Archive for Helen Walker

Here Comes Mr. Lucky Jordan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2016 by dcairns

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LUCKY JORDAN is an entertaining wartime comedy-thriller starring Alan Ladd and directed by the sometimes-excellent Frank Tuttle. It’s on a similar pattern to the later MR. LUCKY, which starred Cary Grant, a considerably more charming rogue than Laddie. But it has a nice, indirect approach to its propaganda message — Ladd plays Jordan, a gangster who wants to avoid the draft (War is Bad for Business) and, having failed to do so, goes AWOL and becomes involved in a plot to sell military secrets to the enemy. It becomes apparent to anyone who’s seen a few movies that Jordan is due for a Damascene conversion after which he will do his patriotic duty, but the movie makes us wait, and wait, well aware that a character doing all the WRONG things is more entertaining than some noble paragon. It just about overcomes the central difficulty, which is that Jordan is a bit TOO loathsome, and Ladd doesn’t have the right kind of charisma to make us enjoy this.

Amusingly, even at the end of the story, supposedly reformed, Jordan is still all in favour of flat-out murdering all his opponents.

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The script is persistently witty, in ways that are often surprising, and the more Ladd plays it straight the more effective it is. There’s also one extremely striking set, Jordan’s office, courtesy of Hans Dreier and Ernst Fegté, and strong support. Mabel Paige plays an old souse roped in to masquerade as Jordan’s mother, who gets caught up in the role, method-style, and pleasing villainy is supplied by Miles Mander, dastardly rake-thin fifth columnist (no column that slender could provide reliable structural support), and John Wengraf, distinguished Nazi creep.

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Fiona and I were mainly drawn by the presence of baby-faced Helen Walker, supporting attraction of Shadowplay favourite CLUNY BROWN (“the Honorable Betty Cream” who “sits a horse well” and “doesn’t go everywhere”). Her career — and life — suffered a terrible blow in 1946 when she picked up three hitchhiking soldiers and then crashed her car, killing one of them. The surviving veterans accused her of having been drunk, and speeding. It’s kind of miraculous that she had any kind of career at all after that — she lost one major role she’d been set to play, and took on darker material (NIGHTMARE ALLEY, THE BIG COMBO, both memorable) since her bright and cheerful image had been irrevocably tainted.

LUCKY JORDAN was her debut, and she’s delightful in it, but the scenes riding in a car with a uniformed Ladd are a little uncomfortable, foreboding, in the light of what was to happen to her.

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I shall never forget the day she dusted the right eye out of Lord Henry’s moose

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2012 by dcairns

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After the special screening of CLUNY BROWN at Filmhouse, there was much discussion among the appreciative audience about why the film wasn’t better known. Various theories were mooted —

1) Vagaries of TV scheduling — none of us could remember catching CLUNY on TV. While IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, a flop on first release, became a Christmas classic because it had lapsed into the public domain and therefore could be screened free of charge, and therefore was screened A LOT, and while CASABLANCA was already a firm favourite but was given a boost by the fact that Curtiz’s unusual use of closeups makes the film play very well on a small screen, CLUNY BROWN may have just missed out on finding a place on the small screen. And TV is what has kept film history somewhat in the public mind — the dropping of old movies from the schedules has brought about mass amnesia in the young, the loss of a whole language composed of once-iconic faces. Not only are there now western adults who don’t know Jimmy Cagney, they may be in the majority.

2) Vagaries of contemporary reviewing — coming after a string of successes, the somewhat uncategorizable and utterly relaxed CLUNY BROWN probably didn’t get the love it deserved. If you’d just given five-star reviews to NINOTCHKA, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and HEAVEN CAN WAIT, you might be inclined to nit-pick just for variety. And you could probably find a few things to criticise —

3) The first act takes place in a London flat and deals with Hilary Ames (Reginald Gardiner) preparing a cocktail party and in need of a plumber. It feels like the whole film is going to be a series of people arriving at the door and either mistaken for plumbers or being plumbers and mistaken for ordinary civilians. But then the film takes off for the countryside and we never see Hilary Ames again. There’s also a coda in New York. So the film is extremely casual about structure, and some people seem to mistake this for sloppiness. Certainly the film has a lightness and a country house setting in common with the Jeeves and Wooster stories, but eschews the tightly-plotted farce form which is one of Wodehouse’s defining merits.

But in fact, all subplots are nicely rounded off and despite the need for comedy characters to resist change, I think we get about four-to-six full character acts, all of which are affecting and delightful. The movie appears to take its time, yet packs in lots of funny supporting players and explores the themes of class and inhibitions and “knowing your place” in a thorough and intelligent manner. It was suggested that the modern Downton Abbey audience might find it very amenable.

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4) Charles Boyer is today mainly known for GASLIGHT and Jennifer Jones I guess for DUEL IN THE SUN and PORTRAIT OF JENNIE. This film shows them in very different modes. They’re both brilliant. He’s just generally excellent, implying Adam Belinski’s romantic yearnings and heartbreak with only the tiniest hints. Jones, with her preposterous attempt at an English accent (inconsistent in itself and about three social classes too high), and her rather full-on approach to every emotion, is less obviously a skilled player, but in fact everything she does is PERFECT. Even the accent works in a weird way, suggesting Cluny’s fish-out-of-water quality. You’ll notice that nobody criticizes Boyer for failing to do a convincing Czech accent, so why should we object to her wandering vowel sounds?

5) The only major cult figure in the supporting class is Una O’Connor, who does sterling work (restrained by her standards). But there ought to be a cult around Richard Haydn, a real cult that worships him as a god. And Peter Lawford’s callow young man roles in this and the criminally unappreciated Christmas film SOMEONE TO REMEMBER (Robert Siodmak) ought to be enough to redeem him from the Rat Pack pigeonhole he got himself jammed into later. Everybody’s good in this — Canadian Margaret Bannerman makes a splendid English lady of the manor, initially a silly goose, but revealing almost mystic levels of grace and understanding. “We must have a talk about the garden, because everything’s planned three years in advance,” becomes, in her reading, a rather eerie and beautiful encapsulation of Britishness.

Helen Walker’s career was tragically derailed but she’s wonderful and lovely (and believably English) as the Honourable Betty Cream (she doesn’t go everywhere, but she does sit a horse well, hang it) — she has this and NIGHTMARE ALLEY as twin claims to immortality.

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Sarah Allgood and Ernest Cossart — the head servants are far more snobbish and unsympathetic than their masters, which points to the fact that this is a film poking fun at class but still from a slightly conservative viewpoint. Lubitsch is not out to overthrow the system, although in the context of the stultified society presented, Boyer’s cri de coeur of “Your place is wherever you are happy” (paraphrased as “Squirrels to the nuts!”) is somewhat revolutionary.

I’ve just discovered via the IMDb that Cossart was the actual brother of Gustav Holst. Now I have an image of him cavorting in a toga to the theme of Jupiter from The Planets Suite. It’s quite a nice image, really.

***

But really those are all the reasons I can think of why this isn’t a gigantic renowned classic, and I don’t really believe any of them are good reasons.

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Meet the Fleagles; or, Luminous Gravy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2010 by dcairns

Sorry, I forgot who recommended MURDER, HE SAYS — it was a good call, though, this was very enjoyable.

Never had a real handle on George Marshall as a director, his looong career having taken in just about every kind of entertainment, including another spooky house comedy, THE GHOST BREAKERS, which he explicitly, and I mean EXPLICITLY, references in this one (Fred MacMurray: “Did you ever see that movie, The Ghost Breakers?”) But he was clearly a guy with plenty of chops: apart from all the bizarre material crammed into this flick, which would have been entertaining in an eye-popping kind of way no matter who’d been in charge, there’s a farce sequence in a dark cellar with characters near-missing and mistaking each other which is really superb — on the page I bet it looked impossible.

Fred MacMurray (a little over-the-top but still likable — admits to being a sax player, too) is another Marshall, Pete Marshall, a census-taker who hasn’t heard the likely fate of such persons when they meet serial killers… Running into the psychotic redneck Fleagle family (a name I had previously only encountered by way of television’s The Banana Splits)  he becomes involved in a search for buried loot in an environment that seems to anticipate certain aspects of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. There’s also polonium-like poison being splashed about, causing various characters to glow in the dark, resulting in some striking visuals. Thanks to a good script and Marshall’s deft control, a movie that could have been as irksome as SHIT! THE OCTOPUS becomes a minor gem.

But why CAN’T I have a glow-in-the-dark Mabel Paige of my own?

Also worthy of note — Porter Hall, the man who can do anything, playing a weaselly bogus intellectual who has “dabbled in phrenology, psychology and the science of hyper-physical manifestation”;  Mabel Paige as the rootin’ tootin’ grandma (and it’s hard for me to believe that mere months ago I was unaware that there WAS a Mabel Paige — today I am scarcely aware there’s anyone else); Jean Heather (Lola from DOUBLE INDEMNITY) as the sweetly simple Elany (somebody get her a date with Boo Radley); and leading lady Helen Walker, who we always call “The Honorable Betty Cream.” She takes a while to show up, though, causing Fiona to protest, “Oh, when is The Honorable Betty Cream going to appear? It’s like waiting for Groucho!”

Worth it.