Archive for Leave Her to Heaven

Hail to the King

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2009 by dcairns


How did King Vidor get to be called King? Did he have a son called Prince?

On regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider’s recommendation I ran LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE, a slightly gothic noir with a western ranch setting — something of an oddity. But Ruth Roman is excellent in it, fun and relaxed in a way she doesn’t get to be in the other films I’ve seen her in, like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN or BITTER VICTORY.

Ruth plays an actress — no jokes about this being a stretch, please — taking a rest cure after a chest infection. If there’s anything wrong with her perf it’s that she seems healthy as a horse (there are frequent shots of horses so we can compare with ease) but she’s such a lively, humorous, modest and intelligent character we overlook that — the supposed ill health is just plot.

vlcsnap-1907575Merecedes McCambridge: Greater Emotion Through Postural Strangeness.

Ruth gets mixed up in a more interesting plot involving Richard Todd (Irish actor, successful in England, never quite made it in America) recently acquitted of murdering his wife: there’s just enough vulnerability in Ruth to make you believe she might fall for this piece of surly damaged goods. Mercedes McCambridge is also in the cast, so it’s not a whodunnit. Her crippled brother is played by Darryl “But he’s a cripple!” Hickman, who was also disabled in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN — what’s with that type-casting? Hickman’s character is called String McStringer, which one would have thought was disability enough.

vlcsnap-1905900Zachary Scott — the Thin White Tube.

Generally all is compelling, with a welcome late appearance by Zachary Scott to thicken the plot (Zachary Scott = corn starch?) and add a light drizzle of man-sleaze. Todd does brooding quite well, but Roman is the heart and soul. This was the first film where I really got a sense of the hysterical emotionalism everybody singles out in Vidor’s work, but apart from McCambridge and Hickman, who are both extremely clear conduits for shrill frenzy, it only comes into play in one Ruth Roman bit where she starts to suspect that Todd is really guilty, and we get the full voices-echoing-in-her-head bit, complete with thunderstorm and furniture chewing. Jolly good!

vlcsnap-1913045THE FOUNTAINHEAD’s quarry scene: CALIGARI in marble.

THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a different matter — Ayn Rand’s putrid writing gives King plenty of scope for serious expressionistic bombast and flash. He turns everything up to eleven and all his knobs falls off. The compositions he slams onto the screen like a light-headed gambler wielding foot-long brass playing cards, are hyper-emphatic and triumphalist, and they just keep coming. It’s visually spectacular and beautiful enough to make the film very watchable, although creeping dismay and contemptuous laughter are its companions throughout. It’s supreme macho camp, but Vidor apparently took it quite seriously (he was, by this time, apparently, a concentrated wingnut, who would go on to approve of the blacklist). It’s beautiful, but on the level of a David Fincher video for a Madonna track: immaculate style with dubious taste; elegantly dynamic cheese; hysterically butch camp.

vlcsnap-1913078Drilling is so thrilling!

I’m not sure what my favourite aspect of the bad bad writing is — the repulsive philosophy at times almost seems creditable when applied to the specific dilemma of the artist, and by stretching every neuron to snapping point I just about see why a Hollywood director would find validation in it (“Could the interfering mediocrities of the front office please let me do my job?”), but the plot turn that has walking hard-on “Howard Roark” (Gary Cooper) dynamite a poor people’s housing estate for aesthetic reasons rather beggars belief. But I think the “dialogue” spouting from Robert Douglas’s mouth, in his role as all-powerful architecture critic (?) Ellsworth M. Toohey puts the tin lid on it. Unable to actually imagine another human being with another point of view, Rand assembles a “character” entirely composed of straw man arguments and moustache-twirling. When Toohey talks about how he was able to “corrupt” oligarch Raymond Massey’s newspaper staff, one splutters in vain, “But he wouldn’t see it like that! Not if he’s the one doing it!”

vlcsnap-1913138The great stoneface.

There’s bad writing which exposes stupidity, bad writing which exposes prejudice (often the same thing, and most often in the form of sexism) and there’s bad writing which exposes near-lunacy. THE FOUNTAINHEAD is almost entirely clapped-together out of the latter kind. The climax, in which Cooper is cleared of blowing up a massive construction site on the grounds that he’s a good architect, is so spectacularly demented as to be almost believable in this age of ours — perhaps Polanski should model his defense upon it.


THE FOUNTAINHEAD should be avoided by persons vulnerable to demagogic blandishment, but is recommended for those who enjoy spluttering. You could splutter at it for the full 114 minutes running time, then hit “Play” again and splutter all over. Keep a napkin handy.

vlcsnap-1911517I am Howard, hear me Roark!

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Gary Cooper – The Signature Collection (Sergeant York / The Fountainhead / Dallas / Springfield Rifle / The Wreck of the Mary Deare)

Pin-Up of the Day: Gene Tierney

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2008 by dcairns

“Without any question the most beautiful woman in the history of the silver screen,” said Darryl Zanuck, or words to that effect, and he ought to know, having slept with most of them. (He HAD to sleep with several at a time, honestly, otherwise he could never have racked up such a total. It’s not troilism, it’s just efficiency.)

Gene Tierney moved from early incompetence as an actor, through decent performances, and into really good work, aided by a truly amazing face that made her a pleasure to watch even when she sucked. Those distinctive features could suggest madness and evil in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, innocence and decency in HEAVEN CAN WAIT, wisdom and goodness in THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR.

I now list the features, and excuse me if I get overcome and have to go lie down:

The eyes: large, long, and very wide apart. I have a vision of walking up to Gene and putting my hand over the centre of her face, and of her looking back at me from around either side of my palm. THOSE EYES IS WIDE APART.

The big pale moonlike forehead. I am a man who likes a forehead. (Paulette Goddard, what a forehead that is! An eighthead, in fact.)

The nose, apparently hand-shaped from some soft, wonderful material — butter, perhaps — by tiny master craftsmen.

The cheekbones, beautifully defined, as if constructed especially to receive Von Sternberg’s light.

The mouth, completely redesigned by ambitious lipstick in these images, but in reality a wide, full and elaborately flared labial sculpture, balancing the eyes, and containing slightly erratic teeth which add charm to what could otherwise be chilly perfection.

In THE SHANGHAI GESTURE Tierney has moments of strange, erratic, embarrassing emoting that rival Elizabeth Berkeley’s mad flailing in SHOWGIRLS, but who’s to say what’s appropriate in a Sternberg menagerie such as this? Her perfect nose tilting under the lights, which seem to be dissolving into a dew the all-butter mannequin that is Victor Mature, she shows no trace of the control and grace that focus her best performances, but she certainly throws herself into the spirit of the thing. A gutsy, dynamic, original and deeply dreadful performance that’s never less than eye-catching. More decorous work was to come, but with the high frontal key-light shading her cheekbones, and the very hot backlight on the top of her head, Tierney showed she could be lit like Dietrich and come out just as well.

The Flamin’ Mamies

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2008 by dcairns

A Fever Dream Double Feature


I watched THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER recently and didn’t get a lot out of it, despite the gorgeous lifelike colour by Deluxe. I have a suspicion that Raoul Walsh just doesn’t work in widescreen. He was one of the first directors to get a crack at it, directing THE BIG TRAIL in a prototypical ‘scope format back in 1930. That’s a film that seemed to me to suffer from an excess of DISTANCE. We watch the characters interact in scenic longshot for a rather long time then, when Walsh senses that a change is due, he cuts to an even WIDER shot. We never get close to John Wayne or El Brendel (do we even WANT to?) — and Walsh is a director who can get a great deal out of his closeups, as anyone who’s observed the rhythmic cutting together of tense faces in OBJECTIVE, BURMA! will have seen. I know this is an early talkie and I’m asking a lot of Walsh at this stage in the development of cinema, but if you check out THE BAT WHISPERS made in widescreen around the same time by a lesser director, Roland West, you can see the format being used in a manner that’s both dramatically effective and formally very pleasing. So I think the widescreen maybe just gets in Walsh’s way.

Jane Russell dyes her hair red and is mean moody and magnificent underneath it as Flamin’ Mamie Stover, Honolulu hooker, but nothing else catches fire dramatically. “It’s not good enough to watch,” I protested, but Fiona gamely carried through to the end and was bitterly disappointed. “Why’d she give all her money away? Aren’t women ALLOWED to have money?”

Flames of Passion

I thought of Jane’s flaming tresses as I watched FOREVER AMBER, a 20th Century Fox super-colossus that pits Linda Darnell, her tresses likewise painted strawberry blonde (director Otto Preminger really wanted Lana Turner), against the plague, the Great Fire of London, King Charles II (a rather muted George Sanders), her puritan family, and the Catholic Legion of Decency, who tried to ban the film.

Reading Otto’s memoirs, I started to suspect him of confabulating, and this was confirmed by his bloated period romp, which he claims had all the snogging cut out at the CLoD’s behest, and a nonsensical prologue added to add much-needed moral guidance. Not true — the prologue gives historical context only, and there’s plenty of lip-locking from Linda and the various men in her life.

This was Zanuck’s baby, and Preminger was forced into making it, despite hating the book. Otto did manage to get the script rewritten, and brought along cameraman Leon Shamroy, who proves himself just as seductive in Technicolor as he would be later with gorgeous lifelike color by Deluxe.

Sign of the Cross

The thing is dramatically broken-backed — Darnell plays a Bad Girl, but she’s never scandalously wicked, just pragmatic. She’s also resilient to the point of being dull: seconds after escaping rape in Newgate Prison (here pronounced “Nougat”) she’s flirting with a Highwayman as if nothing had happened.

Faced with a story and leading lady not of his choosing (though he got magnificent work from her in FALLEN ANGEL), Otto compensates by making the whole thing a visual feast. At 138 minutes its rather a LONG feast, but the design and photography, and Preminger’s masterful blocking, at least mean it’s never short on sensual pleasures.

Leon Shamroy is like a Mario Bava avant la lettre, painting the scenes with coloured light that may not have any practical source, but which creates mood and renders emotion visible and is a delight in purely pictorial terms too. Think of his intense orange-and-blue night scenes in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and his juke-box hues in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. Despite its period setting, this has a similar hallucinatory saturation. Shamroy depicts the prison scenes bathed in green and orange light, and there’s no possible naturalistic reason for it.

Jailhouse Rock 

The more muted style of the foggy duel scene almost made me wonder if he’d managed to screen LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS:


The Fog

The Duellists

According to your taste it’s either an illustration of how much a director and his team can add to an unsatisfactory project, or how little.

All the Colors of the Dark

“Unhand me, you rapscallion!”