Archive for Leo McCarey

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 —

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.”