Archive for Rashomon

Moses strikes poses

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2021 by dcairns

An amusing irony: Howard Hawks said he learned what NOT to do by looking at DeMille’s films, then when he made his own ancient world epic, LAND OF THE PHARAOHS, he ran into the famous “I don’t know how a pharaoh talks” problem, which DeMille had, you could say, solved: in DeMille films, pharaohs talk like characters in Cecil B. DeMille films.

Never more so that in the 1956 TEN COMMANDMENTS where Yul Brunner is at his Yul Brynneriest throughout. (Yet Cedric Hardwicke comes within shouting distance of humanity at times.) But the one, true biscuit is taken by Chuckles Heston, who starts out in his version of naturalism — declamatory, gravelly, planting his feet wide apart, flexing, heaving the words up from his solar plexus — but becomes something wholly other once Moses gets religion…

In prophet mode, Heston produces a form of “acting” I’m not sure we’ve really seen before. Maybe it’s what D.W. Griffith would have sounded like if his 1908 semaphore could be translated into spoken form. It has something in common with the ghosts in Japanese movies — think RASHOMON. It has nothing in common with human speech.

The best example is when Rameses finally frees the Israelites: we have to blame the script for some of it, though DeMille in his intro claims that history is really to blame. Moses starts speechifying — then walks out of the scene, still declaiming. You can hear his voice diminishing in the distance for close to a minute. Who does that? Rod Steiger does it in THE BIG KNIFE, playing a lunatic film producer of the L.B. Mayer variety. Charles Haid does it in ALTERED STATES, to hilarious effect. In the first case, a character point is being made, in the second, Ken Russell was forced to include a lot of talk he didn’t particularly care for, so he tried to dispose of it in novel ways. No such excuse exists here. Moses is just being written as a nutjob, unintentionally.

If you’re inclined to laugh at infant mortality, this film has much to offer, but this scene is the finest example, because the army of scribes has taken care to insert between Heston’s wooden lips pointed references to the liberation of the CHILDREN of Israel (DeMille has made the whole story an anti-commie tract), timed to coincide/clash with Anne Baxter descending a grand staircase with her divinely slain son in her arms. Which tends to make Moses seem every bit as crass as Heston giving one of his NRA speeches in the wake of a school shooting.

This moment, jaw-dropping though it is, is just a preliminary to Moses’ Big Hair acting in the film’s third act. Chuckles has looked in the mirror and asked himself, what would a guy who looks like THIS talk like? Big mistake. I can’t describe what he does. It involves BOOMING. The oratorical style might be defensible when Moses is speaking to the masses, as he so often is in this section. But he keeps it up for casual conversation. Booming banter. Supremely confident terrible acting.

For a few minutes, I thought I was going to find the film’s weird non-naturalism fascinating, the stiffness of its blocking and delivery hypnotic and kind of impressive. But it’s not quite rigid ENOUGH. The tableau style of GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is more my bag — genuinely experimental.

When Scorsese talks about the power of DeMille’s images, he seems to mainly be talking about the effects shots, and I think maybe we should credit the storyboard artists and John P. Fulton and his team, though I guess DeMille is responsible for approving everything. But I think it’s fair to say that none of the film’s undeniably impressive images have any good acting in them. (Only Edward G. Robinson is good in this, though I wish he’d played it at a Warner pre-code pace. As the only Jewish actor, naturally he plays the Bad Jew. Oh, and Yvonne DeCarlo, gamely battling her dialogue like Jason struggling with the hydra: whenever one terrible line is defeated, two more rise to take its place.)

I can understand Scorsese’s residual affection for a film he was impressed by as a kid. But I don’t think it’s objectively better than the Marvel and DC films he rightly dismisses.

Touchingly, Moses waves goodbye to us/his people at the end of the film, which was DeMille’s last as director. He clearly wanted to get the most out of it, which is why he narrates huge swathes, patiently describing what we can already see, sometimes sneakily suggesting debauchery and wickedness he’s not allowed to show us, much though he would love to.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS stars Major Dundee; King Mongkut of Siam; Lucy Morgan; Caesar Enrico ‘Rico’ Bandello; Lily Munster; Shila – Cleopatra’s Daughter; Hajji Baba; Arthur Winslow; Julia Ross; Ellie Hilliard; Mrs. Danvers; Prince Prospero; Hatfield; Athos; The Black-Bearded One; Actor on DeMille’s ‘Samson & Delilah’ Set; Jesus – the Christ; John Miljan – Actor in Bedroom Scene; 1st Sgt. Braxton Rutledge; Scar / Cicatriz; Hatfield; Donald Pecos – aka The Pecos Kid; Dr. Franz Edlemann; Samson Posey; Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis; Judas; Norman Frink; Alvin Straight; Mary Todd Lincoln; Chubby Bannister; Lucifer Jr; Alfalfa; Napoleon Solo; and Herb Alpert as himself.

Sagebrushamon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2021 by dcairns

Retrospectively THE OUTRAGE, Martin Ritt’s western version of RASHOMON, is so nakedly a bad idea it’s hard to imagine intelligent adults not seeing it, but they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight until after they’d made it, when it was too late, and anyway, it’s kind of amazing as an example of what John Waters might call a failed art movie. The amazingness is mostly to do with James Wong Howe but the film didn’t direct itself.

Claire Bloom as “the wife” throws herself off a cliff and her underwater experience looks like this —

–and furthermore the soundtrack is a whistling wind with a trace of coyote howl. Absolutely mad, and even more extreme than anything in Kurosawa’s original, which is already a stylistic tour de force with only a few equals in all of cinema.

There’s something weirdly academic about it all, maybe because I know the original so well, so there’s a “Well, here’s this bit,” feeling about it all. Much of it is even more shot-for-shot faithful than Leone’s take on Kurosawa, even with extreme widescreen and a lot of really interesting shallow focus stuff added to the mix. The story gimmick is so dominant that I began to suspect that Kurosawa was walking a precipice with a rather dry film threatening to result if he lost his footing. But he had Mifune.

Ritt has Newman, wearing a William Tuttle nose and trying very hard to be a Mexican bandit. Mifune was theatrical as hell but he did it all physically, there was no disguise. It’s interesting to see Newman attempt this, but it’s bad for the movie and the obvious answer — hire a Mexican — is in this case the correct one. Hell, Martin Ritt had friends who weren’t Mexican but wouldn’t have been embarrassing — Yul Brynner, Anthony Quinn… It’s not meant to be a racist caricature but how would you feel watching it with a Mexican?

Still, it is an unreasonably gorgeous-looking thing. Was William Shatner’s mother startled by Laurence Olivier or something? What’s with his strange faltering, rising pitch delivery? His Captain Kirk did all that without making me think he was about to burst into song, but here…

Edward G. Robinson has all the best lines. Shatner has the best closeups.

THE OUTRAGE stars Fast Eddie Felson; Raymond Shaw; The Lady Anne; Dr. Clitterhouse; James Tiberius Kirk; Chickamaw; Smerdjakov; and Teeler Yacey.

“Even your words smell of fish.”

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2018 by dcairns

The guy on the left. His face.

Inexplicably, George Pal followed THE TIME MACHINE with ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT. He had several of the same crew (composer, make-up effects artist), but he didn’t have Rod Taylor or anyone like him and, crucially, he didn’t have an HG Wells source novel. Instead he had unknowns Sal Ponti (credited as Anthony Hall for some reason), a former songwriter who penned hits for Fabian, and Joyce Taylor (no relation to Rod), a Howard Hughes discovery. Neither is terrible, but neither is Rod Taylor. And instead of a Wells book he had an unproduced musical play by Gerald Hargreaves, demusicalized and opened out by Daniel Mainwaring — who worked on OUT OF THE PAST and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, but who doesn’t seem at home in the ancient world.

George Pal, Japanese cinema enthusiast? Having borrowed from RASHOMON in THE TIME MACHINE, he seems to have taken a liking to UGETSU MONOGATARI for this misty boat ride.

Here’s a really good, exhaustive report on Atlantis in popular culture, including the only plot synopsis of Hargreaves’ play ever written, seemingly. Hargreaves was keen on having his play filmed — he published the playscript, along with suggestions for a film treatment, and sued the makers of HELEN OF TROY for infringing on his creation — apparently he thought he was Homer. He did manage to get a copy to Cecil B. DeMille, who fobbed it off on Pal, who was sucker enough to go for it.

It’s unfair to blame Hargreaves for not being HG Wells — not that much of Atalanta: A Story of Antlantis made it to the screen anyway, just the idea of a shipwrecked princess and a fisherman. You might argue that they needn’t have credited the play at all, but then Hargreaves would definitely have sued. (It’s amusing to note that the play was dedicated to Winston Churchill, later played by THE TIME MACHINE’s star.) Mainwaring’s talent seems to have deserted him utterly — maybe he was simply miscast as writer of an ancient world science fiction sword and sandal movie. His dialogue is stilted and “epic” in all the worst ways. Apparently a writer’s strike prevented the turd script from being polished.

Even his words smell of fish.

 

So: shipwrecked princess, which is just backstory in the play. Rescued by fisherman. Persuades him to sail her home (no explanation of how she got cast adrift in the first place.)

The best bit: a smoochy love scene upstaged by a mini-Nautilus in the background. The midget sub shadows them for AGES, in utter silence, as they bill and coo and exposit, unacknowledged for so long that I started to wonder if I was seeing things, or if they accidentally used the wrong process plate. So I have to admire them for that.

 

Atlantis!

What got the film made, seemingly, was not the success of THE TIME MACHINE but that of the Steve Reeves HERCULES, which is why the movie features (rather brutal) gladiatorial combat and other sword-and-sandal tropes, and almost none of Hargreaves play (certainly none of its songs). There wouldn’t have been room, once Pal had added all his bonkers scienti-fiction stuff. OK, so there’s a lot of recycled props and costumes and sets and stock footage, but I do think the miniatures of Atlantis are really nice.

This guy, with his runny body paint, not so much.

A healthy, or unhealthy, chunk of Wells has been imported, since the Atlanteans have a “House of Fear” much like Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain, only it works in reverse — they turn humans into animals. “Why do they do that?” asked Fiona, since nobody in the film explains it. “Wouldn’t you, if you could?” “No.” And that’s how I know I married the right woman.

 

Champion sneerer Berry Kroeger is in charge of the animalification process, and taunts Anthony/Sal cruelly, threatening to turn him into various lower mammals, including a buffalo. I really longed for Sal’s character, a Greek fisherman, to say, “I don’t know what that is,” but no such luck. Pal & Mainwaring’s nonsensical reverse-genetic-engineering did remind me of PINOCCHIO and the unfortunate Lampwick, and I think I’ve belatedly figured out why there are so many Disney actors in THE TIME MACHINE — Pal, naturally, wanted to be Disney. He was an animator, why not? It’s a shame, because what George Pal was, was a really good George Pal, but not such a good Disney.

A Pal ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, with manimals by William Tuttle, could have been quite a thing. Get another good actor, or two, or more — Rod Taylor, Tony Randall, and I’d call that a good night out. Use stop-motion for the goat legs and stuff…

Note the Krell laboratories gear, swiped from FORBIDDEN PLANET, behind the guy’s comedy hat.

Also sneering at poor Sal are John Dall from ROPE, as the Caligula-type debauched usurper, and heroine/snooty princess Joyce Taylor, who gets the most terrible line of all, which I have titled this post with.

Volcanoes! Earthquakes! Lasers! The movie expires in a welter of stock shots and unusually large water droplets.

I always get some kind of pleasure out of Pal’s stuff. I’ve written about DR LAO and THE POWER. I want to revisit DOC SAVAGE, which upset me as a kid(animated snakes killing a man is NOT a cause for comical music, damnit!) and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, which bored me. But clearly, WAR OF THE WORLDS needs to be in there too.