Archive for You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up

Victory Thru Ty Power

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2020 by dcairns

THIS ABOVE ALL turns up, unnamed, as a reference in Anthony Burgess’s novel of Excalibur, Any Old Iron, which is what got me thinking about it. And then the idea of doing something on Anatole Litvak came up, and the two things dovetailed.

(The novel also features a US serviceman turned novelist called Irwin Roth, who seems to be a nasty joint portrait of Irwin Shaw and Philip Roth. Oddly, Shaw was a writer for Litvak: he authored the source play OUT OF THE FOG derives from, and later co-scripted ACT OF LOVE. This started me wondering if Burgess, who did a lot of writing on unfilmed movies, ever brushed up against Litvak. Actually, this story is a bit like ACT OF LOVE, pitting love against war, but without any of the bite.)

THIS ABOVE ALL features, asides from the elaborate studio recreations of the blitz which Burgess remarks upon, some good atmospheric blackout stuff at the start. The romance seems interesting, but then the film goes on, and on… Ty Power, of course, is playing it American, despite his character being English. He has PTSD and is a deserter, an interesting set-up for a propaganda film. I’m assuming it was conceived and shot before Pearl Harbour, so it’s allowed to be pro-Britain but a bit anti-war. Power’s problems have potential, but only come up intermittently: everything kind of drags on. Wartime movies usually bring a tear to my eye: I’m easy. This felt like watching Paul Muni shove a piano up a hill.

Joan Fontaine has good moments, bad moments, and truly awful moments which seem more like aeons while they’re happening. At her worst, that woman could simper for England: here, she does.

Litvak is seemingly at sea in this increasingly turgid morass. He tries a few zip pans, but they seem unmotivated, forced. Like trying to get a conga line going at a funeral reception. The action is far from zippy. Incredibly, the source novel is by Eric Knight, whose fast-paced hardboiled thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up would have made a far better subject for this director. Knight also write Lassie Come Home. This one is tonally stranded in no man’s land between the two, a strange place to be. R.C. Sherriff, the poet laureate of Hollywood England, doesn’t seem to have found a workable cinematic structure in his adaptation.

Actors keep turning up, people we like. Thomas Mitchell, speaking truth to Power, essays a gratuitous Scottish accent, which is not disgraceful. It’s identifiably East coast, though it wanders up and down the shoreline a bit. Nigel Bruce does something rustic. You need these guys around because the central couple aren’t doing it. Whenever they were alone together after the half-hour mark, we prayed for an interloper to interlope them.

Very handsome photography by Arthur C. Miller, though

THIS ABOVE ALL stars Leonard Vole; Mrs. de Winter; Uncle Billy; Lord Willoughby; Doctor Watson; Mrs. Higgins; Professor Sorel; Mrs. Midget; Woodrow Wilson; Ethel Rogers; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Claire Lennartz; Dr. John Lanyon; Reverend Cyril Playfair; Inspector Lestrade; Old Tom; Leuwen Grayle; Uncle Arn; California Carlson; and Dai Bando.

What do I do with this?

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2020 by dcairns

So I watched THE GAZEBO, a George Marshall movie based on an Alec & Myra Coppel play I saw performed by an am-dram group as a kid. I remember enjoying the play but not as much as the same company’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace. I feel that Marshall’s very good at farce, having worked with Laurel & Hardy and made a funny film called MURDER, HE SAYS with Fred MacMurray and Helen Walker that’s very skillful.

Alas, this movie wrecks all the careful construction of the play by opening it out, and also pulls some nonsensical writing to make the hero more sympathetic, a wasted effort in my book because he’s Glenn Ford. Who can act, and be believable as the blackmailed writer, but can’t make me like him.

It did seem like a problem early on that Ford is paying out his earnings and presumably those his spouse, a Broadway star played by Debbie Reynolds, to a blackmailer to cover up what sounds like a dalliance with a secretary. Doesn’t make you like the guy AT ALL. This emerges when he tells a hypothetical story to his pal Carl Reiner (playing it straight, nicely), trying to make it sound like this didn’t happen to HIM. But then it turns out it DIDN’T happen to him, and the blackmailer actually has nude pictures of Reynolds, which he’s threatening to sell to a scandal sheet.

Surprisingly, the movie actually lets us SEE the pics, or nearly.

So, they’ve wasted our time and made us vaguely dislike Ford, and are now trying to claw back some sympathy. All in all, there’s little fun to be had here.

But original co-author Coppel is best-known for doing some work on VERTIGO, and he also penned six Hitchcock teleplays. One of the nicer conceits is another hypothetical: Ford’s character, who, like Coppel, writes for TV, speaks to Hitch on the phone, spinning a yarn about a man who’s being blackmailed and asking the master of suspense for advice on how to fictionally dispose of the blackmailer. Which he intends to use in real life. (Hitch is never actually seen or heard, alas, we only get Ford’s end of the call.) Hitch’s advice is that the tiny shovel from a fireside companion set can be used to bury a body.

What puzzles me is that at the very time I was watching this film, Fiona watched The Forms of Things Unknown, an Outer Limits episode which Chris Schneider guest-blogged about here, and remarked on the comedy of Vera Miles having to bury a corpse using the shovel from a companion set. And at the very same time, I was reading pulp thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up, in which the dopey protagonist, plotting to clear an innocent man of a murder he was personally mixed up in, tells the story to a film director, disguising it as a script he’s writing, in hopes of getting advice.

Hitch may the shovel advice for real to Coppel for The Gazebo and also to his other collaborator Joseph Stefano, who scripted PSYCHO and then The Outer Limits… But none of that explains the link to Knight’s 1937 novel, nor why all three things fell into my life at the same time.

There is apparently a web of synchronicity tangled around an indifferent 1959 stage adaptation called THE GAZEBO. But so what? WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS?

At the Mountains of Madness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2020 by dcairns

From the hardboiled classic You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up by Eric Knight (a Yorkshireman who moved to Hollywood, author of Lassie Come Home). The main speaker is flamboyant filmmaker Quentin Genter, engaged in a drunken evening with the narrator, Dick, and movie star Jira Mayfair:

“You see, I’ll tell you a secret. No one is sane here. No one is sane and nothing is real. And you know what it is?”

“Sure, it’s the climate,” I said, kidding.

“That’s it–exactly,” he said. His eyes were going sort of funny in the middle, and he was shouting in a whisper. He got real excited. “Dick, you know, you’re the only one man besides me in the whole world who’s discovered it. It’s the climate–something in the air. You can bring men from other parts of the world who are sane. And you know what happens? At the very moment they cross those mountains,” he whispered real soft, “they go mad. Instantaneously and automatically, at the very moment they cross those mountains into California, they go insane. Everyone does. They still think they’re sane, but they’re not. Everyone in this blasted state is mad. I’m mad. You’re mad. So is Jira. We’re all perfectly, gloriously mad.”

“You know,” he whispered again, real low, “we see things. Do you see things?”

“Sure,” I kidded. “I’ve never acted right since I’ve been here.”

“That’s it. It’s the climate. Now look, you see those mountains?”

He pointed out to where the hills went up, blue-black against the darkness, and with lights winding round on the roads like fire-pearls.

“Sure,” I said.

“There! That proves it,” he said.

“Proves what?” I asked him.

“Proves you’re mad,” he said.” You see those mountains there just like I do. And you know what?”

I shook my head.

“They’re not there,” he whispered. “You only think they’re there. And they’re not. It’s just a movie set. If you go round the other side of that mountain, you’ll see nothing but two-by-fours that hold up the canvas.

“And you see this restaurant? Well, it isn’t here. It’s a process shot. All Hollywood is a process shot. It’s a background just projected onto ground glass. And the only reason nobody knows that is we’re all mad.”

The novel was written in 1937. At some point, David Lynch was interested in filming it. It’s a slender volume, 134 pages with intro in my edition, but packed with incident. Each chapter could probably fill half an hour the way Lynch paces things, and they’re mostly about four pages long. I like the Mad Hatter reference here, and the whole phildickian fantasy reminds me of the early draft of THE TRUMAN SHOW, in which Truman prepares to go on holiday and the showrunners build fake pyramids a short distance from his hometown.