Archive for What Did You Do in the War Daddy?

Lone Wolf and Blore

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2020 by dcairns

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A classic Langian image — the phantom technological interrogator!

Since our friend Marvelous Mary is perhaps the western world’s most passionate fan of Eric Blore, but depends for her supply entirely upon us, I thought it was time we all tried the LONE WOLF series, in which EB co-stars as Jamison, faithful valet to the Lone Wolf himself, Michael Lanyard, played by Warren William and later Gerald Mohr.

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Naturally, we started not at the beginning, with THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT (though WW’s first Wolf movie is rumoured to be the best, Blore does not appear, so it CAN’T BE) but with sort-of the end, WW’s final entry, PASSPORT TO SUEZ. Apart from the two movies directed by Edward Dmytryk, which we’ll definitely watch out for, it’s the only entry in the series with a top-notch (or second-from-top-notch) director (OK, the very first film treatment of Louis Joseph Vance’s detective hero, in 1917, was directed by Herbert Brenon, kind of a major figure, and Roy William Neill, before he tackled Sherlock Holmes, directed THE LONE WOLF RETURNS in 1935 with Melvyn Douglas, who did not return). But this one is the work of that cyclopean pirate, Andre de Toth.

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Mr. Veronica Lake the bullet-headed Hungarian directs nimbly, and the breathless comings and goings of the plot — a new eccentric character actor introduced and despatched every ten minutes — kept our attention glued. Warren William, always more a Starving Lion than a Lone Wolf, is suitably suave and unflappable. And, best of all, flapping enough for two, there’s abundant Blore, as Lanyard’s timorous, ovine accomplice, continually abducted and trussed up, delivering himself of several of the lines he was born to say:

“I hope you don’t think this is my favourite form of recreation, sir.”

“This is the very rope he tied me up with. Lovely lovely! There are moments when a man’s felicity reaches its zenith.”

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The script throws in characters called Rembrandt, Cezanne and Whistler, just for a laugh, waiting for somebody to notice.

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Memorable scene where a grinning man comes out of a wall. He continues to grin until shot, a couple of scenes later, and he’s very arresting, but I didn’t recognise him as Jay Novello, so good as the drunken mayor in WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY?

The support includes Ann Savage, Lloyd Bridges (as a Nazi called Fritz!) and Sig Arno. Or, put another way…

PASSPORT TO SUEZ stars Perry Mason; Mother; Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith; J. Edgar Hoover; Steve McCroskey; Phillip Musgrave; Geoffrey Musgrave; Jake Bjornsen; Mayor Romano; Smoke; Frances Chan; Carrefour; and Toto.

Armed Farces

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 5, 2019 by dcairns

And another thing —

Though a saucy bedroom farce might seem like a strange artistic response to the Allied invasion of Sicily in WWII, I do think Blake Edwards’ WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? can be explained, in a couple of ways.

Firstly, since the end of the actual war, movies on military themes had been getting lighter in tone. THE GREAT ESCAPE plays like a romp, with tragic elements for added spice. And the service comedy, dealing with the non-combat-related activities of enlisted men, was a long-standing thing. Combine the two and you have something like WDYDITWD, as it is known for short.

Also, the Mirisch Corporation. A comfortable home for Blake Edwards and Billy Wilder, it otherwise specialised in large-scale war movies of the 633 SQUADRON variety. So they knew where to get the big toys, the tanks and planes. The rather excessive scale of Edwards’ production, apparent from the opening montage, is explicable only in terms of Edwards’ moneymaking success at a company familiar with military subjects.

After that, we get into the realms of allegory. The characters of the film represent the different neational factions if the war. Dick Shawn, though playing an American commander, stands for Britain: prissy and rigid, but devoted and dependable. James Coburn is the US: fearless, flexible and resourceful, but endeavoring to stay out of the fray as long as possible. Sergio Fantoni, though Italian, stands for all the surrender-monkey nations of Europe (we’re dealing in offensive stereotypes, here, you understand). The Germans, shockingly, represent the Germans (also the Japanese, I suppose, but only loosely: Edwards had already made his definitive statement on that nation via Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S).

So now it all makes sense, right?

Heroic Surrender

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2019 by dcairns

Descriptions of WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR DADDY? obviously didn’t do it justice because I was really surprised at how good it was. If I’d ignored descriptions and simply visualised a widescreen wartime farce by Blake Edwards — shunting the turgid GREAT RACE from my mind and sticking with THE PINK PANTHER — I might have approached it with more enthusiasm and seen it years ago — but it would also have been necesary for me to picture it at the top end of Edwards’ output. It’s REALLY accom-plished and very funny and in foul bad taste. If turning war into entertainment is a disreputable activity, turning it into a bedroom farce, with battles replaced by harmless punch-ups, ought to earn you a spot in movie Hell’s hottest cauldron.

War’s peace.

We also have a fatal poisoning, two attempted rapes (male-on-female and male-on-male), a burial alive, and the comedy of mental illness. Edwards attributed his slightly vicious sense of slapstick (think of Herbert Lom’s thumb) to his chronic back pain, which drove him to make light of physical suffering. I’m not sure when he first had his trouble with agitated depression (documented in fictional form in THAT’S LIFE) but the persistent strain of madness in his comedies (Herbert Lom again, S.O.B., and others) must surely have some autobio origin.

War’s piece.

For all that, this is a sunny, breezy romp. Written by William Peter Blatty, who I guess had the military experience (black ops!) to give it as much verisimilitude as you can have in a story where Italians and Americans, then Americans and Germans, then men and women, trade uniforms for comic effect.

Dick Shawn in drag: a habitue of the realm of nightmare.

The three leads have no business gelling in this movie, but James Coburn (astonishingly cool — too relaxed for the character as written, but overpowering the writing with sheer charisma), Dick Shawn and Sergio Fantoni somehow work. I only knew Shawn from THE PRODUCERS, where he’s my — and maybe everybody’s? — least favourite element (his character is deleted entirely from the musical), but he’s very skilled here — lots of fine detail work. Even if I don’t quite warm to him as a presence, I am moved to admire the talent. Fantoni is both skilled and likeable, a really funny guy. Turns out I’d seen him in lots of things, from SENSO to ATOM AGE VAMPIRE, but never in a comedy. Some additional storehouse of charm is unlocked.

The same is true of Giovanna Ralli, who can do things here that wouldn’t have suited the gialli I’ve seen her in.

Edwards applies the same genius for anamorphic long takes to the more-or-less serious invasion of a small Sicilian town (odd to think that A WALK IN THE SUN is happening a few miles away in a different genre) as he does to bedroom farce and drunken escapades. If you can overlook the question of “Should he be doing this?” — and the film works really hard to make sure we do — it’s a really dazzling piece of cinema. Edwards can do large-scale slapstick with moving parts — like a tank falling through the earth — which traditionally don’t like to obey the rules of comedy timing. And make it look easy and natural, so that someone like Spielberg might be fooled into thinking he can do it too.

A demented monologue from Harry Morgan rounds the thing off in almost Shakespearean fashion, somehow clarifying the poetic intent and maybe almost justifying the whole thing — the events portrayed, and the film itself, are a kind of All Fool’s Day festival, a suspension of the laws of reason, allowing us to have a holiday, albeit a very suspenseful one, along with the characters, from the conditions imposed by Reason — a prevailing state of Total War.

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? stars Derek Flint; Lorenzo Saint Dubois; Teocrito; Asst. DA Vittoria Stori; Johnny Nobody; Col. Potter; Archie Bunker; General Burkhalter; Xandros the Greek slave; Nazorine; Karl Matuschka; Mademoiselle Fifi; and Horst.