Archive for Fox

For the woman, the kiss! For the man, the sword!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2017 by dcairns

THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI is a very odd affair. It’s a Gregory La Cava pre-code, or thereabouts (1934, so on the cusp). The opening titles give us the sense it’s going to be a rip-roaring historical melodrama, but it’s much stranger than that — it’s a broad farce whose main jokes are about torture, murder and mutilation or the threat thereof. It stars two actors who worked well for La Cava in more conducive material, arch-ditherer Frank Morgan (THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH) and Constance Bennett (BED OF ROSES) plus a third, Fredric March, who one doesn’t associate with this sort of material at all. Wait, WHAT sort of material? The murder, torture and mutilation farce genre?

It’s a Fox picture, under Zanuck, and it makes sense to consider it as a similar kind of thing to that indefensible, stomach-turning “romp” THE BOWERY, only projected further back into the past. Portraying terrible historical events “light-heartedly” — with no moral attitude whatsoever, no matter how ghastly things get. As when Morgan, wooing artist’s model Fay Wray, tells her not to worry about the servants overhearing as he’s had them all deafened so he can enjoy privacy and service at the same time.

La Cava certainly had a dark sense of humour and willingness to disquieten his audience — the horrible ending of THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH proves that (Lee Tracy slowly makes a fist at a terrified Lupe Velez as the Wedding March plays us out). But Zanuck may be more relevant here, his output at Warners having shown a similarly carnivalesque attitude to social horrors. We can attribute the rambunctious tone of THE BOWERY to director Raoul Walsh (“Walsh’s idea of light comedy is to burn down a whorehouse”) but Zanuck oversaw that one too (and Fay Wray was in both, come to think of it).

Jessie Ralph (DOUBLE WEDDING) plays Wray’s mother, mocked for having whiskers. Louis “the walking fontanelle” Calhern looks suave and saturnine in whiskers of his own. The only sense of the Code coming into effect, amid all the talk of men having hot eggs placed in their armpits, is that nobody ever actually gets laid, not even during the darkened lull betwixt fade-out and fade-in: March and Morgan both chase Wray, Bennett chases March, nobody is sympathetic and there’s no reason to care. But Morgan gets laughs just by breaking off his sentences, and it’s amusing to see Fay play dumb (and brunette!).

Also: ugly at heart, it’s bee-yoo-tee-ful on the surface.

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Putting Pants on Raoul

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2014 by dcairns

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Enjoying very much Raoul Walsh’s autobio, Each Man In His Time. The accounts of Walsh’s early days as a sailor, cowboy and assistant to a doctor and an undertaker in Utah are extremely diverting, full of rowdiness and black comedy just like a Walsh film. How truthful they are is hard to assess, but a clue may be found in the account of the making of REGENERATION, Fox Pictures’ gangster epic which Walsh directed, the first gangster feature film (possibly).

Walsh has fun recounting the filming of the ferry fire sequence, for which a ragged army of volunteers were rounded up at the docks: their role, to leap into the water from the deck of the ferry. Walsh says he hired a couple of ruffians to ensure that everybody evacuated as planned — headfirst if necessary. The men did their job so well they even chucked the Fox moneyman overboard, pay-satchel and all, causing Walsh to fear for his neck if the cash were lost and he had nothing to pay his unruly and sodden background artists at day’s end.

This all happens in a chapter entitled The Censor Will Hang Us, and the reason for that title is soon supplied. When the rushes are viewed, it became apparent that numerous of the ladies leaping into the drink were without underwear. Walsh claims that the shots were too intricate to simply trim out the offending frames, and in desperation he rushed the footage to a specialist “negative doctor,” who told him at once that the job was impossible.

“‘Nothing’s impossible,’ I barked at him, ‘Do you remember the time Dolly Larkin ripped her blouse and her tits fell out? You fixed that one.'”

Walsh reports that after working all night, the visual effects artist successfully superimposed undergarments on all the bottomless leapers, ‘except some of the women looked as though they were wearing diapers.’

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This story struck me as unlikely, though I recalled learning from The RKO Story that traveling mattes were employed to conceal some of Jane Russell’s cleavage in THE OUTLAW after the censor objected. But a cursory glance at REGENERATION shows that the extreme long shots of leaping ladies show no billowing skirts, no nudity and no underpants, superimposed, hand-painted or otherwise. I expect probably there was some troublesome footage, and I expect it was simply deleted. Walsh the storyteller couldn’t leave it at that, and how many people were going to see a copy of REGENERATION and catch him confabulating?

vlcsnap-2014-06-11-10h21m44s12My second below-the-belt piece in as many days. What’s that all about?

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.