Archive for Satan Met a Lady

Wild West Warren William

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2020 by dcairns

Warren William made two westerns, both times playing the bad guy. He specialised in suavity and fatuity — two qualities seldom found in close conjunction — and was able to apply these traits to a “sweet dude” of the old west just as readily as to a dazzling cosmopolitan. Have any of you seen WILD BILL HICKOK RIDES (1942) with Constance Bennett (!) and Bruce Cabot? Is it any good, at all?

We did sit down en famille and watch ARIZONA (1940), which comes from that period immediately following the success of STAGECOACH when studios rushed to produce westerns for grown-ups. WW plays sweet dude Jefferson Carteret, a preposterously enjoyable name for a smooth western baddie. He gets to push Porter Hall around for most of the movie, which is close to the dynamic they “enjoy” in SATAN MET A LADY, too.

This one is a little unusual since Jean Arthur is the hero, with a young William Holden very much in support. When the final duel occurs, the camera stays with Arthur, the store, picking out the things she’ll need IF her newly married man survives. This approach works nicely, as an Ophulsian approach to duelling, as a way of keeping the focus where it belongs, and as an encapsulation of the film’s big theme — the West got colonized because a bunch of white folks went there and trusted that civilisation would eventually catch them up. Buy supplies for the ranch is an act of faith and a way to will Holden’s character to survive.

(Guillermo del Toro got very excited about this scene on Twitter recently.)

It’s an ambitious film — what I call an epic — stampedes, gunfights, wagon chases — everything but a saloon brawl and a dive off a high cliff. Some actual history like the Civil War gets incorporated into its sweeping tale. There are characters who look to the future when Arizona will be “a great state” or whatever. Edgar Buchanan plays his first drunken judge.

A barely recognizable Holden meets the origin of the great yak fur shortage of 1940.

It’s not excellent — they’ve created an epic backdrop — they seem to have built early Tucson from scratch — everyone is filthy except Warren — it’s a bit too episodic and bits of Arthur’s Calamity Jean act defeat her — William Holden is a little too enthusiastic at this stage — when he became more subdued he became COOL — the more concentrated, less self-consciously important STAGECOACH is MUCH better at chewing what it bites off. But of course, STAGECOACH is John Ford with Dudley Nichols & Ben Hecht adapting a short story, and this is Charles Ruggles’ brother Wesley with his pal Claude “boy meets girl” Binyon adapting a sprawling novel.

 

Philo Facts

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2020 by dcairns

Warren William only made two Philo Vance movies, and he made them six years apart, which is not as surprising as the fact that there are so damn many PV movies. He’s a pretty tedious character — Sherlock Holmes without the interesting qualities, and without a Watson to place his inhuman intellect in relief. Also he, in the words of Ogden Nash, “…needs a kick in the pance.”

But the WW duo are of some interest. Partnering him with Gracie Allen is certainly an unusual idea: S.S. Van Dyne was a fan of the comic, and wrote her into a book, and she then consented to play herself. WW’s reactions to Allen’s “pretzel logic” are marvelous. He doesn’t do a full double-take, just a sort of irritated hesitation of bafflement. He knows he’s Philo Vance. He knows this is a Philo Vance movie. So what is this idiot woman doing making absurd statements and calling him “Fido”? He’s finally found a mystery he can’t solve.

The earlier film, THE DRAGON MURDER CASE amused me because the story of a guy who dives into a swimming pool but doesn’t come back out is a good sort of inversion of a locked room mystery, and because the suggestion that a dragon might be responsible is a pretty delightful red herring to throw in Fido’s path.

The natural pool is called “the dragon pool” after a Native American tradition, and one character has a bunch of books and articles about sea monsters, including “Nessie” — now, KING KONG had just been released and interest in the Loch Ness monster flared up at this time — cynics might say Willis O’Brien’s man-eating lake dinosaur was more of an influence on the reported sighting than any actual Scottish plesiosaurus.

Of course the dragon footprints found in the mud when they drain the pool are in fact — SPOILER ALERT —

— something else entirely.

Which led me to an odd connection. Yves Le Prieur was a prolific French inventor — among other things, he was the first person to take off in a glider from Japanese soil (a fairly niche record to hold) and he invented a plane-mounted rocket launcher for taking down German observation balloons in WWII. Remarkable guy.

Two of his big deals were scuba diving — he’s the one who got the idea to connect the re-breather mask to oxygen tanks worn on the back, rather than to a surface air pump — and the translux screen, which greatly improved the brightness of image possible in rear projection. He gave that invention to the world for free.

In the early thirties he accompanied producer Bernard Natan on his tour of American film production centres, and around this time rear projection became much more common. So maybe his trip made KING KONG possible.

And so THE DRAGON MURDER CASE could be said to be inspired by KING KONG which is inspired by Yves Le Prieur’s working holiday. If the “dragon” were actually a scuba diver, the poetic connection would be really satisfying, but sadly this is not the case. He wears a “shallow-water diving suit–the kind largely used in pearl fishing” says the source novel. This is regrettable, but it leads to a lovely image when the suit is discovered hidden in the family crypt ~

Is the lovely image worth the loss of the lovely scuba-Kong connection? Oh, I suppose maybe it is.

The other point I’d make is that Vance is so boring, the decision to turn the Perry Mason adaptations into WACKY COMEDIES, playing to WW’s sense of fun, is probably a direct result of DRAGON. And, more regrettably, the egregious SATAN MET A LADY is also a consequence.