Archive for Tay Garnett

Breakaway Props

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2019 by dcairns

Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne make a surprising duo, yet they made three films together (and didn’t really get on — Marlene seems to have been the difficult one).

The films have a lot of brawling in them. SEVEN SINNERS is my favourite, although Wayne’s character is kind of a self-destructive dope. Strong support from Mischa Auer, Marlene’s DESTRY co-star, a comparatively slim Broderick Crawford (pictured) and a villainous Oscar Homolka.

THE SPOILERS casts Randolph Scott against type as a louse, which like Wayne as a dope is unconventional but not particularly pleasing. I guess I’m like a 1940s audience member, unwilling to accept my stars out of type-casting.

Mind you, what it does to Wayne’s persona is positively dizzying, and I didn’t mind that so much. Even the blackface gag seemed… not as offensive as it should be. Marietta Canty’s sensitive playing keeps the humour just the right side of awful.

PITTSBURGH — and how weird is it that Universal made a film called PITTSBURGH and expected people to like it? — is my least favourite. Wayne plays an absolute louse, the worst character he ever played. He’s like Charles Foster Kane with anthracite. And I’m reminded of what Billy Wilder said about coal mining films — “I don’t leave the theater… elated.”

Also there’s not enough brawling. Does Pennsylvania lack conducive saloons?

A friend told me a story that’s movie punch-up related. His dad was a merchant seaman or something like that. First time at sea. They stopped in an exotic port and hit some seedy dive on shore leave. Somewhere like the Seven Sinners. A fight broke out.

The young not-yet dad immediately knew what to do — he’d seen the right movies. He grabbed a chair and swung it down on somebody’s back. There was a snapping sound, the guy fell to the floor — but the chair remained in his hands, unbroken.

He ran back to the ship and didn’t leave it for the rest of his leave.

The respective directors of these epics are Tay Garnett (kind of replaying HER MAN), Ray Enright, Lewis Seiler.

SEVEN SINNERS stars Lola Lola; the Ringo Kid; Dr. Cyclops; Harry Brock; Bronwyn; Prince Nikita Starloff; Professor Von Schwartzenhoffen; Col. Stok; Commodore Schmidlapp; Charleston; Blake of Scotland Yard; and Jabez Stone.

THE SPOILERS stars Lola Lola; Gil Westrum; the Ringo Kid; Millie Ray; Trader Horn; Bat MacPherson; Pa Bailey; Pa Joad; Tubal; James R. Smoke; Dobosh; and the Frankenstein Monster.

PITTSBURGH stars Lola Lola; Gil Westrum; the Ringo Kid; Doctor Harry Brewster; Prof. Shemp Howard; Captain Edward Teach aka Blackbeard; Pop Gehrig; Pa Bailey; Mr. Manleigh; and Mrs. Laurel.

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The Sunday Intertitle: All Done with Mirrors

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 27, 2019 by dcairns

An intertitle written by the young Tay Garnett for Stan Laurel’s SOMEWHERE IN WRONG (1925). Stan plays a tramp in this, but does not essay a Chaplin impersonation, despite having understudied the Great Man. He’s more in the spirit of American hobodom, rural rather than urban, intent on snaffling doughnuts cooling on a sill while evading a watchdog…

Still, it seems like pallid stuff at first. Stan falls down and animated stars emanate from his head — this rotoscoping effect seems to be something he was addicted to at the time. Stan always had a cartoon side at war with his more “realistic” human sensibility, breaking out in those fantasy gags where he uses his thumb as a Zippo, or the grotesque physical distortions of Ollie’s body (which used to horrify me as a kid).

Then, midway, some brilliance does start to emerge. Stan is tempted to break into a safe.

He reaches for the handle, eyes watching the door. But, as in some fever dream, his fingers grasp at the safe but find no purchase. Stan, still looking the other way, can’t figure out what’s going wrong, and repeatedly snatches at thin air. Finally he confronts the problem head on ~

There’s your problem! It wasn’t a safe, merely the reflection of one on the far wall. Stan was trying to break into a mirror.

The perspectival trick involved wouldn’t deceive anybody in real life, of course: it depends on very careful placement of the camera, the mirror, and the real safe, which is MUCH too far away in reality (the opposite side of a medium-size room) to fit snugly into the looking-glass as it appears to in this shot. But it’s an EXCELLENT gag. I don’t know how you even begin to think of something like that.

Well, I know step one.

Step one: be Stan Laurel.

But as to what step two is, I couldn’t tell you.

The Sunday Intertitle: Where the Worst Begins

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by dcairns

WEST OF HOT DOG is a (1924) silent Stan Laurel comedy, produced by Joe Rock, where Stan plays a sissified city gent all at sea in the sagebrush. Seeing Stan in a carriage with a girl at the start made me wonder if Keaton’s OUR HOSPITALITY was an influence, but Stan being a character player where Keaton was a star, he takes the tenderfootedness a lot further — into full-on effiminacy in fact. As if the glasses and camp manner weren’t enough, he’s also (the shame of it!) reading a book, entitled Let Brotherly Love Continue.

 

When the stage is held up by desperadoes, Stan retorts, “I shall see my attorney about this.” Which is funny without making much sense, since he’s the victim of a crime, not someone accused of one. Banditry was rarely tried in the civil courts out west.

The whole thing seems to be happening in the 1920s (note the cloche hat), but an alternate universe ’20s in which stagecoaches and stick-ups still characterised the wide-open spaces. But the enclosed space of Stan’s head has no room for such concepts. This temporal confusion reminds me of the Scottish cartoon strip Desperate Dan, which always seems to be set simultaneously in the Wild West, 1950s Dundee and, occasionally, contemporary Dundee. The ’50s thing is just because the writers and artists at DC Thompson got stuck in a time-warp of their own, deep in the shadowy confines of Scotland’s first reinforced concrete building.

Titles written by future director Tay Garnett. Some great “special effects” when Stan hits his thumb with a hammer — scratches on film for cartoon effect. When he’s shot in the bum, a huge white question mark whorls out of him like a tail, or escaping gas.

And yes, I’m tentatively interested in the forthcoming biopic STAN & OLLIE. Having seen some brilliant impersonation/embodiment of the boys onstage in Tom McGrath’s play Laurel and Hardy, I have high standards, and Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly will have to not only make us see the characters, but erase all trace of their own familiar selves. Coogan is an impersonator of genius, so Reilly will be the big unknown factor here, but he’s an excellent actor and comic…