Archive for Nancy Carroll

Needledrop

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2017 by dcairns

OK, time to finish this thing. CLOSE HARMONY, an early talkie which has been entirely lost apart from the talki (and music) making it genuinely, as the ads said, 100% talking. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack and trying to picture the pictures, mentally.

Now read on…

Nancy Carroll is trying to seduce apple-cheeked Jack Oakie away from his bandmates, as a vicious act of feminine sabotage. This leads to a bust-up between Oakie and “Skeets” Gallagher. The epithet “dirty double-crossing rat” is flung around, and then there’s a muted “pop” sound as of an apple-cheeked bandleader getting biffed on the snoot. It started in a simple scheme to get Charles “Buddy” Rogers a gig in the Babylon nightclub, but it has ended in… BLOODSHED.

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! This usually indicates a scene change in this film, although it’s just possible that some passing musicians, sighting the brawl, have launched into a number in order to provide encouragement and accompaniment to the mayhem. Oh, I recognize the tune — it’s “Running Wild”. And there’s a lot of yelling going on, so maybe my second guess was correct.

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“I heard every word you said!” cries an irate Buddy — then there’s some crying from Nancy — “Wait! Let me talk to you!” The classic lover’s misunderstanding has kicked in. Buddy is upset because he thinks Nancy was sincerely romancing Oakie. If in fact he knew she was vamping Oakie in order to ruin his career for Buddy’s benefit, would he be delighted, like a true sociopath, or would he wonder what kind of fiendish girl he’s got himself involved with? I think I would feel at least a bit of a chill.

A bang, as of a cudgel descending upon a skull, then a rapidly diminishing auto engine rev and rumble. So either Buddy jumped in a car, slamming the door, and drove off, or he coshed Nancy with a length of plank and we heard the sound of a nearby vehicle diminishing to nothing as she sank into unconsciousness, an early, sophisticated example of subjective sound. This time I think my first guess is more likely to be right.

The next sound we hear is twenty seconds of audio crackle, with Nancy’s sobs breaking through in spots. This is consistent with either of the previous scenarios. Then a rumble, suggesting an elevated train more or less replaces the crackle. So I think we’ve made the transition from a scene of heartbreak to a scene of public transport. Astonishing the breadth of human experience this movie contains, even without its image track.

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Now we hear the lisping, heavily accented tones of nightclub impressario Max Mindel, but we don’t hear precisely what he’s saying due to the lisping, the accent, and what could still be an elevated train. Skip it. He makes a phone call — it sounds like he’s asking for “Ben Birnham and Johnny Bakery” though no such characters appear in the cast list. Evidently he’s anxious to speak to his singers, Oakie and Gallagher. We hear a bell ring — sounding like a bicycle down a well, but apparently intended to suggest a telephone. The filmmakers show a commendable faith in their audience to figure this out, although I suppose a telephone position prominently in shot would have been of some help to the poor customers.

The word “Hello” is now spoken about ten times, and Max learns his star act has broken up.

A pause, with a sound suggestive of a rotary phone or possibly a pair of dice rattling in a cup. But it proves to be neither: it’s Charles “Buddy” Rogers, feeling sorry for himself. Not for the first time, I am impressed by his bold choices as an actor. Would Pacino have thought of using a soft rattling sound to suggest such depths of emotion? Of course he wouldn’t. He would have yelled something. Not Buddy. Nancy is consoling Buddy and maybe this is the Reconciliation Scene, in which case we can compare it to the one in King Lear. Less kneeling, more rattling.

Hitchcockian suspense as Nancy lays out her plan and a deathly silence falls, remaining fallen for some time. As it turns out, Buddy is horrified at the scheme, and when Max comes in and offers Buddy the gig, he resolves to get Oakie and Skeets back together, sacrificing his own possible career advantage for the sake of being a square guy. Buddy enunciates all of this in his best Phoebe Dinsmore English. Soon, the lads are reunited, using the term “Well I’ll take vanilla,” which speaks volumes.

But Nancy is appalled that Buddy has messed up his career prospects and their marriage prospects, and storms out. When you’ve been told off by Nancy Carroll, you know all about it. She even calls him yeller.

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! “Yeller, huh?” muses Buddy. CACOPHONOUS APPLAUSE. MORE SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ. I have no idea what’s going on or who’s playing. This one has some great mad percussion though. It sounds like a jazz band falling downstairs.

Then, before we can really make sense of any of that, Nancy and Buddy have their second reconciliation, very rapidly, and —

SUDDEN LOUD WEDDING MARCH!

THE END

Talking, No Pictures

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by dcairns

So, we still haven’t finished with CLOSE HARMONY, I’m afraid. The picture may be lost but I am listening to the soundtrack and relaying to you the mental images it provokes, so that this vanished early talkie can live, breathe and jump again.

Now read on…

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This section opens with a loooong silence, broken occasionally by coughing or shuffling noises. It reminds me of the remix of the John Lennon track Two Minutes Silence. The guy who did a cover version had to pay royalties to Lennon for the use of the complete silence, but his “remix” on the B-side was ruled to be a completely new composition because he’d added a few little coughs.

I’m trying to get my imagination going to fill in the picture for you here but I don’t have a lot to go on. Acoustically, I’d say it’s an interior. So we’re in a room somewhere, possibly with Charles “Buddy” Rogers shuffling his feet and nursing a slight bronchial condition. Then, dialogue breaks out — we now know we’re dealing with Buddy and Nancy Carroll, but the visual aspect remains mysterious. They could be disembodied spirits floating in an ethereal void. Maybe everyone was dead all along?

Now somebody’s singing scales. Jack Oakie? Buddy’s rival combo seem to be falling out, and this seems to be the result of offscreen activities by Nancy, setting them against each other. I say “offscreen,” but everything in this movie is offscreen. I guess I should say “off-mic”.

Now a brief convo between Oakie and the fifty-foot maid, in which we learn that Nancy has stood him up. This bombshell is followed by another pensive silence, during which to be honest anything might be happening. Oakie might be strangling the fifty-foot woman in a fit of rage, or vice versa, or the scene might have ended and a new one begun in at a deserted dog race, a beached canoe or a bottling plant during a power failure. After some seconds, the aural quality of the nothing that’s happening changes, and we perceive what might be a heavy rainfall.

John Cromwell circa 1940s

John Cromwell brought to you by the miracle of photography

Cutting through the crackling spatter trills a female voice — impossible to figure from the cast list who she is, but she strikes up a chat with a glum Buddy. He thinks Nancy has jilted him because she hasn’t let him in one her plan to sow discord amid the rival band by flirting with each member in turn. WHY she hasn’t simply explained this is mysterious, unless it’s because the plan is so sleazy. Anyhow, Buddy now goes off with this other girl — at 45 minutes in, the plot is finally starting to thicken, to a nice stodgy Charles “Buddy” Rogers consistency.

Sudden loud jazz! We’re at the party where all the rival band are waiting for Nancy. “Wait? I’ll grow a beard!” remarks one. The music stops and what we take to be thunderous applause breaks out, though it sounds like an audience of sea lions. A more gentle tune begins — we’ve heard it before, it’s “All A-Twitter,” the favourite tune of America’s new president.

Buddy’s date is now mentioned by name, so we can deduce that the actor is Greta Granstedt in one of her few roles that actually has a name. The character she made a habit of playing, according to the IMDb, was “minor role,” occasionally branching out into “extra” or “blonde.” And she kept this up for 29 years. Also at the IMDb, a Jim Kalafus supplies some exciting biographical detail for Greta ~

“Greta Granstedt was the San Francisco room-mate of explorer Bessie Hyde, who vanished, under mysterious circumstances, along with her husband Glen, while attempting to become the first couple to navigate the length of the Grand Canyon solo. Miss Granstedt’s parents were aboard the liner San Juan, which sailed between San Francisco and Los Angeles, when she sank less than three minutes after colliding with a tanker. Mr. Granstedt survived, his wife did not. According to the newspapers, they were en route to L.A. to visit with their actress daughter when they were caught up in the August 1929 disaster.”

So that disaster happened the very year CLOSE HARMONY was released. We don’t know if Greta is smiling through her tears as she plays this very scene.

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Greta in something else.

“Ain’t you glad you got me here all alone?” asks Oakie, suddenly, so we’re somewhere else, but not far away — we can still hear music. So I’m guessing he and Nancy have passed noiselessly through the French windows and are maybe out on some rooftop under the moonlight. Moonlight itself makes no sound, unless it sounds like Jack Oakie. I guess that’s possible. Just as, in colour movies, moonlight is portrayed as being blue, when in fact it is colourless and so dim as to render everything else colourless too, perhaps a similar convention existed in early talkies: whenever there’s moonlight, dub in some dialogue from Jack Oakie. So my impression that Oakie is in this scene in person may be a misapprehension. Perhaps Nancy is talking to the moon.

“Gee, it must be great to play on Broadway,” says Nancy, which doesn’t clear things up any. I mean, you could equally well say that to the moon as you could to Jack Oakie. If anything, the moon seems a more plausible listener. Nancy now gets her interlocutor to bad-mouth the character played by Richard “Skeets” Gallagher, Oakie’s musical partner. So I’m starting to think he’s not the moon. I don’t see why the moon would have a strong opinion on Skeets. I’m also visualising Skeets listening in on this, his face aflame, ears incandescent. I think such a thing was well within his range as an actor, and if not, well, *I’m* the one visualising this picture now, so I can easily render him capable of furious jealousy worthy of Othello. Though I don’t know if he would find it more natural to project such emotion at jack Oakie or at the moon. It may be there’s no real difference.

To be concluded…

100% Talking

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2017 by dcairns

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! Yes, it’s time to continue our audiophonic journey through the surviving sound discs of John Cromwell and A. Edward Sutherland’s CLOSE HARMONY. Last we heard, Charles “Buddy” Rogers had failed to land a contract at the Babylon Club.

Now read on…

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The latest song is Buddy’s competing act, which allows the film to bring in someone a bit more musical. I mean, Buddy’s OK and everything… but it is kind of tragic to watch him simpering through It’s Only a Paper Moon in TAKE A CHANCE, when the cast includes Cliff Edwards who could really put it over beautifully.

Back to the “plot” — applause, rhubarb, and non-sequiturs smother the soundtrack for twenty seconds after the song, but then order is restored and one of the singers becomes identifiable, through dialogue, as Jack Oakie, although much of what he says is a touch hard to make out. I think he’s talking to Nancy Carroll, and they seem to be getting on swell. Someone else says, apropos of something or other, “Their notes are high but their thoughts – are – LOW!”

Nancy invites Jack and friends to some kind of party. Then he and his pals do a bit of actual close harmony, which slowly fades away, perhaps suggesting that they’re leaving at last, and then Buddy chimes in, reflecting morosely that with Oakie and friends so popular with the crowd, his chances of landing another gig are diminished. Various other career possibilities have been mentioned — Buddy started the film with the thought that his band would break into vaudeville (a little late in the day) but the budget is too limited, seemingly, or the running time too short, for these possibilities to be explored, so all Buddy can do is mope about backstage in a joint he doesn’t work at anymore.

Right away Buddy starts feeling jealous of Oakie, and declines to attend Nancy’s party (so he can stew and feel MORE jealous, a smart plan). But then Nancy says she’ll call the party off, just for him, which seems typical of the plot so far: a predictable but potentially compelling dramatic situation is immediately by an act of niceness. “Beware of sympathy,” wrote Sandy Mackendrick, “Sympathy is the enemy of drama.”

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Inaudible discussion between Nancy Allen and her fifty-foot-tall black maid. I *think* it goes something like “A regular Damon and Pythias,” “Yeah, they might be Oddfellahs too, but that triumph in valet’s room,” (or possibly “ballet school”) “tole me, that every now ‘n’ then they falls out, about some woman. Mm-hmm!” maybe the narrative will take an interesting turn after all, into Dadaism.

Now it turns out Nancy IS going out with the comedian harmonists, which makes Buddy cross, a welcome development but one that could have been accomplished two scenes ago, losing nothing but some indecipherable badinage.

But no! From sweet nothings cooed by the alluring Jack Oakie at the party, we deduce that Nancy Carroll is playing the femme fatale (!), accepting simultaneous dates with each of the incoming band, thereby to bust up their act by making them “falls out over some woman.” Thus Buddy will be able to get his job back while they’re all murdering each other. This seems incredibly low-down and dishonourable, but at least it’s a narrative development…

To be continued…