Archive for Michael Strogoff

The Sunday Intertitle: Mr Versatile

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by dcairns

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This 1914 production of Jules Verne’s MICHAEL STROGOFF begins with a little showreel from star Jacob P. Adler demonstrating the wide range of characterisation he won’t be deploying in the film on offer~

Textbook barnstorming. Adler, known as “the Great Eagle,” was one of the great stars of the Yiddish theatre. His technique has nothing to do with cinema, but as this was his only film we’ll never know if he might have adapted more to its demands. His son-in-law, theatre director Harold Clurman (who also made a single film, the terrific DEADLINE AT DAWN) described him as “an extraordinary personality, always larger than life.” His children included Luther and Stella Adler, promoters of a rather different method.

The movie also fascinated me with its simple but surprising intertitles, which often present two sides of a conversation in one go, a device I haven’t encountered in other silents ~

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And even more enticingly, the 45 minute movie is a blistering display of silver nitrate decomposition, whereby the images seem to  dance with phantasmal spirochetes and X-ray paramecia, warping pustularistically as if under cosmic ray barrage. Occasionally the screen whites out as if the film has simply ceased to exist, before returning (from whence?) to allow Adler to once more bellow mutely and gesticulate through the shitstorm of photochemical exuberance. Time may conquer all, but Jacob P. Adler doesn’t quit without a fight.

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The Unexpected #2

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on September 22, 2010 by dcairns

Anton Walbrook fights a bear.

From THE SOLDIER AND THE LADY, a movie that perhaps exists to explain solely why Walbrook never became a Hollywood star, and to provide an excuse for this post. Number Two in an occasional series of things you never particularly hoped to see.

MICHAEL STROGOFF was a French epic directed by Richard Eichberg and Jacques de Baroncelli. RKO liked it so much they hired its star, Walbrook, specifically so they could cannibalise the film, using all the expensive visual bits and shooting new dialogue in English. (The resulting melange ends up credited to George Nichols Jnr, who shot only the bad bits. Don’t know much about him except he apparently died on the job, in 1940, shooting THE MARINES FLY HIGH.)

Unfortunately, the studio’s “de-imagining” included inserting two “comedy relief” characters, played by the normally-welcome Eric Blore and Edward Brophy, who disrupt the story’s sweep and (potential) dignity at every turn. It’s like thrusting Wheeler and Woolsey into a version of LES MISERABLES.

Anton’s ursine encounter is put together with the fast editing associated with the French silent cinema of ten years before, a flurry of quick cuts attempting to convince us that Walbrook, his stunt double, the bear, and the man in the bear costume, are all part of the same dramatic continuum. It almost works. Walbrook doesn’t look like any kind of Grizzly Adams, but he enters into the fray with the dignity and conviction that comes from knowing that he, alone, is Anton fucking Walbrook. Damn straight.