Archive for Zachary Scott

Sothern Fried

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2018 by dcairns

Alert! Time for me to explore the works of Pat Jackson (if you’re nasty).

Jackson was a graduate of the GPO Film Unit, the UK postal service’s own film production arm, which also employed the great Cavalcanti, the obnoxious-sounding Harry Watt, and made the famous NIGHT MAIL. He then had a distinguished sojourn at the Crown Film Unit making war docs alongside Humphrey Jennings. He made his feature debut at MGM (as “Patrick Jackson” because “Pat” isn’t distinguished enough for a classy joint like MGM) with SHADOW ON THE WALL, a disjointed psychodrama starring Congo Maisie, Monte Beragon, Fanny Trellis Skeffington at aged 2, Gavin Elster (yay!), Sheriff Al Chambers and Nancy frickin’ Reagan.

Ann Sothern for once plays a villain, managing to incorporate some sympathy into a twisted character, and some subtlety into an intense, melodramatic story. But the film seems unable to decide WHO it’s about. We start on a wide of a lovely house, which is revealed to be an elaborate dollhouse, the first of many in the story. Andre Previn’s music veers from playfully childlike to sinister, then manages to dissonantly suggest both tones at once. We meet little Gigi Perreau, and then her dad, Zachary Scott, and discover through his eyes that his young wife (Kristine Miller, very glam indeed) is cheating on him with Tom Helmore.

While we’re pondering whether one should marry Monte Beragon and cheat with Gavin Elster, or vice versa, murder rears its antiseptic Hollywood head: Helmore was engaged to Miller’s sister, Ann Sothern, and she shoots her scheming sibling dead shortly after Miller’s stunned Scott by striking him on the nose with a hand mirror. When he awakens, he’s been neatly fitted up for murder, and will spend most of rest of the movie on death row, waiting. What nobody realises is that his little daughter witnessed the murder, but is in a state of shock and can’t tell anyone.

We now divide our narrative mainly between Nancy Davis/Reagan, a therapist trying to cure little Gigi, and Sothern, who’s trying to kill her. Much of Sothern’s business is internal, though, as she agonizes about her fear of being caught, culminating in a hilarious hallucination at the hairdressers —

 

There are some other nicer directorial touches. Jackson uses simple wide shots effectively, isolating our child non-protagonist (Gigi has no active goal, so she’s basically a nut for Nancy to crack). There are two major child jeopardy situations, one in which Gigi and a playpal debate which of them is to drink a glass of chocolate milk which Sothern has poisoned. The script milks (sorry!) this a good bit, but Jackson doesn’t do much with it. Probably a mercy.

But then Sothern tries to drown the moppet in the hospital’s hydrotherapy room, and all stops are pulled out, heaped up and set fire to. Looong lurking shot in the corridor, waiting, waiting, while infanticide is attempted behind closed doors. Merciless. Let’s remember that Truffaut said that jeopardising the life of a child in a drama was virtually an abuse of cinematic power (he did it in SMALL CHANGE, but he had reasons and had thought about it). Bruce Robinson, writing IN DREAMS for Neil Jordan, had felt unable to threaten a child’s life, despite the fact that he was writing a thriller about a child killer. This posed a problem. “It took me three months to solve it. It took Neil Jordan three minutes to fuck it up.”

Jackson had no such compunctions, it seems: he’d be back threatening children in cop drama THE GENTLE TOUCH a few films later.

I suspect Jackson didn’t find MGM a comfortable home — at any rate, he was soon back in the UK and back to being Pat. More on him soon.

 

Romneyscient

Posted in FILM, Painting, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by dcairns

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I realized just now that I’m so close to being the ultimate web resource for all things Edana Romney (the talent behind CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS, a film I first addressed here)  that I might as well go the whole hog and make sure of it.

Top Shadowplayer La Faustin informed me via Facebook of this curiosity, in which “actress, journalist and advisor on personal problems” Edana Romney oversees the conversion of her Kentish cottage. I don’t know how to interpret that third job description — a sort of agony aunt, a paid confidante to the stars, a therapist? La Faustin has fun imagining an “Ask Myfanwy Conway” column. We also learn that ER is pals with Zachary Scott. La Faustin observes, ” In the movies, at least, ‘pals with Zachary Scott’ means tears before bedtime.” At any rate, the former Mrs Woolf here appears to be single, with a poodle called Kewpie (?) for company.

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See here.

Then I discover that the Romney Archive is held by the University of Southern California (Romney died in that fair state.) We learn that the archive contains extensive research and screenplay drafts for a film on the life of Sir Richard Burton, explorer. (Later, part of the Great Man’s life did make it to the screen in THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON, directed by Bob Rafelson.)

The next oddity is a cutting from the Singaporean Free Press, in which we learn that Robert Newton sued Romney in 1950 over a movie offer that never materialised. Newton had been offered the role of Dr Veron, but the article doesn’t say what the film was, what Romney’s involvement in it might be (I’m assuming writer but also producer) or what the whole story is really about. Romney’s sparse screen credits make it clear that the film never materialised.

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Then, luckily, we find this, a portfolio of costume designs for some kind of project about Rachel Eliza Felix, 19th century French tragedienne. The holder of the portfolio, John George Campbell, has worked out that much, and researched the drawings sufficiently to determine that the artist responsible is Owen Hyde Clarke, who also designed dresses for CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. And among the drawings we find a sketch of Dr. Veron, looking like a camper version of Robert Newton, and so we are able to connect the Singaporean news story with the costume sketch portfolio.

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Thus, Romney’s sparse CV gains two more films, unmade alas.

John Campbell informs me that the RACHEL project was actually planned *before* CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. The 1951 news story still makes sense considering the grindingly slow nature of the legal system.

Meanwhile, her married name got me thinking, and sure enough a deeper probe into the IMDb revealed that her husband was producer John Woolf, who in 1948 resigned as joint managing director of Rank to set up Romulus Films with his brother James. This allows us to see why Romney, a bit-part actress, was suddenly given a leading role in her own delirious vanity project. It also suggests why there was no successor to CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS — possibly Woolf no longer had the clout to get such peculiar projects off the ground. By 1955 the couple were divorced.

(When Woolf left Rank his place was taken by John Davis, “the man who destroyed the British film industry.” He’s parodied as “Don Jarvis” in PEEPING TOM, made by Michael Powell, one of his many enemies. Interestingly, Woolf’s brother James was equally prone to amour fou, boosting actor Laurence Harvey’s career because he was desperately in love with him.)

One more acting credit, for a 1957 episode of Masterpiece Theatre entitled The Last Flight, intrigues me. Further down the cast lurks Stratford Johns who, like Romney, was born in South Africa. In the early nineties I produced a student film starring Mr Johns, or Alan to his friends. So all this time I was one handshake away from her, but back then I didn’t know who she was and was thus unable to ask her co-star for info. As a fellow countryman, I’m sure he would have made her acquaintance and would have had an opinion of her, probably strong and acidic.

Hail to the King

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2009 by dcairns

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How did King Vidor get to be called King? Did he have a son called Prince?

On regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider’s recommendation I ran LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE, a slightly gothic noir with a western ranch setting — something of an oddity. But Ruth Roman is excellent in it, fun and relaxed in a way she doesn’t get to be in the other films I’ve seen her in, like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN or BITTER VICTORY.

Ruth plays an actress — no jokes about this being a stretch, please — taking a rest cure after a chest infection. If there’s anything wrong with her perf it’s that she seems healthy as a horse (there are frequent shots of horses so we can compare with ease) but she’s such a lively, humorous, modest and intelligent character we overlook that — the supposed ill health is just plot.

vlcsnap-1907575Merecedes McCambridge: Greater Emotion Through Postural Strangeness.

Ruth gets mixed up in a more interesting plot involving Richard Todd (Irish actor, successful in England, never quite made it in America) recently acquitted of murdering his wife: there’s just enough vulnerability in Ruth to make you believe she might fall for this piece of surly damaged goods. Mercedes McCambridge is also in the cast, so it’s not a whodunnit. Her crippled brother is played by Darryl “But he’s a cripple!” Hickman, who was also disabled in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN — what’s with that type-casting? Hickman’s character is called String McStringer, which one would have thought was disability enough.

vlcsnap-1905900Zachary Scott — the Thin White Tube.

Generally all is compelling, with a welcome late appearance by Zachary Scott to thicken the plot (Zachary Scott = corn starch?) and add a light drizzle of man-sleaze. Todd does brooding quite well, but Roman is the heart and soul. This was the first film where I really got a sense of the hysterical emotionalism everybody singles out in Vidor’s work, but apart from McCambridge and Hickman, who are both extremely clear conduits for shrill frenzy, it only comes into play in one Ruth Roman bit where she starts to suspect that Todd is really guilty, and we get the full voices-echoing-in-her-head bit, complete with thunderstorm and furniture chewing. Jolly good!

vlcsnap-1913045THE FOUNTAINHEAD’s quarry scene: CALIGARI in marble.

THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a different matter — Ayn Rand’s putrid writing gives King plenty of scope for serious expressionistic bombast and flash. He turns everything up to eleven and all his knobs falls off. The compositions he slams onto the screen like a light-headed gambler wielding foot-long brass playing cards, are hyper-emphatic and triumphalist, and they just keep coming. It’s visually spectacular and beautiful enough to make the film very watchable, although creeping dismay and contemptuous laughter are its companions throughout. It’s supreme macho camp, but Vidor apparently took it quite seriously (he was, by this time, apparently, a concentrated wingnut, who would go on to approve of the blacklist). It’s beautiful, but on the level of a David Fincher video for a Madonna track: immaculate style with dubious taste; elegantly dynamic cheese; hysterically butch camp.

vlcsnap-1913078Drilling is so thrilling!

I’m not sure what my favourite aspect of the bad bad writing is — the repulsive philosophy at times almost seems creditable when applied to the specific dilemma of the artist, and by stretching every neuron to snapping point I just about see why a Hollywood director would find validation in it (“Could the interfering mediocrities of the front office please let me do my job?”), but the plot turn that has walking hard-on “Howard Roark” (Gary Cooper) dynamite a poor people’s housing estate for aesthetic reasons rather beggars belief. But I think the “dialogue” spouting from Robert Douglas’s mouth, in his role as all-powerful architecture critic (?) Ellsworth M. Toohey puts the tin lid on it. Unable to actually imagine another human being with another point of view, Rand assembles a “character” entirely composed of straw man arguments and moustache-twirling. When Toohey talks about how he was able to “corrupt” oligarch Raymond Massey’s newspaper staff, one splutters in vain, “But he wouldn’t see it like that! Not if he’s the one doing it!”

vlcsnap-1913138The great stoneface.

There’s bad writing which exposes stupidity, bad writing which exposes prejudice (often the same thing, and most often in the form of sexism) and there’s bad writing which exposes near-lunacy. THE FOUNTAINHEAD is almost entirely clapped-together out of the latter kind. The climax, in which Cooper is cleared of blowing up a massive construction site on the grounds that he’s a good architect, is so spectacularly demented as to be almost believable in this age of ours — perhaps Polanski should model his defense upon it.

vlcsnap-1911485Neal!

THE FOUNTAINHEAD should be avoided by persons vulnerable to demagogic blandishment, but is recommended for those who enjoy spluttering. You could splutter at it for the full 114 minutes running time, then hit “Play” again and splutter all over. Keep a napkin handy.

vlcsnap-1911517I am Howard, hear me Roark!

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Gary Cooper – The Signature Collection (Sergeant York / The Fountainhead / Dallas / Springfield Rifle / The Wreck of the Mary Deare)