Archive for Julie Andrews

The Sunday Intertitle: The Whoring Twenties

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2019 by dcairns

As far as I know, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE is the only roadshow musical about the white slave trade, but I could be wrong.

We watched it partly in honour of the late Carol Channing and André Previn, both of whom make excellent contributions to whatever this film is, and partly just because I’d picked up the DVD for cheap and had never watched the film properly. An odd DVD, whose Greek subtitles seemed to switch on automatically whenever there was an intertitle.GOOD use of intertitles, though — the movie is a twenties pastiche, fine, but they’ve worked out a specific way of using intertitles in a talkie — they use them as thought bubbles. So Millie (Julie Andrews) will look to the camera at a key moment and the intertitle will pop up, giving us her take on whatever’s just happened. And they don’t overuse the gimmick.

The Hallelujah Chorus, wrote editor Ralph Rosenbaum, is “always a sure sign of a film in trouble,” and so are wipes, and this film liberally uses both. Iris in and outs are fine, period-appropriately, and I wish people would use them for no reason in non-period movies, but wipes are the devil’s own transition devices. They should be shunned. And those flip-flop things, where one image blurringly spins like a revolving door and another replaces it, make me want to take an axe to the next optical printer I see.

(DEEP BREATH) Everyone in this is perfectly good, OK, and it’s terrific to see Beatrice Lillie in a rare movie perf (but in a problematic role) but James Fox is the stand-out. The glasses are clearly aiming at Harold Lloyd (I overcomplicated things by wondering if Creighton Hale was also an influence), confirmed when he gives the matte lines a work-out by scaling Millie’s place of work, human fly fashion. It’s a shame his big number, the Tapioca, is quite poorly filmed (they over-edit and cut off the feet). George Roy Hill is not a musicals guy, I fear.

Oh, and Fiona was impressed by how sexy Julie Andrews managed to get during her vamp scene. Apart from THE AMERICANISATION OF EMILY, where James Garner seems to animate some hitherto iced-over aspect of the Andrews persona, she’s not really known for her blistering eroticism, is she? And yet, here it is, however briefly.

Being a long, sprawling roadshow affair, the movie by rights ought to offer a PANOPLY OF TWENTIES AMERICANA, but this it has no interest in doing. Mary Tyler Moore’s character’s putative stage career leads to absolutely no Broadway business, and the settings specifically evocative of the period are limited to a vaudeville show, a country house (with biplanes), a Chinatown knocking shop. Most of the action seems to take place in a nondescript hotel (it’s written as eccentric but the art department keep things TV-movie-looking) and an office.

Oh, the movie does come up with one of the great actor/drug combos of all time. You know how Dennis Hopper performing a sense memory of nitrous oxide became an iconic image in BLUE VELVET? The combination of John Gavin and curare proves similarly apt. The filmmakers must have known they were onto a good thing with this business, because they blowpipe the poor bastard twice.

Gavin is GOOD in this. He gets the joke, he knows he’s the butt, and he goes at it. Admirable.

The sex trafficking angle (no, we don’t see Calvin Coolidge as a customer: it was a different era) is handled… weirdly. The movie opens with a choloroforming/abduction scene shot like a giallo, lit and designed like a TV movie of the week. In Chinatown, the whorehouse-warehouse is a Man’s Adventure magazine style bdsm fantasia. And, when James Fox, looking rather fetching in flapper drag, is kidnapped and his captors go “Ugh!”, thinking him less than glamorous, Beatrice Lillie shrugs, “I know she’s not much, but in a dark corner on the late, late shift…” which puts the whole thing into a really horribly clear picture and any amusement kind of does a death rattle. We’re openly being invited to imagine a line of sweaty customers doing a train on a drugged-up, cross-dressed James Fox. I know it’s A Ross Hunter Production, but I can’t imagine they really wanted to do that to their audience.

The racism is another spectre haunting the story. Jack Soo & Pat Morita get a sinister gong on first appearance, as if we’re meant to be scared of them purely because they’re Chinese (in fairness, one can imagine a movie pastiche portraying any pair of spying henchmen of whatever race in a similar way: but here, it has a particular ethnic flavour). Philip Ahn as a sympathetic servant can’t do enough to remove the yellow peril undertones, as he enters too late and does too little, and that in a subservient capacity. The otherwise pointless Jewish wedding scene is presumably meant to make things feel inclusive, which is a pretty clueless idea. Seeing four white protags beat up a couple of stage Chinamen and stand triumphantly over their crumpled bodies has an uncomfortable feel to it, nowadays. The period pastiche patina should help alibi this, but it’s a strain.

And you don’t want strain in a musical.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE stars Maria Von Trapp; Chas; Mary Richards; Flo; Sam Loomis; Sammy Fong; Mr. Miyagi; Dr. Fong; Mrs. Lorelei Dodge-Blodgett; and Molly Molloy.

Advertisements

Primal Screens

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2012 by dcairns

After realizing that I remember, dimly, a bit of the first film I was ever taken to see, I asked to hear about your first cinema experiences, via Facebook. Anybody who didn’t get in on that, feel free to add them in comments. I’m sure we can prove SOMETHING.

THEORY: no matter how traumatic or dull the first cinema experience — we tend to go back.

Moby Longinotto star wars couldn’t read the words at the beginning so my little girlfriend read it for me, I was 5 I think.

Brian Robinson A double bill of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. My dad gave me the choice of that or Grizzly Adams: The Movie. There was no contest. It was weird seeing cartoons on the big screen like that, with the sound so big and booming but I loved it. And the Cyclops chasing chasing Torin Thatcher on the island, “Help me! Help me!” was seared into my mind forever.

I should add I was almost 6 and I think it was the Odeon, Clerk St.

Stevie Hannan Hi David,remember vividly(and I was only four) being taken to see Mary Poppins by my mum at the old ‘Strand’ cinema in Alexandria.I though it was wonderful. So much so that I pleaded with my gran to take me the following evening.She gave in, and a lifelong love affair with films (and Julie Andrews!)had begun.

Diane Henderson Gone With the Wind, but I was very, very young and fell asleep. My first wide- awake cinema experience was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I was so small I had to be sat on the arm of my chair to see over the head of the bloke in front.

Nigel R. Smith ‎7 years old as a birthday (not mine) party ‘treat’, we were shoo-ed into Tommy Steele appallathon Half A Sixpence at the Caley cinema. Really put me off ever going to a cinema again – until the following year my dad insisted we see Where Eagles Dare in the same place.

Niall Greig Fulton Mine was Norman McLaren’s 1952 short Neighbours, in an afternoon screening at the Calton Studios.

Chuck Zigman I was four years old, and it was a double feature of the feature animation “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” (1969) and “Scrooge” (1970) with Albert Finney. In the graveyard, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come removes his hood, revealing a skull. I had nightmares for three years after that!

Samuel John Dale When I was two or three my parents took me to see Condorman at the Odeon Chelmsford. As we left the cinema, they realised I was developing conjunctivitis. Condorman will do that to your eyes.

Dan Sallitt I remember going to the drive-in with my father (my mother came along sometimes, but I think my father was choosing the films) when I was four or five to see HERCULES and HERCULES UNCHAINED, and international monster films GORGO (directed by Renoir’s art director Lourié, I just learned) and REPTILICUS. Funny – I just saw HERCULES leading lady Sylva Koscina two days ago in Sautet’s excellent L’ARME À GAUCHE, but I totally forgot that she and I had so much history.

Ali Catterall Aged five, to see the Sound of Music – can’t remember where. I do recall a tremendous mounting excitement in the days leading up to the screening, mainly concerning Julie Andrews. Was she American? (For five year-olds in 1975, Americans were completely exotic and alluring, so much so that we used to claim American parentage in the school playground, for instant credibility.) Was she a New Zealander, like mum? Really, just who was this amazing Julie Andrews we were about to see? But in the dark of the cinema, it wasn’t Andrews I fell for, but Charmian Carr. “Mummy” I gravely whispered, as a rain-soaked Liesl snuck in through the window, “she is more beautiful than Snow White…”

Marvellous Mary Quite alarming going to see Disney’s Snow White in downtown Johannesburg . I lived in a small village in South Africa. So the expereince is all wrapped up with being alarmed at being in such a large auditorium (something the size of the Odeon on Clerk St) and seeing skyscrapers at the same time.

Nicola Balkind I remember Beethoven with my grandma when I was probably about 5. She snored the whole way through it.

Larry Frascella My parents were movie-mad so I’m sure I was one of those crying babies in the theater. But as far as reachable memory goes, from a very early age, way back there in the Italian section of the Bronx, my father would take me to the movies on school nights, which was pretty much unheard of. (Made me very cool at school.) I can’t recall the very first film but it was probably THE MYSTERIANS.

Randall William Cook My mom took me when I was two years old to LILI, in 1953. I have a strong memory of sitting in a dark room, looking up at a window where a puppet show was going on: I thought I was experiencing something real. I remembered nothing else, or so I thought. It was shown in a L.A. revival theatre (the Tiffany?) when I was thirty, and I checked it out. One after another, the film’s images brought back a succession of long buried emotional impressions. That two-year-old had been paying attention, after all. And the damn title song has always given me an emotional working-over.

Chris Dooks Aged six or seven, I was taken to see Jaws at The Regent Cinema, Redcar – I think I was snuck in. It scared the shit out of me, but also because The Regent is literally over the beach and you can hear the water crashing underneath the seats. It is also very damp. Other memories were going to see Convoy there with my dad and brother at an equally young age and I remember having my eyes covered up over a sex scene. In the same cinema now aged 18 I went to see the Exorcist at a re-run late night showing and fell asleep during the first ten minutes as I had six pints of beer in me.

Kristin Thompson On my third birthday my parents gave me a party and took the group to PETER PAN, my first film. The only thing I remember about it is the duel between Peter and Hook at the end. But far more interesting is my mother’s earliest cinema memory. She told me she had been taken at the age of five to a film that impressed her very much. She didn’t remember the title. All she could remember was a woman floating on a lake, supported by reeds. Imagine your earliest memory being SUNRISE on its first run!

Dan Sallitt Randall: in his entry on Charles Walters in THE AMERICAN CINEMA, Andrew Sarris wrote, “The late H. L. Mencken used to boast that he had never seen a movie, but toward the end of his life, this irascible cynic was induced to see LILI, and he loved it!”

Guy Budziak Television. In the late Fifties/early Sixties Universal allowed their classic horror films to be shown on TV late Friday nights as SHOCK THEATER. I was five, and my parents let me stay up past my bedtime to watch THE MUMMY with Karloff. The flashback in the pool of water, where you go back in time and see him buried alive, and the slaves are speared and buried with him. That was the scene that captivated me. I was hooked.

Dan MacRae Probably about 4 years old – taken to the Classic Cinema at the bottom of Renfield Street in Glasgow to see Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Screamed and cried for a while at the arrival of the dinosaurs and felt a horrific sense of desolation when (spoiler alert!) the villain killed the duckling at the end.

Fiona Watson I have two. One is being taken to the Regal Cinema in Broughty Ferry to see Pinochio in a group as part of someone elses Birthday treat, and thinking that the ice-cream woman was GIVING AWAY the frozen goodies. I became quite irritable when I discovered this wasn’t the case. The first, and probably earliest (I think, aged 4 or 5) was being hauled out of The Jungle Book at some now long defunct cinema in Dundee after being traumatised by the appearance of King Louis the orangutan. I started sobbing in terror, loudly. “His arms are too long!” I shrieked as I was dragged intothe lobby. Ironic given my present fascination with primates.

I think it was the ‘skipping with his arms’ thing that did it.

Randall William Cook ‎@Fiona: King Louis arms too long=childhood trauma. King Louis singing like Louis Prima= no big deal.

Fiona Watson I ADORE that sequence now. It’s brilliant!

Chris Schneider My memory, none-too-detailed, is of being taken to a a downtown fancy-schmancy showing of the Disney SLEEPING BEAUTY … and of having some young male malcontents drop a water balloon on my mother and me.

Fiona Watson That’s horrible Chris! I hope they were duly admonished and thrown off the premises.

Chris Schneider Thanks for your sympathy. Perhaps they were sedated and surrounded by a forest’s worth of nettles.

Travis Reeves Mine is very much like Marvellous Mary’s: also Disney’s Snow White at age 5, in downtown Melbourne. Living in sprawling suburbia some ten miles away, Melbourne was a distant hazy Emerald City to us. To actually be there, and in the grandeur of an old cinema was amazing. My twin, Helen, cried at Snow White in her glass coffin. I didn’t, but remember being very sad.

Later, aged about 10, we would be taken to see Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle on successive Saturdays at a tiny independent cinema in Melbourne by our father. As I remember it, the cinema was downstairs, or under the road, and sat maybe 50. I can’t help thinking, years later, that it must have been a porno theatre at some point in its history.

Marvellous Mary I think I too would be aged about 5 or possibly 6 – on the other hand we did have an great uncle who was a real life Willy Wonka who did own the sweetie factory! Other memories include going to Filmhouse from the pend at the backwhen there was ONLY cinema 2 and watching Coalminers Daugher aged 11 or so!

Jim Hickey I was six years old when I saw The Robe on its initial release. So my first film was in Cinemascope with sound that seemed really loud. I loved the rich colours and the costumes and it felt like things were happening for real. We had no television then, of course. I have fond memories of Jay Robinson’s performance as Caligula. And it was a thrill to encounter him soon afterwards in the film’s sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators. Seeing the films again some years later I think it was probably Robinson who made me believe I could be an actor. And then I discovered Laurence Olivier.

Simon Fraser I believe that my first film was “Blackbeard’s Ghost” starring Peter Ustinov ( a favourite of my mother’s ) It’s dated 1968 but I’m sure I saw it in 1974 in Halifax Canada. My second movie at the cinema was more interesting, again Halifax but this time it was Moustapha Akkad’s ‘The Message’ about the life of the prophet Mohammed. I believe that there were serious protests about this at the time , people died. It made an impression on me, though I remember little of the film itself.

Jim Hickey The other films that I clearly remember seeing around that time were Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen, Edmund Purdom in The Student Prince and Burt Lancaster in His Majesty O’Keefe – films no-one talks/writes about now, but from which some elements have stayed with me. But I don’t think I want to re-visit them as there are plenty of great films that I still have to see!

Roz Kidd Peter Pan at The old Calais on Lothian Road – was so awestruck that I hung out my window that evening and yelled for Peter Pan to come and teach me to fly!

David Fiore it was definitely Star Wars (during its original release), at the sadly-long gone York Theatre on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal… I was 3. I remember freaking out a little bit during the trash compactor scene, but apparently I managed to keep my cool enough to prevent any ugly incidents with other patrons.

Gareth McFeely My first movie memory is going to see The Cat From Outer Space at the pictures in Fermoy (Ireland), probably in late 1978, when I was almost five. We were back there visiting friends after a move away, and I went off to the pictures with mostly older children. We sat in the front row upstairs in what seemed to me like a vast movie palace, which was of course almost certainly a fleapit (it closed years ago; I’ve no idea what it was called). We watched a film about park rangers and friendly bears (I think; it seemed like a kind of documentary to me), and then enjoyed the main feature. I recollect enjoying the experience but later had terrors at bedtime — something to do with that darned cat — and my hosts had to drive me 15 miles to where my parents were staying.

Then Fiona got in on it and invited her friends —

Kay Goodall My first film was Bambi but I don’t really remember it. The first one I remember was the first I chose to go to, which was The Last Snows Of Spring. It was with my best friend; going by the IMDB date we must have been in primary school; and I sobbed without stopping for the entire final hour. It was a very successful day out.

Fiona Watson I remember the trailer for The Last Snows Of Spring, because that film seemed to be on permanent trail throughout my childhood. Never saw it. Wasn’t up my street at all.

Kay Goodall Yes it mystifies me now.

Mishker McKay At age 4 or 5 it’s The Aristocats for me….I loved Thomas O’Malley. I remember having the 7″ record of the title tune and ‘O’Malley, the Alley Cat’.I also have a memory which may be earlier, of a movie scene where a monkey ends up stranded in a bathroom filling with bubbles; I was distraught! I remember bawling my eyes out as I was convinced it was going to die. It might have been a live action Disney film; any idea which?

Fiona Watson Is it THIS Cliff?

Mishker McKay OMG!!!!!!!! After all these years!!!!!!!!!!!! I was TERRIFIED and it’s all coming back to me now!!!!!!!

Thanks Fiona!!! x

Lorna Hewitt The Jungle book, must have been aged about 4 or 5 as well. Just mesmerised with the music and the jungle and the pretty girl. Was living in Brazil at the time so probably felt it was kinda my back yard. Hah. (Although it’s based in India). That’s earliest, but bestist and the rights of passage film for me was Grease aged 12. Didn’t know what half of it meant (‘wise to the rise in your levi’s’ and ‘bun in the oven’??), just knew I fancied John Travolta! Actually probably more Kenicky. Oh I don’t know, can’t make up my mind even now!…..Useless info but felt I had to get it off my chest! :-D

Roderick Ramsay Earliest – The Incredible Journey (1963). I was pre-school and had to be taken out because I was bawling my eyes out. That would be nigh on 40 years ago. Gosh. I hasten to add that I did not see it IN 1963. It must have been at one of the now sadly defunct Saturday shows they did for kids and was probably around 1973.Scariest? I was 6 and was being babysat by my 13yo aunt who woke me up to come and watch Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein. It was TV though. Scary cinema was Jaws in 1976. It was my first experience of queueing around the block to get into a movie and it was my first A-rated film. It was a huge step up from U-rated and when Richard Dreyfus was trying to find a shark tooth in a wreck my hands locked onto the chair arms in terror. It was a while before i could let go :-)

Most awesome? Being 8 and going to see Star Wars in 1977. Wee spaceship comes on the screen and I thought “Wow!”, then the prow of the Star Destroyer came in from the top of the screen and gradually filled it with huge spaceship awesomeness. One of those cinematic memories that stay forever. Unless you’re my Dad and you fall asleep.

Lorna Hewitt Oh God yeah, Jaws, most impact on my life, still can’t ‘get back into the water’ without a shiver and keeping an eye out!! Agh!

Mark Van-Daal Saturday morning – ABC Minors in Paisley – episodes of Flash Gordon with Larry (Buster) Crab followed by gawd knows what – Disney’s Return from Witch Mountain maybe? Also the Apple Dumpling Gang? I have a ‘hilarious’ story about trying to get in to the Odeon in Renfield St Glasgow to see Alien dressed as a ‘workman’ that my dad had pushed me in to doing. it involved padding my big parka with newspaper, balancing a corduroy Donovan cap with more newspaper perched on my head for extra height and a pair of my mums suede platform boots and my face smeared with brown water colour paint to look like stubble. The Odeon Renfield St weren’t buying it and my Dad had to take me home again. Also me and my tike pals used to sneak in the fire exit and hide under a stage in front of the big screen and watch thing and Burt Cort buddy movies that were a kind of shit Cheech N Chong. Also queuing for hours to see Star Wars but I suspect that’s standard fare for most people in this thread.

Mark Van-Daal Oh and at Primary School we were taken to rooms below the Art Galleries in Glasgow to watch a special screening of the Amazing Mr Blunden (it was a posh school -we did lots of stuff like that)

Lorna Hewitt That’s so weird Mark, I remember going to see Saturday Night Fever, aged 15(?) dressed as an ‘adult’, with the help of my mum’s props no less, so I wore her tweed hat and carried a long black umbrella which I swung in a jaunty fashion! Strange to think that that’s what I thought someone of 18 would wear! More 80! Me and my 3 pals somehow got in hiding behind my older sister who bought the tickets for us. Another give away I somehow think!

My first ‘X’ rated film…

Roderick Ramsay I never saw an ‘X’ at the cinema as they changed ratings when I was 14. There’s a long-ish story where I saw Conan The Barbarian at 13 – underage for a AA-rated film and then was denied entry for the same film 6 months later when I was finally 14 but they’d changed it to a 15-rating.

My first 18-rated movie was The Company Of Wolves. I was 15 or 16 but was accompanied by an alleged adult. I think we all probably remember the first time we broke new ground in ratings: Jaws, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Company of Wolves for me.

Fiona Watson I remember queueing all afternoon in Dundee to see Star Wars (dropped off by Mum, left there, then picked up again after the screening). There was a man with half an arm standing infront of me. I spent the best part of three hours staring at his stump. I also remember seeing Jaws at The Regal in Broughty Ferry, again I was on my own (I was ALWAYS going to the cinema on my own as a kid!) and made the mistake of sitting next to ‘bigger girls’. Just before the ‘head in the bottom of the boat’ reveal was about to happen, the ominous music and general set up cued me into knowing a scary bit was coming up. The ‘big girls’ had apparently seen it before, so I trustingly asked them to ‘tell me when it was all over’ and put my hands over my eyes. Seconds later I get a dig in the ribs and look. IT WAS THE F***IN HEAD! They all pissed themselves laughing as I shot vertically out of my seat. I couldn’t even move because it was a sell out. Bitches…

Mishker McKay Hilarious reading about Lorna’s 18 outfit; I worked in the Odeon a long time ago and received training on how to spot/ interrogate and trip up such types when I was on the ticket desk. Was a great job ruined by the ‘dark sales’ girl leaving; every 4 weeks it was my turn to don the tray of KiaOra and Cornettos. The effin stap was too short and leaning down to let others see my wares my change would cascade in among the choc-ices and Strawberry mivis. The last straw was facing the packed screen 1 on a Saturday night, Crocodile Dundee if you please. The jeers of ‘check the poof wi the ice cream’ was just too much to bear!

Fiona Watson (a different Fiona Watson, confusingly) Wow! I have loved reading these. I have vague memories of seeing Snow White at a drive in movie in Australia when I was 4 or 5 and not being able to see properly as we were in the back seat. My first proper memory is being taken to the Odeon in Derby, England by my Nana to see the Sound of Music. I was 7 and had never seen a musical before. I was spellbound by the hugeness of it all. I remember wondering about the ‘soldiers’ in it and why they wanted to catch the Von Trapps. It was a few years before I put the horrors of the Nazi’s into the film and realised the darker side that was present. To this day I still find new things on the odd occasion I watch this film. I think it was that outing that created the bond between myself and my Nana because we liked the same things and I have loved musicals ever since.

Mark Medin Mine is different than most since my dad hated going to movie houses from about the time Jeanette and Nelson quit being a team (I only wish I were joking about that). My first cinema experience was going to a matinee to watch a movie my brother wanted to see. We bought tickets and this place had only one bored ticket taker who didn’t even direct us, so we walked into the wrong theater (it was an early multiplex, I think it had three or five screens). So I got to watch The Long Goodbye almost in its entirety (it had already begun, we got there just when Gould was returning from the supermarket to feed his cat). I was 12, TLG was an R rated film, and I got away with it. I think many theaters in the ’70s were pretty lax in enforcing age restrictions. My friends never had trouble getting into R films at certain theaters.

I think I recounted this once already. Maybe twice.

The Spy Who Came Down with a Cold

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics, Science, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2009 by dcairns

Nearly done, old boy…

My inhalations and exhalations sound like the sand whirling around in a hula hoop, my chest is constricted as if there are elastic bands wrapped round my lungs, my head has the thickness of lagging and throbs like a Rick Baker bladder effect, while my nose… it’s simply better not to touch upon my nose.

I have a cold.

Which may not have been a bad way to finally watch TORN CURTAIN, one of those Hitchcock films that had always politely resisted my attempts to watch it. Fiona, too, would drift off within minutes of its starting. Having finally obtained a widescreen copy (Universal, worthless organization that they are, having issued all Hitch’s 1:1.88 movies in 1:1.33 ratio) we determined to give it a fair whack.

A nice Edward Hopper shot, and as close as I want to get to Julie in that repulsive outfit.

It’s not that bad: the right aspect ratio immediately sharpens up the filmmaking, which appeared lackadaisical when pan-and-scanned. Hitch’s mise-en-scene is as crisp and thoughtful as ever, and is sometimes inspired — whenever Julie Andrews isn’t around, he seems to perk up. But Andrews is a massive problem — you simply cannot watch this film without somebody saying, about three minutes in, “She really has no sex appeal at all, does she?” I remember trying to watch the film with my Dad, decades back, and him saying that, and now Fiona said it. “Or warmth,” she added, damningly.

“She’s perceived as being warm in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, isn’t she?” I ask. But then, Andrews’ big roles are both nannies, rather than mothers, which may be significant. She offers professional care. It’s her main quality as an actor. And I bet she can create warmth on stage. But in this movie, Paul Newman must be sexy enough for two: in fact, that’s easy for him, but Julie is like a damp rug thrown upon his smoldering embers.

Well HELLO, professor!

Welcome to the cinematic world of Lew Wasserman, Hitch’s former agent and now studio head at Universal, who basically cast this film, pressing Hitch to take two big box office stars. But of course, Andrews was only a hot property in a particular type of family film. The audience for gritty espionage thrillers surely would have been put off by her presence. How do you solve a problem like Julie Andrews?

Nifty opening montage of name-tags to introduce our protags in the sack, Hitch trying to sex up Julie’s image, which is like strapping a dildo to Mickey Mouse. Edith Head lets the side down with a horrible outfit for our heroine. “It’s not even green. What is that colour? Mustard?” asks Fiona. I liken it to baby shit.

Hitch and his Mini-Me.

Hitchcock’s cameo is nice, but Richard Addison’s rather quaint score offends me by quoting Gounod’s Funeral March for a Marionette, AKA the theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Here’s my problem with it: in an interview, Elmer Bernstein once noted that in 1930s Hollywood scoring, if you saw a French ship, the soundtrack would be Max Steiner’s version of La Marseillaise. “An intellectual idea.” The man who undercut all that corn, scoring only the emotion of the scene, was Bernard Herrmann.

Here I should correct one of the few serious errors in Patrick McGilligan’s Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. McGilligan imagines Herrmann playing Hitch a recording of his score for TORN CURTAIN, and Hitch stopping the recording partway through, followed by the argument which ended the two great artists’ collaboration forever.

The truth is more dreadful and dramatic — it was at the recording session that the bust-up took place, before a full orchestra. Hitch didn’t switch off a tape player, he cancelled the score midway, even though Herrmann argued that as the orchestra was already paid for, they might as well complete the recording and Hitch could think about it. Instead, Hitch fired his composer in the most public and humiliating manner.

The seeds were sewn by Universal, who seem to have pressured Hitch to record a more popular kind of score, perhaps with a song for Julie Andrews (which at any rate they never got). Hitch telegrammed Herrmann early on to warn that the modern audience was “young vigorous and demanding” and that successful European filmmakers had “sought to introduce a beat and a rhythm that is more in tune with the requirements of said audience”. This slightly vague concern was answered by Herrmann with assurances that he could produce something suitable. Perhaps unable to grasp what Hitch was driving at, the composer trusted in his talent to come through. And his score is excellent — you can see the scenes he recorded as extras on the DVD.

John Addison’s music at times seems appropriate for a 1930s-set caper, and insofar as it shows a coherent musical strategy, it would seem to be striving to lighten the picture’s tone. This was probably Hitch’s trouble with Herrmann’s music: he had made a glum, monochromatic film, and Herrmann had produced a dour, unmelodic score to go with it. All through preparing the project, Hitch had tried to inject some lightness, but his subject (cold war armaments and espionage), his settings (Helsinki, East Berlin, Leipzig), his writer (Brian Moore, author of the tragic The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne) and his mismatched stars had deferred any lilt or zing to the last possible stage of post-production.

Moore himself hadn’t wanted to write a film, but was persuaded by his lawyer that he needed the money. Hitchcock pitched him an original story, Moore developed it into an outline, introducing the idea of the painful, drawn-out murder, which Hitch then acted out with relish (I would love to see film of this impromptu performance, but none was taken). All the while Moore was aghast at what he saw as Hitchcock’s lack of character insight. Moore only really invested himself in the character played, like a demented elf, by Lila Kedrova, a Polish émigré hoping to escape to America. Her character, and that of Gromek the security man killed by Newman, are the only really living people in the film.

It is worth mentioning Newman’s cab driver, though — Peter Lorre Jnr. No relation to the real Lorre, this was a semi-crazed fan who changed his name in honour of his hero, and was sued by the original. I wonder if Hitch knew he’d hired a fake?

The scene where Gromek stalks Newman through an art gallery is the first striking set-piece, although the development of Newman’s defection and Andrews’ following him to East Berlin are interesting enough. Since Hitch’s two stars between them cost more than half his budget and dictated his shooting schedule, the film was almost entirely shot in California, mainly on the Universal lot (it shows), and so the gallery is a series of Albert Whitlock matte paintings. Only the floors were built. They’re very beautiful, and since the whole scene is composed of these artificial settings, they don’t pop out as distractingly fake. It’s like a chase through a virtual reality. Later, some of Hein Heckroth’s phony Leipzig exteriors will look like cast-offs from OH… ROSALINDA!!!! and not in a good way.

The Whitlock Gallery recalls Hitch’s reconstruction of the British Museum way back in BLACKMAIL.

Ah, Gromek! How I long for an entire film detailing your brief period in New York (“corner of 88th Street”) which you recall so nostaligically. Gromek is played by Wolfgang Kieling, the German voice of Bert from Sesame Street. We must thank the IMDb for its little nougats. Gromek, with his black motorcycle and crappy East German cigarette lighter, is wildly endearing and formidably sinister, and although his murder is the highlight of the film, I do wish it came an hour later so we could enjoy him for longer.

“I didn’t order this!”

The skirmish starts when the farmer;s wife (Carolyn Conwell, another great character, actually) interrupts Herr Gromek’s phone call with a sloppily-aimed bowl of rice pudding. He tries to get his lighter to work. Newman tries to strangle him. Years later, Hitch’s summary of the scene’s premise, “It’s very difficult, very painful, and it takes a very long time… to kill a man,” became the slogan for the Coen brothers’ BLOOD SIMPLE. The farmer’s wife takes up a carving knife, which memorably breaks in Gromek’s chest — for some reason, that detail is nastier than all the successful stabbing in PSYCHO. The shovel to the knees is next — ouch — then the long haul to the gas oven, with Gromek gamely strangling our hero all the way. His head stuffed within, Gromek’s chubby little hands begin to flicker and dance, like fleshy butterflies, then lie still.

Note that, as Dan Auiler discovered, Hitchcock’s original notes requested music for this scene, which Herrman duly provided, and very powerful it is. The scene is still a stand-out with no score, but one wonders what else Herrman might have done for the plodding thriller. At any rate, the silence augments the risk of discovery that prevents our heroes using a gun to off Gromek.

Newman picks up the dead man’s lighter, which now sparks into flame on the first try. He leaves the farmer’s wife to bury the body and the motorcycle. We rather wish she’d entombed him astride it, like Nicky Henson in PSYCHOMANIA.

Despite working without his regular cinematographer, Robert Burks, Hitch achieves consistently striking shots.

By contrast with the effulgent Gromek, Professor Lindt is rather a stock figure, a bearded physicist with a brusque manner. Professor Littleoldman! And here the film reaches its fatal flaw, one Moore and Hitchcock apparently missed, and script polishers Ted Willis and Keith Waterhouse (BILLY LIAR) weren’t authorized to address. After the incredibly long and uninteresting diagrams on a blackboard scene, in which case the need for a simple MacGuffin becomes blindingly obvious, Newman and Andrews must flee back to the west. Their lovers’ misunderstanding resolved, and the secret information now secured, they have basically won. Of course, apprehension would still mean utter defeat, so we expect a further climax of suspense, but instead we get a long journey back to Berlin by bicycle and bus, then Kedrova and a long wait in a post office, which is not as exciting in this film as it would be in real life, and a trip to the ballet, where at last Hein Heckroth can do what he does so well.

This is why the film seems so overstuffed. It should be called BURST CUSHION. The third act is practically half the film, and the suspense sequences don’t quite come off (Herrmann would have helped immeasurably), so it’s not only structurally malformed but ineffective on a scene-by-scene basis, apart from the incidental pleasures.

The prima ballerina looked familiar until I realized I knew her from THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. The subliminal freeze-frames Hitch pulls on her pirouettes are amazing — he must be reprinting the last frame of each shot just two or three times. I’ve no idea why nobody seems to have copied this striking effect.

The ballet, Tchaikovsky’s treatment of a character featured in Dante’s Inferno, climaxes the story’s metaphorical arc, which Peter Conrad in The Hitchcock Murders rightly describes as Dantean: Newman embarks on a journey into the underworld, in this case, the Eastern Block. Even the refugee/spy organisation’s name, π, suggests the circle of Hell. Newman’s quest, to steal missile secrets, is Promethean, and the film’s opening titles, a montage of anguished faces amid blue and red clouds of smoke, seem like an analog of Hell.

Conrad notes that the film begins and ends with its characters huddled under blankets, but doesn’t quite make the obvious point that the film could thus be read as a shared nightmare. Hitchcock may have aimed to make “a realistic Bond,” but realism was never his preferred mode, and it seems more profitable to judge the film, with its grey-filtered, shadowless monochrome (shot using reflected light), for its successful expressionism rather than its doubtful authenticity.

Conrad is also excited to see Hitchcock following Paul Newman into the gents’ lav to decode his secret message onto a square of toilet paper. Sometimes a critic’s work is done for him.

Paul leads Julie up the garden path in what looks like Hein Heckroth’s take on INVADERS FROM MARS. One of the few bursts of colour is permitted for this happy moment of truth.

Hitch originally toyed with the idea of Newman discarding the formula he’d worked so hard to get, an idea only Alma liked. It wouldn’t have made sense, but it connects to Hitchcock’s consistent portrayal of espionage, in all his films, as a dirty business with a horrible cost. But the whole idea of Newman as amateur spy is unconvincing, as is the anti-missile missile plot — though it’s been suggested that it inspired Ronald Reagan’s expensive and unworkable Star Wars defense scheme.

TORN CURTAIN isn’t terrible, although it could at least be shorter (Hitch had just lost his usual editor), but we should recall that Hitch really wanted to make MARY ROSE, scripted by Jay Presson Allen and ready to go, a deeply personal film, a departure from his normal turf, and a fascinating story. It’s Universal who are to blame for this film, as they are to blame for TOPAZ, when Hitch wanted to make KALEIDOSCOPE / FRENZY. Their poor decisions, made with a view to protecting the Hitchcock brand, soured much of the last stages of his career, and his friendship with MCA-Universal boss Lew Wasserman prevented Hitchcock from fighting for his most promising subjects. In the meantime, years were wasted. As we shall see, Universal were very kind and considerate to Hitch during his last years, but in a way their concern was damaging to Hitchcock the risk-taking artist. At the end of TORN CURTAIN, the Universal logo appears ghost-like over an extreme close-up of a blanket, possibly wet.


The Hitchcock Murders
Hitchcock’s Secret Notebooks