Archive for Ferenc Molnar

His Third-to-Last Breath

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 7, 2019 by dcairns

It’s getting to be a tradition — watch a late Curtiz every December. Since Curtiz had such an extraordinarily long career (1912-1961!), he’s entitled to more late films than most people. This one is from 1960 — he would make three more and die in spring ’62.

A BREATH OF SCANDAL is from a play by Ferenc Molnar, frequent source for Lubitsch, Wilder, et al, so it allows Curtiz to visit Vienna, in sorta-kinda his native land (it was capital of Austria-Hungary when he was born in Budapest seventy-three years before).

Aaand the first joke is about senility, as an old geezer hears the Emperor referenced and rises, saluting. “Don’t try to get up,” says his somewhat younger wife, “We’ll only have to put you down again.”

I’ve been trying to locate the point where Curtiz’s films stop moving, become inert, dead things. The first half hour of this is relatively spritely, though there are markedly fewer of those elegant gliding tracking shots. But Sophia Loren, a nimble comedian as we all know, gets some laughs, blasting away with a rifle from the tower to which she’s been exiled for excess sexiness — no moping Rapunzel, she. At one point, the film makes it seem as if she’s shooting at a little girl, which made me chuckle.

Then John Gavin turns up in a jalopy — you expect the film is going to collapse into terminal petrification as he fixes the scenery with his gorgon’s gaze, but NO — even though there’s no Chinese white slavers on hand to shoot him full of curare, which generally brings out the best in him, he’s reasonably effective as a stuffy, repressed American interloper. Tiresomely virtuous, someone Loren can run rings around — a good, stiff foil for her moral flexibility.

But once the film decamps to Vienna, despite some terrific locations it heads rapidly into total sclerosis. Chevalier is on hand to provide some vespertine twinkle, but now the script requires both Gavin AND Loren to be priggish and petulant, and I got tired of both of them.

Look, Angela Lansbury!

So, Curtiz’s ability to keep a movie conscious arguably lasted until half an hour into this one, though there are decent moments in his HUCK FINN. I’m going to keep working my way back — I haven’t seen anything between this one and WE’RE NO ANGELS, which is so far the latest-period Curtiz I would rewatch for pleasure. But there are eight films in there, including several in b&w. Curtiz is generally best in b&w. It affects him like curare affects John Gavin — by subtracting something, it releases something else, and the result is entertainment.

The hats are very good in this one.

A BREATH OF SCANDAL stars Filumena Marturano; Prince Danilo; Sam Loomis; Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin; Aunt Alicia; Detective Moletti; Lisa Bolkonskaya; Aramis; and Queequeg.

There’s glory for you

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2018 by dcairns

I have a goddamn cold, with accompanying lung-ructions so body-racking that I may have to forgo my scheduled trip to Glasgow tomorrow to see Joe Dante’s THE MOVIE ORGY, a prospect that vexes me even more than the sniffles, consumption and sweats.

By co-inky-dink I pursued a Borzage project by watching NO GREATER GLORY (1934), in which a small boy’s zealous pursuit of gang warfare (the cute, rough-and-tumble kind, not the nasty, switch-blade and chains kind) results in him contracting pneumonia. Borzage is often weird, and this anti-war parable or-is-it? is a fine example. The boy’s life-threatening condition introduces the other kids to the real stakes of warfare, but at the same time allows him to demonstrate pluck and grit and schoolboy honour, which the film appears to value just as fervently as its young heroes.

George P. Breakston is the main kid. He went on to co-direct THE MANSTER, which I suppose I have to rewatch now in search of Borzagean influence.

Good use of Frankie Darro’s haunted mug (top), as he morphs from strutting bully/fascist to hollow-eyed witness of tragedy. Great, almost purely physiognomic work: when he plays mean, you hate his ugly face and can’t see him as anything other than villainous. When he plays sad, you think, “What a great tragic face he has.”

There’s also some wild rear-projection used for pedestrian action, something of a Borzage feature at this time (see also MAN’S CASTLE). Here, little Georgie towers over an approaching motorcyclist in a background presumably intended for an adult star.

Based on a Ferenc Molnar autobiographical novel (they were running out of his plays?), this is one of those countless thirties films set in Hungary for no discernible reason, so Borazage unspools some scenic Budapest footage behind his actors. Capra associate Jo Swerling wrote the script (we’re at Columbia).

I’m not sure if this is first-rate Borzage, but maybe I’m just too packed with phlegm to appreciate it fully. But he’s certainly fully engaged, shooting it almost like a silent film. I believe it would be perfectly clear without sound. There are none of the expressionist irruptions I love so much in FB’s work, apart from some feverish hallucinations during the pneumonia sequence ~

I hope I don’t get a translucent Jimmy Butler persecuting me as I toss in my delirium.