Archive for Nita Naldi

The Sunday Intertitle: Not Even Eternity

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2015 by dcairns

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Harry Houdini co-wrote and produced and starred in THE MAN FROM BEYOND in 1922. It uses the same frozen-alive plot idea as CAPTAIN AMERICA and BUCK ROGERS, with Houdini frozen at sea after being abandoned by unsympathetic skipper Luis Alberni (Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis from EASY LIVING). Fortunately for him, the first woman he meets strongly resembles his lost love, and may in fact be her reincarnation. HH drops in a bit of product placement for his sparring partner at the time, Arthur Conan Doyle ~

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This exploration of mystical hooey is played straight-faced by Houdini, though he never really credited the supernatural and would set up shop as a professional debunker. Elsewhere in the plot he gets to perform some escapes, though not particularly gripping ones to look at (serial THE MASTER MYSTERY has his best screen getaway). Still, it’s exciting to be able to see the escapologist in action, even if he’s just squirming free from wet bedsheets via a display of scientific wriggling, or stopping a boat going over Niagara by the simple expedient of climbing out and keeping one foot on the bottom.

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Oddly, Houdini’s acting seems to have regressed slightly since THE MASTER MYSTERY, in which he’s quite credible. Maybe because the plot this time requires him to display instability, uncertainty and pathos, a certain self-consciousness has set in. Disappointingly too, Nita “tits out” Naldi as the film’s resident femme fatale, doesn’t get to vamp him — that might have shaken him loose. I guess Naldi is the only woman to have worked opposite both Houdini and Barrymore, and under Hitchcock (twice). It’s always fun to see her, and to think of her getting them out at parties, as was her custom.

BEYOND has been described as “generally intact”, and it’s certainly in better shape than THE MASTER MYSTERY (missing whole episodes), TERROR ISLAND (minus two vital reels) and THE GRIM GAME (completely lost apart from one tantalising fragment). Houdini’s film oeuvre was not treated kindly by time. In fact, despite his movie activities being all washed up years before his death, Houdini’s brother and fellow magician Theodore Hardeen had preserved prints and negatives faithfully. But a fire inspection alerted him to the dangers of keeping nitrate stick in his home and he was forced to surrender everything to the garbage collectors. So we’re lucky anything has survived — what’s left of THE MAN FROM BEYOND comes from 16mm reduction prints, which make the night scenes impenetrably dark, and the story jumps around owing to what appear to be at least a few lost scenes.

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So this seemed a fitting film to close out Shadowplay’s participation in the Film Preservation Blogathon — a naive early science fiction fantasy, and a film which has survived the ravages of time (just barely), like Houdini’s protagonist, to stand shakily before us in a new century.

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Let the eagle soar

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2009 by dcairns

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A svelte Hitch shooting THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE on location in Obergurgl.

As we trek through the year and through the oeuvre of Alfred, Lord Hitchcock, this ought to be the week where I view and write about his second feature, THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, but wouldn’t you know, someone’s only gone and lost it. (An even earlier Hitchcock, seemingly his first work as director, an unfinished short with the appealing but ill-fated title of NUMBER THIRTEEN, also appears to be lost. Since it’s the only collaboration between Hitchcock and the almighty Ernest Thesiger, it’s loss is a tragic one indeed. The idea of Ernest acting for Alfred fills my mind with champagne bubbles of joy [which can be fatal].)

Since there may well be nobody alive who has seen and remembered the missing MOUNTAIN EAGLE, I was faced with two possibilities — I could research the project, tracing production stills, screenplay and continuity notes, read up on the history of the project* and find out what Hitchcock had to say about it to Truffaut — or I could go to sleep and dream the entire film, on the basis that it’s still, you know, out there somewhere, perhaps detectable by the unconscious mind. You can probably guess what I decided to do.

Since Fiona remembers her dreams much more often than I seem to, I invited her to join the project, reminding her at each bedtime to try and dream THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE. After four nights, all I had was a vague image of bland 90s “folk” singer Tanita Tikaram, which seemed unlikely to connect to the missing Hitch.

But Fiona has succeeded where I failed!

Saturday being a non-work day for us both, we were attempting to sleep in, when at 7.30a.m. I was awakened by a piercing scream. Once I had gotten over the initial shock and racing heartbeat associated with such awakenings, I ascertained that Fiona was awake — barely — unharmed — and the victim of one of her intermittent night terrors. Brilliant — obviously the Master of Suspense had been at work.

Here is the plot of THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, as dreamed by Fiona.

“At the beginning, I dreamed that I flew to America on my own.”

“I thought that maybe I had been hypnotized and sent on a mission. Then I came back.”

“We were in a school.”

“There was a man who was trying to get a bag from me. He said it was the bag I had taken to America. “

“He had either hypnotised me or drugged me, using a bottle of perfume. There was a strange device on the top of it.”

“He said, ‘If you scream I’ll kill you.'”

“But I thought, ‘I have a better chance if I scream.'”

Then she woke up, as did I.

I have just read the plot synopsis of THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE ~

Truffaut: “The story is about a store manager who is after an innocent young schoolteacher. She takes refuge in the mountains. under the protection of a recluse, whom she eventually marries. Is that right?”

Hitchcock: “I’m afraid it is!”

Fiona didn’t know any of this, so I think her dream is pretty convincing (although perhaps contaminated by other films from the master’s canon). The dream does not in every respect coincide with the plot contained in the historical record — but records can be wrong!

*For one thing, it starred Nita “tits-out” Naldi, whose very long fingernails Hitch recalled with a suppressed shudder.