Archive for Richard Carlson

Un Moose Andalou

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2010 by dcairns

Following Glenn Kenny’s lead, I’ve written before about the strange and abiding influence of Bunuel and Dali’s UN CHIEN ANDALOU on the work of Robert Siodmak. But this is a weird one ~

THE NIGHT BEFORE THE DIVORCE is a very early American Siodmak movie, a marital comedy set in England, odd and not very sympathetic material for the German noirist.

[Of the early American period, my view is that WEST POINT WIDOW is dreary, with Siodmak's every decision closely overseen by an interfering producer: "This picture is not good enough to be called a Siodmak picture," the director finally told him.

FLY-BY-NIGHT is a very amusing spy thriller with Richard Carlson as an atomic scientist. The Hitchcock model is plundered completely, and Hollywood's favourite Goebbels, Martin Kosleck, gets a rare sympathetic part.

MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY is lightweight but nice -- the snowy settings allow Siodmak to flex his visual muscles, and it has a sweet perf by Richard Carlson as an "atom-smasher" -- a physicist, again. Mabel Paige, in her first movie since 1918, has a small role, and the puckish Cecil Kellaway has a major one as a taxi driver with expertise in everything (he describes himself as agraduate of the University of Edinburgh!). A movie nice enough to make me forget I normally hate screenwriter F Hugh Herbert's every word.

Then comes DIVORCE, then SOMEONE TO REMEMBER, the forgotten masterpiece that gives Mabel Paige her one starring role. Then comes SON OF DRACULA and the better known films, leading to THE KILLERS et al.]

The startling moment in THE NIGHT BEFORE THE DIVORCE comes during a dispute over which of the bickering protags is going to get custody of a moose head called Stinky. As the peevish hero attempts to prise Stinky from the wall, there’s a frightful crash, Mrs Bickering-Protag comes into the room, registers dismay, and we cut to her POV, a slightly tilted, expressionist angle on a pile of debris, including a spilled bottle. Tilt down from the bottle to THIS HORROR –

The spilled wine is making it look as if Stinky is crying, you see?

Since this “gag” isn’t particularly funny, and actually is disturbing and awful, it can only really be interpreted as a hommage to the rotting, honey-dripping burros in the piano in UN CHIEN ANDALOU. Am I right or am I right?

If I AM right, then it’s a startling reference to find in a middling American B-movie rom-com. Hooray for Siodmak. Hooray for Bunuel.

Uh-oh

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2010 by dcairns

An epidemic of axe murders grips Chicago! Victims found with heads split open! Killers found beside bodies in state of catatonic schizophrenia! And so, the above is not an encouraging thing to find in your hotel.

FINGERS AT THE WINDOW is a rather delightful comedy-thriller from MGM, with poor old Lew Ayres as a crime-solving out-of-work actor and Laraine Day as a dumb dancer (“She hasn’t the brains of a pancake!”) and, all too briefly, Basil Rathbone as the Mabusean mastermind who hypnotises his incurable subjects and sends them forth to kill! Kill! Kill!

Always with the pleasure, a little malaise: the cops speak of rounding up every “derelict and moron” in the city, a mission later referred to as a “moron hunt.” At a conference on psychiatry a paper is read about insulin shock therapy, the brilliant and human procedure whereby the mentally ill were deliberately overdosed with insulin to put them in a coma, for weeks sometimes. All of which adds an uncomfortable tincture of historical nastiness to a basically light-hearted yarn.

In one amusing scene, Ayres must use his powers of dramaturgy to fake madness, convincing a Viennese quack played by Miles Mander, the only man wirier than his own hair. This kind of scene ALWAYS works, folks. It works when Cary Grant does it in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and it works when Richard Carlson does it in Siodmak’s FLY-BY-NIGHT ~

Mr. Carlson shows of his collection of wedding bands in FLY-BY-NIGHT.

Mr Ayres serves as role model for the chimp in the end credits of Police Squad. “He’ll stop when he’s tired.”

And it certainly works when Ayres does it. He’s more convincing here than as a shrink in THE DARK MIRROR. And in fact he also gets to impersonate a head doctor here, adopting the name of Dr. Stephen Dedalus — perhaps the only James Joyce reference to appear in an MGM noirball? It’s part of a run of Irish gags, which extends to making all the cops in the film exceptionally dense.

This seems to be the only screenplay by Rose Caylor (playwright and wife of Ben Hecht) working with Lawrence P Bachmann, a specialist in medical subjects who reprised elements of this idea for Otto Preminger’s WHIRLPOOL. But this one is better! Director is Charles Lederer, better known for co-writing The Front Page with Hecht. Only an occasional director, Lederer does a good enough job here to make me wish he’d done more. The movie isn’t as ambitious as Hecht’s co-directing efforts, but it hits its modest targets more frequently.

Hear Your Heart Beat.

“All the same I feel sorry for the creature.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2009 by dcairns

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I’m pretty sure Jack Arnold’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was the first movie I saw in 3D… unless the TV screening of the turgid FORT TI came first. Certainly CREATURE was the first I saw projected, at my school film society. Man, we didn’t appreciate how lucky we were to have that Film Soc.

The Universal logo at the film’s start may be the most successful bit of photography in the movie: the cloudless globe twirling behind the studio banner has a pleasing heft and roundness. Elsewhere, as is usually the case, the 3D figures resembles paper cut-outs in a toy theatre, flat shapes positioned at different distances from the observer. Perhaps owing to the speed of production, or to inherent limitations in Jack Arnold’s visual sense, the action doesn’t do much to dramatize the interpersonal relationships via framing, something which 3D could conceivably have played a part in. The compositions are generally a cut above the washing-line approach, but not by much.

The explosions that shower rocks on us during the opening VO went down well with the schoolkids, and watching it again 25 years later with Fiona, I enjoyed them anew with our anaglyph copy of the film and our tinted specs. The fossislized creature claw is also enjoyable, and the shot taken through a fish tank is amusing. But by ignoring the human drama, the filmmaker reduces these effects to a few isolated high points.

The cast isn’t bad. Richard Carlson is a lot more effective in IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, where he’s given an actual character to work with. Richard Dennings fares better: the poor man’s Kirk Douglas, he’s effective whenever he gets to exploit his neurotic overcompensating asshole schtick. The movie is really about the conflict between the two Richards, except Dennings loses too soon and too easy, and then the gill-man gets him.

Julie Adams is there to be squabbled over by the Richards and the gill-man, and to look fairly awesome in a ’50s bathing suit, conical breasts like torpedoes aimed into the heart of the audience. She doesn’t convince much as a scientist (the script doesn’t allow her to know anything, and hints she’s only along because Dennings fancies her) and she’s required to do the all-time fakiest monster-fall. You know how the girl is supposed to trip and twist her ankle fleeing the monster? Poot Julie doesn’t even manage to take a single step, she just falls on her perfect ass and assumes an ideal position to be scooped up by the hulking amphib.

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Good monster — his lust for a person not only of a different species, genus and family (as with Kong), but of a different order and class, is unexplained, and he doesn’t otherwise display any personality, but he does have a good classic look. It can’t be that easy to design a fish-man, let alone one that can swim gracefully. The water ballet scene is a justly acclaimed highlight, exploiting the 3D, the monster design, Ricou Browning’s swimming and Julie Adams’ figure, with the strange teasing movements of the creature’s webbed claws towards Adams’ ankles creating suspense and an odd kind of humour.

I’m not altogether surprised that Universal have struggled to come up with a serviceable approach to a remake: there’s so little really going on here. Fiona pointed out that Carlson plucking a plant from the lagoon bed is like a quote from Beauty and the Beast — the stolen rose — and the creature’s depredations and romantic yearnings both follow on from this. Adams dropping her cigarette in the crystalline waters, where it drifts past the gaping monster hints at an ecological angle. But nothing is really done with this stuff. When the beast sinks lifelessly into the waters (to return for a couple of plodding sequels) one wonders what the point was — the monster gone, the movie can only fade out as quickly as possible.

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Buy here (flat) if you’re in the UK –

The Mummy / Creature From The Black Lagoon [DVD]

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