Archive for Isle of the Dead

The Schlub What Sends Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2020 by dcairns

Guest Shadowplayer Chris Schneider weighs in on an obscure but fascinating semi-noir —

Once upon a time I was a teenager who learned about films from his paperback copy of AGEE ON FILM. One title I learned of was ISLE OF THE DEAD, the Val Lewton supernatural mood-piece. Another was THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME.

THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME is a melodrama concerned with cash and adultery and death, one that’s very much a part of noir territory. You might even say, specifically, OUT OF THE PAST territory, since BELIEVE ME is 1947 and RKO and there’s music by Roy Webb as well as the presence of actress Jane Greer. All overlapping with OUT OF THE PAST, as the cognoscenti will tell you. Hell, one of the posters even employs the phrase “out of the past.”

My primary reaction has always been “Good … but not of a level with OUT OF THE PAST.” That’s still the case, but a recent TCM viewing has provoked some rethinking.

One poster for THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME shows the head of Robert Young (male protagonist) surrounded by the heads of Susan Hayward (second girlfriend), Jane Greer (first girlfriend), and Rita Johnson (wife). Young plays a no-better-than-he-oughta-be guy, an architect, who tries to hold onto both his wealthy wife and a girl or two on the side. We learn of this via courtroom testimony. Johnson finds out about Greer, and she buys Young a new job on the opposite coast. She learns of Hayward, who works in the same office, and his employment is threatened again. What Is To Be Done?

The whole screenplay, which was written by Jonathan Latimer of THE BIG CLOCK and THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, is structured around Young messing up and some female — Johnson, Hayward — stepping in to take care of the situation.

The film’s producer is Joan Harrison, associate of Hitchcock and Robert Siodmak, and there’s a case to be made that THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME is a noir shaped by a female perspective, one where (for once) an *homme* is fatal rather than a *femme*. Young certainly is bad news. Unlike my favorite example of *homme fatal* noir, though — BORN TO KILL — Young’s character is not dynamically bad. He’s no Lawrence Tierney. He’s just a guy who shoulda known better yet keeps getting in trouble. And yet women are still drawn to him. My nickname for the film became “The Schlub What Sends Me.”

The primary influence here, outside of generalized ‘40s zeitgeist, is James M. Cain. I forget if Agee was the first to cite Cain. But (SPOILERS AHEAD) Young gets into an auto accident with Hayward and her charred corpse is mistaken for that of Johnson, which he goes along with — very much in the POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE style of ironic fatalism. The original screen treatment, we learn from TCM, was narrated from a jail cell (POSTMAN again). And there’s stuff about water as uncontrollable fate, stuff that’s justified by Johnson’s corpse being found next to a river and accentuated by Young and Hayward doing some deep-water swimming much like POSTMAN’s Lana Turner and John Garfield.

THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME has Irving Pichel as director, alas, which means that it lacks the visual flourish Tourneur brought to OUT OF THE PAST. It also lacks the epigrammatic dialogue which Frank Fenton (probably) gave PAST. But it looks good and is compelling and has some fine performances. Did I mention that Robert Boyle is a production designer? Among those performances would be Rita Johnson, a good actress with an unlucky career, and Susan Hayward, who’s fresher here than in her later Stalwart Woman Warrior persona. It’s the film that gave me a taste for Hayward.

Historic note: the print of THEY WON’T BELIEVE that gets seen, these days, is usually a rerelease version that’s missing 15 minutes. That’s a lot in movie time. I gather that the missing material involves Young and Johnson at a concert running into Hayward, ending up with Hayward and Young canoodling behind a curtain. Also something about a blackmail threat to Young.

THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME ends suddenly, with a flourish of violence, a bit like the end of Verdi’s TROVATORE. One expects someone — perhaps Greer? — to clutch their forehead and exclaim “ … e vivo ancor!”

I saw THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME when I was young and I liked it. I watch it now and I like it. And I live on.

Now Wash Your Hands

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 23, 2010 by dcairns

Boris Karloff, dusky-hued in BEHIND THAT CURTAIN.

Boris again, dusky-hued again, in ISLE OF THE DEAD.

It’s Boris Karloff’s birthday!

It was only last year that I learned about Boris’s Indian ancestry. It seemed to make so much sense. It accounts for the darker pigmentation around his eyes, and may even account for his stage name: by assuming a Slavic name, William Henry Pratt could account for his colouring without admitting to any non-white heritage. This was in an age when the British spoke of someone like Boris having ” a lick of the tar-brush.”

Even if his appearance were accounted for, Boris still found the only parts he could get were exotic types, and sinister westerners. Without the simple ethnic explanation, those shadowy eyes became a repository for malevolent projections. Or maybe he was just naturally scary-looking.

Still, Boris had more range than he’s credited with: see FIVE STAR FINAL, an excoriating attack on yellow press scandal sheets from Mervyn LeRoy and Warner Bros. Eddie Robinson is the editor who destroys a whole family with his muck-raking tactics, and Boris is boozy reporter and sex pest (“Don’t get in a taxi with him”) T. Vernon Isopod. He’s grotesque, yes, simpering and slurring and lisping and leering, but he manages to be hilarious until the sheer repulsiveness of his profession tips him over into monstrousness of a different kind.

Happy Birthday Boris!

Congruence #1

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-44733vlcsnap-44779vlcsnap-44817

Congruence — what an ugly word! The above images conclude Buster Keaton’s COLLEGE (credited to James W Horne, but we know better). Not the first time Keaton ended a comedy with a gravestone — the marker inscribed “Buster” at the end of COPS is the best-known example, and inspired my own CRY FOR BOBO’s clown funeral scene.

vlcsnap-1637953vlcsnap-1637997vlcsnap-1638551vlcsnap-1638626vlcsnap-1638219vlcsnap-1638257vlcsnap-1638289

The ending of John Boorman’s much-maligned dystopian wankathon ZARDOZ. Note ~

1) The first child, posture, expression and position in frame = comedy gold.

2) Framing, in its formality and flatness, is even more Keaton-like than the Keaton.

3) Extremely funny bad OAP makeup, especially on la Rampling.

4) Friendly skeletons. “The grave’s a fine and noble place / But none I think do there embrace.”

Both the Boorman jockstrap-and-bandolier epic, and Buster Keaton’s minor-league but still-spectacular flap shoe romance, are the only two films I can think of, off the top of my head (the only part of it I can access without cranial surgery) that end quite this way, on a cheery fast-forward to senescence and death. Seeming to give the lie to the concept of the happy ending. As Dorothy Parker told Sam Goldwyn ~

“Sam, I hate to tell you this, but of all the people who have ever lived in the history of the human race, not one of them ever had a happy ending.”

Great exit line.

Goldwyn: “What the hell did she mean by that?”

Turning it on its head, maybe we could retrieve the happy ending by endorsing Val Lewton’s note to the front office, when they had warned him against “message movies” as he prepared to make ISLE OF THE DEAD ~

“I’m sorry to say that our picture does have a message, and that message is: Death is Good.”

Anyhow, I don’t think influence is at work here. I’ve never heard Boorman talk about Keaton. And the fact that, incredibly, both men made films called THE GENERAL seems more to indicate a lack of appreciation by Boorman rather than a desire to pay homage.

Interested parties can do me some good by buying these products here, if you’re UK:

Zardoz [DVD] [1974]

Buster Keaton – College / Steamboat Bill Jr. / Three Ages [DVD] [1927]

And here, if you’re USA:

Zardoz

The Art of Buster Keaton (The General / Sherlock, Jr. / Our Hospitality / The Navigator / Steamboat Bill Jr. / College / Three Ages / Battling Butler / Go West / The Saphead / Seven Chances / 21 Short Films)