Archive for John Williams

Holliday Affair

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2016 by dcairns


Well here’s a charming thing — THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC comes from a George S. Kaufman & Howard Teichmann play, stars Judy Holliday and Paul Douglas, and is directed by Richard Quine. A charming thing, maybe even a little classic.

Judy plays a pesky small shareholder of a huge company, Douglas plays the honest man who built the company, and there’s a delightful quartet of crooks who take over the business and hire Judy in order to stop her making a nuisance of herself at shareholders’ meetings. The crooks are, reading from left to right (1) blustering Fred Clark — a creep (2) dumpy Ralph Dumke — a dumkopf (3) oily Ray Collins — a louse, and (4) suave John Williams — a rotter. These guys are all tremendously good value, and though Judy has enough star power to keep the whole engine running beautifully by herself, it’s in the boardroom scenes with the wolves that Quine has fun with blocking, sliding his camera and his sleazeballs about in a graceful dance of deviousness.


(1)                (2)               (3)               (4)

Quine’s formal prowess is also showcased in an ending which playfully blossoms into Technicolor™, some early freeze-frames on the rogues’ gallery, and a playful VO from George Burns. Elsewhere, office windows regrettably open onto grainy photographs of Manhattan, a cheapness which seems to have only materialised in the fifties (surely audiences have a right to expect sprawling miniature cityscapes with clouds moving on wires?).

The story is Capracorn with the corn seemingly reduced to homeopathic levels so that in fact the movie can pose as cynical and sophisticated, but thanks to Holliday and Douglas, who makes a genuinely affecting foil, it has a heart of pure mush. We found it delightful.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2016 by dcairns


Another day, another bad John Frankenheimer movie. But he directs the shit out of all of them, I have to say — total commitment.

YEAR OF THE GUN. A film about Italy’s Red Brigade, made from an American perspective with a British screenwriter and producer seems an odd proposition, especially in 1991. The film is set in 1978 but is petrified of seeming like a period movie — the seventies didn’t come back into style until the late nineties so there are lots of students with short hair in this. The only obvious attempt at evoking period is to have the protags take shelter in a cinema showing STAR WARS — composer Bill Conti, he of the cheesy synths, attempts a tinny paraphrase of John Williams in the lobby, which is hilarious.


The British input may account for the hero’s lack of heroism — harking back to Graham Greene, we like our American heroes baffled and impotent. But Holly Martins in THE THIRD MAN is also funny and sweet. Here we have Andrew McCarthy, whose character isn’t dumb like Holly, but isn’t endearing either. McCarthy doesn’t burn with screen charisma, and looks like a baby potato, but may be underrated as an actor — he does extremely good outrage. He just doesn’t pull us in, and the script gives us no reason to care  — we have to wait for Sharon Stone to turn up, which takes ages, and then things do get a bit more exciting. Seeing this, I wonder she didn’t really get noticed earlier. Frankenheimer responds to her ferocity.

No dutch tilts in this one, but some extreme deep focus and wide angle lenses and slomo and a lot of sweeping camera moves. None of which redeems the lacklustre and unfocused narrative — I don’t think the script is underdeveloped, I suspect it’s been overcooked with too many notes and rewrites. The sex scenes are awful — Frankenheimer applies himself with gusto, but they have no plot role to serve, they’re like the potter’s wheel interludes on old TV, only with tits.

Frankenheimer movies either end with violence — like, BANG! bad guy dead The End — or they end with television. Like a man obsessed, Frankenheimer couldn’t help returning to his first medium, which he had been forced out of by James T Aubrey. This one has Dick Cavett turn up at the end to interview the protagonists, a pointless and distracting bit of gimmickry, accompanied by Frankenheimer’s favourite device, the frame-within-a-drame TV set…


Close in on TV screen. Static. Everything always comes back to white noise with Frankenheimer — the roar of emptiness.

Dial “H” for Hubbard

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


To Filmhouse to catch the last 3D screening of DIAL “M” FOR MURDER. I’d seen the film before, and written it up for Hitchcock Year, and seen it again in 3D on video with Japanese subtitles and red-green glasses which mess up the colour cinematography, but this was my first ever big screen 3D screening. Most satisfactory.

John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard is the chief source of pleasure, with Anthony Dawson’s vulpine assassin a strong runner-up (curiously, both men have more famous name-sakes).

Hitch’s restrained use of the stereoscopic process to chart the dimensions of a room is beautiful, but I also found myself enjoying the worst aspects of the film — the grainy London location shots. Warners refused to pay for Hitchcock to shoot 3D in London, so the street scenes and dock scene were filmed flat. Hitchcock sticks a few foreground objects in to try to add a bit of depth, but the fantastically grainy rear-projection is distracting, and in at least one place surreal —


Robert Cummings, the Butcher of Strasbourg, approaches his friends’ flat in a taxi — the view through the windscreen shows a flat street scene gradually enlarging — no sense of it getting closer, it just looks like it’s being blown up. We’re inside a 3D taxi driving up a flat street. It’s quite boggling. It’s like this London cab has it’s one zoom lens at the front. That’d be quite a good scam: you get in, pay for your journey, and instead of taking you there, they just zoom in. Then you pay up, get out, and find you’re still where you started from. Only then does the cab roar off, taking your money before you can protest. I’m surprised they haven;t attempted to rip the tourists off that way.

Since Hitch and the 3D camera and his stars never went to London, I got very interested in a scene late on where Grace Kelly is driven up to her flat, gets out the car, and approaches the door. How could this be achieved without Grace going to London?


Close, skeptical viewing provides the answer. The woman getting out the car is NOT Grace, but a reasonably similar stand-in. Hitchcock follows the dictum laid down by Michael Powell, who had to shoot many of Roger Livesey’s scenes in I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! with a double. Don’t have your lookalike skulk around behind a cape like that dentist pretending to be Bela Lugosi in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Simply have the phony stride boldly up to the camera in full view. The audience is expecting to see an expensive movie star, and that’s just what they will see if you give them no reason to doubt it.


Hitch then cuts quickly to Chief Inspector Hubbard watching from the window. When he cuts back, the stand-in is gone and Grace Kelly is there, standing in a Hollywood studio in front of the rear-projection screen showing a London street (and which formerly also showed her double). Deuced clever, these movie johnnies.