Archive for Pepe le Moko

Pola to Kay

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2021 by dcairns

We watched CONFESSION (Joe May, 1937) and then discovered MAZURKA (Willi Forst, 1935) on YouTube. With subs!

Fiona had done her research and knew that the Warners picture is pretty well a shot-for-shot remake of the Cine-Allianz Tonfilmproduktions GmbH one. Warners bought the distribution rights and then instead of releasing the film, they remade it. One of the few cases of a Hollywood studio finding a foreign film so perfect they didn’t change everything around. See also Duvivier’s PEPE LE MOKO becoming John Cromwell’s ALGIERS (the musical version, CASBAH, is a slightly different story). Farrow even tried to cast actors who resembled the supporting players in Duvivier’s film. Kind of a good idea, since certain shots might only make sense with certain faces. Somebody pointed out that the very weird low angle shot of Norman Bates peering over at the motel register in PSYCHO makes sense with Anthony Perkins’ long, beaky face, and doesn’t work in at all the same way with Vince Vaughn’s big meatblock of a head.

Still, a comparison of the Duvivier with the Farrow clearly shows that everything Duvivier does works better than Cromwell’s attempts at imitation.

May is better at it — he seems to really understand why everything is the way it is, so his copying is more intelligent, somehow. Both Forst and May were Viennese and may have had a shared sensibility. Forst did make a few films after the Anschluss, always apolitical, usually musical — some give him credit for “subverting pan-Germanic Nazism” with his “ardent Vienna-Austrian topos” (Wikipedia, no source given).

Cheekily, CONFESSION even directly recycles some original footage from MAZUKRA, where no actors are involved.

Joe May’s Hollywood career was a serious come-down after his German success, though one could argue that his heyday was circa 1920 when he had his own studio and exterior lot. But his best films came in the late twenties. As an emigre, having to start over in his fifties, he couldn’t get properly started, his jobs were very intermittent, and he slid towards B pictures.CONFESSION is probably his finest moment in US film, and it’s not really his.

Image 1: a seduction. Image 2: a rape. Both from CONFESSION, but exactly similar versions appear in MAZURKA.

Still, his casting choices are good — Kay Francis isn’t an obvious replacement for Pola Negri, but she’s excellent in the part. Warners gave him access to Basil Rathbone, Donald Crisp and, uh, Ian Hunter. He’s quite well-cast and does no major harm. May copies the cleverest parts — I must see more Forst! — there’s a great motif of light fittings, seen in point-of-view by girls being kissed — there’s a cunning reason for this — and enhances the odd moment with the larger resources available to him. His closing shot is a doozy, more epic and transcendent than Forst’s, though cornier —

CONFESSION is available from Warner Archive so you shouldn’t watch an old fuzzy TCM recording like we did. Even though it’s melodramatic froth, and even though it’s pretty well a clone of someone else’s film, it’s great.

Fair Weather

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2019 by dcairns

First full day in Bologna and we scored four out of four.

While our friends Nicola and Donald were viewing PEPE LE MOKO — can’t go wrong there — we took a chance on Franju’s NOTRE DAME, CATHEDRAL DE PARIS. I happen to think Franju’s short documentaries are even better than his features, which are of course frequently great. But he’s uneven — half the shorts are dullish, half are inspired cinematic poetry of the highest order. This was a good one, we thought, and in widescreen and colour! Of course, as Meredith Brody remarked afterwards, it played entirely differently under the present circs. I watched it with my jaw hanging open at the magnificent framing and a tear in my eye at the poignancy.

Afterwards, two half-empty plastic sacks of plaster in a corner of the Cinema Modernissimo, still in mid-restoration but opened as a pop-up for the festival, made me see a couple of weatherbeaten stone saints, and I realised I was seeing with Franju’s eyes, the eyes of a surrealist and a visionary poet. I wondered how long that would last. Then I emerged into the rain-slicked streets of Bologna and my eyes became those of a mere tourist again.

Henry King’s STATE FAIR is a masterpiece — a great piece of writing, particularly (a small army of ink-stained wretches laboured to convert Philip Strong’s Stong’s novel to a screen play). The subject of a week-long fair combines with a theme of impermanence, and a romantic scene is undercut with the image of a billboard advertisement for the fair peeling in the rain — to reveal THE END underneath.

Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres are a lovely couple, and so are her parents, Will Rogers and Louise Dresser. Sally Eilers, admired in BAD GIRL last year, is seductive. Norman Foster is the same charmless lump he appeared as in all his youthful movies, but he’s perfectly cast (and I love his “comeback” in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND). A nubile Victor Jory plays a barker.

Terrific long tracking shots from King, and elaborate rear-projection shots of the fair, with some funny touches like two dialogue scenes between hogs, shot and cut just like regular conversations. Subtitles, however, were not provided.

John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, newly restored, looked magnificent — you can see a tiny crumb of charcoal flake from Lautrec’s pencil, and you can see the peeling edge of a prosthetic chin stuck to a dancer. I was struck by the strange similarity of the female characters’ faces — not an actual resemblance, just a sense that they had something in common. Then I realised that they all had lips Lautrec might have drawn.

This film is better than we’ve all thought.

Script supervisor Angela Allen, 90, was on hand to reminisce and answer questions.

We gathered in the Piazza Maggiore to see MIRACLE IN MILAN but the rain, forecast to end an hour before, was getting heavy. I might have braved it, but the womenfolk dragged me to the safety of the Cinema Jolly to see Felix E. Feist’s THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, which was a really clever and slick B-noir, with Lee J. Cobb underplaying for the only time in his life, while John Dall as his brother projected every nuance from his face in letters a mile high.

It was produced by Jack Warner’s son and had a character named Quimby in it who was much as you’d expect.

More tomorrow!

Stoney Faced

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2015 by dcairns

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LE MURA DI MALAPAGA is Rene Clement’s 1949 Franco-Italian co-production, a neatly bilingual movie with Jean Gabin as a fugitive in post-war Genoa. It’s also a kind of compendium of Gabin’s greatest hits: he’s on the run for murdering his lover, making it play like either a sequel to GUEULE D’AMOUR or an alternative reality version of LA BANDERA. The city becomes his prison, with shots explicitly evoking the urban cage of PEPE LE MOKO ~

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And the poetic realist brand of pessimistic romance and fatalism is everywhere, almost offensively so. It could easily feel too calculated, but there are some striking and particular qualities to this film which help give it originality…

We first meet Gabin hiding out shipboard in that little metal room where they keep the anchor chain. Like where that sailor dies in Lewton’s THE GHOST SHIP. He’s been there in the dark for three days with a toothache, as wince-inducing an analog for hell as I can imagine. So as he determines to risk his neck by going ashore in search of a dentist, I was more than usually inclined to sympathise.

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Gabin’s plan is to get his tooth fixed and then turn himself in, but he gets his pocket picked and has to threaten the dentist into operating — without anaesthetic. Having had his immediate problem fixed, he feels hungry. Waiting in the police station for a French-speaker he can explain his situation to, he loses patience and heads to the nearest restaurant. He figures he can eat a hearty meal and then, in lieu of payment, get the proprietor to call the cops, and it’ll all be the same anyway. But in the restaurant he finds love…

Oh yes, we’re also in QUAI DES BRUMES territory — it’s a great plot engine, the character who has to get out of town in a hurry, and finds a way to do so, but simultaneously makes an emotional connection which prevents him. Although the love story, featuring Isa Miranda (from Ophuls’ LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI) as the waitress with a young daughter (the affecting Vera Talchi: Clement was always good with kids) is quite touching, the fatalism seems more a genre requirement than something Clement is enthusiastic about, and it makes things fizzle where they could have sparkled. But the other strength the film has its environment.

Vera Talchi.

Gabin in his steel shoebox full of massive chain-links at the start cued me to expect another film about metal, like BATAILLE DU RAIL, but this is actually a film about walls (like SATYRICON), variously crumbling, towering and teetering. Smashed statuary and worn steps. Genoa, as shown here, resembles both Piranesi’s infinite prisons and Chirico’s depopulated, abstract urban expanses, frightening and colossal and ancient, perpetually collapsing into rubble yet seemingly determined to stand forever in defiance of time.

A bit like Gabin’s craggy features, no longer conducive to the romantic Hollywood lighting of PEPE LE MOKO (a slash of luminescence across the glittering eyes), already rapidly assuming the quilted hangdog folds of the later years, or decades even. Maybe the fatalism sits less well here since the aged Gabin always suggested a stubborn hostility to the idea of succumbing to time’s bludgeoning blows. Battered, even bowed, but still trudging onwards.

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