Archive for Johnny Belinda

Eventful Horizon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2021 by dcairns

Nova Scotia! Where they build so close to the horizon line they have to put fences along it to stop people falling off.

The clifftop settings of Jean Negulesco’s JOHNNY BELINDA are so striking — this is a mysterious director, alternating between visually striking films like this, and sometimes wildly experimental ones like his episode of O. HENRY’S FULL HOUSE — and really boring stuff like pretty much all his Cinemascopic output (BOY ON A DOLPHIN is supported only by Sophia Loren’s gravity-defying breasts). He was a skilled channeler of the Warner Bros house style — this is my favourite of those I’ve seen. Anyone have any recommendations?

JB was also of interest because of the presence amid the writers of Irma Von Cube, who, apart from her wonderful name was a collaborator of Anatole Litvak’s during his early career in Europe. Her credits are sporadic but I should check out her Schumann biopic, SONG OF LOVE, directed by Clarence Brown.

It’s the story of a deaf girl who grows upon a poor farm, unable to communicate, then a new doctor teaches her sign language. But it throws in rape and murder, with typical Warners excess.

Jane Wyman is fantastic in this. Jan Sterling, a one-of-a-kind, is great too. Lew Ayres is as lovely a character as 1948 movies could conceive, though perhaps a little mansplainy for modern tastes, puffing the pipe of self-satisfaction. But it’s a much better variation on that kind of figure than THE DARK MIRROR, say, where his pipe-puffing comes with an overlay of smug misogyny.

I associate Negulesco’s triumph here with his skills as a graphic artist: the low horizons are a great gift to him. Credit also to cinematographer Ted McCord (TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) and production designer Robert Haas (THE MALTESE FALCON).

More love for Litvak

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2020 by dcairns

NIE WIEDER LIEBE! (NO MORE LOVE, 1931) is the earliest Litvak directorial work I could get my mitts on. The success of this light romantic comedy enabled Litvak to get the job of doing COEUR DE LILAS (1932) which is the other earliest AL film I’d seen (in Bologna).

This is a frivolous film, typical it seems of Litvak’s early work, but very stylish — the tendency is to extend shots for whole sequences, zip-panning (a persistent Litvak trope) rather than cutting, roving ceaselessly. Litvak was known for his long traveling shots later, but I sometimes wish they could be longer. This time, I get my wish. Very Ophulsian — and in fact it turns out that Max Ophuls was the assistant director. Fun to realise that Litvak worked for Gance, Pabst and Tourjansky and Ophuls worked for Litvak… so did Don Siegel. You can’t make it prove anything, it’s just fun.

We begin in a fantastic, fog-and-light Manhattan, the camera gliding through a miniature, neon-sparkling cityscape, then through a life-sized window into scene one, where hero Harry Liedke is being fleeced by a seductress. He’ll swear off women, on a bet, but just before his five-year abstinence is over, he’ll meet Lillian Harvey. You’ll see how that could complicate things. Harvey has no tits hardly at all but is extremely vivacious, and that can be a powerful combination. She’s certainly a funny kind of girl for a fella to meet who’s been up the Amazon for a year. Harry has been sailing round the world for FIVE…

A youngish Felix Bressart (NINOTCHKA, TO BE OR NOT TO BE) is a fine dry comedy manservant, longsuffering variety. It’s strange to hear the familiar voice speaking its native German. He’s no longer a funny foreigner. He’s just funny.

Margo Lion, chanteuse (Pabst’s THREEPENNY OPERA) sings a song on top of a piano, Dietrich-style, in a ridiculous version of a New York waterfront dive, but it’s full of black and white people getting sloshed together, so that’s nice.

As with all the early Litvaks, this one is co-written by the director and the splendidly-named Irma von Cube, who would also go to Hollywood, become Irmgard von Cube for some mysterious reason, and write JOHNNY BELINDA with a couple of male collaborators.

This was also made in a French version, CALAIS-DOUVRES, starring the trilingual, London-born Harvey, with André Roanne (DIARY OF A LOST GIRL) and Armand Bernard (THE CHESS PLAYER).

Litvak also supplies some rhythmic montages so the long take style never gets stale. These are sometimes partly made up of moving machinery, and one senses either the influence of Lang or some zeitgeisty Germanic thing that just loves fetishised close-ups of machine parts. Here, the hero sails off on his ship with his crew singing a jaunty march celebrating their new-found celibacy and misogyny as the pistons pump, the water rushes by, the mouths sing…

Then there’s a lovely comedian-harmonists type number, once the men have all gotten lovesick. You’ll like this —

And the climax is at Nice amid big carnival heads and so on. Hero Harry Liedke isn’t as appealing as Ms. Harvey, but I don’t think he deserved to be kicked to death by invading Russians at the end of WWII, though I guess his presence on German soil made him a Nazi by default. But a light musical comedy Nazi. Surely other men deserved death more.

I was also able to see LA CHANSON DE LA NUIT (1932), which is the French version of DAS LIED EINER NACHT, also made in English as TELL ME TONIGHT. All three versions star Polish opera singer Jan Kiepura and Magda Schneider (Romy’s mum, star of Ophuls’ LIEBELEI). The third lead/comic relief is a young and strangely fey Pierre Brasseur, a long way from EYES WITHOUT A FACE, in a role taken by Sonnie Hale (SABOTAGE, Mr. Jessie Matthews) in the UK version and Fritz Schulz (don’t know him) in the German. Most intriguingly, Henri-Georges Clouzot gets a script credit on this frothy Riviera-set quasi-musical, but it seems his job was just translating Litvak and von Cube’s original, rather unmotivated farce.

But there are some good gags! Mostly in the bravura opening sequence, which shows the voice of its star blasting out over the airwaves, to be received by a series of beautiful vintage wireless sets and assorted vintage listeners. Big laughs! You can watch it!

ACK! It’s gone! This was on the YouTube, now it has vanished, leaving only a scene —