Archive for I Madman

Noirathon

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

A new Spurious Project for me – because you can never really have too many, can you? I pass my shelves every day, and from those shelves the plaintive cases of DVDs I have bought look out at me, pleading to be watched. I also have stacks and stacks of unwatched discs in folders and drums and drawers, but I didn’t pay for those, so I feel less guilty/stupid. The fact that I shelled out good money for nice pre-recorded DVDs in nice packaging, and then allow them to sit unwatched, for years in many instances, is clearly unsustainably crap. So my new project is to watch all the unwatched movies on the big shelving unit by the kitchen.

MURDER MY SWEET (known in the UK, with our mania for source fidelity, as FAREWELL MY LOVELY) is one that I felt I’d sort of seen, just not all at once or in the right order. It was to correct this that I picked up the Region 1 DVD secondhand when I stumbled upon it. Not having properly watched one of Edward Dmytryk’s top films and one of the key films noir of screen history was too shameful even to admit until now, when I’ve done it at last. Here are my impressions –

I remember a piece about Raymond Chandler where essayist Clive James said part of Chandler’s self-selected authorial problem was to stop Philip Marlowe coming across like too good a writer. The guy’s meant to be a private eye, not Henry James, after all. If Chandler were the terse kind of writer like Hammett, he could no doubt have pulled this off more easily – Hammett is actually the better writer, I’d say, but his terse, no-nonsense prose appears to sound more like a regular Joe yapping. By contrast, Chandler is nearly all nonsense, the wacky similes and figures of speech flying forth in a decidedly non-naturalistic way. So it’s a slight mistake for screenwriter John Paxton to frame their story as a flashback with Marlowe (Dick Powell) throwing out one-liners to an unsympathetic copper — “My bank account was trying to crawl under a duck,” that kind of thing. As Jack Lemmon argues in SOME LIKE IT HOT, “Nobody talks like that.” What just about scrapes by as the character’s thoughts or reflections suddenly seems rather florid when recycled as dialogue.

But once you get over the initial awkwardness, and the wit of the lines certainly helps, the story carries you along, with Powell surprisingly effective. When he was being tough or suave I sometimes felt I’d like to see someone else have a crack at it (Chandler’s own preference, Cary Grant, would be interesting – I can’t quite see it, which makes me want to), but where he scores is in the moments of horror and violence. He makes you feel the pain, especially since his tough-guy exterior is allowed to get much more shredded and distressed than would be the case with Bogart, say.

That spooky opening with Marlowe’s eyes bandaged, and the glowing-white tabletop, feels like a seance, calling the rest of the story out of the night. And then comes the great neon-lit scene in Marlowe’s office, with Moose Malloy appearing like a spectre, reflected in the window.

Is this Mike Mazurki’s best ever role? I like to think he got the part of Moose Malloy at least partly for alliterative reasons, and not just because he’s a hulking bruiser, looking something like an Easter Island statue who’s managed to dig himself free after being buried in the sand up to the neck. Moose was the main thing I recalled from the novel, which I read years back, and I have a feeling I almost liked him better in the film. Chandler paints Moose as an innocent giant, and while that’s part of the Mazurki characterisation, he’s also more than a touch psycho, and less appealing but more real because of it. Despite this glaze of psychology, he’s also a lumbering, two-fisted plot function, turning up wherever he’s need to provide some aggro, and oddly able to appear in a room without being noticed by anybody, like Mrs Danvers.  A sort of Moose Ex Machina, if you will.

His first appearance of this kind, revealed in a reflection in Marlowe’s office by a blinking neon sign, is one of his best. Dmytryk apparently found a problem when cutting this scene, though: when he cut back and forth between his two leads, the need to preserve the rhythm of the blinking sign was killing the drama. He was forced to linger on the speaker in order to make the sign stay off or on at a consistent rate, when he really wanted to be cutting to the listener’s reaction. Finally, on a chance, he cut the scene purely for dramatic values, ignoring the continuity issues created. He found the scene played so well that nobody noticed that the sign was now on for two seconds, off for four, on for three, off for two… Now you understand why Scorsese seems to care so little for continuity gaffes.

Dmytryk’s Sixth Rule of film editing:  “Cut for proper values rather than proper ‘matches’.”

Nice scene driving at night, with spooky reflections! And then a weirdly lit scene in the woods with massive light sources beaming through the fog in all directions? A sky-full of moons, or an arboreal disco? Dmytryk’s method at this time was forego niceties and shoot what looked nice and could be achieved quickly. He sought to concentrate his time on rehearsing the actors, not waiting for the lighting to be ready. So this system is a mixture of “simple to achieve” — turn on a few big lights on the rig — and “looks pretty”. The low-key chiaroscuro style came from a similar need for speed.

Along for the ride are the equally euphonious Miles Mander, England’s thinnest thespian, a quavery-voiced monofilament in a suit*, and the smarmy chin that is Otto Kruger, on particularly fine despicable form. Anne Shirley is one of those somewhat interchangeable, sweet young actresses of the era whom I’m always a little sweet on (ah, Joan Leslie!), and the iconic Claire Trevor is hands-down the most fascinating person on view. Sleazy, brazen, mysterious, wicked, aloof, needy, lusty and reeking of nicotine (like everyone else in the show), CT dominates, effortlessly. It helps that she can look cheap as well as beautiful.

What a fine film this is — as is often the case when one watches a classic which had somehow eluded viewing for years, the prevailing feeling is one of silliness: how could I not have seen this before? The secondary feeling is an appreciation of the film’s Gothic attributes, that unspoken air of eeriness, predominant in the nightmare hallucination sequence, but really present throughout.

The goofy nightmare, which kind of sets the tone for 90% of Welles’ THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, looks to be under the influence of WAXWORKS (Jack the Ripper segment) and somehow finds its way into the dayglo eighties pulp of I, MADMAN! (stalker with syringe) and CRIMEWAVE (line of free-standing doors). The more location-set noir movies would become, the less possibility there would be for this kind of hopped-up carnival atmosphere.

I liked the ending! Up to the moment when the blinded Marlow finishes his story and Ann Shirley mouths a warning to the cops not to reveal her presence, things are looking pretty grim. And indeed, I would have loved that ending, with the bereaved leading lady slipping quietly off and abandoning our poor trodden-on flatfoot. But then a happy romcom ending is gleefully pasted on, and it somehow works. Shirley looks way too happy for someone who’s just lost most of her family, but it’s played with enough wit that, like all the other dicey moments, it winds up an unlikely triumph.

*So thin was Mander that he had a problem registering on celluloid. You’ve heard no doubt, of persons so thin they disappear when they turn sideways. Mander disappeared from all angles and never reappeared, making it necessary for two burly stagehands to grip him by the head and feet while the director strummed the actor’s midriff, causing him to oscillate violently and thereby temporarily occupy enough space to allow him to be captured by photochemical means. The effect was short-lasting, and after three minutes or so, Mander would revert to passing between the raindrops in his usual manner. This affliction resulted in Mander losing a role to Sir Cedric Hardwicke in Hitchcock’s ROPE, after Hitch realised that the actor would simply fade from view one-third of the way through each of the long takes he was planning to use. “Mander was too slender even for the title role,” Hitch quipped.

Buy MURDER MY SWEET from US Amazon —

Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 1 (The Asphalt Jungle / Gun Crazy / Murder My Sweet / Out of the Past / The Set-Up)

Advertisements

Things I Read Off the Screen in “I, MADMAN”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2010 by dcairns

NosfeRandy!

Upon meeting Shadowplayer and now chum Randall William Cook, Fiona and I became fascinated to dig into his career and find out what he’d been up to before LORD OF THE RINGS. I’d heard of THE GATE, which had occupied the shelves of video rental places during my relatively early days of movie-hunting, but had never seen it. Nor had I seen director Tibor Takacs’ follow-up, intriguingly entitled I, MADMAN. I obtained both.

The film’s first onscreen text: The Hollywood Reporter. Headline: Box Office Tops in 1959. My thesis: films are stuffed with writing, some of it carefully placed by production designers, some of it accidental, forced into the film by the ad hoardings and signage peppering the locations. The two form a dialogue. If we could eavesdrop of this colloquy of scenario and city, we would learn… something.

THE GATE is practically an epic, even though it mostly centres around a single house and a few characters, but I intend to interrogate Mr. Cook in depth about its amazing effects. It has an unusual structure seen also in BRAIN DEAD (AKA DEAD ALIVE) and TITANIC — all build-up for the first half, all — and I mean ALL — action for the second half. Certified genius Alex Winter is currently prepping a remake…

I, MADMAN feels smaller, but packs in a lot of ideas, not quite coherently — and to our great delight, Randy plays a central role, titular madman Malcolm Brand, an author of pulp nasties who somehow has found himself living out his own depraved fictions. To my greater delight, I now realize that Randy is also in Stephen Sayadian’s surreal, dayglo, semi-porno DR CALIGARI, which I must watch again sometime.

But to return to MADMAN — it begins, extremely promisingly, with a vaguely period, Techinicolor noir sequence, exquisitely overplayed by Raf Nazario and Bob Frank (the character players are as consistently exuberant in this movie as the leads are colourless), and then a stop-motion jackal-boy jumps into view, causing Fiona to scream.

There ain’t a lot of stop motion in this movie, but what there is, is cherce.

Much of Madness, More of Sin, by Malcolm Brand.” Very nicely design pulp dustcover, the title a quote from Poe’s The Conqueror Worm, a phrase which fittingly concludes, “…and madness the soul of the plot.”

Turns out this opening is a scene from a paperback the heroine is reading, which means we’re plunged into the eighties, losing most of the flavour the forties/fifties stuff has. But Takacs does get some agreeable effects out of transitioning from one period to the other — as when Jenny Wright, our leading lady walks into the shadows in her regular duds and emerges in gown and big hairdo, all in one shot — an effect presumably inspired by Simone Simon’s transmutation in CAT PEOPLE. At first I suspected a split-screen effect, disguised by the heavy shadows, then I came to suspect that the heroine in red is a stand-in, who scuttles off-screen under cover of darkness, to be replaced by the leading lady: a low-tech approach that really appeals to me.

I also dig the fact that our lead still has on her contemporary specs, but takes them off. By the next cut, her glasses and cup of tea, vestiges of our modern world, have vanished! There should be awards for creative continuity like that.

SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE PROSECUTED

ARE YOU ON OUR MAILING LIST?

NO LOITERING

BOOK CITY

Our heroine is a drama student who also works in a second-hand bookstore and is one of the few movie characters I’ve ever seen take a bus in LA (apart from in SPEED).  Since this is a horror film, a lot of the signs in it are warnings or commands, or intrusive questions. BOOK CITY is an incredibly apt name for the bookshop, since my thesis is that cities are full of words, and the film’s thesis is that books contain populations, some of them hostile.

For Malcolm Brand’s works apparently have the power to cross over into our reality. This is never explained, and for a long time it looks as if it’s going to turn out that the leading lady is crazy and is responsible for the series of gruesome homicides she attributes to the titular maniac of Brand’s second and final novel —

Meta-fiction hits the horror movie! I was slightly reminded of Scarlett Thomas’s novel The End of Mr. Y, which I enjoyed recently. In both, the heroine unexpectedly discovers the impossible-to-find and probably cursed book she’s been yearning for (initially it seems that our leading lady here is both terrified and turned on by Brand’s books, but nothing is made of this) and plunged into another world of craziness and menace. I, MADMAN is more generic, with fewer mouse gods, but the fact that the plot never fully resolves its mysteries leaves the door open to the creeping ineffable, which helps.

SEX FOR SWINGER! Slightly improbable book title for film.

PIANOS RESTORATION AND REPAIR – VINCENT BROS

SUBMARINE (name of a storefront) LOS ANGELES (sign on a bus) — both in the same frame, a promise of biblical deluge?

PUSH – WILL RETURN – OPENING HOURS (signs on bookshop door)

In I, Madman the novel, the narrator cuts off his face because the girl he loves doesn’t care for his looks, and then creates for himself a fleshy identikit fizzog harvested from the unwilling heads of the local citizenry. This character, played by Randy Cook in the expressionist manner, emerges from the book and starts culling the supporting cast, who were only there for that purpose anyway. A more economical writing idea would have been to have him target the heroine’s cop boyfriend at the climax, since he presumably has a face she DOES like.

ALCHEMY

EX LIBRIS

ACTRESS SLAIN — POLICE BAFFLED BY MUTILATION

You could certainly read this movie, even if you couldn’t see the pictures.

Cheekily, the movie marquee screen right advertises the director’s first film, cult obscurity METAL MESSIAH, which I’d love to see.

NON FICTION

SIDNEY ZEIT PUBLISHING INC, 4389 HOLLYWOOD BLVD, HOLLYWOOD CALIFORNIA

BOOKS 25¢ MOVIES 25¢ VIDEOS, THE CAVE ADULT MOVIE THEATER, LIVE NUDE SHOW, PEEPSHOW, ADULT BOOK STORE

The first text startles the heroine when she finds it in the small print in her face-stealing pulp fiction, the second tells her where to look for answers, and the third tells us all what kind of neighbourhood the publisher operates out of.

And this is the office of Sidney “I only do smut” Zeit, publisher of I, Madman. Magnificent performance from Murray Rubin (the great actors for B movies are out there if you look!) which swings from broad grotesquerie to touching humanity as he recalls the tragic fate of his top author.

TELEPHONE – PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY — both signs in one shot.

THE POPE SMOKES DOPE

ANGELS with swastika sign. These last two are graffiti at a crime scene.

Nobody notices that all the victims are connected to the heroine. Since there’s no “it was her all along” twist, it might have been nice if the cops suspected her, as they have every reason to do, rather than just thinking she’s screwy. The way society is, any crazy person connected to a murder is likely to be regarded as a suspect. And the cops could be turned into a threat rather than a potential rescue. And there’s no way they could NOT suspect her, to be fair to them — and remember Mackendrick’s wise words, “A character who is dramatically interesting thinks ahead.”

OVER 100,000 BOOKS

NEW BOOKS DISCOUNTED

SPECIALIZING IN HARD-TO-FIND TITLES

OPEN 7 DAYS A WEEK

ENTRANCE

—————->

VATTEY’S BOOK CITY

NEW – USED – RARE – ANTIQUARIAN

ROY ROY PIZZAS MEAT PIES

The above appear all in a single establishing shot! A connection is drawn between books and food.

Next, a flurry of book titles: THE POLITICS OF THE CENTURY, NATHANIEL WEST: THE ART OF HIS LIFE, ANSWERS TO EVERYDAY QUESTIONS. While, in the background, a hand-lettered sign reads SCIENCE FICTION.

The climactic struggle with Malcolm — books are falling all over the place! As he thrusts his arms through a set of shelves to paw the heroine, THE COURAGEOUS COMPANION falls through shot, and when the cop boyfriend with the designer stubble hurls him into some boxes, THE WOUNDED DON’T CRY drops into his lap: the most blatant gag title in the film, though not quite as funny as EVIL DEAD II’s use of A FAREWELL TO ARMS.

Then, the long-awaited return of jackalboy, summoned from the pages of Malcolm’s first book by the plucky heroine, who’s decided that the contents of Brand’s oeuvre tend to become real. Malcolm struggles with the half-human genetic experiment in a stop-motion battle to the death which sees Randall William Cook heroically animating a miniature version of himself. I’m not sure if that qualifies as masturbation or voodoo. Lots of motion-blur here, and the transition between human and puppet is pretty seamless, helped no doubt by the fact that Malcolm’s face is by now a mass of sutured tissue — lopsided nose, swollen lips, moulting scalp.

Randy was an actor first and an animator later, getting into the biz on the advice of no less a person than Bob Clampett, Termite Alley legend. A lot of animation has to do with acting, which isn’t generally understood… If you talk to Randy, you not only get great stories from his movie activities, you get all the voices too.

Jackalboy (who looks quite a bit like the excellent Harry Potter werewolf) is chopped down the middle by a sheet of glass, but rises again as a Johnny Eck-style man with half a body. A sign in the background reads THIS SIDE UP.

Then half-jackalboy pounces on Malcolm, they fly out the window, and all the loose pages somehow torn from, it feels like, Malcolm’s works (but there was only, like, one copy in the bookstore, so I guess it’s a lot of other books too) goes flying into the sky, and Chanson D’Amour plays us out (ra-ta-ta-ta-ta). What have we learned?

One last sign —

DELIVERIES

———————->

Sounds like a sequel to me!