Archive for The Man With Two Brains

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Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2021 by dcairns

PAY DAY, continued…

The actual pay day bit of PAY DAY isn’t so hot. Charlie thinks he’s been underpaid, because he can’t count. Seems weird that we’re in 1922 and Chaplin is still getting his character wrong. We don’t think of Charlie as stupid. We presume him to be uneducated, but this business doesn’t seem to suit him, and anyway it doesn’t lead to anything funny.

Yay, Phyllis Allen! A woman who must have been a very good sport, given the way Chaplin always casts her. This is a one-minute, one-facial-expression by the Great Bone Face, playing Charlie’s shrewish wife. This is a rare case where Charlie’s hankering after Edna is actually adulterous, though we don’t know what at the time. The whole gag here is Charlie, out in full view, plotting how he can keep back the housekeeping money from his wife, who is watching every moment,ready to pounce and abstract the cash from him.

The Charlie of PAY DAY is a much more wretched figure than usual. The film can be seen as a fairly vicious condemnation of the working man under capitalism: he doesn’t organise his labour, he’s too busy indulging in the pitiable vices society allows him. The bitterness for once suits Chaplin’s biography, as the son of a man who drank himself to death. Charlie’s left enough drinking money to get thoroughly soused, and we iris out on him and his cronies setting the world to rights at closing time. And what cronies! John Rand, Henry Bergman, Albert Austin, Loyal Underwood, Al Ernest Garcia, and Syd. Is this Charlie’s last film as a drunkard? It has some of the best drunk action.

The coat! Charlie manages to get one arm into his overcoat but the other one goes into Henry B.’s overcoat, and Henry plods off, basically wearing Charlie. Next is a great bit with the cane. The cane is fantastically useful as a prop, as we well know by now. We can relate it to the jester’s bladder and stick if we like. This gag actually requires Charlie to LOSE his cane, so the gag had better be a good one if it’s to be worth it. It is, and it is.

Seeing Bergman struggle with his umbrella, Charlie helps. But what he hands back is his cane, and Henry, too pissed to notice, stands in the rain holding this futile object. As if this weren’t enough, Charlie is now wearing both of their coats. Henry’s miserable condition is funny enough for Chaplin to cut back to him, twice, just standing there like a putz.

This all reminds me somewhat of GOOD NIGHT, NURSE!, the Arbuckle-Keaton short best remembered for Buster’s blood-spattered appearance as a prototype of William Burroughs’Dr. Benway (thanks to Dan Sallitt, I think it was, for that comparison). But it begins with a full reel of a thoroughly guttered Fatty standing, just barely, in a torrential downpour. Impressively abject stuff. It doesn’t seem that likely that Chaplin would consciously imitate it… but then, he did steal the dance of the bread rolls from Arbuckle…

Charlie now has trouble with streetcars.The first one to show up is immediately swarmed by undercranked commuters, buzzing like flies, a rare instance of Chaplin using extreme accelerated motion. It’s like Nosferatu packing his coffin.

Meeting Henry again, Charlie regains his cane (of course, how could I have doubted this?) but loses both overcoats in his haste to catch the streetcar. This is all impressive night-for-night shooting — and unless Chaplin somehow diverted a streetcar into his studio, it seems like he’s intercutting his studio street with a real one, quite seamlessly.

David Robinson notes that PAY DAY was a comparatively brisk shoot, with no major hold-ups save a break when Chaplin caught cold around Christmas. A fairly clear plan, a rarity for Chaplin, enabled him to shoot the second half of the film first. I guess the plot of this one is so simple — basically work, drink, go home — the structure didn’t present any difficulties, and the business of coming up with business was something that came comparatively easy to the authentic comedy genius.

The last streetcar is so fantastically overcrowded it looks like someone pasted it with glue and flung men at it. Charlie loses his grip on it, tearing off another passenger’s trousers, after paying his fare. Here, Rollie Totheroh’s lighting is less successful — the tram is illuminated as if by a moving spotlight. I guess it could be the headlights of a car following close behind. And I guess no other solution would have been available unless you were going to light a whole street for night shooting.

Charlie, drunker than we would have thought, or can believe, rushes into a lunch wagon and grabs a hanging sausage, thinking himself in a streetcar holding a hand strap. Brilliantly, it’s Syd’s lunch wagon from A DOG’S LIFE, though Syd has modified his makeup from that film. Maybe this is the brother of the chap from ADL. I feel the gag, which is magnificent, is weakened a little by coming after some very vigorous athletic business from Charlie which makes me think he can’t be as drunk as he seems here.

Good bit where he tries to light the sausage.

Leaving his brother at the lunch wagon, Charlie meets… his brother, playing someone else. The shuffling of players is as bold as that in a Monty Python film (where it feels quite natural — it’s the OBSCURE OBJECT trick played over and over again).

Back at the Chaplin residence, Phyllis Allen is not quite “nursing her wrath to keep in warm,” in Robert Burns’ immortal phrase, but she’s asleep with a rolling pin ready in her hand, so she can wake up berating. A title tells us it’s five a.m. Charlie has been wandering lost, presumably, for hours, unless closing time was a lot later in the 1920s. Actually, since the Volstead Act had been in effect for two years, the whole thing may be an anachronism — but if we assume Charlie and his mates were at a speakeasy, closing time probably doesn’t apply so he might have left at, say, 4 a.m. On the other other hand, speakeasies probably didn’t encourage customers to gather, swaying, on the street outside. Let’s just agree this is Chaplin’s version of Los Angeles-London, where the pubs still open.

Not such a great backdrop. Quite detailed, but I think what lets it down is the way the building we see is square-on with the window, which is perfectly possible, even likely, but increases our sense of looking at a painted flat, and the large, featureless expanse of ground at the bottom. Charles D. Hall usually did better than this.

Inside Charlie’s flat is a far superior window view, though it seems to contradict everything about the previous one. Strictly speaking, the views of these two adjacent windows should be nearly identical. And, in fact, Hall seems to have painted over View #1, adding the roof corner to the foreground which vastly improves the sense of perspective and the compositional interest. The lighting also really helps this one.

The table laden with cats is a great, rather abstract gag. I like the fellow on the left who thinks he’s in an Ozu film. The cat infestation has cleaned up Charlie’s supper, but fortunately he’s come home with a huge sausage. Thus nature balances itself.

A tiny cat steals the massive sausage. I suspect a long balloon may have been substituted, otherwise the feat would be impossible. One is put in mind of those ants carrying burdens far heavier than themselves.

Charlie oiling his boots so they won’t squeak is an excellent gag, very him. In a sound film he could have fun deciding whether the oil works.

A cartoon gag — the alarm clock shakes as it rings. My first thought was that this was a necessary exaggeration, but it really isn’t — the bell atop the alarm clock is quite capable of showing us that it’sgone off. So Chaplin wanted the exaggeration — but it’s an unusual move for him.

The next gag — Charlie,undressing for bed, immediately goes into reverse so that he seems to be dressing FROM bed, gaslighting his wife into believing he’s been home for hours, was good enough for Steve Martin to nick it in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, I believe. And I think Martin’s version might be better, because of the fluidity of the movement: Charlie oversells the idea of his being flustered, improvising desperately. I guess that’s his thing, whereas Keaton could do things like a man in a dream.

The threat of Phyllis is once again used for dramatic/comedic irony/poignancy, as she lurks behind Charlie, full aware of his latest imposture. Like John Lennon in Norwegian Wood, he “crawls off to sleep in the bath,” but like himself in ONE A.M. and A NIGHT OUT and CAUGHT IN THE RAIN, he finds the tub full of water. The movie, like those pervious ones, could have ended there, but Chaplin finds a flurry of variants — he turns on the hot tap so he can have a nice warm sleep, Phyllis catches him so he pretends he’s bathing, fleeing the scene he retrieves his last penny from under the doormat but she’s watching him, yet again. He ends on a furious closeup of Phyllis, gesticulating with a milk bottle, and the superimposed THE END is surely a more modern addition.

“You don’t explore on people.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on January 17, 2009 by dcairns

Well, folks were telling me THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE was a monsterpiece, and now we can see they were right. (Too bad this is the cut version though.)

With lines like the above-quoted, and “Very well, the corpse is yours,” and “The line between scientific genius and obsessive fanatacism is a thin one — I want you on the right side of it!” — all in the opening scene alone, the film has an Ed Wood feeling for demented speechifying that anticipates the current comedy work of Larry Blamire and more than justifies the credit for “Additional dialogue by Doris Brent.” (Doris also plays the terrifying whispery nurse in scene one.)

(Did I imagine it or does THE SOUND OF MUSIC feature an all-time classic grudging credit, something like, “With partial use of ideas by -“? It’s been a long time since I looked at it, so I can’t be sure I’m not making it up.)

THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T, as I’m now calling it (for short), is one of those B-films where there’s a perfect balance of defects — lack of funds, lack of talent, lack of experience, lack of good sense — so that a kind of cockamamie artistic harmony is engendered, and everything seems VERY GOOD INDEED. The car crash is a perfectly fine no-budget smash-up, but what lifts it into the paranormally brilliant  is the way the arrogant doc then gets lingered over by the rubbernecking camera as he apparently suffers a painful attack of trapped wind, and by the time he gets through with that the stock music has run out of cacophonous melodrama and segued into a cavorting faun theme, which plays, with a sort of helpless shrug, as the heroine is incinerated in the wrecked vehicle. Just beautiful.

Moments later and our man is climbing a narrow flight of exterior stairs with his fiancee’s severed head wrapped in his jacket, and he takes a very long time to do it (be fair, he’s tired). It’s like the horror movie version of Laurel & Hardy’s THE MUSIC BOX. If he had dropped the head when he got to the top, and it rolled all the way back down, I believe I would have died a happy man.

I don’t intend in any way to be disparaging about TBTWD, because it can’t be easy to make a compulsively watchable film on a micro-budget without access to top-tier talent and without a lot of practice. The IMDb notes of writer-director Joseph Green, “Owned a small (he answered the phone himself) distribution company which distributed an eclectic mix of minor foreign films (such as Chabrol’s Une Partie de Plaisir) and kung fu/exploitation pictures.” So I picture him as a guy who was in it for the love. He only made one other picture — twenty four years after this one. That makes me sad.

What makes me happy? The line “How can you make of her an experiment of horror?” The gibbering THING IN THE CLOSET (you know you’re in zero-budget land when they can’t even afford an attic or cellar to imprison their failed experiments). When our obsessive fanatic scientific genius goes trolling for bodies we’re obviously looking at the inspiration for THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, only we’re looking at it for far longer than expected.

“You’re a freak of life — and of death!”

Where the film betrays some weak-mindedness is an eagerness to get to the point with Jan-in-the-pan, the severed head character. Somehow she KNOWS she’s a severed head, which robs us of a potentially very dramatic scene of her finding out, (reflection in shiny surface?) and somehow she knows that she now has a tremendous new power, without ever actually learning this, which again could have made for a good strong scene. However, as the story goes on and it becomes clear that she doesn’t have any tremendous new power at all, I came to appreciate the inverted wisdom of Green’s forbearance.

Instead we get many many shots of the withered hand guy looking pensive, which don’t achieve much since we don’t really know what he’s worried about — his shrivelled arm? The guy in the closet? The severed head lady? The fact that he’s missing the strip-shows? All good reasons for concern, but as Alexander Mackendrick says, ambiguity is a choice between two possible meanings, not countless.

“My hopes — shattering with each severed arm he grafted to me!”

Interesting how the scientific genius obsessed fanatic, having decided he needs a new body for his fiancee’s head, immediately decides that abduction and murder is the only possible course of action, and immediately resorts to visiting strip-shows and kerb-crawling and going to “body beautiful” contests. It’s hard not to form the conviction that he’d be doing all this anyway, even if he didn’t have his girlfriend’s cranium waiting in a dish.

“Posing bare for a bunch of neurotics.”

I liked the magnificent man-hating life-model with the scar — shades of PEEPING TOM. The movie’s assumption that being a man-hater with a scarred face makes you a prime full-body donor is bordering on the offensive, but the powerfully-built vixen is so impressive as she forcefully stresses every single syllable of dialogue, one can’t help but admire her magnificent froideur and hauteur. It’s kind of a shame when she mellows out.

“This kind of thing must be done.”

That’s a BIG HAND that reaches through the hatch from the evil closet. And it’s no fake monster hand, just a really enormous meaty man-paw. The mutant it’s attached to may be a bit overdone, but he’s still rather disturbing, and well worth the wait. It’s a shame he doesn’t get more to do — his gibbering was fun, but he falls curiously silent when he emerges from his prison-cupboard. A monologue about the dangers of science run amok would have been nice — everyone else has one. But fighting the mad scientist with his arm stuck through a door makes for an agreeably different action sequence. Perhaps if the monster had got a foot jammed in a waste-paper basket, that would have raised things to the next level.

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“When she does come to, it will be your head consciously awakening for her.”

Wait — the monster gets the girl? Is that a first?

Ripping the lid off the id

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2008 by dcairns

The 1941 MGM DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE has never been a favourite of mine. In the MGM tradition, it substitutes production gloss for imagination, throwing money at the screen, with little high-grade thought in evidence. Spencer Tracy is no favourite of mine either, though I acknowledge that he CAN be rather fine. He was routinely praised as an underplayer, but he’s uncomfortably broad here, partly because he’s trying to do Hyde with minimal makeup, which means plenty of eye-rolling instead. I do wish somebody in the ’40s had tried to make the story with TWO actors. Imagine Michael Redgrave as Jekyll and Robert Newton as Hyde!

Still, the flick has some exciting sequences, once you wade through the set dressing and gowns by Adrian and endless padding. The montage-transformations, inspired by Mamoulian’s subjective hallucination sequence in the 1931 version (it’s absolutely shameful how much here is lifted from that superior production), have a Slavko Vorkapich kind of insanity, but are actually the work of filmic doppelganger Peter Ballbusch, who must have been taking lessons from the king of cod-surrealist montage malarkey.

The fast-cut assemblages of detail shots as Dr. J. brews his potion, bars the door and draws the shades, harks back to Eisenstein and forward to Sam Raimi, and then we’re into the lunacy:

Good Girl Lana Turner (!) and Bad Girl Ingrid Bergman (!) emerge from a lily pond, trying to look naked, and then everything goes all champagne-sparkly.

Then it’s “Into the mud, scum-queen!” as Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr might say, as the fizzy pond becomes a feculent quagmire, sucking the soiled maidens down into the dirty depths of Spencer Tracy’s pervy unconscious. Now he is a coachman, swinging freely with the lash, and Turner and Bergman are his horses. Well, I make it a rule never to criticise anybody’s lifestyle choice.

“Sadism is fine as long as you’re not hurting anybody,” ~ Cynthia Payne.

Transformation #2 features more of the same. Lana Turner is a Bottle Imp, sealed within the GLASS WALLS OF SOCIETY:

Ingrid Bergman is A SEXY CORK:

And yes, Spencer Tracy is screwing her.

My absurdly glossy, beautiful book Hollywood Horror by Mark A. Vieira is full of great background stuff. Spence is quoted as having said ~

“I felt Jekyll was a very respectable doctor — a fine member of society….But there was another side to this man. Every once in a while, Jekyll would go on a trip. Disappear. And either because of drink or dope or who knows what, he would become — or should I say “turn into”? — Mr. Hyde. Then in a town or neighborhood where he was totally unknown, he would perform acts of cruelty and vulgarity.”

As a description of the story, this is a mixture of the obvious and the bafflingly inaccurate. But as Vieira helpfully points out, it’s a very accurate profile of Tracy himself, who had been dropped by the Fox Corporation for drunken misconduct. “Tracy, after repeatedly disappearing on binges, quarreled violently with studio head Winfield Sheehan. According to makeup artist Frank Westmore, Tracy ‘went on such a drunken rampage that he had to be locked inside a huge studio sound stage… Before he reached the blessed state of unconsciousness, he tore down sets and systematically smashed thousands of dollars’ worth of lights.'”