Archive for Leon Shamroy

Holy Crap

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2021 by dcairns

Having watched QUO VADIS, like a bunch of 1AD flagellants we had to watch THE ROBE, just in time for Easter.

In the Nero Vs Caligula death match, I think Peter Ustinov’s Nero is a more human, interesting and vividly vile characterisation, but Jay Robinson’s Caligula is a more extreme, ballsy and uniquely preposterous screen performance.

Moving on from that, this should be the movie where Richard Burton solidifies his grasp of screen acting, but for whatever reason (film shot out of sequence, latter parts being more conducive to hamminess) he gets worse as it goes on. Once he gets religion he’s unbearable — as is often the way irl.

Jean Simmons is able to do less with her pagan Roman that Debs Kerr managed with her Christian. The bit-players (including Jay Novello, Percy Helton and Leon Askin) are encouraged to chew the scenery, which is fairly nutritious material — the quality may not always be great but the portions are enormous.

Burton claimed to have learned proper screen acting from Liz Taylor on CLEOPATRA. He should have learned it from Victor Mature here. The Big Victor is an underrated guy — he does lots of good, understated, simple work, and then when he’s called on to blow the roof off, boy, does he!

The Big Victor showing off all the junk in his neck that shouldn’t even be there in my opinion

Of course, he comes a cropper when he has to signify divine rapture, in a really weird scene where Vic and Dick appear to be trying to outdreadful one another.

As W.C. Fields was said to have read the Bible for loopholes, so do authors like Lloyd C. Douglas (who wrote the book QV comes from), and Lew “Ben-Hur” Wallace. They find ways to weave their fictitious characters through the New Testament without breaking it. It can be amusing to study. Demetrius (Big Victor) runs through the streets of Jerusalem trying to warn Jesus of his imminent arrest, but can’t find him. Early Christian Dean Jagger is felled with an arrow, which is fine, because the Good Book only mentions a guy named Justus in passing and doesn’t say he WASN’T shot with an arrow.

The Robe is a perfect biblical MacGuffin — the thing everybody wants but the audience doesn’t care. In fact, I didn’t care about anything much. Those who dismiss Wyler’s BEN-HUR as trash need to take a look at this. BEN-HUR is skilled trash.

I liked the music, which is full-on Alfred Newman, though the crashing stab accompanied by thunderclap which follows Judas (Michael Ansara) introducing himself was an eggy moment.

I think the indigo thunderclaps are a modern interpolation

I was reading somewheres — I think it was a Medium article — about how the Seventh Day Adventists evolved from a doomsday cult that had to rewrite its own mythos when the apocalypse failed to happen on the appointed day. And if you think about it, it’s fairly obvious that Christianity itself kind of did the same thing.

The appearance of a Messiah had been (fairly) long-prophesied. Jesus turned up, presenting himself as said figure, come to liberate the Jews from oppression. His followers were enthused.

Then: disaster! Jesus is crucified. Far from freeing the Jews from Roman rule, he is horribly executed by the Romans. The Christian sect looks sure to die out, it’s central premise having fallen apart in spectacular fashion.

But, asks somebody, What if he didn’t die? Also: What if dying was the whole point? It might work!

If the Bible was a modern screenplay, somebody would definitely have foreshadowed the crucifixion, put something in earlier to make it clear this was always the endgame. That’s what they do in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. As it is, the Bible has that first-draft quality. Jesus sacrificing himself to redeem humanity is kind of a deus ex machina.

Director Henry Koster demonstrates that the Holy Ghost is a less compelling off-screen presence than Harvey the invisible rabbit. Burton’s Damascene conversion isn’t as moving as Josephine Hull’s was in that other movie.

Image 1: the purplish Leon Shamroy wraith is Jesus, in horizontal and profile cruciform view. Image 2: an arm nailed to cross-beam, with lots of duplicate hands floating around just because

Pretty crazy dream sequence. Points awarded. “I didn’t know it had anything like this in it!” Fiona exclaimed, momentarily aroused from a pleasant bad-movie torpor.

THE ROBE stars MacPhisto; Young Estella; Tumak; Klaatu; Insane Actor; Rodion Pavlov; Sokurah the Magician; Robert Kraft; Exeter; Dr. Pretorius; Zeta One; Peripetchikoff; Angry Horse; ‘Scamper’ Joad; The Dear One; Massimo Morlacchi; Xandros the Greek Slave; Toothpick Charlie; and the voice of Ned Flanders (an early Christian).

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold — Cream

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2021 by dcairns

Here’s Shadowplayer Chris Schneider on a late, and underappreciated Frank Tashlin/Doris Day picture…

” … I forgot to mention the sexuality, the anarchy — and the fashion.”~ FB friend Larry Frascella talking of CAPRICE

When I think of CAPRICE, a Frank Tashlin comedy-thriller from the late Sixties, it usually involves one of three things. One: Doris Day in an out-of-control helicopter whose pilot has just been shot, the thought of which terrifies this fear-of-heights sufferer.Two: the unsettling sight of Michael J. Pollard, soon to appear in BONNIE AND CLYDE, with his hand venturing up Doris Day’s leg. Three: Ray Walston in drag. 

“Cary Grant or Rock Hudson maybe,” I say to myself, “but Michael J. Pollard?”

(An Aside: You’ll find so-called “spoilers” in this piece. My reasoning is that, some fifty years after its premiere, anyone interested in CAPRICE is unlikely to be concerned with plot.)

You could say that CAPRICE has an autumnal feel, in that it’s the next-to-last film to be shot in Cinemascope and the third-from-last theatrical film to feature Doris Day. Soon, for Day, it would be strictly television. But that doesn’t fit, ’cause the palette on display in CAPRICE is determinedly bright. Day’s Ray Aghayan wardrobe pretty much never varies from white or red or buttercup yellow, and to go with that there’s music by Robert Aldrich’s pet composer De Vol. (“Smile when you say that name, stranger.”

Yet this is, nevertheless, a spy story, and therein lies the balance. Day plays an industrial spy for one, if not two, rival cosmetics firms.  “The spy who came in from the cold — cream,” she calls herself at one point. The story’s shifting alliances fit in with a mid-’60s John Le Carre world-view, for all the emphasis on comedy and the fact that a man is asked to remove his trousers within the film’s first six minutes. Does Day work for Edward Mulhare, an industrial toff with his own private jet, or rival honcho Jack Kruschen? Answer: What time is it? There’s a Wham! Slam! Ka-Boom! triple-cross in the final reel. There’s also, lest we forget, Ray Walston in washerwoman drag looking mean as he holds a gun.

Nor should we forget that the romantic interest, Richard Harris as an industrial spy and/or Interpol agent who also does Olivier and Richard Burton imitations, jabs Day early on with a non-consensual hypo full of Sodium Pentothal. A tad “rapey,” you say? Perhaps the vigilant will be glad to learn that the last reel’s “romantic” fade-out has Day giving Harris his own non-consensual Sodium Pentothal jab, intoning to him about “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

Much of CAPRICE is “funny odd” rather than “funny ha-ha.” It’s also highly self-conscious, Ouroboros-like in willingness to comment upon itself like a snake devouring its own tail. Not a surprise, in that other Tashlin-directed films include a poodle named Shamroy (after CAPRICE cinematographer Leon Shamroy) and name-checking of star Jayne Mansfield’s non-Tashlin films. But this one has a BATMAN-like chase running past a television that’s playing BATMAN, Day tailing Irene Tsu (who plays Walston’s secretary) to a theater where the fare is CAPRICE with Doris Day and Richard Harris — that’s where the Pollard scene happens — and the revelation that a supposedly inaccessible parlay is being filmed when we see the film’s image running out. Is it unexpected, given the presence of Shanghai-born Tsu, that the movie encounter happens in the Cathay theater? Or that half of a nearby couple attempting a li’l movie-house grope is Barbara Feldon of the spy comedy series GET SMART? 

CAPRICE was not popular.  The NY Times’ Bosley Crowther dismissed it, saying that “nutty clothes and acrobatics cannot conceal the fact that [Day] is no longer a boy.” As if anyone ever mistook Day for a boy! Or went to Day when looking for one!

I think the problem, rather, is that CAPRICE — like its central performer — is all too strenuously perky. Sorta like the protagonist of that John Cheever story, the one who insists on lining up chairs at parties and jumping over them like hurdles … long after his athletic prowess is a thing of the past.  See television adaptations involving Gary Merrill and, later, Michael Murphy. 

Like that out-of-control helicopter, CAPRICE has the capacity to be scary.  Then, too, like what happens to the helicopter, CAPRICE settles for cute and “endearing” plot solutions. Alas.

Kings

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2019 by dcairns

WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE stars Bensinger; Lena Lamont; Dr. Cyclops; Dr. Russell A. Marvin; Phoebe Dinsmore; and Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow.

Missed this in Bologna — the Leon Shamroy Technicolor would have been worthwhile — Youtube’s copy, though good by Youtube standards, is terribly dark at times.

But I don’t know what the film’s thesis is — what it’s trying to demonstrate, explicate or make us feel, except on a scene-by-scene basis. David Wayne’s small-town barber is from the “variations on an asshole school of characterisation, but to what end? The final line, after fifty years of story have been covered, celebrates the virtues of a good shave, and that does seem to be the chief lesson imparted. Actually, I kind of liked that bit.

We do, however, get to view the second and third most terrifying shaves in screen history (after THE COLOR PURPLE), one where Wayne is so drunk he can’t walk, and one where he’s contemplating murdering the man in the chair.

King is celebrated for his Americana, the nearest thing to a personal interest displayed in his cinema. There’s more of it in ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (1938).

King claimed his staging of the musical numbers in IN OLD CHICAGO got him this gig, which reunites stars Power, Faye and Ameche from the earlier quake-fest, but his song-and-dance stuff here is far, far better. IOC basically observed Faye in three shot sizes as she transmitted a bunch of oldy-time standards from her big face. This one has proper PRODUCTION NUMBERS and I became a fan of capering imp Wally Vernon.

You also get a chance to contrast the performing styles of Alice Faye and Ethel Merman. Merman at this point is not an actor, but she speaks her lines with an appealing and convincing simplicity. And she sings the same way, only of course she has that powerhouse voice. Faye, giving the best performance in the best role I’ve seen her in, can do a lot more with inflection and phrasing and meaning, but lacks the ability to vibrate an iron bridge to pieces with her vocal cords.

The IMDb promised us cameos by Rondo Hatton (memorable in IN OLD CHICAGO in the role of “Rondo”) as a barfly, and Lon Chaney Jr as “photographer on stage,” but the on-stage photographer we see clearly ain’t Chaney and Hatton’ s barfly does not appear (how could you miss him?) so it’s left to John Carradine to bring the horror (which no fantasy about the birth of a musical movement should be without). John does not disappoint.

Carradine’s role is officially that of cabbie, but his plot function is to play Cupid, and who better? Picture him nude with a little bow and arrow. Charm itself! Hired by Power, he basically abducts Faye to bring her to his Carnegie Hall concert. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You let John Carradine kidnap you.

JC’ s laidback manner is terrifying: the more relaxed he gets, the more death seems imminent, and preferable to his company. His Dracula was never this alarming. He was really a fine actor, but needed to be aimed in the right direction. King appears to have launched him straight up, to land wherever he may.

At first, we suspected John was probably going to drive Alice Faye to a lock-up somewhere and torture her to death with pliers.

But, as the sequence went on, we became sure of it. An improbable end to a musical, but the only thing that would have made sense of his performance.

The actual ending is quite a bit happier than that. But as for the history of ragtime, its origins and purpose are still a total mystery.

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND stars Leonard Vole; June Mills; Mortimer Duke; Lieutenant Hurwitz; The Tin Man; Dr. Paul Christian; Parthy Ann Hawks; Maj. Cassius Starbuckle; Larry Talbot and the Hoxton Creeper.