Archive for Leigh Brackett

Tomorrowsday #7: England’s Dreaming

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2018 by dcairns

For my previous piece on THE TIME MACHINE, see here. The comments are particularly good.

Newer thoughts based on yesterday’s viewing ~

A very Twilight Zone opening with clocks floating about in limbo, ticking at us. Which came first?

A sundial, various clocks, and then the sun rising on the main title itself — the sun, our primary temporal device, the great diurnal timekeeper — and weather changing behind the main titles. There’s a kind of simple poetry to it.

Then, with a Scottish air on the soundtrack to accompany Alan Young’s mild-mannered Filby (not a very Scottish name – Young lived in Edinburgh as a toddler and seems to have made his character Scottish as an act of sheer bravura), we join an unusual gathering. Scrooge McDuck, Gavin Elster, Bagheera and Dr. Teenage Frankenstein are impatiently awaiting the arrival of the Time Traveler, Pongo AKA Mitch Brenner AKA Boysie Oakes AKA Travis McGee AKA Daddy-O AKA WInston Churchill.

Come to think of it, Doris Lloyd, who plays the housekeeper, Mrs Watchett (absurdly on-the-nose name!) voiced a rose in the cartoon ALICE IN WONDERLAND, making this a very Disney gathering. Tom Helmore seems to be the only one without a credit for voice work, but then, you wouldn’t want to let criminal mastermind Gavin Elster loose in a world of cartoon physics and logic, would you. The risk of him getting a time machine is bad enough!

The warm relationship between Young and Taylor’s characters isn’t really there in the book. You don’t miss it — Wells has other fish to fry — but it seems of central importance to the movie, put over by Young’s sentimental Dickensian eunuchoid characterisation and Taylor’s soulfulness, which he didn’t really get to reveal elsewhere. Their relationship seems much more important than the love interest with Weena. It IS the love interest.

I love everything about this film — you’ll get no snarky comments from me on this one. The opening expository stuff is masterful: Fiona points out that Taylor’s he-man qualities in no way stop him convincing as a brilliant scientist, since the intensity and passion — and love — he applies to his onscreen work is so convincing. In other words, he uses leading man qualities of strength and romantic interest to be a scientist.

The design of the machine, first seen as a miniature, is exemplary, never bettered, though the gizmo in TIME AFTER TIME is graceful enough. Frankly, this is a design classic and the next time someone’s foolish enough to try to remake this they should just dust off the original chrono-jalopy. Samantha Mumba may also be available.

And I cannot fault the enchanting time travel, with Taylor transported into a timelapse and Puppetoon wonderland as he fast-forwards through the decades. One of screenwriter David Duncan’s most pleasing updates to Wells is to have the Traveler stop off in recent history, distressed by the world wars he encounters. The near future bit — set in the sixties — may be unsatisfactory from a production values standpoint, and Young struggles to play his own son as an old man in a silver jumpsuit with the dignity such a role obviously demands — but the idea behind it is so excellent and the pacing so breakneck it hardly matters.

(It’s hard to work out how Duncan could have written this — even with the terrific source material to go on — and also THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, THE LEECH WOMAN and even FANTASTIC VOYAGE. But he was also a magazine sci-fi writer and I’m curious what his fiction was like.)

Then Taylor meets the Eloi, or millennials as we call them, with their VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED hair, and a whole new story begins — the pacifist terms of the opening scenes are reversed as Taylor has to teach man’s descendants how to fight. At one point, Taylor’s VO refers to the Eloi as “little” but they don’t seem notably jockeyish here. In the book, Weena is four feet tall.

The idea that the air raid siren of the twentieth century has become a siren call, luring the Eloi to their doom, preying on some distant race memory that says, when the siren sounds, you have to go underground — outstanding, sir, outstanding! “It is all clear.”

I notice I’ve been calling the character George by the actor’s name, Taylor, perhaps because I’m a little uncomfortable with the Time Traveler actually being HG Wells. I think it’s OK that the film hints at his identity but doesn’t nail it down. TIME AFTER TIME is a lovely, silly film, and the silliest thing is that it makes Wells its hero — but it gets lots of good mileage out of this goofy idea. Of course, Taylor is the name of another time-traveler, the hero of PLANET OF THE APES, whose parallels with this one suddenly strike me as enormous.

“There’s no future,” says time-bimbo Weena, anticipating John Lydon by seventeen years — or following him by thousands. I wonder if, rather than befriending the cattle of the future and fighting the farmers, Taylor should instead have tried reasoning with the Morlocks — eating people is wrong! But the Morlocks, despite their engineering abilities, seem pretty degraded too, as if, having reached a certain level of civilisation, have let their minds go to rot, mechanically maintaining a way of life they no longer understand.

This being an American production, the Eloi are cast with US actors, a hilarious bit of inadvertent satire. The Brits of the future have devolved into Yanks. Of course, one still thinks of the Morlocks as essentially Cockney. But it’s easy to forget we’re still in London — this post-Atomic yet prelapsarian pastoral, with the weather seemingly permanently balmy, presumably due to nuclear climate change of some kind, feels quite Californian. I’ve just read, in various sources, that John Wyndham in The Chrysalids and Leigh Brackett in The Long Tomorrow simultaneously invented the post-apocalyptic bucolic scenario in 1955, but here Wells has beaten them to it.

The talking rings are marvelous, with their posh BBC voices (the inevitable Paul Frees). Exposition is something a lot of writers fear, but it doesn’t have to be NOT entertaining.

“The rings have told us that story.”

“But you didn’t LISTEN. You didn’t LEARN anything!”

That’s just GREAT. There must be other good writing by David Duncan out there.

What do the Morlock machines DO? They don’t seem to relate to the provision of giant berries for the Eloi, which seems to be the main Morlock activity other than eating. I am forced to consider the possibility that they are tanning Eloi hides to make the Morlock’s leather nappies. A grim fate — picture Yvette Mimieux’s mortal remains, stretched around the loins of a slouching troglodyte. Not nice.

Fiona points out that the defleshed Eloi skeletons are mostly intact, like the Morlocks don’t tear them apart, they just pick them clean where they lie.

  

The Morlocks — based around Makeup man William Tuttle’s one design idea — aren’t pretty, or exactly convincing (you can see the fabric of their fake skin), but they’re unpleasant, alright. One dribbles blood onto his moobs, and there’s the very memorable time-lapse decomposition guy. A shame we never get to see him REcompose, but Taylor does, and he can’t take his eyes off it.

Russell Garcia’s music is very nice — who is he? I see he did ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT, but not much else in the movies. He seems to be paraphrasing Once I Had a Secret Love. Well, why not? There’s almost constant music in this movie, and it’s never annoying or inappropriate. This is kind of an opera. (I would totally watch a Time Machine opera.)

THE TIME MACHINE brought BBC1’s science fiction season to an end, and it was no anti-climax. Seven-year-old me couldn’t understand the stuff at the end about dragging the machine from across the lawn in 1895 to get it out of the sphinx in the year 802, 701 — I THOUGHT I’d understood the explanation of time and space at the beginning, but this was beyond me. I think my big brother patiently tried to explain it. Eight-year-old Fiona, a little ways off in Dundee, watching the same screening, processed it easily.

“Which three books would you have taken?” I LOVE this Desert Island Discs conclusion. And it’s entirely the invention of the movie. Wells gives his chrononaut a knapsack and a small camera.

With the Eloi as your starting point, what works of fact or fiction would be best suited to creating a new civilisation? I want your suggestions below.

 

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A rhinoceros at each end

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2017 by dcairns

That’s the structure of HATARI! A bunch of scenes with a rhinoceros at each end. In between, we have a bit of animal action, then a fade-out, a scene at the bar or piano, fade-out. It’s a test-case of Hawks’ ideas about the dispensibility of plot.

I would dispute that HATARI! is a good movie. I think it shows Hawks become lazy and overconfident, or at any rate somehow not gathering the narrative elements, situations, actors and dialogue he needs to work the miracles he could pull off earlier. He talked later about having wanted to pair John Wayne with Clark Gable and, failing that, feeling that there was no other leading man strong enough to make an interesting dynamic with the Duke. So he dispensed with interesting dynamics altogether.

Oh, nobody likes to talk about the film’s complete disinterest in Africans, or the fact that the characters are CATCHING WILD ANIMALS FOR CIRCUSES. So I’m not going to either, but I would feel rotten if I didn’t at least flag it up. It’s akin to the way the horrific deforestation in COME AND GET IT becomes just a colourful backdrop for Hawksian hi-jinks, where in the source novel it had been part of some kind of ecological message. Hawks’ disinterest in making points is part of what makes him such a relaxed and beautiful artist, but… well, let’s just say I’m kind of glad he never made his Vietnam war film.

As RIO BRAVO got remade as EL DORADO (RIO LOBO is sometimes claimed as another remake but the resemblance is slight — mainly I noticed the inadequacy rather than the similarity), HATARI! can be seen as another version of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, with the setting and central job changed. The difference is that OAHW (apart from being better in every way) has fatalities all over the place, a real sense of danger. The outcome seems uncertain, and the romance keeps boiling away, clearly heading somewhere. The outcome is uncertain in HATARI! too but none of the possibilities seems that interesting, and in spite of the film being called, literally, DANGER!, there’s not much sense of jeopardy, although he does his usual trick of arranging an accident in scene one — Bruce Cabot gets gored by a rhino (Africa’s revenge for KONG) to show how risky this activity is. But then we’re allowed to forget about the risks for long stretches, while the romance constantly seems ready to resolve itself peaceably. If they’d acknowledged the glaring age difference between Wayne and Elsa Martinelli, that might actually have helped.

Let’s look at the earlier Hawks “hang-out movies.”

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT is the loosest — I can never remember the plot. It’sera film of moments. The ending resolves nothing I can recall, but is an outstanding moment. But the movie is full of strong dramatic situations, ever if they’re strung together in a slightly haphazard way. It works like magic.

RIO BRAVO has a really terrific central set-up that glues it together. With a strong spine, it can grow all kinds of wavy limbs and branch off in different directions and treat its plot with discourtesy, but it needs that jailhouse seige.

The other major Hawks films mostly don’t even try to be that loose.

HATARI! never tries to be other than likely likable, and I’m not sure that’s a category you can aim for. Aim higher, and if you land there, be content, you’re in good company. And speaking of company ~

We have John Wayne, now too old to be a compelling romantic lead, at least with a slip of a girl like Elsa Martinelli. And other than being strapped to the front of a jeep like a drawling hood ornament, he doesn’t have anything else to do. The last sound of the film is him, throwing up his hands and going “Aaawww…” He speaks for me.

Supposedly a photojournalist, but Elsa stops taking pictures after one scene. She’s beautiful (if rather thin, here), charming, chic, but not quite the Hawksian woman the film would need (but it would need better SITUATIONS for such a character to shine in). I like her a lot but wish the film had something for her to do despite photogenically washing elephants and hyenas.

Good Hawksian lobework from the man Kruger.

I’m intrigued by Hardy Kruger and Gerard Blain, who seem to be enacting the gay dynamic of Monty Clift and John Ireland in RED RIVER, alternately sparring and flirting, with the addition of some unconvincing chasing after the same gal as alibi for the Unresolvable (due to Breen Office) Sexual Tension. I could write pages on Hardy as a fantastic, unconventional movie star of the period, and he comes closest of the supporting players to sparking some fire here, but none of the mini-conflicts thrown into the air land anywhere fertile, so he’s surrounded by wilted scenes and relationship. Early on, Hawks films him tugging his earlobe, a classic Bogart gesture. So I reckon Hawks liked him.

Red Buttons is an acquired taste, like polystyrene. I don’t mind him too much. I guess he has the Roscoe Karns part, and doesn’t overact as much as RK would’ve, but sure tries. He’s fine. The scene where he drunkenly keeps trying to get Wayne to re-describe how a rocket went off is pretty damn funny.

In interviews, screenwriter Leigh Brackett sounded pretty frustrated with the way Hawks kept resorting to old tricks. There’s some good business early on here with Bruce Cabot needing a transfusion and Blain turning up and squaring off with Kruger, and then turning out to have the blood type they need. It’s tight, amusing and PLOTTED. It makes me wonder if Hawks didn’t start out with a rigorous script and then progressively drop it in favour of woolly stuff spitballed on the set. We know he shot twice as much animal stuff as he could use, and hoped to maybe get another film out of it one day.

Is this Hawks’ Bunuel movie? It has a close-up of an ostrich, like THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, and a scene played out twice, with identical blocking and dialogue, like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL. Bunuel never did a scene with a leopard in the bathroom, but he woulda if he’d thought of it.

It’s impossible to dislike a movie that spends so much time filming Martinelli walk about with baby elephants (a benefit of the story’s bagginess), and has Henry Mancini’s jaunty “Baby Elephant Walk” theme, but it’s certainly possible to be frustrated by it.

Hearing Angela Allen’s stories from the location shooting of THE AFRICAN QUEEN and ROOTS OF HEAVEN, as I was luck enough to do a month ago, I kind of wish Hawks had made a movie about THAT. A film crew at least has a schedule.

Bad End

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2015 by dcairns

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Ahah! The Forgotten is postponed to next week, it seems, due to the extensive Berlin coverage at The Notebook. Meanwhile…

Finally watched EL DORADO, which a lot of people portray as being a thoroughly inferior copy of Howard Hawks’ earlier Wayne western, RIO BRAVO (they share a writer, Leigh Brackett, but she kept warning Hawks that he was repeating himself — he didn’t care). I found it very enjoyable. Wayne is Wayne, a little older (visibly struggling to mount his horse, but bizarrely elegant crossing a room and kicking an opponent); Mitchum is Mitchum, which ought to make him a worthy substitute for Dean Martin, but the role is less well-crafted; James Caan is a huge improvement on Ricky Nelson. Arthur Hunnicutt subs for Walter Brennan, as he often did, most skillfully. Angie Dickinson is replaced by a couple of women characters who don’t get much to do — westerns didn’t seem to allow Hawks to push his heroines as far into one-of-the-boys territory as he could manage in other genres, although I bet h could have had fun with a JOHNNY GUITAR scenario if anyone had encouraged him. A LOT of fun.

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“How will you get down?” Wayne is asked, when the injured gunfighter proposes riding into battle against impossible odds on a cart. “That’s easy, I’ll fall down.”

We also get strong support from Ed Asner, R.G. Armstrong and Christopher George, who could have had a very good career if confined to bad guys. He’s really not appealing as a hero, though it probably doesn’t help that the two leading man roles I’ve seen him in are THE DELTA FACTOR, a horrible Mickey Spillane thing that nearly did for director Tay Garnett, and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. Here, he’s an amoral professional, not viciously evil but willing to do anything for a buck: Wayne’s character treats him with wary respect (which is to say he kills him as soon as he gets a chance).

The very end is somewhat muffed, though, with the expected romance shoved offscreen and the laid-back conversational coda between Wayne and Mitchum ineffectually stretched across two scenes. They’re both nice scenes, but they’re kind of the same. Makes me wonder if Hawks were ever good at endings? He didn’t care about PLOT, famously. I slightly cringe at HIS GIRL FRIDAY’s fade-out (don’t want it to end on Rosalind Russell crying) though I love the rest of it as much as you’re supposed to, maybe more; RED RIVER, by the very nature of its story, has to cop out at the end to avoid becoming a tragedy; I can’t actually remember the ending of THE BIG SLEEP, though I expect it’s a clinch or at least a sly look between the leads — as Manny Farber points out, that movie creates so much goodwill in its first four sequences that it can coast along for the rest of its runtime without worrying about producing anything specially memorable.

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So, a question for everyone: what are the classic movies you love which don’t quite work right at the end? And not for reasons of studio interference, but because the writers/directors got it wrong. I’ll kick things off with this one and MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. When it played on TV, its screenwriter, Sidney Buchman, would switch it off before the failed suicide bid Capra added for extra weep value. I think he’d have been far better having Jimmy Stewart wake up and learn he’s won — we may be able to figure out for ourselves that would happen, but wouldn’t it be more emotional to SEE it? Still find it extraordinary that the film ends with the hero unconscious.

Let’s hear from you!