Archive for On the Twelfth Day

The Sunday Intertitle: George K. American

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2019 by dcairns

THE BOOB (1926) is a slice of Americana — a product only available in slices, it seems. You never see a whole, unsliced one, even in the work of Norman Rockwell.

We open on a swing, where a city slicker seduces a simple she-bumpkin. Director William Wellman fixes his camera to the swing, so he can frame the couple rock-steady while the bucolic scene behind them lurches seasickeningly up and down. Grand!

George K. Arthur had the damnedest career. I can’t make him out. He first appeared on my radar as star and putative backer of Josef Von Sternberg’s debut film, THE SALVATION HUNTERS. He offered JVS a budget of $$60,000 to make a film that would give him a starring role. Then, according to the director (and I’ve been unable to ascertain how honest the memoir Fun In a Chinese Laundry is, but I’ve pinpointed no definite lies), filming was begun using available locations and cheap talent, and GKA tearfully confessed that the 60K didn’t exist. Jo ploughed on regardless with his own savings, and the film made a name for him. (JVS had an indomitable, triumph-over-adversity side as well as a knack for making everyone hate him: part Horatio Alger, part Alger Hiss.)

It no doubt boosted George’s profile too, though he’d already played some big parts, going by the IMDb (he OUGHT to have had $60,000).

In THE BOOB, Englishman George (the son of a traveling salesman and a department store product demonstrator, so he may have had the right nature and nurture to pull the con on JVS) plays an American yokel, with much pasty-faced gurning. I’m reminded unpleasantly of El Brendel, though here the grimace supplants the smirk.

For the next ten years or so, GKA alternated between biggish supporting roles and uncredited bit parts. He departs Hollywood, or at least his credits die out, in 1935.

But GKA will resurface, in his native England, as producer for Wendy Toye’s excellent short films THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD (1952) and ON THE TWELFTH DAY (1955), and also, uncredited, in the same capacity on Jack Clayton’s THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT (1955), thus kickstarting two more major cinematic careers, whatever his role in Von Sternberg’s origin story.

So I salute you, George K. Arthur! And your little dog, too.

12 Days Wonder

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 25, 2009 by dcairns

Here it is, your Shadowplay Christmas present — Wendy Toye’s ON THE TWELFTH DAY (1955).

Toye, a former ballet dancer, is a notable figure in British cinema — alas, British cinema didn’t know what to do with her after her impressive shorts, THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD and this one, which shows a slight Powell-Pressburger influence, I think. She’s still among us, so raise a glass of egg-nog to her continued health.

Maybe because of her dance-school background, one of Toye’s distinguishing traits as director is her predilection for somewhat campy leading men!

This Was Your Life

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2009 by dcairns

Eammon Andrews is a murdering swine!

From THREE CASES OF MURDER. It’s a slightly strange idea, getting a loveable TV presenter (from This is Your Life) to present your compendium murder movie, but I guess Roald Dahl hadn’t been thought of. Say what you like, for me this works, especially as there’s something disturbing about his casual approach to homicide — checking his victim has truly expired before adding the word “efficient”. Cold-blooded, Eammon.

Eammon recounts three tales of murder, two of which I’ve briefly referred to here, the third of which is of actual serious interest. Also, two of the stories involve supernatural or unexplained elements, while one doesn’t. So the movie isn’t terribly well thought out, structurally. It longs to be an Amicus horror anthology avant la lettre, but doesn’t quite have the guts. But my favourite episode, IN THE PICTURE, is like a Twilight Zone episode gone inexplicably queer.

vlcsnap-252002

Wendy Toye directs, and this was obviously her reward for the well-received short THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD. Unprepared to give her a full feature to direct, Wessex Film Productions allowed her a third of one, and brought her composer Doreen Carwithen along too. This despite the fact that Toye had already proved her reliability with THE TECKMAN MYSTERY, a whodunnit starring Margaret Leighton. The year of THREE CASES, 1955, Toye also directed two more features, the domestic comedy RAISING A RIOT with thick plank Kenneth More, and ALL FOR MARY, a sort of romcom in the Swiss Alps. Toye complained that her more ambitious ideas were more or less automatically nixed by the studios, in the dull days of John Davis’s reign at Rank, and the decline of British cinema from its post-war heights.

But in the short format she was unfettered. I’ve just discovered that another short film, ON THE TWELFTH DAY, which I remember fondly from my childhood when it used to play on TV at Christmas, was directed by Toye. It’s charming, imaginative, and cinematic, as I recall. And IN THE PICTURE is something else. Building on the nakedly sadistic and fantastical elements of THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD, it capitalizes once more on an eccentric and florid performance from Alan Badel, who appears in all three segments of the anthology. (I hadn’t realised that Badel was ever so famous that featuring him in this way would make sense. A pity Hammer didn’t pick up on his colourful talents, he could have been their own Vincent Price.)

vlcsnap-254508

Badel plays Mr. X, who is both the long-dead artist responsible for a curiously disturbing landscape painting, and its principle inhabitant. X strikes up a conversation with an attendant in the gallery where the picture hangs, in what seems rather strikingly like a homosexual pick-up, then leads him intothe painting itself. Toye achieves this effect with a perfect blend of special effects and strong direction, and over the shoulder shot that changes to a POV, zooming up the oily garden path to the house in the painting, until the door opens and the characters enter frame again…

vlcsnap-2524341

Inside, all is floaty dutch tilts, with the camera swinging smoothly from one jaunty angle to the next, as tattered draperies drift in the breeze. Mr X introduces the gallery guard to his wife, whom he treats with supremely weary contempt, and finally to the monomaniac taxidermist Mr Snyder. It all ends rather badly for the poor guy, who is entirely blameless and undeserving of his fate.

Mr X is a fascinating figure, played to the hilt by Badel with a lot of camp theatricality (I first saw Badel in one of his last roles, playing Count Fosco in The Woman in White on TV — an indelible impression). He’s fantastically indifferent to anything human, but devoted to his painting — to the point of living in it. His entire motivation is to light a candle in the upper window, in order to complete the effect — but it’s clear that this painting will never be complete, its artist can never be satisfied with things as they are.

While the taxidermy subplot certainly comes out of left field, and its never quite made clear whether the inhabitants of the painting are demons or the damned, these elements of incompletion or confusion actually make the film more unsettling, imaginative and stimulating. It opens up dark and hostile worlds.