Archive for Gerd Oswald

Time Travails

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2020 by dcairns

Chris Schneider returns, with a look at a particularly evocative episode of The Outer Limits.

There’s talk in “The Forms of Things Unknown,” a gorgeous and atmospheric OUTER LIMITS episode which has stuck with me through the years, of overlapping strands of time, of the past intermingling with the present. Which is appropriate, since “Forms” itself is filled with overlapping imagery from different familiar stories.

First “Forms” reminds us of LES DIABOLIQUES, since we’re shown two women (Vera Miles, Barbara Rush) plotting to kill a demonic man (Scott Marlowe). Then, what with the corpse stuffed in a car, it’s PSYCHO — a resemblance accented by the involvement of PSYCHO’s Joseph Stefano as writer. Then, since there’s talk of parallel time tracks accompanied by the sight of Miles looking beauteously vicious, it’s that TWILIGHT ZONE episode with scary Miles entitled “Mirror Image.” Finally, once Miles and Rush have taken shelter from the rain in the rural home of blind Sir Cedric Hardwicke and odd young David McCallum, it’s COLD COMFORT FARM-style tales of “I saw something *nasty* in the attic room!”

Stefano, as we say, wrote it. The director is Gerd Oswald of A KISS BEFORE DYING. The first-rate cinematography is by Conrad Hall — including one of the earliest (1964) examples to come to mind of a freeze-frame in commercial tv storytelling. An additional bonus is the first use by composer Dominic Frontiere of his famous theme for THE INVADERS (“Dah-dah DAAHH!”).

“Forms” has, as one 1930s character once phrased it, “stacks of style” — even though that might mean more atmosphere than, um, clarity. It functions as an “old dark house” story, with distraught Rush seeing flashes of seemingly-dead Marlowe and the possibility left open that this is a product of her hysteria. The uncertainty of it all extends to Hardwicke and McCallum. Hardwicke appears to be the enigmatic butler for McCallum, but it’s Hardwicke who’s the host and McCallum the guest.

To the extent that there’s a coherent plot, it’s this: once upon a time McCallum, while working on his odd clocks-and-strings time-travel device, accidentally killed himself, but … something in the device *worked*, and he was revived. At present, his device has revived Marlowe, but the conclusion is reached that Marlowe is thoroughly objectionable— and Something Must Be Done. We learn, as an afternote, that McCallum began this fiddling with mortality as a child when his mother died and he determined not to return to school until he found a way of bringing her back.

Lots of atmosphere here, be it repeated. The initial murder, which involves Miles and Rush wading fully-dressed in a lagoon — ah, the pervy game-playing! —in order to bring Marlowe his (poisoned) drink looks like it takes place in a debauched Eden. There’s a lot of hypnotized staring, later on, at the mechanical figure of a tightrope walker, accompanied by a Frontiere waltz. And did we mention the WILD STRAWBERRIES-style funeral apparition?

Vera Miles is always more appealing being “evil” than when she’s earnest, and she’s wonderful here. Hardwicke, who’s unsettling, comes within a hair’s-breadth of the camp of Noel Coward in BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING. Rush is ever shrieking and holding up her hands, while running, as if to avoid ruining her nails. Surely some of the comedy of this not-so-young (infantalized?) ingenue and her voluptuous distress is deliberate. Marlowe laughs and looks good semi-undressed. McCallum has a wide-eyed, slightly inbred quality which is not mad and not *not* mad.

The style of “The Forms of Things Unseen” is definitely mid-‘60s — camera zooms included — but style there is, and plenty of it. To be cherished, for the most part.

My urge was to cherish, certainly, the moment I heard Miles mutter “Nobody ever helps a grave-digger …”

*

The cast, as David Cairns would say, includes Lila Crane; Jehan Frollo; Vito Pellegrino; Joyce Phillips; and Ducky.

Wagner’s Wrong Cycle

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2019 by dcairns

“Stand there, Bob. No, elbow up a bit. Turn your head a fraction…”

Hollywood started going weirdly wrong in the fifties, I think. Competing with TV, which in those days had really great scripts and acting but looked essentially like Mr. Magoo’s Dream of Hell, Hollywood countered with some terrible scripts and elevated a lot of attractive non-actors to leading roles.

A KISS BEFORE DYING isn’t an appalling piece of writing, but the need to render the central literary trick of Ira Levin’s source novel in cinematic terms robs it of most of its bite, and the dentition is further eroded by the casting of bores and incompetents in the leads, with one more skilled player so miscast her abilities wrench the whole thing in the wrong direction. True, the casting of Robert Wagner as a killer of women is… suggestive. Titillating, even, in a deeply wrong way. And it’s true that Wagner’s blandness shows some sign of becoming a positive dramatic force — he IS the banality of evil — in this unfamiliar context. Mark Cousins recently introduced me to RW’s early appearance in WITH A SONG IN MY HEART, where he plays a traumatised veteran, and the contrast of his catalogue model beauty with the “troubled” label is as close to “electrifying” as one could ever speak of in relation to this player, who always seems smothered in insulation.

And that’s still the case in AKBD. If one reads about the life and death of Natalie Wood, RW emerges as someone with a definite dark side, even if you don’t think he’s guilty of or hiding anything beyond rowing with his wife and being a bit inept at calling in an emergency (I would say he might well be guilty of more than that, though the term “person of interest” never sat more uncomfortably on the shoulders of a movie star). But as the would-be serial unmarried young Bluebeard here, Wagner invests no malevolence, no cunning, no manipulation in the role, he just doubles down on his native blandness. (One exception: the character’s nastiness to his dear mother, played by a rare Technicolor Mary Astor, makes you want to stab him.)Uh-oh.

OK, so that could actually work, even if it’s a side-effect of somebody’s casting error rather than an inspired choice (and you just can’t tell with Wagner) but who do we have as the good guys? Uh oh.

Jeffrey Hunter is the studious young man who tries to thwart Wagner’s proto-uxoricide (is there a word for killing your betrothed? Anyone writing about this story needs such a word). Hunter, unlike Wagner, is a man who shows clear signs of wanting to act, so he dons glasses and clenches a pipe between his pearly whites I refer to his teeth, not his butt cheeks, as you might suppose)… and that’s it for performance. Can you wonder that, despite yielding to no man in my admiration for Nick Ray, I have never made it through THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES, or if I have, I can’t remember it? What stops me making another attempt on that Everest of tedium is that I might be wasting my time, having already accomplished the feat only to have it slip from my memory like an unusually dull bar of soap. That one also has both Wagner and Hunter as leads — the Dream Team! In that you actually fall asleep watching them.Then we have Virginia Leith, evidently also being groomed for stardom — thrust upon the blameless public. She’s really, um, “good” in THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, in that she invests lines like “No, my deformed friend, like all quantities, horror has it’s ultimate, and I am that,” with exactly what they seem to demand, whatever that is. Here, she’s lost, just uninterestingly terrible, and the script loses focus whenever she’s around, since it wants us to be on her side as she investigates her sister’s death, and still on her side when she refuses, against all reason, to believe in Wager’s guilt. Very hard for an actor to put over, and completely impossible for poor Virginia, who is very attractive I must say.

Joanna Woodward is the miscast one, the only lead who can act: she’s studied her part and deduced that the character written as a doting nitwit must be played as such, an unavoidable conclusion for a method actor but the wrong choice for this hokum. (Look at Mia Farrow’s far more sympathetic, less distanced performance in ROSEMARY’S BABY, from another Levin book about a deceived and betrayed woman.) If they’d only swapped Leith and Woodward around, I think you’d have something: Leith’s lack of experience/skill would allow her to play dim naturally, without knowing she was doing it, and maintain our sympathy without trying, and Woodward could invest her shrewdness in playing the wilful, sharp (some of the time) and passionate heroine.

Astor is good but there isn’t enough of her. Dear old George Macready is acting for five, and it’s not like I don’t appreciate the effort but maybe not now, George?

Gerd Oswald directs, his camera leering-looming-lurching in for dramatic close-ups, unsubtle but certainly appropriate, and the whole production gleams dumbly. I love Technicolor, part 2.

There is a love song, “A Kiss Before Dying,” playing on every juke box in this movie, and nobody says “What a weird idea for a song!”

Oh, and the credits have kissy lipsticks all over them, which is particularly curious with Wagner and Hunter being top-billed.

A KISS BEFORE DYING stars Prince Valiant; Jan in the Pan; Teenage Jesus; Clara Varner; Miss Wonderly;  Count Yorga, vampire; and General Mireau.

A Great Dame with a Great Dane

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on November 3, 2016 by dcairns

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I didn’t want to follow my Forgotten on THE BURGLAR with one on SCREAMING MIMI. but I hadn’t watched anything else suitable, so SCREAMING MIMI is proved to be. And an interesting object to talk about, at that. Anita Ekberg stars, Gerd Oswald directs.

Here.