Archive for Fox

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.

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.

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