Archive for Janet Leigh

Scaramouche / Scaramouche

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2016 by dcairns

Can you do the fandango?

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All the fops love me. I am down with the fops.

I watched both versions of SCARAMOUCHE, the Metro silent and the MGM talkie. Fiona bailed on both after ten minutes apiece. You have to be in the right mood for fencing and foppery.

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Rex Ingram helmed the 1923 version, starring his discovery Ramon Novarro and his wife Ellen Terry. It’s apparently more faithful to Rafael Sabatini’s novel, which one senses while watching because the plot makes sense and doesn’t depend on outlandish coincidence. Not so the remake.

Lewis Stone (below, left) is in both versions. I like when that happens. He’s the big baddie in the Ingram but is demoted to a lesser Frenchman in George Sidney’s 1952 swashbuckler. (It was seeing and enjoying Sidney’s KISS ME KATE that got me onto this SCARAMOUCHE kick.)

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In the remake, the title character is actually a drunken, disfigured actor who wears a mask to perform. Stewart Granger steals his identity and we never see him again. The makeup, we are told, is created by William Tuttle. “Created,” you note. Not just slapped on. CREATED. Tuttle does that weird thing he does (his brushwork is very recognizable) where the lines of the face seem like whorls, layers of liquid solidified in the act of pouring on like thick cream.

The role is played by Henry Corden, and he’s uncredited. In the title role! Poor bastard. He actually IS Scaramouche. Granger just takes his name and costume, the cheeky sod.

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The leads: in the silent, the cast are all equally decent and equally a bit miscast. Novarro reminds himself to laugh cynically upon occasion to remind us he was born with a sense the world was mad. In the Technicolor talkie, Stewart Granger is required to play the hero as a total dick for quite a lot of screen time. He does it with aplomb. Mel Ferrer is his opponent, and the plot has been rejigged to make their backstory suitable for contemporaries. Now, Ferrer’s character is also a dick, and one notices that he’s more than usually appealing in the role. In fact, either of these guys could have played the baddie, but neither is right for the hero. They have a kind of charisma but not a likability. I never really noticed Ferrer’s charisma anywhere else because the prevailing feeling was that I didn’t like him. Being a villain liberates him.

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Kudos to those two lugs also for committing to the really terrific duels, which Sidney shoots like musical numbers, sweeping crane shots broken up with a few static compositions that pop in contrast. The business looks physically exhausting and a little risky. The final sword fight is supposed to be the longest ever, but doesn’t feel protracted, just satisfyingly thorough. PRINCESS BRIDE fans may notice a bit of business.

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Much of the deforming of the storyline seems to be intended to favour Eleanor Parker as “Lenore,” a role seemingly created especially for her (note the name). The equivalent role in the silent is a fairly small bit by comparison. But the real female lead is Janet Leigh (above), the only American cast who doesn’t bother trying to change her natural accent, and as a result the most natural player in the film (Nina Foch does wonders, though, as Marie Antoinette). Best scene is probably Granger hitting on Leigh and then discovering she’s his long-lost sister. Well-played, Jimmy! (Granger’s birth name was Jimmy Stewart, which for obvious reasons he had to change, but everyone still called him Jimmy. Why didn’t he choose Jimmy Granger?)

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Both movies showcase dramatic glass shots.

As mentioned in comments earlier, the MGM movie surprisingly omits the French Revolution, which is built up to and then dropped as an apparently still-hot potato. Structurally, this is acceptable because it allows the movie to climax with the splendid duel, but it does seem to imply that the (off-screen) King’s democratic compromises were successful in appeasing the people. The Metro version takes the more mature line that the Revolution was good but the Rein of terror bad, but this means that it kind of lacks a strong ending, fizzling out with the hero and his new-found family simply running away. But it finds a more satisfying fate for its bad guy (whereas Mel Ferrer simply evaporates, an odd result in a film driven entirely by the hero’s thirst for revenge).

A new version could be interesting. Neither movie quite joins the dots between the hero’s politics, his revenge quest and his career as a clown, whereas the first sentence of Sabatini’s book already gives me confidence that he’s working on a Unified Theory of Revolutionary Swashbuckling.

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In the 70s, when Richard Lester was having a lot of success with, broadly speaking, this kind of material, Dustin Hoffman, of all people, approached him with the idea of a remake. Part of his obsession with playing superannuated students, I guess. Lester met him and they got on well, but politely declined the job, feeling that Hoffman’s perfectionism and we might call his own kick-scramble-bollocks approach were ill-matched and bound to end in heartache or nervous breakdowns.

 

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Male Practice

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2015 by dcairns

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THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL is an MGM film before it’s a Curtis Bernhardt film — no glimmers of expressionism here. And what Fiona called “the worst title ever” — certainly the most generic. But it does stretch a bit at the limits of what can be said about the world in an L.B. Mayer production. Arrogant junior doctor Glenn Ford, product of a tyrannical surgeon father (Charles Coburn NEARLY in KING’S ROW mode) falls for and is humanized by Janet Leigh, who is of humble origins, mans a taffy-rotating mechanism for a living, and has a lung abscess, though you would never know those things to look at her. Surprisingly, he sacrifices his dream of neurosurgery to become a slum doctor, and finds happiness. It’s the sacrificed dream bit that’s surprising — most Hollywood confections would find a way to give him his heart’s desire twice over.

Meanwhile. his sister (Gloria DeHaven) gets pregnant out of wedlock, which means she’s sentenced to death by the Hays Code.

What’s unsettling is the glimpses the film offers us of Bellevue — Leigh only survives the place because Ford pulls strings and gets her the top surgeon — it’s made pretty clear that with a regular doctor she didn’t stand much chance. If she hadn’t been young perky and white, what chance would she have had? What chance do these characters have?

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Still More Things That Aren’t Films, Again

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2014 by dcairns

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Enjoyed the first season of House of Cards — a box set Christmas gift from our pal Alison. David Fincher is turning into a classicist — he no longer feels compelled to fly his camera through kettle handles, at any rate. Struck by how it is, basically, Richard III done over (already done over for the books and UK TV series), and by how camp Kevin Spacey plays it in his asides to camera. NOT an accident — two-thirds of the way through the series there’s a hint of a male-on-male love affair in his character’s past, so I guess the fey glances have all been plating clues — Francis can be himself when he’s talking to US.

Read the four Grofield novels by Richard Stark, who was Donald Westlake (among others). Grofield is a sometime accomplice to Stark’s main protag anti-hero Parker. The books are The Damsel, The Dame, The Blackbird and Lemons Never Lie. Where Parker is a ruthless professional always motivated by the next score, Grofield is a part-time actor with his own summer stock company who only robs on the side to keep him in production, and he’s more whimsical. In the books he stars in, Stark/Westlake presses him into service as a secret agent, has him turn detective to solve a mystery (a genre Westlake/Stark rarely dabbled in at all), embroils him in a cross-country chase/gauntlet thing, and cobbles together one narrative out of a series of seemingly disconnected elements that keep threatening to come apart altogether, but eventually resolve into a revenge story.

Though quite capable of Parker-like ruthlessness when pressed, Grofield is more whimsical (he’s an actor after all) and prone to a quip. And they’re good quips.

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Marli Renfro, The Girl.

All this amorality had me in the mood for something with a moral compass. The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower may not quite fit, but it does balance fairly extreme psychopathic evil with the ordinary Hollywood business-as-usual kind, detailing true crime stories that intersect with the life of Janet Leigh’s body double from PSYCHO, Playboy model Marli Renfro. It wraps this blog post up nicely too, since it’s written by Robert Graysmith, played by Robert Downey Jnr in David Fincher’s film ZODIAC. “Who wouldn’t want to read a book written by a guy played by Robert Downey Jnr?” I thought, snatching the paperback up in a charity shop.*

Actually, Graysmith’s prose lacks the gozo suavity you’d want from a RD character, being mostly flat journalese with plunges into school essay plain bad and occasional bobs up into wit. He’s also unreliable on film, cobbling together his PSYCHO making-of stuff from a variety of contradictory sources and blithely declaring that most of the shower scene contains seventy-eight pieces of film, seventy takes of two and three seconds and over ninety splices for a sequence that runs only forty-five seconds.” Do the math. Or arithmetic, anyway. “The was no auto-focus in late 1959,” he explains, later, as if auto-focus was a tool commonly used today on professional shoots. That’s why the streets are full of former camera assistants with cardboard signs reading “Will pull focus for food.”

But the damn thing has me snared. I am a true crime sucker.

*In fact, he’s played by Jake Gyllenhaal.