Archive for The Bridge

Ransom Note

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2016 by dcairns

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Never interrupt Ralph Morgan’s embroidery.

Charles Vidor was a very interesting stylist — some of his films are pretty ordinary, but then he’d do slightly mad things. GILDA, his masterpiece, has several eccentric flourishes, including a forced perspective shot with outsize dice as its very first image, and continually makes interesting cutting and framing choices that get more eccentric the more you think about them. His silent short, THE BRIDGE, (which you can see here) is full of striking moments, such as a double exposure of drumsticks beating with the chest of a prisoner about to be executed, making us not only hear but see and feel his pounding heartbeat.

MUSS ‘EM UP is a 1936 thriller based on a pulp detective novel by James Edward Grant (don’t know his work) — it’s faithful enough to the tone and conventions of Black Mask fiction to play like a true film noir, quite a few years early (even more so than Vidor’s BLIND ALLEY). Preston Foster is the hardboiled hero, and the un-starry but capable supporting cast comprise a fine net full of red herrings.

A wealthy man’s dog has been shot and he’s been receiving threatening letters. Gumshoe Tip O’Neil (Foster) moves in to crack the case, and finds that the entire family and staff are sharpshooters, making it tricky to narrow the field of suspects. Then there’s a kidnapping, and this happens ~

Ransom note from David Cairns on Vimeo.

So, Vidor tracks through the wall and on to another room — an Ophulsian trick, almost before Ophuls was doing it. What the roving camera finds in that room is the same group of characters, differently attired, at a different time of day. Again, like Ophuls in his very last films of the fifties, Vidor has TRACKED THROUGH TIME.

The other earliest example of this I can think of is the ambitious but slightly clunky shot in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP — “Forty years ago… forty years ago…” which takes us into flashback in a steam bath. Vidor’s version is earlier and possibly more successful, if less epic/romantic.

He repays watching.

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Occurrence

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2011 by dcairns

Untitled from David Cairns on Vimeo.

To be honest, I’m not so much surprised that Ambrose Bierce’s work has inspired so many filmmakers, as I am surprised that it hasn’t inspired more. I guess the fact that he eschewed long form storytelling (as a matter of principle, to hear him tell it) is a factor, but so for the most part did Poe and Lovecraft, who are much more frequently filmed. I can’t account for that.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was most famously adapted by Robert Enrico, and the resulting short became, somehow or other, an episode of The Twilight Zone, exposing it to a much wider audience that Enrico’s other two Bierce films, CHICKAMAUGA and THE MOCKINGBIRD. But for my money, Charles Vidor’s version, entitled THE BRIDGE, is much much better.

It’s available on the extraordinary box set UNSEEN CINEMA, which you should all immediately buy.

The bit that really grabs me, in a film full of fascinating visual ideas, is the superimposition of the drumsticks beating the skin over the hero’s chest. Two images united to create more than one idea and emotion — by showing the drum and the man at the same time, anticipation is heightened, but the beating of the drum comes to stand for the racing of the man’s heartbeat, evoking something a silent film can’t make you hear, or feel. That’s CLEVER.

Some imaginative trope of that kind was surely required when Tony Scott filmed ONE OF THE MISSING, another of Bierce’s Civil War horror stories, but although he pulls off some good angles and generates a fair bit of suspense (you can see this short on the CINEMA 16 collection) he never gets near evoking the striking passage in Bierce’s tale where the soldier, trapped by rubble with his fallen rifle pointing straight at his head, primed and ready to fire, imagines the sensation of the bullet passing slowly through his brain…

Vidor really displays moments of similar zest in GILDA (the giant dice in the opening shot) and I guess in COVER GIRL, also LADIES IN RETIREMENT and BLIND ALLEY. When the project roused his enthusiasm, he was quite an expressionist.

Further reading: The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce

Of course, Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionaryis wickedly funny, but less known than either his supernatural tales and his war stories are his grotesque, jet-black tall tales, which are quite incredibly sick and extremely amusing.

Further further reading: more from me at Limerwrecks here, here and here. What rhymes with TINGLER?

Further viewing: Unseen Cinema – Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 An amazing treasure trove of obscure fragments of wonderment.

Airtight

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 5, 2011 by dcairns

I can only assume that Charles Vidor’s DOUBLE DOOR hasn’t had much attention because the title is so off-puttingly banal. Might was well call it FRENCH WINDOWS or WAINSCOTING. Or ORNATE CORNICE. In fact, the movie is a somewhat stagey but very watchable thriller with some very pleasing direction by the Hungarian rhapsodist. Those of you who have exhausted the most celebrated 1930s horrors, moved onto the less-renowned ones, and are still hungry for more, should seek it out. Not quite a horror movie, it still hinges on the idea of premature entombment, and has a nasty villainess who sometimes provokes gasps of horror just by the way Vidor throws in a sudden close-up of her.

She’s played by Mary Morris, in what seems to be her only movie role. Very theatrical, with a scary old woman voice that’s obviously put on for the occasion — she was only 39! Her job is to be the audience’s hate-figure as she rules her family with an iron fist, deliberately trying to break up her half-brother’s marriage to Evelyn Venables (whose character name, Ann Darrow, appears to have been a popular one in the 30s). All to justify a chilling ending where comeuppance is visited with Old Testament viciousness.

A great shame MM didn’t do more movies. I like flamboyant hambones, and anybody who can do a really hissable villain as unapologetically as this should’ve been in regular work.

The title refers to the “mysterious sleeping room”, an airtight, soundproofed chamber designed to protect the house’s first owner from the noise of 5th Avenue traffic. Bizarrely, it has a combination lock which operates from the outside — I guess that’s a later addition. Due to the script’s rather rigid adherence to its source play, we never SEE the hidden room, but that does make the place seem all the more fearful.

Vidor has great fun with the townhouse’s grand staircase, dividing the main set into two levels and getting a lot of compositional play out of the bannister. The hero’s memory of being forced to hold his dead father’s hand is presented via an atmospheric flashback, and Vidor generally does enough with the stagebound scenario to make one wish he’d been given a crack at DRACULA. Despite the brilliance of GILDA, I do feel he was a little smothered at Columbia.

To cement her status as scheming mastermind, Mary plays the organ. Of course she does.

To back up such a tendentious statement, I’d point to Vidor’s short THE BRIDGE, which has more visual and narrative genius in its ten minutes than… well, just about anything.