Archive for Stagecoach

The Ghouls Go West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2021 by dcairns

I never had any interest in seeing BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA because it was obviously a stupid idea. But then I suddenly realised it’s a BRILLIANT idea. Well, maybe not brilliant. Maybe stupid. But the fact that star John Carradine was in STAGECOACH and wore a cape, and also HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN/DRACULA, makes him the perfect actor to bridge the seemingly insuperable gap between the Gothic horror of Bram Stoker and the western programmer. One could go further: Stoker’s novel was written and takes place around the time of the wild west, and features a cowboy character. John Findley’s comic strip Tex Arcana is a delightful fanged oater. It CAN be done.

BTKVD (which also stands for Bind Torture Kill Venereal Disease, a superior title) is quite watchably terrible. Carradine, breaking his own rule of “Never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing,” is caught dead doing this, with a red spotlight on his face when he acts scary, and theremin underscoring, vanishing via jump cut (a dissolve would have been acceptable), and emerging from behind scenery just after a beautifully unconvincing plastic bat has flapped on its wires out of view.

Billy the Kid is a dull fellow called Chuck Courtenay who worked mainly as a stuntman. It’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t go with history and make Billy a psychopath, it’s a shame they didn’t think to include some Indian lore, the scenario is a collection of such shames and pities and alases.

Melinda Casey, as Betty the female lead, looks hilariously sullen and pissed-off when under JC’s hypnotic whammy, as well she might.

The supporting players are pretty OK — Olive Carey and her boy Harry are down the bill. Virginia Christine from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is in there too.

There’s a surprisingly good mirror moment, followed by Carradine snarling like a cougar and hurrying from the room.

The same year of our Lord 1966, co-writer Carl K. Hittleman penned JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER, which only has Steven Geray as “Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein” to commend it. Naturally, I rushed to see it after being bored through BTKVD. It’s on YouTube. Connoisseurs of line flubs will find a certain amount to enjoy in both films, the concept of the retake having been seemingly unknown to the filmmakers.

This time Jesse is a proper bank robber though still not much of a bad guy. He’s escaped his legendary death at the hands of Bob and Charlie Ford and hooks up with the sad remnants of the Wild Bunch (mildly surprising that the title didn’t try to incorporate those guest stars too). Hittleman had previously penned THE RETURN OF JESSE JAMES, in which JJ WAS dead but was being impersonated by an impostor, so even the title in that case was a cheat.

Actually… since the wondrously-named Narda Onyx is playing the daughter of A Frankenstein, not THE Frankenstein, this one’s title is somewhat deceitful also.

Best bit is the “creation” scene — in fact, merely the outfitting of Jesse’s hulking buddy with a new, “artificial” brain (which is very small). Both “Igor” (Cal Bolder, another great name) and Onyx wear science hats made from old army helmets gaily painted, and equipped with neon tubing. Probably pretty dangerous to wear, actually.

Jesse has basically nothing to do once the film effects its midway DUSK TILL DAWN genre switch, spending most of the climax doped on a gurney. A better idea might have been to have the assassinated James revivified by Frankensteinian mad science. In this kind of story, there’s little room for anyone who’s not the scientist or the monster. If you can merge THOSE characters, as in THE FLY, you’re doing above-average, economically speaking.

The flat TV lighting in both cases is by Lothrop B. Worth (the names in the credits are the closest to poetry these films attain). Both movies are directed, poorly, by William Beaudine, who was well into his seventies, had been making movies since 1922 — none of them seemingly any good. THE APE MAN was back in 1943, and that was pisspoor. He managed to kill off Philo Vance in PHILO VANCE RETURNS: nobody’s gone near the character since 1947. If anyone wants to nominate a GOOD Beaudine movie, I will raise an eyebrow in skeptical gratitude.

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.

 

My theory, Part 1: Welles = Universal Horror

Posted in Comics, FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2013 by dcairns

wellesrichardiiiIt was at Norman Lloyd’s house that we saw this Al Hirschfeld cartoon, published in the New York Herald Tribune in 1938, predicting the roles to be taken on the New York stage by the leading players that fall.

Norman is top left — Hirschfeld always drew him this way, though Fiona thought it a dubious likeness.

Orson Welles is dead centre, as Richard III with flat-topped head and lank black wig. In the end he never played the role, something he blames John Houseman for, I believe, in My Lunches with Orson.

But the image suggests to me Boris Karloff, and ties in with my theory that Welles was influenced, probably in childhood, by the Universal school of horror.

Was Karloff’s monster a good model for Richard III? Possibly not — the personalities are quite different. But Welles’ putative performance as the disfigured, limping king might easily have been influenced by the monster, who had so recently returned to the screen in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. And there is at least one image in existence of a teenage Welles playing Richard on stage at the Todd School with a big, built-up head like the one in Hirschfeld’s cartoon.

Then there’s the Mercury Theater radio production of Dracula, which owes nothing much to the Universal movie but certainly displays a keen interest in, and aptitude for, gothic horror.

CITIZEN KANE’s opening has much of the feel of a ’30s horror film — Xanadu is not only dark, looking, shadowy and surrounded by desolation, it is a painting, like Castle Dracula. If few were convinced by Pauline Kael’s suggestion that Welles’ old-age make-up bore the influence of Peter Lorre’s Gogol from MAD LOVE, we can at least agree that part of the movie’s style is at times somewhat Gothic — and this fed into the 1943 JANE EYRE, which Welles influenced greatly (though he disparages the production in My Dinners with Orson.

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And Welles’ MACBETH would be the clincher — I’m certain Welles said something, somewhere, about BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN being a visual influence on his papier-mache and dry-ice Scotland, “a violent charcoal sketch of a great play.” Whale occupies exalted ground, since Welles has comparatively few cinematic antecedents — he borrows liberally from Eisenstein in his first two Shakespeare films, and the smooth matching of his theatrical sensibility with Gregg Toland’s cinematic one obviously helped form him as a filmmaker, but apart from that, Whale is just about the only source you can point to. (He learned basic film grammar from running STAGECOACH, and maybe there’s some stylistic influence — but nothing that couldn’t be explained easier by Toland’s help and Welles’ pre-existing fondness for chiaroscuro.)

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Part two of my theory tomorrow, and starting soon — a major Shadowplay series on CITIZEN KANE. What else is there to say about that film? Maybe nothing, but I will say it with different punctuation.