Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fanny (1961)

Fanny (1961) is adored by many people, as you can see by going over to its user reviews at IMDB. And the Siren was drawn in by the romantic storyline, mostly fine acting and beautiful setting. But I haven't seen the original Marcel Pagnol trilogy, and I strongly suspect that works to the remake's advantage. Let's divide this post into three parts, like the Pagnol movies I know I really, really, really need to see (so don't beat me up, okay?). First,

The Good. Marseilles is famed as one tough town, the wickedest port this side of New Orleans, but here it is photographed in unforgettable, blue-and-gold tinged beauty by cinematographer Jack Cardiff. The gorgeous score rises and falls (but mostly rises) in the background, reminding the Siren that this was an adaptation of a Broadway musical that condensed Pagnol's trilogy. Warner Brothers, still three years away from its highly successful My Fair Lady, at the time was convinced that musicals were a bad bet at the box office.





The story revolves around the Marseilles waterfront and its people. The Siren is a big fan of Charles Boyer, and he's wonderful as the bartender César. Boyer's performance, in its charm and working-class toughness, hearkened back to his star-making turn in Fritz Lang's Liliom many years earlier. Here Boyer gives César just the right touch of the philosopher to go with the roughneck bossiness.

Maurice Chevalier was often accused of giving mannered, tricksy performances in later life. The Siren would argue that it's a question of whether the tricks still charm, and fit with the character, but here the issue is moot because Chevalier jettisons the old gestures and gives a gentle version of Panisse, the elderly storekeeper who marries Fanny. The Siren wouldn't call his acting in Fanny naturalistic, but it has the ring of truth, Chevalier's reactions becoming those of Panisse and not his usual boulevardier. He manages to make the man's essentially unrequited love for Fanny touching, not creepy and Humbert-ish as it so easily could have been.



The Siren loves Leslie Caron (I said that before, didn't I?) and she is graceful and honest as Fanny. Her character's motivations could seem base in the wrong hands, but Caron plays to Fanny's desire to please and keeps our sympathy. Many women of 29, as Caron was when she made Fanny, can't play teenagers even if they still look that young--you simply don't believe in their innocence. In fact, even some teens can't play the naivete of youth. But Caron hits each life stage's notes perfectly, as a young girl still testing her allure like a chemistry set, through the fearful onset of adulthood when Fanny discovers her pregnancy, and then finally into the mature mother of the film's final third. So that leaves us with

The Minor (problem, that is), which is Horst Buchholz, playing Marius, the young man who impregnates Fanny and then goes off to sea. He was in vogue at that moment, on a great roll that would also include One, Two, Three and The Magnificent Seven in the same two-year period. Buchholz was gorgeous and the Fanny fans at IMDB seem to love him, but the Siren can't agree, not here. His jaws work back and forth whenever he must show emotion and if it's a big moment his head jerks around like a meerkat in a nature video. Quite aside from the actor's German accent, which isn't as bothersome as you might think, he snaps out his lines like marching orders. He is intense and brooding at all times, even when he is supposed to convey the joy of young love. Buchholz had an onscreen air of supreme self-involvement, which worked beautifully for his tag-along gunfighter in Magnificent Seven and the slogan-spouting Communist in the Wilder movie. Here it works in the first act, as he stalks around Fanny, unwilling to declare his love or watch her flirt with anyone else, and later, when he must act selfishly. But his crucial love scenes with Caron are less moving than they should have been.

So now we are left only with

The Major. Fanny forms an interesting way to look at the roles of cinematographer and director, how they differ and how much influence each has on the final visuals. The lighting in Fanny is perfection, the colors exquisite, sets are blended seamlessly with location photography. (Glenn Erickson astutely points out how the waterfront can always be glimpsed beyond the entry of Cesar's bar.) But the choice of what the camera is pointing at, the way the shots fit together, is dull and choppy. At best the mise-en-scène is something you can ignore to concentrate on the characters, the story and the beauty of the photography; at worst it becomes intrusive and annoying. The minimum a director should be able to do is prevent the audience from thinking "why are we looking at this?" Erickson says "Cardiff's eye is apparent in every camera angle. We get the feeling that director Logan concentrated on his actors and left the visuals to a master." Would that it were so. Other films that Cardiff worked on, such as John Huston's The African Queen and Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus, have an elegance of blocking and camera movement that Fanny does not. Given that South Pacific and Camelot both have Fanny's unimaginative framing and cumbersome lack of flow, the Siren puts on her deerstalker, takes a puff on her meerschaum and fingers Logan as the culprit.



Logan wasn't always like that--he did a good job with Picnic--but here he has no sense of how to shoot conversation in a way that doesn't beg for a proscenium arch. The Siren has many curmudgeonly problems with recent big-budget movies, and one is how stingy filmmakers have become with real close-ups for anything other than fast-cut, grotesque emphasis, say a villain or somebody who's about to get crushed by an oncoming whatever. But here comes Logan to remind the Siren that older films sometimes abused the close-up too, in this case with overuse, cutting back and forth between characters in a way more suited to the Men's Final at Wimbledon than a widescreen film. Leslie Caron was never more beautiful than here, but even the worshipful Siren began to wonder just how many shimmering, peachy-skinned, coral-lipped close-ups we were supposed to take, especially when they are intercut with medium shots of less-attractive actors shot with crystalline precision. So here's gauzy Leslie filling the screen, cut to old guy from the waist or chest up in sharp focus, with nothing that melds the two or gives a sense of one continuous vision. Nope, it's Leslie's line, time for Leslie's close-up. Or Leslie's reaction. Or what the heck, let's just look at Leslie again.

Fanny, in the end, made the Siren take a look at how much emphasis she places on direction. On that score, you have to flunk the movie. Logan guided three very good performances and one so-so one, but in other respects it's badly directed, end of story. But the Siren can't lie and say she disliked Fanny, when in fact she enjoyed it very much. The delicate theme of romance down the years, children as the thread that binds us together, the beautiful south of France, the intensely lovable characters and most of all Jack Cardiff created a movie that the Siren was powerless to resist completely, Logan or no Logan. It is out in a new widescreen DVD that supposedly looks quite good, so check it out and tell me whether you, too, had to throw your reservations off the pier.

P.S. Yes, the Siren has heard the old story that the director originally wanted the marquee to read "Joshua Logan's Fanny," and thinks that reeks of apocrypha. She'll believe it when someone comes up with a solid source, not just vague tales of the "press pointing out."

P.P.S. If you aren't pouncing on Dan Callahan's every star profile, you are missing out. Two of his best: Leslie Caron (focusing on the Siren's favorite Caron performance, in Lili) and Charles Boyer.

47 comments:

goatdog said...

"...he did a good job with Picnic..."

Is this the same Picnic in which what seemed like half the scenes consisted of the players lined up facing the camera, talking out of the sides of their mouths at each other? God I hate Joshua Logan. Fanny is his best film, but that's not saying much--it's basically mild and inoffensive. I agree about Boyer and Chevalier, but I wasn't as impressed with Caron. And I think you nailed the problem with the pretty but irrelevant photography.

Campaspe said...

LOL, yes, that Picnic. But in that case it did seem to me that there was more life and movement and the compositions were more interesting. It may well be (where's Sheila, I wonder?) that they were interesting only because a frequently shirtless William Holden was in them.

I have to agree about Logan as a general matter, though. Bus Stop, as I look back on it, also had players lined up facing the camera. I wish I thought about Logan before writing about Wyler, who is often accused of being solely a director of actors, with so much less justification. The difference in vision is simply huge. Logan really was a guy who could coax out a great performance but hadn't the smallest sense of the cinematic.

What can I say, I do love Caron. I think the characters she does are far harder to pull off than they seem, which becomes more apparent if you've ever, just for example, seen Vanessa Paradis in anything.

goatdog said...

I'm not against Caron in general--I really liked her in Gigi. Haven't seen her in much else aside from An American in Paris, which I watched back when I thought I didn't like musicals. Looks like I'll be rewatching that one in another 18 weeks.

Vanwall said...

Meh. "Fanny" has Boyer and Chevalier, those two clever rascals, and some of Caron's better work, but I never could latch on to it. Maybe it's Logan's fault, and after reading this post, I see why to an extent I have avoided this film - it don't have looks eyes like, as babushka once remarked, altho she was critiquing a Picasso, but the analogy still holds. I just don't like how it looks most of the time, clever staging or camera work notwithstanding. A very evenhanded analysis of a flawed but beloved film, (at least by some) a difficult equation.

David C said...

I have seen the original trilogy and I mainly remember:

Raimu is extremely good, and the other old guy, also great.

The typography is great. Weird, I know, but I love the lettering of the credits in French 30s films, and these are three of the best.

The three films have different directors, and I seem to recall the middle film being strongest.

I have a feeling I saw the last two films first. Don't do this.

glenntkenny said...

As Sarris noted, "Picnic"'s visual coherence can "be attributed to Jo Mielziner's...principles of set design." Not to mention the cinematography of James Wong Howe. As his work with William Cameron Menzies attests, when Howe was collaborating with a strong production designer, that team dictated the visuals, and even the most inept director couldn't muck it up. Not that Sam Wood was inept, but see "King's Row." Anyhow, Cardiff no doubt did his level best to save Logan's bacon, but some things you can't change. Cardiff had a great time doing it, though—Logan was a real charmer—as his autobiography attests.

Still. For all his achievements in theater, Logan was a TERRIBLE film director. Try watching his "Camelot" some time—nearly impossible.

X. Trapnel said...

First of all, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for the Modigliani-esque screen cap of Leslie Caron. Truly, she was never more beautiful and Fanny may well be her best performance, but yes her natural and unforced humor and sensuality seem to come from another movie (though the music follows her every step of the way). J. Logan is a vulgarian and the reason Picnic works so well may simply be the blowzy crudeness of the source material (the godawful, "sensitive" Wm. Inge). Pagnol's Marseille may not be quite the real thing, but his actors work brilliantly within his artifice (as do Marcel Carne's)By contrast, as the Siren notes, the actors in Fanny never blend with the mise en scene (not unlike Soviet toothpaste in which the flavoring failed to bond molecularly with the dentifrice).
Pity about Herr Buchholz; someone like Gerard Philipe was called for.

Campaspe said...

Van, go ahead, just blame Logan. I do. :)

David, I did a whole post about how I love credits in general and one of these days I will write up my genuine love for intertitles. So that's totally something I would latch onto as well.

Glenn, thanks for reminding me about Mielziner's involvement in Picnic. I'm always glad to give props to Menzies, too, who spent a whole year of his life laying out visuals for Gone With the Wind and has gotten precious little credit for it from the general public. My recollection of Picnic (which I haven't seen in about a decade) is definitely that it has a flow and coherence that other Logan movies lack, and I'm sure Howe had a great deal to do with that. Howe probably made Irving Rapper look great too. I too suffered through Camelot, as I mentioned in passing, and anyone who's seen that one and South Pacific would have to conclude that while Logan's talent for the theater must have been immense, when it came to movies he was miscast.

X Trapnel, Philipe would have been perfect! alas, even had he lived, he would have been too old for Marius. But in Les Grandes Manouevres he plays a variation on that character, another young man whose callow approach to love causes disaster.

Exiled in NJ said...

Pagnol directed Caesar and co-directed Marius; I wish I'd seen them. And now I want to rent Fanny, which I have not seen in years. Claude Berri tried to turn Pagnol into Verdi when he made Jean de Florette.

One of wife's favorite movie couples is the aged Boyer and Mildred Natwick in Barefoot in the Park....they steal the film.

Someone will shoot me or ban me from the board, but my main thought of Picnic is Rosalind Russell apparently auditioning for Gypsy. I could never believe this was the same person that played Hildy Johnson. Some of this was Inge's character, but some was her.

Campaspe said...

Exiled, I go back and forth on Roz in Picnic. Sometimes I think she's great in her over-the-topness and sometimes I cringe away. The floridness of the drunk scene was entirely her idea though, as she says in her autobiography.

X. Trapnel said...

Fellow Caronistas may be interested to learn (as I just did) that LC published a book of short stories entitled Vengeance (hmm).

Dan Callahan said...

Thanks for linking to my Boyer and Caron pieces---

I rented an ancient video of "Fanny" when I was writing the Boyer piece, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Loved the delicate colors, and Caron was never better, especially in her relaxed, sexy first scenes.

I think we can all agree that Logan was a bad film director. You mention his overuse of close-ups in "Fanny"; all of his version of "Camelot" seems to play out in extreme close-up. I love Vanessa Redgrave, but three hours of her in tremulous close-up is just too much (Logan even keeps her in close-up when her nose starts to run during a weeping scene).

I used to like "Picnic," but hadn't seen it in years before I watched it a week or so ago during TCM's Roz Russell fest. I was sort of flabbergasted by most of it. All the actors seem to be in some netherworld between line readings and self-conscious "behavior" that bears no relation to any kind of human experience.

Russell is cringeworthy in most of it, but especially in her begging scenes with Arthur Kennedy...it's a series of hammy vocal effects with practically nothing underneath.

Russell is a real problem, isn't she? She's so wonderful in "His Girl Friday," magnificent in "Craig's Wife." And this month, I caught up with two others I hadn't seen that she's good in, "My Sister Eileen" and "Roughly Speaking."

But then there's "Picnic." And "Mourning Becomes Electra," where she gives one of the worst performances I've ever seen. And "No Time for Comedy" this month on TCM was a real stinker where she's trying to be "restrained." I never know what to expect from her.

X. Trapnel said...

Part of the Russell problem may be traceable to the original plays, which demand that all passions be torn to tatters and the ears of the groundlings split. O'Neill, when not autobiographical, is primarily a rhetoretician (or gasbag depending on taste)rather than an observer of character and behavior. (Come to think of it, how much of "America's Greatest Dramatist" is still stageworthy?)Lacking O'Neill's undeniable power Inge's cornpone gothic is populated by interchangeable archetypes of a private dreamworld: The Sensitive Young Man, the Sexually Frustrated Hag, the Biologically Sexy Child/Woman, the Handsome Drifter. Nothing much for an actor to do except mumble, screech, or look "radiantly" transfigured in the closing scene. The unwonted prestige of Inge, Williams, et al., the capitualtion to method acting explains in part the lack of true realism (a la Renoir) in American film of the fifties.

Campaspe said...

Dan, you and X. Trapnel remind me that while Russell doesn't mention her controversial lost Oscar for Mourning Becomes Electra, she does mention receiving a rare, hand-written note from Eugene O'Neill, telling her how much he liked her as Lavinia.

That somehow seems to wrap up both your points. I've never seen "Mourning" and despite all this I'd rather like to. And then you can both say "I told you so ..."

Karen said...

On Russell, whom I used to love unreservedly: last night I tried--and failed--to watch A Majority of One, in which Russell tries--and fails--to play a Brooklyn Jewish widow. She delivers every line (or, every line in the first 20 minutes) in exactly the same way, like a Boston Brahmin imitating Lainie Kazan. PAINFUL. This was a role originated on Broadway by Gertrude Berg, and they chose Russell! I didn't even stick around long enough to witness Alec Guinness as the Japanese businessman who eventually becomes her love interest. Robert Osborne, in his intro, said that this has been considered by some to be the most miscast film ever made.

On the main topic: I've seen Fanny but I honestly don't remember a thing about it other than the Marseilles scenery and Charles Boyer. I love Leslie Caron, too, but I can't really remember much about her in it. (Perhaps because I recently saw her in the very odd The Glass Slipper?) I don't think I hated it, but I don't remember loving it, either.

Dan Callahan said...

Russell is pretty bad in "Majority of One," but Guinness really embarrasses himself. We should just draw the veil...

If Russell had actually won an Oscar for "Electra," it would certainly be the worst win ever in an acting category. I'm very glad she didn't, because it would do her good work in other films a big disservice. "Electra" is one of the few old films that should be actively suppressed, for the good of us all (I'm only half-kidding).

Katharine Hepburn wanted to play in "Electra" with Garbo playing her mother. Now, that I would love to see, especially since Hepburn did so well in "Long Day's Journey Into Night."

Campaspe said...

Dan, I have to ask -- how was Kirk Douglas? I am imagining a huge symphony of O'verthetop O'Neill ...

Thanks Karen, it's nice to scratch A Majority of One off my yet-to-see list, or at least push it down to "only in my sunset years with nothing else to do" or "if I get really really drunk one night." I know what you mean about Roz (where did she come from? oh right, Picnic). She was once a huge favorite of mine and now while her good stuff seems as good as ever to me, I have come to realize she's got a wildly uneven filmography. Perhaps she just really needed a simpatico director (or, as with Auntie Mame, a part she knew inside-out) or she was at sea.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Not to pre-empt Dan, but I'd say that Kirk Douglas is okay in Mourning Becomes Electra almost completely by virtue of the small scale of his role. He can't go wrong in the florid way you're imagining he could (easily) go wrong. And I remember thinking Michael Redgrave was quite wonderful. Russell is a chore, but then, I've never once liked her in anything except His Girl Friday, with modest exceptions in the best scenes of Sister Kenny. I did appreciate her commitment to the seriousness of the role, given how facetious and self-satisfied she often is in her acting, but she unfortunately does Serious just the way you'd expect from someone who rarely gives it a whirl. Katina Paxinou, if this isn't too inflammatory, is even worse.

I've been avoiding Fanny because I'm not a fan of any of the three leads, but the screen-caps and your notes about the use of color, reiterated in some of the comments, are giving me something to look forward to. Thanks!

Dan Callahan said...

Nick's right about Kirk in "Electra": it's a small part, so he can't do much damage. Still, the whole thing is like a bad overacting Olympic event. As the mother, Katina Paxinou is like Anna Magnani with no talent, if you can imagine the horror of that.

I realize I'm probably whetting people's appetites for "Electra" in a "just how bad can it be?" way. I know I personally find that kind of challenge irresistible. It is on DVD, for some reason.

For balance on Roz, I would like to really endorse Michael Curtiz's "Roughly Speaking," which was the real find for me in this TCM Russell month. It's such a weird story...two hours of constant, arbitrary failure for Russell and Jack Carson.

There's a scene where he's supposed to be working and she catches him drinking beer that's stayed with me...she plays just the right amount of good humor and disappointment. And Carson was never better, and that's saying a lot.

Frank Conniff said...

Josh Logan was a legendary theater director and yet he made a complete botch of the film version of South Pacific, and if you look at his body of work, especially his post-"Fanny" films, "Ensign Pulver," (a pointless sequel even by the standards of pointless sequels), "Camelot," and "Paint Your Wagon," it's fairly obvious that as talented as he might have been in the theatrical world, he never should have been allowed near a movie camera.

By the way, last night, TCM aired "The Trouble With Angels" (which I loved as a ten-year-old when it came out) and its sequel "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows" (as sequels go, it kicks Ensign Pulver's ass; admittedly, that's not saying much, but what they both have in common is that each was made despite the fact that they both lacked the one essential ingredient that would have made you want to see the sequels in the first place: Jack Lemmon in "Pulver," and Hayley Mills in "Where Angels Go..."). Anyway, I would love to be able to make the case that these two wacky nun comedies (an actual late-sixties genre in the wake of "The Sound Of Music" ; see also: "The Singing Nun.") presented a reason for people to worship at the Church of Latter-Day Roz Russell, but alas I don't think that argument will hold. What I will say unequivocally is that the "Where Angles Go, Trouble Follows" theme song by Boyce & Hart is delightful and woefully underrated and unappreciated.

Exiled in NJ said...

Funny how memory deceives a person; I'd always remembered that Trouble with Angels was filmed partly at Beaver College in Glenside (Cheltenham) PA but now find it was St. Mary's Home in Ambler, just up Rte 309. Beaver is now 'Arcadia' because too many people made sexual comments about the original name.

The film was almost a reunion of actresses from 1940-55: Binnie Barnes, Mary Wickes and others plus la Roz.

I suspect the Angels films are foolproof; my wife, my late wife and my late daughter all loved them. But for lovers of coincidence, the final departure scene was shot at the Glendale CA train station and I believe it was used for the spot where Walter Neff/Mr. Dietrichson gets on the train for Stanford twenty plus years before.

Karen said...

I'd like to second dan callahan's endorsement of Roughly Speaking. I saw it a year or so ago on TCM and was terribly impressed; not only by Russell but even more by Carson. So often he was used as a one-joke caricature of a human being, a large blowhard. But this film lets him play a real role, with complexity and nuance, and he more than rises to the occasion. It was kind of a revelation, and it made me sad for the majority of his career.

I'm curious, though, dan: is Guinness' Japanese character in the same realm of embarrassment as Mickey Rooney's in Breakfast at Tiffany or Marlon Brando in The Teahouse of the August Moon?

Gloria said...

Your post has brought to me a foggy recollection of seeing the film, long, long ago, in TV.

In spite of the caveats. it has made me feel like wayching the film again when I have the chance... if anything, because there's not enough Charles Boyer love in the world.

(and there's not enough Gerard Phillipe love in the world either: why on earth do people talk SO MUCH about James Dean and SO LITTLE about Phillipe?)

Vanwall said...

I'll third for "Roughly Speaking", and Carson has so few full roles, it was a pleasure to watch him. The film captured the notion of "breezy" so well, too - it was episodic, but each flowed right into the next. Even the kids were pretty acceptable.

Guinness beats Rooney and Brando in its depth of execrable, almost "Yellow Peril", lowness, but only by an epicanthic eyelash.

Vanwall said...

I should qualify that as a horribly fake, frighteningly condescending, and creepily corpse-like, epicanthic eyelash.

Campaspe said...

K., D., V., oh man, I am CRUSHED that I missed Jack Carson in anything. Has anyone seen him in The Hard Way? That was also an essentially straight role and he was heartbreaking in it. He could do so much. I wish he had lived longer.

Nick, have you seen Craig's Wife? Roz is quite wonderful in it. I also love her in The Women, My Sister Eileen, and since childhood nothing can diminish my love for Auntie Mame, another badly directed movie. This month was a crush and I fell behind in my DVD recording so I didn't get The Guilt of Janet Ames or Take a Letter Darling, if either were shown.

X. Trapnel said...

Good point, Gloria. Philipe was an actor, James Dean is (argh) an icon. A Philipe character projects his emotions toward the world, engages with it. If he is introspective or even self-regarding (how else can you play a Stendhal character?) it never descends into narcissism, preening self-pity, or untransformed neurosis. Note also that Philipe could do comedy (even pratfalls). Just try to imagine Dean or any of his imitators doing likewise.

And yes, Boyer is magnificent, a wonderfully sympathetic actor.

Campaspe said...

Frank & Exiled: The Angels movies completely creeped me out, I guess because

SPOILER

I was supposed to think of bright lovely Hayley Mills taking the veil as a happy ending. The second one doesn't have her but I don't remember much except that it was still creepy to me. Just to show that I am not incapable of loving a nun movie I will cite Black Narcissus and (not in that league but enjoyable) Come to the Stable, Bells of St. Mary's and Lilies of the Field as nun movies I liked. Oh, and Heaven Knows Mr. Allison and Two Mules for Sister Sarah as well. I guess I have to have sex in my nun movies. Or, failing that, Sidney Poitier.

Campaspe said...

Gloria and X Trapnel, I do love Philipe but Dean was sui generis for better or worse, imitators or no. Philipe was probably the better actor in the final analysis but then he had more time, didn't he? I recommend Live Fast, Die Young about the making of Rebel Without a Cause, if you haven't read it. Good book that did a lot to open my eyes about how consciously artistic Dean was in preparing a role.

X. Trapnel said...

Yes, The Hard Way is an interesting and unusual film and Jack Carson is extraordinary in it (likewise Ida Lupino, but you knew that).

We all have our "what if" film fantasies and one of mine has Carson as the long-lost brother of Charles Foster Kane turning up at Xanadu: "Nice place ya got here, Charlie!" (flicks cigar ash into a Ming vase)

Campaspe said...

HA!!!!

that is possibly the only Kane reworking that ever struck me as worth seeing.

Gloria said...

Campaspe, yes, Gerard had more time, indeed (and use dit wonderfully), but a plus for me , in Phillipe's case, is his European gravitas, so to say... he doesn't need to bear the Method banner: he's just one helluva actor as there existed pre and post Lee Strasberg

I'm not complaining as much about Dean (who displayed great talent in the little time he had left) as i do about the Dean Hubbub or empty iconization, in one word, the banalization of the actor (as a whole) in favour of the "Icon"... I have a similar feel about Elsa Lanchester: there are people who declare themselves "big Elsa fans" and kneel at her Nefertiti hairdo in "Bride of Frankestein"... but have never seen her Hendryke Stoffels in "Rembrandt", her Miss Plimsoll in "Witness of the Prosecution" or her spinster missionary (years before Katherine Hepburn in "The African Queen")in "Vessel of Wrath".

Dan Callahan said...

To answer Karen's question: Guinness is probably somewhere below Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi when it comes to sheer offensiveness. But Rooney is so incredibly offensive that he's almost in a realm of his own. Guinness is worse, in a way, because this is a leading role, and he's trying to be fairly realistic. He looks ridiculous, and the running gag about how he can't pronounce his "l" words...I thought I'd die every time he did it.

I'd go out on a limb and say that "Roughly Speaking" is the best part Carson ever had, even though he is so touching in "The Hrad Way."

And I love Gerard Philipe. I've been waiting to see "Devil in the Flesh" for years and years. And I've heard he's very good in the ultra-rare 40's version of "The Idiot." I just wish he'd lived long enough to be in films for Truffaut and Rohmer.

Campaspe said...

Dan, if I ever did a list of "Performances that Ruin the Entire Movie" Rooney would top the list. And I like Rooney. But that was just ... Jesus, that would have raised hackles in 19THIRTY1 let alone 1961.

Gloria, what an absolutely fantastic phrase: "the banalization of the actor (as a whole) in favour of the "Icon"". Yep, that has happened to Dean all right, and Monroe has suffered equally if not more.

Lanchester was good in a number of movies. She annoys some people in The Big Clock but I thought she was a stitch.

Gloria said...

Campaspe, Yes this is true of Marilyn (or Humphrey Bogart) as well: I love her a lot, but, as you did once, ponder why the lovely Gene Tierney isn't as well known as Marilyn is.

As for "The Big Clock", the only thing that I wasn't enthusiastic about Elsa in the film was the odd nineteenth century-ish hat she wears in some scenes. But she's truly memorable as the eccentric artist, and she's got some lines to die for "Didn't you review my show in '41? I've been planning to kill you for years" LOL, not even Salvador Dalí would dare to come up with that!

Exiled in NJ said...

Sir Alec scored the hat trick with his Godbole in Passage to India, and if we could define the nationality of Obi-Wan, it might have been a grand slam.

Boyer, Roz, Kirk, G. Phillipe, James Dean, Jack Carson, and did I hear an Ida Lupino? She directed Trouble with Angels. We seem to have hit the summer of Six Degrees, and now Elsa, Jimmy Stewart's Wiccan neighbor in Bell, Book and Candle.

Vanwall said...

"The Hard Way" had a nice understated job by Dennis Morgan, as well - an unusual pairing of worthy performances by him and Carson in the same film, something rare, even tho they hammed it up together longer than most H'wood marriages. I loved Morgan's speaking voice - like the late, lamented Bruce Bennett, he was a special pleasure to listen to, for me.

Campaspe said...

Now there's a movie that is well-loved, but not so much by critics: Bell, Book and Candle. Quine did another movie I adore, The Solid Gold Cadillac.

Vanwall, you're so right about Morgan and Carson, at their worst they suggested a low-rent Midwestern Lorre/Greenstreet, although Carson can really do no wrong in my eyes so I always blamed Morgan. But Morgan had his moments and the two are quite good in The Hard Way. I should also have included that movie's credits in my "Credit Sequences" post.

Karen said...

Oh, gosh, The Hard Way! You know, I'd actually forgotten Carson in that (how could I??). I hasten to clarify, incidentally, that while I described Carson as a one-joke blowhard of a character actor, that it didn't mean I don't love him in every single thing I see him in. It's just that he didn't get much of a chance to stretch, and Roughly Speaking and The Hard Way prove just how much he had to offer.

Lupino's pretty damn riveting in The Hard Way as well, never allowing her stage-sister-from-hell to become so broad as not to be sympathetic (not likeable, but...understandable).

X. Trapnel said...

Gene Tierney is a private passion; "Marilyn" (and "what 'we' did to her") is a (tiresome)public obligation. The thirties/forties star system allowed us to admire many types of femininity, but with the fifties, standardization sets in, possibly an offshoot of wartime production.
I think iconization comes from a certain blankness in the object (in Dean's case it may well have been the shortness of the career)or one-dimensionality. It seems to me that the Bogie fad had faded returning him to his real admirers. He breaks fixed images apart.
No disrespect toward Andrei Rublev, but portraits are more interesting to look at than icons and people more interesting than saints.

Regarding Gerard Philipe: has anybody seen the beyond/ultra/trans/ rare Une si Jolie Petite Plage?

NicksFlickPicks said...

(@Campaspe: Parenthetically, since this is reaches so far back: I have not seen Craig's Wife, which is a huge miss since I'm a big Arzner fan, but I in fact dislike Russell in My Sister Eileen and in a good deal of The Women and Auntie Mame, though she certainly has her moments.)

gmoke said...

My cousin Jonathan was an extra in "Fanny," a sailor on the rail as a boat leaves the shore. My mother and sister went to Radio City Music Hall during the first run and when his face appeared on screen my sister said, loudly, "That's Jonnie!!"

At least, that's how I remember this family story.

Campaspe said...

gmoke, that is too cool!

mndean said...

Campapse,
Rooney's performance would have raised hackles in 1930? Granted, it was as embarrassing a performance as I've seen, but I dunno about going that far, after seeing The Hatchet Man.

I avoided Majority of One. Just looking at the description in the TCM listing made me shudder. Apparently, nobody saw The Velvet Touch, which wasn't a great Roz moment, either. For something that was supposed to have made money after the disaster that Mourning Becomes Electra was, it sure was tosh, and Roz was pure Cudahy (or Rath, Armour, or whatever brand of ham suits your fancy).

Campaspe said...

Mndean, the 1932 MGM version of Fu Manchu attracted protests from the Chinese embassy at the time, so yeah, I think Rooney would have been resented even if nobody had enough "oomph" to get anything done. It's a mistake to assume that just because nasty racial portrayals were more common in older movies that the targets neither noticed nor cared. Most people know that Birth of a Nation drew protests from the black community, but Gone With the Wind was also picketed at the time of its release.

I enjoyed The Velvet Touch and I know someone who was trying to remake it, which could have been truly interesting. It was sort of a female "A Double Life" only more fun than "A Double Life" but the Colman vehicle really bored me, to be honest. I can't defend Roz's performance as subtle, that's for sure. But then lovers of subtlety are usually not Roz fans I think.

p.s. while noodling on the Net I just discovered that Sax Rohmer, creator of Fu Manchu, died from the "Asiatic" flu. ah, life's little ironies ...

mndean said...

I expect that the Chinese embassy would complain about a movie with a Chinese supervillain who wishes to destroy the West. That it was campy wouldn't have done much to ameliorate the I wonder if the embassy complained to Britain about Sax Rohmer's books, which were far more racist, and ethnically so confused (to Rohmer, the East was one huge conspiracy, where a Chinese could get Arabs and Indians - his beloved dacoits - to do his bidding) such that we can laugh at them today.

As for The Velvet Touch, I thought A Double Life tosh as well, so I wasn't disposed to like the movie, but I thought it a fascinating warning against an unsubtle actor having his/her own production company. Their choices could magnify their faults, as I thought The Velvet Touch did.

Melanie said...

Speaking of being creeped out, most movies from the Sixties that try to introduce the psychedelic element make me cringe but even more so when it tries to give a "cool" factor to a basically "square" story (makes me thhink of Greg Brady and Brady Bunch brand of "cool").

I also love Rosalind Russell, but her movies were very spotty. I loved her in "Night Must Fall" with Robert Montgomery. He's miscast, she could be, yet somehow the movie is a-charming little creepy murder story. Very weird, but interesting to watch. I even beleive her as the repressed, put-upon "poor relation" who is fascinated by evil in the form of charming Montgomery, though his depiction of an Irish lad isn't convincing, his potrayal of the character in every other way, is convincing. Does that make sense? Oh well I knew what I meant :)