Archive for Zane Grey

Lash La Rue

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2011 by dcairns

Theory: when you start reading Ulysses, synchronicities pile up around you like herring. Case in point — I just watched HOT SATURDAY, and this is the titular weekend as it appears in a desk calendar in the film —

It turned Saturday, July 23 2011 as we were halfway through the movie…

HOT SATURDAY (more on it another time) got watched because we’d just enjoyed its star Nancy Carroll in THE WOMAN ACCUSED, about which I’d written the following, which also begins with an odd coincidence —

William “Stage” Boyd in bondage, trades kisses for apples with Leatrice Joy…

By chance, I’d just seen my first (I think) film directed by Paul Sloane, a Leatrice Joy “comedy” called EVE’S LEAVES, a silent set in China with place names like “Mookow”. Not a CLEVER film. But his THE WOMAN ACCUSED is pretty interesting, and regular Shadowplayer La Faustin reminded me I’d been meaning to see it…

A decidedly odd piece. Some of it is surely down to the ten writers doing an episode each, or whatever it was. They each get a title card and portrait in the opening credits, and are boosted as the top authors of the day, but I’d barely heard of most of them. Western writer Zane Grey is probably the best known, but I’d encountered Rupert Hughes via the daft melo SOULS FOR SALE — he’s the kind of novelettish buffoon who christens a heroine “Remember Steddon.” Vina Delmar is a classier scribe, having contributed to MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE — I most recently encountered her via PICK-UP. J.P. McEvoy was a semi-regular contributor to W.C. Fields’ films, which is of little help here.

The plot reads like what it is, a patchwork, with each successive author supremely bored by his predecessors’ contributions, so trying as hard as possible to escape the plot set up by them and set out for pastures new. Perky Nancy Carroll is engaged to perky Cary Grant (during his early, not-quite-inept but not-quite-ept-either phase) but her oily ex, Louis Calhern (hereafter to be known as Ambassador Trentino) won’t let her go. Sneaking away from her party she manages to brain the mobbed-up scumbag with a figurine, and flees. The coroner remarks that the lifeless Trentino has the thinnest skull he’s ever seen, which chimes with my own impression of the actor. He was basically one, vast, walking fontanelle.

DA Irving Pichel (effective in a rare non-halfwit role) is suspicious, but the slain man’s gaunt buddy, John Halliday, is determined to pin the blame on Nancy. Of course, we’re completely sympathetic to her, despite her guilt, and this being a pre-code all bets are off as to where this will lead. Meanwhile, she’s taken off with Cary on a three-day cruise, eager to forget her recent homicidal adventure.

Here’s where the film, hitherto merely disjointed and inconsistent, takes off into a stratosphere of absurdity — Halliday boards the cruise ship by police launch, and begins his own investigations. I learned a lot about the American legal system in this movie: I didn’t know previously that testimony given during a mock-trial at a pool party is legally binding, nor that beating a witness insensible with a length of rawhide is acceptable practice for lawyers. This occurs in the scene sometimes called the most shocking in all pre-code cinema —

Looking at this (and shooting glances over at Fiona, who was staring open-mouthed beside me), I was struck all over again by Jack LaRue’s versatility in slimeball roles. He didn’t just play one stock gangster, he had a whole range of them, twitching smack-heads, spectacular neurotics or gloating wolves, and depending on the slant he takes, his face seems to change. Here it’s all about the teeth, grinning with them, talking through them, sometimes just retracting his limbs and torso to hide behind them…

Lona laffs it up.

I liked Nancy Carroll a lot, and Lona Andre was fetching in her bit role, I suspect written solely so some exec could bed her. There was no reason for her to be there, or to speak. But she had won Paramount’s “Panther Woman Competition” (?) and they were trying her on the public. She later declined to exploiters like SLAVES IN BONDAGE and set a world’s golfing record for women before retiring from movies and becoming a successful businesswoman.

Cary Grant seemed to be doing something weird with his face all the time.

Cary’s legal advice to Nancy, “Just say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember’ no matter what they ask,” was much in my mind as I watched the Murdochs, père et fils, testifying last week, not to mention their associates in the press, the police, and the government.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Man in Black

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2010 by dcairns

Thanks to a not-quite-chance remark by one-man blogstorm Glenn Kenny on FaceBook, I found myself reflecting on my deplorable lack of direct experience in the matter of Tom Mix. I mainly knew the western star from his image on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, and from a possibly untrue story put about by sci-fi novelist Philip Jose Farmer that Mix died when he crashed his car and a metal suitcase containing a million dollars was flung forward from the back seat of his roadster, breaking his neck.

(The director of today’s epic, Lynn Reynolds, also died young, shooting himself at a party after quarreling with his wife. PISTOLS DON’T ARGUE.

Clearly, it was time to lose my Mix virginity, and the film to do it with was RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE. Based on a Zane Grey novel, and surprisingly hard-edged, this is a tale of long-deferred vengeance comparable to THE SEARCHERS and RANCHO NOTORIOUS in its toughness and single-minded patience. All the stereotypes you could wish are present and correct, but their 1920s versions are so old as to be new, they all come with little variations that amuse and crinkle the eyes. Domestic life is introduced as a rapid-fire whirl of headache and fuss, about as far from the docile domesticity celebrated in John Ford as you can get.

Villains are oily, educated, and sort of soft, as typified by Warner Oland, the inscrutable Swede daringly cast in a non-Chinese role. A baggy, shifty, pouch of a face, barely sufficient to contain the guts of his head.

Heroes are tough, beautiful, direct, simple. Tom Mix, as hard and sharp as a man chiseled from diamond. While everybody else rides dusty and threadbare, Mix is pretty rock ‘n’ roll in his shiny black duds and hair-oil. Face like an overweight knife. Lose the single glove though, it makes you look psycho.

With a big budget, Lynn Reynolds could employ fifty head of cattle for each intertitle.

Underplaying in the best western tradition, Mix manages to seem pretty cool despite the borderline ridiculous costume and proto-clichéd attitude. He’s definitely got something! The movie rattles along, surprisingly fast-cut and complicated: I haven’t seen a cowboy flick this overstuffed with characters and incidents since SILVERADO. In one dazzling sequence, he survives unscathed when shot off his horse (how?), but can’t raise his head above sagebrush level as he’s surrounded by desperadoes. Lassooing his saddle, he swiftly improvises a sled made from branches, and has his horse tow him from the scene, raising a dust trail that chokes and befuddles his pursuers. I am frankly astounded I haven’t seen that trick in another movie.

Intriguingly, the distrust of civilisation that animates, say, STAGECOACH, is already present, with the representatives of law being corrupt and vicious (Mix heroically shoots a judge in his courtroom!) and the happy ending located in a lost valley (probably dinosaur-infested) away from the rest of humankind. Rousseau would have liked westerns.

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