Archive for Jules Dassin

Urban Explorer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on January 5, 2021 by dcairns

Upcoming release from Arrow!

Fiona and I contribute a video essay, edited by the redoubtable Stephen C. Horne, for Jules Dassin’s searing BRUTE FORCE, and for THE NAKED CITY I contribute my first ever commentary track. Since I’m not a huge fan of commentary tracks, I felt the need to REINVENT THE FORM.

Naked City Radio is a kind of alternative soundtrack to the movie. I discovered that I had taken a form that should be easy, if somewhat specialised, and made it very complicated and difficult. But I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.

I finished this one and went almost straight into another feature-length project, still under wraps.

More soon!

Noir is Hell

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 28, 2020 by dcairns
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-2020-09-28-14h07m20s710.png

Two French crime stories. I first wrote about THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS, Costa-Gavras’ directorial debut, when it was only available to me as a pan-and-scan off-air recording from Scottish Television, dubbed into English. Now seeing it in widescreen and French and decent definition, its youthful vivacity combines nicely with its dark sensibility. But it’s far from nihilistic — Costa-Gavras clearly loves his naïve young couple, and his sniffle-afflicted detective (Yves Montand gets to be a handkerchief actor). It goes like a train. The novel by Sebastien Japrisot is also excellent but the solution to the mystery involves a fairly wild coincidence of murderers, if I recall it aright. CG changes the ending and it makes more sense. Probably his least political film for years but it does slip in some social comment, however maybe it’s highest achievement outside of the kinetic thriller dynamic is the miniature character portraits it offers en route.

RIFIFI is of course too famous to require comment on its spectacular cinematic merits, particularly the 45-minute (can this be right? It isn’t: see comments) silent heist. What makes it so tense and exhilarating IS the quietude. Director Jules Dassin’s European comeback after the blacklist, it shows his willingness to let the bad guy heroes BE bad guys, until the third act, when he gives anti-hero Jean Servais something noble to do, and includes a speech about how the real tough guys are those born to poverty who nevertheless go straight. He couldn’t help himself — Dassin needed some nobility to get behind.

Servais, visibly dying, is a magnificently raddled central figure (you can see him as a fresh-faced juvie lead in LES MISERABLES 20-something years earlier), shrivelled in his baggy suit. During the feverish final journey by convertible through Paris, he’s accompanied by a little boy with a toy cowboy pistol, draped in an adult coat to keep warm, who comes to seem like a crazy parody of him. Dassin, working with editor Roger Dwyre for the first time, creates a sequence of pure rhythm — from his very first short, Dassin has a heightened sense of visual and aural rhythm. If you start to notice it, even his supposed “worst” films become impressive.

Blind Spots

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

vlcsnap-2016-01-29-14h01m42s205

Ray Walston, an unsatisfactory substitute for the indisposed Peter Sellers, and Cliff Osmond, an unsatisfactory substitute for the area of wall he’s standing in front of, in Billy Wilder’s arguably-still-great KISS ME STUPID.

One kind of directorial blindness is obvious — Quentin Tarantino giving himself the job of lisping narrator in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. I suppose the idea that he’s a recognizable voice and he IS the director could be said to justify that one, if the idea worked. But Tarantino casting himself in PULP FICTION is harder to excuse — an actor with Tarantino’s limited manner and range and skill set could never hope to get cast in that movie, with more lines than Rosanna Arquette, if not for the fact that he was the guy who could give him that part.

And then there’s someone like Jules Dassin, working with his wife Melina Mercouri, and evidently convinced that everything she did was sexy, adorable, funny and convincing. I like Mercouri, but she does get carried away sometimes, and Dassin was evidently not going to be the man to rein her in. I don’t think it’s because he was afraid to do so, I think it’s because his critical eye relaxed unduly whenever he gazed upon his tall thin Greek wife.

vlcsnap-2016-01-29-14h00m54s233

But, excepting such obvious cases of prejudice, what are the cases where someone who really should know better casts badly and fails to notice? I think the most inexplicable case on record is that of Billy Wilder’s affection for Cliff Osmond. Wilder, who had talent and knew talent, did not know that Osmond lacked talent. Not totally lacked, just lacked it enough to make his presence problematic when surrounded by really good people with really good material. Wilder went on the record saying that Osmond might be the new Laughton. And Wilder had worked, very successfully, with Laughton. Interestingly, he had planned to have Laughton play the character of Moustache in IRMA LA DOUCE, but Laughton became terminally ill. According to Maurice Zolotow’s unreliable Wilder bio, the director carried on meeting with Laughton, pretending that the actor was going to recover and play this comic role for his friend, thus comforting the great star on his death-bed. Lou Jacobi eventually took the role — but Cliff Osmond is in the picture too, as a policeman, making his first appearance for Wilder, and it is perhaps this connection that set in Wilder’s mind the curious idee fixee that Osmond was in some way Laughtonish. True, he was fat, and true, he wasn’t handsome, but many people are fat and unhandsome. Only Laughton is Laughton. Wilder might as well have cast me.

Osmond went on to prominent roles in KISS ME STUPID, THE FORTUNE COOKIE and THE FRONT PAGE. He’s in more Wilder films than Marilyn Monroe, Walter Matthau, Ray Milland, Fred MacMurray, Erich Von Stroheim or Audrey Hepburn. He’s level with William Holden.

I’m curious — who else do you think represents a blind spot in an otherwise talented director’s career? And more importantly, why?