Archive for Val Lewton

Cat Ears

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 2, 2020 by dcairns

I already tweeted about this, but what the hey, slow news day after the fuss and excitement of PUBLISHING A NOVEL. I will be mentioning that fact fairly often but it won’t get in the way too much,

Rewatched CAT PEOPLE and was struck for the first time by the way the chair behind Simon Simon (above) casts the shadow of a cat’s head, particularly MY cat’s head (Momo has funny small ears).

Whenever looking at these things and wondering if they’re deliberate, it’s best to consider that, even if the filmmakers had to shoot quickly, they usually had a bit of time to think about their effects, and there were a number of heads thinking about each department, so most things of this kind probably are intentional. But it doesn’t really matter, we can enjoy them either way.

Now seems an appropriate time to mention all the Val Lewton-themed limericks I’ve been writing at Limerwrecks, like THIS ONE.

Associate Producer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 15, 2018 by dcairns

“An associate producer,” explained Billy Wilder, “is anyone who will associate with a producer.”

Val Lewton, upon reaching the rank of associate producer, was delighted to find himself listed in the studio directory under the abbreviation “ass. prod.”

All of which makes Mack Davidson’s picturesque title card in OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR! especially apt.

Night of the Roberts

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2018 by dcairns

Watching lots of RKO films for a project which may or may not happen, but the research is fun anyway.

If you’re ever caught up in an argument about which is the true auteur, Val Lewton or Jacques Tourneur, you can always bamboozle both sides by plumping for Nicholas Musuraca, who shot not only CAT PEOPLE but several other Lewton horrors, as well as OUT OF THE PAST, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, DEADLINE AT DAWN, THE LOCKET and STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (the first film noir?) giving them all the same beautiful, shadowy look.

CROSSFIRE is an interesting one. It’s a sort of knock-down fight between studio boss Dore Schary’s social conscience cinema, Dmytryk and Musuraca’s noir dramatism, and Richard Brooks’ source novel. The novel’s victim was killed because he was gay — a startling story element for the time, which would have surprised readers. The movie’s victim, Sam Levene, is killed because he’s Jewish, and the moment Robert Ryan is heard to say “jewboy,” all pretense of mystery disappears and it becomes incredible that Robert Young doesn’t put two and two together.

Robert Mitchum is the third Robert, and has all the best lines, making me wonder if he wrote them, as he occasionally did at this time (HIS KIND OF WOMAN, THE LUSTY MEN).

But a surprising number of Brooks’ homosexual hints remain, flapping loose ends attached to nothing at either end. Ryan takes special note of Levene talking to his “sensitive artist” friend George Cooper, and it’s made to look like a pick-up, viewed in covert POV across the bar top. The whole set-up, with Levene randomly inviting strangers back to his pad, is slightly odd.

The film benefits from a wild, shape-shifting structure that leaps between viewpoints, so that Mitchum, Young, Cooper, his wife Jacqueline White, and even Ryan take turns as our principal, point-of-view character. The film seems to take its form from the drunken binge that initiates the action, veering about through time and space, doubling back on itself picking up false trails and introducing characters who go nowhere.

Best of these is Paul Kelly, with his face of a cork golem and his body shaped like a sandwich in a suit, staring dead-eyed at Cooper as he wantonly freaks him out with lies and non-sequiturs. Who is he and why is he here? We never quite learn, though “pimp” is the most obvious explanation for his presence in Gloria Grahame’s bijou apartment (the kitchen is a wall behind a curtain). He’s just very strange. If he was Dan Duryea, we’d say “pimp” and shrug it off. But Kelly seems to lack the confidence for that. Even he doesn’t seem to know who he is.

The film’s good-hearted ambitions mean Young has to provide protracted expositions on the evils of antisemitism (but with no mention of the recent Holocaust, strangely enough), which are quite well written (adaptation by John Paxton) but the purpose is better served by Ryan’s pathological hate speech. He’s clearly enough positioned as the heavy so that explaining why is redundant. But the most evocative stuff is the unexplained and unexplainable, the lacunae of Brooks’ deleted story and the walking lacuna that is Paul Kelly.