Archive for Eugene Pallette

From Hindquarters

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2020 by dcairns

A fingerprint besmirches the hindquarters of a deco figurine!

FROM HEADQUARTERS is one of William Dieterle’s best pre-codes, and I’m surprised I haven’t written about it before. I think I watched it shortly before I started blogging so it got lost in the shuffle.

We screened it as one half of a double-feature in our latest Warren William Weekend, even though the film does not feature WW. By chance, the last time I watched FH, I also ran Dieterle’s THE SECRET BRIDE, which does feature WW and links up in an odd way: in both films, characters look into microscopes and see… the SAME BULLET. How did it get from one film to another and kill Kenneth Thomson in one film and Douglas Dumbrille in the other? It must be one of those magic bullets we’ve all heard so much about.

Warner Bros were into saving money in all kinds of odd ways. “Jack Warner has oilskin pockets so he can steal soup.”

Anyway, THE SECRET BRIDE ought to be exciting and emotional, with what James M. Cain called a “love rack” at its centre, the romance creating the suspense, but the concealed marriage of WW and Barbara Stanwyck in the title role never really feels in jeopardy. When Warners went middle-class, they often lost a lot of their oomph. Also, there can be a big difference between 1933 and 1934 Warners pictures — the Code has come in.

But FROM HQ is terrific stuff — part of Warners’ Great Project to document every facet of American society — here, it’s the life of the police station, so we’re in for a kind of CSI: Pre-Code — plus director Dieterle has suddenly gotten really into elaborate and dynamic blocking, with characters crossing frame at speed alla time, the camera relaying from one busy body to another, and Eugene Pallette jumping into shot like an over-inflated jack-in-the box, bellowing his swollen head off. His character is called Sgt. Boggs and that’s just right.

George Brent is the lead and his sleepy delivery turns out to be just what the film needs, since everyone else is so overwrought. Margaret Lindsay does a lot of elaborate hand-ringing. Hugh “Woo-woo” Herbert is an ambulance-chasing bail bondsman, offering rates “that’d almost surprise you.”

Dieterle also stages multiple flashbacks to the events around a killing, in long-take subjective camera shots, including one that goes from objective to subjective in a oner, his camera discretely tucking itself into a manservant’s head to look out through his eyes, giving us an actual “what the butler saw” or “first-person butler” sequence.

FOG OVER FRISCO has been described as one of the fastest movies ever made but this one could give it a run for its money. Asides from being a murder mystery, it fits snugly into Warners’ Grand Project to document every aspect of American life: this one stars the police station itself, and spends the first few minutes observing the processing of arrestees, before lingering over forensics, ballistics, interrogation, and even the filing system. Punch cards! High-tech stuff.

Dieterle reportedly hated the pace of Warners films and, left to his own devices, would happily crank out slowies like 6 HOURS TO LIVE, which is only 72 mins but feels like it’s in real time. The strange part is that when Jack Warner cracked the whip, Dieterle went just about faster than anyone else. The actors get splashed with his sweat. FROM HQ goes like a rocket, with the same amount of smoke, noise, sparks and sputtering.

Bette’s buttocks

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2018 by dcairns

THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. is a rambunctious pseudo-screwball, with Bette Davis as flighty heiress and James Cagney as supposedly amiable tough guy, the attempted lightness knocked flying by rambunctious Warner Bros slapstick, the whole movie seemingly targeted at the Davis derriere, undignified recipient of cacti (three times) and catapults (twice). We barely escape the obligatory spanking scene. You marvel at scenarists the Epstein brothers’ ability to resist having Cagney crash his plane into her arse.

Cagney is rendered so obnoxious that the main interest becomes how they can possibly sell a romance, but credit to the writers and actors, they actually manage it, a feat comparable to getting Eugene Pallette airborne, which also happens. William THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER Keighley directs, somehow, with Max Steiner braying in his ear the whole time, his score a Loony Tunes medley of famous themes, which you can distract yourself by naming — once named, each one reveals itself as wholly inappropriate, which never happened in the cartoons. “Oh, Susanna”? But we’re in California!

Max even gets to mickeymouse the sound of cactus spines being extracted from Bette’s bum, which I suppose was a novelty for him. Bette’s declaration of “Either I’m coming down this staircase or Max Steiner is!” is herein answered. Max Steiner is coming down this staircase.

The filmmaking has what they call gusto (nice montages, but we don’t know who did them — Siegel?).

Another first — trailing on the end of that miniature parachute is a miniature Bette. Can’t think of another film where she was rendered as a marionette. It looks to have been tiny. I wonder how detailed?

 

Bonita, Meet Belita

Posted in Dance, FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2018 by dcairns

  

SUSPENSE (1946). Directed by Frank Tuttle, script by Philip Yordan, who probably hadn’t started fronting yet, so he probably did write it. Here, Bonita Granville, in rare vamp mode, tranmogrifies into ice-skating queen Belita.

Starrng Belita, Captain Mark Markary, Dr. Cyclops, Nancy Drew, Friar Tuck and Toothpick Charlie.

The only ice-skating noir film — apart from MURDER IN THE MUSIC HALL, which also has an intriguing cast (the Honorable Betty Cream, the Spirit of Christmas Past, Trigger).

Eugene Pallette’s last movie before he retreated to his fall-out shelter to await Doomsday. The plot is basically GILDA, without the homoerotic overtones, or any overtones, really.

Well, Albert Dekker does have a cat, which might mean he’s gay. But he also smokes a manly pipe, so he can’t be gay. I’m confused. He and his wife, Belita, have separate beds. But then, everybody in 1946 had separate beds.

“How can I know what you’re talking about if you don’t talk about it?” complains Huge Euge. He speaks for me.

The skating/musical numbers are pretty spectacular — Belita was a ballerina as well as an Olympic skater, so she can really move. Which is more than the rest of the film manages. It takes way too long to set up any source of the titular emotion, and doesn’t give us any reason to care. (But does GILDA? I can’t remember, but I remember it works like gangbusters.) So SUSPENSE succeeds only in moments and sequences — Tuttle may not have drilled his cast into a pacey rendition of the lines, but he stages some interesting angles once the plot finally gets going in the last act.

The drama is HUGELY helped by Daniele Amfitheatrof’s score — remember how much he contributed to LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN? Even if Ophuls complained that the Hollywood composer was like the man with the cheese in an Italian restaurant, always ready to dart in and spoon some more parmesan on our spaghetti when you’re not looking. “You have to watch him.”