Archive for Fox Films

After the Fox

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2019 by dcairns

Yes indeed, there’s some interesting stuff in Henry King’s swashbuckler, even if the drama itself isn’t always that engaging. Tyrone Power does his usual bad-boy-turns-good thing. Orson has a spectacular first scene, with some extraordinary expressions playing across his massive mug, then normalizes a bit into just a good Welles villain role. Rewriting the script on location he bolstered Everett Sloane’s role…

…with this feather.

The whole film looks beautiful, thanks to stunning Italian locations and Leon Shamroy’s cinematography, which raises my estimation of him even higher. (In THE BRAVADOS he showcases his usual Deluxe Color palette, with orange light and blue shadows, sometimes ignoring logic and light sources altogether, just routinely doing what he does, so that the imagery so stunning in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN came to seem slightly tired.)

Was Orson whispering suggestions to King? He had dominated the experienced Robert Stevens on JANE AYRE, and he still had the vestiges of Hollywood stardom to give him clout. I commend to you, at the very least, the film’s second scene (commencing 2.47).

There are low angles: when Welles mounts the podium, we view him from below, like a member of his entourage, but the reactions shots of them are taken EVEN LOWER. There’s a tracking shot running counter to the movement of Welles as he sweeps in. Those shots of the reacting listeners, at around 4.55, with the camera sweeping from one face to another in fast pans and pushy track-ins, are really extraordinary. It feels like Welles exerts more influence here than anywhere else, but it’s perhaps not PURE Welles.

The restlessness of the camera, not quite in sync with story values, driven purely by its own enthusiasm, has an early thirties vibe to me. And King hasn’t indulged in this kind of brio SINCE the early thirties. He’s back at the Fox Film Corporation, channeling the house style with youthful enthusiasm, prodded along impatiently by his Cesare Borgia…

PRINCE OF FOXES features Leonard Vole; Hank Quinlan; Pila; Pilar; Polonius: Flavia; Mr. Bernstein; and Dr. Satan.

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King of the Movies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2019 by dcairns

King of the Movies was the title of an interview show done about Henry King for the BBC when the old master was ninety. I enjoyed King’s work at Il Cinema Ritrovato — they could only show a small sampling of his 108 credits — and two of them, STATE FAIR and OVER THE HILL, would easily make my top ten of films I saw in Bologna.

But I’m not convinced of his greatness, as a whole. At Fox in the early thirties, he channeled the house style, which favoured long tracking shots and misty atmosphere — as well as any other director. But then, like Ford and Borzage, he seemed to lapse into a less showy, more conventional form of coverage.

“Style should be invisible,” was the prevailing idea. To me, if it’s invisible it’s not style. Style has to be perceptible to the senses to qualify. Which is not to discount subtlety. But if you’re alert and you know about film technique, good style can be detected however low-key, though in a very entertaining or engaging film you might forget to look for it. (When Ford and Borzage minimized their style, a distinct artistic identity remained visible. With King, not so much.)

The fact that King could make so much of the visuals while at Fox is significant — someone like Alfred Santell in THE SEA WOLF, gifted with an elaborate dockland set, just sat the camera on sticks and went to sleep. But once King stops gliding, his principle attributes become good dramaturgical taste and an ability to marshall the resources of a big production effectively.

TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH, his WWII bomber movie, illustrates King’s abilities and limitations. It’s extremely well-crafted, and the acting, from a fairly un-starry cast (Gregory Peck is supported by Gary Merrill, Hugh Beaumont Marlowe, Millard Mitchell and Dean Jagger) is fine. There’s a moderately interesting flashback transition early on, and then the horrific discussion of the fliers’ injuries starts it off as an unusually frank war movie. The screenwriters were both involved in the air force and Wyler’s MEMPHIS BELLE so they knew their stuff.

Maybe my frustration with King is that he just isn’t as progressive as I’d like. (Yet some right-wing directors are extremely interesting!) Having set up a depiction of air war that’s surprisingly brutal, the movie largely backs away from this. Gregory Peck’s tough methods result in fewer planes being lost, but they also seem to end completely the kind of nasty injuries and fatalities suffered early on (“What do I do with an arm?”)

Some serious ambivalence does enter the movie when Peck suffers his — quite convincingly detailed — mental collapse. Peck plays this pretty well, considering he’s Gregory Peck. (But imagine Robert Ryan, or Jimmy Stewart!) But it proves to be a Tom & Jerry breakdown — he’s all squashed, but then he springs back into his original form in a single scene. Though the movie preserves some doubt — he’s better, but is he ALL better?

In 1949, with Huston’s LET THERE BE LIGHT still banned, no Hollywood picture was going to end with its protagonist catatonic, and the movie impresses with how far it’s willing to go. But whereas in a good Anthony Mann film we would end with some kind of discomfort — maybe even a sense that the film couldn’t quite work because it had ventured so far into darkness that its contradictions couldn’t be resolved within a Hollywood format (and if only Mann had lived through to the seventies, what troubles he’d have seen, and illuminated!), in a King film, the resolution rather discourages us from thinking about the more troubling aspects. (It’s also a Zanuck film, and Zanuck had something of a passion for war — maybe he had the most interesting sensibility of the studio bosses, but he was in some ways the most militaristic.)

Footnote: there’s a B-17 in this called Leper Colony, which is also the name of the B-52 flown by Slim Pickens in DOCTOR STRANGELOVE — the name indicates that the crew is composed entirely of no-hopers not fit to serve with skilled airmen — which illuminates the nature of Major “King” Kong and his crew in the Kubrick film.

La Rue Morgue

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 2, 2010 by dcairns

WHILE PARIS SLEEPS more than lived up to La Faustin’s recommendation. This racy, nasty pre-code unfolds in a fallen world of unbelievable cruelty and darkness, although it’s enacted on beautiful sets (Fox Films’ Paris sets may have been left over from SEVENTH HEAVEN, they certainly look similar).

Right at the start, war hero Victor McLaglan escapes from a hellish prison and heads for Paris. The wardens believe him dead, and smugly affirm that it’s for the best, when a man is already “mentally dead.” They also seem to have no sympathy for the fact that he got a letter saying his wife was dying and his daughter about to be destitute. This is a cartoonishly unsympathetic story world we’re in.

To confirm this, we get a scene of the daughter, Helen Mack, being kicked out of her apartment because her mother’s funeral cleaned out her savings. The vicious old concierge more or less advises her to go on the streets to earn her keep. The nice Helen has no intention of doing so, but the rest of the plot concerns a scheme to lure her into a life of sexual slavery, so perhaps she’ll end up like Mollie Molloy, her character in HIS GIRL FRIDAY.

Mack is really cute in this, with a slightly daffy, cockeyed Helen Chandler quality (but sexier). Fiendish Jack La Rue takes a fancy to her, and since we soon see him baking a snitch alive in an oven, this seems like a troubling development.

Of course, the boulangerie is a place of primal terror for all Americans. One thinks of the poor guy suspended by his thumbs in a baker’s basement in REIGN OF TERROR, as Arnold Moss politely asks Robert “Terror of Strasbourg” Cummings “Whyncha eat yer bun?” The association of French pastry-making with torture and murder is easy to explain: doesn’t every bakery in Paris have a sign above the door that reads “PAIN”?

The film’s other top pre-code moment is Mack’s nude scene, semi-espied through a translucent screen, as naughty La Rue peeps over the top. This scene is suggestive enough to make a BluRay release mandatory, so we can see how much detail is visible. I can’t stress enough how cute Helen Mack is… Anyway, La Rue’s hardboiled girlfriend Fifi (Rita La Roy) soon comes in and bashes him over the head with a French loaf, cementing the connection between bread and violence.

McLaglan is like Ron Perlman in CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, a hulking single-motivation man-muscle, pummeling his way through life’s problems with two fists, two neurons and an undying love in his heart. When he’s simple, he’s terrific. There’s an awkward scene, however, when he parts from Mack, having decided not to identify himself as her long-lost dad. He pauses, thinks, frowns, wipes away a tear, sniffs, sighs, and does everything but hold up a signpost reading “EMOTIONAL”. McLaglan is like Wallace Beery in that his boorishness is quite believable and strangely appealing as such, but when he does schmaltz it has a queasy effect akin to watching a balrog make kissy-faces.

Interesting how in this movie all the young lovers (Mack and William Bakewell, who’s just the right side of sappy) want to do is escape Paris and go live on a farm. Seems counter-intuitive to me, somehow. Still, the portrait of civilisation is so relentlessly unsympathetic, the idea of surrounding oneself with a protective screen of livestock makes a kind of sense.

Despite Lubitsch’s assertion that Paramount Paris was more Parisian than the real thing, Fox Films Paris is my favourite, a grimy, rough-hewn, round-edged place of stone and shadow and fog, with the awesome feeling of a gutter as viewed by a microbe. Of course, the prime bug is Jack La Rue, his nose spread across his face as wide as his shit-eating grin. Dwan at first seems almost afraid of that face, as if he’s not too sure what it’ll do to his camera, but at the very end of Dwan’s second big scene he finally steels himself tracks in on it, as JLR puffs and exhales satanically on his Gauloise.