Archive for Elissa Landi

A Gentlemaniac

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2017 by dcairns

MAD HOLIDAY (1936) is a quite pleasant THIN MAN knock-off (one of MANY) with wisecracking Edmund Lowe (a stoutish cover with a Grouchoesque delivery) and elegant, playful Elissa Landi sharing rather good chemistry. Also, the premise is very nice — Lowe plays a Hollywood star who’s sick of playing a sleuth in a popular movie series and runs off on an ocean cruise so he can “walk into a room without barking my shins on a corpse.” Landi is a glamorous lady who turns out to be the pseudonymous author of the books he’s been starring in adaptations of. If you’ll allow me a sentence ending in a preposition (I’ve checked, there isn’t actually a rule against it, but it does sometimes look funny.)

Also appearing is Edgar Kennedy as the baffled and irritated policeman, because it can’t ALWAYS be Sam Levene or Jame Gleason, you know. Plus Zasu Pitts, Edmund Gwenn, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz…

And also also starring is Ted Healy, the man who originally convened the Three Stooges, before perishing after a series of barroom brawls staged over a single night with such participants as Cubby Broccoli and Wallace Beery. Healy is accompanied by an unfamiliar stooge in this one — Healy plays a publicity man and Richard Hakins plays his photographer, and they engage in a lot of Stooges-type knockabout roughhouse stuff, Healy continually slapping Hakins’ forehead etc.

Who is this Hakins? He has the role of a Stooge but isn’t Moe, Larry, Curly, or one of their relatives. It turns out he’s a member of the Gentlemaniacs, a group Healy formed after the original trio left his act because he was a souse. He developed his new team, then summarily dismissed them after the Stooges expressed a willingness to return to the fold. The Gentlemaniacs trundled along without him for a while, developing trick musical instruments that could be used as weapons, to distinguish themselves from their rivals, and briefly engaging in a lawsuit with the Howard/Fine combo over who originated the name “Three Stooges.” The guys we remember as the Three Stooges won that one by producing a legal document establishing their use of the name. What a wondrous document that must be.

The Stooges really look as if there’s something wrong with them. Other comedians were funny-looking in ways they could drop when off-stage or off-screen. It must have been a joy for Groucho to wipe his moustache off and go unrecognized. But Moe must have had that bowl-cut all the time, unless it was a wig. And Hakins has an equally unfortunate barnett, a sweeping nest of hair coiled around a head that suggests arcane African skull-binding practices. He’s a bit like Robert Woolsey, who always looked like he’d suffered some debilitating childhood illness (he hasn’t).

Still, I developed some appreciation for Healy and Dakins. Healy is a loud, surly type, but he has a unique walk, a strangely fey stagger, combining a feeling of ungainly drunkenness with an odd, pansified daintiness, surprising in such a big, paunchy and loud man. He’s only occasionally funny, and almost always tiresome, but students of performance may get something from looking at him.

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The Monday Intertitle: I Have Synd

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on October 14, 2013 by dcairns

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One of the Pordenone Silent Film Fest’s highlights this year was a season of neglected Swedish silent cinema. Most serious silent film lovers will be familiar with Sjostrom and Stiller’s work, but the movies screened here shone light on less celebrated directors such as Gustaf Molander, whose EXTREMELY long career (1920-1967) took in collaborations with both Bergmans, Ingmar and Ingrid, which not many people can say.

SYND (1928) brings considerable star power to bear on a story adapted from Strindberg (whose play was called Crime and Crime — not one of your snappier titles, August). Lars Hanson, in fuil-on eccentric artist mode and apparently channeling William Powell or something, is a struggling playwright and the radiant Elissa Landi is his devoted wife. When Hanson sells a play he is immediately tempted by the lead actress (French import Gina Manés). thereby graphically illustrating the marital advice given me by Michael Fitzgerald in Telluride (“Getting married is easy, but staying married when you become successful…”)

Very slick filmmaking — Molander’s favourite move is to push in at the end of scenes, which maybe he does too often, but it never fails to add a frisson. During a police investigation scene, witnesses describe events which are seen in noirish chiaroscuro to match the melodramatic slant these excitable members of the public put on things, then the same events are shown again with normal lighting as the hero supplies his innocent explanation.

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Landi is too much of a doormat, albeit a fragrant one, and Manés, while exuding woman-of-the-world vampishness, isn’t appealing enough to explain why Hanson would ditch his loyal, gorgeous and dementedly submissive wife — and consider murdering his child. I choose to quote Landi’s intertitle from the film’s climax, when Hanson slinks home and tries to win her back. She’s starting to weaken, but can’t think of a way to turn the conversation around to “I forgive you for considering the murder of our adorable child.” This is what she comes up with ~

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“But Maurice, maybe you haven’t eaten?”

The Sunday Intertitle: That’s the ticket!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on November 27, 2011 by dcairns

Bwahahaha! Is that a title card or is that a title card?

The anonymous image derives from Raoul Walsh’s THE YELLOW TICKET, a Tsarist Russian romantic epic which derives a chunk of its plot and a smaller chunk of its actual footage from THE RED DANCE, an earlier Fox super-production also helmed by Walsh. While that movie had something of a plague-on-both-your-houses approach to both Tsarist and Red tendencies, the 1931 re-imagining takes place in the run-up to WWI and so avoids offering any opinion on Bolshevism — except in so far as it portrays the Tsar’s state as unutterably corrupt.

Elissa Landi plays a Jewish schoolteacher forced to apply for a prostitute’s license just so she can travel to visit her father, sick in prison. Arriving too late, she finds that the titular ticket becomes an inescapable brand of shame — at least until dashing newspaperman Laurence Olivier arrives on the scene.

A quasi-sadeian melodrama of unfortunate innocence  ensues, with Landi torn between Olivier and the oleaginous advances of Lionel Barrymore, a police official who intends to use every trick in his moustache-twirling book of forcible seduction to have her (and at times it does seem, doesn’t it, as if these villains are all following the same set of instructions…) Barrymore’s most endearing trait is his cabinet full of weapons, souvenirs from the many unsuccessful assassination attempts he’s survived. But he should never have shown Landi the cabinet…

Pre-code content — full-on tit-and-bum nudity in the woman’s prison, albeit in extreme longshot (recalling FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE, I wonder if there was an unofficial ruling on how close a camera could get to the undraped female form). Incessant lechery (Sternberg scribe Jules Furthman had a hand in the script). Implied virginity imperilled (a medical report demonstrates that Landi “has never practiced her profession”).

Landi, best known for SIGN OF THE CROSS, is excellent, and seems to exert a calming effect on the two mighty hams sandwiching her on each side — Larry is wonderfully relaxed and charming, with a certain vulpine edge kept just beneath the surface, while Lionel cloaks his villainy in a weirdly dithering manner, like an evil Frank Morgan: “You don’t smoke, you don’t drink, and you don’t — ah — eh — uh…”