Archive for Mario Nascimbene

Kiss Kiss Bang Whimper

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2022 by dcairns

My friend Kiyo asked me to track down a copy of KISS THE GIRLS AND MAKE THEM DIE, a De Laurentiis espionage caper he remembered from childhood. I found it, and then, having rather enjoyed MATCHLESS, another De Laurentiis espionage caper I remembered from my own childhood, I decided to look at his one. It has some of the same personnel — Jack Pulman on dialogue (with the usual football team of Italian scribes), Nicoletta Macchiavelli on glamour, Andy Ho on Yellow Peril. Direction is credited to veteran Henry Levin, who was implicated in the odious Matt Helm series around this time, but IMDb adds mention of Dino Maiuri, who was also mixed up in the script and producing. It’s shot by Aldo Tonti who has a truly staggering CV but this is not a staggering-looking film, at least in the fuzzy pan-and-scan edition available to me. I tried cropping it to 1:1.85 on the guess it might have been shot open-matte (the compositions seemed roomy) and that helped the framing but did nothing for the fuzz.

Like SUNSET BLVD it’s narrated by a dead body and like BARRY LYNDON it’s narrated by Michael Hordern, but MH does not appear as the dead body, merely dubbing his perf in later. The presence of Richard Lester’s regular producing partner Denis O’Dell in the credits may account for Hordern’s posthumous postproduction contribution. The corpse-in-waiting is personified by Terry-Thomas in crappy makeup, who also plays another, unrelated character later, and for no reason.

As hero, Mike Connors is an empty linen suit, hair of finest Corinthian leather burnished to a gleam, his face a pasteboard Identikit of other forgettable male leads (Bob Cummings with the last vestige of flavour boiled away, Rod Cameron hollowed-out and inflated with odourless gas). Talks into his wristwatch, you know the type.

But he’s surrounded by quirky types. Dorothy Provine does a skilled comic cut-glass English accent; Raf Vallone, grey-eyed Satan, is an Armenian criminal mastermind; Terry-Thomas is Terry-Thomas, which is after all what he’s paid for, but if they’d wanted a really funny spy spoof, letting either Vallone or TT play the hero would have been a good call. TT as criminal mastermind might also have been chortlesome. Casting him as a comic relief character shows a lack of genuine humorous outlook. Comedy relief is the first recourse of the unfunny mind.

After the Hordern mumblings in the rainforest there’s really rather a good shoot-out inside the big Jesus they have in Rio, unquestionably the best-staged shoot-out in a messiah I have ever seen. It goes one better than Hitchcock’s Statue of Liberty chase by virtue of being, so far as I can see, almost entirely genuine and shot-on-location. Genuine in the sense of being the actual statue, not the actual Jesus. Permission to shoot inside the actual living Christ would have taken a skilled location manager indeed.

The Bondian hi-jinks are hyped up to heights of abstraction — why is the eyebrowless killer after Our Man In Rio? Why does he need to save the breathy blonde from the scorpions planted in her bouquet? Why does the anonymous voice on the phone warn O.M.I.R. to get out of town just as a submachine gun is about to extirpate him anyway? Who is anybody and why? It doesn’t seem to matter. Cause and effect are suspended, like a 007 eyebrow. One wonders if the dialogue writer actually read the script or just riffed off the edit, Woody Allen style?

Mario Nascimbene, filling in where Ennio Morricone would be more expected, has no trouble making the music ridiculous enough to satisfy. When Marilu Tolo walks into Vallone’s lair, we get what is known as a lush rephrasing of The Girl from Ipanema, just like that, without compunction.

Unexpectedly fell in love with these boffin/minions, Jean Cocteau and the Vulcan Francois Truffaut, desultorily flicking switches in a model submarine. They only have about a dozen switches before them, and their whole attitude suggests a weary acceptance of the truth that when they’ve thrown every switch, they will only have to unthrow them and start over and the switches aren’t connected to anything anyway.

I guess Terry-Thomas didn’t want to be a leading man — he writes in his memoir about really enjoying getting paid ridiculous sums for a couple of days work. But he has quite a lot to do here as the story proceeds, and his “James,” the chauffeur to Provine’s Lady Penelope type, even partakes in some vigorous karate. Which just makes me want a Terry-Thomas Bond parody all the more keenly. THE MAN FROM T.W.I.T.

The plot or “plot” as it transpires involves a scheme to sap and impurify the precious bodily fluids of the American male, turning our friends into a sexually apathetic nation of Lil Abners. Unlike the wretched Kommissar X series, this one has proper production values, control rooms and stuff. Although the action is all confined to one setting, at least Brazil offers cityscapes, monuments, ocean and jungle. It beats Calgary. Sorry, Calgary.

Finally, it turns out that the plan is based on Nazi concentration camp experiments in sterility, an idea in the foulest bad taste since it’s based in fact. Vallone is freezing sexy girls for the time when he’s the last fertile man on earth. They go into his machine nude, and emerge in jars wearing shiny skintight cossies. When Raf gets kicked into his own device, he goes in full clad and emerges in a jar… fully clad. Even the doomsday devices are sexist. But Provine is allowed to save the day, with Mannix-Bond standing by with his metaphorical dick in his hand, so that’s nice.

List of ingredients: amphibious vehicle, absurd gown, gratuitous cheesecake shots, inane quips, eccentric millionaire baddie, figures badly matted into CCTV comms system, fancy cars, gloating, sinister Chinese element, sliding panels, exotic locales, villain’s lair, stagey punch-ups, colourful laboratory, rescue by aircraft, bondage, feats of escapology, black-tie reception, ring with hidden needle, fancy Rolls-Royce.

KISS THE GIRLS AND MAKE THEM DIE stars Joe Mannix; Bonnie Parker; Giuseppe Garibaldi; Capt. Romney Carlton-Ricketts; Sayonara; Tipsy; Lovey Kravezit; Olympia; Jacky Vein; Klytus Observer No. 1; and Poseidon.

The Unchosen One

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2021 by dcairns

I picked up BARABBAS on DVD from a charity shop along with KING OF KINGS, £1 each, and was amazed at how good it was. I mean, this is Richard Fleischer’s widescreen period and I was pretty disappointed by 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. But Fleischer was good at widescreen and 3D and stuff, at least sometimes. I don’t quite know how to account for his patchiness.

But BARABBAS is based on an acclaimed novel by Pär Lagerkvist and adapted by Christopher Fry (The Lady’s Not for Burning) with an uncredited assist by Nigel Balchin (The Small Back Room). It has De Laurentiis’ millions behind it — but used with a winning combination of intelligence and taste and sheer vulgarity. When we first see the Coliseum, for instance, it’s a massive great set, with real extras in every row, not foosball figures rising and falling in rows, and the area is packed with brawling gladiators, some of them little people, with elephants, a tiger pit, flaming waters — absolutely crazy excess. And that’s basically just an establishing shot, though it’s about twenty shots.

This is one of those BEN-HUR jobs, biblical maginalia — take a character who’s around at the time of Christ and follow his wacky misadventures. Here it’s the thief who was spared crucifixion, played by Anthony Quinn in a boldly sullen, bovine manner — remarkable to have such an epic built around such an uningratiating figure. He’s surrounded by a good, eclectic cast that includes Katy Jurado, Silvana Mangano, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur Kennedy. Strongest impressions are made by Jack Palance as a sadistic gladiator — terrifying! — Harry Andrews, once described by Richard Burton as the world’s greatest wearer of costumes — and Michael Gwynn, building on his REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN experience by playing an eerie Lazarus.

(I bought the Burton diaries, btw. He also OUTS Harry A., thus rocking my world. NEVER would have guessed that.)

They shot a genuine solar eclipse for the crucifixion, but the jaw-dropping set pieces and beautiful compositions and lighting by Aldo Tonti (NIGHTS OF CABIRIA) make that a mere sideshow. Look at this shot (below) — the figures seem like hanging garlands dropping from the central hub, and the different skin tones of the various faces give it a floral look too.

Here we see the guy making the crown of thorns — unsung artisan of torture — and he pricks his finger making it. I said it was vulgar. They want to make you feel the sharpness of the thorns because we’re so used to the image we’re numb to it, but it’s pretty cheap. Still, I prefer it to the Mel Gibson solution which would just be to show graphic penetrative skin-ripping detail in close-up. And where would a biblical epic be without at least a bit of trivialising vulgarity?

It’s all amplified hugely by Mario Nascimbene’s score — his favourite trick is to sit down on the low notes of his piano in some reverberant cavern, creating an awesome slam. Sometimes we don’t even get the slam, just the dead echo of its passing. Spooky.

Barabbas has an encounter with the early Christians in Rome’s catacombs — it has a phantasmal quality that reminds me of Philip K Dick’s hallucinatory musings — “The Empire Never Ended” — anything taking place that far back in time should give us temporal vertigo, but so few movies pull it off — SATYRICON does, and so do bits of this.

Just when I thought I couldn’t like the film any more, for what it is, along comes the ANSWER TO A MYSTERY — beautiful depth-composed tracking shots of mass crucifixion — as used as stock footage with a lava overlay by Ken Russell in ALTERED STATES. I told you I really really wanted to know where that stuff came from. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I can die happy — I just had my second Covid jab and I want to get the benefit — but I’m absurdly pleased to have sorted that out.

Final Curtain for Mr. Curtiz

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2018 by dcairns

This is a hilarious directorial credit: an unresurrected Christ lying just below the moniker of a man moments from death himself. Well, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

The idea of making a study of late Curtiz would normally only occur to somebody actually writing a book on the Hungarian-born filmmaker, because the view has long been that Curtiz had a strong sense of visual style but no particular set of obsessions to make a traditional auteur of him. So why look at his later, not-so good movies?

Curtiz made every kind of film, it seems. (Those who claim to have made every kind of film tend to be lacking in the horror, sci-fi and musical departments, but Curtiz made those too.) He brought a strong visual sensibility, but apparently cared nothing for themes and not much for actors or story. His boss, Jack Warner, wrote: “I had a general conversation with Mike Curtiz in the usual Curtiz manner in the dining room at noon, and all he talked about were the sets and that he wants to build a fort somewhere else, and all a lot of hooey. I didn’t hear him say a word about the story. In other words, he’s still the same old Curtiz—as he always will be!”

B. Kite is very good on this here. (Scroll down past my nonsense.)

B. also once opined to me that Curtiz maybe only works in black & white, though perhaps it’s truer and fairer to say that a certain quality of Curtiz comes through strongest that way. I think his two-strip terrors MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM and DOCTOR X. are terrific, so maybe Curtiz is still Curtiz with two strips of colour, but loses out with three. There are definitely good colour films made by Curtiz: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, WE’RE NO ANGELS, etc. But they don’t quite have the distinct visual splendour of his WB monochrome movies. B. sees him, I think, as a very pure channel for the WB house style.

Still, the first thing to be said about Curtiz’s last three features is that they’re visually lovely, at least in places. All three are widescreen, and he seems able to adapt his tight compositions to the 1:2.35 frame ratio more comfortably than I would imagine 1:1.88 might suit him. A degree of difficulty helps him, and widescreen and academy ratio are both hard to compose for (snakes and funerals on the one hand, bungalows and bulldogs on the other).

   

THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1960) is frequently absolutely gorgeous, which matters a lot because it doesn’t quite find the right tone: you feel like some very good humour is being reported to you by somebody who doesn’t quite get it. Eddie Hodges (Huck) and Archie Moore (Jim) are decent, but don’t seem to gel with each other or anybody else. The rest of the cast go for big and broad: Tony Randall makes the most and then some of a series of phony accents, partnered up with Mickey Shaugnessy to create a team similar to the bad guys in Disney’s PINOCCHIO; Buster Keaton forms another of his unlikely double acts with Andy Devine, and doesn’t get to MOVE; Finlay Currie is fine as always. The best completely straight perf is Neville Brand, authentically scary and nasty as Pap Finn.

Now, as far back as THE EGYPTIAN in 1954, Peter Ustinov had formed the impression that Curtiz was not all there. He had always laboured under a considerable linguistic handicap (his mangling of the language was legendary, and wonderfully poetic at times — “Bring on the empty horses!” was evocative enough for David Niven to use it as title for one of his memoirs), and this combined with age and his disengagement from his actors maybe made him not the ideal man to do Twain. But he had succeeded at many other unlikely subjects in the past.

The Cinemascope stiffness, coupled with Curtiz’s own, the big, forced performances, and a lot of overplaying whenever Huck has to invent a “stretcher,” combine to stifle most of the comic possibilities here, so what we get instead is some moderate suspense and a pageant of grotesque characters and attractive settings. Ted D. McCord does a great job shooting it and Jerome Moross provides a typically ebullient score. It’s not poor, but it’s not quite alive.

Never mind, FRANCIS OF ASSISI (1961) is a religious epic, so you wouldn’t ever expect it to be alive, and it sure doesn’t disappoint. Saint-to-be Francis is played by a series of beautiful matte paintings of Bradford Dillman, Stuart Whitman is his frenemy/rival, and Dolores Hart the girl he throws over for God. She’s the only one in the film who breathes any humanity into her role, struggling against stiff dialogue and stilted situations. There’s a surprising lack of miracles and the animal-taming bit is given very  little play, surprisingly. Finlay Currie is fine as always, promoted from riverboat captain to pope, a big step up for an Edinburgh man.

   

Lots of spectacle, some of it impressive. The landscapes and the groupings of people fill the frame inventively, but Curtiz’s signature camera moves are becoming ever less frequent. He’ll push in occasionally; follow people about a little; but the grand sweep of his glory days when he’d hurry on to a set at an acute angle to the action, letting foreground furniture flash past, that’s all gone.

Bradford Dillman is someone I quite like, but he’s hopelessly adrift here. I’m not sure who could animate the script’s plaster saint. Occasional lines referring to Francis as “little” make you imagine someone intended him to be mild-mannered and tiny: by chance, Mervyn Johns is to hand, and I thought to myself, “Get me a young Mervyn Johns.” It can only work as a character part, as it’s so sexless. (Dillman could have slid some sly sensuality in there if there’d been the faintest opportunity: isn’t that what he’s for? Those lips!)

Piero Portalupi shot it and Mario Nascimbene provides the choral uplift.The film Curtiz bowed out on, however, was THE COMANCHEROS, released the same year (Curtiz died, aged 75, the following year). It’s pretty fair, I guess. If I liked John Wayne a bit more, or Stuart Whitman at all, I might call it an impressive finish for him. I think Whitman is miscast as a New Orleans gent on the run for killing a man in a duel. A lot of this movie is supposed to be enjoyable because of the spectacle of the plebeian Duke shoving his highfalutin prisoner around, but Whitman isn’t enough of a toff. You need Peter Lawford, probably. Wow, I never thought I’d type those words.

John Wayne had quite a track record of late films, didn’t he? After all there’s this, RIO LOBO, which was Howard Hawks’ last; BIG JAKE, George Sherman’s last; JET PILOT, a late Sternberg; BLOOD ALLEY, a late Wellman; TRUE GRIT, a late Hathaway; and THE CONQUEROR, which killed just about everyone in it. He also directed his own last film as director, BIG JAKE THE GREEN BERETS, and starred in his own last film as actor, THE SHOOTIST, a conscious self-elegy. I guess he just liked working with old guys when he was old, The most charming moment in THE COMANCHEROS is when Wayne signs into a hotel using the pseudonym “Ed McBain” and we notice that cinematographer William H. Clothier and the rest of the crew have checked in ahead of him. Curtiz hasn’t checked in, probably because he’s too busy checking out.

The best scene is a poker game where the single-source lighting is really beautiful and Wayne looks SO different and so much more interesting. Also playing is Lee Marvin, a bad guy with half a scalp (you could probably build a whole other Lee Marvin out of the bits Marvin had removed in his various characterisations). Elsewhere, the Arizona and Utah settings are epic and prehistoric. The finale is a bit pathetic: leading lady Ina Balin has to get over the death of her bad guy father in abound four seconds so she can look overjoyed at the happy ending. See also the studio-imposed finish of ONE-EYED JACKS.

Elmer Bernstein does the music on this one, and although it’s a bit more stately than THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, as befits Wayne’s age and lumbering gait, you get the idea. It seemed kind of weird to me how the music stays celebratory during life-and-death conflicts and chases. Shouldn’t we be taking this seriously?THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN: Starring Rockwell P. Hunter, Rhoda Penmark, Maj. Marvin Groper, Hunk Houghton, Daisy Hawkins, Link Appleyard, Rollo Treadway, Reinhardt Heidrich, Winnie the Pooh, Tom Fury, Johnny Farragut and Magwitch.

FRANCIS OF ASSISI: Starring Big Eddie, Lisa Held, Orvil Newton, Prof. Thurgood Elson, Dr. Stern, Mrs. Karswell, Bob Cratchit and Magwitch again.

THE COMANCHEROS: Starring Ethan Edwards, Orvil Newton again, Little Bonaparte, Liberty Valance, Lt. Greenhill, John Driscoll, Charlie Max and Garbitsch.