Archive for Ring Lardner

Pg. 17, #9

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , on June 26, 2020 by dcairns

isaac

Towards midnight — it would have been in the autumn in the year 1860 — there was a sudden violent hammering on the door, which echoed through the whole hall. Baptiste, who acted as cook, footman and doorman in Madeleine’s small household, had gone to the country for his sister’s wedding, and so it happened that only Madeleine’s maid, Martinière, was in the house and still awake.

*

At this point, a visitor named Isaac Post decided to try communicating with the spirit. His first question brought a barrage of raps, as if it was relieved that somebody had finally decided to behave sensibly. Soon afterwards, there followed a message that stated: ‘Dear friends, you must proclaim this truth to the world. This is the dawning of a new era; you must not try to conceal it any longer. God will protect you and good spirits will watch over you.’ After this, the communications continued, but they ceased to be violent. Tables moved, guitars were played by unseen fingers, which also touched people lightly, and objects were transported around the room.

*

I made him sit out that encore and wouldn’t let him talk till they got through playing it. Then they played something else and I was all right again and Frank told me about meeting Jack Barrymore. Imagine meeting him. I couldn’t live.

*

“It is he–it is he! I have seen him myself,” was his only comment; and to all questionings but one reply was vouchsafed: “Deux fois je l’ai vu; mille fois je l’ai senti.” He would tell them nothing of the provenance of the book, nor any details of his experiences. “I shall soon sleep, and my rest shall be sweet. Why should you trouble me?” he said.

*

There was no answer. For a long while, there was no answer, and then I pushed the button again, and then there was no answer some more.

*

With sudden courage she said, “I’m trying to get in touch with someone who lives in this building and I can’t find the name outside.”

*

The hunting peoples of the Paleolithic Ice Age, like their nomadic descendants in Siberia and North America, shared their world not only with the animal creation but also with a vast population of spirits.

*

Seven more bits of page seventeens. Use them as a screenplay you can film in your head.

Tales of Hoffmann, by ETA Hoffmann, from the story Mademoiselle de Scudery; The Psychic Detectives, by Colin Wilson; The Best of Ring Lardner, from the story I Can’t Breathe; Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James, from the story Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook; The Fugitive Pigeon, by Donald E. Westlake; The Lottery: Adventures of the Daemon Lover by Shirley Jackson, from the story The Daemon Lover; Altered States: Creativity Under the Influence, by James Hughes.

The Easter Sunday Intertitle: Faded Starlight

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 20, 2019 by dcairns

Watching the LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD series from 1927 is like reading Ring Lardner’s short stories, which I recently did, where the characters are always discussing their favourite movie idols, and it’s always people you’ve barely heard of, if at all. Did Lardner have a sense that name-dropping also-rans would add pathos, or did he aim for the latest and hottest celebs and it’s just that fate was unkind to nearly all these transitory meteorites of the Hollywood firmament?

Of course, I do know Dorothy MacKail as that brilliant, sloppy girl in pre-codes. I use the term in its Rivettian sense, sort of. He described Kate Winslett as “the sloppiest girl we have seen on the screen for some time.” (Not sure what his original French word was.) And that sums up KW, but I like her for it. Ditto DM.

Aileen Pringle dated H.L. Mencken then married James M. Cain and then divorced him and wrote to Mencken in 1946: “If I had remained married to that psychotic Cain, I would be wearing a straitjacket instead of the New Look.”

Otto Complete

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2015 by dcairns

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Revisiting an old favourite — it’s Otto Preminger Week, Slight Reprise.

I think it was Guy Budziak who sent me a DVD of Otto Preminger’s THE CARDINAL some years back — thanks, Guy! — I immediately watched and drooled over the magnificent Saul Bass title sequence, then put it away, meaning to watch the rest later. Having finally done so, the main benefit received is probably that it got me to finally start reading Chris Fujiwara’s Preminger study, The World and His Double. The movie does embody a lot of the positive AND negative things about the Preminger style and personality.

Fujiwara cites plenty of testimony from concerned parties that Preminger mercilessly mistreated his leading man, Tom Tryon, eventually driving him to quit acting altogether. (Preminger felt Tryon should thank him for his subsequent successful career as a novelist.) Tryon’s own account is harrowing and heartbreaking — but I’m surprised that co-star John Huston’s version isn’t included. Huston claims he noticed Tryon was looking nervous and suggested that Otto might try soothing his star rather than berating him. Otto approached the trembling thespian from behind and bellowed “RELAAAAX!” in his ear.

It probably isn’t true, but poetically it is clearly COMPLETELY true.

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The perfect match of pillars and font (typographic, not baptismal)

The film also got me looking up Catholic history to see if the movie was fair and accurate. It’s not too shabby. Preminger apparently added all the stuff about the Austrian Anschluss, which the source novel didn’t deal with. The film shows faithfully how the church in Austria initially welcomed Nazi annexation, only turning against it when the Nazis started repressive measures against Catholics. But the movie can’t find room to show how Pope Pius XII pursued policies of appeasement and neutrality, decrying war crimes in generic terms while refusing to be specific. However, we do get to see some prime chickenshit religiose humbug in a sequence dealing with segregation in Georgia. When Ossie Davis comes to Rome to report his church being burned by the clan, the Italian cardinal berates him for his inflammatory behaviour in protesting that a Catholic school wouldn’t teach black children.

The fact that Tryon’s character stays with the church after this almost makes him a difficult character to respect, although in fairness he travels to Georgia and tries to help out. His biggest problem as a lead character is that he allows his sister to die — she’s pregnant, the doctor needs to sacrifice the baby’s life to save her, and Tryon refuses. Even Preminger knew this was a character flaw: whatever the law of the church says, as fellow humans in the audience we demand that Tryon’s character save his sister. No movie star could really play that part — the kind of characters movie stars play would somehow resolve things — or God would help out with a miracle and the sister would live.

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Tryon flanked by Lynley Mk II (right) and Dorothy Gish (left).

In a really creepy piece of filmmaking, Preminger casts the same actress, the lovely Carol Lynley, as both sister and grown-up niece (the movie’s story covers decades, and it seems like it too). It’s as if an act of cinematic metempsychosis has resulted in the mother literally living on in her daughter, so that the priest’s act of murder is erased. As Fujiwara observes, Preminger directs this sequence with so little conviction that the apparent intended meaning is substantially undercut.

Weirdness alternates with dullness. For the first twenty minutes, the script (Robert Dozier plus uncredited Gore Vidal and Ring Lardner — neither of whom knew the other was at work on the same project until a chance meeting exposed the farce) is content to offer no actual drama at all, just uncomfortable actors exchanging information, plus bits of ritual and music and nice location shooting. Then Cecil Kellaway brings in a little conflict, playing an avuncular rotter in a dog collar, whose sins are so petty, venial and squalid that it’s surprising Otto got the OK from the church, especially after his rows with the Catholic Legion Of Decency (CLOD, I call them) on previous movies.

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And then we get John Huston, and things get MUCH better. Also Burgess Meredith, at whose deathbed Huston has a moment that actually really moved me — not an emotion I expected to get from a Huston performance, though I often enjoy him.

Cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who restrains his usual Deluxe Color glorious excesses, was apparently quite smitten with Romy Schneider… one can well believe it.

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The movie was make-up supremo Dick Smith’s first credit, and he had to age Tryon throughout the movie. He was apparently a last-minute replacement for the great Maurice Seiderman (CITIZEN KANE), who quarrelled with Preminger and, as a parting gesture, ran his electric razor in a line right up the back of Tryon’s head. Poor Tryon, he got the worst of every encounter. Poor Smith, he had to spend months gluing little bits of hair to the back of Tryon’s scalp.

Fujiwara is probably right to regard this as major Preminger, but he does note the difficulties it presents — Tom Tryon is sort of right for it, but does not provide a strong centre.

Dwight MacDonald wrote of Preminger, “A great showman who has never bothered to learn anything about making a movie,” which is totally off-base. But he added, hilariously, “… no one is more skilled at giving the appearance of dealing with large, controversial themes in a bold way, without making the tactical error of doing so.” In a sense, he has Preminger cold, but a more sympathetic reading — that the former lawyer was always inclined to view a problem from both sides, if at all possible — is equally valid. When dramatic weakness or oppressive censorship impacts on this approach, the result can be dullness, as in several long sequences of THE CARDINAL. When Preminger is able to pilot a strong script through the cultural hazards, the results are striking.