Archive for Faith Domergue

Metalunatic Fringe

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 19, 2019 by dcairns

How long since I watched THIS ISLAND EARTH? Last time was the MST3K movie which doesn’t count. First time was on TV as a kid, and it maybe didn’t quite enter my pantheon with THE TIME MACHINE and FORBIDDEN PLANET because it screened outwith the BBC2 sci-fi seasons? A weird prejudice to have. Weird kid.

(On the other hand, it’s genuinely not quite as fun or smart as those two.)

Amusingly, brain guy here is able to look around the room and his eyeline always matches who he’s looking at, though in reality he’s looking at an image on a small screen… it makes pictorial sense without making any literal sense at all.

It stands up OK — especially the early, boring stuff, which ain’t boring when you’re an adult. It’s really intriguing and a nice interlocking set of mysterioso scenes. True, there’s something cheesy about leading man Rex Reason, even though he’s an OK actor I think. His baritone delivery is very B-movie and he’s stupid casting as a scientist. It’s a shame when we lose his schlubby friend.

Faith Domergue as a scientist, oddly, I can accept. Maybe because Rex Reason has softened me up first.

At least one of those bumps in the road is Howard Hughes.

Things go off a little when we get to the Big Head Institute — the Metalunans do look rather silly, especially Brack. Fiona was amused by Exeter’s name. All the Metalunans should be named after medium-sized British towns. Basingstoke. Ipswich. Scunthorpe. But Jeff Morrow strikes me as a pretty good actor, underplaying the gloopiness and coming across real sympathetic. Maybe he also got them to give him a better hairline than the other guys. A Metalunatic fringe, if you will. His forehead is almost acceptable. If they’d whittled an inch off his dome, and a few inches off the other guys, they’d have had an acceptable look (with better wigs). I hadn’t noticed this before (maybe I saw it on our old b&w TV?) but the Metalunans are also in subtle brownface.

If I were making a 50s SF movie I’d cast mixed-race actors in whiteface and the mainstream audience would get really uncomfortable without knowing why.

The whole last half plays like someone hit fast-forward. I guess because (a) the picture couldn’t be three hours long and (b) this is the really expensive special effects bit so they can’t afford to linger and (c) sure, things are supposed to accelerate when you reach the climax.

The journey to Metaluna takes a while, and we get to watch cool stuff like the tubes (top) and we see a lady brain guy — I want a whole movie about this butch personage in her fashionable see-thru hat — and then suddenly we’re in a terrible rush.

When we get to Metaluna and there’s some lovely practical miniature effects, a big rubber mu-tant, some icky Technicolor manipulation (anybody know what precisely they did? Leave out the Magenta dye? was it deliberate or was somebody at Technicolor just careless?), which is all great and partly masks the fact that they get abducted to an alien world and then IMMEDIATELY go home. And poor Exeter basically announces he’s going to commit suicide and Reason and Domergue are just, like, “Okay, bye!”

Metaluna is HORRIBLE. I want at least an hour of screen time dedicated to the decontamination procedures.

Whoever did the matte paintings wasn’t real good at perspective. Which might be the most important skill for a matte painter to have.

Am I blue?

“That was once a recreation center.” Oh no, they got the bingo hall? Big-ass matte line here, like everybody’s about to be “beamed up” or something. An odd glitch in such a pricey movie, like the very faint opening credits, superimposed at too weak an intensity. Some of this may be the effects of time rather than bad special effects per se.

As is the way with fifties sf, God gets a mention in Act III, and the whole thing is weirdly conservative. The “happy ending” — Reason & Domergue clinch on terra firma, Morrow fatally splashdowns — begs the question, since the Zagons just destroyed Metaluna, and the Metalunans had the tech to visit Earth, are we now going to get bombarded by the Zagons too?

“She gave me water…” Not nearly enough mutant character development for my taste.

We never see a Zagon, only their tiny, far-away spaceships, but they don’t come off as an intriguing mystery, they’re just a bit of the story nobody was interested in exploring. The whole thing would make more sense or be more meaningful, to me, if the Metalunans had started this war or something.

Orangey the cat is in this too, as Neutrino the cat. His house gets blown up with him in it. Nobody mourns.

THIS ISLAND EARTH stars Dr. Leslie Gaiskell; Prof. Leslie Joyce; Dr. Thomas Morgan; Professor Roy Hinkley; Dr. Brunner; Dr. Karl Fresenburg; & Cat.

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The Deluxe Treatment

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by dcairns

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My favourite bit in EASY LIVING is probably the guided tour of the opulent suite at the Hotel Louis. A bewildered Jean Arthur is shown around by Louis Louis himself (Luis Alberni). The sequence seems to exemplify screenwriter Preston Sturges’s concerns — sudden reversals of fortune, the fickle finger of fate, the absurdity of the lives of the rich, funny foreigners, linguistic play — and those of director Mitchell Leisen — most of the above, plus lavish sets. There’s a lot more to Leisen than that, of course — one might mention his love of all different modes of camp, his fondness for Mexicana, Freudian motifs, and romanticism. In a way, this scene shows how for years critics have tended to regard the deep stuff in Leisen’s films as entirely the work of the writer, while regarding his own contribution as window dressing. Yet the visual choices of a filmmaker are not secondary to the thematic ones. And Sturges couldn’t have staged this scene as well as Leisen, because Sturges’s visual style favoured vulgarity and boisterousness over elegance. If Leisen had made THE PALM BEACH STORY, it wouldn’t have been as funny but Claudette Colbert would have had better frocks. The Hotel Louis IS vulgar, but it’s also beautiful.

The scene could have been written for Leisen, since it’s suck a design showcase. At the same time, Louis’s garbled descriptions of the suite’s features provide a ludicrous counterpoint — I particularly like his cockeyed neologism “gymnasalum,” which suggests some kind of workout regime for the nostrils — perhaps Kenneth Williams had such a facility in his flat (we’ll never know because he banned visitors).

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The gymnasalum features a hobby-horse, leading to a surprise bit of slapstick. It’s not surprising that Louis should attempt a demonstration, but it is a surprise that Luis Alberni should prove to have such very short legs. They’re like thumbs. Since most of the film is shot in that forties mid-shot standard, the sudden appearance of the micro-limbs is startling, and we suddenly see that Alberni’s tailoring makes him virtually a circus clown, with the costume exaggerating rather than concealing his physical oddities. And, mounted on the horse, his movements acquire a herky-jerky peculiarity perfectly in tune with his dialogue.

The most fabulous thing is the bathroom, with its “plunge” (see top) — it’s bigger than it looks, as we see later when both Jean Arthur and Ray Milland get in together. And, in operation, it looks like it might be annoying rather than invigorating — little streams of water spouting from all directions. Like Dolby Atmos only wet. But I like to believe the plunge is as wonderful as it looks, and to hell with such practical considerations. When I’m a billionaire, I’ll order four.

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The only bum note here is one I’ve got only myself to blame for. When I wrote for a Channel 4 “education” show called The KNTV Show, I borrowed Louis Louis’s habit of randomly pluralizing singular words, and gave it to the Eastern European characters on the show. And then a set of commercials featuring a CGI meerkat stole this idea from me — otherwise, how to explain that the meerkat has an Eastern European accent? I don’t like most commercials, and I certainly don’t like the idea of some rich advertising jerk-off making money off an idea he stole from me, even if I stole it from Preston Sturges in the first place. Probably the meerkat isn’t as annoying as KNTV was. But I’d prefer, on the whole, not to think of either.

Meanwhile: I score co-authorship on a limerick. And a movie Fiona and I wrote seems to be tumbling erratically towards production. Remain skeptical, but we’ll see…

Support Shadowplay, and your classic Hollywood habit: Easy Living (Universal Cinema Classics)

BANG BANG

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by dcairns

“The filthiest man I ever met!”

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This was my late friend, assistant director Lawrie Knight’s recollection of Ken Hughes, who once sub-let a flat from Lawrie, and had to be turned out after complaints from the landlady about his rowdy and disgusting ways. Infuriatingly, I know no more about this.

Hughes, best remembered as director of children’s perennial CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, began his career with a lot of little thrillers, and as a BANG BANG fan I always wanted to see some of these. Turns out several can be downloaded and there are collectors of obscure UK stuff who have accumulated others. So I got my sweaty mits on CONFESSION and, even more excitingly, THE ATOMIC MAN.

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“This film is f*cked,” protested Fiona, pronouncing the asterisk very distinctly, at first sight of the fuzzy copy of CONFESSION, and refused to watch it. I persevered, partly through an interest in Sydney Chaplin. Son of the rather more famous Charles, Syd always appears as a passionate and interesting witness in documentaries about his dad’s life, so I was intrigued to see if he had the same impact as a screen actor. Not quite, sadly. Maybe he had to grow into his talent, and by the time he had, the heat had gone out of his acting career. As a youngster, Sydney was a strikingly handsome fellow, like a beefier version of Chaplin Snr, but his looks had faded a little by the time he appeared in Hughes 1955 crime thriller, as a crook who tries to kill the priest who heard the confession of a man he killed… it’s complicated, but at any rate he doesn’t have sufficient faith in the sanctity of the confessional.

It’s not a strong film, alas. The climax, with a convincingly gruesome death plummet (you hardly ever see bodies actually hit the ground in these things, which always frustrated me as a bloodthirsty kid, but Hughes plays faitr and includes the final earthly impact) is pretty good, as our baddie is blasted from the belfry by swinging bells — killed by God! And the first killing, set to the screeching of a nearby train, is pretty dynamic and effective. But too much of the film is just our man ambling around, not feeling particularly guilty as far as we can see, and not taking any dramatic action, nefarious of otherwise, to resolve his problems.

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Reviewers liken the movie to Hitchcock’s I CONFESS, and say that the narrative problem is a tricky one — how to spin a compelling drama out of the priest’s conundrum? But Hitchcock makes that problem work just fine (I’m sure it works even better for Catholics) — his real problem is with a priest as hero. No romance, really. No humour, much. Hughes, who scripted his own movie, uses the priest as a minor plot device, and isn’t really exercised by the same issue, but fails to come up with a compelling dramatic problem to replace the priest’s. He doesn’t even seem to have really decided who his main character is. Clearly it ought to be former Hollywood bad boy Sydney, but Hughes seems reluctant to make an out-and-out villain his hero. A shame.

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THE ATOMIC MAN has a lot more momentum and panache and silliness. Set in a Britain bursting with Americans, including a loutish Gene Nelson (“Delaney”) and a peevish Faith Domergue (“Lebowski”), it details the enigma of a man hauled from the Thames with a bullet in his back, whose presence causes photos to fog and who resurrects after pronounced dead. Is it Jesus? No, Jesus was not atomic. This guy is atomic.

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They try to x-ray him, but he ends up x-raying them, or something.

Wait, if he can’t be photographed, how come we can see him in this film?

My enjoyment was marred slightly by this copy being even more f*cked than CONFESSION. It looks like the print, which is scratchy and embossed at several points with a giant apostrophe –

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– has been projected onto choppy water and then video-taped by an ancient camera whose tube has been scorched repeatedly by Arthur C. Clarke’s laser. It’s like watching a movie from inside Fritz Lang’s lung.

Never mind that, is it good?

Better say diverting. But there’s one hugely enjoyable conceit — our atomic fellow has been mentally blasted 7 seconds into the future: though his body remains in the here and now, his mind is there and then, which means he tends to answer questions before they’re asked. This blows rather a big hole in the concept of free will if you ask me, which I notice you’re not. If he answers your question, doesn’t that mean you’re now compelled to ask it?

A similar space-time infarction seems to be taking place when, in the midst of all this sci-fi espionage (fat Brazilian spymaster, plastic surgeon, impostor, project to transmute base metals), Barry and Domergue are interrupted mid-muse by the spectre of Charles Hawtrey, CARRY ON-film regular, giving exactly the same comic performance of dirty-minded gay schoolboy that he would give in countless low comedies for Rank. He bursts through a door and snaps “‘ello ‘ello, what’s going on ‘ere, I wouldn’t be surprised!” and his appearance smacks so much of refugee-from-another-film syndrome that it’s doubly surprising when anyone else actually acknowledges his presence. One had assumed he was the result of a printing error at the lab.

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When the explanation for the time-shift comes along, it’s insanely protracted, hideously convoluted, and utterly nonsensical. Starting from the semi-sensible springboard idea of the character having been clinically dead for 7 seconds, the neuro-psychologist mouthpiece character delivering the expos soon finds himself on very thin ice, and shortly thereafter at the bottom of a wintry pond of pseudo-science and 14-carot baloney. But I found it enjoyable.

Alec C. Snowden, who produced and fronted for Joseph Losey on what I call THE INTIMATE FINGER, produced this one as well. Good!

This has been a Fever Dream Double Feature.