Archive for Max Steiner

Bring Me the Head of Fred C. Dobbs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2014 by dcairns

humph

Spoiler alert — this is a key moment from THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and I’ll be discussing it in detail so turn aside squeamishly if you haven’t seen this film in the 66 years since it was made ~

At 2.33 Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) brings his machete down on Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart). At 2.34 he takes a step back and looks at his messy handiwork. At 2.35 he kills Fred all over again, in what looks to be the exact same shot or a different take of the same.

At 2.37 he gets momentarily distracted by something to his lower right.

At 2.39 there’s a high angle shot in which we can see a pool of water with a rippling surface and a trace of darkness.

According to regular Shadowplayer Randy Cook, this sequence was originally supposed to show Bogie’s decapitation and his head rolling into the pool. In Robert Rossen’s draft screenplay we find the sequence described thus ~

“THE REST WE SEE REFLECTED IN THE BRACKISH WATER OF THE POOL: The stroke of the machete, then the figures of the three bandits standing, eyes downward, looking at something on the ground. The water in the pool begins to darken. Gold Hat looks up from the ground to the machete in his hand. He touches his thumb and forefinger to the tip of his tongue, then he tests the cutting edge of the blade. The waters of the pool are growing darker and darker.”

Huston, being a director, would probably have ignored the stuff about reflections in a pool. Anytime a screenwriter describes a camera placement, you can be sure the director will do something different. Then again, Rossen’s script was an adaptation of Huston’s pre-war draft. Huston, I think, subsequently adapted it back.

Randy suggests listening to Max Steiner’s typically emphatic score, which accompanies the action closely, a style known as “mickey-mousing.” If you close your eyes at the moment of the first mighty chop, you can easily picture the score accompanying the bouncing of a prop head into a pool. Thump thump splosh.

“Huston had seen terrible things in the war and may have thought the time was right to show something like this,” suggests Randy. “Also, as we know from the ending of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING that he found severed heads funny.”

Bogart reputedly complained, “What’s wrong with showing a guy getting his head cut off?”

So what was deleted? Also – there are plenty of shots of makeup tests of Bogie for this film — he wears various lengths of beard and wig, courtesy of Perc Westmore and his team. So why has no prosthetic head of Humphrey Bogart turned up?

I’m trying to mentally reconstruct the sequence as it originally stood.

As originally edited, the second chop would not have existed. The shot at 2:37 would have run longer, making it clear that Gold Hat is following the movement of something close to the ground.

The high angle showing the pool to Gold Hat’s right would have started a touch earlier, showing the splash, and lingered as the blood started to srain the pool. No severed head need be shown, since the splash could be produced by any heavy round object. Maybe a weighted canteen containing dark dye.

This explanation strikes me as credible — Huston may have expected to get away with such a sequence, introducing a grisly idea using suggestion and enlisting the audience’s imagination. Then Jack Warner would have choked on his cigar or Joe Breen would have had a conniption, and the sequence would have had to be re-edited. To make things cheap, they didn’t want to change the length of the scene because that would mean rescoring, so they rearranged some shots and added a second death-blow from Gold Hat, ironically making the scene MORE violent, although measuring such things is very subjective. Steve McQueen doesn’t think his 12 YEARS A SLAVE is particularly violent as it only contains, to his mind, six instances of violence — fewer than any PG-rated action film. But the effect on an audience has little to do with the number of violent moments or even how explicitly they are presented — most of the violence in FUNNY GAMES occurs just off-camera, but I think it’s laughable to claim that makes it more pure or decent.

This debate won’t be settled probably ever, but I’m glad to say I may have settled why Humphrey Bogart’s severed head hasn’t turned up on eBay.

BUT — nothing is settled. There are accounts that swear there was a severed head, and there is this ~

humphrey_bogart

 

Proof that Bogart’s face was cast for a life-mask at about the right time. He does wear a lot of different beard and hairpieces in the film, so it could have been for that. If Humphrey Bogart DID have a spare head, what’s become of it? Maybe it was water-soluble. Maybe Bogie got drunk and dropkicked it off a cliff. Maybe it was carried off by a gila monster. Maybe Warren Oates found it years later…?

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Skull Island Follies of 1933

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on August 5, 2011 by dcairns

The fourth and final part of The Daily Notebook series on pre-code movies screening at New York’s Film Forum is now up, featuring a few more contributions by me, including some thoughts on the pre-code qualities of KING KONG.

I’d no sooner mentioned this to friend, regular Shadowplayer and Oscar-winning animator Randall William Cook, than he told me something really spicy and smutty and pre-code about the movie, which I’ll share with you immediately. Seems Mr Cook managed to get a look at Max Steiner’s original score, the actual sheet music for the film. Here, the various cues had titles, not intended for the public’s eyes. You know that scene where Kong is undressing Fay Wray, and he sort of prods/tickles her with his index finger, then smells the digit in question?

It’s called “Stinkfinger.”

Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.

Hope in Hell

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2011 by dcairns

There’s so much to enjoy in CAGED — thanks for recommending it, everyone. Trashing the later, inferior WOMEN’S PRISON with its very first line (“Pile out, tramps: end of the line!”) the movie benefits from the application of Warner Bros grit and gristle, making it an effective female counterpart to I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG. Wisely, it dials down the brutality a little, but stresses psychological cruelty, corruption, and lack of empathy as being just as destructive as physical violence.

Hope looms over the excellent Betty Garde.

Agnes Moorehead plays the sympathetic governor, Eleanor Parker is the unworldly new girl, and a dorm-full of supporting players add physiognomic and dramaturgical variety (but no colour: while WOMEN’S PRISON kept its black cons in a separate cell, this stripy hole has apparently segregated them elsewhere entirely). But the movie’s secret weapon is twisted screw Hope Emerson. Coming on like a cross between a John Waters grotesque and Emile Myer in drag, she’s brutal, vicious, stupid and crooked in fifty diverting ways. It’s interesting to see a villain who isn’t very bright but is still horribly dangerous, just because of the barbaric situation and near-unlimited power she wields.

Kudos to Warners, and screenwriter Virginia Kellogg, whose other major credits are T-MEN and WHITE HEAT, showing her to be no slacker when it comes to the darker side of the screen. While on those movies she generated the original ideas and research but did little of the final drafting, she developed CAGED from scratch for ace producer Jerry Wald and wrote most of the script, with some assistance from Bernard C, Schoenfeld. According to Lizzie Francke’s book Script Girls, Women Screenwriters in Hollywood, Kellogg visited numerous prisons and even arranged a two week stay in one.

“Out of my prison observations, the most frightening thing of all was the realisation that the conditions that I saw exist even in our most enlightened states, and that few Americans have any idea of what is going on in their own back yards. Club women often visit the women’s penitentiaries in their states (on carefully guided tours). Invariably they come away impressed with the clean, modern buildings and the superintendents, most of whom are the capable officials recommended by penal-reform organisations. But the club women cannot see the rot inside the buildings.”

Despite these words, Kellogg’s script, as realised by John Cromwell, an able stylist able to fully channel the Warners look (noirish, darkly glossy yet “real”), is unsparing when it comes to the institutionalized emotional brutality and the way the effect of a prison sentence is to concentrate criminals together so that they become more corrupted than they were when they went in. There’s no human sympathy on display whatsoever until we meet Moorehead, and perversely, despite being the boss, she’s almost the least powerful figure in the film, sandwiched as she is between the politicians above and the staff below, neither of whom give her any respect or listen to her ideas.

Also, bracingly, the movie lays much of the blame at the door of men — the cons are in stir because of the men in their life, and the prison is a hell-hole because of the men who run it. A concerned doctor is the single male voice of reason, and the film sensible shoves him out the door as quickly as it can (unlike in WOMEN’S PRISON where Howard Duff hangs about preaching in his deep manly voice until you want to shiv him). Hope Emerson provides a note of variety since there’s no hint that any mere man has made her into such a spectacularly rotten a human being.

A round of applause too, to Max Steiner, for achieving some unusually subtle effects (he’s normally Mr Bombast, and we love him for it, but sometimes you have to put the big guns away). Cromwell’s use of sound and silence is exemplary too, with the myriad creakings and clankings of metallic bedframes making the dorm at night sound like a typing pool until the inmates settle. And a major character’s final choice to accept a life of crime rather than to play ball with a crooked system is played out, remarkably, under the distant echoing sound of a hymn being sung. Chills.