Archive for Hot Saturday

Pre-code Unknown

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by dcairns

In which I continue my slow spread across the internet. Picture one of those burning maps you’d get in the opening titles of Hollywood war or western pic: that’s me and the internet.

At The Daily Notebook, I contribute to the ongoing process of capsule-reviewing highlights of New York’s Film Forum pre-code series, along with Gina Telaroli, Ben Sachs, Craig Keller, Glenn Kenny, Zach Campbell and Jaime N. Christley. I’ve tackled THE PUBLIC ENEMY, THREE ON A MATCH (above), RED-HEADED WOMAN and CALL HER SAVAGE.

And at Electric Sheep, I chip in to the round-up of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, with pieces on TROLLHUNTER and TO HELL AND BACK AGAIN.

Been viewing a lot of pre-codes lately, because Fiona’s been unwell and pre-codes are perfect when you’re doped up on painkillers. Here are capsules of a few more we ran —

TWO ALONE

This is a really beautiful pre-code pastoral (was that even a thing?) in which unloved foster-child Jean Parker falls from juvie home runaway Tom Brown. Memorable nastiness from the foster family, but the movie isn’t overall about making you want the bad guys to suffer horrendous fates, although some of the time you do. In the end, this tender film satisfies you by rewarding the good characters instead.

Notable for Parker’s nude scene and the sympathetic view of pre-marital sex and extra-marital pregnancy, and taking the side of the despised outlaws over the nominal pillars of the community. Elliot Nugent directs, and it’s interesting to see small-town values being repeatedly trashed in these movies.

THE MATCH KING

We had David Wingrove to dinner with the plan to watch the ne plus ultra of Bad Cinema, Baz Luhrman’s emetic epic AUSTRALIA, but even he, who owns a copy of BOXING HELENA and watched WILD ORCHID four times, couldn’t make it through the antipodean hellscape (it’s like being injected into the mind of a ten-year-old with ADHD), and so a nice 80-minute pre-code seemed the ideal antidote.

Warren William — the starving lion — magnificent scoundrel — king of the pre-codes — the other Great Profile — is a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi schemer who tries to dominate the world, starting with a humble match factory. He saves the family firm with money borrowed on holdings that don’t exist, which means he’ll always owe more money than he can pay back, “until I own everything in the world, and then I’ll only owe money to myself.” On the way to his inevitable fall, Glenda Farrell, Claire Dodd and Lily Damita become notches on his bedpost. Every now and then the screenwriters have WW do something truly rotten on a personal level, in case we find his massive-scale financial chicanery too endearing. “This is like a primer in capitalism,” our dinner guest remarked, awestruck.

HOT SATURDAY

Our new favourite Nancy Carroll is torn between rich playboy Cary Grant and homespun geologist Randolph Scott. Quite a choice. But meanwhile smalltown gossip threatens her future. Chief slanderer and hottie Lilian Bond makes malice seem almost sexy, and this is a useful rebuttal to Leo McCarey’s claim that he taught Cary Grant everything. Grant is stiff in his Mae West and Sternberg movies, but effective for Leisen and Walsh and, in this case, the less celebrated William A. Seiter.

BIG BROWN EYES

Grant again, paired with blonde Joan Bennett, who’s notably abrasive and snappy under Raoul Walsh’s rambunctious purview. She’s a manicurist-turned-crime-reporter (!), he’s a police detective, and they’re hot on the trail of a ring of burglars, fences and baby-killers. Walter Pidgeon makes an assured snake-in-the-grass, and the accidental assassination of a sleeping tot shows how pre-codes could turn reckless tonal inconsistency into some kind of demented virtue. Isn’t this supposed to be a comedy?

ME AND MY GAL

The best and pre-codiest pre-codes overall may be the Warners films, but the Fox films are the rarest, thanks to that library’s largely unexploited status (apart from the legendary Murnau & Borzage at Fox box set). This is Walsh again, and Bennett again (with a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t beauty spot) and Spencer Tracy, during that part of his career where he played ostensibly lovable louts rather than patrician paterfamilias types. Here he rises through the police force and into Joan’s arms in a sweet, sassy romance that folds in a crime story and some alcoholic Irish shenanigans. Twice, Bennett’s father turns to the camera and invites us all to have a drink. Another character is paralyzed and communicates by blinking, allowing for some THERESE RAQUIN inspired plot twists, and the weirdest scene is cued by Tracy talking about a movie he just saw, “STRANGE INNERTUBE or something,” which leads to a series of internal monologues by himself and Bennett as they cuddle up on their date. Crazy stuff.

Walsh made a quasi-sequel, SAILOR’S LUCK, which has been getting a lot of attention in New York screenings and on the blogosphere, and which we’ll certainly be watching next.

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Lash La Rue

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2011 by dcairns

Theory: when you start reading Ulysses, synchronicities pile up around you like herring. Case in point — I just watched HOT SATURDAY, and this is the titular weekend as it appears in a desk calendar in the film —

It turned Saturday, July 23 2011 as we were halfway through the movie…

HOT SATURDAY (more on it another time) got watched because we’d just enjoyed its star Nancy Carroll in THE WOMAN ACCUSED, about which I’d written the following, which also begins with an odd coincidence —

William “Stage” Boyd in bondage, trades kisses for apples with Leatrice Joy…

By chance, I’d just seen my first (I think) film directed by Paul Sloane, a Leatrice Joy “comedy” called EVE’S LEAVES, a silent set in China with place names like “Mookow”. Not a CLEVER film. But his THE WOMAN ACCUSED is pretty interesting, and regular Shadowplayer La Faustin reminded me I’d been meaning to see it…

A decidedly odd piece. Some of it is surely down to the ten writers doing an episode each, or whatever it was. They each get a title card and portrait in the opening credits, and are boosted as the top authors of the day, but I’d barely heard of most of them. Western writer Zane Grey is probably the best known, but I’d encountered Rupert Hughes via the daft melo SOULS FOR SALE — he’s the kind of novelettish buffoon who christens a heroine “Remember Steddon.” Vina Delmar is a classier scribe, having contributed to MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE — I most recently encountered her via PICK-UP. J.P. McEvoy was a semi-regular contributor to W.C. Fields’ films, which is of little help here.

The plot reads like what it is, a patchwork, with each successive author supremely bored by his predecessors’ contributions, so trying as hard as possible to escape the plot set up by them and set out for pastures new. Perky Nancy Carroll is engaged to perky Cary Grant (during his early, not-quite-inept but not-quite-ept-either phase) but her oily ex, Louis Calhern (hereafter to be known as Ambassador Trentino) won’t let her go. Sneaking away from her party she manages to brain the mobbed-up scumbag with a figurine, and flees. The coroner remarks that the lifeless Trentino has the thinnest skull he’s ever seen, which chimes with my own impression of the actor. He was basically one, vast, walking fontanelle.

DA Irving Pichel (effective in a rare non-halfwit role) is suspicious, but the slain man’s gaunt buddy, John Halliday, is determined to pin the blame on Nancy. Of course, we’re completely sympathetic to her, despite her guilt, and this being a pre-code all bets are off as to where this will lead. Meanwhile, she’s taken off with Cary on a three-day cruise, eager to forget her recent homicidal adventure.

Here’s where the film, hitherto merely disjointed and inconsistent, takes off into a stratosphere of absurdity — Halliday boards the cruise ship by police launch, and begins his own investigations. I learned a lot about the American legal system in this movie: I didn’t know previously that testimony given during a mock-trial at a pool party is legally binding, nor that beating a witness insensible with a length of rawhide is acceptable practice for lawyers. This occurs in the scene sometimes called the most shocking in all pre-code cinema —

Looking at this (and shooting glances over at Fiona, who was staring open-mouthed beside me), I was struck all over again by Jack LaRue’s versatility in slimeball roles. He didn’t just play one stock gangster, he had a whole range of them, twitching smack-heads, spectacular neurotics or gloating wolves, and depending on the slant he takes, his face seems to change. Here it’s all about the teeth, grinning with them, talking through them, sometimes just retracting his limbs and torso to hide behind them…

Lona laffs it up.

I liked Nancy Carroll a lot, and Lona Andre was fetching in her bit role, I suspect written solely so some exec could bed her. There was no reason for her to be there, or to speak. But she had won Paramount’s “Panther Woman Competition” (?) and they were trying her on the public. She later declined to exploiters like SLAVES IN BONDAGE and set a world’s golfing record for women before retiring from movies and becoming a successful businesswoman.

Cary Grant seemed to be doing something weird with his face all the time.

Cary’s legal advice to Nancy, “Just say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember’ no matter what they ask,” was much in my mind as I watched the Murdochs, père et fils, testifying last week, not to mention their associates in the press, the police, and the government.