Archive for John Gilbert

The Sunday Intertitle: What Do You Want?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 3, 2019 by dcairns

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in THE MERRY WIDOW.

And now, here’s Erich Von Stroheim introducing a screening of the film at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1958.

“…this film has made for its company four and a half million … though not for me. I had 25% of it. How much do you think I received?

“I thank you once more and ask you to have patience because the film is thirty years old, this print is only a 16mm version projected on too large a screen, and I don’t have the sound or the colour or the Cinerama … I have nothing. And so I have made all the possible excuses that I could think of. All the good things in this film were made by me. The things that are no good in it were made by others…”

From Film Culture, an anthology edited by P. Adams Sitney

The Sunday Intertitle: An Eleven Letter Word

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2019 by dcairns

What unmentionable word is John Gilbert mentioning here in THE BIG PARADE (1925)? Not BASTARDS, surely. Too many letters. I think it must be BUTTFUCKERS.

You have to remember, it was a different era.

I first knew of this movie through Brownlow & Gill’s Hollywood series, which I saw on first airing some thirty-nine years ago, so it’s pretty bad that it’s taken me this long to catch up with it (and worse that I open my analysis with a sodomy joke). Sometimes the makers of that legendary series would make a film look even better than it was, by careful extraction of the juiciest morsels, and that’s sort of true here. Nearly everything involving the pastoral love affair with Renee Adoree is either a drag, or frankly incredible (not her fault). And then there’s the repulsive Karl Dane as a comic relief buddy out of Nosferatu’s worst nightmares.

But the great bits are indeed great, elevating the whole proposition to well-deserved classic status.

Vidor writes in his book that he took care to always film the advancing US army traveling from screen left to screen right, because on a map, west is left and east is right. An army going from America to Europe and then advancing should have a rightward movement — this will seem subconsciously CORRECT to an audience and if you stick to it, all confusion can be avoided. It’s a beautiful, simple, almost dumb idea.

In fact, Vidor abandons it for his most celebrated sequence, the death march through the forest. I’m not sure why. Much of the scene is purely frontal, but for the really wide shots, the army is moving right to left — maybe because that creates slightly more tension in a western audience comfortable reading text from right to left.

Vidor specified that the scene should be scored with just a slow, solo drum beat — which he had used to choreograph it during filming, his soldiers marching and dying to the rhythm. Carl Davis, rescoring the movie for Thames Silents, can’t bring himself to go THAT stark and simple, but he does allow the steady, deadly percussion to dominate.

The most impressive thing, though, is how Vidor initially keeps Death in the background.

As the men march, we slowly become aware that there are bodies strewn here and there among the fallen leaves. Gilbert has to step over one, which brings them more sharply into our consciousness. Then — BANG! — an out-of-focus figure in the background throws up his rifle and drops.

You can just see him, on his knees by Karl Dane’s elbow on the right.

Then, in a closer shot on Tom O’Brien, another one goes (far right). The closer view makes the casualty seem even more incidental, somehow. Our protagonists seem unaware of what’s happening (an ambiguity of silent cinema: surely they’d hear the gunshots?). By putting the fatalities in the background and out of focus, Vidor somehow emphasises them by refusing to emphasise them. There’s a greater quality of “Look out!” since we can see what the men cannot.

There are a lot more great moments in the film. The POV that follows, tracking towards an enemy position… It feels like this may have influenced the execution scene in PATHS OF GLORY, the hit in the woods in MILLER’S CROSSING, the climax of THE WAY AHEAD…

THE BIG PARADE stars Count Vronsky, Nag Ping, Starbuck, Wolf Larsen and Stupid McDuff.

 

The Sunday Intertitle: Lust in the Dust

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 6, 2017 by dcairns

One of Bologna’s discoveries this year was Mary Nolan, who loped limply through two rather stiff early talkies, Tod “the plod” Browning’s OUTSIDE THE LAW and YOUNG DESIRE. While everybody in those films apart from snarling Eddie Robinson essays the sluggish performance style of the period, all tipsy enunciation and medicated pauses, Nolan MAKES THIS WORK. I had to see more.

I’d seen more already — Nolan is excellent in WEST OF ZANZIBAR, in which Tod does not plod, but that film is so crowded with eye-popping incident and performance that she can’t emerge pre-eminent. DESERT NIGHTS, on the other hand, is just an hour of Nolan, John Gilbert and Ernest Torrence looking at each other, surrounded by miles of nothingness. Fortunately for us, all three performers are at the top of their game, and the chemistry between them is sulphurous and sizzling.

It’s a tale of suspense and survival: diamond thieves Torrence and Nolan abduct Gilbert along with a flask of gems, and then get stranded in the Kalahari. From that point on, talented journeyman director William Nigh lets intense close-ups dominate, until you can practically feel the stubble sprouting from the men’s chins. Nolan is excused stubble, but boldly allows herself to become shiny, bedraggled and desperate. Her usual louche and limpid demeanor alternates with bursts of rather shocking savagery, and the romance with Gilbert blossoms while he’s languishing in fly-blown bondage.

The plot really isn’t much — to let romance bloom, Nolan’s bad girl is allowed an unearned redemption. Masquerading as “Lady Diana Stonehill” when we first meet her, she’s never even supplied with a true name, just “Baby.” The team of writers employed to cobble this together were being kind of lazy. But the film blazes, thanks to Gilbert’s crisp toughness (“You know me, anything in a pith helmet,” ~ THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO), Nolan’s sultry, hopeless beauty (read her bio if you want to have a cry) and the unusual sight of Torrence underplaying (he’s still massive).

Film researcher/detective Lenny does an excellent Torrence impersonation. It’ll startle you!