Archive for The Lost Weekend

Bellevue to a Kill

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2019 by dcairns

Did someone at Bellevue Hospital feel that Billy Wilder’s presentation of the place in THE LOST WEEKEND — reputedly filmed on location, though you wouldn’t know it — gave the place a bad rep, and that another movie might balance out the negative publicity?

If so, THE SLEEPING CITY, a decent little noir trifle from able western hack George Sherman and crime specialist screenwriter Jo Eisinger doesn’t do the place any real favours. It’s from the shot-on-location phase of post-KISS OF DEATH noir, but not a ripped-from-the-headlines number — star Richard Conte shows up in scene one, in costume but out of character, to assure us that this is NOT a true story. Or I think that’s what he’s saying — he says it never happened at Bellevue or anywhere in New York, but that certainly leaves loopholes.

In the next sequence, a young interne is abruptly murdered — a very well-staged sequence, midway between docudrama and melo. Conte is an undercover cop from the “confidential squad” (which is the film’s alternate title) planted in the hospital to investigate. Colleen Gray is a lovely ward nurse, and there are excellent supporting perfs from Alex Nicol (bitter roommate) and some guy called Richard Taber, playwright-actor, as a creepy old fart called “Pop.”

If the hospital authorities were hoping for good press, they hadn’t counted on the effect of b&w cinematography on institutional architecture. The place looks terrifying, and expressionist homunculus Taber, by his very presence, turns it into a nightmare of sci-fi intestines. The plot, with suffering patients being prescribed painkillers they never receive, thanks to a dope ring, isn’t exactly reassuring either. It’s my strong belief that an investigation of the Bellevue employment records will reveal that their head of PR was dismissed around about 1950.

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Two Enormous, Highly-Paid Heads

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2019 by dcairns

Hadn’t seen PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES before — a student who was an Audrey Hepburn obsessive said she didn’t like it, but I should’ve known better than to trust her. It’s a mixed bag but pretty interesting. The film it — very loosely — remakes — Julien Duvivier’s LA FETE A HENRIETTE — doesn’t quite work, arguably, but the narrative tricks are fun. Same here, but this one’s more interesting to me because of the confessional side. Screenwriter George Axelrod was an alcoholic and he seems to be grappling with that, and some deep self-loathing, through the medium of a chic, charming, vulgar, silly romantic comedy.

It is in fact hard to imagine Audrey being in a film as glossily lecherous as this, which may be a sound and understandable reason for my former student having disliked it.

William Holden plays the boozy screenwriter and Audrey his muse, so there are echoes of SUNSET BLVD — what if Joe Gillis made it to the top, got his pool, and STILL wasn’t happy? Turned into THE LOST WEEKEND’s Don Birnam, in fact? With enough moolah to keep the booze flowing forever…

Add in the tortured Richard Quine as director, the alcoholic Holden as star, Audrey at her skinniest, and you have a surprisingly sour aftertaste, but this doesn’t ruin the pleasure for me, though it certainly complicates it.

When Holden burns the script he’s been working on all through the movie, because now that he’s found love he’s going to quit the sauce and write a better one, it’s joyous, exhilarating, satisfying — and supremely unconvincing. And I think that’s intentional on Axelrod’s part. The old Hollywood switch on a switch — give the public what they want but wink at the intelligentsia — we know better than this, don’t we?

Festive Cheer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 18, 2017 by dcairns

New, big, special limited edition Blu-Ray of Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT from Arrow. Very proud and pleased to have contributed a video essay, The Flawed Couple, dealing with Wilder’s work with Jack Lemmon, which is included as part of the bulging bag of extras, along with a hardback booklet featuring pieces by Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger and Travis Crawford & Heather Hyche, commentaries from Bruce Block and Philip Kemp, interviews with Wilder, Hope Holiday, a video appreciation by Kemp, a making-of featurette, a Jack Lemmon profile, and the screenplay as a BD-ROM attachment.

MGM’s lawyers were kind of a nightmare to deal with on this one (that’s a legal term, I believe) which is why the Billy Wilder ABC that Stephen C. Horne and I put together could not be included, but maybe it’ll show up separately. The strange thing was, having to talk about Wilder’s other films with Lemmon without being able to show them, and sometimes without even being able to show stills, forced us to be creative. At one point we found ourselves trying to illustrate an anecdote about Cecil B. DeMille’s KING OF KINGS using only footage from THE APARTMENT. It worked out quite well, I think. You can judge for yourselves by buying a copy…

Here.

Maybe there’s an algorithm describing how working within constraints can enhance your creativity up to a point, until suddenly a balance is tipped and it doesn’t. (I once described writing for kids’ TV — supervised by anxious bosses — as like juggling in a strait-jacket.) This one got to just about Prime Restraint Level, so the results are grand.

I’ve done quite a bit on Wilder now — there are also text essays on THE LOST WEEKEND and FEDORA for Masters of Cinema. Collect ’em all!