Archive for Isabel Jeans

The Sunday Intertitle: Rats

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2012 by dcairns

My main purpose here is to alert anyone who still needs alerting to the great event of the film blogging calendar, For The Love of Film, the film preservation blogathon, hosyed by Ferdy on Film, This Island Rod and the Self-Styled Siren.

You’ll find a wealth of reading material via these sites, but don’t forget the purpose of the thing — donate! (By clicking on this thing below.)

We raise money, we get a free streaming version of THE WHITE SHADOW, scripted by Alfred Hitchcock, directed by Graham Cutts, and we get an original score to go with it.

Graham Cutts was one of the annoying lesser minds Hitchcock banged up against during his early years, a company which also included several producers and studio heads. And that’s how he is chiefly remembered. Hitch and Alma attempted to direct THE WHITE SHADOW by remote control, pointing out shots to the director, helping him along but also incurring his resentment.

Still, Cutts did enjoy some success apart from Hitch, most of it via the series of films he directed with Ivor Novello — THE RAT, TRIUMPH OF THE RAT and RETURN OF THE RAT. Novello, apart from his charming songs, is best remembered today for THE LODGER, Hitch’s first real thriller, hit, minor masterpiece. He was a heart-throb and matinee idol, and although Hitch was prevented from casting him as a serial killer, he tended to write bad-boy roles for himself, albeit with a last-reel redemption — in this sense, the ultimate revelation of his innocence in THE LODGER is quite in keeping with the kind of role he was associated with.

In THE RAT, Novello plays a Montmartre cat burglar entrusted with his devoted young ward daughter Odile (Mae Marsh), who falls in love with sophisticated rich lady Zelie de Chaumet (Isabel Jeans). The Rat finds himself in over his head, especially as his young ward faces a murder rap. Finding in himself a strange form of gallantry, he confesses to the crime — now only Zelie can save him.

Cutts serves this up with a cinematic flair which puts the lie to Hitch and Alma’s claim that he was visually illiterate — unless he had someone else in Hitch’s place, helping him along, this time.

THE RAT is a corking melodrama, and it not only merited two sequels but a remake in 1937. By then, Novello was out of movies for good, his strong Welsh valleys accent apparently considered unsuitable — in his few talkies, he tends to be cast as Eastern European or otherwise foreign, in hopes that his unfamiliar yet musical delivery could be disguised as exotic (not that I’m saying Wales is NOT exotic, you understand. Heaven forbid). So the role went to (drum roll)… Anton Walbrook, a true exotic.

Doesn’t this image make you very happy and excited? It does me.

Adding to the excitement, Odile is played waif specialist Rene Ray from THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK (who also wrote THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X, intriguingly) and Zelie is embodied by Ruth Chatterton, visiting Britain as part of her downward career spiral. All three actors are ideally cast and excellent, and if director Jack Raymond doesn’t have quite the expressionist chops to paint a really memorable Montmartre demi-monde, he doesn’t do badly.

THE RAT is a fun character, though perhaps not suited to sequels (how many times CAN you be redeemed?) — really, there should have been a Hammer remake in the fifties, and maybe a Woodfall one in the ‘sixties in the wake of TOM JONES. Instead, British cinema dropped the ball and this character has fallen into disuse, slipping out of the public memory until there’s no longer any commercial value in bringing him back. Alas for The Rat!

The silent RAT has one thing the talkie inexplicably omits — a bar called The White Coffin, where all the doorways are coffin-shaped and all the floozies carry a torch for Novello. 

Advertisements

Intertitle of the Week: ‘ome

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-513801

The cockney traveler’s lament.

From THE RETURN OF THE RAT, directed by Graham Cutts and starring Britain’s top film star of the mid-twenties, Ivor Novello. This is a sequel to THE RAT, from the same team, augmented by assistant director Alfred Hitchcock, which sadly isn’t available anywhere I know of (see Comments). Hitch and Cutts became enemies after that production, with Cutts objecting to Michael Balcon’s giving Hitch a directing gig. According to Hitch and Alma Reville, Hitch was of invaluable help to Cutts, and Cutts resented that. Hitch also considered Cutts, to put it bluntly, visually illiterate.

vlcsnap-514564

Looking at THE RETURN OF THE RAT, it seems that Cutts was perfectly competent, but perhaps uninspired, and it’s possible that the Hitchcockian suggestions he rejected were the more interesting ones. The movie does have Novello swanning around Paris in sharp suits, as a semi-reformed apache who’s made good, and Hitchcock alumni Gordon Harker, Marie Ault, and Isabel Jeans. And also,  special guest spot by the Virtual Reality Josephine Baker ~

vlcsnap-519085

Dyall “V” for Valentine

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2009 by dcairns

Or, Hitchcock Year, Week Four.

vlcsnap-14396

Having filmed a play (DOWNHILL) by Ivor Novello (writing as David LeStrange), Hitchcock started work on EASY VIRTUE, from a play by Britain’s other leading gay playwright / songwriter, Noel Coward, as his previous film was still being cut. Another studio assignment, this shows the prevailing thought, or lack of thought, at Gainsborough: “Keep control of him, don’t let him do his own thing, or we might end up with another success like THE LODGER.”

Hitch nevertheless through himself into making a film of Coward’s problem play, dramatizing the backstory so fully that the plot of the play doesn’t begin until halfway through the film’s running time.

(There’s just been a new version of EASY VIRTUE. Would have been a smart idea for me to see it, right? But I didn’t. Just looked at the trailer, which I can’t bear to embed because it made me physically unwell. It’s from Ealing, who seem to be pursuing an identity as, I don’t know, some kind of modern Ealing, but old Ealingdidn’t specialise in remakes and period pieces and adaptations of old plays, they were tackling modern Britain with original screenplays… and the idea of turning Noel Coward into a sort of Ben Stiller THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY / MEET THE PARENTS comedy only with shapely smiling vacuum Jessica Biel in the Stiller role…)

Anyhow, Hitch’s film avoids all Coward-like wit and is basically a somewhat humourless melodrama, unintentionally amusing at times, but it does feature some nice touches, and is graced with a highly developed sense of SYMMETRY.

vlcsnap-8573

For instance, this arresting shot of a judge’s wig, rising like the morning sun from bottom of frame, is repeated in a second trial scene, two divorces which bookend the movie.

It’s followed by a marvellous shot looking through the judge’s spyglass, a shot which was optically impossible to achieve in a realistic way ~

vlcsnap-8721

Here’s the trick: a stand-in occupies the centre of the crowd, playing the barrister’s part. A GIANT CLAY HAND holding a giant spy-glass, is hefted into frame. It needs to be giant so the camera can keep it and the background acceptably focused. Instead of a lens, the glass is fitted with a mirror, which reflects the REAL barrister-actor, who is standing behind the camera with co-star Franklin Dyall (right) and other extras.

Beautiful. And the first appearance in Hitchcock of a BIG FAKE HAND — see also the foot-long finger steered uncertainly into a telephone dial at the start of DIAL “M” FOR MURDER, and the B.F.H. that points the revolver right between our eyes at the end of SPELLBOUND. Have I missed any others?

Not only is the spyglass shot pleasing in itself, but it’s balanced by other compositions which mirror it, notably this one:

vlcsnap-10217

An oval dressing table mirror sets up further echoes.

Hitch uses the first courtroom sequence to flash daringly back in time and show the breakdown of the heroine’s marriage. When her husband, Franklin Dyall, catches her in the arms of a portrait painter (the first of Hitch’s randy artists — see also BLACKMAIL), these two shots from the stand-off represent another kind of symmetry, or mirroring.

vlcsnap-9421

Peekaboo.

vlcsnap-91971

Franklin Dyall, above, whose face is an extraordinary bit of apparatus, was the father of Valentine Dyall, familiar to Shadowplayers for this voice-over. Anyhow, shots are fired, a scandal is caused, and a divorce is granted.

On the Riviera, recovering from her ordeal at the hands of the proto-paparazzi, Isabel Jeans, our not-so-gay divorcee meets and marries Robin Irvine (Novello’sbest pal in DOWNHILL). Their journey by carriage along a winding coastal road recalls Grace Kelly driving Cary Grant in TO CATCH A THIEF, but the pace is slower — even the driver of the carriage falls asleep.

Hitch gives us his-and-hers luggage shots as the couple travel back to England:

vlcsnap-11019

vlcsnap-11093

Arriving at the stately pile, our heroine gets a Baltic reception from what could be the first proper Hitchcock mother, played by a steely actress rejoicing in the name of Violet Farebrother. She exerts a near-total dominance over her son, who quickly loses all audience sympathy as he passively allows mum to turn him against his perfectly reasonable new bride. But as an early version of the neurotic/psychotic maternal relationships running through Hitchcock’s films, this does seem a good solid start.

vlcsnap-13933

Finally, our heroine asserts herself by attending a party she’s been banned from, dressed to the nines in flapper fashions, calculated to create the biggest scandal possible. In a romcom, this is where the hero would rush to her side, impressed by her pluck, and finally stand up to his overweening mater, but our man quietly caves in and everything ends in divorce, which isn’t terribly satisfying somehow, but at least allows Hitch to preserve his symmetry.

An even less rewarding job than DOWNHILL, EASY VIRTUE shows Hitch struggling manfully to turn around stagy, talky material ill-suited to the requirements of silent cinema. Fortunately, a new company had just been formed, taking advantage of the British government’s new quota system, that dictated that a certain number of films playing in British cinemas must be British. British International Pictures intended to provide those movies, and they hired Hitch to help them…