Archive for Republic Pictures

What did the catman do?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 16, 2013 by dcairns

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Anne Billson runs the excellent CATS ON FILM blog — so I asked her if she’d seen CATMAN OF PARIS (1946). Do you know what her reply was? “Is it rubbish?” The cynicism of the Modern Woman.

Well, yes it is rubbish, but it’s not TOTAL rubbish, or at least it’s not devoid of interesting weirdnesses. Like the way the hero, right before he blacks out and becomes, we presume, the titular man-feline, is tormented by images of ice, snow, a lightning bolt in negative, and a violently swaying buoy in a stormy sea. What’s that all about? I don’t know, but it’s rather Lynchian.

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The film takes place in a low-budget Republic Pictures backlot Paris, and boasts reliable sleaze Douglas Dumbrille as its most recognizable name/face. Although the catman himself is pretty recognizable once you’ve seen him.

I’ll also give the film five extra points for its audacious opening shot, in which a black cat saunters blithely down a miniature street, like Kitten Kong. The shot is reprised later in the film and proves to be exactly what it appears to be: a miniature set (constructed for some slender plot pretext) with a housecat in it. So I deduct three points for that naturalistic cop-out.

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The plot makes very little sense and doesn’t even allow for many exciting situations: I do like the nonsense myth about the catman being immortal and turning up in different periods of history. The Cat Came Back. I got curious about incompetent scribe Sherman L. Lowe and looked up his credits — he enjoyed a longish career (thirty years) without concocting anything celebrated or memorable, and always working in lowbrow genre stuff — serials and B-westerns and TV episodes. Working with Rin Tin Tin Jnr seems about the high point. Possibly he marks a useful benchmark for Hollywood employability — I don’t imagine you could be much less talented and still get work, unless you had a father-in-law.

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The name of this blog is Shadowplay

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by dcairns

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Frank Borzage: master of the shadows.

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This, the opening of MOONRISE, is what turned me on to F.B. The beauty and boldness of the visual storytelling, the combination of a powerful story idea (a boy is persecuted because his father was hanged — then he himself becomes a killer: all this in the first five minutes!) put over with flamboyant but never inappropriate use of film technique.

Also, in the above image, the little kid is meant to be crying, but he obviously isn’t. Some crying sounds have been dubbed on, while the youngster tries to make a “sad face”. I realised that Borzage was too nice to make a baby cry for his film, even though the lack of tears slightly mars the film. That puts him in a different ethical class from practically all his peers. Can we imagine William Wyler hesitating?

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I love that the entire set for this shot is the studio floor, doubling as an implausibly shiny playground. MOONRISE was shot on entirely in a tiny array of tightly packed sets in a single studio, with a very short schedule. Republic seem to have been experimenting with artistically ambitious films on low budgets in 1948: hence Welles’ MACBETH. Of course they were John Ford’s refuge where he could make less overtly commercial projects at lower cost.

The tree-shadow totally MAKES the shot, transforming it from an obvious interior to a poetic, unreal exterior. Shades of Sternberg, who was particularly fond of tree-shadows in the late ’20s and early ’30s. I want to throw in the word “autumnal”, so I’m going to.

Autumnal!

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I think this may have been the first ever Shadowplay banner, so I’m returning to it for Borzage Week as our anniversary approaches. It’s an amazingly striking image, and completely inexplicable if you haven’t seen the film. Looks like something that might come from VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. In context, it’s a horrific encapsulation of the brutality and EVIL of childhood.

Shadows of liquid fog swirl on the wall.

MOONRISE screens today on Film4 in the UK at 2.50 pm.

Moonrising

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 18, 2008 by dcairns

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The titles of Borzage’s sublime (no other word will do) MOONRISE play out over strange, rippling pools of liquid fog.

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This eventually resolves, post-titles, into the shadows of liquid fog, pooling eerily in an inexplicable fashion, as we enter a peculiarly abstract landscape of rain, where an execution is about to take place. I will say no more.

But that same year, 1948, Orson Welles was making MACBETH, at the same studio as Borzage, Republic. And when Welles’ weird women peer into their cauldron in Act 1, Scene 1, amid the murk and mist and bubble bubble, we get this liquid fog again:

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Welles has double-exposed it with a shot of fas-motion billowing clouds, oddly enough. All playing the contents of an enchanted cauldron. You maybe have to see it moving in good definition to see that it’s exactly the same effect as Borzage’s liquid fog. So, either both men made use of a piece of kit in stock at Republic, which I’m going to call Professor Strickfaden’s Liquid Fog Vortex Projector, or, more likely in my opinion, Welles simply borrowed a few seconds of Borzage’s movie to enhance his own. It’s the sort of thing he’d do more wholeheartedly in F FOR FAKE, and which he’d already done in CITIZEN KANE, which uses footage, and animated bats, from SON OF KONG. (See here for the debunking.)

As John Huston says in Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, “It’s quite alright to steal from each other. What we must never do is steal from ourselves.”