Archive for Irving Reis

It’s Later Than You Think

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2018 by dcairns

Continuing to explore Irving Reis’s work. The 1940 melo ONE CROWDED NIGHT takes place in an auto farm — my favourite venue! Think HEAT LIGHTNING and THE PETRIFIED FOREST and James M. Cain’s classic short story The Baby in the Icebox. A liminal space that’s gas station, diner and motel all in one. A place of potential drama. It spends most of its runtime stacking subplots atop one another, a game of narrative Buckaroo that’s not as interesting to watch as it must have been to execute, but when the climax is triggered and everything collapses and collides, it’s terribly exciting.

 

There’s plenty evidence the movie was intended to take its title from the prominently and regularly featured sundial constructed from rocks in the dustbowl location — the eventual choice seems designed to alibi the huge scaffolding of wild coincidence upon which the movie is assembled. At this auto farm we have the relatives of a convict, falsely jailed as a getaway driver (he was at gunpoint); then the convict arrives, having broken out, he’s determined to catch the heisters and clear his name; the heisters are also present, in another cabin; so are two detectives, escorting a soldier who went AWOL to see his pregnant wife; so is the wife, who fainted during her bus’s rest stop; so is a defrocked doctor, now running a medicine show; so is the moll of a heister’s associate, now working as the cook. And the convict’s wife is recognized by fellow residents of Duluth (we’re in Arizona) who are Just Passing Through.

Since it’s obvious how these characters are intended to intersect, interest comes from a few neat tricks by Reis (and a few daft ones) and from the unstarry cast. JM Kerrigan as the quack gets a prominent credit, presumably because he had just been in GONE WITH THE WIND. His whole schtick screams “WC Fields was unavailable!” Anne Revere, with her beautiful cliff-face face (Precipice Woman) and hubbie Paul Guilfoyle with his ugly-beautiful loser puss. Gale Storm, a silly stage name appended to a cute teenager. And Harry Shannon, physically unrecognizable as Charles Foster Kane’s future father, but instantly familiar due to that great, muffled voice (like somebody pumped his sinuses full of cotton wool until the whole back of his face was stuffed.

“That’s the train with all the lights on it.”

Though it opens with a striking (and highly atypical for 1940) zoom shot, the movie’s best flourish is saved for the climactic shootout, where one guy falls down, shot, BANG! and SLAP! a newborn is welcomed into the world. Nature balance itself, with a little help from dialectical montage.

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Head On

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2018 by dcairns

There are two lines of attack here —

  1. CRACK-UP is directed by Irving Reis — I watched all his FALCON films with George Sanders but didn’t particularly find him noteworthy. Then I saw ENCHANTMENT, photographed by Gregg Toland, and found it revelatory, experimental, and very impressive all round. It goes in and out of flashback all in one shot and it’s narrated by a house. I think that gives you an idea.
  2. CRACK-UP is “suggested by” a novella, Madman’s Holiday, by Fredric Brown. Brown wrote lots of sci-fi and crime — the SF is collected and can be got for a song on Kindle, but most of the crime stuff, like this one, is uncollected and a bit tricky or expensive to obtain. But, without having read the story, I can say that the movie seems to capture some of Brown’s demented inventiveness and delirium.

SIDEBAR — I chanced on a big stack of Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks — short stories culled from the Master’s Mystery Magazine, including some rare Donald Westlakes, plus Gerald Kersh, Ross McDonald, Jon Stephen Benet and one Brown, entitled Don’t Look Behind You.

“Try to enjoy this; it’s going to be the last story you ever read, or nearly the last.”

The jist of this paranoid tale of torture and insanity is that the author, a demented forger turned serial killer, has planted this story into this book JUST for you, because you’re his randomly selected victim and he wants to give you fair warning before he pounces. If you read the story late at night, you might actually half-believe it and find yourself scanning the dark corners of the room for the crouching assassin.

CRACK-UP has amnesia, art fraud, sodium pentathol, a gratuitous dwarf joke and lots of noir delirium (the best kind) ~

This clip will seem to be going on much too long, but that’s part of the appeal. Stick with it. As it goes on, and on, you’ll find yourself unable to believe Hollywood produced something so bizarrely distended, so obviously WRONG by the normal rules of the game.

Reis, THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER apart, seems a real experimentalist.

Starring Hildy Johnson, Helen Grayle/Velma Valento, Gaston Monescu, Jack Amberson and Phroso the Clown.

 

 

Home Service

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2017 by dcairns

Huge gratitude to Talking Pictures TV for screening ENCHANTMENT (1948), which I don’t think I’d ever heard of, directed by Irving Reis, who was merely a name to me. It’s been a while since I discovered a 40s Hollywood film that was a revelation to me.

It’s based on a Rumer Godden novel — one might think her an extraordinarily fortunate author in her adaptations, except I don’t think she liked any of them, certainly not BLACK NARCISSUS, which maybe affirms some part of the auteur theory by transmogrifying wholly into a Powell & Pressburger joint. Though it’s certainly possible to like both book and film. But Rumer didn’t, is my point.

It’s also a Goldwyn production, and stuffed full of his favourite talent — not Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo, you understand, but David Niven (DODSWORTH, WUTHERING HEIGHTS), Teresa Wright (THE LITTLE FOXES, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES) and Leo g. Carroll (WUTHERING HEIGHTS again), the whole being shot by Gregg Toland (most of the above). It’s basically a William Wyler movie without Wyler, which might be useful in assessing his contribution to the films he made for Goldwyn, except I’d rather just rave about this one.

Oh, and the cast also includes Evelyn Keyes, who is delightful, and Farley Granger, almost equally so only in a moustache. I’m not always anti-whiskers — David Niven doesn’t seem complete without his lip-caterpillar, for instance, but the more hair you put on Farley’s face, the less of Farley’s face you see, and that has to be counted as a loss.

For some reason the Blitz seems a time of romance, which is crazy — bombs falling from the sky onto human habitations are not romantic — but there it is. I’ve been reading Connie Willis, who suffers from the same inappropriate yearning for tumbling ordinance. This movie is framed by the war, but glides from thence into flashbacks going back to Victorian times.

Niven is barely recognizable (save for that lightbulb cranium) in the contemporary sections, wrapped in a rather convincing make-up and giving a thoroughly convincing performance of old age. His voice is completely unrecognizable, save for a few moments when his distinctive way with a line creeps through.

     

The leaping about in time is accomplished with a lot of adventuresome skill, some of which may be accredited to Toland, who after all had CITIZEN KANE to his credit. And so we get temporal shifts delivered with lighting changes (before Death of a Salesman) , and one extraordinary bit where the camera pans out of flashback into present tense in a single unbroken shot, the kind of thing very rarely seen in the forties — THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP is the best-known example. And a lovely moment where we a scene fades out except for a character’s hand, which lingers momentarily like the Cheshire Cat’s grin or the blind hermit’s cross in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, then dissolves to another image of a hand, and irises out in a new scene. That trick turns up in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, but practically nowhere else in screen history.

Evocative effects-work for the Blitz scenes.

Also, for fans of eccentric forties storytelling (David Bordwell), it’s narrated by a house. That would have been enough to make me love it, but there’s so much more.

What other Reis ought I to see? I’ll be all over THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER, of course, but are there other gems?