Archive for Harry Green

Hardcore Phonography

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 6, 2017 by dcairns

I’m twenty minutes into the surviving soundtrack of CLOSE HARMONY, “watching” it with my eyes closed and attempting to visualise the long-lost pictures.

Now read on…

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CHARLES “BUDDY” ROGERS: But I’m gonna amount to something, so that…

NANCY CARROLL: Yes?

CBR: So that…

NC: Yes?

CBR: So that…

NC: So that what?

I’m visualizing the needle skipping on the soundtrack. Nancy Carroll and I are both agog with anticipation.

CBR: So that you’ll marry me.

After what one imagines has just happened during the preceding several seconds of wordless audio hiss, one feels she may HAVE to.

CBR: Say yes!

NC: Oh, you brute!

Having the actual sound here is helpful, since Nancy’s line reading is playful and ironic, which may not come across in the transcription. But if you recall what Buddy is like in any of his other talkies, you would probably surmise that she MUST be being playful and ironic. Buddy is about as threatening as hay.

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Another silence, broken by strange murmurs and coughs. Either they’re kissing again, or we’ve faded out. Or both. And you know what THAT means.

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! A full minute of instrumental, during which I try hard to imagine Sam Raimi thrill-cam shots swooping over a shiny dance floor, but my brain remains trapped in a soundproof booth, watching static action from too far away. Then Buddy starts reedily singing that he’s “All A-twitter, About a Girl!” The man’s savage sexual passion is simply overwhelming. It’s a pleasant number, though.

Wet-sounding applause, then we suddenly cut to slightly crackling silence. Perhaps we are observing the next scene, whatever it is, from a fireplace? Then a bunch of characters say hello. They might be standing in the fireplace, I suppose, if it’s a big Charles Foster Kane job.

Buddy is going to talk to his new boss, Max Mindel, about a contract. This chat is preceded by another ten seconds of silence, so I’m assuming Mindel has a huge, Mussolini/Harry Cohn type office for Buddy to cross. Perhaps accessed through a fireplace, like the secret Nazi room in THE LAST CRUSADE. Mindel offers a forty-eight week contract. Another looong pause as Buddy reads the damn thing. Either that or he’s looking tenderly into Max Mindel’s eyes. Or making a birdhouse.

There follows a wordy contract negotiation scene not as enjoyable as the one in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, despite the presence of a dialect comedian. Harry Green as Max Mindel is croaking through the thickest set of lisps plus Russian-Jewish accent you ever heard, or didn’t hear. The upshot is, Mindel, who is unrequitedly in love with Nancy, realises that hiring Buddy will allow him to marry the girl, so Mindel rebels against the plan. “If you don’t get married before you earn a thousand dollars a week from me, then all your children will die bachelors!”

Buddy leaves, in real time, so that his conference with Nancy outside takes ten seconds of crackle to arrive at. Easy to imagine him scrunching through the autumn leaves that lie thickly upon the anteroom floor. Nancy, learning the negotiations were a bust, goes to talk to Mindel, and oddly enough it takes her only two seconds to reach him. Presumably she knows a shortcut. Perhaps she slides down a firepole. Anyway, the negotiations go on, but fall apart again when Mindel learns his board have booked a new act. Hard to tell what the act is called — it sounds like “Barnum a& Bindle.”

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ!

To be continued…

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Unsound on Disc

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2017 by dcairns

So, I’m listening to the surviving soundtrack of lost film CLOSE HARMONY (but I would rather do THE TERROR or RETURN OF THE TERROR, whose Vitaphone discs I believe survive, if anyone can help) and I’m trying to mentally reconstruct the image track using audio clues.

Now read on…

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Lots of creaking. Possibly musical instruments are being transported. Or possibly Charles “Buddy” Rogers is attempting to act. CLANG! “My trombone,” he explains, stressing the first syllable. Lots of hesitations in the dialogue, which I think would work well if you could see them carrying the “big horn” and the “awful big dru-um.” Buddy’s singsong Kansan accent makes drum a two-syllable word.

A soft background hum — we may now be in a car. I wonder if they’re attempting rear projection.

We learn that Nancy Carroll’s character is a successful nightclub singer. Buddy invites her to hear his band at the warehouse where he will now be storing all his band’s instruments.

The car noise fades out. New scene? loud jazz! Terrible singing — I guess it’s Nancy. “I want to go places and do things, with you.” Fiona suggests, “Could one of the things you do please not be singing?” Applause, sounding like a forest fire breaking out in a crisp packet.

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Backstage dialogue: “Looks like you is in a pow’ful hurry tonight.” Some kind of accent there — Hungarian? Gusztáv Pártos is in the cast. But this is a woman. I think it’s the maid from the Tom & Jerry cartoons, the one who exists only from the shins down. I picture her mighty shins towering over little Nancy Carroll in that dressing room, giantess legs reaching way far up beyond the natural limits of such a tiny room’s ceiling.

Knock knock. “It’s me, Maxie Mindel. Are you decent?” “Oh no, wait a minute!” So we’ve been missing a nude scene as well as giant shins.

Harry Green, who made most of the films of his career in 1929 and 1930 before anybody found out, is Max Mindel, who says “I know I’m not good to look at,” and yearns for Nancy. A sympathetic schnook. I picture him peering round one of the maid’s enormous legs and making googoo eyes at Nancy. Nancy decides to recommend Buddy’s warehouse band to Max as an act for his nightclub, the Babylon.

Everything goes quiet. Then — LOUD JAZZ! And a perhaps optimistic attempt to play dialogue at the same time. Green/Mindel seems to be one of the speakers. I’m trying to get a visual image of a band playing in a warehouse (perhaps sitting on crates) but all I seem able to visualise is a sound guy frantically twiddling his knobs.

The band breaks up for the night — mass rhubarbing as they all say goodbye. This takes about ten seconds, which is a lot of rhubarb. Nancy tells Buddy she’s got him a try-out at the Babylon. “How can I ever thank you? Gosh!” Then someone laughs a sinister laugh, very far off in the distance. I think it might be jack Oakie but you can tell only so much from a distant laugh. Does this sinister chuckler herald doom for Buddy?

Then there’s an abrupt, high-pitched wail, like Sterling Holloway falling from a tree. But then Buddy goes right back to thanking Nancy as if nothing had occurred. Perhaps it was a dream sequence? A sort of mental association: when Nancy hears the word “Gosh!” she pictures an effete man becoming deforested. It could happen that way, for some people. You never know with women.

Buddy is tongue-tied. “What’s so scary about me?” asks Nancy. “Your face,” says Buddy, the best line of the film so far. I wonder if they used makeup to make Nancy’s face look scary, or if Cromwell just lit her below as he does to Dorothy McGuire in THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE. Hollywood’s idea of “plain” — walking around with a torch shining up your chin as if about to tell a ghost story.

There then follows twenty seconds of crackly near-silence, broken only by muffled breaths and the occasional vague click. Then Nancy says, “I’m beginning to gather your meaning, Mr. West!” We need little imagination to retroactively paint in the preceding action.

To be continued…

 

Sound and Fury

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2008 by dcairns

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Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, filmed by Ken Hughes.

Yes! Ken Hughes films Philip Yordan’s Macbeth-as-an-Amurrican-gangster epic, in which lumpen Paul Douglas as the titular JOE MACBETH rises to the position of kingpin in a version of the New York mafia recreated on a small scale in England. The British version of America always seems like a cheap-ass solution, or at least it does when it’s obvious. Here we get reasonable but small sets, and a few obvious stock shots to broaden out the scope. What really gives it away is the cast.

Douglas and Ruth Roman (as Lily Macbeth) are the sort of affordable American stars who could be tempted over for a British film (Douglas had appeared in the minor classic THE MAGGIE a year earlier). The supporting cast is made up of a mixture of Americans abroad (Bonar Colleano, who’s very good here as a cheeky combo of Fleance and Macduff; beetle-browed Robert Arden of MR ARKADIN fame — both these guys appeared in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH) and those Brits who could muster a convincing yank accent. I’m inclined to think the following scene will be amusing to British movie fans:

After watching THE ATOMIC MAN, in which Charles Hawtrey intrudes like a music hall apparition, I’m beginning to suspect that Ken Hughes liked having Carry On film stars pop up and wreck his ambiance just for the hell of it.

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Also prominent in this scene is Ruth Roman. She does make a terrific Lady Mac, I take back anything bad I may have said about her. I think this kind of role maybe suits her better than the more tame parts I’ve seen her in. Her biggest problem is creating any kind of heat with the doughy Douglas, who’s good at freaking out, sweating and shaking his jowls as if he’s trying to physically detach them from his face and make them fly off and stick to the walls, but his baggy, Lon Chaney Jnr. appearance is a little unhelpful in more tender moments.

R.R. plays it fierce in the early scenes, and the snappy, snippy relationship reminds me of Douglas’ marriage in LETTER TO THREE WIVES. This is an unusual version of the play in that the Macbeths actually grow closer together. As a femme fatale, seducing her husband into murder, Roman, “the nicotine-stained goddess of the denim pantsuit” (here clad in revealing gowns) is very effective — Mrs. Mac uses sex as a weapon.

As one reared on Jon Finch in the Polanski version, I had trouble imagining how Douglas and Roman could have reached the age they’re at without previously showing the ferocious ambition that overtakes them. A straight rendering of the play would offer us a supernatural catalyst, whereas here, Roman’s fortune-telling friend is an insufficient motivation. Stripping the play of the uncanny does do it quite a bit of damage. Without the prophecies about Birnam Wood and “no man of woman born”, the climax loses it’s plot twists, although Yordan arguably improves on Shakespeare by bringing Macbeth and wife to their doom together.

The femme fatale scenes make me think that a straight noir approach would work better than a gangster one. For one thing, the underworld vibe is utterly generic, with Hughes concentrating his attention on creating a viable N.Y.C. in Pinewood or wherever, so that he has no opportunity to create the specific details that make a film like SCARFACE or THE PUBLIC ENEMY so memorable. And killing a kingpin lacks the moral outrage of killing a king: murder is a commonplace in Joe Macbeth’s world, so there’s a loss of dramatic force there too.

The best bits:

1) A distant bell tolls each time a kingpin dies. When Douglas has offed his boss (Gregoire Aslan, a surprisingly gallic mafiosa), the bell is accompanied by shrieking birds, and the killer’s moral torment is reminiscent of Sydney Chaplin’s downfall in Hughes’ CONFESSION.

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2) A completely unShakespearean character, Big Dutch, an oyster-munching vulgarian played by Harry Green, who has no reason to be in the film really, but frees everyone from the need to do a paint-by-numbers Shakespeare-goes-gangster movie. His grotesque, slobbering scenes are weirdly pointless but hypnotically repellent, focusing on the act of EATING to the exclusion of all else. “What an attractive man,” remarked Fiona, dryly. Accompanied by his food taster and two weird-looking blond girlfriends, Green’s ebullient schtick is almost Lynchian in its unashamed status as gratuitous cameo grotesque. Slurp!

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3) Bonar Colleano’s reaction to the death of his family. This always seems a near-impossible scene to play. How do you act a thing like that? Hughes holds on the speaker’s face for ages, with Colleano’s suffering hidden except as mirrored in the guy’s reactions. Then he does cut to B.C. and holds on him for ages too. And Colleano pulls it off. This guy got plenty of work as a stock American in the U.K. but either got stuck with some Brit screenwriter’s idea of what a yank should be, or played nationality-neutral roles (as in the fine DANCE HALL) where his American accent raised unanswerable questions. A shame.

4) Angus (Walter Crisham). A problematic role in the play. If memory serves, Polanski and Tynan made him a traitor, just to give him something to do. Ken Campbell speculated that the seemingly pointless role was just an opportunity for Shakespeare to do a walk-on (“Cos he always liked to be in ‘is own stuff, like Hitchcock,”). Here he’s the butler at the mansion house which passes from one kingpin to another, and his willingness to serve whomever’s in charge, coupled with his revealing just how often the place changes hands, is a nice warning of how short Macbeth’s reign will be.

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Mac.