Archive for Marlene Dietrich

Breakaway Props

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2019 by dcairns

Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne make a surprising duo, yet they made three films together (and didn’t really get on — Marlene seems to have been the difficult one).

The films have a lot of brawling in them. SEVEN SINNERS is my favourite, although Wayne’s character is kind of a self-destructive dope. Strong support from Mischa Auer, Marlene’s DESTRY co-star, a comparatively slim Broderick Crawford (pictured) and a villainous Oscar Homolka.

THE SPOILERS casts Randolph Scott against type as a louse, which like Wayne as a dope is unconventional but not particularly pleasing. I guess I’m like a 1940s audience member, unwilling to accept my stars out of type-casting.

Mind you, what it does to Wayne’s persona is positively dizzying, and I didn’t mind that so much. Even the blackface gag seemed… not as offensive as it should be. Marietta Canty’s sensitive playing keeps the humour just the right side of awful.

PITTSBURGH — and how weird is it that Universal made a film called PITTSBURGH and expected people to like it? — is my least favourite. Wayne plays an absolute louse, the worst character he ever played. He’s like Charles Foster Kane with anthracite. And I’m reminded of what Billy Wilder said about coal mining films — “I don’t leave the theater… elated.”

Also there’s not enough brawling. Does Pennsylvania lack conducive saloons?

A friend told me a story that’s movie punch-up related. His dad was a merchant seaman or something like that. First time at sea. They stopped in an exotic port and hit some seedy dive on shore leave. Somewhere like the Seven Sinners. A fight broke out.

The young not-yet dad immediately knew what to do — he’d seen the right movies. He grabbed a chair and swung it down on somebody’s back. There was a snapping sound, the guy fell to the floor — but the chair remained in his hands, unbroken.

He ran back to the ship and didn’t leave it for the rest of his leave.

The respective directors of these epics are Tay Garnett (kind of replaying HER MAN), Ray Enright, Lewis Seiler.

SEVEN SINNERS stars Lola Lola; the Ringo Kid; Dr. Cyclops; Harry Brock; Bronwyn; Prince Nikita Starloff; Professor Von Schwartzenhoffen; Col. Stok; Commodore Schmidlapp; Charleston; Blake of Scotland Yard; and Jabez Stone.

THE SPOILERS stars Lola Lola; Gil Westrum; the Ringo Kid; Millie Ray; Trader Horn; Bat MacPherson; Pa Bailey; Pa Joad; Tubal; James R. Smoke; Dobosh; and the Frankenstein Monster.

PITTSBURGH stars Lola Lola; Gil Westrum; the Ringo Kid; Doctor Harry Brewster; Prof. Shemp Howard; Captain Edward Teach aka Blackbeard; Pop Gehrig; Pa Bailey; Mr. Manleigh; and Mrs. Laurel.

She’s Up!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 4, 2018 by dcairns

My SCARLET EMPRESS piece is live at The Chiseler. Great response to this one on Twitter — thanks to @CriterionDaily for publicising it.

So, we’re more than halfway through the Sternberg-Dietrich canon (out of sequence), with THE BLUE ANGEL, SHANGHAI EXPRESS and THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN still to come. Hell will have no surprises!

Cinephiles everywhere should be ordering Criterion’s forthcoming box set of all six Paramount films (and they should already own THE BLUE ANGEL in some format or other).

The Sunday Intertitle: A Silent with Sound

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2018 by dcairns

A royal birth!

In THE SCARLET EMPRESS, Von Sternberg brings back various aspects of silent cinema — long, wordless passages, scenes played on detail shots — and intertitles! Often these start as white-on-black text and then a background shot fades up behind so that the text becomes a superimposition. An advance on the old titles, which were more interruptive.

Sternberg, however, hated the live accompaniment provided for silents, because he had no control over it. So here he can finally play long visual scenes with synchronized score, and he got so into this that he elbowed the conductor aside and took up the baton himself, despite having no training. Chaplin could do it, so could he!

Continuing my jaunt through the Sternberg-Dietrich collabs for The Chiseler, a project with new currency thanks to the forthcoming Criterion box set. The previous installments are here, here and here. Hopefully we’ll have another tomorrow.