Archive for Roy William Neill

Glorious Troglodytes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 25, 2021 by dcairns

Crosses are important in this film — see how many of them YOU can spot!

Roy William Neill is vaguely famous for his forties Sherlock Holmes films, horrors and noirs, while his thirties work is fairly obscure and most of his silents a lost continent. His directing career actually began in 1917 and he made several WWI pics. VIVE LA FRANCE! (1918) is such a one.

Neill has a wealth of actuality footage to work with, so much so that the slender plot is often overwhelmed. The leads, Dorothy Dalton and especially Edmund Lowe disappear for lengthy stretches while we look at troops, planes, big guns. A lot of the apparently documentary war stuff is impressive in itself. And there seems to have been a decent budget for staging action too — the close-quarters trench fighting footage CAN’T be real. It’s genuinely hard to be sure where fact and fiction leave off.

... the men, glorious troglodytes…

Strangely, the two main characters seem to be movie stars. But they’re of French origins so they get into the war quick.

DD becomes a nurse, falls into the hands of the filthy hun who killed her parents, is branded on the bosom with the cross of shame. EL is injured, loses his memory, is saved by DD, gets his memory back. So when the film isn’t wowing us with artillery, it’s trying to horrify us with sadism. Fred Starr is the villain — no Stroheim, he. The man I DON’T love to hate. I don’t even like disliking him.

Also in the cast, Bert Sprotte. I like Bert Sprotte because his name is Bert Sprotte.

The intertitles of the print I saw are in French, and I have my doubts if they were translated faithfully. I can certainly guarantee you that my retranslation of them back to English, using my O-Grade French brain, was less than accurate. But the title cards give out for long stretches, leaving us to our own devices anyway. The film and I could generally come to an agreement about what was going on.

Neill seems not very keen on the hun-baiting stuff, but there’s some intense melodrama elsewhere, and the ruined castle set (complete with thunderstorm! or maybe it’s the flash of battle?) allows for some foreshadowing of his later gothic entertainments.

Dalton, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with, is one of those silent actors who rather lives up to the stereotype. The rhetorical style is not necessarily inappropriate to this sort of tosh, but Lillian Gish would have made it credible as well as barnstormy. The unfortunate climax has Edmund Lowe’s memory restored to him by the sight of the brand of shame seared into his sweetheart’s body by the beastly boche. Since this requires DD to flash her DDs at him in a melodramatic fashion, and Lowe to react in kind, it’s a bit of an effort not to laugh, even though one mustn’t.

Lowe, a velvet-smooth lead in thirties films, isn’t as massive a hambone as Dalton, but he still widens his eyes and mouth, steps back in amazement, leans against the defunct fountain behind him, and raises one knee decorously, like the pre-code Columbia lady.

Lone Wolf and Blore

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2020 by dcairns

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A classic Langian image — the phantom technological interrogator!

Since our friend Marvelous Mary is perhaps the western world’s most passionate fan of Eric Blore, but depends for her supply entirely upon us, I thought it was time we all tried the LONE WOLF series, in which EB co-stars as Jamison, faithful valet to the Lone Wolf himself, Michael Lanyard, played by Warren William and later Gerald Mohr.

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Naturally, we started not at the beginning, with THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT (though WW’s first Wolf movie is rumoured to be the best, Blore does not appear, so it CAN’T BE) but with sort-of the end, WW’s final entry, PASSPORT TO SUEZ. Apart from the two movies directed by Edward Dmytryk, which we’ll definitely watch out for, it’s the only entry in the series with a top-notch (or second-from-top-notch) director (OK, the very first film treatment of Louis Joseph Vance’s detective hero, in 1917, was directed by Herbert Brenon, kind of a major figure, and Roy William Neill, before he tackled Sherlock Holmes, directed THE LONE WOLF RETURNS in 1935 with Melvyn Douglas, who did not return). But this one is the work of that cyclopean pirate, Andre de Toth.

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Mr. Veronica Lake the bullet-headed Hungarian directs nimbly, and the breathless comings and goings of the plot — a new eccentric character actor introduced and despatched every ten minutes — kept our attention glued. Warren William, always more a Starving Lion than a Lone Wolf, is suitably suave and unflappable. And, best of all, flapping enough for two, there’s abundant Blore, as Lanyard’s timorous, ovine accomplice, continually abducted and trussed up, delivering himself of several of the lines he was born to say:

“I hope you don’t think this is my favourite form of recreation, sir.”

“This is the very rope he tied me up with. Lovely lovely! There are moments when a man’s felicity reaches its zenith.”

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The script throws in characters called Rembrandt, Cezanne and Whistler, just for a laugh, waiting for somebody to notice.

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Memorable scene where a grinning man comes out of a wall. He continues to grin until shot, a couple of scenes later, and he’s very arresting, but I didn’t recognise him as Jay Novello, so good as the drunken mayor in WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY?

The support includes Ann Savage, Lloyd Bridges (as a Nazi called Fritz!) and Sig Arno. Or, put another way…

PASSPORT TO SUEZ stars Perry Mason; Mother; Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith; J. Edgar Hoover; Steve McCroskey; Phillip Musgrave; Geoffrey Musgrave; Jake Bjornsen; Mayor Romano; Smoke; Frances Chan; Carrefour; and Toto.

Thoroughly Moderne Killing

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on February 20, 2012 by dcairns

If you were a dapper man-about-town in the 1930s, you would be surrounded by art deco, but you wouldn’t know it because the term for art deco wasn’t invented until decades later, which seems a bit like being an Eskimo without a single word for snow. Your whole environment would be a nameless blur. Must be what being a Republican candidate is like. But in fact those bygone beings of an earlier era did have a term of their own, “moderne” — and so to THE NINTH GUEST, which anticipates Agatha Christie’s Ten Little N*ggers / And Then There Were None by five years and features most of its plot ideas.

Unfortunately for director Roy William Neill and his team, Dame Agatha was a talented plagiarist who improved on what she nicked, so watching 9G today one feels nostalgia for the later Rene Clair film, which is filmically and dramaturgically a far livelier show — and the lack of music in 9G is especially damaging.

But but but — there’s so much to enjoy! If the actors are a little bland, the dialogue clunking with exposition, and the copy on view sadly washed-out, it’s still a visual feast. RWN’s trademark style, employed on 40s noirs, horrors and Sherlock Holmeses, is fully-formed, with canted angles, expressionist shadows, giant foreground objects and snazzy composition in depth the rule rather than the exception. There’s no sense that his dutch tilts evoke a world out of balance, as in Carol Reed, they merely create Dynamism, Decoration and Danger (the 3 Ds). And with somewhat stilted material like this, you definitely need those Ds.

The sets, representing a Manhattan penthouse suite where the exits are electrified and the cocktails contain prussic acid, are delightfully chic, with an illuminated clock glowing smugly from INSIDE A WALL. There’s a big Bakelite radio broadcasting creepy threats, and RWN duly throws in a deranged POV shot filmed from inside it (he’s already given us the traditional Santa Claus shot from the fireplace).Some stretches evince an autistic fascination with lampshades (the camera peers round them like a shy child) almost as obsessive as that in DIAL M FOR MURDER or THE IPCRESS FILE, but the effect is different: wide-angle-lensed and proto-noir, where background figures get engulfed in shadow and midground ones get occluded by the looming trained furniture right in front of the camera. Neill must have loved peekaboo as a kid.

Apart from some textbook comedic faffing from Vince Barnett as a drunken assistant butler, the acting isn’t too colourful, but would have been OK if there were characters to play. The villain, once unmasked, does enjoy some surprising verve, a bit like Chester Morris in THE BAT WHISPERS — a normally lethargic or dendritic thesp reveals an unsuspected aptitude for cartoonish sneering. It’s always nice to watch somebody blossom like that.