Archive for The Lodger

Schultz Upside-Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2022 by dcairns

So far THE GREAT DICTATOR has been an inspired hybrid — a visual comedy with occasional dialogue. It becomes an excellent talking picture as well when Reginald Gardiner as Schultz enters the fray.

Schultz is the film’s obligatory Good German, or Good Tomanian. Chaplin makes brilliant use of him, but he’s not a character who usually receives much commentary.

Gardiner is best-known, to me, anyway, as Hillary Aimes, the gent with the blocked sink in CLUNY BROWN, possibly my favourite Lubitsch film. Aimes starts off as the star of the show then disappears before the first act has even been concluded, never to be seen again. Lubitsch was apparently quite relaxed about such things. Gardiner had appeared in A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS and would do a lot of good work in the silly ass line. An extra in Hitchcock’s THE LODGER, he based his film career thereafter in Hollywood and prospered moderately.

The beauty of Schultz is he’s such a pip. A benevolent Tomanian, he’s able to save the Jewish barber’s life and put a stop to brutalities in the ghetto for a brief spell. But otherwise, he’s a pain in the neck. The most outrageous incident comes when, having fallen foul of the regime, he has to be sheltered in the ghetto. Jews protecting a German, a reversal of the natural order of things, and a frightful imposition.

Schultz starts as he means to go on, getting the Jewish barber in trouble, with no actual malice on his part.

The barber has been placed in charge of a machine gun. He seems incapable of hitting anyone with it — can’t have Charlie or his close relative actually taking human life — but is distracted by Schultz’s cries of distress. The plummy Tomanian is lying exhausted some short distance from his monoplane. I don’t know why Chaplin didn’t have him be injured — I guess because that wouldn’t be funny. So he’s just overcome with lassitude.

The barber helps him to his craft and they take off, but then Schultz keeps passing out, thereby presenting difficulties for the JB, as he will continue to do later. The plane flies upside down — for the first time since THE GOLD RUSH, Chaplin transforms himself into a tiny articulated puppet hanging over a void. Some excellent direction here — the decisions about when to have the camera upside-down with the characters, or whether to observe them BE upside-down with the camera rightside-up, are shrewd and bang-on and the cutting between them is quite bold if you think about it.

And the dialogue is superb — not just Schultz’s windy monologue — “Hilda will be in the garden now…” delivered oblivious to the crash-dive they’re on, but Charlie’s very short, clipped responses — “I know it!” “Impossible!” His reply to “Can you fly a plane?” — “I can try!” — is almost as good as Tom Jones’ in MARS ATTACKS! — “Sure, you got one?”

Suspended upside down, Chaplin finds his cockney accent creeps back in, subtly.

Schultz concluding his pastoral reminiscences uninterrupted by the plane smashing up is one of Fiona’s favourite jokes in the film.

And then it turns out that the mission, to deliver important despatches, has failed — Tomania has surrendered. Charlie has lost the war. So is everything that follows his fault? Or his doppelganger’s?

Or Schultz’s?

The Wronger Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2020 by dcairns

I’d always meant to watch John Brahm’s 1939 criminal justice melo LET US LIVE, and now I know why I held off — I got a chance to watch it streaming from Bologna in a gleaming fresh copy, better than any grungy old version I might have tracked down.

Henry Fonda plays an innocent cabby wrongly convicted of armed robbery and murder. Maureen O’Sullivan is his bride-to-be, frantically trying to prove his innocence before he goes to the chair. The movie anticipates Hitchcock’s THE WRONG MAN in plot terms, but Brahm gives it all a glossy Hollywood expressionism more showy than Hitch’s gloomy death march.

How to account for Brahm’s fluctuating visual style — here in this relatively early work (he’d done his remake of BROKEN BLOSSOMS in the UK, and three B pictures for Columbia before this one) his arresting use of chiaroscuro and violently off-centre framing is fully developed. In later films it comes and goes. It could be the amount of prep time, the skills of the cinematographer he was working with, or the amount of enthusiasm he could muster.

(Brahm films to see: THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE, THE LOCKET, GUEST IN THE HOUSE, his Twilight Zones and some of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes. He never had what you’d call the best scripts to work with.)

One cut to Fonda’s face made Fiona gasp, exactly as happened in THE LODGER with Laird Cregar. Remember Billy Wilder’s line about a close-up being like a trump card in a game of bridge, to be used sparingly where it’ll really count? But how many times has a simple cut to a character, already established as being present in the scene, taken your breath away?

My new ambition — if I can get to direct one more thing, I’d like to make that happen. I know the trick — the face or expression must be new and arresting, and the face appear in an unexpected part of the screen in an unusual, off-centre composition. Now somebody give me a million bucks before I forget.

Autumn of Terror

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 27, 2019 by dcairns

After months of inertia, a new edition of The Shadowcast just in time for Project Fear, our own podcast in which this time Fiona and I discuss some filmic representations of Jack the Ripper.

Under the knife: three versions of THE LODGER, two TV miniseries, one Jess Franco abomination, FROM HELL’s appalling DVD extras, the investigations of Sherlock Holmes and HG Wells. Didn’t have room to delve into PANDORA’S BOX and WAXWORKS, alas, and there’s a tantalizing reference to a copycat killing in the wake of 1988’s centenary Michael Caine show which we fail to follow up on. And the tone veers from tragic horror to blimey-guvnor-strike-a-light whimsy.

Other than that, I believe you’ll find everything in order.

Here.