Archive for Lee J Cobb

Dick O’Clock

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2021 by dcairns

“Terrible news,” said Billy Wilder. “Bob Rossen made a good picture.”

Frustratingly the anecdote doesn’t tell us which picture Wilder thought was good, but the line is funny enough that it could stand recycling, so maybe Wilder applied it whenever Rossen made something decent — ALL THE KING’S MEN, THE HUSTLER…

“This film has no story,” said Fiona, but in fact Rossen’s debut, JOHNNY O’CLOCK has a lot of plot, it’s just that it all plays out in dialogue, characters talking about people and events that are offscreen. Two murders take place before the climax, but we don’t see either happen.

But it’s entertaining. The talk is good. The people, Dick Powell and Thomas Gomez and Evelyn Keyes and Lee J. Cobb and Ellen Drew (unusually but effectively cast as a sexy bad girl) and Nina Foch, are all very flavourful. The bits players are colourful — people like Shimen Ruskin and a girl called Robin Raymond, who has an interesting scene. She plays a hatcheck girl. The previous hatcheck girl, who was touchingly sweet, is dead. RR plays her replacement, who is crass, vulgar and stupid. She plays it enthusiastically for laughs, and gets them, but the dramatic point of the scene is Johnny’s melancholy — he misses the previous girl. So it’s a scene that manages to head in two directions at once, and miraculously reaches both destinations.

Mostly it’s a kind of mash-up of elements that worked in other movies just beforehand, or else slightly later movies reworked the same stuff and made this one seem familiar, prewatched. If Dick Powell went through the wrong door he’d find himself in THE GLASS KEY or I WAKE UP SCREAMING.

I feel like the movie would work really well for the drunk or high viewer — the story often seems a tad cloudy and you could get into that. William Hurt watches a movie stoned in THE BIG CHILL and he says “I think the guy in that hat did something terrible,” and “Sometimes you just have to let art… flow over you.” I had a couple gin and tonics but I started too late to really disassociate from the wispy narrative.

I did get into a strange routine about Momo’s expensive cat treats, which are supposedly duck and raspberry flavour. “They have to catch a duck while it’s eating a raspberry. Then they get it in the duck press and compress it down until it’s just one tiny treat. When Momo eats them they expand to almost full size. He’s sturdily built, luckily. A flimsier cat would burst, and you’d just have a bunch of ducks and raspberries.”

Fiona here –

I was also involved in these musings, which were centered around Momo’s almost constant shouting.

The expensive treats are to placate him and shut him up. We’re terrible parents. I started with “I’d eat those cat treats.” The duck and raspberry combo sounded tempting. Then Mr Crayons launched into his baroque monologue about the creation of the treats.

We then strayed into another area of interest regarding the Shutting Upness. David suggested a special electronic chip like Snake Plissken wears in Escape From New York. Every time Momo attempted to enthusiastically vocalise through his big, fat mouth, the collar would shock him into quietude. Or blow his head off. It has to be said, sometimes the thought of Momo’s head exploding is a rather attractive one. We’re terrible parents.

To round things off, it’s my belief that the fact we have these strange conversations is the secret of why we’re still together after twenty seven years. That and being married by Norman Lloyd. When you’re married by Norman Lloyd, you STAY married.

JOHNNY O’CLOCK is one of the best films in the Columbia Noir 3 box set. I contributed an essay on THE DARK PAST.

The B.V.M.

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2019 by dcairns
“What I got don’t need beads.”

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, in which Jennifer Jones appears courtesy of David O. Selznick and the Virgin Mary appears courtesy of God.

A few of us Bolognites wished Il Cinema Ritrovato had shown this one, because it’s a good, well-known Henry King, and he give s it the big build-up in the documentary they screened. He tested multiple big stars for the title role and asked them to look off-camera and see the Ble s sed Virgin Mary. “All the others looked,” reported King, “but only Jennifer Jones SAW.”

Jones is pretty great. Always tempting to define her successes in terms of her limitations, for some reason. Good directors use their stars for what they CAN do and aim them away from what they can’t. “There was a stupidity about her,” said Ruth Goetz, meaning to praise her for her rightness for the title role in the 1952 CARRIE. Here, Bernadette calls herself stupid but is, rather, simple, which in the movie’ s terms elevates her above all the troublesome, complicated character s who persecuted her.

Jones plays this with an unchanging serenity and hesitant meekness that comes right to the edge of being annoyingly monotonous but doesn’t quite cross over. I would guess that the inspiration is hers and the control is King’s.

All the performances are ace. Vincent Price is airdropped into the dead centre of his comfort zone, playing intelligent, cool and cynical, with the melancholy he could sometimes access, and without campery (he must’ve been tempted to try to slip one passed the goalie, but maybe King was too nimble in defense). Oddly, his final moments appear to have inspired the ending of DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN.

The only actor who gets away with anything inappropriate is one of Bernadette’s sisters, who moons the camera.

The Breen Office was too dazzled by the Virgin to notice the butt cheeks.

Top mark s to Lee J. Cobb again, a different actor from his laid-back debut in THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF but with none of the growl and bluster of later roles. He’s marvellously DETAILED.

Huge waxen eyelids.

And scary nun Gladys Cooper nearly walks off with the show. She has to literally carry Jones for the third act.

King does something very clever by keeping the B.V.M. apparition in long shot, like an icon, though it would be even better if we never saw the very special guest star at all. There are other bit s where he has his periodic fits of visual expressiveness and it’ s pretty great.

Now, I not only don’t HAVE faith, I don’t even admire it, though I acknowledge a lot of people find it useful in withstanding life’s brickbats. Thus, as an opening title forewarns, part of this film is a closed book to me. But I could admire the way a lone, ill-educated girl stands up to the authorities: police, politicians, family, and even the church, and the way the film gets us on her side, the ultimate underdog, even though apparently she has the supreme being in her corner.

Without Linda Darnell as the B.V.M. and the heavenly choir s nudging us in the ribs, this wouldn’t have a trace of kitsch. With them, it has quite a bit of that popular and valued Hollywood commodity. But it’s, you know, compelling.

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE stars Cluny Brown; Oliver Niles; Prince Prospero; Lt. William Kinderman; Mrs. Higgins; Caroline Lamphere; Jimmy Valentine; Maybelle Merriwether; Georges Sand; Ben Hubbard; Mrs. Rand; “Concentration Camp” Ehrhardt; Madame Therese De Farge; Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest; Miles Archer; Lt. Alexei Chernoff; Antonya Raskolnikov; Matiste; The Dear One; The Kid; Alfred the butler; Van Helsing; and Chihuahua.

Fair Weather

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2019 by dcairns

First full day in Bologna and we scored four out of four.

While our friends Nicola and Donald were viewing PEPE LE MOKO — can’t go wrong there — we took a chance on Franju’s NOTRE DAME, CATHEDRAL DE PARIS. I happen to think Franju’s short documentaries are even better than his features, which are of course frequently great. But he’s uneven — half the shorts are dullish, half are inspired cinematic poetry of the highest order. This was a good one, we thought, and in widescreen and colour! Of course, as Meredith Brody remarked afterwards, it played entirely differently under the present circs. I watched it with my jaw hanging open at the magnificent framing and a tear in my eye at the poignancy.

Afterwards, two half-empty plastic sacks of plaster in a corner of the Cinema Modernissimo, still in mid-restoration but opened as a pop-up for the festival, made me see a couple of weatherbeaten stone saints, and I realised I was seeing with Franju’s eyes, the eyes of a surrealist and a visionary poet. I wondered how long that would last. Then I emerged into the rain-slicked streets of Bologna and my eyes became those of a mere tourist again.

Henry King’s STATE FAIR is a masterpiece — a great piece of writing, particularly (a small army of ink-stained wretches laboured to convert Philip Strong’s Stong’s novel to a screen play). The subject of a week-long fair combines with a theme of impermanence, and a romantic scene is undercut with the image of a billboard advertisement for the fair peeling in the rain — to reveal THE END underneath.

Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres are a lovely couple, and so are her parents, Will Rogers and Louise Dresser. Sally Eilers, admired in BAD GIRL last year, is seductive. Norman Foster is the same charmless lump he appeared as in all his youthful movies, but he’s perfectly cast (and I love his “comeback” in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND). A nubile Victor Jory plays a barker.

Terrific long tracking shots from King, and elaborate rear-projection shots of the fair, with some funny touches like two dialogue scenes between hogs, shot and cut just like regular conversations. Subtitles, however, were not provided.

John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, newly restored, looked magnificent — you can see a tiny crumb of charcoal flake from Lautrec’s pencil, and you can see the peeling edge of a prosthetic chin stuck to a dancer. I was struck by the strange similarity of the female characters’ faces — not an actual resemblance, just a sense that they had something in common. Then I realised that they all had lips Lautrec might have drawn.

This film is better than we’ve all thought.

Script supervisor Angela Allen, 90, was on hand to reminisce and answer questions.

We gathered in the Piazza Maggiore to see MIRACLE IN MILAN but the rain, forecast to end an hour before, was getting heavy. I might have braved it, but the womenfolk dragged me to the safety of the Cinema Jolly to see Felix E. Feist’s THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, which was a really clever and slick B-noir, with Lee J. Cobb underplaying for the only time in his life, while John Dall as his brother projected every nuance from his face in letters a mile high.

It was produced by Jack Warner’s son and had a character named Quimby in it who was much as you’d expect.

More tomorrow!