Archive for Ralph Ince

Blind Tuesday: Justice is Blind

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2014 by dcairns

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A return of our intermittent series of posts on thrillers about the sightless. This one is kind of a departure though. Nobody in the movie is blind or pretends to be blind.

CRIME UNLIMITED is a 1935 Warner picture made at their UK studio in Teddington. Being post-code, it reconfigures some of the plot tropes of earlier films, adjusted to make them morally uplifting — for instance, James Cagney’s jewelry store scam from BLONDE CRAZY gets trotted out again, only here the perp is an undercover man seeking to ingratiate himself with a gang of heisters, so it’s all above-board, really.

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The leading lady is a heartbreakingly young and succulent Lilli Palmer, but of more interest to our jaded sensibilities is the fact that the hero is played by Esmond Knight. During WWII, Knight was blinded for real during a battle at sea with the Bismarck. He lost one eye and was almost totally blinded in the other — some sight returned to it in his extreme old age. He can be seen, minus glass eye, at the start of ROBIN AND MARIAN, but he played numerous sighted characters for Michael Powell, including a film director (parodying Powell’s own temperamental style) in PEEPING TOM and the Maharajah in BLACK NARCISSUS, which required him to ride a donkey through a forest. “I’ll be fine,” my friend Lawrie reported him as saying, “The donkey doesn’t want to hit a tree any more than I do.”

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Slightly eerily, the CRIME UNLIMITED features scenes where Knight is blindfolded and led to a baddie’s lair.

He also reports to his superiors by standing at a window and moving his lips. A deaf man in the building opposite reads his lips with binoculars and passes the info to Scotland Yard.

The movie is a reasonably enjoyable potboiler, well made (by Hollywood director Ralph Ince) and decently acted. Knight is an adequate leading man, but he was really waiting for a few years to pile on to turn him into a fine character actor. One does miss the more mature moral ambiguity of the pre-code era. One has to settle for fated social attitudes instead — Raymond Lovell plays a club owner in league with the crooks as a nasty Jewish stereotype. A good accents man, the portly Canadian would redeem himself during the war by specialising in Nazis.

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Cunning Stunts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2013 by dcairns

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LUCKY DEVILS is a pre-code about stuntmen with rather podgy heroes (William Boyd and the reliable unappetizing William Gargan), a childish but slangy screenplay, and some spectacular stunt action. Co-writer Bob Rose was a stuntman himself, which perhaps explains the mixture of unconvincing dramatics and insider knowledge and jargon. Without pushing a particular agenda, the movie does manage to make the movies seem a pretty cut-throat business, from the suicide attempt staged in front of a blinking Hollywood sign, to the cold-blooded demands of inconsiderate directors seeking ever more risky stunts.

The movie opens with a dynamic, violent and destructive bank robbery, much more extreme than most Hollywood action sequences of the day (well, maybe SCARFACE and BEAST OF THE CITY come close), and proceeds to serve up a wide variety of daring leaps, plunges, crashes and smashes. One in particular, a swing over a burning building, is cinematically exciting as well as hair-raising. Director Ralph Ince, youngest of the Ince brothers, has got his hands on a zoom lens (the same year saw RKO using it in KING KONG) and he uses this to lucidly set up the forthcoming action and its participants, panning and reframing from one to the other. Once Boyd (or rather, his stuntman — the actor may have gone on to embody Hopalong Cassidy but I doubt he’d be game for this) is dangling from a rope fifty feet in the air, Ince uses the zoom to make little nervous adjustments to the shot, really creating the sense that it’s happening “live”. By injecting an air of the extemporaneous into what one hopes is a carefully planned event, he ups the tension considerably. I found myself wondering if the stunt was supposed to be this dangerous, with the faux-Boyd swaying back and forth repeatedly, unable to get a toe-hold on the safety platform. This is exactly how a modern director might use the zoom (if he isn’t just restlessly jerking it around out of sheer indecision).

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CITIZEN KANE’s Vernon Walker put together the special effects, which include a plunge into a burning building, and rear-projection work which incorporates footage from Clarence Brown’s TRAIL OF ’98, an MGM movie where four stuntmen were actually drowned (according to testimony in Brownlow & Gill’s Hollywood series). On the one hand, it’s considerate of the makers to spare their stuntmen a fresh set of risks, preferring to recycle previous death-defying or death-inflicting acts, but on the other, it’s more than a little tacky to exploit this footage again, even if we don’t actually see anyone going under…

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Supporting players include Bruce Cabot and a slender Creighton Chaney, a few years before he became Lon Jnr. “He’s almost good-looking!” exclaimed Fiona. Also, there’s stuttering comedian Roscoe Ates, from FREAKS. The mean humour milked from his speech impediment here is pretty distasteful to modern sensibilities. In FREAKS, they were smart enough to cast him as kind of a heavy, where his perpetual manly bluster could be undercut by the stammer (his character was married to one of the siamese twins, and you did rather think she could do better for herself/her sister). I see Ates was still acting in the early sixties, appearing in a couple of Jerry Lewis movies. I have no memory of him in THE LADIES’ MAN and THE ERRAND BOY — maybe he’d dropped the schtick?