Archive for Ramon Novarro

Twice As Gay III

Posted in FILM with tags , on November 10, 2017 by dcairns

This time it’s personal!

       

                      

OK, I don’t THINK I’m going to do any more harping on this particular theme…

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Scaramouche / Scaramouche

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2016 by dcairns

Can you do the fandango?

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All the fops love me. I am down with the fops.

I watched both versions of SCARAMOUCHE, the Metro silent and the MGM talkie. Fiona bailed on both after ten minutes apiece. You have to be in the right mood for fencing and foppery.

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Rex Ingram helmed the 1923 version, starring his discovery Ramon Novarro and his wife Ellen Terry. It’s apparently more faithful to Rafael Sabatini’s novel, which one senses while watching because the plot makes sense and doesn’t depend on outlandish coincidence. Not so the remake.

Lewis Stone (below, left) is in both versions. I like when that happens. He’s the big baddie in the Ingram but is demoted to a lesser Frenchman in George Sidney’s 1952 swashbuckler. (It was seeing and enjoying Sidney’s KISS ME KATE that got me onto this SCARAMOUCHE kick.)

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In the remake, the title character is actually a drunken, disfigured actor who wears a mask to perform. Stewart Granger steals his identity and we never see him again. The makeup, we are told, is created by William Tuttle. “Created,” you note. Not just slapped on. CREATED. Tuttle does that weird thing he does (his brushwork is very recognizable) where the lines of the face seem like whorls, layers of liquid solidified in the act of pouring on like thick cream.

The role is played by Henry Corden, and he’s uncredited. In the title role! Poor bastard. He actually IS Scaramouche. Granger just takes his name and costume, the cheeky sod.

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The leads: in the silent, the cast are all equally decent and equally a bit miscast. Novarro reminds himself to laugh cynically upon occasion to remind us he was born with a sense the world was mad. In the Technicolor talkie, Stewart Granger is required to play the hero as a total dick for quite a lot of screen time. He does it with aplomb. Mel Ferrer is his opponent, and the plot has been rejigged to make their backstory suitable for contemporaries. Now, Ferrer’s character is also a dick, and one notices that he’s more than usually appealing in the role. In fact, either of these guys could have played the baddie, but neither is right for the hero. They have a kind of charisma but not a likability. I never really noticed Ferrer’s charisma anywhere else because the prevailing feeling was that I didn’t like him. Being a villain liberates him.

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Kudos to those two lugs also for committing to the really terrific duels, which Sidney shoots like musical numbers, sweeping crane shots broken up with a few static compositions that pop in contrast. The business looks physically exhausting and a little risky. The final sword fight is supposed to be the longest ever, but doesn’t feel protracted, just satisfyingly thorough. PRINCESS BRIDE fans may notice a bit of business.

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Much of the deforming of the storyline seems to be intended to favour Eleanor Parker as “Lenore,” a role seemingly created especially for her (note the name). The equivalent role in the silent is a fairly small bit by comparison. But the real female lead is Janet Leigh (above), the only American cast who doesn’t bother trying to change her natural accent, and as a result the most natural player in the film (Nina Foch does wonders, though, as Marie Antoinette). Best scene is probably Granger hitting on Leigh and then discovering she’s his long-lost sister. Well-played, Jimmy! (Granger’s birth name was Jimmy Stewart, which for obvious reasons he had to change, but everyone still called him Jimmy. Why didn’t he choose Jimmy Granger?)

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Both movies showcase dramatic glass shots.

As mentioned in comments earlier, the MGM movie surprisingly omits the French Revolution, which is built up to and then dropped as an apparently still-hot potato. Structurally, this is acceptable because it allows the movie to climax with the splendid duel, but it does seem to imply that the (off-screen) King’s democratic compromises were successful in appeasing the people. The Metro version takes the more mature line that the Revolution was good but the Rein of terror bad, but this means that it kind of lacks a strong ending, fizzling out with the hero and his new-found family simply running away. But it finds a more satisfying fate for its bad guy (whereas Mel Ferrer simply evaporates, an odd result in a film driven entirely by the hero’s thirst for revenge).

A new version could be interesting. Neither movie quite joins the dots between the hero’s politics, his revenge quest and his career as a clown, whereas the first sentence of Sabatini’s book already gives me confidence that he’s working on a Unified Theory of Revolutionary Swashbuckling.

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In the 70s, when Richard Lester was having a lot of success with, broadly speaking, this kind of material, Dustin Hoffman, of all people, approached him with the idea of a remake. Part of his obsession with playing superannuated students, I guess. Lester met him and they got on well, but politely declined the job, feeling that Hoffman’s perfectionism and we might call his own kick-scramble-bollocks approach were ill-matched and bound to end in heartache or nervous breakdowns.

 

Ingram’s Wrecks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2016 by dcairns

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Rex Ingram had some kind of fascination with the grotesque. The main identifying trait I had identified in the work I’d seen was a tendency to cut in bizarro comedy business at the worst possible moment. I liked that about him. There’s even buffoonery going on during the famous erotic tango of FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE. If you’re getting off on Valentino, those cutaways (a drunk finding a goldfish in his glass) will put you right off your stroke. THE MAGICIAN, a melodrama about mad science and black magic, ends with a dwarf stuck in a tree with his trousers in tatters.

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Ingram only does one really weird cutaway in SCARAMOUCHE, but it’s right at the climax — the hero rescues his family from the Reign of Terror, and we cut to a huge closeup of an ugly guy flickering his eyelids in a repulsive parody of feminine emotion. An extraordinary thing to insert during your tale’s emotional climax, expressing either humorous contempt for the material or some kind of urge to set the sublime in stark contrast with the ridiculous.

Elsewhere, Ingram entertains himself with his extras, in the manner of Fellini. He not only gathers impressive physical oddities, he enhances them with makeup, so Danton is spectacularly pockmarked and corrupt French justice is embodied by this caricature —

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The make-up artist / putty wrangler is uncredited. This guy is mocked by the beautiful Novarro for his hideousness, which is somehow meant to stand in for his corruption, but then Danton, who looks like somebody spat Rice Crispies in his face, is a noble figure, which seems inconsistent.

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In a cameo, we get Napoleon, played by the great montage director Slavko Vorkapich (Nappy gets a walk-on in the remake, too, but a more significantly placed one). Slavko has a terrific face. This is his earliest credit, but the IMDb list is surely incomplete, so we can’t know if he was plucked from some other role because his face fit, or if he was bumming around Hollywood doing extra work before his montage career took off (he later made an expressionist movie, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA, which may support that supposition).

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Jacques Tourneur is also listed as an extra in the film, but he’s hard to spot in the cast of thousands. This isn’t him ~

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Somewhere in the throng is Buster Keaton’s future sidekick, Snitz Edwards, and Ingram favourite John George, the little guy from THE MAGICIAN and TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. This movie could be nicknamed INGRAM SATYRICON.

More SCARAMOUCHE soon!