Archive for MGM

Festive Cheer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 18, 2017 by dcairns

New, big, special limited edition Blu-Ray of Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT from Arrow. Very proud and pleased to have contributed a video essay, The Flawed Couple, dealing with Wilder’s work with Jack Lemmon, which is included as part of the bulging bag of extras, along with a hardback booklet featuring pieces by Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger and Travis Crawford & Heather Hyche, commentaries from Bruce Block and Philip Kemp, interviews with Wilder, Hope Holiday, a video appreciation by Kemp, a making-of featurette, a Jack Lemmon profile, and the screenplay as a BD-ROM attachment.

MGM’s lawyers were kind of a nightmare to deal with on this one (that’s a legal term, I believe) which is why the Billy Wilder ABC that Stephen C. Horne and I put together could not be included, but maybe it’ll show up separately. The strange thing was, having to talk about Wilder’s other films with Lemmon without being able to show them, and sometimes without even being able to show stills, forced us to be creative. At one point we found ourselves trying to illustrate an anecdote about Cecil B. DeMille’s KING OF KINGS using only footage from THE APARTMENT. It worked out quite well, I think. You can judge for yourselves by buying a copy…

Here.

Maybe there’s an algorithm describing how working within constraints can enhance your creativity up to a point, until suddenly a balance is tipped and it doesn’t. (I once described writing for kids’ TV — supervised by anxious bosses — as like juggling in a strait-jacket.) This one got to just about Prime Restraint Level, so the results are grand.

I’ve done quite a bit on Wilder now — there are also text essays on THE LOST WEEKEND and FEDORA for Masters of Cinema. Collect ’em all!

 

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The Thin Red Lion

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on November 23, 2017 by dcairns

Sometimes you need entertainment that CHALLENGES you. So we looked at FEARLESS FAGAN, a Stanley Donen lion comedy. Scripted by Charlie Lederer, so there are some good lions lines, but unfortunately they’re mostly in the introductory voice-over.

This is Fagan.

These are his teeth.

This is Fagan’s master, Floyd.

These are his teeth.

I guess the movie should really be termed a service comedy, since that’s a bigger sub-genre than lion comedy, and our hero does get drafted (Floyd, not Fagan). The story is about the serviceman trying to find a home for Fagan while he’s serving his country.

Janet Leigh is the leading lady, and sings the film’s only song, so technically you might have to screen this lion comedy if putting together a complete retrospective of Stanley Donen’s MGM musicals. But since you’d also have to program DEEP IN MY HEART, I don’t see what you’re looking so concerned about.

This is Janet. These are her… oh, never mind.

Floyd is played by Carleton Carpenter, who’s quite winning, but not somebody we’d heard of. There are two possibilities: Donen went down the list of MGM stars and they all, to a man, took suspension rather than make a movie where they have to wrestle a full-grown lion on screen, until he got to an unknown contract player with nothing to lose; or, Donen simply chose the studio’s least valuable actor, one they didn’t mind too much getting eaten.

Carleton didn’t get eaten! But then he pretty much went back into obscurity, which was mean of Fate or somebody.

Although the good jokes are at the start, the emotion is at the end, where it belongs — we shed a tear, collectively.

Winthrop-Wilfong

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2017 by dcairns

“My God, the film begins with flagrant underwear-flaunting.”

Leslie Howard is Dwight Winthrop! Clark Gable is Ace Wilfong! There’s no excuse for a Dramatis Personae containing both those names.

This is Wilfong. But this is not Wilfong’s hat.

It’s a Norma Shearer movie, though. But it contrasts with THE DIVORCEE with a more low-life milieu and a more pre-code atmos. It begins by teasing us with an offscreen nude Shearer, the implication that Lionel Barrymore is her sugar-daddy, the aforementioned undies-flaunting, and then the revelation that Lionel is her actual daddy. James Gleason appears, cranium like a misshapen light bulb.

The very talented Clarence Brown directs, and though, with rare mobile exceptions, each scene tends to fade up on a static wide shot, the soundtrack full of pensive crackle, the thing is actually pretty cinematic. Brown delivers some truly expressive angles, as when Shearer and Howard face off over a barrier in a prison visiting room.

“They would never allow that much physical contact in a visiting room,” protested Fiona during the subsequence embrace.

“I think they had more leeway in MGM’s visiting rooms,” I suggested.

Fiona felt the film was missing a trick — preventing the bodily touching could be really powerful. Barriers are dramatically valuable. But this IS MGM. How can they pass up a clinch?

Gable won on the rematch in GONE WITH THE WIND, arguably, but the levels of stardom are quite different at this point, giving Leslie Howard advantages over the jug-eared, oddly canine-featured newbie. Maybe it’s that tiny clown hat that makes him look like a cartoon bulldog?

Gleason is the most credible performer — you assume that meeting him, he would be just like that. And he wasn’t — check his perf in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER for a whole different characterisation. Next best is probably Gable, radiating confidence and not bothering to apologise for his character’s nastiness. Howard is fine, Shearer fluctuates between genuinely excellent and painfully fakey. She still strikes poses madly, and affects a musical laugh which may either delight or cause subconscious contraction of the hand muscles, producing a strangler-like-effect.

Lionel Barrymore as her dad is in a whole different school, stylised and theatrical like Shearer but doing it at a much higher level of expertise, pulling it off consistently. Really it’s his film — he plays an alcoholic lawyer who will end up defending one of his daughter’s lovers for shooting the other, and convicting himself as a lousy parent in the process. It’s a very well-structured play — ambitious location shooting can’t shake of the aura of the stage (Adela Rogers St. Johns is credited for her source novel, but it comes by way of Willard Mack’s stage version), and Brown’s dramatic angles aren’t frequent enough to turn it completely into a fluid movie, but it does represent a big step on from THE DIVORCEE. The frame, rather than just capturing the Cedric Gibbons sets and the actors’ poses, contributes to the storytelling a lot more, and the pacing is a hundred times sharper.