Archive for Raymond Chandler

Battling the Sea Beast

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 18, 2022 by dcairns

James Cameron, eat your CGI Canadian heart out.

Last we saw, Larry “Buster” Crabbe as Flash Gordon was wrestling an “octo-sac” in the flooded guest bedroom of King Kala of the Shark Men. Strangely enough, his tendriled foe transformed mid-tussle from a bit of stock footage of a real octopus to a rather flat looking rubber cephalopod, which might be easier to defeat, I dunno, limited experience here.


Worse, Kala has a special handmaiden on, well, hand, to make sure Dale Arden “misses none of the sport,” so Dale has her face pressed to the what you might call a Porthole of Death, not quite a ringside seat since she’s standing and it’s a waterlogged chamber, but morally undistinguishable. “Watching helplessly” is essentially Jean Rogers’ entire character description here, but she switches it up by falling into a dead faint. The handmaiden “Zona” is played by one Muriel Goodspeed. Yes, THAT Muriel Goodspeed. The one who plays the handmaiden “Zona” in this.

Surprise entrance — in the best Raymond Chandler tradition, one or other of the four screenwriters has a man come in the door with a gun, or in this case, a Lion Man and a woman with a raygun. How they gained access to this undersea kingdom isn’t immediately clear, but it has to be good news for Larry “Buster” Crabbe who, Olympic swimmer or not, is going down for at least the third time. More like sixth, if you count the recap.

“Stop that fight at once!” demands Princess Aura, for the female newcomer is she. “How does one stop an octo-sac?” asks Kala, which sounds like a perfect set-up to a joke, but Aura replies with plodding literalness, getting Kala to drain Flash’s bedroom, currently wetter than the Moscow Ritz-Carlston.

Meanwhile, in Ming’s palace workshop, Zarkov labours among bad vats and jeroboams, Strickfadenesque electrical toys and Ruritanian decor. His situation has not advanced much since episode 2, and Flash has passed up two opportunities to rescue him. However, through his cunning, he has set up a comms link with Griffith Observatory. Under the very nose of Ming!

Hilarious moment at 8.22 to where, mid-conversation Ming-Zarkov, the Emperor’s off-camera lines are read in by some stooge, possibly the director. Mid-SENTENCE. Ming: “They are being cared for -” Not-Ming: “-by Kala, King of the Shark Men.” One expects to see Charles Middleton transfigured, like the octo-sac, into some (even) cheaper stand-in, but he’s back to normal by the time we see him.

FG rarely falls below a certain level of competence, but that was a goofy moment. Emperor Fake Shemp.

Flash, free from his watery lodgings, is required to overpower a guard. Disarming the underling of his ray-gun, he’s faced with a sword, while Aura every so cautiously reaches in extreme slow motion for the fallen pistol. This kind of behaviour drove me nuts as a kid, but now seems a plausible simulacrum of royalty in a crisis.

Thun has been left guarding Kala at gunpoint for some time now. Anxious lest we forget about this tense stand-off, the filmmakers cut regularly to them exchanging pleasantries/threats.

While Flash’s shadow strangles the guard’s shadow — one of the regular nods to expressionism — Aura lasers some kind of control panel, and immediately the undersea kingdom starts leaking. Possibly a mistake?

With her tiny earthwoman lungs, Dale is once more the first to react to the lack of oxygen. She’s better than a canary.

My favourite exchange in this episode follows: a Mongovision TV screen is showing the water squirting through the undersea kingdom’s bulkheads in a steady spurt. A man in tinplate armour says to a man in a cassock, “Find out what it means.” Aaaand SCENE.

What it means is that Dale passes out for the second time this episode — she spends more time unconscious than a housecat. Kala is prepared to abandon his feud with Thun if it means he doesn’t have to asphyxiate. Who says Shark Men and Lion Men can’t be friends?

The controls of Kala’s console are a bunch of door handles, I think possibly from a Model T Ford.

CRASH! Just as Flash is reunited with Dale (and Thun and Kala), the undersea kingdom CRUMBLES, which translates in visual terms to a wobbling model shot, some stock footage of leaks, and a firehose turned full on, cueing a liquid vertical wipe that runs down the screen and tells us to —


Page Seventeen III: The Last Stand

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2022 by dcairns

It was to this city, drunk radiant with contradictions — ‘Chicago, the jazz-baby — the reeking, cinder-ridden, joyous baptist stronghold, Chicago, the chewing gum centre of the world, the bleating, slant-headed rendezvous of half-witted newspapers, sociopaths and pants makers,’ to quote one of its more restrained self-descriptions — that Beatrice Welles brought her family. It was certainly she who brought them: her husband, though enamoured of the stage and its citizens, and partial to fine wine and good food and concomitant fleshly pleasures, showed no sign of needing to move to the source of these things, and Dr Bernstein, according to Orson, only left Kenosha to be near Beatrice. He spoke of it as ‘a paradise he’d lost … my mother used to make HEARTLESS fun of that.’ As for the boys — cosy and comfortable as they’d surely been in Kenosha, this huge and thrilling city was the biggest playground a child could imagine. This is where Orson Welles grew up, this swaggering, boastful place, which sneered at New York as a provincial cousin. Here was anything and everything they could want — provided they had the money. And, thanks to Richard Welles’ golden handshake, they did. Had they not, it might have been a harsh life; they would have shared the squalor and deprivation of a large portion of the city’s population, the immigrants in their northern ghettoes, the blacks in theirs on the South Side. For these people, undernourished, brutalised, cold, Chicago was hell. ‘For God’s sake,’ cried Margaret Anderson at the end of her first editorial for The Little Review, one of Chicago’s many little magazines, ‘why doesn’t somebody start the revolution?’ All the conditions were present, enough to make a Marxist despair at its reluctance to occur. But Chicago was still too high on itself. Even the poor were swept up in its undeniable confidence, which last till the Big Crash — ten years away, in 1929. After that, nothing would ever be quite the same again for Chicago. In Alston J. Smith’s phrase, ‘there was the manic phase. Then came the depression.’

…I was born in Chicago, Illinois, so damned long ago that I wish I had never told anybody when. Both my parents were of Quaker descent. Neither was a practising Quaker. My mother was born in Waterford, Ireland, where there was a very famous Quaker school and perhaps still is. My father came of a Pennsylvania farming family, probably one of the batch that settled with William Penn. At the age of seven I had scarlet fever in a hotel, and I understand this is a very rare accomplishment. I remember principally the ice-cream and the pleasure of pulling the loose skin off during convalescence …

Ben Hecht was always falling in love–though he never tumbled harder and faster into that ecstatic state than he did when he met Chicago. “The city of my first manhood,” he called it. The place enthralled him with its blur of rooftops and chimneys, its signage and streetcars, its windows, its water, its sky, an especially its crowds. Its crowds! Dashing through downtown, he’d stop suddenly, transfixed, as all those strangers rushed by him on the sidewalk. “I sometimes felt shy,” he’d later write of his teenage infatuation with the fact of this great human swirl, “as I stood against a building watching people pass. What if some bright pedestrian saw what I was doing–having a love affair with the faces of the city! It would be hard to explain.”

Both Hecht and Minnelli, in different ways, were keenly aware of the new sensibility — though, like most other artists in their generation, they inherited certain attitudes from the era of l’art pour l’art, which they brought into modern times. Hecht, for example, never lost his taste for the epigrammatic wit and iconoclasm of the 1890s; his early novels, Fantasius Mallare and Count Bruga, are saturated with Yellow Book affectations, and even The Front Page has a vaguely Baudelarian nostalgie de la boue. For his part, Minnelli became a more engaging blend of the aesthete and the modern entertainer, working not in words but in clothing and decor. In 1937, Esquire described him as “the incarnation of our preconceived notion of a ‘Village type’ — flat black hat with a wide brim, loose collar and no tie around his thin neck.” In publicity releases, Radio City Music Hall emphasised his vanguard taste: “Young and, confessedly, a modernist, Minnelli revels in … torch songs, music from the heart of Harlem and picturesque angular furniture.”

Ten minutes off for a tea-break in the middle of the night in that place and I couldn’t find a seat, not one. All them Greeks had it, Poles, Greeks, Blacks, the lot of them, all them aliens had it. And they had me working there… they had me working…

Henry did that counterpoint business that you’re not supposed to be able to do unless you have two right arms and four extra fingers, and he got that boiler puffing, and he got it shaking, and he screamed his Henry Walker “WoooooOOOOO!” and–he finished. I came in on the tubs and beat them up till I couldn’t see for the sweat, hit the cymbal and waited.

His assistants cluster about him. He is severe with them, demanding, punctilious, but this is for their own ultimate benefit. He devises hideously difficult problems, or complicates their work with sudden oblique comments that open up whole new areas of investigation–yawning chasms under their feet. It is as if he wishes to place them in situations where only failure is possible. But failure, too, is a part of mental life. “I will make you failure-proof,” he says, jokingly. His assistants pale.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens taken from my vast collection of page seventeens.

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu by Simon Callow; Raymond Chandler Speaking edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Kathrine Sorley Walker; Ben Hecht: FIghting Words, Moving Pictures by Adina Hoffman; The Films of Vincente Minnelli by James Naremore; The Caretaker by Harold Pinter, from Harold Pinter Complete Works 2; Black Country by Charles Beaumont from The Playboy Book of Short Stories; The Genius from Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme.

Red Herrings

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2020 by dcairns

Dalton Trumbo is the main writer on THE LONE WOLF STRIKES, and you can tell. At the start of the tale, Michael Lanyard, AKA the Lone Wolf, as inhabited by Warren the starving lion William, having previously given up a life of crime for a life of adventure, has given up a life of adventure for a life aquatic, breeding fish in his Manhattan apartment. It makes a nice image, the stacks of fish tanks filling half the view, the picture window opening onto distant skyscrapers — all glassy grids, you see.

We remember of course that Laurence Olivier has a whole speech about oysters in SPARTACUS, Trumbo’s most famous screen credit, so obviously the man was a keen piscatorian and liked to get his hobby up there on the big screen. He liked to write in the bath, also, like a fish, or Waldo Lydecker or Jean-Paul Marat. The plot of this one is about stolen pearls, so the oceanic note is continued neatly.

Eric Blore gets to say: “I couldn’t help myself, sir. Miss Jordan’s a regular VAMpire, sir, she fairly WORMED it out of me!”

Also: “I LOATHE fish!!!” and “OOOH! I’ve spilled the beans!

It’s not so ridiculous, having a detective story where the shamus is more concerned with scallops than sleuthing. CHINATOWN features a discursion on fish at the Abalone Club, Detective Kinderman in EXORCIST III delivers a monologue on carp held over from the original movie on account of its extreme length and irrelevance, and Raymond Chandler began but did not finish a novel, The Big Swim Bladder, in which Philip Marlowe is distracted from a vicious blackmail-and-homicide case by the undulations of a particularly appetising halibut.

The film tries to winkle comedy out of WW being harried by his client, a slightly spoiled heiress, but as she’s the bereaved daughter of a recent murderee, it’s hard to take her being the butt of a joke.

Interesting that guys like Trumbo, Waldo Salt, and various of the Hollywood Ten mainly made a living with this kind of cheery pablum, but racked up reps for high seriousness during their years of unemployment. Still, the dialogue has a zing, and certainly plays to the stars’ well-established personae. “Why Mr. Lanyard, you’re simply…” “Terrific? Of course I am.”

Sidney Salkow, the Tarkovsky of the flat two-shot, once more directs with his customary… attendance? None of his shots match, is what I’m saying.

THE LONE WOLF STRIKES stars Julius Caesar; Mr. Toad; Phyllis Fowler; Mr. Fenty; Lois Clarke; Professor Schmutz; Bob Wayne / ‘Copperhead’; Walt Spoon; Morony; Crowd Member; and Man in Talking Pictures Demonstration (uncredited).

“It’s only when you’re immersed in your fish that you disappoint ME, sir.”