Archive for Five Star Final

The Sunday Intertitle: Hello, Mabel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2014 by dcairns


No wonder the Goldwyn lion looks grumpy: he’s only a painting. In those days, lions were only paintings. I guess it was Mayer who fleshed him out.

Two more Mabels. Mabel Normand left Keystone for the same reason nearly everyone else left — Sennett paid badly — and for another reason, that she was tired of being on the bottom of the bill with short films while everyone else was making features and getting all the respect.


At Goldwyn, she made WHAT HAPPENED TO ROSA which is pretty funny in places but only really gets going when Mabel drags up. The romantic comedy angle suffers from a lack of any real problem to solve, and the movie fizzles out. But the “plot,” in which gullible counter-hopper Mabel is convinced she has an exotic Spanish other self, at least allows her to be exotically glam. But it’s funnier seeing her as a boy with a coal-smudged face, throwing herself all over the furniture.


Much more interesting, we thought, was THE NICKEL-HOPPER, produced by Hal Roach. Roach had the right slapstick sensibility, and Mabel excels as a taxi-dancer whose work-shy father ruins all her chances at romance, until…


There’s a great back garden chase climax on this one. It’s a weird length, 37 minutes, but it’s jam-packed with shenanigans. And the cast! In one scene we get Oliver Hardy as an exuberant jazz drummer — and it’s impressive to see one of the most distinctive movie outlines inhabited by a whole different personality, sans moustache and equally shorn of his trademark fiddliness — and Boris Karloff, playing the same kind of Not Safe In Taxis sex louse he would essay so memorably in FIVE STAR FINAL (under the name T. Vernon Isopod, which I never get tired of saying).

X-Ray! X-Ray!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2011 by dcairns

It’s positively Boris Karloff this time!

The most pertinent possible film in light of the continuing News of the World tabloid phone-hacking shitstorm has to be FIVE STAR FINAL, which shows how the drive for circulation drives out any other human impulse and destroys any other purpose journalism might be expected to pursue. I screened it for a couple of lucky students at my workplace last week, and have now written about it for The Chiseler, here.

In other news — HUGE congratulations to my friends Colin and Morag, whose feature DONKEYS won the Big Prize at BAFTA Scotland, and to their leading man, James Cosmo, who won Best Actor.

Now Wash Your Hands

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 23, 2010 by dcairns

Boris Karloff, dusky-hued in BEHIND THAT CURTAIN.

Boris again, dusky-hued again, in ISLE OF THE DEAD.

It’s Boris Karloff’s birthday!

It was only last year that I learned about Boris’s Indian ancestry. It seemed to make so much sense. It accounts for the darker pigmentation around his eyes, and may even account for his stage name: by assuming a Slavic name, William Henry Pratt could account for his colouring without admitting to any non-white heritage. This was in an age when the British spoke of someone like Boris having ” a lick of the tar-brush.”

Even if his appearance were accounted for, Boris still found the only parts he could get were exotic types, and sinister westerners. Without the simple ethnic explanation, those shadowy eyes became a repository for malevolent projections. Or maybe he was just naturally scary-looking.

Still, Boris had more range than he’s credited with: see FIVE STAR FINAL, an excoriating attack on yellow press scandal sheets from Mervyn LeRoy and Warner Bros. Eddie Robinson is the editor who destroys a whole family with his muck-raking tactics, and Boris is boozy reporter and sex pest (“Don’t get in a taxi with him”) T. Vernon Isopod. He’s grotesque, yes, simpering and slurring and lisping and leering, but he manages to be hilarious until the sheer repulsiveness of his profession tips him over into monstrousness of a different kind.

Happy Birthday Boris!