Archive for John Wayne

The Sunday Intertitle: The face in the ceiling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on July 31, 2022 by dcairns

During their little tryst, John Ridd and Lorna Doone make an arrangement — she can signal to him from a nearby promontory (pictured) and he’ll come running to the rescue. This proves to be a shrewd idea.

Amazing how quickly their relationship has blossomed: one meeting as kids and another ten years later and they’re sweethearts. This causes John to neglect the girl who fancies him back home, but I don’t imagine she’s going to be TOO important to the plot. But she must have some reason for being there.

Two particularly lovely frames result from this, one of which showcases Tourneur’s lifelong love of shadows and silhouettes, a tendency famously inherited by son Jacques.

Anyhow, the signal idea proves useful almost immediately. Sir Ensor is dying, and this causes the wilder young Doone men to run amuck. Lorna’s nasty suitor, Carver son of Counsellor, resumes his wooing, if you can call it that. Cousellor and Carver are both played by actors named McDonald, but whether they’re actually father and son, the IMDb does not say.

Sir E. is played by Frank Keenan, of whom the IMDb remarks, “Frank was considered a “furniture actor” on stage. While on stage he was so often drunk that he had to lean on or hold onto furniture to keep from falling down.” He’s well cast here, since Sir E. spends most of the time dying, either sedentary or propped against the wall.

Fortunately, Lorna has shown kindness to one of the Doone wives, “courted by violence” and is able to send her to signal John from the rocky outcrop. Some random male chum is sent to London with proof of her inheritance.

Carver gets the best line so far, as he plans a swift and nonconsensual wedding:

John to the rescue! And a pretty good rescue it is. Flinging himself off a waterfall in best Tarzan manner, he briskly arrives at the Doone stockade, bone dry (all that running). He tries bending the bars on her window, and is making fine progress when she’s removed from her cell. So then he rips his way through the thatched ceiling of the big house and snatches her bodily from the armed mob, laying a few men out with musket or fists.

Sir Ensor, who had seemed dead, then appears in the doorway, paralysing the Doones by sheer force of personality, enabling our young lovers to escape. E remains standing there for some time after he has actually died, a rigid sentinel — the most effective performance by a dead man until EL CID (or WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S).

All really exciting stuff. John Bowers, walloping his supporting cast, has to pull his punches a bit, since the use of camera angles to “sell” a fake punch had not been invented yet — I’ve heard, incredible as it seems, that it was John Wayne who adapted over-the-shoulder framing to the uses of action cinema, exploiting the camera’s inability to judge distance (it has only one eye, unless the movie is 3D). Actually, faked punches like this even work with human observers, of the two-eyed kind. The only reason they weren’t developed and exploited onstage is that the theatre audience is too spread out for the illusion to work consistently. You need a single viewpoint. Plus, of course, Duke Wayne never trod the boards.

But allowing for that, the fight is gripping, and the implausible victory is sold as convincing enough for dramatic purposes. A happy ending would seem to have been accomplished — but the film is only half over. What next?

TBC

Gutter Blossom

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2021 by dcairns

THE WICKED DARLING (1919) is Tod Browning and Lon Chaney and so it’s of interest, but that interest mainly plays out in the trainspotting exercise of spotting the Browning motifs when they appear, as they do intermittently. And so we have —

GROTESQUERIE

The toothless pedlar, embedded in his wares, is a pure Browning touch, and entirely gratuitous. Chaney plays without any makeup gimmicks but manages to be terrifying and freakish with what nature gave him. And there’s a big role for Kalla Pasha, not so much an actor as a super-dense physical object, an asteroid of gristle with a head shaped like a rotary phone (a grid of metallic teeth in place of the dial).

VIOLENCE

Two big brawls and a shooting. The wonderfully named Wellington Playter (there’s also a Spottiswode Aitken in the cast) grapples with Chaney and also receives the bullet. The fights are dynamic and scary, which isn’t usually the case in that period. Actors hadn’t learned how to throw a punch and miss, while positioned so that the camera can’t see whether the impact is real. The “recipient” of the fake blow sells it by his reaction. But it really helps if you dub on a SMACK sound, which the silents were not in a position to do. Instead, silent film fighters had to pull their punches, which always looked weak. Supposedly it was John Wayne who invented the three-quarters-view punch, drawing back his fist slowly to pre-sell the haymaker (a practice mocked in Hawks’ THE BIG SKY, where the guy raising his fist slowly gets punched out before he can swing).

To get around this yet-unsolved problem, Chaney uses vigorous wrestling moves, contorting his body in a rapidly shifting set of holds, creating an impression of tremendous murderous aggression without relying on phony wallops.

Leading lady Priscilla Dean, discovered here behind Wellington’s couch, is lively and pert. She’s very good in the wicked scenes, playing a jewel thief in thrall to Chaney and his accomplices, but rather overdoes the sweetness once she;s redeemed by the love of a good Wellington. By 1927 her star had dimmed and she was acting at Hal Roach in an early Laurel & Hardy.

Chaney is introduced as a pair of shiny shoes. How did he do such amazing makeups with such tiny feet?

I had actually seen this film before, a fact I only discovered when preparing to write about it. So it’s not the most memorable entry in the Browning and Chaney oevres.

Cowboys will be boys

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2021 by dcairns

Blake Edwards’ other big roadshow flop, besides DARLING LILI, and made right after it, is WILD ROVERS. Maybe a kind of film maudit, a way of saying nobody likes it except us.

The movie is impressive, in an uneven kind of way. Shot by the versatile Philip H. Lathrop, who had done EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, THE PINK PANTHER and WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? for Edwards, and POINT BLANK, FINIAN’S RAINBOW and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN for others, it’s one of the handsomest westerns I’ve ever seen. And it has a marvelous score by Jerry Goldsmith which I’m still humming.

The script, written by Edwards alone — he ALWAYS had co-writers, otherwise — isn’t as strong as the visual side, upon which endless expense seems to have been lavished. An incredible range of tricky location shots. This is a seventies western so it attempts to get in on the whole revisionist bit — there’s sexual vulgarity and the west is a place of dangerous anarchy and nothing ends well for anybody. But it doesn’t seem to have a critique in mind, either of westerns or the old west. It’s a conservative film that just happens to be following seventies trends rather than fifties ones. So we get slow motion and a freeze frame and lap dissolves — the full FIDDLER ON THE ROOF panoply of nouvelle vague tricks expanded to the Panavision epic format. Interesting how this stuff was picked up particularly by the more “white elephant” branch of Hollywood cinema — there are jump cuts in FUNNY GIRL.

Penniless, ne’er-do-well cowpokes William Holden and Ryan O’Neil realise they’ll never get rich poking cows, so they rob a bank (using the same technique deployed in Barry Levinson’s BANDITS: hold the manager’s family hostage). Karl Malden, their former employer, takes this personally and sets his sons, Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker, on their trail. (It’s a great cast: add in Rachel Roberts as a shotgun-wielding madame and Moses Gunn as a dog-loving veteran, then keep adding…)

Holden and O’Neil’s characters are thoughtless idiots, addicted to boozing, brawling and whoring: a story with a clear point to it would show how their criminal career change sets off a chain of events that destroys them and a lot of others. But Edwards too often resorts to coincidence: encounters with a cougar and a suspicious and violently-inclined gambler lead to disaster. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a range war with sheepmen causes tragedy, but this has nothing to do with our protagonists’ actions.

Peckinpah has set the scene for this movie — the slomo violence and the randomness of life in the old west are milked/resorted to. As Joe Dante says, Peckinpah evoked the death of the west through the deaths of old character actors. And this caught on — even Duke Wayne started dying. The death of the western dramatised itself: the stars had grown old with the genre, which found it couldn’t outlast them. Notably, Holden doesn’t pass on his spurs to O’Neil here. And O’Neil gets shot in the same leg as in BARRY LYNDON.

The heroes aren’t as charming as Edwards seems to think, though Holden the actor certainly brings a lot of appeal. The stars apparently bonded, something not everybody can do with Ryan O’Neal, seemingly, and their camaraderie is convincing. But the tragic presence seems to be “stupid people can’t stay out of trouble” and that’s not enough, somehow. There’s more going on with their pursuers, and Skerritt and Baker are good — they’re not in any way worse humans than the heroes, but they’re not seen as charming. The key seems to be that our heroes think they’re in a comedy, and they’re wrong, while the posse know they’re in a generational tragedy. Or Skerritt does. The reliably dyspeptic Baker just thinks the whole manhunt is a terrible drag. The trouble with these scenes is they’re repetitive.

I’m glad I saw the extended version, but it’s longer than it needs to be. The beautiful snowy horse-wrangling scene, which may be the one that fully earwormed the score into my brain, goes on so long you become aware that were intercutting a medium shot of Holden, no doubt riding a mechanical bull affair with a stuntman on a real horse. Later, we can see some snow is fake. Problems that could have been solved if Edwards hadn’t seen “long” as a cardinal virtue.

But I think you should see this! Image and score are so good, and there’s something going on here, even if not all of it is fully compelling or original.