Archive for Marsha Hunt

Kismet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-05-06-23h28m31s129

“Say, what’s the big idea?”

“Kismet!”

Another viewing of EASY LIVING confirms its supremacy. Seems we’ve all spent decades admiring Frank Capra comedies when we should’ve been admiring Mitchell Leisen comedies. This is complicated by the fact that the good Leisen comedies are also Wilder & Brackett films or Preston Sturges films, and that means something different to us than saying that of course Capra owed a great debt to Robert Riskin and the Swerlings etc. It shouldn’t, though — Sturges and Wilder’s distinguished future directing careers don’t impact on the quality of the films Leisen made from their scripts.

(You might find yourself, briefly, thinking less of Leisen if you attempt to watch MASQUERADE IN MEXICO, a protracted and miscast remake of MIDNIGHT. Wilder must have hated that, since he felt that MIDNIGHT was the one of his scripts he’d managed to protect from Leisen’s alterations. Leisen got his revenge, you could say, but the movie is pretty lousy and didn’t do its director any favours.)

Sturges’s debt to Wodehouse looks even stronger now — Ray Milland, very effective as the fatheaded idler son, is a pure Wodehouse “young man in spats” type. Lovers saying “Ha!” to each other in moments of high emotion. Jean Arthur working at The Boy’s Constant Companion — these kind of trashy magazines are regular employment for Wodehouse heroes, suggesting that his early days of journalism fixed his world view permanently.

The fur coat that drops from heaven and transforms Jean’s life, however, is pure Sturges. The idea that appearance is all anyone cares about, and success is a matter only of perception, and the heavy hand of the author intruding to transform character’s lives in a blatant manner, all that is the stuff of Sturges writ large.

vlcsnap-2013-05-06-23h28m08s154

One could wish that the last line — “This is where we came in!” — were different. I have no doubt that Sturges was the first to use it, but it has become a dead sitcom cliché. Perhaps for younger audiences, it has already lost those associations, and will seem fresh again. But then, younger audiences never had the experience of walking into a movie partway through, sitting through the whole programme, and then getting to the point you recognise and leaving, with those words. I did: I think we only did this on double bills, but I certainly remember entering the cinema while a strange movie was partway through. Hitchcock didn’t affect a total transformation in cinema-going habits all at once with VERTIGO, and at any rate in the 70s or even 80s your cinema ticket bought you admission and you were entitled to sit in the dark all day if you felt like it.

vlcsnap-2013-05-06-23h28m17s235

Who is that girl? I wondered, when the fur coat incident from the beginning was repeated with a new girl at the end. It didn’t seem right that she should just be an anonymous extra (she’s uncredited). One wants it to be an aspirant Jean Arthur, with something of a career ahead of her. And, according to the IMDb, it was — Marsha Hunt, still with us today, is the girl. I love her in Zinnemann’s CSI 1940s crime flick, KID GLOVE KILLER.

Easy Living (Universal Cinema Classics)

Blind Tuesday: Guide-dog Friday

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2011 by dcairns

MGM racism: waiting to see which one will make a remark about watermelons first.

I’ve only managed to see one of Fred Zinnemann’s short subjects made at MGM, which is frustrating: surely his CRIME DOES NOT PAY episodes will reveal something of the noir skills displayed later in ACT OF VIOLENCE. The short I did see is THE OLD SOUTH, a very peculiar piece of work indeed. Seemingly made to pave the way for GONE WITH THE WIND, educating audiences who might not know their history, it’s highly unusual for a Hollywood product of the day, since it’s rather hard to get a sense from it of what we’re supposed to think and how we’re supposed to feel. This is because the movie is terribly afraid of offending anybody, although it seems far more afraid of offending southerners than, say, black people.

Zinnemann, who I guess was only doing his job, eventually atoned by making the splendid MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, but first there was his B-movie phase. KID GLOVE KILLER is a forensic procedural that plays like a kind of 1940s CSI. Of course, it’s warmer, with a sweetly banal boss-assistant relationship between Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt. Zinnemann was pretty pleased with the results, considering, and returned to the procedural format with DAY OF THE JACKAL and, sort of, THE NUN’S STORY.

He was much less happy with EYES IN THE NIGHT, but looking at it now, it’s a very enjoyable picture. Edward Arnold plays Duncan McLean, blind detective, who,  aided by his intrepid German shepherd, Friday, and by Allen Jenkins and Mantan Moreland, investigates a spy ring storyline that somehow carries elements of MILDRED PIERCE and THE RECKLESS MOMENT. The taboo of filial ingratitude is softened by making the offending offspring a stepdaughter (Donna Reed!) and a happy ending is of course provided.

Zinnemann complains in his autobio that his blind man couldn’t remember his lines and blew take after take, while his dog was good for one take and would afterwards get nervous and hide (he faced a similar performance discrepancy with Sinatra and Clift in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, which weirdly also features a character named Friday). In spite of this, the team were successful enough to appear in one more picture, THE HIDDEN EYE, directed by Richard Whorf.

The blind detective was created by Baynard Kendrick, and unless I’m misremembering, his other senses were so acute, he could read ordinary writing by running his fingertips over the print. The movie version isn’t so superpowered, but he’s a master of judo (somewhat unconvincing, when he’s played by the portly E.A.) as well as smart and quick-witted. So’s the script — it throws in a quote from Milton, a gaggle of plot twists, family melodrama, and lots of good business for the dog. The other sidekicks are somewhat underused.

O loss of sight, of thee I most complain! Blind among enemies, O worse than chains, dungeon or beggary, or decrepit age!

“Where are you?”

“In the dark. In the dark, Hanson — in MY kingdom!”

Guns blaze in the dark! ANd when I try to get a good frame of the muzzle flare, I find this surreal image — the gun arm thrust through some canvas screen, NOT part of the movie scene, presumably an attempt to get complete blackout for the effect.

Despite what Zinnemann saw as its corniness, the movie did well enough to land him an A picture, THE SEVENTH CROSS, about which much more later. Yet that triumph was followed by two unsuitable kiddie comedies, MY BROTHER TALKS TO HORSES and the other one, starring six-year-old “Butch” Jenkins — “a perfectly, normal, charming little boy, who had no talent, could not remember his lines and hated being in movies, but was made to carry on by his mother, whom he feared and adored.” Maybe this negative experience partly explains why Zinnemann became such an expert director of children. But that’s also down to his experience in documentary with Flaherty, working with non-actors but trying to capture authentic behaviour.

Zinnemann’s book is very good, though he tends to ruin his funny stories with exclamation marks and the like. By his own admission, he wasn’t the most lighthearted of filmmakers. But I like his anecdote about what happened at MGM after he started turning down scripts –

“There was a long, long corridor in the executive building — known as the ‘Iron Lung’. Entering it at one end I would see the tiny figures of associate producers in the distance, coming toward me, spotting me, turning around and disappearing into offices, stairways or toilets. [...]

“A third script arrived. It was lousy. When I turned it down, Eddie Mannix, the General Manager, sent for me.

“He did not look amiable. ‘What’s all this?’ he asked. ‘You have no right to turn down assignments.’ I said it was a bad script and I didn’t know what to do with it. Mannix looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You know damn well that MGM never makes a bad picture.’ Pause. ‘We preview it; if there’s something wrong with it we fix it.’ To this day, I don’t know if he was serious, but I doubt it. Then he said, ‘You could do very well in this company, you could be a good man for us, but you’ve got to learn to do what the boss tells you.’ He mentioned the two least good directors on the lot and said, ‘Look at them, they are the two best men I’ve got; they never give us any trouble.’ I could only shake my head.”

Zinnemann was suspended, which meant his pay stopped and he couldn’t work anywhere else and the time spent on suspension would be added to the end of his contract. Suspension would last until the picture he had turned down was ready for release.

“Three weeks later Mannix called me again. He seemed embarrassed. ‘I’ve been looking for an excuse to put you back on the payroll,’ he said, ‘but I can’t find one, so I’m putting you back anyway. After all, Fleming and Brown turn down scripts too.”

Not all stories about Mannix, the ruthless studio fixer, are so heartwarming… But this is a classic Zinnemann story: it comes on like entertainment, it turns out to be full of perfidy and injustice, and ultimately it’s about human decency and dignity.

Ann Harding (left) and Donna Reed, who is the other connection to FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.

Things Roddy said during “Dracula AD 1972″

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2010 by dcairns

“Here he comes… the most exciting, scariest vampire you’ve ever seen!”

Fiona’s brother Roddy likes horror movies — I have to qualify that by saying he likes specific ones, like Universal FRANKENSTEIN movies or Hammer DRACULA ones. Christopher Lee is without question his favourite actor. So during Roddy’s Christmas visit there was no question what we were watching. Fiona screened the original Hammer/Lee DRAC while I was wrapped the parcels, and on Boxing Day I ran AD 1972, the penultimate film in Hammer’s loose series (not counting the later LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, which maybe I should, even though it’s pretty poor, even by the dubious standards of vampire kung fu crossover flicks).

I like the two modern-day DRACS, although I shouldn’t. The period sequels got dull pretty fast, and even a transfusion of fresh ideas in TASTE THE BLOOD OF D didn’t entirely dispel the air of deja vu. Not that this bothers Roddy, who likes to repeat pleasurable experiences: like a lot of people with learning difficulties, and a lot of children too (Roddy just turned 50) he’s comforted by repetition and predictability.

I’ve never asked him if he prefers historical Hammers to funky modern ones, but I doubt it makes too much difference. I certainly know Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are big parts of the pleasure: although the title BRIDES OF DRACULA always raises his interest, once he discovers Lee isn’t in it, he goes off the idea; a shame, as it may be Terence Fisher’s best film in the “series”.

Hyde Park — a Victorian Hansom approaches. “I think this is the one where they’re fighting — him and Dracula!” declares Roddy as  Cushing and Lee appear, wrestling on the roof.

Lee is dispatched with a spoke through the heart — curiously, Roddy, a traditionalist in matters of vampire slaying, doesn’t object to this. Cushing dies, we get an attractively-shot funeral, and unknown hands rescue a sample of Dracula’s ashes, along with his ring. I’m not sure the identity of this Draculite is ever dealt with, but it’s a nice mystery — he’s obviously an ancestor of the disciple we meet later, since he’s played by the same actor, but it’s not clear why he leaves it so long before attempting a resurrection.

Alan Hume’s Dick Bush’s cinematography makes attractive use of both long lens and wide angle lens effects.

Pan up from grave, past now-ruined church, to catch jet plane flying overhead, a shot which makes me think of the falcon turning into a fighter plane in Powell & Pressburger’s A CANTERBURY TALE. Funky music, shots of cranes forming cruciform shapes against the skyline, a steak house, a red London bus, and on to the wild party.

Cushing appears again, this time as his own grandson, and Stephanie Beacham is his buxom granddaughter, Jessica (inexplicably replaced by the more streamlined Joanna Lumley in the sequel the following year). Jessica is hanging with a wild crowd, including Johnny Alucard (prettyboy Christopher Neame).

“They’re dancing too fast!” complains Roddy during the party-crashing scene. People with Williams syndrome are usually quite musical, and Roddy is a good drummer. With his sense of rhythm, he spots that the partygoers are dancing to the wrong music.

“Would you smile at a policeman?”

“Uh, there he is. Why’s he got a bow tie on?”

“Carpathia? Where’s that?” Roddy must ask this question every time he watches the film. One never knows if he forgets the answer or if he just likes asking the question. People with Williams’ syndrome are notoriously chatty, and Roddy asks questions not just to obtain answers, not even primarily, but rather to keep the conversation going.

Alucard and his gang (including babes Caroline Munro and Marsha Hunt) attempt a black mass, accompanied by the music of The White Noise (featuring David Vorhaus, son of film director Bernard, and Delia Derbyshire, electronic genius behind the Dr Who theme) and raise Christopher Lee, who eschews dialogue as much as possible (Lee hated the scripts’ departures from Stoker, and particularly disliked the modern ambience).

Neame should have been a bigger star, it seems to me. He’s perfectly attuned to the movie’s camp sensibilities, and he looks great. If you’re going to have a character called Johnny Alucard, and I’m not for a minute suggesting you should, this is what he should look like.

“Here comes the smoke — or is it steam?”

This may be the movie where the makeup team pranked Lee by fitting him with Union Jack contact lenses…

Cushing prepares to strike back as Jessica’s pals go missing, and a montage shows him collecting holy water and melting a crucifix to make a silver bullet. This scene is why I’m never watching this movie with Roddy again, because he ALWAYS objects to the idea of silver bullets as a vampire-killing measure. “That’s for werewolves!” And he won’t be told otherwise, even if I quote the entry from my copy of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts (Carey Miller, Piccolo, 1974, my childhood source on all things monstrous) ~

1) A wooden stake made from aspen or hawthorn wood must be driven into the vampire’s heart or navel;

2) Small stones or rains of incense must be placed in the coffin so that the vampire has something to nibble if he awoke, to delay him leaving the coffin;

3) Garlic must be stuffed in his mouth;

4) Millet seed must be scattered over the vampire’s body for he could not leave the tomb until every grain had been counted;

5) The vampire’s body must be buried face downwards;

6) Wild, thorny roses must be strung outside the coffin in order to hinder the vampire’s progress from the grave.

There are other legendary ways of killing a vampire, like shooting him with a silver bullet or burning his coffin so he cannot return to it.

By the way, that millet seed thing only works if the vampire is the Count from Sesame Street.

Cushing tracks Alucard to his lair pad, and after an exciting confrontation where Johnny calls Van “man” about fifteen times, the creature of the night perishes under the clear running water of his shower. He also offends Roddy by calling Cushing “bastard!”

“Language, Dracula!” That’s not Dracula, I remind him. “Language, vampire!”

Alucard, being a recent vamp, doesn’t disintegrate when slain, he just turns a bit soapy.

Ouch! Stephanie has really hot tits!

Cushing corners Lee in his desanctified church and there’s a stirring battle. I like it when Hammer came up with complicated deaths for Lee (while I hate it when he gets struck by lightning), and this is a doozy, with holy water slung like acid, and a plunge from the steeple into a booby-trapped grave. Cushing finishes him off by driving him onto the spike with a jab from his shovel.

“That’s done the trick!”

Rest in Final Peace, reads the end title, a proposition immediately turned into a lie by next year’s sequel.

A shame Hammer didn’t make a true-life adaptation of the case of the Highgate Vampire, which would have given them an AMITYVILLE HORROR kind of documentary vibe. But I must admit I enjoy this tosh, and only wish director Alan Gibson could have been put in charge of the HARRY POTTER series, which might be enlivened by a jazz funk soundtrack and great yawning chasms of female cleavage.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 362 other followers