Archive for Richard Fleischer

A Quick Jolt of Noir

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 25, 2021 by dcairns

TRAPPED (1949) is directed by Richard Fleischer and has some striking visuals. It’s one of those how-the-Feds-protect-you procedurals that don’t really partake of noir’s more radical elements, but which frequently stimulate with their single source lightning, especially if John Alton is shooting. TRAPPED is filmed by Guy Roe, whose name rang no bells, but he’d clearly been paying attention. His other credits include RAILROADED! for Mann and ARMOURED CAR ROBBERY for Fleischer again.

The climax in a bus depot is really something, with striking perspective shots but even more brilliant sound: the puffing of a bus engine somewhere which fades up and down, providing a breathless, panting commentary on the action, dropping out to make you feel the quiet, then coming back in to build anticipation. There’s no sound editor credit so we may never know who was responsible.

Thanks to David Bordwell for alerting me to this one. The story is disjointed but Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton and John Hoyt are all great presences.

The Shadowcast: Let’s Get Small

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2019 by dcairns

New podcast up!

Fiona and I take a microscopically close look at the TIMELY and IMPORTANT subject of human miniaturization, with a particular focus on THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, FANTASTIC VOYAGE and INNERSPACE. Mike Clelland suggested the middle film, and from there things kind of snowballed. Shout-out to Mike.

Still audibly suffering from slight colds on this one, but the NEXT one was recorded earlier and you’ll hear some seriously bunged-up sinuses on that. Here, we just sound like a sexy, husky couple of Glynis Johnses, than which nothing could be better.

The discussion also encompasses (or brushes past) DOWNSIZING, FIRST PAVILION, BODY TROOPERS, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN, and there are audio extracts from… well, I’ll let that be a surprise (and perhaps a mystery). Momo the podcat offers his views on the miniature human’s potential as snack.

Annoyed with myself for failing to mention the excellent (if slightly racist) miniaturization joke in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick, which demonstrates the virtue of sandwiching virtually a whole novel between set-up and pay-off (more authors should try that). So I’m mentioning it here.

The 30s novelette He Who Shrank which is quoted from is by Henry Hasse and is worth seeking out online. Other literary works referred to are Richard Matheson’s all-important The Shrinking Man, Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage II: Electric Boogaloo*, Alice in Wonderland and The Arabian Nights.

The audio mixes at the start and end are designed to make genre fans dance around the room in a gleeful sugar rush. Let us know if this happens. Send photographic evidence.Very small people may already be inside all of us. Is there a message you would like passed on?

*Not its actual title.

Catch a Falling Tsar

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2019 by dcairns

NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA is one possible answer to the question “What would a David Lean movie be like without David Lean?” A question nobody but Sam Spiegel would think to ask, I suspect. N&A may not be the best answer, but it’s the only one we have*. I assume Spiegel was jealous of his former star director’s box office triumph DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and thought he’d do one better.

Franklin J. Schaffner, who we like at least partly because his name is Franklin J. Schaffner — a name that positively chomps its own cigar — did some lively work on potentially lumbering epics like PLANET OF THE APES. He’d go handheld at unexpected moments. In PATTON we also see his flair for highly formal compositions to contrast with the explosive set-pieces. Well, the formal shots still turn up in N&A, but it could do with a shot of handheld chaos to get it on its feet.To speak of this film is to speak of tedium — the sheer amount of tedium makes it the film’s most interesting trait. One wouldn’t have thought it possible to cram so much boredom into a movie also containing a cast of thousands, a mad monk, one Russo-Japanese war, one world war, two revolutions, and both the cream of the British acting establishment and a lot of young and soon-to-be-nude hopefuls (Robin Askwith turns up just to rip the skin of a rabbit). And yet it’s quite remarkable how dull things are for long stretches.

Schaffner seems in awe of his material, so he’s on his best behaviour. Nobody’s at their best when they’re on their best behaviour. Designer John Box creates a very convincing Russia out of various Spanish and Yugoslav locations, but the great Freddie Young’s photography is surprisingly overlit much of the time. How did the wretched White Russians get their palaces to look like daytime soaps with only candles at their disposal. I don’t require the full BARRY LYNDON every time, but a bit of atmosphere would be welcome. (I’m only using the more gorgeous shots for this post — there are, admittedly, lots. But the movie only really impresses visually when it ventures outside, or when night falls, or when it’s dealing with the plotting Bolshies. (Michael Bryant makes a very good Lenin — his story would be worth telling.)And of course there’s Tom Baker’s Rasputin. If ever an actor and role were more suited on paper — Baker was an actual monk, ffs — I can’t think of the occasion. And while Baker is impressive and brings the stately proceedings to relative life (the only kind of life on offer), he’s actually disappointing compared to the version of “Tom Baker as Rasputin” that plays through my head when I think of that glorious phrase. I think it’s because all Old Greg’s atrocities, as portrayed here, are so mild and tasteful. His murder is pretty lurid — though utterly outdone by the Battle of the Barrymores in RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS. This one has lots of homoeroticism thrown in, though, including Tom making eyes (and WHAT eyes!) at a dragged-up flautist. It perks things up. Also some good snivelling hysteria from Michael Jayston’s ex-Tsar when he sees his missus for the first time after abdicating. Shame cuts the puppet emperor’s strings and he collapses lopsidedly. “I didn’t mean to do it!” is all kinds of pathetic. And he becomes human in our eyes for the first time.James Goldman (assisted or hampered by rewrites from Edward Bond) really can’t make us care about Tsar Nicky, an absolutely appalling leader combining weakness with arrogance, able to vacillate stubbornly and be obdurately spineless, neither of which should even be possible. The problem of “our son, the little bleeder” (if only they’d cast Burton & Taylor they might have gotten some healthy vulgarity into their show — but they’d probably still be shooting it) is supposed to make the royals sympathetic, but mainly it gives them a problem they can’t do anything about.

Goldman’s best idea is to show the Tsar becoming a better man after he abdicates, which is based on no particular historical evidence but at least gives him an arc. It doesn’t make much difference though, since the entire royal family is reduced to total helplessness at this point, passengers through their own story on their way to a historically foreordained execution.

For which Schaffner finally pulls out all the stops. His formal compositions are almost as striking here as in the celebrated opening of PATTON, and he milks the suspense — which ought to be nonexistent — a bunch of people with little personality who have done nothing effective or good for the previous three hours of screen time are about to die, and we know it’s going to happen — to breaking point. If it makes sense to milk something to breaking point. Can you break a cow? See NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA, the film that breaks a cow. NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA stars Lewis Carroll; Cleopatra; Emanuelle ‘Bunny’ O’Neill; Pola Ivanova; Ralph Gurney – 13th Earl of Gurney; Goneril; Koura; General Allenby; Mr. Tow-Wouse; ‘Maxim’ De Winter; Harry Dominion; Doctor B. N. Wallis, C.B.E., F.R.S.; Professor Harrington; Wick Blagdon; Peter Brock; Mrs. Chasen; Robert McKee; Lord Ludd; Bilbo Baggins; Leopold Mozart; Encolpio; Bumbo; Woodrow Wilson; Wernher Von Braun; Master Robert Shallow; Colonel Breen; Timothy Lea; Sherlock Holmes; and the voice of Colossus.

Or, to put it another way, since none of the up-and-coming young thesps strutting and fretting here went on to more big movies (not right away, anyway), we have the future stars of THE MUTATIONS: THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW; VAMPIRE CIRCUS; Hammer House of Horror; SCHIZO; CRAZE… eventually, of course, many of them hit their stride again, but it really doesn’t look like this movie helped anyone.

*I tell a lie: Akira Kurosawa thought he was going to be co-directing TORA, TORA, TORA with David Lean, but got Richard Fleischer instead. Then he quit, and they hired Kinji Fukasaku, making T,T,T both a Lean film without Lean and a Kurosawa film without Kurosawa. Enjoy!