Archive for Fort Apache

The Shirley Temple of Doom

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by dcairns

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WEE WILLIE WINKIE reminded me I must read more Kipling. I doubt his original story has much in common with this John Ford movie, but this John Ford movie has a fair bit in common with his others. FORT APACHE, for instance. In both films, Shirley Temple arrives at a fort surrounded by hostile Indians, meets Victor McLaglan, there’s a blonde who’s forbidden to see a young officer by the commanding officer who is her relative. But in the more innocent, less martial world of wee Shirley, everything does not have to end in bloodshed.

There’s some very cute stuff — Fiona pronounced Private Winkie’s kilt and uniform “adorable” and we actually laughed at McLaglan’s antics. The American cinema’s premier silverback mountain gorilla, he overplays everything but his build is so large the grandiose gestures and mugging seem perversely delicate.

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THE COMPANY: C. Aubrey Smith’s crusty colonel is maybe a bit too appealing from the start — he could do with having been gruffer, since he’s all we have as an antagonist for most of the film. You would never know June Lang was a gangster’s moll in real life, she seems so demure. Cesar Romero may be an unlikely Pathan but Willie Fung is preposterous. He was preposterous even when playing Chinese, which is what he actually was, so I suppose one shouldn’t expect anything else. He’s very much in the vein of African-American comedy relief figure Snowflake — but please let’s not call him “the yellow Snowflake.” At any rate, his appearance is enough to make Woody Strode’s performance as a Chinese warrior in SEVEN WOMEN seem a model of sensitive and convincing ethnic casting.

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Some of the time, though amusing, the film seems a touch impersonal for Ford — it’s nicely shot, and amusing, but there’s not much meat to it. But Shirley’s rendition of Old Lang Syne is a high point of Fordian sentiment, beautifully lit and staged, with erstwhile broad comedy characters deftly about-turned for emotional effect (including Clyde Cook, one of very few actual Scots in the film — still, that’s a few more than there are actual Indians).

NB — written Saturday night, after which I read Kipling’s Mrs Bathurst, one of the first works of literature to feature the cinematograph, and a dazzling modernist work which I must write about.

Thursday’s Child

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on February 13, 2014 by dcairns

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Shirley Temple as Philadelphia Thursday in John Ford’s FORT APACHE reacts to the sight of a cavalry officer having his ass spanked.

Very early in this smart, revisionist, conflicted western, our Shirl is shown reacting joyously, first to the sight of John Agar shirtless — her expression cycles through shock, fear, shame, and winds up on “This is great, and it’s totally not my fault that I happened to walk in and see this, so I’m going to enjoy it!” — and then to the sight of him getting spanked — expression saying “This is REALLY shocking — but fun!”

These non-prudish reactions make us like the smooth, creamy Philadelphia, but they also made me think that perhaps the reasons audiences didn’t embrace Shirley in adult roles was that she was sexual, while still using the same palette of performance that had been her stock-in-trade in the thirties. Here, she even does the adorable, momentary trying-not-to-laugh routine, which involves a tightening of the corners of the mouth as they attempt to hold back a smile — Shirley only ever holds back for an instant, and we know it must be a trick because she does it so often and so consistently in her kiddie performances, but it ALWAYS works — we smile too. Seeing this in an adult perf, the public might feel that she was tainting their memories of Curly Top, or that she was making visible the adult qualities that had always been a part of the child star’s persona. It feels wrong to say that Shirley Temple turns you on.

In the sense that she creates a cognitive dissonance, that she has one foot in an earlier age of film storytelling, Shirley might be the perfect star for FORT APACHE, a movie that succeeds in being iconoclastic and placing the US cavalry on the wrong side of the Indian wars, and does not quite succeed in frantically back-pedaling out of danger and leaving us with a comfortable printed legend, all our revered institutions standing proud and unblemished.

The most beautiful tribute.

The ’68 Comeback Special will appear later today.