Archive for Ernst Lubitsch

The Dia de los Muertos Intertitle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 1, 2015 by dcairns


EYES OF THE MUMMY (1922) is a film in many ways a disappointment — we have Lubitsch, we have Emil Jannings, and we have Pola Negri, but we don’t have a great film. In his Lubitsch biography, Laughter in Paradise, Scott Eyman focuses harshly on a single moment when Jannings has considerable difficulties with his horse, wondering why on earth the shot wasn’t retaken or just excised. The conclusion is that Lubitsch didn’t care, that he lost heart at some point during this film.

The prospect of a Lubitsch horror movie is enticing, but this isn’t really it — the one uncanny image, the titular mummy eyes, is quickly revealed as a Scooby Doo plot to hoodwink gullible tourists. From then on, Jannings’ menacing blackface Arab is the only dramatic threat, and he’s of a wholly corporeal nature.

I did get a brief frisson when I first watched this, when the image below appeared ~


Whoops, now it’s the image above. The pic appears in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, and I realized I’d just inadvertently checked off a movie from my quest to see every film depicted therein, a quest I have called See Reptilicus and Die (a quest that has been more or less moribund lately as the few films left available to me are so very, very unappealing).

As lacklustre as the film is, it doesn’t deserve Alpha Video’s shoddy rendition, which replaces the German intertitles with cheesily-designed and semi-literate English ones. As the film goes on, these become fewer, as if the Alpha Video titling department (I’m picturing an intern with photoshop) had lost its enthusiasm even more markedly than Herr Lubitsch. By the end, you pretty much have to guess what’s going on, which does add a bit of entertainment value.


Hey, Alpha Video, what the heck is a sejour?

Aaaand… the whole thing’s on YouTube.

Nuts and Pumpkins

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2015 by dcairns


Two new films from old favourites at Edinburgh.

Bruce MacDonald’s PONTYPOOL is still one of my favourite genre films from the past decade or so, so I was expecting good things from his new one, HELLIONS. Sadly, I found it really thin — monofilament thin, basically an extended dream sequence in which none of the horror — pregnant teen tormented by supernatural trick-or-treaters — registers because none of it feels real. Nor does it feel like a real dream or a real psychotic break. The film spends about ten minutes in reality setting up its characters, and the rest goes to show that good actors are helpless without strong writing to give them material to work with. Nice to see Robert Patrick, though, amusingly still dressed as a cop.


Peter Bogdanovich’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY references his previous movies WHAT’S UP DOC, NOISES OFF, and THEY ALL LAUGHED, or at least reminds me of them, and it features actors from throughout his long career, including Cybill Shepherd and Tatum O’Neal and Colleen Camp. More substantial roles are taken by Austin Pendleton and George Morfogen, who both appeared in WHAT’S UP DOC? The leads are Imogen Poots and Owen Wilson. But a hot newcomer named Jennifer Anniston walks off with the picture.

Developed under the title SQUIRRELS TO THE NUTS, the film centres on theatre director Wilson’s habit of quoting Charles Boyer’s “nuts to the squirrels/squirrels to the nuts” speech from Lubitsch’s CLUNY BROWN. Wilson quotes this speech to the escort girls whose services he employs, before gifting them with large sums to help them turn their lives around. So here’s a character who relies on escort girls for company (though he’s married) but likes to retire them so they can earn a living some better way. Odd, when you think about it.

My worry going in was that this was going to be autobiographical — Bogdanovich co-wrote it with his partner Louise Stratten. There are lines early on about printing the legend and rewriting history to make it more glamorous. So the fear was, is this going to be an attempt to rewrite the tragic fate of Dorothy Stratten? Is the world ready for STAR 80, the romcom?

(Playmate-turned actress Dorothy Stratten was romanced by Bogdanovich, starred in one of his movies, and was horribly murdered by her ex-husband. Bogdanovich then began a longterm relationship with her sister, Louise. The press accused him of having plastic surgery performed on Louise to make her more closely resemble the late Dorothy. A juicy VERTIGO tale of necrophilia — the truth appears to be that Louise needed dental work and Bogdanovich paid for it. Not actually that sinister.)

The urge to recreate a story with an intolerable ending and make it sweet is an understandable one, so the only question would be whether the film succeeds or if the result is just creepy. In fact, due to the charm of Poots and Wilson and the rest (Bogdanovich’s skill with actors remains truly impressive), the movie is sweet and likable and fun. The farce writing isn’t as tight, as logical or as surprising as it could be, and there are a few missteps — you can’t get a laugh by having a young lead punch spry but septuagenarian Pendleton — that wouldn’t even have been funny in 1972 — but there’s also a lot or warmth and joy. But the person who actually makes it funny is Anniston, playing the world’s worst shrink.


Filling in for her respected mom (Joanna Lumley, whose only onscreen appearance is during her credit in the end titles), Anniston’s character is constitutionally unsuited to her job: foul-tempered, intolerant, judgemental and compulsively indiscreet, she blunders hilariously through her every scene. The stuff with her boyfriend isn’t so great — we’ve seen Madeline Kahn do the nagging shrew bit, and MK can never be surpassed, but the shrink schtick is persistently a scream. Keep an eye on this Anniston person, she’ll go far.

Defiantly old-fashioned, the movie looks back warmly at Hollywood history, of which Bogdanovich’s earlier films are now part. I don’t know if it can possibly be a success in the modern marketplace. But that isn’t my concern. I liked it. I like Bogdanovich for making it.


The Sunday Intertitle: Checkmate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 17, 2014 by dcairns

First, Blogneys! Here.

Second, Limericks about CAT PEOPLE! Here. Here. And KING KONG here and DRACULA here and THE MUMMY here and here. And THE WOLFMAN here and here and here. I think we’ve put the Universal horror cycle to bed now.

Now, an intertitle:


From Ernst Lubitsch’s earliest surviving film as director, variously known as WHERE IS MY SWEETIE? and WHEN I WAS DEAD (1916). I’ve written an essay on this odd thing, which stars Lubitsch himself, looking not unlike Hugh “Woo Woo” Herbert, in suave leading man mode rather than his more usual rambunctious manner of this period, long before his famous “touch” became a byword for sophistication. I’ve written an essay on the movie which will appear on Masters of Cinema’s disc of MADAME DUBARRY — also, an essay on MADAME DUBARRY. I recommend the whole package, but then I would, wouldn’t I?


I haven’t seen the new transfer but it will certainly look 1,000,000 times better than the above.

Buy it and find out for yourselves: MADAME DUBARRY [Masters of Cinema] (1919) [Blu-ray]



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