Archive for In Old Chicago

Kings

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2019 by dcairns

WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE stars Bensinger; Lena Lamont; Dr. Cyclops; Dr. Russell A. Marvin; Phoebe Dinsmore; and Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow.

Missed this in Bologna — the Leon Shamroy Technicolor would have been worthwhile — Youtube’s copy, though good by Youtube standards, is terribly dark at times.

But I don’t know what the film’s thesis is — what it’s trying to demonstrate, explicate or make us feel, except on a scene-by-scene basis. David Wayne’s small-town barber is from the “variations on an asshole school of characterisation, but to what end? The final line, after fifty years of story have been covered, celebrates the virtues of a good shave, and that does seem to be the chief lesson imparted. Actually, I kind of liked that bit.

We do, however, get to view the second and third most terrifying shaves in screen history (after THE COLOR PURPLE), one where Wayne is so drunk he can’t walk, and one where he’s contemplating murdering the man in the chair.

King is celebrated for his Americana, the nearest thing to a personal interest displayed in his cinema. There’s more of it in ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (1938).

King claimed his staging of the musical numbers in IN OLD CHICAGO got him this gig, which reunites stars Power, Faye and Ameche from the earlier quake-fest, but his song-and-dance stuff here is far, far better. IOC basically observed Faye in three shot sizes as she transmitted a bunch of oldy-time standards from her big face. This one has proper PRODUCTION NUMBERS and I became a fan of capering imp Wally Vernon.

You also get a chance to contrast the performing styles of Alice Faye and Ethel Merman. Merman at this point is not an actor, but she speaks her lines with an appealing and convincing simplicity. And she sings the same way, only of course she has that powerhouse voice. Faye, giving the best performance in the best role I’ve seen her in, can do a lot more with inflection and phrasing and meaning, but lacks the ability to vibrate an iron bridge to pieces with her vocal cords.

The IMDb promised us cameos by Rondo Hatton (memorable in IN OLD CHICAGO in the role of “Rondo”) as a barfly, and Lon Chaney Jr as “photographer on stage,” but the on-stage photographer we see clearly ain’t Chaney and Hatton’ s barfly does not appear (how could you miss him?) so it’s left to John Carradine to bring the horror (which no fantasy about the birth of a musical movement should be without). John does not disappoint.

Carradine’s role is officially that of cabbie, but his plot function is to play Cupid, and who better? Picture him nude with a little bow and arrow. Charm itself! Hired by Power, he basically abducts Faye to bring her to his Carnegie Hall concert. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You let John Carradine kidnap you.

JC’ s laidback manner is terrifying: the more relaxed he gets, the more death seems imminent, and preferable to his company. His Dracula was never this alarming. He was really a fine actor, but needed to be aimed in the right direction. King appears to have launched him straight up, to land wherever he may.

At first, we suspected John was probably going to drive Alice Faye to a lock-up somewhere and torture her to death with pliers.

But, as the sequence went on, we became sure of it. An improbable end to a musical, but the only thing that would have made sense of his performance.

The actual ending is quite a bit happier than that. But as for the history of ragtime, its origins and purpose are still a total mystery.

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND stars Leonard Vole; June Mills; Mortimer Duke; Lieutenant Hurwitz; The Tin Man; Dr. Paul Christian; Parthy Ann Hawks; Maj. Cassius Starbuckle; Larry Talbot and the Hoxton Creeper.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Riders of the Purple Prose

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2019 by dcairns

Having missed Henry King’s film THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH in Bologna by rushing to the wrong cinema, I was happy to discover I own a good DVD copy of it, so we ran that.

Frances Marion adapts the script, a bit stodgily I’m afraid, and gets rather carried away with her desert similes and metaphors right at the start.

The desert, then, is a molten bowl AND an unconquered empress AND a tawny siren (more dangerous than the smaller barn siren) AND the End of the Rainbow. The desert, too, is sunk into the earth, whispers promises, and crushes out the lives of men with her poisonous embrace (?).

I recall John Huston being very dismissive of Frances Marion’s writing ability in An Open Book, which rather shocked me because I’d been taught to admire her as a powerful woman of early Hollywood. It’s true that she’s not actually great at words. Her gift was structuring the crowd-pleasing narrative.

Actually — IMDb lists Rupert Hughes as uncredited writer of the titles, which makes sense: HE was a commercial hack. It also adds Lenore Coffee, another powerful woman of early Hollywood and part of DeMille’s stable, or harem, of female writers, as another unlisted contributor.

It’s in the story structure that TWOBW adds support for Henry King’s claim to an artistic identity, since the shape Marion has hewn from “the famous novel by Harold Bell Wright” mirrors that of the later IN OLD CHICAGO to an uncanny degree.

Both films open with a fatality in covered wagon times. The child who loses a father will become protagonist (in IOC there are three children, and the child in TWOBW will lose both parents and get adopted). And both films end with a giant disaster movie climax which purges the undesirable elements (but is a bit hard on the innocent citizenry) and resolves the romantic plot (will Tyrone Power be noble enough to win Alice Faye? Will Vilma Banky chose Ronald Colman or Gary Cooper?)

Colman goggles
Cooper mans the theodolite

Both the flood in TWOBW and the great fire of IOC are extremely gratifying spectacles of mass destruction and group jeopardy. My point, however, is that probably only Henry King was thinking about the earlier film when he came to make the 1938 super-production. Therefore King deserves credit as auteur — for ripping off Marion’s structure.

It’s Cecil Parker’s Film Festival, We Just Live In It

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2019 by dcairns

A very young, very fat Cecil Parker was a highlight in BECKY SHARP, he injects life into UNDER CAPRICORN (which we missed) and accompanies Ingrid Bergman again in Stanley Donen’s INDISCREET, where he gets most of the laughs during the long first half of setting-up. Then there’s some business with a fellow named Cary Grant — and then David Kossoff, of all people, got a spontaneous round of applause from the Bologna audience — TWICE. For entering and exiting.

That was today, when I had a lie in. Yesterday I saw:

IN OLD CHICAGO (Henry King) and WAY OF A GAUCHO (Jacques Tourneur) in the morning, two films in which cows cause death. In the Tourneur, a startling matte effect enables a horse and rider to disappear under a stampeded of cattle. The King is like a bovine version of THE BIRDS, with Mrs. O’Leary’s cow incinerating the windy city single-hooved, and a herd busting out from the stockyards to trample a major character.

The Tourneur, which looks great but was not a major hit with the public here, did feature the festival’s most quoted line: “He’s a fool, but he’s very gaucho.”

My own favourite exchange was from MOULIN ROUGE. Zsa Zsa: “Others find love and happiness, I find only disenchantment.” “Jose: “But you find it so often.”

I walked out of THE SEA WOLF — not the Curtiz classic, but an earlier Fox version by the worthless Alfred Santell. I would have stuck it out but my foot needed ointment so I stuck that out instead. Then I interviewed a very special person — haven’t been able to check the audio yet so we’ll have to see about that…

Fiona stayed in the Cinema Jolly, whose air-con has shown the most distinguished service this fest, until today when it let us all down rather badly during THE BRAVADOS, and she saw Felix E. Feist’s TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY. I’m going to have to catch up with the Feists I missed after the fest. He seems feisty.

The Piazetta Pier Paolo Pasolini is where showings are held with the carbon arc projector in the open air, so at 10.15 pm we ingested an Aperol Spritz (me) and a peach juice (Fiona) and washed them down with a one-reel fragment of Rupert Julian’s CREAKING STAIRS — the stairs weren’t all that creaked — a tinted Fleischer OUT OF THE INKWELL cartoon, a couple of travelogue-type things, and best of all, three episodes of ZIGOMAR PEAU D’ANGUILLE, a proto-FANTOMAS serial with a chunky master-criminal, a slinky female sidekick in a catsuit, and various capers including a robbery using an elephant accomplice (“La Rosaria” whispering detail directions into the pachyderm’s massive ear — intertitle ZIGOMAR AND LA ROSARIA WAIT IN THE GUTTER FOR THE ELEPHANT) and dive-bombing on Lake Como.

I’d been wanting to properly see some ZIGOMAR since I saw my first clip of the hooded desperado, possibly in the BBC series The Last Machine. He did not disappoint me, though most of his heists seemed to leave him out of pocket.