Archive for Sign of the Cross

Maximum Effort

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2019 by dcairns

We started yesterday with King of the Movies — a 1978 BBC special in which the nonagenarian Henry King reminisces about his career. This accompanied an extensive BBC2 series of his films, an astonishing event to think of now. Unwisely, the show was programmed opposite an actual King film, which meant we had, for once, a relatively sparsely attended event in which the air-con could really roll up its sleeves and get down to business. The show itself was highly enjoyable, with King a terrific raconteur.

THE WARRIOR’S HUSBAND (1933) is a startling Fox film, from a Broadway play which had been a hit for Katharine Hepburn. Elissa Landi, in the lead, seems to have modeled her performance on KH, with lots of thigh-slapping and chin-jutting.

The story deals with gender war — Amazons versus Greeks — but the style is pure Loony Tunes, with “You Great Big Beautiful Doll” played on the soundtrack as Ernest Truex admires himself. Warrior women include Marjorie Rambeau and Maude Eburn (her helmet visor forever slamming shut with a cartoon twang), and David Manners turns up to show us what a real man looks like (!). Also two quick moments of interest amid the generally cheesy jokes: two black male dressmakers put their arms around each other — the comedy is blurring the lines between 1933 servant class and ancient slave class, between men performing women’s roles and men being gay, between men as female dressmakers and men as camp tailors. And then there’s Landi’s bath scene, resting chin and elbows on the brim of a huge raised bath, before throwing herself backwards into a backstroke, affording a few frames’ glimpse of what DeMille framed out in her milk bath scene with Claudette Colbert in SIGN OF THE CROSS.

Well, Fiona fell asleep in this film, which is not a distinguished picture but a very odd one. And then she did it again in TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH, which is a very good Henry King picture with Gregory Peckory cast against type and compelled to do some real acting.

The early scenes contain the boldest stuff — violence, blood and dismemberment are not shown, but they’re DESCRIBED in graphic detail. Based on what I saw in MEMPHIS BELLE and THE COLD BLUE, the depiction of the US Air Force’s activities in Britain is fairly accurate. Unusually, there’s no flying stuff until near the end, when sadly the movie becomes a fruit salad of model effects, studio process shots and footage from Wyler’s aerial documentary and additional material courtesy of the Luftwaffe.

Peck’s mission is to discover what “Maximum Effort” really means — how much a flight crew can take without falling apart psychologically. Well, we had reached Maximum Effort at Bologna, after eight days, so we staggered through Buster Keaton’s MY WIFE’S RELATIONS — a version incorporating both Cohen Media’s restored footage and Lobster’s newly-discovered ending, which may never be shown again — and then collapsed back at our Airbnb.

I’m still convinced the film would work better if you put BOTH endings together, but there’s no evidence it was ever screened that way…

Today’s the last FULL day of Il Cinema Ritrovato but there are more screenings tomorrow and our flight back is on Monday. More to come.

Precode Bathtime

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2008 by dcairns

A revealing moment of Claudette Colbert in DeMille’s SIGN OF THE CROSS. Costume and production designer (and later director) Mitchell Leisen measured C.C. from toe to nipple so that the sunken bath could be filled with milk to exactly the level dictated by decency. But who knew she’d bounce around so much?

Tom Sutpen has kindly gone to the work of finding the EXACT FRAME of revelation.

The milk soon became unpleasant under the studio lights, and had to be regularly replaced. Then some studio execs visited, and one of them stepped right onto the surface of the milk, which had set into a cheese-like formation and resembled a smooth marble floor. He sank up to his nipples in it at once, of course. Something about the expensive executive buisiness suit coated with soft, malodorous cheese makes a for a pleasing image.

But not as pleasing perhaps as Myrna Loy in THE BARBARIAN, a 30s knock-off of THE SHEIK starring Ramon Novarro.

Anita Loos scripted this kinky fantasy, which offends some people on the IMDb by indulging in the movie equivalent of s&m roleplay. Myrna is abducted by Novarro and learns to like it. I’m sure Anita Loos didn’t take this seriously as a political statement about male-female relations. It’s all meant as good clean dirty fun. It may not be a great film, but Myrna’s frontal nudity, which is even more revealing when you add the movement of the water, is impressively both explicit and yet not quite clear. Is she wearing some kind of modesty garment? It’s hard to be sure.

Hopefully someone will also mention Sybil Seely in Buster Keaton’s ONE WEEK.