Archive for Kirk Douglas

Young Men with Horns

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2019 by dcairns

I picked up THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY from a charity shop on a whim, not knowing anything about it. The DVD didn’t say who the director was, though I kind of doubted it was going to turn out to be Luchino Visconti.

In fact, it was a person called Valentine Davies, who never directed anything else. He did originate the story of MIRACLE ON 34TH ST, though, as well as working on scripts for SYNCOPATION, THE GLENN MILLER STORY and others. Well, what the hell, I got lucky with BOY SLAVES, also from a one-off feature helmer (PJ Wolfe). Thus, while the Blu-ray of ROME, OPEN CITY languishes unviewed in a drawer, I popped this second-rate biopic into the Panasonic so I could enjoy Steve Allen pretending to play clarinet.

It turned out that Valentine Davies was labouring under twin disadvantages. Firstly, nothing interesting ever happened to Benny Goodman, or at least nothing Davies could put in a film. He didn’t even fly off in a thick fog: worse, he was still around as the film was made, the last thing you want for a biopic. (Note: this is pronounced “bio-pic.” Don’t say it to rhyme with “topic” — it’s evil.)

From Wikipedia: According to Jazz by Ken Burns, when someone asked him why he “played with that nigger” (referring to Teddy Wilson), Goodman replied, “I’ll knock you out if you use that word around me again”.

I’d really like to have seen Steve Allen say that line. He does actually have reasonably good tough-guy delivery in the few moments he’s called upon to be firm. But obviously Universal didn’t want to go there, so we have some nice examples of Goodman interacting with black musicians in a positive way, but no instance of him making an actual stand.

Valentine Davies’ second handicap was, he had no talent. Not as director, anyway. Right at the start of the film he gives us a bonafide camera angle, but that must have made him nervous because he never tries it again. Nor does he move the camera. Anyone who can leave the thing sitting rigid on sticks while Sing, Sing, Sing plays at Carnegie Hall has no cinematic feeling whatever.

Whatever filmic virtues the piece might conceivably have are hampered by the DVD being in the wrong aspect ratio. All the compositions looked, cramped, choppy and ugly, and I eventually realised it had been framed for 1:1.85 but my disc was 1:1.33. Universal generally masked off their 35mm frame to create a cheap widescreen effect, but protected themselves for TV by making sure their shots still worked with the extra space at top and bottom. I tried resetting my TV to 1:1.66, thinking this might give me a better sense of the Valentine Davies cinematic experience.

It didn’t really help much.

For all I know, I was watching a 1:1.66 chopped-down framing of a 1.1.33 chopped down framing of a 1:1.85 chopped down framing of the original 1:1.33 negative, but if so the original must have been like watching Goodman from the back row at Carnegie Hall.

Incidentally, I reckon Goodman’s celebrated 1937 concert at that venue must have inspired the fictitious protagonist’s climactic gig in ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, released the following year. Clearly, if only Donna Reed had had John Carradine to drive her, she wouldn’t have been late for the gig.

Best thing I can say for this one is that Allen makes a very good Goodman lookalike, and Barry Truex, son of Ernest, playing Goodman as a boy, makes a very very good Goodman lookalike lookalike.

I turned to YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN, no doubt unconsciously looking for a more cinema-savvy version of the same kind of thing. Of course, Michael Curtiz provided what I sought. Though the film, based on a novel based in turn on the life of Bix Beiderbecke (with whom Goodman played), doesn’t quite have a real story as such, and the happy ending feels very artificial — you can practically see the tacks holding it on — it’s bursting with meaty scenes and star perfs, the framing is beautiful, and Curtiz glides his camera to the music to evoke jazz rapture.

Damn good role for Juano Hernandez, too.

Holliday Affair

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2019 by dcairns

I was struck by the stylised movements of several of the main cast in John Sturges’ GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL. Of course Burt Lancaster (as Wyatt Earp) was a former acrobat and always brought what I believe is termed a panther-like grace to his performances. But he and Kirk Douglas (Doc Holliday) and Jo Van Fleet are all doing an odd and beautiful thing, where they stop their movements momentarily each time they reach a potential dramatic pose, what animators might call an “extreme.”

These micro-pauses are very brief, but they make it a good film for frame-grabbing. As is the fact that the movie, always handsome (except a few regrettable studio night exteriors, something the colour western never mastered), becomes a series of striking icons as we near the climactic shoot-out.

(The women’s roles are unusually good, though Rhonda Fleming is robbed of her initial impact when she has to fall in love. Her movements are naturally more fluid than JVF’s, so they make a good contrast.)

Must check other Sturges films to see if this is something he pursued further.

K. Douglas: “The only trouble is, those best able to testify to my aim are unavailable for comment.”

Sharp screenplay by Leon Uris and George Scullin. Douglas and Van Fleet’s dysfunctional relationship (he’s a self-loathing drunk and sees her as the embodiment of his fallen status) is BY FAR the most interesting aspect. Douglas is always at his best with a touch of nastiness: fiercely competitive, he does actual manage to out-act Burt here.

Am pretty sure I never found Dennis Hopper beautiful before, but he is here. It makes me reassess his early career — he was set to be a fifties prettyboy like Tab Hunter, I guess. His inner beast had other plans. But now I see this soulful sweetness shining through in things like THE AMERICAN FRIEND.

GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL star J.J. Hunsecker & Steve Dallas; Vincent Van Gogh; Meta Carson; Ella Garth; Cherry Valance; ‘Bim’ Nolan; Fante & Mingo; Sidney Broome; Frank Booth; Prof. Teenage Frankenstein; Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy; Capt. Patrick Hendry; Mrs. Jorgensen; and Alamosa Bill.

*Probably would have posted something else today if I’d read the terrible news from Christchurch. Hate is all around us. If you know someone who is eaten up with it, get them talking. If they seem driven to act on it, report them. If they still have any decency, work on them. Damn it, humanity.

I Am Groot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2017 by dcairns

Walter Brennan as Groot in RED RIVER.

I had a tooth pulled yesterday. It had been panging away badly. It had once been a heavily filled thing, more edifice than natural outcrop, but the back came off and the filling came out, so as to present only a facade to the world, like a western street in a movie backlot. So the dentist pulled itup by the groot, which turns out to be about the cheapest form of treatment you can have — only £12.50.

But now I’m rather sore. And sympathised more than I might have with Kirk Douglas and his finger-removal scene in THE BIG SKY. This drunken amputation was planned for RED RIVER but John Wayne didn’t think it was funny. When he saw it performed he realised it WAS funny after all, and his trust in Hawks grew. It’s quite a strong scene for its day.

Arthur Hunnicutt performs the op. If Arthur Hunnicutt ever met Walter Brennan, would there be a huge explosion?

Meanwhile, as I type this, Fiona is on the toilet watching CHARADE. She’s been having a Cary Grant film festival today as she prepares for a colonoscopy tomorrow. She’s going to star in a film, or a film’s going to be shot inside her anyway. To prepare for this, you have to drink cement or something, and it means you spend a lot of time on the lavatory. Might as well spend it with Cary Grant.

While I was trying to sleep through the throb in my jaw, and Fiona was drinking cement or whatever it is, she watched HIS GIRL FRIDAY and yesterday we both watched MONKEY BUSINESS (the Hawks, not the Marx Bros). Fiona is well-read on the subject of chimps and observed that the young ape who swings from a lamp and batters scientists on the head is making his “play face.” So s/he was having a good time on a Hawks set, as actors tended to do. Andy Serkis can stand down.