Archive for Enchantment

Head On

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2018 by dcairns

There are two lines of attack here —

  1. CRACK-UP is directed by Irving Reis — I watched all his FALCON films with George Sanders but didn’t particularly find him noteworthy. Then I saw ENCHANTMENT, photographed by Gregg Toland, and found it revelatory, experimental, and very impressive all round. It goes in and out of flashback all in one shot and it’s narrated by a house. I think that gives you an idea.
  2. CRACK-UP is “suggested by” a novella, Madman’s Holiday, by Fredric Brown. Brown wrote lots of sci-fi and crime — the SF is collected and can be got for a song on Kindle, but most of the crime stuff, like this one, is uncollected and a bit tricky or expensive to obtain. But, without having read the story, I can say that the movie seems to capture some of Brown’s demented inventiveness and delirium.

SIDEBAR — I chanced on a big stack of Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks — short stories culled from the Master’s Mystery Magazine, including some rare Donald Westlakes, plus Gerald Kersh, Ross McDonald, Jon Stephen Benet and one Brown, entitled Don’t Look Behind You.

“Try to enjoy this; it’s going to be the last story you ever read, or nearly the last.”

The jist of this paranoid tale of torture and insanity is that the author, a demented forger turned serial killer, has planted this story into this book JUST for you, because you’re his randomly selected victim and he wants to give you fair warning before he pounces. If you read the story late at night, you might actually half-believe it and find yourself scanning the dark corners of the room for the crouching assassin.

CRACK-UP has amnesia, art fraud, sodium pentathol, a gratuitous dwarf joke and lots of noir delirium (the best kind) ~

This clip will seem to be going on much too long, but that’s part of the appeal. Stick with it. As it goes on, and on, you’ll find yourself unable to believe Hollywood produced something so bizarrely distended, so obviously WRONG by the normal rules of the game.

Reis, THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER apart, seems a real experimentalist.

Starring Hildy Johnson, Helen Grayle/Velma Valento, Gaston Monescu, Jack Amberson and Phroso the Clown.

 

 

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Home Service

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2017 by dcairns

Huge gratitude to Talking Pictures TV for screening ENCHANTMENT (1948), which I don’t think I’d ever heard of, directed by Irving Reis, who was merely a name to me. It’s been a while since I discovered a 40s Hollywood film that was a revelation to me.

It’s based on a Rumer Godden novel — one might think her an extraordinarily fortunate author in her adaptations, except I don’t think she liked any of them, certainly not BLACK NARCISSUS, which maybe affirms some part of the auteur theory by transmogrifying wholly into a Powell & Pressburger joint. Though it’s certainly possible to like both book and film. But Rumer didn’t, is my point.

It’s also a Goldwyn production, and stuffed full of his favourite talent — not Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo, you understand, but David Niven (DODSWORTH, WUTHERING HEIGHTS), Teresa Wright (THE LITTLE FOXES, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES) and Leo g. Carroll (WUTHERING HEIGHTS again), the whole being shot by Gregg Toland (most of the above). It’s basically a William Wyler movie without Wyler, which might be useful in assessing his contribution to the films he made for Goldwyn, except I’d rather just rave about this one.

Oh, and the cast also includes Evelyn Keyes, who is delightful, and Farley Granger, almost equally so only in a moustache. I’m not always anti-whiskers — David Niven doesn’t seem complete without his lip-caterpillar, for instance, but the more hair you put on Farley’s face, the less of Farley’s face you see, and that has to be counted as a loss.

For some reason the Blitz seems a time of romance, which is crazy — bombs falling from the sky onto human habitations are not romantic — but there it is. I’ve been reading Connie Willis, who suffers from the same inappropriate yearning for tumbling ordinance. This movie is framed by the war, but glides from thence into flashbacks going back to Victorian times.

Niven is barely recognizable (save for that lightbulb cranium) in the contemporary sections, wrapped in a rather convincing make-up and giving a thoroughly convincing performance of old age. His voice is completely unrecognizable, save for a few moments when his distinctive way with a line creeps through.

     

The leaping about in time is accomplished with a lot of adventuresome skill, some of which may be accredited to Toland, who after all had CITIZEN KANE to his credit. And so we get temporal shifts delivered with lighting changes (before Death of a Salesman) , and one extraordinary bit where the camera pans out of flashback into present tense in a single unbroken shot, the kind of thing very rarely seen in the forties — THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP is the best-known example. And a lovely moment where we a scene fades out except for a character’s hand, which lingers momentarily like the Cheshire Cat’s grin or the blind hermit’s cross in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, then dissolves to another image of a hand, and irises out in a new scene. That trick turns up in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, but practically nowhere else in screen history.

Evocative effects-work for the Blitz scenes.

Also, for fans of eccentric forties storytelling (David Bordwell), it’s narrated by a house. That would have been enough to make me love it, but there’s so much more.

What other Reis ought I to see? I’ll be all over THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER, of course, but are there other gems?

Depopulated Deco

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on March 2, 2013 by dcairns

decosinglestandard2

A set built for the Greta Garbo vehicle THE SINGLE STANDARD.

As previously noted, films without people exert a strange fascination. These pictures, taken to record sets for continuity purposes, acquire an eerie power. They resemble cinematic crime scenes, only here they’re snapped before the crime has taken place. Clairvoyance must be involved. One thinks of Michael Redgrave’s collection of “felicitous rooms” in SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR, rooms where something was destined to happen.

decohonolulu

From HONOLULU, 1939, credited to Cedric Gibbons, with art direction by Edwin B. Willis.

One might say that these rooms are awaiting the arrival of stars to give them meaning. Yet some of them are so lovely, they’re perfect as they are. Placing George Brent in any of them would result in no great increase of interest, but maybe that’s just George Brent for you.

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ENCHANTMENT, a 1929 Marion Davies movie designed by Joseph Urban.

All images are from Screen Deco by Howard Mandelbaum and Eric Myers, which my friend Travis Reeves reminded me of. Taking photos of empty sets is a job I’d like. I have no particular skills to bring to the task, but I’d discipline myself.

decosinglestandard1THE SINGLE STANDARD again. Cedric Gibbons, of course, is the man chiefly responsible.