Archive for The Case of the Curious Bride

Nile Bodgers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2015 by dcairns

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Marvelous Mary came to tea and she had just seen THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD on the big screen and enjoyed it apart from Errol’s wig (which he designed himself) and expressed an interest in Michael Curtiz. Unfortunately for her, I had recently acquired some late Curtiz which I was curious about but also somewhat afraid of, and took this opportunity to plonk THE EGYPTIAN in the Panasonic. My intention had been merely to sample it, assess how boring, stiff and laboured it was, and then move onto something fun, but it was SO life-sappingly dull and devoid of humanity that we found ourselves subjugated to it. It crept by like an anamorphic Sunday afternoon, and we were pinned to the couch, helpless to escape the hieroglyphic onslaught.

Afterwards, to inject some vim back into the Shadowplayhouse, I ran THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE, a 1935 Perry Mason romp helmed by Curtiz in happier days, but by then both MM and Fiona were exhausted, and become probably the only audience in history to sit through THE EGYPTIAN, wide awake, and then fall asleep during the peppy post-code, which stars Warren William and Allen Jenkins and is a lot of fun. Perry Mason never actually makes it into a courtroom in any of the Warner Bros. films, doing all his lawyering on the hoof. This is maybe the snappiest and silliest of them all, with a particularly cheerful coroner and even a helpful man in a condemned cell (put there by Mason but philosophical about it) who doesn’t let his impending execution stop him adding to the general high spirits.

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Levity is in short supply in THE EGYPTIAN, a movie Brando busted out of, which gives you some idea. He was happy to play Napoleon, happy to don yellowface (as “Sakini”), but he couldn’t see himself as an ancient Egyptian doctor, breaking his contract and hightailing it and forcing them to recast. But was Edmund Purdom really necessary? To say that Purdom is no Brando is not to say much. But he’s barely even Edmund Purdom. Where other actors have presence, he offers only absence. His infallible technique for raising the dramatic interest in a scene is to exit it.

But in fairness, nobody else is particularly good. Jean Simmons can make no impression as a saintly tavern wench, a combination of personality and job description which may possible be playable but is no fun to play. Peter Ustinov has the only good lines, giving a dozen different explanations of how he lost his eye, and gives a masterclass in gruesome ham when he has to remove a ruby concealed in his empty socket. Gene Tierney is glamorous but glacial. Only John Carradine — weirdly — suggests a human being, even as his appearance suggests an articulated scarecrow on wires. Did he look at what everyone else was doing and decide that his usual declamatory mode wouldn’t cut it, and a conversational tone would allow him to stand out, a breath of fresh air in the Cinemascope desert? Did Curtiz terrorize him into new-found naturalism (unlikely: Ustinov thought his director was pretty out of it, not only linguistically challenged but mentally, after too many years of unquestioned, murderous tyranny). Or did Purdom’s suffusing tedium simply rob him of the bluster and gusto that powered his thespian excesses and leave him no option but simply to talk, like a person?

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John Carradine holding a shovel is better than Edmund Purdom holding anything.

Photography by Leon Shamroy, the Queen of Technicolor, was gorgeous — much better than his work on ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA which is curiously pallid. His usual complimentary colour schemes (gold and cobalt blue, the orange and teal of their day) are perhaps more muted than in the lusciously lurid LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, but still saturated enough to provide some relief from the soporific Nile-based  shenanigans.

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In a sense, Curtiz was coming full circle with his late epics — this and FRANCIS OF ASSISSI, which I haven’t steeled myself to — echo silent works from his German period like SODOM UND GOMORRHA and DIE SKLAVENKONEGIN, which likewise brought out his more turgid side but which are a walk in the park compared to THE EGYPTIAN. At least he still had good work to do — he followed this with two Christmas flicks (he was born on Christmas Eve), the boring WHITE CHRISTMAS and the snappy, black-hearted WE’RE NO ANGELS, which is maybe his best colour film after DR. X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM… oh, and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.

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The Sunday Intertitle: From Bad to Norse

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2010 by dcairns

A MOVING intertitle for you today, courtesy of Roy William Neill’s THE VIKING, a soundie filmed in two-strip Technicolor and produced by the inventor of the process, Dr. Kalmus.

Vikings attack suddenly!

While two-strip worked brilliantly on horror movies like DR X and THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, its limited palette and odd colour values are perhaps not wholly suited to a swashbuckling adventure like this: they attempt to add panache and glamour, but the effect is always slightly OFF. (I haven’t seen Doug Fairbanks’ THE BLACK PIRATE in colour so I don’t know if that succeeds more.) The cyan skies are hallucinatory picture-postcard backings, and the magenta vikings all look rather sunburned — which very possibly they were, running around bare-chested in what is clearly California.

We also get a tinny recorded score and sound effects — some manly singing, and the clash of cutlery when sword-fighting is introduced. I love soundies, because there’s no sense of the soundtrack being an anachronistic attempt at recreating the original effect. It is the original effect. I was a little upset to hear the composer of the new SUNRISE score badmouthing the original, which to me is exceedingly beautiful, flaws and all. I’m very glad both scores have been made available, so I can unhesitatingly choose the Movietone version every time.

Pauline Starke (WAMPAS Baby Star of 1922) is really good — but this movie preceded a precipitous decline into obscurity.

Have been thinking about, and looking at the works of, Roy William Neill since I posted about BLACK ANGEL. Every one of his films seems to contain moments of visual beauty far beyond what the genre content demands. The thrust-in on the screaming Saxon lady, with thrust-in on intertitle, is his most extravagant moment here, but his best visual poetry is usually b&w. Perhaps he’s best described as a Michael Curtiz who never made it into big pictures (THE VIKING may be as close as he got). Curtiz himself has a reduced reputation because he doesn’t quite fit the mold of auteur: he couldn’t give two craps about consistent personal themes, he’s purely occupied with a personal conception of cinematic beauty that’s expressed through light and shade and movement and design. But Curtiz obviously scores major points by having made movies like CASABLANCA. Not so Neill.

In early ’30s Curtiz movies like THE KENNEL MURDER CASE and THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE, we see him working with modest material, imbuing it with sparkle and zip. These films are hugely enjoyable and none the worse for not being quite A-picture material. Such was Neill’s playground for most of his career, and he seems to have been very happy to be there. Anyone who’d make eleven Sherlock Holmes pictures, after all, does not seem to be hugely ambitious or restless. Maybe having had his shot at the big time back in 1928, he was relaxed and content enough just to enjoy the cinematic possibilities of whatever entertainments the studio passed his way, or maybe also he just genuinely loved light hokum and devoted his talents to it wholeheartedly.

Beaches

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by dcairns

Agnes Varda and Chris Marker, the cat.

Forgot to mention how much I enjoyed THE BEACHES OF AGNES, an autobiographical essay-film by Agnes Varda. An 18 Certificate warned us of “strong sexual imagery,” which turned out to be one shot of man with an erect penis. I almost asked for my money back, then remembered that ten or so years ago the film probably couldn’t even have been shown uncut in the UK with such an image. So I guess it qualifies, barely, as a strong sexual image.

But it isn’t all penises, the film is charming and moving and produces regular striking images of the kind Varda has specialized in throughout her career, but which have been rarer in her recent tiny-budget documentaries, because houses made of film-strips and beaches decorated with mirrors require a little bit of time and money to set up. Somebody’s apparently given Agnes a bit of cash to make this one, and about time.

What else have I seen that I’ve forgotten to tell you about? There was THIRST, by Chan-Wook Park (OLD BOY), which Fiona liked a lot more than me. The borrowings from THERESE RAQUIN (previously filmed by Marcel Carne) sat oddly in a vampire movie, and the lead character’s moral decline never became as obvious to him as it needed to, in order to provide a dramatic catharsis. Lots of icky imagery and some beautiful visuals. The idea of a modern vampirism arising from an experimental treatment for an AIDS-like illness struck me as a bit tacky, though. (Although this disease afflicts celibate men, which at least is original.) OLD BOY is still this guy’s best movie by a squid-s length, although I’M AN ANDROID (BUT THAT’S OK) has considerable charm and oddity value.

Finally tracked down BACHELOR FLAT, Frank Tashlin’s widescreen bedroom farce with Terry-Thomas, Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer and Jessica Dachshund (a dachshund). The stand-out scene is the one everybody talks about, Jessica dragging a dinosaur bone along a beach (the shot CinemaScope was invented for), but T-T is on great form, Tuesday is as cute as a whole row of buttons, and there are some nice visual tropes. The only Tashlin left for me to see now I think is THE LIEUTENANT WORSE SKIRTS.

Been enjoying the 1930s Perry Mason films with Warren William (and later a couple other dudes), a widely disparate series of “thrillers,” some of which are pure slapstick and some of which rely a little more on drama. Mason’s secretary, Della Street, seems to be played by a different actress in every film, whereas Allen “Office Dibble” Jenkins turns up playing different characters. Michael Curtiz’s super-snappy THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE is the stand-out. Thanks to regular Shadowplayer mmedin for the discs.

Also, time for an update on the strange quest known as See Reptilicus and Die…