Archive for The Man Who Laughs

Hollywood, England Expects

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2020 by dcairns

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Two headlines, two movies. The top one is from MGM’s ABOVE SUSPICION, directed by scowling killjoy Richard Thorpe (at least, Esther Williams found him so, and I feel Esther can be believed), in which Fred MacMurray takes Joan Crawford spying on their honeymoon. The second comes out of CONFIRM OR DENY, a Fox wartime newspaper story originally authored by Sam Fuller, who knew war and newspapers. The big-budget recreations of the Blitz are pretty staggering ~

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But I mainly liked it for the thousand faces of Roddy McDowell. Here are some ~

Fritz Lang shot for two weeks on CONFIRM OR DENY before walking off, to be replaced by Archie Mayo. Lang might have enjoyed ABOVE SUSPICION more if he’d had a shot at it: it’s a mash-up of spy movie tropes including business nicked from the original MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (assassination timed to timpani).

The most arresting moment is when Conrad Veidt demonstrates the smooth hinges of an iron maiden — and it’s the very one he was pressed into at the start of THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, fifteen years before in his Hollywood starring role. This is his last film.

Picture Play Magazine had a piece about this prop in 1928, stating that it was now on display in a Hollywood museum: it evidently remained available to filmmakers at least into the forties.

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ABOVE SUSPICION stars Walter Neff; Blanche Hudson; Gwynplaine/Lord Clancharlie; Sherlock Holmes; Ebenezer Scrooge; Aunt Patsy; Miss Margaret Phillibrown; Aunt Milly; Comrade Buljanoff; Mistress Hibbins; Timmons; Adolf Hitler / Franz Huber; Henri Cassin; Evan Adams III; Mrs. Cruncher; and Young Lieutenant – Firing Squad.

CONFIRM OR DENY stars Alexander Graham Bell; Madame Blanc; Cornelius; Ianto; E.J. Waggleberry; Reverend Cyril Playfair; Sir Alfred MacGlennon-Keith; Velma Wall; Mrs. Troll; Uncle Arn; Inspector Lestrade; Sir Mortimer Fortescue; and Knuckles.

 

The Sunday Intertitle: An Unwanted Child

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2019 by dcairns

Thanks, Flicker Alley! THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, restored. From Paul Leni’s last, remarkable year of filmmaking, along with THE LAST WARNING, before his untimely death.

Always knew this would be a gorgeous movie — it’s darker scenes did somewhat survive the accumulated grim of decades, the fuzzing of poor dupes and transfers — all that obfuscatory neglect merging with the cinematography.

Sharpened up, it’s the brighter scenes that really get the benefit, and the film seems hugely more modern.

The happy ending — which one roots for like crazy — still leaves the story feeling a bit trivial. You can tamper with Victor Hugo up to a point — nearly all versions of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME leave the protagonists alive — but Quasi doesn’t get the girl. (Not even in the Disney film: but Disney tries to make his romantic yearning non-tragic, and that cripples the film.) Completely excising the tragedy somewhat destroys the point.

In fact, terrific and hauntingly disturbing as Conrad Veidt’s work is, Julius Molnar, playing the same character as a child, has some of the best stuff.

Checking his credits — he has good roles in OVER THE HILL and NO GREATER GLORY, both of which I saw this year — and turns up in MAN-PROOF, which I just watched, as an office boy.

No wonder I didn’t recall him in it — he comes in the door, hands something over, visible behind Myrna Loy’s right shoulder-pad, and buggers off again, wordlessly.

His last role was as a newsboy — nobody wanted to use him as a grown-up.

A foreground miniature has hanged men dancing on their gibbets like the dolls they are. Charles D. Hall, one of the film’s designers, would go on to do DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE BLACK CAT, THE OLD DARK HOUSE…

Hugo, a highly cinematic writer but also an internal, poetic one, titles the gallows-chapter “A tree of human invention.”

Hugo describes a corpse: “It was that which is no longer.” The kind of sentence you can stare into for quite a long time: an abyss.

To spare the feelings of the audience, Paul Leni and his collaborators omit many of Hugo’s most cinematic touches. When little Gwynplaine finds a dead woman in a snowstorm, Hugo helpfully tells us that her mouth is full of snow. But someone has been crying. Excavating the corpse, he discovers a baby, still alive, which he rescues. Without sound to motivate that action, Leni has to show Molnar simply SEEING, rather than discovering, the infant.

There’s a French bande dessinée adaptation which goes even further. The woman is found dead. But her breast is exposed. On the nipple, a frozen drop of milk. From that milk, Gwynplaine infers, then uncovers, the baby.

Narrative is cause and effect. The more detailed the chain, the more well-reasoned each link, the more effective in a story.

The Project Fear Intertitles

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

“The tenacity of Hansen has borne fruit. A heartbeat, a cry, the homunculus is born!”

From HOMUNCULUS (1916). HOMUNCULUS, which deals with a man without a soul, created by chemistry, is a strange film, and time has treated it… strangely. Asides from the chunks which remain missing, there are passages in which film decay and tinting and toning appear to have interacted willy-nilly to produce psychedelic solarisation effects unknown to both the Kubrick of 2001 and the Jack Cardiff of GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE. While clearly not what Otto Rippert likely had in mind, these unintended effects are certainly beautiful:

I would like to wander through these chrono-chromatic effulgences, so long as I could do it without, you know, getting any on me. I’m not sure it washes off.

Some of the original colour effects do survive, at least in part, and are stunning:

My blog-voodoo spell may have worked — it seems as if Boris Johnson’s dark pledge to effect Brexit by Halloween, via a magickal ritual known as the Westminster Working, has been thwarted. You’re welcome. But we must see this thing through to the end. Project Fear will continue to celebrate the dark side of European filmmaking — which still includes Britain — for one week.

“Take me… to her!” Here’s Faust in Murnau’s FAUST responding appropriately to a sexy vision.

“Your wife has a lovely neck.” NOSFERATU gets frisky. Have European horror films always been sexier than American ones? I want to say YES. Hammer would be a prime example — lustier than the Corman equivalents, though Hazel Court in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH does not lack in what Billy Wilder called “flesh-impact.”

And finally, Contrad Veidt in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS reacts to the sight of his beloved dog, which has the most problematic name of any screen canine outside of DAMBUSTERS.