Archive for MGM

Sothern Fried

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2018 by dcairns

Alert! Time for me to explore the works of Pat Jackson (if you’re nasty).

Jackson was a graduate of the GPO Film Unit, the UK postal service’s own film production arm, which also employed the great Cavalcanti, the obnoxious-sounding Harry Watt, and made the famous NIGHT MAIL. He then had a distinguished sojourn at the Crown Film Unit making war docs alongside Humphrey Jennings. He made his feature debut at MGM (as “Patrick Jackson” because “Pat” isn’t distinguished enough for a classy joint like MGM) with SHADOW ON THE WALL, a disjointed psychodrama starring Congo Maisie, Monte Beragon, Fanny Trellis Skeffington at aged 2, Gavin Elster (yay!), Sheriff Al Chambers and Nancy frickin’ Reagan.

Ann Sothern for once plays a villain, managing to incorporate some sympathy into a twisted character, and some subtlety into an intense, melodramatic story. But the film seems unable to decide WHO it’s about. We start on a wide of a lovely house, which is revealed to be an elaborate dollhouse, the first of many in the story. Andre Previn’s music veers from playfully childlike to sinister, then manages to dissonantly suggest both tones at once. We meet little Gigi Perreau, and then her dad, Zachary Scott, and discover through his eyes that his young wife (Kristine Miller, very glam indeed) is cheating on him with Tom Helmore.

While we’re pondering whether one should marry Monte Beragon and cheat with Gavin Elster, or vice versa, murder rears its antiseptic Hollywood head: Helmore was engaged to Miller’s sister, Ann Sothern, and she shoots her scheming sibling dead shortly after Miller’s stunned Scott by striking him on the nose with a hand mirror. When he awakens, he’s been neatly fitted up for murder, and will spend most of rest of the movie on death row, waiting. What nobody realises is that his little daughter witnessed the murder, but is in a state of shock and can’t tell anyone.

We now divide our narrative mainly between Nancy Davis/Reagan, a therapist trying to cure little Gigi, and Sothern, who’s trying to kill her. Much of Sothern’s business is internal, though, as she agonizes about her fear of being caught, culminating in a hilarious hallucination at the hairdressers —

 

There are some other nicer directorial touches. Jackson uses simple wide shots effectively, isolating our child non-protagonist (Gigi has no active goal, so she’s basically a nut for Nancy to crack). There are two major child jeopardy situations, one in which Gigi and a playpal debate which of them is to drink a glass of chocolate milk which Sothern has poisoned. The script milks (sorry!) this a good bit, but Jackson doesn’t do much with it. Probably a mercy.

But then Sothern tries to drown the moppet in the hospital’s hydrotherapy room, and all stops are pulled out, heaped up and set fire to. Looong lurking shot in the corridor, waiting, waiting, while infanticide is attempted behind closed doors. Merciless. Let’s remember that Truffaut said that jeopardising the life of a child in a drama was virtually an abuse of cinematic power (he did it in SMALL CHANGE, but he had reasons and had thought about it). Bruce Robinson, writing IN DREAMS for Neil Jordan, had felt unable to threaten a child’s life, despite the fact that he was writing a thriller about a child killer. This posed a problem. “It took me three months to solve it. It took Neil Jordan three minutes to fuck it up.”

Jackson had no such compunctions, it seems: he’d be back threatening children in cop drama THE GENTLE TOUCH a few films later.

I suspect Jackson didn’t find MGM a comfortable home — at any rate, he was soon back in the UK and back to being Pat. More on him soon.

 

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From the Id

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2018 by dcairns

It’s our old friend, the Monster from the Id! You can tell it’s him because (1) he’s invisible and (2) he’s behind a door. Just like always.

SHADOW IN THE SKY is directed by Fred M. Wilcox  (FORBIDDEN PLANET) and written by Ben Maddow right before he was blacklisted. It deals with a veteran with PTSD (Ralph Meeker) who comes to stay with his reluctant family, sister Nancy Davis/Reagan and brother-in-law and former comrade-in-arms James Whitmore, and their kids. It’s a sort of attempt to remake THE MEN with mental illness instead of paraplegia, but they mix things up enough, and everybody underplays heroically. This may be Nancy’s best film, in fact (though TALK ABOUT A STRANGER, shot by John Alton, is very good).

Ralph Meeker seems to be styled somewhat as Brando (and Maddow would go on to write THE WILD ONE). Some may find his tiny, tight buttocks enticing. Of course, he has that sneer. Best of all are his moments of automatism, where he’ll do some ordinary thing seemingly with nothing special on his mind, going through the motions of dancing or playing ping-pong, his thoughts simply elsewhere, perhaps directing the actions of a vast alien living intelligence system.

I found myself even able to sympathise with Nancy, who’s worried about her kids. There’s no reason to think Ralph is actually a danger to them. But certainly they might be distressed if he has one of his spells and flips out, hiding under a table and yelling, even though that’s the kind of thing kids themselves do all the time. Kids are funny that way — they either laugh at or are freaked out by adults behaving like them. Small-minded. On the other hand, Nancy’s fears are also irrational — the sense of madness as communicable taint, something to be shut away and not even spoken of, is ever-present.

Also — Jean Hagen as Ralph’s nurse girlfriend, an appealingly direct performance. These are all sort-of B-list players, but one wishes people of this quality could have enlivened FORBIDDEN PLANET (but I still love Anne Francis). I mean, come on, Ralph Meeker is good in anything.

Maddow’s sensitive script stops this being social-conscience pablum — the respectable suburbanites are driven by irrational fears as much as the traumatised vet — humour is allowed at unlikely moments — “Clayton’s afraid of people,” says Meeker of a friend, “Which is bad, because the world’s full of people.” And on his first morning in his new home, Meeker asks for an old hat. “There’s a bird in my room.” It sounds like something a crazy person in a dumb comedy would say, but there IS a bird in his room. He catches it in the hat, puts the hat on to contain the bird, climbs out the window, again seeming like a crazy person only we know otherwise… meets the kids for the first time. Raises his hat to them — and the bird flies out. Instantly the kids are very impressed with their new uncle.

OK, so it’s a very written idea, but effective and charming, I think.

 

Rashomon Amour

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2018 by dcairns

Fiona was VERY taken with Kay Kendall’s drunk scene in LES GIRLS. I was too, but also taken aback. We’ve all learned, supposedly, to be more sensitive and thus to be a touch affronted at Hollywood’s flip treatment of alcoholism. But I find I’m rarely that bothered by Arthur Housman doing his detailed dipso routine in Laurel & Hardy films. Kendall playing a solitary drinker who gets riotously blotto a la Judith Hearne is a bit stronger. But she does play it magnificently.

Lots to enjoy in this one, even if George Cukor could never be bothered staging his own musical numbers: here he passes them to Jack Cole, so they’re in safe hands.

It’s all a meditation on the nature of truth and the elusiveness of reality, conducted by MGM. Like RASHOMON with better songs. Although not many of the numbers are that memorable — the set design makes the biggest splash when Gene Kelly pastiches Brando in THE WILD ONE.

 

It’s Kelly’s last real Hollywood musical leading man role, and already he’s somewhat sidelined: you might think making him the object of desire for three glamorous women (Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor and the more obscure Taina Elg, who is actually very good despite the Scrabble-score name — “She’s got a great LOOK!” diagnosed Fiona — some credit belongs to Orry Kelly here). The narrative emerges via three competing testimonies in a libel case, which ought by rights to be delivered by les girls, but Kelly still had enough clout to elbow Gaynor out the way and deliver the denouement himself.

A sexy masterstroke by the naughty Orry — backless dresses that manage to make perfectly decent leggings look as rude as bare bottoms ~

The story is by Vera Caspary of LAURA fame, who must deserve some of the credit for the waspish dialogue. Brandishing a placard at us declaring WHAT IS TRUTH?, the  movie can seem at times too impressed with its own cleverness — a religious sandwich-board would be unlikely to quote Pontius Pilate, methinks — but it’s tastefully lavish, oddball and hugely entertaining, which is what we wanted over the festive period.

Last Christmas Fiona had acute depression, anxiety, horrible medication side-effects, and we both had flu and chronic insomnia and the cat was dying. This year Fiona only broke her ankle slightly so it can be considered a great improvement.