Archive for Luther Adler

Still in Saigon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 22, 2019 by dcairns

Working my way through the Ladd-Lake catalogue (see here, and here). For some reason, SAIGON (1948), their last collaboration, was only findable on fuzzy ex-VHS, a shame, since you can still see evidence of Paramount’s soft, lambent house style, in the hands of DOUBLE INDEMNITY’s photographer, John Seitz.

Alan Ladd is Major Briggs (it’s tempting to imagine him settling down in Twin Peaks and putting on weight), hanging out in the far east after demob with the two surviving members of his wartime flight crew (Ladd played a lot of “post-war disillusion” roles, which I guess nobody was embarrassed about because he HAD served, even if he got invalided out with ulcers and a double hernia after a few months, poor guy). His youngest buddy, Douglas Dick (ROPE), has some kind of unconvincing war injury that’s going to alluvasudden kill him in a month or two. Rather than telling the kid, Ladd decides to “pack in a hundred years of living, with no rough spots, no bumps in the road” (the film’s best line, repeated a couple times). This requires dough, so he and his pals take on a suspiciously remunerative job flying an oily tycoon to Saigon.

The titan of industry misses his flight due to a shoot-out with local cops — I *knew* this guy was up to no good — but his secretary, Veronica Lake shows up. She and Ladd cordially hate each other on sight but young Dick falls for her. A few balls are now in the air — Ladd at first tries to protect Dick from Lake, who’s no good, in his view — then he blackmails Lake into being nice to Dick, because the kid’s stuck on her and this would give him a couple months happiness. But we know the creepy businessman’s going to turn up looking for the half mill he entrusted to Lake and which Ladd now has. And, once in Indochina, there’s a sinister-seeming local policeman (“Eurasian” Luther Adler, quite good fun) lurking around, determined to nab somebody, anybody, on a money-smuggling rap.

Some of what follows is predictable — we have, after all, been told that one character is doomed — and some pans out in a fairly uninspired way, which is a shame because the leads are so good together, underplaying their socks off. Lake’s thawing is very nicely played. Leslie Fenton directs — he was quite a good actor in the pre-codes — alas, the script doesn’t have enough zingers to put over its surprisingly downbeat conclusion. Deserves a release, though, a Ladd-Lake box-set would be a desirable item, except I suppose they’d have to put STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM on it.

SAIGON stars Jay Gatsby; The Girl (in the picture/with the peekaboo curl); Kenneth; Cotton Valletti; Rudi Janus/Adolf Hitler; Morris Gershwin; and Heinrich Himmler.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Mr Versatile

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by dcairns

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This 1914 production of Jules Verne’s MICHAEL STROGOFF begins with a little showreel from star Jacob P. Adler demonstrating the wide range of characterisation he won’t be deploying in the film on offer~

Textbook barnstorming. Adler, known as “the Great Eagle,” was one of the great stars of the Yiddish theatre. His technique has nothing to do with cinema, but as this was his only film we’ll never know if he might have adapted more to its demands. His son-in-law, theatre director Harold Clurman (who also made a single film, the terrific DEADLINE AT DAWN) described him as “an extraordinary personality, always larger than life.” His children included Luther and Stella Adler, promoters of a rather different method.

The movie also fascinated me with its simple but surprising intertitles, which often present two sides of a conversation in one go, a device I haven’t encountered in other silents ~

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And even more enticingly, the 45 minute movie is a blistering display of silver nitrate decomposition, whereby the images seem to  dance with phantasmal spirochetes and X-ray paramecia, warping pustularistically as if under cosmic ray barrage. Occasionally the screen whites out as if the film has simply ceased to exist, before returning (from whence?) to allow Adler to once more bellow mutely and gesticulate through the shitstorm of photochemical exuberance. Time may conquer all, but Jacob P. Adler doesn’t quit without a fight.

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Babelsberg Psychos Go America

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2008 by dcairns

I have no mouth and I must scream 

A Fever Dream Double Feature.

Following in the mighty footsteps of Christoph Hubert, whose Fever Dream pairings were published hereabouts recently, I present for your delectation and sweaty perusal another brain-bending duo of movies that go together all wrong. I have selected two films, and I call them Film One and Film Two.

M for Murky

(Note the flag attached to David Wayne’s lamp to keep his face in shadow.)

Film One is “M”. Not the celebrated Fritz Lang-Thea Von Harbou 1931 classic, but the generally denigrated Joseph Losey remake from twenty years later. As films maudit go, the don’t come much mauditer than this. While Losey is much admired, mainly for his British films of the ’60s (the blacklist having driven him from Hollywood), his U.S. work is a mixed bunch, much of it rarely screened. The excellent noir THE PROWLER (many noirs tackle the theme of “wrong values,” but none so starkly as this) rubs shoulders with the curio that is THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, a jejeune anti-war parable that passes the time acceptably just by being very very odd. In this company, the M remake is just one more mis-step in Losey’s shaky Hollywood career arc, but fortunately it’s a bit closer to the intensity of PROWLER than the fey loopiness of GREEN HAIR.

M for Manky

The perennially prissy David Wayne essays the Lorre role, doing well with the hysteria but entirely missing Lorre’s uncanny, bug-eyed froth. The script pads out the predestined devil with some unconvincing dollar book Freud cod psychology.

Losey scores a little better with his cops and crooks — one detective is a virtual fascist, with less respect for the rule of law than the “punks and tinhorns” he yearns to subject to the rubber hose treatment. Luther Adler plays an alcoholic mob lawyer (called Langley in presumed homage, though old Fritz didn’t appreciate the gesture, turning up to single-handedly picket the premiere). This figure’s presence helps set up the kangaroo court more plausibly, but he’s an annoying character wrapped around an annoying performance (dialogue scribe Waldo Salt may have to shoulder some blame here. Salt, later blacklisted himself, made a glorious comeback as writer of MIDNIGHT COWBOY in the ’70s, but his work here is mostly on a Dick Tracy level, with a few corny left-wing pretensions). The rogues’ gallery gets livelier around the intense, ferret-eyed Martin Gabel (also director of one movie, the terrific THE LOST MOMENT, a labyrinth of sinuous camera moves with a centenarian Agnes Moorehead at its heart) and his henchmen: Raymond Burr, more hench than man, doing a gravelly voice like Putney Swope; Glenn Anders, not as soapy as in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (“Just doing a little taaaaarrrget practice,”) but sort of CHUNKIER; and Norman Lloyd, always always always a reliably sneaky face to fill out a frame.

M for Mob

M for Mean

But this “M” has its greatest success in the use of locations. Losey makes fine use of Bunker Hill and outstanding use of the Bradbury Building. Best known now as the site of BLADE RUNNER’s climax, this striking construction came to its architect in a dream, and Losey captures both the sharpness and the illogic of nightmare in the clamorous conflict he stages there. Each angle provides a bizarre and startling new perspective to affront the eyes and make giddy the mind.

M for Mall

M for Mannequins

And Losey’s eerie mannequin warehouse is better than Kubrick’s eerie mannequin warehouse in KILLER’S KISS. In moments like this one can feel that Lang’s cautionary horror tale has found a new home in the city of angels.

Secret Beyond the Door

Film Two is DR. CALIGARI, another U.S. remake of a German classic, this one directed by Stephen Sayadian, (A.K.A. Rinse Dream / François Délia / Sidney Falco / F.X. Pope / Ladi von Jansky) maker of the cult sci-fi porno CAFE FLESH, which I’d previously seen and failed to admire.

This struck me as much better! Sayadian, whose speciality is production design, crafts a low-budget expressionist world and stages a sort of Cartoon Network VIDEODROME ballet in it. Everything is over-stylised to the point of panic-attack claustrophobia, the movements are choreographed and the blocking avoids standard continuity and settles for a snappy succession of ruthlessly composed tableaux, shuffled like smutty playing cards in the hands of a stoned dealer. Imagery tends to the nauseating (weeping sores) and peculiar (a wall with a giant mouth) rather than the sexy, but most effective porn is totally boring as art anyway. Sayadian is probably more interested in arousing the pineal gland or something weird like that.

The Big Mouth

See this thing! It’ll make you feel weird, which you ought to enjoy if you like reading this stuff. In addition to the purely visual pleasures (and the retro fun of the ’80s synth-score), Sayadian makes the best use of porno-style acting I’ve ever seen, creating an expressionistically oneiric B-movie vibe out of his performers’ limitations, reminiscent in its delirium of Ed Wood’s avant-garde trash aesthetic.

Madeleine Reynal, with clipped Mittel-European delivery, essays the role of Caligari’s grand-daughter, following in her “grrandvasser’s vootschteps,” as the late Kenneth Mars might put it, while Laura Albert brings agreeably mannered body language, and an agreeably mannered body, to the role of science project Mrs. Van Outen. Albert slices through the film, nipples primed to at any instant pierce some unsuspecting fellow thespian and pump them full of silicone. It’s not surprising to learn that when she’s not playing characters with “names” like “Bambi” and “Strip Joint Girl” and “Whipped Cream Girl” (in the TV show Dream On — some may remember this) L.A. is a stunt artist: she has a robust physicality to her and in a way this whole performance — nay, this whole film — is a death-defying piece of stunt art.

In the Doghouse

If you see Losey’s “M”, I hope it’s the same copy I have — a glitchy AVI file of a fuzzy DVD of a chewed-up VHS of a ropey telecine of a speckly print — because you get the surreal impression that the ’50s remake is older than the ’30s original.

If you see DR. CALIGARI… say hi.

I’m quite staggeringly indebted to Shadowplayer Brandon  for providing these movies, after I mentioned having never seen the J-Lo “M”. I should mention right now that I am in no way averse to FREE STUFF. If you stay alert you may catch me dropping the occasional hint, such as “I’ve never seen this film,” which you may all take as your cue to offer me complimentary bootlegs. I promise I won’t mind.

Bathing Beauty