Archive for Una O’Connor

The Sunday Intertitle: Old Scenes

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2023 by dcairns

So, in our Dickens double-bill, it turned out that, surprisingly, the director of RED-HEADED WOMAN was a better match for the author than the director of A WOMAN’S FACE, or maybe it’s only that the rambling picaresque of DAVID COPPERFIELD is less readily adapted to cinema than A TALE OF TWO CITIES, which is more of a rollicking thriller.

Both 1935 films resort to montages, title cards, hastily summarised scenes in order to compress their sources into a decent span of celluloid. At times, COPPERFIELD seems like lightning sketches stitched together with glass paintings and Vorkapich effects.

George Cukor abandons any hope of a unified style in his cast’s performances, wisely, I think, since it allows W.C. Fields and Roland Young to do their respective things to the fullest of their mighty talents. Fields is terrific, of course, a cartoon made flesh, even his costume design marking him out as an inhabitant of a different genre from everyone else. Young had a brilliant understated schtick as a light comedy sidekick, but when given anything more to do he always delivered — his Uriah Heap is strikingly oleaginous, viviparous, a cringing Gollum seething with pass-agg resentments. It’s hard to process the idea, though, that Freddie Bartholomew and Frank Lawton inhabit the same world, or film.

Freddie is a weird little phenomenon. Given business to do, he does it skillfully (wiping his hand after Heap has shaken it, with a barely-suppressed shudder). Given dialogue, he often appears extraterrestrial, inhuman. Asked to weep, he becomes a disgusting, bleating animal, repelling sympathy. Halfway through the film, we lose him, as Lawton is airdropped in to take up the role, replacing his younger self. Lawton is puppyish but a little dull. I guess Copperfield in the book is just an innocent set of eyes observing the other characters, but in a film we have to look at him.

Hugh Williams spends much of his small part appearing outwardly honourable, a waste of his oily talents — when the scenario permits him to hint at inner rottenness, he’s terrific.

Una O’Connor and Elsa Lanchester add pep — and make me wish James Whale had gotten to film Dickens. Basil Rathbone, whose non-Holmesian career was spent embodying evil, embodies it in a fresh way here, making of his wicked stepfather an alarmingly genuine sexual sadist who gaslights his wife and delights in beating her child. (The purportedly autobiographical FANNY AND ALEXANDER seems to have drawn its inspiration from this sequence, though in fairness not getting on with one’s stepfather is probably quite a common experience.) Herbert Mundin and Edna May Oliver are good living pen-and-ink caricatures. And the extraordinary Lennox Pawle, as the pixillated Mr. Dick — a kind of creature never previously or since represented on film — single-handedly justifies the whole enterprise.

Maids and Monsters

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2018 by dcairns

Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius (OS) tempts Boris Karloff’s monster with a bottle of House of Lords Scotch Whisky in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I mean, why waste good gin? I guess the publicity slogan for that beverage would have to be “Gets you drunk as a lord.” Although I actually like the House of Lords this week because they’re fucking with Brexit. The Brexiteers are outraged, a lot of people belatedly noticing that we have this antiquated branch of government and it isn’t democratic. Well, I guess that’s it’s purpose, to be undemocratic, to stop democracy propelling us off cliffs. I rather doubt it’s the best way of doing this, but the paralysis it produces, as with America’s three-branch system, CAN be a cause for gratitude sometimes.

Other things noticed in BRIDE: the movie is famously disrespectful to its original, recasting Elizabeth from an American blonde to a brunette English teenager, and dropping the stupid old Baron with the unsightly thing on his neck without explanation. Actor Frederick Kerr had died in the interim from causes unconnected with his unsightly neck-thing, and Pretorius congratulates Henry on having inherited the title, but the absence goes otherwise unremarked. One of my students suggested that at the end of the first film, where he’s drinking a toast to the house of Frankenstein, and all the maids are giggling — they’ve poisoned his champagne.


All the pretty, giggling maids have disappeared by the sequel too — replaced by screeching harridan Una O’Connor. Looks like Elizabeth has taken over running the household already…


But, despite playing fast and loose with what we would call “series continuity,” the sequel has one delicious call-back I hadn’t noticed before: once the monster learns to speak, his first words to his creator are a very emphatic “SIT – DOWN!” with a downward wave of the hands. Well, in FRANKENSTEIN, the first words we hear Henry speak to his creation are “Come in,” but the second are “Sit down,” with the exact same gesture. The monster is very purposely letting Henry know that the giant tar-spreader’s shoe is on the other foot now.

Another big-screen discovery: the monster’s decision to let Henry live at the end comes out of left field, a change of character seemingly unmotivated by anything. But it was not always thus: as Henry runs off into the night with Elizabeth, he can still be seen in the exploding lab, a startling feat of bilocation ~

(Pretorius and the Bride are on the right in white, the monster is scarcely visible between the two electrical towers, but Henry is vividly pressed against a wall screen left, about to be crushed along with everyone else by the falling roof.)

Henry is one lucky fellow — reanimated after a fatal fall in the first film, re-re-animated under slightly different circumstances in the second, and then saved from exploding by a last-minute reshoot. Universal appear to have been convinced their audience wanted Frankenstein to live. I’m not sure they were right (and I’m sure the crowd would have cheered if Karloff had found time to throttle Una O’Connor). Possibly a third film was already anticipated, for which a mad scientist would be required. Sadly, Colin Clive would have passed away by the time that happened, leaving his character to die as his father had done, vanishing between films, through a crack in the continuity.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2018 by dcairns

Researches for a current project led me to look for all the images I could get from Universal’s horror cycle of the thirties. And one thing I found was… lots of tea breaks.

Director James Whale was English, and insisted on proper tea breaks: elevenses, and high tea (I’m Scottish, so I don’t know what those are, but they’re some kind of tea-break). The Americans weren’t invited, noted Gloria Stuart.


Are Colin Clive and Valerie Hobson in character, pretending to have tea, or out of character, actually having tea?

Pretty sure THIS isn’t a scene from either FRANKENSTEIN or BRIDE.

No tea actually visible in this one, but I infer its presence close by. Una O’Connor needs her pick-me-up.


Yes! Ernest Thesiger was a keen painter as well as a needlepoint enthusiast.

This is the famous one —