Archive for Errol Flynn

The Mummy’s Curse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2008 by dcairns

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“Bloomin’ Ada!” as my Mum would say. I have been tagged with a meme, using the parlance of our times. Next thing you know I’ll be participating in flash mobs and Anne Summers parties and other symptoms of this age we live in. I have been tagged by the Self-Styled Siren, who runs my favourite blog on classical Hollywood cinema (and occasional other subjects too) so I guess that means I have to comply. The meme (I’m not explaining that one: go pound on Professor Richard Dawkins’s door) requires me to list twenty actresses, and originated here. The idea is that they should be your twenty favourites — the Siren wisely narrowed that to twenty actresses whose mere presence in a film would be enough to make her watch it, and she’s hinted that she expects “classic choices”, so I’m guessing that tends to eliminate Little Nell, Daisy and Violet Hilton, Buck Angel or even Maria Montez. As well as this woman.

But I still feel  the need to whittle further, both to avoid repeating the Siren’s excellent list (I’ve just started on the THIN MAN films, and Myrna Loy is much on my mind), and to impart a unique something-or-other to the proceedings. I note that most of the actresses being selected are extremely beautiful, and since if I were to choose twenty actors, they might include numerous fellows I don’t actually admire physically, I thought it would be interesting to choose twenty actresses who… how shall I put this? Must find a classy and gentlemanly way of saying it.

Twenty actresses whom I would always be glad to see in a film, although I have no real desire to “do” them.

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1) Margaret Rutherford. I’m appalled to realise that I’ve had THE BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE for over a month now without watching it, and after spending ages trying to source a copy. Rutherford, who George Harrison, back in his Beatles heyday, would choose if challenged to name a favourite actress, had a face rather like a very old man’s neck, but was both a dexterous eccentric comedian and a powerful tragedian, as witness her speech at the end of Orson Welles’s CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. She exemplifies what I’m talking about here, since sexuality didn’t really play much of a role in her art or life: apparently she and her husband both referred to lists of instructions — crib sheets —  to see them through their honeymoon night, so ignorant were they of matters erotic.

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2) Agnes Moorehead. Not so sure here, since I never bought the idea that Agnes was ugly, and the warmth and admiration I feel for her is akin to romantic love, so maybe, under the right circumstances… but sexiness wasn’t part of her screen repertoire, which included all kinds of genius qualities, including the ability to throw hysterical attacks so convincing that terrified studio execs demanded retakes on both MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES, to make her less effective. (It might seem perverse for studios to demand such a thing, but I suspect studio interference is nearly ALWAYS based on a desire to make films less effective.)

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3) Margaret Hamilton. A very different actress, but with a parallel to Moorehead in that both were typecast as spinsters and crones at an age when they could have been playing ingenues, had nature arranged things differently. The Wicked Witch isn’t in enough films, but over the decades she did enough obscure work that her appearances are often a surprise, as in the Sean Connery heist film THE ANDERSON TAPES. I always get very excited whenever she turns up, like a small child experiencing his first mouthful of cocaine.

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4) Una O’Connor. Usually delivered in small doses, which was probably wise — her shrieking performances in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE INVISIBLE MAN might conceivably appear irritating if overextended. (You think?) But I just saw Renoir’s astounding THIS LAND IS MINE, where she keeps an impressive lid on it for most of the show, only allowing those deadly lungs free rein at one key moment.

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5) Spring Byington. Utterly fabulous actress, often excelling in warm-hearted, matronly roles, but check out her bone-chilling nastiness in DRAGONWYCK, which I maintain she steals from under everyone else’s noses. The point where her character is inexplicably forgotten about by the plot is the point where the movie loses interest for me, even as a tired rehash of REBECCA.

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6) Speaking of that film, Mrs. Danvers herself (strangely impossible to picture MR. Danvers, I find), Dame Judith Anderson, deserves a mention. Often called upon to inject menace or else matriarchal might, she turns her hand ably to comedy in René Clair’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

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7) I’m on shaky ground again with Ethel Waters, because I do think she’s beautiful, and always appealing, warm and engaging (in contrast to her knife-wielding offscreen behaviour!), and I wouldn’t like to think I’m shoving her into some character actor Siberia just because she’s heavy. But CABIN IN THE SKY allows ample opportunity to compare and contrast her with Lena Horne, and then certain subjective truths become inescapable. My love of Ethel is entirely platonic. My love of Lena is entirely otherwise.

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8) Irene Handl. When you have a figure as beloved in old age as Irene Handl, once in a while you get the urge to see what she was like when young. But with Irene Handle, youth appears to have been a condition she never experienced. A brilliant eccentric player, she forged an unlikely career, given her unusual appearance, but she always made an impression, even in the smallest role, because she was incapable of leaving a part without fully investing it with life. So she could quite often make more impact in thirty seconds than the stars did with the rest of the film.

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9) Kathleen Freeman. You know this one? Always saying “He’s such a nice boy,” in Jerry Lewis movies. Lewis is generally brilliant at casting his supporting players, and he knew he was onto a great thing with Freeman.

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10) Dandy Nichols. Able to effortlessly take the manners and mores of social realism, 1960s style, and flip them into farce. Has a great moment in THE BED-SITTING ROOM, looking uncomfortable on a horse. That should be enough for anyone.

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11) Katie Johnson. She’s in other films, but it’s for THE LADYKILLERS she’s remembered. So old and frail at the time that she failed the insurance exam and had to be replaced with a younger actress, who promptly dropped dead, so Katie got the part in the end, and a good thing too. Her combination of physical fragility and steely moral certainty is exactly what the film needs.

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12) Flora Robson. I saw her interviewed on TV when I was a kid and she was pretty old, and the interviewer kindly said that she had grown more beautiful with age, while the glamour girls could only fade. It’s kind of true, but what an amazing career she had with her big Rondo Hatton face — it no doubt kept her from many parts, but she was able to command some corkers. And actually, her flirtation with Errol Flynn in THE SEA HAWK is entirely charming and credible.

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13) Marie Dressler. DINNER AT EIGHT is actually kind of a yawn for me, but I do love her spectacular double-take when Jean Harlow says she’s been reading a book. Anybody who does a gigantic double take is tops with me.

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14) Thelma Ritter. Her presence here at number 14 makes it VERY clear, I hope, that this list is in no particular order.

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15) Esther Howard. A little obscure here? But SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS fans will know her as the randy widow Joel McCrea flees, jumping out the widow’s window rather that submitting to her wiles. Which is to say, sexuality is a part of the Howard repertoire, but it’s a comedy version, and what’s most important about her is her overbearing “charm”, deployed to very funny effect in HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO and about a hundred and fifty other films and TV shows. I’ll even add one not listed among her credits on the IMDb: WHAT A WAY TO GO!

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16) Megs Jenkins. One of my favourite larger ladies in British films, as seen in GREEN FOR DANGER and THE INNOCENTS. Her appearance is sort of Kathy Bates-like, but she has an incredibly beautiful and unusual voice, and I feel all warm and snuggly whenever I hear it. I would probably trade one of my less necessary limbs in exchange for about 1000 hours of Megs reading audio-books.

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17) Renee Houston. Had to have one Great Scot on the list. Renee was very pretty in the ’30s, but wasn’t making any films I’ve seen, so I know her from her later roles as battle-axes, drunken baggages and generally rambunctious females. She generally inspires a loud cheer in my household when her name appears in the credits, as it does in TIME WITHOUT PITY.

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18) The alarming Gail Sondergaard. I have no excuse for it, but I actually like her dragon lady yellowface stereotype turn in THE LETTER. And she’s terrifying in CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY, without seeming to try.

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19) Patricia Collinge. Cinema’s greatest mum, apart from mine, that is, who can be seen briefly from the back in extreme longshot in my short film CRY FOR BOBO, and who recently complained that I’d made her look dumpy or something.

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20) Aline McMahon, but then actually I do think she’s extremely beautiful and under the right circumstances, if I were a younger man, etc…

And twenty who do fill me with indecent cravings:

Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Annabella, Joan Blondell, Myrna Loy, Olivia DeHavilland, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Ava Gardner, Joan Greenwood, Gene Tierney, Natalie Wood, Claudia Cardinale, Shirley MacLaine as Fran Kubelik, Britt Ekland if I’m honest, Susannah York (I’m coming to believe she makes an even better Julie Christie than Julie Christie), Jeanne Moreau, Genevieve Bujold, Maggie Cheung, Charlize Theron… I could go on…

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Fever Dream Double-Features

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2008 by dcairns

New York City Ghost 

I’ve previously sung the praises of the New-York Ghost, a fine and free periodical to which I occasionally contribute my word sculptures. This week saw the annual film special explode all over us like John Cassavetes at the end of THE FURY, under the guest editorship of B. Kite, but cheeky gremlins prevented the appearance of this fine material by Christoph Hubert. I’ve never met the man, but Hubert is known to Mr. Kite as “The Austrian Cairns,” and fears have been expressed that if we should ever come face to face Space-Time would implode, or something. My doppelganger’s suppressed meisterwerk is here appended for your amazement and edification, and to encourage y’all to check out the Ghost.

FEVER-DREAM DOUBLE FEATURES

Head of the Family

As befits the year, I’ve seen lots of great works from all corners of film history (most mindblowing masterwork almost unheard of – Niemandsland, from 1931, by Victor Trivas, who as The Head, a quickly ordered, and weakly dubbed, cheap DVD of his last film Die Nackte und der Satan proved, is overripe for rediscovery). But three times the movie experience was so outstanding it instantly conjured an out-of-mind conjunction with other films. These were my fever-dream double features of the year:

Cuba

Cuban Story (Victor Pahlen, 1959) – also known as The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution, a haphazard, poverty-row kind-of-documentary on the fall of Batista, kind of narrated by „firsthand witness” Errol Flynn (who was around to shoot an introduction, but obviously not to dub his alleged voice-over, which sounds slightly British – and radiates an intriguing sense of erosion of authenticity onto the entire enterprise). Screams for a double bill with its ideological and aesthetic opposite: Mikhail Kalatazov’s excessive Soy Cuba.

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Brigadoon (Vincente Minnelli, 1954) – especially after the Peter Jackson juggernaut it was nice to discover they once did make intriguing films about the little people, plus this is clearly the ultimate expression of Minnelli’s aesthetic credo, gaudy studio schizophrenia and all. What is most unexpected about it, though, is when it turns out good ol’ Luis Bunuel clearly just stole its nightmarish New York nightclub finale for his Simon of the Desert. Makes for instructive comparison.

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Mondo Topless (Russ Meyer, 1966). First five minutes are a (literally, thanks to Mr. Auteur) screaming tour of San Francisco, jumping on any sexual pun possible. Then Russ gives us a crazed series of girl shaking booty with even more crazed voice-over (both by him and the subjects), plus shots of transistor radios to diegetically justify the music. A masterpiece already, then, not least because of Meyer’s montage mannerisms, which are always at least as inspired as anything by his contempo Godard. But (despite a few detours to Europe, thank you readily available archive material) as an exploration of San Francisco this is even better – as good as contemporary maverick filmmaker James Benning’s experimental studies of the American landscape, but more lively. And, I swear, it includes that shot of the bay and the bridge, so a pairing with Vertigo should make this the apex of obsessive double features. Better yet, make it a fever trauma triple feature and screen Mondo Topless once before and after the Hitchcock for more intense (in every sense) scrutiny, after all it’s only half as long.

— Christoph Huber

If C.H. doesn’t mind, I’d like to run with the Fever Dream Double Feature idea in future, and welcome submissions from Shadowplayers everywhere.

Roddy, Prince of Darkness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2008 by dcairns

Global Harming 

In the SECONDS it’s taken me to cross the room from the window, a Savage Hail Storm has metamorphosed into Endless Descending Curtains of Soft Snow! I truly suspect the dire hand of Ming the Merciless is behind this.

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Be that as it may, I mentioned way back that my partner’s brother was staying with us and a trip to see the reissue of Hammer Films’ DRACULA was planned. I’d like to explain how that turned out.

Roddy, who has learning difficulties, loves old horror movies, and his particular obsession is with Christopher Lee’s Dracula, so upon learning that the film happened to be screening during his visit, we made haste to tell him of this happy coincidence.

The circumstances that led him to take a massive overdose of laxatives in order to avoid seeing his favourite movie will require some background explanation.

The particular thing Roddy has is called Williams Syndrome, and we’ve often called him the Poster Boy for that particular non-inherited genetic condition. So many of the things about him that one assumes are personal quirks, turn out to be basic symptoms (in spite of this, it took forty years for him to be officially diagnosed with the condition, not that it made much difference really). Among the symptoms — phobias. Roddy has always been uncomfortable with stairs and especially escalators, but what we didn’t realise was how markedly this had increased since his last visit.

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We’d heard some of the stories: Roddy had wandered in front of an oncoming bus and been yelled at by the driver, and he’d had a fall, but we hadn’t grasped how this had affected his behaviour.

On the day of the DRACULA trip, Roddy suddenly came down with galloping diarrhoea, which was particularly problematic since he has trouble getting around. Put simply, he’s seriously overweight (when you can’t read and you’re phobic about going out, you entertain yourself by sitting on the couch and feeding your face). He couldn’t make it to the bathroom (just at the end of the hall) in time and he was getting “the squits” every FIVE MINUTES.

the worst toilet in Scotland

We called emergency helplines and got him a hospital appointment, since this was pretty extreme and unmanageable. At this point we were secretly praying they’d take him off our hands, stick him in a bed with a big nappy on, and keep him until Christmas Day.

Anyhow they didn’t, but Roddy quite enjoyed his trip to the hospital. (Imagine how much he’d have enjoyed the movie!) The doc thought he probably had a virus — we didn’t discover the half-drained bottle of Lactulose until the day of his departure (four days later). Needless to say, a trip to the cinema was out of the question, even in diapers.

It was all kind of depressing. I sympathise with Roddy’s phobias (my partner/his sister has suffered acute agoraphobia), especially as Williams Syndrome carries as another symptom a loss of depth perception. Since Roddy is too bulbous to see his own feet, looking down from his eye sockets all one would see is a slow-moving circumference with the ground some incalculable distance below: no wonder stairs are difficult.

And there’s a horrible pathos in Roddy’s Dracula obsession: he wants to be the tall dark and handsome stranger who has a mysterious power over buxom blondes. My desire to be Gene Kelly or Errol Flynn or James Coburn is pretty pathetic too (I’d be lucky to attain the condition of, say, Paul Giamatti), but it doesn’t haunt me to the same degree, and it isn’t as cruelly WRONG. Only a very sick author would invent a character who wants to be a 6’4′ hypnotic vampire when he is a 5′ 0′ obese man with learning difficulties. Apart from anything else, Dracula is a character who rather famously makes his entrance by gliding down a flight of stairs!

I am...Dracula

Chuck Jones said that he dreamt of being Bugs Bunny but always awoke as Daffy Duck. Roddy, concordantly, dreams of being Dracula but awakens as the Frankenstein Monster: but with one pleasing difference. Williams Syndrome is sometimes called “cocktail-party syndrome”, and its “suffererers” are blessed with very good social skills — Roddy can really Work The Room. Is his Syndrome perhaps named after ROBIN Williams?

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 Anyhow, that was our Christmas.

Upside: we are full of hope that he’s going to lose weight and conquer his phobias, at least somewhat, this year.

More on the Hammer DRACULA soon.

More on Roddy and Williams Syndrome HERE.