation. Seeing a gangster minding to sound his ‘T’s clearly is oddly dispiriting. Seeing Wallace Beery as a tong boss is plain surreal, but at least he’s not in yellowface. Somehow a big Irishman has gained control of one of the two principle gangs: no explanation for this is ever offered.

Just a few years later, and SAFE IN HELL shows Wellman at his hard-boiled peak. Dorothy McKail is supremely naturalistic, but there are as many kinds of naturalism as there are people. She seems quite unconcerned about looking pretty (Wellman hated actresses who fussed about their looks) and does odd things like continuing her dialogue while kissing Donald Cook on the lips. “Mmmff-mmf-mm!” she’ll say. Crisp enunciation is a thing of the past.

The plot sees her as a prostitute fleeing a manslaughter rap with sailor boyfriend Cook, and holing up in the one place without any extradition treaties, a repulsive tropical hell aswarm with caterpillars and fugitives from justice. These include Gustav Von Seyffertitz, Charles “Ming” Middleton and Victor Varconi, who see to it that the atmosphere of grubbiness is soon almost unbearable. Like FRISCO JENNY, this is one of Wellman’s tales of female sacrifice, and it packs quite a wallop.

Here’s the hangman’s POV of McKail.

Iris-in on neck! I’m fascinated by these survivals of silent film technique in the talking era. I don’t wonder why they’re there (at odd occasions), I wonder why they died out, since they seem to broaden the expressive possibilities of the medium. And they’re easier to achieve than tracking shots in the era of the microphone and heavily blimped camera.

Equally offbeat is Wellman’s THE PURCHASE PRICE, in which showgirl Barbara Stanwyck becomes a mail-order bride to George Brent to escape the attentions of racketeer Lyle Talbot (what a choice!). Wellman’s vision of rustic America is as rambunctious as his Warner pictures about bootleggers, hoboes and women of easy virtue. Wellman insisted on cramming his early talkies with camera movement, although it’s less flamboyant than his late silents like WINGS. He also claimed to have invented the microphone boom to facilitate this, a discovery that probably took place all over town (Dorothy Arzner is another parent to the boom) as filmmakers struggled with the medium.

Yikes.

SMART MONEY is courtesy of Alfred E Green, and is the only movie to pair Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney, who turn out to have great chemistry, though Cagney has the decidedly smaller role. Robinson plays a gambling barber who builds a casino empire just by being lucky, and “dumb enough to think he’s smart.” Their interaction includes this terrific bit of pantomime –

An uncredited Boris Karloff shambles by, Evalyn Knapp and Noel Francis supply glamour of a kind (all the women are funny-looking thin blondes) and towards the end there’s the nicest image I saw all week –

Racism is very much in evidence, some of which falls under the heading of “accurate representation of 1931 American society” and some of which is just offensive. The fact that the black servants are all utterly servile and accept being called “stupid” as a matter of course is sadly credible (we never see what they’re like when the white folks aren’t looking) but the fact that the movie portrays them as stupid is just obnoxious. One character is called Suntan.

The movie is also offensive to women and dwarfs, but it takes a sympathetic line on Greeks, so I guess that’s something. Also, Edward G Robinson has a surprisingly pert bottom.

Oh come on — YOU’VE ALL THOUGHT IT!

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