Archive for Edward G Robinson

A Head in the Hole

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2022 by dcairns

Next time you’re found with your head in the ground
There a lot to be learned, so look around

Just what makes that little ostrich
Think he can get his own head lost, which
Anyone knows that nerd bird
Can’t just hide, it’s absurd.

But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes.

(With apologies to James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.)

We knew we liked Carolyn Jones a whole lot, but seeing Frank Capra’s A HOLE IN THE HEAD confirmed just how much. It’s a somewhat misbegotten venture, though the fact that it’s the only post-WONDERFUL LIFE feature that’s not a remake of a glory-days hit made me suspect it might have higher hopes than RIDING HIGH or POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES. What it shares with those films is bloat — no way does this slight story need to be two hours long. I feel like Capra was working so infrequently he tended to get clenched and self-important when he DID make a film, and this might have been a decent throwaway 90 minute job if he didn’t have his reputation for importance to think about.

Also, any film with that title and Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson in the leads ought to be a gangster comedy. The title might have worked on Broadway for Arnold Schulman’s play but as soon as you load the cast with hood actors…

There’s some good dialogue and the cast all perform OK but at about half the speed required. Only Keenan Wynn (ably assisted by Joi Lansing and her important breasts) picks up the pace and energy to 1930s levels. But Jones brings something else: eccentricity and even eeriness. In his (very) critical biography, Joseph McBride notes that Capra should have noticed that HERE is where his film was. It’s like Angela Scoular walking off with A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG, seemingly without Chaplin noticing.

Main problem with this gag is Sinatra can’t do pratfalls, necessitating THREE ruinous cuts to get the stuntman in and out…

Jones has it all worked out. She can’t make much of an impression driving through Miami in a sub-Vorkapich montage (as early as MR DEEDS GOES TO TOWN montage editor Don Siegel lamented Capra’s devotion to dated techniques — I don’t see it as that dated in 1936, though I wasn’t there, but by 1959 it’s certainly retro). When Capra shamelessly recycles a Harry Langdon gag with an unconscious Jones, she can’t contribute much. But nearly every other shot is a blinder. Here they are, mostly ~

And that is all I have to say.

A HOLE IN THE HEAD stars Danny Ocean; Dr. Clitterhouse; the Baroness; Morticia Addams; Moe Williams; Col. ‘Bat’ Guano; Boots Malone; Documentary Couple; Wainscoat; and Abe Vogel.

Nero LeRoy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2021 by dcairns

“Is this, then, the end of Nero?” asks a dying Emperor Peter Ustinov at the climax of QUO VADIS?, more or less quoting Edward G. Robinson at the end of LITTLE CAESAR. Which was directed by the same guy, Mervyn Leroy, back when he was young and awake. Since there are varying accounts of Nero’s actual or supposed last words, and none of them include a quote from a Warners gangster picture, this must surely qualify as one of the most prominently placed in-jokes in Hollywood history.

Would that there were any other evidence that the film had a sense of humour about itself. It’s entertaining rubbish, though: the sets are big, and the acting varies from dreadful (Robert Taylor, not a screen god in this household) to the impressive — how Deborah Kerr, Leo Genn, Abraham Sofaer (the judge/surgeon from AMOLAD), Marina Berti and Rosalie Crutchley are able to make their dreadful lines sound like human speech is quite staggering.

Crutchley, darkly gorgeous, is the only character who’s apparently read the whole script, not just the scene she’s playing: she knows how it’s going to end.

I watched a bit of TORA! TORA! TORA! on TV the same day, and it was interesting to see how the American scenes in that managed to turn comparatively recent US history into the same kind of lifeless tableaux as the typical ancient world epic. I forget if it was in this film that Ustinov blew on his soup to cool it, and was told the gesture was too modern. “In what age, pray, did the wretched Romans stop eating their minestrone piping hot?” he inquired. Of the two films, QV has slightly more authentic human behaviour. By the end, I was dying for some actual life.

So Fiona wondered if Ustinov contributed his own famous last words, since the man did have a sense of humour absent elsewhere in this roaring stodgefest. The scenes at court are weapons-grade camp, with Patricia Laffan (DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS) a resplendent whore-empress Poppaea, and Ustinov clearly taking to heart departing helmer Anthony Mann’s character sketch of the depraved Caesar: “Strikes me as the kind of guy plays with himself nights.”

QUO VADIS stars Quentin Durward; Sister Clodagh; Starbuck; Hercule Poirot; Nyah; Magwitch; Benjamin Disraeli; Queen at Tarsus (uncredited); Vargas the Diablo Giant; Hecuba; Inspector Buchanan, Special Branch; Horatio, His Friend; the screenwriter of THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN; Mrs Dudley; Mrs Alexander; Bambino; and the voice of Morbius.

Sagebrushamon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2021 by dcairns

Retrospectively THE OUTRAGE, Martin Ritt’s western version of RASHOMON, is so nakedly a bad idea it’s hard to imagine intelligent adults not seeing it, but they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight until after they’d made it, when it was too late, and anyway, it’s kind of amazing as an example of what John Waters might call a failed art movie. The amazingness is mostly to do with James Wong Howe but the film didn’t direct itself.

Claire Bloom as “the wife” throws herself off a cliff and her underwater experience looks like this —

–and furthermore the soundtrack is a whistling wind with a trace of coyote howl. Absolutely mad, and even more extreme than anything in Kurosawa’s original, which is already a stylistic tour de force with only a few equals in all of cinema.

There’s something weirdly academic about it all, maybe because I know the original so well, so there’s a “Well, here’s this bit,” feeling about it all. Much of it is even more shot-for-shot faithful than Leone’s take on Kurosawa, even with extreme widescreen and a lot of really interesting shallow focus stuff added to the mix. The story gimmick is so dominant that I began to suspect that Kurosawa was walking a precipice with a rather dry film threatening to result if he lost his footing. But he had Mifune.

Ritt has Newman, wearing a William Tuttle nose and trying very hard to be a Mexican bandit. Mifune was theatrical as hell but he did it all physically, there was no disguise. It’s interesting to see Newman attempt this, but it’s bad for the movie and the obvious answer — hire a Mexican — is in this case the correct one. Hell, Martin Ritt had friends who weren’t Mexican but wouldn’t have been embarrassing — Yul Brynner, Anthony Quinn… It’s not meant to be a racist caricature but how would you feel watching it with a Mexican?

Still, it is an unreasonably gorgeous-looking thing. Was William Shatner’s mother startled by Laurence Olivier or something? What’s with his strange faltering, rising pitch delivery? His Captain Kirk did all that without making me think he was about to burst into song, but here…

Edward G. Robinson has all the best lines. Shatner has the best closeups.

THE OUTRAGE stars Fast Eddie Felson; Raymond Shaw; The Lady Anne; Dr. Clitterhouse; James Tiberius Kirk; Chickamaw; Smerdjakov; and Teeler Yacey.