Archive for William Dieterle

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.

Hitting the Wall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2018 by dcairns

One usually hits a wall halfway through any intensive film festival, and Tuesday may have been ours. We saw lots of good stuff but didn’t make it to things we definitely had wanted to see, and I started a Luciano Emmer film and found I didn’t have enough concentration left to see it through.

We had planned a lie in, but couldn’t sleep so we headed to the Jolly for Raoul Walsh’s rowdy service romp WOMEN OF ALL NATIONS. Some thought it a weak entry, but I’m still impressed that they managed to get laughs out of El Brendel, world’s unfunniest dialect comedian. When jealous boyfriend Olaf, the strongest man in Sweden, appears, El B’s delivery of the line “It’s Olaf. And it’s all off,” lacks his usual smugness and really hit the funnybone on the head.

Plus Bela Lugosi as a cuckolded Arab prince.

This was followed by John Stahl’s SEED, introduced by Imogen Smith, who provided lots of interesting analysis of a slow but fascinating early entry in Stahl’s series of low-key melodramas on marriage and infidelity. “I hope you enjoy SEED.” We came to see Bette Davis playing a juvenile role, and stayed for the weird, ambivalent sexual politics. The film also finally made sense of the otherwise elusive appeal of John Boles. “You’re my measuring stick,” says one of the women in his life. And I can see how he’d be good for that, His head alone must be a good foot long.

Boles was back in SIX HOURS TO LIVE, supporting the equally rigid Warner Baxter, another man whose origin and purpose are still a total mystery. Raised from the dead by mad science, he might as well have not bothered. I call this one GRAVE-DIGGERS OF 1932. William Dieterle spent his time at Warners kicking against the regime of fast-paced delivery and short runtimes. Fox let him spread out a bit more, and the results in this one are a bit lugubrious at times, but with some genuinely exciting cinematic effects. A livelier cast would have pushed it over into greatness, but as it is, it’s enjoyably weird, and SIX HOURS TO LIVE did afford me half an hour of napping.

But you can’t see everything — maybe we should have gone to the 1918 TARZAN OF THE APES, or Zurlini’s CRONICA FAMILIARE with Mastroianni, and I’m sad we missed Pabst’s GEHEIMNISVOLLE TIEFE. We did listen to a lovely talk by Sir Christopher Professor Frayling about ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but were too shattered to actually go see the film in the Piazza, which would have taken us up to around 1am, I reckon. By eating a leisurely dinner and hitting the sack, we hope to blast through some Maurice Tourneur, Segundo de Chomon, Henri Diamant-Berger, Sydney Chaplin, Mario Monicelli and Frank Borzage tomorrow. Wish us luck!

The Sunday Intertitle: Gothick

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2017 by dcairns


DIE AHNFRAU — translated awkwardly as “The Ancestress” — is a 1919 Gothic melodrama by Luise and Jacob Fleck, made in Austria. It has a crumbling castle, a crumbling lord, an eligible daughter, a long-lost son, a wandering troubadour, a bandit chief, a family curse and the titular wraith (three of the aforementioned are actually the same character, but I won’t say who).


This is one of the windiest silents I’ve ever seen, and that includes THE WIND. Every time the principles venture outdoors they are hilariously buffeted by howling gales. This has the positive effect of providing a naturalistic alibi for the cast’s rhetorical flourishes: presumably they have to use hand gestures to make themselves understood over the roaring hurricane.


Some nice ghosting from Liane Haid.

The restoration is a touch bitty, which leaves this blogger with lingering questions. After a brief series of introductory shots setting up the dramatis personae with titles attaching cast names to characters, we cut straight to the chubby phantom, waving her limbs in that phantasmal way she has. Then the aging patriarch wakes up in a lather. If this were a modern film, I would have no trouble interpreting what I just saw, but it took me a second to process the fact that a film of this age apparently began in a dream sequence, only revealing itself to be such when the dreamer awakened. This would be revolutionary for the period, so long as it isn’t simply the result of missing or misarranged footage…

Later, Haid recounts an adventure in which she was rescued from abductors by the strolling musician, and the film chooses to present an illustrative flashback without any introduction. The jarring time-leap was momentarily confusing to me, which makes me think it must have blown their minds in 1919. It looks exactly like the projectionist has loaded the wrong reel. Again, are we sure this was the original arrangement, or has the movie become more avant-garde due to a dropped shot?


“Illusion from Hell. You are not my Berta, everything in vain, I will not let you!” So says the fan-subtitle.

Elsewhere, Wiener Kunstfilm (no sniggering) has slapped an ungainly, mismatched freeze-frame on the end of the movie to compensate for an abrupt finish, so my faith in the presentation isn’t total (it looks to be a product of a sixties restoration), but if the pieces are in the right order, the Flecks can be credited with advancing film narration in fascinating ways. The story of this Regieehepaar (directing-couple) is a fascinating one, from what I can piece together from the IMDB: they made films into the thirties, Jacob survived internment in Buchenwald and Dachau, got released somehow thanks to William Dieterle, and the pair made one film in China in 1941, China’s only collaboration with western filmmakers before the revolution.