Archive for Robert Parrish

In the Zone

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by dcairns


Our nightly Twilight Zone viewings prompted me to suggest a screening of SADDLE THE WIND — we’d watched a few Zone episodes with western settings, so a Rod Serling-scripted oater seemed worth a punt. Didn’t go too well — might be a while before I can persuade Fiona to view another cowboy flick.

(My mother LOVES westerns, so I grew up thinking this was normal. Women like westerns. Men like musicals and horror movies. It seemed so reasonable.)

STW is one of those wretched “part-works” (Douglas Sirk: “I have no interest in these part-works.”) Robert Parrish is the credited helmer, but John Sturges also did some of it, I have no idea what. There IS a noticeable tendency for expressive location shots to be interrupted by nasty, obtrusive process-shot “exteriors” and these often come along just when a scene is looking promising. So my guess would be somebody did too interesting a job and the producer wanted it watered down.

It isn’t Serling’s story, so he’s mainly the dialogue man, I guess. It’s noticeable that these cowboys tend to express themselves in florid similes and metaphors, some of which are pretty entertaining. “Keeping your brother under control is like putting hot butter in a wildcat’s ear, it just can’t be done.”


The story is hopeless. The very strange trio of Robert Taylor, John Cassavetes and Julie London are at the centre. I thought these three would be bound to produce something of interest, but Taylor is such a wet blanket, God love him. He’s also a detestable hero: his little brother, Cassavetes, evolves into a psycho-killer in the course of two days, and Taylor does nothing except bully a poor farmer (Royal Dano) whom his brother later kills. London is brought in as Cassavetes’ girl, and within minutes three different men have referred to her as a “thing” — this turns out to be preparation for her insistence on personhood, which is good to see, but after the first act she’s left with nothing to do. Serling could be considered an artist who found a freedom and creative scope in TV that the movies couldn’t grant —






Which may be the only grounds for comparing him with Red Skelton.

Soap Gets in Your Eyes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2008 by dcairns

Boyer Meets Girler

At the climax of Frank Borzage’s soaring romance HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT, a ship suspiciously like the Titanic collides with an iceberg and the passengers sing “Near-er, My God, To Thee.” When Borzage decides he wants to film specific extras singing and crying, there’s the chance for them to earn an extra two dollar fifty adjustment in their salaries ~

“[Second unit director] Ripley said, ‘How many of you can cry?’ We all held our hands up and he said he would try us out, one at a time. He started testing at the opposite end of the line. I was so nervous I ran out to the toilet. While I was there, I noticed the bar of Lux soap which was furnished to all studios in exchange for publicity photos of the stars using Lux. I scraped  my fingernails across the soap, lodging enough Lux under my nails to keep me crying for a week. When I got back to the set, Ripley and [dialogue director Joshua] Logan were having a rough time. They had found only three genuine criers. The rest were poking themselves in the eyes and thinking about their dead mothers, the Depression, the loss of the two-fifty adjustment, and any other sad thoughts that might bring on tears. When my turn came, I squeezed some soap into my eyes and burst into song — ‘E’en tho’ it be a cross, near-er to Thee — near-er my God to Thee, near-er to Thee…’The tears flowed, the cameras rolled, and Frank Borzage’s reputation as a sentimental director was intact.”

~ from Growing Up in Hollywood by Robert Parrish.

I always thought it kind of weird that this movie, which begins with some of the most fabulous romantic stuff in all of ’30s Hollywood cinema (a fairly romantic time and place even at its worst), should end as a kind of disaster movie. Apparently the film was being rewritten during the shooting, but that doesn’t explain anything much — the sinking ship was obviously always part of the plan. Maybe the last-minute rewrites prevented the five writers involved from establishing the clues that would have made such an ending inevitable as well as surprising (traditionally an ending is supposed to be both). True, Colin Clive (in one of his last roles) is established as an ocean liner magnate early on, but it doesn’t seem that important.

Would you sail in an ocean liner built by Doctor Frankenstein?

I must watch the film again though, because (a) I still think the first half is astonishingly good, with really dynamite work from Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer, two actors who are always good but prove to be exceptionally good together and (b) now that I know it’s coming, the sinking ship probably won’t bother me at all.

Borzage, the presiding genius, does manage a plot twist with his version of TITANIC that James Cameron would never have dared — the ship doesn’t sink! I admire very much the cheek of that.

Quote of the Day: Blackmail

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2008 by dcairns

No angel

*Many many people seem to be coming here for stuff on Mae West, which is nice. But I wrote a piece about her here that might be more what you’re after…

Mae West was being blackmailed. The special investigator for the Los Angeles district attorney’s office didn’t seem to be able to catch the blackmailer. One of the reasons for this was that he was the blackmailer.”

~ from Growing Up In Hollywood by Robert Parrish.

A literally incredible story from Parrish’s joyous autobio, recounting his Hollywood experiences as child player, extra, boy detective, editor and director. This chapter features not only West and the D.A.’s office, but Busby Berkeley, Al Jolson (who saves the day), and Warners’ studio cop Blaney Matthews:

“The year before he had been the chief investigator for the district attorney’s office and assigned to a drunk driving, hit-and-run manslaughter case. A famous, talented and, at that time, irreplaceable dance director [I think we know who] was the driver of the death car [I’ve always loved that expression, “death car”. It has an ominous sound, far more so than “death scooter”, for instance]. He was also in the middle of shooting one of Warner Brothers’ most expensive musicals. When the case came up, the special investigator, Blaney Matthews, said it wasn’t the dance director’s fault after all. The dance director was acquitted and went back to directing the Warner Brothers musical. Shortly after, Matthews resigned as chief investigator for the district attorney’s office and was appointed head of the Warner Brothers Studio police department. It was well known that the appointment was in recognition of the good sense and high integrity that he had shown in the matter of the dance director.”

Parrish’s (possibly tall) tale would make a great little movie, but I don’t know who would make it.

wheel of death