Archive for Helen Chandler

Feet by Thousands, Gowns by Plunkett and Greer

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2018 by dcairns

Kate Hepburn vorkapiches out of control ~ spoilers ahead.

We weren’t really all that taken by CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933), I’m sorry to say. Of course Katherine Hepburn’s costumes are striking and there’s plenty of pre-code content and it’s interesting to see Colin Clive in as close to a straight leading man role as he ever got. And he doesn’t seem nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous — as he usually does (and which usually suits what he’s playing). But, as Fiona protested, “This is a soap opera!” And as it came at the end of a double-feature with THE PETRIFIED FOREST, the whole romantic suicide things was getting old. And almost any Paramount film is likely to seem unendurably languid after almost any Warner film from the period.

Fiona loudly wished that Kate didn’t have to crash her plane. I reasoned that, working backwards as Conan Doyle advises, the sole reason for Hepburn being an aviatrix in the first place is so she can crash her plan at the end.

Other pluses — we get to see a household consisting of Henry Frankenstein from FRANKENSTEIN, Mina Murray from DRACULA, and the Good Witch of the East from THE WIZARD OF OZ (that thing gets everywhere). Plus a gratuitous Jack La Rue in lounge lizard mode, and “Transitions by Slavko Vorkapich.”

But, I asked Fiona, have we ever really loved a Dorothy Arzner film? We’ve WANTED to. Fiona suggested DANCE, GIRL, DANCE. I argued that it’s a pretty poor film with one absolutely incredible scene, with Maureen O’Hara berating the audience (us). Fiona argued that that one scene is SO good it makes the film a masterpiece, and I couldn’t really argue with that. Are there any other films elevated from trash to classic by a single sequence? And are there any prime Arzners we should have seen?

We have seen and enjoyed, but not massively, the following —

GET YOUR MAN, NANA, THE WILD PARTY, MERRILY WE GO TO HELL. CRAIG’S WIFE and THE BRIDE WORE RED (a favourite of Mr. Wingrove) seem the obvious missing links. But what else?

Laughing on the Outside

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2010 by dcairns

The late Fergus Gwynplaine MacIntyre, science fiction author and human enigma, died by his own hand last month. To give you an idea of his mysterious character, I should mention that nobody seems to know his real name (he took the name Gwynplaine from Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs, or from Paul Leni’s film) or biographical details. The story he gives below, sometimes augmented with a claim to have webbed fingers and three ex-wives, gives you some idea of the doubt his life story encourages. All that’s known for certain is that his overstuffed Brooklyn apartment was set fire to, apparently by the man himself, and his body lies unclaimed.

One account which has sprung up has FGM jogging naked around his block, swathed in nitrate stock (attempting to stop its decomposition with his body sweat), resulting in his spontaneous human combustion when he got home (meeting a homeless man in the street he is supposed to have said, “They’re weeping, just like me.”) I strongly suspect that this is a poetic addition to the MacIntyre legend, continuing his mythomaniac lifestyle choice into the beyond.

Among FGM’s fictional activities was a project to review nearly every lost film on the IMDb, using historical research and vague claims of mysterious contacts with hidden film archives to shore up credence. The author also saw many real, surviving rare films, and used reviews of these to add plausibility to his lost film reviews. Incidentally, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED is described in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies as a lost film — it turned up, fortunately, after the book was published. Reading of its missing status as a child gave me a chill, and prompted a lifelong fascinating with the rogue fragments of film history still lurking undiscovered or lost to time.

Anyway, here’s the first of FGM’s emails to me, written after I asked him about an obsure (but not lost) William Wyler movie.

Greetings to David Cairns from Fergus (F. Gwynplaine) MacIntyre, whom you contacted about William Wyler’s film ‘A House Divided’. When I saw the name ‘Cairns’ in my email box, I thought I was getting an email from someone in Queensland, Australia. I used to live in a Queensland town called Cairns, where the chief attraction is the Sexchange Hotel. This is an hotel in the Australian sense of the term — an outback pub/trading post/meeting place — that was originally cried the Exchange Hotel, only some clever-clot climbed onto the roof and added an ‘S’. This proved to be good for business, and the Sexchange Hotel has been open for business ever since.

‘A House Divided’ is a very impressive film: a fine example of Wyler’s direction as well as Walter Huston’s acting. The early scenes strongly reminded me of several Lon Chaney films — the sort of scenario in which Chaney usually appeared, not the very few freak-show stories for which he’s remembered — so when Huston’s character became crippled in exactly the same manner as Chaney’s character in ‘West of Zanzibar’, I was gobsmacked. As I mentioned in my review, Huston had played Chaney’s ‘West of Zanzibar’ role before and after Chaney did it. (In the stage play ‘Kongo’ and the sound-film remake.)

Since this conversation, I’ve obtained a copy of the film and even watched it this week. Everything FGM says is true, but he neglects to mention the film’s most striking quality: Douglass Montgomery and Helen Chandler as the world’s most perfectly matched screen couple.

I’ve seen ‘A House Divided’ only once: in 2002 (the centenary of Wyler’s birth), Film Forum in New York City scheduled a Wyler retrospective, at which ‘A House Divided’ was shown for one day only, in a double feature with ‘Tom Brown of Culver’. An acquaintance of mine, Bob Lipton, attended the same screening that I attended, and he reviewed this film for IMDb a month earlier than I did.

The programmer at Film Forum is named Bruce Goldstein. (We’ve chatted a few times, and he knows me by face, but he probably won’t remember my name so there’s no point your mentioning me.) I have no specific contact information for him. He probably obtained his print of ‘A House Divided’ from a film archive on a rental basis.

Another person whom you might contact is Arne Andersen, and in this case you are welcome to mention my name. Three people have reviewed ‘A House Divided’ for IMDb: myself and Bob Lipton after attending the same screening, and Arne Andersen. Arne and I correspond via email: he told me that he saw ‘A House Divided’ earlier this year — not at the Film Forum screening — so he would know a source that I do not. However, I can’t guarantee that his source will make prints available to individual viewers.

Good luck! William Wyler is a sorely underrated director, and ‘A House Divided’ deserves to be much better known!

Thank you, David, for reading my IMDb reviews. I am, of course, *not* an employee of IMDb, and they don’t pay me for my reviews. I’m a full-time journalist and novelist. If you log onto and go to their Books section, then key a search for my by-line “F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre”, you’ll see the covers of two books that I wrote and illustrated. One of these is my Victorian horror/romance novel ‘The Woman Between the Worlds’, featuring Conan Doyle, Aleister Crowley, GB Shaw, WB Yeats, Arthur Machen, Sir William Crookes and several other eminent Victorians united to aid an invisible she-alien during an invasion of London by alien shape-changers. This novel got rave reviews from Harlan Ellison on his Stateside cable-tv show. I’m also the author and illustrator of a humour anthology which was praised by Ray Bradbury and other authors: ‘MacIntyre’s Improbable Bestiary’, likewise available on Amazon, which contains some original material about Lon Chaney and silent films.

To whet your appetite, here’s the cover (my artwork and typography) of my anthology:


Feel free to contact me on any subject that interests you, David.

Straight on till mourning,

Fergus (F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre)

In a somewhat whimsical mood, I emailed Mr MacIntyre last week, saying I hoped he wasn’t dead, but the email bounced back: account closed.

The Christmas Sunday Intertitle

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2009 by dcairns

Not particularly seasonal, I know, but with Fiona’s brother Roddy visiting, I didn’t get any silent films watched this week. Roddy can’t read (Williams Syndrome, the genetic condition he was born with, results in strong verbal skills but weak literary skills) so intertitles are a bother.

So DRACULA it was, although I didn’t entirely concentrate on it as I should’ve, what with the overflow of festive cheer and all. But I was pleased to find one of those intertitles, or supertitles, more common in early ’30s movies than later. Since DRAC is a filmed play, the shipboard scene gets a flurry of expository dialogue, news headlines, and a title card, just to make sure we’re not confused by the sudden departure from long drawn-out conversation scenes.

The film is a bit livelier than often supposed, though. Director Tod Browning and cameraman Karl Freund never stop serving up arresting images, even when we arrive in Whitby and the tension drops markedly. The theatrical aspect of the film becomes stronger and stronger, until the “climax” with its offscreen staking, which is indeed a letdown. But stage-trained Helen Chandler (who was suffering acute appendicitis throughout the shoot) and Dwight Frye in particular make excellent use of front-and-centre performance styles, aimed not at their fellow actors but at us, the wonderful people out there in the dark.

The thing is, it’s a lousy play, with plenty of what Hitchcock would call “no-scene scenes,” as when Mina and Lucy sit around discussing Dracula’s “romantic” manner. Playwrights used to argue that you couldn’t have a scene with just two women, because “nothing could happen.” A ridiculous idea, but this is the kind of scene they were warning against (it’s more or less reproduced in the Coppola version).

(There might be a good study to be written about the creative use of stage conventions in early talkies. When Lee Tracy in BLESSED EVENT, freaking Allen Jenkins out with his electric chair talk, refers to the audience present at an execution, he gestures at US. Both actors had transferred directly from the Broadway version.)

Haven’t been able to find out which silent movie the impressive;y hairy ship-in-a-storm footage has been culled from, but the Keystone mariners move at 20fps, so it’s certainly from elsewhere.

Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen