Archive for Stalag 17

Wild Laughter

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2021 by dcairns

FACT: Peckinpah’s legendary four-and-a-half hour cut of THE WILD BUNCH consisted of an hour of dialogue, half an hour of action, and three hours of RAUCOUS GUFFAWING. The 145 minute version now available to us, on the other hand, has an hour of dialogue, half an hour of action, and seven hours of RAUCOUS GUFFAWING.

I exaggerate for comic effect. I’ve always been impressed by the film’s acting and action, but a little dubious about the points its making, but this time round I was more impressed by all of the above — it’s more coherent than I gave it credit for. Though cohesion isn’t necessarily what I look to Peckinpah for. But this one hangs together, is more than a selection of spectacular/beautiful/horrifying set-pieces. Though we do see quite a lot of Ernest Borgnine, irrepressible gap-toothed comedian, and his epiglottis, during the lengthy scenes of bawdy laughter, it’s nevertheless a film of some poetic grandeur.

For the first time I remembered to watch out for and recognize Albert Dekker and Edmond O’Brien. I never clocked Dekker before because we never get to see his bald head, and I never recognized O’Brien because we never get to see his bald face. Also he is playing Dub Taylor’s role in MAJOR DUNDEE, in the manner of Dub Taylor in MAJOR DUNDEE, so I spent three of the two-and-a-half hours thinking he was Dub Taylor. If he’d given us a few bars of “Rock Around the Rockpile,” I’d have known him in an instant.

William Holden periodically doesn’t look recognizable either: his aging, his face-fungus, his manner — part of it is he’s really playing someone different. Though I noticed this gesture repeated from the end of STALAG 17, made a thousand years earlier when he was still a golden boy:

I was surprised at how un-bleak the post-climactic scenes were. I’d forgotten all about Robert Ryan’s rather sweet ending. And as he rides off with a new, slightly milder bunch, I suddenly felt that this was all a metaphor for the life of the filmmaker, swapping gangs but keeping on the go. It won’t be the same, but it’ll do.

Now about these Women…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2007 by dcairns

 A Representative Woman

Odd — isn’t it? — how many title like these there are:

TWO WOMEN

THREE WOMEN

SEVEN WOMEN

EIGHT WOMEN

EIGHT AND A HALF WOMEN

Whereas titles concerning numbers of men tend to be about specific KINDS of men: angry men, men in a boat, horsemen of the apocalypse. It’s as if men alone, of any number, are not enough to constitute a catchpenny attraction: there must be a modifier to imply some enticing dramatic situation. The Hollywood model: narrative is all.

Whereas women belong to the European tradition: the image is all. A title implying images of women is allure enough: “Psst! Wanna see some women?” “Why yes, now you mention it, I believe I do!”

All these women...

Be that as it may, TWO THOUSAND WOMEN is a female P.O.W. movie by Frank Launder, of the Launder-Gilliat writing team that scripted Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES (What kind of lady? Doesn’t matter) and later brought us the ST TRINIANS FILM, rather more often than was strictly required.

Launder, the more comic of the team, had heard stories from British women who had been interned in occupied France and thought the subject ripe for a propaganda piece but, feeling the public might be tired of grim reality, decided to keep the film jaunty. In later years he regretted this a bit, and the light tone does seem to rob the film of some of its potential appeal, slackening suspense and softening agreeably hard edges the moment they appear. STALAG 17 in skirts, in other words.

Launder was limbering up for the St Trinians films’ all-female environments, which seem to have had some attraction for him. His first feature, MILLIONS LIKE US, co-directed with Gilliat, spends plenty of time in a factory staffed by “mobile women” drafted and relocated to help the war effort. Patricia Roc, pudgy-faced and doe-eyed and with the delivery of Stan Laurel, stars in both films, effective as a placid working girl in MLU (her initial response to a proposal of marriage is “I don’t mind,”), rather incredible as a showgirl-with-a-shady-past turned nun. She nails the nun, the hoochie defeats her.

Come in, Houston

But really, Renée Houston is the whole show. Entering showbiz as a jazz singer with her sister Billie, and later typed as a harridan in Carry On films and the like, here she’s a force of nature as a former girls’ school teacher (obviously at St Trin’s) whose educational experience enables her to organise escape attempts and floor nazi agents with a powerful right hook. Her Scots accent tinged with a little American twang, she’s never more than a notch away from the archetypal Mad Auntie, that spectre at the banquet haunting all Scottish gatherings, but she hoists the film up by its collar and old school tie and shakes it until it puffs and splutters like Erskine Sanford in CITIZEN KANE.

Harridan Stanton.

Renée’s capacity to instill terror is well used in Polanski’s REPULSION, produced by the late Tony Tenser, where we find her, prone, at Vidal Sassoon’s salon, playing Miss Balch, presumably named after Anthony Balch, the William Burroughs associate and later director of HORROR HOSPITAL, who was moving in Tenser’s sex-film circles at around this time…

Good poster!