Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Dardos, and Other Ramblings from the Far End of the Subway Car

(updated 1/28)

Holy shit, January 2009 is shaping up to be a month I wanna forget, and fast. I know, I know, the inauguration was great but now it's over and la famille Campaspe is still recovering from whatever the hell virus hit us. The economy is still dropping like a stone, the weather is bad, I can never get everyone well enough to get anything done or (almost) anything watched. The Siren went to the doctor yesterday. Ever had the kind of cough that makes someone change seats on the subway to get away from you, even though you are diligently covering your mouth?

Worst of all, my solace in all times of trouble, Rumpole, will never solve a new case again, because the great John Mortimer died Jan. 16.

February, the Siren wants to kiss you full on the lips when you finally get here.

So this post is the Siren, trying to find the silver lining. We begin with the Siren's proud acceptance of

The Dardos Award, bestowed first by Flickhead and next by Glenn Kenny.

Here's the purpose: "The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."

There are rules, however:
1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

The Siren is tickled pink, especially since not only did she not snag a Weblog Award nom this year, none of the blogs she was rooting for won their categories either. The Dardos comes with the happy obligation to pick five other worthy blogs. Some of the Siren's best choices are already chosen but there are a lot of good ones out there, so here goes. She's expanding the definition of "writing" by the way, since a picture is worth a thousand words:

Marilyn and Roderick at Ferdy on Films, for always raising the tone

Operator_99 at Allure, for always making things more beautiful

Shahn at Six Martinis and the Seventh Art, for the best screen captures ever

David Cairns at Shadowplay, for constantly reminding us of more awesome old movies to see (check out this one, a noir starring George Sanders that I'd barely heard of)

Jacqueline T. Lynch at Another Old Movie Blog, for loving old movies (and Dorothy McGuire) as much as I do.

Update: The Siren has been informed that David Cairns and Marilyn Ferdinand were already tapped for the Dardos. So the Siren isn't replacing them--no sirree, they are irreplaceable--but she is adding two exceptionally worthy bloggers who, so far as she knows, haven't received a Dardos yet. If she's wrong, and they have, well shoot, the Siren can play the Dardos Shell Game long as it takes. So, two more Dardoses to:

Ivan G. Shreve for Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, because he mixes nostalgia with pungent wit, watches great movies, has cool taste in noir and because I can't stop staring at whatever the heck he has on his banner.

Chris Cagle at Category D, because he writes about film on a very high level and because his still-going-strong 1947 project is one of the Siren's favorite things in the film blogosphere.

Tuesday's New York Times has the great Dave Kehr doing what he does best: writing up a set of classic-era DVDs that might otherwise be overlooked or consigned to the nostalgia shelf, and paying due, unironic and well-argued respect to those films. It is a beautiful thing to open a mainstream publication and find a critic willing to argue for the aesthetic and social importance of Delmer Daves and Troy Donahue. The Siren does not always agree with Kehr, although she agrees 100% with this review of the Warners set, and is now thinking she needs to buy it. But Kehr doesn't condescend to the old, and thank god for that.

The Siren wants to be polite in bring up her next topic, because she is trying not to worsen her condition with stress, but do you suppose fellow Times writer Sarah Lyall could make more of a point of reading Kehr and learning from his approach? Look at this line, in a Sunday article about the Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes due in November, describing Basil Rathbone as "sexlessly debonair in the way Hollywood liked its leading men in the 1930s and 1940s." In his Sherlock Holmes movies, yes, because the role was written that way. But in Rathbone's other movies, like the one above, NO and as for leading men--okay, I won't rant, if you're reading this blog you don't need me to elaborate, just scroll down to the 20 actors meme or any other classic-film-blogger's 20 actors meme. This is the kind of line about old movies that instantly brands you as someone who needs to watch more old movies.

And that brings the Siren to a sincere memo to the extremely funny and very popular Tbogg, who has been energetically mocking Big Hollywood, the new conservative film site. An enterprise to which the Siren says, hey, rock on. But there are a number of entries about John Nolte's TCM Pick feature along the lines of "Hey, another old movie on TCM!" Which might, just might give people the impression that there is something, well, mockable about watching old movies. Clearly the Siren disagrees with that as a general premise, but more importantly, John's championing of old movies is the best reason to read the site. That, and Robert Avrech on anything to do with silent movies. Sometimes the Siren finds good movies via John, other times she disagrees, but does anyone want to argue that even the lowest-common-denominator commenters on BH--no, make that especially them--would not benefit from watching Double Indemnity? Please, Mr. Tbogg, if John wants to tell his readers to watch "Paths of Glory," let him.

Edward Copeland, a voice much-missed during a too-long absence from the blogging scene, has been back for a while, gracing us with, among other things, an absolutely classic title for his review of The Reader. (Don't drink anything when you're clicking over, I'm warning you.) Brooke Cloudbuster at The Performance Review has agreed to take up the gauntlet for this year's Oscar survey as Edward continues his recovery. This year's theme, one dear to the hearts of all Stinky Lulu fans, is The Best and Worst of the Best Supporting Actresses. The Siren is looking forward to participating.

Finally, the Siren did manage to slot her two Foreign films of the past two weeks, she just didn't post them, so she is now.

Week 3:

Sous les Toits de Paris, Rene Clair (1930). The Siren wasn't crazy about the articles she read online about this one; she liked it a lot more than did most reviewers. What they found to be creakiness, the Siren saw as deliberate artifice trying to meld silent film and sound. Beautiful to look at and marvelously bittersweet. Updated to add: Gareth has a good post about the movie, the Siren is happy to reveal. Since it is brief, I won't quote it at length, just go read the whole thing.

Week 4:

Une affaire de femmes, Claude Chabrol (1988).

The Siren owes her Chabrol addiction to Flickhead. Here, Dennis Grunes discusses a scene that also cut the Siren to the quick:

Chabrol and Huppert’s Marie isn’t Mama from I Remember Mama but an imperfect mother, a human possibility and being—a glimpse of which we get from the get-go when she administers the first of several light smacks to her young son, Pierrot. When the baby she is carrying, a girl, is praised by a neighbor, Marie responds, “I got it right with this little one.” Chabrol cuts to Pierrot, whose depth of injury at this remark, to which his mother is oblivious, is apparent to us. In their apartment, Pierrot fishes for reassurance, asking his mother, “When I was born you were happy, too?” But Marie’s response is too general, too impersonal, to reassure: “You were a boy. It is always right to have a boy.” Later, Marie will neglect both children for the sake of her illegal work or her affair, leaving them to fend for themselves during one of Paul’s (it is implied) recurrent abandonments of family or, once he has unapologetically returned, with Paul. Still, she is elsewhere shown to be an affectionate, attentive mother. Throughout, Marie Latour is recognizably, sometimes distressingly human.

Finally, the Siren has to admit that David Ehrenstein's birthday greeting was one of her favorites.


Greg said...

I was going to say that upon accepting my Dardos from Flickhead I presented it to Marilyn (which I did) but you were more gracious in presenting to Marilyn and Roderick, which I did not. I'll have to get to know Roderick's writing better but for now I can't imagine Marilyn receiving too many Dardos. I think she's one of the best movie critics around.

Also, I don't get around the MSM much so I am unfamiliar with Sarah Lyall but that kind of statement does unknowingly out the writer as one who is unfamiliar with classic film. I had no idea Clark Gable was sexlessly debonair. I confusingly thought he was ultra-sexed up and rakish. And Errol Flynn? Milquetoast. John Garfield? Wet noodle. Cary Grant? Zzzzzzz. Wake me up when Mr Sexless leaves the building huh?

I was also completely unaware of Big Hollywood. I'll have to look into that. You're just a goldmine of information for me.

D Cairns said...

Two Dardoses! Doesn't that mean you get to nominate TEN blogs?

Anyhow, this is my second Dardos (THANKS!) so I'm certainly going to award another five.

I was going to award you a Dardos as well, but you said you already had one so I thought I'd spread it around. but now I'm tempted to give you a third.

Peter Nellhaus said...

That new Warner set should have been nothing but Delmer Daves. I'm still hoping to see Youngblood Hawke again, and Battle of the Villa Fiorita the first time. The other films are on my rental queue, but then, you've known I'm a Daves fan.

The Siren said...

Peter, I made some gentle fun of The Red House but it is full of amazingly gorgeous autumnal atmosphere and repressed sexuality so really, what more can you ask? Kudos to Kehr and to you for championing this director. I can't say he is new to me, I have known most of these movies a long time, but the things I am reading on Daves lately are opening my eyes to qualities I had missed. And Kehr even takes A Summer Place seriously. That's a movie I have always liked a lot. (Where's Jacqueline? Dorothy McGuire is good in it too).

Jonathan, you crack me up. (Wake me up when Mr Sexless leaves the building - HA) I have absolutely nothing against Ms Lyall personally, I'm not that familiar with her writing either, so I didn't want to completely go ape shit but JEEZ, why do people persist in burnishing hip credentials by being dismissive about old movies? As for Ferdy, Marilyn comments at other places more than Roderick seems to, but I like him a lot. His piece on Border Incident was really good.

David, Tony Dayoub was going to name me too but I talked him out of it. My virus-addled brain means I obviously didn't notice everyone else who was nominated/not nominated so I may do a Son of Dardos: The Unnominated at some point. Anyway, I continue to worship your blog. Have you ever written up Sous les Toits? You should. BTW our takes on Come and Get It were dissimilar but as always you showed me new things too.

Kerri said...

Read that nonsense about Basil Rathbone as well and confined it to the "obviously out of her league and should be covering the latest Facebook apps" dustbin.
I'm not that crazy about the need to sex up Sherlock Holmes either. But I am aware of his physical skills from the books. It is worth bringing out I guess, but why over-emphasize it to court the action movie crowd?

The Siren said...

Addy, welcome! I think a more interesting piece might have focused on how Holmes evolves to fit the needs of each decade. You have him first done as Victoriana, then action-style and fighting Nazis in the 40s, drug-addled in the 70s with The Seven Percent Solution, Billy Wilder also getting psychological in 1970, the youth angle in the 80s with Young Sherlock, Laurie King and her feminist take in the 90s (guess those haven't been filmed yet?) and now back to an action-movie Sherlock for our terror-tainted times. And that's not even going into the TV incarnations.

And then you could give Rathbone his due, for goodness sakes, for remaining the definitive Holmes to a lot of people.

Gareth said...

I saw Sous les toits de Paris again a couple of years ago, and, like you, didn't find a whole out there on the web worth reading; it seems to me primarily a case not of creakiness but of people having difficulty imagining how the film seemed in its own time, with sound film still a relatively new development, and some directors still playing around with what it could do (or what it might not be able to do in comparison to a visual language). It's a hard leap to make at times, I admit, since film conventions, acting styles, etc. seem so different just a few years later. On a more specific note, I love the paired opening and closing shots that move from rooftop to street and back - and which seem anything but creaky.

The Siren said...

Those shots are amazing! did you write something I could link to, Gareth? I kept thinking of Umbrellas of Cherbourg when I watching it, as another movie that plays around with your expectations about how movie dialogue is going to play.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Rohmer is the great one for making what shoudl be highly stylized literary dialogue appear perfectly conversational.

Yojimboen said...

Madame – As commandé, another review of Claire’s masterpiece: Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930), Le Million (1931) and Quatorze Juillet (1932), all brilliantly designed by Lazare Meerson, fixed an iconography of popular Paris – a ‘sweet version’ of the darker Poetic Realism, full of street singers, irate concierges and neighbours, and pretty midinettes. At the same time, Sous Les Toits de Paris, one of the first French talking pictures, was a remarkable experiment in sound, both technically and in its discourse on the possibilities of the new dimension.

Ginnette Vincendeau – Encyclopédie du Cinéma Européen

Re Sarah Lyall: “This is the kind of line about old movies that instantly brands you as someone who needs to watch more old movies.” I disagree. Strongly. This instantly brands her as someone who should be legally prohibited from writing about any movies… ever. She really writes for the Times?
My god! Renata Adler lives!

The Siren said...

David, if you have specific recs I am all ears. All I have seen of Rohmer is "Claire's Knee." **hangs head**

Y, thanks so much for that review, I was beginning to wonder why Criterion bothered if no one seemed to think it was all that, except me. I need to find Quartorze Juillet. I really like Clair, his whole sensibility appeals to me. As for Ms Lyall, I haven't read her other movies pieces--if they exist, sometimes A&L has articles from people who ordinarily write about something else. It was a throwaway line and one she may even regret later, but I hate that the premiere Arts section in the country passed on this casually dismissive evaluation, not just about one actor, but a whole class of them from a whole 20-year-period.

Ian said...

Not just Under the Roofs of Paris, but Clair's work in general seems to lack the smart critical writing it deserves. As such, I would love to see you write more thoughts about it (although this might be too much for a lurker to ask?).

Hopefully 2009 can only get better.

Gareth said...

I just wrote a very brief paragraph at the time - one of those movies I found very hard to write much about, truth be told, partly because of the sense that most anything I said would be trivialising - but I read a bit about Clair afterwards and feel as though I really need to go back to it now. And I really need to catch up with Une affaire de femmes, with three of my favourites: Huppert, Cluzet, and the Occupation-era setting.

As for Sarah Lyall, in her defence she's generally a solid reporter of all things British, but her comment reinforces that sense that when it comes to the movies, everyone thinks they know what they're talking about, whether or not it's true.

Uncle Gustav said...

Siren, Rohmer's Chloe in the Afternoon is a must! Along with about seven of his other films.

Glad you got around to the Chabrol film!

The Siren said...

Gareth, that was much nicer than anything else I read! I will add link in the post in a bit.

Flickhead, I have more Chabrol in the queue. He's like potato chips.

Vanwall said...

Congrats on the awards, and oh, yeah, surviving the galloping never-get-overs. I share your Rumpole loss, it was a hard winter this year for interesting people. You have been a tonic for a great many of us who suffer from under-the-film-weather, and your clever photo fun is always unguent for sore sclerotics. Keep 'em coming, Sniffles...er Siren.

I read those two NYT articles with two minds - M. Kehr writes like he absolutely loves movies, even some that aren't viewed as lovable by many, but call's 'em like he seezem - an admirable attibute; and then there was the Lyall creature, or as babushka woulda put it, "zat dombeech", and her flacking - she should be barred from film and lit'rature discussions, period. Her breadth of appreciation and knowledge, about as fine as a human hair, gives one pause when she mentions Sherlock Holmes and any other words in the same breath out of her mouth, as to her fitness to walk and breath at the same time. Did I mention I thought her puff-piece was unintentionally funny? Well, there I said it - she has one use better then a roll of Charmin, a dubious distinction.

Operator_99 said...

I feel like an award winner that comes on stage and says "Oh my God, I never imagined this and didn't prepare anything. However, I'd like to thank..." Well, in my case, I truly thank you Siren for shining a light on my blogging efforts, and for always providing thought provoking and informative posts for a clamoring public.

PS - "We are not worthy." But I'll take it.

Peter Nellhaus said...

My favorite Rohmer: My Night at Maud's.

Chabrol: Merci, pour le chocalat of his recent films. It's been quite a while since I've reseen his earlier films though I like Les Bonnes Femmes.

By the way, I just saw Susan Slade and will have a posting next week.

Eddie Selover said...

Siren: First of all, best wishes for your continued recovery. As a former New Yorker, I know how endless winter seems at the end of January. Honey lemon tea and old movies, that's the ticket.

The Sherlock Holmes piece in the NYT. Wow. I read it with a mixture of outrage, amusement, and disbelief. As Vanwall says, it was pure flackery, and so stuffed with outrageous idiocy you could publish it in The Onion and not change a word.

You zoned in on the "sexlessly debonair" line, but my favorite was this quote from the chicklet who's co-producing the film: "So many of the ideas that Conan Doyle had took place offstage in his books."

In other words, just "offstage," Conan Doyle had villains who come back from the dead, Holmes romancing the babes, bare-chested fight scenes, etc.


On a more pleasant topic, since I know you share my love for Rathbone, let's also recall his very sexy performances in Mark of Zorro, Frenchman's Creek, Garden of Allah, Captain Blood, and even Confession. And if smart is sexy, even defending Ida Lupino in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Dear Siren, thank you so much for this great honor. I shall put the virtual award on my virtual mantle and make a shrine of it in my virtual livingroom.

I feel as if I must share the award with Dorothy McGuire. I accept on her behalf.

Speaking of Miss McGuire, I see Peter Nellhaus is planning to review "Susan Slade". Since you have also mentioned "A Summer Place", we could do a whole blog-a-thon on The Mediocre Films that Dorothy McGuire Saves Just By Being In Them.

Again, my humble thanks. Oh, and if you give February a full kiss on the lips, you will likely give it your virus. I wouldn't.

Marilyn said...

Thank you, Siren and Jonathan. I assure you, J., Roderick deserves it as much or more than I do. His depth of knowledge about film and literature leave me in the dust. You both also richly deserved your awards.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Re. Rohmer his La Collectionnuese is too often overlooked. Ma Nuit Chez Maud is of course his key work, but I also adore Le Rayon Vert (aka. Summer) and Four Adventures of Reinette et Mirabelle.

As for Chabrol my faves include La Ceremonie, Les Bonnes Femmes, A Double Tour and Marie-Chantal contre le Dr. Kha.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And speaking of La Ceremonie, Here's the lovely Jackie Bissett with her good friend, the awe-inspiring Barbara Steele

X. Trapnel said...

Favorite Rohmer (besides My Night at Maud's): Le Rayon Vert/Summer, less clever chatter, greater emotional payoff.

Message to Sarah Lyall: A good many of today's leading men would have been playing bellhops, newsies, and office boys circa 1930s/40s. Or expendable, killed off early characters in westerns or war pictures.

shahn said...

Siren, thank you so so so much for this award. Unfortunately, David Cairns already beat you to it, so I offer it up for you another to bestow on someone else deserving of recognition.

You may take it back anyway when I reveal that I'm really not a fan of M. Clair. They are beautiful films but just not my thing.
And it seems that Sherlock Holmes goes through more transitions than Nancy Drew ever did.

The Siren said...

Shahn, Clair is not to every taste. All I have to do is look at certain captures on your site and All Is Forgiven.

Thanks, everybody for the Chabrol and Rohmer recs. David, I have seen La Ceremonie and it was the movie that started my whole Chabrol kick. Also saw Les Bonnes Femmes and ever since I dream of a crazy double bill with it and The Shop Around the Corner, the other movie that got retail work exactly right.

Jacqueline, Operator, Marilyn, it is I who am grateful for constantly giving me lovely, intelligent things to read. J., we can both look forward to Peter's Susan Slade piece. Another entry for the blogathon would undoubtedly be Three Coins in the Fountain, in which she manages to be convincingly in love with Clifton Webb.

Edwards, thanks so much. I find Conan Doyle's Holmes quite sexy, always have. But for me Rathbone was never sexier than in Captain Blood, honestly he's sexier than Flynn in that one. Love to watch him lolling around on the floor with his pirate wench.

Vanwall, I am still so sad about Mortimer. It was always so wonderful to know there might be another Rumpole soon. Well, at least he wrote up the Penge Bungalow case at long last...

Gareth said...

Thanks for the link; next time, I need to remember to take some screencaps, since I had to make do with what little I found on the web.

Yojimboen said...

I know what you mean, X.T, but comparing Rohmers isn’t necessarily that promising a venture. True, La Collectionneuse has less dialogue than say, Ma Nuit Chez Maude, but that’s only because Maude has 99% wall-to-wall chat; La Collectionneuse a mere 98%. (Not that here’s anything wrong with that.)
Rohmer is an odd duck and no mistake. He wove his little Moral Tales at his own pace, with next to no budget; paying not a blind bit of notice to the demands of the market place and every single film he made speaks ever-so-softly and carries an astonishingly big stick - a weird admixture of Ozu’s formalism and Bresson’s humanism.
When (in Night Moves) Arthur Penn gave Gene Hackman the line: “Yeah, I saw a Rohmer movie once… Kinda like watching paint dry”, it was an easy laugh and to be fair, not that far off the mark. Ah, but what lovely paint.

I watched La Collectionneuse again last night. Someday someone’s going to do his or her doctoral thesis on Rohmer’s endless fascination (not to say obsession) with young girls and their constituent body parts (not just knees).
(I almost wrote girls of “barely-legal” age – but in France, that’s a relative term.)

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

I've got a lot of affection for Delmer Daves. The man who gave Genvieve Page a chance, in "Youngblood Hawke," to say "What should I call you, Young-y or Blood-y?" earns a lot of points in my book. Suzanne Pleshette is pretty terrific there, too.

But the subject at hand is "A Summer Place." One of the first things to come to mind is Arthur Kennedy throwing the brassiere -- or was it a girdle? -- out the porthole. Also Constance Ford as a memorably tart trashy mother.

Mostly, though, it's the fact that, when Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee escaped for their rendez-vous, the alibi was that they were going to see a movie together. "King Kong."

Was this, I wondered, a '50s metaphor for what Kay Kendall, in "Les Girls," called "funsy-wunsy" ... or what Swann, in Proust, called "faire cattleya"? Apparently what one did, as a '50s adolescent, was "go to see 'King Kong'."

Uncle Gustav said...

Trivia note: in La Collectionneuse, the man asking directions to the ocean is Donald (Performance) Cammell.

Noel Vera said...

Rohmer's Le Rayon Vert has perhaps the most thrilling finale in all of cinema.

And they showed Le Million again recently. Wonderful, wonderful film.

Uncle Gustav said...

Could it be time for a Rohmer Blogathon?

X. Trapnel said...


Interesting thoughts on Rohmer; my own take is that his work is an anti-gloss on Hitchcock's assertion that cinema is life with all the dull bits cut out, as though Rohmer decided to sweep up what Hitch snipped away and make what he could of it, though I sometimes suspect that he dangles all those pretty French girls before our eyes to keep out attention (same might be said of Bergman). Still, despite all the talk I think Rohmer's effectives is cinematic, particularly in mise en scene (My Night at Maud's--the dark intimacy of the apt amidst the cold winter night and the switch to daylight at the end. Le Rayon Vert--the way everything (sound, speech) impinges on the aggravated loneliness of the (sometimes aggravating) heroine. His limitation may be his concentration on the middle range of life; compare any of his films to The Dream Life of Angels to see an emotional terrain on which ER has never ventured. (Whatever happened to Erick Zonca? Another Bill Forsyth case? I hope not).
I've often wondered whether I'd find an American equivalent of Rohmer irritating.Many of his characters are bullshitters, but it sounds so much better in French.

X. Trapnel said...

CRIKES!!!: "To keep OUR attention"

Yojimboen said...

X.T – “I've often wondered whether I'd find an American equivalent of Rohmer irritating...”

I think there is an American imitator – I won’t say equivalent – of Rohmer’s: Whit Stillman. Stillman, who, while at least exhibiting the modest politeness of only making three films since 1990,(Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco), certainly gets my vote as the most irritating filmmaker in America. It may be over-praising him to suggest his work is an attempt to recreate le monde d’Eric Rohmer on our turf, it is quite possible he’s never heard of Rohmer, but I doubt it, the similarities are too striking: the male characters are pale and not-that-attractive (in ER’s case, save Trintignant, maybe), narrow-shouldered wimps at best, annoying twits at worst; and the female characters are infinitely more interesting than the males; which credo surely embodies the essence of Rohmer (and come to think of it, a top-heavy percentage of the greatest movies ever made).

I’ll grant Mr. Stillman it is difficult for most actors to portray a stupid character (Brad Pitt does it marvelously well in Burn After Reading), but in Mr. Stillman’s work, it doesn’t seem as if they’re acting. Surely after even only three features, it should be clear to Mr. Stillman that if the essence of his characters' lives is valueless vacuum, there isn’t much point in their engaging in deconstruction.

Lastly, if, as I admit may be the case, Stillman has been aiming to become an American Rohmer, he has missed by a country kilometer. Rohmer can be boring and repetitive, but he’s never stupid.

X. Trapnel said...


A nice dismantling of the pretensions of Mr. Stillman who has long occupied a dishonorable spot on my These People Must Be Stopped list (surely my negative psychic energies have kept his output low. I can't seem to do anything though to make Woody Allen cease and desist).
I'm certain he doesn't see his male characters as stupid but as "engagingly" naive, at the mercy of predatory women--a barf-enforcing formula if ever there was one. I imagine his films appeal mainly to people who thought the Taster's Choice couple (from late in the last century if anyone remembers) were sophisticated.

Vanwall said...

While reading these comments over the last few days, I've had the tube on, (I usually can't surf the net at work, so I have to be home to enjoy our hostess's largess,) and a couple of interesting films popped up and set me to thinking, as one of 'em, "Dead Reckoning", was recently dissected here; the other was "Ramrod", from the hand of the curiously singular André de Toth.

"Dead Reckoning" has some parallels to a couple of interesting efforts, one a precursor, the early missing-buddy noir, (my new classification of these kinds of films) "Somewhere in the Night", the other an acknowledged masterpiece, "Out of the Past" that came soon after, and that I watched on DVD this week. I was immediately struck by the Lizbeth Scott/Nancy Guild similarity in DR and SITN: they were not-too-successful Bacall imitations - each had very similar hair-styles due to this; each had a set of Bacall-ish mannerisms and deliberately done speech patterns mimicking Bacall's; each sang a weak effort at their respective gin goints; each failed at the effort of being someone else. Hodiak was actually pretty good as a confused amnesiac, and I like his work there better than Bogie's disjointed confusion regarding Scott's motives in DR, no doubt due to more to the script than anything else, and I think SITN had a much superior supporting cast and villain. Both films were very talky, with lots of verbal exposition, possibly because the studios weren't spending a lot of dough on visual plot movement.

That particular aspect was turned upside down in "Out of the Past" where some notable visual set-pieces really made that film so much better than DR, (and in a smart move, the Bacall cloning experiment is thrown out,) except in a couple of interesting aspects: the villains and henchmen are pretty much of the same stripes, tho OOTP has a better grip on fleshing them out; and the endings depended on the same scene, a car ride with the vicious femme fatal who shoots the protaganist and they crash, an amazing coincidence...maybe. I looked at the release dates, and even though they all had different source materials and were from different Studios, it's an interesting progression: SITN June 12th, 1946; DR January 16th, 1947; OOTP November 13th 1947 - it's like trial and error 'til you get it right - especially the car crash ending.

The tie-ins to "Ramrod" in all this for me was of course the noirish aspect, and a singular pair of supporting performances - Paul Valentine's in "Out of the Past" as the right hand man of Whit's, Joe Stephanos, a very cool and understated thug, who moved like a panther onscreen, and upstaged Mitchum a couple of times for sheer cool, IMO, and part of the veiled mayhem always present in that film. You won't see his name in any actor's memes, but I thought he was marvelous here.

Then there was the almost perfect performance in "Ramrod" by of all people, Don DeFore! I had forgotten how damn good he was here. His supporting role of Bill was a cunning, devious, lying sonofabitch, with a heart of gold hidden deep - I was frankly amazed it was DeFore, and he really worked that part for all it was worth. I never imagined him as a dangerous clever man of action, and I wonder how much of a hand de Toth had in bringing out that performance. Another guy who prolly wasn't on the listings recently, either.

I got a better understanding of "Dead Reckoning" this time around after reading all the comments here about it earlier and watching it so soon after, and the lists of actors that get thrown out around out there really should be much, much, much longer.

X. Trapnel said...

Not surprising that John Hodiak was pretty good. I always thought he was pretty terrific in Lifeboat, a performance midway between Gable and Garfield.

Yojimboen said...

"...the curiously singular André de Toth..." has for me always been that director who was 'next up', one supposes, when the next Warners project came on the schedule. That project happened to be the first major studio 3D feature House of Wax (1953) - it didn't seem to occur to the Warners' front office that it might be a good idea to skip André's turn, given that he only had one eye and couldn't see 3D.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Like Bresson Rohmer has a remarkably smooth and consistent style. So consistent that (agin like Bresson) far too many people who should know better think he's making the same movie over and over again. And that's simply not true.

The "Six Moral Tales" have many things in common, not the least of which being drop-dead gorgeous demoiselles. But Percival, The Marquise of O. . . and The Tree the Mayor and the Mediatheque are very different Rohmer siuffles. Amd that's not to mention his penultimate masterpcie Triple Agent -- a political spy thriller that hasn't recieved anywhere near the attention that it should. Here Rohmer makes precisely the sort of film Hitchcock should have made when he was doing Torn Curtain and Topaz.

As for Bresson,Diary of a Country Priest is the work of a "believer" but Le Diable Probablement was made by an athiest

Yojimboen said...

DE - Triple Agent is one of only about a half-dozen Rohmers I'm missing. On your recommendation I just ordered it from Amazon. Thanks, I look forward to it. Not least because I also agree with you about Topaz and Torn Curtain - but for me they're not just lesser Hitchcocks, they're bad movies. (Except of course for the presence in Topaz of the ever-enchantingly adorable Claude Jade.)

X. Trapnel said...

Truffaut recommended the be-guiling/witching Mlle. Jade to Hitchcock as a "Joan Fontaine type."

I am devout Hitchcockian, but bottom-drawer Hitch (Stage Fright, I Confess, Paradine Case, Topaz, Torn Curtain, and, yes, Marnie) is unendurable.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Why the hate for Whit Stillman? Because he makes films about naive characters? Metropolitan holds up. No one is telling you as a viewer that the characters are sympathetic or trustworthy or smart or...whatever.

I can understand them in many ways. The miracle is they are from a different background than mine but they are characters that remind me of me when I was that age. But plot is not Stillman's strengh, obviously.

But then again with Rohmer -- and I've seen a lot of Rohmer over the years -- you get the sense (generalizing here) that Rohmer starts with the simplest setup and some dialogue and works outward, filling-in the plot later. Plot is not his strength either.

Maybe I just have a man-crush on Taylor Nichols in Stillman's first two films?

And on the commentary track for Metropolitan, I'm pretty sure I heard Stillman name-drop Rohmer.

As for Chabrol: Story of Women is like the least intense film he made. And that's saying something.

Those Chabrol films are really things of beauty. Seeing La Ceremonie in a theater was a sublime experience with hints from reviews that something dreadful was coming in the finale.

Just mechanisms of dread. Chabrol is like Hitchcock with less wit and fewer payoffs -- sometimes just one awesome one like the end of Les Biches.

Criterion should put out Chabrol's films. Is that too much to ask?

mndean said...

I saw The Paradine Case a few times last year (it was inescapable on TCM) and I found it unendurable. Both times I was so irritated that I switched off long before the film was over. I should mention that I'm one of those that doesn't like Rope, either. I think it's as subtle as a stab wound.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Chabrol has pelnty of wit but it's of a very different strip than Hitchcock. One musn't overlook the inluence of Lang in his work, especially This Man Must Die..

Then there's Betty -- a truly great Simenon adaptation that bears no realtion to Hitchcock in any way. It's one of Charbol's best and a particular triumph fro Stephane Audran.

Vanwall said...

Ah, M Yojimben, you caught my meaning - perhaps that one eye of "singular" de Toth's saw in dimensions unwritten of. Sure was strange, tho, to have a one-legged man at the "House of Wax" kicking contest.

As much as I enjoy Hitchcock's films, almost regardless of title, I do think Chabrol has his own universe of dread and black humor that compares favorably on its own terms with any other director's output, near or far. I agree with M. Ehrenstein regarding "Betty" - and further, no one could've been a better selection for a Simenon adaptation. It's not really minor or even near-Hitchcockian, it's Chabrolian. There seems to me a tendency to interpret mystery and crime through a USA-Anglicized glass - French crime novels and suspensers have their own rhythms and conventions that are often tossed to the side if transliterated rather then interpreted carefully, and Chabrol has a nice touch with his own brand of the ordinary pushed into the out-of-ordinary. He seems to have been consistently so right up to today, and certainly many other directors could probably be interpreted thru a Chabrol lens as much as Hitchcock one.

Yojimboen said...

mn – re Rope, to quote Hitchcock from the Truffaut interviews:
“I undertook ‘Rope’ as a stunt. That’s the only way I can describe it. I really don’t know how I came to indulge in it.” […] “When I look back I realize it was quite nonsensical because I was breaking my own theories on the importance of cutting…”

VanWall – Butt ov coeurse(!) I recognized your ‘singular’ meaning! (Are you and I and our gracious hostess the only three members of the group with French in-laws? I hope not.)
I also happened to catch Dead Reckoning and couldn’t agree more. At her noir peak Lizabeth Scott was streets ahead of Bacall, Greer, Stanwyck, Tierney and Crawford – at least she appeared in more so-called noirs than any of them. Her mean-spirited “outing” by Confidential Magazine in the 50s didn’t exactly put paid to her career, but it didn’t help it either. Shame. She had class, was sexy as all get-out (that voice simply crawled up your spine like a hairy worm); and Jesus H. Sullivan was she gorgeous!
Plus (I’m told by someone who saw her recently) at 85, she still is.
Karen: I read somewhere years ago that Lizabeth’s first stage role was understudying Tallulah in “The Skin of Our Teeth” and their relationship may, repeat may have been the inspiration for All About Eve. Check ‘The Girls' my copy’s on loan-out.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here she is a few years back.

My fave is Desert Fury which I wrote about at length for Film Quarterly and can be found in Film Quarterly: Forty Years -- A Selection

Uncle Gustav said...

Siren, just a heads up: the 1992 version of Enchanted April finally comes out on DVD on May 5. It's one of those instances of a recent version trumping the original (I found the 1930s version dull and lifeless). Recommended viewing and well worth adding to your queue.

BTW, did you ever catch up with The Jane Austen Book Club?

Robert Avrech said...

on DVD's.

Delmer Daves started out as a screenwriter and boy was he good: Petrified Forest '36, Love Affair'36, and Leo McCarey's 1957 An Affair to Remember using the original Love Affair script are all beautifully constructed scripts.

His first film as director Destination Tokyo 1943 is a particularly fine work with almost documentary attention to detail. Cary Grant, in a straight dramatic role, is amazingly convincing, considering his Cary Grant accent.

Robert Avrech said...


Um, gremlins messed up my comment, let me fill in the blank space:

Congratulations on an award well deserved. Your work is a revelation and a pleasure.

Thanks so much for the kind link.

David Kehr, I tell my wife, is the single reason I spend so much money on DVD's. It's all his fault.

Yojimboen said...

Madame - Nice to see you're sitting up and taking nourishment again - you had us concerned for a few days there. If you still need a vitamin C boost, say the word and I'll ship some H'wood citrus to the Borough of Churches.

(I think it was Fred Allen who noted that California was a wonderful place to live... If you were an orange.)

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