Archive for Ophuls

How to Seduce Joan Fontaine, #4782 of 848,000,000,982

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2009 by dcairns


Father talk.

I wonder if the celebrated scene in the funfair train ride of LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN was influenced, in its dialogue, by REBECCA, the first film where Joan made a major impression upon the public (apart from their rude dismissal of her dancing in DAMSEL IN DISTRESS). In both scenes she discusses her father. In LETTER it’s the speech about how he used to take the family on exotic holidays — imaginary ones, reciting from the travel brochures he’d take home from work. A speech about imaginary journeys, delivered in a fake train carriage. 

In REBECCA the father is an unsuccessful artist who always painted the same tree. Maxim de Winter, still faithful to the memory of his dead wife, can relate to this tendency to stick with one thing. The fact that Joan is attracted to the older man who admits to sharing this trait with her recently deceased father suggests that in a way she’s looking for a replacement dad. (Some awkward dialogue about this can be heard in the screen tests included in the Criterion DVD of REBECCA — I’m glad the clunky lines were cut, but they do suggest the Elektra complex was on somebody’s mind). 


Joan’s hilariously bad drawing is used as shorthand for her gaucherie and ordinariness.

The conversation in REBECCA takes place over a plate of eggs — a dish Hitchcock loathed. Perhaps his way of prefiguring the troubles ahead.


Many of Hitchcock’s characters draw, and use the skill in mating rituals. BLACKMAIL offers a vivid example, in the picture painted by Anny Ondra — a crude smiley face, to which randy artist Cyril Ritchard appends a slinky torso. In RICH AND STRANGE, Joan Barry sketches a stick figure companion into Percy Marmont’s photograph, suggesting his need of a wife. Later, she will imagine herself in the place of that outline.


THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY will give us a professional painter as hero, and it’s worth remembering Hitchcock’s origins as a graphic artist. His own most famous illustration is his signature outline ~


Shanghai Drama

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2008 by dcairns

“You’ve never seen any of the Romy Schneider SISSI films? Oh, you don’t know what agony is.” ~ David Wingrove.

Yes, David was round at our place, translating another movie in his role as Benshi Film Describer. Ironically, while the world goggled, presumably, at the Olympics opening ceremony, we distracted ourselves from the horror that is SPORT with a ripe slice of chinoiserie, G.W. Pabst’s 1938 LE DRAME DE SHANGHAI.

Double it with Ophuls’ DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO, two romances where the melodrama collides with a propaganda film coming the other way, with dire consequences for both. While Ophuls’ most lacklustre film is effectively scuttled by all the Vive La France material hitting it below the waterline in the final reel, Pabst’s film is stranger and darker, and just about gets away with its support of China against the Japanese invaders, which has at least been a recurrent theme in the film.

But what grabs the attention is the emotional side of the story — but not the mother-daughter stuff. Christl Mardayne, a star of Nazi escapist flicks, plays “Kay Murphy”, a pseudonymous Russian refugee who’s found stardom singing at “the Olympic” (synchronicity!), but yearns to be reunited with her daughter, raised in isolation and innocence at a Hong Kong finishing school. The teenage daughter has no idea that her mother sings in a sleazy dive and is also a spy working for “the Black Dragon”, a nefarious but faintly-sketched criminal organisation, in which estranged husband and father Louis Jouvet is a prominent figure.

“War is the triumph of beast over man. Peace is the triumph of man over beast. But man is more beast than man,” says Jouvet, his knife of a face cutting through the gloom. Once the obscure plot threads start to come together, Pabst’s skill with dramatic composition and his particular flair for the morbid can kick in. The great Henri HOTEL DU NORD Jeanson provides suitably noirish dialogue.

While Jouvet’s appearance, back from the dead with a scar snaking up his brow like a withered tree, is strong, his departure is even better. Discovering his daughter in Mardayne’s flat, he sees a halo of light cast around her face by the chandelier.  Finding a photograph of himself in her hands, he takes it to the mirror to compare the idealistic Russian of fifteen years ago with the corrupt gangster of today. The daughter is shepherded out by an alarmed Mardayne, and Jouvet grimly smiles at the contrast in the two images of himself.

A rather stunning shot-reverse-shot on the same actor!

Then, somehow, a blind is drawn, although no one is there to draw it. The chandelier falls dark, and the halo on the wall which illuminated the daughter’s purity fades, leaving only blank stone.

Jouvet goes to the window and announces his intention to induct his daughter into the Black Dragon organisation. Mardayne shoots him in the back. His dying words are “Why didn’t you do that fifteen years ago?”


No film can altogether survive the loss of a thesp like Jouvet, but this one carries on, offering us assorted sinister orientals, and a couple of noble ones. The Chinese actors are all listed on a separate card from the French, a kind of apartheit of credits. There are some genuine Shanghai crowd scenes. Mardayne and her daughter are freed from prison as the Japanese attack, but a Black Dragon assassin (louche Romanian actor Marcel RIFIFI Lupovici) stabs Mardayne. Her lifeless body is borne along by the crowds, as great chunks of newsreel footage start to invade the movie.

A poor coolie is beckoned to his doom. Cinematography by Eugen Schufftan and Henri Alekan.

A French film set in China with a German director, LA DRAME DE SHANGHAI has been released on DVD by the Italians, so it was great to have David to translate it, using both the French dialogue and Italian subtitles, which collide somewhere in his unique brain and emerge from his mouth as English.

Quote of the Day: Frere Jacques

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2008 by dcairns

“Like Moliere, Jacques Becker died on a strange and terrible battlefield: that of artisitic creation. It was the moment when Caroline bites her finger till she draws blood because she has left Edouard, when Golden Marie (Cristobal’s Gold, or course) forces back her tears as Manda climbs the scaffold. It was Saturday evening. The studio phoned to say that the mixing of LE TROU was finally complete. Our btoher Jacques breathed again. Mortally wounded for so long, he could now give up the struggle without dishonour. And a few minutes later, Jacques Becker was no longer alive. It was Sunday morning, the hour when Max plays his favourite record, when Lupin meets the Princess at Maxim’s when day finally dawns over 7 rue de l’Estrapade.

“There are several good ways of making French films. Italian style, like Renoir. Viennese, like Ophuls. New Yorker, like Melville. But only Becker was and is French as France, French as Fontenelle’s rose and Bonnot’s gang. I happened to meet him during the sound mixing of LE TROU. Already ill, he was more handsome than ever. He talked about Les Trois Mousquetaires and suddenly I understood. That dark moustache, than grey hair … he was D’Artagnan in Twenty Years After. And he was Lupin too. Just compare a photograph of Becker seated behind the wheel of his Mercedes with the opening shot of LES AVENTURES DE ARSENE LUPIN and you will see that Robert Lamoureux was his spitting image.

Slightly singed.

“So Jacques Lupin, alias Artagnan Becker, is dead. Let us pretend to be moved, for we know from LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHEE that poets only pretend to die.”

~ Jean-Luc Godard, Cahiers du Cinema 106, April 1960. Quoted in Godard on Godard, translated and edited by Tom Milne.

[Includes references to Becker’s EDOUARD ET CAROLINE (1951), L’OR DU CRISTOBAL (1940), CASQUE D’OR (1952), TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1954), LES AVENTURES D’ARSENE LUPIN (1957), RUE DE L’ESTRAPADE (1953). Becker was planning a film of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.]

Surprisingly emotional stuff from Godard, I thought. And a reminder that I need to take a look at some of the Becker films lurking in my collection. I saw TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI back in the ’80s, I think, but don’t remember a thing. But I love that feeling of watching a long-forgotten movie and feeling it all come back.