Archive for Howard Hughes

Diddlebocking Around

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2020 by dcairns

“Have I ever seen THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK?” asked Fiona. I serve as her backup memory bank for these things, though she remembers the music and TV stuff.

“Only halfway,” I said. Because I recalled her being blown away by the first half and then abruptly tuning out, around the part Preston Sturges, the film’s writer-director, lost interest himself. (He laboured intensively over writing the first half, then finished in a day or two, according to his secretary.)

My friend and occasional co-writer Alex never finished it either, and when the subject is raised he gets traumatic flashbacks of Jimmy Conlin screaming “AAAARGH MISTER DIDDLEBOCK!” which to be fair there is quite a bit of. We can generally agree that it was a mistake to stage another skyscraper sequence, and to do it in a studio with unconvincing process shots.

It’s quite a weird sequence, filmed with some very nice crane movements to begin with, but with the outside world excluded, so we’re looking flat-on at a building frontage and there’s no sense whatever of being high up.

Fiona was talking about how misjudged the routine was, and I reminded her that she had been laughing hysterically at Harold dangling from a lion’s leash. “Only because it was so stupid,” she said. But that’s the point. Sturges wanted to alternate high and low comedy in all his stuff, hence all those pratfalls. He even has Veronica Lake praise a John L. Sullivan picture for its stupidity. “Oh, it was stupid, but it was wonderful.”

Worth reading all the way through.

Jimmy Conlin actually wakes up screaming, himself the victim of a traumatic flashback, in the next scene. In this he is reprising Barbara Stanwyck’s shriek in THE LADY EVE. Sturges’s characters are not only put through hell, they suffer PTSD.

I’m curious to see the MAD WEDNESDAY, Howard Hughes’ alternate version, which is apparently longer and features not only Hughes interpolations such as a talking horse, but maybe Sturges deletions. You can spot moments in the shorter version which don’t quite make sense, with characters assumed to know things they haven’t been told, and it’s clear Sturges chopped bits out because he wasn’t altogether happy. The collaboration with Lloyd was MORE trouble-strewn than that with Hughes.

“I could make you a very attractive offer.”

“You couldn’t make me an attractive offer, not if you got down on your bended knee and threw in a set of dishes.”

The IMDb lists Al Bridge’s morose ringmaster as “Wild Bill Hicock,” but he’s actually referred to by Conlin as “Wild Bill Hitchcock,” which is funnier.

There’s often a cynical edge to Sturges’s happy endings. (Spoilers, unavoidably, follow.) Usually this comes as a result of the plot twists which precipitate them being utterly unbelievable, but having been “established” in surreptitious manner early one — THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK smuggles its get-out clause in via the title and the opening pre-credits/credits/post-credits non-linear McGinty cameo, THE PALM BEACH STORY likewise slips its comedy-of-errors sub-sub-sub-plot in while the titles are still rolling, and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO pulls off its jubilant fade-out by making its entire population fundamentally stupid (it worked in THE MUSIC MAN too, and may not be so much of a stretch.)

The later films are darker. It’s possible to read the ecstatic last scene of UNFAITHFULLY YOURS as delusional, and imagine that Linda Darnell is in fact cheating on Sexy Rexy, is, in fact, playing a proper Linda Darnell role. And there’s a slight oddness and offness to THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND (OK, a lot of oddness & offness) — Betty Grable has been impersonating a seemingly dead schoolmarm. I was fully expecting the teacher to turn up alive and well, because (a) this would clear up a wholly inappropriate note of tragedy and (b) it would make things hot for Grable. But it never happens. The poor educator is really deceased.

TSOHD has an ending that’s REALLY cynical. The problem energizing our hero in the film’s last section is what to do with a circus he’s purchased in a drunken haze. He can’t afford to run it, but nobody wants to buy it, or even accept it as a gift. Harold gets the idea of a FREE circus for all the poor children in town. It’s a dream he’s always had. He can get a rich banker to run the show, because everybody hates bankers and this would be great positive publicity.

But that’s not what happens. What happens is that the Ringling Bros. buy the circus to PREVENT a competitive free circus stealing their trade. Harold gives up his childhood dream with nary a backward glance, even though the bankers are all clamouring for a chance to prove they’re not all meanies. The Ringling Bros. offer more dough, so that’s that.

In the breathless frenzy of a typical Sturges conclusion there’s no time to linger on this sour note, of course. But it inescapably flavours one’s impression of the film as THE END (with or without a talking horse) superimposes itself. And may have contributed more than its share to the film’s underperformance and enduring lack of popularity. After all, Harold Lloyd has always been an icon of go-getting, energetic, ultimately masterful American will-to-success, always offered to the audience as an unironic winner in whatever dramatic situation he’s placed in, emerging on top of the heap and with the girl on his arm. Having already undermined the movie’s romance with bitter glee (Miss Otis is merely the latest in an endless stream of sisters), Sturges now makes his hero at least a bit of a money-grubbing louse. How did this escape Lloyd, Hughes, and the other supposed grown-ups? (I use the term… wrongly.) Did Lloyd have any inkling what he was doing to himself here?

THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK stars Harold Lamb aka Speedy; Trusty; Mayor Everett J. Noble; John D. Hackensacker III; Officer Kennedy; Hortense O’Dare; J. Pinkerton Snoopington; Cornelius Cobb; Miss Gulch; A. Pismo Clam; Prof. Summerlee; Man in Talking Pictures Demonstration; The Mister; Hives – the Butler; Slave Girl; ‘Sourpuss’; J.J. King; Colored Porter; Ape Man; Snug – the Joiner; and the Masterblaster.

The Sunday Intertitle: Nightie swimming

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2020 by dcairns

The Mating Call from David Cairns on Vimeo.

THE MATING CALL (1928) is directed by James Cruze, whose films, though not often great, are agreeably peculiar. THE GREAT GABBO would be a terribly good example here.

This one is produced by Howard Hughes and was controversial, not for its Ku Klux Klan storyline, but for its nude scene by René Adorée (why do I say “by,” as if she authored it?). It’s pretty startling — frame grabs of my copy don’t work in terms of showing what the moving images so clearly displays. Let’s just say it wouldn’t have the effect it does if RA were not so clearly brunette.

Hughes was known to use the N-word regularly, and the depiction of the Klan (or “clan” — they’re not 100% identical to the real deal but the deniability is minimal) is as a bunch of vigilantes keeping erring townsfolk — drunks and wifebeaters — on the straight and narrow by terrorizing them. Or, in one particularly recalcitrant case, tying the perp to a cross and bullwhipping him. The race angle is largely absent.

vlcsnap-2020-03-15-13h14m00s504

vlcsnap-2020-03-15-13h19m52s940

The climax is typical of Hollywood vigilante movies — they get the wrong man, the hero, and tragedy looms. Kubrick, talking about why his humble narrator in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE had to be so very wicked, told Michel Ciment that vigilante movies always got it wrong by focussing on the danger of punishing the wrong man (THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, an excellent film, is the best example). But everybody always assumes they have the right man, and everybody knows the law makes mistakes too, so this argument wouldn’t ever sway a torch-burning mob. The argument should be about the wrongness of ex-judiciary punishment.

vlcsnap-2020-03-15-13h16m59s570

The movie, based on a Rex Beach source novel, ends with the vigilantes and cops faking evidence together to ensure a “just” outcome, making this probably the second most repellant Klan-based movie in Hollywood history. Apart from the nude scene. Although the general sexing-up of the issues involved calls to mind Terence Young’s gross THE KLANSMAN.

 

Ellenshaw on Frisco Bay

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2019 by dcairns

I’m hopeful that a bunch of you won’t be able to identify the images here, thus creating INTRIGUE.

Which I will then SHATTER by telling you they’re from Disney’s THE LOVE BUG. Matte artist/ genius Harrison Ellenshaw was responsible.

His art adds a whole layer of melancholic, nostalgic beauty to MARY POPPINS and it kind of does the same, or tries to. The plotline doesn’t really sustain such emotions, especially in the final third, which is just one big car race, with gags more notable for their difficulty/expensiveness that for being particularly clever or funny.

But the first two-thirds… a lot of peculiar stuff in this movie (spiritual ancestor to CHRISTINE).

As a movie-besotted child, Fiona fantasised that Herbie, the sentient Volkswagon, must be possessed by a poltergeist, or else the reincarnation of a human in machine form. (Weird kid.) In the movie, there is actually an explanation offered, though it’s more in the form of speculation/bullshit than actual canonical backstory (kind of like how various characters in Romero’s zombie films suggest their own theories of zombie apocalypse causation). Buddy Hackett’s Tennessee Steinmetz, who has studied in Tibet, puts forth an animist view, proposing that man has invested so much emotion into his mechanical creations that they have become alive.

Amazingly, Buddy manages to put this theory over with some conviction. The ultimate version of HERBIE would be like A.I., with the machines reigning supreme after humanity’s extinction. HERBIE INHERITS THE EARTH, anyone?

As David Wingrove pointed out to me, there’s a weird irony/perversity to the fact that director Robert Stevenson was a conchie who went to America to get away from the war, and ended up working almost exclusively for the two biggest right-wingers in Hollywood, Uncle Walt and Howard Hughes.

Also watched: HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, which is the one I remember seeing on first release (not really any cool new paintings), and THE BLACK HOLE, for which Ellenshaw came out of retirement and created some amazing imagery.

Chim-chim-cheree.

THE LOVE BUG stars Zeke Kelso; Rosemary Pilkington; Lord Fellamar; the singing bone; Mr. Snoops; Tommy Chan; Officer Gunther Toody.

HERBIE RIDES AGAIN stars Madelon Claudet; April Dancer; Sheriff Al Chambers; Col ‘Bat’ Guano; Horace Debussy “Sach” Jones; Mr. Hilltop; Captain Flash; and Baron Samedi.

THE BLACK HOLE stars Hauptmann (Capt.) Stransky; Norman Bates; Max Cherry; Robin Lee Graham; Weena; Dirty Lyle; and the voices of Cornelius and Maj. ‘King’ Kong.