Archive for Robert Warwick

Bird Man of Sing Sing

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on September 27, 2022 by dcairns

I showed STEAMBOAT BILL JR to my class of 1st years today and that seemed to go well. I may have some deeper thoughts later, or maybe not. I guess I was most struck by how it’s at heart quite a moving story about a young man needing to connect with his dad… but the story is told entirely through gags.

Meanwhile, in ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE the young associate of Jimmy’s decodes his message with a simple stencil… which he hardly needed, to be honest. If that note had fallen into the hands of Det. Doyle, I don’t see him puzzling over it for long.

Meanwhile, there’s a bird man in Alcatraz Sing Sing. I guess this is one of the location shots the opening title card boasts of, but it could be anywhere. This is the lookout from Jimmy’s gang, pinched during the bank job. Will he sing like a birdie in sing sing?

Tourneur pere, like his son, is keen on atmospheric shadows.

It may be necessary to point out once more: they’ve only been making feature films for a year at this point. It feels like the move to a larger scale story has propelled filmmaking into a speedy advance, but then you look at DeMille and think, maybe not. It’s just that Tourneur is really good.

Jimmy, escaping by train with one of his cronies, stops the rat from harassing a female traveller. So we know he has a noble heart, if only he could remember where he left it (San Francisco, perhaps?). Tourneur has the best qualities of French, American, and somehow Swedish filmmaking going on here — as Jimmy delivers a punitive drubbing in the observation car (and is observed doing it) — Tourneur daringly shoots with natural daylight, allowing the train interior and tussling cracksmen to sink into silhouette. Finally, when the cad will not simply take his licks like a man, Jimmy hurls him onto the tracks. One hopes a safety platform was arrayed on the caboose to catch the plummeting thespian, but given Tourneur’s noted ruthlessness this may not have been the case.

(“All directors want to kill actors,” claimed Wallace Beery. At times, possibly.)

IMDb again doesn’t know who the cinematographer is, possibly the same genius who shot LORNA DOONE so splendidly.

The guy rolls on the tracks, face smeared in blood (or it could I suppose be chocolate syrup) and Jimmy legs it. But the accosted lady is not to disappear from the narrative, it seems:

The filmmaking may be ten years ahead of its time (five, anyway), but the fashions are bang-on 1915, alas. Peak frumpery. The poor actor (who would I’m sure have preferred “actress”) is Ruth Shepley, in her screen debut. One film later (supporting Marion Davies in the Hearst super-production WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER), she retired. Then she retired, possibly due to marriage.

I don’t REALLY know the O. Henry story, so I don’t know what her role is to be in the plot– I suspect, though, that Rose is a later interpolation to give the film what is called femme interest.

We shall soon see, for this saga is TO BE CONTINUED

The Sunday Intertitle: Jimmy Jazz

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2022 by dcairns

We’re back on ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE (1915). There are later versions too — I would like to see them. A 1920 version stars Bert Lytell, a specialist in reformed cracksmen (he also played the Lone Wolf and Boston Blackie — but I have only seen him as Lord Windermere, care of Lubitsch). Eugene Pallette supports him. A 1928 job stars William Haines and Lionel Barrymore: colour me intrigued. THE AFFAIRS OF JIMMY VALENTINE appeared in 1942 with a reconfigured plot in which JV seems like a supporting character (Roman Bohnen plays him!). Bernard “Mad” Vorhaus directed this so I’d love to see it. There are others: the character’s fragile claim on the world’s mental real estate seems to have finally decayed in 1985 when some kind of no-named teleplay was extruded.

Detective Doyle — played by the ersatz/anticipatory Robert Cummings (centre, scowling) — is on the case. This iteration of the Butcher of Strasbourg seems rather stagey, indulging in a bit of fist-into-palm overemphasis, but the good thing about this is we don’t need an intertitle to translate it. The universal language: belligerence!

I feel like I sort of know the O. Henry story, and Doyle is like Jimmy’s Javert. We’ll see if I’m right.

Maurice goes macro for a BIG CLUE CLOSEUP. An incriminating cufflink.

The ambitious ECU is followed by some equally daring punctuation:

Psychic linkage via montage, as Jimmy (Robert Warwick) notices his missing link and indulges in some dramatic gesticulation of his own, setting his untethered shirtsleeve a-flapping. The crosscutting is pretty intense, and it’s based around an IDEA, two characters thinking about the same thing. And Eisenstein is still in short pants. This is way more sophisticated, in my view, than Griffith’s imperilled virgin/roughriding rescuer schema, and it now seems incomprehensible that David Wark G has been elevated to the status of sole master of this era of filmmaking. All BIRTH OF A NATION has over this one is sheer bulk.

Doyle has immediately tracked Jimmy to his lair and Tourneur repeats a set-up from earlier (economical, and I suppose acceptable since we want to instantly recognise the setting) with the ‘tec’s breath visible in the cold air. I guess we’re shooting this in New York and/or New Jersey. Yes, IMDb specifies the Peerless Studio in Fort Lee and also locations at Sing Sing, and I think it’s likely this is an NYC alleyway, though it’s possible the Garden State sported a few handy slums back in the day.

The same condensation of time that allows Doyle to reach Jimmy’s in nothing flat has allowed Jimmy to exit, but he’s left another clue:

I’m sure David Bordwell would agree that one positive effect of genres is the way they push certain kinds of innovation. The musical incited all sorts of formal experiments, while thrillers have a notable impact on film narration, structure, use of POV.

I guess the significance of this clue is not so much Jimmy’s dainty taste in ashtrays, but the fact that his butt is still smoking. I have seen Robert Warwick near-nude in NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS and can attest that his butt is indeed smoking.

Proof that it’s 1915: the false Robert Cummings favours his chums in the audience with a thoughtful glance. It’s subtle, but it’s there. It’s not a full-fledged Keystone-type EXPLICATORY MIME, but it’s the kind of audience awareness I’d associate far more with barnstorming melodrama than with the legitimate theatre.

Cummings/Doyle rushes to the window and peers out, but apparently sees nothing. If this were a later, still more sophisticated film, I would expect Tourneur to grace us with a POV shot displaying the precise form of nothing Doyle witnesses. But apparently that’s asking too much in 1915. You know the kind of thing I mean: in FARGO, burying the loot in the snow, Steve Buscemi looks left: endless vista of blank snowscape; looks right: another, precisely mirroring vista of blank snowscape. This is jokily pedantic since we can see his surroundings already, but it is CORRECT FILM FORM nevertheless.

Cut to an unidentified young man receiving a coded message from a gum-chewing kid. The code is easily broken, I feel. But who is this fellow?

TUNE IN NEXT TIME to find out — and watch along (or ahead) via the YouTube:

The Sunday Intertitle: Slippin’ Jimmy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2022 by dcairns

So, having been rather busy, this week I unexpectedly got 25% busier, but that’s OK. Light blogging until the end of the month, I suspect…

Maurice Tourneur’s ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE from 1915, is a seminal work. Tourneur reprised a climactic sequence — a high angle view of characters running through a kind of maze — in 1935’s JUSTIN DE MARSEILLE.

The star is Robert Warwick, a stage actor whose dignified presence lends itself to the serious roles he played in Preston Sturges comedies (he’s studio boss Mr LeBrand in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS). The cast also includes one Robert Cummings, but not the one we know, the yet-unborn Butcher of Strasbourg. I’ll add this ersatz Cummings to my list of duplicates, along with the bogus Harrison Ford (1884-1957) and the fake William Holden (1862-1932). Although maybe, since all these guys came first, it’s the more famous versions we should be hailing as impostors.

The familiar story by O. Henry allows Tourneur to film on location in Sing Sing, by permission of the governor, who gets the first credit at the films beginning for his troubles. It’s a story of redemption or reclamation of regeneration as they quaintly called it, thus likely to appeal to those in charge of the incarceration business (which was not yet as much of a profit-making concern as it is now). Tourneur indulges his propensities for lowlife atmos and slashing shadows. Tourneur was really making the best American features of this era. Compare this movie to Walsh’s more celebrated THE REGENERATION or Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION and it’s indescribably more modern in appeal.

You can watch along here:

I think I’ll treat it as a serial, blog-post-wise, as I did with LORNA DOONE. A way to keep the blogging muscles in trim without spending hours at a busy time…