Archive for Leo McCarey

The McCarey Treatment

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on July 4, 2019 by dcairns

Why is it that Peter Bogdanovich’s interview with Leo McCarey, published in his indispensable book Who the Devil Made It?, contains passages that are basically identical to those in Serge Daney & Louis Skorecki’s interview that appeared previously in the February 1965 edition of Cahiers du Cinema? I don’t know, but I can offer theories.

Anything’s possible: maybe Bogdanovich asked similar questions to the Cahiers critics in the same order and the director, well into his anecdotage, repeated tried-and-true stories in the precise same words he’d used with earlier interviewers.

But Bogdanovich himself provides a clue to another possible answer. He reports that McCarey was seriously ill with emphysema, his memory impaired by oxygen starvation and his loquacity seriously hampered by breathlessness and painkillers. He admits that, “of course, I didn’t know him — I never really met Leo McCarey.” The Bogdanovich interview alternates between exchanges where McCarey is frustratingly brief, giving one-word answers, and much longer passages where he is voluble and articulate and tells long, amusing tales. These tend to be the bits that also appeared in Cahiers.

So I’m afraid that Bogdanovich augmented the slender pickings he was able to extract from the dying auteur with sections culled from Daney & Skorecki’s piece. Maybe he got their permission, but he certainly doesn’t give them credit anywhere I can see.

I really like Bogdanovich’s books, and his films. Why bring up this apparent lapse? Well, as Seymour Skinner once said, “I’m a small man in many ways. A small, petty man.”


The Sunday Intertitle: Marshall Plan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 3, 2019 by dcairns

When discussing Laurel & Hardy, you have to look at Stan as the creative visionary, and usually the credited director is irrelevant. Although Leo McCarey, with his genius for situation comedy, certainly did exert a lasting influence through his work as “supervising director” for the duo in the late silent era, with many of the gags and plotlines he introduced still getting recycled with variations throughout the thirties.

But I became interested in whether George Marshall should get any particular attention. TOWED IN THE HOLE, which he directed, is one of the best L&H two-reelers (which makes it one of the best short comedies of any kind, ever), and it has some lovely visual touches: the main one being when Stan has inccurred Ollie’s ire, and observes him timorously from a variety of positions:

So we had a look at THEIR FIRST MISTAKE, Marshall’s only other short with the boys (he did make the feature PACK UP OUR TROUBLES the same year). And indeed, there’s an unusually artful POV shot early on as Stan peers through Ollie’s transom at this charming domestic vignette:

Of course, it may be unfair to attribute any visual grace notes to the credited director, just because the “style” in L&H always seems defined by clunkiness. It’s a clunkiness that is paradoxically beautiful and compliments the action perfectly. It almost feels like there’s a founding principle not to include any shot or bit of technique that Stan and Ollie wouldn’t think of if they were making the film themselves (and what a behind-the-scenes featurette THAT would make!)

The most amusing moment in TFM is a purely expositional bit where the boys loll about on a bed, like a pair of teenage girls, discussing what to do about Ollie’s failing marriage.

“She accused me of thinking more of you than I do of her.” “Well you do, don’t you?” “We won’t go into that.”

The whole movie is like aging in reverse, with Ollie going from marriage with Mae Busch to bachelorhood with Stan, and then Stan reverting to infancy with a baby’s bottle. Fiona points out that it’s odd that the lolling scene was never repeated in other shorts, since it’s hilarious (the boys shift position more or less unconsciously for each line, Stan gets distracted with wiping his shoe on a bed sheet, upside down) and they generally did things over at Roach if they were successful.

Only the complete lack of an ending lets this one down.

Marshall’s fifty-three directing career took in some fine comedy or comedy-drama features: DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, MURDER HE SAYS, YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN. Haven’t seen his Jerry Lewis stuff,

George also has a walk-on. I took one look at him and said, “That’s got to be a crew member!”


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2018 by dcairns

YES! The Cleopatra Papers is every bit as good as David Ehrenstein has suggested. Basically, two Twentieth Century Fox publicity men preserved and edited their correspondence accumulated during the production of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s epic gabfest, CLEOPATRA, and the result is a unique window into the life of that embattled studio and production. Along the way, the authors, who are profoundly sympathetic to Mank’s approach and genuinely seem to think he’s making a masterpiece (we’ll agree to differ), get in pot-shots at the (other) turkeys on the Fox roster, including obscurities I’ve written about there.

LISA aka THE INSPECTOR is dismissed as a bunch of shots of people getting on and off barges on Dutch canals, which is a brisker dismissal than the one i managed HERE and hilariously accurate. Reductive in a way, yes, but as I look back on the film I can’t seem to remember much else. “What can I say? You won’t believe me if I tell you. All right, I’ll tell you. Dolores Hart and Stephen Boyd getting on and off barges in Amsterdam canals. Philip Dunne, on whom we can always rely, has directed one of Fox’s all-time stiffs. Charlie is readying an all-out sex campaign for the picture though, and if it doesn’t save the picture at least it’ll probably get him investigated by some congressional committee.”

Leo McCarey’s SATAN NEVER SLEEPS is viewed with appropriate through-the-fingers dismay. McCarey himself hated the film, and its true that William Holden’s (uncharacteristic) refusal to die onscreen harms it, but the whole thing is a disaster, a burning hay-cart of a film trundling ever so slowly and wretchedly forwards while torching the credibility of everyone involved and the entire medium of cinema itself. “I just saw the ad in the Sunday Times on SATAN NEVER SLEEPS, and it needs no comment. A Chinese girl raped in front of a priest and Fox is trying to tell the world it’s another GOING MY WAY!” And “The reviews are enough to begin bankruptcy hearings here.”

“It never stops. Yesterday we saw CALIGARI. Not the CALIGARI but the Bob Lippert reproduction. Charlie, deadpan, told the meeting that the picture was better than PSYCHO — which Martin Moskowitz thought it only as good as — and Charlie said the picture is baffling and therefore will be all the rage, just like LA DOLCE VITA and L’AVVENTURA. SPS said, ‘You’re right, Charlie. We’re better than all those Europeans and I don’t know why people talk so much about them.'”

Other movies I haven’t seen: “Saw THE COMANCHEROS last night. We may not make it to Christmas.” “We haven’t seen TENDER IS THE NIGHT as yet […] but saw the trailer today and it’s not to be believed — this middle-aged, twitching woman (a serious Alice Pearce) rolling on floors, on beds, on beaches, in clinch after clinch with world-weary, grat, lined and creased Jason Robards jr. (JUNIOR!) It’s going to hurt this company, I tell you!” Later: “It is so awful. Can Henry King have read the book? Don’t they know this in’t Fannie Hunt, man, this is Scott Fitzgerald?”On CLEOPATRA, the writers are of interest less for their middlebrow enthusiasm than for the gossip and observations about the central players. Rex Harrison gets off lightly, apart from a nasty jab he made at Roddy McDowall (how could ANYONE be nasty to Roddy?) — RM asked him to take his picture and Sexy Rexy is reported as replying, “I’m terribly sorry and everything but I just don’t like you.” Seems typical of Rex that he would be gratuitously offensive in an apologetic, polite way.


Of course it’s Burton and Taylor who come in for close analysis. It’s observed that Taylor has grown up in movies and so in a way hasn’t grown up at all, has a very strange, distant, starry view of reality. We learn that, when offered a script, she only ever looks at her part, which might help explain some of her later career choices. Though nothing can really explain the Losey films. I guess she doesn’t play her character as dying in BOOM! because the scenes where her illness is established are scenes where other characters are discussing her in her absence, and so she simply never knew that was the intention.

Burton confuses them a bit because he’s clearly both smitten with her and hitching a ride cynically on her fame. For a while it’s expected he’ll go back to his wife because he always has in the past. At some point, his career move became an amour fou, and maybe it always was.

ANYWAY — highly recommended. I got it for cheap in a reprint with a blank green cover and maybe you can too?