Archive for The Life and Death of 9413 a Hollywood Extra

Ingram’s Wrecks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2016 by dcairns

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Rex Ingram had some kind of fascination with the grotesque. The main identifying trait I had identified in the work I’d seen was a tendency to cut in bizarro comedy business at the worst possible moment. I liked that about him. There’s even buffoonery going on during the famous erotic tango of FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE. If you’re getting off on Valentino, those cutaways (a drunk finding a goldfish in his glass) will put you right off your stroke. THE MAGICIAN, a melodrama about mad science and black magic, ends with a dwarf stuck in a tree with his trousers in tatters.

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Ingram only does one really weird cutaway in SCARAMOUCHE, but it’s right at the climax — the hero rescues his family from the Reign of Terror, and we cut to a huge closeup of an ugly guy flickering his eyelids in a repulsive parody of feminine emotion. An extraordinary thing to insert during your tale’s emotional climax, expressing either humorous contempt for the material or some kind of urge to set the sublime in stark contrast with the ridiculous.

Elsewhere, Ingram entertains himself with his extras, in the manner of Fellini. He not only gathers impressive physical oddities, he enhances them with makeup, so Danton is spectacularly pockmarked and corrupt French justice is embodied by this caricature —

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The make-up artist / putty wrangler is uncredited. This guy is mocked by the beautiful Novarro for his hideousness, which is somehow meant to stand in for his corruption, but then Danton, who looks like somebody spat Rice Crispies in his face, is a noble figure, which seems inconsistent.

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In a cameo, we get Napoleon, played by the great montage director Slavko Vorkapich (Nappy gets a walk-on in the remake, too, but a more significantly placed one). Slavko has a terrific face. This is his earliest credit, but the IMDb list is surely incomplete, so we can’t know if he was plucked from some other role because his face fit, or if he was bumming around Hollywood doing extra work before his montage career took off (he later made an expressionist movie, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA, which may support that supposition).

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Jacques Tourneur is also listed as an extra in the film, but he’s hard to spot in the cast of thousands. This isn’t him ~

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Somewhere in the throng is Buster Keaton’s future sidekick, Snitz Edwards, and Ingram favourite John George, the little guy from THE MAGICIAN and TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. This movie could be nicknamed INGRAM SATYRICON.

More SCARAMOUCHE soon!

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The Batman

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by dcairns

The Batman from David Cairns on Vimeo.

This is from the Robert Florey-directed THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936). At a certain point in the story, we get glimpses of different movies being shot on different stages of a studio which is being targeted by a murderer/terrorist, who turns out to be… well, I won’t spoil it. But we get to see Hank Mann and Snub Pollard as clowns doing crosstalk patter instead of the slapstick they were famed for (Mann plays the drunken millionaire in CITY LIGHTS, among many other roles through a long career beginning at Keystone), but much more interestingly we witness the shooting of an expressionist horror movie, featuring a character called The Batman. He wears a dark cape and is accompanied by a grotesque figure with a painted grin.

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THE BAT WHISPERS

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS

This is all very interesting as the DC Comics Batman (known as THE Batman in his early appearances) didn’t make his first appearance until 1939. Creators Bill Finger & Bob Kane always credited the movies, though they mentioned THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928). And indeed, the Bat and Gwynplaine look a lot more like the comic book characters than these doofuses, with the quaint twist that the Bat was a villain and Gwynplaine a hero, rather than the other way around.

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I’m also slightly amused that The Batman in Florey’s film looks so much like Brandon Lee in THE CROW, a much later descendant of the costumed crime fighter.

Florey, of course, directed for-real horror movie MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and *nearly* got to do FRANKENSTEIN, but for me the more relevant credits are his early shorts, THE LOVE OF ZERO and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA. Both are made in a Caligariesque kind of cardboard expressionism, and the latter is even a behind-the-screen story of moviemaking like THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY.

As for the actors — the screen’s first Batman turns out to have been German character player Henry Brandon, best known for playing Scar in THE SEARCHERS. IMDb refers to his sidekick as “the gnome,” and the actor is my hero, John George, from TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. A dynamic duo by anybody’s standards!

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Th*rt**nth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 22, 2011 by dcairns

This week’s truly exciting episode of my unexplainably unproduced screenplay is the most British thing ever — we have a high speed pursuit featuring characters named after leads in PERFORMANCE and THE WICKER MAN, and an exciting rooftop chase, without which no British thriller, be it THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE or HELL IS A CITY, can be considered complete.

And I was pleased to morph a reference  from MARY POPPINS into a William Blake quote. Apart from the Disney JUNGLE BOOK bit I think it’s all as Brit as can be.

This was also the point where I discovered Howie’s true comedic function, which is not as romantic interest during the “boring, sub-Bill Forsyth bits,” but as someone to annoy Inspector Turner. And, thematically, as a sort of Everyman for Mr. If to oppose.

But what impresses me, if I do say so myself, is just how damned gripping it all is!

Now read on…

INT. SHEENA’S LIVING ROOM – NIGHT

Sheena watches TV news with Edward Woodward in her lap.

NEWSCASTER (O.S.)

The headlines today. A wild west-style schoolmarm has been tormented by scallops in Muirhouse. A nun has been fired out of a toilet. And Scotland’s oldest fireman has given birth to a stone desk.

Sheena boggles. The work of Mr. If is everywhere.

There is an innocent-sounding knock at the door.

INT. SHEENA’S HALL – NIGHT

Sheena comes through and approaches the door.

NEWSCASTER (OS)

Doctors are baffled by a giant leg found on a small man.

Sheena looks through the spy hole. Howie.

NEWSCASTER (OS)

And scientists at NASA have discovered what they are calling a “joke planet”.

Sheena considers.

Starts to walk away.

Then changes her mind and undoes the latch.

INT. SHEENA’S STAIRWELL – DAY

The man outside is not Howie. A black-gloved hand holds a photo of Howie up to the spy hole.

The door opens…

INT. HOSPITAL RECEPTION – NIGHT

Swing doors BASH open.

Doctor lectures Nurse while pushing Howie on a gurney.

DR. SPAIN

Brain damage, as medical science pretends to understand it, is simply injury to the meat radio entrusted with receiving the consciousness signal. A mechanical brain, correctly tuned to the ineffable transmission, would serve just as well as our fleshy transponders.

Howie looks somewhat mauled. In the gurney behind him, a stunned fox.

Turner runs alongside Howie.

HOWIE

A fox, inspector, can you believe it? In the reptile house. The last thing I would have expected in a reptile house. It’s a bloody mammal. A rodent or something. They don’t even keep them in the zoo. They’re too boring. Anyway, this one wasn’t, it was positively frisky. It was going for my throat when I managed to knock it unconscious with this…

He holds up his tattered and bloodstained hardback.

HOWIE

The Unbearable Lightness of Being. An ironic title for a hefty hardback.

They pass a smoke-blackened NUN in a tattered habit, walking with the aid of crutches.

HOWIE

Anyway, it’s not me you should be worried about, it’s your own people. There’s been some pretty weird shit going down at Sheena’s place.

They pass an incubator being wheeled by MEN in surgical scrubs. WAILING BABY sound. Inside the incubator – a trout.

TURNER

You mean Miss McQueen?

HOWIE

A lot of this nonsense seems to be focussed on her. Like she’s the epicentre or something.

They pass an OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET carrying a stone slab.

PROPHET

Epicentre! Epicentre!

He turns the slab to face them. The word COCK is carved on it. Then he raises his robe and shows them his wrinkly arse before scampering away, tittering like a big jerk.

HOWIE

Did she tell you she took the If File?

Turner’s face darkens ominously.

TURNER

Stay here and heal. I’m going to check on Miss McQueen.

He hurries off.

Howie cranes his neck after the departing cop.

HOWIE

Sheena…

He tries to dismount the moving gurney. The doctor shoving it won’t slow down and Howie’s bandages hamper him.

He falls.

The doctor disappears around a corner, ignoring him.

In a nearby room, dogs bark.

A tramp with flowers for hair shuffles past sadly.

DR.SPAIN (O.S.)

…and so, Nurse Sheep, what you call telepathy is merely a crossed wire, a case of one brain receiving a signal intended for another. We are all hooked up to the great universal mind, but some of us have bigger satellite dishes.

INT. SHEENA’S LIVING ROOM – NIGHT

Sheena flees into her flat and throws a dirty plate at the caped, top-hatted man pursuing her.

MR. IF

I am If! If I am! Am I if?

She grabs her gun and shoots If’s hat off.

The next two bullets hit him in the chest.

He staggers. Then rights himself.

He steps in front of the window. Daylight shines through the little round holes in his body.

MR. IF

Gosh durn it, I likes a wumman with spirit.

If holds out his hand to her.

MR. IF

Join me, and rule at my side in the domain of nothingness.

Sheena shoots him again.

MR. IF

You sadden me.

He produces a banana and begins to peel it.

Sheena backs away in alarm.

INT. TURNER’S CAR – DAY

Turner’s car SKIDS round a bend.

HOWIE (O.S.)

Step on it, man! You drive like a lemur. If lemurs could drive.

Howie sits up in the back of the car. Turner is startled, then irate.

TURNER

You’re supposed to be convalescing. Go and convalesce. I’m a policeman. You’re just some nob-end from the zoo.

HOWIE

I’m an interested party and you still drive like a twat. Where’s your blue flashing light?

TURNER

Some bastard’s nicked it and left me this egg timer instead.

They SCREECH round another bend and Howie falls over.

INT. SHEENA’S LIVING ROOM – DAY

Sheena wakes up tied to a rocking chair by what looks like hair. She’s clad only in a grass skirt and a pair of coconut shells.

A rope hangman’s noose hangs from the ceiling above her.

If strides into view. Under his cape he wears Sheena’s clothes. He strokes Edward Woodward in a sinister, master-criminal-type way.

MR. IF

Is it safe?

Sheena struggles with her bonds.

SHEENA

What the f-?

MR. IF

Wigs, Miss McQueen, wigs! Nature’s baldness defamed, and now – a young minx restrained in their silky fronds! Ironic, is it not?

SHEENA

Let me go and give me back my cat, you mad bastard. And take my clothes off!

MR. IF

(gesturing at her near nudity)

I already have. And now, you will tell me where I can find what I seek, Miss McQueen – or should I say – HECTOR BABENCO?

He waves at her with Edward Woodward’s paw.

SHEENA

What the hell do you want, you great weirdo?

MR. IF

A touching display of innocence and nudity, but it will avail you nothing. I shall have my druthers or die trying, and so I reiterate: where? Answer swiftly or pay with your pussy!

He waves the cat at her.

INT. TURNER’S CAR – DAY

The car speeds on. Sand cascades through the egg-timer.

INT. SHEENA’S LIVING ROOM – DAY

If moves gracefully towards the noose in the room’s centre, carrying Sheena’s cat.

SHEENA

Maybe if you’d tell me what it is you’re looking for –

If stuffs Edward Woodward through the noose and secures the rope around the animal’s waist. Then he picks up a carpet beater.

MR. IF

Where? Where? WHERE?

WHACK! He wallops the cat’s arse and sends it arcing round the room on its rope, yowling.

EXT. SHEENA’S FLAT – DAY

Turner and Howie arrive. Respectively bounding and hobbling from the car they find the Nurse from the hospital wearing a blindfold and an usherette’s tray full of oranges standing with her feet in a basin of water by the door.

TURNER

This is a bad sign.

He barges on.

Howie stares at the immobile Nurse.

HOWIE

Boo.

She gives a little theatrical jump. Howie hurries on.

INT. STAIRWELL – DAY

Turner dashes upstairs only to be faced with Sheena’s neighbour, Miss Hing. What she lacks in depth she makes up for in width.

Turner steps aside to let her by. She side-steps in the same direction to let him by. He steps the other way. She does too.

Howie appears behind Turner, snarls savagely, Miss Hing collapses against the railing in terror, and the two men hurry past.

INT. SHEENA’S LIVING ROOM – DAY

Edward Woodward continues to orbit the room.

SHEENA

NO!

She frees an arm, and a coconut falls off, exposing a breast. She shrieks and covers herself. If prepares to wallop Edward Woodward again.

MR. IF

Your womanliness cannot save you now, Mr. Babenco. The file, please.

He swats Edward Woodward’s backside again.

SHEENA

The file? It was on the back of the sofa –

A hammering at the door.

MR. IF

(smarmy)

I like you, you’re a nice lady.

He looks at the sofa. Bare-backed. If is indignant.

MR. IF

Trifle with me and you’ll get your desserts!

INT. SHEENA’S HALLWAY – DAY

Turner shoulders the door open. They burst in.

A BLINDING FLASH

– and then the two men are staggering, dazed. Something has happened, but what?

The only sound is the TV news:

NEWSCASTER (OS)

A dentist in Queensferry has become a small sun. Spokesmen said they didn’t like it, it was a bad colour.

INT. SHEENA’S LIVING ROOM – DAY

Too late. Sheena and If are gone.

Edward Woodward is wearing a sombrero, poncho and Zapata moustache. Meow.

Scrawled on the wall in red paint, the word cat.

Another moustache is pasted to the TV screen, decorating the newscaster.

A Polaroid camera sits atop the set.

NEWSCASTER (T.V.)

Two Scottish Members of Parliament have been dressed in plate armour and fellated by blacksmiths –

Turner switches off the TV, picks up the camera. An undeveloped snap depends from its undercarriage.

An image emerges. Howie and Turner, posing merrily with Sheena and If in the hall – thumbs up. Howie strumming a ukulele. Hawaiian flower garlands all round.

TURNER

Who took this? And why don’t I remember it?

Edward Woodward pads out the door, full of purpose. Howie and Turner look at each other, then follow.

INT. STAIRWELL – DAY

Edward Woodward stops and sits at the top floor landing. A ladder leads up to a hatch into the attic.

HOWIE

I don’t like heights.

Turner starts up the ladder.

TURNER

I’m not wild about them myself.

Howie follows a few steps, then freezes in fear.

EXT. ROOFTOP – DAY

Turner emerges from a skylight.

Mr. If stands on the summit of the roof, a large burlap sack slung over one shoulder.

A moan that could be Sheena’s.

INT. STAIRWELL – DAY

Howie slowly nears the top of the ladder, but finds it very difficult to transfer himself into the attic.

EXT. ROOF – DAY

Turner edges up the steep slant of the roof towards the pinnacle. If nonchalantly saunters away from him.

INT. ATTIC – DAY

Howie makes it into the attic space. A musty rocking horse in a dunce’s cap nods at him rhythmically. A cardboard sign hung round its neck advises STAND UP OR GIVE UP.

Through a skylight he sees blue sky. He closes his eyes and jumps up –

EXT. ROOF – DAY

Howie hauls himself through the hatch and immediately rolls down the roof. He opens his eyes and screams like a woman.

Turner, balancing on the tip of the roof, loses concentration and stumbles. He does the splits over the crest of the building.

If reaches the edge of infinity. Below him, the street.

Howie’s legs dangle over the drainpipe as he scrambles to get back onto a solid surface. With scrabbles back up the roof-slope.

Turner takes out a pair of handcuffs.

TURNER

Now. Now.

If turns, grins and throws his big sack over the side.

HOWIE

No!

The sack explodes on Turner’s car, caving in the roof. The sack is full of potatoes.

If strides towards Turner. A brief scuffle and Turner falls, his hands cuffed together. He rolls helplessly down the roof towards an imminent death.

TURNER

Oh bollocks.

Howie has just reached the tip of the roof and backs away fast as If bears down on him.

MR. IF

Take me home, Daddy!

Turner catches the gutter and dangles.

Howie backs into a chimney. He grabs a TV aerial and swings himself round so that the chimney is between him and If.

If points into the street.

A struggling Sheena, dressed for some reason in a decorator’s paint-stained dungarees, flippers and a giant foam stetson, is being shoved into a car by four Ballerinas.SwanLakeplays on the car stereo.

Turner manages to drag a knee up onto the gutter.

MR. IF

It’s a pleasure to take your acquaintance. You must be the human element everybody’s talking about. You know, on a bright blue day like this it almost seems a pity to be ending the world.

Howie blinks at him.

MR. IF

You’re absolutely right, Miss Streisand. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it. Hoppla!

WOOSH!

A chimney sweep’s brush ERUPTS from the chimney pot nearest Howie. He steps back in alarm and falls, bumping into Turner who has just climbed to his feet at the roof’s brink.

They teeter together.

MR. IF

A sweep is as mucky

As mucky can be,

And so I cry,

“Weep weep! Weep weep!”

The ballet dancer car putters off erratically.

Howie and Turner fall on their faces onto the roof tiles.

They gasp like landed fish for a moment, then look up.

If is gone. Only a yellow flag gesticulates in the wind.

HOWIE

Historically, the sign of quarantine. Plague!

INT. STAIRWELL – DAY

A red X is painted on Sheena’s front door. Turner and Howie descend. Howie grips the banister and moves very slowly. They meet Miss Hing, quite recovered.

MISS HING

Hello, loves. He had a message for you. He said he would see you in Bolivia.

They look blank.

MISS HING

No, that wasn’t it. Not Bolivia — oblivion. That’s the one.

To Be Continued…