Archive for Helen Mack

The Birds and the Beef

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2017 by dcairns

Another “song” from KISS AND MAKE-UP. Why am I so good to you?

Edward Everett Horton was not particularly known for his singing, though his number in THE GAY DIVORCEE, paired with Betty Grable of all people, is oddly pleasing. Here, his vocal weakness is made exponentially greater by Helen Mack, who matches him bum note for bum note.

What a hot mess of a film. I’ve been reading James Harvey’s Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, from Lubitsch to Sturges, which I can’t recommend highly enough, and he makes a crack about how Paramount films of the thirties tended to fall apart in the third act with alarming regularity, something I hadn’t particularly noticed. But by God this film certainly makes that FEEL true, though in all honesty it starts falling apart shortly after the opening credits. Every time you think it can’t crumble any further, it manages to fracture a little more. Horton has some funny lines early on, so there was somebody of talent involved (asides from the design and camera department who make it all LOOK lovely — as Lubitsch said, “The Paramount Paris is the most Parisian”). My guess is the good stuff flowed from the typewriter of credited scribe George F. Marion, who has some amazing credits.

Some images ~

This last one, with the Venetian blind shadows infecting Cary’s robe, calls to mind THE CONFORMIST.

And because we need SOME quality to get us through the day, here’s James Harvey — who has little to say about this movie and who can blame him? — describing Grant and Constance Bennett in TOPPER ~

She is small and gleaming and sinuous: her body, draped in glittering bias-cut gowns, droops in a dramatic art-deco curve from shoulders to slightly out-thrust hips. She leans back, against a piano or a husband, with her long elegant fingers splayed and upraised, like someone who is always drying her nail polish. The effect is both voguish and feline. Grant, the one she leans into, is as big and dark as she is slight and fair. And there is something feline about him, too–a hint of danger, a look of sheathed-claw contentment. They look so smashing together that the production stills are almost better–certainly more elegant and suggestive–than the movie is. Grant’s role, practically a supporting one, doesn’t give him much to do, but with it he becomes an icon of thirties glamour and fun.

Good, eh?

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La Rue Morgue

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 2, 2010 by dcairns

WHILE PARIS SLEEPS more than lived up to La Faustin’s recommendation. This racy, nasty pre-code unfolds in a fallen world of unbelievable cruelty and darkness, although it’s enacted on beautiful sets (Fox Films’ Paris sets may have been left over from SEVENTH HEAVEN, they certainly look similar).

Right at the start, war hero Victor McLaglan escapes from a hellish prison and heads for Paris. The wardens believe him dead, and smugly affirm that it’s for the best, when a man is already “mentally dead.” They also seem to have no sympathy for the fact that he got a letter saying his wife was dying and his daughter about to be destitute. This is a cartoonishly unsympathetic story world we’re in.

To confirm this, we get a scene of the daughter, Helen Mack, being kicked out of her apartment because her mother’s funeral cleaned out her savings. The vicious old concierge more or less advises her to go on the streets to earn her keep. The nice Helen has no intention of doing so, but the rest of the plot concerns a scheme to lure her into a life of sexual slavery, so perhaps she’ll end up like Mollie Molloy, her character in HIS GIRL FRIDAY.

Mack is really cute in this, with a slightly daffy, cockeyed Helen Chandler quality (but sexier). Fiendish Jack La Rue takes a fancy to her, and since we soon see him baking a snitch alive in an oven, this seems like a troubling development.

Of course, the boulangerie is a place of primal terror for all Americans. One thinks of the poor guy suspended by his thumbs in a baker’s basement in REIGN OF TERROR, as Arnold Moss politely asks Robert “Terror of Strasbourg” Cummings “Whyncha eat yer bun?” The association of French pastry-making with torture and murder is easy to explain: doesn’t every bakery in Paris have a sign above the door that reads “PAIN”?

The film’s other top pre-code moment is Mack’s nude scene, semi-espied through a translucent screen, as naughty La Rue peeps over the top. This scene is suggestive enough to make a BluRay release mandatory, so we can see how much detail is visible. I can’t stress enough how cute Helen Mack is… Anyway, La Rue’s hardboiled girlfriend Fifi (Rita La Roy) soon comes in and bashes him over the head with a French loaf, cementing the connection between bread and violence.

McLaglan is like Ron Perlman in CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, a hulking single-motivation man-muscle, pummeling his way through life’s problems with two fists, two neurons and an undying love in his heart. When he’s simple, he’s terrific. There’s an awkward scene, however, when he parts from Mack, having decided not to identify himself as her long-lost dad. He pauses, thinks, frowns, wipes away a tear, sniffs, sighs, and does everything but hold up a signpost reading “EMOTIONAL”. McLaglan is like Wallace Beery in that his boorishness is quite believable and strangely appealing as such, but when he does schmaltz it has a queasy effect akin to watching a balrog make kissy-faces.

Interesting how in this movie all the young lovers (Mack and William Bakewell, who’s just the right side of sappy) want to do is escape Paris and go live on a farm. Seems counter-intuitive to me, somehow. Still, the portrait of civilisation is so relentlessly unsympathetic, the idea of surrounding oneself with a protective screen of livestock makes a kind of sense.

Despite Lubitsch’s assertion that Paramount Paris was more Parisian than the real thing, Fox Films Paris is my favourite, a grimy, rough-hewn, round-edged place of stone and shadow and fog, with the awesome feeling of a gutter as viewed by a microbe. Of course, the prime bug is Jack La Rue, his nose spread across his face as wide as his shit-eating grin. Dwan at first seems almost afraid of that face, as if he’s not too sure what it’ll do to his camera, but at the very end of Dwan’s second big scene he finally steels himself tracks in on it, as JLR puffs and exhales satanically on his Gauloise.