Archive for Marilyn Monroe

The Monroe Doctrine

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2017 by dcairns

I bought Conversations with Marilyn by J. Weatherby because it was 25p, and my Scottishness exerted itself (the inability to resist a bargain can wind up being expensive). Fiona was the one who read it, though. So I suggested we watch some accompanying films. I hadn’t seen HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE since I was a schoolboy, and one thing led to another and the other was GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES which I’ve seen a lot.

Both films are about snagging rich mates, and it’s soon apparent that Fox’s takes on this theme are a bit more sympathetic to their gold-diggers than MGM’s, which always have a tang of DIRE WARNING about them. While GENTLEMEN cheerfully inverts conventional thinking about propriety and ethics (in a playful rather than iconoclastic way), it’s less easy to parse MILLIONAIRE except as a fairy tale, where the moment Bacall abandons her dreams of marrying wealthy, it turns out her new husband is in fact as rich as Croesus, if Croesus had diversified into oil and cattle and real estate.

The girls all work in the Black Lodge.

I don’t remember ever finding MILLIONAIRE that funny. My best friend at school was a Marilyn obsessive and I sort of drifted along into that. Same with the Beatles. My personal interest was always film, though I didn’t notice that my enthusiasm for it was anything out of the ordinary until friends pointed it out. Anyway, HTMAM had Monroe and so it was good, but not that funny, and it went without saying that it would have been better with MORE Monroe. Funnily enough, my response to it is about the same thirty-four years later.

I suspect I hadn’t seen MILLIONAIRE in its true ‘Scope ratio, so that was illuminating. Jean Negulesco wasn’t particularly a comedy director, but he was a visual experimenter. He’s being pretty cautious with this new medium, but he manages a few nice things. You do feel the strain of filling all that space, though, hence the inspiration of reviving the old three-girls-on-the-make-in-Manhattan sub-genre from the ‘thirties. Just line them all up, with some subsidiary menfolk if you like, and the acreage is occupied. Or have them recline languorously, which Bacall is particularly good at.

And this is a good start to a scene.

Pulls back to this.

But the endless lolling isn’t good for LOLs — the necessary pace is sacrificed to the cumbersome equipment, and something seems generally off with the comedy timing. Bacall wasn’t often called on to be funny, but she’s very amusing in her Hawks films — but that’s very different from this. Betty Grable, I think, is the one who’s contributing most to the sense of awkward timing, or, if not awkward, at least ineffective. It is quite hard to put your finger on what’s wrong, but these gals don’t gel.

A schmoe called Fred.

The film also seems seriously undercast from the masculine side (so is GENTLEMEN, for that matter — and yes, Elliott Reid, I’m afraid I do mean you. You’re fine, but you’re up against serious female firepower). Cameron Mitchell seems better suited to investigating a faceless serial killer. Rory Calhoun always seemed he should be more interesting with a name like that. And David Wayne was very effective PLAYING a serial killer… but more on him shortly. Fred Williams Clark is along for comic bluster and glower, but plays all his scenes with Grable, igniting neither laughs nor chemistry. (Incidentally, who would win in a fight between Fred Williams and his son, Fred Williamson?)

And then there’s poor old William Powell, whose scenes harp endlessly on about his old age. (Leading to one nice line, though, as Bacall insists she prefers older men: “That old guy in THE AFRICAN QUEEN, I’m crazy about him!”) Fiona thought the film, and the mercenary Miss Persky, treated him very badly, toying with his emotions like that. Though not half as badly as Hollywood movies would treat many of their leading ladies once they neared his age.

Powell, of course, is by light years the most talented comedian in the film, which gives him no jokes or comedy business whatsoever. Just the sorrows of age.

Dream sequence. In a film about models, this model gets one of the biggest laughs.

Oh, and I’m forgetting Alexander D’Arcy, so good in THE AWFUL TRUTH, here sporting a natty eye-patch. So the film isn’t undercast at all, it has several superb light comedians, it just doesn’t use them for much of anything. And it gives the larger roles to the less appealing, less funny men.

Then there’s Monroe — I think as a kid I was slightly offended by the myopia jokes — I was a prudish little jerk. The conceit that she’s blind as a bat but won’t wear glasses gives her a huge advantage over her teammates — Bacall is meant to be the smart one, which is only an active attribute when she’s dealing with her female pals — if she were partnered with dumb males it could get some real play — Grable doesn’t seem to know what’s meant to be funny about her character, though there are plenty of dumb blonde jokes (Monroe recounts being led into Grable’s dressing room and given the distinct impression by management that she was the new upgrade of the soon-to-be obsolete pin-up, which made her feel VERY awkward).

Monroe scores virtually all the laughs, with material that’s dumber than the other leads have to work with, and then she meets David Wayne on a plane to Kansas City and the film actually catches fire for the duration. Wayne was a really good actor, and he tunes in to Monroe in a way nobody else has managed (maybe SHE’S the one sabotaging the others?) It’s fascinating, because you wouldn’t peg him as a loverboy (fifteen minutes in the sack with her and surely he’d look like the Straw Man of Oz after a run-in with the flying monkeys) nor as Monroe’s kind of performer. But magic is magic.

Nothing much new to say about GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES except that it feels much more benign than its widescreen companion, and that as video technology improves, the Technicolor just gets fiercer, which is why I now have the outline of Jane Russell’s lipstick seared into my retinae. I think the moment that did it is when she says “…but nobody chaperones the chaperone: that’s why I’m so right for this job.”

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: A Female Alarm Clock

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2017 by dcairns

Just as the hero of FAZIL (Charles Farrell) prefers camels to women, the hero of PAID TO LOVE, another silent Hawks, prefers automobiles.

The film deals with a cash-strapped Mediterranean Ruritania and an arranged marriage intended to solve its cash problems and also features some good TINY INTERTITLES, for a hushed conversation between an American banker and the King: “Your shirt’s out.” “I know it.” “Then why the hell don’t you fix it?” “How the hell can I?” The minute lettering is very funny, and I felt I could hear Hawks’ tone of voice in this.

We also get William Powell, very funny as a skirt-chasing duke. Here’s his POV as he applies the monocle to a passing maid ~

Though Bill is in fact standing, stationary, watching her go, his viewpoint is gliding along the checkerboard floor at ankle height — evidently he has astrally projected like DR. STRANGE. The same thing happens in SOME LIKE IT HOT: Jack Lemmon’s awe-struck view of Marilyn Monroe’s ass is tracking after her at ass-height even after he stops walking at Jack Lemmon height. POVs can be psychological rather than optical, especially when there’s something worth seeing.

Here’s an intertitle that seems to anticipate LAND OF THE PHARAOHS ~

This is a Fox film — the study of smoky atmosphere and crumbling walls. Our first view of Paris is a crumbling wall with girls walking by in front of it. This is meant to represent Montmartre. It seems to get the job done.

Lots of fun in this film! It’s the kind of movie where a Montmartre apache hides his knitting when the tourists appear.

Giraffes on Fire

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2017 by dcairns

We decided to take a look at the Lone Wolf series because of comedy sidekick Eric Blore, and the ones of most interest were naturally those with Warren William, the starving lion, as the Lone Wolf himself, called Michael Lanyard in his daily life. Due to his habit of hanging round people’s necks, I presume. Anyway, having quite enjoyed films in The Saint and Perry Mason series, it seemed like a fresh set of programmers would be a nice thing to draw upon.

But due to sheer incompetence we ended up watching probably the only WW WOLF movie that DOESN’T have Eric Blore, THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT. While Leonard Carey is a decent manservant type, one can’t help sighing as one imagines what a talent like Blore would make of his business. What reserves of lisping, seething and grimacing he could pour into it.

Still, this one has Ida Lupino, not yet a big star, and Rita Hayworth, not yet a bigger one. The same year she’d be coached through ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS by Howard Hawks and emerge with credit, as actors usually did under his tutelage, but here she’s talking in a strange, over-enunciated way, as if she’s been to the same teacher as Marilyn Monroe. It’s not just like Monroe, it’s like Monroe reciting her toothpaste commercial in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH.

Like most of these things, it starts amusingly and then chunters on way too long (71 minutes, in this case, is way too long) with most stuff played too slow and too under-rehearsed.

Still ~ surrealist party! With Ida Lupino as a flower-headed woman out of Dali. And another woman wearing a bird-cage on her head, anticipating Anais Nin in INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME. You can’t ask for your money back after that.