Archive for Sydney Chaplin

A night on the tiles, a day in the dark

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2018 by dcairns

Yesterday was good —

I woke up and found Fiona asleep on the bathroom floor. She’d gotten up to read, and the only place to do so without disturbing me was the bathroom, so she’d made a kind of nest there and fallen asleep. Weirdly, her night on the tiles put her in a very good mood as neither of us sleeps too well when in a foreign bed, and the packed viewing schedule doesn’t allow enough time anyway…

We rocked up for a set of Segundo de Chomon shorts at 9.00 am, including the beautiful METEMPSYCHOSE, with its unhappy babies, and the interplanetary Japonisme of VOYAGE ORIGINALE. Segundo is, as his name implies, the Second King of Fantasy Cinema, after Meliés, but only just.

Then Marguerite Clark (THE MASTER MYSTERY) donned Pierette garb (a recurring motif this fest) in the surviving reel and a half of PRUNELLA, directed by Maurice Tourneur. The cardboard sets, painted in graphic style, combined with Tourneur’s typical lighting effects to make something of rare beauty, very much like his version of THE BLUE BIRD, made the same year. And it actually contains the line “Oh, Prunella!” as an intertitle. David Ehrenstein should have been there. We’d missed Tourneur’s THE WOMAN, apparently a better film and more or less complete, but surviving only in degraded 16mm form.

That didn’t give us time to make it to Mario Monicelli’s I COMPAGNI, alas, so we dived into one of the Fox series, NOW I’LL TELL, which I had previously viewed but it was vastly improved by the pristine projection and the crowd’s enthusiasm. Fiona was blown away by Spencer Tracy in his early bad boy mode — he has some extraordinary scenes. Also, lot’s of pre-code situations and dialogue. “I was born in the Virgin Islands,” says Tracy’s new mistress. “Oh really, you must have left at an early age,” he purrs, off-mic and with his back to us as they leave the room, making the censor;s job easier, but underselling the joke to make it funnier.

We were all set for RUE DE LA PAIX from director Henri Diamant-Berger, a Natan production, but were kind of warned off it, so slipped into Andre de Toth’s NONE SHALL ESCAPE! For the second time in a row we bagged the last two seats in the house. Movie deals with post-WWII war crimes but was released in 1944, making it a form of science fiction, its title a black irony now that we know all about Operation Paperclip. Excellent perfs from Alexander Knox as a Nazi swine and Marsha Hunt as his former fiancée. The heroic Rabbi is played, completely straight, by Torben “This is a talking picture” Meyer, of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and the Preston Sturges stock company by Richard Hale. De Toth gets some scope out of his small-town Polish setting by repurposing what obviously started life as a western town.

With mathematical speed we swapped DeToth’s hard-hitting melo for a new biopic doc on Sydney Chaplin by Serge Bromberg & Eric Lange. SYDNEY: THE OTHER CHAPLIN marshalls an astonishing range of source materials to paint a well-rounded portrait of this troubling, essential figure, previously glimpsed this fest as the Kaiser in SHOULDER ARMS.

Then came the 7TH HEAVEN postponement, which gave us an early night to catch up on our sleep — in bed, this time. This brings us up to now. It’s 8.14 and Marion Davies takes to the screen in a dual role, with Neil Brand at the piano, in 46 minutes, more or less. I must get cracking.

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Brats

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2018 by dcairns

As the days blur into one another at a film festival, so do the films. Even on our first day of viewing, I was astounded to hear Marcello Mastroianni in LA FORTUNA DI ESSERE DONNA (LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN, 1954) hum the main jazz tune from DAINAH LA METISSE (1931), which we’d just seen. But it may have been my imagination.

The unintended theme of Day 1 was jealousy: in one of the silent shorts, a child’s doll comes to creepy stop-motion life and follows a little girl on a weirdly adult date, eventually breaking it up by telepathically implanting a vision of the kids’ restaurant meal in the mind of the girl’s nanny. The film’s title, absent from the print, supplied the absent motivation: THE JEALOUS DOLL (1909).

DAINAH features a jealous husband and all Sophia Loren’s suitors in LA FORTUNA are fiercely competitive. And don’t even get me started on REVENGE OF THE CREATURE.

Day 2 (Sunday) began with THE BRAT (1931), a charming pre-code John Ford from the Fox season. Sally O’Neil is adorable in it, Alan Dineheart repulsive but very funny. Male juvenile Frank Albertson is a classic Ford pretty boy but more interesting than Jeffrey Hunter, say. This is the only Ford I’ve seen where it’s the guy who gets spanked. Lest anyone feel excluded, there’s also a knock-down, skirt-shredding catfight between O’Neil and Virginia Cherrill (the blind flower girl from CITY LIGHTS). Some have cited this film as the reason Ford isn’t known for his drawing-room comedies, but it has a lot going for it, including Fox’s typical striking sets and angles — it feels very storyboarded in places, but Ford keeps it alive by seemingly refusing rehearsal and including all the line flubs in the finished cut.

The theme for the day, starting with this one, might have been dysfucntional families, with Pickford’s grotesque but lovable clan in ROSITA rounding off a series also including Roberto Gavaldon’s Wellesian noir-western hybrid ROSAURO CASTRO (1950) — in which Pedro Armendariz’s corrupt town boss is brought down by a government prosecutor in a story with, shall we say, contemporary resonance — and even MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, screened in a gorgeous Technicolor print. The sound cut out just before Judy & Margaret’s cakewalk, but was restored before we missed a note. Wham wham wham went our heartbeats.

FROM HELL IT CAME!

But Chaplin’s SHOULDER ARMS didn’t fit any particular theme, unless the family motif is covered by the presence of Charlie’s brother Sidney playing both his comrade-in-arms and, in heavy make-up, the Kaiser. This was shown in a unique tinted version, but never mind that — it turns out the SHOULDER ARMS we’ve been watching for the last, oh, hundred years, is composed entirely of out-takes and this, finally, is the authentic preferred version. The best of Charlie’s “it was all a dream” movies; there are almost no clever jokes — just audaciously dumb ones performed with incredible skill against a startling backdrop of total war (with sets by the great Charles D. Hall). He supplied prints free to veteran’s hospitals where it was projected on the ceiling for men too badly burned to sit upright. I can’t imagine how painful those laughs must have been.

The Sunday Intertitle: Sydney Failure

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2015 by dcairns

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I first realized how gifted a comedian Sydney Chaplin was when I noticed his interplay with his brother in A DOG’S LIFE — he’s the street vendor Charlie robs of cookies. The pair’s timing is exquisitely worked out, and the central conceit, that the number of cookies keeps diminishing and Charlie is the only suspect but Syd doesn’t feel able to make an accusation without catching him at it, is priceless.

I was disappointed, then, to learn that Syd was a rapist and a cannibal — and was caught at it. The story is gone over in Matthew Sweet’s Shepperton Babylon — Syd was preparing for the second of his British films when he assaulted an actress, Molly Wright, and bit her nipple off. He fled the country, leaving unpaid taxes (I know: infamy upon infamy) and the studio paid her a settlement.

It’s hard to imagine any way Wright could have made this story up (and certainly the studio acted like they believed her, in an era when movie studios were quite prepared to cover up sex crimes by their valued associates); it’s equally hard to imagine anyone biting off a body part unintentionally. It’s all horrific and creepy in the extreme, so much so that it’s not only surprising this isn’t better known, it’s slightly surprising that this story about the half-brother isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of Charlie. I guess that’s a measure of how his fame surpassed any scandal that came near him.

Sydney doesn’t seem to have done anything like this again, that we know of.

In THE MAN ON THE BOX (1925), made before the career-ending incident, Sydney is called a back-biter by a jealous husband, and makes the following denial —

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It’s an odd film. A MacGuffin about plans for a new helicopter leads to millionaire’s son Chaplin disguising himself as a coachman (in 20s California?), getting hired as a groom, pressed into service as a butler and then disguising himself as a maid (like his semi-sibling, he’s very convincing in drag — CHARLIE’S AUNT was one of his biggest hits). Syd is able and agile — there’s some ferocious knockabout involving him and the film’s director, Charles Riesner (best known for skippering STEAMBOAT BILL JR) who co-stars as an enemy agent. Another future director, David Butler, also appears, and is just the kind of guffawing hearty you might expect from his later work.

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“That’s right, Barrymore, pull them funny faces. HAW HAW!”

Syd is, as indicated, a skilled comedian, but he’s also an attractive and sympathetic screen presence, and at times his use of his eyes — flashing signals across a room like twin aldous lamps — is startlingly reminiscent of the better-known brother. For some reason, the squarer jaw-line makes his feminine side seem stranger — Charlie could be coquettish and it somehow seemed absolutely in keeping with his other qualities — imp, innocent, ruffian.

I guess if he ended up working in Britain his career was already on the slide, and there’s no reason to assume audiences had enough enthusiasm for him to want to see him move into talkies, so his career was going to be cut short by film history anyway. But it seems it should have been cut short by a prison sentence.