Archive for Preston Sturges

The Stripey Hole

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2022 by dcairns

The prison sequence in MODERN TIMES contributes to the film’s episodic feeling. Nothing that’s planted here is used later. Chaplin could have had himself arrested and placed immediately into a van with Paulette, I think. But, on the other hand, placing our first glimpse of her “Gamin” before the prison term helps tie the different parts of the film together. And the prison sequence is very funny. I wonder if any of the ideas here came from CITY LIGHTS, where the Tramp has a spell inside which we never see (and quite rightly).

Cast into dungeons dark dank and donk — Charlie shares a cell with, of all people, Prince Barin from FLASH GORDON, made this same year. I knew if I kept blogging for a decade and a half things would start to make sense. (Paulette Goddard’s later work with QUIEN SABE?’s Damiano Damiani in LA NOIA is another charming connection, and I’ve already pointed out how FLASH recycles sets from FRANKENSTEIN designed by Charles D. Hall, who is also responsible for the production design in MODERN TIMES) Charlie is perturbed by Barin’s needlepoint. Having this big guy — a more naturalistic Eric Campbell — thread a needle in your direction is, from Charlie’s alarmed reaction, like gazing down the barrel of a gun.

Dissolve when the convicts go to dinner indicates to me that Chaplin has made a trim. I always liked the cheap gag of his meal being ladled into his plate while he’s otherwise occupied, and when he discovers the slop has apported in front of him, he looks upwards as if some passing seagull must be responsible. Silly and low and wonderful.

NOSE-POWDER! This is an excuse to have Charlie turn into a heroic berserker warrior, as he did in EASY STREET. It’s also a surprising post-code drug reference. How was it allowed? It’s true that Charlie doesn’t consciously take the drugs, and the drugs are being smuggled by bad guys. And Charlie uses the illicit substance as a condiment, rather than shooting up as he did (accidentally) in EASY STREET. But the seven-per-cent solution turning him into an unstoppable crimefighter seems like not the message Joe Breen was anxious to get out.

Anyway, I love the dramatic iris-in on the drug connection. A technique audiences of 1936 would not have been accustomed to seeing on their screens for close to a decade. The IMDb doesn’t seem to know who this guy is. I would like that information.

Love the dynamic pan to the salt cellar. Chaplin’s camera is already getting hyper. Now we get to see Charlie deliver a masterclass in what he imagines coke is like. It’s very moreish, apparently. In case we struggle to imagine how eating the stuff would work (oh, it would work, I think), Chaplin has himself wipe the stuff across his lower face so he can also inhale it.

Distracted by Prince Barin — under the influence, does Charlie see the guy abruptly clad in a breast plate and plumed helmet? — Charlie attempts to deliver a forkful of cocaine mush into his right ear. Like William Lee in NAKED LUNCH, reaching for a cigarette on the wrong side of his mouth, he has forgotten where his face is.

The ebullience Charlie now feels — showing Prince Barin where he can get off — does seem like plausible cokehead arrogance. Rotating mechanically on the spot when the convicts are sent back to their cells does not. It’s Harpo zaniness, and another illustration of Henri Bergson’s notion that comedy comes from people behaving like machines.

In a daze, Charlie accidentally escapes, and is panic-stricken when the call of a cuckoo brings him back to reality. An interesting use of sound — the bird does not appear.

JAILBREAK! One of the two gunmen is Frank Moran, with his “wrecked jeep of a face” (Manny Farber), a few years before he became a favourite player of Preston Sturges (“Psycho-lology!”)

Charlie thwarts the breakout with a dashing display of Peruvian courage, reacting to gunfights with flashing fists, as if he could deflect bullets with his cuffs like Wonder Woman (he won’t get magic cuffs until the end of the movie) and defeats his enemies by using an iron door as an offensive weapon. Charlie has been able to play the upright citizen, but only while coked out of his face, which I suppose makes it acceptable.

MODERN TIMES star Adenoid Hynkel; Lucretia Borgia; Fat Whiskered German Soldier / The Kaiser’s General / Bartender; Porthos; Mr. Whoozis; Norwegian Radio Listener (uncredited); The Millionaire’s Butler; Prince Barin; Cardinal Richelieu; Eggs; Frederick F. Trumble (uncredited); Tough Chauffeur;

The Sunday Intertitle: Bathing Beauty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 3, 2022 by dcairns

BADETS DRONNING — aka THE QUEEN OF THE SEASON or, more accurately, THE QUEEN OF BATHING — is a 1912 seaside comedy from Denmark. It’s quite sophisticated. While Sennett’s comics were just beginning to gesticulate and grimace, the actors here keep one foot in naturalism. They’re actors, not clowns. The filmmaker, Eduard Schnedler-Sørensen, offers up the prospect of slapstick — will the fat man fall in a tide pool? — only to refuse it, in favour of small-scale accidents and social embarrassments.

Although my first impulse was to view the film as a more advanced variation on the silent clown film, maybe it’s more accurate to position it as a pre-Lubitsch comedy of manners. After all, this kind of thing wouldn’t SUPERCEDE the slapstick comedy until talkies came in, it would just develop along its own path, merrily, blossoming into the screwball comedy and romcom.

As a group of men hover around an unaccompanied (but married) woman — the bathing beauty stuff anticipates Sennett — one actor stood out. (Well, actually, chubby Oscar Stribolt is fun, too. And the not-too-obscure object of desire is Else Frölich, Paul Gauguin’s sister-in-law).

This fellow, seen above in the centre, seemed a bit more theatrical than the others, and he’s drenched his hair in powder to whiten it. His eyebrows are pure products of the pencil. I thought he looked like a Torben Meyer type — the dialect comedian who essayed a series of prissy bald functionaries for Preston Sturges, for instance Clink the purser in THE LADY EVE and Dr. Kluck in THE PALM BEACH STORY.

It’s him! With hair! Presumably his own, since he’s felt the need to lighten it. He’s only twenty-eight, but has sized up his equipment and set himself down in the Spotlight directory of life as a character man. Incredibly busy up until 1926, he disappears for a year and then reemerges in Hollywood in ’28, a busy character thesp once more. It’s almost a quirk of history that, of the 250 credits the IMDb had tracked down, it’s his eight small roles in Sturges’ rep company that give him a toehold on immortality.

The film is lightly likeable. Schnedler-Sørensen pans confidently about, following the action, and likes having his characters bound past the camera, so that their heads disappear and their bodies become big, jouncing obstructions for a second or two. So that if his actors aren’t able to tumble and spill, things are nevertheless visually lively. The studio shots are convincing, no flat backdrops. He seems to have figured out POV shots, too — a considerable advance on most of his competitors.

He never made a sound film.

May I introduce my husband to you?

The Mystery of Morgan’s Creek

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 1, 2021 by dcairns

Here’s a strange one, A mystery introduced, investigated and solved in a single day (yesterday), but leaving a bigger mystery.

First, Dan Sallitt, filmmaker and friend, got in touch with a curious question. He was making up some film lists, and wanted to check the accuracy of THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK’S release date. The film was shot at the end of 1942, but release was held up a bit.

Dan wasn’t asking me as a Sturges scholar, but as a Scot: the IMDb gives the film’s first release date as December 1943, (Glasgow) (premiere). This seemed odd. Films don’t typically get even their UK premieres in Glasgow. Plus, the copyright date for the film in the US is January 1944. You wouldn’t expect Paramount to be screening the film before they copyrighted it.

Dan couldn’t learn much more without paying for the privilege, but he could see that the film was screening in Glasgow in December *1944*, a whole year later than the IMDb’s date, so maybe it was a simple typo that had gotten worked up into a whole alternative history?

I didn’t know the answer but thought I knew someone who could get it, ace researcher Diarmid Mogg. I fired him an email.

I got this back:

If you can tear your attention away from the discourse on the humourlessness of Scotsmen, you can see on the right mention of Betty Hutton premiering her new film in Glasgow. And the date is December 1943.

So it really happened. But why was Glasgow chosen? And why wasn’t the film’s copyright registered until a month after it began screening in the UK?

Diarmid was able to answer the odd point about the film still showing in 1944. It was still showing in *1951*, too, having proved so popular it simply didn’t stop running, here and there, all over the country.

So, for once, the Inaccurate Movie Database hasn’t lived down to its name, but we’re still left with a puzzle. Perhaps one of you has the answer?