Archive for Peter Van Eyck

Me, Claudius

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2019 by dcairns

I should explain. The prolific, restless and gifted Helmut Kautner’s DER REST IST SCHWEIGEN (THE REST IS SILENCE, 1957) is a modern-dress Hamlet in which Hardy Kruger plays the melancholy John H. Claudius, returned from the US to the Claudius Ironworks, now being run by his uncle who has married his mother and all that.

This might be my favourite movie Hamlet though I think the Olivier is smashing and that Russian one has some stunning effects. Some argue that Kurosawa’s THE BAD SLEEP WELL is based on Hamlet though if so it’s pretty loose in my opinion. (Haven’t seen HAMLET GOES BUSINESS or the biy fat Branagh one.) This one departs in all sorts of ways, but only to sort of circle back. But it’s also up to various things that Shakespeare certainly never considered — the extraordinary thing is that it all works so well.

The movie looks at Nazi guilt — John H.’s father was pushed into supporting Hitler, while John himself spent the war in America. He’s been away for years and his father’s been dead for years and he’s never laid eyes on Fee (Ophelia — Ingrid Andree) since she was a baby, so that’s all quite different from the play.

Pohl (Polonius) is a smart old fellow, and quite likeable, which is also a change. It turns out to be quite an appealing one.

Laertes is called Herbert here, which seems only fair. (The only character in the play with no quotable lines.)

Claudius (well, technically they’re practically all called Claudius, but you know the one I mean) is Peter Van Eyck. Pairing him with Hardy Kruger is genius. Watched with a big grin. I love those guys.

Oh, and Rosenkrantz is now Mike Krantz, progressive ballet choreographer and coded gay (well, it’s not really code if you can make it out just by squinting), brought in to distract John Hamlet Claudius from his vengeful conniving. But this character is also compounded with the Player King so JHC can stage a ballet (entitled “The Mousetrap”) to catch the conscience of the managing director.

It doesn’t begin with a ghost. I was worried we wouldn’t have a ghost. It’s Christmas, we must have a ghost.

Another departure — JHC tells Horatio (he’s just called Horatio, why mess up a good thing?) that his father phoned him — after death. (Just like Ida Lupino’s deaddad — honest, I’m not making it up, I don’t think.) And we get a helpful silent flashback showing this. So, there’s a ghost! There’s a ghost on the phone!

Kautner, like his Hamlet, had just got back from the US, but unlike him, he had been directing Sandra Dee pictures. Really good ones! A bit of his Universal experience seems to have rubbed off when Kruger goes for a drunken drive in his tiny convertible and it’s all a bit WRITTEN ON THE WIND.

Kautner’s style is magnificently all over the shop. A mix of classical and jazz. Lap dissolves AND crash zooms. Expressionist-noir lighting and angles, plus an almost documentary look to the location work (it’s a GREAT film for reinforced concrete and bombed-out buildings and smoking factories, things I now feel should feature in every Hamlet adaptation).

Fee/Ophelia is set up as mentally ill or at least vulnerable from the start, which helps her character, and Ingrid Andree is very touching.

And of course Hardy Kruger — the perfect Hamlet! Boyish and smart, a bit dangerous and cruel and neurotic, handsome but offbeat (TOO boyish).

Snow!

Hamlet doesn’t ACT mad in this one — his behaviour is incongruous enough on its own to make sectioning him seem like sound strategy. So they plot to send him to the Highland Falls Nervensanatorium, Glasgow.

This is a terrific show, just when I needed one (you can have too much late Terence Young). OK, the climax is rushed and they have trouble getting the necessary number of deaths into a modern boardroom setting, but the fade-out — featuring two characters who are dead by this point in the play — is DEVASTATING — and I’ve never found Hamlet all that moving, I’m ashamed to say.

Yes, maybe Kautner’s ending is better than Shakespeare’s.

THE REST IS SILENCE stars Capt. Potsdorf; Hans-Dieter Mundt; Zouzou Kuckuck; Mackie Messer; Inspektor Richard “Dick” Martin; and Adolf Hitler as himself.

Grey Matter

Posted in FILM, literature, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-1569350

I’ve been known to mock Curt Siodmak, to refer to him as the great Robert Siodmak’s idiot brother. “Is he your favourite idiot brother?” my friend Alex asked the other day. He isn’t even that, I was forced to admit — W. Lee Wilder is a still more remarkable specimen of the breed.

But I was really impressed by TV movie Hauser’s Memory — teleplay by Adrian Spies, based fairly faithfully I think on Siodmak’s novel. And then I stumbled on a copy of Donovan’s Brain, young Curt’s best-known book. It was filmed three times officially — as THE LADY AND THE MONSTER with Erich Von Stroheim and Vera Hruba Ralston, as DONOVAN’S BRAIN with Lew Ayres and Nancy Reagan (wouldn’t they make a houseful) and as THE BRAIN, by Freddie Francis with Peter Van Eyck, but Curt hated all three versions. The radio production with Orson Welles is better — probably. I’ve been saving it for last.

The book is really enjoyable, with memorable characters in its cold-fish narrator, a rather inhuman scientist who steals the brain of a dying millionaire, and various sleazy types he meets once the brain starts to telepathically force him to do its bidding. The formula is similar to Hauser’s Memory  — a dead character possesses a live one, so while there’s a battle to maintain personhood by a character invaded by a foreign mind, there’s also a kind of investigation/puzzle where we want to find out the secret motivation of the mental invader.

ladyandthemonstera

Siodmak had the unenviable task of retraining himself to write in English after he fled Hitler. Other filmmakers managed to adapt readily, but for a writer the challenge was far greater. Language was Siodmak’s instrument. Like his former collaborator Billy Wilder, he never quite got the American idiom down pat, but Wilder always worked with brilliant co-writers to smooth out any linguistic kinks. In his novels, Curt has to struggle along by himself. He would write sentences like “The moon leaped like a giant in the porthole,” which possibly plays better in German, though I’m not wholly convinced of that.

Donovan’s Brain has sentences like “I woke at a very early morning hour,” which is weirdly OFF. In German, “very early morning hour” is probably one word, some beautiful compound noun a foot long. He gets his commas wrong here: “It might like a blind man, feel the light or, like a deaf one perceive sound.” I had to read that a couple of times to make sense of it, did you? And then there are bits where he reaches for an effect and his awkwardness with English makes him fall flat on his face: “Even the fact of our marriage had been dissolved in my work’s acid domination.”

But despite this, the book is a really good read! And it has bizarre stuff in it that’s never made it into any screen version. At one point, disoriented by the brain’s long-range control, the hero falls into a ditch and gets his vertebrae compressed by a steam shovel. He has to wear a full torso plaster cast that makes him look like a turtle for thirty pages. And this has no real impact on the plot at all. But it’s something I’d love to see in a film. It would particularly suit Von Stroheim, I feel.

vlcsnap-2015-09-01-11h10m25s182

 

Young Curt was scathing about the changes inflicted on his book by filmmakers. In the Stroheim atrocity, directed by the sometimes skilled George Sherman, the mad scientist lives in a castle — in Arizona! — and the plot stops for a Spanish speciality dance before the brain has even been hatched. The novel goes like a train, but there’s no chance of zip with Erich setting the pace. The filmmakers supply him with a limp, just to slow things down even further, and instead of being an antihero he’s made a straight villain, with Richard Arlen as one of those useless heroes whose only purpose is to protest each new plot development. Ralston is fabulously bad, flashing her eyelashes with every other line to give “significant” looks.

vlcsnap-2015-09-01-11h07m35s29

Felix Feist’s fifties fiasco is a lot closer to the letter of the book, but while Siodmak’s protagonist was somewhere between autism and Camus’ L’Etranger, Lew Ayres plays it repulsively HEARTY, and says things like “C’mon, get with it, baby!” I wanted to slap his brain. The more the script tries to render him likable, the creepier he gets. But I liked Gene Evans, who doesn’t seem like a movie surgeon at all, and who therefore may resemble a real one, I’m prepared to believe. And the future first lady vivisecting a monkey makes it kind of worthwhile.

vlcsnap-2015-09-01-11h02m56s59

Freddie Francis (who also made THE SKULL!) brings more visual panache to his version than his predecessors, though the monkey brain earlier on is one of the most laughably inept props ever — it looks like a half-deflated balloon with the crenellations drawn on in magic marker. Anne Heywood, Bernard Lee, Cecil Parker, Maxine Audley — the supporting cast is excellent, even before you get to Miles Malleson as a sherry-swigging coroner (who fails to say “Room for one more inside” despite ample opportunity) and Jack MacGowran as a blackmailing morgue attendant. Peter Van Eyck is the closest anyone has gotten to capturing the icy callousness of Siodmak’s protag, though he’s also curiously antic. But the plot gets caught up in scheming and forgets all about the poor brain. The balance is upset. Siodmak complained that the filmmakers added a stripper, but there’s no sign of her in the print I viewed.Though Anne Heywood, always game, flashes a nipple for about four frames.

Now I guess I have to watch CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN.

 

Stir Crazy After All These Years

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 11, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-05-11-08h23m18s201

TOUS PEUVENT ME TUER (1957) translates as EVERYONE WANTS TO KILL ME, an amusing title the film doesn’t quite stand behind. But reliable warhorse Henri Decoin (his writing career started in silents — he directed his last in ’64 — other warhorses like Gabin viewed him as a trusted collaborator in contrast to those nouvelle vague scallywags) gives it a dynamic noir feel, with many tilts and splashy chiaroscuro lighting.

Hapless Andre Versini allows himself to be sucked into master-crim Peter van Eyck’s heist scheme, whose novel element is that it requires the entire gang to get busted for drunkenness and B&E right after they’ve pulled off their jewellery snatch. In this way, by faking drunkenness, they provide themselves with an airtight alibi for the earlier offence. Sentenced to a year inside, they can sit tight while the heat dies down and collect their swag upon release. Versini’s time inside may be tougher than the others’ since he has Anouk Aimee waiting for him on the outside — in other words, he’s an idiot.

vlcsnap-2015-05-11-08h23m41s160

The plan goes awry when someone starts bumping off the gang in the prison (a striped-shadow panopticon offering opportunities for numerous punchy compositions). Did someone talk, or is a member of the dwindling clique intent on trousering the entire takings for himself? Can Peter van Eyck ever be wholly trustworthy?

The script by Decoin, Versini and Albert Simonin, pulls in too many subsidiary characters, like the amusing prison director, and doesn’t establish its team of miscreants strongly enough for us to care, even in a LADYKILLERS comic way, as they meet their ends, but the inventive plot idea and the extremely atmospheric lensing of Pierre Montazel (TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, many others) makes it a (mild) pleasure to watch.

vlcsnap-2015-05-11-08h24m40s248