Archive for Melvyn Douglas

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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He Doesn’t Bark Like a Dog, And He Knows the Secrets of the Deep

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2014 by dcairns

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Dana Andrews and Lilli Palmer adopt a lobster.

Pauline Kael admired it. Its own director dismissed it. But neither of these facts need unduly influence us — like it or love it or hate it or be indifferent, NO MINOR VICES (1948) is a very odd, original little film.

I say “original,” but it should first be admitted that Lewis Milestone’s film shares a central set-up with Lubitsch’s THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING, in which Merle Oberon is tempted away from her bourgeois married existence with Melyvn Douglas by a romance with neurotic New York artist Burgess Meredith. Well, in NO MINOR VICES, substitute Lilli Palmer, Dana Andrews and Louis Jourdan and the rest can stay as it is. But it doesn’t, exactly. Whereas Lubitsch did what Lubitsch does, hampered by the fact that his leading man and leading lady were capable but not fiery, and his comic antagonist is very funny but not quite appealing enough, Milestone has perfect leads and still amps things up furiously with expressionist tricks, cartoon sound effects, imaginary sequences, hallucinatory POV shots and various other shenanigans supplied by Arnold Manoff’s script.

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Lilli Palmer is charming and beautiful as usual, Dana Andrews is wonderfully understated as usual, and both demonstrate how to turn their dramatic gifts to the services of outrageous screwball comedy. The real surprise, though, is Jourdan, who supplies the outrageous screwball element, flamboyant and wild-eyed, a little camp, and very intense, like the light comedy version of Bruno in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.

Milestone happily serves up the required japes, but we never forget he’s a proper director: he’s able to send up the tricks of dramatic filmmaking by pushing them too far or by applying them to goofy situations, and some of his compositions are just beautiful.

Strong support from Norman Lloyd as a milquetoast pediatrician. It seemed odd, hearing the familiar velvet voice of the man who pronounced Fiona and I man and wife, issuing from this boyish fellow.

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Cinematographer George Barnes also worked on SPELLBOUND, so the modern art elements must have been up his street. Funny how in high-class Hollywood movies modern art is always represented by Dali knockoffs and modern music by ersatz Gershwin. Here, Franz Waxman delivers suitable variations on Rhapsody in Blue so we get both at once — a rich pudding indeed.

I’d love to know who did the drawings Jourdan tosses off — perhaps somebody out there will recognize the style?

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Norman has a fine collection of newspaper cartoons of himself, but he doesn’t seem to have this one. I hope the original was preserved.