Archive for Frankenstein

The Sunday Intertitle: Lady and Goliath

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2022 by dcairns

1910 seems to be the year the intertitle starts to reign supreme. We get Griffith hitting the beginning of his long stride, the Edison FRANKENSTEIN, in which the intertitles tell you what’s about to happen (the first auto-spoiling movie), the first WIZARD OF OZ…

YouTube’s algorithms suck, so if you ask it for something simple like 1910 film” you get Buster Keaton and stuff, but in between the inappropriate offerings I found DAVID AND GOLIATH FROM THE HOLY SCRIPTURE, directed by “M. Andeani” and with stars from the Comedie Francaise, including Miss Berthe Bovy in drag as David, cuddling a pale blue sheep. The titles are in English and may have been added some time after production, for all I know.

The first shot of Goliath cracked me up, somehow. Is it because he’s green? The hand-tinting may have deteriorated a bit over the last 110 years, as who among us has not? But it gives the thing an animated postcard quality that’s endearing.

Little Berthe Versus the Un-Jolly Green Giant is only six and a half minutes long. You ought to watch it.

This one might have benefitted from some auto-spoiling titles, as scene one is a little hard to read — ambitiously, our director, Henri Andréani, introduces Miss David in the foreground, sheep in the midground (mostly pale blue but shading into green where they come too close to the green-hued leading lady — all that grass they’ve eaten, perhaps), and a couple of minor characters approaching in the far distance. Nice composition in depth. Then something or other materialises in the top of frame, David does something with his slingshot, and the weird flying pancake crashes to earth amid his flock, who don’t seem pleased. Only by replaying the sequence did I establish that the something is a giant hawk or eagle, stuffed and predatory, a close match to the inert brute from the hilarious RESCUED FROM AN EAGLE’S NEST (a great auto-spoiling title like A MAN ESCAPED, proving that spoilers needn’t spoil the drama).

I learned about D&G at school and have seen the film with Orson, but I don’t recall ever encountering the Star Trek-ish name Terebinths before. And the movie is disinclined to define the term.

The hand-tinting turns what seems to be a location into an uncanny-Valley-of-the-Terebinths stage set. I’m actually not sure if the hill horizon is a special effect. But enough of the hill is clearly real (people on it) and I doubt they’d construct something like that.

I never understood how the Philistines came to be known for their lack of aesthetic appreciation.

Enter Goliath. Sadly, the Comedie Francaise does not appear to have kept an actual giant on its books, so Goliath has to enter and stand in the foreground, though his Israelite escort are close enough to disprove any claim to a pituitary condition. A schoolteacher once tried to parse the Book of Genesis to us by saying that we don’t know exactly what the Bible meant by “days,” and so the creation of the world in seven days might still be true, even if it also took millions of years. This kind of thing might have a deleterious effect on education. But if we accept the premise, maybe a biblical giant can be anyone with a dramatic posture. I mean, we don’t know what the Bible means by “giant,” do we?

The single combat method of warfare, in which champions do battle, always seemed much more civilized than all-out war. No doubt today it would be televised and would be sickening, but think of the suffering, the resources, the nervous strain it would save. I can only assume the reason nations don’t agree to it is they can’t stand the idea of following rules. If your champion is defeated, why would you give in if you still have a standing army?

If you don’t have a really hulking Goliath, engaging a tiny David is probably your best plan, so the gender-blind casting makes sudden sense. Threats are exchanged, It’s very morally elevating stuff.

Monsieur Andreani is adhering to the one-scene-one-shot method that ruled cinema at the time, and so his battle royale is a little stiff. The lesson of the Bible story seems to be “Don’t bring a sword to a slingshot fight.” David could presumable have used a bow and arrow, a hand grenade or an Uzi — being a giant is actually a disadvantage when you’re fighting long range. You’re just a bigger target.

In this staging, the two opponents are only about six feet apart, mind you.

Fine overacting from the other Philistines when victory is won. A more suitable name for this tribe might be “Hysterics.”

Finally, a new shot — David enters triumphantly on horseback. A promotion, from shepherd(ess) to prince(ss). Fortunately all those skills are transferable. THE END — with a kind of trellis affair and a credit for Miss G. Jousset.

More fun –and shorter — than the Zecca-Nonguet LIFE AND PASSION OF CHRIST film.

Empty Movies, not moving

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2022 by dcairns

Apologies for the poor scanning.

I love photographs of empty sets. They exist to document the set for continuity purposes, but have an atmospheric value of their own.

Above is Henry Bumstead’s set for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, from the book claiming to be called Production Design & Art Direction Screencraft (a series with lots of great content but layout problems). Written by Peter Ettedgui.

The convincing milieu patiently awaits the expensive footsteps of Gregory Peck to give it animation. Some hope!

The next ones are from Setting the Scene: The Great Hollywood Art Directors by Robert S. Sennett.

Three images from CASABLANCA, designed by Carl Jules Weyl. The top image is a panorama produced by three perfectly matched photos. Whoever made up the clapperboard had evidently decided the film was to be called CASA BLANCA, and these chalky interiors seem to support his decision.

No Bogart, no Bergman, no Claude Rains, just temporary architecture straining its flats to will them into being.

The road to lepers’ valley in BEN HUR, a film designed by William A. Horning and Edward Carfagno.

The distant landscape is a Lilliput, the sky only a blue strip, like in a small child’s drawing.

What, no clapperboard? But this is very recognizably Charles D. Hall’s European village set from FRANKENSTEIN (and many subsequent Universal horror films). The Germanic slant of the rooftop summons characters misproportioned and mentally off-kilter.

Two from AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, designed by Preston Ames, showing the different levels of stylisation. On the right, an image that could be photojournalism on location in France, the extra standing in as mere set dressing; on the left, something that could only be MGM Paris, could only be brought to its true life by the entrance of Leslie Caron.

Fighting the Fire Dragon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2022 by dcairns

So, mainly what you need to know is — ORANGOPOID!

Now read on.

Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a unicorny monkey suit. Flash versus Crash! This whole wrestlemania spectacular, and the duel with Barin which preceded it, is the serial’s version of the later movie’s tilting spikey platform whip fight, and one realises how wise Lorenzo Semple Jr. was to keep earth in peril of destruction throughout — in the serial, Ming seems to have given up his evil plan and is just, I don’t know, living in the moment.

Flash, meanwhile, is dying in the moment. But it’s not really that big of a cliffhanger — cue the “To Be Continued” card while he’s getting gored, then start the next episode with him jumping back up on his feet and decking the hairy fellow, right? Let’s see if that’s what happens.

“Is there no way a man can conquer the sacred orangopoid?” asks Aura, possibly her best ever line. Some rando in a funny hat lets her in on the secret. This is a glorious cheat, since the conversation is spliced into the furry grappling already seen in last week’s installlment. Rewriting the past is a popular serial trick.

Learning that the pellet with the poison’d in the vestle with the pestle the white spot on the ‘rango’s throat is his Achille’s heel, Aura grabs a spear and hands it to Flash, who, without any instruction, ventilates his opponent’s heel throat. I guess the windpipe is a reasonable thing to aim at.

Ming is very annoyed. He entrusts the rando who spilled the secret with the job of learning who spilled the secret. The rando is in fact his high priest, who has been seen earlier now I think of it. I like that Ming is surrounded by traitors just waiting for their chance to screw him over.

Ray “Crash” Corrigan does some hilarious “death throes” acting, which the editor tries to salvage, only not hard enough. The little foot kicking in the air seems like the only point anyone in the show has tried to be funny. But maybe he thought he was being serious.

I haven’t studied the work of “Crash” but I have to say, he’s no Charlie Gemora.

Since Flash has won, Vultan frays the sleeves frees the slaves and Flash has the right to marry Dale. Ming is pissed, but Vultan scolds him, “You cannot ignore your own law.” What’s the point of being a dictator, then?

Thun leaves to rejoin his people (like Poochy). Dale gets a costume change. It’s very much like a happy ending, except that everyone’s invited to Ming’s palace, a fairly clear indication of a double-cross. Zarkov shows Dale and Flash the earth, seen through a wall safe with a lens on it, a beautiful cloudless grey globe. Zarkov is STILL trying to set up a comms link, not helped by the fact that he’s been relocated from one lab to another just as he was making a crackly breakthrough.

Meanwhile, at Griffith Observatory, Prof Gordon and his cronies speculate incoherently about the strange signals they’ve been unable to detect. Yes, that’s right — they know they’re out there, they think they may be intentional signals, but they can’t detect them.

I’m all excited about the dragon. Will it be an ill-treated iguana or a bloke in a rubber cossie? Or what? I have no memory of this.

Aura, the serial’s wild card, the only character besides Vultan and the high priest with any ambiguity (though Vultan is, I have to admit, a bad guy, it’s just that he’s also an opportunistic turncoat) seems determined to interfere with Flash & Dale’s marriage plans. Poor Aura! Looking for love in all the wrong places (the Tunnel of Terror, the Arena of Death…)

Spying on the young lovers, Aura is outraged to find the high priest spying on her. He outlines a complicated plan involving the fire monster from the tunnel of terror. Ah-hah, so it seems like this episode’s “fire dragon” is the same big-pincered beastie from The Tunnel of Terror (episode 2). Well, you have to get the most out of your kaiju costume.

I won’t give you the whole plan but it involves an amnesia pill, so I am totally there for it. It should be easy to sneak past the fire dragon because it’s after his bedtime, and he can only be awoken by the “sacred gong.” We’ve already had the “sacred orangapoid” this episode, there’s a lot of random holiness on Mongo I wonder if the high priest doesn’t just wander about anointing things on a whim.

I suppose, having speared the hallowed monkeyman, Larry “Buster” Crabbe is now officially an iconoclast, on top of his other talents (swimming, and, uh…) I always fanced that job. Travelling from church to church, smashing the relics. My own sledgehammer and all the cucumber sandwiches I can eat.

Tender scene of Flash and Barin in the boudoir. Barin joshes Flash: “Nervous about choosing a bride?” “Oh, the choice will be easy,” muses Flash. “It’s just that I don’t trust Emperor Ming.” Don’t marry him, then! At least get a pre-nup.

Aura sends a flunky with the doped wine, falsely claiming it as a gift from Vultan. “Sure wish Vultan was head man around here,” says Flash, forgetting that Vultan enslaved him, tortured him, re-enslaved him, and tried to seduce his girl using a stripey bear, shadow-puppetry, expensive jewels and his second-best turkey leg. Also, it’s probably an insensitive thing to say to Barin, who might fancy the top job himself. One of the great innovations of the Mike Hodges movie is to make Flash a big idiot, but the groundwork had clearly been done.

Knocked cold by his roofied plonk, Flash is carried out on a litter while some Franz Waxman plays on a loop — not only sets and props but also music from Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN films get repurposed. I always found the musical connection exciting as a kid, but I never seem to have noticed the sets.

Everyone is perturbed to find Flash missing, but Vultan immediately discovers a scarf dropped by Aura. I wish there were a whole series entitled KING VULTAN INVESTIGATES in which the flightless monarch solves crimes in the mean streets of New York City using deductive reasoning and shadow-puppetry.

Prince Barin plays bad worse cop, strangling the flunky to get info. “Speak, man! Through the Tunnel of Terror?” Urk. Choke. Kaff. Strangling has been an efficient tool for Flash, but it has its limits as an interrogation technique, and clunking the guy’s helmet head against the set wall (for real) may also be ill-advised. But hey, it works!

At around 16:05 you can enjoy Jean Rogers (Dale) and Frank Shannon (Zarkov) getting their cues muddled up and talking over one another, thereby inventing overlapping dialogue ahead of Howard Hawks. A retake was considered too ambitious.

“Are you sure the fire dragon will not molest us?” Aura asks the high priest, who is standing suspiciously close to the sacred gong. Five seconds after Aura and her litter-bearers have lugged Flash into the dragon’s den, he bashes the sacred dinner gong and INSTANTLY the rubber-suited leviathan is awake and on its outsized feet, ready for his Banana Splits audition. Drooper, Snorky, Fleagle, Bingo and… Gocko!

Apparently the creature has a name, never spoken in the serial but established by Alex Raymond: Gocko. First cousin to Gorgo. Ambitiously, the effects team have rigged it up to breath fire, resulting in the poor occupant setting his own costume ablaze. Fortunately it’s just the weird bifurcated dangly horn/feeler sprouting from his latex brow. Definitely a design flaw. I hope the guy’s getting danger money.

Good use of forced perspective to make Gocko look huge. And then it’s —