Archive for Sandra Dee

Me, Claudius

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2019 by dcairns

I should explain. The prolific, restless and gifted Helmut Kautner’s DER REST IST SCHWEIGEN (THE REST IS SILENCE, 1957) is a modern-dress Hamlet in which Hardy Kruger plays the melancholy John H. Claudius, returned from the US to the Claudius Ironworks, now being run by his uncle who has married his mother and all that.

This might be my favourite movie Hamlet though I think the Olivier is smashing and that Russian one has some stunning effects. Some argue that Kurosawa’s THE BAD SLEEP WELL is based on Hamlet though if so it’s pretty loose in my opinion. (Haven’t seen HAMLET GOES BUSINESS or the biy fat Branagh one.) This one departs in all sorts of ways, but only to sort of circle back. But it’s also up to various things that Shakespeare certainly never considered — the extraordinary thing is that it all works so well.

The movie looks at Nazi guilt — John H.’s father was pushed into supporting Hitler, while John himself spent the war in America. He’s been away for years and his father’s been dead for years and he’s never laid eyes on Fee (Ophelia — Ingrid Andree) since she was a baby, so that’s all quite different from the play.

Pohl (Polonius) is a smart old fellow, and quite likeable, which is also a change. It turns out to be quite an appealing one.

Laertes is called Herbert here, which seems only fair. (The only character in the play with no quotable lines.)

Claudius (well, technically they’re practically all called Claudius, but you know the one I mean) is Peter Van Eyck. Pairing him with Hardy Kruger is genius. Watched with a big grin. I love those guys.

Oh, and Rosenkrantz is now Mike Krantz, progressive ballet choreographer and coded gay (well, it’s not really code if you can make it out just by squinting), brought in to distract John Hamlet Claudius from his vengeful conniving. But this character is also compounded with the Player King so JHC can stage a ballet (entitled “The Mousetrap”) to catch the conscience of the managing director.

It doesn’t begin with a ghost. I was worried we wouldn’t have a ghost. It’s Christmas, we must have a ghost.

Another departure — JHC tells Horatio (he’s just called Horatio, why mess up a good thing?) that his father phoned him — after death. (Just like Ida Lupino’s deaddad — honest, I’m not making it up, I don’t think.) And we get a helpful silent flashback showing this. So, there’s a ghost! There’s a ghost on the phone!

Kautner, like his Hamlet, had just got back from the US, but unlike him, he had been directing Sandra Dee pictures. Really good ones! A bit of his Universal experience seems to have rubbed off when Kruger goes for a drunken drive in his tiny convertible and it’s all a bit WRITTEN ON THE WIND.

Kautner’s style is magnificently all over the shop. A mix of classical and jazz. Lap dissolves AND crash zooms. Expressionist-noir lighting and angles, plus an almost documentary look to the location work (it’s a GREAT film for reinforced concrete and bombed-out buildings and smoking factories, things I now feel should feature in every Hamlet adaptation).

Fee/Ophelia is set up as mentally ill or at least vulnerable from the start, which helps her character, and Ingrid Andree is very touching.

And of course Hardy Kruger — the perfect Hamlet! Boyish and smart, a bit dangerous and cruel and neurotic, handsome but offbeat (TOO boyish).

Snow!

Hamlet doesn’t ACT mad in this one — his behaviour is incongruous enough on its own to make sectioning him seem like sound strategy. So they plot to send him to the Highland Falls Nervensanatorium, Glasgow.

This is a terrific show, just when I needed one (you can have too much late Terence Young). OK, the climax is rushed and they have trouble getting the necessary number of deaths into a modern boardroom setting, but the fade-out — featuring two characters who are dead by this point in the play — is DEVASTATING — and I’ve never found Hamlet all that moving, I’m ashamed to say.

Yes, maybe Kautner’s ending is better than Shakespeare’s.

THE REST IS SILENCE stars Capt. Potsdorf; Hans-Dieter Mundt; Zouzou Kuckuck; Mackie Messer; Inspektor Richard “Dick” Martin; and Adolf Hitler as himself.

Anglo/Saxon Attitudes

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2018 by dcairns

Fiona was surprised to find a Kay Kendall biography in the library (see yesterday’s post for an evaluation of the Edinburgh library system’s limitations) and devoured it on sight, demanding supplemental viewing materials, stat. I had tried to sell her on THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE before, but this was now the perfect moment. She didn’t require quality, just so long as KK was prominently featured.

I’ve probably mentioned before my theory that Vincente Minnelli made Hollywood’s most nightmarish comedies — the best of them aspire to pure phantasmagoria, and are more oppressive that they are funny, though admittedly DESIGNING WOMAN is extremely funny and amiable. Often they rise to moments of surreal heightened anxiety, sometimes involving altered states of consciousness. One image from a dream sequence in FATHER OF THE BRIDE, of Spencer Tracy’s feet sinking through a carpet suddenly turned to quagmire was repeated without modification in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and served just as aptly in a horror movie as it had in a “family comedy,” Minnelli-style.This movie takes place during what turned out to be the last ever “season,” when society’s latest batch of debutantes (don’t known what it means) “came out” (don’t know what it means, in this context anyway). Sandra Dee plays the daughter of Rex Harrison, which is the first big laugh and the last for a while. Kay Kendall is the stepmother who sets about arranging the girl’s coming out ball, and trying to arrange her love life in a socially suitable way, hampered by S-Dee’s falling in love with a humble drummer played by John Saxon (very cute, and at times seeming to play the role on-purpose gay).This is John Saxon describing native love rituals witnessed in Africa.

“…and then he carries her off to his TENT.”

This is Kay and Dee reacting to him.(Kay dresses like Big Bird through much of the film.)

This kind of lighter-than-air stuff has to be very good to get by, because you’re trying to get laughs out of nothing. The play and its adaptation, both by William Douglas-Home, aren’t really clever enough to manage this, but laughs are still had, partly from the deft work of Kendall and Harrison, two of the best light comedians who ever lived, and partly from numerous moments where the script hoves perilously close to the foulest bad taste, due to dated sexual attitudes, stuff that could be dealt with lightly then but seems shocking today. And since surprise is part of laughter, we found ourselves laughing at Sandra walking in on daddy just as he plays the role of dastardly seducer to a sofa cushion (really, too complicated to explain) ~Harrison does a fantastic variation on the man determined to finish his sentence even though the changed circumstances make it quite unnecessary and his delivery of the words no longer carries any of the intended meaning. It’s a very familiar trope — think Baloo singing when his disguise falls off in THE JUNGLE BOOK — but Harrison has his own version of it that no one’s ever seen or imagined before. And Kendall has a great bit entering, being surprised, and folding up like a deck-chair as her limbs give way on her.

Peter Myers gives a very funny performance as an upper-class bore forever reciting elaborate tales of how he’s negotiated the traffic to get where he is — but he transformed into an inarticulate rape-hound when left alone with Dee. And here’s her adorable reaction when she quizzes daddy on his early love life and learns that his first amour was a French girl who worked in a house in Paris — a maid? — no, not exactly…The weirdest and best sequence is a hallucinatory montage of balls, with Harrison getting drunk at each one, suffering Deutsch-tilt hangovers in interstitial office sequences, and finally losing contact with reality altogether as his secretary, having just handed him a glass of bicarb, starts announcing guest’s names in a dubbed man’s voice — audio bleed from scene to scene as life literally BECOMES nightmare.It’s in his comedies that you sense that Minnelli was not an altogether happy man.