Archive for Henry Levin

Trash

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2019 by dcairns

I started out wanting to observe, for what it’s worth, that every single movie name-dropped in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is terrible, but that’s not quite true. THE GREAT ESCAPE is a fun movie, and FUNNY GIRL is OK. But it’s startling how many stinkers are featured. CANDY is a very unusual and kind of interesting bad movie, and John Dykstra worked on it, so I guess it’s an in-joke too, since he did this film’s model shots (the drive-in crane shot, and the Pan-Am jets). But then we get a poster for Mike Sarne’s JOANNA… holy crap.

Then we have THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S (described by its own director, before it opened, as a piece of crap); KRAKATOA, EAST OF JAVA (the most geographically inaccurate title ever?), THREE IN THE ATTIC (QT once tried unsuccessfully to get star Christopher Jones out of retirement), THE MERCENARY, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, DON’T MAKE WAVES (OK, the last two have Sharon Tate in them so one can understand them being mentioned — but DMW was such a miserable experience it caused Alexander Mackendrick to give up film-making), THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE SERGEANT, LADY IN CEMENT…

Vulture’s article on this cites a few actual good films I’d forgotten or missed: 2001, PRETTY POISON, THE BOSTON STRANGLER. So there are good films in the mix: I guess a recreation of 1969, if accuracy is the aim, ought to feature more bad films than good, since that’s the way the balance always swings. But I don’t understand the nostalgia for this kind of stuff.

I suppose true nostalgia could definitially be about ephemera and garbage, stuff that exerts an emotional pull on us despite or maybe even because of its seeming worthlessness. But that kind of nostalgia — “Remember Space Hoppers?” — is pretty useless. It gets its power from an unrelated source — “I was young once” — and the specific things it focusses on are meaningless to others of a different generation.

The weirdest hommage to me is THE WRECKING CREW, a Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie — I’ve always regarded that series as genuinely toxic. We all know the sixties Bond films are chauvinist; the Flint movies with James Coburn are seriously sexist; but the Matt helm movies are actually misogynistic. The filmmakers sincerely seem to hate women and devote as much screen time as they can to demeaning them.

This makes for an odd, unreadable scene in OUATIH when Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate goes to see the real Sharon Tate in TWC. I like that they didn’t digitally replace Tate with Robbie, or reshoot the movie. But if the intention is to pay tribute, the material used seems a strange choice. But then Tate’s movies are not a glorious bunch, alas: THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS is probably the least obnoxious, and I guess VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has camp value.

I get the impression that the scene is supposed to show Tate enjoying the audience’s reaction to her performance. And I guess maybe it works that way for some. But THE WRECKING CREW devotes most of Tate’s screen time to humiliating her character, showing her as clumsy, stupid, annoying to the hero, while displaying her body at every opportunity. Margot Robbie seems to have a hard time overlooking this, or at any rate her reactions don’t totally convince as those of someone enjoying the experience in a clearly readable way. I think Tate was too smart to have behaved this way, and Robbie is too smart to convincingly act it. There’s some kind of barely-tangible discomfort that manifests itself in a kind of blankness — the smile is big, apparently sincere, but somehow empty and non-specific.

When you see interviews with B-movie starlets looking back on some trash they were in, there’s always a rueful quality, and also a little pride — “At least I was a trouper, I put up with it all.” To me, showing Tate with that attitude to a really dumb, obnoxious movie she was in would give her more credit as a thinking professional.

(Acting watching a movie seems to be hard: when the kids go to see Harold Lloyd in HUGO, it’s maybe the most forced bit of performance in any Scorsese film; Kiarostami, no slouch, made a whole movie focussing on an audience watching an imaginary film, and it’s weirdly pointless and unmoving.)

Look, I know it’s not great film criticism, but I just really, really despise the Matt Helm series. It may be what’s stopped me looking at director Phil Karlson’s earlier noirs, which are supposed to be very good. Although I stumbled on a few fun Henry Levin movies — Henry helmed the two Helms that Phil didn’t film — and they’re modestly enjoyable. Both men seem to be bone-weary, disenchanted and dyspeptic by the time they get to Dean Martin spy caper hell.

In the memoir of gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas, he writes about working with Sharon Tate. Like everyone else who knew her, he was struck by her sweetness. She told him she couldn’t act at all, but that he shouldn’t worry, it seemed to come out alright. And he observed that she appeared to be correct: she played her scenes quite naturally, didn’t seem to try to act, and was perfectly effective onscreen. That self-deprecating, insightful and carefree attitude MIGHT leave Tate able to look at her work in THE WRECKING CREW and smile. But I think it’s a more interesting insight than anything Tarantino offers.

TT ˃ QT

What a Wonderful World

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2014 by dcairns

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Lost and gone, lost and gone, as the spectral “jury of the damned” intone in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER. And so it is with THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, directed by George Pal and Henry Levin. While the other Cinerama feature, AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS and HOW THE WEST WAS WON have enjoyed restorations and blu ray releases, this one may never be seen in the form intended or any digital approximation thereof, since the elements have not shown up anywhere. Collectors gathered bits and pieces from around the world and were able to screen a patched-together, Frankenstein’s monster print, with the three different panels of the giant Cinerama frame consisting of different bits in different conditions, varying from near-pristine to lamentable — and a couple of seconds of the thing got destroyed in that screening.

It’s not the tragedy it would be if the film was as good as Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE, which still holds up beautifully. Pal’s weakness for flat, TV lighting, and his uncertainty with script and gags, hold this one back considerably. The plot in the framing structure consists of a wearisome romance between one Grimm Brother and Barbara Eden, and the financial woes and employment troubles of the pair of them. This is a startlingly dull premise for a roadshow family picture, and the last half hour, when a happy ending has been all but guaranteed, is a life-sapping ordeal.

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Also, the elves are horrible, charmless things. Worse than Oompa-loompas.

But here are some flaws that don’t matter: one brother is German (Karlheinz Boehm from PEEPING TOM, prompting me to cry “Tell us the one about your magic camera!”) and the other is Lithuanian with an English accent (Laurence Harvey, very good in a role which requires warmth and a childlike quality, both of which you might think are entirely outside his range but NO); two directors, but in fact Levin, brought in to handle the serious parts, is no better at drama or extreme-wide-screen decoupage than Pal, so their virtues and inadequacies blend seamlessly; European and American actors generally mingled randomly — it’s a melting pot, so what?; the stop start of a framing narrative continually interrupted by fantasy fairy tale sequences – since the framework is mainly a drag, the interruptions are ALWAYS WELCOME.

And here are the virtues ~

A great stop-motion dragon, more cartoony than anything Harryhausen would dream of presenting, but perfect for the tone of this show. He breathes cartoon flames, too.

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The whole Russ Tamblyn section, which makes exhilarating use of the star’s athleticism and only makes you wish somebody had cast him in a Keatonesque thrill comedy at feature length. Fun perf from Jim Backus as a kind of King Magoo (“You’re just a princess, whereas I’m a king, which is better.”) And we finally discover a reason for Yvette Mimieux: she dances beautifully.

The singing bone. It has a spooky, vocoder voice and it sings about being dead. And it once belonged to Buddy Hacket’s shin.

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Some effective use of the wide frame, for rushing movements, and dance, and spectacle. And some very weird uses, like fast pans which make the screen ripple as if it were being projected on Miles Mander’s ribcage. Peculiar shots where each character is in a different part of the cine-triptych, acting in his own little world, and doesn’t seem to be looking at the others, due to the fisheye type distortion of the three lenses looking at the action from different directions. See here for delirious examples from other films.

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Fever dream with fantasy characters, genuinely trippy. Best fever hallucination feeling outside of THE TENANT. Although see also the Mirkwood scenes in HOBBIT II.

The sad thing is that people demand perfection from their restorations. I have no doubt that a version of TWWOTBG could be assembled with much tidier joins between the panels, but there would still be visible flaws, some of them glaring, and so there’s no will to embark on such a project.

My City (The Disney* Version)

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2010 by dcairns

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, the Disney production, directed by Henry Levin (who helmed the fun I LOVE A MYSTERY series), and more importantly scripted and produced by Charles Brackett, for some unknown but doubtless delightful reason, shifts the protagonist’s place of residence to my own fair city of Edinburgh, affording us numerous touristic views of historical areas of interest (which can be made period-friendly with next to no effort) and a strange Irish accent from James Mason, like a badly trampled version of the stage Oirish he essayed in ODD MAN OUT and THE RECKLESS MOMENT. In one scene he impersonates his character’s grandmother and suddenly produces a cartoonish but recognisable Glasgwegian. Arlene Dahl just plays her Swedish character as American, so it’s left to Pat Boone to try to fill in some kind of otherwise absent idiomatic authenticity. This, it seems to me, is a mistake.

In fact, Pat does better than the rest of them, filtering some kind of general-purpose Scottish accent into his existing US one, resulting in a sort of Floridian burr. It’s still less convincing than the enlarged iguanas at the Earth’s core (if this movie had Harryhausen, it’d be an all-time classic) but he gets points for sort of trying, and more points for not trying too hard.

Probably none of this fauxthenticity was helped by the fact that the location shots above are all second unit with a stand-in taking Mason’s place when required.

*And by Disney it seems I mean 20th Century Fox.