Archive for Phantom

The Sunday Intertitle: Quick, a Cognac!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2009 by dcairns


“Chapter 3, in which two mysterious cars play a major role, and a young woman appears who, for the time being, wishes to remain anonymous (Mady Christians), as she is being pursued by a descendant of Ivan the Terrible (Robert Scholz).”

Along with the fantabulous MABUSE box set I got from Masters of Cinema for being clever, along came a complimentary set of Murnau’s PHANTOM and THE FINANCES OF THE GRAND DUKE. Now, PHANTOM is the one with the reputation, and since you can see Murnau rehearsing the psychological effects of THE LAST LAUGH (a street that topples over to crush the protagonist, mentally) and hijacking Sjostrom’s transparent coach from THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE, it is probably the film upon which most attention deserves to be focussed.

But FINANCES surprised and kinda tickled me. Most commentators consider Murnau to be less than perfectly suited to comedy, and FINANCES is a sort of Ruritanian romance with Lubitschian undertones. Langlois reported that his top cinephages (including Godard?) had to sit through three back-to-back screenings of it until they could venture a hypothesis as to what the devil old FWM was playing at. I found it diverting, and actually fairly funny.

As rom-com, the film does have disadvantages. As the title suggests, high finance plays a role in the narrative, which doesn’t sound too promising. Said narrative is the work of Thea Von Harbou, proboscis monkey-faced Nazi and wife of Fritz Lang, not usually associated with puckish wit or drollery. And the supporting cast includes Max NOSFERATU Schreck, as “the sinister one” — damn you, typecasting!

This makes me think of one of Art Linson’s stories: he was thinking of casting Willem Dafoe (who would go on to reprise Schreck’s most famous role in SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE) in a comedy, and asked his wife, “Do you think Willem Dafoe could make you laugh?” “I don’t know,” she mused, “but I saw him smile once and I had nightmares for a week.”

vlcsnap-80616An unusually antic Mr Schreck (centre).

But oddly, it turns out that Max, largely confined to longshots, isn’t so very sinister as to make chuckles corpsify in the throat, Murnau is by no means ill at ease with the demands of the pacy caper, and Harbou can actually write gags. My favourite being when easy-come-easy-go hero Phillip Collin, boy reporter (Alfred Abel, 45) comes to the aid of a Princess in distress/disguise in a restaurant. She faints, overcome by emotion (something that happens a lot). Collin calls a waiter — “Quick, a cognac!” The waiter returns. Collin drinks the cognac. “I immediately get weak when anybody faints,” he explains.


Elsewhere, we get people who disguise themselves as animals, professionally — for no reason; an “interesting” hand-held shot filmed from a docking rowboat; a vigorous hunchback; a full-scale revolution enacted apparently by four people; financial chicanery; a fast ship; escapes; captures; sulfurous caverns; and further confirmation of my pet theory that all the landscapes flown over in FAUST’s magic carpet ride are to be found in Murnau’s other films — here, it’s the dreamy Mediterranean vistas. And while the plot clearly takes place before the Russian Revolution of 1917, everything on display is pure 1920s chic.

Scary Intertitle of the Week

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 27, 2008 by dcairns

Darn, I was sure I’d grabbed an intertitle from THE HANDS OF ORLAC (Robert Wiene version, with Conrad Veidt) or else Murnau’s PHANTOM, also with Connie V, but no, this is from Wiene’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Not that I’ve seen any of the above films, but I plan to fix that before the week is out.

12 Hungry Films

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by dcairns

Another one I should have listed in the previous post: Kurosawa’s MADADAYO. His final film as director. I loudly bemoaned the fact that it didn’t get a UK release at the time it was made, nor even after A.K.’s death. I was thrilled to finally get a copy. Then I failed to watch it. I look forward to getting Fellini’s last film, VOICE OF THE MOON, also denied a UK release, so I can fail to watch that too.

Here’s my list of films I’m aching to see (although whether I’ll watch them if I find them is apparently doubtful) —

1. THE DIARIES OF MAJOR THOMPSON. Preston Sturges’ last movie, described as “almost defiantly unfunny” by one biographer. But it’s hard to find anybody with a kind word for THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND either, and that one, though not prime Sturges by the furthest stretch of hyperbole, has a fair few laughs.

2. There are lots of Julien Duvivier films unavailable, or unavailable with subtitles. LA BELLE EQUIPE may be the most historically important one. And it’s got Jean Gabin in it.

3. L’AMORE. I’ve yet to really get into Rossellini, so this interests me more for the presence of Cocteau and Fellini as writers, and Fellini as actor. Maybe it would help me appreciate Roberto R.

4. A GIRL IN EVERY PORT. I know Howard Hawks is considered to have really come into his own in the sound era, and especially once the grammar of Hollywood talkies had formalised into the Golden Age of the late thirties and forties, but shouldn’t SOME of his silent work be worth seeing? Particularly this one, which features Louise Brooks as a prototypical Hawksian dame.

5. DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS. Ken Russell’s Richard Strauss film, suppressed by the Strauss estate. Reportedly the most extreme of Mad Ken’s TV films. Soon to be available in the US in a box set of the Great Masturbator’s BBC works. But I probably won’t be able to afford it. NB There are lots of other TV works by the Mastur which I haven’t managed to see either.

(STOP PRESS — apparently it isn’t in the set, despite being listed on Amazon.)

6. PHANTOM. This early Murnau classic is available from Kino, but I can never afford it (or when I can, the prospect of three other films for the same price as this single one always tempts me) and has aired on TCM a few times, but I’ve never managed to get a stateside correspondent to record it. The clips I’ve seen are truly mouth/eye-watering. They turn my eyes into salivating little mouths, is what I mean.

7. I was going to put Victor Sjostrom’s THE OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE, but remembered that I have a fuzzy off-air NTSC VHS of that, so it really belongs on the previous list. Big Victor directed my all-time favourite film, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED. So, in the wake of David Bordwell’s brilliant piece on it, I choose INGEBORG HOLM from way back in 1913.

8. If Duvivier’s availability suffers from an unjustified downgrading of his reputation (as I believe), Robert Siodmak’s obscurity is a mystery. His Hollywood output is mostly obtainable with varying degrees of effort, but the only pre-American work out there appears to be PEOPLE ON SUNDAY and PIEGES, which isn’t exactly “available” but can be had if you know the right people. PIEGES is a dream of a film, a slick thriller that prefigures the American noirs and would be essential to an understanding of the man’s oeuvre. So who knows what else is required viewing? And the post-American period is almost equally underrepresented. I managed to see NIGHTS, WHEN THE DEVIL CAME, and was bowled over by it (a serial killer in Nazi Germany… some subjects may be too striking to actually do badly). DIE RATTEN is considered an important part of post-war German cinema, but you can’t see it. I’d like to.

9. INN OF EVIL. Of course my shame at not having watched THE HUMAN CONDITION yet should preclude my mentioning more Masaki Kobayashi, but this one sounds too enticing. The fact that there are IMDb reviews suggests it is possible to see the thing.

10. THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED. I can’t believe there isn’t a thriving black market trade in copies of this one. Jerry Lewis’s Holocaust movie is something of a legend, its release forestalled by legal disputes, its reputation as the ultimate bad-taste artistic folly fuelled by only rumour and a few witness reports (I like Dan Castellanata as an actor but I don’t necessarily trust him as a film critic). Some of Lewis’s later films are problematic enough even without death camps, but this demands to be seen.

11. Anything at all by Alessandro Blasetti? Or any of the countless Riccardo Freda films that can’t be seen? Mario Bava’s last work, the TV film VENUS OF ILE? The unseen early works of Max Ophüls? There are too many candidates for this penultimate slot.

12. A note of optimism — I’ve longed to see Nick Ray’s films for a very long time, as it’s measured in Scotland. And finally it seems like WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN and THE JANITOR are on their way into my feverish clutches, to join the heaps of the great unwatched in my living room.