Archive for James Whale

The Sunday Intertitle: Old Scenes

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2023 by dcairns

So, in our Dickens double-bill, it turned out that, surprisingly, the director of RED-HEADED WOMAN was a better match for the author than the director of A WOMAN’S FACE, or maybe it’s only that the rambling picaresque of DAVID COPPERFIELD is less readily adapted to cinema than A TALE OF TWO CITIES, which is more of a rollicking thriller.

Both 1935 films resort to montages, title cards, hastily summarised scenes in order to compress their sources into a decent span of celluloid. At times, COPPERFIELD seems like lightning sketches stitched together with glass paintings and Vorkapich effects.

George Cukor abandons any hope of a unified style in his cast’s performances, wisely, I think, since it allows W.C. Fields and Roland Young to do their respective things to the fullest of their mighty talents. Fields is terrific, of course, a cartoon made flesh, even his costume design marking him out as an inhabitant of a different genre from everyone else. Young had a brilliant understated schtick as a light comedy sidekick, but when given anything more to do he always delivered — his Uriah Heap is strikingly oleaginous, viviparous, a cringing Gollum seething with pass-agg resentments. It’s hard to process the idea, though, that Freddie Bartholomew and Frank Lawton inhabit the same world, or film.

Freddie is a weird little phenomenon. Given business to do, he does it skillfully (wiping his hand after Heap has shaken it, with a barely-suppressed shudder). Given dialogue, he often appears extraterrestrial, inhuman. Asked to weep, he becomes a disgusting, bleating animal, repelling sympathy. Halfway through the film, we lose him, as Lawton is airdropped in to take up the role, replacing his younger self. Lawton is puppyish but a little dull. I guess Copperfield in the book is just an innocent set of eyes observing the other characters, but in a film we have to look at him.

Hugh Williams spends much of his small part appearing outwardly honourable, a waste of his oily talents — when the scenario permits him to hint at inner rottenness, he’s terrific.

Una O’Connor and Elsa Lanchester add pep — and make me wish James Whale had gotten to film Dickens. Basil Rathbone, whose non-Holmesian career was spent embodying evil, embodies it in a fresh way here, making of his wicked stepfather an alarmingly genuine sexual sadist who gaslights his wife and delights in beating her child. (The purportedly autobiographical FANNY AND ALEXANDER seems to have drawn its inspiration from this sequence, though in fairness not getting on with one’s stepfather is probably quite a common experience.) Herbert Mundin and Edna May Oliver are good living pen-and-ink caricatures. And the extraordinary Lennox Pawle, as the pixillated Mr. Dick — a kind of creature never previously or since represented on film — single-handedly justifies the whole enterprise.

Unseen Maniac Proves No Hoax

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 10, 2019 by dcairns

Good sub-hed from James Whale and RC Sherrif’s THE INVISIBLE MAN.

Pretty damn suave housecoats on display also.

Watched this tonight with our friend Ali, who remarked on the wild tonal shifts, It’s not just that the film contains both slapstick knockabout and stark sadistic horror, but, as Ali remarked, it doesn’t waste time building up to the horror or lingering on its consequences — it’s just straight on with the comedy, and the bodies still warm.

Gloria Stuart is pretty terrible but it doesn’t matter. William Harrigan, hovering over her shoulder, is on first sight a pretty repulsive specimen of the genus actor, but proves to be perfectly cast. Entirely charmless as a screen presence, he is thrust into horrible situations where he ought to invite our warmest sympathy, but fails to. So that the invisible and very hostile man remains Our Hero, despite his complete lack of admirable attributes.

Note how Mr. Invis, setting Harrigan off bound hand and foot in a brakeless auto, describes lovingly how the fall will shatter his arms, then his neck. Which is then fullsomely depicted in a spectacular model shot, with the added detail that he bursts into flames also, just for jolly.

THE INVISIBLE MAN stars Captain Louis Renault; Old Rose; ‘Mac’ McKay; Clarence; Matilda Thrawn; Honesty Nuttall; Sir Karell Borotyn; Nurgomaster; Casper Guttman 1st; Giacomo the jester; Mrs. Hudson; and Renfield.

Femms Fatale

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2018 by dcairns

Got my Blu-Ray of THE OLD DARK HOUSE from Masters of Cinema!

Stephen Horne and I made a great big video essay for this one — 38 mins! I just couldn’t help myself. Adding to my musings are quotes from various interested parties and the J.B. Priestley source novel, Benighted, performed by ace actors Angela Hardie and Steven McNicoll. I think this is a particularly fun one — DVDBeaver and CineOutsider have been kind enough to call it “wonderful” and “enthralling” — and of course the film is a stone-cold masterpiece.

The Old Dark House [Masters of Cinema] Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD)