Archive for Self-Styled Siren

Spread the Love

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2012 by dcairns

A Valentine’s Day Miscellany for you –

Over at Limerwrecks, THEATRE OF BLOOD proves to be the gift that keeps on giving — here’s my latest, co-authored with host Surly Hack. At the same site, you can read more rhymes about Robert Morley being force-fed his poodles than you would think possible.

My great good friend B. Kite delves into MULHOLLAND DRIVE in his first piece for Sight and Sound. I was kind of around for the birth of this article, though my duties stopped far short of actual midwifery, were more along the lines of muttering wan encouragement from a safe distance, like a rubbish dad. The resulting piece bears no disfiguring forceps marks and is in fact vigorous, alert and a healthy size. It also offers an alternative way of looking at a Lynch film that’s almost become a closed, fully-resolved narrative (all those clues!) — this piece reclaims the mystery, or at least opens a side-door into it.

In case you’ve been trapped under something heavy for the past month or so, you ought to know about the upcoming For the Love of Film blogathon, hosted here and here. I plan on writing something on that renowned English filmmaker, that master of suspense… Graham Cutts.

Fleshy rogue

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2012 by dcairns

It was rather unfair of me to suggest Ray Milland as good casting for the as-yet-imaginary David Cameron biopic THE TAPIOCA LUNGFISH. It doesn’t reflect the warmth with which I regard Milland, one of cinema’s finest Welshmen. Mainly it was due to his uncanny ability to suggest shiftiness, a quality I controversially suggested was due to his ever-so-slightly bulbous face, another point of comparison with Cameron. As a paunchy, bloated character myself, I felt qualified to judge.

Milland wasn’t always a trifle chubby — we see him in the excellent Cagney vehicle BLONDE CRAZY as a near starveling, his face a sort of skin tent erected on a knobby stick framework. It’s a shock just to see this unconvincing impersonation of human physiognomy, and a second shock to recognize Milland, somehow concealed behind it. His wan and wispy features look like they might snap off in a moderate-to-high wind, and his overall appearance suggests some dust that’s got on the celluloid. Where is the beloved roly-poly cad we know and love?

Actually, revisiting the film, I find both shocks have paled — seeing Milland stripped of his apple-cheeks was initially alarming, and it’s weird seeing him in the more noticeable cosmetics of the 1930s, but he doesn’t actually look bad. Just not himself.

Flash back further, to THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, his 1929 debut, and we see a perfectly balanced flesh-to-Milland ratio. The fellow’s probably just out of the Guards, at his physical peak. It looks like he starved in Hollywood for the first couple of years, then made a success and started eating rather too well.

Anyway, thanks to a recommendation by the Self-Styled Siren, in a typically delightful piece running down her most enjoyable vintage viewings of 2011, we watched SO EVIL MY LOVE, which is prime Milland untrustworthiness, giving the lie to Billy Wilder’s rather harsh assessment of his former collaborator (“Not an Oscar-winning actor” — expressing his view that it was his own script for THE LOST WEEKEND which won for Milland). He’s paired with Ann Todd, whose somewhat icy demeanour is extremely well-used.

It’s a gaslight melodrama with shades of noir, and forms a nice trio of Lewis Allen-directed fog thrillers, along with ghostly THE UNSEEEN and THE UNINVITED. Mutz Greenbaum (AKA Max Greene) shot it, with the glossy and pellucid shadows of his German origins. This may be what got him the gig on NIGHT AND THE CITY.

Chronology — Milland was having a very good year, with THE BIG CLOCK also on his schedule. Weirdly, we watched Moira Lister’s previous movie, another tale of homicide in London, WANTED FOR MURDER, the previous evening. She makes little impression in her fleeting appearance there, but she’s wonderful in the Allen film, seizing the chance to embody a zestful, venal slut.

The movie also has great work from Geraldine Fitzgerald, whose fate calls to mind UNCLE HARRY in the same way that Todd’s evokes MADELEINE, and from Raymond Huntley, whose wonderfully dislikable face (dis)graced innumerable British films but very few Hollywood productions.

Anyway, so inspired by it was I, I immediately dashed off a couple of limericks, which after suitable analysis and manipulation by the excellent Hilary Barta, are available to view at Limerwrecks, here.

At that same site, some more poetic appreciation of DR PHIBES, a fellow who will long be celebrated in song and doggerel. This one’s a collaboration with Hil, this matched pair is by me, and here’s another. But there are others, occasionally with titles by me — scroll around and enjoy!

Purple October

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 11, 2010 by dcairns

“In THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP (1932), Paramount Pictures place Charles Laughton in charge of a submarine. It sinks.”

I tweeted this, and the Self-Styled Siren said she was a bad Laughton fan for laughing. Not at all! To admire Laughton’s craft and peerless imagination is not the same as to believe that the kind of character he plays would excel in a position of command. Look at Captain Bligh. In the role of “the Commander” in this movie, he’s been set up to fail, for the first half establishes him as a lunatic in the throes of psychotic jealousy, trashing Cary Grant’s career on the mere suspicion that he’s overly fond of Mrs Commander (Talullah Bankhead). So Mr Grant is out of the picture, and Gary Cooper comes into it, which is even worse news for marital harmony, as you might expect.

All of this plays out in Paramount North Africa, before we decamp to the sub, making the movie a sort of MOROCCO/HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER mash-up. In Part One we get a beautiful lunar oasis tryst, whirling dervishes and tenacious salesmen. In Part Two we get a collision, bursting bulkheads, flooding compartments, and Laughton’s descent into final madness even as his sub descends to the ocean floor, as fatally compromised as his marriage.

Bankhead plays the virtuous wife driven into adultery by hubbie’s paranoia with dignity and just enough melodrama. Grant is still in awkward, stiff-necked mode. Coop pouts and purses his lips a lot. His performances come in two varieties: those with a mute running commentary from the writhing lips, and those without. Both are good, but I tend to prefer the more stationary lip approach. Anyway, Laughton is the whole show.

Faced with a cardboard lunatic to play, the Great Man breaths seething life into him through bold decisions — this jealous nut actually wants to be proved right, to catch his wife in flagrante, and when he does so he goes from tense to relaxed. Laughton wheels out his cherubic smirk. The terrible doubt is over (because if Mrs Commander is innocent, then that “brain specialist” was RIGHT) and now he can proceed to DESTROY THE WORLD. Actually, he can’t, because he doesn’t have a Doomsday Device to hand, but he can certainly crash his sub into an oncoming ship and send her to the bottom of the sea with all hands and feet.

It’s been suggested that suicides often cheer up once they’ve actually made the decision to do it — once that choice is made, there’s nothing more to worry about. Laughton either knew this or, quite probably, intuited it, so that his character becomes positively triumphant as he steers his men towards doom, and only sinks into a despond when any reasonable argument threatens the logic of his annihilation. In one such scene, the distressed Commander pulls on his face, gradually squishing his cheeks up and drawing them downwards until the whole fleshy construction resembles a wad of dough suspended from his eyelids. Don’t tell me Charles didn’t practice this in front of the mirror. For hours.

Marion Gering directs with zest, although his attempts at dramatic flourishes are mostly rendered redundant by Laughton’s stylistic exuberance — you really don’t need a giant ECU of the twitching eyes, not when you have a player as expressive as CL.

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