Friday, March 13, 2009

George and Bernard: Notes on a Scandal


Do you think George Sanders could have played Bernard Madoff?

Perhaps this unanswerable question is just the result of the Siren's two current obsessions, colliding. The Siren is superglued to the Madoff case, gobbling up each new detail and discovering, to her chagrin, that somehow friends and family do not share her fascination. Well, they're crazy. This is amazing stuff. It's Dickens, it's Balzac, it's Trollope.

But, perhaps, despite the actor's affinity for 19th-century material, not ideal material for the Sanders touch. The secret to why George Sanders is still loved is no secret at all--it is the same wit and sophistication that makes Ernst Lubitsch an enduring pleasure. Only, with Sanders, the wit becomes a stiletto.

If Bernard Madoff ever made a single witty remark, the Siren has yet to hear of it. Mark Seal's wonderful article for Vanity Fair strives to give you a picture of what the company of Bernie would truly be like. The answer: boring as all hell. This is a man with a world of ill-gotten gains at his disposal, who spent his spare time meandering from country club to country club, playing golf. Who went out on boats and just sat around. Who wore silly hats at parties, but never drank. Who could have purchased the best seats in the house, but who seldom went out at night and whose stereo was, unless better taste intervened, tuned to Neil Diamond. Who dined at the same restaurant, where he sat at the same table and ordered the same thing.

This isn't a Sanders character. This is the butt of a Sanders character's joke.

And there is little evidence that Madoff ever felt the self-knowledge, let alone the self-loathing woven into Sanders' best roles. Bernie had the soul of a smug, sociopathic burgher. He liked himself.

But then again...

With Sanders, the sophistication comes with a lip curled at the less wised-up. ("I know nothing about Lloyd and his loves. I leave those to Louisa May Alcott.") What pleasure did Madoff have in life, if not the ability to smirk at his own deceptions?






Alas, the Siren will never answer her first question with finality, unless the afterlife turns out to be a perpetual casting call. And she sweeps her eyes over the present-day acting profession and still has trouble casting Madoff. (Alan Rickman? Too elegant. Robert De Niro? Too menacing. Richard Gere? Hmm, maybe...) Someone should be cast as Madoff eventually, though. This is a saga begging for a screen treatment, provided the director has the requisite subtlety and can avoid turning it into the favorite American genre, the crime caper. This requires an eye not for criminal behavior, but for social dissection. You need Mikio Naruse--someone who can examine the role of social class and money, what people will do to claw out a piece of either, how they behave when both are snatched away.

Any movie about Madoff will have to answer the most important question about the scandal. In life, that question is "What happened to the money?" On screen, it would be "Why, Bernie?" And when it comes to that screen question, the Siren keeps thinking of two scenes that come late in two very different movies, made around the same time in the late 70s.





The first scene is from Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock. A group of schoolgirls in turn-of-the-century Australia go on the picnic of the title, and disappear. Only one, Irma, is found alive, but Irma has no memory of what happened.

It is late in the term. Irma has come to say goodbye to her classmates, before her parents take her away to Europe and they never see each other again. The schoolgirls, dressed simply in uniform, are lined up to bid farewell. Irma enters, wearing a fancy red cloak. She tries to smile at her old friends. They don't smile back. Instead they approach her, then suddenly surround her, and finally begin to attack her, asking a question that rises from a request to a half-crazed shriek: "What happened? Tell us. TELL US!"




The second scene is from Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery. In 1855, the theft of a shipment of gold from a moving train has been executed in meticulous detail, only to go wrong at the very end due to the simple fact of a torn coat. The mastermind of the robbery, played by Sean Connery, has been arrested and is on trial. The judge, indulging in the lawyerly vice of relishing his own oratory, thunders at the prisoner in the dock: "Now, on the matter of motive, we ask you: Why did you conceive, plan and execute this dastardly and scandalous crime?"

And Connery's reply comes back, delivered with a tinge of contempt for such obviousness: "I wanted the money."

339 comments:

1 – 200 of 339   Newer›   Newest»
X. Trapnel said...

"This is a man with a world of ill-gotten gains at his disposal, who spent his spare time meandering from country club to country club, playing golf....Bernie had the soul of a smug, sociopathic burgher. He liked himself."

Somewhere Dickens, Balzac, and Trollope are smiling. Zola too.

Arthur S. said...

I've been tracking the Bernie Madoff case too. It's like the single story that connects the corruption and decadence of the world economy.

His fraudulence has implications in every sphere. The money he invested in charities is gone, this means that charities are hard strung in getting supplies to Africa and other places in the world. Then old people have to postpone their retirement dreams. And of course the victims include people like Elie Wiesel, Spielberg, John Malkovich and Kevin Bacon. He also supplied cash to theatres and universities and now that means money for scholarships and programmings of films and plays are on hold. Scary stuff.

I have just come out of re-watching LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE and the connection between Jules Ferry's Batala and Madoff was pretty striking to me. Batala is of course a clown, corrupt and evil in the most banal of senses. Maybe Madoff is like that. What's weird is his statement in his trial where he says that he's actually pleased that he can come out and talk about his swindling openly.

In a way what's happening with Wall Street was kind of anticipated in CASINO where the Mob run and skim a casino for years and never get caught thanks to a network of mutual interests with the union, the politicians and the local hoods but they get caught by a series of external circumstances that gets FBI attention there.

With Madoff, this external circumstance is of course the Financial Crisis. If tha didn't happen, he'd still be in his office swindling and building his pyramid and maybe furnish the tomb he can bury himself in.

Getting off my soapbox, I'd say that George Sanders isn't a good choice to play Madoff. My pick is Bob Hoskins or maybe James Broadbent. Or the Jack Hawkins of THE SMALL BACK ROOM.

Arthur S. said...

Maybe the ideal film version of Bernard Madoff is a remake/update of THE THREEPENNY OPERA, a play(and film) which proves beyond doubt that, "robbing a bank isn't as big a crime as owning one."

There really has to be a film of this Madoff case. Only the thing is we'll need rats, pigeons, canaries to let loose on how this guy carried it on for so many years and how the government and Wall Street people were fooled into this or...how and why they chose to ignore this and let it happen. There are many crooked fingers involved in this mess.

Campaspe said...

XT and Arthur, y'all are hitting on the same thing -- this is a story about society, not just Madoff, and therein its fascination. That, and the sheer scope of the devastation, and the incredible swathe of people caught up, all the way from billionaires down to small-time widows. So you also need someone who can control a large canvas and delineate each individual--so perhaps not just Naruse, but also Renoir, as Arthur says.

X. Trapnel said...

I'm wondering if a Kane-structured film would be the thing. Not with BM as the central figure (no one ever said CFK was a blank) but rather the reverse, with an episodic chain of victims and accomplices and a spectrum of motivations grounded in individual character intersecting with the social moment.

Still, Blank Bernie would be the Black Hole sucking up everything. Where is Bob Cummings when you need him? I'm sorry. I'll stop

Campaspe said...

That structure could work--hewing close to real life, where the victims are more interesting than the swindler. Madoff is definitely not Kane--Welles gave that character wit, along with his tragic lack of self-knowledge. In that, Welles was embellishing Hearst, who wasn't exactly the life of the party, either, despite all the parties he gave. Madoff also isn't Vautrin, with that character's Mephistophelian charm, nor even Melmotte, who at least had the gumption to run for Parliament. I think the dishwater-dull Merdle in Our Mutual Friend is surely the best analogy. Although Maupassant would have recognized Madoff as well.

X. Trapnel said...

No Vautrin, that's for sure, Bernie couldn't dominate anyone. A film could be constructed in which BM is never seen alone, not as Mephistopheles, but as a petty demon moving through the lives of others, a catalyst for the drama.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Bernie Madoff is a lot closer to Thomas Gomez in Force of Evil than anyone else -- George least of all.

As for current events, here's my Latest FaBlog: The Curse of Alain Delon.

As you'll see for all Jon Stewart's smarts, the person who had the skinny on all fo this eons ago was Michelanglo Antonioni.

mndean said...

The Madoff crimes remind me much of the crimes perpetrated on the unsuspecting (but greedy) back in the 1920s, and even in the early 1890s. The crime itself is mildly clever but banal, done by a generally banal man. But it is a crime of which the scale is massive. I can't possibly see Madoff as a Sanders or anything close. More an outwardly schlubby type with a core of genius for picking others' pockets with just words. A lot of it reminds me of Max Bialystock's courting of rich old ladies.

The victims are victims, but many were also complicit in that they expected that they're money should earn great returns no matter what conditions prevailed. They were pigeons of a different hue. I, who know very little of finance and the market (except I got terribly burned in the Global Crossing debacle), always was aware that anyone who claimed little to no risk was lying. Even so, I still don't blame them. Madoff's line of patter and their statements probably made them very complacent.

Campaspe said...

M., the trouble with that line of thinking is that many of Madoff's victims didn't even realize that Madoff was where they were invested--they'd put their money into feeder funds which then turned around and, instead of performing the due diligence that their investors had a right to expect, just stuck everything with Uncle Bernie.

And another interesting element was that even for his director investors, the allure of Madoff wasn't the promise of dazzling riches, it was the idea of security: steady, perpetual gains, even in a down market. Which is also illusory, but it is hard to fault people too harshly for thinking a certain fund would never go down when for such a long, long time, the market DIDN'T go down and stay down. You could go into the WSJ archives right now and find distinguished people arguing that the American economy had unlocked the secret of perpetual growth. So why shouldn't a hedge-fund manager perform the same feat, thought Madoff's pigeons?

Campaspe said...

David, HA! fabulous. I think there's room enough with the Madoff scandal for several visions, if anyone ever takes up the challenge. He could be the sort of perpetual plot edifice you got from Bonnie and Clyde or Dillinger.

Yojimboen said...

Nah, THIS is Bernie Madoff.

Vanwall said...

A very thin mint.

Flickhead said...

Late tonight/early Saturday (3/13-14), 2AM EST on TCM:

Shack Out on 101.

If you're asking, "What's that?", just record it.

If you know what it is, you probably already have the timer set.

Vanwall said...

A Whit Bissell movie! Yay!

Gerard Jones said...

Any villain played by Sanders is instantly more interesting and glamorous than Bernie can ever be. Bernie's an accountant. A shlub. A small timer who happened to be able to play his small-time games with big resources. Almost too dull even to merit a big-name actor of any sort. But a very deft bit of miscasting, Siren, to get us talking and thinking about it.

The one potentially star-worthy dramatic point in Bernie's story is the beginning of the fraud. Because he was, by all accounts, quite rich and successful as a legitimate investor. And it's not like he was just cutting corners and exploiting loopholes in the system like a Milken. He had succeeded by every standard of his business, and yet he risked it all, ultimately destroyed it all, to run a two-bit racket.

And in the process took himself into stunning realms of amorality. As one of my friends asked, "What kind of Jew bankrupts Elie Wiesel's foundation?"

I can see Steiger pulling off the crucible of decision. Lots of sweat and angst. Except he'd make it all too heroic in its intensity. There's something so inescapable small and boring about Bernie.

It baffles movie logic. In a movie, the man who runs big schemes and spreads big ruin must be somehow big. Even if he's cheap and dumb he's got to have something going on. Gregory Ratoff's bluster or Lee Tracy's oil. Bernie's like the non-descript assistant to the bad guy. Or one of the would-be respectable willing victims who kills himself as it's all coming out. One of those stuff, interchangeable supporting actors whose names you can't remember.

Except in the world we live in, Bernie gets to BE the big bad guy.

Arthur S. said...

If Bernie is Thomas Gomez who's John Garfield in all of this.

-----------------------
Any villain played by Sanders is instantly more interesting and glamorous than Bernie can ever be.
----------------------

"If you covered him with garbage/George Sanders would still have style"
--- Ray Davies, CELLULOID HEROES.

X. Trapnel said...

Whit Bissel is more than equaled by the delicate and probing sensitivity of Lee Marvin's performance as Slob.

mndean said...

Siren,
To me, expecting good returns in the face of wildly deteriorating circumstances is either extremely naive (elderly people are quite vulnerable to the idea, since they did earn relatively good returns from the '60s on, and many were then young enough not to learn the hard lessons of the Depression), delusional, or (like in the '20s) by assuming that the enterprise is criminal but that you're at a far enough remove that you can't be touched by the law.

Greed enters into this with enough of the investors that it can't be shoved aside. By now, greed is a part of our culture and the idea it is a sin has been weeded out of our dominant religion (they don't call what a lot of is preached "prosperity gospel" for nothing). None of the investors considered that they themselves could be the victims of a scam. As long as the checks came, they were content.

X. Trapnel said...

A skillful director and actor could use Bernie's nullity to terrifying effect as a sort of vaguely smiling, unobtrusive but mysteriously ever-present Nemesis.

Vanwall said...

Actually, M Yojimboen, one night at The Old Bookbinders in Philly, I watched a very, very large fella - his vest buttons must've been sewn on with piano wire - at his own table, and who resembled Mr. Creosote to an alarming degree, demolish the biggest Maine lobster I ever saw - it must've been a three to four hundred dollar bug easy, and he ate with particular gusto. He downed two bottles of wine and a baked potato as big as my head, I swear. And he had a salad and veggies, like a good boy. I was at a table of pretty good trenchermen, and we all stared in awe at this guy every so often. It didn't end badly like the Python film, and he waddled out happy as a clam. After he left, the guy on my right said "Thank God they didn't offer him a thin mint!"

Vanwall said...

"The Flim-Flam Man" had it the way it is - George C. Scott's Mordecai Jones/Madoff character is conning the Slim Pickens's Farmer Bates/Investors hick by playing on said hick's basic stupidity - thought he was getting away with a con, but that was the neccessity of his condition - greed.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Jon Stewart is John Garfield.

Night Owl said...

As Ray Davies once said: "If they covered him in garbage, George Sanders would still have style."

Bernie's a schlub who wouldn't know style if it relieved itself on his grubby baseball cap.

Paul Giamatti is a much better cast, IMO.

Gerard Jones said...

George C. Scott as Bernie Madoff...Slim Pickens as Elie Wiesel?

Yojimboen said...

M Vanwall - Apropos nothing, Mr. Creosote is a direct descendant of Terry Southern's "Grand" Guy Grand in the - to me as teenager - cripplingly funny novel The Magic Christian. The movie script was sadly bowdlerized by Southern himself and a couple of young English comedy writers named Cleese and Chapman.
Say no more.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here you go!

Ringo is so wonderful here.

DavidEhrenstein said...

It's Emile's Birthday!

The adorable little snookums is 24.

Gloria said...

Good call on Naruse for directing an Hypotethical film on Madoff... I kept thinking at Hideko Takamine's brother-in-law's thriving business in "Ukigumo". An interesting cast call for playing Madoff: Gibson Gowland? Naaah! Too classy!

incidentally there's a Sanders film titled "Death of a Scoundrel" (which I haven't seen) whose plot might have some ponts in common with the Madoff case, except the "death" thing, I imagine. (BTW, the single mention of Alan Rickman made me think that maybe, of all the contemporary actors, he's the one whom I can imagine infusing a Sanderian touch in his performances)

Ah! The Magic Christian! "Free Money"...come and get it: what a visionary film! Best Hamlet ever!

DeeLuzon said...

dustin hoffman IS bernie madoff

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ya think?

DeeLuzon said...

attention must be paid

pvitari said...

Mr. Merdle, Dickens' Madoff-like swindler, is in Little Dorrit. ;) And wouldn't you know it, Masterpiece Theater is going to air later this month a new version of Little Dorrit.

So perhaps Madoff could be played by this actor:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/littledorrit/characterandcast/mrmerdle.shtml

pvitari said...

Um, that link should be:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/littledorrit/
characterandcast/mrmerdle.shtml

Gerard Jones said...

There was also that BBC adaptation of Trollope's "The Way We Live Now." Not great, but David Suchet was pretty fun to watch as another 19th century Madoff.

Campaspe said...

PVitari, that is what I get for posting comments when only halfway through my morning coffee. I read Little Dorrit last year and somehow my fingers typed Our Mutual Friend. Grrrrrrr. Thank you for not letting that stand!

Campaspe said...

Yojimboen -- you know I adore your comments but that Creosote scene traumatized me when I saw years ago, and just seeing the opening seconds today re-traumatized me. And I have to say, part of the point about Bernie is that he DIDN'T have bodily appetites like that.

A mistress, for example, would make the man far more interesting.

Here's one thing we are all doing: assuming that a movie would have to hew closely to the real Madoff. But if we were arguing in another thread that it was best not to be too reverential to great literature, surely a film treatment of a scandal could do the same. So if the real Madoff has no wit or sophistication, the screenwriter and director could still give him some, even as Herman Mankiewicz and Welles gave Kane wit and a beautiful, sonorous voice, even though Hearst was dull in conversation and had an incongruously high-pitched voice.

But if we want pure Madoff, Hoffman isn't a bad choice at all, Dee (always glad to see you in comments). He could be really good, provided he didn't latch on too firmly to any of Madoff's tics.

Night Owl, welcome! Giamatti could certainly make Madoff's very ordinariness interesting, but he's about 30 years younger than Bernie.

Arthur, Bob Hoskins is the right age and has a bit of a facial resemblance to Madoff, too. I like that idea--Hoskins can be so, so good and I haven't seen him in anything worthy of him in too long.

Gerard Jones said...

The more I watch Madoff, the more I'm thinking Tony Curtis. An older version of Joe the saxophonist in private, Junior the millionaire with his clients, Sidney Falco in the courtroom.

He'd have to find a way to turn off the charisma, of course.

Campaspe said...

Oh hey, that's pretty inspired. Curtis is almost 15 years old than Madoff but most actors look younger than they are. And wouldn't it be one hell of a swan song? Curtis said he understood Sidney Falco, as he came from that hard-hustling NY background himself. Wonder if Bernie Schwartz from the Bronx also understands Bernie Madoff from Queens?

mndean said...

Everyone's treating this as thought Madoff should be the main character/protagonist. I just don't see it, I guess. Wolcott's suggestion was amusing and I really can see Yulin playing Madoff in all his bland cunning. Someone else would have to be made the center of any film. The problem with all the choices I see here are they really are too charismatic (even Hoskins, who'd come the closest), and would give the audience a false picture of how easy it is to be conned by a bland face/manner and a high-flying reputation. They might think the victims were conned by a charismatic hustler when it was anything but that.

Gerard Jones said...

Whoever stars, we should definitely give Spielberg the first shot at directing.

Arthur S. said...

The whole thing about Madoff's supposed lack of charisma and his banality being unfilmable is at the essence of this mess. Madoff was wealthy when he was legitimate and did this scheme because he wanted more money and more and more.

It's rare that cinema has been able to show greed at this level in detail. With a film like Resnais' STAVISKY... where audiences are invited to like Stavisky where's he played by Jean-Paul Belmondo and he wears the best clothes. Stavisky is an upstart Russian Jew in a very anti-semitic France and his swindling is likable or non-repulsive because he's at the outside of that society, the fringes who worms his way to the top. Madoff is at the heart of Wall Street.

Maybe a good idea is to remake D.W. Griffith's A CORNER IN WHEAT, cinema's first denunciation of capitalism.

Arthur S. said...

Spielberg might have regretted making CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, which makes counterfeiting just about the coolest job in the planet.

Spielberg would cast Tom Hanks as Bernie, maybe deciding to succeed where DePalma failed with BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES.

Gerard Jones said...

Somehow I don't think Steve is feeling charitable enough toward Bernie to cast Tom Hanks. He'd probably give it to one of the guys he used as Nazis in the Indiana Jones movies.

Here's what I'm trying to figure out: did Madoff actually start this game just to make more and more and more? Or did he really do it (as he claims) because he couldn't bear to show a loss during recession years? I would not be quick to dismiss the latter. The desire to seem omniscient and invincible, the terror of admitting a failure, can be powerful motivators even for the most successful. Maybe especially for the most successful.

Yojimboen said...

Two or three things: Spielberg? He the guy that made that movie about the Holocaust and gave it a happy ending?

Madame - a thousand pardons for Mr. Creosote; and a thousand more for being too subtle: that clip is only half about the grossness, the other half is about the grovelling enablers.

Dustin Hoffman - didn't he already play a French Bernie Madoff in Papillon? Dusty would never do it again; afraid of type-casting.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I've been thinking of Stavisky constantly, Arthur. It explains everything about the finacial meltdown, cause that's who these people are -- though they sure as hell don't have Belmondo's inefable cahrm and the sound of Sondheim doesn't fill the air when they walk by.

It;'scurious too that tavisky had to hide the fact that he was Jewish. In the film he's puzzled by the activist/actor Erna Wolfgang, for she delights him as a lovely young woman and challenges him as an "out" Jew.

Bernie Madoff wasn't an out-front showboat like Stavisky. That's why his Ponzi scheme worked so well. He got his name pased along as someone who "knows how to maximize investment" as he had a legit history before "Going Stavisky."
He's a dull, drab little man.

Nice point about Welles giving Hearst a deep sosnorous voice. But he;s got a lot more. Charles Foster Kane has real sature. He;s a tragic anti-hero. His faults are human. His desire to please and his show biz instincts make him a delightful "rascal" -- never more so than in the famous "flying jacket" scene where the chorus girls sing the song. The real Hearst was something of a stiff. Marion loved him, but she was as lively as the day is long with tons of friends whose wit and grace undoubtedly confused Hearst.

Huxley portrait of Hearst in "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan" is perhaps closer to the mark -- a small man who placed himself on a grand scale.

Bernie Madoff is a small man who operated on the world stage but hid himself in the flies. Not really sure how to tell his story at all at this point.

Campaspe said...

Gerard, that question about Madoff's motivations is what keeps haunting me, hence the Picnic at Hanging Rock scene. Was it greed, or the desire to cover up fallibility? Was it both? He said he always knew the day of reckoning would come, but did he really?

Arthur, David, MNDean - wow, I so totally have to see Stavisky--Belmondo, Resnais and a theme that always grabs me. I completely agree about Citizen Kane, by the by, and that is what I trying to get at. This whole mess could be approached from a number of different ways. You could look at the victims, from high to low, show the greedy, the gullible, the simply unlucky. You could do a Kane and create a figure of tragedy from a real-life bore. Or you could do Madoff as close to reality as you can get. Banal and ordinary isn't necessarily uncinematic, it just takes more talent to make it engaging. And any filmmaker will also have to come up with an answer, whether reality-based or pure fiction, to the riddle of how much the Madoff family knew.

Because if they knew something, Madoff is falling on his sword for them. And if they knew nothing, that's a futile gesture, because the Madoffs are tainted forevermore. Can you imagine seeing that name on a job application? It reminds me of a distant bin Laden relative who had a problem at Heathrow, compounded by the airline's failing to get in touch with her. And when she complained, the rep explained with delightful British asperity, "Oh come now. Can you imagine? 'Will Miss Bin Laden please contact the nearest representative?'"

Yojimboen, you make a good point about the Creosote scene, which I might have realized had I been able to re-watch it, but I just can't.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I think you've got it. The film shouldn't center on Bernie but his wife Ruth. Her story is still in process as she claims the 62 million in her bank account is hers and hers alone. HAH!

mndean said...

I've not seen Madoff's wife, so I don't know if her character is star material. Her insistence that the money is all hers may or may not stand up once the accountants unpack the con and see where the money trail went. Unfortunately, since Madoff refused the plea deal and just took the fall without informing, the authorities will have to do things the hard way. That will probably include making Madoff's life in jail rather difficult. Since the story isn't quite over, it makes it tough to know what sort of plot would fit the circumstances.

Arthur S. said...

Maybe the Ruth Madoff story is like Lorraine Bracco's in GOODFELLAS who's totally cool with her husband being a gangster.

I only saw STAVISKY...(ellipsis is part of title) for the first time recently. It's amazing because this is a very accessible film compared to Resnais' first films yet it's so little known. It has Resnais, Sondheim, Belmondo and the great, regal Charles Boyer as Le Baron, his final great role.

The film is shot in rich colour by Sacha Vierny and it's a pinnacle as far as period recreations of early 20th Century is concerned right up there with IL CONFORMISTA and CHINATOWN.

Alex said...

Actually, I might even argue that the difficulty of presenting this story (if it is a "story"), is precisely the exact difficulty film as an art form is confronting. And usually confronting this problem very inadequately, which is why the film industry is struggling so much artistically right now.

That is, film has relied on a number of narrative strategies borrowed from nineteenth-century melodrama - a reperatory that is quite limited, and whose failures were already pretty obvious by the time Ibsen and Shaw show up.

While I like Resnais' Stavisky a great deal, I don't think it provides enough of a model for us: Belmondo's Stavisky is just too flamboyant, too interesting and just too handsome (as well as surrounded by too much intrigue) to show us how to do Madoff correctly.

I would agree that Naruse would have been the greatest director to tackle the subject, but we don't have a Naruse anymore.

Arthur S. said...

----------------------------------
That is, film has relied on a number of narrative strategies borrowed from nineteenth-century melodrama - a reperatory that is quite limited, and whose failures were already pretty obvious by the time Ibsen and Shaw show up.
-----------------------------------

But Flaubert was a genius at showing mediocrity and the 19th Century is inconcievable without him. I never bought Cinema's oedipal issues with the 19th Century that people keep harping about.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Stavisky. . . was a big hit at the time of its release with more than one critic saying it did what the expensive much-ballyhooed remake of The Great Gatsby promised but missed.

Actually it tells you a lot aboit how Stavisky managed his cons, but its delivered in a number of rapid-fore scenes. Thank godness for home vidoe cause you can go back over it and take notes. What Stavisky created as

yes you guessed it

A PONZI SCHEME!

The thing was he had style -- which is why Boyer's Baron appreciated him so much. On one level he was a fool, for he shoudl have known what "Sacha" was up to as he was doing it right in front of his face. On the other he was a "man of honor" who felt it was terribly impolite to pry into people's lives without permission to do so. There's an odd species of heroism on the Baron's part in this.

Stavisky... proceeds directly from Follies both in theme and style. In fact much of the underscoring (eg. the music the band plays in the hotel lobby) consists of discarded Follies songs. Resnias lived in New York in the late 60's and early 70's and saw Company and Follies many times over. He said Joh McMartin's climatic breakdown in the "Live Laugh and Love" finale of Follies was the key to Stavisky. . .. It's about a man who wants to go on with the number even though he's forgot the words to the song.

Yojimboen said...

Thank you Mr. E for reminding us all of Resnais’ remarkable film. I remember leaving the NY Film Festival screening (1974?) and actually overhearing some moaning and carping, (apparently it was too linear for the would-be cognoscenti) “…it wasn’t like a Resnais film, it was more like a regular movie…”

One braying ass in front of me loudly insisted a) “Resnais was desperate for money and b) needed a commercial hit and c) he was ‘testing us’… Mark my words, his next film will be even more obtuse than Marienbad…”

I came this close to shoving him down the Lincoln Center escalator.

It took me years to find the sound track – finally found it on the back of the 1985 Follies in Concert – occupying the last 4/5 of CD2; weird (and in hindsight a little insulting) way to release such great music.
But it was well worth the hunt.

The moral of Stavisky’s (and, in a way, Madoff’s) grand adventure is brilliantly exemplified by Resnais’s generosity in letting Boyer deliver the eulogy/epitaph: “Imagine how he'd laugh to see the passions, deaths and hatreds he's unleashed... I understood too late, Stavisky was the herald of death... not only his own, but the death of an era.”

Gerard Jones said...

Question to the group: is Stavisky worth seeing for someone who hated Hiroshima Mon Amour and lost all interest in Resnais as a consequence? Stavisky sounds fascinating from the descriptions, but I really hated Hiroshima Mon Amour. Don't know if that means M. Resnais and I are just not meant for each other.

I think I need to explain a joke I tried to make...I wasn't suggesting Spielberg for any cinephilic reason but just because he's one of the people who lost a ton as a Madoff client.

The points about the real Hearst vs. Kane show why we need movies. The real people at the center of big public dramas are often so damned small and uninteresting.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Can't imagine why you hated Hiroshima Mon Amour but it's quite different from Stavisky. . . in style and tone. True there are some quick-cut flashbacks but Jorge Semprun is not Marguerite Duras.

Actually releasing the soundtrack with Follies in Concert was a good way to release the score as they'rew quite connected to one another.

If you get a chance (it pops up on Turner occasionally I'm told) don't miss the OTHER Stavisky movie -- Stolen Holiday (Michael Curtiz) with Claude Rains and Kay Francos. Filmed very close to the evbents it depictsin fictional form it's quite teriffic, IMO.

Gerard Jones said...

I love Stolen Holiday. I love Kay and Curtiz and I think they came together splendidly there, both do watch makes them so good in nice concert.

(Karen, hurry back from Seattle! We're talking about Kay Francis.)

I won't get into my reactions to HMA. People get mad and the air gets chilly but I still hate it. Better just to chalk it up to my eccentricities. One of these days I will try Marienbad, I swear I will. And Stavisky for sure. Thanks for pointing me toward it!

Gerard Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerard Jones said...

Corrrex above: Kay and Curtiz "both doing what makes them good..."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's a taste

Julia said...

Lionel Atwill would have been perfect.

Gerard Jones said...

Thank you, David! That's one stunning opening, all right. I nearly continued on Facebook but I think the least I can do for myself is rent it and watch it on my somewhat larger TV screen...and without the Spanish subtitles. (Which were interesting but kept pulling me out of the moment. "Oh, so that's how you say 'corridors' in Spanish!")

Gerard Jones said...

If only Bernie used his ill-gotten gains as entertainingly as Atwill...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Lionel Atwill

mndean said...

Gerard,
Re: Marienbad. I actually liked HMA, but Marienbad...I can't say I hated it, because I only reserve that for films I can sit through. I didn't make it. When I watched a washed out print of Melville's Le Doulos with bad, muffled sound, it did the same thing to me. I got around halfway through each and I was sufficiently lulled to sleep, whether I was tired or not. For all I know there was a furious gun battle at the end of each that I slept through. Either film worked on me like popping an Ambien. I never had a problem with any other Resnais film except Marienbad, but I'm not about to revisit it.

Arthur S. said...

Audiences have always had issues with Resnais because he has never conformed to their idea of him as an "intellectual art film-maker" and is perhaps the most eclectic film-maker in French cinema. So while HIROSHIMA is an uncompromising difficult work, it's also very simple and poignant and while STAVISKY... is popular and accessible, it's also very complex. Resnais has always loved confusing audiences, just like Hitchcock.

My first Resnais was NIGHT AND FOG, which is one of the most shocking documentaries in film history and which still shocks. After that I saw MARIENBAD and then MURIEL(which is my favourite). HIROSHIMA I saw a little later and not having seen it before the two films afterwards, I found it a little dated but seeing it again made it powerful.

STAVISKY... might seem traditional, in that stylistically it hommages two of his favourite film-makers Lubitsch and Renoir (and set in the period of their most active years) but the editing is just as fresh and quick as in NIGHT AND FOG, proving that he was still the "best editor since Eisenstein"(- Jean-Luc Godard).

Recently I've been looking at his early shorts. LES STATUES MEURENT AUSSI(with Chris Marker), TOUTE LE MEMOIRE DE LA MONDE and especially, the superlative LE CHANT DU STYRENE. These films are already the work of a master and for me qualify as major works in their own right.

Gerard Jones said...

Thanks for the heads up on Marienbad, mn. I'll be sure to brew some coffee. And I have a feeling there's no gun battle at the end...but I just KNOW that the corridor we see in the opening is going to turn out to be haunted by a pair of ghostly little girls!

Gerard Jones said...

An hommage to Renoir and Lubitsch with quick, fresh editing sounds good to me. I look forward to watching Stavisky and hope it will open more Resnais to me.

My objections to HMA have a lot to do with that New Novel aesthetic it incorporated...Duras and all. The filmmaking as filmmaking I can like.

Noel Vera said...

Showed Night and Fog to a group of middlingly intelligent teenagers, some of them possibly ADHD. The film does pack a wallop--one of them had to cover her eyes at one point.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Lubitsch , Renoir AND Sacha Guitry.

A scene froma Guitry play is performed in the audition scene, and it's clear that Renias is drawing a aprallel between the two Sacha's in the great scene where Stavisky walks Erna Wolfgang out of audtion and to the door -- betting that hecan make her ahppy by the time she reaches the threshhold.

Roman d'un Tricheur was a major influence on Resnais and Orson Welles (whos F For Fake is a Guitry hommag as well.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Muriel remians my favorite Renais too, Arthur, with Providence and Pas Sur La Bouche tied for second place.

His evolution from fragmented narratives to "filmed theater" is one of the most remarkable in the history of the cinema.

And among the great filmmakers I've actually had ther chance to meet he's one of the very nicest.

Karen said...

I've been away, so I'm a bit behind on this, but I have really just one thing to observe: I can't participate in this one. I respect your fascination with Madoff, Siren, but the story fills me with revulsion. Because, on top of Madoff's ruining the lives of countless people, either through depleting their own investments (Elie Wiesel???) or through nearly bankrupting institutions that aid others, he is a pre-eminent example of "a shonda for the goyim." I am filled with rage whenever I see him.

That being said, LOVED Picnic at Hanging Rock; the whole film feels like a fever dream.

Arthur S. said...

I plan to see THE STORY OF A CHEAT soon, I haven't seen any of Guitry unfortunately even I have read up about him and his reputation.

Fantastic that you got to meat such a great artist. Who looks dapper in that article I read in that magazine last month, with that gray hair-do and that red suit.

MURIEL is my favourite because it was pure film. I responded to the cutting like it was a piano performance by Glenn Gould or someone. Amazing that he went from long, hypnotic tracking shots in MARIENBAD to Hitchcock-on-Acid cutting(the opening scene in her auction office with the close-ups of topheads, coffee pots and bric-and-brac is stunning) and a great eye for soft colours. Then the screenplay by Jean Cayrol(of NIGHT AND FOG fame) is so detailed in describing the history of French society all in a small town and the visual style goes with it by locating it in a landscape in constant change and shown day-to-day. The final scenes when Alphonse walks to the train only to hear that the station isn't there anymore is stunning. Delphine Seyrig is of course phenomenal and of course as in NIGHT AND FOG, the footage of Bernard talking about torturing a girl under orders in Algeria over the footage shot in Algeria is sobering as hell.

DavidEhrenstein said...

In the late 60's and early 70's Resnais was living in new York. I used to see him around town all the time. On opening day I went to see Kazan's The Arrangelemt. Resnais and Florence Malraux were sitting next to me. Whe it was over she said to him "Well, let's go" and he said "No we're going to sit through it again!"

This was the period when he was soaking up New York theater, especially Sondheim (Company, Follies)

Arthur S. said...

I've never seen THE ARRANGEMENT, but if it's good enough for Resnais, it's good enough for me.

DavidEhrenstein said...

It's pretty good. Kazan wanted Brando for the lead, ut Brando led him his usual merry chase and opted out at the last. Kirk Douglas is at his The Bad and the Beautiful best. Deborah Kerr gives a ferocious performance as the Molly Kazan designate, and Faye Dunaway is more Faye Dunaway than ever as the Barbara Loden designate.

Gerard Jones said...

Karen, don't worry! It's safe to dive back in. We left Bernie "The Shonda" Madoff behind ages ago. Now it's all Alain Resnais. With a cameo by Kay Francis.

Yojimboen said...

Karen – In case you miss it I’ll move this up here from the previous thread.

“…But...homosexuality? Geez. Where do people get this stuff??”

I knew I’d read it somewhere – took me a couple/three days to remember exactly where this conversation got started:

Josh Logan and Leland Hayward, co-producers of the play, thought he [Fonda] was too old for the role. Logan wanted Marlon Brando, Hayward was for William Holden. But Warner Bros. selected John Ford to direct the movie and Ford insisted on Fonda. It was a gesture of loyalty to his friend and also perhaps a gesture of contempt for the work. Ford had seen the play on Broadway. When he came backstage to see Fonda afterward, he was asked his opinion and said he hadn’t paid much attention. Asked why not, he growled “Why should I look at a homosexual play?”

excerpted from
The Fondas
Peter Collier

Gerard Jones said...

This homosexual play is Mr. Roberts, right? I still can't figure out what Ford was seeing!

Alex said...

"But Flaubert was a genius at showing mediocrity and the 19th Century is inconcievable without him."

I don't see how Flaubert is much relevant to the discussion - Flaubert was explicitly opposed to melodrama. Largely because of Flaubert, the novel had spaces to explore beyond the early romantic novels (similarly, for Baudelaire and poetry).

Film (mainstream film, anyway), for a lot of reasons, was unable to sustain a figure like Flaubert. (Marginalized figures in film could have careers on the margins of the industry, but mainstream film has been unable to consistently break beyond the melodrama).

Campaspe said...

Considering that Maureen O'Hara claims she caught Ford in a passionate clinch with a "major film star" [male], it is a little ironic that he was seeing homosexuality in Mr. Roberts where apparently no one else did. I always read that he left the movie due to illness (compounded by his drinking, which at that stage had become truly prodigious).

Alex, always glad to write something that draws you out, and always glad to write something you agree with (Naruse).

Karen, I hope you don't think my fascination equals admiration! Bernie is a creep all right. I had to look up "shonda," I admit it.

I am glad someone else mentioned Picnic at Hanging Rock. It was an important step in my evolution as a cinephile. Saw it as an adolescent. The first time I saw it, I was mad at the lack of a conventional resolution; the second time, it finally occurred to me that a neat wind-up wasn't necessary for a brilliant movie. I always wondered why the young actresses didn't have bigger careers, especially the spectacular blonde who played the main lost girl.

ajm said...

I've read that Resnais played the cast album to Sondheim's A Little Night Music on the set of Stavisky (before Sondheim completed the score) to get the actors in the proper mood.

How about Alan Alda as Madoff?

Campaspe said...

Ah, I love Alda, a superb and underutilized actor. He could do it.

I am burning to see Stavisky now, must say. A Little Night Music! there's a movie version that needs remaking. Even as a musical-obsessed girl I didn't much care for it, although the Broadway score was so wonderful I played it to death.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ford's reaction to Mr. Roberts is truly odd. There's nothing in the least gay about it. Even for a service comedy about the navy it's remarkably chaste.

Maybe he thought Lemmon's Ensign Pulver was gay for some reason. That's the only thing I can think of.

Arthur S. said...

Tag Gallagher suggested that the famous actor Ford made out with was Tyrone Power, because that happened on the set of THE LONG GRAY LINE in which Power played the main role(an uncharacteristic against type casting) and Power fits the bill of famous popular movie star.

Ford's crack about MR. ROBERTS is probably another of his blarney. Or maybe it was something he planned to suggest but didn't accomplish in the film. No other director's personal comments are so hard to penetrate as Ford, Godard is a piece of cake next to him.

Alan Alda's crooked turn in THE AVIATOR shows he's adept to it. Wait that reminds me of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS...

Martin Landau is our Madoff...

The Dancing Cavalier said...

I would say that Madoff is the Anti-Saunders.

Perhaps the character actor Philip Bosco would make a good Madoff?

Campaspe said...

"No other director's personal comments are so hard to penetrate as Ford, Godard is a piece of cake next to him."

Oh man, do you ever nail it there. You never know whether Ford is being utterly sincere, deliberately misleading, drunkenly cantakerous, bored, obstructive or all of the above in the same utterance. To watch documentaries about Ford is to be overcome with pity for the poor bastard trying to get something out of him.

surly hack said...

Hollywood might be tempted to turn the guy who tried repeatedly to blow the whistle on Madoff into the hero--maybe run their two stories in parallel.

Gerard Jones said...

Landau as Madoff! Brilliant. And play it as a tragedy. The man who has everything going for except for some huge character flaw--the need to seem infallible, say--so he crosses one little line, than another line to cover that up, then another, and down he spirals, taking his family with him...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Michael Mann's The Insider dramtized a whistleblower story quite effectively.

Arthur S. said...

The interview on DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD is perhaps the most self-revealing. Bogdanovich said that when he directed those, Ford would repeatedly needle him and irritate him but he realized during editing that this provided comedic relief over the otherwise serious treatment accorded to the Great Master.

Ford was a very well-read man(one visitor on his yacht heard him talk at length at why Swift and Johnson along with Joyce was the great masters of the English language) who spoke something like 6-7 languages(including Mandarin on the set of 7 WOMEN) but he loved projecting the image of an unpretentious Irish tough guy and didn't know what to make of critics who talked about him being a great poet or master of the American Westerns. Which is why his interviews come off scatter-brained.

In Tag Gallagher's book on Ford, he retells a hilarious incident where Ford in Paris(in the 60s) had a lively discussion with a Communist(who was a fan) about why his films aren't racist and then at the end, offered the guy a rosary. He was taken back and Ford said, "I'll pray to Our Lady for you!" waving him away.

I referred to Landau specifically in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, a film about a Jewish
ophthamalogist/philanthropist who has religious issues about his "guilt" of cruelly having killed of his mistress at the hands of his gangster brother(shades of FORCE OF EVIL) and then gets over it and lapses back into "normal life". Maybe if by luck, he gets caught for that, I'd imagine that character saying that he's grateful for the opportunity to confess to murdering a woman.

Fraud isn't the same crime as murder though the effects in practise can be life-threatening on people suddenly deprived of money but I'd imagine Madoff was the same nut.

Yojimboen said...

“I always read that he left the movie due to illness (compounded by his drinking, which at that stage had become truly prodigious).”

Always a heavy drinker, Ford was in an alcoholic daze throughout the first weeks of shooting. He was curt and abrasive toward the cast, and he cavalierly altered the plot and dialog…[]…Henry was horrified. He had deep respect for Ford, a man who had not only given him film immortality but also had been a carousing friend for years. But Mister Roberts was close to his heart …[]… He hated what he saw as Ford’s trivialization of the work and as shooting progressed on Midway Island he became broodingly silent.
One night Fonda was in his cabin talking with a couple of the other cast members when Ford came to the door, his face flushed with drink, his legendary eyepatch awry.
“Well, Hank,” he asked provocatively, “what do you think of the day’s shooting?”
“I think it’s shit,” Fonda replied.
Ford stumbled unsteadily toward him and threw a looping punch. Fonda had to be restrained form knocking the old man down. After that, Henry was rigid and unforgiving, and Ford was drunk twenty-four hours a day. Jack Warner finally had to replace him with Mervyn Leroy to get the film completed.


ibid

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

"There was a time, now very long gone by ..."
-- Jenny & Macheath's tango in "Threepenny Opera"

Of course it's true about the innate weirdness of Ford's comments, but ... I think I can understand this one of his concerning MISTER ROBERTS and homosexuality.

One of the things MISTER ROBERTS, the play version, was notorious for was its display of numerous men without their shirts. [Pause for recollection of anecdotes concerning stage director Josh Logan.] There was even a shirtless photo on the cover of Life Magazine, if I remember correctly. Entirely in keeping with its story of men on a ship in the tropics, of course, but it was enough to provoke comment in those pre-HAIR days.

The material *is* chaste, of course. The imagination being what it is, though, thoughts continue to be provoked. I remember Anthony Burgess, when writing about Hugo's LES MISERABLES, said something about how when the erotic dimension is absent then, somehow, *everything* becomes eroticized.

Perhaps something similar was happening with MISTER ROBERTS?

DavidEhrenstein said...

I think you've got it!

Yojimboen said...

By Jove, she's got it!

This Life Magazine pic was captioned: Actors Frank Campinella L), Richard Carlson (2R) and Edward Wagner (R) basking in sunlamp backstage to keep tan for their roles in play "Mister Roberts."

Ford was right, dammit! Nellie Queens every last one of them! :D

Salty Dog said...
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ajm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ajm said...

[Pause for recollection of anecdotes concerning stage director Josh Logan.]

Logan also directed CAMELOT. Gene Lees, author of a pretty obnoxious book about Lerner and Loewe, noted that during one of Richard Harris's monologues as Arthur -- where he professes his love for both Guinevere and Lancelot -- there's the unmistakably phallic shadow of a sword right over his mouth...

Lance said...

Michael Caine maybe. Stellan Skarsgård also. It's important that it not be a "star" star - rather an actor's actor. DiCaprio works at this, but may be just too pretty.

The story? The people around him spinning around a high-gravity cipher.

At to directors: the solid types who don't have a "style". Or Lars von Trier.

Lance said...

Or Guy Pierce. The middle queen in "Priscilla", Elrond, the guy in "Memento", and Agent Smith.

"Hey, wait? Was that Guy Pierce?"

The Robin Williams of "One Hour Photo" might actually have the depth and restraint.

Arthur S. said...

To David Ehrenstein,

I just came out of seeing Le Roman d'un Tricheur for the first time. My friend lent it to me, it's a terrific film. Totally unique. It's influence on STAVISKY... is totally apparent as is it's influence on F FOR FAKE. And for that matter Truffaut's Antoine Doinel films.

And I don't know if he saw it or not, but Spielberg's CATCH ME IF YOU CAN looks like a remake after seeing this film. I liked that film a lot but obviously it can't compare.

Did this film get wide interest in it's day?

Arthur S. said...

But then again, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is obviously influenced by Francois Truffaut's films with Jean-Pierre Leaud so must be by proxy...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Le Roman D'un Tricheur was a huge critical and commercial hit in France and remains thelynchpin of Guitry's reputation. I have no idea if it had any impact here.

You're quite right it make a great double-bill with F For Fake. Welles acted in later Guitry films.

Hmmm. How a bout a triple feature of le Roman d'un Tricheur, F For Fake and Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train -- whose title, and funeral, came from Francois Reichenbach.

Went to a truly remarkable memorial service for the great photographer William Claxton last night at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Speeches, film clips, and plenty of music, plus Mrs. Claxton -- 60's ultra icon Peggy Moffat. Burt Bacharach played the piano and sang "Alfie" while chocking back tears. I danced to "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" with Lelia Goldoni as a New Orleans funeral jazz band played.

Vanwall said...

H'wood would only make it as an action vehicle, with lottsa 'splozhuns - Dicaprio's dangerous pursuit, possibly in the sewers and subways of the evil genius Madoff, played by Morgan Freeman in a switcheroo, with nasty Russian mobsters, threats to the Brooklyn Bridge (gotta keep the B&T'ers interested) where our intrepid hero has to cling to wires high in the sky while having a swordfight with Sean Bean (always a reliable villain) falling to his death in a "Vertigo" fall, while the real power behind the scam, DeNiro, is masquerading as a pushcart vendor, plotting the financial ruin of those wonderfully kind and generous Wall Street tycoons.

Yojimboen said...

Goddam, Vee Doubleya! It's a winner! I live five minutes from Universal, say the word and I'll run over and pitch it!

Vanwall said...

M Yo - Gor for it! Tell 'em I'll do lunch, and we're in, for a cut of the gross.

Arthur S. said...

Which other Guitry films have you seen that are worth watching? I understand he liked doing historical prestige stuff.

Did he act in films by other directors? His performance is one of the great qualities of the film.

Yojimboen said...

"Welles acted in later Guitry films...

Plus it's not beyond the pale to suggest Welles's tail credit design of Ambersons
was perhaps inspired by Guitry's brilliant opening of Tricheur.

Karen said...

OK, I've run through all the comments (SO difficult to read on a Treo; I'm glad to be home!!), and am pretty much caught up.

Siren, perish forbid that I would think your fascination equalled admiration! Never. But the whole story fills me with such anger and shame I can't contemplate him for too long under any guise. This reaction among the Tribe was beautifully captured in this NYTimes piece from December:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/24/us/24jews.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=bernard%20madoff%20shame%20jews&st=cse

There is a character actor from the '30s, who tends to play milquetoasts and functionaries, and I'm completely blanking on his name (all I can think of is Charles Lane, and I know that's not right; nor is it Donald Meek). He usually had wire-rimmed glasses and a moustache, and he's my best call for portraying Madoff. As others have noted, what is striking about Madoff is his overwhelming boringness--not even what he spent his money on is interesting--so he cannot be at the center of a film. But I would be just as happy never hearing his name again in my lifetime, anyway.

That being said--I liked the Philip Bosco suggestion, and would mention, as well, Robert Loggia.

A thousand thanks to Yojimboen for the background on Ford and Mr Roberts and for the FANTASTIC sun lamp photo, which left me speechless. And kudos to Mrs HenryWindleVale for her identification of Ford's...issues. Spot on!

Lance: I do love me some Guy Pearce, but he was not Agent Smith; that was his countryman (and Priscilla co-star) Hugo Weaving. Speaking of whom, if you've never seen the Aussie film Proof, with Weaving and a spectacularly young (and beautiful) Russell Crowe, I do recommend it. I saw it in '92, and became a Crowe devotee on the spot.

Yojimboen said...

Karen - A great part of the fun of this kaffeeklatsch is how easily we read each others' minds.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen,

If you take Charles Lane and put him in a blender with Donald Meek you get Charles Halton.

Karen said...

Oh, geez, how much do I love this group?? Yes: Charles Halton is IS!!

mndean said...

Character actor from the '30 who played a lot of milquetoasts and functionaries...where to start? Franklin Pangborn? Etienne Girardot? Ernest Truex? George Chandler? Jimmy Conlin? Frank Darien? Arthur Hoyt? Robert McWade?

This is a rich field, you know.

Karen said...

It IS a rich field, mndean, no question--which is why I love all the more that both Yojimboen and X.Trapnel got exactly who I meant, within minutes of each other.

We are Hive Mind. I am content.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Other Guitry I'd reccomend include Le Poison with Michel Simon, and Lovers and Thiesves his last film.

mndean said...

I didn't get the connection of Halton to Lane and Meek. Lane wasn't owlish like Halton. Couldn't call Lane milquetoast, either. Come to think of it, milquetoast doesn't really fit Halton so much, either. When I think of milquetoasts, I think of guys like Conlin, Hoyt, and Darien. Halton strikes me as more the officious little guy like Girardot.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd,

I'm suggesting that the blending of Lane and Meek will modify their characteristics in such a way as to produce Charles Halton. Other examples: If you put William Holden in a blender with the Creature From the Black Lagoon you get Wendell Corey. If you put Doris Day in a blender with Klaus Kinski you get Betty Hutton. A less extreme instance would be to put William Powell in a blender with Spencer Tracy in order to produce Fredric March.

Hope that makes things clearer.

Yojimboen said...

And if Teri Garr married Art Garfunkle, then got divorced and married (famous rock n roll session drummer) Russ Kunkel, she'd be Teri Garr-Garfunkle-Kunkel.

X. Trapnel said...

Scoff all you like Yojimboen. I shall create a thousand, ten thousand Charles Haltons! And they will track you down and show no mercy! Bwahaha!

Yojimboen said...

Actually I was holding your jacket.

(But two can play at that game, Sir Percy!)

I spit on your 10,000 Charles Haltons! He'll never get past one Mike Mazurki at the door.

mndean said...

Trapnel,
I always thought that Betty's excess projection was a genetic disease of some sort. Her sister was the same way.

The blender idea is fine, but all I got from Karen's post was that it was NOT Lane and NOT Meek, but it was someone like Meek with glasses. Shows my reading comprehension, I guess.

X. Trapnel said...

While the giant Mazurki struggles with the Haltons there shall follow rank upon rank of (Percy) Heltons (beady-eyed with intent)in an ever-tightenting cirle. At my signal, they shall charge, leaving only the beak and the bones of MM

X. Trapnel said...

Betty Hutton had a sister? I wasn't even sure whether she was composed of organic, genetically coded matter.

The blender is of course metaphorical, the idea being that Meek, Lane, Halton could all play the same kind of role but that Donald M's--er, meekness would tone down the acerbic, bristling Lane down to Haltonesque testiness. Likewise, the utterly bald Meek pate combined with the thinning hair of Lane becomes the Halton combover.

Yojimboen said...

I'll see your Percy Heltons and (it being St. Paddy's day) raise you one Pert Kelton.

X. Trapnel said...

Having played my Halton, Hutton, Helton cards, I'll see your Pert Kelton and raise you one Rondo Hatton

Karen said...

I am dizzy--dizzy, I tell you!--from the brilliance displayed.

Yes, Lane is most certainly NOT a milquetoast, nor ever was. I can't tell you why his name popped into my head when I was trying to think of Halton, other than their connection by given name. And Meek is, well, meeker than the bureaucratic functionary Halton tended to play. So, yes, chucking Lane and Meek in the Cuisinart may well result in Halton.

Although--and I'll happily stand corrected on this score--I tend to think of Lane and Meek as character actors and Halton as a sort of stock player, by which I mean that he rarely had toles as fleshed out as the other two.

Like, say, the shock-headed, slightly Warhol-esque young man who almost invariably played bellboys or messengers (no, not Sterling Holloway--who will forever be the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh to me, despite his appearance in films like Remember the Night...).

mndean said...

Trapnel,
Betty had an older sister, and she was in a few movies, I think mostly as a singer. Most notably she's the blonde singing with the Modernaires in Orchestra Wives. I was so thrown by her looks (and her mugging for the camera) that I had to look hard to make sure it really wasn't Betty. It was that eerie.

Karen,
I see too many '30s movies to ever be able to decipher just one character/stock actor out of a description. I usually come up with a half-dozen, none of whom may be the right one. Depends on who I've been watching lately.

I also kinda know what you mean about Halton being more a stock actor. If you look in a movie like More Than A Secretary (so shoot me, I love Jean Arthur), he's got what seems like a big enough role as a publisher, but his character is nowhere near as fleshed out as Lionel Stander's.

Yojimboen said...

Oops, try that again.

X. Trapnel said...

No, not quite him. I know who Karen means; he really does look like A. Wormhole and is typically an office boy in newspaper movies delivering bad news to Walter Connolly or Geo. Bancroft who, in turn, vows to skin Gable/Cagney/Tracy/March alive. He might then have his hair tousled if the news turns good.

Charlie Smith was Rudi in Shop Around the Corner and had a brief bit as a hepcat in Yankee Doodle Dandy

X. Trapnel said...

mnd,

If they're shooting people for loving Jean Arthur I'd better get myself a bulletproof vest or hide behind the chifferobe or (if they bust that up) in the credenza.

I haven't had my coffee yet either

Karen said...

Oh, geez, punch MY ticket for the Jean Arthur love train, too. And yes, I've seen More than a Secretary, too.

I know who Karen means; he really does look like A. Wormhole and is typically an office boy in newspaper movies delivering bad news to Walter Connolly or Geo. Bancroft who, in turn, vows to skin Gable/Cagney/Tracy/March alive. He might then have his hair tousled if the news turns good.

EXACTLY, X. Trapnel.

And, yes, mndean, I know exactly what you mean about having seen so many '30s films that the names begin to blur together into, say, one totemic dowager wearing a backless evening gown with ropes of pearls. How many names can you come up with for THAT??

mndean said...

Karen,
It'd be a lot easier if you said a dowager that didn't wear a backless evening gown. It'd narrow the field considerably.

Good grief, that picture of Charlie Smith makes him look like a cross between Eddie Bracken and Olin Howland.

X. Trapnel said...

Such dowagers also appear as dark fur wrapped conical shapes dripping outraged pearls

Gerard Jones said...

"Oh, THAT guy!" Always one of my favorite exclamations when learning about old movies. Had to go through it a few times with Charles Lane before I memorized his name. Now I get to start the process again with Charles Halton! Thanks!

Betty Hutton's sister Marion was Glen Miller's "girl singer" for years. Probably any Miller song you can think of with a female was her. Miller's main "boy singer" was Ray Eberle, brother of better-known singer Bob Eberly. If Glen hadn't died in that plane crash he'd be hiring Jamie Lynn Spears today.

The Hutton girls were eerily similar, and even lived just about identically screwed up lives--booze, lots of short violent marriages, lost fortunes, recovery programs late in life.

Gerard Jones said...

Thanks to IMDb I now know that Charles Lane and Charles Halton appeared in 16 movies together. I guess with that many credits it's mathematically inevitable, but still...I'm thinking there should be a special place in cinema history for those Double-Charleses.

X. Trapnel said...

Another triumverate of not-quite-interchangables would be Grant Mitchell, Don Beddoe, and Erskine Sanford, the roly-poly cousins of Lane, Halton, Meek. Percy Helton is too low life for this crowd

mndean said...

Trapnel,
That I mildly disagree with. I can set Mitchell apart from the other two easily. Mitchell is enough different to make him distinctive to me, even if he played similar roles.

I've got one to ask - how about dumb blonde women in '30s movies. Not conniving ones, just purely slow-witted. It's such a staple of movies of later eras (especially the '50s), but I can't think of many from '30s films. It was much the opposite, the smart blonde on the make was the '30s cliche.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd,

One possibility might be Lyda Roberti who died very young. Quite beautiful from the photos I've seen. I'm not sure whether she played dumb or eccentric, but either way with a strong Polish accent used for comic effect. but really I don't think the character existed at the time except for minor roles played by, say, Joyce Compton.

Yojimboen said...

Say this much for Charles Lane: He was probably the oldest working actor in the history of the profession. He booked his last gig when he was 100 and died at 102.
That's talent.

Yojimboen said...

"... Grant Mitchell, Don Beddoe, and Erskine Sanford, the roly-poly cousins...

You forgot Paul Maxey, the roly-poly-est of them all.

mndean said...

Lyda Roberti? The one who sexed up Million Dollar Legs? She seemed more a foreign exotic than anything else. After thinking about it, all I can come up with is Joyce Compton and Marie Wilson. And you're right, it was a character part back then. Makes the '30s seem more progressive than the '50s in some ways, don't it?

X. Trapnel said...

Paul Maxey, huh? Must confess I've never heard of him till now. I see from IMDB that he was in Till the clouds Roll By as Victor Herbert, a role requiring considerable avoirdupois, to say nothing of enbonpoint.

X. Trapnel said...

Damn right the thirties were more progressive. Infantalism has replaced sophistication as the ideal of popular culture. In some ways it started with the dumbest of the dumb blonds, the ever-tiresome Marilyn.

mndean said...

Paul Maxey? Now really I have to object. Grant Mitchell was a bit stout in his later days, but he was a rail compared to a guy like Maxey.

I wouldn't go too far with that line about the '30s being more sophisticated. In sexual relations, yes. Race relations, hooboy, it's a flip the other way. Retrograde sex relations in postwar film makes me want to roast a generally well-liked writer and director - Frank Tashlin. I saw another film he wrote today, and although he may be funny at times (I'm not a fan), how any woman can find him anything but insulting is beyond me. I suppose the fact that he insults men nearly as much is supposed to make it alright or something.

X. Trapnel said...

Race relations obviously not, but let's not forget that the civil rights movement long predated the 60s and the 30s was a great period in black culture. A pity the movies then missed it all.

Regarding Tashlin; isn't this stuff really the fons et origo of those dire 60s comedies that surfaced in the last thread? Or perhaps the reductio ad absurdum of Billy Wilder?

mndean said...

Trapnel,
I always thought along similar lines, and I like the idea re: Wilder, it seems apt. Something about the leering 50's office comedies led to the bad '60s run of comedies. In form, they are rather alike. At the same time, youth culture was on the ascendance and Hollywood didn't know how to deal with that, either. That led to another, parallel run of bad films. Sometimes I'm amazed there were any good comedies made in Hollywood in the '60s.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd,

Wrack my brains though I might, I can't think of ANY good comedies from the sixties. The Blake Edwards stuff? Neil Simon and other stage derivatives? Don't care for any of that much myself. What am I forgetting?

How odd that Lubitsch was a Berliner and Wilder Viennese. It should be the other way around, no?
("Nobody goes to Berlin voluntarily"--Joseph Roth)

Karen said...

I, too, object to Grant Mitchell in that triumvirate. He had much larger parts and, to my mind, greater name recognition.

On '60s comedies and Frank Tashlin: yes, Tashlin is revolting. REVOLTING. When I see his name in the credits, I always know I'm in for something puerile and sophomoric and, potentially, misogynistic (albeit the clueless misogyny of the times).

I'm not sure there were no decent '60s comedies, though. I'm looking over my own collection from the '60s, and I see Dr Strangelove, A Hard Day's Night, King of Hearts, and The Producers. Granted, only the last of these likely fits "Hollywood comedy" in stricto sensu, but I think they're all comedies in a larger sense.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Tashlin had the Lubitsch Touch!

Vanwall said...

1960s gem of comedy: "The Jokers". I'd put "I'll Never Forget What's'Is Name" in there, too, as a black comedy. Say what about "The Wrong Box", as well? All these clever Brit chaps had the funny ones, eh? Tashlin came from the comics world, bastion of headlight women and steroidal men, so that sez it all.

X. Trapnel said...

I've always regretted the deletion from Laura of Grant Mitchell's role as the pricelessly named art dealer Lancaster Cory.

I doubt if it's possible to come to any kind of consensus on 60s comedy as one can on 30s/40s. I must confess I everything on Karen's list to be largely laff-free exercises, admitting that Dr. S and Producers have their moments. All too far from the recognizably human, though I'm obviously in the minority here.

Gerard Jones said...

Sorry to correct, but Tashlin was an animation guy, not a comics guy. Spent years knocking around Disney, Terrytoons, Warners' "Termite Terrace", and other cartoon factories, picking up gag work from Hal Roach, the Marx Bros and others. So no musclemen or headlights, but an endless series of high-speed physical gags. The boob obsession first appeared full-blown in his movies. Although I assume he must devoted a lot of thought to the theme in private.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Get ahold of a copy of the BFI Frank Tashlin book -- a critical antohology which contains contributions by yours truly.

Gerard Jones said...

The thing about '60s comedies (to me) is that the ones I like are quite atypical for '60s comedies. I like some of Billy Wilder's later stuff (One Two Three, Kiss Me Stupid), a few movies that were moving into a '70s style (Take the Money and Run, Producers, maybe Twelve Chairs), and some idiosyncratic things like Dr. Strangelove and Hard Days Night (thanks, Karen).

Anything expressing Hollywood's vision of Swingin' Sixties Laffs pretty much blows. Even when Woody Allen writes and appears in What's New Pussycat it's very '60s and pretty lousy. When the Beatles got talked into doing a Hollywood comedy (Help!) they lost all their charm.

When I was a kid I loved Edwards' Clouseau comedies, but an attempt to show A Shot in the Dark to my son recently led only to embarrassment. A couple of inspired moments of Sellers nonsense, but even those were weakened by the glossy palette, conventional framing, and dull context.

One I've never seen that some people say is "the good one" is Lord Love a Duck. What's anyone think of that? And it's been a long, long time since I've watched Rock & Doris. David's recent praise has me curious to try them again, this time with a more open mind.

I agree that the Brits were better. I'll add Morgan and Bedazzled, the latter being awful (and too Hollywoody) at times but occasionally (when it was just Cooke & Moore doing their shtick) brilliant.

Gerard Jones said...

David--I'll happily hunt for that book and read whatever you have to say about Tashlin. Just please don't make me listen to Jayne Mansfield giggle again. (Brrrr!)

Vanwall said...

Gerard - animation and comics are blood relations, and share the same basic underlying motivations, in my opinion - I've known a few animators that fit the bill, and every year at ComicCon it's reinforced - graphicly.

"Lord Love a Duck" has its moments, too, and certainly isn't the usual H'wood comedy.

I always thought "Help", as frenetic as it was, owed much more to British music hall heritage, Oxford/Cambridge college comedy work, and the colonial "wog" aspects of the Empire, than anything else. It has elements of Pythonesque bit pieces all thru, as well. It wasn't so H'wood-ized as it was unorganized.

I'd throw in "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" as a picaresque comedy western in as a 60's film - right on the edge by date, I think.

Gerard Jones said...

Vanwall: Comics and animation are deeply interlinked now, especially since the big talent flood out of comics and into animation in the late '70s. But a guy doing gags for Leon Schlesinger and Ub Iwerks in LA in the '30s had nothing to do with the guys drawing musclemen and headlight-sporting dames for comics publishers in New York. The industries had separate origins and basically no talent crossover. By the time the comic-book superheroes and headlights were entrancing pre-adolescents in '38 and '39, Tish-Tash was already a cartoon gag veteran on the other side of the country. If he ever read a comic book I doubt he took any inspiration from it.

Don't mean to get defensive, but comic books have been blamed for so much that's wrong with the world: juvenile delinquency, illiteracy, the dumbing-down of American culture, militarism, the death of good action movies. I hate to see them blamed for Frank Tashlin too!

Gerard Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerard Jones said...

I think you got me on Help, though. I've always lumped it in with bad Hollywood comedies of the time just because...it's bad, I guess. And it's in color. But yeah, looked at in terms of music hall silliness, the Goon Show, Tom Jones, Carry On movies...it's very English, isn't it? Just a reminder that things can be English but not in a good way.

Another comic casualty of the '60s: Jacques Tati. Playtime bored me to death. A phenomenon that knew no frontiers.

Yojimboen said...

The European POV:

"Although Cahiers had never published a study of Tashlin, Godard had reviewed some films by Tashlin for the magazine in glowing terms as early as 1956, comparing him to Voltaire, Fangio, Flaubert, Hitchock and Lubitsch."

Frank Tashlin Tribute
Various authors
Edinburgh Film Festival 1973

Gerard Jones said...

Oh, those French!

Vanwall said...

Gerard - I beg to differ on a number of points, as one discipline, comics - not just comic books, as I'm aware of the timeline - being the origin of the other: a clear connection is obvious from Gertie the Dinosaur on, but both industries were and are essentially overly-male-dominated, and there was considerable cross-over from the newspaper-based graphics world to the animated one - the original Betty Boop comes to mind readily as an example of the former, and Alex Raymond and other strip artist's influence on portrayal of women as an example of the latter. I'm not blaming comics for anything, as I believe as you do on the blame game being played, just pointing out the gag writers and artists were a good ole boys club - too many interesting x-rated things were passed around from those days to make me waver on that point. Tashlin would've fit right in on the Ren & Stimpy crew for some of their adult gags.

X. Trapnel said...

Tati, yes and also Zazie. Those blasted Frenchies...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Hereare two key clips from Lord Love a Duck:

One

and

Two

Tuesday, needless to say, is Beyond Sublime.

Yojimboen said...

"But a guy doing gags for Leon Schlesinger and Ub Iwerks in LA in the '30s had nothing to do with the guys drawing musclemen and headlight-sporting dames for comics publishers in New York."

Not so fast, Kimosabe!

"The subject matter of Artists and Models also distiguishes it as a caroonist's movie. It's ostensibly about comic books - Tashlin in fact drew a comic strip in the 1930s"

ibid

DavidEhrenstein said...

Artists and Models

Gerard Jones said...

Yes, I love Tuesday! In fact, LLaD is one of the few movies of hers I haven't seen, because I haven't wanted to suffer through seeing her in a '60s sex comedy. Watching her in Bachelor Flat (directed by you-know-who) just made me sad. Maybe it's safer than I feared...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Lord Love a Duck isn't really a sex comedy. It's a version of Faust (with Roddy as Psycho-Mephisto) and a satire of Southern California living cira 1966.

Gerard Jones said...

Oh, and that reminds me of another movie that I think should take some blame for the '60s: Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys. Some elements I like, others I want to like, but overall, I think, a major pull away from farce and satire to smarmy self-satisfaction, cultural complacency, and forced sentiment. I suspect it, along with Mr. Roberts, opened the door to all those governmental and military "spoofs" that tried to have everything both ways and came up with nada.

Karen said...

I only saw Lord Love a Duck recently, and I was blown away by it. But I think that it, like Dr Strangelove and A Hard Day's Night (thanks, Gerard!), falls into the idiosyncratic.

I would place a tentative vote for Cat Ballou, which I haven't seen since I was very young. I thought it was hilarious then, but I'm not sure if it--like Inspector Clouseau--really holds up.

And I have to go along with Gerard on the animation/comics split. Especially if you divide comics into newspaper strips vs cone-breasted-women comic books. Winsor McCay and Gertie (and McCay, being a genius of an order few reached, should not be taken as representative of anything)--like the Fleischer Brothers and Popeye/Betty Boop--definitely fall into the newspaper portion of that divide. It was a while before Caniff-like women broke into the funny pages, and they were really always more suited to the pamphlet form.

But that's almost a digression.

I see from IMDb that Tashlin started as a gag writer for Charley Chase at the Hal Roach studios, went to the Van Beuren animation company, where he directed cartoons like Hook & Ladder Hokum, thence to Leon Schlesinger and the Looney Tunes bunch, where he stayed through the mid-'40s (here's an example). He then starts with Bob Hope comedies in the '50s--The Lemon Drop Kid, Son of Paleface--which definitely have the Looney Tunes mentality, and first dips his toe into sex comedies with Susan Slept Here (which I confess I enjoy, despite the creepy That Hagen Girl vibe, just because I really love both Dick Powell and--to a lesser extent--Alvy Moore), before diving in with crap like The Girl Can't Help It. And, although IMDb does say he did a comic strip in the late '30s lampooning his Van Beuren boss, that trajectory just doesn't track with what was happening in comic books at the time.

Vanwall said...

Karen - McCay was only my answer to origins - the man invented the practical medium of animation (and was ripped off by lesser men for his troubles), and for cartoon body somatypes, all I can say is, Warner Brothers women were very vavavoomish - ask that Wolf character about his eye problems - and the Blue Fairy, and hell, Tink, were ultra feminine. Not that Tarzan and Prince Valiant had plain janes to run around after, either. Oh, and Dixie Dugan had a built, as they used to say, to say nothing of Britain's "Jane" strip - she lost her clothes every week, seemed like.

mndean said...

I can enjoy comic strips and animation for being what they are, but when movies started getting infected with that ethos, it wasn't such a positive force. Sophisticated satire turned to crude lampooning. I don't blame any one specific person, either. Tashlin just stuck out more because he brought more of the crudity of the style into live action film. When cheap laughs were rewarded with big boxoffice, that was pretty much all we got.

I look at '60s comedies as "turn off your brain" movies. If I were to think about most of them while I watched, I'd never finish one. Some are funny, very few are witty.

X. Trapnel said...

Vanwall, thanks for the tip on Jane.

"Never such innocence again"--Philip Larkin

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Sixties comedies that have left a positive impression for me include:
"The Nutty Professor"
(which probably counts as Tashlin-once-removed)
"The Graduate"
"The Tiger Makes Out"
(even though what I remember was a mess -- but containing virtues)
"The President's Analyst"
"The Loved One"
"Head"
"The Knack"
"Bedazzled"
... and, of course, "Two for the Road."

[Note to self: does it only count as a "comedy" if the film stars a front-and-center comic, or is a large swath of comedy enough to make a film qualify?)

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Oh, yes, and "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice."

DavidEhrenstein said...

In Memorium

DavidEhrenstein said...

To that list of 60's comedies I would add Joe McGrath's The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom

mndean said...

I watched The Nutty Professor the other day, and it was still funny but not as funny to me as it was 20 years ago. The Graduate I like until it turns virtuous. By the time he grabs that cross, holy mother of mercy I'm outta there. The President's Analyst to me starts well, but then slowly loses its mind. Those labored phone company jokes grate on my nerves, as do the cartoon suburbanites. I found The Loved One and Bedazzled alright (for some reason I've liked pretty much every adaptation/parody of Faust). For me, Rock & Doris are okay (they're at least recognizably adult), but like all business executive comedies I can only take one or two a year. More than that and the infantilism and sense of entitlement grates on my nerves.

Yojimboen said...

XT – Don’t go too excited about Jane - she only got mostly nekked most of the time. Didn’t go all the way (full-frontal sorta) but one time in 1943 when Churchill put in a special request to ‘help the troops general morale’.

It worked. The US Army newspaper Roundup commented: “Well, sirs, you can go home now… Jane peeled a week ago. The British 36th Division immediately gained six miles and the British attacked in the Arakan. Maybe we Americans ought to have Jane, too.”
(The Penguin Book of Comics 1967)

Here’s some background and a lovely shot of Jane’s model and creator.

Gerard Jones said...

Karen & Vanwall, I think I see where we're all tripping over details. When V wrote of "the comics" and their steroidal men, I thought he was envisioning Tashlin drawing adventure comics alongside Joe Shuster and Jack Kirby, and I was just making the point that in fact he was making up funny-animal gags alongside Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett. The true antecedent of Tashlin's manic antiheroes is Bugs Bunny, and the true antecedent of his undulating bombshells is...well...Bugs Bunny. In drag.

But I think V makes good points about both fields being dominated by the young boys club and its perpetually adolescent view of men and women. Just that in one tradition it's the he-man's strength and passion that's amped, in the other his appetites and impulses; in one the headlighted dame is an object of desire, in the other a dirty joke. In both, the aesthetic is about color, noise, and speed.

In terms of origins: American animation came mostly out of the newspaper cartooning of the 1890s and early 1900s. Not just McCay but J. Stuart Blackton, Max Fleischer, Paul Terry, Raoul Barré, and everybody else were cartoonists for New York or Chicago daily papers--not necessarily doing "comic strips," often doing editorial cartoons, spot gags, and illustrations of news stories, but always with the emphasis on lightning-fast sketching and physical humor. (Even McCay was an incredibly fast draftsman and would whip out any kind of drawing the Hearst papers needed.)

At the time there were no adventure or "serious" comics, and a Victorian decorum prevented any sexual exaggeration, so what those newspaper cartoonists mostly brought to animation were absurd transformations and violent sight gags. They also started borrowing quite self-consciously from live-action slapstick.

By around 1915 animation had become an industry unto itself, and the rising new generation of animators mostly went straight from high school or art school to movie cartoons without the newspaper apprenticeship. One of those kids was Gregory LaCava, who went straight from the Art Students League to animating for Raoul Barré to running Hearst's animation studio in his early twenties.

That's where guys like Tashlin come in. He was still a teenager when he started drawing for Paul Terry, his first real mentor. (Terry was a Hearst cartoonist who was inspired to get into animation by McCay, whom he worked with.) By now we're talking about '20s kids, watching what movies and magazines were increasingly getting away with, so they pushed their cartoons into increasingly naughty gags. Betty Boop was created and increasingly sexed-up by a bunch of guys in their 20s who loved seeing how far they could push the bounds of prudery. (Her creator/designer had started as LaCava's assistant, actually.)

Pretty much all the dominant names from "Golden Age" animation came up through the same channels around the same time--Disney, Iwerks, Hanna, Barbera, Walter Lantz, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery.

The adventure comic strips (and superhero comic books that derived from them) branched off the same Hearst-newspaper-cartooning tree...but after animation had already split off. (Which is what Karen was saying, I think?) While film cartoons were pursuing the rude gag to its logical ends, cartoonists charged with raising daily newspaper sales were creating adventure serials and more "serious" heroes kids could bond with. So the final product (Bugs Bunny v. Superman) looks very different, but Vanwall is right: they were all different expressions of the sensibilities of teenage boys who liked to draw cartoons.

And there was a lot of cross-pollinating, of course: Popeye, a humor-adventure newspaper strip was adapted into cartoons shifting the emphasis to silly violence and oblique sexuality--and those cartoons helped inspire the teenaged Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to create their absurdly powerful "Superman" and thus the whole "superhero" genre. Bob Kane and Jack Kirby were also big fans of the Popeye cartoons, and both worked as "in-betweeners" for Fleischer animation, working on Popeye and Betty Boop, before going on to create Batman and Captain America respectively.

I hope that wasn't too much information. I tell you, I could write a book about this stuff!

Yojimboen said...

Wow. Go for it GJ – there’s definitely a book there; shee-it, you’re half-way through chapter two!

Though I’m not 100% on board with all you say, on such short notice, that’s a helluva piece. Hats off.

Where do I disagree? Personally I track everything (post Yellow Kid or Katzenjammer Kids) back to one source: (okay two… Winsor McCay and) George Harriman.

Excluding McCay’s Gertie, but from Disney’s Mickey Mouse on, through Freling/Clampett’s Porky Pig, Avery/McKimson’s Bugs Bunny and especially Hanna/Barbera’s Tom and Jerry, I foolhardedly submit that hanging over all this foolishness was the inimitable spirit and palpable influence of George Harriman.

Someone once defined ‘a genius’ as someone who simply cannot be imitated. That was Harriman. And his unique creation Krazy Kat; the greatest comic strip that ever lived.
(And the only comic strip Hearst let die with its creator.)

As much as I adore Avery, Jones, Tashlin, Clampett and the rest, they were limited. I believe they all wanted to be as clever as George. Some of them almost were; some were knock-down-smash-through-the-wall-pee-in-your-pants-funny, but they were never as smart as George H.

Only Harriman (and McCay) understood the strength, the value and the majestic beauty of irony; understood it like few, if any (Lubitsch always excepted), have understood it since.

Pete Lawson said...

What a relief to find that I’m not the only one left completely cold by Tashlin’s live-action work. Sexual politics aside, they’re just so boring – it’s telling the only bit from any of his films to have stuck in my mind is not something that made me laugh, but the scene in ‘Hollywood or Bust’ where Dean Martin more or less rapes the ingénue.

As a cartoon director though, I think he was marvellous. ‘Nasty Quacks’, ‘Plane Daffy’ and a dozen or so other of his Warner cartoons are, in my view, as wild, inventive and funny as almost anything by Avery, Clampett or Jones. I just don't see enough of that spirit in his features.

I’ve only taken cursory looks at Harriman’s stuff in the past, but after that write up, Yojimboen, I’ll have to investigate further.

I was just trying to think of 60’s comedies I enjoy, and it occurred to me that they’re all ones starring and/or helmed by people who were much funnier in other media. I like ‘The Rebel’, ‘Bedazzled’ and ‘The Producers’ well enough, but I wouldn’t waste a moment in throwing them overboard if it meant ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’, ‘Not Only But Also’ and the ‘2000 Year Old Man’ albums could stay on the raft.

Gerard Jones said...

Herriman was a genius, no two ways. And a lot of smart people appreciated him--not so much the general public, but the culture bugs. And Hearst, who kept the strip going for years when reader interest flagged. But I don't know that he was much of an influence on the young cartoonists trying to make their names in movie cartoons. I think we'd see more efforts at irony if he were. Wouldn't surprise me if Jones was thinking about Krazy Kat, but the Averys and Tashlins...I'm thinking not. But I could sure be wrong.

Gerard Jones said...

Interesting how we can all see Tashlin as a cartoon hand, but what about LaCava? I can see a cartoony quality to My Man Godfrey. Maybe even more to Gabriel Over the White House...

Gerard Jones said...

Pete: That's a really good point about how good American comedy was in those years...except in the movies. There was even some good comedy on TV. I'm thinking the problem was studio culture. Risk-averse old guys trying to plot how to reach the biggest coalition of ticket buyers.

mndean said...

Gabriel Over The White House, hmm. Maybe that's why it didn't do a thing for me. Those Walter Huston Man Of Stern Authority pictures of the early '30s aren't my cup of meat. They all seem a bit fascist. La Cava's The Half-Naked Truth was much more enjoyable, especially with the very sympathetic performance of Eugene Pallette. I don't really see the cartoonish quality in My Man Godfrey so much, but he made Lombard more popular by turning her into a silly ditz (Paramount may have misused her, but they never made her look stupid). I do like the way she talks faster than she thinks, and she made the most of that role.

mndean said...

Re: Lombard, it reminds me of one other oddball genre - what I call the mood-swing film. It starts out as though it will be a film in one genre and turns into another, usually darker one. Sometimes the flip is rather sudden. I've seen a few from the '30s - Rendezvous, Kind Lady (a film I saw today, very weird for those times), and The Princess Comes Across seem to fit. The change in tone doesn't seem to work well.

Karen said...

Yojimboen, Gerard DID write a book about it; he's just being modest. He's the author of the terrific Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, a book I cannot recommend highly enough.

Gerard Jones said...

Thanks for the plug, Karen! That book's about the comic book end of it all. What I know about animation and newspaper strips is still just a pile of notes I haven't been able to use yet...except in blog comments...

Gerard Jones said...

I like the category "mood swing film," mndean. Seems like there were a lot of them among the quicker, modest-budget movies of the early-mid '30s. Sometimes I suspect it's just about too many cooks or whimsical executive decisions. Other times it seems like there's a dramatic purpose, e.g. showing us that life and love are fun and carefree at first, but then...life changes. Babies die. Husbands fall for blondes. Someone coughs (and you know what that means!) Too often, though, the swing happens so quickly that they feel downright bipolar.

I've always found Made for Each Other surprisingly jerky in tone for such an "A" movie. The airplane bit at the end feels like someone ran the wrong reel.

Then there's the weirdly dissonant ending. Upperworld left me with a strange feeling, as we're asked to celebrate the "happy ending" of Warren William and Mary Astor recapturing their domestic bliss despite the fact that poor little Ginger Rogers had to die to make it happen.

mndean said...

Ah, yes. Made For Each Other is another I can get behind. You're right about it being primarily a B picture phenomenon, although The Princess Comes Across is an A as well. I found Kind Lady near-psychotic in its approach - it even used an old silent horror technique (that of the sinister baddies slowly encircling the hapless victim - it was so inappropriate I thought she'd wake up to find it all a bad dream).

Never saw Upperworld - haven't had TCM long enough to have seen it, and despite its reasonably good rep, I was more interested in a couple of other early Warren William films. So I never chased down a copy. I never could find anyone with copies of the two I wanted, either.

mndean said...

Dissonant endings are a lot more common, and often (though not in the case of Upperworld) are a result of code compromises.

Gerard Jones said...

Upperworld has many nice moments. Ginger is very charming. And I find Warren William endlessly fascinating to watch in just about anything. I've burned several DVDs (for Personal Use Only) of his movies off TCM. Perhaps we could arrange something.

Did you see Skyscrapers Souls when TCM ran it recently? Not especially coherent or cohesive, but it's a great slice of time, and WW gets some nice moments.

Yojimboen said...

GJ - I can't cite the source, but I did read once an interview with William Hanna (it may have been Barbera) where he was asked about Tom and Jerry and Krazy Kat. His answer - not his exact words: "Ah, you found us out, everything begins with Krazy Kat."

Not that that should be taken too seriously, he may have been kidding.

But re my last comment, lest I be taken too seriously, or worse, lest I seem too pretentious ("too late", they cried in unison), when I say they all wanted to be George Harriman, that's meant metaphorically?

In the same way that every screenwriter who comes to Hollywood wants to be Ben Hecht.
But not all of them know it.

mndean said...

Gerard,
I recorded Skyscraper Souls, but hadn't got around to watching.

Yojimboen,
I would've thought that a writer going to Hollywood would rather be Sturges than Hecht. When Hecht directed, it seemed to come out pretentious.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Half-Naked Truth is truly wonderful. The great Lee Tracy plays a carnival barker whoe tries to pass cooch-dancer Lupe Velez off as an exotic foreign princess. They're surprisingly successful at it.

it could easily be remade today with Neil Patrick Harris in the Lee Tracy role and Britiny Spears as herself.

surly hack said...

My limerick written to accompany "The Furies" by Slavko Vorkapitch, used in Skyscraper Souls:

A Dame Inflamed

There's nothing like Woman when scorned
A Fury, with rage unadorned
Mere graphs cannot measure
this distaff displeasure
Don't say that you haven't been warned

X. Trapnel said...

Many thanks, Yojimboen, for the Jane scholarship and photo, and thanks also to the British 36th Division (now I know what Dostoevsky meant when he said "Beauty shall save the world"). As all painters know partly nekkid accentuates and enhances this particular subject (NOT object! "The nude is the painter's love poem"--Paul Valery)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Claudia!

Gerard Jones said...

Yojimboen, no question that Krazy Kat was the model for Tom & Jerry. Surely influenced Mickey Mouse (whose original nemesis was the feline-ish Pegleg Pete) and Felix the Cat too. It was indeed Herriman who proved to the world that you could spin endless stories out of little more than the battle between cat and mouse (with support from a bulldog). I thought you were talking about the aesthetics more than the situation. I think the approach to the stories and gags taken by Hanna-Barbera, Disney, Avery, Tashlin, etc. was from a less sophisticated comics tradition.

It's fascinating to read Herriman pages from 1916 that feel like responses to the decades of Tom & Jerry, Sylvester & Tweety, Mickey & Pete. It's as if the deconstruction came before the construction. (But of course there was a long tradition of anthropomorphized animals spoofing human traits before the cartoons.)

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