Archive for Joseph Cotton

“You’ve only gorn an’ done it.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2008 by dcairns

KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS is the finest title ever conceived by human typewriter, I insist.

If you don’t believe me, try coming up with another variant on the VERB / BODILY FLUID / PORTION OF ANATOMY schema that isn’t utterly gross or ludicrous. The least offensive one I can manage is BLOW THE SICK OFF MY SHOULDER.

So director Norman Foster and the film’s gaggle of writers (one for nearly each word of the title) are clearly onto something. Although I think they miss a trick by not having any of the characters in the film actually SAY THE TITLE. Whenever anybody SAYS THE TITLE in a film, either Fiona or I, if we’re watching at home, generally cry, “He SAID THE TITLE!”

(I think it dates back to an anecdote about FACE / OFF. Nick Cassavetes was improvising in a scene with Nicholas Cage, and Cage said “I wanna take his face… off.” Cassavetes freaked. “He said the title!” he thought to himself. “I can’t let him get away with that! I’m gonna say the title too!” So he comes back with, “You wanna take his face…off?” and then they go on like that for like an hour until John Woo gets tired and has them start shooting at stuff. Or something.)

Anyhow, there’s a bit where Burt Lancaster, playing a war-troubled yank adrift in Hollywood’s version of London, punches an artificial fertiliser salesman by the name of Widgery and then, fleeing the scene with Joan Fontaine, punches a copper. Well, what could be simpler than to have big Burt, when hauled before the judge, plead, “But your honour, I didn’t mean to hit him, I was just trying to get him to KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS.” It could work.

But Burt, being less imaginative perhaps than myself, an award-winning filmmaker, doesn’t come up with any convincing excuses of this kind, and is sentenced to a flogging. At this point we wondered about the film’s jurisprudential accuracy. Did they practice flogging in post-war Britain? I mean, as a legal sentence? I Googled the words “History of English flogging” but the stuff that came up wasn’t really very educational, so I’ll forget the research and go with my gut instinct: no they bloody didn’t. Somebody just wanted to shoot a gothic s&m scene with Burt. Which is fine.

For all its fogbound atmos, the film struck me as quite French in a way, rather than being American or British — it has the doomed romantic feeling of the pre-war poetic realists, very close to film noir already. It can’t quite end as perfectly as it might because it’s trapped between the commercial dislike of unhappy endings (nearly ALL great noirs have unhappy endings, and it was a very popular genre, so why does anybody worry?) and the Production Code’s insistence that crime must not pay. So it has to contrive a vaguely unsatisfactory hopeful ending, in other words it hedges its bets all over the place.

But it’s a pleasure to watch Norman Foster’s stuff, with its Wellesian dutch tilts (Foster directed JOURNEY INTO FEAR with Welles at R.K.O.) and chiaroscuro flourishes. Foster is a considerable noirist in his own right — his MR. MOTO films are glossy, shadowy and hugely fun, and he would carry his canted angles with him right onto the ’60s Batman show. The film is as lopsided as those angles, with an odd structure and shaky character motivation at times, but it’s affecting because Big Burt is such a lovable lunk, Joan Fontaine always does nervous and troubled extremely well, and despite what nearly everybody has said about this film, I think actually make a great onscreen couple. My theory — IMDb reviewers notice that something isn’t working in this film — it’s the script! — and ascribe the fault to the unusual screen pairing. But that pairing is one of the film’s strengths. This is exactly why asking your audience for advice can be dangerous. They’re pretty brilliant at feeling when something’s wrong, but they’re not trained at identifying what it is. I, of course, being an award-winning film-maker, get it every time. That’s probably why I’m unemployed.

Anyway, the French poetic realist thing — Robert Newton, playing a black marketeer called Harry, is not a bit like Harry Lime, but as he insinuates himself into the protags’ lives and practically insists they murder him, just by being so damn evil all the time, he is very much like classic murderee Jules Berry in LE JOUR SE LEVE, I think. “You were born to be murdered,” Trevor Howard tells Joseph Cotton in THE THIRD MAN, and it’s true of Newton in a different way. He pushes his luck, see. You can’t leer like that while Joan Fontaine’s around and not expect Burt Lancaster to completely kill you.

Wait a minute, here’s one:

FLICK THE MUCOUS OFF MY NIPPLES.

Yes. I’d definitely watch that.

Euphoria #12: “Don’t be so gloomy.”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2008 by dcairns

A Walk Thing.

Regular reader Darryl McCarthy contributes to our ongoing quest to pinpoint those movie moments that sugar-coat your synapses and make your insides glow like Marlene Dietrich. Another spoiler alert for this one, though I like to hope there aren’t many of you who haven’t seen Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s THE THIRD MAN.

“Moments of cinematic euphoria? The long shot with Alida Valli walking down the avenue towards the viewer and past Joseph Cotten into a future of her own design – my heart still skips a beat every time I watch it.”

It’s a truly great shot, reversing the usual spatial terms of the standard “walks off into the sunset” ending by having (Alida) Valli walk TOWARDS and PAST us, rather than away, and leaving the hero stranded, stationary, abandoned by love to the solitary pleasure of the philosophical cigarette.

I noted before how the falling leaves were a last-minute improvisation (men up ladders with sacks of fallen greenery [or should that be orangery, given the autumnal climate?]). and it is also perhaps worth noting that the antique Eclair camera deployed to shoot the scene did not even allow the cinematographer to watch through the viewfinder as Valli proceeded from the vanishing point to the lens.

“If we run the end titles [over this] you’ll soon know who stayed to watch the end of the fucking picture, won’t you?” remarked Reed. (Facts & quotes from Charles Drazin’s In Search of The Third Man).

It’s a bittersweet sort of euphoria, but sometimes that’s just what you want. I visited Vienna with Fiona one winter and found the place much like that, and we went on the Big Wheel, Fiona lying on the floor in terror as I admired the view (but got nervous as the carriage creaked and the windows rattled).

Why did Reed make so few great films? Lindsay Anderson bemoans that the great Brit “fell in with Americans”, while David Lean observed that “Carol lost his courage.” The suggestion was that if he had made this film later in his life, Reed would have broken up this sublime master shot with cutaways.

Is there even more to be said about this film, which has already been the subject of entire books and documentaries? There certainly is…

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