Archive for Fox

Crazy at Fox

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 23, 2013 by dcairns

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John Ford’s 1927 Fox comedy UPSTREAM starts off in a theatrical rooming house — and stays there for half its running time. The scenario allows Ford to have fun with stereotyped theatre types, and a little fun with space, too.

The movie has that early Fox look, all smoky and grimy yet luminous, to which Time has added a loving filigree of nitrate decomposition, dancing away at the edge of frame like the fingerprints of a jellyfish.

In this dinner scene, the whole cast is gathered around a table — we see that the landlady is at the head of the table and  her lodgers are arrayed along both sides. News comes that an important booking agent has arrived at the front door, and each struggling ham briefly imagines that the call is for him or her. And here Ford does something very strange.

Tracking laterally along the table, he captures the reverie of each of his cast — in a single, straight line.

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The weird thing about that is that it’s impossible, since we’ve already seen that half the actors are at one side of the table, half at the other. But since Ford wanted an unbroken, linear track, he’s brought in a table twice as long as the one in the establishing shot and sat everybody along one side, like in The Last Supper.

Oddly, this abandonment of elementary continuity isn’t off-putting. I doubt if everybody even notices it, so compelling is Ford’s tracking shot (a bit like the starry crab dolly along the canteen tables in SHOW PEOPLE). The idea is consistent with the German expressionist approach at Fox. Edgar Ulmer claimed that the expressionists would build a new set for every camera angle, to get their compositions to work out just the way they’d drawn them. In Frank Borzage’s masterpiece SEVENTH HEAVEN, how many viewers have any problem with the glaring fact that the garret where Janet Gaynor lives is apparently reached by two completely different stairwells, one that’s angular, for the crane shot, and one that’s spiral for the overhead angle?

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This kind of vigorous warping of the physical universe was continued by Hitchcock in SHADOW OF A DOUBT, when he had different shapes and sizes of dinner tables used to allow him to group his actors as tightly or loosely as the compositions required. One table was egg-shaped, so that the cast could be clustered at the sharp end and all appear in a shot representing the mother’s POV. But that isn’t near as bold as the Fox examples — you aren’t meant to notice it, and you don’t.

I would like to see more of this kind of creative craziness.

Get Off The Earth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 16, 2012 by dcairns

From arch-Shadowplayer Mark Medin, this poster for a Raymond Griffith comedy that never got made — I think the coming of sound stymied it, since Griffith famously had damaged vocal cords and couldn’t speak above a whisper. In any case, it looks like a gigantic project ~

The sensational comedy novelty of

1926, from “The Ship That Sailed

to Mars” by W.M. Timlin.

THE high-hat comedian absolutely tops every-

thing he has ever done in his life before in this

startling surprise offering! Hurrying down Fifth

Avenue, New York, to his wedding, Raymond sud-

denly spins right off the earth up into a dizzy but

delightful paradise of beautiful damsels, mon-

strous-sized animals and more fun than twenty

normal worlds like ours! Of course Raymond

comes back to earth and marries the girl but — ?

Clarence Badger directed PATHS TO PARADISE which, though sadly incomplete, is perhaps the best surviving R.G. comedy. I recommend it. And if you should find yourself in a parallel universe where GET OFF THE EARTH was made (perhaps with FX by Willis O’Brien, but more likely using the animatronic dinosaur approach put together by William Cameron Menzies and his team for Howard Hawks’ FIG LEAVES), please check it out and report back to me.

Poster was originally uploaded by Bruce Calvert, to whom thanks are due.

The Sunday Intertitle: That’s the ticket!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on November 27, 2011 by dcairns

Bwahahaha! Is that a title card or is that a title card?

The anonymous image derives from Raoul Walsh’s THE YELLOW TICKET, a Tsarist Russian romantic epic which derives a chunk of its plot and a smaller chunk of its actual footage from THE RED DANCE, an earlier Fox super-production also helmed by Walsh. While that movie had something of a plague-on-both-your-houses approach to both Tsarist and Red tendencies, the 1931 re-imagining takes place in the run-up to WWI and so avoids offering any opinion on Bolshevism — except in so far as it portrays the Tsar’s state as unutterably corrupt.

Elissa Landi plays a Jewish schoolteacher forced to apply for a prostitute’s license just so she can travel to visit her father, sick in prison. Arriving too late, she finds that the titular ticket becomes an inescapable brand of shame — at least until dashing newspaperman Laurence Olivier arrives on the scene.

A quasi-sadeian melodrama of unfortunate innocence  ensues, with Landi torn between Olivier and the oleaginous advances of Lionel Barrymore, a police official who intends to use every trick in his moustache-twirling book of forcible seduction to have her (and at times it does seem, doesn’t it, as if these villains are all following the same set of instructions…) Barrymore’s most endearing trait is his cabinet full of weapons, souvenirs from the many unsuccessful assassination attempts he’s survived. But he should never have shown Landi the cabinet…

Pre-code content — full-on tit-and-bum nudity in the woman’s prison, albeit in extreme longshot (recalling FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE, I wonder if there was an unofficial ruling on how close a camera could get to the undraped female form). Incessant lechery (Sternberg scribe Jules Furthman had a hand in the script). Implied virginity imperilled (a medical report demonstrates that Landi “has never practiced her profession”).

Landi, best known for SIGN OF THE CROSS, is excellent, and seems to exert a calming effect on the two mighty hams sandwiching her on each side — Larry is wonderfully relaxed and charming, with a certain vulpine edge kept just beneath the surface, while Lionel cloaks his villainy in a weirdly dithering manner, like an evil Frank Morgan: “You don’t smoke, you don’t drink, and you don’t — ah — eh — uh…”

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