Archive for Gustav Von Seyffertitz

It All Ties Together

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2016 by dcairns

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In James Whale’s THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR, Nancy Carroll is an unfaithful wife named Maria living in fear of her murderously jealous husband, Paul (Frank Morgan).

In Jean Epstein’s COEUR FIDELE. Gina Manes is an unfaithful wife named Maria living in fear of her murderously jealous husband, Paul (Edmond Van Daele).

In James Whale’s REMEMBER LAST NIGHT?, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz is a German psychoanalyst shot while attempting to reconstruct a crime.

In Lewis Milestone’s THE FRONT PAGE, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz is a German psychoanalyst shot while attempting to reconstruct a crime.

In THE MYSTERY OF THE LEAPING FISH, Douglas Fairbanks snorts coke.

In TOUCHEZ-PAS AU GRISBI, Jeanne Moreau snorts coke.

In ONE-EYED JACKS, Marlon Brando is tormented by a corrupt sheriff.

In THE HALF-BREED, Douglas Fairbanks is persecuted by a corrupt sheriff.

In KING OF JAZZ, a man plunges his hands into a tank of goldfish.

In Louis Lumiere’s LA PECHE AU POISSONS ROUGES, a baby plunges his hands into a bowl of goldfish.

All these films played the day before yesterday in Bologna. Cinema is imploding into a kind of primal atom.

The Monday Intertitle: Stroike a Light

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-04-12-16h18m02s142Thanks to Christine of Ann Harding’s Treasures for recommending STELLA MARIS, a Mary Pickford vehicle from her favourite director, Marshall Neilan. This time, Pickford doubles the winsomeness in a dual role, which might cause the more ringlet-averse Shadowplayers out there to fear diabetic complications, but needlessly —

In the titular role, Pickford plays a rich, paralysed girl who dreams of a fairy-tale world beyond the bedroom to which she is confined. Her aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Blount (ever wonder what the B. in Cecil B. DeMille stands for? No, no one ever does, but it’s Blount) have protected her from the world’s wickedness. Bruno Bettelheim may speak of the Uses of Enchantment, but the fairy tales Stella has been weaned on are devoid of poor people, suffering, jeopardy, and any hint of want. As a result, Stella is a fantastic drag to have around for her first few minutes of screen time, playing like Pickford to the power of infinity, a one-woman apocalypse of goodness and innocence annihilating all in her path.

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BUT — balancing this sickly tsunami of sweetness is little Unity, a cockney “orfant” raising by chubby nuns but handed over to a vicious alcoholic to act as skivvy and whipping girl. Her life is as great a  torment as the limpid Stella’s is bliss (being paralysed doesn’t dampen our Stella’s spirits, not one jot) and Pickford rises to the challenge of transforming herself out of all recognition: it’s as if playing the uber-Pickford in one half of the film absolved her of the burden of prettiness elsewhere. Unity is lipless, shapeless, with one shoulder higher than the other, and her every movement is painstakingly constructed from minute pieces of cringing and cowering. If she had a forelock to tug, she’d tug it till her head came off.Stella will learn something of life and Unity will attain some happiness, but brilliantly the film doesn’t exactly do this. First, Stella gets an operation to restore the use of her legs, which threatens to remove the one interesting cloud in her otherwise tediously sunny existence.

“That’s Gustav Von Seyffertitz,” I say, recognizing the chief surgeon.

“Is she in safe hands?” asks Fiona.

“She’s in Seyffertitz’s hands.”

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The prospect of America’s Canada’s Sweetheart running about on fully functional legs, dispensing sunshine in all directions has me nervous.

Meanwhile, Unity is beaten unconscious by her adoptive mother, then rescued by the woman’s husband who takes her to live with the Blounts. But (1) Stella and Unity barely meet, saving on splitscreen and relieving us of a predictable plot turn and (2) Unity’s life gets WORSE — ignored by the Blounts, pushed around by the servants, and in love with her adoptive father.

I would defy even a modern audience to predict exactly where this one goes.

Meanwhile there’s a gripping subplot involving Teddy the Wonder Dog, who appears courtesy of Mack Sennett. Teddy plays Teddy, Stella’s faithful hound, forever discomfited by the arrival of fresh pets — bunnies, kittens, what have you — at his mistress’s bedside. The final straw is the delivery of a tiny, frou-frou pooch, who Teddy clearly views as a diabolical usurper. One morning, spying the intruder at Stella’s garden table, he leads the canine co-respondent out of the garden and turns it loose in the street. Then he calmly resumes his place at Stella’s ankle.

Later: Stella is sunk in gloom because now that she can walk, she’s discovered that the world isn’t such a pretty place. She’s read a newspaper, met a poor person, and discovered that her beau has a drunken wife. But Teddy doesn’t know this. He presumes her distress is caused by the missing doggie, and Neilan brilliantly lets us know this with an effects shot literally illustrating what’s on Teddy’s mind. As he always does in the Mack Sennett shorts he’s famed for, Teddy the Wonder Dog must Save the Day.

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Fiona is very impressed by this. “That’s exactly what a dog WOULD think. ‘This is something I’ve done.'” Dogs may not recognize themselves in mirrors, as chimpanzees do, or play video games with skill and focus, as pigs do, but they do feel shame and guilt. We taught them that. We’re brilliant.

“That’s the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Fiona concluded. She then suggested I write this review entirely in cockney, but I haven’t, swelp me guv’nor.

The Dirty Thirties

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2011 by dcairns

Time for another pre-code round-up. During Fiona’s nasty flu a few weeks back, we watched a bunch of early thirties Hollywood flicks — usually just over an hour long, snappy and fun, they’re easy to follow but hard to predict.

CHINATOWN NIGHTS

Not a hit with Fiona, this 1929 William A. Wellman gangland epic seems to have been a silent movie hastily sonorized: wide shots toddle along at 20 fps, with all the signs of having been post-synched: lip-flap and unconvincing background atmos galore. Meanwhile the close shots have been cheaply re-shot to incorporate dialogue.

While it’s impressive how quickly American film developed a fluid and expressive approach to filmed speech, it’s always interesting to catch them unprepared during the first couple of years: Florence Vidor, as a socialite slumming it in the Chinese ghetto, is terribly stilted, and even Wallace Beery and Warner Oland are painfully slow and careful in their enunciation. Seeing a gangster minding to sound his ‘T’s clearly is oddly dispiriting. Seeing Wallace Beery as a tong boss is plain surreal, but at least he’s not in yellowface. Somehow a big Irishman has gained control of one of the two principle gangs: no explanation for this is ever offered.

Just a few years later, and SAFE IN HELL shows Wellman at his hard-boiled peak. Dorothy McKail is supremely naturalistic, but there are as many kinds of naturalism as there are people. She seems quite unconcerned about looking pretty (Wellman hated actresses who fussed about their looks) and does odd things like continuing her dialogue while kissing Donald Cook on the lips. “Mmmff-mmf-mm!” she’ll say. Crisp enunciation is a thing of the past.

The plot sees her as a prostitute fleeing a manslaughter rap with sailor boyfriend Cook, and holing up in the one place without any extradition treaties, a repulsive tropical hell aswarm with caterpillars and fugitives from justice. These include Gustav Von Seyffertitz, Charles “Ming” Middleton and Victor Varconi, who see to it that the atmosphere of grubbiness is soon almost unbearable. Like FRISCO JENNY, this is one of Wellman’s tales of female sacrifice, and it packs quite a wallop.

Here’s the hangman’s POV of McKail.

Iris-in on neck! I’m fascinated by these survivals of silent film technique in the talking era. I don’t wonder why they’re there (at odd occasions), I wonder why they died out, since they seem to broaden the expressive possibilities of the medium. And they’re easier to achieve than tracking shots in the era of the microphone and heavily blimped camera.

Equally offbeat is Wellman’s THE PURCHASE PRICE, in which showgirl Barbara Stanwyck becomes a mail-order bride to George Brent to escape the attentions of racketeer Lyle Talbot (what a choice!). Wellman’s vision of rustic America is as rambunctious as his Warner pictures about bootleggers, hoboes and women of easy virtue. Wellman insisted on cramming his early talkies with camera movement, although it’s less flamboyant than his late silents like WINGS. He also claimed to have invented the microphone boom to facilitate this, a discovery that probably took place all over town (Dorothy Arzner is another parent to the boom) as filmmakers struggled with the medium.

Yikes.

SMART MONEY is courtesy of Alfred E Green, and is the only movie to pair Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney, who turn out to have great chemistry, though Cagney has the decidedly smaller role. Robinson plays a gambling barber who builds a casino empire just by being lucky, and “dumb enough to think he’s smart.” Their interaction includes this terrific bit of pantomime —

An uncredited Boris Karloff shambles by, Evalyn Knapp and Noel Francis supply glamour of a kind (all the women are funny-looking thin blondes) and towards the end there’s the nicest image I saw all week —

Racism is very much in evidence, some of which falls under the heading of “accurate representation of 1931 American society” and some of which is just offensive. The fact that the black servants are all utterly servile and accept being called “stupid” as a matter of course is sadly credible (we never see what they’re like when the white folks aren’t looking) but the fact that the movie portrays them as stupid is just obnoxious. One character is called Suntan.

The movie is also offensive to women and dwarfs, but it takes a sympathetic line on Greeks, so I guess that’s something. Also, Edward G Robinson has a surprisingly pert bottom.

Oh come on — YOU’VE ALL THOUGHT IT!