Archive for Katherine Hepburn

The Hepburn-RKO-J.M. Barrie Axis of Whimsy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2013 by dcairns

Two J.M. Barrie adaptations, filmed at RKO, starring Katherine Hepburn, QUALITY STREET and THE LITTLE MINISTER.

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THE LITTLE MINISTER, directed by Richard Wallace, is set in Barrie’s native Scotland and showcases Kate’s Bryn Mawr version of a Highland burr. Several real Scots provide doughty support — Andy Clyde is particularly enjoyable, and Sherlock Holmes regulars Alec Craig (in his first movie role, according to the IMDb) and Mary Gordon make welcome appearances. Donald Crisp looks exactly as he did thirty years later in GREYFRIAR’S BOBBY, but sounds different — he nailed the accent sometime in the intervening years.

But why no James Finlayson?

Poor John Beal struggles with the R-rolling, and is blown off the screen by Hepburn in gypsy drag. Flashes of authentic Scottish scenery, including brief use of the zoom lens (quite popular at RKO at this time — see also KING KONG).

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QUALITY STREET is, we thought, the superior production. Never mind that Barrie’s conceit, Hepburn scrubbing up and impersonating a fictitious younger relative to fool Franchot Tone, even though Tone knows perfectly well what she looks like, is unworkable on-screen (suspension of disbelief and the perpetual long-shot would sell it on stage). Never mind that the whole cast is doing convincing English accents except tone-deaf Tone. Enjoy the Napoleonic era gadgets (women’s veils which swish open on a drawstring like net curtains, English geisha shoes for walking in the rain) and the dialogue and performances and director George Stevens’ elegant, witty framing.

In the prologue, Hepburn is disappointed in love as her beau decides to go off to the wars — she sits by the window with her aunt, and the Greenaway-symmetry does something expressive and very un-Greenawayesque: it captures their resignation to staying unmarried for life. Possibly while sitting in the window.

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Things I read off the screen in Suddenly, Last Summer

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by dcairns

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What can you see in the shadows?

There are spoilers in this…

Though Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s use of horror movie tropes to depict homosexuality in his adaptation (with Gore Vidal) of Tennessee Williams’ SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER has drawn comment, I suspect in time we may come to be more alarmed by the film’s depiction of Mexican street boys as cannibals, and lunatic asylum inmates as zombies.

Of course, there is a certain amount of weaseling around the cannibalism thing — “It looked as if” Sebastian had been eaten alive, we are told. But the sequence as staged by Mankiewicz evokes Romero horror movies which had not yet been made, plus THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and the climax of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (two other movies with very queer gentlemen who play God), and it’s supposed to prove that Liz Taylor is NOT insane, so even if we don’t take it 100% literally, we have to take it as to some extent true.

(John Gielgud dubbed the play, “Please Don’t Eat the Pansies.”)

Williams’ evocation of the monstrous-feminine, ably embodied by Katherine Hepburn in Mrs Bates embalmed mode, might also raise eyebrows. Perhaps we need to just admit that the Gothic imagination is not inclined to be politically correct.

Poor Monty Clift is very good in a role (sympathetic lobotomist!) that basically involves looking quietly freaked at how goddamn WEIRD everybody is in this picture — a vital role to make the audience acclimatize.

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LOOK: Even when Hepburn casually picks up a magazine in the hospital sun room, it features swimsuit sexiness on the back cover and a devouring tropical beast on the front.

Occurred to me that Hepburn’s first scene, with the primeval garden (containing its own Audrey II flesheater in miniature greenhouse) is like the briefing of Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP, and the movie is a Freudian detective story like SPELLBOUND or MARNIE, but even more investigative and Marlowesque than those. And did Bunuel clock Hepburn’s buzzing box and steal it for BELLE DE JOUR, perhaps thinking that, although the specially-imported Venus flytrap food was a good gag, it was a pity to introduce a mysterious buzzing box and ever explain what was up with that?

Jack Hildyard’s photography is incredible, well served by the DVD.  His career seems to have gone to shit after MODESTY BLAISE, but before that he shot BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI — he also did uncredited work for Mankiewicz on CLEOPATRA and much as I love Leon Shamroy (The King of Technicolor), I have a suspicion that the nocturnal throne-room stuff in that movie which is FAR handsomer than anything else in it, may conceivably be Hidlyard’s contribution. I’d love to know.

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What a weird film. Though Clift and Taylor have mucho chemistry in A PLACE IN THE SUN, here their love story is pretty flimsy, and the movie brushes aside any qualms about Clift falling for a patient (whom he also hypnotizes). The grotesque circus hangs together remarkably well, with all its brazenly unsubtle symbolism and incantatory, Salome-esque monologues, but the romance may be a beat too many. Whatever — just getting a freakshow like this made at MGM deserves some kind of chutzpah award.

Embarrassing note: I’d never seen it.

Fiona: “You have so seen it. I’ve seen it!”

Me: “But we have not seen all the same films, because we are two people.”

Though this at times seems decreasingly true.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Bokononism and the phallic power of Paul Henreid

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2013 by dcairns

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A lovely thought from the start of RED GARTERS, begun by Mitchell Leisen, who was fired and replaced by George Marshall, who brings a heaviness to the proceedings that’s quite counter-productive. Stylised sets require the right blend of stylisation and reality from the performances, and as striking as the film looks, it doesn’t quite get there.

But I was reminded of it when we watched THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, prepared by John Huston but executed by Bryan Forbes. Ironically, a few years later Forbes in turn would be removed from the ocean-bound suspense drama JUGGERNAUT and replaced by Richard Lester, who made a wee classic of it. CHAILLOT begins with a title echoing RED GARTERS’ invocation of the Bokononist comforting lie ~

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MADWOMAN stars Katherine Hepburn who doesn’t seem mad at all — she lacks the air of vulnerability to embody the script’s sentimental idea of a “holy innocent” type of insanity. And the film’s politics is slightly sappy and hippyish too. Huston claimed he quite because producer Ely Landau wanted the film to say the “the young people are going to hell” whereas Jean Giraudoux’s source play was an attack on the faceless moneymen who rule the world. Huston, as so often is the case, was clearly lying his ass off, because after his departure Landau produced a film about the evil moneymen — directed by Forbes who was, I believe, a fairly conservative sort of chap.

But what a cast — if Hepburn is a bit miscast, Danny Kaye is terrific (straight acting stops him being cutesy) and the bad guys, embodied by Yul Brynner (never better; relishing the chance to play a really extreme character), Charles Boyer, Paul Henried, and even John Gavin, are hugely entertaining. Add in Sybill Thorndyke, Giullietta Masina and Margaret Leighton, plus Donald Pleasence, and you have a guarantee of at least some kind of interest, even if the filmmaking never quite arrives at the kind of consistency Forbes was capable of (Why two cinematographers?). I didn’t see this as the disaster some have called it, just as an intriguing oddity.

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Good bit with Henried as the  military-industrial complex, displaying his many erect missiles.

And then I saw SIREN OF BAGDAD, a truly appalling Sam Katzman Arabian Nights travesty directed by a young and desperate Richard Quine, and once again Henried’s virility is the source of humour ~

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Inadequate dirk? Try a little magic, and ~

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Schwing!

Contrasted with Hans Conried’s lack of rigidity in the shaft ~

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It’s all downhill from here, apart from some odd comedy when Conried is transformed into a glamorous blonde (uncredited, but I think it’s Vivian Mason) who is hilarious even without Conried’s goofy lilt dubbed on. The titular Siren is Patricia Medina, whom we like, but it’d take a greater magician than either Henried or Quine to save this mess.