Archive for Ray Milland

The Deluxe Treatment

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by dcairns

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My favourite bit in EASY LIVING is probably the guided tour of the opulent suite at the Hotel Louis. A bewildered Jean Arthur is shown around by Louis Louis himself (Luis Alberni). The sequence seems to exemplify screenwriter Preston Sturges’s concerns — sudden reversals of fortune, the fickle finger of fate, the absurdity of the lives of the rich, funny foreigners, linguistic play — and those of director Mitchell Leisen — most of the above, plus lavish sets. There’s a lot more to Leisen than that, of course — one might mention his love of all different modes of camp, his fondness for Mexicana, Freudian motifs, and romanticism. In a way, this scene shows how for years critics have tended to regard the deep stuff in Leisen’s films as entirely the work of the writer, while regarding his own contribution as window dressing. Yet the visual choices of a filmmaker are not secondary to the thematic ones. And Sturges couldn’t have staged this scene as well as Leisen, because Sturges’s visual style favoured vulgarity and boisterousness over elegance. If Leisen had made THE PALM BEACH STORY, it wouldn’t have been as funny but Claudette Colbert would have had better frocks. The Hotel Louis IS vulgar, but it’s also beautiful.

The scene could have been written for Leisen, since it’s suck a design showcase. At the same time, Louis’s garbled descriptions of the suite’s features provide a ludicrous counterpoint — I particularly like his cockeyed neologism “gymnasalum,” which suggests some kind of workout regime for the nostrils — perhaps Kenneth Williams had such a facility in his flat (we’ll never know because he banned visitors).

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The gymnasalum features a hobby-horse, leading to a surprise bit of slapstick. It’s not surprising that Louis should attempt a demonstration, but it is a surprise that Luis Alberni should prove to have such very short legs. They’re like thumbs. Since most of the film is shot in that forties mid-shot standard, the sudden appearance of the micro-limbs is startling, and we suddenly see that Alberni’s tailoring makes him virtually a circus clown, with the costume exaggerating rather than concealing his physical oddities. And, mounted on the horse, his movements acquire a herky-jerky peculiarity perfectly in tune with his dialogue.

The most fabulous thing is the bathroom, with its “plunge” (see top) — it’s bigger than it looks, as we see later when both Jean Arthur and Ray Milland get in together. And, in operation, it looks like it might be annoying rather than invigorating — little streams of water spouting from all directions. Like Dolby Atmos only wet. But I like to believe the plunge is as wonderful as it looks, and to hell with such practical considerations. When I’m a billionaire, I’ll order four.

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The only bum note here is one I’ve got only myself to blame for. When I wrote for a Channel 4 “education” show called The KNTV Show, I borrowed Louis Louis’s habit of randomly pluralizing singular words, and gave it to the Eastern European characters on the show. And then a set of commercials featuring a CGI meerkat stole this idea from me — otherwise, how to explain that the meerkat has an Eastern European accent? I don’t like most commercials, and I certainly don’t like the idea of some rich advertising jerk-off making money off an idea he stole from me, even if I stole it from Preston Sturges in the first place. Probably the meerkat isn’t as annoying as KNTV was. But I’d prefer, on the whole, not to think of either.

Meanwhile: I score co-authorship on a limerick. And a movie Fiona and I wrote seems to be tumbling erratically towards production. Remain skeptical, but we’ll see…

Support Shadowplay, and your classic Hollywood habit: Easy Living (Universal Cinema Classics)

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Kismet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by dcairns

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“Say, what’s the big idea?”

“Kismet!”

Another viewing of EASY LIVING confirms its supremacy. Seems we’ve all spent decades admiring Frank Capra comedies when we should’ve been admiring Mitchell Leisen comedies. This is complicated by the fact that the good Leisen comedies are also Wilder & Brackett films or Preston Sturges films, and that means something different to us than saying that of course Capra owed a great debt to Robert Riskin and the Swerlings etc. It shouldn’t, though — Sturges and Wilder’s distinguished future directing careers don’t impact on the quality of the films Leisen made from their scripts.

(You might find yourself, briefly, thinking less of Leisen if you attempt to watch MASQUERADE IN MEXICO, a protracted and miscast remake of MIDNIGHT. Wilder must have hated that, since he felt that MIDNIGHT was the one of his scripts he’d managed to protect from Leisen’s alterations. Leisen got his revenge, you could say, but the movie is pretty lousy and didn’t do its director any favours.)

Sturges’s debt to Wodehouse looks even stronger now — Ray Milland, very effective as the fatheaded idler son, is a pure Wodehouse “young man in spats” type. Lovers saying “Ha!” to each other in moments of high emotion. Jean Arthur working at The Boy’s Constant Companion — these kind of trashy magazines are regular employment for Wodehouse heroes, suggesting that his early days of journalism fixed his world view permanently.

The fur coat that drops from heaven and transforms Jean’s life, however, is pure Sturges. The idea that appearance is all anyone cares about, and success is a matter only of perception, and the heavy hand of the author intruding to transform character’s lives in a blatant manner, all that is the stuff of Sturges writ large.

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One could wish that the last line — “This is where we came in!” — were different. I have no doubt that Sturges was the first to use it, but it has become a dead sitcom cliché. Perhaps for younger audiences, it has already lost those associations, and will seem fresh again. But then, younger audiences never had the experience of walking into a movie partway through, sitting through the whole programme, and then getting to the point you recognise and leaving, with those words. I did: I think we only did this on double bills, but I certainly remember entering the cinema while a strange movie was partway through. Hitchcock didn’t affect a total transformation in cinema-going habits all at once with VERTIGO, and at any rate in the 70s or even 80s your cinema ticket bought you admission and you were entitled to sit in the dark all day if you felt like it.

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Who is that girl? I wondered, when the fur coat incident from the beginning was repeated with a new girl at the end. It didn’t seem right that she should just be an anonymous extra (she’s uncredited). One wants it to be an aspirant Jean Arthur, with something of a career ahead of her. And, according to the IMDb, it was — Marsha Hunt, still with us today, is the girl. I love her in Zinnemann’s CSI 1940s crime flick, KID GLOVE KILLER.

Easy Living (Universal Cinema Classics)

Unreal Estate

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2012 by dcairns

It’s very nice that THE UNINVITED has a commercial release (there was a VHS for sale in the US, which I bought, but this is its first appearance since) — it’s a rather lovely 1940s ghost story, perfectly blending the coziness and chills we demand from that genre.

Struggling composer Ray Milland and his sister Ruth Hussey (and their little dog, too) fall in love with a deserted clifftop residence on the Cornish coast (whose landscape in no way resembles that of Southern California, as Austin Powers once helpfully noted). Soon, ghostly sounds and apparitions are detected, and a tragic backstory connects the hauntings to young Gail Russell, with whom Ray becomes smitten.

Dodie Smith, of 101 Dalmations fame, co-scripted with Frank Partos, and there’s consequently some good business for Bobby the terrier (named after Greyfriar’s Bobby, no doubt). The film benefits from sleek Paramount production values, including regular Billy Wilder collaborator Doane Harrison’s nimble cutting (quick-shuffled reaction shots build anticipation for each spectral manifestation) — the generation of suspense mainly comes from this, the moody lighting of Charles Lang, and the performances, which find varied and often witty ways to suggest terror, which is then hopefully picked up and mirrored by the viewer.

My, Gail Russell was a lovely girl. Even if she seems to share a dialogue coach with Jennifer Jones’ CLUNY BROWN — she has intermittent bursts of strangulated poshness, and the rest of the time just plays it American — she’s a delight. I think her wide, shiny eyes had as much to do with Stella by Starlight becoming the film’s hit song, as the Victor Young melody itself. The two together are a lovely combo.

THE UNSEEN still lacks a home vid release. It shares with THE UNINVITED the talented journeyman director Lewis Allen, frightened girl Gail Russell, editor Harrison, and the syllable “UN”. But, despite Raymond Chandler co-scripting, it’s not quite as successful. Essentially a GASLIGHT-type thriller, it does gain in uncanny-ness via the prominent role given to children (cute Nona Griffith and Richard Lyon, son of Bebe Daniels). When they describe a man without a face who lives in an empty house, there’s a delicious supernatural/surreal undertone, sadly dissipated by the rest of the narrative.

Chandler ensures that the bit players all make their mark, and everybody in the film is interesting, but I don’t think audiences then or now would be greatly surprised by the climactic revelations. However, an official release or TCM rediscovery would be nice, so we could properly appreciate the great John Seitz’s cinematography.

The Uninvited 1944 DVD Ray Milland & Ruth Hussey (Import) NTSC