Archive for Nils Asther

Phantom Limburger

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 12, 2016 by dcairns

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Recently watched two fantasy-fright type films which had very interesting elements but were strangely boring overall. One was ANGRY RED PLANET, the other was NIGHT MONSTER, a Universal horror movie I’d never heard of and which I figured must be dull. How else to explain its obscurity?

Well, it mostly IS dull, and there are lots of irksome things about it — Bela Lugosi plays a butler, and he’s JUST a butler, not even a meaningful red herring. A mauve kipper at best. But unlike a real snooze like SHE-WOLF OF LONDON, it actually revolves around a cool idea…

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Ralph Morgan, the Wizard of Oz’s brother, has been reduced to limbless paralysis by the fumbling efforts of his doctors. When said medicos, including Lionel “Pinky” Atwill (deep joy) start getting bumped off, only Morgan has the means, motive and spectacular lack of opportunity that must, by the rules of DR X, establish him as the perpetrator. But rather than mad science as facilitator for his limbless killing spree, the film gives us a cherubic swami whose ministrations have given Morgan the power to generate ectoplasmic extremities using the power of his mind, so he can walk and strangle and be avenged using phantasmal arms and legs which fade as the dew when no longer required. The perfect alibi.

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The movie begins charmingly, with the turbanned guru strolling up to Morgan’s mansion and remarking on the uncommunicative character of the local frogs. I immediately liked him. I did not, however, recognize him as Nils Asther, the once-sculptural beauty who specialised in oriental roles (a bit like Warner Oland, but lovelier) despite being Danish (a bit like Warner Oland, who was Swedish). A shame the interest is dissipated across too many characters with too little to do (the hero, as is often the case, is a waste of time), but a number of the supporting cast are better than they need to be. Movie serial specialist Ford Beebe directs with what one might call efficiency. He got it done inside two weeks, anyway.

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The Monday Intertitle: Broken Hearts and Flap Shoes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2013 by dcairns

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The intertitle is brilliantly insane, and only enhanced by the fact that Nil Asther in this movie shares a character name with Chico Marx (no stranger to a life of self-indulgence). “Cut down on the eccentric piano playing and get a better hat and everything will be fine!”

As in my favourite film, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924), Lon Chaney’s LAUGH, CLOWN, LAUGH (1928) — reportedly his favourite of his own movies — features a scene where Chaney, in clown costume, argues with a member of the nobility over the hand of a woman. It’s a surprisingly uncommon theme in drama. It also has him in a quasi-incestuous relationship, a regular item in Chaney’s lexicon of emotional masochism — here he’s in love with his ward, teenage Loretta Young.

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Chaney, I submit, was wrong — HWGS is a much better film than LCL, which stinks of MGM “class” — but that’s not to say the later film is devoid of interest. Chaney, fifteen-year-old Loretta Young and Nils Asther make an intriguing romantic triangle, and the ending doesn’t leave any of the melodrama on the table. “Devastating” would be a fair description. But as attempts to inflate anecdotes to feature-length go (in this case it’s the one about the famous clown — usually Grock, sometimes Grimaldi, occasionally Pagliacci — who visits a doctor complaining of misery) it feels a little overstretched in places — even with substantial footage missing. Would that material have helped or hindered?

The ending (spoiler alert: it’s the ending) —

I think Chaney has been looking at Barrymore for those hand movements. Or is it the other way around?

The director is Irishman Herbert Brenon, who also did PETER PAN. He handles it well, but was reportedly a bully — Chaney took to hanging about the set even when he wasn’t needed for a scene, just to look out for Young.

You will also note that Chaplin stole practically the whole of LIMELIGHT from this movie — clown — in love with his ward — ballerina — stage fall — tragic death in clown makeup — fade out.

This regular Shadowplay feature may well be dominated by Chaney movies until Halloween — any objections?

The Sunday Intertitle: That Great Ray

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2013 by dcairns

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Not “that great ray that first brought life into the universe,” the one spoken of so fervidly by Colin Clive in FRANKENSTEIN, but a fish. THE SEA BAT does feature Boris Karloff, though, in a pre-monster role, and I’m impressed at seeing the word “specie” in an MGM movie from 1930.

This MGM melodrama has surly Charles Bickford as a Devil’s Island escapee masquerading as a priest, and sultry Raquel Torres (whose career climaxed in DUCK SOUP) as an islander of Spanish descent, and Nil Asther is her brother, who uncomfortably has a lot of sexual chemistry with her onscreen. And there’s Gibson Gowland, McTeague from GREED, and Mack Swain from THE GOLD RUSH. Wesley Ruggles directed most of it, with fluid camerawork on location, even underwater, but Lionel Barrymore seems to have been brought in to screw things up.

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The big fake manta ray looks pretty good — better than Bruce the shark by a country mile. Torres looks pretty good too, in her wet shirt. But the film is dramatically a snore — included here because the introductory title is quite something. Not many films about sponge fishing, are there?

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Maybe the weird industry is really an allegory for the movies, which is why the plot is driven by sex, commerce and impersonation. But then what does the fish represent?

(Undersea menaces are us this week at Limerwrecks.)