Archive for Moonfleet

Snakes and Funerals

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2020 by dcairns
snakes
and funerals

Not real snakes, of course, not like the bulging eyed fellow Debra Paget dances for in THE INDIAN TOMB (like the dragon in DIE NIBELUNGEN, his eyes are on the front of his head, human-style, an odd Langian trope) and not really a funeral, just a shot of a cemetery.

The subject, of course, is Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET, enjoyed on a Friday as part of our weekly pleasure cruise through all things George Sanders-related.

“What genre is this?” I was asked. A male Gothic (small boy instead of young lady getting the pants scared off ’em), a land-based pirate movie, and a classic Hollywood throw-out-the-novel-and-have-some-fun swashbuckler. MGM’s much earlier TREASURE ISLAND (Wallace Beery version) might be the key model. The most interesting aspect is the dramatic irony where the young hero (Jon Whitely, the solemn little Scottish boy from THE KIDNAPPERS) doesn’t really understand anything that’s happening in the same way we do. He doesn’t get either that Stewart Granger is a bad man (good casting, there) or that he’s, by narrative inference, his father, or that he’s fatally wounded at the end.

RIP Jon Whitely, who died earlier this year

This should be more touching than it is, but I do find it somewhat moving. I suspect the emotions involved are not ones Lang had a particular interest in. He undersells anything that could be Spielbergian (a good thing too, some will think) and goes all in on the HORROR. He could have done a great TREASURE ISLAND himself.

Third from the right, Skelton Knaggs in his last role

And he finds some splendid uses for the screen ratio he affected to despise. Never take Lang at his word. When he seems most sincere, be suspicious. The serpent is most dangerous when it looks right at you.

MOONFLEET stars Scaramouche; Addison DeWitt; Sibella; Vellamo Toivonen; Harry, Jim’s Grandson; Musidora; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Maj. Kibbee; Alfred the butler; Cassius; Bunny Jones; Charlie Max; Angel Garcia; PTO; Sir Ivor; Finn – the mute; Nathan Radley; and Sir Roderick Femm.

The Babby

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2014 by dcairns

There is not necessarily any educational value here, but I felt like sharing it. It will probably give you immense pleasure.

THE KIDNAPPERS (1953) is set in Nova Scotia but the two little kids are Scottish. Jon Whiteley went on to do MOONFLEET with Fritz Lang, while Vincent Winter is in GREYFRIARS BOBBY and went on to become a production manager and assistant director, working on such films as THE STUD, SUPERMAN and THE DARK CRYSTAL. The babby is Anthony Michael Heathcoat, in drag. The babby didn’t win a special Oscar, despite giving a trans performance equal to Jared Leto’s, but the other two did.

Screenwriter Neil Paterson also wrote MAN ON A TIGHTROPE, a little-thought-of Kazan picture from his anti-communist phase, and adapted ROOM AT THE TOP. These credits were enough to make him a big wheel in the nascent “Scottish film industry” so he would always be asked to sit on committees, which invariably descended into shouting matches due to his ferocious temper and stubbornness.

And that’s all I have to say. The clip’s charm needs no explication.

Egg and his face

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2011 by dcairns

Jon Whiteley in HUNTED prepares to suck eggs.

John Cleese, while working with Charles Crichton (either on A FISH CALLED WANDA or on one of the corporate training films they made together) once asked his director, “Were you the best director at Ealing?”

“No,” said Charlie. “Sandy [Mackendrick] was the best. I was the second best.”

HUNTED, starring young Whiteley and Dirk Bogarde, ably demonstrates Crichton’s skills — it’s beautifully shot and cut. Unfortunately, the script seems, well, unfinished — the tale of a criminal who takes a runaway boy with him as he tries to flee justice, it never produces a satisfactory explanation for why Dirk drags Jon along for the journey in the first place, and leaves us with a frustrating uncertainty as to the final outcome. Along the way, there’s terrific acting from the principles, and some terrific scenes.

Poor Dirk must have had a tough time — filming with a kid, and in Scotland, to boot. (Dirk was raised in Glasgow, and detested it.)

The highlight is Whiteley, in his debut role. He won the Oscar the next year for the second of his five films, THE KIDNAPPERS. He’s fantastically natural, with a serious, mournful air — the solemnity that makes him so funny in THE KIDNAPPERS and so moving in Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET. But his best moments are obviously not acting at all, they’re just kid behaviour captured by a patient and prepared filmmaker.

Piercing his egg with a twig, little Jon almost loses it completely. Like most wee boys, he’s thrilled by mess, so the sudden sensation of exposed yolk/yuck places him in a helpless state of hilarity, mingled with a frisson of horror. “WHAT NOW?” his face signals, contorting itself in a fast-moving flickbook of emotion.

The other great bit is laughing and eating — again, impossible for this to be acted. Strangely exhilarating to watch.

A fish called supper.

In real life, kids’ faces move about all the time, as if attempting break loose from their skulls and run amok. And in real life, people’s faces sometimes move in more extreme ways than movie actors allow. Actors learn restraint, and to stop waggling their eyebrows, and generally they also lose the wonderful unselfconscious writhing, puffing and grimacing of the untutored countenance.