Archive for Tony Randall

Carnival of Latex

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2012 by dcairns

The red balloon.

7 FACES OF DR. LAO, an uncategorizable western fantasy from George THE TIME MACHINE Pal, achieves some of the grand, poetic, mysterious beauty it aims for, despite inexplicably looking like an episode of Star Trek much of the time — low-horizon prairie cyclorama sets alternating with overfilmed scrubland locales.

(Fellini claimed he felt surprise at seeing the Trevi Fountain still standing after he’d filmed it: like all sets, it should have been torn down after serving its purpose. And the camera is known to steal souls. By that logic, Bronson Canyon ought to have been erased by now, swept away by the camera pans restlessly caressing its boulders.)

I’m inclined to blame the cinematographer, Robert J. Bronner, an experienced MGM pro who did fine work on musicals like IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER and SILK STOCKINGS, but he employs the same bright, colourful look here — everybody else involved seems well aware that this is not, despite advertising to the contrary, a kids’ film*. What it needs are shadows, both to enhance mystery and to hide the cheapness of the sets. Few films would have benefitted more from black & white.

Pan pipes.

Or from Orson Welles behind the camera. George Pal is no Welles, but I don’t want to be harsh about him, because he got this made, and he occasionally pulls out just the right shots — as in the mad spinning of the Pan sequence. Sweaty, gasping Barbara Eden emotes hotly as the camera burls round her, and her POV is an incessant pan, following Pan, whose goat-legged prance is wonderfully antic and teasing but wouldn’t amount to anything were it not for the brazen eroticism of her performance…

I dream of Eden.

Whew. That’s one of the centrepiece good scenes, the others being the incredible, brutal demolition of a fading widow by the fortune-teller Appollonius, and the Giant Serpent’s take-down of bad guy Arthur O’Connell is equally harsh and memorable.

This is the original of what became Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (and then Stephen King’s It) but Charles G. Finney’s book (titled The Circus of Dr Lao) is sharper and weirder, since Lao’s circus is neither straightforwardly benign nor malign, it inhabits a Willie Wonka Wonderland of rather cruel magic working in the service of … what? Humanity? Or Dr Lao’s private amusement? Charles Beaumont, that excellent scribe of Twilight Zones and Corman Poes, softens Lao considerably and gives him a more linear mission statement, but traces of the original remain. In the most intriguing adaptations, not all the nails are knocked flat.

Pal’s performers are rather excellent. Eden does the buttoned-down librarian act rather well, but really throws herself into the unbuttoning. The Pan scene is about eroticism in a way that seems distinctly unusual, not just for a kid’s film, but for any mainstream Hollywood product. Sex is generally part of something else, love interest or plot point, to give it plausible deniability: this is about lust and frustration and how good/bad frustration feels.

THAT’S why I think of  Star Trek — the snowman could be the Salt Vampire’s twin!

Of course, Tony Randall is “the whole show.” With a series of excellent William Tuttle makeups (WT won an Oscar for this before the make-up Oscar actually existed) he plays Lao first as a crudely stereotyped “old Chinaman,” then with a standard American accent, suggesting that Lao is actually taking the mickey out of his listeners’ expectations, then with a series of disparate and mostly quite terrible accents — his Scottish one starts out sort of identifiable, at least, before morphing into (I think) Irish and (I think) Welsh. Rotten accents aside, it’s a terrific perf, or series of perfs: his abominable snowman is just a man in a suit; his Medusa is a memorable drag act, but basically just a single facial expression, Joan Crawford green lips parted in wickedness; but the sombre Apollonius, insinuating serpent (voice-work for a combined glove puppet and stop-motion creation), dithering Merlin and Lao are all exceptional characterisations. And we get a glimpse of the real T.R. too –

Holy crap, just realized that the shallow widow is Lee Patrick, Effie from THE MALTESE FALCON. (Somebody should write a series of detective novels about Effie. Well, they shouldn’t, but I’m surprised they haven’t.) We also get John Qualen, Miser Stevens from THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, doing one of his Yumping Yiminy turns.

Leigh Harline’s Chinese-Western score is very nice, and he finds, at last, a good use for the bagpipe: it makes the perfect sound to simulate the Loch Ness Monster inflating from minnow to plesiosaur — a combination of mass air-pumping, alien drone and screeching horror. Harline also scored Disney’s SNOW WHITE.

Nessie, animated by legend Jim Danforth, is a splendid creature, even if the optical work enabling her to interact with Royal Dano (who’s also in SOMETHING WICKED, oddly) and Tony Randall is distinctly sub-par, resulting not only in shimmering matte lines, but wild fluctuations of colour. Seems like rear projection would have worked better, but I don’t know if this problem was always apparent, or was caused by the film aging. Perhaps somebody out there can tell me? The other animation, on the Great Serpent, is remarkable for how smoothly integrated it is — most of the time, the serpent is a glove puppet, but for particularly tricky bits, like catching a cigar in his mouth, sucking it in and reversing it, he’s stop-motion.

And then there’s THIS psychedelic weird-out –

Young minds were warped… but then, that’s what they’re there for.

***

*It totally enthralled me as a kid, but that was because of its adult feeling, the sense of being let in on secrets normally forbidden to kids. Jan Svankmajer is very much opposed to the whole idea of films for children, feeling that they stifle imagination and infantilise us. His dream of an all-adult cinema is impossible, commercially, of course: the poor parents need something they can safely dump kids in front of without the momentary expectation of screeching trauma at the stuffed rabbit with the real tongue. What I’d settle for is kid-friendly films with adult themes — NOT a few adult in-jokes thrown in to divert the moms and dads, but actual issues dealt with in exactly as subtle and intelligent a way as we’d expect in good mature films. “But the kids won’t understand!” Yet kids cope with reality, on a day to day basis, without understanding that, either.

Let Lao explain it –

“The whole world is a circus if you know how to look at it. The way the sun goes down when you’re tired, comes up when you want to be on the move. That’s real magic. The way a leaf grows. The song of the birds. The way the desert looks at night, with the moon embracing it. Oh, my boy, that’s… that’s circus enough for anyone. Every time you watch a rainbow and feel wonder in your heart. Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand. Every time you stop and think, “I’m alive, and being alive is fantastic!” Every time such a thing happens, you’re part of the Circus of Dr. Lao.”

Kid: “I don’t understand.”

Lao: Neither do I. “

The Rock

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 20, 2010 by dcairns

I have self-satisfaction coming out of my ears. Yes, as I peruse my brand-new, still-warm edition of the Masters of Cinema BluRay of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER?, an emotion akin to third-degree smugness creeps from the dank recesses of my id and leaves complacent footsteps all over my ego and superego. The reason being the three — count ‘em! — three “essays” crammed into the compact accompanying booklet, each of them authored — personally — by my brain and forelimbs.

That’s not the primary reason to buy the thing, though — you should buy it for the movie itself, a crackerjack box of visual gags, satirical sideswipes and exuberant, nimble comic performances (Randall! Mansfield! Blondell!) and Gorgeous Life-like Color by Deluxe! After watching the thing, my eyeballs feel like they should be sealed in a  lead-lined box for a thousand years before it’s safe for them to look at anyone again. That thing has the platonic ideal of all your basic colours, with the brightness turned up to eleventeen.

You also get a video intro by arch-Tashlinite Joe Dante, the trailer, a Mansfield newsreel, and an alternative audio track, and a text interview with legend Tony Randall, conducted by Ethan DeSeife.

Just watched my copy, and Fiona and I were oohing and aahing at the colours like early cinemagoers experiencing projected images for the first time. An observation from Fiona I wish I’d been able to include in my essay: when Betsy Drake goes Mansfield-mad and starts making that high-pictched EEEOOH! noise associate with J.M., it’s as disturbing as Mercedes McCambridge’s revoicing of Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST. Tashlin’s comedy hovers near the boundaries of nightmare.

In stores October 25th — buy it now via my link and make me slightly more financially secure –

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? [Masters of Cinema] [Blu-ray]

Rockin’ Good News

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 9, 2010 by dcairns

At last it can be told!

I’ve contributed essays to the forthcoming — very forthcoming — BluRay edition of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? from the excellent people at Eureka Masters of Cinema. The project was hatched in secrecy and darkness, so I’ve only just discovered that I share my duties as extra feature with Joe Dante, which makes the whole thing even more thrilling. Now I can introduce myself as his “unwitting collaborator.”

The Amazon product description is a febrile triumph in itself, and worth quoting in full. Do I detect the hand of Master of Cinema mastermind Craig Keller?

“Unsold on celebrity? Congested with consumption? Addled by status? You’re in The World, kiddo, brought to you by Frank Tashlin “Because Someone’s Got to Live in It.” And now a brief word on our latest fine product, the one that gives you the answer to that nagging question: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Ladies and gentlemen, no-one does straight-and-narrow quite like Tony Randall, and we guarantee his turn as lovable ad-man Rockwell P. Hunter will leave you in so many stitches you’ll be just silly with sc-HAH-rtissue! And speaking of tissue: once you see Jayne Mansfield bob and weave as starlet Rita Marlowe, the ambidextrous angel who takes Hunter under her “wings” to launch his agency into the $trato$phere, you too will coo her trademark “ooo”! But that’s not all! You’ll also get Ms. Joan Blondell, star of Nightmare Alley and of Opening Night, who rounds out the package as Ms. Marlowe’s assistant and handler as they say in Paris, quel package! Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? proves that love CAN be manufactured (how else could we get our Blu-rays in your hands??), and finds Frank Tashlin doing what he did better than everyone else: Frank Tashlin’!!! Trust us when we say we here at The Masters of Cinema Series are simply over-the-moon to be presenting Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? for the first time on Blu-ray anywhere on the planet. – Gorgeous high-definition transfer of the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio – New and exclusive video introduction to the film by director Joe Dante (Gremlins 1 & 2, InnerSpace, Looney Tunes: Back in Action) – Vintage Movietone short which captures Jayne Mansfield on tour promoting the film – Alternate music & effects track with a different musical score for the opening of the picture and other ‘temporary’ effects-placement – Original theatrical trailer – Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired – 44-page booklet featuring two new essays by film writer David Cairns, and an exclusive 2003 interview about the film with Tony Randall conducted by Ethan DeSeife.”

Get it! Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? [Masters of Cinema] [Blu-ray]

Remember, if you buy it via my Amazon link, it costs you nothing extra, but I get a little tiny percentage of the proceeds.

I will now be offline until, perhaps, Friday night, since I’m going to be in Dublin meeting with producers. A new edition of The Forgotten will appear at the Daily Notebook sometime today, so please drop by and check it out. I’ll link to it when I get back.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 357 other followers