Archive for Richard Arlen

Bromance of the Skies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-05-12-09h46m44s93

“Noooooooooo, no, no, silent film, stop!” cried Fiona, at the umpteenth pyrotechnic stunt sequence unspooled in William Wellman’s WINGS — not so much death-defying as death-inviting. Wellman himself spoke about blowing up real people instead of dummies by mistake, and everything we see in his impressive but alarming battle scenes supports the idea that dangerous stuff was going down on location. As James Mason said of the director, “He was a tough bastard but I liked him. He shot real bullets and stuff.”

vlcsnap-2016-05-12-09h57m35s189

Just a little to your left, El Brendel. A little more. A little more.

DIALECT COMEDIAN SLAIN BY PROPELLER BLADE

All this mayhem and they failed to extirpate El Brendel! He has far too much screen time in this one, which is to say you can see him in a non-subliminal fashion. But at least you can’t hear him. And he’s not as cutesy as usual — I guess either Wellman whipped it out of him or he hadn’t acquired all of his bad habits yet (he had scores of them — in El Brendel’s native tongue there are fifty-seven words for “simpering” and forty for “smirking at your own unfunny material”. Incomprehensibly, Wellman had introduced this smug man-imp to the screen in YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN, which he does his best to ruin, and yet chose to give him employment again. I can only assume he was hoping a stray bullet would do cinema a service.

vlcsnap-2016-05-12-10h13m57s66

Elsewhere, homoeroticism abounds between Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, with twin beards Clara Bow and the unfortunately-named Jobyna Ralston sidelined so effectively that one disappears completely apart from two shots and a photograph, and the other spends most of the film not catching up with her beau, who is drunk and completely indifferent to her when she does appear. The male kiss and embrace at the end is still pretty surprising, and Wellman seems to have spent the rest of his life disavowing it — his autobiography, A Time for Madness, might as well have been subtitled I Ain’t No Fuckin’ Queer, so constant is the refrain.

vlcsnap-2016-05-12-09h33m45s230

Later, Clara puts on a spangly dress to look sexy — but — she really doesn’t need to.

“It’s a strange mix of glamour and excitement and tragedy,” Fiona observed afterwards, impressed by such harsh details as a boot stomping out a cigarette fallen from a dead man’s lips. “How would you describe it?”

Well, it’s written by one WWI aviator (John Monk Saunders, credited with story) and directed by another. It’s a dazzling Hollywood fantasy made by people who knew the reality. And the reality keeps bleeding through.

The First Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by dcairns

DSCF4211

Over at the always exhilarating Observations on Film Art, David Bordwell, whom I finally met in Bologna along with his lovely partner Kristin Thompson, summarises the Cinema Ritrovato experience by writing up a single day’s viewing, thus giving us a sorta-kinda idea of what the overall buzz is like. I thought I’d steal the idea, as a way of reliving the glory and because there are plenty of enjoyable screenings that wouldn’t quite make a full blog post on their own.

I got into Bologna — or at any rate the outlying suburb-thing of Pianora, on the Saturday the fest began, late at night, so I missed such goodies as BEGGARS OF LIFE (recently enjoyed in Bo’ness) and Aleksandr Ford’s THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM, acclaimed as a masterpiece by those who saw it, and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE on the big, big screen in the Piazza Maggiore. And finding a bus on a Sunday to take me into town proved troublesome, so by the time I’d arrived and registered and had a cappuccino alongside new best pal Jonathan Rosenbaum and met longtime correspondent Neil McGlone and fellow Scotsman Mark Cosgrove, it was 12.15 and the only thing to see before the long, civilised lunch break, was the program of musical shorts previously discussed here.

Said program also featured YES WE HAVE NO… (the missing word is BANANAS), a silhouette-film seemingly directed by the ludic Adrian Brunel (it was found in his collection, anyway) and produced by Miles “He won’t be doing the crossword tonight” Malleson. A cartoonish treatment of the torment inflicted by catchy earworms, popular songs of the moronic variety that burrow into your consciousness and jam the controls on “REPEAT.”

you_never_know_women103

After lunch with the man I really must stop calling J-Ro, who gave me some useful pointers for stuff to see, I made perhaps a mistake and went to see a William Wellman double feature instead of THE TEMPTRESS, which looked extremely alluring, was only on once, and proved to be one of the hot tickets of the fest, the kind of thing for which the safety inspector averts an eye as the aisles fill up with perspiring bodies. But the Wellmans were good/interesting — YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN starred Clive Brook, Florence Vidor, El Brendel (ack!) and Lowell Sherman, whose villainous smoothy is excellent value. Wellman starts with a spectacular building site disaster. A labourer rescues the chic Vidor from cascading scaffolding. Sherman steps in and takes the swooning beauty from his muscular but filthy grasp. “I think I can do this sort of thing better than you,” he suggests, via intertitle, and proceeds to take credit for saving her life.

The story goes on to be a backstage melodrama with Clive Brook as jilted lover, Sherman as interloper, El Brendel as a colossal pain in the ass even without dialogue, the whole thing a warning as to the inconstancy of woman. But it’s not nasty about it or anything.

manI

THE MAN I LOVE was an early talkie, and showed Wellman struggling, sometimes inventively, with the new technology. Sometimes he has three cameras running on a scene but they’re all badly positioned for the action as blocked, so the editor’s attempts to maintain audience engagement by shuttling from one bad view to another come to naught. But sometimes he throws the microphone aside and shoots mute, as in the boxing scenes, which have some impressively RAGING BULL-esque movement and vigour. And sometimes he simply stays on a decent shot, and lets the actors, a mulish Richard Arlen and an uncertain Mary Brian, wreck things for him.

Just up the hill at the Cinema Jolly, I could see UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE and LA CHIENNE, so I did. I’d never seen the latter, so comparing it to Lang’s remake, SCARLET STREET, was extremely interesting. Obviously the original is not a noir, and has a weird serio-comic tone of its own which leaves some strange moments undigested in the Lang, particularly the big punchline of the dead husband’s return. And Renoir is able to end the film in an anti-moralistic way: with a change of emphasis Lang could have his hero cheat the law and get away with murder, but be nevertheless destroyed by his guilt, and by the fraud already perpetrated against him. But in Renoir, the protagonist may be down on his luck, but he no longer cares. To society, he would seem to have been punished most severely, but he’s a perfectly happy guy. That’s much more unsettling.

chienne2

UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE is a masterpiece, of course.

Jonathan R had recommended Paradjanov’s SAYAT NOVA, which I had always known under its Soviet-imposed name of THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES, so I clocked in for my last show of the day at 9.30 at the Sala Mastroianni. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen all of it before — it’s that kind of film. But the familiarity induced by the abrupt ending convinced me I must have, probably in Derek Malcolm’s Film Club on BBC2 or something. Probably a VHS recording of same, in fact.

pomeg

A film about a poet that is in itself poetic is a rare thing. In fact, it’s very hard to tell whether Mr. Nova was any good as a poet — much of his verse is presented solely as title cards in Cyrillic, so you can’t even tell what it would sound like. And the bits that are translated have an almost adolescent whining tone — “I’m a really unhappy guy. Life stinks. Everybody hates me.” The one line that stuck out was “The world is a window.” Which is, you know, GREAT. Especially with Paradjanov’s stunning images as accompaniment.

Worrying about the poetry turned out to be part of a pattern with me — the last film of the day was usually one I had trouble getting into, owing to tiredness (with two magnificent exceptions — THE MERRY WIDOW and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT.)

The film, now restored in its Ukrainian version, is so fantabulous that it’s quite wrong of me to want to use it simply as a stick with which to beat Peter Greenaway. The temptation still arises, though, because it would make such a terrific, all-annihilating stick.

Hobo’ness

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-03-14-22h55m59s170

The first time Fiona and I saw William Wellman’s BEGGARS OF LIFE was on a VHS grey-market tape bought off eBay for something excessive like $9, with a wildly inappropriate drop-needle soundtrack and a picture quality equivalent to the viewpoint of a near-sighted mollusc in tears at the heat death of the universe.

The second time was at the Bo’ness Hippodrome, Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema (1912-present) as part of the Festival of Silent Cinema (AKA HippFest) with a 35mm print from the George Eastman House — the best surviving materials anywhere — and Neil Brand playing at the piano with the Dodge Brothers (featuring critic Mark Kermode) collaborating on a skiffle/jug band/spasm music live score of surpassing loveliness, dynamism and romanticism. It makes a difference! I now suspect that old Wild Bill may have been right to rate this as his best movie (I think he went to his grave believing it lost). One weird effect of seeing it on the big screen is that details that registered on my mind’s eye as looming closeups turn out to be spacious medium shots when I looked at my video copy at home. I feel like a cine-illiterate child when I compare the large screen impression with the small-screen “reality.”

vlcsnap-2014-03-14-22h56m51s105

Louise Brooks plays an orphan runaway who’s shot her would-be rapist and is now a fugitive. It’s the high point of her Hollywood career, though not one she enjoyed — Wellman was horrible to her, as was her co-star Richard Arlen, although at least he apologised decades later. Arlen is pretty good here, not too pretty (WINGS) nor too ugly (ISLAND OF LOST SOULS) — he lost his looks FAST, that one, and his face just went kind of ugh. There’s a secene early on when, starving, he presses his nose against a screen door. That’s just what he would look like a few years later.

(You see what happens when you say Louise’s eyes are too close together, Arlen?)

Brooks is delightful, touching, intense, but the stand-out acting performance is from Wallace Beery as Oklahoma Red, he-man of Hobohemia, a rail-riding, hooch-swigging killer who slowly and, it has to be said, inexplicably, morphs into the film’s hero. It’s a showy role, yet Beery is surprisingly delicate in it, despite the fact that each of his facial features must be the weight of a seal cub  — it’s subtle work, by his standards. When he’s not exerting swaggering, pugilistic menace, he eschews his later MGM schtick — slobbering mawkishness — and manages a wistful, thoughtful, wonderful quality that seems to defy gravity. I think part of it stems from Wellman’s willingness to stay wide, but part is certainly a very well-judged bit of performance from Beery, a man who was certainly capable of stinking up even an extreme long-shot with his mugging and gurning.

The film has crazy moments. Brooks is identified as a girl when she bends over. I won’t show you what that looks like, but this is the reaction it gets.

vlcsnap-2014-03-14-22h59m19s19

I have never seen a dragged-up girl rumbled by her ass before. I mean, a lot of movie stars have exposed their bottoms, but not many bottoms have exposed movie stars.

The same hobo prepares for a knock-down fight with Beery by deftly flipping his upper dentures from his mouth and pocketing them for safety.

The hobo gang at one point stage a kangaroo court, almost as surreal a mockery of justice as the one in King Lear or the one in Alice in Wonderland.

Roscoe Karns makes his trademark Roscoe Karns face. Blue Washington as Black Mose has a role that actually affords some character and some dignity, but is encouraged to tom it up with some uncomfortable “comedy negro” business.

And the locomotive stunts are reckless and scary. Beery apparently insisted on NOT doing all his own stunts — “Listen, all directors want to kill actors,” he told Brooks — but still hangs from moving rail cars. Apparently nobody considered that a stunt in those days. Brooks herself leaps on and off moving trains, and falls off one too. Those machines are dangerous! Apparently one wreck from this movie is still in place, at the bottom of a hill in Southern California, near the Mexican border. Another wreck from the movie, Wallace Beery, is still in place at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale.

hippo 001