Archive for Pat Hingle

Grift to the Scaffold

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2019 by dcairns

Yes — THE GRIFTERS stands up well. I was maybe a little underwhelmed in 1990, though I saw Stephen Frears do a Q&A on it and that was fun. In fact, it’s excellent. Stylistically, Frears was probably at his most assured — the opening split screen should go further, I feel, and the magnificent blocking in the hospital waiting room confrontation isn’t quite as dazzling as the way the characters prowl around each other in DANGEROUS LIAISONS, but it’s still hugely effective, and the three stars are tops.

I was very slightly sceptical of David E.’s assertion that the film presciently captures the state of America now — but I immediately noticed that, while the film opens with a quotation designed to acquaint its audience with the outdated term in the title, that term is now being slung around by both US political parties. Though I think the word GRIFT may soon be replaced by the word GRAFT, which seems really useful in today’s emulumental world.

Frears, as I recall, affected a complete disinterest in John Cusack’s previous career — “I gather he was in some sort of teenage things” — THE SURE THING, for one, is excellent, as I recall — Cusack has got IT, in the best Elinor Glyn sense of the word. Frears talked about auditioning various people for the role of Lilly, and sensing how the film would be good, but entirely different, depending on who he chose. With Sissy Spacek it would have been about class, and white trash aspiration, but with Anjelica Huston it was going to be Greek tragedy. Complete with descent into the Underworld.

He acknowledged that the last but one scene — AH descends in a Fatal Elevator — was a hommage to her recently-departed father and THE MALTESE FALCON. I can’t understand, watching it now, why the film doesn’t end on this sensational pair of shots, instead of frittering out into a routine car on road fade-out.

He talked about the horrifying oranges scene, with Pat Hingle, and how watching Huston’s devastatingly convincing pain was “one of those days when you wonder why you do this job,” because it was so distressing to watch.

Annette Bening is interesting — I think she can seem kind of phony-saccharine, but here she’s phony-sexy and it’s perfect. Fiona did question why she had to be naked so much and was the only one doing it, but I guess she’s the one who uses sex as a weapon so there’s SOME justification.

I can’t, damnit, remember any discussion of screenwriter Donald Westlake.

Cute in-joke in the signage, which references two of Westlake’s many nommes des plumes. He does quite a bit of this winking in his pseudonymous novels.

There was some chat about OA Jim Thompson and how, though he wrote about low-lifes, he was very happy to see big movie stars cast in his stuff.

Delirious from his stomach injury, Cusack hallucinates a see-through mentor — like Obi-Wan? Or maybe the reference is to the tormentingly translucent Julie London in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, whose co-star Henry Jones appears in this movie.

I think maybe I expected more twists, but I was glad it didn’t try to fool us too much. I always thought HOUSE OF GAMES was an awful piece of junk, depending for its success on the audience, and the lead character, never suspecting that the con artist characters might be orchestrating a con. So really THE GRIFTERS is about character, not convoluted tricks of narrative or “big store” schemes.

I also really like the way it’s set in a contemporary 1990 world with chunky computers and everything, but manages to feel much older, 1940s maybe, without this coming across as affectation or anachronism. Very hard to do. Neo-noir is nearly impossible to do, I think, without coming off all arch. Elmer Bernstein’s score is a big part of it, as are the costumes, the dialogue, the performances…

THE GRIFTERS stars Morticia Addams; Martin Q. Blank; Supreme Intelligence; Mousie; Commissioner Gordon; Baxter Wolfe; John Ehrlichman AND Bob Woodward; Mr. Pink (uncredited); and the voice of Vincent Van Gogh.

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Indoor Derricks

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2018 by dcairns

The miniature indoor oil derrick was a short-lived design fad, but you can see examples in WRITTEN ON THE WIND — the late Dorothy Malone (above) keeps hers as a kind of phallic symbol and a memento of dear dead daddy (above above) — and SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, where father Pat Hingle keeps a model of the derrick he fell from, resulting in his limp — in reality, poor Pat got it falling down an elevator shaft, fracturing his skull, hip, wrist, half his ribs, and his leg in three places. Ouch.

Worse, it cost him the lead in ELMER GANTRY.

I like the idea of his character keeping a model of the near-fatal derrick as a kind of trophy. Hingle plays his character as the kind of man who would do that — a roaring bully-boy, a proto-Nolte, communicating in a brutish semaphore of arm-punching and back-slapping.

His screen son, Warren Beatty, keeps a much smaller derrick in his bedroom.

We just watched SPLENDOR for the first time — I’m still way behind on Kazan. It’s pretty great, even if the story is barely a sentence-worth. It has emotion, star power, sharp observation, beautiful photography and design, brilliant casting down to the smallest role — Godfrey Cambridge plays a chauffeur in one shot… we keep cutting to Sandy Dennis, barely more than an extra…

It also has a real sense of period. Natalie Wood even does period-specific gestures, like that semi-circular wave, palm out, close to the face, that you see in ’20s movies. It’s all a great contrast to INSIDE DAISY CLOVER’S shunning of period costume.

Peace On Earth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2011 by dcairns

P.O.E. Peace On Earth. Purity Of Essence. That’s the three-letter code obsessing Sterling Hayden in DR STRANGELOVE, and he returns to the subject in Carol for Another Christmas, a TV production from 1964, scripted by Rod Serling and directed by Joe Mankiewicz — and all three are at the top of their game.

Haden plays Grudge, a Cold War Scrooge (his name is the least subtle thing about this impassioned polemic), committed to withdrawal from the world behind a wall of nuclear weapons, convinced by the death of his son in Korea that involvement is to be avoided at all costs. Unlike Dickens, upon whom the work is closely modeled, this show depends on a series of interlinked arguments about charity, international engagement, the threat of the bomb, which don’t necessarily cohere perfectly but are put across with great force and flair, moment by moment.

I’d actually hold this up as exhibit A to convert anyone who thinks Mank was just a dialogue guy, a straight shooter of snappy talk. There are some ghostly effects in the first fifteen minutes or so that appear strikingly modern (Amenabar ripped off one of Mank’s tricks from THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR for THE OTHERS), as when a reflection suddenly appears in a glass door swinging shut — this is the same year as REPULSION… Figures disappear or are duplicated within single takes, as the camera looks away from them for just a second…

Thinking about this, I’m drawn to the conclusion that Mankiewicz must have been looking at Japanese stuff — both UGETSU MONOGOTARI and THRONE OF BLOOD use this technique, letting the long, continuous shot insist upon the reality of what we see, even as the crucial event happens outside of frame. Both those movies were pretty big back in the day, so it’s quite plausible he saw them, and as a fan of long, fluid takes anyhow, he’d no doubt be impressed.

The Ghosts — Steve Lawrence is The Ghost of Christmas Past. I know him from THE BLUE BROTHERS (“Look at you, still in those fakakta suits!”) and Jerry Lewis DVD commentaries. I had no particular expectations of him as an actor. I get the feeling that some in America would have chiefly negative expectations of him. But he’s GREAT. He plays a WWI veteran’s ghost as a hepcat, but that’s the way it’s written, and Serling does write great hepcat. He’s met on a ship laden with war dead, all nations, then leads Hayden through a doorway into searing light and the aftermath of Hiroshima (cameo from James Shigeta). Little girls, swathed in bandages and draped in translucent netting represent the mutilated victims of the First Bomb. One sings a haunting shamisen.

Hayden tries to shrug it off: alright, these are innocent victims of the fight for democracy, for them the news is all bad, but for their children —

Shigeta stifles a laugh of pure pain (an amazing effect): “Children? From these girls?”

Ghost 2: Pat Hingle as Christmas Present. Know him mainly as Commissioner Gordon in Burton and Schumacher’s BATMAN films. He’s brilliant here — gluttonous, avuncular, ferocious. His bit is about the present, the 10 million displaced persons, “the Barbed Wire Set.” Starvation and deprivation. It begins to become clear that this show is still utterly contemporary.

This, the shortest section, takes place at a banquet table under a chandelier amid black void — which lights up to reveal barbed wire and prisoners at a word from Hingle.

Ghost 3: Robert Shaw. You have to admire Mankiewicz’s courage in taking on Shaw, Hayden AND Peter Sellers. John Gielgud wrote that although iambic pentameters say you stress every second syllable, you can only REALLY stress one word per line. I guess otherwise overemphasis means that meaning gets less clear instead of more clear. Well, Shaw clearly doesn’t believe that, he stresses every single syllable as if it were his last and his listener were a long way off. When he really wants to make a point, though, he hits a word so hard it can punch through cinderblock.

This is the postnuclear section, in the shattered remains of Hayden’s local town hall, where mad jester king Peter Sellers stands for the Me Generation — pilgrim fathers jacket with Santa trimmings, stetson with glittery ME printed on it. Preaching a grotesque gospel of self-interest, he stands for a world where egotism will literally take us down to the last man. It’s a startling role for Sellers, who plays it to the hilt, his voice part Clare Quilty and part the Texas accent he couldn’t quite get for Major Kong in STRANGELOVE. Sellers, of course, was the naked ego run rampant, glazed behind the insane conviction that he had no personality of his own at all. “I used to have one, but I had it surgically removed.” Nothing is more dangerous than an egomaniac with zero self-awareness.

Also appearing: Ben Gazzara, Eva Marie Saint, Britt Ekland.

Hayden, as you’d expect, doesn’t overplay his character’s conversion, making him the first Scrooge on record not to come across as a raving maniac in act 3. It’s a striking, harmonious note of restraint in a big, hammy, epic, heartfelt, articulate piece from a major American filmmaker, and shockingly unavailable to buy in any form.