Archive for Michael Redgrave

Air Hordern

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2015 by dcairns

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Michael Hordern gave the wing commander a very hard stare indeed.

After enjoying Leslie Norman’s work on X: THE UNKNOWN, we popped THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP into the Panasonic and let her fly. I guess Norman is one of the missing links between Ealing and Hammer, but he never caught on at Hammer (he was fired from the staggering LOST CONTINENT), unlike Seth Holt whose taste for sensation made him arguably a better fit there than he had been as a producer at Ealing (where he had produced THE LADYKILLERS, an atypically subversive work).

But, excitingly, TNMNCU *does* have supernatural elements, though they are not of a suitably sensational quality to satisfy the House of Gore. The place: Hong Kong. Michael Hordern has a strange dream, which he tells to Denholm Elliott, who blabs it to a group of associates at a party. The dream involves a flight crashing on the Japanese coast. And the next day, all the circumstances of that dream begin to come true. Elliot, a heroic airman who cracked up after the Battle of Britain, is on the flight, as is his boss Alexander Knox, who has never flown before, and Michael Redgrave and Sheila Sim and various others. The exact makeup of the party changes at the last minute and comes to exactly resemble the dream. Then the radio breaks down, just like in the dream. The plane is lost in thick cloud… fuel is running low…

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The elaborate model shots are recognisable as just that, but they’re very impressive all the same.

The screenplay is by R.C. Sherriff, a James Whale associate who wrote JOURNEY’S END and worked on all the famous Whale horror films after FRANKENSTEIN. This manifests not so much in the uncanny element, as in the extreme Britishness and the unexpected dashes of humour — the ending, in particular, is a delight, a left-field gag like the abrupt laugh that finishes Hitchcock’s second MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. Hordern delivers it with supreme aplomb.

Until then, it’s a slow simmer of suspense. It’s not as if that much is going wrong with the flight for most of the movie — it’s just the creeping dread as reality takes on more and more of the qualities of that damned (prophetic?) dream. An abstract kind of fear with a very concrete smash-up waiting at the end of it.

The film also deserves credit for its unusual structure: we begin after the crash, with search parties scouring Japan in search of wreckage, but then Hordern turns up and says they’re looking in the wrong place altogether. Refusing to say how he knows, he simply says that he knows. Being Michael Hordern, he’s very convincing, and the search may be diverted…

Then we go into flashback to the dinner party before the flight, and Hordern is prompted to tell his dream. Then we get a flashback within a flashback showing a dream sequence. Possibly a first for British cinema.

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And then we get to enjoy Knox’ tight, nervous grin, Redgrave’s slowly accentuated voice-quaver, Elliott’s glassy-eyed sense of subdued panic… The whole movie is a single sizzling slow fuse, ably illustrating Polanski’s dictum that “anxiety has no upper limit,” while the passengers delight their author by passing the time in feverish meditations upon free will and predestination. A philosophical disaster movie.

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Russian Lark

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2012 by dcairns

While doing a bit of side-research on THE 39 STEPS — side-research being the stuff that’s strictly work-avoidance — I ran KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR, the big Korda misfire, directed by Jaques Feyder, whose LA KERMESSE HEROIQUE I had just revisited.

This film does rather waste everything it’s got — it has a lot, so it can afford to waste a lot, but as I say, it wastes everything. I have a suspicion Jacques Feyder is not quite my bag, which means I tend to appreciate the bits of his films which seem least successful, hardest to explain. LA KERMESSE HEROIQUE is almost entirely composed of such bits, so I like it a lot. KNIGHT’s biggest handicap is its lack of shape and drama, odd in a film with so much killing, romance, and headlong pursuit. With a bit of practice I might get to appreciate the way the film endlessly postpones its excitement, then repeats the same capture-escape cycle for the last hour. As it is, there are little glimmers of interest along the way —

Here’s Michael Redgrave in what may be his first film role — unlisted by the IMDb! Gloweringly fervid, he’s actually too exciting for the film, but by no means hammy or “theatrical” in a bad way. (I’m not mistaken, I hope — I thought I spotted Hitchcock fave John Williams, but it proved to be Austin Trevor.)

And here’s Moscow, elegantly imagined by Feyder and Clair’s regular production designer, Lazare Meerson. Much of this film boasts enormous reconstructions of Russian revolution scenes, so it’s a little surprising to find such a minimalist Moscow. Very effective and convincing, though.

Dietrich and Donat (who have surprising quasi-chemistry) circle each other for the first half hour without meeting, thirty minutes devoted to explaining why Donat, an Englishman, has become a Red Comissar. First he’s a journalist, due to be kicked out of Tsarist Russia for his too-honest articles — a complete retread of Olivier’s role in THE YELLOW TICKET. But swiftly he’s recruited by His Majesty’s Secret Service, in a surprisingly convincing, low-key scene — the functionary buys him dinner and drops a hint. Then he infiltrates the revolutionary movement, gets implicated in an assassination attempt, spends two years as a prisoner in Siberia, and is liberated by the Bolsheviks and finally is placed in charge of aristocratic prisoner Marlene Dietrich (the only Russian with a German accent — the rest are English and Scottish and say things like “What the dickens?”).

During all this circumlocutory preamble, Marlene just swans about in frocks, searching for a subplot she can call her own, but without her usual success.

It’s 39 STEPS time again when Donat goes on the run with this blonde, hunted by both sides — but the promising cross-country pursuit is continually interrupted by captures and escapes which always depend on ludicrous amounts of luck. But the train station with the mad railway guard (Dundonian character thesp Hay Petrie’s finest role: in THE FALLEN IDOL he just walks in and winds the clocks) is very fine, and a scene of Donat reciting Browning to Dietrich is actually sublime — Donat’s voice, the verse, and Miklos Rosza’s underscoring and Marlene’s wide, luminous eyes… The Adam & Eve idyll in the forest is beautifully shot by Harry Stradling.

Peter Bull plays another commissar, a little glimpse into how the Russian ambassador of DR STRANGELOVE started his career, perhaps. There’s also Miles Malleson — “He won’t be doing the crossword tonight!” — and Raymond Huntley! Yay, Raymond Huntley!

Korda contract player John Clements gets to steal the show — a romantic Russian who dies for love, he basically usurps Donat’s role, leaving the whole thing to sort of fray away to a Grand Finally. We realize that the central relationship hasn’t developed past love at first sight, the jeopardy has all been of the same sort, and so the movie’s been running in place for an hour, as gigantic Meerson sets trundle past. No wonder the thing didn’t do well.

But as a sort of fantasy travelogue of the Russian revolution, sort of diverting, and never less than beautiful, visually. Haunted by history, since a traditional Happy Ending is impossible with Russia as one of the main characters. Impossible to this day, arguably.

Knight Without Armour (1937)

Tijuana Bible Bashers

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2009 by dcairns

paris_01Tijuana Bibles, for those not in the know, were little tiny small-press comic book pamphlets of a pornographic nature, popular particularly in the ’30s. They generally featured caricatures of figures from popular culture, movie stars and so on, making them the depression-era version of today’s slash fiction.

History is silent on this, but I’m pretty sure they were produced by the state, like the prole pornography in 1984, only with the purpose of turning the nation off sex, thereby reducing the excess population. Warning: what follows is not pleasant. In the interests of taste, I’m not reproducing any of the full on erection and penetration images, since Shadowplay is a blog intended for family entertainment, and in the interests of sanity I’m not going to show you the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy or Popeye engaged in risque byplay — some things are sacred, or, viewed from another angle, nauseating.

But how about this?

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It’s a catchy title, I’ll grant you. And if you’re wondering if the anonymous author is going to explore the rhyming potential of the lead character’s name and species, I can answer that question. He is. This is also the only Tijuana Bible I’ve perused to feature male-on-male action (drake-on-drake, to be precise), with a plot that basically has a horny Donald D (with Pluto as pimp) test the limits of his heterosexuality with a dragged-up ladydrake, establishing beyond doubt that performing anal sex and receiving oral sex are fine, but performing oral would make him a queer. I’m glad that’s all straightened out.

And aren’t you glad I’m presenting this in synopsis, rather than in blow-by-blow panel reproduction? Trust me, the image of a rampant Donald with outsized humanoid member is one that would haunt you to your collective mausoleums.

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Ingrid Bergman. I never knew she was a sort of human bust, truncated at the ribcage, and mounted on a brick. I guess all her walking and gesturing was done by stand-ins. It’s Hollywood’s best-kept secret. This is the story of how “Reberto” Rossellini makes Ingrid a star — in stag films. It’s the kind of ironic twist of fate one would never see coming, but for the fact that this is a Tijuana Bible and therefore it’s the only thing that can possibly happen.

1_c_charlie01The idea of a ventriloquist act becoming a smash hit on the radio sounds like a surreal joke, and not even a very good one, but it actually happened. The idea of the dummy, possessed of an animating consciousness of his own, being fitted with a vast phallus hewn from oak, and going forth to test it on living human beings, sounds like something from Michael Redgrave’s deepest, gin-sodden nightmares. Fortunately it never happened, except in this literary effort by ‘Feelma Box.’ Perhaps related to Edgar Box, the pseudonym used by Gore Vidal when writing crime novels? Do pseudonyms have families? Do monocled dummies have a chance with Carole Lombard?

I’d like to think the answer to both questions is “no,” but this T.B. says different.

1 (165)Don’t know who Evelyn is meant to be, but the girl under the car is Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and the dapper chap with the gun is John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). What follows could have made an entertaining DVD extra for Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES, except for the disturbingly horrid artwork and even more appalling dialogue. In the world of the T.B., you’ll want to know, a large (or “brutal”, or sometimes “butal”) penis, is known colloquially as a “kidney disturber.” Ain’t that sweet. Excuse me while I disinfect my eyes and rub Germolene on my soul.

1 (193)A South Sea idyll with Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall. What could be nicer, more innocent, more… oh. The dialogue isn’t exactly Mankiewicz, is it? Or at least, not prime Mankiewicz. What else do we have to torture you with? Oh yeah.

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Inevitably: Jean Harlot. Sometimes the stars would be identified by spoofy nom-de-guerres, like Mae Breast, or Sylvia Kidney. This was clearly not to avoid lawsuits, since the T.B. merchandisers were strictly under-the-counter operators anyway, nor was it to protect the innocent, since these guys inhabit a mindset where such a thing cannot exist — innocence would appear as a black inky nebula upon the page, an unknowable nothingness into which smut vanishes as if into a deep well — but simply to show off the riotous glee in language of these unsung Voltaires of the funnybook.

1_c_stalin02I particularly like how this guy spells “commuist” in a funny way, for no reason. And then does it again, like he really believes that’s how you spell it. You would only get that kind of genius in the kind of author who thinks the world really wants a pornographic comic book starring frickin’ STALIN.

Tijuana Bibles open, as they say, a window onto history, through which we can see that history is a foetid heap of rutting morons. In honour of those nameless, giftless artists, and their important work sterilizing a great nation, I’m opening my doors to similar works, starring the movie gods and goddesses of today. My only rule is that any submissions should be the kind of thing that such stars might reasonably be expected to chuckle over, rather than stare at, glassy-eyed with terror. I know you Shadowplayers are a talented bunch, let’s see your fan-fic!

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