Archive for Rashomon

“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.

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Battleships

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2017 by dcairns

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You know you’ve been watching too many MGM movies when the same musical battleship turns up twice.

First instance is as the grand finale of the less-grand I DOOD IT, a very early Vincente Minnelli movie or an archetypal Red Skelton vehicle, depending on how you want to look at it. It is pretty well impossible to contain both those aspects in your mind at the same time without spraining a lobe or two. And the film itself alternates between Skelton schtick, in a plot borrowed loosely from Buster Keaton’s SPITE MARRIAGE (a couple of set-piece routines are ported across in their entirety) and Minnelli ecstasies, with numbers constructed around Eleanor Powell or else guest stars like Lena Horne and Hazel Scott.

(The inclusion of black artists like LH and HS in pop-up numbers easily excised from movies in the South is on the one hand, faintly aromatic of chickenshit, and on the other, slightly more courageous than you would expect from MGM. They could have simply opted not to employ any black stars at all, like every other studio. An unrelated point is that ’40s musicals do suffer from an insane proliferation of completely gratuitous numbers which do not relate to the plot and often retard the development of any narrative to a quite damaging degree. If it’s Lena Horne, one doesn’t mind, but novelty organists and big bands are less acceptable. One thinks of THE GANG’S ALL HERE being the ne plus ultra of this kind of thing, but the tendency was widespread.)

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Poor Eleanor Powell is situated right at the fault-line between the Skelton slapstick and the Minnelli musical. She’s a disastrous partner for Red, who always benefits from a sympathetic female lead to dial down his exuberance. Powell is somewhat lacking in warmth as a screen personality, and her role is an unappealing one (the character in the Keaton original is perhaps his least sympathetic heroine) and she’s not a wonderful enough actress to convince us she’s attracted to this man-cub. On the other hand, she dances up a storm, and her physical prowess comes in very handy in the “putting an unconscious woman to bed” routine reproduced from the silent movie.

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Second instance is a sort of battleship cameo in S. Sylvan Simon’s GRAND CENTRAL MURDER, where the ship pops up as backdrop in a montage showing the rise to prominence of a Broadway star (Patricia Dane, also featured in I DOOD IT, whose interesting bio can be read here). I think she’s actually performing in front of rear-screen footage from I DOOD IT, blocking out Eleanor Powell. The shame of it!

The rest of the movie is a kind of whodunnit RASHOMON, with a roomful of suspects, an apoplectic police detective (inevitably, Sam Levene, though James Gleason would have done just as well) and a private eye and spouse (Van Helflin and Virginia Grey) who appear to be part of MGM’s relentless attempt to spin the THIN MAN formula out beyond one profitable series and have it take over cinema as a whole.

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S. Sylvan Simon of the WHISTLING series directs the gab the way George Sidney would cover a big band number — gliding swiftly from soloist to soloist, elegantly taking in secondary players en route, always managing to either be in exactly the right spot or create meaningful tension about where he’s on his way to. It’s a really magnificent, symphonic example of the filming of dialogue.

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Van Heflin is terrifically enjoyable here, though he does smoke a pipe. So the tendency towards boring patrician roles is already there, but this slight, youthful version of ole babyskull is also very eager to seize on any opportunity to irritate everyone around him, which always seems to make for an enjoyable character. Fiona pointed out that there’s something weirdly OFF about the way Heflin and Grey are introduced — as mysterious members of the shoal of red herrings who shimmer through the narrative. Only gradually does our hero emerge as the narrative’s front-runner, perhaps because director SSS’s handling of the performers is somewhat democratic: Van Hef doesn’t get a “hero shot” right at the beginning, like John Wayne in STAGECOACH, announcing that he’s some kind of big deal in this picture. And since another suspect is Tom Conway, who in other circumstances might just as easily have been the leading man, the first third of the film feels a little uncentered. But that could be a perfectly appropriate feeling to have in a whodunnit RASHOMON.

Endnote: appropriately enough for a piece wallowing in Hollywood’s recycling, I can finish with my belated realisation that the number at the end of I DOOD IT is lifted wholesale from the 1936 BORN TO DANCE, meaning that it is not in fact a Minnelli production, but… a Roy Del Ruth?

The (American) Mother’s Day Intertitle: Bride and Butter

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 10, 2015 by dcairns

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The 1920 Al Christie production HER BRIDAL NIGHT-MARE is a nifty little short starring Colleen Moore. Her marriage is delayed when her fiance’s bitter rival contrives to get the groom arrested and has Dopey Dan, a hired assassin, steal the wedding presents (a little out of his line, but he’s a flexible fellow).

Believing she’s been both jilted and robbed, Colleen resolves to incontinently drown herself, but can’t muster the gusto, so, on meeting Dopey Dan, she borrows a leaf from Jules Verne’s Tribulations of a Chinese Man in China and hires him to bump her off. A master of disguise, Dan promises to jump out in a false beard when she’s not expecting it. Of course, Colleen soon finds reason to live, and is jumping in terror whenever she sees a set of whiskers.

Al Christie directs with great energy and imagination. He’s less likely to offer the crisp compositions of a Keaton than to barrel down the street after his fleeing heroine, apparently using a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel. When Moore reaches the heights of pogonophobia and the streets seem to throng with sinister beards, Christie suggests her disorientation in a way even Hitchcock might shy away from, rotating his star on a carousel upon which the camera is also mounted, so that the world and all its beards seem to whirl giddily around her — this actually anticipates Machiko Kyô’s strange movements during her freak-out scene in RASHOMON. (You know, Kurosawa was ten years old and a keen movie-goer in 1920…)

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Moore had not yet hit the heights at this point — her filmography shows her darting about, playing straight romantic interest roles (to Tom Mix, for instance) or whatever came along. Comedy was just one more way of earning a living. But the charm and skill are already in evidence. She gets to drag up. One surprise: though in early scenes her hair is apparently tucked up into headgear, allowing it to frame her face like the trademark bob we associate with her “mature work,” when she whips off her derby to reveal her true feminine identity, a great black mane tumbles forth. Colleen Moore with that much hair doesn’t seem quite right. Perhaps it was her new-found fear of beards that convinced her to shear it?