Archive for Ralph Bellamy

Screwball Yoga

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2013 by dcairns

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Elisha Cook Jnr, disturbingly buff, demonstrates Hollywood’s idea of the lotus position in HE MARRIED HIS WIFE.

This is a fun 1940 screwball comedy from Roy Del Ruth, with a Wodehousian country house setting and the deliriously dithering Mary Boland as hostess. Good support from Cesar Romero as a Latin Lothario. Joel McCrea has plenty experience of this kind of thing, and Nancy Kelly shows herself more than capable of joining in the fun — if her career had taken off she could have made some classics.

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I’m a little concerned with the film’s treatment of its shnook character, played by Lyle Talbot. Firstly, I think you can assess a film’s goodheartedness by how it treats its schnook. If the schnook is obnoxious, all bets are off. But if he’s basically blameless, and guilty of no more than not being the hero, then I want him to have some kind of happy ending, like Ralph Bellamy in HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE, or Rudy Vallee in THE PALM BEACH STORY. An exception to this is HIS GIRL FRIDAY, where Ralph Bellamy (schnook again) is shamefully mistreated, but then that film doesn’t have a very good heart, and it wants you to know it.

Secondly, Talbot doesn’t have form as a schnook. He’s a faded thirties star, going soft, but nothing in his persona tells us that we should find him funny. He’s unhappily in love with Joel McCrea’s ex-wife, and woos her with McCrea’s enthusiastic encouragement (Joel just wants to be able to stop paying alimony so he can spend his money on horses). Nothing about this scenario inclines me to want to see the guy mistreated.

But that’s the only cloud in the sky, here. The script, by six different scribes including John O’Hara (!), is pretty funny, and the playing of the likes of Boland, with her oblivious fluting dither, amplifies that. Asides from the strange yogic practices of Mr Cook, Jnr, the movie also has one other enduringly odd moment. William Edmunds, looking rather like the High Lama, plays a nightclub waiter who takes a tip from Joel McCrea on his horse, and loses his rent money. There’s a bitter confrontation between the two as McCrea is hauled of for non-payment of alimony, after which Edmunds very visibly mouths the words “Fuck you!”

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At least, that’s what *I* think he’s saying. My lip-reading may be defective — I would welcome second, and third opinions.

The Oblong Box Set

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by dcairns

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Delving into my Universal Monsters The Essential Collection Blu-rays Christmas pressie — I was drawn to some of the lesser titles, partly so they wouldn’t get neglected, partly so I could save some good ones for last. (All images here are from the lowly DVDs.)

First I ran THE WOLFMAN, which is not a very good film, alas. After THE OLD DARK HOUSE it’s nice to have another Welsh-set Universal horror — a pity they couldn’t have arranged for Melvyn Douglas to drop in as Penderell, or something. They manage to waste Warren William and miscast Ralph Bellamy, who doesn’t get to exploit his uncanny ability to remind one of that fellow in the movies, what’s his name? Ralph Bellamy, that’s it.

Screenwriter Curt Siodmak, idiot brother of the great Robert, knew that Lon Chaney Jnr was ridiculous casting as a nobleman, but doesn’t seem to have reflected too much on the implications of his story, which has a Gypsy tribe importing a contagion into peaceful Anglo-Saxon terrain. It’s a distasteful narrative for a German-Jewish refugee to serve up to American audiences during wartime, the more I consider it.

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As a kid, I was disappointed by the slow pace and lack of screen time awarded to Jack Pierce’s make-up, which I dug. But I was fascinated by Maria Ouspenskaya, who seemed genuinely uncanny.

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THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA seems to have always been a tricky property — it has seminal scenes, the unmasking and the chandelier drop and the general mood of skulking about in shadows in a cape, but nobody seems able to settle on what order they should come in or who the characters ought to be. I think perhaps a failure to realize that Christine is the main point-of-view character lies at the heart of many of the problems — this may be the big thing Andrew Lloyd-Webber got right. But Chaney was the only one to get a good makeup, and played the character without any cast backstory, as a mystery.

The forties Technicolor version that’s in the box set concentrates on singing and romance and comedy as much as melodrama, and top-loads the story with an origin for the Phantom that’s sympathetic but deprives him of mystique — it also leaves no time for his Svengali act, surely the heart of the story. Claude Rains is in good form, though his coaching scenes as a disembodied voice are underexploited — this should have been the perfect companion piece to THE INVISIBLE MAN.

Screenwriter Samuel Hoffenstein is more important here than second-string director Arthur Lubin: he did a great job on Mamoulian’s DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, so I don’t know why this is so muted — partly the Production Code, I suppose. His other finest credits are THE WIZARD OF OZ, LAURA and CLUNY BROWN,  and his gift for light comedy is more evident here than his knack for dramatic construction. The rather stunning ending, in which Jeanette MacDonald Susanna Foster chooses her career and her two beaux, Nelson Eddy and Edgar Barrier, go off together arm in arm to dinner, makes the thing worthwhile — they fade to black very fast at that point.

Oh, and the three-strip Technicolor is bee-you-tiful.

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(Screenwriter and memoirist Lenore Coffee quotes a couple nice lines by Hoffenstein, not from his scripts but from his conversation. In response to the Variety headline BABY LEROY’S CONTRACT UP FOR RENEWAL, the Hoff remarked “If they don’t meet his terms he’ll go straight back to the womb… a swell place to negotiate from!” And when the legal department asked for a progress report on his latest script, a slightly tipsy S.H. bellowed “How any department as sterile as a legal department could have the impertinence to inquire into the progress of any writer, however poor… What do you think I do? Drink ink and pee scripts?”)

I believe the scene where Claude Rains strangles Miles Mander had to be taken several times because Mander’s head kept detaching when shaken.

Hume Cronyn has a tiny part and it’s great fun watching him steal his scenes.

Backstory is a problem. I quite enjoyed the intro to Dario Argento’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, in which the baby Phantom, cast adrift in the sewers in his cot, is rescued by rats, who presumably raise him as one of their own, like a rodent Tarzan. Tarzan had a fine operatic yodel, of course. But Argento’s Phantom isn’t deformed, he’s Julian Sands, which leaves him no motivation to be masked or live underground or do any of the things the plot requires.

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The Hammer PHANTOM, which I recently watched too, borrows heavily from the 1941 version — impoverished composer, acid scarring, etc. Apparently Cary Grant had expressed an interest in playing the Phantom, but his agent nixed it. I kind of wonder if that’s why the meaningless hunchback character was added, in order to give all the murderous stuff to someone else. It’s completely nonsensical and wrecks the film, which Terence Fisher handles rather nicely. Michael Gough’s slimy Lord Ambrose is a one-note baddie, and Gough hammers that note with relentless enthusiasm. Herbert Lom gets almost nothing to do.

That one was cackhandedly written by Anthony Hinds, a Hammer producer. There are undoubtedly some great producers-turned-writers — Joseph Mankiewicz springs to mind. The trouble in general is that producers can give themselves the job of writing without having any ability at it, as I found when I worked for Tern Television. Both Anthony Carreras and Anthony Hinds at Hammer got a number of writing gigs, without having the slightest sense of story structure, or even apparent awareness of what a story IS.

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Also watched DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS since Fiona’s brother was visiting, which Hinds authored — but his ramshackle narrative was fleshed out by the competent Jimmy Sangster, and then the very droll Francis Matthews acted in it, with delivery that’s as close to Cary Grant as Hammer ever got. A line like “Well I’m sure it would be educational if we knew what was going on,” isn’t necessarily witty in itself, but he gets a laugh with it. And I have to take my hat off to Sangster for the line he awards Dracula’s sepulchral manservant, Klove: “My master died without issue, sir… in the accepted sense of the term.”

The UK release is cheaper than the American, though admittedly it doesn’t come in its own coffin ~

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray] [1931][Region Free]

Psychobabble vs. Psycho Rabble

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , on February 16, 2011 by dcairns

The paralyzed pinkies of Chester Morris clutch at psychoanalytic salvation!

A 1939 proto-noir from Charles (GILDA) Vidor. A home invasion melodrama in the tradition of THE DESPERATE HOURS, but it’s also an early psychoanalysis movie, with a spectacular line in dollarbook Freud and a couple dream/flashbacks that must’ve been hugely influential.

Ralph Bellamy: he looks like that guy in the movies, what’s his name? And Chester Morris, he looks like near-sighted football.

Shrink Ralph Bellamy is entertaining a few guests for the weekend, when his house is taken over by escaped jailbird Chester Morris and his gang (including perennial stooge Marc Lawrence and moll Ann Dvorak). They’re all awaiting the arrival of a getaway boat to take them across the lake (one supposes to Canada), which never comes, for reasons never actually explained.

But never mind the boat, what excites and startles is the dollarbook Freud, laid on thick and stupid with a trowel by pipe-puffing Ralph. See, Chester is a neurotic case, with hysterically paralysed fingers on his left hand (just the pinkie works) and a tormenting dream that recurs every night. After one of his pals is gunned down, Ralph decides to turn the power of analysis against his foe: “I’m going to take apart his mind and show him the pieces,” figuring to cure the guy and thus rob him of his psychopathic power of murderousness.

And it works! Forced to confront his suppressed childhood trauma, Chester regains digital dexterity, but his trigger finger now lacks its previous itchiness, resulting in his becoming a sitting duck when the cops show up. Not sure how this squares with the Hippocratic oath.

But never mind the malpractice, check out Vidor’s expressionist elan — first, the dream, in which Chet gets wet, pursued by rainstorms and forced to shelter ‘neath a leaky umbrella which sprouts imprisoning bars. And all in negative!

Then, the flashback which shows the dream’s true meaning — after turning stoolie and leading the cops to arrest his louse of a dad, young Chester ducks under a bar table. Dad, riddled with bullets, collapses over it, and leaks blood onto his cowering son through a crack in the tabletop, as the cops surround the table, their legs forming a circle of “bars”.

It’s all a goofy melodrama, with distinctly B-list stars (I like Ralph, though, and Chester is appealingly limited, one of those familiar faces which accumulates a certain audience affection just by dangling in front of the camera on so many occasions), but entertaining as heck. Ralph’s explanation of the subconscious should replace Freud’s — he sketches an outline of a head, and divides it into two levels, strongly implying that this is the actual physical structure of the brain. Further, he introduces the idea of the “censor band”, a previously unknown concept, which seems to work like a kind of gastric band for the mind, constricting the circulation of naughty thoughts and thus preventing the contamination of the spotless conscious mind with all those dirty unconscious feelings.

It’s a really lovely idea, this “censor band”, a term with no foundation in analysis that I’m aware of: Hollywood attempts to map the human mind, using as its model… Hollywood!

Film noir is a great American tradition, a triumph of western civilisation, a small high in the history of artistic achievement. I can’t expect each of you to run out and find the lost ending of DOUBLE INDEMNITY or the lost beginning of SUNSET BLVD, but you can do your bit for film history by clicking here and donating to help preserve Cy Endfield’s THE SOUND OF FURY ~

On behalf of the Film Preservation Blogathon, operating out of here and here.

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