Archive for Jean Arthur

Kismet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by dcairns

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“Say, what’s the big idea?”

“Kismet!”

Another viewing of EASY LIVING confirms its supremacy. Seems we’ve all spent decades admiring Frank Capra comedies when we should’ve been admiring Mitchell Leisen comedies. This is complicated by the fact that the good Leisen comedies are also Wilder & Brackett films or Preston Sturges films, and that means something different to us than saying that of course Capra owed a great debt to Robert Riskin and the Swerlings etc. It shouldn’t, though — Sturges and Wilder’s distinguished future directing careers don’t impact on the quality of the films Leisen made from their scripts.

(You might find yourself, briefly, thinking less of Leisen if you attempt to watch MASQUERADE IN MEXICO, a protracted and miscast remake of MIDNIGHT. Wilder must have hated that, since he felt that MIDNIGHT was the one of his scripts he’d managed to protect from Leisen’s alterations. Leisen got his revenge, you could say, but the movie is pretty lousy and didn’t do its director any favours.)

Sturges’s debt to Wodehouse looks even stronger now — Ray Milland, very effective as the fatheaded idler son, is a pure Wodehouse “young man in spats” type. Lovers saying “Ha!” to each other in moments of high emotion. Jean Arthur working at The Boy’s Constant Companion — these kind of trashy magazines are regular employment for Wodehouse heroes, suggesting that his early days of journalism fixed his world view permanently.

The fur coat that drops from heaven and transforms Jean’s life, however, is pure Sturges. The idea that appearance is all anyone cares about, and success is a matter only of perception, and the heavy hand of the author intruding to transform character’s lives in a blatant manner, all that is the stuff of Sturges writ large.

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One could wish that the last line — “This is where we came in!” — were different. I have no doubt that Sturges was the first to use it, but it has become a dead sitcom cliché. Perhaps for younger audiences, it has already lost those associations, and will seem fresh again. But then, younger audiences never had the experience of walking into a movie partway through, sitting through the whole programme, and then getting to the point you recognise and leaving, with those words. I did: I think we only did this on double bills, but I certainly remember entering the cinema while a strange movie was partway through. Hitchcock didn’t affect a total transformation in cinema-going habits all at once with VERTIGO, and at any rate in the 70s or even 80s your cinema ticket bought you admission and you were entitled to sit in the dark all day if you felt like it.

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Who is that girl? I wondered, when the fur coat incident from the beginning was repeated with a new girl at the end. It didn’t seem right that she should just be an anonymous extra (she’s uncredited). One wants it to be an aspirant Jean Arthur, with something of a career ahead of her. And, according to the IMDb, it was — Marsha Hunt, still with us today, is the girl. I love her in Zinnemann’s CSI 1940s crime flick, KID GLOVE KILLER.

Easy Living (Universal Cinema Classics)

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Holt — In the Name of the Law!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on August 6, 2012 by dcairns

Watched Pierre Chenal’s L’ALIBI as I’m on a Chenal kick. Not sure yet whether he’s stylish and fun or something better.

L’ALIBI has Erich Von Stroheim as a mindreader/gangster called Professor Winckler — he shoots a rival in the face and then turns up at the apartment of poor-but-honest dance hall hostess Jany Holt — he offers her a wad of money to claim he spent the night, and she accepts, much against her better judgement.

Enter police chief Louis Jouvet, as mercurial and dolorous as ever, but much, much slicker in appearance than his flic role for Clouzot in QUAI DES ORFEVRES. Holt is now getting grilled by the cops and threatened by Stroheim. And now enter Albert Prejean, a likable drunkard who falls for Jany and also becomes the cops’ top suspect. Will our girl crack under the pressure? Will the villainous Dr Winckler try to silence her first?

Pleasures include Von’s broken French, which leads him to monologue in English for protracted periods, and so we get a rare audio-snatch of Jouvet speaking the Queen’s tongue — quite well. He could have been a star in Hollywood but he didn’t need to; then there’s Von’s spooky telepathy clinic, complete with oriental assistant Fun-Sen (who had a pretty cool career, working with Ophuls, Siodmak, Carne, Pabst, and Tourneur Snr); and there’s the set-bound artificiality of it all, a noirish fist clenched around actors until Prejean arrives with a sudden gust of exterior locations.

Interesting to contrast Prejean, a casual collaborator with the visiting Germans a few years later (not that he seems to have been political, he just didn’t see any reason not to shake any hands that were proffered) with Jany Holt, a Romanian emigré at this point married to Marcel Dalio, who would become a covert resistance hero and win the Croix de Guerre from General de Gaulle. She’s slim and brittle like a glass sculpture, impossibly chic and altogether alluring. And she has a way of holding her mouth when she’s thinking, bared teeth which don’t quite meet to form a grin, suggesting the pensive state of a bite not taken, that’s very Jean Arthur.

Soap Gets in Your Eyes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2008 by dcairns

Boyer Meets Girler

At the climax of Frank Borzage’s soaring romance HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT, a ship suspiciously like the Titanic collides with an iceberg and the passengers sing “Near-er, My God, To Thee.” When Borzage decides he wants to film specific extras singing and crying, there’s the chance for them to earn an extra two dollar fifty adjustment in their salaries ~

“[Second unit director] Ripley said, ‘How many of you can cry?’ We all held our hands up and he said he would try us out, one at a time. He started testing at the opposite end of the line. I was so nervous I ran out to the toilet. While I was there, I noticed the bar of Lux soap which was furnished to all studios in exchange for publicity photos of the stars using Lux. I scraped  my fingernails across the soap, lodging enough Lux under my nails to keep me crying for a week. When I got back to the set, Ripley and [dialogue director Joshua] Logan were having a rough time. They had found only three genuine criers. The rest were poking themselves in the eyes and thinking about their dead mothers, the Depression, the loss of the two-fifty adjustment, and any other sad thoughts that might bring on tears. When my turn came, I squeezed some soap into my eyes and burst into song — ‘E’en tho’ it be a cross, near-er to Thee — near-er my God to Thee, near-er to Thee…’The tears flowed, the cameras rolled, and Frank Borzage’s reputation as a sentimental director was intact.”

~ from Growing Up in Hollywood by Robert Parrish.

I always thought it kind of weird that this movie, which begins with some of the most fabulous romantic stuff in all of ’30s Hollywood cinema (a fairly romantic time and place even at its worst), should end as a kind of disaster movie. Apparently the film was being rewritten during the shooting, but that doesn’t explain anything much — the sinking ship was obviously always part of the plan. Maybe the last-minute rewrites prevented the five writers involved from establishing the clues that would have made such an ending inevitable as well as surprising (traditionally an ending is supposed to be both). True, Colin Clive (in one of his last roles) is established as an ocean liner magnate early on, but it doesn’t seem that important.

Would you sail in an ocean liner built by Doctor Frankenstein?

I must watch the film again though, because (a) I still think the first half is astonishingly good, with really dynamite work from Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer, two actors who are always good but prove to be exceptionally good together and (b) now that I know it’s coming, the sinking ship probably won’t bother me at all.

Borzage, the presiding genius, does manage a plot twist with his version of TITANIC that James Cameron would never have dared — the ship doesn’t sink! I admire very much the cheek of that.