Archive for George Pal

Gold off Naples

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2021 by dcairns

In DR STRANGELOVE, Peter Sellers is getting at least some of his vocal inflections from Kubrick when he plays Merkin Muffley, and in TOM THUMB he’s doing George Pal. The third in the trinity of directorial impersonations is AFTER THE FOX, where he reportedly patterned his performance as Italian master criminal Aldo “the Fox” Vanucci on Vittorio De Sica, who he’d already acted alongside in THE MILLIONAIRESS.

It makes sense, when cast as an Italian, to have an actual Italian as model, especially if that Italian is going to be close at hand. And especially since your character masquerades as a great Italian film director. But the movie’s self-referencing doesn’t end there. Vanucci plans to smuggle stolen gold into Italy under cover of a fake film shoot — a film about smuggling gold into Italy — so he enlists real movie star Victor Mature, playing fictional movie star Tony Powell (but with a clip of Mature in Jacques Tourneur’s EASY LIVING to illustrate his career). Mature, who had been semi-retired from the screen, evidently found the experience as invigorating as his character does. It’s quite an early case of an actor sending themselves up with vicious glee, and Mature is not only a good sport but a proficient farceur.

Oh, the title of the fake movie (below) is a broad reference to an earlier, real De Sica film.

And here’s De Sica as himself, directing a movie. Rather excellent gag where a fake sandstorm is produced for the scene, and when the storm dies down, all the equipment has been stolen. This fake movie the real director is making stars another real director, John Huston, but confusingly/hilariously, he’s not played by John Huston. Maybe they’d assumed that Huston, like De Sica a serious gambler, would need the money and agree to play himself playing Moses. Bizarrely, he eventually did play a different Lawgiver in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.

And is it a reference to Italian movie dubbing when Akim Tamiroff (whose presence in caper movies seemed to be de rigeur — OCEAN’S ELEVEN, TOPKAPI) is lip-synched by Maria Grazia Buccella? It’s quite funny, anyway.

Neil Simon, who scripted, reckoned that the film was only fair, and that there was more funny stuff on a cutting room floor in Rome somewhere (including Sellers disguised as a Beatle). But, going into it with low expectations — I’d seen it once, years ago, and hadn’t laughed much, and we watched the other De Sica-Sellers collaboration, WOMAN TIMES SEVEN, and didn’t laugh at all — we actually found it very enjoyable indeed. It doesn’t really have a second act, just a bunch of stuff, but it has one of the best closing lines in history.

OK, maybe not top ten best end lines, but top hundred. I like it because it destroys the reality of what we’ve been watching, it FORCES THE FILM TO STOP.

AFTER THE FOX stars Pearly Gates; Samson; Goodnight; Det. Milton Arbogast; ‘Uncle’ Joe Grandi; Pope Alexander III; Nero Wolfe; Lucrezia Borgia; Professor Henry Harrington; Kreacher; Baron Fabrizio Donati; Sgt. ‘Muscles’ Dunn; Capannelle; and Fran Garland (archive footage).

Dynamation Emotion

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2021 by dcairns

Yesterday was spent, much of it, at the Scottish Museum of Modern Art, strolling through the extensive Ray Harryhausen, Titan of Animation exhibition. Which was basically heaven. Of course I’m going to criticise it a but because I’m an ingrate, but —

The silhouettes are animated. A really nice effect.

I’d seen a few of Harryhausen’s models in the flesh (or fur and steel and latex) at various times. Once, at the late, lamented Lumiere Cinema at the Scottish National Museum, there was the magical moment when he produced a skeleton, complete with miniature travel coffin, and within an instant every child in the auditorium teleported down to the edge of the stage to get closer to it, each perhaps imagining that Ray would hand over the precious figurine for them to play with, or perhaps make a very short movie with.

And Berlin’s fantastic film museum had several of the creatures on display (we don’t call them monsters).

But this was much more extensive and just better. The addition of drawings and home movies elevated it.

I really wanted to see the planned WAR OF THE WORLDS. The tiny bit of test footage is mouth-watering. I suppose we’d have to trade it off — George Pal’s beautifully-mounted version couldn’t exist in the same version as Ray’s — but we’d have tripods and tentacled Martians and, I submit, it would be worth it.

The exhibition features several specially-made bits of animation which show sketches coming to life, and so on, and this is nice, but it really needed more video. I think galleries generally are not very good at dealing with film. I remember a Saul Bass exhibition in London which presented pan-and-scanned versions of all the widescreen title sequences, on tiny little screens.

Today, pan-and-scan is happily dead, but we have the opposite problem. So here’s a clip from KING KONG in 16:9 (and of course it’s the Empire State sequence, the most vertical thing in the film). That wasn’t a very promising start.

The Harryhausen films are much better presented, WHEN they’re presented. There just wasn’t enough — it was up to me, every room would have a screen showing reasonably long clips of each of the creatures represented by drawings or armatures or full figures in that room. Because when you see the Medusa, it’s absolutely wonderful but you want to see her MOVE too.

The solution, of course, was to dash home and watch one of the movies, which we did.

Maybe the Gallery had a philosophical question it never quite resolved about this exhibition. As a sketch artist, Harryhausen wasn’t good enough to merit a show in anybody’s national gallery, even though his drawings are delightful. But the sketches were a means to an end, and they were absolutely good enough to get him there. The puppets or figures or whatever you want to call them are marvelous, but they’re not intended to be consumed the same way as stationary statues. Again, they’re a means to an end.

Mighty Joe and friend.

The end, of course, is the film. And the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art doesn’t really do film. What the exhibition doesn’t QUITE do fully — even though it helpfully explains and illustrates stop motion animation and rear screen projection and glass paintings — is show the sequences alongside the ephemera (we get Ray’s copy of his chum Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and revealing behind-the-scenes photos, and so on) and the drawings and the models so that the REAL art — the art of animation, literally imbuing with life, is foremost in the spectator’s mind.

But this is high-flown quibbling. The exhibition is a carnival of wonders and we were very, very lucky to get to see it.

Vermithrax Laudative

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2020 by dcairns

DRAGONSLAYER is pretty good, should appeal to the Game of Thrones/LORD OF THE RINGS people. It’s better than bloody WILLOW or LADYHAWK. It’s interesting to me for the influences it displays, too.

Setting aside the very satisfying priest-frying, which stems from George Pal’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, there’s the death of a major character early on, falling out of close-up, then completing his tumble via stand-in) with a match cut that takes us into slomo — clearly a nifty SEVEN SAMURAI swipe. Matthew Robbins, like George Lucas, has learned his Kurosawa lessons well.

But let’s look at the main plot, which forms part of a strange, twisted trichobezoar of influences. Young Galen, the sorcerer’s apprentice, takes his slain master’s place, fraudulently presenting himself as the old man’s equal. He seems to score a success against the besieging dragon, but screws up and makes everything much worse. Then it’s up to him to make things right again. (Since he’s a white male and the hero, he repeatedly gets another chance, and another…)

An incredibly influential film, though you might not think it, is THE THREE AMIGOS, and not just for the title’s role in the Donald Trump impeachment trial. The movie is a comedy spin on THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which is itself a remake of Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI (this gets more complicated). 3 AMIGOS has three movie stars being mistaken for real heroes by the people of a beseiged Mexican village, and hired to fight off bandits. They screw up, because they’re Hollywood phonies, as Chevy Chase might say, and then they have to put things right…

The guy in the right has been in more Polanski films than anyone

Is it possible that the earlier DRAGONSLAYER (not a hit) influenced THE THREE AMIGOS, perhaps by way of the shared Kurosawa influence? What about GALAXY QUEST, which is EXACTLY the same plot as THE THREE AMIGOS? What about A BUG’S LIFE, which is the same again? MYSTERY MEN is kind of similar too.

Fiona points out that DRAGONSLAYER has very strong female characters, by the way: the virgin who’s been disguised as a boy for her own protection is another SEVEN SAMURAI trope; the spunky princess meets a fate that probably cost the movie the STAR WARS crowd; and the dragon itself lives in a cave entered by a vaginal slit in the cliff face, and has a nest of eggs. Vermithrax Pejorative is a lady dragon. And a really good design! Not just her look, but her way of moving — she crawls like a bat.

A shame the climax is all matte lines, and nobody really being where they’re supposed to be. Thinking about it afterwards, I realized the deeper problem — apart from the sequence just not being exciting — is that it’s all about the execution of a perfect plan, in which the dragon is doomed and the hero once again doesn’t get to be heroic. Most of the time in this movie, its refusal to do the normal pseudo-mythic thing (real myths are much weirder than the Joseph Campbell/George Lucas versions) is thrilling, whereas here it’s flat.

But the political cynicism of the coda is pretty bracing.

DRAGONSLAYER stars Renfield; Simone; Supreme Being; Luro; Lord Halifax; Rory Poke; Diddler; Sarah Churchill; and Emperor Palpatine.