Archive for Lethal Innocence

Pg. 17, #3

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2020 by dcairns

Mackendrick accompanied Relph to Prague to scout locations. As always, his enthusiasm was tireless: Relph describes him “rushing up every steeple in Prague when you could see perfectly well from the ground that it wasn’t any good. But he would never take anybody else’s word.” Mackendrick, for his part, retorts that “Michael is covering up for the fact that he doesn’t like heights. One of the spires was very tall, with a tiny balcony and this terrific bird’s eye view of Prague. I managed to get Michael up the stairs, but when he got outside he turned his face to the wall and wouldn’t turn around. So he never saw the view.”


Checkmate. When you were interviewed by Bianco e Nero in 1958 you said that modern directors had eliminated the “problem of the bicycle.”


…Morning sunlight at the Onwentsia Club, where Father has just given me a beautiful pony of my own, a retired polo pony. I go riding with a groom from the club’s stables. My retired polo pony is, of course, neck-broken, he works with one hand, but I don’t know this and I must do something with the reins, because abruptly the pony has started back where we came from and I am swinging in the air on the other end of the reins doing the big loop.


It was altogether different in those days, because we had no dialogue or anything. I learned a great deal about pantomime from him, people telling the story just by their looks, their eyes and their hands. I learned about movement from him, of course, because most of his pictures were what we always called a “run-to-the-rescue.” That means that the girl is on the railroad tracks, the train is coming, her lover is coming on the horse and he gets her off just as the train goes by. All the pictures in the early days had that.


Most of the writers who have contributed to this dictionary belong either to the generation for whom Citizen Kane was the first great revelation of the cinema or to the generation for whom Godard’s A Bout de Souffle performed the same function. But they are alike in one very important respect: neither generation was brought up on silent film. Almost all the writers in the Dictionary discovered silent film after their experience of sound film. This is important, because they are therefore almost obliged to have a different view of montage.


The weird part of it is that it never occurred to anyone, including Clark and me, that all this might have had a bad effect on the mood, or on our ability to play a love scene convincingly. But that’s the way it was. The way it always is. The way it is today, on any movie set…


Of course, there was the zoo, with caged lions — that was before those ridiculous concrete rocks were built for them — and they made me cry. The seals, on the other hand, seemed to me to be happy; at least they had their water, and kilos of fish thrown to them by a keeper who addressed them only in German.


This week I excerpted only film books. It makes it harder to create a crazy mixed-up storyline or conversation, but what surprised me is that the coincidental connections created have little to do with film and more to do with transport.

They are: Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick, by Philip Kemp; Encountering Directors, by Charles Thomas Samuels (being flummoxed by Antonioni); Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges; Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends, by Patrick McGilligan, interviewing Raoul Walsh (pictured) with Debra Weiner about D.W. Griffith; Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, edited by Richard Roud, from his introduction; Film Makers Speak, edited by Jan Leyda (the speaker is Mary Astor, referencing Clark Gable); Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be, by Simone Signoret.

Guerilla Filmmaking

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , on February 21, 2020 by dcairns

In Alexander Mackendrick’s biography Lethal Innocence by Philip Kemp, we learn that as quite a young man he was put in charge of the Italian film industry in the immediate aftermath of the Allied liberation. He had an office with a telephone and a chair. If he wanted to sit down he had to put the phone on the floor. But he didn’t need much else because his job was to say “no” to any film proposals brought to him. His real purpose was to stop the Italians making films.

When this got boring, he looked around for a film he could say “yes” to without getting in trouble. A film of perfect anti-fascist credentials. He chose ROME, OPEN CITY. Perhaps he didn’t know much about director Roberto Rossellini’s past. But the film itself was strongly ant-Nazi, and after being taken to meet Anna Magnani in a nightclub, Mackendrick said “yes.”

It was only later that he learned that much of the film had already been shot, with bootleg film stock. Such was Rossellini’s eagerness to tell his story, and, I suspect, to make himself employable again, he had staked everything on a film that might never have been shown.

I liked this visual gag: the priest is made uncomfortable by the nude statue so he turns it away.

But now the conjunction of the two statues seems indecent.

He turns the second one away. Prudishness or discomfort about nude statues is always a bit funny.

RoRo has a lot of fun with this priest, playing some of his broadest comedy (frying pan wallops!) right next to the starkest tragedy. But, though some of the film’s more violent or saucy content might not have won it approval from the Church, it’s a very pro-Catholic movie. Though in fact the Vatican wasn’t altogether upstanding during WWII: ask Costa-Gavras.

My favourite joke, though, if it is a joke, is an exchange of dialogue in front of a bakery that’s being looted. A cop is asked if he’s going to do anything. “Unfortunately, I’m in uniform,” he replies — meaning that he can’t take part in the looting himself. Better still, he hasn’t misconstrued the question: from the non-response of the chap asking, it seems he expected him to be right in there, pilfering buns with the best of them.

Well is it any wonder?

Having some kind of supervisory role over Rossellini’s work may have inspired Mackendrick’s remark that the danger of combining professional and non-professional actors is that the amateur immediately shows up the artificiality of the pro. But the only obvious phony in ROME is poor Harry Feist as the limp-wristed Nazi, Major Bergmann. It’s not homophobic to show a gay Nazi. It’s a bit homophobic if he’s the only gay character (we don’t know about the priest, I guess…) It’s totally homophobic if he’s played in as stereotyped way as this. An incredibly naff choice by an otherwise skilled filmmaker who does make a few mistakes in this early work (there’s some hamfisted scoring, too).

But it gets worse: there IS another gay character, a female Nazi spy. She’s so obviuously a baddie, with her space vampire widow’s peak, that it’s incredible she’s not immediately rumbled. It seems strange that Rossellini can’t conceive of the enemy in other than camp melodramatic terms, since he had recently been on their side, more or less. Maybe that’s why he felt the need to “other” them so strongly.

It’s still a very strong film: for instance, the offscreen screams of the tortured are incredibly upsetting. So that what we see may be theatrical and unconvincing at times, but what we hear, and therefore imagine, is terrifying.

My view of realism in cinema is that’s a flavour: you always need at least a pinch of it, maybe a lot more than a pinch, but you can never have complete realism. So that I don’t mind the aspects of ROC that are romantic — the noble heroes who don’t break under torture (unlikely); the music, when it’s not occasionally clunky or overdone; the admiration for children, who are wholly good and heroic. Romanticism is also a necessary flavour.

The Greengrocer’s Apostrophe

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2013 by dcairns


From Robert Siodmak’s CRISS CROSS. “Employee’s only.” No wonder their armoured car gets robbed, they can’t even use basic English grammar.

Bunch of idiot’s.

Showed this one to students and was struck by how it really wants to be a portrait of a terrible love affair (trust is gone) and has to force itself to be a crime movie. Fortunately, the crime movie it’s forcing itself to be is a damned good one, even if the crime masterminded by dopey hero Burt Lancaster is a magnificently dumb piece of self-destruct planning. I mean, it doesn’t so much carry the seeds of its own destruction as the whole damn tree. Which is itself in bud.

The sub-sub-genre of armoured car robbery movies deserves a pamphlet of its own, from the shambolic overthinking of Lancaster’s scheme and its Soderbergh remake, THE UNDERNEATH, to the factual comedy of THE BRINK’S JOB (note the correct apostrophe) to Richard Fleischer’s self-explanatory ARMORED CAR ROBBERY and climaxing with the Mackendrick-Rose-Ealing-Guinness THE LADYKILLERS.

Philip Kemp’s Mackendrick bio, Lethal Innocence, has a good story about that heist. Mackendrick had a tendency to go all-out for authenticity in small matters, which he later identified as a diversionary measure to take his mind off the more intractable problems of the narrative at hand. Anyhow, in quest of realism he consulted the Metropolitan Police, appraising them of his fictional caper and asking if such a scheme could possibly work.

The detective took a long breath. “I’m very glad you decided to become a filmmaker, Mr Mackendrick. It would work only too well.”

The Best Of Ealing Collection [DVD]
Criss Cross (1949) Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Compatible DVD. Starring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo