Archive for Orson Welles

Snarl-Up

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2018 by dcairns

Orson Welles may have called John Guillermin “one of the truly outstanding incompetents” and a viewing of the Franco-Anglo-Irish director’s KING KONG movies might seem to bear that out, but I can’t help but feel there’s some merit there, in the earlier works, indicating that while some are born incompetent, others go on to achieve incompetence.

My late friend Lawrie knew Guillermin quite well. On noticing one of the maestro’s lesser works, EL CONDOR, in his Radio Times, I started to read the synopsis: “Slick, nasty and superficial…” “That’s John!” declared Lawrie jubilantly, but with a certain affectionate indulgence.

Talking Pictures TV kindly screened NEVER LET GO (1960), an earlier Guillermin, from when he had B-picture zest. It’s certainly slick, nasty and superficial, but it’s also very effective. Fiona was WILDLY enthusiastic about it. It has no really appealing characters, but it’s relentless, event-packed, and looks and sounds great, thanks to Powell & Pressburger photographer Christopher Challis and new composer on the block John Barry. But what really tips it over the edge is a ferocious performance by Peter Sellers, another of Orson’s favourite people (“Where’s our thin friend today?”) in, I believe, his first serious role.

Richard Todd plays a cosmetics salesman whose car is stolen by a gang of hoodlums led by Adam Faith (the best pop-star actor, I’d say, and a uniquely naturalistic one — he’s also fantastic in BEAT GIRL, the other great Barry-scored exploitation romp of 1960. Todd has staked his whole future on this uninsured Ford Anglia, and slowly transforms from a meek, bespectacled underdog (he’s worked out a very good, unassuming/defeated WALK) to a would-be Paul Kersey, bristling at Scotland Yard’s slow-but-sure investigation and taking the fight to the “legitimate businessman,” Sellers, who deals in hot vehicles.

There’s also good work by Carol White, the Battersea Bardot, in a somewhat thankless early role. Faith gets to alternately menace and be menaced, whereas White is entirely put-upon, a care home girl Sellers has taken as mistress, installing her in a downmarket shagging palace and leering over her with panting, bared-teeth menace. It’s an electrifying performance from him: when an actor goes all-out to be repellant, and has such resources, the effect is overwhelming. Guillermin’s dramatic low angles emphasise the pudginess of Sellers’ “jawline,” while the actor makes full use of his thin lips and sharp little teeth to suggest the lurking sadism of this mediocre criminal. He also plays it with a suppressed northern accent, hinting at the character’s social aspirations, along with his constant reiteration that he’s got a “legitimate business.”

“I know the term ‘fight in a warehouse’ is supposed to be pejorative…” said Fiona, as Todd and Sellers try to tear each other apart in a garage at the end. The whole place is a death trap, with big jeroboams of battery acid (never used: just planted there to terrify us) a descending car platform that threatens to crush Todd’s skull, chains and crowbars and planks with nails in…

If the film was as tough as it thinks it is, Todd’s car would have been totally trashed in the fight, Sellers would have been killed, and our vigilante hero would have been jailed for murder — instead, Sellers is only stunned, then arrested, and Todd goes home to his wife. But the happy ending is pretty crazy, considering the number of crimes he’s blatantly committed, and which the Yard has decided to sympathetically overlook. Still, at this stage in John Barry’s career, a filmmaker could do just about anything if he had that guy’s music to paper over the narrative cracks.

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Fake Nose Media

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 2, 2018 by dcairns

ON THE NOSE, the video essay co-written by Randall William Cook and myself (and narrated by Randy) and edited by Timo Langer, is up on the Criterion channel. It’s about Orson Welles’ false noses, their purpose and meaning.

This is a relative epic at ten minutes (some of my Blu-ray extras are MUCH longer, but for watching on little screens, brevity is good). We decided to cut it FAST, for pseudo-Wellesian energy, and then had a struggle to find enough stills. But there’s a generous sampling of clips from Criterion’s releases, Welles’ own art, and a guest appearance by Randy’s authentic cast of the actual nose itself. You can’t pass THAT up.

You can read about the piece here.

Thanks to Kim Hendrickson.

The Rule of Three, or is it Four?

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2018 by dcairns

  1. Wrote a sort-of-obituary appreciation of Dorothy Malone for The Chiseler. Here.
  2. Made a video essay with Randall William Cook and editor Timo Langer on the many noses of Orson Welles which is up at Filmstruck, behind a paywall so I can’t link to it. Members can seek it out, though, it’s called ON THE NOSE. (Note: I only realised later that there’s a previous Fimstruck article on the subject, which quotes an even earlier piece from Shadowplay. But what it quotes is NOT TRUE. I was kidding! I was hoping people would realise that. I hate it when people take my jokes seriously, it makes them feel silly when they find out. But at the same time, I don’t want to make the gags more obvious…)
  3. The magnificent Marilyn Ferdinand honours me by contributing a late entry to The Late Movies Blogathon. It’s about Colleen Moore’s version of THE SCARLET LETTER, and you can read it here.
  4. And then I got carried away and wrote a sequel to the Dorothy Malone piece. Here.