Archive for The Lady from Shanghai

Astoria Wall Street

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2017 by dcairns

I watched and appreciated LAUGHTER, the 1930 precursor to the great screwball comedies that started in ’34, despite Fiona constantly protesting “This isn’t a screwball comedy at all.” She’s right, it isn’t. But it does touch on a number of the attitudes and conceits that would come into play in that genre eventually. Particularly the contempt for rich people who work. Frank Morgan is the cuckolded Wall Street bull (complete with horns) — NOT playing it with the full-on dither you’d expect of him. He’s just diffident and melancholy, as is the film, despite its title.

This was shot at the Astoria studios in New York, with some of the same inertia, camera-wise, as you’ll find in the early Marx Bros films, which show a much more robust attack on high society. They hadn’t got the microphone boom yet, so the actors tend to be pinned in place like butterflies… but there’s definitely an effort afoot here to set people in motion. And there’s some ambitious location shooting, and a few striking dolly shots where sound recording was evidently suspended to allow greater mobility. But the energizing effect of this is partially undone by the camera being so consistently far from the actors, causing it to feel perversely theatrical. This is as close as we get to the attractive leads ~

No rear projection!

James Harvey does such a good job dissecting this film in his magisterial Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, I find I have little else to say. Basically, he points out the film’s prevalent gloominess — a happy ending is finally procured by way of the suicide of a minor character. It’s a screwball comedy with only ten minutes of screwiness, and less comedy.

But I do want mention the presence of Glenn Anders, immortal for his oleaginous twitching in LADY FROM SHANGHAI. He does a similar act in Losey’s M. But here, the younger, slimmer, less sweaty Anders sometimes looks conventionally handsome, except when he doesn’t, when he looks just as hideous as he did for Welles, and it’s that impression that haunts his performance. He found his niche later.

Nancy Carroll is the leading lady, but the film only comes to life when Fredric March barges into it. This wasn’t always the case for Fred — sometimes, in his later, patrician roles, he’s very far from being the life and soul of the party, but here he shakes things up whenever he appears, acting faster, lighter and more natural than everyone else put together, if you could put them together, and why would you want to? Director Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast evidently thought it was a good idea, since he did it, in this film.


03 Giovedi

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2014 by dcairns


Yeah, I haven’t finished trawling through Bologna yet, have I?

One thing about Il Cinema Ritrovato — unlike a lot of good experiences, it isn’t over quickly. Once you hit the wall (which happened to me before I was really halfway through), time slurs to a near-halt like Wendell Corey on a steep slope, accelerating or dissolving away during screenings and conversations — the minutes flit, but the days stretch on, impersonators of infinity. It’s nice!

I had now adopted a policy of seeing things loud enough to keep me awake — other anti-sleep qualities were strong narratives, speed, and familiar faces. This made the early Japanese talkies and the Polish widescreens a bad risk, but I still hoped to catch some (I failed with the ‘scopes).


Chaplin’s WORK was supposed to begin the day at 9, but I was too sleepy. I think the first thing I made it to was THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK at 10.45. In the intro it was explained that despite valiant efforts by restorers, legal wrangles prevented the movie from being repaired, so the print we saw was somewhat pinked, badly spliced, and missing at least one whole scene. I think it may have been missing more, because although I’ve seen it before I didn’t remember it making QUITE so little sense. But it’s an Italian horror movie so anything’s possible. I wished they’d screened THE GHOST instead.

And then it was lunchtime already — after which (I’m sure it was a good one, but I didn’t take notes) I finally saw one of the Italian compendium episodes that had been getting such raves throughout the fest (Alexander Payne declared one to be the best thing he saw, but nobody could tell me WHICH one). I’d been a touch resistant, since in the compendia I’d seen, only the Fellini episodes tended to be any good. Shows what I know. This one was from Alessandro Blasetti’s TEMPI NOSTRI, the follow-up to his ALTRO TEMPI, which inaugurated the who anthology-film craze in Italy.


It was introduced by Blasetti’s daughter, a voluble nonagenarian, and I realized why these screenings were all overrunning by half an hour. But the background she provided was ESSENTIAL — the episode starred Vittorio De Sica and was SUPPOSED to re-team him with Gina Lollobrigida, with whom he’d formed a popular couple in the previous movie. But Lollobrigida balked at playing a deceived wife, arguing that it was not plausible that a man married to her would ever stray. Blasetti was forced to recast so Elisa Cignani is on jiggling duties instead (literally, she vibrates her body in every scene, sometimes by bouncing one crossed leg, sending tremors through her torso which assume Vesuvian proportions beneath her blouse), but director and co-writer also rewrote the script, I can’t think why. We can see that Cignani was supposed to be De Sica’s wife, but now she’s his parents’ ward, raised as his sister, and the narrative turns not on her jealousy and his infidelity but on her silent love for him and his blindness, until he realizes he shouldn’t think of her as a sister anymore… It doesn’t quite work, but what’s left is the comedy of De Sica as an ebullient Neopolitan bus driver, with a sour-faced supervisor who wants to sack him. It’s just like On the Buses, in other words, if that 70s sitcom were charming and sexy instead of ugly and repulsive.


My vim somewhat restored, I stayed for TOBY DAMMIT, though the print turned out to have subtitles only for the English bits. I’ve seen it often enough that I could follow it. It was better than the old DVD that dubbed it into French — Fellini’s mulit-lingual melange is essential to the hallucinatory experience.

A spirit of randomness kept me in my seat for OIDHCHE SHEANCHAIS, which looks like I just collapsed on my keyboard but is in fact Irish Gaelic for NIGHT OF THE STORYTELLER. Robert Flaherty’s long-lost movie was the first film in that language, and its apparent loss left a puzzling hole in the tragic record. To everyone’s amazement, a print has turned up in America (it was assumed the film, of only local interest, was never exported) and can now be seen. It’s terrible, but at least it can be seen. A kind of footnote to MAN OF ARAN, it has clear historical interest, but nothing else. My objection is that Flaherty films the whole twenty-minute piece with five locked-off set-ups. Wide shot, storyteller, listener, listener, listener. Utterly inexpressive. Somewhat typical of the approach to early talkers seen elsewhere at the fest (Japan, Wellman) but applied here with a rigorous lack of creativity. Then there’s the storyteller himself: some said they could have closed their eyes and enjoyed the music of his voice without the need for translation (and certainly without the need for pictures) — I found his a snore. Admittedly, I was now permanently sleepy from insomnia and the heat.

Then there were three shorts with Peter Sellers, two of them freshly discovered and the third part of the set. That one ran first. It had a couple of laughs — Sellers attempts to cure his cold by wearing a sock full of mustard round his neck, which ruptures in a disgusting welter — b&w film so it’s like a magma flow of porridge slow-oozing into Sellers’ VERY HAIRY CHEST. Disgusting but sort of funny. But the film wasn’t good, and I only stayed for a few minutes of the first redisocvery, DEARTH OF A SALESMAN (mis-spelled in the program, presumably leading some to expect a proper Arthur Miller piece). When the shorts’ rescue hit the news, I discussed them with Richard Lester, who said “I hope they show more artistic ambition than THE CASE OF THE MUKKINESE BATTLEHORN.” They show less. Though not quite at Flaherty’s level of soporific inertia, what I saw of DEARTH was enjoyable only for the hilariously mismatched angles, with Sellers’ position transmuting instantly between every shot.


Then there were some Soviet films about Hitler, (“Good evening, Hitler fans”) screened in the Il Cinema in guerra contro Hitler season. Some nice zany shorts — Hitler, for some reason, was always a comedy figure to the Russians — maybe if you’re working for Stalin, you just can’t help laugh at Hitler. The main feature was THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SCHWEIK, a follow-up to the popular WWI comedy, with Schweik (a really irksome clown, kind of a Soviet El Brendel) getting drafted by the Nazis but defecting to aid the partisans in Yugoslavia. Weirdly, the ending, in which Hitler is captured and exhibited in a cage, and somehow mutates into werewolf form (as inexplicable as Cleopatra the Chicken Lady — “Maybe it as the storm?”), directly echoes a passage in the previous evening’s Hitler entertainment, Pabst’s DER LETZTE AKTE, where Adolf has an infernal monologue about how he’ll never surrender because the allies would show him off as a caged freak…

More synchronicity — Olaf Möller and Christoph Huber had just explained to me their theory about the donkey — that ever-golden cinematic axiom which adds lustre to every opus — and SCHWEIK was well supplied with asinine entertainment, including an animatronic donkey hind legs– an ass’s ass — which kicks various characters. This had Olaf swooning with the possibilities. Has the apparatus been preserved in some Russian film museum, fur flaking off to expose the cybernetic fetlocks beneath? If so, Olaf will gladly drop a kopeck in its slot to make it buck again.

Exhaustion was setting in — I had a good dinner, and didn’t feel able to face another movie, but LADY FROM SHANGHAI was showing in the Piazza Maggiore and it was on my way home, so I thought I’d just look in and see how it was looking. It’s not a reconstruction — no missing footage was found — but it is a very attractive digital presentation — and as it turned out, it was just about to start (everything starts late in Bologna) as I appeared. So I sat on the curb, all seats being occupied, and surrendered to the inevitable…


The Mysterious Mr If — Part the Sixteenth

Posted in FILM with tags , on September 12, 2011 by dcairns

Where am I going with this? asked one concerned reader. Well, there was a plan of sorts — THE MYSTERIOUS MR IF was written in a few short sessions as a ten-page treatment, which had most of the main plot points. The bit we’re emerging from now was augmented when the first draft seemed… thin. I suspect maybe some of it is just padding, though. Now we move into the more apocalyptic, possibly unpleasant stuff… and soon, what I believe some of our racier filmmakers term, “the climax”!

Down below, you’ll see the gloomy deco of the old Scottish Office building, which I always wanted to use in a movie — here, the image stands for what the script calls “the Public Information Bureau,” a non-existent organisation. Probably the Scottish Records Office would fit the role more neatly, but it’s a friendlier, less BRAZIL-like building.

Last we saw, Sheena McQueen was attempting to break free from Mr If’s demented funhouse, while Howie, the human exhibit from Edinburgh Zoo, and Detective Inspector Turner of the Lothian & Borders Police attempted to rescue her by following If’s puzzling clues. This leads Howie to uncover a message inscribed on the leg of a choking mountaineer, while Turner learns of Mr If’s hatred of facts and records.  

Now read on…


Foyle is carted off on a stretcher.

Howie trails behind, chatting to the Zookeeper.


“Hawk guru to fig your ate…”


Hawk? You might try Professor Wazzoo, he’s our resident ornithologist. Leading man in the field. He practically invented the tawny owl.

They approach the Bird House.



Sheena tumbles headlong down a steep chute. SIGNS roll past, with fun-house lettering:




The ticking CLOCK pounds on.

Sheena’s fall accelerates.

Barrel organ MUSIC swirls and warps.

The chute curves sickeningly in all directions.




I don’t know! It fell down the back of the couch!

Bells and klaxons freak out in triumph.

Ahead – a cinema screen blocks the chute. It shows a black and white film of a couch – completely unlike Sheena’s.

Sheena tumbles towards the screen.

A file falls from the on-screen couch and slips through an implausibly large gap in the floorboards.

Silent movie intertitle: AH-HAH!

Sheena hits the screen and bursts through it into – ?


PROFESSOR WAZZOO bursts from his office, a funny little man in a colourful bow-tie. Howie runs to meet him.


Ah-hah! Professor Wazzoo! I need your help on a hawk-related matter!

The esteemed ornithologist produces a yellow envelope.


Ah. This is for you.

Howie is puzzled.


I was told to give this to the man who approached me with those words.

The envelope is addressed “Human.”


Turner pulls up at the Public Information Bureau. He bounds from his car, passing a sobbing Bureaucrat.


History is dead.

Turner brushes past and into the revolving glass doors.


Turner pauses at the elevators.

A SIGN reads ORDER OUT OF. Arrows point to the correct position of the words.

Turner makes for the stairs.

Ping. The elevator opens. It contains a child’s space hopper.


Bursting into the hall of records, Turner finds only the empty warehouse with the maze painted on the floor.

And in the centre of the room, If’s grandfather clock wearing its F-cup bra padded out with stuffed owls.

Turner walks towards it. The hands read 5.55…

Mr. If steps up behind him and WHACKS him on the noggin with a ball peen hammer.



Turner staggers, dazed.


Ball peen. We know a song about that, don’t we?

He hits Turner again.


Ball peen, ball peen, hard and sore,

Crashing down on crashing bore,

Hammer like a man insane,

Raining blows like brain pain rain.

He smashes Turner’s head again and it all goes


MR. IF (O.S.)



Sheena bursts through a papered-over window and lands, all Starsky-and-Hutch, on Turner’s already battered car.

She shakes off the seaweed and goggles in dismay.

Three Iffies – disciples of a new If-Cult – are kneeling before a large wooden crucifix, burning files. The Iffies consist of an OLD DUFFER, a HIPPY CHICK, and a Rotund Dutchman.

Nailed to the cross is the Bureaucrat, dressed as a banana. Above his head a sign reads CRUC IF IX.


Jesus fucking Christ.


History is dead. Unreason is arisen!


Down vith the vorld! Free love!


Father forgive them for they Scooby Dooby Doo!

To Be Continued…