Archive for Warners

Juarez: What is it good for?

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2019 by dcairns

I can’t believe we watched JUAREZ right after NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA. How many films about impotent yet oppressive emperors can a person’s system withstand? We were about to find out.

The film is turgid, uniting the occasional leaden tendencies of director William Dieterle (exemplary in his fleet-footedness when Jack Warner cracked the whip or when entrusted with taut thriller material, fully living up to his German nickname “The Iron Stove” when pursuing some dim idea of “quality”) with the dullness of the standard biopic, the worthy period drama, and the “prestige” super-production. Co-writer John Huston blamed Paul Muni, cast as Juarez himself, for insisting on more lines. Muni talks slowly and low, which would work if he said little, but he’s dragging out great long speeches. “It was always heavy weather with Muni.”

Muni also seems to be wearing a FALSE HEAD, something like a Klingon.

In terms of performance, up-and-comer John Garfield and flatliner Brian Aherne (as the hapless Emperor Max) do best. Brian has to act through a ludicrous whorly beard. I think they should have abandoned historical likenesses for this movie, though they needed someone who could more plausibly suggest Indian heritage than Muni. Of course, we were watching for Bette’s mad scenes, which are indeed OTT, but not as hysterical as we’d hoped. But her character’s slide into insanity does give the film it’s best, by far, cinematic moment. After arguing her husband’s case with Napoleon III (an oily Claude Rains, always welcome), building into greater and greater frenzy of emotion, she breaks down completely, her hold on reality snapping. Claude turns into a Halloween devil, lit from below, which is slightly absurd (he’s already got the melodramatic villain’s twirly waxed mustache) —

And Bette flees the room —

Into OUTER DARKNESS. A completely black void, extending in all directions forever. Into this abyss she runs, and Dieterle’s camera plunges madly after her, and we’re swallowed up.

Now THAT’S expressionism. I can say it made the film worthwhile, though if I’d seen the clip in isolation that would have served me just as well. But then that would have made me watch the whole film, which would have been an even more unrewarding experience if I’d already seen the good bit.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Child in the Streets

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 20, 2015 by dcairns

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From 1925, William Beaudine’s LITTLE ANNIE ROONEY *may* qualify as the first feature film adapted from a comic strip, except that in a manner sadly familiar, Hollywood decided to completely ignore the source material, which was a newspaper strip inspired by ripped off from Little Orphan Annie (itself adapted to film first in the thirties). The comic featured an adorable orphan traveling the land with her pet dog. Annie in the movie is 33-year-old Mary Pickford playing 13, a tough Irish street kid with parents and no dog. “Based on a title by” would be a fair way of describing the movie’s relationship to its source.

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Still, the movie is enjoyable, opening with a kids’ street battle involving lobbed bricks and bottles, action which would imply a CLOCKWORK ORANGE style horrorshow about juvenile delinquency if portrayed today, but in 1925 was just good clean fun. Children glassing each other is inherently hilarious.

There’s also inappropriate ethnic humour. The little black kid looks from a window, a projectile takes his cap off, and his hair explodes like Mt. Saint Helens.

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Then there’s the depressed looking Jewish kid at his tenement window, unhappy because he’s not allowed to join in the pogrom below.

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Somehow this is all pretty good-natured, and the upbeat attitude to slum life anticipate the rough-and-tumble of the Warners pre-code era, where the pageant of suffering humanity becomes a carnival of jocular grotesquerie.

Pouncing Lady

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2008 by dcairns

So, here’s the set-up: Clark Gable has fallen asleep, drunk, in a nightclub. He awakens, woozily, to see the kindly countenance of —

AAAAAAAAAHHH! Shit! Get it away from me!

This is DANCING LADY, from an unimaginable bygone age when M.G.M. didn’t know how to make musicals. So they borrow Fred Astaire from R.K.O., concoct some faux-Busby Berkeley visuals in the manner of Warners, and apply them both to a backstage story likewise lifted from Warners.

The reckless randomness of the musical numbers actually make you appreciate Busby Berkeley for his LOGIC.

Robert Z. Leonard directs, showing a lack of aptitude for framing dance that basically sinks the terpsichorean aspects of the production, but on the plus side we have Slavko Vorkapich on montage, linking nearly every sequence with peppy visual effects, swish-pans and wipes. “A wipe up Joan’s legs!” exclaimed Fiona. “They probably needed it,” I rejoindered. We decided that Slavko was the film’s true auteur.

Clark Gable, whom I regard as kind of a nightmare from which the world has finally awoken, is actually pretty good as the brusque and rowdy musical director. Franchot Tone is the Other Man, in the film and in real life: Joan was bigamously engaged to both Tone and Tom Neal, who beat the crap out of Tone when he found out. Ted Healy, he of the Stooges, gives the best performance, hovering in some strange hinterland between dyspepsia, blind panic and incipient homosexuality. He’s a fascinating case study in something-or-other.

Incidentally, why, in these putting-on-a-show things, does the show never have a graspable plot? Gable is supposed to be staging a musical epic on the Spanish-American War (co-written by a hissily “artistic” Sterling Holloway), but rejects the old-hat concept for something “modern”, concerning factory girls and city life — but what we see in the end is Fred and Joan on a flying carpet, landing in Bavaria and drinking beer. WTF?

“Here in Bavaria / They take good care o’ ya.”

And at last I find something Joan Crawford can’t do. I was a little wary of her for years, then finally gave in. I had assumed that, given her air of terrifyingly sincere, demented fakeyness (especially in interviews — ugh, creepy!) she wouldn’t be able to convince or move me in drama, but she proved me wrong. I still felt I would never find her actually sympathetic, but then found I did. I was positive she wouldn’t be able to do comedy, but in SUSAN AND GOD she manages it, and seems to be parodying herself (fakey, humourless and egomaniacal), with too much skill for it to be entirely unconscious.

But. She. Can’t. Dance.

I know she WAS a dancer, but now that I’ve seen her effortful, heavy, gangling perambulations in this movie I know they mean that the way they say “Oh, but Richard Gere was a chorus boy for years,” as if that proved the silhouetted figure glimpsed in two-second shots in CHICAGO was (a) Gere and (b) dancing in a way that we could actually SEE. I mean, Joan Crawford dances better than I do, but so do Robby the Robot, Herbert Marshall and Manoel de Oliveira.

People who dance better than Joan: Lionel Barrymore, Donovan’s Brain, and Baragon.

Still, she’s pretty awesome at everything else.