Archive for Ian Hunter

Deco Vespiary

Posted in FILM, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2017 by dcairns

DEATH AT BROADCASTING HOUSE (1934) — viewed on Talking Pictures TV — is in many ways a cut above the average British picture of its time, but I can never seem to focus on it. It’s set in BBC Radio’s magnificent art deco hub, a gorgeous building. That starts things off with plenty of interest. There’s a strangulation murder broadcast live to the nation (nobody suspects until afterwards, since the victim was playing the role of a man who gets strangled). Snuff radio! And director Reginald Denham delivers not only plenty of beautiful shots of sharp-suited men looking pensive in white rooms, but some positively experimental jump-cut treatment of the musical numbers (yes! musical numbers!). I really want to try more of his films but few are available. Maybe Talking Pictures TV will transmit a few more.

My problem with the film is that all the male characters are the same — acidulated queens spitting venom at one another.  This may be an accurate portrayal of the BBC at the time — it probably is — but after the initial amusement value, a certain monotony sets in. One or two such characters could certainly enliven a murder mystery with their barbed quips, but this is too much of a good thing. When Ian Hunter shows up as the man from the Yard, he’s just the same, another sarcastic prig. There would have been good mileage in having him a comparative innocent, horrified at the nest of media vipers he’s stumbled into.

Among the sniping bitches are Henry Kendall (RICH AND STRANGE), a nubile Donald Wolfit, and Jack Hawkins, who doesn’t look quite as alarming here as he did in 1932’s THE LODGER, but still hasn’t grown into that toby jug head, which looks peculiar atop a spindly young body.

The script is by Val Gielgud — yes, brother of the more famous John — who also appears, looking diabolical and debonair in a goatee that positions him perfectly as the alternate universe evil twin of dear, dear Johnny. His scriptwork is a little lacking in variety but he’s such a surprising presence I wish there was more of him to see. I shall have to make an appointment with MEN ARE NOT GODS, his only other talkie, which is the original of Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE. Sounds kind of great.

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The Look 2: Lukas Rejects

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , on July 30, 2016 by dcairns

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Reminder: I’ve embarked on an occasional series about moments when actors look at the camera.

A tricky one — I wasn’t sure if I was remembering this correctly.

But when I think of actors looking at the camera, I always think of Paul Lukas in STRANGE CARGO (1940), or STRANGE FILM as surely somebody else must have called it.

Frank Borzage’s films were often religious, or spiritual, or whatever you want to call it, but this one is a full-blown allegory, with Ian Hunter unusually effective as the Christ figure, who is part of an all-star group of escaped convicts including Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Peter Lorre.

Lukas plays a serial killer of women — for profit. He leaves the group midway through the film to take up his profession again. Hunter has been on at him to repent of his sinful ways. Lukas leaves, but after doing so, when he is alone apart from US — he turns, glances about in the direction of the camera — eyes flickering wildly so that for a moment I was afraid my memory was playing me false and he wasn’t going to do it — and then he looks right down the barrel of the lens and says, very firmly —

“No.”

Borzage’s camera, which has been following Lukas, seems to have become briefly identified with the eye of God. This is Lukas’ final rejection of the grace of God. Delivered to us. As if we were all, collectively, the best stand-in for the deity that Borzage could think of.

So that’s nice of him.

From the Lighthouse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 8, 2016 by dcairns

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I love lighthouse movies in principle — it always feels like they’re going to be excellent, all fog and dark and isolation and tension. And then, if you’re lucky, you get THE PHANTOM LIGHT, or TOWER OF EVIL if you’re slightly less lucky.

But CAPE FORLORN, by E.A. Dupont, (previewed here two days ago) manages to combine the required suspense and close-quarters conflict with a real cinematic vision, inflected through the somewhat clunky technology of 1931 British filmmaking (Dupont managed a simultaneous French version, with Harry Baur, and a German, now lost, with Fritz Kortner and Conrad Veidt, apparently lost). The impressive opening long take is doubtless identical in all three cuts, since it doesn’t feature the main cast nor any dialogue.

Fay Compton exits the mildly sleazy night club environment of the opening, where she may be some kind of bar girl, to marry a lighthouse keeper in New Zealand. Bored to tears on the wretched rock, she tarts herself up nice for hubby Frank Harvey (who wouldn’t have had a chance with her if he hadn’t already written the movie). Fiona was excited by the 30s makeup presented in loving product-shot close-up ~

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A bit of research gave her the history of Mouson’s Lilac Cream and even found the ad which Fay is trying to look like.

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“You looked better before, love,” was Fiona’s disappointed verdict on the made-over Compton. But when Harvey wipes the muck off her face and throws the kit out the window, Fiona was properly outraged. You can’t do that to a woman’s products! With Fiona cheering her one, Fay runs into the corky arms of Karloffian bit of rough Edmund Willard, but soon throws him over for a sexy stowaway. Well, Ian Hunter was always a bit fleshy for a sexpot, but he’s the best-looking thing with a Y chromosome on this ragged outpost, and a girl has to live. Maybe this film could play on a loop with Borzage’s STRANGE CARGO so that Hunter could get washed away and then washed up, repeatedly.

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Soon there’s a highly uncomfortable love quadrangle, with Fay as the centre of attention, and Hunter’s dark past clouding over the already-bleak horizon. Dupont directs the hell out of all this, his camera floating up and down the winding stairs, observing from a lofty, anxious height, while the soundtrack offers a constant throb of surf, or wind, or shrieking gulls. In the year or so since ATLANTIC, the sound crew have learned how to mix, so that now every scene is oppressively loaded with atmos, an approach which would be abandoned as soon as it was begun. So CAPE FORLORN is a mutant of the earl sound cinema, an experiment that “didn’t work” but which, seen with modern eyes, works beautifully, if strangely.

As the movie’s sex fulcrum, Fay Compton is an odd bit of casting, with her soulful yet ovine features, but she was always a sympathetic, sincere performer, and it’s a pleasure to see her in this early role.

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E.A. Dupont throws focus like a boss!

Network have released this offbeat masterpiece of DVD, and you should buy it if you like sexual tension and lighthouses and cinema.