Archive for Eric Knight

Victory Thru Ty Power

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2020 by dcairns

THIS ABOVE ALL turns up, unnamed, as a reference in Anthony Burgess’s novel of Excalibur, Any Old Iron, which is what got me thinking about it. And then the idea of doing something on Anatole Litvak came up, and the two things dovetailed.

(The novel also features a US serviceman turned novelist called Irwin Roth, who seems to be a nasty joint portrait of Irwin Shaw and Philip Roth. Oddly, Shaw was a writer for Litvak: he authored the source play OUT OF THE FOG derives from, and later co-scripted ACT OF LOVE. This started me wondering if Burgess, who did a lot of writing on unfilmed movies, ever brushed up against Litvak. Actually, this story is a bit like ACT OF LOVE, pitting love against war, but without any of the bite.)

THIS ABOVE ALL features, asides from the elaborate studio recreations of the blitz which Burgess remarks upon, some good atmospheric blackout stuff at the start. The romance seems interesting, but then the film goes on, and on… Ty Power, of course, is playing it American, despite his character being English. He has PTSD and is a deserter, an interesting set-up for a propaganda film. I’m assuming it was conceived and shot before Pearl Harbour, so it’s allowed to be pro-Britain but a bit anti-war. Power’s problems have potential, but only come up intermittently: everything kind of drags on. Wartime movies usually bring a tear to my eye: I’m easy. This felt like watching Paul Muni shove a piano up a hill.

Joan Fontaine has good moments, bad moments, and truly awful moments which seem more like aeons while they’re happening. At her worst, that woman could simper for England: here, she does.

Litvak is seemingly at sea in this increasingly turgid morass. He tries a few zip pans, but they seem unmotivated, forced. Like trying to get a conga line going at a funeral reception. The action is far from zippy. Incredibly, the source novel is by Eric Knight, whose fast-paced hardboiled thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up would have made a far better subject for this director. Knight also write Lassie Come Home. This one is tonally stranded in no man’s land between the two, a strange place to be. R.C. Sherriff, the poet laureate of Hollywood England, doesn’t seem to have found a workable cinematic structure in his adaptation.

Actors keep turning up, people we like. Thomas Mitchell, speaking truth to Power, essays a gratuitous Scottish accent, which is not disgraceful. It’s identifiably East coast, though it wanders up and down the shoreline a bit. Nigel Bruce does something rustic. You need these guys around because the central couple aren’t doing it. Whenever they were alone together after the half-hour mark, we prayed for an interloper to interlope them.

Very handsome photography by Arthur C. Miller, though

THIS ABOVE ALL stars Leonard Vole; Mrs. de Winter; Uncle Billy; Lord Willoughby; Doctor Watson; Mrs. Higgins; Professor Sorel; Mrs. Midget; Woodrow Wilson; Ethel Rogers; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Claire Lennartz; Dr. John Lanyon; Reverend Cyril Playfair; Inspector Lestrade; Old Tom; Leuwen Grayle; Uncle Arn; California Carlson; and Dai Bando.

At the Mountains of Madness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2020 by dcairns

From the hardboiled classic You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up by Eric Knight (a Yorkshireman who moved to Hollywood, author of Lassie Come Home). The main speaker is flamboyant filmmaker Quentin Genter, engaged in a drunken evening with the narrator, Dick, and movie star Jira Mayfair:

“You see, I’ll tell you a secret. No one is sane here. No one is sane and nothing is real. And you know what it is?”

“Sure, it’s the climate,” I said, kidding.

“That’s it–exactly,” he said. His eyes were going sort of funny in the middle, and he was shouting in a whisper. He got real excited. “Dick, you know, you’re the only one man besides me in the whole world who’s discovered it. It’s the climate–something in the air. You can bring men from other parts of the world who are sane. And you know what happens? At the very moment they cross those mountains,” he whispered real soft, “they go mad. Instantaneously and automatically, at the very moment they cross those mountains into California, they go insane. Everyone does. They still think they’re sane, but they’re not. Everyone in this blasted state is mad. I’m mad. You’re mad. So is Jira. We’re all perfectly, gloriously mad.”

“You know,” he whispered again, real low, “we see things. Do you see things?”

“Sure,” I kidded. “I’ve never acted right since I’ve been here.”

“That’s it. It’s the climate. Now look, you see those mountains?”

He pointed out to where the hills went up, blue-black against the darkness, and with lights winding round on the roads like fire-pearls.

“Sure,” I said.

“There! That proves it,” he said.

“Proves what?” I asked him.

“Proves you’re mad,” he said.” You see those mountains there just like I do. And you know what?”

I shook my head.

“They’re not there,” he whispered. “You only think they’re there. And they’re not. It’s just a movie set. If you go round the other side of that mountain, you’ll see nothing but two-by-fours that hold up the canvas.

“And you see this restaurant? Well, it isn’t here. It’s a process shot. All Hollywood is a process shot. It’s a background just projected onto ground glass. And the only reason nobody knows that is we’re all mad.”

The novel was written in 1937. At some point, David Lynch was interested in filming it. It’s a slender volume, 134 pages with intro in my edition, but packed with incident. Each chapter could probably fill half an hour the way Lynch paces things, and they’re mostly about four pages long. I like the Mad Hatter reference here, and the whole phildickian fantasy reminds me of the early draft of THE TRUMAN SHOW, in which Truman prepares to go on holiday and the showrunners build fake pyramids a short distance from his hometown.