Archive for Jack Hawkins

Deco Vespiary

Posted in FILM, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2017 by dcairns

DEATH AT BROADCASTING HOUSE (1934) — viewed on Talking Pictures TV — is in many ways a cut above the average British picture of its time, but I can never seem to focus on it. It’s set in BBC Radio’s magnificent art deco hub, a gorgeous building. That starts things off with plenty of interest. There’s a strangulation murder broadcast live to the nation (nobody suspects until afterwards, since the victim was playing the role of a man who gets strangled). Snuff radio! And director Reginald Denham delivers not only plenty of beautiful shots of sharp-suited men looking pensive in white rooms, but some positively experimental jump-cut treatment of the musical numbers (yes! musical numbers!). I really want to try more of his films but few are available. Maybe Talking Pictures TV will transmit a few more.

My problem with the film is that all the male characters are the same — acidulated queens spitting venom at one another.  This may be an accurate portrayal of the BBC at the time — it probably is — but after the initial amusement value, a certain monotony sets in. One or two such characters could certainly enliven a murder mystery with their barbed quips, but this is too much of a good thing. When Ian Hunter shows up as the man from the Yard, he’s just the same, another sarcastic prig. There would have been good mileage in having him a comparative innocent, horrified at the nest of media vipers he’s stumbled into.

Among the sniping bitches are Henry Kendall (RICH AND STRANGE), a nubile Donald Wolfit, and Jack Hawkins, who doesn’t look quite as alarming here as he did in 1932’s THE LODGER, but still hasn’t grown into that toby jug head, which looks peculiar atop a spindly young body.

The script is by Val Gielgud — yes, brother of the more famous John — who also appears, looking diabolical and debonair in a goatee that positions him perfectly as the alternate universe evil twin of dear, dear Johnny. His scriptwork is a little lacking in variety but he’s such a surprising presence I wish there was more of him to see. I shall have to make an appointment with MEN ARE NOT GODS, his only other talkie, which is the original of Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE. Sounds kind of great.

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Isn’t it Pharaonic? Don’t you think?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2017 by dcairns

I mention the prospect of LAND OF THE PHARAOHS for our Hawks binge, and Fiona declares at once, “That’s one of my favourite movies!”

Afterwards, she admitted it wasn’t.

But it made a great impression on her as a kid, because of the ending. “Buried alive with a lot of people with their tongues cut out!”

SPOILER ALERTIt’s like a great ending in search of a movie. And perhaps evidence that no movie about a giant construction project is ever any good (Civil Engineering: See Boring). we have SUEZ, WESTERN UNION, and this. There must be exceptions but I can’t think of any. Don’t say THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

Hawks had engineering training and I guess he got carried away by it. Later, he complained that the film didn’t have sympathetic characters — the slaves are theoretically “sympathetic” because they’re not mean, but they can’t engage our interest because they’re not active protagonists. Which is ironic, since they’re the only ones who do any work. But they’re not actively engaged in a personal struggle of their own, or minimally. They’re not DRAMATIC.Joan Collins plays a weird character — introduced as sympathetic, sent into sexual slavery to spare her father’s people from starvation, and swiftly sentenced to a lashing by Jack Hawkins — but then she becomes a monster of lust, ambition and avarice. If she were simply vengeful, destroying the dynasty (hah!) from within, it would be more consistent.

Despite the colossal sets, the spectacle isn’t very engrossing: Hawks ignores the lessons of CABIRIA and INTOLERANCE, which used the moving camera to involve us in the scenery and bring out the size of the construction work, combining them with a human scale. A bit of dollying in the pyramid interior could really have added to the feeling of being surrounded by great thicknesses of stone. Again, this only comes to life at the climax, where it’s fast cutting rather than camera motion that invigorates the action.My assumption is that after Joan gets entombed alive with the mutes, they all have sex. Am I wrong to think that?

I mean, what else are they gonna do?

(It was major Hawks collaborator Ben Hecht who suggested you could entertainingly read every single fade-out in Hollywood history as an ellipsed sex scene. This is a thought experiment which will liven up any dull B-movie.)

“I don’t know how a pharaoh talks,” is a classic line, and a decent objection to this kind of malarkey. Language gets deracinated. And you could see how the problem would be particularly devastating to Hawks. In the end, apart from the stunning climax, the film’s value is as a course correction that led to RIO BRAVO, a film in which practically everybody is an admirable Hawksian professional, even the baddies, and the talk is casual and plentiful and easily peppered with idiomatic spice.

Hosed

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2015 by dcairns

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I saw a bit of this film once playing on a TV in a bar in the mid-afternoon, and I was amazed. Had no idea what it was, though I recognized Jack Hawkins and was surprised to see him dressed as a Nazi. But I was FAR more surprised by what happened next…

This piece might need a trigger warning if you’ve ever been inflated to bursting point with a fire hose. In fact, if that has happened to you, don’t read that last sentence.

Eventually I worked out that the film was Andre De Toth’s THE TWO-HEADED SPY (1958), and even eventuallier I watched it.Hawkins plays a double agent, General Alex Scotland, installed on Hitler’s staff and sabotaging his supply lines to help end the war. The scene I had goggled at occurs when Felix Aylmer, Hawkins’ contact with the allies, is arrested by nasty Nazi Alexander Knox, and tortured.

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There’s the whipping, of course — rather more of it than we’re used to seeing in a film of this kind. But then Knox gets carried away and —

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In the words of Edward Gorey, “there was a wet sort of explosion, audible for several miles.”

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Yes. De Toth has just killed a character by having him anally penetrated with a fire hose, and then inflated until bursting point. You can see why I was surprised at seeing this on Channel 4 in the middle of the afternoon.

Of course, De Toth was a tough old nut. He broke his neck twice (once may be considered bad luck…), he lost an eye (nobody seems to know where), he worked as a second unit director for David Lean and a producer for Ken Russell. Nobody’s idea of a pushover. And he once tried, basically, to decapitate his leading man with a guillotine while making HOUSE OF WAX. But this is still an astonishingly horrible and grotesque scene. How it got past the censors in days when you couldn’t even show a toilet in an American movie is beyond me.

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“Well, it was worth a try, right?”

The film is apparently based on the memories of General Alex Scotland, but the facts seem extremely murky. Elsewhere, Scotland more or less denied ever having been on the German side during the war — he was certainly running an interrogation centre near London for captured Germans during the latter years of the conflict, not in the bunker with Adolf as shown here. Intriguingly and grimly, that centre was rumoured to be a hotbed of torture, leaving open the suspicion that the methods depicted may have been deployed for real, but by our side. In his Wikipedia page, Scotland is quoted as saying that high command asked him deliberately NOT to scotch false rumours about his being planted in Nazi Germany, for reasons he was never apprised of. I think it’s likelier that he was simply trying to make a profit from his war service any way he could, especially after the government tried to stop him publishing his memoirs under the Official Secrets Act.

The film isn’t one of De Toth’s best. Gia Scala is wheeled in as romantic interest, but Hawkins isn’t allowed to have close relationships with any of the people he’s betraying, which makes him a rather isolated, distant figure. Characters mostly thrive on relationships, and he has none.

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Hitler is always kept just off-screen, at one point occluded by a large globe, in an amusing nod to Chaplin. He’s played with Welsh fervour by Kenneth Griffith, which would have been hilarious if we’d gotten to see him. Most enjoyable actor is Donald Pleasence, who portrays his high-ranked Nazi big shit shot’s nervous strain by having him puff continuously at a cigarette kept one inch from his lips at all times. Had Pleasence ever had a chance to observe Fritz Lang’s smoking technique? The resemblance is uncanny.