Archive for Richard Carlson

Magnetic Corps

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2015 by dcairns

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I thought Curt Siodmak’s THE MAGNETIC MONSTER was going to be good corny fun, the way BRIDE OF THE GORILLA certainly is — the title promises much. But it’s false advertising, as the film contains no monster, magnetic or otherwise, unless, like THE INVISIBLE MENACE it’s one that doesn’t register on film and stays well away from the main action.

Still, Robert Siodmak’s idiot brother deserves credit for attempting something with a bit more natural dignity than his previous Raymond Burr were-gorilla romp. This one concerns the activities of America’s A-Men, the Atom Men who police crimes of a scientific nature. The premise has potential and the name “A-Men” is amusing in a good way. The stylistic approach is borrowed from all those pseudo-documentaries like G-MEN, which I tend to find stodgy and unappealing, even with the added lift of Anthony Mann directing and/or John Alton lighting. This movie has neither: it has Curt Siodmak directing and steady workhorse Charles Van Enger lighting.

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The ending, filmed in an impressive location — IMDb mentions the McCulloch Plant at Los Angeles International Airport — manages to look properly epic and science-fictional, even with stock-footage explosions spliced in,  but what impressed me most was an appearance by Kathleen Freeman as the A-Men’s switchboard operator. Completely uncredited, the great comedienne has plenty of scenes and lots of dialogue, even if she’s basically only there to make a fat joke about herself. I realized, watching her, that a major problem of 50s sci-fi is the lack of people like Kathleen Freeman in them. I quite LIKE Richard Carlson, but he stepped out of a cookie-cutter at Central Casting, and so did most of the other players. Freeman is both more realistic and more extraordinary — one of those people who makes you smile with every appearance.vlcsnap-2015-05-15-09h24m59s133

REDS UNDER THE BEDROCK

BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH suffers similarly from a lumpen, authoritarian and plodding sensibility — but it’s actually a British film from the untalented Irish hack Montgomery Tully — some of its interest comes from a deft use of stock footage and bit players to pull off an American setting fairly convincingly. But it’s best trait is the very opening, where a deranged scientist is discovered with his ear to the sidewalk in Las Vegas, raving about some unidentified other moving about beneath the ground “just like ants.” In a phildickian twist, the scientist is both crazy and correct, but Dick would never have settled for a storyline about a rogue Chinese general deploying digging machines to plant nukes under the USA.

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The portrayal of the Chinese baddies isn’t as bad as you might expect — it’s worse, and far crazier. The lead villains are played by Caucasians in yellowface, not because the production wanted to cast movie stars — they’re unknowns — but presumably on the assumption that the Chinese can’t act. Tell that to Chow Yun-Fat, but then retreat rapidly before he punches your face in. Here, Martin Benson tries to suggest foreignness with a clipped delivery that makes him sound like Noel Coward. There are lots of lines about “the gods,” suggesting that screenwriter Chares F. Vetter didn’t know as much about Maoism as he should have.

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The production design is hilarious — papier maché cave walls decorated with Chinese restaurant trimmings, set dressing from a Fu Manchu pic, orientalist nonsense. I like the tacky little calendar fixed to the wall, though — surely the art director was having a laugh. But if you’re a Chinese troglodyte on the wrong side of the world, you probably do want to keep track of the passing of time.

This has been a science fiction double feature for The Film preservation Blogathon, hosted by This Island Rod.

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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.

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