Archive for Tora! Tora! Tora!

Nero LeRoy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2021 by dcairns

“Is this, then, the end of Nero?” asks a dying Emperor Peter Ustinov at the climax of QUO VADIS?, more or less quoting Edward G. Robinson at the end of LITTLE CAESAR. Which was directed by the same guy, Mervyn Leroy, back when he was young and awake. Since there are varying accounts of Nero’s actual or supposed last words, and none of them include a quote from a Warners gangster picture, this must surely qualify as one of the most prominently placed in-jokes in Hollywood history.

Would that there were any other evidence that the film had a sense of humour about itself. It’s entertaining rubbish, though: the sets are big, and the acting varies from dreadful (Robert Taylor, not a screen god in this household) to the impressive — how Deborah Kerr, Leo Genn, Abraham Sofaer (the judge/surgeon from AMOLAD), Marina Berti and Rosalie Crutchley are able to make their dreadful lines sound like human speech is quite staggering.

Crutchley, darkly gorgeous, is the only character who’s apparently read the whole script, not just the scene she’s playing: she knows how it’s going to end.

I watched a bit of TORA! TORA! TORA! on TV the same day, and it was interesting to see how the American scenes in that managed to turn comparatively recent US history into the same kind of lifeless tableaux as the typical ancient world epic. I forget if it was in this film that Ustinov blew on his soup to cool it, and was told the gesture was too modern. “In what age, pray, did the wretched Romans stop eating their minestrone piping hot?” he inquired. Of the two films, QV has slightly more authentic human behaviour. By the end, I was dying for some actual life.

So Fiona wondered if Ustinov contributed his own famous last words, since the man did have a sense of humour absent elsewhere in this roaring stodgefest. The scenes at court are weapons-grade camp, with Patricia Laffan (DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS) a resplendent whore-empress Poppaea, and Ustinov clearly taking to heart departing helmer Anthony Mann’s character sketch of the depraved Caesar: “Strikes me as the kind of guy plays with himself nights.”

QUO VADIS stars Quentin Durward; Sister Clodagh; Starbuck; Hercule Poirot; Nyah; Magwitch; Benjamin Disraeli; Queen at Tarsus (uncredited); Vargas the Diablo Giant; Hecuba; Inspector Buchanan, Special Branch; Horatio, His Friend; the screenwriter of THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN; Mrs Dudley; Mrs Alexander; Bambino; and the voice of Morbius.

Pacific War is a contradiction in terms

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2021 by dcairns
The chairman is thinking about Taiwan

Last night I started watching THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA (1971), subtitled A TEMPESTOUS CHRONICLE OF THE SHOWA PERIOD, “tempestuous” being the understatement of the period, and I hope to finish it today (bad viewing habits, huh?).

It’s directed by Kihachi Okamoto, whose stuff I haven’t got into before, and it has a zip to it. After David Lean’s embrace of direct cutting in LAWRENCE added a spring to the step of the lumbering epic form, new possibilities opened up, largely ignored in the west. Compare this to those dreadful Mirisch Company war movies, huge, flat and lifeless, cinematic Saharas of imagination.

In principle, it’s doing the same things as a piece of oily flotsam like BATTLE OF MIDWAY — archive footage is blithely intercut with modern pyrotechnics and star cameos (Tetsurô Tanba, Tatsuya Nakadai). You know they’re serious because they show you actual corpses before the main titles roll. (Being serious can lead to worse violations of taste than being flippant.) The stock shots are anamorphically stretched to fit the Tohoscope frame and look miserable.

But but but. The cutting is both nimble and eccentric. Surprising details are emphasised in surprising places and at breakneck speed (a scene ends, almost nonsensically, on an ECU of a sex worker’s toes). The characters are all finest quality Japanese cardboard with very emphatic playing in the A. Kurosawa manner, which works fine as they all need to make an impression in nothing flat.

The music is constantly lighter and more playful than the situation seems to warrant — none of this is going to end well — perhaps the same national tendency that gave us Gojira’s jolly march and Sanjuro’s baby elephant walk. Masaru Satô so that makes perfect sense and is personal more than national. In fact, now that I check, it’s by But the counter-intuitive choice imparts a grace and lightfootedness that propel the film forward without the usual grinding of gears.

An obvious comparison would be TORA! TORA! TORA! but the auteur of that one is Twentieth Century Fox and so it plods pachydermic through its history lesson, a literal-minded behemoth. Okamoto can dance.

I know some of this story, though. It’s going to get really horrible, isn’t it?