Archive for The Ladies’ Man

Deliberately Buried

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2019 by dcairns

Guest Shadowplayer Bruce Bennett contributes a piece which ties in neatly with my ongoing exploration of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Many thanks to Mike Clelland for connecting us up, and to Bruce for letting me run this. Any questions can be raised in the comments section. Over to you, Bruce ~

During a visit with Film Comment magazine’s editor Nic Rapold last spring I proposed an article that would document what was, in my opinion, a largely overlooked shadow of influence that a handful of prior films cast on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I offered to put together a proposal outlining some of the films and ideas and connections I wanted to get into and a month or two later I finally got around to whipping up a pdf on the topic(s) and sent it along. We talked about it a bit but I got busy with other stuff, Nic had a dozen other writers to shepherd, and ultimately 2001’s Golden Anniversary year ended with neither me writing nor Film Comment publishing the piece I had in mind. Here, then, is the thing I sent Nic – not an outline nor an article nor, god help us, a listicle – just some frame grabs (and one downloaded image from the WWW) and notes intended to give the reader an idea of what I was onto and cue me in further discussions and woolgathering. If nothing else, I guess, it’s a proven example of how not to pitch Film Comment…? Enjoy.

2001: A Magpie Odyssey

In the not too distant future, a spacecraft shuttles a space agency PHD bearing details of a secret mission to an orbital space station.

  “Conquest of Space” Byron Haskin – 1955

Talking points: The strange case of George Pal’s espoused distaste for 2001 (per Frayling) having nothing to do with his own film having been apparently co-opted in 2001’s creation. A short history of Conquest’s star-crossed production, resulting not-for-the-faint-of-sensibility grotesquerie & a love sonnet to Hal Pereria’s Paramount art dept.

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Objects liberated from gravity float, fly and couple across a spinning 2.35 frame in a weightless ballet set to Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz.

    “Trapeze” Carol Reed – 1956

Talking points: The long arm of aesthetic influence that Krasker & Reed’s collaboration extended to filmmakers of SK’s generation. Ditto Krasker and Anthony Mann’s films…?

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Onboard an orbiting space station, space travelers exchange somewhat tangled sentiments with loved ones home on Earth via videophone.

“Conquest Of Space”

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Upon arrival, an unctuously bland bureaucratic space agency PHD shocks subordinates with secret mission orders.

  “Conquest Of Space”

Talking points: Compare, contrast the exquisite blandness of William Sylvester’s Dr. Floyd (perhaps, and this is a difficult to value to assign, the single most remarkable performance from 2001’s North American ex-pat cast) vs. William Hopper’s Dr. Fenton. Some further discussion of Conquest’s uniquely off-putting qualities being as challenging, in their way, as 2001’s were…

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Zero gravity enables a spacecraft crewmember’s wall walk.

  “The Quatermass Xxperiment” Feature version – Val Guest – 1955

Talking points: Why, in all the untold hours of interviews and DVD commentaries he’s done, including a 200+ page published memoir, did Val Guest himself never make this connection?

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Puzzled scientists and officials descend a ramp into an ongoing excavation of an extra-terrestrial artifact that’s been buried for eons.

  “Quatermass and the Pit” BBC TV version – Rudolph Cartier – 1958

“Quatermass and the Pit” Feature version – Roy Ward Baker – 1967

Talking points: The curious case of production of the ’67 Pit taking place more or less at the same time and in the same studio as 2001, with some crew crossover.

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The exposed, now energized extraterrestrial artifact ominously and noisily awakens.

  “Quatermass and the Pit” (1967 feature version)

Talking points: Nigel Kneale’s close proximity to Arthur Clarke original short story, The Sentinel.

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Tasked with repairing his space craft’s antenna mid-flight, an unsuspecting astronaut dies, his lifeless body cast into the void of space.

      “Conquest Of Space”

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The most committed member of an interplanetary space expedition goes insane and threatens the lives of his comrades.

“Conquest of Space”

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A seeker’s journey crosses a threshold into an alien yet abjectly familiar white environment that’s outside time, space and logic.

 

  “The Ladies Man” – Jerry Lewis – 1961

Talking points: Hal Pereira Superstar redux. Jerry’s anecdote about turd polishing…?

Bruce Bennett

 

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Cunning Stunts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2013 by dcairns

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LUCKY DEVILS is a pre-code about stuntmen with rather podgy heroes (William Boyd and the reliable unappetizing William Gargan), a childish but slangy screenplay, and some spectacular stunt action. Co-writer Bob Rose was a stuntman himself, which perhaps explains the mixture of unconvincing dramatics and insider knowledge and jargon. Without pushing a particular agenda, the movie does manage to make the movies seem a pretty cut-throat business, from the suicide attempt staged in front of a blinking Hollywood sign, to the cold-blooded demands of inconsiderate directors seeking ever more risky stunts.

The movie opens with a dynamic, violent and destructive bank robbery, much more extreme than most Hollywood action sequences of the day (well, maybe SCARFACE and BEAST OF THE CITY come close), and proceeds to serve up a wide variety of daring leaps, plunges, crashes and smashes. One in particular, a swing over a burning building, is cinematically exciting as well as hair-raising. Director Ralph Ince, youngest of the Ince brothers, has got his hands on a zoom lens (the same year saw RKO using it in KING KONG) and he uses this to lucidly set up the forthcoming action and its participants, panning and reframing from one to the other. Once Boyd (or rather, his stuntman — the actor may have gone on to embody Hopalong Cassidy but I doubt he’d be game for this) is dangling from a rope fifty feet in the air, Ince uses the zoom to make little nervous adjustments to the shot, really creating the sense that it’s happening “live”. By injecting an air of the extemporaneous into what one hopes is a carefully planned event, he ups the tension considerably. I found myself wondering if the stunt was supposed to be this dangerous, with the faux-Boyd swaying back and forth repeatedly, unable to get a toe-hold on the safety platform. This is exactly how a modern director might use the zoom (if he isn’t just restlessly jerking it around out of sheer indecision).

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CITIZEN KANE’s Vernon Walker put together the special effects, which include a plunge into a burning building, and rear-projection work which incorporates footage from Clarence Brown’s TRAIL OF ’98, an MGM movie where four stuntmen were actually drowned (according to testimony in Brownlow & Gill’s Hollywood series). On the one hand, it’s considerate of the makers to spare their stuntmen a fresh set of risks, preferring to recycle previous death-defying or death-inflicting acts, but on the other, it’s more than a little tacky to exploit this footage again, even if we don’t actually see anyone going under…

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Supporting players include Bruce Cabot and a slender Creighton Chaney, a few years before he became Lon Jnr. “He’s almost good-looking!” exclaimed Fiona. Also, there’s stuttering comedian Roscoe Ates, from FREAKS. The mean humour milked from his speech impediment here is pretty distasteful to modern sensibilities. In FREAKS, they were smart enough to cast him as kind of a heavy, where his perpetual manly bluster could be undercut by the stammer (his character was married to one of the siamese twins, and you did rather think she could do better for herself/her sister). I see Ates was still acting in the early sixties, appearing in a couple of Jerry Lewis movies. I have no memory of him in THE LADIES’ MAN and THE ERRAND BOY — maybe he’d dropped the schtick?

Hitch Year, Week Five: Ringu

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2009 by dcairns

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THE RING seems almost entirely structured around various interpretations of the title: the boxing ring, the wedding ring, the serpentine bangle that symbolises infidelity, this bit of gypsy cartomancy, and the cyclical nature of the story. The result is perhaps a little schematic, and Hitchcock avoided placing his motifs front-and-centre in future.

Hitchcock’s sixth film was only the second project he chose himself (after THE LODGER), an original screenplay written with Alma Reville, the recently-wed Mrs Hitchcock. Eliot Stannard is also named as co-writer in John Russell Taylor’s authorised biography, Hitch,and since Stannard seems to have worked on every Hitchcock silent from THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE on, this seems plausible.

The story itself is very much on the thin side, with a boxer’s wife deserting him for the champion, and him winning her back in the championship match. No reason is given for her to prefer the champ, other than his status (hero Carl Brisson is better-looking, has no obvious vices, and is on the rise professionally), with the result that she loses all sympathy, and we can’t root for him to win her back, since she appears unworthy of his dogged devotion.

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I said, “I like this room!”

Fiona said, “It’s ROPE.”

All this is resolved magnificently in the climax, a tour-de-force display of cinematic fisticuffs, where Mrs Boxer returns to her husband’s corner when he’s being beaten — this restores her sympathy and his confidence, allowing him to throw off his concussion and beat eight shades of shit out of his opponent and romantic rival (the eight shade is invisible to the human eye, but dogs can hear it).

THE RING uses more frequently and with more variety than any previous Hitchcock, an array of subjective techniques designed to put us psychologically in the gym shoes of the protagonists. When best man Gordon Harker gets drunk at Brisson’s wedding banquet, Hitch attaches beer goggles to his camera, resulting in a smeary blur of drunken anamorphosis. A similar effect comes into play at the climax, when Brisson is knocked silly by a vigorous sequence of face-punchings, showing that Hitchcock was still keen on the symmetry showcased in EASY VIRTUE, where many visual tropes are repeated with variations at different points of the narrative, like musical refrains. As a story progresses, it’s often very effective to evoke what has gone before, because it reminds the audience of how far things have moved on (always assuming things HAVE moved on — Jerry Lewis seems to be sending up the whole subject of narrative when, in THE LADIES’ MAN, he stages a flashback of a scene we just saw five minutes earlier).

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Earlier, a simple POV shot, as Mrs B (Lillian-Hall Davis) watches the first fight between her fiancé and her future lover, works as a powerful suspense-builder: as the fight goes into an unprecedentedsecond round (at this point, the hero is a fairground boxer who always floors his opponents in the first round), the crowd becomes too thick for her to see the action. In this way, too, Hitchcock is able to hold back on showing any boxing at all until the end of the picture, outside of the occasional montage.

(While Hitch wasn’t what you’d call sporty, he had a fascination for all aspects of show-business, particularly the seediest. His fairground scenes are particularly vivid, and the final match drew on his impressions from attending fights at the Albert Hall.)

When Brisson is seized by jealousy at a party (very RAGING BULL, at least in superficial terms), Hitchcock is able to use both POV and mirror reflections, two things of considerable interest to him throughout his career, and then use a double exposure to show the image of Lillian H-D and her lover in an embrace, superimposed wherever Brisson looks. At another point, the smug, lardy lover’s bloated kisser appears phantasmally projected upon a punchbag. It gets socked clean across the room.

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In fact, Lillian appears in numerous special effects and reflections throughout the film, suggesting that we’re being deceived by an image rather than following a real person. Our perception of her character changes along with her husband’s, and even when it turns out she does love him, his realisation of this comes when he sees her face reflected in his bucket of water.

It’s pretty interesting, and goes some way to complicating the film — not so much her character, but our perception of it. In terms of dramaturgy, THE RING is a lot stronger than EASY VIRTUE, and is devoid of the laughable moments that pop up in that film (mostly in the flashbacks from the courtroom scene). Hitchcock would work with Brisson, Hall-Davis and Harker again within the year. Ian Hunter, the pudgy heavyweight, preceded Hitch to Hollywood and carved out a long career playing kings, officers, and other authority figures who have to be impressive without being too exciting.

While not a box office success, THE RING brought Hitchcock critical praise. His next three films, be warned, were not so popular with reviewers or with Hitch himself. Calling THE RING “the second real Hitchcock film”, he declined to admit CHAMPAGNE, THE FARMER’S WIFE or THE MANXMAN into that inner oeuvre. I haven’t seen any of them, so I’m looking forward to seeing what went wrong…

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An early Hitchcock cameo? Of course not… but for a moment there…