Archive for James Finlayson

The Sunday Intertitle: Citrus

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2017 by dcairns

Stan Laurel’s citrus-based comedy, ORANGES AND LEMONS of 1923 just isn’t good enough. I’ve come around to his parody films, which are inventive and silly enough to get you over the major hurdle of No Ollie — they’re different enough, too. It’s not like there’s a role for Ollie in them. But O&L is just basic slapstick, with Stan as, effectively, his old colleague Chaplin in one of his work-based comedies. Stan, like Charlie, is a shiftless and incompetent labourer who is entertained by his own mistakes, especially when they result in his boss or even his co-workers getting pelted with fruit. The lack of solidarity with his fellow employees (see THE PAWNSHOP for instance) is tres Charlot.

(This is the shorter version on YouTube, but it has better picture quality.)

Of course, Stan’s performance isn’t. Despite having worked alongside Chaplin, he never attempted to impersonate him as far as I know. But if he’s not like the Little Tramp, he’s not much like himself, either. Some of his antics are things you might conceivably see Mr. Laurel do in a drunk scene, or some other instance of out-of-character hi-jinks, but he’s devoid of any of his signature moves, gestures and expressions. His Barrymore-Ogle-Schreck monster in DR. PYCKLE AND MR. PRYDE has more in common with the classic Stan than this cheeky chappie.

Stan DOES share a scene with a big fat chap, “Tonnage” Martin Wolfkeil — who acts like a small child, i.e. plays the Stan role. Maybe an idea started to click in Stan’s head as he inappropriately played the leader of this duo for a few seconds of screen time. (One can imagine typecasting dictating that Ollie ought to play the infantile one, with his big baby face, with Stan as the more adult half of the team. Thank God that never came to pass.) This moment feels like one of those cartoon parodies of OF MICE AND MEN — but it hadn’t been written yet. Later on, Stan, no sentimentalist, kicks this inoffensive fellow in the face.

Stan wears an amusing clown-sized sombrero for half the film but, forced to assume a disguise, steals a derby from a chap with a Chaplin moustache — is he slowly becoming himself? Seconds later, that sheepish, chin-stretching beam makes an appearance on his features.

There are only about three good laughs in this thing, but I kind of like how the title bridges the distance between London and the music hall (“…say the bells of St. Clemence”) and California and the cinema. James Finlayson appears briefly.

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The Gay Blade Runner

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2017 by dcairns

Blimps! Gimps! Simps! Gender-fluid futurism erupts at The Chiseler, direct from Hippfest!

Here.

Hawks and Sparrows

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2015 by dcairns

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Douglas Fairbaks Jnr. looks with affection at his last hand grenade.

The movie is the 1930 version of THE DAWN PATROL. Richard Barthelmess’s hard-drinking WWI flier in this looks set to transmute into his character from THE LAST FLIGHT, made the following year. This is an early Howard Hawks talkie. If SCARFACE is atypical of the filmmaker, with its psychopathic characters and expressionistic flourishes, other titles of the same period often show Hawks searching for the fluidity of his mature style, and wrestling with subject matter that isn’t always sympatico.

Aviator/writer John Monk Saunders’ source story, The Flight Commander, deals with people on the verge of destruction, with equal odds whether said destruction will be self-inflicted or brought about by war. Hawks never liked crybabies much, and would have made a lousy grief counsellor, so for the first half of the film he struggles to generate sympathy for Neil Hamilton’s booze-and-guilt-ridden Major. But Hawks liked the story enough to recycle elements later — the active pilot hates the desk jockey, and then he gets the desk jockey’s job, sending other men out to die.

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Richard Barthelmess (great, underrated actor), in engine oil and goggles hobo clown makeup, comforts a traumatized Gardner James. While the callous viewer prays that GJ can get shot down to lighten up the film.

The movie seems to get more fluid as it goes on. Early scenes are stilted, with a distinct LACK of Hawksian overlapping dialogue — it’s underlapping, if anything — one scene has two characters commenting on an offscreen argument, which they can apparently hear. But we don’t get to hear anything, imparting a surreal, mediumistic tinge to their conversation.

Ernest Haller’s oily smudge photography is wonderful, all soft focus and blurred shadows. The sets look cheap up close (painted brickwork fails to trompe l’oeil) but terrific in wide shot. And in places, the dipso camaraderie, heartless yet earnest professionalism, and underplaying (especially Barthelmess, decades ahead of his co-stars) suggest the Hawks of a few years later.

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The cast also sports Frank McHugh and, in an almost unique dramatic role, James Finlayson. The frequent Laurel & Hardy antagonist is fascinating to watch, dialling down his comedy schtick and turning it to (sort-of) dramatic purposes. This includes a very mild exclamation of “D’oh!” early on, and towards the end an actual double-take, as he witnesses the wrong man getting into a plane for a suicide mission. Probably you shouldn’t cast the Finn in a tragedy, but that’s just the kind of thing Hawks WOULD do.

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Below should really have been the film’s last shot, every story point having been settled by this scenic moment, but the filmmakers can’t resist a spectacular bomber raid sequence, one of several dazzling and no doubt dangerous action climaxes. This one combines high-quality miniatures, dodgy rear-projection, and gobsmacking real aerial and demolition footage, including two shots pointing straight down at the target as a bomb dwindles into invisibility and then sends half the landscape erupting upwards straight into the lens. Real stuff!

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“Going west.”