Archive for Simenon

Framing Youth

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2012 by dcairns

COP-OUT is a ridiculous title… the film’s other name, STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, is generic but acceptable. This is the sole film directed by Bulgarian producer-writer Pierre Rouve (BLOW-UP), and he hasn’t quite got the hang of the job — some of the results are fun, though.

The cast is a trivia quiz entry in the making — what film stars James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin, Ian Ogilvy and Bobby Darin? And based on a novel by Georges Simenon? Mason plays an alcoholic lawyer enticed, like Paul Newman in THE VERDICT, to take on one last case. This one involves his daughter’s boyfriend as murder suspect.

James Mason gives one of his greatest line readings –

Cop Out from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The father-daughter relationship is the heart of the film, and Mason holds up his end just as you’d expect. His character is incapable of expressing affection, which has resulted in his wife leaving him and his daughter despising him. Mason relishes the character’s acerbic speeches and air of loathing, both self-directed and more extrovert. Unfortunately, Chaplin is flat and clichéd, the worst I’ve ever seen her. It does seem like the director is pushing his cast to telegraph their characters’ emotions as blatantly as possible. Mason and some of the others (Yootha Joyce!) can triumph over this, but the younger players struggle.

Chief among these is Ogilvy, actually pretty interesting as a character written as impotent but obviously played as gay. The Oge, as I call him, often tends to struggle for either sympathy or interest, even in his most celebrated film, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but here he has a genuine ROLE for once, where he doesn’t have to worry about being liked and he’s actually got something to play. He’s great! Somebody you actually look forward to seeing in his next bit.

Bobby Darin, on the other hand, is rather fascinatingly awful. I always had a theory crooners could automatically act (Sinatra, Dino, something to do with a mastery of words which rock stars lack), but this guy doesn’t seem to have a natural aptitude. An unnatural inaptitude might be more like it, and again, the blame may really lie with the director. “If you start by asking for effects, effects is all you’ll get,” the great Dudley Sutton told me on my first film. Darin plays his character, a criminal sailor, as a rather loose impersonation of Frank Gorshin’s impersonation of Burt Lancaster. The result is that he seems to be pretending to be an American, rather than actually being one, which should have been easy enough…

Rouve livens things up with modish costumes and visuals, including white-painted flashbacks which are visually rather delightful but all wrong for Simenon’s glum tale. The theme, of a distant father reconnecting with his estranged child, has horrible resonance with the great tragedy of Simenon’s life, which culminated in a phone call –

“Tell me that you love me.”

“I love you, my daughter.”

“No. Tell me you love me.”

Pause. Muffled gunshot.

With that background, the story should be emotionally raw and riveting, but it only glances against the kind of drama it should have embraced. Still, the various elements, effective or otherwise, are all interesting at least.

Screening the evidence

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2012 by dcairns

Watched LA TETE D’UN HOMME, Julien Duvivier’s Maigret film, made at exactly the same time as Renoir’s take on the Simenon sleuth, LA NUIT DE CARREFOUR, and based on the same book as the later Meredith/Laughton MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER. I essentially watched the film by mistake, as part of my researches into Pathe-Natan, based on a filmography that erroneously cited the film as shooting at Natan’s studio.

Nevertheless, it’s a mistake I can’t regret as I loved the film when I first saw it at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and I loved it just as much this time. Harry Baur is a near-definitive Maigret. Impossible for the high-octane thesp to match the air of depleted nothingness Pierre Renoir brought to it, perfectly capturing the human, dour functionary of the books, but Baur dials down his towering charisma and actually seems to shrink into the part, despite being by some way the biggest man on screen. Duvivier helps by casting the gangling sunflower Alexander Rignault, with his big flapping orang-utan hands, so there’s one actor taller than Baur, if not bulkier.

Valery Inkijinoff is amazingly sinister as the psychopath Radek. A Russian with eastern features, he had a looong career playing Eskimo, Chinese, Japanese, Red Indian, and even occasionally Russian. Given the role of a lifetime, he manifests an incredibly compelling screen persona — his delivery seems a little overemphatic at times, but it really doesn’t matter, because his LOOK and his posture are so utterly hypnotic. We’re talking Peter Lorre levels of you-can’t-look-away-ness.

One very interesting effect — Pathe-Natan may be nowhere in the mix, but Natan’s friend the inventor Yves Le Prieur contributed his Transflex… let me explain. Le Prieur is best remembered as a co-inventor of the scuba, but he also came up with air-to-air rockets for WWI and a translucent movie screen called the Transflex which facilitated rear projection. If you use an ordinary movie screen, you can’t get a bright enough image on the reverse side, but the Transflex was opaque enough to hide the projector, but see-through enough to show a strong image to the camera.

Le Prieur declined to patent his invention, and it swiftly found its way to America where it was deployed on JUST IMAGINE and LILIOM. Of course, it was a huge help, after some Hollywood fine-tuning, on KING KONG, but sadly the inventor is rarely credited.

In this scene, one of Maigret’s assistants questions a series of witnesses. In fact, he’s standing in front of a Translux upon which the background and his interviewees are projected. In a series of dissolves which have already been produced in the lab, the backgrounds melt away into one another while the detective remains in place in one continuous shot, as if he were teleporting from one location to another. The process of the law captured in a process shot.

There’s also a sequence in which the desperate fugitive/patsy steals bread from a child, which seems very much influenced by James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, although the shots are actually entirely different ~

Wow. Click and enlarge any of these stills for your daily beauty fix.

An Inspector Calls

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on June 3, 2010 by dcairns

LA NUIT DE CARREFOUR is a dreamlike film in so many ways, not least for a scene where a man carefully inserts beer into a house via the window, which is something I often dream about happening to me.

You can gain some unhelpful context for the above remarks over at the Daily Notebook, where The Forgotten looks at this neglected Renoir, never before subtitled (and available in translation now only thanks to the efforts of dedicated amateurs).

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