Archive for Yul Brynner

Moses strikes poses

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2021 by dcairns

An amusing irony: Howard Hawks said he learned what NOT to do by looking at DeMille’s films, then when he made his own ancient world epic, LAND OF THE PHARAOHS, he ran into the famous “I don’t know how a pharaoh talks” problem, which DeMille had, you could say, solved: in DeMille films, pharaohs talk like characters in Cecil B. DeMille films.

Never more so that in the 1956 TEN COMMANDMENTS where Yul Brunner is at his Yul Brynneriest throughout. (Yet Cedric Hardwicke comes within shouting distance of humanity at times.) But the one, true biscuit is taken by Chuckles Heston, who starts out in his version of naturalism — declamatory, gravelly, planting his feet wide apart, flexing, heaving the words up from his solar plexus — but becomes something wholly other once Moses gets religion…

In prophet mode, Heston produces a form of “acting” I’m not sure we’ve really seen before. Maybe it’s what D.W. Griffith would have sounded like if his 1908 semaphore could be translated into spoken form. It has something in common with the ghosts in Japanese movies — think RASHOMON. It has nothing in common with human speech.

The best example is when Rameses finally frees the Israelites: we have to blame the script for some of it, though DeMille in his intro claims that history is really to blame. Moses starts speechifying — then walks out of the scene, still declaiming. You can hear his voice diminishing in the distance for close to a minute. Who does that? Rod Steiger does it in THE BIG KNIFE, playing a lunatic film producer of the L.B. Mayer variety. Charles Haid does it in ALTERED STATES, to hilarious effect. In the first case, a character point is being made, in the second, Ken Russell was forced to include a lot of talk he didn’t particularly care for, so he tried to dispose of it in novel ways. No such excuse exists here. Moses is just being written as a nutjob, unintentionally.

If you’re inclined to laugh at infant mortality, this film has much to offer, but this scene is the finest example, because the army of scribes has taken care to insert between Heston’s wooden lips pointed references to the liberation of the CHILDREN of Israel (DeMille has made the whole story an anti-commie tract), timed to coincide/clash with Anne Baxter descending a grand staircase with her divinely slain son in her arms. Which tends to make Moses seem every bit as crass as Heston giving one of his NRA speeches in the wake of a school shooting.

This moment, jaw-dropping though it is, is just a preliminary to Moses’ Big Hair acting in the film’s third act. Chuckles has looked in the mirror and asked himself, what would a guy who looks like THIS talk like? Big mistake. I can’t describe what he does. It involves BOOMING. The oratorical style might be defensible when Moses is speaking to the masses, as he so often is in this section. But he keeps it up for casual conversation. Booming banter. Supremely confident terrible acting.

For a few minutes, I thought I was going to find the film’s weird non-naturalism fascinating, the stiffness of its blocking and delivery hypnotic and kind of impressive. But it’s not quite rigid ENOUGH. The tableau style of GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is more my bag — genuinely experimental.

When Scorsese talks about the power of DeMille’s images, he seems to mainly be talking about the effects shots, and I think maybe we should credit the storyboard artists and John P. Fulton and his team, though I guess DeMille is responsible for approving everything. But I think it’s fair to say that none of the film’s undeniably impressive images have any good acting in them. (Only Edward G. Robinson is good in this, though I wish he’d played it at a Warner pre-code pace. As the only Jewish actor, naturally he plays the Bad Jew. Oh, and Yvonne DeCarlo, gamely battling her dialogue like Jason struggling with the hydra: whenever one terrible line is defeated, two more rise to take its place.)

I can understand Scorsese’s residual affection for a film he was impressed by as a kid. But I don’t think it’s objectively better than the Marvel and DC films he rightly dismisses.

Touchingly, Moses waves goodbye to us/his people at the end of the film, which was DeMille’s last as director. He clearly wanted to get the most out of it, which is why he narrates huge swathes, patiently describing what we can already see, sometimes sneakily suggesting debauchery and wickedness he’s not allowed to show us, much though he would love to.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS stars Major Dundee; King Mongkut of Siam; Lucy Morgan; Caesar Enrico ‘Rico’ Bandello; Lily Munster; Shila – Cleopatra’s Daughter; Hajji Baba; Arthur Winslow; Julia Ross; Ellie Hilliard; Mrs. Danvers; Prince Prospero; Hatfield; Athos; The Black-Bearded One; Actor on DeMille’s ‘Samson & Delilah’ Set; Jesus – the Christ; John Miljan – Actor in Bedroom Scene; 1st Sgt. Braxton Rutledge; Scar / Cicatriz; Hatfield; Donald Pecos – aka The Pecos Kid; Dr. Franz Edlemann; Samson Posey; Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis; Judas; Norman Frink; Alvin Straight; Mary Todd Lincoln; Chubby Bannister; Lucifer Jr; Alfalfa; Napoleon Solo; and Herb Alpert as himself.

Sabatage

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2020 by dcairns

An old Dutch master.

As a film, SABATA aka EHI AMICO… C’È SABATA. HAI CHIUSO! (1969) by Frank Kramer aka Gianfranco Parolini, may not be that special. but for me it was the answer to a forty-five year question that I had never troubled myself to ask.

(Sabata means “Saturday” so the original title is a pun — HEY FRIEND… IT’S SABATA/SATURDAY, YOU’RE CLOSED!)

The BBC used to show seasons of films — more a BBC2 thing — and as a kid I saw both Barboni’s Corbucci’s TRINITY films and Leone’s DOLLAR trilogy — and this. Only I never knew what film this was. But the question was hardly pressing, and in the age of the internet it probably wouldn’t have been hard to get the list of films shown back in the seventies, or to search for a spaghetti western featuring a drunken Civil war veteran (inexplicably dubbed with a pseudo-Mexican accent — or am I ignorant of some role played by Mexico in that conflict?) who’s continually cursing the uselessness of his medal for bravery. (Cue ironic pay-off when it proves useful after all.)

It’s fun, childish stuff, and Marcello Giombini’s Morricone rip-off score is catchy and likeable. MG also scored films under the pen-name Pluto Kennedy, which delights me strangely. Lee Van Cleef is Sabata and the character who lodged in my brain is played by one Ignazio Spalla, whose career was mostly confined to Italian oaters and was often billed as Pedro Sanchez, fooling no one.

I could do a piece proving that the spaghetti western gunman has as convoluted a history as that of the gentleman sleuth, but I’m not going to. I’ll only note that director Kramer’s middle film in the SABATA trilogy, ADIOS, SABATA aka INDIO BLACK, SAI CHE TI DICO: SEI UN GRAN FIGLIO DI… is actually about a character called Indio Black, or maybe Black Indio, played not as here by Lee Van Cleef but by Yul Brunner aka Yuli Borisovich Bryner. That must have made for a real sloppy dubbing job, since the lip movements required to say “Sabata” are in no wise similar to those that go into “Indio” or “Indio Black” or “Black Indio.” Another fake Sabata is Vittorio Richelmi in Spanish knock-off JUDAS… ¡TOMA TUS MONEDAS! aka WATCH OUT, GRINGO! SABATA WILL RETURN, where the character was originally called Texas (good luck dubbing that one, too)… then there’s Anthony Steffen in SABATA THE KILLER aka ARRIVA SABATA! which at least seems to have been conceived as a Sabata film, though made by other hands; Brad Harris in WANTED SABATA aka SABATA VIVO OU MORTO; Raf Baldassare in DIG YOUR GRAVE FRIEND… SABATA’S COMING aka ABRE TU FOSA AMIGO… ILEGA SABATA.Mind you, when you get into the DJANGO series, things get lunatic, with whole companies of lip-flapping C-listers dragooned in to fill Franco Nero’s capacious boots, and some entries being released as Sartana films or Django films in different territories, with different degrees of lip-flap. Still, the Hercules “series” makes even this chaos seem orderly.

The only “proper” SABATA sequel is È TORNATO SABATA… HAI CHIUSO UN’ALTRA VOLTA! (SABATA IS BACK… YOU’RE CLOSED AGAIN!) aka RETURN OF SABATA — same director and stars, and it’s also good childish, violent fun. I will address it more fully soon.

SABATA stars Angel Eyes; King Minos; Sergeant Garcia; Frank Bimble; King Lotar; Countess Grabowsky; and Lotte Krayendorf.

 

Hair

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by dcairns

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The Mayans, we are told, had an incredibly advanced civilisation, despite never developing the wheel or metalwork. So they had to construct their dialogue and performances out of wood. And thus, alas, their dialogue and performances were no match for the leaden dialogue and performances of invading armies.

I really ought to watch TIGER BAY or YIELD TO THE NIGHT or the original CAPE FEAR as a palate cleanser, but my trawl through obscure J. Lee Thompson films instead led me to KINGS OF THE SUN in which Mayan king George Chakiris discovers Louisiana only to discover Indian chief Yul Brynner is already living there.

Of course nobody in this film can talk convincingly, the thick-ear epic dialogue seeming to choke on the miasma of brown face-paint (Shirley-Anne Field is excused fake tan, inexplicably). But if you can’t have good talk, you can at least have good hair.

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Chakiris leads the way with his giant quiff and pony tail look, similar to Tony Curtis’s magnificent quiff-and-pageboy cut in THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH. George could stand on the spot and rotate slowly and you’d get a complete history of human hair from the early hunter-gatherers to the latest in singing Puerto Rican street gangs.

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This dude opts for an innovative Mr. Whippy look.

Yul Brynner is excused hair, and gets a very funny introductory shot.

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Yul is the whole show. He can’t fare much better than anyone else with the dialogue, although he puts it over better. It’s his movement, his snake-hipped prowl, his snapping jaws in the fight scenes. We have to wait half an hour for him, and waiting for Yul is like waiting for Groucho in a movie as wooden as this, but when he does turn up he walks like really good sexual intercourse would walk. EVERYTHING gets better when Yul is around — the lighting goes from TV movie-of-the-week flat to vivid and modeled (Brando was impressed, on MORITURI, by how Brynner roped the lighting in to aid his performance) — the camera moves go from big swooping crane shots, spectacular at first but quickly tedious since the actors stand around like a forest, spouting duff verbiage that sounds like it’s been auto-translated from the original Mayannaise, to striking mobile POVs and dynamic following shots showcasing the best of Thompson’s style. His cameraman is Joseph Walker, who shot Capra’s stuff. Capra usually worked multi-camera (perhaps as a holdover from the early sound days?) which seems to have helped him get all that life and bustle going. For all its cast of thousands, this movie has zero bustle, and seems incapable of imagining convincing activity for more than one character at a time. Brynner makes damn sure that when he’s on screen, he is that character.

My favourite Yul story is from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. To Steve McQueen: “If you don’t stop playing with your hat, I’ll take off my hat, and then we’ll see who they look at.”