Archive for Josef Von Sternberg

Attack of the Clonebaugh

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 22, 2016 by dcairns

Gustav_von_Seyffertitz-528x715

So, I did a foolish thing. Following a conversation at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, I flashed on the fact that there had been no biography of Josef Von Sternberg. His magnificent autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, is too idiosyncratic to really count. I proposed the idea to a friend in publishing. And learned that, in fact, there had been a biography just a couple of years ago. Oops.

Of course it’s by John Baxter, who has practically monopolized the field of director bios. I checked it out — it’s not bad.

I was amused to learn that, while Sternberg was making army information films during WWI, his Germanic name apparently causing no problem at all, character actor Gustav Von Seyffertitz underwent a name change in order to be able to get work. What would Gustav Von Seyffertitz consider a reasonable, plausible pseudonym?

The name he went for, G. Butler Clonebaugh, is kind of memorable, I guess. Except that of the three film he used it on, it was spelled correctly just once, the other times manifesting as Clonbough and Clonblough. Which are both clearly far inferior names. Except that I can’t find any evidence that Clonebaugh even IS a name: it hasn’t been attached to anybody on the internet except Seyffertitz. Even the name Seyffertitz is more common.

Fun fact: You never see Gustav Von Seyffertitz and C. Aubrey Smith in the same shot. This is because of the superstitious fear shared by both men that if they met, their profiles would permanently interlock like the mosaic-creatures in an Escher print.

You can buy the Baxter bio: Von Sternberg (Screen Classics)

The Sunday Intertitle: A Devil’s Carnival

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-05-28-22h48m21s244

Josef Von Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD (1927) brought the gangster picture back from obscurity — if Griffith’s MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY is the first wave, and Walsh’s REGENERATION inaugurates the second, this one starts another torrent which continues almost unbroken into the Warner Bros talking era.

Now that great confabulator Howard Hawks, a quasi-friend and sometime collaborator of Sternberg’s (they shared the screenwriter Jules Furthman) claimed that when he proposed a gangster pic to Ben Hecht, Hecht wasn’t interested because he felt the genre was played out. Hawks pitch of “the Borgias in Chicago” is said to have changed his mind. But if Hecht was afraid of repeating himself with SCARFACE (1932), would he have reprised so many of the earlier film’s tropes?

Bull Weed (the repulsive George Bancroft) looks up at a neon advertisement promising “The City is Yours.” Tony (Paul Muni) admires a sign which declares “The World is Yours.” Arguably, the second version is an improvement: Bancroft feels vindicated by a statement which is practically true, or feels true. Muni sees an unfulfillable promise, the lie of the American dream, of life.

Hawks stages a party aftermath strewn with streamers which closely matches the dying hours of the ball which Hecht had concocted for UNDERWORLD. Though I’m inclined to give Sternberg a little credit here — the idea of a society engagement for the underworld is delightful, whimsical. Hecht knew gangland from his newspaper days. Sternberg decried research and liked to work from a position of romantic ignorance.

vlcsnap-2016-05-28-22h47m24s191

There’s a contest for moll of the year. I love all the nicknames.

Hawks also claimed to have suggested Dietrich’s tuxedo in MOROCCO, which is possible, I guess. But, though some rumours suggest Hawks was bi, and he gave several of his leading ladies a masculine edge, perversity is really more of a Sternberg thing, and Dietrich’s girl-girl kiss would seem more up his street. But who knows? Hawks’ anecdotes all revolve, in a way that would be monotonous if he wasn’t such a good storyteller, around his own mastery of every situation, his brilliant creative decision-making and his ability to get everybody to do exactly what he wants. Then again, his films are usually good enough to make you believe he really was that proficient.

Did Hawks invent the money thrown in the spittoon in UNDERWORLD? Is that why he felt entitled to basically just steal it for RIO BRAVO? Or did he just figure it was worth doing again, thirty years later, since the audience has a short memory? At any rate, RIO BRAVO improves on the idea since it gives John Wayne more motivation to intervene in Dean Martin’s alcoholic degradation than George Bancroft had in pulling Clive Brook out of the gutter.

Funny, Fiona hates stuffed shirt Brook in SHANGHAI EXPRESS (“He’s a chin,” explained Sternberg to Dietrich, when she asked what he new leading man was like), but since enjoying his one directorial effort, ON APPROVAL, she is open to liking him. She liked him in this, and was rooting for him and Evelyn Brent (as “Feathers”). It helps that George Bancroft really is disgusting.

vlcsnap-2016-05-28-23h11m45s161

The Sunday Intertitle: Tillie Eulenspiegel

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 13, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-12-12-18h06m36s242

Then Marion Davies is not the girl for you, sir.

TILLIE THE TOILERS is based on a newspaper strip cartoon, but it’s a Marion Davies production and apart from going brunette to match the drawn character she’s up to her usual light comedy tricks. At no point is she required to change costume in a phone booth, as diverting as that would be, or scale a tall building with anything more strenuous than a single elevator.

vlcsnap-2015-12-12-18h07m59s46

The titular Tillie is a secretary on the make, rather callously ditching her beau so as to pursue first the foppish assistant manager, Mr Whipple (George K. Arthur), from whome she extracts lunch, and then a passing millionaire, Mr. Penny Fish, for whom she ditches Whipple with haste and not a little relief. It’s to the credit of the screenwriters and Davies that Tillie remains somewhat sympathetic throughout.

We’re at MGM’s Number One plot here, recycled through several Joan Crawford vehicles a couple of years later — how to marry well while remaining virtuous. It’s OK to be a little mercenary as long as you stay virginal.

vlcsnap-2015-12-12-18h07m52s230

George K. Arthur is an interesting figure — he backed Von Sternberg’s first film, THE SALVATION HUNTERS, on the proviso that he play lead, which he wasn’t very suited to doing. He’s much better as a supercilious schnook here. Sternberg claimed that the budget Arthur promised turned out not to exist, and so Sternberg ended up paying for the film himself.

Returning to his native Britain, Arthur, produced the early shorts of Jack Clayton and Wendy Toye, for which cinephiles should thank him. I’m presuming in those cases the money actually existed. Mr Whipple came a long way.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 726 other followers