Archive for Lee Remick

A River Runs Over It

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 19, 2015 by dcairns

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Elia Kazan’s WILD RIVER  (1960)begins with a snippet of documentary so shockingly raw — a man describing how he lost all his children in a flood of the Tennessee River — that it seems indecent to tie it to a fictional drama, no matter how much time has passed between the original event and the movie’s date of production (certainly more than twenty years). But if we can forgive the ruthlessness, an important dramatic purpose is served — in the ensuing story, we might be inclined to favour the romantic, stubborn individualism standing in the face of “progress” — this moment hopefully makes its mark and reminds us that the dam which Montgomery Clift has come to clear the way for serves a vital human purpose.

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In his path is Jo Van Fleet (forty-five playing maybe eighty, and damned convincing — a good face, excellent, well-observed makeup, and a brilliant performance making particularly effective use of posture), who owns an island in the river which is due to be flooded. She’s lived there all her life and has no intention of moving. Kazan discovered, in making the picture, that despite his (shaky) liberal side, he had more sympathy with her than with Clift’s New Deal progressive, but the film he made strikes a perfect balance — between the two sides, and between the love story/human interest and the wider concerns.

Clift is also very good here, the best post-accident work I’ve seen from him, asides from JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG, which seems to use his disintegration rather than concealing it. And Lee Remick is astonishingly sexy — also a brilliant performance — the sexiness is part of that. “I’ve never found Clift sexy before, but he is here — why is that?” asked Fiona. “Reflected desire?” I suggested. She formed a question mark with her eyes (a neat trick). “She wants him so bad, so obviously, that it makes him seem desirable to you,” I suggested. The actor’s homosexuality is no obstacle — as Nick Ray said, “It doesn’t matter if an actor is heterosexual or homosexual, as long as they’re sexual.” Whatever sense memories Clift may be deploying to make us believe he craves Remick, they totally work.

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Everybody — even Scorsese, to an extent — focuses on Kazan’s work with actors, which is of course key, and remarkable, but I feel his visual panache is underappreciated. EAST OF EDEN has that expressionistic intensity, of course. This one manages to make autumn lush. Ellsworth Frederick’s Deluxe Color Cinemascope photography reminded me of Leon Shamroy (LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN) in its rich use of complimentary colours, notably orange and blue light for night and dusk scenes. Some of the scenic stuff, particularly the miniaturized version of the island when the river rises, are stunning not only as compositions but for their emotional impact in the story. Kazan seems sometimes to follow Welles’ principle — cut your most beautiful shots down until they flash by almost subliminally. The sense of visual richness this gives is tremendously impressive to the onlooker.

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After watching the film with Fiona, I realized my Spanish DVD was the wrong ratio, so I’ve now obtained a proper widescreen copy to run for my students — partly as an excuse for me to see it again.

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Explosive Rod

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2011 by dcairns

Remember, remember the fifth of November 

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

HENNESSY is a mostly pretty interesting terrorism thriller from the director of  THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (which had a big impact on me on TV as a kid) to the 1979 THE 38 STEPS (which I saw at the cinema a few years later) to the legend that is PSYCHOMANIA. Don Sharp was an Australian working in England, and he brought a rugged professionalism to everything he did — his films aren’t all good but they’re unapologetic.

In this one, Rod Steiger plays an ex-IRA man who sets off on a suicide mission after his family are (accidentally) wiped out by British soldiers during a riot. Traveling to London, he embarks on an elaborate plan to get access to the opening of Parliament, disguised as a cranky politician, and blow the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Family, the government and the opposition and himself to united kingdom come.

As you can see, the movie sparked some controversy (although possibly AIP are hyping it up for their promotional purposes). Back in 1975, any attempt to make entertainment out of the Troubles was regarded not only with suspicion (which would be natural and reasonable) but with hysteria — as Mike Hodges found out later when his A PRAYER FOR THE DYING likewise sparked a media shitstorm for daring to portray an IRA man who’s tired of violence in a sympathetic manner. While Carol Reed’s ODD MAN OUT was something of a beloved masterpiece, any attempt to treat similar ground provoked unreasoning fury from the tabloids. The subject WAS rather a grim one, and the horror WAS an ongoing scenario rather than safely in the past, but the frenzied denunciations rarely seemed to have anything to do with the subject under discussion. HENNESSY certainly isn’t an abhorrent film.

Rod and Lee, not being abhorrent.

In fact, the premise was the brainchild of co-star Richard “Who You Fucking?” Johnson, who plays a brutal cockney cop in the film, hot on Rod’s trail and sporting a Captain Haddock beard. He’s quite convincing as a thug, continuing the “violence to the shins” theme he originated in his Bulldog Drummond movies. And meanwhile, not only is Rod Steiger sporting a very convincing Irish accent, but so is Lee Remick, and both of them are really good.

Haddock to a tee.

Although the opening, which requires Rod to kneel and agonize by his slain wife and child (Patsy Kensitt, precociously attempting to justify the shoot to kill policy by her very presence NO! I don’t mean that I’m sure she’s very nice really), which is a red rag to a bull to a man with Rod’s histrionic tendencies, actually he’s 90% muted and restrained and underplaying and all that. Which is remarkable when you consider that this film was shot around the time of WC FIELDS AND ME, where he’s fairly flamboyant, and after the excesses of NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY, THE SERGEANT and WATERLOO, movies where the word “outsized” could fairly be deployed.

Only when Rod straps on the gelignite does an explanation suggest itself: clearly, Sharp stopped his star hamming by having him wired to explode should his acting exceed thirty Oliviers per hour. This clamps a lid on the tempestuous player: you can see him approaching conflagration point, but pulling it all in and down, broiling inwardly with the agony of not being a big show-off, radiating all that intensity through the eyes…

Special guest stars!

So that’s all going on. And then, at the climax, his ridiculous plan nearing fruition, Rod enters a studio mock-up of the Houses of Parliament, and Sharp pulls his cheekiest move: actual guest appearances by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher… at the appearance of Mrs T, not yet elected to PM, I confess I did start to hope that Rod would heroically blow up and save us 11 years of right wing Tory rule…

Sharp is intercutting documentary footage of the real event, which an opening title shamefacedly admits was not shot especially for this film (but I bet it was, under false pretenses), with Rod and Richard in the Twickenham studios mock-up. To add further to the delirium, Sharp cuts to Steiger’s sweaty fingers connecting the wires within his clothing. Yes, this is doubtless the true reason the movie was banned: for daring to intercut images of our sovereign with images taken inside Rod Steiger’s clothing. These are, I think, the only photographic images recorded inside Rod Steiger’s clothing ever presented to the public. Some brief shots of his nipples chaffing against his shirt in IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT were deleted for pacing reasons, and although David Lean did consider shooting Steiger’s drunk scene in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO from under his furry hat, he decided against it (a decision he regretted to his dying day).

Inside Rod Steiger.

FC4: arty of the irst art

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2009 by dcairns

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In THE SEVEN FACES OF DR LAO, a rather beautiful movie and the best thing George Pal ever did, Arthur O’Connell has a conversation with an animated snake which is one of the most moving and remarkable conversations with animated snakes I’ve ever seen, and yes I do include Sterling Holloway in THE JUNGLE BOOK. So I’m always glad to see Arthur O’Connell in a movie, although I’m quite glad I don’t have to smell him in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, where I’d have whisky, cigarettes, and in one scene beer and hard boiled eggs to contend with. But fortunately, Otto Preminger, despite his modernist fondness for jazz soundtracks, Saul Bass credits, filming on location, defying censorship restrictions and using every inch of his wide screen, never made a movie in Odorama. Although if anybody had offered him Ottorama it’s unlikely his ego, as vast and shiny as his big bald head, would have allowed him to resist.

Maybe we should stop calling this Film Club and just call it John Qualen Club, since that lovely character actor, Miser Stevens in our first Film Club, is here again as the jailor. Or “yailor,” since he plays it with a Yumping Yiminy kind of accent.

Yes, I’m starting with the “little people” and working my way up. Will I even talk about the plot? Not sure yet.

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Eve Arden, as Jimmy Stewart’s legal secretary, very cool and appealing, one of the great secretaries, I’d say — she gets to do a little unpaid detective work on the side. Maybe because secretaries don’t have much to do in most films where they feature, I often wonder if they should be used more or if I like them because they’re effective in small doses? Like Sam Spade’s secretary, the marvellous Effie (Lee Patrick, in Huston’s film of THE MALTESE FALCON) is so capable — has nobody considered giving her a book of her own? Of course, a sequel to Dashiell Hammett would be blasphemous. But I do like Effie. Wait, Lee Patrick’s in DR LAO too? That’s just weird.

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Joseph N Welch, of “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” fame — an attorney playing a judge, and such a fair and mild and pleasant judge. In many ways ANATOMY OF A MURDER paints a rather unappealing portrait of the justice system — how do we read that last shot of a brimming garbage can? — but Welch does rather make me feel warmly towards the idea of human justice. Is it odd that an attorney would play a judge as such a charming and human fellow? At any rate, I’d want a judge like that if I ever put five bullets in anybody.

Good oily work from Murray Hamilton. Kathryn Grant, the future Mrs Bing Crosby, is stunningly beautiful and very good — and I’m delighted to see she’s got a substantial role in a new Henry Jaglom film. Anybody know anything about this?

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The first name in the list of minor players is George C. Scott, who really has a major featured role but wasn’t a big name yet. Nobody seems to get famous playing prosecutors, maybe because prosecutors in trial movies always seem dislikable — even though they’re just doing their jobs. Maybe that’s why Scott spent the next few years in TV, despite being sensational here.

“My God, George is sexy… even though he’s… practically deformed,”  gasped Fiona when she first saw this, some years back. And it’s true. His nose, sculpted by boxing gloves, forms a sort of pincer with his chin. His hooded eyes have a lizardly coldness. He makes little, tight smiles that admit no pleasure. And yet, sexy and dangerous. Given the character name, Clause Dancer, and his status as fancy city lawyer, you expect some kind of effeminacy, but George doesn’t deliver (might not be within his range, actually) except for the elegance of his movement, his immaculate appearance, and a slight fussiness (Brooks West, in real life the producer of Eve Arden’s TV show, does bring a little Franklin Pangborn to the role of DA).

Moving on up…

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Ben Gazzara carries a lot of the film’s ambiguity — one unstated theme is the uncertainty of anything we don’t personally see or hear, and how the courts try to stamp a mark of certainty upon past events but this has only a social meaning. So we don’t know quite what’s going on with Gazzara, though it’s fair to say we don’t like him. An unsympathetic client is pretty unusual in a courtroom drama. The fact that Gazzara seems guilty doesn’t mean he might not be innocent, but I think it’s pretty clear that the insanity defense is an act cooked up with some hints from Jimmy Stewart, who’s very scrupulous about not telling Gazzara what to say, but certainly points him in the right direction.

There’s one particular gesture where it looks like Lt. Frederick Manion is giving a performance for Stewart’s benefit… His description of his “irresistable impulse” is a lot like Ginger Rogers talking to Adolph Menjou in ROXY HART ~

“…and then everything went purple!”

“Purple?”

“Black?”

“Mmm, purple’s good… it’s new.”

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Lee Remick (replacing Lana Turner after an argument about costuming) — “That’s a very odd way to portray a rape victim,” said Fiona, and I once more agree. Again, part of the film’s deliberate neutrality on the question of guilt/innocence. Was Laura Manion raped? She doesn’t act like it. The only time she acts particularly upset is when Dancer challenges her story. Her flighty, flirtiness seems out of keeping, and I suspect Preminger has Remick her overstress it just to sew doubt in our minds. It certainly appears, from all outward evidence, that the rape took place.

Given her airhead detachment, Laura shouldn’t be that appealing but somehow Remick makes her winning. Star charisma I guess. And the way she’s surprising, inappropriate, off — something that we tend to welcome more in films than in life because it makes things interesting. Although I did worry about her leaving her terrier, Muffy, balanced on a narrow wall. That’s no place for a dog!

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James Stewart as Paul Biegler. Fond of fishing and jazz (and that preference serves as the perfect alibi to allow a superb score  credited to Duke Ellington but in reality a collaboration with Billy Strayhorn, the first major movie score by African-American artists). A bachelor. Drifting along, skirting bankruptcy, dispirited, Biegler gets a new lease of life from the case and manages to turn around his friend Parnell (O’Connell) too. Like William Wyler’s COUNSELLOR-AT-LAW, this movie is a hymn to the restorative power of work.  This positive side compensates for the film’s rather skeptical view of the legal system, and the sordid nature of the case itself.

And of course, Stewart’s presence lightens things, making the most of Wendell Mayes’ witty lines, and also creating quite a bit of humour just from facial reactions. It’s a very funny film, in fact — the sparring is consistently witty and Stewart makes it seem even wittier. He’s so good that I wish he didn’t blow up quite so often, because it makes his character look unprofessional. Lawyers seem to agree this is one of the most realistic courtroom dramas, but they couldn’t resist spicing up the emotions a bit — at least the judge rightly tells Stewart to get a grip on himself whenever he’s out of line.

With that long, slow opening, Preminger prepares you for a movie about process, not a thriller at all (although the trial is exciting — like a good chess game). And that’s perfectly suited to the style he’s been developing. This is far less showy than FALLEN ANGEL, a movie I love, a firecracker of dynamic long takes and unpredictably choreographed shots. Here, the fluidity of the Preminger frame conceals its own artifice, so it doesn’t announce itself as either snappy and bold or economical and sleek, although all of those qualities appear. It’s a very nice approximation of a documentary feel, without using any documentary techniques except real locations and naturalistic lighting.

“Music can’t help a realistic story, it just makes it less realistic,” my friend Lawrie used to say, and while that’s no hard-and-fast rile, it’s a useful principle. The music works here beautifully, perhaps because it’s frequently woven into the story. I think Duke Ellington’s guest appearance maybe works against the overall tone, but it’s not a crazy gesture like the moment in BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING where the film stops for a whole Zombies song to play out on a pub TV. The music allows Preminger to protract scenes to an extraordinary degree (especially that opening), so it calmly makes itself necessary, and I can’t question it after that. Also, the Mr. Magoo crime-scene credits by Saul Bass, combined with that score, and leading into the shot of Stewart really driving a real car (nicely mirrored at the end) must have been like ice-water in the audience’s face, but prepares for the shocking modernity of all that talk about panties and intercourse without completion.

Hit it!