Archive for The Lady Vanishes

The Sunday Intertitle: Tales of Witless Madness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2015 by dcairns

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Richard Oswald made UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN twice. The 1932 one is covered here, but for some reason it’s taken me ages to get around to the 1919 one, which stars Conrad Veidt (pre-CALIGARI), Reinhold Schunzel (better known, by me anyway, as a director of thirties comedies), and famed dancer Anita Berber. I knew it used a different sampling of spooky fiction to make up its “uncanny tales” — Poe’s Black Cat appears in both, as does a loose adaptation of Stevenson’s The Suicide Club, but the rest of the bits are different. But I didn’t know that the three actors from the framing structure –who play Death, the Devil and the Whore, coming to life from their portraits and running amok in a bookstore, before leafing through the various volumes in search of diverting yarns — also appear in all the separate storylines, in a variety of guises. It’s a nice idea to bind an anthology together.

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It does cause a slight sense of the repetitive, since nearly all the stories become romantic triangles, and for some reason Schunzel is insane, or goes insane, in most of them. But this minor problem is nullified by the film’s extraordinary tone, which is a kind of Weimar cabaret of grotesque humour. In fact, the movie plays like a spoof of its own remake. The actors are obviously having great fun at the expense of the material. Schunzel proves to be a great creepy toad, prefiguring the qualities Peter Lorre would bring to his early roles in German film, and Veidt gets to do some fine clutching hand stuff. Berber alternates between sexy and horrible at will, and in her final installment, an out-and-out parody of the form, she has a manic schoolgirl naughtiness reminiscent of Miranda Richardson’s Elizabeth I in Blackadder II.

To my surprise, the first story turns out to be a variant on the story — an urban myth — that inspired both SO LONG AT THE FAIR and, less directly, THE LADY VANISHES. Schunzel plays a madman in it who turns out to be a complete red herring.

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In the second episode Schunzel kills romantic rival Veidt and is haunted by his vengeful revenant. Some nice imagery here: Veidt rehearses his HANDS OF ORLAC schtick to campy but chilling effect, becomes a huge translucent Floating Head of Death, and manifests as a series of disembodied footprints, appearing one by one in a series of jump cuts, perhaps the first time that trick was tried. Carl Hoffman’s cinematography frequently surprises and delights with its spooky low-level lighting. All the more sad that Murnau’s film of Jekyll and Hyde, DER JANUSKOPF, with Conrad Veidt, is a lost film: Hoffman shot it.

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I expect that cat’s quite old now.

Then, in The Black Cat, he kills Berber. It was her turn, I suppose. Unlike in the later version, there’s no spooky visuals of the entombed bride, but the cat is endearing, and Schunzel goes off his chump again.

In The Suicide Club, Schunzel finally gets to be hero, and in the last story he’s a cowardly knight humiliated by a fake Scooby Doo ghost show put on by Veidt to scare the interloper away from his flighty wife.

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R. Schunzel, R. Schunzel, let down your hair!

Fun stuff for your next Halloween, I would suggest. The light-hearted approach is novel, and it’s slightly surprising to see a genre being gently ribbed before it’s finished being invented.

Bathroom Blunders of 1941

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

Good Leonard Leff video essay on the Criterion DVD of THE LADY VANISHES. Light, breezy, but smartly observed — it fits the film’s tone. I was surprised he didn’t suggest that the mysterious box Hitch is carrying in the train station doesn’t contain a device for catching elephants in the Scottish highlands, but we all miss a trick now and then.

Also included is CROOK’S TOUR, the best of the ultra-cheap movies made to cash in on the success of Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne’s comic relief Englishmen abroad. For copyright reasons, this is the only one where they star as C&C — but they were paired together under different names in a bunch of films, including DEAD OF NIGHT, and played C&C in a supporting capacity for TLV’s writers, Launder & Gilliat, in other movies. It’s a tangled history.

CROOK’S TOUR, while in no ways a distinguished piece of filmmaking, is pretty enjoyable, although of course there’s no trace of Hitchcockian dazzle or depth. Depressingly, Caldicott has acquired an offscreen wife, which seems like an attempt to stave off any suggestion that these two devoted bachelors might have a thing for each other.

However — it does contain my favourite C&C moment outside of Hitchcock. Charters narrowly escapes assassination in the bathroom of the exotic Hotel Hamilton, as the door leads not to a plumbing facility but to a plunge into the Bosporus.

“It’s labeled ‘bathroom’,” he complains.

“But that’s ridiculous!” protests Caldicott. “It should be labeled ‘Bosporus.”

Naunton Wayne is good with bathrooms.

The Lady Vanishes – (The Criterion Collection)

One more intertitle on Sunday, and then we plunge headfirst into the darkness of For the Love of Film (Noir), The Film Preservation Blogathon, about which you can read more here, and an early sampling at David E’s Fablog.

Hitchsnark

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 11, 2011 by dcairns

On watching the extras on Criterion’s superb double-disc edition of THE LADY VANISHES, I was struck by this crudely-lettered cardboard sign. Fascinating to see the soundproof camera booth, of course, but something about the sign captured my imagination. “Please keep away from front of camera.” I wonder it it’s been preserved, and if so, whether the present owner has ever considered sending it, as a piece of friendly advice, to Quentin Tarantino?

I’m not actually sure if I consider Tarantino a bad actor or not. Despite his addiction to casting himself in his films (which he hasn’t done lately, so this post may be even more pointless than usual), he’s never really given himself a proper scene to play, just dialogue. Or maybe that’s just the way it seems, due to his weak acting. But the problem really lies, I think, in the fact that QT is kind of upsetting and embarrassing to look at on a screen. It’s not just the face, which looks like it’s frozen in the act of collapsing inwards upon itself, an avalanche of cartilage funneling inwards towards some internal singularity situated just behind his nose. That alone wouldn’t be a problem for me, since I admire Jim Broadbent, for instance. The ability to have teeth but look as if you don’t can, in certain circumstances, be a positive boon. With Tarantino, it’s the embarrassing enthusiasm that gets me. Which is a rotten thing to say, since enthusiasm is, in itself, a wonderful thing.

When QT first appeared, promoting and appearing in RESERVOIR DOGS, his enthusiasm didn’t bother me so much. “Wow, a movie director who’s an honest-to-God geek,” I may have thought. Which seemed like a positive thing. I’m kind of a geek myself. But as QT became some kind of arbiter of cool, the geek defense fell away. Nerds and geeks seem to be most welcome when either they know we’re geeks and nerds, or they think we’re normal, which is adorably misguided. A geek who thinks he’s cool is just a dork.

Now, when Tarantino appears, I get an instinctive cringe, the desire to seek shelter from his bullying enthusiasm, his clapped-in mouth, his snappy diction. The way around this would be to focus on what he’s saying, because any instinctive aversion can be overcome when you realise the creepy person talking is actually making sense. But Tarantino seems to say less and less of interest. Which is the problem with his films, too, handsomely crafted though they are.

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