Archive for Henry Silva

The Dirty Half-Dozen

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2009 by dcairns

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Roger Corman’s THE SECRET INVASION is a clear fore-runner of Aldrich’s DIRTY DOZEN, dealing as it does with a crack elite squad of crack elite rogue maverick criminals on a top secret utmost importance type mission. For once working for a major studio (well, United Artists), Corman unfortunately wasn’t able to stress the cynical aspects that would make such a story most effective and original. (The best film of this type, and maybe the only really good one, is Andre de Toth’s PLAY DIRTY.)

Corman’s original title was THE DUBIOUS PATRIOTS, which I find endearingly weak. I suggest THE QUESTIONABLE HEROES and THE INSIPID MARTYRS as decent alternatives. Or maybe THE INGLOURIOUS SCAMPS.

The flick played at Edinburgh Film Fest’s Corman retro, and was introduced by Niall Fullton, who told how Corman conceived the story at the dentist — reading an article about the WWII battle of Dubrovnik, he dreamed up a war movie plot to distract him from the dentist’s uncomfortable ministrations (think LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS). UA money and Yugoslavian locations (with the partial cooperation of the local armed forces) enabled him to make his biggest film to date.

It’s enjoyable, but still has a somewhat cheap quality. Corman doesn’t pay that much attention to performance (the extras in particular are troublesome — there’s always one guy spoiling the mood by running into battle in a spazzy way, or pulling a strange expression during a crowd reaction shot) — and the production design isn’t fully up to the period movie challenge. The TV aerials on the rooftops didn’t bother me much, but the Nazi officer’s desk calendar for some reason seemed hilarious. It reads “1943:” That may be the funniest colon in film history.

When I wasn’t chuckling at the punctuation, I appreciated the deft use of stock footage (“Cairo” proclaims a proudly superimposed title, and it is Cairo) which Corman intercuts with the main characters’ introductions in a snappy way that actually achieves a sort of Oliver Stone liveliness, the different film stocks playing off each other. The day-for-night wasn’t so hot: underexposed evening shots set up a reasonably convincing facsimile of dusk, but then it becomes broad daylight for ten minutes before returning to dusk all of a sudden.

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Rooney, Byrnes, Campbell. The Dirty Trio.

Our heroes are —

MAJOR RICHARD MACE — Stewart Granger, boldly doing his own stunts and trying to steal other actors’ lines, causing a rare delay on a Corman shoot. Granger gives a horrible perf as the disgraced officer assigned to a suicide mission — everything is completely obvious and on-the-nose, which is especially problematic in a script as un-nuanced as this one. He’s not the most graceful actor either. The film is full of scenes where soldiers fail to take cover when they easily could, or run crouching behind low walls with their heads and shoulders sticking up into plain view.

ROBERT ROCCA – ORGANIZER — Raf Vallone gives the only really authoritative perf, nailing every line and exuding machismo and intelligence. His Rocca has degrees in psychology, Greek classics and structural engineering (Corman shares the latter qualification), none of which play any role in the story. But he is the guy who devises an escape plan in which all of the gang snap their fingers to maintain split-second timing in the absence of watches to synchronize. Of course, none of the actors snap at the same rate, and it turns out the timing was only relevant to allow them to all meet up in a corridor at approximately the same time. Still, nice thought.

TERENCE SCANLON – DEMOLITION — Mickey Rooney tests his well-known versatility by taking on the role of a feared IRA leprechaun. With the same dauntless courage he displayed as Mr. Yunioshi in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S — you can keep your Mifunes and Shimuras — he boldly plays the stage Oirish dialogue in an unmoderated American accent. But, one has to admit that his dancing training makes him a nimble and eye-catching physical player. He’s ridiculous, but with rare panache.

SIMON FELL – FORGER — Edd Byrnes is the handsome one, so it’s a surprising pleasure to see him die first. He essays the most histrionic, James Dean-like death, which is fine (Granger pulls off one of those nice life-leaving-the-eyes jobs in a pastoral setting). I was baffled by why the needed a forger, but they actually find stuff for him to do, stamping important Nazi documents with an artfully honed potato, and the like.

JOHN  DURRELL – ASSASSIN — Henry Silva once killed a man using only his cheekbones. And maimed a dog with his eyes. He’s well cast. “Of no known nationality,” Durrell is on death row for doing in his mistress. Nice to see that the professional hitman finds time for some pro bono work, I suppose. Silva gives a rubbish performance which, weirdly, isn’t quite inexpressive enough. And his romantic interest (!) is Spela Rozin, who projects even less emotion and seems more cold-blooded. Her credit, “And Introducing” practically guarantees her a lifetime of obscurity.

JEAN SAVAL – KNOWN AS “THE MASTER OF DISGUISE” — William Campbell is a very good too, a natural type with a great face and delivery. But unlikely casting as a man who can morph into anybody else, since he’s so distinctive-looking. A nice goofy moment is when he examines an unconscious Nazi guard so as to effect a transformation. “The key is the expression,” he intones. The expression of an unconscious man? Even if he can pull this off, aren’t the other Nazis going to wonder, “What’s Horst doing walking about unconscious on guard duty?” Campbell also does vocal impressions, by the simple method of being dubbed by whomever he choses to impersonate. It’s a handy skill!

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Going To The Candidate’s Debate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2008 by dcairns

Watching THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (version original) with friends — Fiona had never seen it — and it was striking how, for a very good film (it IS a very good film) it’s full of very silly, awful things that would sink a lot of lesser movies. So in a way I feel I’m celebrating the flick’s real virtues by listing some of its more gaping dreadfulnesses.

1) Opening credits. A badly airbrushed THING — a bundled flag? Then it acquires a playing-card face. OK, that’s pertinent. Then it sort of STRETCHES in order to fit in more credits. How does it do that? WHAT IS IT?

David Amram’s music works quite well in the film, but when you hear it more or less by itself, as here, it kind of makes you want to slip quietly out of life and start decaying.

Korean? Right.

2) Henry Silva as a Korean. “Of Spanish-Sicilian descent?” someone must have said, “Close enough!” Or maybe they just wanted someone Sinatra could hang out with. I like Silva, he has the face of a clever shark, but he is nobody’s idea of oriental. And he has to do kung fu! They could have got Bruce Lee, surely. Not Korean, either, but you know, CLOSER. It is ASTONISHING that, in 1962, a filmmaker might voluntarily cast this way, especially in a small role where there would have been no real pressure to insert a big name star.

With one mighty chop! I think it’s the placement of the couch that makes this bit funny.

3) Kung fu. Sinatra is many things (he’s terrific in this) but he’s actually not the most graceful athlete. It’s particularly funny, the contrast between the feeble movements of the lumbering Caucasians onscreen, and the EFFECT they have, smashing through tabletops and doors with their mighty chops. It’s just mad. Several of Sinatra’s “moves” seem to have been borrowed from the classic “dirty fighting” scene in Lang’s CLOAK AND DAGGER, where, despite being some years older and having a bad back, Gary Cooper acquitted himself rather better in the action hero stakes than the bandy-legged crooner from Hoboken.

Send in the stunt men! If you watch the equence at regular speed, it is in no way obvious that it’s not Frank and Henry here. But it’s still funny.

The sequence is laughable partly because it seems to have served for the inspiration for all the wildly destructive martial arts combat in the later PINK PANTHER films, but only partly. Shouting “No, Cato, now is not the time!” at the screen doesn’t actually make the sequence funnier than it already is. It shares with Blake Edwards’ slapstick scenes the abrupt, unmotivated start, the massively elevated levels of destruction, and the unhealthy, unskilled posture and movement of the fighters (though Burt Kwouk and Henry Silva certainly have the edge on Peter Sellers and Frank Sinatra).

4) Janet Leigh. Now, I love Janet Leigh, but there is actually no reason for her to be in this picture save to assure us that the Frankie is heterosexual, in case we were for any reason worried. After all, shorn of love interest, he spends most of his time making puppy eyes at Laurence Harvey. Screenwriter George Axelrod (THE 7 YEAR ITCH) breaks out his best cutesy dialogue to try and give Janet something to SAY, at least, since she has nothing to do, and Sinatra suffers so effectively in these scenes that they kind of get away with it. Of course, a lot of women’s roles were created for this very reason, and still are, but usually they’re more thoroughly woven into the narrative, so that their presence actually achieves something else too.

5) Laurence Harvey going on about being “lovable”, a word he uses about 47 times in one speech. Overdone, maybe? However, L.H. is, if not exactly adorable, extremely effective and touching here. My old friend took a dislike to the Lithuanian Lothario after witnessing him urinate from the window of a moving car, but if wanton micturation were something that disqualified one from screen greatness, Lee Tracy and Robert Mitchum would both be disbarred from the Walk of Fame. As well as all those cockney actors who, by long tradition, use the dressing room sink rather than the toilet (Barbara Windsor, James Hayter and Jessie Matthews, I’m talking about you).

6) Not a flaw, but a definite TRAIT: Frankenheimer directs this with a great deal of invention but very little cohesion. While most of it uses wide-angle lens deep-focus photography in a way that draws upon CITIZEN KANE while looking ahead to Frankenheimer’s much more extreme SECONDS, the film uses just about every style yet invented. Mostly location-shot, the film has some bizarre process shots when Harvey and Sinatra are meant to be in Central Park, even though the wide shots show them actually there. Arriving at a political rally, we suddenly go handheld, in a pastiche of Pennebaker’s PRIMARY (see also THE BEST MAN and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY — this is obviously the default mode for filming political activity, pre-Zapruder). Ten minutes from the end, there are a couple of WIPES, for no readily explainable reason.

Winged victory.

The stylistic confusion could be said to apply to the film’s politics as well, except that I think both are intentional, and pretty clever. It’s obviously an anti-McCarthy fable, but at the same time the film confirms the Reds-under-the-beds paranoia by having its McCarthy character turn out to be a communist agent. Senator Jordan voices the film’s message, but when he’s assassinated the bullet passes through a carton of milk on its way to his heart, so he appears to bleed milk. Frankenheimer stated that this was a satirical swipe at the character’s milky liberalism.

But all that double-bluff and counter-espionage makes the movie smarter and more interesting than some piece of agit-prop.

Pretty much everything else seemed great, Angela Lansbury in particular. Let’s talk about HER sometime!