Archive for Spellbound

You Misremember This

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 3, 2015 by dcairns

50b7767cbf1d1.preview-620

All serious film-lovers are well aware that Mae West never actually said “Play it again, Sam,” and that Humphrey Bogart in CASABLANCA never asks Dooley Wilson to “Come up and see me sometime,” but film history is full of only slightly less famous quotations which never actually occur in the films cited. Here are a few examples.

In Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND, Gregory Peck never actually tells Ingrid Bergman, “I’m going to knock your fucking block off, you great Swedish cow.” Peck’s character is actually in love with Bergman’s, and thus would be unlikely to threaten or insult her in this way. Curiously enough, the line does actually appear in the Oscar-nominated 2002 spelling bee documentary SPELLBOUND, which  might be where the confusion originated, except that Donald Spoto, in his 1983 Hitchcock biography The Dark Side of Genius, insists the line is present and cites it as evidence of the director’s misogyny. Asked in an interview how such a line could get through the Breen office, Spoto appears to have replied, “Peck kind of mumbled it, and blew a raspberry to distract attention,” although Spoto’s own poor diction and accompanying sound effects make his exact words uncertain.

In WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966), Elizabeth Taylor never actually accuses husband Richard Burton of “prancing about like Dick Spanner’s mad auntie,” and given that the Gerry Anderson puppet series Dick Spanner, P.I. only appeared on television twenty years later, it’s hard to see how anyone could have imagined she did.

maxresdefault

Not Richard Burton.

On ON THE WATERFRONT, Marlon Brando is celebrated for his performance and for the much-mimicked line “A codda bunna cotoda,” but film fans would be startled to learn that rather than this abstract piece of beat poetry, what the famed method actor actually intended to say is the more prosaic “I could have been a contender.” Whether the film would have gone on to occupy such a central position in the pantheon of great film-making had anybody at all understood the line correctly must forever remain a mystery, like Donald Sutherland’s odd arm movement in the sex scene in DON’T LOOK NOW, its origins and purpose still a total mystery.

In Liam Neeson’s final scene in SCHINDLER’S LIST, he never actually says, in between repeatedly mourning his failure to save more lives, the line “I like broccoli, I don’t care what anybody says.” The first cut of the film did actually contain such a line, but director Steven Spielberg quickly realised that the insight into Oskar Schindler’s taste in vegetables was misplaced at this dramatic high point, and removed it, adding in some more blubbering instead. But somehow Stephen Zaillian’s script or the rough edit must have leaked out, because to this day Spielberg is often praised for his mastery of tone in slipping such an apparently humdrum detail into a scene of devastating emotional power, and Liam Neeson complains that fans often shout the line at him in the street, causing him to stroll angrily away to make another awful revenge film.

CASABLANCA contains another often-misquoted line. Contrary to popular belief, Claude Rains does not say “Round up the usual suspects,” despite that line later becoming famous and giving the title to another celebrated movie, Frankie Howerd’s UP THE USUAL (1972). Examination of the original screenplay reveals that Rains was actually give the line “Rump up the huge old soup sect,” since screenwriter twins Julius & Philip Epstein couldn’t think of a snappy line to reveal Captain Renault’s change of allegiance, and so resorted to picking words from a hat in order to meet their deadline. In a frankly incredible stroke of luck, audiences ever since have mistaken Rains’ crisply delivered reading for a far more logical and witty sentence, thus helping to ensure the film’s classic status.

 

Advertisements

The Sunday Intertitle: Things I Read Off the Screen in Blackmail

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-11h18m58s4

Glasgow! With silent film accompanist Jane Gardner, to see BLACKMAIL with live score by Neil Brand, under the baton of Timothy Brock. This was preceded by a special concert of Hitchcock scores — Webb, Rosza, Tiomkin, Waxman and of course Herrmann. It’s quite something to have VERTIGO blasted at you live. As for PSYCHO, a young couple to my left obviously regarded the shower scene as their song: as the violins shrieked, he mimed stabbing her in the back with an invisible knife, to her apparent delight.

Getting there, mind you, was a journey of Hitchcockian suspense — taking the bus to meet Jane we got caught in football traffic (ugh! the worst kind of traffic — even worse than badminton traffic) and arrived late, then scooted off in her Fiat 500, struggling to find a parking spot near the venue and then struggling to find the venue, eventually arrived seconds before the lights dimmed.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra did us proud, and there was a surprise treat in the form of a theremin for SPELLBOUND — I wasn’t at all sure such a thing would be provided — there are, after all, entire recordings of the SPELLBOUND score without a theremin — some wretched fiddler taking the part, I guess, I haven’t troubled to listen to such abominations. This was a delight.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-11h49m25s61

Then BLACKMAIL, which I hadn’t seen since Hitchcock Year, Maestro Brand’s score was thrilling, of course — with many playful references to the musical spirit of Hitchcock to come. The most overt was the extract from Gounod’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme (I know, I know, he didn’t write it for TV) played when Hitch makes his first true guest appearance. I wondered whether such references would distract me,  but in fact, the playfulness was discrete — it must have taken restraint not to turn the scene where artsy rake Cyril Ritchard waits while Anny Ondra changes into something more comfortable into a straight reprise of the similar scene in VERTIGO.

The score, in fact, worked wonderfully, the proof being that despite the visible presence of the orchestra between us and the screen — Brock’s hands would occasionally rise into the bottom of the frame as he signalled a particularly vigorous moment — for much of the show we forgot the music except as part of the enjoyable experience of watching a story unfold on a screen. A smooth artistic synthesis was achieved!

Hitch’s cameo got me noticing how incredibly well handled all the extras are. The small boy who torments Hitch on the underground ends the scene, having been told off, standing on his seat and simply glowering malevolently at Hitch, like a raven from THE BIRDS. He doesn’t realize that Hitch has a short way of disposing of children on public transport. From then on, I was aware that each individual walk-on character, however crowded the scene, had a bit of personal business to distinguish them, and each performed his role perfectly.

I also started noticing writing. Some of what follows was noted during the show, some found afterwords, perusing the DVD.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-11h21m45s97

Receiving a radio message — “Flying Squad Van 68 — Proceed at once to Cambri” — the rest is unfinished — the van makes a 180 turn into Looking-Glass Land, where all the shop signs run backwards into a kind of cod-Russian cypher. Evidently nobody had shot a background plate traveling in the right direction, so they simply flipped the film. The store Dollond & Aitchison glimpsed here, is also advertised on the London Underground scene later.

Perhaps due to this confusion, when the Sweeney arrive at their destination, it isn’t Cambridge Street or Place or Circus of Terrace, it’s Albert Street. Perhaps close to Eastenders‘ Albert Square? Certainly in the mysterious East. Less salubrious than Hitch’s native Leytonstone.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-11h22m38s121

A slew of text inside. The criminal is reading The Daily Herald. An ad for Wrigleys in the bottom corner. Another newspaper lies on his desk, bearing his watch and revolver. We can read a headline about MURDER TRIAL and, at the bottom, the words I’VE FOUND IT! — probably another advertisement. Most amusingly, above the bed is a religious motto, GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES. Ironic, since it seems our friend in the nightshirt has been helping himself a little too freely.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-11h27m06s182

The note Anny has received proposing a secret assignation ~

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-11h19m30s229

Torn from a cocktail menu, it suggests a whole furtive nocturnal backstory. I like the abbreviated slogan “NIPPY” COCK — a partial directorial signature?

Anny’s despondent walk after she’s killed Ritchard is full of printed cues and clues. For one thing, she passes a poster advertising the climactic fight from THE RING, Hitchcock’s previous film, starring Carl Brisson, Anny’s lover from THE MANXMAN. The fight is staged at the Albert Hall, looking forward to THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

A neon sign in Piccadilly Circus, advertising Gordon’s Gin “The Heart of a Good Cocktail” dissolves so that a cocktail shaker outline becomes a hand stabbing with a kitchen knife — a ludicrous idea, but bold, and the call-back to the “nippy” cocktails is appreciated.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-12h06m11s143

IS PRAYER ANSWERED? A significant question in Hitchcock, directly addressed at the film’s climax, when Ondra apparently prays, and her decision to confess her crime is answered with the death of the blackmailer. See also THE WRONG MAN.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-12h18m36s161

Ondra’s family newsagent yields a plethora of signage! My eyeballs dart like frightened mice, from one corner of the screen to another to try and catch all the little textual nudges. Alice’s first sight of home is viewed through the reverse side of a shop sign, so we get mirrored lettering AGAIN — Alice is through the looking glass! The earlier accident begins to look deliberate. Confirmed when Alice stares at herself in her dressing table mirror just moments later.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-12h28m45s127

PICTURE SHOW — lower right. Ah, if only Anny had gone to the pictures with John Longden, we wouldn’t be where we are now. The reference may also remind us of the pieces of art in Ritchard’s sex garret, each of which has an accusatory role in the narrative. One is a laughing, pointing jester, the other is a sketch on canvas signed by Ondra.

When we see the phone booth again, from Longden’s POV, that sign has vanished, in the best ROOM 237 manner. On the left of frame is a possible explanation — a MYSTIC ERASER. Just what Anny needs to obliterate the past 24 hours as neatly as she obliterated her incriminating signature from Ritchard’s canvas.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-12h33m41s189

The booklets and other props around the phone booth will continue to change randomly throughout the scene, an uncanny peekaboo of discontinuity.

Ondra’s dad, Mr. White, is explicitly framed with a halo reading the word WARLOCK. Not sure why. But the shopkeeper dad is obviously a stand-in for Hitch’s own father, with whom he associated his fear of arrest. So although Mr. White is kindly, Hitch makes him a source of anxiety with this supernatural halo of occult lettering.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-12h42m59s209

Ondra has mentioned Edgar Wallace earlier — now a poster at floor level refers to Sexton Blake, stalwart hero of schlock thrillers, whose exploits had been printed in the Union Jack since 1894. The threat from ‘D’ (no idea who he is), “If Sexton Blake comes to Yorkshire, I’ll get him!”, gives the blackmailer’s first appearance a further underscore of menace.

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-12h43m46s225

And finally ~

vlcsnap-2015-07-26-12h51m35s197

SHAG (middle left). Obviously a reference to another fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, whose favourite pipe tobacco this was.

A Week Can Be a Long Time in Politics

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-07-09-22h49m32s223

7 DAYS IN MAY (1964) — one of Frankenheimer’s very best, I’d say. It’s taken me ages to get around to it. Maybe the opening scene put me off, since I think the handheld, jagged cutting and multiple inserted red frames (Frankenheimer admired Hitchcock enormously, so he’s riffing on SPELLBOUND — there’s a good story about his Hitch idolatry, if you remind me) was a little overdone. And then there’s a very long build-up in which most of the terrific cast have little to do but repeatedly explain to us who they are and what their jobs are and what got done before the movie started. A slow pressure starts to build though as Colonel Kirk Douglas, all clenched reptile features and micro eye-darting, suspects something is up. When he reports to President Fredric March that General Burt Lancaster is plotting a military coup, at last the film takes off and begins to generate serious tension.

Frankenheimer commissioned the script from his old TV colleague Rod Serling, who does lay on the exposition a bit thick at the start, and the speechifying even thicker at the end, but it evolves into a cross-cut pattern of escalating, nerve-biting, nail-raising, hair-shredding excitement. We got this the same year as STRANGELOVE? No wonder FAIL SAFE failed. You can only have so many of these things in a year, I expect. Otherwise the nervous strain would be too great.

Serling’s exposition isn’t exactly bad, it’s just more obvious than I like it, with characters showing off unnecessarily just to shoehorn a little more information into their speeches, calling each other by name multiple times, and so on. But the groundwork is laid effectively enough so that once the plot really gets moving, you’re never confused despite the complexity. The speech-making is rendered more excusable by the fact that Sterling gives his villain convincing motivation — noble cause corruption, where the ends justify the means — making him as much a patriot as March.

vlcsnap-2015-07-09-22h45m35s155

Edmund O’Brien, typecast as a drunk, is very enjoyable too. Every time I see him now I think of the story in WORKING WITH ORSON WELLES, Gary Graver’s shambolic but fun documentary — a couple of assistants on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND had the job of helping O’Brien (“Eddie is a magnificent ruin,” quoth Welles) pack his luggage after the shoot. And he had all this weird shit in his hotel drawers — raw meat and light bulbs and stuff. “Are you sure you want all this packed?” “Yeah yeah.” So every time we See O’Brien we make a crack about his meat ‘n’ light bulbs.

Having gotten his ebullient, experimental side out of the way early, Frankenheimer goes almost classical, eschewing his Dutch tilts but exulting in Kubrickian symmetry, deep focus and the frequent use of the “A” composition ~

vlcsnap-2015-07-09-22h50m28s253

He has a lot of fun with TV monitors, a recurring device of his from MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE on. Easy to see why they figured in his imagery, given his years spent barking into a microphone in front of an array of glasse screens. He also has some shots here that are just expressively wonderful.

vlcsnap-2015-07-09-22h43m53s164

vlcsnap-2015-07-09-22h44m40s125

Being a political drama of its day, the story is very male-driven (Martin Balsam: “I have a feeling this time next week we’ll all be laughing.” Fiona: “On the other sides of our faces. Which will have been blown off”). But there’s room for a lusty turn from Ava Garner, and a very very shiny one from Colette MacDonald, who turns out to have been Preston Sturges’ daughter-in-law. We both thought it was Karen Black.

vlcsnap-2015-07-09-22h30m30s33

We correctly identified John Houseman, though, in his first screen appearance since TOO MUCH JOHNSON twenty-six years previously. In that one he was a Keystone Cop, in this one he is an admiral. Natural Authority.