Archive for The Fallen Idol

The Old Lady Baby

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on February 12, 2014 by dcairns

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RIP Shirley. One of her youngest fans, the daughter of a good friend, discovered her on “the YouTube” and was mightily taken by her performance as “the old lady baby” in this clip ~

Mark Cousins excerpts the same scene in The Story of Film, and makes the complaint that Temple is too performative, not natural enough — I think a difficult point to make stick when the kid is singing a song, but he has a point more generally. Of course ST was the consummate pro even as a toddler — what you see is an incredibly skilled artifice, amazing in one so young, and a different kind of talent than those kids who are simply able to behave onscreen. With the amazing Bobby Henrey in THE FALLEN IDOL, which Monte Hellman has called the best-directed film he’s ever seen, we have a series of authentic bits of behaviour, extracted by director Carol Reed and assembled into a narrative. AD Guy Hamilton thought Henrey couldn’t act at all, because all he saw was the effort it took from Reed to get those moments, and all the other moments which were wrong and couldn’t be used.

Shirley, of course, would have been perfect every take of every shot. It’s just a different kind of talent — and she had more of her particular kind than any other kid who’s acted on the screen.

Unsettling images from BABY TAKE A BOW, or as I call it, THE BLUE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE.

Russian Lark

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2012 by dcairns

While doing a bit of side-research on THE 39 STEPS — side-research being the stuff that’s strictly work-avoidance — I ran KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR, the big Korda misfire, directed by Jaques Feyder, whose LA KERMESSE HEROIQUE I had just revisited.

This film does rather waste everything it’s got — it has a lot, so it can afford to waste a lot, but as I say, it wastes everything. I have a suspicion Jacques Feyder is not quite my bag, which means I tend to appreciate the bits of his films which seem least successful, hardest to explain. LA KERMESSE HEROIQUE is almost entirely composed of such bits, so I like it a lot. KNIGHT’s biggest handicap is its lack of shape and drama, odd in a film with so much killing, romance, and headlong pursuit. With a bit of practice I might get to appreciate the way the film endlessly postpones its excitement, then repeats the same capture-escape cycle for the last hour. As it is, there are little glimmers of interest along the way —

Here’s Michael Redgrave in what may be his first film role — unlisted by the IMDb! Gloweringly fervid, he’s actually too exciting for the film, but by no means hammy or “theatrical” in a bad way. (I’m not mistaken, I hope — I thought I spotted Hitchcock fave John Williams, but it proved to be Austin Trevor.)

And here’s Moscow, elegantly imagined by Feyder and Clair’s regular production designer, Lazare Meerson. Much of this film boasts enormous reconstructions of Russian revolution scenes, so it’s a little surprising to find such a minimalist Moscow. Very effective and convincing, though.

Dietrich and Donat (who have surprising quasi-chemistry) circle each other for the first half hour without meeting, thirty minutes devoted to explaining why Donat, an Englishman, has become a Red Comissar. First he’s a journalist, due to be kicked out of Tsarist Russia for his too-honest articles — a complete retread of Olivier’s role in THE YELLOW TICKET. But swiftly he’s recruited by His Majesty’s Secret Service, in a surprisingly convincing, low-key scene — the functionary buys him dinner and drops a hint. Then he infiltrates the revolutionary movement, gets implicated in an assassination attempt, spends two years as a prisoner in Siberia, and is liberated by the Bolsheviks and finally is placed in charge of aristocratic prisoner Marlene Dietrich (the only Russian with a German accent — the rest are English and Scottish and say things like “What the dickens?”).

During all this circumlocutory preamble, Marlene just swans about in frocks, searching for a subplot she can call her own, but without her usual success.

It’s 39 STEPS time again when Donat goes on the run with this blonde, hunted by both sides — but the promising cross-country pursuit is continually interrupted by captures and escapes which always depend on ludicrous amounts of luck. But the train station with the mad railway guard (Dundonian character thesp Hay Petrie’s finest role: in THE FALLEN IDOL he just walks in and winds the clocks) is very fine, and a scene of Donat reciting Browning to Dietrich is actually sublime — Donat’s voice, the verse, and Miklos Rosza’s underscoring and Marlene’s wide, luminous eyes… The Adam & Eve idyll in the forest is beautifully shot by Harry Stradling.

Peter Bull plays another commissar, a little glimpse into how the Russian ambassador of DR STRANGELOVE started his career, perhaps. There’s also Miles Malleson — “He won’t be doing the crossword tonight!” — and Raymond Huntley! Yay, Raymond Huntley!

Korda contract player John Clements gets to steal the show — a romantic Russian who dies for love, he basically usurps Donat’s role, leaving the whole thing to sort of fray away to a Grand Finally. We realize that the central relationship hasn’t developed past love at first sight, the jeopardy has all been of the same sort, and so the movie’s been running in place for an hour, as gigantic Meerson sets trundle past. No wonder the thing didn’t do well.

But as a sort of fantasy travelogue of the Russian revolution, sort of diverting, and never less than beautiful, visually. Haunted by history, since a traditional Happy Ending is impossible with Russia as one of the main characters. Impossible to this day, arguably.

Knight Without Armour (1937)

Burning Secret (Brennendes Geheimnis , 1933)

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2010 by dcairns

March’s Robert Siodmak film is one from the 1930s period in his native Germany, and it combines the elements of realism and expressionism which struggle together throughout his career. Like his first film, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY, it deals with a holiday resort, in this case a picturesque lakeside retreat where one might expect to meet the boys from Duvivier’s MARIANNE DE MA JEUNESSE at any moment. Like THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN and THE SUSPECT, it deals with adultery as a plot device, but it’s not a crime drama. Instead, the story is seen through the eyes of a young boy, who does not initially understand that the racing driver he idolizes has designs on his mother, and is using him as a way to get close to her.

Since for much of the running time there are in a sense two parallel stories, the little boy’s version of what he thinks is going on, and the bigger picture we in the audience are aware of, the story most resembles that of Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s later THE FALLEN IDOL. While the Reed-Greene is a masterpiece, Siodmak’s movie (from a book by Stephan Zweig, script by Frederick Kohner, who followed Siodmak to France and then the US) is something less, but it still shows great skill in sidestepping the various pitfalls of sentiment and moralising which could lie in its path.

The climax, where the boy has to decide whether to protect his mother and lie to his father, is particularly well handled in this regard — there’s a dizzying change of authority which the boy doesn’t know what to do with. Siodmak’s handling keeps our feelings unsettled and avoids easy answers.

Everybody gets a degree of sympathy in this story — which reminds us that Zweig wrote the source for Ophuls’ LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN — and Willi Forst as the loverboy, Hilde Wagener as the mother, and Hans Joachim Schaufuß as the boy, are all appealing and natural. Alfred Abel, of Murnau’s PHANTOM, appears briefly as the dad.

(The kid grew up to be a soldier and perished on the Eastern front. Forst turned down a role in Nazi propaganda horror JEW SUSS, survived the war and lived a full life, as did Wagener.)

Despite all this sensitive work, and a neatly worked-out plot which interweaves the lives of various hotel guests and staff into the narrative, my favourite part was still the sensationally expressionistic dream sequence, where the boy imagines his mother  and her new man mockingly eloping and abandoning him. A sudden blast of feverish craziness in a film otherwise distinguished by its striking landscape photography and understated performances…