Archive for Wallace Ford

Jazz Paroxysm

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2020 by dcairns

BLUES IN THE NIGHT feels to me like one of the fastest films ever made, not only for the typical rat-a-tat of Warner Bros dialogue, aided by a large cast (a jazz band and various associates) but because of the hopped-up dynamism of Litvak’s camerawork and cutting, and Don Siegel’s furious, hallucinogenic montages (Vorkapich on steroids). Half jazz musical, half noir, it’s not well-known because the stars are Richard Whorf and Priscilla Lane and Jack Carson and Betty Field and Lloyd Nolan and Wallace Ford. Personally, I never knew Elia Kazan had a brief career as a Warner character player. All of them are terrific, but none is a headliner.

Though much less generic than Litvak’s CITY FOR CONQUEST, on which screenwriter Robert Rossen also worked, this one shares its surprising downbeat tendencies — the characters are all bound for fame and fortune but don’t get there, and in this film never even smell the big time. Plus crime and scheming and madness get in the way — just as the band have walked from the cattle-car they rode in on towards the latest dive venue, singing brightly together — the closest we get to full-on musical cinema fantasy — the exterior set is suitably unconvincing — things suddenly take a turn for the horrible. Field, the trampy girl from OF MICE AND MEN, who always seems to be angling for a strangling in a barn, hangs around in a barn A LOT. Lloyd Nolan plays a vicious heister who’s all the more alarming because he likes our innocent musicians. Like Kirk Douglas, so terrifying in OUT OF THE PAST, he’s PLEASANT. Wally Ford is a boozy gambling addict with a gimpy leg, and Howard da Silva is just Howard da Silva, with the face of a suspicious egg, polishing glasses and glowering with ball-bearing eyes.

Amazing stuff — a jazz riot provoked when Frank McHugh’s uglier brother pugnaciously requests “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (good thing Sam Fuller never met this band) — jazz jail (Jazzcatraz?) where we glimpse some actual black people, so at least the movie acknowledges where the music comes from — and TWO jazz nightmares as Field tries to become a chanteuse — Susan Alexander Kane histrionics and Dali-meets-Busby-Berkeley optics — and then Whorf (a successful art director who decided to branch out — really rather good in this!) suffers a mental breakdown and things get fully Freddy Krugerish. The dollarbook surrealism of the imagery is slashed to bloody shreds by Don Siegel’s aggressive cutting (were his films as director so beautifully stark because he’d gotten all the flamboyance out of his system sweating over the Warners optical printer?)

At his lowest ebb, or on his way to it, Whorf finds himself in a candy-ass monkey suit tickling ivories with “Guy Heiser and his band,” a really vicious parody of Kay Kyser’s novelty act. I don’t know where they found the girl singer but Wally Ford may have drawn on some of his FREAKS connections…

Lowered expectations — CITY and BLUES both beat up their characters to such an extent that circumstances they’d have seen as tragic at the films’ outset come to seem like ecstatic happy endings after the pounding they’ve had. When its relentless pace and careening tonal shifts finally screeched to an end title, we were relieved too, and elated.

Melodrama at lightspeed.

BLUES IN THE NIGHT stars Jean Sherman; Mae Jackson; Sam Harris; Michael Shayne; Gooper; Phroso; ‘Googi’; Mert Fleagle / Bert Fleagle; Soapy; Dixie Belle Lee; Dad Fitchitt; Hamilton Burger; Butts McGee; ‘Hot Garters’ Gardner; Ham; Prof. Lesley Joyce; Irana Preveza; James Kirkham; and Sgt. Dickens.

Imagination

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 14, 2013 by dcairns

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“I don’t know why I named you Napoleon when you have no imagination!” Rod Steiger tells his idiot son in A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE aka GIU LA TESTA aka DUCK YOU SUCKER aka ONCE UPON A TIME THE REVOLUTION (although that last title never seems to have been used).

Rod himself, as Juan, DOES have imagination, as we see above — James Coburn demonstrates the power of nitroglycerin, and Steiger immediately sees a possible application for such a chemical. The cartoon-like effect (might as well have shown dollar signs in Steiger’s eyes) isn’t quite like anything else in Leone’s oeuvre, but looking at John Ford’s THE INFORMER, I suddenly got a sense of what might have inspired it.

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Victor McLaglan stares at Wallace “It’s me, Phroso!” Ford, and suddenly sees a price tag appended.

Leone, we know, was a great admirer of Ford (alas, I have never heard that the feeling was mutual), and would have been looking at or thinking about Ford’s Irish films since FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE features a fugitive IRA man as one of the two main characters. Leone had filmed wanted posters before — FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is full of them — but despite some crazy cutting patterns, he’d never been tempted to superimpose them. So I’m quietly confident that I’ve accurately traced the pattern of his thinking.

Film history repeats itself, first as John Ford tragedy, then as Sergio Leone farce.