Archive for Roy del Ruth

The Sunday Intertitle: Hot Air

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2015 by dcairns


Roy Del Ruth was one of very few Keystone directors to graduate to anything resembling the big time — Capra was the exception, attaining far loftier status. While many small-time silent boys fell by the wayside when sound came in, RDR surprisingly was at the forefront of the talker boom at Warners, where his old dark house spookshow THE TERROR was apparently quite innovative, and he churned a host of fast-talking comedies with the likes of James Cagney.

SKYLARKING (1923) is one of those early slapstick shorts, starring a fellow called Harry Gribbon who has a funny name and lots of technique but just isn’t very funny. The movi also features Billy Armstrong as a recklessly destructive blind man who anticipates W.C. Fields’ sightless nemesis Mr. Muckle, and cameos by Scotsman Andy Clyde and Teddy the Dog. None of these made me laugh, but my eyebrows levitated as if painted with Cavorite at the sight of the sightless proto-Muckle. Had Fields already used a version of this character on stage?

I like the special effects, as Gribbon takes to the air, which benefit from incorporating camera movement along with double exposure for a dynamic and halfway convincing effect. And I like this intertitle, which could easily have been converted into dialogue for one of the peppy pre-codes RDR made later. Sennett films frequently recycled catchphrases and gags heard in bars in just the way Warner scenarists would do in the thirties.


Oddly, the visual gags of the Sennett era didn’t generally make it into those films, even the comedies, apart from that riotous sequence with monkeys and custard pies in LADY KILLER — for zany imagery, you really have to look to Del Ruth’s later HORROR MOVIES (here and here).

Screwball Yoga

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2013 by dcairns


Elisha Cook Jnr, disturbingly buff, demonstrates Hollywood’s idea of the lotus position in HE MARRIED HIS WIFE.

This is a fun 1940 screwball comedy from Roy Del Ruth, with a Wodehousian country house setting and the deliriously dithering Mary Boland as hostess. Good support from Cesar Romero as a Latin Lothario. Joel McCrea has plenty experience of this kind of thing, and Nancy Kelly shows herself more than capable of joining in the fun — if her career had taken off she could have made some classics.


I’m a little concerned with the film’s treatment of its shnook character, played by Lyle Talbot. Firstly, I think you can assess a film’s goodheartedness by how it treats its schnook. If the schnook is obnoxious, all bets are off. But if he’s basically blameless, and guilty of no more than not being the hero, then I want him to have some kind of happy ending, like Ralph Bellamy in HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE, or Rudy Vallee in THE PALM BEACH STORY. An exception to this is HIS GIRL FRIDAY, where Ralph Bellamy (schnook again) is shamefully mistreated, but then that film doesn’t have a very good heart, and it wants you to know it.

Secondly, Talbot doesn’t have form as a schnook. He’s a faded thirties star, going soft, but nothing in his persona tells us that we should find him funny. He’s unhappily in love with Joel McCrea’s ex-wife, and woos her with McCrea’s enthusiastic encouragement (Joel just wants to be able to stop paying alimony so he can spend his money on horses). Nothing about this scenario inclines me to want to see the guy mistreated.

But that’s the only cloud in the sky, here. The script, by six different scribes including John O’Hara (!), is pretty funny, and the playing of the likes of Boland, with her oblivious fluting dither, amplifies that. Asides from the strange yogic practices of Mr Cook, Jnr, the movie also has one other enduringly odd moment. William Edmunds, looking rather like the High Lama, plays a nightclub waiter who takes a tip from Joel McCrea on his horse, and loses his rent money. There’s a bitter confrontation between the two as McCrea is hauled of for non-payment of alimony, after which Edmunds very visibly mouths the words “Fuck you!”


At least, that’s what *I* think he’s saying. My lip-reading may be defective — I would welcome second, and third opinions.

Primate Suspect

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2012 by dcairns

So, back to my demented quest to see every film depicted in Denis Gifford’s monster bible, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, and this time it was Roy Del Ruth’s Poe adaptation PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE which passed before my eyeballs, albeit flat rather than in its original 3D. As long as we’re talking about re-releasing Hitchcock’s DIAL M and De Toth’s HOUSE OF WAX in 3D versions, I’d put a vote in for this baby. The 3D gags looked amusing flat, but there were a few things like a shower of gaily-hued Warnercolor balloons that suggested a little more than the usual “poke-em-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick” approach to immersive entertainment.

We begin with some smudgy Parisian rooftops, a perfect match for the gorgeous 2-strip settings of Warners’ 30s horrors DR X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Throughout, the colour schemes of this film alternate giddily between such subdued, marshy tones, and eye-popping bubble-gum effects more consistent with a musical.

While the aging Del Ruth has lost his handle on a particular kind of gutsy performance style that saw him through the pre-code era (though we can see that misfire spectacularly on his attempt at THE MALTESE FALCON/DANGEROUS FEMALE), he has a comic book sensibility that’s always fun. The zanier moments of this flick, which defy plausibility quite openly and plummet into an inter-stool area of conflicted response (creepy/perverse/amusing/embarrassing) harken back to the director’s days as a gagman at Keystone, particularly this revealing clue —

For a thoroughly daft film (pair it with RDR’s ALLIGATOR PEOPLE but don’t blame me if you laugh yourself through the floor) this boasts some distinguished writing talent — Harold Medford helped script THE DAMNED DON’T CRY and THE KILLER IS LOOSE, and James R. Webb did even better with CAPE FEAR, CHEYENNE AUTUMN and VERA CRUZ. Neither seems to have had a particular affinity for horror films, but they reconfigure Dupin’s detective feats into a new-ish plot which eschews Universal’s Dr Mirakle bestiality shenanigans but gets into some surprising areas — physiognomy and Lombroso, behaviourism and Pavlov, primate communication and psychopathology. Much of this stuff was fairly new to movies, and certainly pretty exotic: research has clearly been done, even if it’s all filtered through the Hollywood screenwriters’ patented bullshittifier.

At the root of it all, as is obvious from the start, is Karl Malden (a man with a face built for 3D) and his pet gorilla, Sultan, the two best actors in the film. Malden suavely walks a tightrope between fanatical, method-y commitment and unavoidable contempt for the material, and Charles Gemora as Sultan turns in a compelling physical performance (reprising his role from the original Universal MURDERS IN THE RM.

The gorilla suit is obviously just that, even if it’s well made, but this ape does have a few more character nuances than most men in suits. There’s also Claude Dauphin, the only Frenchman with a French accent in the film, who’s pretty enjoyable as the worst detective you’ll ever see, and the lovely Patricia Medina (who just died in May) who doesn’t have enough of a part to properly register, alas. Fat credit, thin character.

In the words of Godard, “It’s not blood, it’s red.” Literally, in this case.

I thought this was going to be terrible but we had a blast with it. “I *loved* that!” declared Fiona.


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