Archive for Gloria Grahame

The Big Dead One

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-04-16-22h39m31s229

I’d seen bits of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (1956) on Film4 and it looked like a snooze, but the Anne Billson said she liked it so I investigated.

Ronald Neame was never what you’d call an exciting director, but he was always an affable one. Having made his Significant Contribution to cinema in his collaborations with David Lean, he settled into Lightly Likable for most of his career, apart from a few bloated floaters at the end.

And talk of floaters brings us to this movie, in which British intelligence plants a corpse at sea carrying faked documents to fool the Nazis into expecting an attack from the wrong direction. It’s unlikely stuff, and largely true — I’m now reading Ben MacIntyre’s enjoyable Operation Mincemeat, which details exploits of the various eccentrics who put this plan together, a plan for which the word “cockamamie” might have been invented, assuming that word ever was invented.

Here’s MacIntyre’s character study of coroner and co-conspirator Bentley Purchase ~

“He found death not only fascinating but extremely funny. No form of violent mortality surprised or upset him. ‘A depressing job?’ he once said. ‘Far from it. I can’t imagine it getting me down.’ He would offer slightly damp chocolates to guests in his private chambers, and joke: ‘They were found in Auntie’s bag when she was fished out of the Round Pond at Hampstead last night.’ A farmer by birth, Purchase was ‘rugged in appearance and character’ with ‘an impish sense of humour’ and a finely calibrated sense of the ridiculous: he loved Gilbert and Sullivan operas, toy trains, boiled eggs, and the model piggery he ran near Ipswich.”

Tragically, Purchase doesn’t appear in Neame’s film (scripted by ace novelist Nigel Balchin of THE SMALL BACK ROOM fame), but my old friend Sir Bernard Spilsbury does, embodied by the ever-impressive Andre Morell. Who better than a former BBC Quatermass to play this august pathologist?

vlcsnap-2015-04-16-22h36m47s126

The first half of the film IS a little dull — it’s a procedural in which none of the details are surprising once we get over the macabre plot, with only some nifty comic timing from Laurence Naismith to liven it up. The scenario allows the inclusion of a couple of American actors — a very shiny Gloria Grahame is allowed since, after all, there must have been some Americans in London in 1943, and Clifton Webb can play an English officer because, after all, he’s snooty and gay which is almost as good as being English. The man he’s playing, Ewen Montagu, was brother of Hitchcock producer and Soviet spy Ivor Montagu.

Churchill goes unseen, like Celeste Holm in A LETTER TO THREE WIVES or Jesus in BEN-HUR, but Peter Sellers does the voice, with perhaps a little too much comic glee.

vlcsnap-2015-04-16-22h40m25s0

Then Stephen Boyd enters as an Irish Nazi spy, sent to ascertain if the fictitious character invented for the corpse was ever real. Now some actual jeopardy is injected, since Boyd might upset the whole plan and also, HE’S in danger of being caught and hanged. And even if he is a Nazi spy, he’s a Personable Movie Star and we’re spending time with him so naturally we become implicated in his mission. Boyd is really good here, avoiding any show of overt villainy and just playing a rather exciting fellow doing a job. His charisma is at its peak. Fiona was impressed by the amount of detail in his bumpy forehead. “There’s a lot going on there. He’s like a Klingon!”

The only trouble is, he’s entirely fictitious. We had broken the Nazi codes by this point and had captured, executed or turned every single spy they had in Britain. I must say, though, he’s an admirable invention — he keeps the whole thing afloat, if you’ll pardon the expression. Boyd, and cameos like Naismith and Miles Malleson (“He won’t be doing the crossword tonight”) make the sedate Cinemascope entertainment just watchable enough. And then there’s the haunting bit of poetry at the graveside and it all goes very eerie and moving — out of left field, emotion enters the film, like a phantom, and sweeps through it, swinging the door shut as it goes.

vlcsnap-2015-04-17-00h18m02s201

“Last night I dreamed a deadly dream, beyond the Isle of Sky, I saw a dead man win a fight, and I think that man was I.”

Day Two

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2014 by dcairns

White_CCP_FIGX_WFP-WHI081

My second day at Il Cinema Ritrovato and I was for sure going to make it into town in time to see THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE — a serial represented by one tantalising still in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Sadly, the two episodes screened, fun though they were, did not include the Jekyll-and-Hyde sequence Gifford depicted, so I can’t altogether chalk that one off my list.

Still, the bits shown, two full episodes with some sequences spliced in from elsewhere (those wacky Belgians!) were jolly good fun.

theodora-slave-empress-movie-poster-1954-1020523032

Like a lightweight, I gave myself 45 minutes of daylight before plunging into TEODORA, IMPERATRICE DI BISANZIO (THEODORA, SLAVE EMPRESS), part of the too-brief Riccardo Freda season. This was campy, sword-and-sandal fun, showing signs of the amoral and unsympathetic eye Freda would later turn on his characters. One character, a prison guard is seduced by the vamp-heroine so she can escape her bonds. He’s blinded with a red-hot poker for his troubles (the sadism of the giallo and the spaghetti western is fully present in the peplum). Later, he turns up as a kind of monster, stalking towards Teo in his fur-trimmed barbarian/s&m costume, only to get speared by the hero. Shouldn’t he merit a little sympathy? Apparently not.

The movie also features the best beast attack I’ve ever seen — scores of wild cats of all breeds leaping upon and devouring Roman soldiers. Freda uses the standard formula — shot of real big cat jumping, shot of extra being walloped with stuffed lion — but he cuts so frenetically and does it so many times that the sequence attains a kind of ludicrous, drunken conviction. Hilarious and breath-taking.

The feature screened with a short, I MOSAICI A REVENNA, in which Freda artfully films the religious art of the early Byzantine Empire — and he interpolates a few shots from the doc into his feature to bolster the production values.

On to the big screen at the Arlecchino, for OKLAHOMA! which I could only justify on the grounds that a Todd-AO restoration is an unusual event, and I wanted to see what it looked and sounded like. Well, pristine, for starters. I kind of resented the way the intro was all about the difficulty of the restoration — the challenge seems to have been the main motivation — with no mention of Fred Zinnemann and his achievement, mixed though it may be. On the big screen, with the six-track magnetic stereo sound remastered and the image taken from the decaying negative ten years ago and digitally restored at 50fps 30fps, the film is overwhelming. Rarely have I seen so much of the great outdoors indoors. The micro detail allows you to spot tiny flies and butterflies (and water-snakes) wafting through frame, sometimes to dramatically fortuitous effect. Note also Zinnemann’s innovative direct cutting, achieved without the guiding influence of the nouvelle vague. When Gordon MacRae sings of his putative surrey with a fringe on top, we just cut to the damn thing, on the beat, rollicking along against a massive sky, just as if it had existed all along.

If I started to list the things I missed while watching this jolly 148 minute roadshow pic, complete with intermission, I might start to cry. That’s the curse of the film festival. Oh, very well — Cagney’s debut in OTHER MEN’S WOMEN — a 1935 Mizoguchi and a Takashima of similar vintage — something called IN THE LAND OF THE HEAD HUNTERS — NIGHT NURSE with Stanwyck and Blondell in their scanties — a conference on film restoration — a film by Henny Porten’s sister — Chaplin’s THE VAGABOND and EASY STREET — Giuseppe Tornatore talking about Francesco Rosi’s SALVATORE GIULIANO — Guru Dutt’s PYAASA… and the same impossible choices are offered up from 9am to 9.45pm every day!

Darnell, Linda (My Darling Clementine)_02

By simply remaining in my seat I could catch MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, so I did. Later, Dave Kehr told me about the earlier cut, the authentic Ford cut, which alas does not seem to have been restored. But Linda Darnell on the big screen, even playing a character called Chihuahua ffs, was possibly the most impressive sight of the fest.

In the massive Piazza Maggiore, the public gets in free along with the guests — to watch SALVATORE GIULIANO, in this case, with Tornatore introducing. The restoration makes it look new. It’s a very impressive film, but after 12 hours of screenings I am not taking it in as well as I might — though the film’s unconventional structure (a bit like a CITIZEN KANE in which we see Thompson but don’t see KANE) certainly comes across — when you’re dog-tired and have no idea how far from the end of the movie you might be, you certainly notice.

Woman Error

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2011 by dcairns


There’s a blogathon going on! Tony Dayoub’s Cinema Viewfinder Nicholas Ray celebration was a welcome incentive to return to a favourite filmmaker’s oeuvre — I leapt at the chance to view and write about the only Ray film I’d never watched at all, the reputedly minor opus known as A WOMAN’S SECRET.

I went in expecting little — programmers like KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, RUN FOR COVER and BORN TO BE BAD are perfectlyenjoyable, but don’t let Ray flex his cinematic muscles much — as with the very different Von Sternberg, for whom Ray subbed on MACAO, he didn’t seem to commit fully to films that didn’t excite him. But I enjoyed this one: the titular SECRET is ambiguous, the tone uncertain, the structure wobbly, but all that adds a kind of intrigue and unpredictability to a first viewing. I’d never call this a major film, but it’s pleasingly flaky, and it doesn’t give up its mysteries.

Ray is at RKO, where he did some good work, and he’s in the hands of fellow tippler Herman J. Mankiewicz, as producer and screenwriter, which must’ve been interesting, if Ray’s fraught experience with Budd Schulberg on WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES is anything to go by. It looks as if Mankiewicz had noticed that CITIZEN KANE’s flashback-investigation structure was becoming popular in films like THE KILLERS and LAURA, and resolved to swipe it himself (well, he helped invent it in the first place) — so the movie begins with a near-fatal shooting and proceeds to examine the lead-up through the eyes of various interested parties.

Sorta funny/sick the way Gloria Grahame is left unattended on the floor with a bullet in her for long stretches of dialogue.

Mankiewicz can’t quite make up his mind who his main character is, which creates a stimulating muddle: first we get ex-singer Maureen O’Hara, who claims to have fired the shot (which perforated protege Gloria Graham), but the investigation is taken up by their pal, Melvyn Douglas. he’s playing a popular radio personality and music expert / musician, of the temperamental genius/wit variety, so in theory it’s like having Oscar Levant as a detective, which is a wonderful idea. Melv’s casting smooths off some of the gloriously absurd edges of that premise, but it’s still good for some entertainment value.

And so the story moves on, with Douglas narrating his experiences to detective Jay C. Flippen, the man with the face of a tick, then a variety of characters giving their part of the story. Bill Williams figures in as a bullish ex-serviceman somehow mixed up with the ladies’ past, and then Flippen’s wife (Mary Philips) weirdly hijacks the narrative, an armchair detective and mystery fan who can’t resist getting mixed up in her husband’s cases.  It doesn’t make any sense for this comedy character to turn up, stealing fire from our other novelty investigator (both Melvyn and Mary deserve a series of their own!) and cracking the case with a mixture of idiocy, intuition and boundless self-confidence.

One thing this movie helps with is clearing up the CITIZEN KANE authorship debate (if anyone’s still in doubt). See, this movie is Mankiewicz’s baby, with Ray a hired gun brought in to execute it. Mank wrote and produced it. He did a perfectly good job, with even the weird lacunae and ambiguities adding interest. But there’s absolutely no artistic ambition at work: all he wants is a nice little melodrama. Without Welles’ drive and imagination and will to achieve the impossible, Mankiewicz was little more than a heap of kindling without a spark.

And a slow sapphic subtext builds nicely —

Y’see, not only do Maureen and Gloria live together, but they took a trip to Paris together and Maureen says she regards Gloria as an extension of herself. It’s all a bit suggestive, although the scene where Grahame first demonstrates her singing ability is carefully played — she sings to Melvyn, who looks at Maureen, who looks at Gloria.

Another scene, at a cafe in Algiers, has an ambiguous reaction from two old duffers when Melvyn embraces Grahame. Are they dismayed that she’s got a man, or dismayed that he’s got a woman? These are two gentlemen vacationing together in North Africa, so I wondered. The reaction made is a sort of expulsion of air through the lips — not a razz, but something looser. here, I’ll do it for you. Like that, you understand?

And this is how Jay C Flippen reacts to Melvyn Douglas’s lunch invitation.

Of course, these actresses, though not devoid of camp value, certainly don’t strongly suggest lesbian vibes, but anything that makes a film more interesting is a worthwhile reading, no? And the film has a certain shambolic quality that encourages one to look between the lines, because the gaps there are pretty huge. For one thing, it’s not 100% certain which woman it is who has the secret, and the movie never actually explains why O’Hara has told a self-incriminating lie. Her abrupt romantic feelings for Douglas at the end certainly seem like a classic Hollywood dash away from incriminating material.

Still, Ray is in full control of his mise-en-scene, even if he doesn’t have the opportunity to really push it into the neurotic and intense terrain that suited him best. My friend Chris “Chainsaw” Bourton once pointed out to me how Ray will do anything to avoid shooting straight shot-reverse-shot dialogue scenes, and there’s a good example of that in the first scene here — in this argument prior to the shooting, Grahame moves up and down a flight of stairs, followed by the panning camera. This means that while all of her lines are covered by one set-up (with a changing composition), each of the cutaways back to O’Hara is taken from a different camera position to make the eye-lines match.

Since this means shooting more angles (on one character) than a static scene, and angles = time which = money, you have to know that Ray really wanted this effect and thought it worth spending the studio’s money on.

Little things like this aren’t the secret (that word again) of Ray’s brilliance. But they do point to the care he took and his desire to avoid the predictable patterns of shot-reverse-shot, where the audience can settle into being subconsciously confident that they know what they’re going to see next. With Ray, you never know.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 612 other followers