Archive for Jacques Tourneur

Night of the Roberts

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2018 by dcairns

Watching lots of RKO films for a project which may or may not happen, but the research is fun anyway.

If you’re ever caught up in an argument about which is the true auteur, Val Lewton or Jacques Tourneur, you can always bamboozle both sides by plumping for Nicholas Musuraca, who shot not only CAT PEOPLE but several other Lewton horrors, as well as OUT OF THE PAST, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, DEADLINE AT DAWN, THE LOCKET and STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (the first film noir?) giving them all the same beautiful, shadowy look.

CROSSFIRE is an interesting one. It’s a sort of knock-down fight between studio boss Dore Schary’s social conscience cinema, Dmytryk and Musuraca’s noir dramatism, and Richard Brooks’ source novel. The novel’s victim was killed because he was gay — a startling story element for the time, which would have surprised readers. The movie’s victim, Sam Levene, is killed because he’s Jewish, and the moment Robert Ryan is heard to say “jewboy,” all pretense of mystery disappears and it becomes incredible that Robert Young doesn’t put two and two together.

Robert Mitchum is the third Robert, and has all the best lines, making me wonder if he wrote them, as he occasionally did at this time (HIS KIND OF WOMAN, THE LUSTY MEN).

But a surprising number of Brooks’ homosexual hints remain, flapping loose ends attached to nothing at either end. Ryan takes special note of Levene talking to his “sensitive artist” friend George Cooper, and it’s made to look like a pick-up, viewed in covert POV across the bar top. The whole set-up, with Levene randomly inviting strangers back to his pad, is slightly odd.

The film benefits from a wild, shape-shifting structure that leaps between viewpoints, so that Mitchum, Young, Cooper, his wife Jacqueline White, and even Ryan take turns as our principal, point-of-view character. The film seems to take its form from the drunken binge that initiates the action, veering about through time and space, doubling back on itself picking up false trails and introducing characters who go nowhere.

Best of these is Paul Kelly, with his face of a cork golem and his body shaped like a sandwich in a suit, staring dead-eyed at Cooper as he wantonly freaks him out with lies and non-sequiturs. Who is he and why is he here? We never quite learn, though “pimp” is the most obvious explanation for his presence in Gloria Grahame’s bijou apartment (the kitchen is a wall behind a curtain). He’s just very strange. If he was Dan Duryea, we’d say “pimp” and shrug it off. But Kelly seems to lack the confidence for that. Even he doesn’t seem to know who he is.

The film’s good-hearted ambitions mean Young has to provide protracted expositions on the evils of antisemitism (but with no mention of the recent Holocaust, strangely enough), which are quite well written (adaptation by John Paxton) but the purpose is better served by Ryan’s pathological hate speech. He’s clearly enough positioned as the heavy so that explaining why is redundant. But the most evocative stuff is the unexplained and unexplainable, the lacunae of Brooks’ deleted story and the walking lacuna that is Paul Kelly.

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Ingram’s Wrecks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2016 by dcairns

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Rex Ingram had some kind of fascination with the grotesque. The main identifying trait I had identified in the work I’d seen was a tendency to cut in bizarro comedy business at the worst possible moment. I liked that about him. There’s even buffoonery going on during the famous erotic tango of FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE. If you’re getting off on Valentino, those cutaways (a drunk finding a goldfish in his glass) will put you right off your stroke. THE MAGICIAN, a melodrama about mad science and black magic, ends with a dwarf stuck in a tree with his trousers in tatters.

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Ingram only does one really weird cutaway in SCARAMOUCHE, but it’s right at the climax — the hero rescues his family from the Reign of Terror, and we cut to a huge closeup of an ugly guy flickering his eyelids in a repulsive parody of feminine emotion. An extraordinary thing to insert during your tale’s emotional climax, expressing either humorous contempt for the material or some kind of urge to set the sublime in stark contrast with the ridiculous.

Elsewhere, Ingram entertains himself with his extras, in the manner of Fellini. He not only gathers impressive physical oddities, he enhances them with makeup, so Danton is spectacularly pockmarked and corrupt French justice is embodied by this caricature —

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The make-up artist / putty wrangler is uncredited. This guy is mocked by the beautiful Novarro for his hideousness, which is somehow meant to stand in for his corruption, but then Danton, who looks like somebody spat Rice Crispies in his face, is a noble figure, which seems inconsistent.

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In a cameo, we get Napoleon, played by the great montage director Slavko Vorkapich (Nappy gets a walk-on in the remake, too, but a more significantly placed one). Slavko has a terrific face. This is his earliest credit, but the IMDb list is surely incomplete, so we can’t know if he was plucked from some other role because his face fit, or if he was bumming around Hollywood doing extra work before his montage career took off (he later made an expressionist movie, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA, which may support that supposition).

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Jacques Tourneur is also listed as an extra in the film, but he’s hard to spot in the cast of thousands. This isn’t him ~

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Somewhere in the throng is Buster Keaton’s future sidekick, Snitz Edwards, and Ingram favourite John George, the little guy from THE MAGICIAN and TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. This movie could be nicknamed INGRAM SATYRICON.

More SCARAMOUCHE soon!

Arrows of Desire

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2015 by dcairns

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Finally got copies of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, from Arrow Video. Both feature video essays written by me and edited by Timo Langer and are available from all good UK outlets, plus Amazon.

Fall of the House of Usher [Blu-ray]

The Comedy of Terrors [Dual Format Blu-ray + DVD]

COMEDY OF TERRORS is dual-format. To spare you the usual sight of our chipped floorboards, I performed a Cocteauesque trick and taped the movies to the living room wall for the above photo. So now you can enjoy our filthy, greasy wall.

USHER was an interesting one — my first video essay, Through the Pale Door. Since so much of the film is prowling around empty corridors, we created a totally uninhabited version of the movie, and also joined together all the matte paintings to tell the story in exteriors alone. And also cut together all the shots of paintings of Usher’s depraved ancestors. I like these little experiments and hope to do more like that when I can find a suitable project.

COMEDY OF TERRORS has more faces and talk, so for Whispering in Distant Chambers we did a lot of cutting in lines of dialogue to point up or undercut what the voice-over is saying. And I got Fiona to narrate this one as she has a better voice. It’s also a whistle-stop tour of Jacques Tourneur’s entire life and career, in parallel with his dad’s. Sadly, my plan to rope in Tourneur experts Chris Fujiwara, Christine Leteux and Geoffrey O’Brien came to naught, due to time constraints, but the film yielded some surprisingly cool stuff, despite its well-documented weaknesses, and Tourneur is always great to explore. Arrow allowed me to include clips from his earlier work via “fair use” so buyers can catch a glimpse of his first, super-rare movie, TOTO (from Pathe-Natan) and follow his style from CAT PEOPLE to WARLORDS OF THE DEEP.