Archive for Viktor Tourjansky

Bobs, Shingles and Grifts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2022 by dcairns
Från bildens baksida: “Enrique Rivero och Brita Appelgren”

Three from Pordenone —

As part of the Ruritanian season, HIS MAJESTY THE BARBER was a sprightly Swedish-German comedy. The Swedish aspect was more to the front. There’s an old barber in a small own whose grandson is secretly the heir to a Ruritanian throne. The young fellow falls for the daughter of a hair tonic lady mogul whose product offers “giant Lorelei hair”.

The original title is either HANS KUNGL. HÖGHET SHINGLAR (HIS KING. HIGHNESS SHINGLER) — a rare two-sentence title — where is the rule against that written, and why don’t we see it more often? — or MAJESTÄT SCHNEIDET BUBI KÖPFE (MAJESTY CUTS BOB-HEADS). And indeed, barber-monarch Enrique Rivero, later star of BLOOD OF A POET, is seen administering both bobs and shingle-cuts to the film’s ladies. The film is very nimbly directed by the splendidly-named Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius, and boasts a really excellent third-act twist. Didn’t see it coming.

The older barber played by Julius Falkenstein is named André Gregory, which I add to my short list of real actors’ names turning up on fictional characters (Kent Smith as Oliver Reed in CAT PEOPLE, Robert DeNiro using Robin Williams as a pseudonym in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA).

The plot twist in that one is implicitly democratic — it may not be necessary to be a crowned head of state in order to secure a romantic happy ending (your chances may actually improve). The plot twist in Anthony Asquith’s THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS is entirely predictable, and provides a clue towards the filmmaker’s (here, writer as well as director) precipitous decline in imagination: his attitudes are rather conservative/conventional.

Still, for fans of A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR, which includes me, this movie does have a lot of mobile camera, sequences of inventive dazzle (AA has clearly imbibed Eisenstein at one film society or another, and thought, “How can I apply intellectual montage to a silly romp?”) and Nora Baring. The star, however, is Mady Christians, appropriately shingled, who is delightful. Paul Kavanaugh as her suitor fulfils all of his early potential by being OK.

Asquith’s antic montage and camera are greatly enhanced by the scenes of London, especially public transport, which follow neatly on from UNDERGROUND. Here, it’s the open-topped omnibus that takes centre stage.

Both the Asquith and MANOLESCU featured detectives hunting fugitives on trains, but that was about all they had in common. Viktor Tourjansky’s film lacks in both plot and character sympathy (until Dita Parlo appears in act III) but is awash with style, both filmic and fashion. Ivan Mozzhukhin is the titular swindler, seduced into crime by Brigitte Helm. The international crime spree motivates a travelogue of glamorous locales, and melodramatic high points include a dream sequence filmed in negative, complete with black-on-white intertitles.

Fiona finds Mozzhukhim physically repellent and nothing about his character here was likely to overcome that. Helm, a kind of humanoid rivulet — long, thin, liquid and luminous — provides allure for two. I liked it more than Fiona did, but it seemed like one of those literary adaptations where the idea holding it together has been lost in translation, so we end up with what Homer Simpson would call “a bunch of stuff that happened.”

One con trick involves a valise initialled V.T. — the director cheekily signing his own film, or just making use of a prop he had handy?

Manolescu here and “Monescu” (Herbert Marshall) in TROUBLE IN PARADISE may be distantly related, but there are no chuckles to be had in the Tourjansky.

Bathroom of Mystery

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2015 by dcairns

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Marking and hand-in time at college so my part-time job has become a full-time one for the moment, but to make myself even more tired I decided to do some midnight grouting. This did the trick and actually helped me sleep, I think. Light physical work after a day of mental work is quite relaxing. Of course, the fatigued efforts of an inexperienced grouter are not necessarily going to be the best you can get — the bathroom kind of looks as if the Michelin Man has committed suicide in it.

But I also found time to enjoy all 383 minutes of LA MAISON DU MYSTERE, and this forms the basis for this fortnight’s edition of, you guessed it, The Forgotten. The 1923 serial is available from Flicker Alley and features translation and liner notes by my chum Lenny Borger, and music by other chum Neil Brand. Linkage.

The Sunday Intertitle: Tempest in a Teacup

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2010 by dcairns

TEMPEST, a late-silent John Barrymore pic, is a fine reminder of how handsome, dashing and dumb Hollywood pics could be. Without a brain in its head, but with a simply incredible eye, the movie benefits from the double-whammy of James Wong Howe on camera and William Cameron Menzies on production design. Given Menzies’ maximilist interpretation of the designer’s job, it’s likely he sketched out every camera position for director Sam Taylor, a frequent collaborator and good director with no obvious style of his own. In fact, the IMDb lists two additional, uncredited directors, Lewis Milestone, an arch-stylist if ever there was one, and Viktor Tourjansky, another filmmaker of visual genius. It may be that Menzies’s role involved uniting the various approaches under one stylistic banner, as he did with the patchwork of GONE WITH THE WIND.

Boris has the sort of face that appears at windows.

Barrymore plays a dragoon officer, promoted through hard work, but cashiered and imprisoned after falling for a princess (Camilla Horn, from Murnau’s FAUST). An evil toff in a monocle torments Barrymore on one side, while a red revolutionary (the striking Boris de Fast) tempts him from the other. What with the grinning skull-faced commie, and Louis Wolheim’s Sgt Bulba, with his flattened fizzog (like he’s wearing a tight, invisible stocking on his head), it’s a movie of striking physiognomies, crowned by the Great Profile himself.

Among the film’s visual treats, we get a glimpse of the world as it appears to Barrymore.

The movie condemns the hide-bound class system of Tsarist Russia, while deploring the Revolution also, winding up as a piece of propaganda for the American way despite having no American scenes or characters. It’s not subtle, but Barrymore frequently is, avoiding the ham he was sometimes associated with — although he has some fun with his drinking scenes. A recurring tactic has him make some humorous expression in response to an upcoming situation, then play the situation itself quite straight.

Barrymore’s work towards the end of the film is among his best ever, as he has the opportunity to avenge himself upon the woman who ruined him, but finds he still loves her — and that she loves him. On the one hand, the great actor clearly knew this wasn’t Shakespeare, but he invests totally in it: without losing his distinctive wildness, he manages incredible gradations of emotions, and holds sustained closeups which are simply electrifying. Camilla Horn doesn’t match him for nuance, but still makes an effective foil, dialing the histrionics right down and acting as a kind of mirror for Barrymore.

One sequence, where a distraught and imprisoned JB hallucinates images of the war he’s missing (here, I found sympathy a slight strain) and his lady-love/hate — the visions appear as if projected on the prison wall, like the visions in SUNRISE which are seemingly projected on the sky itself — is both pictorially remarkable and rather frightening: Barrymore’s rather convincing incredulous reactions strongly suggest he’s had pertinent experience of hallucinatory torment.

Thumbprint!

The movie ends up a lot like Benjamin Christensen’s MOCKERY, but Barrymore instead of Lon Chaney makes a considerable difference, as does the incredible talent assembled behind the camera: instead of MOCKERY’s smooth MGM professionalism, we get fireworks of sputtering genius.

The whole movie takes place behind a blizzard of fine white scratches, especially at reel changes, and the climax shows obvious signs of missing footage — it plays like a random sampling of final moments, but fortunately we can follow the course of the action OK. It’s frustrating, but not too destructive. The movie is available here ~

Tempest