Archive for Frank Capra

Capra Con

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2020 by dcairns

After years of intending to see LADY FOR A DAY, I finally watched POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, the generally-judged-inferior remake by the same director, Frank Capra. I will get around to the original, I promise!Angelo Rossitto, top left. You don’t often see him there.

Maybe I ought to have a Capra week so I can mop up late stuff like A HOLE IN THE HEAD and early stuff like the silents and then DIRIGIBLE and FLIGHT and then BROADWAY BILL which I turned off in disgust when Warner Baxter hit Clarence Muse? I find I have to be careful with Capra — up to a certain point, I find his work admirable, incredibly skilled, then I can sour on him because of his undoubted excesses or bum notes, and then I can reach the point where I’m no longer able to appreciate the brilliance because the less pleasant qualities are shining too luminously. This may be what happened to his biographer, Joseph McBride, who wrote an excellent book which does not make you think more highly of its subject.Pros and cons. Pros:

  1. Lots of terrific character actors and comics, from Peter Falk, who brings the pre-code energy Ford tends to lack, to Edward Everett Horton, still magnificent, all the way down to little Angelo Rossitto. Arthur O’Connell plays a Spanish count, which seems bizarre on the face of it but he’s excellent in the role. Fernando Rey wouldn’t have been any better. And nice to see Thomas Mitchell again.
  2. Bette Davis is good, though the story, which has been inflated from the original, allows her to drop out of sight for what feels like hours at a time.
  3. Hope Lange is terrific.
  4. “Introducing Ann-Margret.” Charmed, I’m sure. It’s a nothing role, but she had to get introduced somewheres, hadn’t she?
  5. It looks really nice. The backlot throngs and feels alive. Randy Cook advised me to see this, pointing out how different it is from contemporaneous George Roy Hill period yarns that always look stark, clean and underpopulated. Museumlike.

Cons:

  1. Bette is unable to wring tears from this material, maybe because she’s too strong? But Hope Lange steps in and manages it. Remember Capra’s uncharacteristically modest late-in-life observation, “I made a mistake about tragedy. I thought tragedy is when the actors cry. It isn’t. Tragedy is when the audience cries.” Oddly enough, he’s right in general but wrong about himself: Capra’s most teary scenes always have the audience joining the actors — but often it’s the tears of joy, as at the unendurably effective climax of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
  2. They’ve added what feels like half an hour onto the start of the story. It’s all good stuff, but it stretches a sentimental farce out to 136 minutes. That’s obviously too long. There’s a point where the plot kicks in and I thought, “I bet that’s the opening scene of LADY FOR A DAY.”
  3. Glenn Ford, who was apparently such a dick as co-producer that Capra henceforth retired from features, is an effective lead, though with Ford I can see the talent but I usually wish I were watching someone else. Except in GILDA, where I think it kind of helps if you don’t much like Ford. You watch it rooting for Rita without knowing why. Anyway, Sinatra would have been better here.

Bette’s street person makeup is both good and bad. They’ve gone wild with the stippling, but it makes for an extreme effect that wins points for boldness. She’s once again wearing the big caterpillar eyebrows she sported in NOW VOYAGER. Fiona pointed out that older women LOSE their eyebrows. But I guess Bette is going for unkempt rather than aged.

For all the flaws, it’s not embarrassing, and it’s nice to see Capra going out with something large-scale, worthy of his skill in organizing group babble and spectacle. A shame he didn’t enjoy the experience more, but at least he wasn’t cut down to tiny, cheap stuff.

POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES stars Jubal Troop; Baby Jane Hudson; Mrs. Carolyn Muir; Parnell Emmett McCarthy; Columbo; Uncle Billy; Mr. Witherspoon; Hunk Houghton; Rip MacCool; Nick the barman; Ali Baba; Lady Booby; Lt. of Detectives Dundy; Carson Drew; Miles Archer; Xandros the Greek Slave; Grandma Walton; Lord Byron; Abe Vogel; Charlie Max; Sgt. Monk Menkowicz; Hannibal Hoops; Peter Pan; Mona Plash; Mrs. Laurel; BJ Pratt – Bill Collector; Arigeleno; and Cueball.

 

 

Only One Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , on January 21, 2019 by dcairns

 

In every joke there is an element of truth. But not this time.

Einstein By Matchlight

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 21, 2018 by dcairns

You can’t light a scene with a matchstick. The match will convincingly light itself — that is, the flame will photograph as a bright flare. But the light won’t carry any real distance, won’t give much appreciable light on anything else, except for the brief moment when it is struck: numerous films noir have made dramatic moments out of a cigar being lit.

We’re talking 35mm here, but I think even on digital you’d be struggling to get an image like this. Peter Lorre, as “Dr. Einstein,” descending staircase in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. Frank Capra is minus his usual camera genius, since he’s now at Warners, where a hard-edged but glossy style prevails. Sol Polito lensed this shot.

In some movies, fake candles have been fitted with fluorescent tubes, shining from one side to give off a glow from roughly the right direction. A cable typically runs down the actor’s sleeve to a power source somewhere. There’s no room for such a contraption inside a matchstick, but Lorre MIGHT have a light in his palm. He might even have a glove to protect him from the heat.

This frame gives away part of the trick. Look at Dr. Einstein’s shadow on the wall on the right. Obviously the match could not cast the shadow of his arm in that direction. So a much more powerful lamp is being trained on Lorre’s face from the lower left, a tight spotlight following him down, trying its best not to hit the back of his hand. They might even have painted the back of his hand black to help the illusion.

Since Lorre turns two corners, it’s possible that more than one lamp was used, in relays, fading up and down to give the impression of a single, continuous roving light, but no trace of this trick is apparent. In some of Freddie Francis’s horror films you’ll see similar tricks, and he didn’t always have time to make it perfect. You FEEL the action of the dimmer-switches.

NO WAY could a match be lighting Raymond Massey, lurking behind Lorre (he does a lot of lurking in the picture).

And it certainly seems like Lorre has something in his hand that’s lighting his jacket and face — but one could still believe it was the match if one didn’t know better.

That’s good stuff. The public doesn’t really think about the cinematographer’s job being, besides making attractive and dramatic shots, the simulating of light sources.