Archive for Gloria Swanson

The Sunday Intertitle: Mine, all mine!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2018 by dcairns

Seena Owen goes full Daffy Duck on Gloria Swanson in QUEEN KELLY, Erich Von Stroheim’s attempt to milk the absolute mostest out of every moment of melodrama in a misshapen, rollicking saga of innocence versus corruption and madness. It’s absurd, and impossibly drawn-out, but magnificent, even if only as demented trash.

Spectacularly incomplete — after an hour it starts breaking up into still photographs and captions to compensate for scenes lost, never completed or never filmed — Swanson and her producer, Joseph Kennedy, fired Stroheim when he finally went too far, though what would constitute too far for him is open to debate. It’s a ruin of a film — Kennedy evidently decided it was better for the movie to be ruined than himself, though why they didn’t replace EVS with some hack to quickly polish off the narrative is a mystery — at least they would have ended up with something releasable to show for the millions spent. It’s better this way, just as THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS should have a special edition that omits the scenes shot by other hands and paints in Welles’s missing sequences, using captions, stills, script pages and the stray moment glimpsed in the trailer but not in the final movie…

One surprise that shouldn’t have surprised me — the clip that turns up in SUNSET BLVD to illustrate Norma Desmond’s movie career — about the only commercial purpose those months of filming QK ever served — has been falsified, with fresh intertitles added to it —

In SUNSET BLVD, the sentiment expressed may be similar but the text is different — the intertitle puts into young Gloria’s mouth the words “….Cast out this wicked dream which has seized my heart…” Why change it? I think for RESONANCE — Wilder & Brackett’s new line turns the scene into an analog of SUNSET BLVD itself, with Norma’s movie-star madness as the “wicked dream.” Of course, it could be they’d located a variant print of the film with a wacky different set of titles, or it could be that Wilder just didn’t want any dialogue in his film he hadn’t written himself, or the impulse could have been to make QUEEN KELLY seem even more strange, dated and melodramatic than it already is… which would be impossible if you look at it as a whole, but very possible if you look at this one scene, a relatively restrained one by EVS’s fervid standards.

 

Advertisements

The Sunday Intertitle: Drinks on Pete

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2018 by dcairns

In THE GREAT LIE (1941) — it’s not that great — Bette Davis and George Brent demonstrate their domestic happiness by making a home movie starring their kid. This featurette is a big-budget Hollywood affair, featuring its own intertitles, illustrated in a Norman Z. McLeod manner (i.e. crappy stick-figures), presumably by one parent or the other. It also manages to act as a metanarrative on race in Hollywood, caricaturing Hattie McDaniel in broader terms than the surrounding film itself.

 

The filmmakers attempt to simulate a projector malfunction by having the film weave off its sprockets, and then mysteriously come back with the image reversed. It would take a pretty fancy projector to achieve that, but I suppose it’s possible that George spliced the baby close-up in upside down (the big dope) and it was his rotten splice that caused the sprocket problem.

Rather than superimposing the movie afterwards using splitscreen double exposure, director Edmund Goulding and his team have done things for real, or almost: I think the movie is being rear-projected on a translucent screen embedded in the set wall, while the projector operated by Brent is merely a prop, giving a much dimmer light. But having a real image allows Goulding to move the camera, have actors block off part of the screen, etc, so it’s much more convincingly part of the scene than the usual approach.

By coincidence, we also watched PERFECT UNDERSTANDING (1933), which has its own home movie sequence, a record of the honeymoon of Gloria Swanson and Laurence Olivier. — a surprise teaming which actually works well. Rather than Gloria doing her grande dame bit (which in fact emerges only occasionally in her silent career, in fleeting gestures like the arm flung over the face in distressed longshot), and Larry trying to keep up with arch tongue movements or putty noses, the two try to outdo each other in naturalism, and it’s a joy seeing them bounce off one another in a loose, casual manner.

Thorold Dickinson edited this, and the director was Cyril Gardiner, a former editor who had cut Gloria’s first talkie, 1929’s THE TRESPASSER (1929) — which, come to think of it, was directed by Edmund Goulding. The honeymoon sequence is full of undercranking, dutch tilts, handheld wobble, and other devices intended to suggest amateurism, a far cry from the lavish production values of George & Bette’s polished effort.

Upside-down again! But this is used as Olivier’s POV after the home movie shows him drinking a large glass of beer. Larry and Gloria, far more sophisticated characters than George and Bette, are creatively mucking about with the technical possibilities of their cine-camera and film language. Not content with a nostalgic recreation of silent movie-making, they eschew intertitles but go full Georges Melies.

The footage is incorporated into the action in a much less ambitious way — we simply see it embedded in a screen within the screen, or rather the mere OUTLINE of such a screen. But I like how the reverse angle is shooting straight into the projector beam, a perfect Ozu-like 180º cut.

Acting the Fool

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2018 by dcairns

The key missing Leo McCarey film, which some lucky New Yorkers got to see a year or so ago, is PART TIME WIFE, a proto-screwball comedy from 1930. Parts of it were recycled in THE AWFUL TRUTH — the dog, and the lawyer bickering with his wife. Without being able to see that one, I’m left with McCarey’s early broad comedies, mostly starring clowns like Eddie Cantor, the Marx Bros, Mae West. DUCK SOUP is a masterpiece, the rest vary, but they rarely suggest the miraculous looseness of his mature work, the stuff which reaches a pinnacle with RUGGLES OF RED GAP, MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW, THE AWFUL TRUTH.

INDISCREET (1931) is more interesting to me than slapdash slapstick like LET’S GO NATIVE. It stars Gloria Swanson and Ben Lyon and has a kind of melodrama plot in which Gloria has to save her little sister from marrying a louse. She knows he’s a louse because he used to be her lover. A delicate problem.

Within that framework, McCarey pulls off some engaging farce — Gloria tries to put off the wedding by planting a rumour that there’s madness in her family, and then acting the part at a swank dinner. It’s not as funny as Irene Dunne pretending to be Cary Grant’s floozy sister Lola in THE AWFUL TRUTH, but it’s pretty good. Especially because it’s Gloria.

The climax also has Gloria trying to smuggle her way onto an ocean liner past a suspicious guard, a lovely piece of low comedy — the ghost of screwball yet to come — a great, glamorous, serious star being silly.

Cutie Barbara Kent is cute, creep Monroe Owsley is creepy, and there’s a glorious, cartoony, entirely wrong performance by Arthur Lake who would later find his spot by playing a cartoon character, Dagwood Bumstead in the BLONDIE series.

The movie was planned as a musical, but because a bunch of the 1929 crop of musicals had flopped, the studio ordered McCarey to remove all the Buddy DeSylva songs (he retained one), a shame, since Gloria had a fine operatic voice. Rewriting the script was done in a hurry, and Leo was dissatisfied with the results. These early films are often most interesting for the ways they echo the early Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase films, and anticipate the later masterpieces. But this one also shows an early near-success in McCarey’s struggle to transition from shorts to features. How to sustain the momentum in a comedy over ninety minutes? McCarey’s solution, in the end, would be to make dramas, with comic developments and tone and climaxes. THE AWFUL TRUTH is a divorce drama. MY FAVORITE WIFE is a problem play.

Reading: I got ahold of Leland Poague’s The Hollywood Professionals volume on McCarey, but didn’t care for it too much. There’s nothing about the filmmaking in it. But then I found Edinburgh University Library had a PDF of The McCarey Touch: The Life and Films of Leo McCarey by Jerome M. McKeever. It’s a marvelous overview. McKeever seems to have dug up every bit of research material possible, and his observations are astute and illuminating. This was his PhD thesis — it should be published!