Archive for The Scarlet Letter

The Rule of Three, or is it Four?

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2018 by dcairns

  1. Wrote a sort-of-obituary appreciation of Dorothy Malone for The Chiseler. Here.
  2. Made a video essay with Randall William Cook and editor Timo Langer on the many noses of Orson Welles which is up at Filmstruck, behind a paywall so I can’t link to it. Members can seek it out, though, it’s called ON THE NOSE. (Note: I only realised later that there’s a previous Fimstruck article on the subject, which quotes an even earlier piece from Shadowplay. But what it quotes is NOT TRUE. I was kidding! I was hoping people would realise that. I hate it when people take my jokes seriously, it makes them feel silly when they find out. But at the same time, I don’t want to make the gags more obvious…)
  3. The magnificent Marilyn Ferdinand honours me by contributing a late entry to The Late Movies Blogathon. It’s about Colleen Moore’s version of THE SCARLET LETTER, and you can read it here.
  4. And then I got carried away and wrote a sequel to the Dorothy Malone piece. Here.

The Pentecostal McIntertitle

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2017 by dcairns

Tartan intertitles never really caught on. Tartan intertitles that rhyme are basically a one-off, confined to the forty-one minutes and thirty-four seconds of THE LADY OF THE LAKE, adapted from Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem.

The opening shot is a spectacular vista of a loch, with a gentleman in period dress in the foreground. The gent turns out to be Percy Marmont, who was in Hitchcock’s RICH AND STRANGE and Hitchcock’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT and here looks about ready for Hitchcock’s COLD AND UNCOMFORTABLE. In attempting to make his way out of the foreground, he stumbles rather badly, and limps from view looking embarrassed and cross. That memorable phrase from Brownlow’s Cinema Europe doc, referring to another Brit epic, comes to mind — well, I can’t remember it exactly, but bits of it come to mind, and form something like the phrase, “a re-take was evidently considered altogether too ambitious.”

I stress, this is the leading man tripping over in the opening shot.

Percy Marmont gave his name to the Chateau Marmont, by the way. Indirectly, but still.

But the film improves a fair bit, seeming at least professional. The poetry is bloody awful, though. I found myself wondering why Scott has a giant monument on Edinburgh’s main street when his verse is so crappy. Then I did my due diligence on Project Gutenberg and established that the doggerel intertitles have nothing to do with Scott at all… except for those that do (above). Elsewhere, the language has been made less archaic, lines of text have been repurposed as dialogue, and the desired effect of terseness combined with windiness has been achieved with all the inelegance one could wish for.

I remember when Demi Moore appeared in THE SCARLET LETTER she got a lot of stick for saying that it was based on a book (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) nobody ever read nowadays. And the criticism was justified, mainly because who promotes their movie by saying it’s based on something unreadable and worthless? (She should have pointed out that the classic Lillian Gish movie took just as many liberties — some books offer cinematic possibilities without, in their fundamentals, being suited to faithful adaptation…) If the cast and crew had been forced to  read the book, which would have taken some of them just as long as filming it, they would have learned more, and we would have been spared seeing the film. But still, there are some important old literary works that nobody reads for pleasure. Carl Hiassen’s Striptease, for example…

I have read precisely one short story by Scott, which I found turgid. In fairness, he was a pretty early adopter of the novel form. His verse is a lot better than the chopped-up intertitular fragments here suggest, because it’s partly in the excess wordiness of his raptures over highland scenery that he gets his effects over. And the film just deletes all that in favour of photography.

Percy seems rather effete for his role as a bold Scottish hero. I don’t think Benita Hume was Scottish either, though maybe she was descended from David Hume?


Note the spare intertitles hung up here and there to cover cracks in the walls.

Also, the sheep gathered around the dining table for guests to sit on. Sheep are so plentiful in the highlands that furniture is rarely bothered with. These ovine dining chairs have the added advantage that, if your plate is emptied, you can simply carve off some mutton from under you and add it to your “tatties.” After a heavy meal, you might find yourself sitting on the floor.

The legs of the table are made from barber’s poles, a typical Scottish economy measure. “If they didnae want us to hae them, they shouldnae leave them oot in the street!”


The Late Show

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2013 by dcairns


I created this second banner because Fiona said the dead Santa one was “horrible.”

Welcome to the blogathon! I’m going to sellotape this post to the top of Shadowplay using science, so it will be the first thing you see this week. But the new posts will be immediately beneath it, so keep scrolling.

If participating in the blogathon, this is the post to link to. You can add a comment below to let me know about the post, if you don’t have my email.



And we have a first entry — David Ehrenstein applies his wits to F FOR FAKE, one of Orson Welles’ last movies as director, and another that is sometimes cited as his greatest film. Here.

My own first piece deals with a truly hard-to-see, unconsidered final film, from the wonderful Frank Borzage. Here.

Christine Leteux was our researcher on NATAN, is Kevin Brownlow’s translator, and in her own right she’s the author of the first book on Albert Capellani and the splendid French-language film blog Ann Harding’s Treasures. She’s traveling at present, researching her next book, but gave me permission to link to a relevant piece from AHT — TUMBLEWEEDS was William S. Hart’s last directorial gig and feature starring role. Ici.

Eddie Selover casts a not-unsympathetic eye over two swan songs from 1930s divas, Marlene Dietrich’s JUST A GIGOLO and Mae West’s jaw-dropping SEXTETTE. Here.

Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy on Films looks at a film I only just realized exists, the 1934 version of THE SCARLET LETTER, which was Colleen Moore’s last feature. Here.



Every Shadowplay blogathon must contain an intertitle. Here.

Over at Mostly Film, Paul Duane raises the tone with an entry on EMMANUELLE V, tragically Walerian Borowczyk’s last gig, but finds some bizarre merit. Here.

Tim Hayes looks at SPAWN not as a naff superhero flick but as a late Nicol Williamson film and gets fascinating results. Here.

We have a scintillating line-up of guest Shadowplayers this year, and the first among them is Judy Dean, who looks at James Mason’s last screen appearance in THE SHOOTING PARTY. Here.



Imogen Smith, a regular star writer at The Chiseler, revisits Anthony Mann’s last western, which is also a late Gary Cooper, and elegiac as hell. Here.

Regular Shadowplayer Simon Kane waxes mysterious about Tom Schiller’s first, last and only theatrical feature, aptly titled NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, also the cinematic swan song of Sam (“Professor Knickerbocker”) Jaffe. Here.

My own Tuesday piece takes a brief look at Peckinpah’s THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, both version. And there’s a song! Here.

Gareth McFeely looks at the final feature of the late Georges Lautner, in a particularly timely tribute. Here.



Filmmaker Matthew Wilder looks at Billy Wilder’s unloved BUDDY BUDDY and, uniquely, finds something to admire. Here.

From Scout Tafoya, a typically ruminative and emotive valediction to Raul Ruiz. Here.

My post deals with a late Richard Lester, the largely ignored/forgotten FINDERS KEEPERS, which actually has some great slapstick. Here.

Louis Wolheim’s last movie, the 193o railroad melodrama DANGER LIGHTS, is examined by The Man on the Flying Trapeze. Here.



Nobody Knows Anybody, the Spanish cine-blog, considers the career of Alfredo Landa in the light of his final work. Yonder.

As part of the ’68 Comeback Special, I consider a late film by Albert Finney, made early in his career. Confused? Now you know how CHARLIE BUBBLES feels. Here.

Critica Retro assesses the charms of Louise Brooks’ oddball last picture. In Portuguese — try auto-translate, or try reading Portuguese! Aquí.

Two from Jeremy Rizzo, on Howard Hawks last, RIO LOBO, and Kubrick’s semi-posthumous puzzle box, EYES WIDE SHUT. Here and here.



Michael Pattison on what MAY be Tsai Ming-Liang’s final movie. Here.

A tip of the hat to THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE at No Man’s Land. Here.

Our own David Melville Wingrove illuminates the trailing end of Rex Ingram’s mighty career. Down here.

John Greco tackles the knotty problem of William Wyler’s last work, a film I love unreasonably. Here.

Stacia at She Blogged By Night weighs in on HER TWELVE MEN and Douglas Shearer, brother of the more celebrated Norma. Here.

And Tony Dayoub offers a close reading of three scenes in GIANT, the last film of James Dean. Here!

Daniel Riccuito, editor of The Chiseler, considers Jean Epstein’s last short, LIGHTS THAT NEVER FAIL aka LES FEUX DE LA MER. Here.

prairie home.preview


Dennis Cozzalio of the legendary Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule joins the blogathon for the first time with a joint look at the final films of two old masters: Altman and Penn. Here!

Seijun Suzuki’s wild, pop-art penultimate pic inspires this Shadowplay gallery. Here.

Guest Shadowplayer Ted Haycraft reflects on one of the biggest, boldest and bloodiest final films, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Here.

Grand Old Movies tips the hat to Marie Dressler. Here.

Late Bresson via Philip Tatler IV at Diary of a Country Pickpocket. Here.

The Girl with the White Parasol covers Frank Borzage’s second-last film, CHINA DOLL. Here.


Unable to recognize too much of a good thing, I keep going with John Frankenheimer’s last theatrical release, REINDEER GAMES. Here.

Chandler Swain revisits Losey’s STEAMING. Here.

Scout Tafoya’s second blogathon post details the last film to end them all, PP Pasolini’s positively final SALO. Here.