Archive for Linda Darnell

Film With Sleep

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2022 by dcairns

Roy (Ward) Baker’s NIGHT WITHOUT SLEEP opens with Gary Merrill waking from a nightmare, so I immediately felt cheated. Firstly, the character has been asleep, secondly, he’s Gary Merrill. I decided to watch the movie for Linda Darnell, and instead we have GM, seemingly quite good guy, but adequate to hold one’s attention onscreen only in ALL ABOUT EVE, where he’s supported by more interesting players on all sides. He serves, I guess, as a kind of anchor. He has what Ken Campbell called “the legendary minus factor,” — you can inject him into a scene if it’s in danger of getting too exciting. He’s like Hugh Beamont’s less exuberant brother.

NWS casts GM as a neurotic alcoholic songwriter whose problems with his stage mother have left him incapable of forging relationships. He’s married a rich woman, has an exotic mistress, and grasps at a last-chance “redemptive” fling with starlet Darnell, a looong way into this film. We seem to be supposed to be on his side, but it’s pretty hard to sympathise, and the potential “solution” to his worries, another mistress, doesn’t convince — isn’t he just making the same mistakes over again?

My copy of the film is grungy, which doesn’t help. Impossible to really judge the emotional effect of the film when everything looks like it’s been shot through translucent black soup.

Had NWS starred Richard Widmark, it might have stood a chance — an actor whose dynamism and nerviness could often compensate for really unsympathetic character traits. Merrill can only play for pathos by being a sad-sack. The grimy transfer makes him seem older, a disconsolate empty scrotum with a hairstyle that looks like it landed on him from above like a pancake.

The women around him are a mixed bunch — June Vincent avoids making her mothering wife an appalling character, a noble choice, but maybe that would have been more interesting to watch? Hildegarde Knef’s vocal delivery is quite Schwartzeneggerian, which is distracting. Darnell makes everything brighter and better, before she’s called upon to perform a peculiar roleplay, which goes on for a long time and is embarrassing to watch, the more so as she’s built up some warm feeling.

There’s a final plot twist which isn’t. An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour with Tony Randall did the alcoholic blackout thing far better (and Randall is astonishing in it). The script seems to have been intended to float a series of possible twists, each of which is then disproven, but it SO doesn’t pull this off.

The most interesting aspect, for me, was that the movie, a product of Baker’s brief stint in Hollywood at Fox, has several of the same qualities as his better-known DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK, recently recalled to memory by its featuring in BLONDE (although we never meet an English director in that movie’s “reconstructions”). Both films feature cod psychology (dollar-book Freud, as Welles called it) and make their leading ladies seem awkward with almost unplayable scenes, where Baker seems unable to help them, or not enough anyhow.

(I don’t remember INFERNO well enough to say if it follows these trends.)

But this movie makes DBTK look like The Mahabharata.

What’s surprising and disappointing is that RWB, who was capable of striking effects in terrific films, doesn’t seize upon the resources of Hollywood to do anything interesting or expressive or different, despite the psychological bent of the films he was assigned. This one has a flashback within a flashback, flashbacks which then turn out to be possibly false, but then again turn out to be true after all, but none of it encourages him to any formal experimentation at all. It’s like he was intimidated by the studio apparatus rather than inspired by it. Which would seem strange, as he was known in the UK as quite a formidable tough guy who wouldn’t hesitate to tear a strip out of a crewmember who displeased him.

I have other questions about Baker. More soon.

Otto Smash

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2022 by dcairns

BONJOUR TRISTESSE is beautiful, odd, trashy at times — it perfectly captures the feeling if an endless summer, but brackets its lustrous Saint-Tropez Technicolor with monochrome scenes in Paris that make it all too clear the idyll is doomed. Preminger only mixed colour with b&w this one time, but it seems appropriate to his perversity that he used monochrome for the present tense. Of course it makes a clear emotional point about the joy having drained from our young protagonist’s life (and suits the particular looks of St Tropez and Paris) but of course it doesn’t withstand a literal-minded interpretation, and at the same time it’s too obvious to sublimate into symbolism.

Somewhat random side-note — just stumbled upon the fact that, while filming the Great Fire of London for FOREVER AMBER, Otto nearly incinerated Linda Darnell, eerily anticipating her eventual tragic fate by some years. It was a piece of collapsing set that did it, or nearly. And I thought, My God, Otto had form, because he nearly burned Jean Seberg to death making JOAN OF ARC, and did in fact take her eyebrows off. It may be unfair to blame him wholly, since a director is somewhat at the mercy of what the pyrotechnics people say is safe, but on the other hand, fish stinks from the head, and a director is quite able to say “That sounds kinda risky,” or “I’d like some more safety measures in place.” Otto instead follows in the tradition of his fellow Viennese Fritz Lang, who came close to creating Brigitte Helm on METROPOLIS.

There’s a smouldering death here, too, but off-screen, represented by a great black smoke signal against the azure Mediterranean sky, produced by car crash (see also ANGEL FACE), and anticipating Otto’s own accident when he was struck down and badly injured by a car (I imagine the driver’s astonishment at Mr. Freeze suddenly impacting his windscreen).

We’re in the world of Françoise Sagan, based on the novel she published at nineteen. Her youth seems to grant her a strong insight into the thought processes of teenage Cecile (Jean Seberg), with the slight disadvantage that everyone else behaves like an adolescent too. The one real adult, supposedly, Deborah Kerr’s character, is as extreme as everyone else, really, just in a different direction.

I wonder what the shoot was like? I mean, it looks like heaven: Paris and the Côte d’Azur (with Otto now starting his later shoot-it-all-on-location phase), attractive people, and David Niven on hand to stop Otto getting too beastly — Niv had stood up to Michael Curtiz (“Vhere is your script?” “I don’t need it.” “Run and get it!” “YOU fucking run and get it.”) and knew that all bullies are cowards. (It’s possible that everybody’s a coward, and bullies have just discovered a peculiarly extrovert way of handling it. It [a] works for them and [b] makes the world a more hideous place.)

The movie is a fashion show (Givenchy, Hermès, Cartier), and an art show, and a parade of beautiful, rich, foolish people we shouldn’t have any sympathy for and mostly don’t. But I found I still felt for Seberg’s spoilt brat a little, perhaps because Seberg herself was so tragic. Otto was determined to make her a star — she’d been roasted for JOAN OF ARC and the American critics wouldn’t accept her as French here either, as if it mattered. You accept she’s Niven’s daughter even though he’s English playing French. And if they’re French, what is the heavily-accented Mylene Demongeot? Doesn’t matter.

Critical hostility to Seberg was probably mostly about her flat Iowan accent, which Austrian Otto was perhaps not sensitive to — she can seem bad even when she’s emotionally on point — I remember her being wooden in THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, which came after this. Efforts to deaden the accent add layers of self-consciousness to someone whose charm ought to be in their naturalness. This is the movie where it all kind of fits.

Niven is very fine also, in a role with uncomfortable echoes of his own life — not the creepy Elektra complex stuff, the idea of the playboy who finally tries to settle down, only for fate to knife him in the back. Deborah Kerr seems like the kind of woman who could reform him. And here’s Martita Hunt, maybe the only actor to appear for Otto in the forties, fifties and sixties?

BONJOUR TRISTESSE stars Sister Clodagh; Squadron Leader Peter Carter; St. Joan of Arc; Milady de Winter; Lieutenant Joyce; Georgette Aubin; Mr. Silence; Miss Havisham; Lord Desham; Jackson’s Doxy; Sir Hugo Baskerville; Adrian Baskerville; and the Fiddler on the Roof.

The B.V.M.

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2019 by dcairns
“What I got don’t need beads.”

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, in which Jennifer Jones appears courtesy of David O. Selznick and the Virgin Mary appears courtesy of God.

A few of us Bolognites wished Il Cinema Ritrovato had shown this one, because it’s a good, well-known Henry King, and he give s it the big build-up in the documentary they screened. He tested multiple big stars for the title role and asked them to look off-camera and see the Ble s sed Virgin Mary. “All the others looked,” reported King, “but only Jennifer Jones SAW.”

Jones is pretty great. Always tempting to define her successes in terms of her limitations, for some reason. Good directors use their stars for what they CAN do and aim them away from what they can’t. “There was a stupidity about her,” said Ruth Goetz, meaning to praise her for her rightness for the title role in the 1952 CARRIE. Here, Bernadette calls herself stupid but is, rather, simple, which in the movie’ s terms elevates her above all the troublesome, complicated character s who persecuted her.

Jones plays this with an unchanging serenity and hesitant meekness that comes right to the edge of being annoyingly monotonous but doesn’t quite cross over. I would guess that the inspiration is hers and the control is King’s.

All the performances are ace. Vincent Price is airdropped into the dead centre of his comfort zone, playing intelligent, cool and cynical, with the melancholy he could sometimes access, and without campery (he must’ve been tempted to try to slip one passed the goalie, but maybe King was too nimble in defense). Oddly, his final moments appear to have inspired the ending of DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN.

The only actor who gets away with anything inappropriate is one of Bernadette’s sisters, who moons the camera.

The Breen Office was too dazzled by the Virgin to notice the butt cheeks.

Top mark s to Lee J. Cobb again, a different actor from his laid-back debut in THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF but with none of the growl and bluster of later roles. He’s marvellously DETAILED.

Huge waxen eyelids.

And scary nun Gladys Cooper nearly walks off with the show. She has to literally carry Jones for the third act.

King does something very clever by keeping the B.V.M. apparition in long shot, like an icon, though it would be even better if we never saw the very special guest star at all. There are other bit s where he has his periodic fits of visual expressiveness and it’ s pretty great.

Now, I not only don’t HAVE faith, I don’t even admire it, though I acknowledge a lot of people find it useful in withstanding life’s brickbats. Thus, as an opening title forewarns, part of this film is a closed book to me. But I could admire the way a lone, ill-educated girl stands up to the authorities: police, politicians, family, and even the church, and the way the film gets us on her side, the ultimate underdog, even though apparently she has the supreme being in her corner.

Without Linda Darnell as the B.V.M. and the heavenly choir s nudging us in the ribs, this wouldn’t have a trace of kitsch. With them, it has quite a bit of that popular and valued Hollywood commodity. But it’s, you know, compelling.

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE stars Cluny Brown; Oliver Niles; Prince Prospero; Lt. William Kinderman; Mrs. Higgins; Caroline Lamphere; Jimmy Valentine; Maybelle Merriwether; Georges Sand; Ben Hubbard; Mrs. Rand; “Concentration Camp” Ehrhardt; Madame Therese De Farge; Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest; Miles Archer; Lt. Alexei Chernoff; Antonya Raskolnikov; Matiste; The Dear One; The Kid; Alfred the butler; Van Helsing; and Chihuahua.