Archive for Jerome Cowan

Gingergangers

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2017 by dcairns

SHALL WE DANCE is perhaps not quite as good as THE GAY DIVORCEE or TOP HAT but then nothing is. It has Fred and Ginger and Gershwin tunes and Mark Sandrich directing a script by a whole gang including series regulars Adrian Scott and Ernest Pagano.

Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore (as Cecil Flintidge: clearly a role he was born for) are back as support for Fred and Ginger, but there’s no Erik Rhodes this time — Fred has taken the funny foreigner part for himself. He plays Peter P. Peters, whose stage name, Petrov, causes Ginger to expect him to be a sombre, pompous Russian ballet star before she’s met him. Overhearing her remarks, Fred resolves to BE a stage Russian (for some reason, Fred always sets out to annoy Ginger when they first meet).

His goofy Russian is hilarious, though, part Erik Rhodes, part Lugosi. He prances about the room, striking Slavic attitudes, he says “Ochi Chernye” as if it were a greeting, and ends with “I mos’ go. I mos’ go to Mos-go!” Very silly indeed.

Fred also dances with the art deco engine room of the Queen Anne, a film first. RKO’s idea of an ocean liner is probably somewhat credible — I bet 1930s liners really were built in the streamlined style. But I doubt their engine rooms were white, moderne palaces of engineering with mirrored floors and a spare double bass to slap.

The movie is so entertaining it can delay the appearance of Blore for almost half its length, and wait even longer for Fred and Ginger to dance together. We get They All Laughed and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off (on rollerskates!), and lots of crazy farce plotting, including an uncanny development where Jerome Cowan tries to substantiate the fake news that Astaire & Rogers are married by smuggling a sort of fembot duplicate of Miss R. into Fred’s bedchamber.

Later, Fred finds the automaton stashed in a cupboard. His reaction reminded me of someone ~

Pierre Batcheff in UN CHIEN ANDALOU.

Also, Ginger has a very cute little dog.

This little nameless trouper is a natural! He burns up the screen! Fiona thought he was the cutest dog ever — he draws the eye throughout Fred’s rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me by being adorably sleepy. But I had to remind her of the puppy in THE YOUNG IN HEART with the one big dark eyebrow. It’s a close run thing. You can vote on it if you like.

Did he grow up to be the dog from YOJIMBO?

“Jane of Aylesbury” in THE YOUNG IN HEART. Pretty stiff competition.

Film climaxes with the eeriest number of all Fred & Ginger extravaganzas, featuring as it does a chorus of girls in detachable Ginger masks (reminding Fiona of Sheryl Lee removing her face in Twin Peaks: The Return) and also the alarming Harriet Hoctor, a diabolical creature from an alternate dimension, or else a freak born, by a cruel caprice of Mother Nature, with half her body upside down. The feather gown adds to her unreality by making her seem weightless. It’s all a bit much. She never caught on.

GOD PLEASE NO TAKE IT AWAY TAKE IT AWAY KILL IT

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Bickel Victory

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2016 by dcairns

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Captures the mood chez mois round about now.

As these things do at Shadowplay, John Cromwell Week is running on into a fortnight or so…

I’m indebted to Nicky Smith for the information that it was John Cromwell who advised a young actor named Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel that he might do better under the name Fredric March. The name, and the actor, were subsequently so successful that they appeared together in two Cromwell films, VICTORY and SO ENDS OUR NIGHT. I admired both.

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VICTORY adapts Joseph Conrad’s novel, previously filmed by Maurice Tourneur and later a dream project for Richard Lester (scripted by Pinter).

In The Hollywood Professionals Volume 5, Cromwell is quoted by author Kingsley Canham as expressing dissatisfaction with VICTORY, since he couldn’t get the performance he wanted out of chief villain Sir Cedric Hardwicke and he couldn’t find a cockney actor to play his “secretary,” thus was forced to resort to Jerome Cowan, a good all-rounder but no Londoner. In fact, to my eyes, Hardwicke appears excellent — a modern, minimalist take on malignancy. His sinister sunglasses, a touch borrowed from Ben Deeley in the silent version (Conrad makes no mention of them) make his face (even) more skull-like than usual.

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If Cromwell was dissatisfied with his baddies, he surely must have been pleased with March and particularly Betty Field, who produces a remarkably credible English accent which really wasn’t called for, but which sounds very sweet. You may know her from OF MICE AND MEN, but this is an unrecognizably different characterisation. It’s essential that we care about this couple despite their age difference and the brevity of their acquaintance. March is so gentle and Field so vulnerable… Cromwell assists with the same direct-address camera angles he used in OF HUMAN BONDAGE, letting the audience inhabit each character in turn.

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Also: Sig Rumann as the oily Schomberg, perfect if unimaginative type-casting as a sneaky blowhard. He doesn’t have a beard to point in this one, but his chin threatens to go off all on its own.

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SO ENDS OUR NIGHT is a tale of stateless refugees in pre-war Europe, from a novel by Erich Maria Remarque. It suffers from a structural feature easier to make work in a book: a divided protagonist. A very young Glenn Ford gets most of the screen time, pursuing Margaret Sullavan (practically compulsory casting in Remarque adaptations, it seems), but March keeps popping up and taking the narrative away with him. He’s a more compelling actor and he gets Erich Von Stroheim and Frances Dee to interact with, but it has the effect of deforming the narrative.

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Although my copies of both movies are pretty rotten, it’s just possible to appreciate the contribution of William Cameron Menzies to the latter film — as production designer, he did far more than plan sets, he sketched every composition, somewhat usurping Cromwell’s role with the director’s grateful cooperation. The film was a low-budget one — too depressing a story to excite Hollywood enthusiasm, even at the start of the war — and Menzies’ careful planning allowed miracles to be achieved.

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Another Menzies-designed Cromwell flick, MADE FOR EACH OTHER (1939), is available in pristine form. Despite starring James Stewart and Carole Lombard, it’s pretty bad — two-thirds painfully predictable sitcom schtick (admittedly, they hadn’t had decades of domestic television comedy to wear out this kind of thing yet) followed by a mind-bogglingly inappropriate action climax. As a slight recompense, it does offer Louise Beavers (Mae West’s grape-peeler-in-chief, Beulah) playing an intelligent and capable woman, which she rarely got to do. Beavers would turn up very briefly in Cromwell’s late production, THE GODDESS, demonstrating his long memory.

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After an hour devoted to Stewart’s struggle to raise a family and get on in his law firm (as boss, Charles Coburn plays an intransigent patriarch just as he did in the superior IN NAME ONLY), the movie abruptly swerves into lunatic melodrama, as the Stewart-Lombard baby gets sick and an experimental vaccine must be flown at once, overnight in a torrential storm, from Salt Lake City. Selznick, the presiding lunatic in this whole affair, throws resources at this totally left-field ending, and Menzies provides dazzling visual accompaniment. It’s like I Love Lucy suddenly decided to climax with the third act of DIE HARD. Madness.

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First Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by dcairns

Just kidding! Got in to Dublin and joined my co-director Paul for lunch, visited the dormant office where our edit is happening, and then went to the cottage where I’m staying. I didn’t know you could have a cottage in a city, but it turns out you totally can. The great shock of a cottage is that the door from the living room opens directly onto the (-4°C) outside world.

But that was all fine until Paul plugged in a faulty kettle he’d “repaired” and blew out the electricity. I want to make it clear that this was in no sense an unwise thing for him to have done.  He’d changed the plug and that should have done it, and even if it had not, I can’t see any good reason why one kettle should knock out all the electricity. My dad’s a trained electrical engineer but it turns out that knowledge isn’t passed on genetically. The fuses had tripped, Paul re-set them, and ten per cent of the power came back. So I had my laptop, a (hastily borrowed) heater, and the lights.

It turned out to be a perfectly nice evening, with the rain lashing down outside, the heater clenched between my knees, and THE JUNGLE CAPTIVE playing on the laptop. Acquanetta (born with the less exotic name of Mildred Davenport), Universal’s resident jungle woman, has been written out of her own series (using an inversion of Hammer’s later FRANKENSTEIN series’ structure, each of the three episodes features the same monster but a different mad scientist — this time it was Otto Kruger, following in the unsteady footsteps of John Carradine and J. Carroll Naish), replaced by Vicky Lane. But we do get Rondo Hatton. And Jerome Cowan, as a detective not so much hard-boiled as scrambled.

Poor Paul was guilt-stricken about the black-out he’d inadvertently triggered, had a sick kid at home to tend to, and a plane to catch, so he was really suffering more than me. He left me with a bottle of wine, a shepherd’s pie, and an incredibly warm duvet. No complaints from me.

Inexplicably, Universal hasn’t made the entire “Paula Dupree, ape-woman” series available on home vid, but you can get the first installment (helmed by Dmytryk!) in this fine box set —

Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive (The Black Cat / Man Made Monster / Horror Island / Night Monster / Captive Wild Woman)