Archive for The Man From UNCLE

Oneiromance

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2021 by dcairns

I showed my students a bit of the dream sequence from STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940) as part of a class on expressionism — my ultimate aim being to break down the barriers between classic German expressionism — painted shadows — film noir — real shadows — and modern dramatic cinematic storytelling which seeks to MAKE THE SCENE LOOK AND SOUND AND FEEL a certain way, often the way the characters feel.

What popped out in viewing the sequence in isolation, along with Nicholas Musuraca’s jagged lighting, was the hammy expostulating of all the supporting characters. I mused/bullshitted that maybe, just maybe, this was all a deliberate choice by director Boris Ingster, who after all went on to produce The Man from UNCLE and so couldn’t, presumably, have been a complete fool. Dreams, I mused, are unconvincingly acted. But just as our bodies are paralysed during sleep, so are our rational-critical faculties, so we are forced to accept whatever nonsense we’re served, like kids in front of Saturday morning TV. It’s only on waking that we say, “That was bizarre.”

Orson Welles, who did much to popularize the striking graphic look that STRANGER throws out, was expert at this dream affect, both in the general atmosphere of THE TRIAL, and in moments of LADY FROM SHANGHAI — the way both Glenn Anders (on the cliff in Rio) and Rita Hayworth (in the mirror maze) stare, seemingly blindly, at Welles, catches something about the autistic performance style of the people we meet in dreams, whether strangers or alien simulacra of loved ones.

And when I re-viewed STRANGER in full as part of our weekend watch party, I was pleased to see that the acting in the surrounding scenes was more traditionally “good.” Peter Lorre was fantastically idiosyncratic and uncanny, but not cartoonish, and the leads, the more traditionally photogenic John McGuire and Margaret Tellichet, though a little bland and earnest, were every bit as convincing as the story needed them to be. The supporting players were reliable types like Elisha Cook, Charles Halton and Ethel Griffies (the ornithologist in THE BIRDS) and they manage to find a mid-ground in their acting style so that without seeming to change character completely in the dream, they can slot into its oneiric stiltedness and get with the program.

A Noir is Born

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2008 by dcairns

 Front row centre

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, 1940, seems to be one of the earliest pure films noir. Peter Lorre plays a deranged killer, Elisha Cook is a fall guy. There is a slightly awkward plot, driven by coincidence and tearing loose from logic, structurally odd, peppered with flashbacks and fantasies and capable of swift turns into unexpected territory. The photography by Nicholas Musuraca (CAT PEOPLE, OUT OF THE PAST) delivers all the expected noir tropes, and a lot more.

This is a year before THE MALTESE FALCON and far more of the expected genre elements are in place than in that film, and the style has a dreamlike expressionist hyperintensity — especially in the expressionist dream sequence.

The Patsy

The story isn’t up to much, perhaps, but it ticks so many boxes, boxes that don’t officially exist yet: it’s driven by irrationality and paranoia, like Cornell Woolrich’s pulp fever-dreams. The IMDb lists Nathaniel West as an uncredited script contributor, perhaps gathering Hollywood material for Day of the Locust.

Director Boris Ingster hardly directed anything else, being more active as a screenwriter and TV producer (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.). I’m inclined to assign the best qualities of this film to the great Nicholas “I think we all use too many lights” Musuraca. His dream sequence is like a Will Eisner comic strip: the shots are nearly all static and the actors strike poses, freezing in creepy tableaux vivants as soon as they have found the best dramatic effect:

The Prisoner

Only me.

I love these crazy cut-out images! Musuraca was a true shadowplayer. Few noir films have shots as exciting and stylised, it’s just a shame this one doesn’t create more compelling drama from its disjointed narrative. The two best actors in the film, noir icons Lorre and Cook, playing lunatic and patsy, have little screen time and never share a scene, so we have to make do with interacting with duller characters, and the plot moves in fits and starts, making no particular point, squandering its delirium. But at 64 minutes the thing is over before you know it, and its zigzag shadowshow hangs around your head like a haunted hat. It’s a twitchy little pulp that DREAMS of being a great noir thriller.

if the headline is big enough it MAKEs the news big enough

I read the news today oh boy

“Pope Killed by Inferior Wine!”