Archive for Noel Coward

Heart Attacks

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2014 by dcairns

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Noel Coward, who once wrote a piece called Shadow Play, stars in THE ASTONISHED HEART, which he also wrote. The directors are Antony Darnborough and Terence Fisher, who also teamed to make SO LONG AT THE FAIR, a really terrific Hitchcockian mystery with Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde, which we had previously enjoyed — in fact, it’s more stylish than any of Fisher’s more celebrated Hammer horrors, perhaps because of the b&w atmosphere, perhaps because of Darnborough’s contribution (he was a successful producer, but since he didn’t continue as a solo director like his colleague, it’s hard to assess what he contributed).

THE ASTONISHED HEART isn’t as revelatory, but it is very good, if tebbly, tebbly British. Noel plays a psychiatrist (pronounced sick-iatrist) who falls in love with his the former schoolfriend (Margaret Leighton) of his wife (Celia Johnson). His inability to compete with her dead lover drives him crackers.

Everybody is tebbly civilised, with Celia refusing to make a scene and advising him to gone on a long holiday with his lover until he knows what he wants to do, when really you long for her to knock a stake through his heart or set him ablaze with a kerosene lamp, causing him to fall through a skylight into an acid bath, or something. But actually, as with BRIEF ENCOUNTER, if you can get past how posh everyone is, it has a core of emotional truth that’s effective.

Visually the strongest scene is Noel’s long dark night of the soul stroll, through an eerie deserted London — with the witty, brittle dialogue on hold, the filmmakers can concentrate on telling a story with pictures. But the scene where Noel returns to work and finds himself completely unable to function, so wrapped up in his own problems that he can’t even hear anyone else’s, is magnificently played and VERY elegantly shot, with a slow track-in and jib-down on Noel’s anguished, distracted face that builds up the pressure agonizingly until Noel’s head threatens to go all SCANNERS on us.

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Next Stop, Rocket Science

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2014 by dcairns

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It seems the biopic of Werner Von Braun, famed for his role in the US space program, but rather less popular for his rocketry for the Nazis in WWII was originally called WERNER VON BRAUN, and then somebody got cold feet and thought, Maybe we aren’t quite ready to forgive him yet? and so the title was changed to the more poetic I AIM AT THE STARS, but this mealy-mouthed approach was too tempting for someone or other, who suggested appending the subtitle …BUT SOMETIMES I HIT LONDON.

Nobody seems to know who thought of this wizard wheeze, but I suspect that further research would show that it was either Noel Coward or an anonymous wag. Previous research has shown that this kind of thing* is almost always the work of Noel Coward or an anonymous wag.

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The film itself is typical of director J. Lee Thompson’s energetic approach at this time, with a swinging camera and dynamic blocking. Laurie Johnson’s percussive score adds to the general sense of being yelled at, and in case that gets old, Curt Jurgens is on hand to do actual yelling. I don’t quite understand the Curt Jurgens phenomenon. Calling him “Curd” doesn’t help either. I guess we can blame …AND GOD CREATED WOMAN for turning him from a perfectly respectable German character actor into somebody regarded as an international movie star. With sex appeal. And yet I can’t convince myself that history would be any different if Gert Frobe had played all Curt or Curd Jurgens’ roles and vice versa.

*A further example of This Kind of Thing. Noel Coward remarked, upon seeing a poster for THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM with Dirk Bogarde and Michael Redgrave, “I don’t see why not, everyone else has.”

Squint

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , on March 4, 2014 by dcairns

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Enjoyed OUR MAN IN HAVANA, which has some glorious writing and playing and looks absolutely gorgeous, yet oddly the weak point is Carol Reed’s direction — not a very weak point, since in fact much of it is excellent. But he’s devised a system for tilting the camera within a shot, disguised during a track or pan, so we start out even, balanced, and end up canted, askew. This development of his THIRD MAN style oddly does not integrate the dutch angles into the action more smoothly — it makes them pop out more. THE THIRD MAN manages to make its flamboyant visual style seem pretty natural, partly just by using squint angles so often they almost outnumber the straight ones — also, the vast majority of them are POV shots or are positioned like POVs. OMIH manages to make the diagonals work in widescreen, but it doesn’t manage to make them feel logical in the same way.

Reed also reuses a shot of Alec Guinness firing a gun during a climactic scene, in a way that makes no spatial sense and creates a distracting confusion. I don’t know what happened there.

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Production designer Syd Cain smuggles his name onto this Buck Rogers type newspaper strip (click to enlarge).

But Reed does regularly serve up delicious performance moments and has assembled a rather astonishingly far-flung cast who gel beautifully, in defiance of all sense: Guinness, Noel Coward, Ralph Richardson all seem like they would fit naturally in the same film. But then you have to add Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O’Hara (waitaminute…), John Le Mesurier, Rachel Roberts, Gregoire Aslan, Ferdy Maine… Reed manages to gather Obi Wan Kenobi, the King of Brobdignag and Count Von Krolock together in the same men’s room. The moment where Coward invites Guinness to visit the gents with him, for purposes of espionage, is a bit of an eye-popper.

Overall, though, the film impresses because its surface lustre and drolery combine with a tight plot with a strong theme — the theme that everybody running society is principly concerned with a series of arse-covering exercises, and they are honoured not for results produced but for successful buttock concealment. On top of that, largely through Burl Ives’ magnificent characterisation, the film has access to an emotional depth not usually associated with satire. Its range is as wide as it could ever be.

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More dutch tilts shortly!

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