Archive for Henry King

The B.V.M.

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2019 by dcairns
“What I got don’t need beads.”

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, in which Jennifer Jones appears courtesy of David O. Selznick and the Virgin Mary appears courtesy of God.

A few of us Bolognites wished Il Cinema Ritrovato had shown this one, because it’s a good, well-known Henry King, and he give s it the big build-up in the documentary they screened. He tested multiple big stars for the title role and asked them to look off-camera and see the Ble s sed Virgin Mary. “All the others looked,” reported King, “but only Jennifer Jones SAW.”

Jones is pretty great. Always tempting to define her successes in terms of her limitations, for some reason. Good directors use their stars for what they CAN do and aim them away from what they can’t. “There was a stupidity about her,” said Ruth Goetz, meaning to praise her for her rightness for the title role in the 1952 CARRIE. Here, Bernadette calls herself stupid but is, rather, simple, which in the movie’ s terms elevates her above all the troublesome, complicated character s who persecuted her.

Jones plays this with an unchanging serenity and hesitant meekness that comes right to the edge of being annoyingly monotonous but doesn’t quite cross over. I would guess that the inspiration is hers and the control is King’s.

All the performances are ace. Vincent Price is airdropped into the dead centre of his comfort zone, playing intelligent, cool and cynical, with the melancholy he could sometimes access, and without campery (he must’ve been tempted to try to slip one passed the goalie, but maybe King was too nimble in defense). Oddly, his final moments appear to have inspired the ending of DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN.

The only actor who gets away with anything inappropriate is one of Bernadette’s sisters, who moons the camera.

The Breen Office was too dazzled by the Virgin to notice the butt cheeks.

Top mark s to Lee J. Cobb again, a different actor from his laid-back debut in THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF but with none of the growl and bluster of later roles. He’s marvellously DETAILED.

Huge waxen eyelids.

And scary nun Gladys Cooper nearly walks off with the show. She has to literally carry Jones for the third act.

King does something very clever by keeping the B.V.M. apparition in long shot, like an icon, though it would be even better if we never saw the very special guest star at all. There are other bit s where he has his periodic fits of visual expressiveness and it’ s pretty great.

Now, I not only don’t HAVE faith, I don’t even admire it, though I acknowledge a lot of people find it useful in withstanding life’s brickbats. Thus, as an opening title forewarns, part of this film is a closed book to me. But I could admire the way a lone, ill-educated girl stands up to the authorities: police, politicians, family, and even the church, and the way the film gets us on her side, the ultimate underdog, even though apparently she has the supreme being in her corner.

Without Linda Darnell as the B.V.M. and the heavenly choir s nudging us in the ribs, this wouldn’t have a trace of kitsch. With them, it has quite a bit of that popular and valued Hollywood commodity. But it’s, you know, compelling.

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE stars Cluny Brown; Oliver Niles; Prince Prospero; Lt. William Kinderman; Mrs. Higgins; Caroline Lamphere; Jimmy Valentine; Maybelle Merriwether; Georges Sand; Ben Hubbard; Mrs. Rand; “Concentration Camp” Ehrhardt; Madame Therese De Farge; Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest; Miles Archer; Lt. Alexei Chernoff; Antonya Raskolnikov; Matiste; The Dear One; The Kid; Alfred the butler; Van Helsing; and Chihuahua.

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Kings

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2019 by dcairns

WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE stars Bensinger; Lena Lamont; Dr. Cyclops; Dr. Russell A. Marvin; Phoebe Dinsmore; and Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow.

Missed this in Bologna — the Leon Shamroy Technicolor would have been worthwhile — Youtube’s copy, though good by Youtube standards, is terribly dark at times.

But I don’t know what the film’s thesis is — what it’s trying to demonstrate, explicate or make us feel, except on a scene-by-scene basis. David Wayne’s small-town barber is from the “variations on an asshole school of characterisation, but to what end? The final line, after fifty years of story have been covered, celebrates the virtues of a good shave, and that does seem to be the chief lesson imparted. Actually, I kind of liked that bit.

We do, however, get to view the second and third most terrifying shaves in screen history (after THE COLOR PURPLE), one where Wayne is so drunk he can’t walk, and one where he’s contemplating murdering the man in the chair.

King is celebrated for his Americana, the nearest thing to a personal interest displayed in his cinema. There’s more of it in ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (1938).

King claimed his staging of the musical numbers in IN OLD CHICAGO got him this gig, which reunites stars Power, Faye and Ameche from the earlier quake-fest, but his song-and-dance stuff here is far, far better. IOC basically observed Faye in three shot sizes as she transmitted a bunch of oldy-time standards from her big face. This one has proper PRODUCTION NUMBERS and I became a fan of capering imp Wally Vernon.

You also get a chance to contrast the performing styles of Alice Faye and Ethel Merman. Merman at this point is not an actor, but she speaks her lines with an appealing and convincing simplicity. And she sings the same way, only of course she has that powerhouse voice. Faye, giving the best performance in the best role I’ve seen her in, can do a lot more with inflection and phrasing and meaning, but lacks the ability to vibrate an iron bridge to pieces with her vocal cords.

The IMDb promised us cameos by Rondo Hatton (memorable in IN OLD CHICAGO in the role of “Rondo”) as a barfly, and Lon Chaney Jr as “photographer on stage,” but the on-stage photographer we see clearly ain’t Chaney and Hatton’ s barfly does not appear (how could you miss him?) so it’s left to John Carradine to bring the horror (which no fantasy about the birth of a musical movement should be without). John does not disappoint.

Carradine’s role is officially that of cabbie, but his plot function is to play Cupid, and who better? Picture him nude with a little bow and arrow. Charm itself! Hired by Power, he basically abducts Faye to bring her to his Carnegie Hall concert. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You let John Carradine kidnap you.

JC’ s laidback manner is terrifying: the more relaxed he gets, the more death seems imminent, and preferable to his company. His Dracula was never this alarming. He was really a fine actor, but needed to be aimed in the right direction. King appears to have launched him straight up, to land wherever he may.

At first, we suspected John was probably going to drive Alice Faye to a lock-up somewhere and torture her to death with pliers.

But, as the sequence went on, we became sure of it. An improbable end to a musical, but the only thing that would have made sense of his performance.

The actual ending is quite a bit happier than that. But as for the history of ragtime, its origins and purpose are still a total mystery.

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND stars Leonard Vole; June Mills; Mortimer Duke; Lieutenant Hurwitz; The Tin Man; Dr. Paul Christian; Parthy Ann Hawks; Maj. Cassius Starbuckle; Larry Talbot and the Hoxton Creeper.

After the Fox

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2019 by dcairns

Yes indeed, there’s some interesting stuff in Henry King’s swashbuckler, even if the drama itself isn’t always that engaging. Tyrone Power does his usual bad-boy-turns-good thing. Orson has a spectacular first scene, with some extraordinary expressions playing across his massive mug, then normalizes a bit into just a good Welles villain role. Rewriting the script on location he bolstered Everett Sloane’s role…

…with this feather.

The whole film looks beautiful, thanks to stunning Italian locations and Leon Shamroy’s cinematography, which raises my estimation of him even higher. (In THE BRAVADOS he showcases his usual Deluxe Color palette, with orange light and blue shadows, sometimes ignoring logic and light sources altogether, just routinely doing what he does, so that the imagery so stunning in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN came to seem slightly tired.)

Was Orson whispering suggestions to King? He had dominated the experienced Robert Stevens on JANE AYRE, and he still had the vestiges of Hollywood stardom to give him clout. I commend to you, at the very least, the film’s second scene (commencing 2.47).

There are low angles: when Welles mounts the podium, we view him from below, like a member of his entourage, but the reactions shots of them are taken EVEN LOWER. There’s a tracking shot running counter to the movement of Welles as he sweeps in. Those shots of the reacting listeners, at around 4.55, with the camera sweeping from one face to another in fast pans and pushy track-ins, are really extraordinary. It feels like Welles exerts more influence here than anywhere else, but it’s perhaps not PURE Welles.

The restlessness of the camera, not quite in sync with story values, driven purely by its own enthusiasm, has an early thirties vibe to me. And King hasn’t indulged in this kind of brio SINCE the early thirties. He’s back at the Fox Film Corporation, channeling the house style with youthful enthusiasm, prodded along impatiently by his Cesare Borgia…

PRINCE OF FOXES features Leonard Vole; Hank Quinlan; Pila; Pilar; Polonius: Flavia; Mr. Bernstein; and Dr. Satan.