Archive for Ray Milland

Forbidden Divas: Many a Rainy Night in Brooklyn

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2020 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove returns!

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

MANY A RAINY NIGHT IN BROOKLYN

“Did you ever see a crocodile yawn?”

– Lynne Overman, Her Jungle Love

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Has there ever been a film so bad that a halfway decent volcanic eruption could not put it right? “That is clearly a metaphysical speculation,” writes Oscar Wilde, “and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference to the actual facts of life, as we know them.” But then neither has anything else in Her Jungle Love (1938). So the question still strikes me as entirely valid. The climax of this movie is not just any old eruption. It brings with it a cataclysmic mudslide of ravenous man-eating crocodiles – who slither their way into a crumbling pagan temple and set about devouring much of the cast. I should add that the cast of this movie is quite a small one. At no point are the hungry reptiles in any danger from overeating.

But where is this temple and what is anybody doing inside it? It all starts when a pilot crash-lands his plane somewhere in the Malay Archipelago. Two other pilots head off in search of him and manage – with remarkable efficiency – to crash their own plane and go missing on the exact same tropic isle. (The islands of the Malay Archipelago number in the thousands, so this really is quite a slick bit of navigation.) These two pilots are Ray Milland and his annoying comic sidekick Lynne Overman. Both actors were popular stars at Paramount Pictures in the 30s. That gives us all the reassurance we need that they will not be allowed to go missing for too long.

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The island seems at first to be deserted. But of course it is not. It is inhabited by a winsome jungle maiden named Tura. She is played by Dorothy Lamour in a gallon of fake tan and a daringly skimpy line of sarongs designed by Edith Head. She does not live entirely alone in this paradise. She frolics through the vibrant green palm trees by the dazzling blue Technicolor lagoon along with Gaga – a lovably mischievous chimpanzee – and Meewa – a cute and frisky lion cub. There is no sign of any adult lions or, indeed, of any other primates on this island. We can only assume that a third plane loaded with circus animals must have crash-landed somewhere in the vicinity.

A former Miss New Orleans of 1931 and future co-star of the Road movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour was one of those Hollywood icons who never even pretended to be an actress. Her assets were her lithe and curvaceous physique (not everyone looks good in a sarong) as well as her voluptuous Technicolor lips and her dark and sultry bedroom eyes. Her dialogue in Her Jungle Love consists almost entirely of ugga-wugga gibberish, which makes it one of her more successful dramatic roles. Even strumming on a ukulele – as she is required to do in one scene – appears to strain her acting skills to breaking point.

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But alas, there is room for only one Queen on this or any other tropic isle. That role is reserved for J Carrol Naish as Kuaka, a villainous Malay prince who rules over a tribe of head-hunters that inhabit a nearby cove. His followers seem to be exclusively male; all of them are muscular and bronzed and clad in the skimpiest of loincloths. Kuaka himself wafts about in an iridescent peacock-green kaftan and with turban to match. He sports on one finger an emerald so splendiferously large and vulgar that Elizabeth Taylor might reject it as just a shade too ostentatious. He demonstrates his ascendancy by wearing even more eye make-up than Tura and speaks invariably in a low and sibilant hiss.

You have been wondering what had happened to that first missing pilot. The answer, to put it plainly, is Kuaka. He keeps the boy for quite a suspiciously long time as his private prisoner. Then he trusses him up like a mummy and sacrifices him to the Crocodile God. The rotter even hypnotises poor Tura and forces her to take part in the ceremony. He does at least dress her up in the film’s most memorable outfit: a long and trailing white cape with a headdress of white egret feathers and seashells. This man may be a savage and proud of it. But he does at least have some idea how to accessorise.

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Need I add that in the course of this blood-soaked ritual, Dorothy Lamour gets hypnotised and shoved into a basket and impaled with giant spears and resurrected and brought back to life as if by magic and none of it alters her facial expression one iota? She looks only mildly perturbed when Kuaka suggests getting married, so the two of them may rule over the island together. Even a girl who has spent most of her life in a coconut tree must surely realise this is what is described in sophisticated circles as a mariage blanc. It seems quite wildly unlikely that sex could ever be a part of the deal.

By this time, Dorothy has fallen in love with Ray because…well, because he’s there and somebody has to. His pal, meanwhile, has formed what appears to be a tender inter-species ménage à trois with her animal friends. (A scene where the chimp kisses Lynne Overman is by some measure the raunchiest bit of the movie.) It goes without saying that Ray has an overpoweringly dreary fiancée (Dorothy Howe) who nags her henpecked father into taking her off in his yacht to search for him. We start to worry that she might actually find him. I mean, where on earth is that Crocodile God when he is really needed?

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In the litany of sublime absurdities that make up the script, my favourite is the way Ray and Lynne manage to crash their plane without in any way damaging their portable gramophone. According to Lynne, this machine kept him company on “many a rainy night in Brooklyn.” Her Jungle Love may not be appreciably better or worse than The Jungle Princess (1936) or Typhoon (1940) or Aloma of the South Seas (1941) or any of Lamour’s umpteen other sarong pictures. Still, it is a well-nigh flawless antidote to rainy nights in Brooklyn.

David Melville

Always Reading Books, Sir

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2017 by dcairns

Marvelous Mary alerted us to the Christian Aid book fair and, swallowing my disapproval of anything with the word “Christian” in it, we went along. Last year I got a super-rare book of Gerald Kersh short stories (get into Kersh — a must!) and Ray Milland’s autobiography and a number of other things still lying unread. It was time to enlarge that pile.

(Milland’s book tells us of his screen near-debut in Scotland. He was cast in a small role, shipped north, and spent a week in a hotel looking at the rain hitting the windows. Never made it in front of a camera. Got paid. Went back south. Pretty good training for the movies.)

This time I got no film books (film & TV section was a depressing load of TV spin-offs) but the stuff I came back with has several filmic connections and also would form a pretty good plan of the inside of my head ~

Three Men and a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome

The Complete Books of Charles Fort

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, Len Deighton

Bill the Conqueror, PG Wodehouse

I Chose Caviar, Art Buchwald

The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol.2, Ben Bova, ed.

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, Michael Cox & R.A. Gilbert, eds

Random passages. You’re welcome to try to assign them to their source tomes. I was going to colour-code them so you could at least tell where one ended and the next began, but then it seemed more entertaining not to.

Mr. Mankowitz pulled me to one side. “Do you know why all those fellows are standing around Miss Lollobrigida?”

“Why?”

“Because there is a rumour that if a virgin flea bites Miss Lollobrigida, and then bites another person, that person will inherit the Colosseum in Rome.”

“Is that the truth?”

“Yes, but it has to be a virgin flea. There was one flea that bit Miss Lollobrigida and then went out of his head and started to bite other fleas. We had to kill him.”

The founder and proprietor of the Mammoth Publishing Company, that vast concern which supplies half–the more fat-headed half–of England with its reading matter, hung up the receiver.

I knew the trick of it, I thought. Here was one of those word-padlocks, once so common; only to be opened by getting the rings to spell a certain word, which the dealer confides to you.

Descartes tells us that monkeys could speak if they wished to, but that they prefer to keep silent so that they won’t be made to work.

The desk-telephone emitted a discrete buzzing sound, as if it shrank from raising its voice in the presence of such a man.

“Telephone for Mr. Palmer. Calling Mr. Palmer. Send Mr. Palmer to the telephone.” The operator’s words lacked the usual artificial exactness, and were only a nervous sing-song. It was getting her, and she wasn’t bothered by excess imagination, normally. “Mr. Palmer is wanted on the telephone.”

“Smell that air,” said Major Mann.

I sniffed. “I can’t smell anything,” I said.

“That’s what I mean,” said Mann. He scratched himself and grinned. “Great, isn’t it?”

Early next day he took Mr. Greathead’s body out of the bath, wrapped a thick towel round the head and neck, carried it down to the dairy and laid it out on the slab. And there he cut it up into seventeen pieces.

Rossen was shouting for us to keep quiet. “Have we got enough blood on the set?” he asked the make-up department.

They said there was enough blood.

“Okay, give Alexander a large wound in the leg.”

I lifted my spear to protect him, but somehow the make-up man fought his way through and splashed blood all over Burton’s thigh.

They built forts, or already had forts, on hilltops.

Something poured electricity upon them.

The stones of these forts exist to this day, vitrified, or melted and turned to glass.

The Thing on the floor shrieked, flailed out blindly with tentacles that writhed and withered in the bubbling wrath of the blow-torch.

It was said of demons that they could make large and bulky creatures like the camel, but were incapable of creating anything delicate or frail, and Rabbi Eliezer denied them the ability to produce anything smaller than a barley grain.

A city in the sky of Liverpool. The apparition is said to have been a mirage of the city of Edinburgh. This “identification” seems to have been the product of suggestion: at the time a panorama of Edinburgh was upon exhibition in Liverpool.

I walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.

 

Corking Screwballs

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2017 by dcairns

We’re deep in screwball country. Has it been a week already?

Not everything rates a post of its own though. Here’s some I don’t quite have enough to say about.

You can’t launch into BRINGING UP BABY unless you’re bringing something new to the party, and I don’t think I am. I thought I might be able to until I saw it again — some insight into why it flopped in 1939.

You see, as a youngster I had an abortive viewing experience with this one, tuning out after the golf course and restaurant scenes, finding the whole thing annoying. But I’d since viewed most of the later stuff and, correctly, found it very funny. So my theory was that Hepburn’s character is too irritating in the first scenes, which seemed interminable as a result. Audiences, naturally starting at the beginning, may have become irate before the fun really started.

But this time, I felt no annoyance at all. So the opening scenes, less that twenty minutes in reality, sailed by, and also made me laugh a lot. It’s true that we haven’t met the amazing supporting cast yet, who enhance it so much (I’m coming to a new appreciation of Charles Ruggles — along with his brother, Wesley), and MAYBE the ripping of Hepburn’s skirt isn’t quite the right gag for her particular character? But really, quibbles.

Two things are really hard to frame-grab, and for the same reason — Grant-Hepburn by-play, and George playing with Baby. Too fast!

(This thing of getting annoyed by comedy — a friend had it with Laurel & Hardy, where he would get frustrated that they couldn’t solve their simple problems, the solutions were so easy and the accidents so inevitable. As a kid I also got it with the Mr. Muckle scene in IT’S A GIFT, too. The thing that has in common with Grant & Hepburn, I guess, is a character too timid to really forcefully point out what’s wrong with the situation he’s stuck in. Though Grant really tries, bless him.)

So I had a great time with BRINGING UP BABY, but not much to say about it. Apart from the above.

FORSAKING ALL OTHERS is a good W.S. Van Dyke minor screwball with Joan Crawford (who made a surprising number of these) and a trio of wacky male friends, Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable and the excellent Charles Butterworth (like Ruggles, a stand-out in LOVE ME TONIGHT). No prizes for guessing who gets the girl.

A risky plot — Montgomery has to behave like a cad without quite becoming the heavy — Gable spends the whole film not confessing his love — Butterworth is just light relief, droning helpless irrelevancies. Someone mentions a fan dance: “Oh, I saw a girl do that once with electric fans — it was horrible.” It begins with a wedding so there’s a reason for everyone to be drinking and in tuxedos and gowns and ELATED — James Harvey’s favourite word. Montgomery stands Joan up at the altar and runs off with another girl, but realizes it’s a mistake. He’s stuck with Frances Drake, who is a Gail Patrick type Other Girl — worse, she’s the one character in the film who doesn’t know she’s in a screwball comedy. She can’t understand why everyone is so bloody silly — it’s most annoying.

Her sullen effect is magical — she does kind of make you want Montgomery to have a chance with Joan again, even though you want, really, for him to wind up with egg on his face and for Joan to get Clark. Guess what?

A great screwball encapsulation — Gable, back from Spain, embraces Billie Burke and they cry each others’ names in joy. Then he crosses the room without her, throws open his arms — and they do it again. Why not, if it was good the first time?

I LOVE YOU AGAIN is the dream team of William Powell and Myrna Loy. (We also rewatched THE THIN MAN — nothing fresh to report but see here.) This one is an amnesia caper — boring skinflint Powell gets a knock on the head and realizes he’s actually a daring con artist. During his previous fugue state (result of a previous occiputal clonk) he’s married Loy, and she’s had time to become thoroughly bored with the man he previously was. Powell falls in love with her at (sort of) first sight, and has to convince her he’s changed — in the right way. A weird kind of plot — hardboiled comedy hand Maurine Dallas Watkins (author of the original play Chicago, a key work in the tough comedy genre) was involved. Frank McHugh and Edmund Lowe are along for the ride.

DOUBLE WEDDING, from grumpy old Richard Thorpe, is equally good, if less emotional. Businesswoman Loy is attracted to Bohemian Powell but can’t admit it. VERY funny supporting perf from reluctant Boho John Beal, clearly the squarest thing on two legs. “Aw, why do Bohemians have to stay up all night?” he grouches, a petulant child. A shame his talent for ridiculousness wasn’t exploited elsewhere.

THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD pairs William Powell with Jean Arthur, which would work great if what they were given to do suited them. He’s fine, giving a great line reading — “INT-olerable!” — but in this THIN MAN knock-off mystery, she’s required to be manipulative, klutzy, dizzy — all things we don’t really want from the sensible Miss Arthur, whether she can do them or not.

You notice, with the MANY imitations of THE THIN MAN, any variation from the standard pairing tends to be a let-down. Inexplicable, Nick & Nora never fight, never misunderstand each other, and while she’s an heiress not a professional sleuth and so isn’t some improbably detecting genius, there aren’t really any jokes about her being out of her depth, either. Though fights, misunderstandings and struggles with unfamiliar problems are all perfectly sound dramatic fodder, they’re simply surplus to requirements when you have Powell & Loy or this kind of teaming. That, ultimately, is why TEMB disappoints, and why it’s hard to even remember who Powell’s partner is — and she’s only one of the greatest screwball stars of all time.

(All three of the above rely a bit too much on clonking Powell on the head multiple times, but at least in ILYA it’s central to the plot.)

Bingeing on Bill Powell, we rewatched MY MAN GODFREY, which of course we love but which bothered Fiona for the same reason as last time — the screwy family all get redemptive arcs, ESPECIALLY Gail Patrick who you go from despising to kind of loving in one scene. But Lombard is the same spoilt child she was at the beginning. I decided not to let it bother me, because she’s still Lombard. And La Cava films always have some irritation or discomfort at the end — it’s not a flaw, it’s a TRAIT. Rough with the smooth.

If you know La Cava you probably know this and BED OF ROSES, STAGE DOOR, THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH. I recommend FIFTH AVENUE GIRL, SHE MARRIED HER BOSS, UNFINISHED BUSINESS. I still have lots to see, but they’re outside the screwball domain.

THE AMAZING MR WILLIAMS has crime-solver Melvyn Douglas forever standing up Joan Blondell (so he’s a sap). It’s a little annoying but has plenty of invention — not one case to solve but a succession. Near the end, Blondell goes on the case herself and it gives the film just the boost it’s needed, a little like when Theodora actually goes wild in THEODORA GOES WILD. Old movies get virtue points for their moments of feminism — but screwball seems to DEMAND to have a woman throw off the shackles of society and blow a few male minds.

The ultimate glamour shot — Joan’s Deputy Sheriff badge, which she can’t keep from admiring, distracting her from Melvyn on their wedding night.

MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR stars Charles Ruggles, that central screwball supporting player, as a “deflector” — rather than detecting crimes after they happen, he deflects them before they happen. It’s nice to see a second banana promoted to a kind of superhero role, schtick intact.

This utter B-picture has charm galore, with the patented Ruggles dither partnered by the more abrasive but still cute Una Merkel, and Mary Carlisle, who is the last surviving Wampas Baby Star (Hello, Mary, you centenarian auto-Googler, you! Who else has spoken Preston Sturges’ words — in HOTEL HAYWIRE — and still walks the earth? Good work!).

Good flakey lines — when a cab driver wants to bail on Ruggles, our hero protests, “No, stick around. I like you. You’re refreshing.”

THE MOON’S OUR HOME is full of eccentricity and invention and disrespectfulness, but maybe because of Dorothy Parker’s input, lacking in charm — Parker was not sufficiently a romantic to really get us to invest in the central couple, who are pretty horrible — bratty writer Henry Fonda and bratty actress Margaret Sullavan (her regular tantrums in the movie don’t suit her style, though they seem to have been a major part of her real-life temperament and her real-life marriage to Hank). But there’s clever stuff including a faux-split-screen where we can see into the couple’s adjoining railway compartments before they’ve met, their dialogue with respective traveling companions bouncing off each other to form a revealing fold-in conversation. Also, as in THE LADY EVE, Fonda is tormented by perfume…

Fiona, a dedicated fumehead, was impressed by the tracking shot following the scent’s progress towards the Fonda nostrils, like something from OUTBREAK.

CAFÉ METROPOLE has skilled farceurs Adolphe Menjou and Gregory Ratoff (who also wrote) but it stars Tyrone Power and Loretta Young — consequently it never quite takes flight. The two, lovely to look at, don’t have the speed, bite or lightness to let the comedy take flight, and together they’re in nearly every scene. Veteran director Edward H. Griffith seems to be encouraging even Menjou to play it slack. There’s one scene, near the end, where suddenly Loretta is in a hysterical rage, and the very funny Helen Westley is involved, and it’s too much, but it’s much closer to the pitch the whole film should have been at. There’s no sensible reason for the sudden frenzy, so it just seems like a lack of control. James Harvey seems to be right about Twentieth Century Fox — they didn’t have the right stars, and so the good films Gregory Ratoff might have made in the screwball style never came together. A shame, because this one has a very nice plot, and Power’s entrance, drunk at his table in the posh restaurant, demanding to be brought a roast eagle, is the right kind of business.

 

IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD is entertaining if unoriginal — I liked it better than Fiona did. It’s a Hitchcockian chase thriller done in screwball mode, with detective Jimmy Stewart reluctantly paired with poetess Claudette Colbert (and at one point handcuffed together, as in THE 39 STEPS). There’s some quite inventive situations, but somehow they don’t reach critical mass and convince you that you’re watching something you haven’t seen before, and the central relationship doesn’t quite warm up enough, though Ben Hecht restrains his sexism, channeling it into Stewart’s character and then forcing him to overcome it. Which is nice.

 

THE GILDED LILY from the TRUE CONFESSION team of director Wesley Ruggles and writer Claude “Buttercake” Binyon. Curiously likable and engaging despite an almost total absence of funny lines or situations. A good part of this is down to Claudette Colbert being supported by Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland, who give you a nice variety of lightweight, breezy charm. A funny drink-ordering scene, and Colbert’s night-club act, where she simply walks around narrating her inability to remember her song, and her inability to really sing the bits she does remember. As often with Hollywood comedies, this is marred by the fact that the night club audience is supposed to find it implausibly hilarious, and their laughter is so far ahead of ours that it becomes grating and unbelievable. But Colbert — whose appeal Harvey equates to her straightforwardness and honesty — is the right person to do this, for sure.

The same writer-director team brought us TOO MANY HUSBANDS, from a play by that, er, master of screwball, Somerset Maugham. Jean Arthur marries Melvyn Douglas while Fred MacMurray is lost at sea, and the return of husband no. 1 provokes comic chaos. Or at least discomfort. The trio all prove wonderful at evoking different levels of embarrassment, confusion, anger… and then Arthur starts looking like the cat who’s got the cream.

LOTS of gay stuff, along with the expected troilism gags, when the husbands are forced to spend the night together in the frilly spare room (the only decent solution, until this can be straightened out), most of it MacMurray taunting Douglas, but it all gets surprisingly near the knuckle — and what a knuckle! Too bad they can’t sort it out in a satisfactory way — having enjoyed the upsetting of societal norms, we don’t WANT a conventional resolution, but as a comic “problem play” we still require a resolution of some kind. The ending feels like it goes on a scene too long, even though it deserves points for spectacularly doing what the Hays Code specifically prohibits — rendering marriage ridiculous.

Buttercake Binyon, quoted in The Screwball Comedy Films  by Duane Byrge & Robert Milton Miller ~

“Writing for motion pictures is so simple, and the reward is so great, that one wonders why no more than several hundred persons have chosen it over cab-driving as a career. Of course, it is admitted that a cab driver meets more interesting people, but a motion picture writer may work for good pay during the day and pretend to meet interesting people at night.

Everyone knows that in the average picture a boy will meet a girl, and they will fall in love, have a dilly of a spat, then become reconciled. Why doesn’t everybody write it? Is it simply laziness on their part? The weekly pay ranges from over $100 a week to thousands. Just for that: just for putting on paper about the boy and the girl.”