Archive for Heimkehr

The Sunday Intertitle: Death-Slide for Cutie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2022 by dcairns

Still need to write at least two posts to finish off Chaplin’s THE CIRCUS, but meanwhile we watched DIE TODESCHLEIFE — aka LOOPING THE LOOP (although that title really means The Death-Slide), directed by the rather marvelous Arthur Robison (WARNING SHADOWS) and starring Werner Krauss, Jenny Jugo and featuring Warwick Ward and Sig Arno (“Nitz, Toto!”)

It’s worth mentioning in this context because it came out the same year as Chaplin’s film, and similarly features a lovelorn clown as protag, with an aerial acrobat rival, and the girl between. I think it’s not so much a case of direct influence as one of both films being inspired by HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, which has just those elements also.

Jenny Jugo shows how she got her name

Krauss for once is not playing an old man, and he keeps it simple and affecting. While watching, it is necessary to forget about him being such an enthusiastic Nazi, and then when it’s over, it is necessary to remember again, and sigh. He’s really good, in an entirely different mode from CALIGARI etc.

Robison’s politics are unknown to me. The Chicago-born German filmmaker made THE INFORMER in Britain the following year, but was still working in Germany in 1935, the year of his death. But then, the star of his last film, THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE, was Anton Walbrook, no Nazi. Seemingly quite a few filmmakers who were not themselves Jewish or Nazi felt able to stay in Germany for a few years after Hitler came to power: one thinks of Sirk and Lang. So Robison may have been thinking of getting out, but his early death (at 52) intervened. As I say, I know nothing of him save his birth, death and filmography: I’d love to know more.

The film is really stylish and quite involving: among the best touches is a scene where Krauss, as Botto the Clown, recalls a woman who he was romantically interested in, but who only wanted him for his clowning ability. In flashback, she demands that he laugh for her. His laugh — that of a broken-hearted man — apparently terrifies her until she backs away, and Robison stages this moment on a cunningly slanted set to give everything a delirious-vertiginous angst. You feel it in the distorted perspective but also in the straining of her legs. See also THUNDER ROCK and SCROOGED.

Elsewhere there are artful mirror shots; double-exposures, in which Krauss imagines himself grown to Godzilla size and stomping his rival beneath a titanic flap-shoe; a spectacular trick-shot following Ward all the way down and around the death-slide; a miniature journey to England, tiny landscapes rolling past as in Murnau’s FAUST or May’s HEIMKEHR or Powell & Pressburger’s I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING!

Krauss’s act involves a dummy made up just like him, allowing many uncanny moments. Does he converse with it, does it seem to come to life. Oh yes. Fascinating to see Krauss as an offbeat romantic hero. At times he’s almost cute. His hair is the only problem. That and his Nazism.

Traveling Matte Finish

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2021 by dcairns

Joe May’s career has a curious shape. From detective series starring Anglophone-sounding heroes called Stuart Webbs and Joe Deebs, he graduated to epic adventure films starring his wife Mia, then sold his studio and went to work for UFA, reaching an artistic pinnacle with HEIMKEHR and ASPHALT. When sound came he turned his hand to musical comedy, and kept at that as he emigrated rapidly through France and Britain and wound up in Hollywood where he made another, MUSIC IN THE AIR.

His American career was patchy, and declined rapidly to B-pictures, but these are not terrible. He never made a little classic like his protege E.A. Dupont’s THE SCARF, but he never made THE NEANDERTHAL MAN either, so there’s that.

During his speedy passage through France, he managed to make three films, and two of those he made twice: PARIS-MEDITERRANEE (1932), for instance, was shot in French, and again in German (as ZWEI IN EINEM AUTO). Presumably the French contacts helped May get out of Germany the following year. The French version was a Pathe-Natan production, and I got hold of a scrappy off-air recording of it back when we were making our documentary NATAN. Somebody subsequently made very good subtitles for it, and Fiona and I just watched it.

Charmant! Annabella is lovely as ever and her then-husband Jean Murat essays a totally convincing English accent throughout. Scenic views of the Riviera. All very fuzzy, with an intermittent sound problem that makes everyone like they’re snorting helium at the bottom of a well while wrapped in vinyl sheets.

The movie is nothing remarkable, except that the early sound musicals are full of invention, even when the stories are souffle-light and not particularly memorable. This one ends, for instance, with the two comedy relief idiots hanging off a tree over a cliff on the Riviera, with the jealous Spaniard (José Noguéro) biting the buffoonish accountant (Frédéric Duvallès) on the bottom. It’s not exactly LE REGLE DE JEUX.

More big thick matte lines for us to enjoy, though! Tricky to be making a romcom road movie a year before the Translux scene was gifted to the film industry by its inventor, Yves Le Prieur, making rear-projection a vastly more effective technique, and making KING KONG possible. If the film had been silent, May could have filmed the car stuff for real, but a talkie needed to be filmed in the studio, so we get Jean Murat and Annabella haloed with wavering jagged white outlines that keep biting off portions of their heads you would not think they could do without. Excellent stuff. Even if the film were not as charming as it is, that kind of thing could make it endlessly diverting. Elsewhere May rapidly cuts together real car POV shots with our heroes outlined against a perfectly blank whiteness, as if driving into Jimmy Stewart’s nightmare limbo in VERTIGO.