Archive for Melvyn Douglas

I Want to be a Clone

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2017 by dcairns

If I keep watching MGM films from the thirties, will I become infected? While Warners films of the period have a salutary cynicism, the main ethos of Mayer & Thalberg’s studio is patriarchal snobbery (deep down it may be just as cynical, but it would take a Sigmund Freud armed with excavation equipment to dig the true beliefs out of Louis B. Mayer’s cerebellum). But they did make some good movies, and some interesting movies, even when that’s at the root. And sometimes they broke free from it altogether.

There’s a bit of class panic in AS YOU DESIRE ME, I guess, which is a Tichbourne Claimant/Martin Guerre identity crisis melodrama that’s part screwball (the first part), and where part of the anxiety rests on the possibility that Garbo may not be the long-lost amnesiac lady of the great house, but a long-lost amnesiac housemaid. Gasp! Since this is adapted from Pirandello, some trace of doubt is actually allowed to remain, and we’re left to assume that identity may not be wholly fixed and may not matter as much as we think. maybe it’s an act of faith — we have to believe we are who we are, and other people have to confirm it for us.

What an odd film this is! It’s another of the million films which seem to anticipate VERTIGO, with a doubled woman trying to impersonate her portrait at the behest of a bereaved, unbalanced man. But the best stuff is at the start, with Garbo rocking an electric-white hairdo while flailing around drunkenly and humiliating a wagonload of willing suitors. Then Erich Von Stroheim turns up as an author not in search of these particular six characters.

This movie should be remembered as the one where Erich is lighter, quicker and more charming than Melvyn Douglas, who is just starting out and way out of his comfort zone. Maybe he’s also picking up some of Garbo’s hambone tendencies, since she seems determined here to combine Norma Shearer’s phony attitude-striking with her own brand of loose-limbed semaphore, resulting in melodramatic staggers interrupted by bouts of vogueing. It’s somewhat enjoyable but surely a bad influence on impressionable minds like Melvyn’s.

Director George Fitzmaurice seems happy to let everyone do just as they please. Even Stroheim, the most fun character, has an odd moment where he gets so passionate his ears literally flap like Dumbo’s (above).

The thing kicks off with a splendid crane shot exploring a music hall’s audience while Garbo sings off-camera, and her regular DoP William Daniels has fun making her blonde locks glow like a magnesium flare.

Thanks to the various readers and Facebook friends who suggested this one!

Advertisements

Dunne Gone

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2017 by dcairns

These sentences that seem like they’ve finished. But then pick up again after the full stop. They’re a James Harvey tic, and I’m enjoying his Romantic Comedy book so much he’s gotten inside my head. So I’d best cut these out before they become annoying. To me!

(There’s a running gag in THE MORE THE MERRIER with Charles Coburn adding unnecessary modifiers to the end of sentences as afterthoughts, so he can never quite decide when he’s finished. Them.)

Anyhow, Harvey likes THEODORA GOES WILD better than we did, but we liked it a lot. Our disagreement is a mere matter of degree — I’m with Harvey when he says the first half of the film, once its premise has been set up (Irene Dunne has written a racy novel under a pseudonym and nobody in her snooty small town must know) is enjoyable but not quite satisfactory. I found it only just good enough to watch. Dunne is terrif, and Melvyn Douglas is slick as ever, but the stuff where he turns up in her town disguised as a hobo, romancing her and trying to get her to reveal her secret to the town, and also, creepily, blackmailing her by threatening to do so himself — it’s just so-so. As Harvey says, the woman should dominate in a screwball comedy.

But this slightly lackadaisical first half is just foreplay to the amazing second half, which fulfils the title and then some. Because (there I go again), Douglas also is a slave to respectability, albeit the big-city kind, so Theodora turns up in his life as a wicked woman, causing chaos and scandal and divorce suits (surprisingly, divorce is embraced as a sometimes-necessary solution here). Since we’ve seen via Theodora’s that this kind of life disruption is therapeutic, we can really sit back and enjoy the shoe being on the other foot — Dunne plays comic triumph wonderfully (THE AWFUL TRUTH) and seeing Douglas’s smoothy charm ruffled and discomfited is hilarious.

This is also where Dunne gets to wear fabulous, silly costumes by Bernard Newman — the first impression of her transformed persona is indelible, thanks to his black feathered glory. As Fiona noted, the costume is not only glamorous but hilarious because of how it MOVES — it keeps twitching, as if possessed of its own inner animation. It underlines and then undercuts what Dunne says and does, because as with nude ballet, not everything stops when the music does — each dramatic move she makes sets off little tremors and spasms in her plumage.

Some very elegant direction from Richard Boleslawski, apparently already suffering from the heart ailment that would kill him midway through his next film. With cinematographer Joseph Walker (Capra’s main man), he devises sweeping shots which manage to glide into the world of ritzy glam evoked by Theodora’s racy novel, without gliding OUT of the world of comedy. There’s just the right level of exaggeration to it all.

And there’s a dog. Dogs in place of children in screwballs, always. Hard to think of a single major screwball with kids in. (The minor but fun SHE MARRIED HER BOSS and IT’S LOVE I’M AFTER do have good monster brats, though.) Corky, as Jake the dog, is no Asta/George/Atlas/Mr. Smith/Skippy, nor is he as cute as the cutest puppy in the world in THE YOUNG IN HEART, but he’s pretty adorable, as is his film.

Fair and Lovely on the Campaign Trail

Posted in FILM, Painting, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-04-07-00h26m26s23

In THE CANDIDATE (1972), Michael Ritchie does such a good job of surrounding golden boy Robert Redford with grotesques, ugly Americans, non-WASP imperfect specimens of ordinary humanity, that the overall effect is similar to Heironymous Bosch’s painting of Christ Carrying the Cross, thronged and taunted by gurning Semitic caricatures. The once-dapper Melvyn Douglas is used to particularly unsightly effect, seemingly serving his aging kisser up happily to curdle our blood with a lot of sinister, wet grinning. Also Allen Garfield’s ebullient bulbousness, Peter Boyle sporting a Mr. Upside-Down-Head full beard, even a young Michael Lerner, every part of whom seems to be wider than it is long.

vlcsnap-2015-04-07-00h25m41s89

This is one I had to watch pan-and-scan in an off-air recording, which seems a terrible gap in the historic record. You’d think Redford was well enough known for there to be a DVD somewhere. I’d suggest an Eclipse box set to compliment Criterion’s excellent DOWNHILL RACER — “Winning and Losing with Michael Ritchie” — it could have SMILE, THE CANDIDATE, DOWNHILL RACER, THE BAD NEW BEARS and maybe The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. And does anyone rate SEMI-TOUGH? Still, this would have to come after René Clemént’s “Occupation and Resistance,” which is top of my wish list.

What shall it profit a Malibu blond? It’s the age-old tale of the idealist who loses his way — Ritchie and editors Richard A. Harris (regular collaborator) and Robert Estrin shape Jeremy DRIVE HE SAID Larner’s script so that the path to hell has plenty of missing paving stones, forcing us to fill in the blanks, mentally. There are great transitions and elisions, and for once the principles Redford starts with actually sound like principles — pro-choice, pro-bussing, anti-pollution. Most political dramas, from MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON to House of Cards, contain sub-homeopathic doses of politics. Watching Redford get whittled down to nothing by his campaign managers is both depressing and grimly satisfying. Also, it’s a very good portrayal of how awful campaigning must be: an utterly moronic process designed to trap intelligent adults into humiliating situations.

vlcsnap-2015-04-07-00h25m08s11

The movie anticipates Robert Altman’s excellent TV series Tanner ’88, which Altman considered his best work, in many ways, not least the use of real politicians and journalists playing themselves. And once again, Redford’s manner of heroism looks oddly off-kilter, a kind of behaviour we wouldn’t find noble anymore — he’s petulant and passive-aggressive. We aren’t convinced he’s really struggling to hang onto his integrity, and maybe that’s the point. But the whole thing also works as a depiction of the cult of celebrity, and how frightening and degrading it must be to experience from the inside. Redford once said that when he first saw his portrait on the cover of Time with the caption Robert Redford: Actor, he was convinced for a second it said Robert Redford: Asshole. That’s showbiz.

vlcsnap-2015-04-07-00h30m11s224