Archive for Leo McCarey

The Sunday Intertitle: The Ineluctibility of Genre

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2021 by dcairns

A break from Chaplin: two silent Italian shorts from the nineteenteens. In both of them, romantic intrigues lead the characters into the dark of a cinema. And in both of them, the films shown comment on the action.

In TRAGEDIA AL CINEMATOGRAFO of 1913, directed by Enrico Guazzoni, a jealous husband follows his wife through the yellow streets — annoyed by a roving band of commedia dell’arte players, like something out of CLOCKWORK ORANGE but with irksome capering replacing the old ultraviolence — finally tracking her to a cinema, where she meets a family friend.

And the film being screened for them is a drama about a jealous husband, who overacts just as badly as the real one.

Meanwhile, a year earlier, in AL CINEMATOGRAFO, GUARDATE… E NON TOCCATE (AT THE CINEMA, LOOK… AND DON’T TOUCH), smarmy comic Enrico Vaser pursues a comely dame to the picture show, and the film showing is a broad farce, much like the one they’re in. Which just goes to show you.

In TRAGEDIA, Guazzoni plays his film within a film as a box inset in the total darkness of a cinema. He even uses a cut to represent the lights going off and the film starting:

Whereas in GUARDATE, director Giovanni Pastrone, soon to be famed for CABIRIA, is more ambitious, superimposing the FWAF into another frame. This causes the occasional silk hat to become translucent as it passes in front of the affected area, but we could just pretend that’s the projector’s beam hitting the hat with a scenic image, couldn’t we? Do try to get into the spirit of the thing.

Surprisingly, TRAGEDIA turns out to be a commedia, and funnier than the more over c. of errors displayed in GUARDATE, which chucks in a pre-Fellini dwarf and lots of mistaken frottage in the dark, growing still more risqué when the girl and her beau swap seats and creepy Enrico, having already rubbed shoes with the maid by mistake, now begins fondling a fellow of the same, or homo, sex.

In TRAGEDIA, the jealous husband is initially frustrated by an early cinema rule: NO ONE TO BE ADMITTED AFTER THE SHOW STARTS. Hmm, must be a Hitchcock or Preminger movie. He presents himself to the manager, who is busy examining small strips of film, which must be what cinema managers do. On the wall is a poster for Guazzoni’s biggest hit.

The husband expresses his fervent wish to assassinate his wife, so the manager makes an announcement, warning the audience that a murderous husband is without, awaiting his faithless partner with a revolver.

And we get a gag about the universality of cheating made famous, in a variant, by Laurel & Hardy and Leo McCarey in WE FAW DOWN (1928). Most of the audience is composed of adulterers, and they sneak out by the side uscita, leaving the auditorium populated by a scattered drib of the lonely and virtuous:

Cinema = sex, preferably illicit.

The Sleeper Awakes

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

Guest-post from Jaime Christley —

Recently I got sidetracked from my viewing queue by one Leo McCarey / Charley Chase short, then another, then another. Presently following a McCarey compulsion as far as it will go; clearing out several rarities per week. (I’ve seen all the major sound features except SATAN NEVER SLEEPS, if that one is considered “major”.)

Oh and PART TIME WIFE; can’t seem to find that one.

I no longer get much out of arguing auteurism pro or con, but the concept is quite a bit more interesting as one catalogs McCarey from 1929 and walking backwards from there: job titles like “Director” get a bit cloudy with the addition of “Supervising Director” (McCarey has been both), and it’s common knowledge that Laurel and Chase conceived and wrote the largest part of their own stories and gags. 

Still, when I think McCarey is really feeling his oats, the difference is palpable, especially in the Chases. It helps that I don’t find Chase all that funny (but I don’t dislike him, far from it), so I find myself grouping the more successful 1- and 2-reelers by how much a film is managing to achieve equilibrium with/against what I’ve come to think of as “Hal Roach hijinks”… i.e. the notion that actors behaving funny is funny enough. (I’m recalling a very early Mack Sennett short that ends with a guy wearing a funny disguise biting down on a curtain rod.

An auteurist like me has to make peace with the fog, as well as the dominance of bigger voices and “truer” authors. And I believe in Stan Laurel’s genius, he probably did as much for the cinema as anybody. Nevertheless the hunt for McCarey-ness continues apace, and I even feel, here and there, vindicated. The unassuming and seemingly minor-register BROMO AND JULIET, during this survey, has been the closest to a triumph, even as the reasons why I think it’s a near-masterpiece elude me. It’s just one of those cases where the souffle rises rather than doesn’t.

I think of it like this: take this frame from MUM’S THE WORD. Credit Chase for devising a meet-cute prompted by Martha Sleeper shooting him in the butt (she was fighting off a purse thief). (Chase liked to have Jimmy Jump get shot in the butt. I guess he thought you don’t get hurt back there?) But those onlooking passengers in the background, sort of audience surrogates watching the seeds of a future romance … that’s something McCarey would make sure was part of the bit.

Jaime Christley

Crosby Stille Nacht

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 7, 2019 by dcairns

The Unbearable Lightness of Bing — I’ve written before about Leo McCarey’s baffling descent — or ascension — into demented Catholic mania — now I’ve made a more sympathetic video essay for Arrow Video to accompany their lovely Blu-Ray of THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S in which, with the aid of editor Stephen Horne, I attempt to burrow into that weirdness and the improvisational techniques and freeform narrative approach that McCarey employed.

You can buy it, for your own pleasure or as a gift for the Bingrid fan in your life.

And remember —