Archive for Pat O’Brien

Vegetable Magnetism

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 9, 2017 by dcairns

By Daniel Riccuito with David Cairns

Art by Tony Millionaire

Vengeance is a tool for the powerless.

And what better revenge could a 1930s movie-going public muster than the absurdist act of turning stars into nourishment?  Take that vision of hate and spittle, Ned Sparks, pulling faces never before seen on the front of a human head. Sparks was the Great Depression’s favorite specialty item: a purple carrot.

Arguably a sweet onion, Frank McHugh had bone-weary audiences drooling in the aisles.

John Litel made a fine rutabaga.

Hand-carved parsnip, Edward Everett Horton, gave our pre-Code vegetable garden nuance.  But mainly we craved cartoon food — entertainment that mixed problem-solving and problem-salving for a seventy-five to eighty-minute span. We liked excitable, doughy screen personas as stand-ins that brought our truth to new lows.

Coming Soon!

Pat O’Brien as Spud.

Big Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by dcairns

Yesterday —

9am THE ROAD BACK — major James Whale, a rediscovered director’s cut. Huge production values and a brilliant script by R.C. Sherrif which mingles humour with the tragedy. “It was nice to see Andy Devine being given big things to do.” If it has a flaw, it’s an over-literal approach to emotion, an on-the-nose quality, so that if a character is written as wistful, Whale casts the most wistful guy he can get and has him play it wistful. This cuts down on the humanity you get in something like THE MORTAL STORM or (showing here later) LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW?

10.45am SHERLOCK HOLMES. Kept my seat and let them project another movie at me. This was William K. Howard’s 1931 tongue-in-cheek travesty, with Clive Brook dragging up and Ernest Torrence hamming it up. I’d seen a very fuzzy copy in which it was clear Howard was trying interesting things, mainly montages in between the scripted pages — on the big screen, in splendid quality, his direction seemed even more dazzling. Second John George sighting this fest.

12 DESTINATION UNKNOWN. Early thirties Tay Garnett is a mixed bag, but after HER MAN wowed everyone last year, we had high hopes for this. Visually, it doesn’t deliver anything like the same panache, but it fascinates by its oddness. A semi-wrecked rum-runner drifts aimlessly, becalmed. The gangsters, led by Pat O’Brien’s mild wheedle, have control of the water supply. The sailors, led by Alan Hale’s ridiculous Swedish accent, want to get it. Nobody is sympathetic. Then Ralph Bellamy turns up, effulgent. Everyone seems to think they recognise him — from long ago when they were innocent. A religious parable is clearly being palmed off on us, but we’re also tempted to anticipate the line, “He looks like that guy in the movies, what’s his name, Ralph Bellamy.”

The creepy Jesus pulls off one startling miracle, changing wine into water.

Very spirited work from Chas. Middleton (Ming the Merciless), who actually throws in a dog bark at the end of a line, out of sheer joie de vivre.

Fish and chips for lunch, with Charlie Cockey.

14.15 KINEMACOLOR — running late I missed the explanation of how this miracle process worked, but the results are striking, and became even more so when I remembered to take off my sunglasses.

16.00 I remained in my seat to see MILDRED PIERCE, stunningly restored — better than new? “I’m so smart it’s a disease.”

18.15 THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. In a way, I was remaining in my seat to see the thing that terrified me on a small black and white screen as a kid. Here it was on a huge colour screen and I was front row centre, looking right up that cyclops’ nose. I guess they’ll never be able to get the grain remotely consistent — that would be remaking, not restoration — the cave entrance, which I assumed was a matte painting, looks very granular indeed, as do the titles. During monster bits, the monsters are much finer-grained than their backgrounds, but oddly the matte shots with tiny Kathryn Grant seem very sharp. All this will be less problematic on a smaller screen and if you’re not front row centre, of course. The efforts to get the film looking as good as it can (faded Eastmancolor negative — the image is now vibrant again) are appreciated.

Dinner with friends Nicky, Sheldon, et al.

22.15 CARBON ARC PROJECTION. More early colour processes, two vintage projectors. Beautiful. I was very tired and snuck away before the end.

In Every City There Is One Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2016 by dcairns

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One of the standouts at Bologna was Dave Kehr’s series of films produced by Carl Laemmle Jnr., lesser-known movies excluding the James Whale horror masterpieces. Pal Fejos’ LONESOME was likewise left out in favour of the slightly more obscure, flawed BROADWAY and also the bizarre, grotesque and highly entertaining KING OF JAZZ, which Fejos worked on in some unspecified capacity (perhaps explaining why both those films feature outsize figures Godzilla-cavorting down miniature New York streets). Dave mentioned, though, that LONESOME is the real masterpiece, and I remembered that I own Criterion’s Blu-ray and hadn’t watched it.

BROADWAY is a tricky early talkie, given the stilted nature of much of the dialogue delivery (“new-minted clichés” as Mark Fuller put it). It’s a backstage musical gangster story, in which the musical numbers, staged on a cavernous sound stage, were shoehorned in at Fejos’ behest. Spectacular in themselves, thanks to the towering sets and the elaborate crane shots, they slow the narrative down even further than the flaccid speech. Any movie where Evelyn Brent gives the best performance is arguably in trouble. But Fiona was very taken with the slow-talking detective, Thomas E. Jackson, who actually drawls like he’s parodying an early talkie. It’s disconcerting to find Jackson actually had a long career, and was seen in other film. Hell, it’s disconcerting to find he wasn’t a hallucination.

The movie is a combination of pleasures and irritants, and in the irritant camp fall the two lead performances. Both characters are written as dopes — Merna Kennedy redeemed herself elsewhere in the fest with a spirited turn in LAUGHTER IN HELL (“He’s ma maan!”)– Glenn Tryon redeems himself in LONESOME. In BROADWAY he’s so whiny, insecure, yet at the same time obnoxiously egotistical, like a tap-dancing George Costanza, it actually takes a while to get used to how effective he is in LONESOME.

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One of the delights of Bologna was seeing actors in contrasting roles — Pat O’Brien yaps a very precise Lee Tracy impersonation in THE FRONT PAGE, yet walks through LAUGHTER IN HELL like a man in a dream (he can maintain audience sympathy after committing a double murder because his somnambular perf makes clear that he isn’t responsible — for anything), and see above for Merna Kennedy’s development. Barbara Kent isn’t so versatile, playing ingenues in both LONESOME and FLESH AND THE DEVIL. She’s cuter in modern dress, though, and can hold more interest when not competing with a young, newly-styled Garbo.

LONESOME experiments with model shots, location filming, camera movement, sound, dialogue and colour — there’s stencil painting and some kind of dye process which tints the highlights one hue and the shadows another. Fejos is running amuck, and the slender story is the perfect vehicle for such stylistic exuberance. Think THE LAST LAUGH: small-scale stories can sometimes support colossal artistic ebullience.

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LONESOME is a magnificent one-off — I wish the part-soundie era had lasted another five years. When the two leads abruptly start speaking to each other in live sound on the beach at Coney Island, the jarring transition from one medium to another is beautiful. You can’t get that in a perfect film, only in a makeshift masterpiece like this one, a superproduction assembled on shifting sands. When the film reaches its tearful conclusion, sudden nitrate decomposition afflicts the footage, with PERFECT artistic timing — it drives home the fragility of what we’ve been watching.

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