Archive for The Man in the White Suit

The Haul

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2021 by dcairns

What I do is, I mostly go from charity shop to charity shop, these days. They’re all very stocked-up, can’t shift the stuff fast enough, and I’m finding lots of interest.

Mary Pat Kelly’s Martin Scorsese: A Journey is one of the finest books on this filmmaker. Part biography, part critical study, part oral history. Full of fascinating stuff. Readers of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls may be amused by how the drug stuff is elided. But just as a for instance, in the section on RAGING BULL, we learn that DeNiro thinks that Vickie LaMotta cheated on Jake with his brother Joey. Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty are dumbfounded by this. “Absolutely not.” And yet DeNiro had a hand in the script. They deduce that he sees the story entirely through Jake’s eyes.

The Genius of the System by Thomas Schatz doesn’t seem to argue its case but is full of research and stuff. I need to give it a chance, I guess. I don’t agree with the concept and a lot of the stories told in it tend, to my way of thinking, to confirm that the genius lay in certain individual practitioners of the system, though of course the system facilitated them and they all required brilliant collaborators…

Making a Film: The Story of Secret People by Lindsay Anderson, most of whose faded lettering has been washed out by my camera, was a real find, and I got it only five minutes from the Shadowplayhouse. Anderson follows the development, preproduction, shooting, and most of the post of Thorold Dickinson’s 1952 Ealing drama. It’s an odd little film — Ealing had just made THE LAVENDER HILL MOB and THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT so one could argue that poor Lindsay has picked the wrong movie to follow. But it doesn’t matter what film it is, since Dickinson is a smart director and Anderson has total access to his process, apart from the bits going on in the man’s mind. Audrey Hepburn, a bit player in LAVENDER HILL, is elevated to a major supporting role here, and Dickinson directed the screen test that got her the lead in ROMAN HOLIDAY, so the story of SECRET PEOPLE is hooked into history. I’m reading this now, properly, and loving it.

North Berwick is an idyllic seaside town with good ice cream, fish and chips, and charity shops. The weather’s been hot so we went, and I picked up Chaos as Usual: conversations about Rainer Werner Fassbinder by Juliane Lorenz. It isn’t as scandalous as I’d expected but it’s very enjoyable — feeling the need to dip into some more Fassbinder. I’ve seen very little of his massive output, really. Appetite whetted.

The Essential Wrapped in Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks by John Thorne. Lots of interviews in this one, which is what sold me. Only covers the first two series. It has many typos, like the Fassbinder book, but these ones are more amusing, as in the phrase, “ad-fib.” An improvised lie? Sounds like a useful term.

Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film by Adam Lowenstein seems like an ambitious critical work. I’m not at all sure Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE is inspired by the Holocaust but I’m interested to see Lowenstein argue it.

That’s just a fraction of the reading matter I’ve been acquiring. More soon!

The Sunday Intertitle: Choccy Moloch

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2021 by dcairns

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK holds up better than the other Boulting Bros’ satires, I think. It’s unusual in that it’s a right-wing satire that’s actually funny. There is a slight attempt at even-handedness: when a worker explains that by having two unions, they can continually pressure the bosses to raise salaries, he adds that without this crafty approach, they wouldn’t get any raises at all. That’s a pretty minuscule sop.

So if the film, firing in all directions, is FOR anything, it’s for “compassionate capitalism.” If the workers are treated fairly by the employers, we can do away with unions altogether and peace will reign. Kind of weird that they use that title, shorthand for “Sod you, Jack, I’m all right” — intended to convey individual selfishness. Here, the different classes are united in opposition to one another, but there’s real group unity within each. They stick together.

Still, with the bosses played by Terry-Thomas (idiot) and Richard Attenborough (cad) and in bed with sleazy politico Dennis Price (crook) and sleazy foreigner Marne Maitland (seen stealing the cutlery), it’s fair to say nobody comes out of it well. But if you unpick where the film is heading with its argument, you find near-fascism at the end of the ellipsis.

My late friend Lawrie Knight found himself trapped between doors with Roy Boulting: the “filming” light was on so they couldn’t go forward and there was no point going back outside. So they waited. RB noticed Lawrie’s public school tie, and immediately became friendlier than he had been previously. Lawrie was a mere third assistant director. And he was appalled at RB’s sudden change of manner. “I mean, I’m a terrible snob, but this was too much!”

Peter Sellers’ magisterial performance as Fred Kite, union man, makes the film, though it’s crammed to the rafters with superb players in meaty comic roles. Dennis Price raises his game: sure, he’s always good, but he’s always THE SAME. He could have played this role with his eyes closed, but he wakes up for it and knocks it out of the park.

There’s a modest attempt to portray the women as the sensible parties, but this involves showing Mrs. Kite (Irene Handl, fabulous as always) cozying up to our hero’s posh Aunt Dolly with a forelock-tugging obsequiousness that’s portrayed as somehow instinctive and proper. Uncomfortable. Though seeing those two share a scene is a joy.

But I mainly want to talk about the chocolate factory. Our hero (Ian Carmichael, mousy drip to perfection) is taken on a tour of this joint, and if Willie Wonka’s plant is a gaudy death-trap, and that of Lord Scrumptious an expressionistic panopticon, then the Num-Yum factory’s METROPOLIS-inspired imagery, with the rhythmic soundtrack of burping and farting machinery (no doubt inspired by the jazzy chemistry sounds of THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, a subtler, more compassionate and genuinely curious film than this) takes the film into a nauseating nightmare realm, just for this one scene. It’s a film full of disgust, moral or aesthetic, but it only assumes visceral form here. The boultings may have had the wrong slant on politics and society, but they got one thing right about satire: it’s motivated by nausea.

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK stars Bertie Wooster; Sir Hiss – A Snake; Chance; Kris Kringle; Jeeves; Madame Arcati; Mrs Gimble; Glad Trimble; Canon Chasuble; The Malay; Sgt. Wilson; Mr. Hoylake; Anxious O’Toole; Lenny the Dip; Archbishop Gilday; Orlando O’Connor; Lily Swann; and Sgt. Potty Chambers.

Gas-s-s-s

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2009 by dcairns

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What is Peter Van Eyck doing under your floorboards? See THE SNORKEL, the film that dares to ask that question.

Directed by former David Lean cameraman (GREAT EXPECTATIONS) Guy Green for Hammer films, this is a bit like one of their psychological thrillers — think of TASTE OF FEAR or PARANOIAC — but it’s less of a knock-off of LES DIABOLIQUES. Intriguingly, it does something fresh with the locked-room mystery, starting with a complete revelation of how the trick is played, and following a suspenseful investigation, like an episode of Columbo, in which the dramatic tension is generated largely by the question of how the killer will be caught.

The first stand-out scene is the very beginning. No credits. Van Eyck moves around an opulent apartment, taping up the doors and windows, turning on the gas lamps, and then attaching the titular snorkel to his bulging Dutch head and hiding in a trap door. Rubber tubes connect his snorkel to the fresh air via a drainage pipe. Meanwhile his wife suffocates in the locked room, an apparent suicide.

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Titles.

And then a great suspense sequence as the body is discovered, the police called, an investigation made, and Van Eyck’s stepdaughter (Mandy Miller) informed of her mother’s death. All with Van Eyck still snug beneath the boards, sweating and listening. I was seriously thinking that the entire movie would play out like this, with characters coming and going, trying to figure out the motiveless suicide, while PVE awaits his chance to escape.

But the movie dispenses with this promising idea, then recovers smartly with enough intrigue and decent work from the players. The story is by Antonio Margheriti, interestingly enough — the worlds of British Hammer horror and Italian gialli rarely intersected — and the script is by the reliably leaden Jimmy Sangster, assisted by Peter Myers. So the dialogue isn’t too smart, but the structure is nice.

A word on Mandy Miller. This is the last feature film of a great child actress. She has a brief, memorable scene in THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, and a leading role in MANDY, both for Ealing Studios and Alexander Mackendrick. Ealing films are revered in Britain but only seem to gradually becoming known outside. Mackendrick’s THE LADYKILLERS was arguably boosted by the Coen brothers’ wretched remake. Criterion have released Robert Hamer’s KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, which is also a favourite film of Bertrand Tavernier. So the situation seems to be changing.

Filmmaker Greg Pak once asked me what else Alexander Mackendrick had done, since he admired SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS so much. Well, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT features arguably Alec Guinness’s best performance, and is a devastatingly wicked satire on all forms of human political thought, enlivened by Mackendrick’s shooting style, heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s German work. MANDY is an emotional pile-driver about a deaf-mute girl which is striking for its time (1952) in the way it challenges patriarchal attitudes — quite a radical thing for a boy’s club like Ealing. Seven-year-old Miller is astonishing in it.

She’s a bit less natural as a teen in THE SNORKEL, but so is everybody (co-star Betta St John is another former child actor, having popped up in LYDIA), and this kind of genre material, and Sangster’s dialogue, are not made for total realism. But she’s charming and has a few brilliant moments, as when she torments her mother’s murderer on the beach by singing an extemporised song about snorkeling (she’s just figured out his secret).

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The other smashing scene is when Miller returns to the death villa to look for clues at night, a little visual concerto of shadows and gliding tracking shots, point-of-views and reactions. It’s beautifully shot by Hammer regular Jack Asher, more often confined to slightly lurid Eastmancolor imagery — ex-cinematographer Green no doubt had strong ideas about what he wanted visually.

Overall an enjoyable yarn, and a cute insight into the days when snorkels were pretty new stuff, and therefore subject to suspicion — could this innocent-seeming tube-and-mask arrangement be an instrument of death?