Archive for Joseph Ruttenberg

Rocky start

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2018 by dcairns

SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME is perhaps a better David Bowie song than it is a Robert Wise film, but it’s an interesting Robert Wise film. It’s hampered by being an unsuitable vehicle for Paul Newman, who seems to be trying awfully hard, which is of course a problem. I can believe him as a boxer. I can’t believe him as an Italianamerican (ironically, or crazily, Pier Angeli, a real Italian, plays Jewish while the half-Jewish Newman plays Italianamerican). And I can’t believe him as a mook.

Everett Sloane provides a bit of ethnic authenticity with screenwriter Ernest Lehman giving him the best lines. Sloane must be on or about his last nose reduction by now, but still looks like a guy with a big schnozz. Even though most of it’s been shaved off, you can still see it. The phantom nose.

Wise has a strategy for getting us immersed in the film before this becomes a problem, which is to hit ramming speed as soon as the main titles are over and maintain that for most of the first act. To the sheer speed is added tremendous force and, if you’ll excuse the expression, punchiness. Despite his low-budget beginnings, Wise developed a gift for making settings epic, and the New York scenes here have the same kind of breadth and dynamism he brought to WEST SIDE STORY and even THE SOUND OF MUSIC (it’s big and bloated but it MOVES). Wise, like fellow editor Mark Robson, did a lot of these overblown epics of the fifties and sixties but he was often able to put them on ball bearings and get some momentum going.

I thought it was funny that Sal Mineo stays a teenager as years go by. “Why isn’t he growing up?”

“I think he’s pretty well cooked,” said Fiona. “He’s not getting any bigger.”

I never quite got over Newman’s wrongness. Is it because I’ve seen him in too many WASP-y and articulate roles to buy this? I don’t think so. He can do the body language, in a slightly over-the-top way, and he can sort of make the sounds, but the rhythms seems way off throughout.

Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg earned his Oscar — you can see little stabs at the kind of furious expressivity RAGING BULL would introduce to the ring — this feels like the one Scorsese and Michael Chapman and Thelma Schoonmaker drew most from. But I still have to see THE SET-UP, shamefully enough.

Another Fine Mesopotamian

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on September 11, 2013 by dcairns

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Minnelli’s KISMET — for some reason Fiona was reluctant to watch this, despite being a confirmed fan of  choreographer Jack Cole and having enjoyed a ton of Minnelli recently. Maybe because she generally prefers his melodramas to his musicals. About ten minutes in she pronounced this “great” — maybe by the end it isn’t quite up there with the very top films of the Freed unit, but the witty lyrics, zesty playing, strong plot based around improbable reversals of fate, and some bracingly disrespectful use of Borodin results in something very enjoyable.

Weirdly, it starts out looking kind of cheap — interior exteriors often have that effect, however lavish they may be. The “Not Since Ninevah” number is a riot, and a moving mass of gaudily coloured costumes make the eye rattle around like a pinball, but it’s all happening against a Star Trek cyclorama in a sand pit.

What makes the film start looking suave is the slow fade to dusk and night — the story has an unusual 24 hr runtime and Minnelli takes the gradations of the day seriously — the later it gets, the more beautiful Joseph Ruttenberg’s cinematography becomes, and the better E. Preston Ames’ sets look.

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Shots in the Dark

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2008 by dcairns

THE BRIBE is a film I’ve long wanted to see, maybe partly because of those clips in DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID. Robert Z. Leonard’s 1949 noir provides the footage of Charles Laughton, Vincent Price and bits of Ava Gardner, recycled into DEAD MEN’s patchwork plot. The name “Carlotta”, upon which the Steve Martin / Carl Reiner movie turns, also comes from THE BRIBE.

Ultimately, nostalgia for the spoof is much of the reason for watching Leonard’s film — it’s a minor movie which rarely catches fire, despite an exotic, sultry setting and a lurid rogue’s gallery of villains. Robert Taylor is too dull and earnest to seem in danger of corruption, even by Ava, and for added bore factor there’s John Hodiak. At least the role of tortured drunk gives J.H. something to get his teeth into.

Apart from Gardner’s singing and complaining about the heat (Ava Gardner complaining about the heat is a strangely erotic spectacle), the main point of interest comes right before the climax, where Leonard suddenly pulls out all the stops and produces a whole bunch of weird tropes.

A tiny, sweltering hotel room. Taylor has Vincent Price at gunpoint, even firing off a warning shot to stop Vinnie leaving. Charles Laughton, his face a sweaty pudding, watches anxiously, eyes darting from one combatant to the other. Leonard films Price from a low angle, emphasising his authority and weirdly graceless bulk.

With lupine cunning, Price swipes the light switch to OFF, and the room goes black. Taylor fires, and price fires back, muzzle-flare piercing the gloom in angry strobes.

Leonard’s camera (actually, cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg’s) swishes anxiously around, scanning the velvet darkness for signs of life and danger. It doesn’t seem to be tied to anybody’s P.O.V.

Madly, Laughton’s eyes are still darting about, the only things perceptible in the all-encompassing night. We realise that Laughton has been got up in black-face just for this moment, so that his eyes can hover in the dark like a cartoon’s.

Taylor glides into piecemeal visibility, his body criss-crossed by countless unmotivated diagonal shadows.

Laughton’s disembodied orbs float silently back into obscurity.

BANG! Fireworks erupt outside (it’s the Fiesta di Carlotta), visible through the window by virtue of rear projection, but because the cameraman who shot them had to pan about a bit to keep the flashes framed correctly, the bursts of Greek Fire seem to swim madly around, as if the hotel had come loose from its foundations and started drifting to and fro, like Dorothy’s house on the way to Oz (Friends of Dorothy / Friends of Carlotta?)

Price, a perfect profile in silhouette, takes aim: he sees Taylor illuminated by the pyrotechnics. His shot shatters the dresser mirror — it was only Taylor’s reflection he saw. Having thus compressed the entire climax of Welles’ LADY FROM SHANGHAI into one shot, Leonard relaxes slightly for the chase and fight climax, which is nevertheless photographically rather impressive: