Archive for Ronald Reagan

Juke Swamp

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2015 by dcairns

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JUKE GIRL is a pretty good Warner melo from the pen of A.I. Bezzerides — like all his films it manages a prominent role for a Greek-American character, and carries a bit of a political punch. Odd to see such a left-leaning film, siding with farmers against crooked wholesalers, yet starring Ronald Reagan. He’s actually kind of winning in it.

The title character is lovely Ann Sheridan, who dances with customers in Muckeye’s bar. The movie is in no way hers. The plan must have been to imply that it’s the story of a racy dance hall hostess to cover the fact that the movie is really about organized labour. It would have been great if Reagan had gotten in trouble with HUAC for being in it, but alas even their idiocy had limits.

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My favourite line is Ann seducing her way onto the premises of the wholesalers’ so Ron can steal a truck to help out the embattled Greek farmer who must get his produce to market before it spoils. “Gee, a packing house must be a wonderful place at night,” she coos through the fence.

With almost precode energy, the movie does a lot of packing itself, cramming in a murder and framing along with the dirty business dealings and hints of political corruption. It’s oppressively crammed with ugly mugs, bulbous, walking Drew Friedman cartoons — if you have Richard Whorf AND Howard Da Silva in a movie, you are possibly subjecting your audience’s nerves to what the automobile industry calls destructive testing. How much nasal sneering can we take?

Curtis Bernhardt directs, without his interesting expressionistic flourishes, but with a lot of GUSTO.

At the end, the murderer is revealed as wholesaler Gene Lockhart, so Ron and Ann are saved from the lynch mob. We think that’s going to be the situation defused, since Lockhart, an unintentional killer, is clearly in the throes of complete nervous collapse and can be turned over to the sheriff, but NO — the ugly (ugly!) mob he has whipped up now turns on him, and Bernhardt, who can’t help himself, chucks in one METROPOLIS style high angle of hands reaching for the miscreant, ringing around him, seemingly about to tear him apart like Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau…

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And we fade out. A coda rounds off the fate of the other characters, but this moment of bloody, Reign of Terror revolution is never referred to again, and we are left to assume that Lockhart was (a) torn limb from limb (b) hanged from a lamppost or (c) eaten.

This is why Warner pictures are the coolest.

The title attracted me in the same way that SO YOUNG SO BAD and PROBLEM GIRLS seem like really appealing movies based on titles alone. Watch for them here soon!

Pipe Dream

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on April 5, 2014 by dcairns

Why am I so amused and bemused by this scene in the Don Siegel-directed melo NIGHT UNTO NIGHT, in which Ronald Reagan has an epileptic fit?

It isn’t because it’s Ronald Reagan — not everything he does is automatically funny. Admittedly, some aspects of his presidency were humorous, but I didn’t, on the whole, find the idea of this jocular, ruddy-faced buffoon hovering over the doomsday button particularly funny. I spent my adolescence in a state of terror. I would have probably been terrified anyway, for more general/biologically reasons, but I still hold him responsible for that part of my anxiety not linked to hormones.

And it isn’t because it’s an epileptic seizure — those aren’t funny at all, certainly no funnier than any other neurological malady.

It isn’t even the unlikely combination of Ronald Reagan having an epileptic seizure. Though that makes me smile a little bit.

It’s more to do with Siegel’s direction, which is weirdly ineffective and wrong. It turns out that his talent, on sure ground when dealing with direct, determined action — he would have made the best movie ever of a Richard Stark Parker novel if given the chance — falls apart when called upon to render the hallucinatory, the abnormal, the fugue-state. Instead of some kind of evocation of perceptual crisis, we get a low angle or two placing striking emphasis on Reagan’s smoking material. Pipes are just funny, I think, in a way that Reagan and epilepsy aren’t, always. Pipes are always a bit funny. Making a pipe the fulcrum of a dramatic neurological crisis experienced by Ronald Reagan is very funny.

And then there’s the dog. Interesting to note that was a montage director at Warners before his directing career took off. That’s not at all the same thing as being an editor. Siegel shot his own material to create montage sequences for other directors’ films, showing the passage of time, the development of a situation, or just the atmosphere of a place. It probably explains his admirable terseness. But nothing explains that very voluble dog, who barks and reacts for an extraordinary length of time. The shortness of the shots suggests that Siegel had trouble getting the mutt to understand his direction (Later he would have similar struggles with Shirley MacLaine, but succeed). It looks as if all the usable bits of dog footage have been spliced together — and then abandoned, left in the film without any narrative shaping. It’s quite peculiar.

But the pipe bit is the best.

 

Actor and Alien

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 14, 2013 by dcairns

Actor Grant Mitchell, a reliable if low-wattage character thesp in numerous Warner Brothers productions, particularly of the pre-code era, his grumpy paternalistic demeanour could be pointed at a wide variety of roles —

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PREDATOR, a 1987 action movie with a vagina dentata alien in it.

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The first distracting thing about Grant Mitchell is that he shares a name with a character in Eastenders. See also 1940s makeup artist Guy Pearce who always makes us think of the modern film star (and especially his lousy makeup in PROMETHEUS) and Universal music arranger Frank Skinner, who reminds Brits, rather against their will, of a comedian of the same name.

The second distracting thing about Grant Mitchell is that he looks a bit like a bulldog’s skull looking out of a potato.

The third distracting thing about Grant Mitchell is his resemblance to the Predator, although fortunately without the sexual overtones.

PREDATOR really is all about male sexual anxiety. It may be that the monster design was simply supposed to be upsetting, without any deeper psychological intent, deploying what Camille Paglia calls “displacement upwards” (she was talking about Bardot’s full sensual lips). Putting something in the wrong place can make it disturbing. But I think we’re entitled to read meaning into the decision to make the monster a castrating, fang-filled vulva. Especially with the largely male, largely musclebound cast, the sexist banter and the right-wing slant (we have to assume Arnie and his gang are Black Ops, working to overthrow a legally elected government, because that’s what secret American task forces have always done, and especially under Reagan). If it were a slightly better film, it would also be possible to appreciate the monster’s point of view more. It could play like FIRST BLOOD. As it is, I don’t sympathise with Arnie and company at all. The monster is outnumbered and on a foreign planet — sure, he chose to be there, but one has to respect his courage.

I guess if there were an early ’30s Warner version of PREDATOR, Grant Mitchell could play the monster (using a primitive version of motion capture, where the actors eyebrows are attached to a large puppet by lengths of dowling). Eugene Pallette as Arnie.

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