Archive for In Name Only

The Christmas Day Intertitle

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 25, 2016 by dcairns


Who has time to read blogs on Christmas Day? Who has time to write them?

Who has the mental energy to read Gothic script, ffs?


Well, we’re having a quiet time at the Shadowplayhouse. The folks are dropping off some turkey and some presents.

Things Fiona got for Christmas:

Clinical depression

Acute anxiety


Chest infection

Things we both got: acute insomnia.

The good news is, I think the insomnia and flu have knocked out most of the parts of Fiona’s brain that are capable of depression, so her spirits are comparatively good, for a shambling zombie. I went four nights with no sleep and then finally got a few hours unconsciousness, so I’m basically fine and dandy apart from a tickly cough and my left eye, which has gone a bit Herbert Lom.

When it rains (at forty-five degrees and I don’t mean centigrade) it comes through the living room ceiling.

“I have a feeling this is going to be the best Christmas ever,” says Cary Grant to Carole Lombard as he battles pneumonia in a ratty hotel in IN NAME ONLY, and I feel the same way. My optimism is as hard to get rid of as my chesty cough.

Here’s a one-hundred-year-old Christmas movie. It’s quite something!

These bloody women they will not stop bothering you

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2016 by dcairns


Irene prepares to get things Dunne.

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone all misogynist on you. Just quoting Pete & Dud, while also gearing up to take a look at some of John Cromwell’s monster women.

Bette Davis (see yesterday) is probably the most awful, but she has some stiff competition. Hope Emerson in CAGED is practically a literal she-monster, and Cromwell’s noir outings featured the occasional femme fatale. But the trio of Laura Hope Crews (mother), Constance Cummings (lover) and Kay Francis (wife) have an unexpected amount in common.


THE SILVER CORD (1933) seems to be the first Hollywood film to aim at that great American holy cow, motherhood, with Laura Hope Crews shrill and fluttering as the controlling, near-incestuous mother of Joel McCrea and Eric Linden. McCrea’s role is almost unplayable, since he has to appear blind to what kind of a family set-up he’s from, while retaining some measure of the audience’s respect — he gives it the old college try, though, and comes out better than he does in BANJO ON MY KNEE. Eric Linden was probably pre-code cinema’s pre-eminent pisspants, and is made to measure as the (even) more spineless son, easily manipulated into giving up the adorable and beauteous Frances Dee because she doesn’t live up to mama’s standards.


A pensive, festive Linden.

It takes Irene Dunne (in one of several lead roles for Cromwell) to unmask mother, taking her down with surgical precision (Dunne is a biologist — she’s told in Scene One that she’s one of those women who CAN have a career and family, and this news is delivered by Gustav von Seyffertitz, so it is AUTHORITATIVE). McCrea STILL can’t see what’s staring him in the face until Mummy Pittypat flat-out confesses that she’s put all her romantic yearnings into motherhood, and she’s PROUD of it, goddamn it.


Upon that same rear projection screen, KONG would roar!

The thing is a giant creaking play (by Sidney Howard), but Cromwell, working as was often the case from a script by Jane Murfin, applies long, fluid traveling shots (gliding crabwise  through those weird doorways that seem to have only half a door frame, to admit the camera crew) and takes advantage of RKO’s early facility with rear-projection for a dramatic accident on the ice. It’s not actually a Christmas film, but it’s one of several Cromwell’s suited to this time of year, with its snowy backdrops (see also MADE FOR EACH OTHER, IN NAME ONLY, and especially SINCE YOU WENT AWAY).


THIS MAN IS MINE stars Dunne again (who doesn’t get enough credit as a great pre-code dame along with Stanwyck, Bette & Joan &c), battling the deliciously wicked Constance Cummings (above) who wants to steal away her husband, Ralph Bellamy (but WHY, for pity’s sake? Because he’s there, I suppose). Dunne has her delicate, piano-playing, landscape-painting hands full with all these Constance Cummings and goings.

Amusingly, this also has Sidney Blackmer, making it a kind of ROSEMARY’S BABY pre-party for Dr. Sapirstein and Roman Castavet.



ALL OF THEM WITCHES! Dunne & Bellamy/Sapirstein, Blackmer/Castavet and Cummings.

The low-key melodrama is leavened with considerable humour, most of it from the beastly Constance’s more sensible sister, Kay Johnson (Mrs. Cromwell at the time). Describing CC as “a sort of cross between a tidal wave and a smallpox epidemic,” she keeps the whole, dignified thing from getting too self-serious. Slightly surprising third-act violence when Bellamy slugs Constance unconscious with a sock in the eye, and Dunne brains him in turn with a picture frame. Well, civilisation must be preserved.


As in THE SILVER CORD, the villainess condemns herself out of her own mouth, destroying the illusion she’s built up, and the exact same thing happens a third time in the later IN NAME ONLY (1939). Kay Francis, at the tail-end of her career as leading lady, is hanging on to Cary Grant in a loveless marriage, because she wants not only his money but his dad’s (Charles Coburn, by some genetic prodigy of mutation). Grant meets and falls for widow Carole Lombard, lighting a nice fire under the whole scenario.


This is the most satisfying of the three, though they’re all worth seeing. It’s like Grant and Lombard are trying to be their own dazzling movie star selves, and every bastard around them is trying to drag them down to ordinary unhappiness with the rest of humanity. Oddly, Grant shines brightest when sparring with catty Helen Vinson (another survivor of the pre-code era, with her sharp little teeth) as a subsidiary bitch. Memorable action involves the worst hotel in the history of cinema, and Francis condemning herself out of her own mouth exactly like her predecessors. A door shuts on her with awesome finality.


Also: Peggy Ann Garner, Grady Sutton. (“Do you drink? How do you stand it?”)


Wreck Deadening

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2016 by dcairns



Always crashing in the same car: Helen Vinson makes Cary Grant crash in IN NAME ONLY (1939) and Lizabeth Scott does the same for Humphrey Bogart in DEAD RECKONING (1947). Two by John Cromwell.

I’d always missed out on DEAD RECKONING, which I hadn’t seen, because I confused it with DARK PASSAGE, which I’d seen a couple of times and forgotten. So, not that I’m investigating the films of John Cromwell, I realize that this is an interesting-sounding flick with Hunphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott (very much styled in Bacall mode). It’s kind of like a mash-up of favourite Bogart tropes. He gives a speech to Scott at one point saying he wishes he could shrink her and keep her in his pocket — according to Bacall, this was a line he used on her in real life. And the ending steals all sorts of stuff from THE MALTESE FALCON.


The sense of the movie as mash-up is augmented by its odd, ramshackle structure, with a framing structure built around a long flashback, and then a third act that’s outwith the bookends. I kind of approved of this, since once we no longer have Bogart narrating (via a kind of confession to a priest), it feels like all bets are off. Also, Bogie’s hero is worryingly competent for the first forty minutes or so — it feels like nobody can get the drop on him. Starting in media res with Bogart fleeing for his life, face all bloody, lets us know that bad stuff can still happen to this tough guy.


Say it ain’t Phroso!

This is a Columbia picture, so Bogart isn’t surrounded by so many stock players I recognized. Morris Carnovsky is a good smooth baddie, Marvin Miller (voice of Robbie the Robot!) is the sadistic henchthing, and Charles Cane overdoes the schtick as a dumb cop. I certainly ought to have recognized Wallace Ford (Phroso the Clown from FREAKS) but he really does look completely different in this. It was only fifteen years later and suddenly he’s a little old man.

Cromwell has clearly seen and appreciated John Brahm’s THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, since he duplicates that movie’s view-from-the-floor POV shot, twice ~



Hmm, actually it’s the same year. Maybe both Brahm and Cromwell saw an upshot they liked in something else the previous year? The ceiling shot viewed from a trundling gurney in POSSESSED is ALSO 1947. Maybe the missing link then is A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH? Anyhow, Cromwell and one or some of his five scenarists pull a fast one, because the second one isn’t from the expected person’s POV…