Monday, May 04, 2009

Foreign Film Resolution, Weeks 11-14

Yeah, I'm still behind. And in some kind of Gallic rut, although I didn't realize it until I wrote this up.



Les Enfants Terribles (1950), Jean-Pierre Melville (screenplay by Jean Cocteau)

The Siren thinks of a certain romantic plot device as very French: One figure, usually a woman, is loved madly by several other characters, as in Jules et Jim, Les Enfants du Paradis, even La Règle du Jeu. Les Enfants Terribles, however, belongs to a subset, along with Les Voleurs and Les Amants du Pont Neuf. In these films, everyone is madly in love with one character, and the Siren has no idea why because she (in this case he) is a sexless, soul-sucking, nerve-grating drip. (Mr. C's equable response, when the Siren made this complaint: "Yes, and maybe that is what the films are about. Loving a drip.") The Siren recognized Les Enfants Terribles as a good movie, well-scripted and directed, hypnotic and splendidly individual. But the characters wore her to a frazzle.


[Nicole] Stephane dominates the film: She's like a baby Leni Riefenstahl petrified of losing her grip on her tiny kingdom. The last few reels get slow and hypnotic, until the ending builds up to a theatrical crescendo of emotion and climaxes with a tall screen clattering to the floor (Melville's idea). A truly unique movie, Les Enfants Terribles feels both insubstantial and overpowering, like Chet Baker singing "Let's Get Lost" to an empty ballroom.
--Dan Callahan, Slant Magazine



La sirène du Mississippi (1969), Francois Truffaut.

Despite the Siren's obvious affinity for the title, and several critics' insistence that its lousy reputation is undeserved, the Siren found this a Truffaut misfire. The film began well and the Siren was happily involved for about the first 40 minutes. But once they left the island of Reunion and Deneuve and Belmondo took folie a deux into high gear, suspense and finally interest withered and died. Deneuve does a very nice segue from high-toned con artist to plain old guttersnipe but her chic wardrobe kept undermining her. However, if you are an Yves St. Laurent fan the movie is almost worth it for the clothes. Almost.

At one point the couple goes to see Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar, a film that was hailed by the Cahiers du Cinema crowd. Walking out of the movie Julie observes that she likes it because it isn't just a Western, it's a love story. Truffaut wants people to leave his film thinking the same thing.
--Daniel Fienberg (of the fine blog Check the Fien Print )


La Marseillaise (1938), Jean Renoir

There's a small clip from this movie at the beginning of La Sirene de Mississippi, which prompted the Siren to dig out the DVD and watch. Now this was more like it. And finally a movie that doesn't overromanticize Marie Antoinette, too.

La Marseillaise lacks the irony that make Renoir's Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game true masterpieces, and its pacing is a bit uneven. Nonetheless, Renoir manages to create a feeling that one is actually witnessing the French Revolution. Because this film was intended for a French audience, details that would illuminate some of the actions for audiences in other countries are not explained. No matter. This movie communicates quite a lot. Vive la Revolution et vive Renoir!
--Marilyn Ferdinand, Ferdy on Film




La Fin du Jour (1938), Julien Duvivier Made the same year as the Renoir. Our esteemed colleague David Cairns has been evangelizing for this film for some time, even going so far as to give away copies. And the Siren can now deliver her verdict: David's absolutely 100% goddamn right. This is a great movie, with sinuous camerawork from Duvivier that bears comparison to Ophuls (and higher praise hath not the Siren). Plus astonishing performances from Louis Jouvet and Michel Simon. Now that she has seen it, the Siren herself feels quite evangelical about this one. And she isn't going to post an excerpt from David's review. Just go it read yourself. (And note, in the comments, David Ehrenstein comparing it to Make Way for Tomorrow and Tokyo Story.) Also, Gareth's excellent writeup here.

There is a Duvivier retrospective going on through the end of May at the Museum of Modern Art, and the Siren plans to make heroic efforts to catch a few. She hopes her New York readers do too. La Fin du Jour screens there on March 14 at 4:30 pm and Friday, May 15 at 8 pm.
*****

A few links for the beginning of the week:

Director and Friend of the Siren Raymond de Felitta's City Island just won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival. Raymond's comment: "Damn I'm happy." He should be, it's a warm, funny and quite lovable film.

Larry Aydlette has done another shape-shift and landed at The Demarest, a more picture-intensive blog with plenty to delight the eye.

Homework? Try mega-homework. Dennis Cozzalio's quarterly quiz has been up for two weeks at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, but the Siren has a doctor's excuse for being late. Honest...

The Siren has always thought of the Thin Man movies as more or less impervious to analysis, but Ed Howard tries to prove her wrong by tackling the fourth and fifth films in the series.

Ivan reviews one of the most depressing movies ever made, One Potato Two Potato. The Siren saw this as a kid and cried over it for days and days--and she had forgotten the title, probably due to PTSD. Just reading Ivan's summary of the ending made the Siren go hug her kids till they looked at her and said "What?"

A new(ish) blog, Silent Volume, is already going great guns but won the Siren's heart in part by posting about the unfairly maligned Revolutionary Road and the greatest silent of all, The Crowd.

Finally, the Siren is going into the Wayback Machine for this one, but she missed the Forrest Gump/How Green Was My Valley smackdown in March, with Mike endearing himself even further to the Siren by defending the greatness of the John Ford movie.

361 comments:

1 – 200 of 361   Newer›   Newest»
Ryan Kelly said...

Ed Howard could prove the mightiest, most staunch of opinions wrong.

At least that's what I think. Ed's probably gonna come down and eloquently but firmly explain to me why I'm wrong later.

Campaspe said...

Ryan, welcome! Ed's post on the 4th and 5th movies manages to bring a fresh perspective. I always liked The Thin Man Goes Home so I was happy to read his post. Shadow of the Thin Man is rather wan but I would be lying if I said there was a single Thin Man that I did not get pleasure out of.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Drip"? Edouard Dermithe is one of the most beautiful creatures who ever breathed! Cocteau left him is estate -- and no wonder.

In the scene where your still comes from the doctor is examining Dermithe's heart. Cocteau gave his own heartbeat to melville for the soundtrack.

La Sirene du Mississipi is a sorely neglected Truffaut. I much prefer it to The Last Metro.

And La Fin du Jour is indeed a gem. Viva Duvivier!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Nicole Stephane is notable for being one of Susan Sontag's most famous girlfrtiends and, for many years, the woman who owned the rights to Proust.

She was the force behind Volker Schondorff's lovely, though not entirely successful, go at Un Amour de Swann

Ed Howard said...

Ryan, I can't believe how wrong you are. It's amazing.

Thanks for the link, Siren, I appreciate it. I've always thought that *no* movie is really impervious to analysis, even the frothiest, silliest, lightest of Hollywood fare, which the Thin Man movies undoubtedly are. There's always something to say.

Those aren't the last two Thin Man movies, though: there was a sixth one, Song of the Thin Man, which I still have yet to see.

Ryan Kelly said...

Thanks, Camp! Long time listener, first-time caller. ;-)

Ryan Kelly said...

Ryan, I can't believe how wrong you are. It's amazing. ...

Looking back on it, I'm actually pretty shocked by how wrong I am also. I don't know if I've ever been quite so wrong in such a short period of time.

Thanks for helping me see the light, Ed.

Campaspe said...

David, I apologize for distressing you, but I did not like the gentleman, either as eye candy or actor. He's no Jean Marais. That's eye-popping info on Stephane, however. She pretty much blows the rest of the cast off-screen.

Ed, I agree, no movie is un-analyzable. It's just that The Thin Man movies reside in the "pure pleasure" part of my cinematic brain and I don't think I have ever seen anyone really try to burrow into the later films. But your post made me think, "well, why the hell not?"

Campaspe said...

P.s. I had the Thin Man order right in my comment and wrong in the post, which should really be the other way around. But I fixed it, thanks Ed.

Ed Howard said...

It's just that The Thin Man movies reside in the "pure pleasure" part of my cinematic brain ...

"Pure pleasure" is right! The analysis only comes afterward, because while the movies are on I'm usually just grooving on how much fun Powell and Loy are, and not incidentally, how hot and witty Loy is.

Oh, and I'm glad to hear you enjoy The Thin Man Goes Home, too, since I'd imagined that was a generally unloved late installment in the series. It plays around with the formula a bit, which could have been ruinous but actually works quite well.

Gloria said...

I saw "La Marsellaise" on a big screen not long ago. I went to see it as a "tour of duty", but came out exhilarated at how much I had enjoyed it... Unlike films sentimentalising about Lost Capet Royalty or gory depictions of The Terror, this film (in almost newsreel-like fashion, as one French critic put it) explains the motives of the revolutionnaires, as well as their different opinions, as we see the very anti-clerical painter marching along the more tolerant Douanier... On the other hand, we get a rather human portrait of king Louis, or the cultured aristocrats in exile. There are some brilliant touches here and there: I loved when the two garçons Marsellaises go to a shadow-puppet show ( or "to the movies") with their Parisian girls

The film was produced through public subscription, and it's incredible how good it looks in spite of the obvious budget limitations: i wonder if public subscription films could be a good alternative to "exploding-helicopter-chases" blockbusters nowadays.

P.S. 1: love the Addison DeWitt qote at the profile ;D

P.S.: I owe you a comment about "Bel Ami" (excuse the delay, but I had to see it again with your review in mind!) being a big fan of "Dorian Gray" and "Pandora", I regret Lewin didn't do more films... One of the things I love about Sanders here is that his Duroy is such a slut... I don't know how many other actors of the time would have dared to play the character that way. Still, while playing Duroy as "an unmitigated cad", he gives him brief moments of humanity: somewhere deep inside, there is a wee bit of tenderness leaking. As when he tells Angela Lansbury he's going to marry someone else, and then her daughter starts to play at the piano the song he composed for her... He looks almost ashamed of having to hold his tears!

mndean said...

I've got to agree that Shadow of the Thin Man was a real drag, so much so that I haven't pulled it out of the case again after I bought it. It's the one Thin Man film I got the feeling they never put much thought into. The Thin Man Goes Home is a lot more fun (that inconvenient little brat of theirs - the worst idea in the series - isn't missed), and it helps that the mystery is so convoluted, since that part is really what hardly matters anymore. Nick's family dynamic is far more worthwhile, and Nora's unflappable nature is back as well (it was lost somewhat in Shadow of the Thin Man due to that inconvenient kid again).

As for the last, Song of the Thin Man, it's not nearly as good as its predecessor, but it's not quite as bad as #4, either. The kid's back, but at least it's Dean Stockwell, so he's not as annoying and is really hardly there at all, and a bunch of hipster musicians, the likes of which you see only in Hollywood movies (when you have a jam session of jazz musicians with nary a person of color, something's really off) clutter things up as well. They're there in part to remind us that Nick and Nora aren't so young and au courant anymore. And as much as I like Keenan Wynn, he not so welcome in a part as the musician that inducts them into this milieu and is constantly having to explain the jive talk that passes over Nick and Nora's heads. Powell and Loy are funny trying to bluff their way in, and the mystery is a little better than the last two films. In large compensation, there's Gloria Grahame as a slinky songbird, and as I mentioned, the mystery is better. So, for me a thumbs down (they really should have ended it at #5), but you won't hate yourself in the morning for having watched it.

Arthur S. said...

Glad that you did a post on LA MARSEILLAISE. That film is unbelievably neglected. It's one of Renoir's best and one of the truly stunning historical epics of all time. And among the very very few respectable and worthy films made about the French Revolution. Alongside Griffith's ORPHANS OF THE STORM and Eric Rohmer's recent L'ANGLAISE ET LE DUC. Amazing that it's so neglected...

LA MARSEILLAISE according to Martin Scorsese was one of the few times Renoir immersed himself in thorough historical research. Much of the dialogue in the film is lifted from pamphlets and newspapers and letters he dug up from the late 18th Century. The costumes were provided by...Coco Chanel. And the only sympathetic royal character, Louis XVI is played by Renoir's elder brother Pierre Renoir(who was originally slotted to play Octave). The final of the three roles he enacted in his brother's films. He was the very first Inspector Maigret in that rarest of Renoir - LA NUIT DE CARREFOUR(which I still haven't seen), he was M. Bovary in Renoir's fascinating but butchered MADAME BOVARY and he capped it off by a warm caricature of LOUIS XVI.

The amazing thing about the film for me is how Renoir takes a revolutionary point of view without centering on easy identification with legendary figures like Danton, Marat, St. Just, Robespierre. He tells it from the point of view of the ordinary people, sentimentalized admittedly but very sincere.

The romantic plot device that you identify as typically French is about the anguish and pain of being in love and people betraying their self in the process. Truffaut's LES DEUX ANGLAISES ET LE CONTINENT and Truffaut's penultimate film LA FEMME DE COTE is in that tradition too. Though I don't see how LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF fits in this?

X. Trapnel said...

mnd, see also the all-white jam session in Phantom Lady straining to look decadent and dangerous.

X. Trapnel said...

Renoir's love of ordinary people is the core of his humanism (cf. La Grand Illusion). St. Just, Marat, and Robespierre were larger than life actors on the historical stage--and bloody-minded killers.

mndean said...

David, Mississippi Mermaid isn't a good film, but you're right, it's better than The Last Metro. It was the second film I saw of Truffaut's where that wide streak of romantic masochism he gives his protagonists got on my nerves. It works sometimes (Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim, Story of Adele H.), but other times it's just overdone or wrong (The Soft Skin, MM, and The Green Room). MM is one of those films that starts good, but one thing after another goes wrong (I can't pick out moments too well, last I saw it was 15 years ago), until I just wanted it to be over.

mndean said...

Trapnel,
Oh dear, I remember that one, where Elisha Cook's the drummer. There was really no excuse for either of those when they were made.

Arthur S. said...

Renoir's colour trilogy is fascinating in that they are period films by definition but one hundred percent ahistorical. It looks at history as indeed a stage filled with actors and the final film ELENA ET LES HOMMES which is most closely modelled on a historical film is extremely cynical in that...the subject is how cute and sweet life can be when the public supports a military dictatorship.

For me, Truffaut without romantic masochism is Chaplin without his Cane.

Campaspe said...

I love The Last Metro, much much more than MM, but I am sure that the setting (the theater, not WW II) had a great deal to do with that. I haven't seen Last Metro in 20 years but I am sure I would still prefer it. I agree with MND though that MM goes way wrong just before the midpoint -- in fact it goes way wrong just after that still. I was really liking it up to that point, the island setting was gorgeous and there was a nice atmosphere of colonialism, decay and tension. The confrontation scene didn't bother me that much, it was just that the passion between the two wasn't much in evidence even from the beginning, and after she's unmasked the passion is all we are supposed to be going on.

Contrast that with the sex scene between Depardieu and Deneuve in the Last Metro -- VERY hot-and-bothering for the teenage Siren.

Campaspe said...

As for La Marseillaise, I don't think I realized just how tired I was of the typical Hollywood "oh those poor POOR aristocrats, that awful French mob" version of the French revolution until I saw the Renoir. It was bracing, I felt great after watching it.

Arthur, Elena was one of the first films I discussed on this blog (albeit in a fairly cursory way) and I had to confess that while it was delicious to look upon I didn't like it for the very reason you cite. I couldn't think that Renoir was actually saying "coup d'etats forever!" but it basically wasn't funny to me, although there were definitely moments, like the crowd scene at the beginning. And Juliette Greco made a great gypsy. But so far it's pretty much my least favorite Renoir.

Gerard Jones said...

I haven't seen the last few Thin Mans, partly by design. I find aging series terribly sad to watch: I think they tap into my fear of just getting older and slower and finally shuffling off without having become wiser or more interesting.

I have a perverse fascination with the Andy Hardy series (someone asked a few posts back about our guilty pleasures—that would be it), and feel I stepped one entry too far with Andy Hardy's Double Life (the Esther Williams one). I haven't yet let myself watch the last two, and I'm pretty sure I'll never see the weird attempt at a revival from the '50s.

Sometimes I get downright neurotic: I've never seen The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, despite being pretty completist about Fred Astaire and knowing it isn't really a "series" anyway. But Carefree disappointed me and I don't want to feel that sad.

Gloria Grahame gives me pause, though. She does that to a fellow.

Campaspe said...

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is indeed a depressing one, and would be even without Fred's fate in it.

But I think The Barkleys of Broadway is quite underrated.

mndean said...

Hm. I was impressed with TLM when I first saw it, but on reviewing it years later, I ended up disliking a lot of it. A rereview might be in order, but I don't think I'd change my mind again. And as for sex scenes, I'd seen so many by the time I saw The Last Metro (weren't they standard fare in the late '70s/early '80s?) I had gotten pretty tired of them, whether they were gratuitous or not.

As far as romantic masochism, to me it's a matter of degree and variations on that theme. If it's to me all one note like in The Green Room or goes too far like Mississippi Mermaid it's difficult for me to plug in, especially if you never see (or there never was) the grand passion that led to it.

Arthur S. said...

Well I am not against "poor aristocracts, awful mob" stories myself...Rohmer's THE LADY AND THE DUKE is actually along similar lines and got into trouble for that reason among some critics though Rohmer is actually quite ambivalent since his poor aristocract(the titular ANGLAISE, actually a Scotswoman) can come across as a real bitch at times though we admire her resolve by the end of the film.

Renoir's LA MARSEILLAISE was released at the height of the Popular Front and so obviously deeply invested in a left-wing view of the French Revolution. The aristocracts in that film are shown as raving schemers most of the time with Louis XVI being the only one Renoir seems to like. And I have always felt sorry for that poor fatso, not as sorry as I feel for the suffering peasants but enough that I think guillotining him and his wife was uncalled for.

ELENA ET LES HOMMES has always been an acquired taste. Renoir fans like Raymond Durgnat or Tag Gallagher dislike it quite a bit but Truffaut, Rivette and Godard think it's great and so do I. Unlike the beautiful, subtle colours of THE GOLDEN COACH and FRENCH CANCAN, this is very garish and loud. Almost like the tacky sets in Schrader's MISHIMA and save for Ingrid Bergman, Mel Ferrer and Jean Marais everyone is a broad caricature.

The theme of the STAGE and SPECTACLE Trilogy is about performance and the way it percolates every aspect of living. Durgnat summed it up by saying, I paraphrase, Showbiz is grand, showbiz is sad but politics is dangerous showbiz. Showbiz is sad is THE GOLDEN COACH, Showbiz is grand is FRENCH CANCAN and the last is ELENA... which makes it more ambitious(though I confess, not as great), other films since then have picked up the theme, NASHVILLE and especially THE KING OF COMEDY(the last shot of Rupert smiling enigmatically, is modelled, I believe on the end of LE CAROSSE D'OR).

Arthur S. said...

------------------------------
If it's to me all one note like in The Green Room or goes too far like Mississippi Mermaid it's difficult for me to plug in, especially if you never see (or there never was) the grand passion that led to it.
-------------------------------

But Truffaut isn't interested in that, he wants to know where that can go and what it can lead to and what can be gained in the end. Like THE STORY OF ADELE H. is the mad obsessive love an insecure woman has for a man who clearly doesn't deserve it and the romantic anguish she goes through is a kind of suicidal despair.

In LE PEAU DOUCE(THE SOFT SKIN), a love affair is anatomized as something along the lines of a nervous tic or a taxing hobby. It can be tender at times but it's also not very fulfilling.

Where love is concerned, Truffaut is always pessimistic(the sole exceptions being the final three Antoine Doinel films) and he's fixated on morbid longings and hysteria.

THE GREEN ROOM is actually less morbid than the Henry James story it takes for it's source, thanks in part due to Nathalie Baye's presence but it's a direct depiction of sadness, persistence of memory and a morbid longing, in this case a longing to own the dead and don't forget he writes obituaries and in the words of his editor, never re-uses a word more than once. Shaping the dead in his own image.

Or perhaps the sad ending of TWO ENGLISH GIRLS when Jean-Pierre Leaud suddenly realizes that he looks old.

Needless to say, Truffaut's core themes are quite perverse. Not at all the nice guy friend of children American reviewers had of him for years.

Campaspe said...

Mndean, I was just being allowed to watch "adult" (i.e. rated over PG) when I saw The Last Metro and so I didn't have anything to measure it again. As I recall there isn't a smidge of nudity in it, it's the passion of the scene that carries you away. Very romantic, in a way that the rather dyspeptic MM just isn't. And this despite the fact that Belmondo is soooo much sexier than Depardieu--but the character and chemistry count too.

Arthur, when I talk about the treatment of the revolution I'm referring to classic-era Hollywood, where you get things like Marie Antoinette and The Scarlet Pimpernel, royalism to the Nth degree, or Orphans of the Storm. I will never forget the expression on my husband's face when the intertitle describing the Parisians as "Bolsheviks" came up on the screen. (I actually reviewed M-A and Orphans, they're still around in the archives.)

I think everybody feels at least a little pity for Louis XVI (well, except Robespierre, Saint-Just and Marat). There is very little to suggest he had the malice of Louis XIV and certainly he didn't have the malevolent, selfish dissipation of Louis XV. His wife I only feel sorry for at the end, when they took her son.

Gerard Jones said...

The Barkleys of Broadway has always felt like a different thing, a post-war Metro musical nodding at the '30s Fred and Gingers rather than part of the "series." I like it too. Although whenever I want to argue that too much of Oscar Levant is too much, that's the one I point to.

Ed Howard said...

Gerard, I can't let a mention of the Andy Hardy series go by without bringing up Martin Arnold's amazing short film Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy. Arnold basically "remixes" footage from several Andy Hardy films into a completely new story, bringing some rather disturbing Freudian subtexts to the foreground. It's hilarious and brilliant, and anyone who's a fan of the original series should appreciate this irreverent deconstruction. It actually goes back to the idea that any movie can be analyzed, and Arnold's film can be seen as a kind of loose essay about the Andy Hardy series. The Index label in Austria put out an essential DVD of Arnold's short films a few years ago, well worth tracking down.

Gerard Jones said...

Thanks, Ed! I've seen a piece of Alone (Andy kissing mom's neck) and was intrigued. I thought it was only available in 16mm for the academic circuit and am pleased to hear about the DVD.

Ed Howard said...

Yeah, that's the first scene in the film. There's lots of Andy/Mommy stuff all through it, as you'd imagine.

The DVD is a pricey import, but it's available from Erstwhile Records in the US, maybe a few other places as well. It's short, but it's a film I really love, and it never fails to have me in hysterics by the end.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well of course he's no Jean marais -- whcih was part of the attraction. Marais would have been a star had he never met Cocteau. Their affiar was, needless to say, tumultuous. And it produced great art. Marais was leaving Cocteau during the shooting of Beauty and the Beast. You can feel Cocteau's pain in every shot. Dermithe was much less problematic. No he wasn't a great actor, but he was a great boyfriend. He's adorable in Les Enfants Terribles and even better in Le Testament d'Orphee. He's also marvelous in Franju's sadly unsung Thomas L'Imposteur -- a full-press, all-stops-out tribute to the genius of Cocteau.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I've akways loved The Green Room. It wasn't sad at the time, but now it is in light of its creator's own death.

While it's an uneven series overallThe Thin Man seis always has the uncanny chemistry of Powell and Loy to fall back on. I forget which one its in but one of my favorite scenes centers on a night club where Nick goes to look for clues in the case. It's a rather slick dive with a dancing act and plenty of hustlers of both sexes. Nick is seated and immediately surrounded by women on the make, bu his attention is immediately drawn to another table surrounded by men. He approaches it, the men part and there is Loy's Nora -- with the most perfect "Cat that swallowed the canary" smile on her face. A sublime moment of cinema!

Gerard Jones said...

Siren, regarding these French movies about everyone in crazy love with one person: I've always had a little trouble believing in the intensity and durability of the love, even when it's Arletty or Jeanne Moreau, but I've especially had trouble believing in the buoyancy with which all parties accept the situation. Clearly a cultural trope, parallel to the American cliché that two people can love one, but one of those loves must inevitably "real" and the other transitory. Whereas the American story is about finding one's destiny and understanding that everything else is worth giving up, the French seems to be more about the inescapable melancholy of not being able to have everything.

From that angle I appreciated Enfants because it takes us into the pathology of that wanting to have everything, in the way that the rare Hollywood movie let's us see the madness that can grow from the conviction that We Are Meant to Be Together. Shows the infantile, narcissistic quality of the French ethos of experiencing everything (as opposed to the delusion, compulsive quality of Hollywood love).

Not a great movie, but at that level the very unappealingness of le drip works well. I'm with you on Dermithe as an objet du désir (that hair is just too too), but to me that makes the story creepier, more psychological horror than tragic love.

Campaspe said...

Yes, it's true, Marais didn't need Cocteau although they were a wonderful mix. But Dermithe ... well, I won't repeat myself. Although, as Dan Callahan writes, in Dermithe's final scene, with sweat beading his forehead, I did finally glimpse an actor.

I saw my first Franju only about a year ago so when I can see Thomas l'Imposteur (which seems unavailable at the mo), I will apologize to the shade of Dermithe if he's more impressive in that. I promise!

Ed Howard said...

David, that nightclub scene is definitely great -- if I remember correctly that's in Another Thin Man, one of the weaker installments with a particularly stupid mystery plot, but one with plenty of great set pieces like that. I also love the part slightly later in the nightclub scene when Nora gets picked up by some suave Latin lover type who's dancing with her, and Nick feigns a lack of concern and laughs it off. But then the lights momentarily go out and when they come back on, Nick's dancing with Nora and the Latin lover's nursing a bruised jaw. That's romance!

Campaspe said...

And Gerard, you are quite right that the lack of sex appeal (which I would argue is true for all three points of the "Les Enfants" triangle) adds to the creepy nature of the film. I think that's ultimately why I switched off TV5 saying "good movie" despite having disliked every character in it.

Arthur S. said...

I admire ORPHANS OF THE STORM a great deal, as I said I am not pre-disposed against it's premise totally. And Rohmer said he was inspired by that film for his movie. Alfred Hitchcock was another admirer. Technically it's very special and vivid and it has both the Gishes on-screen.

But yeah I understand what you mean about Hollywood generally supporting the royalists in French Revolution movies, just as they generally supported the colonialists in movies about British Imperialism(the exception being the Irish).

Rossellini's recently circulated film about Louis XIV should definitely be checked out because it has a lot to say about power, politics and monarchy. The film is about Louis XIV being intelligent enough to realize the transience of his own reign and we see him create a society that would inevitably invite rebellion at the end of the film.

Arthur S. said...

Truffaut's death kind of does haunt THE GREEN ROOM. Serge Toubiana noted that a memorial service after his death was filled with candles just like in Julien Davenne's Green Room and like his alter-ego, he becomes one with his dead - Bazin, Cocteau, Renoir, Rossellini, Hitchcock, all those mentors who he outlived(though not for long, helas).

It's a terrific performance(although Jean Gruault thinks he was a miscast and wasn't as effective as in THE WILD CHILD) and visually gorgeous. Especially the opening scene where he arrives at that funeral and this close-up on his shining black eyes(or dark brown eyes). Nestor Almendros considered that to be his most visually accomplished film for Truffaut.

Gerard Jones said...

At the risk of weighing things down with personal reminiscence, I remember my mom seeing me at 13 reading an issue of Fantastic Four in which they fought the Infant Terrible. She chuckled patronizingly and told me they'd stolen the name from a French film, which she then pronounced carefully.

I tell you, it's tough being a lowbrow in a highbrow world.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Many years ago the Theaeer 80 St. Marks in New York had a doubke feature of two minor but lively Powell-Loy films Double Wedding and I Loev You Again. She was guest of honor opening night ad sat behind me to watchtfilms, which she hadn't seen since they came out. Whe the lights went up she let out a lovely sigh and said to the friend she came with "Oh my, I'd fogotten just how good Bill was!"

Campaspe said...

David, I **adore** Myrna. Lovely, generous, gracious and smart. How typical that she was entranced by her costar, and not her own beauty and timing.

Gloria said...

Why, Gerard! don't ever let anyone scold you for reading comics! To heck with them! Them highbrows probably think the film "League of extraordinary gentlemen" is a faithful adaptation of the Moore & O'Neill original comic... And... OoooOh! They don't know what they're missing!

(Hey, I loved that FF "Enfant terrible" story myself!)

DavidEhrenstein said...

The first job my friend Richard Glatzer (Grief, The Fluffer, Quincenera) got in show business was working as a go-fer on the set of Just Tell me What You Want. What this meant as thing sevolved was that he was working for Myrna Loy. it was her last Big Time Movie role. And Richard says she was as wonderful off-screen as she was on.

Campaspe said...

David, I love her WW II-era story in Being and Becoming, of picking up Betty Grable so they could both visit a military hospital. Grable was massively hung over and in bad shape. Loy pulled over and ordered Grable a beer "to chase the gremlins away", as I believe she put it, and when Grable was better they continued right on to the hospital. What strikes you in reading it is that Loy has not a hint of moral tsk-tsk in her retelling, nor is she giving herself huge props for helping out--most other stars would have related the story in one of those two modes.

Gerard Jones said...

So nice to hear stories suggesting that Myrna was really as grand as she seems on screen! I wonder if it helped that was raised in the political arena, learning to tolerate others' annoying traits and keeping her focus on ultimate harmony from when she was just a little girl.

In any case, a great antidote to that demoralizing thread about what a bastard Henry Fonda was...

Campaspe said...

Myrna was also lifelong friends with Gary Cooper (they knew each other in Montana) so she clearly could play nice across the political aisle.

Powell appears to have been a very decent sort as well, although he came in for an oblique rap from Rosalind Russell for refusing to marry Jean Harlow. By all accounts he was gutted by Harlow's death, though.

Gerard Jones said...

After Paul Bern, I wonder if marrying Jean seemed like a good risk.

mndean said...

I don't know who finally rescued Myrna from those faux-Asian/petulant bitch/other woman roles she was always stuck with, but 1934 turned her career around completely. It really is an astounding change when you see the films she was stuck in around 1932-33.

Siren, to me sex was (is) sex, however it was shot didn't much matter. Hot, cold, angry, clothed, naked doesn't much matter to me when I want to watch the film. When my on-and-off (uh, well) girlfriend dragged me to see The Lover, it was one of the times a bit of boorishness came out. I said out loud in the theater, "we can rent a porno better than this". She kept dragging me to IMAO bad arthouse films, so I felt entitled to voice my displeasure. I did give her an unrated copy of the film as a gag gift for her birthday.

Your story of being taken to at strongest PG films reminds me of a girl who, after I returned First Name: Carmen from rental, told me her dad took her to watch it when it came out. After a quick mental calculation, I figured she was about 11 when she saw it. It gave me a bit of a shudder and I hoped she was putting me on.

Yojimboen said...

Poor Paul Bern, a tragic victim of that hitherto-unnamed affliction: Lackaviagraitis.

One night 100 years ago (okay, Jan 15 1985) on a whim, I tried the Carnegie Hall box office to see if there were any last minute returns. I got lucky, there was one. As it turned out it was a great seat, for this (rare in NYC; rarer still, open to the public) Academy Tribute to Myrna Loy.
My seat was one row behind, three seats over from the Lady herself; a perfect vantage point to stare at that miraculous profile.

I honestly don't recall a single thing about the show, nothing, nobody, nada, zip.
Just her face.

X. Trapnel said...

Whoever rescued Myrna (can't believe she was utterly passive in the process)must have seen how utterly beguiling she was in The Animal Kingdom as the allegedly bitchy, "conventional" wife as conceived by Philip Barry. I wonder if she deliberately and subtly undercut the characterization and rescued herself.

Does anyone know who had the happy inspiration to change her name to Loy? There was a well-known poet of the era named Mina Loy, a (very beautiful) more bohemian and modernist Edna St. V Millay.

Gerard Jones said...

My parents used to take me to foreign movies in the '60s when I was little, ostensibly to expose me to great things but I think because they just couldn't afford a babysitter. I still squirm with discomfort remembering the rubber-stamps-on-the-tuchus seduction in Closely Watched Trains that I saw at 10, sitting close beside my mother. I've never been able to bring myself to see the movie since.

A couple of years later they were talking to some sophisticated friend who recommended I Am Curious (Yellow) and my mom became intrigued. All I can remember thinking was, "Please don't take me to that. Please don't take me to that." Luckily for me, most theaters were imposing an "adults only" policy.

Ed Howard said...

I'd wager that the worst that could happen to any poor kid dragged to I Am Curious would be falling asleep.

First Name: Carmen on the other hand, is a masterpiece and one of Godard's (many) late greats, but I can't imagine what an 11 year-old would make of it, and the more-or-less rape in the shower is pretty harrowing even for adults, let alone for a kid who could have no real idea what she was seeing. Sometimes I wonder about parents.

X. Trapnel said...

I remember seeing Jules and Jim on TV at a very early age. Very grown up and "scary" did it seem. I was much shaken by the line "Your breasts are the only weapons I want to hold." Jack Lemmon didn't say such things to Dorothy Provine.

Gerard Jones said...

Am I just politics-drunk, or does that poster for La Marseillaise look like Shepard Fairey's contribution to the French Revolution?

Gerard Jones said...

"Your breasts are the only weapons I want to hold." Jack Lemmon didn't say such things to Dorothy Provine....

Makes a pretty fun scene, though, when you picture it.

Goose said...

Back to Myrna Loy, If I may...

Actually it seems 1932-33 was the decisive time for her career, as her appearances in The Penthouse (stealing it from a lumpish Warner Baxter), The Prizefighter and the Lady, Topaze, and the afore-mentioned Animal Kingdom revealed the talent and charm beneath the exoticism or vampishness in which she had been trapped.

She had unique down-to-earth elegance and charm.

I think she credited WS Van Dyke and John Barrymore for upgrading the roles available to her. Just a theory, but did the Production Code enforcement in mid-1934 help her career? Jean Arthur and Carole Lombard also were around for a while before finally emerging as stars around the same time.

Yojimboen said...

Most of the YouTube tributes to Ms Loy are mawkish as hell, this one, less so; it has no narration and is much the better for it.

X. Trapnel said...

Right you are, Goose, about Myrna in Penthouse! The way she messes up W. Baxter's oil slick hair at the end has just a sixteenth note of mockery. (What a humorless stiff he was.)

I'm running that line from J&J (as I think about it my 7-year-old self was more stirred than shaken) through all of Jack Lemmon's vocal mannerisms (Porky Pig stammer, insinuating, sincere/intense). Impossible. Like imagining DP's reaction.

Gerard Jones said...

(Baxter nervously pours the champagne.)

"Miss Kubelik."
(Beat)
"Miss Kubelik, your breasts are the only weapons I want to hold."

Not Provine, I know, but it jumped into mind...

Gerard Jones said...

I'm guessing the Code didn't affect Myrna's career. But then I'm of the opinion that this whole Pre-Code thing is just the pet idea of the moment and is being used to account for a lot of changes that were already well underway in Hollywood. I think the big changes in movies in '33 and '34 were more about studio economics, sound and camera technology, audience tastes, and the developing of a sound-picture aesthetic than about the Code.

I think for Myrna it was mostly just a case of: 1. The turbulent search at MGM, as at the other studios, for the sort of actress who was going to click in the sound era. 2. Assorted people (Van Dyke and Barrymore, if she says so) seeing that leading-lady potential in her. 3. The exotic beauty starting to fade as a box-office item. It was a very '20s conceit that didn't convert well to sound and looked increasingly silly in the surface realism of the '30s. By '33 it's hard to find movies that even call for the type.

Myrna didn't need any big star build-up. I suspect she won audiences over pretty easily once she got a couple of good roles.

Campaspe said...

Re: Warner Baxter -- for the most part I agree but a couple of months back I saw a movie in which he was actually quite funny. That was Wife, Husband and Friend (1939), with Loretta Young, also delightfully not in her usual great-stuffy-lady mode that she was increasingly using by then. It was a lovely, funny thing about a woman who wants to be an opera singer, but can't sing--it's her opera-indifferent husband who turns out to have the talent. Based on a novel by James M. Cain of all god's earthly creatures. Baxter mugged a bit too much but it worked.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Myrna was quite wonderful in a small but showiy supporting role in Love Me Tonight (one of my all-time favoirte musicals)

In regard to a discussion we were having yesterday, if you treasure your close personal friendship with Joan Collins DON'T CLICK THIS LINK!

Yojimboen said...

Thanks for the clip, David, it reminds me of why I was sort of fond of Mercy Hummpe; plus the nostalgic glimpse of how talented a mimic Newley was (end of clip) when he does his Olivier strut.
Few actors (without titles) imitated Larry better.

Unfortunately, however, it also reminds me that despite what I feel about Mlle Deneuve going topless a time or two in Mississippi Mermaid (for me the only reason to watch the film) the prospect a naked Anthony Newley does convince me that maybe, just maybe there is such a thing as gratuitous nudity after all.

X. Trapnel said...

Gerald, is that C.C. or Warner Baxter?

D Cairns said...

Siren, thanks for the kind words! Saw two of the MoMA Duviviers today, and I'm coming to the conclusion that the man was incapable of making a bad or uninspired film. Poil de Carotte was heartbreaking and funny, with stunning use of locations, and Allo Berlin, Ici Paris was an exercise in the genre of Rene Clair but packed in far more innovation. People of New York, you need to see these movies!

Gerard Jones said...

How about Warner Baxter as C. C. Baxter? Would be a whole new movie.

X. Trapnel said...

In a spirit of perversity I thought for a moment that putting Jack Lemmon in a blender with Warner Baxter might produce Fred MacMurray and really complicate things, but 1. The Baxter molecules are to inert to bond with anything; 2. There was the more likely danger of producing an unstable Bob Cummings compound.

Gerard Jones said...

Surely a Bob Cummings could never be created twice in the same universe.

Gerard Jones said...

You know, even while pounding on Warner Baxter, we should pause to remember his unforgettable delivery of one of an unforgettable (or at least unforgotten) line: "You're going out there a youngster. But you've got to come back a star."

Many far more accomplished actors would trade their whole careers for that moment of immortal corn.

X. Trapnel said...

According to Lammenais' theories concerning the indestructibility of matter and its finite combinations plus Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal return you better get ready: "Hold it...I think you're gonna like this one!"

mndean said...

I really don't hate Warner Baxter, it's just that he seemed miscast as a star. He should've been the growling editor in a newspaper picture where the star was someone else. I do need to see Wife, Husband, and Friend, though. I think his worst sin was not having a discernible sense of humor on the screen.

As for Myrna, it's true that she's the strongest character in The Animal Kingdom (by contrast, Ann Harding is a dishrag, a part she played about as often as The Female Cuckold), but that character is sort of the apotheosis of Myrna the Bitch. I'd forgotten The Prizefighter and the Lady and have never seen The Penthouse. Recorded Topaze but still haven't watched it. Barrymore and One-Take Woody? I can believe it.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd, I was just on the brink of writing that I don't really dislike Warner Baxter; thanks for saving me the trouble. I suppose he's best as a sort of upscale George Bancroft. There is one film of his, though, that I'm very curious to see (especially if he could be removed through the magic of computers and replaced with William Powell) and that is One More Spring, from a Robert Nathan novel and directed by Henry King (though from decriptions I've read it sounds like Borzage material). Why do I suspect Karen has seen it?

Gerard Jones said...

It's nice to know that even when Campaspe tries to talk about Renoir, Duvivier, and Melville, we manage to bring it back to Warner Baxter and Bob Cummings.

X. Trapnel said...

I'm feeling rather remorseful about that. We must try to be good.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Campaspe: I have no idea about the schedule Duvivier, but recommend Au bonheur des dames. I saw it at the Silent Film Festival in San Francisco three years ago.

Campaspe said...

"It's nice to know that even when Campaspe tries to talk about Renoir, Duvivier, and Melville, we manage to bring it back to Warner Baxter and Bob Cummings."

LMAO, as they say on the chatboards. :D I went back and looked at my old Sergio Leone post and in that comments section we wound up talking about Preston Sturges. So 'twas ever thus.

Gloria said...

Back to Renoir and his jacobins for a moment:

Marylin's got a fine old post on them

X. Trapnel said...

The gravitational pull of Bob Cummings cannot be resisted. He is the endlessly life-giving orb around which we helplessly but gratefully revolve. This is the meaning of stardom.

I need my coffee

Gerard Jones said...

And if we can reach out to just one cinephile who's wandered here looking for more Jean Renoir and open his eyes to the joys and rewards of Bob Cummings, then all our efforts have been worth it.

(Meanwhile, at this moment I'm enjoying the expansion of my horizons from the musical discussion that grew out of the Henry Fonda post, thanks to X & Y. Listening to Erich Korngold on the ivories, a pretty thing called Der Schneemann.)

X. Trapnel said...

Even greater treasures await you. Korngold's Suite for Piano and String Quartet contains the most beautiful melody he ever wrote(trio section of the scherzo).

Goose said...

Speaking of Bob Cummings, coffee (as per X) and Jacobins in the last posts of X. Trapnel and Gloria, The Black Book (AKA Reign of Terror) has appeared on DVD in what is hoped to be a semi-decent picture quality on VCI. It is an early Anthony Mann - John Alton piece, but can Bob Cummings really be convincing in a French Revolution setting?

Gloria said...

Goose, for a fleeting moment I had that vision of Bob Cummings in a Paul Verhoeven film!

Campaspe said...

Gloria, I linked to Marilyn in the post! :D

Gloria said...

Whoops!

On second thought...Never mind! it's such a fine post its deserves to be linked twice ;D

Flickhead said...
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Flickhead said...
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Flickhead said...

Siren, I agree with you about La sirène du Mississippi, but I don't believe its shortcomings should be pinned on Truffaut. The Woolrich novel, in my opinion, is weak in many of the same areas, a problem repeated in the tepid Angelina Jolie/Antionio Banderas version (Original Sin) from a couple of years ago.

Of course La sirène du Mississippi had that splendid shot of Catherine topless, but I'm sure I got a lot more out of that than you did.

Gerard Jones said...

Goose, are you pulling my leg? Cummings saved that turkey! Antony Mann wouldn't have had a career without...

Oh, enough.

I like watching RoT very much: stunning images, snappy pace, some great visual surprises. Basehart is genuinely spooky as that evil revolutionary Robespierre. It's best to watch in the context of Mann's cheap crime movies of the time, right between Raw Deal and Border Incident. And the best thing about the striking visuals is that you have something to look at other than Bob Cummings.

Bob also has a smaller role than his top billing would suggest, thank God. I guess they needed a name for box office and came up with enough money to get him to stand around looking strained.

X. Trapnel said...

I've heard that Alton's work in The Reign of Terror (The Black Book) is extraordinary; every frame a painting; this will bring us back to Delacroix (irrelevant digression: when I first saw David's "Death of Marat," around the same time I first saw Jules and Jim, I thought M looked like Bob Denver/Gilligan. Very disturbing). Verhoeven's Black Book is pretty terrific, even without Bob Cummings.

Gerard Jones said...
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Gerard Jones said...

(Correcting typos.)

Yes, it might be the best Alton I've seen for visual drama. Which, in an otherwise better movie, might have been a problem: I often find myself pulling away from the stories and characters to notice how stunning the shots are. But I suspect he and Mann both knew quite well that their job was to distract us from a silly story, bad dialogue and Bob.

Mann and Alton's next assignment was to build a movie around George Murphy as a heroic border patrolman. Maybe it was some sort of studio hazing.

mndean said...

Trapnel, that's a perfect characterization, Baxter as an upscale Bancroft.

Is Bob Cummings becoming our pet in-joke around here? His lengthy career is a baffling case, moreso than any male star in the Hollywood era I can think of. There are plenty of stars I don't like, but I could understand why others might like them.

Goose said...

Actually, George Murphy was pretty good in Border Incident. As an actor, he was a Ronald Reagan who could dance.

That is not an insult to either, by the way.

Their shared politics are another matter, of course.

X. Trapnel said...

Perhaps the mystery of Bob Cummings lies in the fact that he fills no necessary or definable niche. Light comedy but can't afford a first-rank star? We've got Ray Milland or Doug Fairbanx, Jr. for that. They're too debonaire and you need a regular guy? Joel McCrea's your man. All that's left is faintly annoying hole in the screen, but the moguls, though shrewd fellows, couldn't have forseen the era of Matthew McConaughey ("The Man Who Saved Hollywood"). Perhaps Bob C. had a cunning way of appearing on the set when nobody was looking and through a combination of confusion and inattention insinuated himself into lead roles until his presence was taken for granted. Does anybody have a better theory?

Vanwall said...

I hate to say this, but Bob Cummings in his time was a draw - he was quite popular as mid-level star, even as a headliner on occasion, and his TV show was pretty well liked; his Emmy was for 12 Angry Men, the role Henry Fonda later played in the movie - there's a contrast: Cummings vs Fonda as downright upright! - where's that fit into the Fonda persona? Talk about remaking a role. There's a mid-level of taste that Cummings mid-level of talent meshed perfectly with, and his TV show was quite aware of that - a little risque, a little pseudo-debonair, but really too little of anything great enough for future recommendation.

Gerard Jones said...

Goose, you've caught me being snide. Indeed, Murphy was fine in Border Incident, except maybe during the climax when he had to show us full-frontal extremes of emotion. But that was also a strange decision on Mann's part, holding the camera on him too long and prolonging the scene with repeated reaction shots.

Montalban was, typically, a bit dull but not bad. And there were Howard DaSilva and Charles McGraw doing their usual stuff. Some stunning Alton shots, although much lower key (I mean aesthetically, not technically) than Reign of Terror. Historically interesting. A fairly sluggish story about minimal characters, but worth seeing.

X. Trapnel said...

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there"--L.P. Hartley

If we have a purpose-driven (not necessarily religious) view of the universe then it's likely that Bob fulfilled a need we can no longer comprehend but that he has been evolving in the Great Chain of Being for millennia and is, in some form, still with us. Take comfort in that thought.

Gerard Jones said...

Bob Cummings in the Fonda role in 12 Angry Men? Geez. I'd be rooting for that kid to burn!

X. Trapnel said...

Just checked to see who were the 12TV Angries. Very odd; Franchot Tone as Lee J. Cobb. John Beal was Juror 2; has anyone here seen a 1957 film of his called That Night? It sounds very interesting, directed by John ("Dead? Perhaps.") Newland of One Step Beyond.

Gerard Jones said...

Franchot Tone as Lee J. Cobb...

Franchot Tone as Lee J. Cobb...

I'm trying...but this may just be beyond my imagination...

Can we assume he wasn't conceived as such an angry, lower-middle class shlub? And without the same sense of chip-on-the-shoulder immigrant background? I can't imagine Tone calling Cummings "the boy in the gray flannel suit" without it sounding like a sneer at inferior tailoring.

X. Trapnel said...

Actually, it's a little too witty for Lee Cobb's character, but who could resist putting in such a good line.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Barkleys of Broadway was originally set to star Fred and Judy -- in ight of their success together in Easter Parade. But Judy "took ill" and left the project. Someone though of Gunger so it turned into an accidental reunion. A very pleasant Walters but lacking the bite of his best musicals.

Gerard Jones said...

When I think about it, it probably is too witty. But Cobb sells it. He seems so proud of himself for coming up with it. Tone would give it a very different quality, not necessarily bad. As I continue to try to imagine this, I see the character becoming a different sort of social type, the self-involved male of a petit-bourgeois, old-American sort who sees everything since Coolidge as having taken away what was rightfully his and is as envious as he is resentful of that son he's been fighting with.

Of course that's just my imagination. Tone did have a decent amount of range, really.

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, I haven't read the Woolrich novel but I suspect I would agree. WARNING -- large bit of heresy to follow -- but when I read Woolrich I almost always find I prefer the movie, from "The Window" to "Rear Window" to "The Bride Wore Black." (Now there's a Truffaut I like more than most critics.)

It's a nice topless shot of Catherine but the scene isn't very erotic, indeed none of the movie is, which is extraordinary considering the presence of two such simmeringly sexy stars.

Gerard Jones said...

Oh! A confluence of discussions! Franchot Tone strutted some fun stuff in Phantom Lady, another movie that's better than the Woolrich novel. Woolrich's imagination was fascinating, but I've always found his narrative voice hard to hang in with. Purple in style but at the same time rather detached from his characters.

X. Trapnel said...

Au contraire, Gerard; I've always regarded Phantom Lady as the single instance in which the Woolrich source was better than the movie. Woolrich had real literary talent. He began as a Scott Fitzgerald imitator and his style could be intensely evocative, especially when he was in the grip of his own personal nightmares. Yes, the style could go out of control and he had no ability at characterization, but that's not really necessary in what are essentially dream narratives. PL the novel is not really noir (the way Siodmak directed it, good on its own terms). Its much closer in spirit to the Lewton films.

Yojimboen said...

My earlier comment that Mlle Deneuve flashing was the only reason to watch Mississippi Mermaid should be amended to read ‘the only two reasons to watch the film.’ Badaboom-tschhh!
(Sorry, it’s 3 hours earlier out here and the coffee hasn’t kicked in.)

Serieusement [sorry GJ], the film never worked for me – neither of the principals looks comfortable in their roles. We seem to arrive too late - or too early - at the key sequences, and are thus never really in synch with the proceedings. The line between intrigue and confusion meanders more than is dramatically acceptable.

No question Truffaut made some superb films (his first three; the 5 Antoine Doinels); some very good ones (Peau Douce; Nuit Américaine; Adèle H); but he also made his share of klinkers (Mississippi; Deux Anglaises and, sadly, his last three).

As someone who saw every film he directed, in theaters, usually on the day of release, his decline was especially sad to observe; Dernier Métro saddest of all, fails on virtually every level for me.

P.S. I’m told by Paris friends that after Truffaut’s death, Jean-Pierre Léaud used to be seen wandering the city comme un clochard, a lost, blank expression fixed on his aging face. The consensus of people who knew him was that he simply never recovered from the loss; not just of Truffaut, but of Antoine Doinel.

Gerard Jones said...

X, I will happily concede that Phantom Lady is the best of CW's books I've read, the one I'd recommend to someone else wanting to try him. Your "dream narratives" description catches it well. I liked it. But the movie still brings me more than the book. It's the characters, I suspect.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Leaud le clochard is the least of it. He's been batshit crazy for years. LONG before Truffaut died his re for the "idiosyncratic" reached Artuad-like proportions. In Out 1 he's barely "acting" at all.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Cornell Woolrich (aka. William Irish) was a pulp writer, not a litterateur. He's best read in great gulps. What he produced was less a series of works than an overall atmoshere summarized as "First you dream, then you die." He was gay, decidedly kinky in his sexual tastes and deeply tormented about it. The result is everywhere apparent in his work.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's his IMDB listingBesides Rear Window, Phantom Lady and La Sirene du Mississipi my favorie Woolrich adaptations are Martha and I Married a Dead Man -- both the Natalie Baye and Barbara Stanwyck versions.

X. Trapnel said...

Gerald,

That's fair; poor characterization is fatal at any level of fiction. It's why those fake 40s novels by Alan Furst never work; all rain, fog, glowing cigarettes, and research: "Jean Delamerde glanced up at the gray Parisian sky and took a long draw on his Gitane dropping the ashes into the gutter of the Rue Descartes (named for the 17th century French philosopher)."

Gerard Jones said...

I would also wager, X, based on your musical, artistic and poetic interests, than you are better able to appreciate the lyrical and dreamlike than I. My tastes are perhaps more concrete. But I hasted to say again, I do like Woolrich. Especially Phantom Lady. But by some quirk he's also a dreamlike writer without a great touch for character who inspires good movies.

Of course the movies leave out most of the kink and torment that David mentions, which do peek oblique through his books. So there's a loss of depth. The fellow had serious mommy issues, too, if I remember right. Might have something to do with the nebulous, sinister women who have such power in some of his tales.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You got it, Gerard.

X. Trapnel said...

Gerald, no question that a little Woolrich goes a long way (I'm in the mood about once a year), but his dark city as labyrinth is pretty powerful and some of it was too damned weird to be filmed in the forties there's a particularly creepy buried alive story). A much better writer (and poet) who I think deserves a real if modest place in American literature is Kenneth Fearing (great name!), author of The Big Clock. As messed up a life as Woolrich's for different reasons.

X. Trapnel said...

Sorry abt. the typo! Read: Gerard

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Around the time when "Mrs. Winterbourne," the not-very-good third version of "I Married A Dead Man," came out, I remember wishing that the director had been Almodovar instead of Richard Benjamin ... that it had been played in the quasi-farcical style of "Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown."

Woolrich is an odd kind of writer who teeters between "fascinating" and "not very good." Sometimes I think his picture is in the dictionary to illustrate the phrase "tin ear." But he goes places that other pulp writers of the period don't ...

DavidEhrenstein said...

He goes places a lot of people don't. He's not Poe, but he's not Lovecraft either -- though he's often as creepy, for different reasons. Certain apsects of Hammett, particular The Dain Curse come close to Woolrich. But for course Hammet was a much more disciplined writer.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The one writer who really takes Woolrich notions to areas the anti-master woudl never go is Paul Bowles. Particularly in his neglected Up Above the World.

More than anythign else Bowles longed to give his readers the cold creeps. And he often did, as in "A Distant Episode." Thentoo he could go off into a totally original direction as with "Pages From Cold Point." Chereau could make a great film out of that one.

Vanwall said...

As one who has dug up as much of Woolrich's oeuvre as possible over the years, pulp and otherwise, (no easy task), I've decided he works best in the short form of dread, unapproachable in his own way as Hammett or Chandler, and for a long time, as no one's work was more adapted to film and television than his - he wrote in a peculiarly visual style, IMHO - he was as influential on modern fiction as any one person. Not that good film or TV was made from it, sadly.

Yojimboen said...

M VW - I was once hired to adapt Woolrich's "After-Dinner Story" for anthology TV, but the producers stupidly let the rights lapse and nothing came of it. Pity, it is still one my favourites of his.

Gerard Jones said...

That is a pity, Yojim. Would be nice to see your episode in the list with Rear Window, Phantom Lady and the many other Woolriches. Closest I ever got was adapting an Al Feldstein Tales from the Crypt story. (Didn't get made.)

This discussion of Woolrich reminds me a little of the way science fiction people talk about Philip Dick. Some find his imaginings so hypnotic that the technical shortcomings don't matter, others glimpse the strange genius but can't get past the quality of the writing. For some reason I tend to fall more into the first group on Dick and the second on Woolrich.

I would never have thought to link Bowles with Woolrich, David, but suddenly the similarities in sensibility are clear. Kenneth Fearing I've heard about but never read. Another one for the list...

Gerard Jones said...

Hmm. My online explorations of movie scores just led me to Elmer Bernstein's Ten Commandments. I retreat swiftly to Korngold.

(Listening to scores while reading the Siren is a grand experience, though. Immersive, even.)

X. Trapnel said...

What I value chiefly in Woolrich is that he is one of the few NY writers who offers a truly subjective, from within feeling of the nightworld of the city, its lonely, haunted, shadowy places. NY has never found its Baudelaire or Joyce or even its Nelson Algren. Sure, I wish Woolrich had been a more disciplined writer but for me he taps into dark music I can't hear anywhere else.

X. Trapnel said...

Gerard, Bernstein wrote some great scores; The Magnificent 7 and To Kill a Mockingbird above all.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Elmer was a great guy, besides being incredibly versatile (everything from Sweet Smell of Success to National lampoon's Animal House and his great Tiomkin parody Airplane)

When Todd finished sooting Far From Heaven they asked him who he wanted for the score. As he'd been using To Kill a Mockingbird as a temp track he said "Someone like Elmer Bernstein." They said "How about Elmer Bernstein?"

Elmer looked at the movie and said "Turn that damned temp track off!!!' He then sat down and told Todd how many music cues the film needed. Wall-to-wall needless to say. Todd was in awe of him, and ever-so grateful. The score made the film perfect.

And it was Elmer's last.

Campaspe said...

Hrrrmph. Very mad at Time Warner for having its cable go down during this great discussion of Woolrich. I made it sound like I don't like his books, and I do; I read his stories like potato chips when I first discovered them in high school. I also glimpse something unique in his writing. Certainly he had as dark a streak as any noir writer ever. But as others here have said, the characters are never as interesting as what they are doing. Which is probably why he frequently transfers so well to film--the visuals and the acting can fill in all the nuances of humanity. Whereas Woolrich's main character, the one he could draw the most brilliantly, was fate.

Thanks to David, as ever, for filling in the blanks about his life. Funny, I had never tried to find out anything about his life and had no idea it was as bleak as his writing. Even the Wikipedia article is noir as all hell: "Woolrich spent the next 35 years living in the same seedy Harlem, New York residential hotel as his mother, often moving in and out of her apartment. He never allowed her to read any of his work."

Another great Woolrich adaptation: The Leopard Man.

Where is Exiled in NJ, I wonder? He is a mystery aficionado and I would love to hear his thoughts. I may drop him a line.

Gerard Jones said...

I don't mean to suggest any dismissal of Bernstein. The Magnificent Seven has been playing off and on in my head since I was a kid. Ten Commandments does not work for me. Sounds too much like the rest of the movie.

Vanwall said...

"First You Dream, Then You Die" could easily be the summation of any Woolrich story - it was a phrase he left behind on a scrap; it's also the rather fitting title to Woolrich's bio.

Gerard Jones said...

"First You Dream, Then You Die" could easily be the summation of any Woolrich story...

Indeedy, VW. And yet, don't they sometimes also have the quality of being dreamt after death?

Dang! Now I want to read some Woolrich!

Gerard Jones said...

Saw Sweet Smell of Success at the Castro a couple months ago, first time on the big screen. In that venue I was especially impressed with the score. Jazz so often has that "specialty number" quality in movies, sitting entirely outside the musical setting, but I thought Bernstein did a great job of laying his score between, around, under the Chico Hamilton numbers so that it all became a flow.

I was also more impressed than ever with James Howe's shots and lighting. Stunning in 35mm on the big screen, that evocation of the brick and grime just under the night lights. A perfect match with Bernstein's and Hamilton's sounds, in fact. Drunken, frantic, hopeless New York night.

X. Trapnel said...

I've read the Woolrich bio, effortful and sincere, but wretchedly written. Good bibliography though.
The biblical epic was not only a hopeless genre cinematically, it was also a musical sinkhole. Most such scores sound like The Pines of Rome on steroids (one wonders, though, what a Herrmann score in this vein would sound like. He might have done for the hammer what he did for the butcher knife).
Elmer Bernstein should also be remembered for the great and generous work he did performing and recording near complete scores from the golden age (Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Mme Bovary, Wuthering Heights, Thief of Baghdad). He was the first musician to do this and his recordings along with those of Charles Gerhardt helped end the condescending dismissal of "movie music."

Frank Conniff said...

From what I've read, Cornell Woolrich was a tormented soul who lived with his mother and never left his house. Yet, deep down, I don't think he was ever truly happy.

Gerard Jones said...

Thanks to my fellow Sirenians, I've been enjoying some of Rozsa's Ben Hur score. It has what's potentially good about a Biblical epic--Levantine themes, grandeur, mystery, pathos--without all the stuff that's usually bad about them. The saving grace of that whole movie (script, direction, score, casting, everything) is that there's hardly any actual content from the Bible. Ben Hur: A Story of the Christ, Who, Thank God, Hardly Appears.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Elmer also recorded the score Bernard Herrman wrote for Torn Curtain that Hitchcock elected not to use. Really great, needless to say.

Frank Conniff said...

A maybe not so well known Elmer Bernstein score is for "The Rat Race," with Tony Curtis. Very jazzy, like "Sweet Smell Of Success," but distinctive on its own. I saw the movie a long time ago and I don't remember much of it, but I do remember loving the score. Bernstein and Mancini were real innovators when it came to incorporating jazz into film scores, and the stuff they wrote was great, but I would have liked to have seen more film scores from real jazz musicians like John Lewis, whose "Odds Against Tomorrow" score performed by the Modern Jazz Quartet was great. I bet Charles Mingus would have written some incredible scores if anyone had hired him.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mingus did the score for Shadows

Salty Dog said...

The Twelve Angy Men with Bob Cummings and Franchot Tone is available on DVD as part of the Studio One set that came last year from the Archive of American Television. Actually, Cummings is very effective in it. He's not a heroic common man like Fonda, and more interesting for that; he comes across more as someone who just can't bring himself to vote for a death penalty, and it works. Tone is not so good, and the ending is better in the film, it was rewritten a bit.

mndean said...

Woolrich was one of those writers that I read once during my crime novel phase and he was bumped by the likes of Chandler, Cain, and Hammett. I might have read more, but I didn't find the book I read compelling (I don't even remember which it was now), and my city's library had a fiction section that could fit into my house. There wasn't much Woolrich there anyway. Most of the fiction writers I like tend towards those who aren't well adapted to the screen. I can read someone like Sax Rohmer for laughs, but the books that stick with me are ones that seem to be difficult or impossible to adapt. I wrote a comic fantasy pitch for Foucault's Pendulum which cuts the book down to a cheesy chase picture. Where heroic Casaubon saves Jack Belbo from death by shooting the Pendulum's rope just as Belbo falls from the chair, "Just like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly".

Arthur S. said...

My favourite Bernstein scores are SOME CAME RUNNING and THE AGE OF INNOCENCE.

One interesting irony...Bernstein introduce Herrmann's discared score for TORN CURTAIN for Scorsese's CAPE FEAR and then ten years later, his own score for GANGS OF NEW YORK was discarded in favour of an eclectic soundtrack arranged by Robbie Robertson of The Band that included Peter Gabriel, Afro-Celt tunes, Civil War era folk songs and U2. Wonder if his score can be made available sometime.

X. Trapnel said...

Yes, yes, Odds Against Tomorrow, my favorite jazz score. Does anyone remember the amazing photography in this film (especially in the upstate part)?
I never heard of Joseph Brun (Edge of the City, Middle of the Night, and, er, Flipper).

mndean said...

I'm sure Mingus would have been some fun for a producer to work with. He certainly had the talent, but he was a notoriously difficult man.

X. Trapnel said...

Unless Bernstein's score actually got to the recording stage, it's not likely that we'll ever get it. Activity in this area has dwindled drastically over the last few years. The main film music label Varese Sarabande has cut back drastically on recording scores from older films. So sadly, has Marco Polo which did some terrific compilations in the last decade. The best work being done now is by a small label called Tribute which has done Herrmann's Fahrenheit 451, Mysterious Island and The Kentuckian, a few Steiner scores, and Korngold's Prince and the Pauper.

X. Trapnel said...

Actually Bernstein rearranged Herrmann's original Cape Fear score for Scorsese's film. The Torn curtain music has never been used in afilm

Yojimboen said...

I have Herrmann's unused Torn Curtain score - listening to it now - it's as wonderful as anything he ever did.
Hitchcock's loss.

I agree with Arthur S., Some Came Running is among Bernstein's best work. For his best jazz score, I'd have to say The Man with the Golden Arm.

It's a mixed blessing he had such a massive career (240 scores!); an amazing volume of brilliant music, but... He worked on a boatload of shitty movies that I'll never be able to bring myself to watch. And that's my loss.

Gerard Jones said...

Mingus contributed music to some movies in a sort of performers/improviser/composer capacity, and his music has certainly been used a lot, but to my knowledge he never wrote a film score in the sense we mean writing a film score. I don't know that he would have been interested in the form, frankly, fitting his sounds to predetermined images. His compositions were stories and dramas unto themselves, and he never closed off improvisation.

The jazz players who worked well in movie were usually guys with a lot of experience playing for the movie studios already. Chico Hamilton from Sweet Swell of Success spent his whole twenties drumming for movie soundtracks in the '40s before building a live performing career as part of that "West Coast cool" sound. A lot of the musicians in that sound flowed in and out of the movie studios--Shelly Manne, Andre Previn, Bud Shank. They knew how to make jazz but still stay within the timing and expectations of producers.

Of course there were exceptions like, as Frank points out, John Lewis and the MJQ. But for a New York group they were pretty unique in their fascination with composition and control.

Yojimboen said...

True, GJ, Chico Hamilton, Elmer Bernstein and Jimmy Wong Howe all did sterling work, but... can we have an honorable mention of the Scotsman who directed the piece?

X. Trapnel said...

Surprise, surprise. Bernstein's score for Gangs of New York HAS been recorded. Available at screenarchives.com (the best source for film music).

X. Trapnel said...

Listening to Bernstein's score for The View from Pompey's Head. Beautiful

DavidEhrenstein said...

Elmer's score for Some Came Running is indeed wonderful. The openeing shot with his intense clashing, grinding orchestra contrasts perfectly with the sight of a dozing Sinatra (only the back of his head visable) inside a bus moving through a small midwesterntown. It perfectly forshadows the drama to come.

Gloria said...

MrsHenryWindleVale, since you mentioned Almodovar, I have to say that "Women on the verge... " was awatershed film in his filmography, though, personally I don't think if it was for the better.

Much as I've liked "La Flor de mi Secreto" or "Volver", most post "Women" Almodovar films strike me as over-selfconscious in his "auterism". I personally prefer his early movies, which admittedly were far from perfect, but also so wildly unhinibited and ribald "Pepi, Luci, Bom...", "Entre Tinieblas" or "Que hecho yo para merecer esto" are the films of a guy who is mad about telling a story. Post-"Women" films are the films of a guy too concerned about keeping his "highly regarded auteur" status.

IMHO, Anyway

Goose said...

X Trapnel, don't forget B. Herrmann's score (or his contribution to it) for the pseudo-Biblical epic The Egyptian, although it hardly was his best work.

On the subject of biblical epics, or scores for sweat and sandal films, Alfred Newman (who composed the rest of The Egyptian score) did an excellent, but mostly discarded, score for the Greatest Story Ever Told. It has been recorded though.

Mario Nascimbene's (sp.?)Barrabas score I would highly recommend. I think, unfortunately, it can be heard only in the movie. I would recommend the movie also.

Most of the Rozsa biblical scores certainly are from the top drawer.

X. Trapnel said...

No question about the musical quality of Rozsa's biblical scores, but I find them rather impersonal, drawing heavily not only on Respighi, but also on Ernest Bloch (Israel Symphony [1916] and Vaughan Williams (Flos Campi [1925]) especially. Nothing wrong with that but the earlier works bring a greater, more concentrated power to the idiom and in the VW positively visionary lyric inspiration. So the Rozsa scores sound a bit like a second pressing of wine grapes to me. I hugely prefer his noir scores and his Franco-Hungarian pastoral mode.

mndean said...

I can think of some jazz musicians of the post-bop era who could have written scores, but as Gerard says, most didn't have any experience in film scoring, which is a big strike against them being chosen in the first place. Those who could may not have relished the idea anyway. I wonder how many were asked and turned down the opportunity.

Goose said...

Wow. this thread has covered a lot of ground. Back to Robert Cummings and 12 Angry Men.

I watched the TV production where Cummings played the Fonda part. His less commanding presence and perhaps nervousness made the character convincing as he took on the opposition.

As Salty Dog says, the ending was better in the film. In fact, many of the most potent momemts of the film are not even in the TV play.

The biggest surprise was Edward Arnold in the Ed Begley part.

It was odd hearing familiar lines said by different actors.

X. Trapnel said...

Joseph Sweeney can be seen doing a very nasty turn in The Boy, er, Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Another minor inconsistency in dialog and characterization. How is it that Juror 11 (George Voskovec) with all that stammering "Pardon, pardon" can suddenly wing that Serlingesque line abt the burning baseball tickets? ("Submitted for your approval, Juror no. 7, a man with a mind of marmelade and a broken electric fan where his conscience should be. At the moment, a couple of baseball tickets are burning a hole in his pocket...")

Vanwall said...

"The View from Pompey's Head" indeed is one of my favorite scores, and the movie has Richard Egan's best work, it's a minor classic as far as I'm concerned.

I've been listening to Goldsmith work lately, he must strike a chord in me somehow. I remember watching "The Satan Bug" for the first time and having trouble following the visuals, the music was so hypnotic to me. I can't get that one out my head sometimes, the mark of some kind of success, I suppose.

Yojimboen said...

There is an odd little karmic coda to the Franchot Tone/Lee Cobb vs Bob Cummings/Henry Fonda: Tone never got to attack Henry, but one fine night “on one his benders” Franchot drove off the road above Escondida Beach, sailed through the air and smashed into an embankment, just missing Peter Fonda who, with his pal (and fellow screwed-up scion) Robert Walker Jr., was sitting cross-legged on the sand tripping out on Owsley’s best.
Reportedly unperturbed by the near-death experience (if indeed they noticed it), the two young actors then got in a rubber boat and paddled out beyond the kelp to await the sunrise.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

As long as we're talking about jazz and scoring movies, I think it's time somebody mentioned Johnny Mandel's score for "I Want To Live!" Beautifully written, and featuring inspired performances by people like Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan, Bud Shank, Pete Jolly, and Shelly Manne.

To change subjects ... I'd also like to recommend Barry N. Malzberg on Cornell Woolrich. There's a very good essay on working with Woolrich, which has appeared in a Malzberg volume titled (variously) "Engines of the Night" and "Breakfast in the Ruins." Malzberg also wrote an afterward to a collection of Woolrich's supernatural stories.

Malzberg is, himself, to be recommended, having written in his novel "Gather in the Hall of the Planets" the best Joe Dante satirical comedy never filmed. But that's a conversation for another day.

X. Trapnel said...

Vanwall, I've never quite understood what Richard Egan was meant to be. A second John Hodiak? a reconstituted Warner Baxter authority figure? I've only seen him in (whisper it) A Summer Place.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Mad" magazine called him "Richard Egad." I don't think he knew who he was supposed to be either. He strikes a pose of pained male confusion in both The Revolt of Mamie Stover and The 300 Spartans -- his best films.

X. Trapnel said...

My chief recollection of Richard Egan was a wrong-part-of-the toothpaste-tube smile indistinguishable from a glare. One more ambiguous artifact of the fifties I suppose.

Gerard Jones said...

Goose, thank you so much for bringing the conversation back to Bob Cummings! We came perilously close to losing sight of what's truly important.

The idea of Bob in the Fonda role is beginning to make an odd sort of sense to me, if he's specifically there to be nervous and slightly gutless. Then, if Tone brings more weight to the angry father, I wonder if the entire sense of the play begins to shift. Does it become less a story of the superhumanly noble liberal bringing enlightenment to the miscellaneous survivors of an older America, and more a story of the almost accidental ways through which truth can be found? I'm starting to think I'll have to watch this thing.

And Edward Arnold! I've never not liked Edward Arnold, even in You Can't Take It with You, where I think he has a lot of embarrassing, cloying business to deliver.

mndean said...

I always hesitate to say this, but the jazz issue might also contain a (dare I say it?) racial factor. That many (though hardly all) of the jazz scores I've heard of the '50s-'60s era are connected with films that have racial themes do seem like something approaching musical tokenism to me. It's a coarse joke since most jazz (post big-band era) was far more egalitarian (or should I say meritocratic?) than Hollywood ever was (even today), and the musicians themselves appeared frequently on television, even in the '50s. My admiration for Hollywood stems more from the talent they allowed to flower than the fact they also stifled much talent due to their not being the right "type".

X. Trapnel said...

I'm not inventing this nor did I dream it, but wasn't Bob Cummings arrested for or accused of shoplifting some time in the 1980s?

Gerard Jones said...

I'm also a fan of Johnny Mandel's I Want to Live score. He came up as a musician-turned-arranger in swing bands, a fertile source of "post-classical" movie and TV composers (Neal Hefti, Quincy Jones, Nelson Riddle, etc.). Again it's about understanding the sound of jazz but reining in improvisational urges to the needs of producers and formats.

What really made that score unique is that it was built around a specific musician, Gerry Mulligan. The real-life Barbara Graham was a Mulligan fan, and apparently from the beginning of the script-writing process it was agreed that she would be playing Mulligan records and his saxophone would become sort of a lietmotif. And it helped enormously that Mandel and Mulligan had known each other for years, even played together several times. So writing not just music that Mulligan could play but actually writing in Mulligan's voice was a pretty natural outgrowth of Mandel's band experience. (One of the things a swing-band arranger had to do was write solos to show off star musicians in their recognizable styles.)

Mulligan (and Farmer and the others) then worked extensively with Mandel on opening up to some improvisation and keeping their individual voices true while still hitting all the music cues Mandel had to. That wasn't unfamiliar to Mulligan, who liked pretty heavily arranged jazz himself, going back to when he was young and played in the so-called "birth of the cool" sessions arranged by Gil Evans (with John Lewis, among others). Art Farmer was in Mulligan's small group at the time. Some of the other guys (Manne, Shank, Rosolino) were movie studio veterans who also played "real jazz."

All of which is a long way of saying that it was a unique (as far as I know) coming together of film scoring and live-performance jazz. Unfortunately Mandel never got the chance (or maybe never had the desire) to do anything like it afterward. From then on I think he just did the usual: compose it and give it to an orchestra. I don't know his work that well. Don't know if there's anything interesting about it.

Goose said...

Actally, he was arrested for using some contraption that simulated the sound or vibrations of coins in a public telephone in order to fool the phone into giving him change.

Love that Bob!

X. Trapnel said...

Well, at least Henry Fonda never sank that low.

Kevin Deany said...

The fact that Elmer Bernstein's only Academy Award was for "Thoroughly Modern Millie" is another entry in the Oscar Hall of Shame.

Gerard Jones said...

I was so stunned by the Bob Cummings theft/fraud story that I've been looking for details online but have yet to find any verification. Could this be some sort of urban legend? (Though why anyone would bother to spin urban legends about Bob Cummings is beyond me.)

However, on the blog The Great Unmade Robert Aldrich Romantic Comedy I did find a fun Bob C anecdote, from the filming of Beach Party:

"Apparently Cummings would be a pain on set discussing his scenes and whinging about his dialogue until [director William] Asher says, 'What's wrong here is that you'd like Willie Wyler as your director and I'd like Cary Grant as my star, but I have you and you have me and let's just stop this fooling around and go make a movie.'"

Gerard Jones said...

Found it! It seems he was actually arrested for using something called a "blue box" in his apartment that fooled the phone into allowing him to make long-distance calls without a charge. It was while he was doing a play in Seattle in 1975, presumably calling home to LA or something. So sleazy, yes, but not as sleazy as stealing coins from a phone booth. More in the sort of pirated-cable-TV or use-someone-else-internet vein.

He paid the phone company an out-of-court settlement to have the charges dropped.

Yojimboen said...

Wow! Bobby C was a phone phreak?? A brand-new set of props are due; Cap'n Crunch lives! Attention must be paid! This is unending!

mndean said...

Cummings was hardly alone. There were a lot of people who knew how to do that (i.e. accessing phone company equipment for their own purposes) than you might imagine. I learned a lot of this from a neighbor kid whose father was a lineman. I learned how to do a number of things when I was a kid (including the "Captain Crunch" tone device - I never had the whistle - that led to blue boxes. It allowed control of trunk lines for calls to anywhere). Later more well known as Phone Phreaking. Phone Phreaks usually looked down on those who were mere users of the tech for their own gain. For a kid, it was harmless fun (who are you going to make an intercontinental call to?). For Cummings, it was likely just a way to dodge paying long distance charges.

Gerard Jones said...

I've learned that if you Google "Robert Cummings" all you get are filmographies and film blogs. It's when you Google "Bob Cummings" that you get the juicy stuff.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Johnny Mandel is the man who unites both "Freaky Friday" ('70s version) and "Point Blank," having written scores for both films.

For auteurist points, I'd mention the two Altmans ("M*A*S*H" and "That Cold Day In The Park"), two out of the three Ashbys ("Last Detail" and "Being There"), and the Boorman.

I remember the score for "Point Blank" being particularly good, in a non-showy way.

And at least Apted's "Agatha" and Hiller's "Americanization of Emily" brought forth two good song.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Plus, of course, the elephant in the middle of the parlor, Minnelli's "The Sandpiper" -- with its "Shadow of Your Smile" ever-present.

According to legend, Johnny Mercer, who passed on writing the words for that song, said that Paul Francis Webster's title reminded him of a lady with a moustache.

Yojimboen said...

You also learn from IMDb that Rob Zombie, musician turned indie horror/cult director, prefers his stage name to his birth name...
Yep, Robert Cummings.

Gerard Jones said...

Richard Egan: the he-man's Bob Cummings. Who is he supposed to be? Why did he get so many jobs?

He did earn a place in cinema history by appearing in the legendary Underwater...Jane Russell in 3D.

X. Trapnel said...

Idea for a film: The Blue Box to be directed by Paul Verhoeven. Now comes the good part. We tried casting Bernie Madoff; let's now cast Bob.

Gerard Jones said...

mndean: There is a race correlation with jazz soundtracks, but another correlation was crime. Jazz was made to stand for danger, thrills, underground lives, hustling, especially if it had seedy urban quality, like Mickey One. In Sweet Smell of Success it's the link to the crooked cop and the fake marijuana bust. Like I say, the real-life Barbara Graham was actually into Gerry Mulligan, but if she'd been into the Four Aces I doubt they would have built the I Want to Live soundtrack around them. Billy Wilder even went for a '20s-jazz sound in Some Like It Hot.

Movies about black people with urban/underground/criminal elements, like Odds went for jazz. But for the Lilies and Raisin sort of thing they'd go back to the usual. Safe Negroes weren't jazzy.

Yojimboen said...

Sadly, Underwater wasn't in 3d - I'd've remembered Jane Russell's two best friends comin' at me.

It was - I think - RKO's first venture into the 50s anamorphic sweepstakes, shot in something they called SuperScope.
Egan flexed well, but Gilbert Roland flexed better.

Not a bad music score by Roy Webb.

Gerard Jones said...

I'm crushed to learn that Underwater wasn't in 3D! I've heard it described as such--someone's misremembering of SuperScope, I guess. And here I thought I still had one cinematic thrill left to look forward to.

mndean said...

Gerard,
True, but they did put it in that cul-de-sac, where race and the street meet. As for Billy Wilder and Some Like It Hot, what else was he going to do? That decision was made as soon as he had the source material and the setting.

Yojimboen said...

They're probably remembering
this.

There's always Julie Adams in her virginal white maillot in The Creature from the Black Lagoon - that's in 3D.

Vanwall said...

Richard Egan and Bob Cummings shared the same train car with a lot of other stalwarts - the Express to the Second Tier, with a stop or two at the Top of the Heap for a cup 'o coffee. Egan rode it longer, but he did get off near the top a time or two - stolid and a manly man's best pal, he made the most of things, like Cummings. "The View From Pompey's Head" was his ticket to immortality that didn't depend on elevator music, and I recommend it for its merits, his acting among them. He essentially played the same character in all his films, some with less clothes on than others - lets face it, he could be speechifying to Hayley Mills' Pollyanna in Spartan underwear and tipping his skimmer in a summer-weight linen suit to David Farrar's Xerxes, and would you really know the difference? - but in this film, he's exactly perfect for the part. I mentioned "The Satan Bug" earlier, and it was George Maharis' best chance for jumping from that moving train, IMHO. Watch "Ramrod" if you get a chance, not for the leads, but for Don DeFore's amazing transformation from joe blow on the Express to devious, double-dealing, lying, murderous heel with a heart of gold, and see what range he actually had when offered that cuppa joe. Bob Cummings had that in him a few times, and half the time I see his name on the opening credits, I'm looking to see if that spark shows up.

Gerard Jones said...

Well put, mnd. But there are more examples if we want to get into them, including tons from TV. No question jazz was seen as the soundtrack to crime in mid-'50s to mid-'60s Hollywood.

X. Trapnel said...

Bob clearly had a good window seat on that second-tier train throughout the 40s, but after Dial M. he was pretty much in the baggage car. Has anyone seen [Try and Get Some] Sleep, My Love, a Sirk-directed, drive-the-wife insane exercise with Don Ameche (sitting across the aisle on that train) as (god help us) Boyer, Claudette Colbert as Bergman, and Bob as Joseph Cotten. (This may be where hitch got the idea to stick him in Dial M).

I've noticed how rarely Claudette Colbert is mentioned here. Although some would place her on a level with Myrna Loy and Carole Lombard, I've always found her curiously unsympathetic, rather affected, and a bit too knowing, almost to the point of smugness.

mndean said...

Trapnel,
I like the young '30s Claudette better than the one of the '40s. She acquired a bit of haughtiness, like I see in Roz Russell mid-career. Not to drag Sturges into another thread, but he did get some heat out of Colbert in Palm Beach Story, even if the two didn't get along. Otherwise, she's good, but often rather distant. I also have the same problems with a lot of Joan Crawford after around '38 with the exception of Mildred Pierce and a couple of others.

BTW, is anyone finding the word verifications awfully weird sometimes? Today's treat was "vaggies".

X. Trapnel said...

mnd

"Distant" sounds about right. She lacks warmth. No question she was a good actress and just right in Midnight, but its in the nature of that extra dry film that she doesn't have an interesting leading man (who, in any case is absent for about 2/3 of the story). You don't really care much about whether CC and DA get together; the other characters (Barrymore sublimely so) supply the fun.

The word verifications seem to me about as usual, chosen, it would appear, from an English-Neptune dictionary.

Gerard Jones said...

I like Colbert in It Happened One Night, where "Claudette Colbert" was invented, sort of. From that point on she seems like an ever-more self-conscious spinning out of the same quirks and tricks.

Palm Beach Story too. Sturges, of course, was great at using precisely what was most annoying about an actor to good effect. I like Betty Hutton in exactly one movie, Eddie Bracken in two, Rudy Vallee etc.

Now I must type "arkaddle."

X. Trapnel said...

While seeking out some bio information the other day on Charles Boyer, I read that he and Colbert performed together on stage some time in the fifties and that he requested of someone that they "keep that woman away from me." One wonders.

Gerard Jones said...

mndean's thoughts about jazz, race etc. have me thinking. In Sweet Smell we've got the lover in a mixed-race band, smoking muggles...I don't think I ever considered how much of JJ Hunsecker's psycho hatred of him is due to him being "tainted" by blackness. Even makes me wonder if there was some earlier version of the story in which he was black. (Casting an actor as white as Martin Milner is enough to make me think someone was overreacting to something.)

I imagine I'm wrong, but it's interesting to think about such a version. It would have been much more of a social drama, less about JJ's incestuous possessiveness. A comment not just on the power-madness of a Winchell but the increasingly nasty politicking of the breed. And it wouldn't be the first time Hollywood made a social critique into safer psychological drama. Anyone read the original Lehmann story?

First it said "stato" but by the time I tried to post it insisted on "flanci" instead.

X. Trapnel said...

My own reading of Hunsecker's rage is not so much racial, except in extenuation, as much as the jazz world represents a subculture of "this dirty city" in which he has no power or influence. It seemed at the time to be "the future (would that it were) supplanting the clapped-out vaudeville-theater world represented by the baggy pants ("we were too busy scraming") comic.

I like to imagine J.J. Hunsecker "screaming."

I just typed in "desne." sounds like a French actor of thirties who's name nobody is quite sure how to pronounce.

mndean said...

Gerard,
For the time of that story, that would have been awfully daring. It could have been interracial with a lighter shade of minority, but I seriously doubt it. Milner was just so earnest and clean-cut and whitebread (you know after a set he'd go to the bar for a glass of milk, to the derision of others), it was like they wanted to make him absolutely sinless, and it's a bad idea. Hunsecker could have been a monster even with someone a bit more realistic. If I could genuinely imagine Milner might have a few spliffs in his cigarette pack even if it would lose him his cabaret card, I might have a little more interest in his plight. A rebellious, talented guy with a bit of a streak of wildness that stirs Susie Hunsecker's passion might have me more into the big scene at the studio. He sounds more like the Voice of Young America, who's tired of the useless Red-baiting of years past. A cardboard figure, IOW.

Trapnel,
I liked Colbert in The Smiling Lieutenant and in The Big Pond. She was a lot more fun back then. I do want to see her in Cleopatra, which I think TCM is showing soon.

Oh, and "Sando"!

mndean said...

Gerard,
The word verification "feature" times out if you don't post within a short (for me) time. You end up getting the first word rejected for that reason. It's stupid, I don't see the point of a time limit.

Bokes!

X. Trapnel said...

I would have liked to see John Casavettes in the Milner role.

Gerard Jones said...

Cassevetes would have been fun. The actual guitarist with Chico Hamilton then (I assume providing the sound for Milner) was a guy named John Pisano. Don't know much about him, but clearly a New York bred hipster.

Milner and the girl (Harrison?) are definitely the two weak parts of that movie. But it's funny, I'm so used to the secondary young couple in Hollywood melodramas being incredibly dull that I've always just rolled with it. Just watched Street of Women for the second time, a WB weeper from '32 with Kay Francis and Alan Dinehart and the primary couple, with Roland Young as the third wheel, and Gloria Stuart and someone named Allen Vincent as the innocent young lovers who are buffeted about by their elders' selfish passions. The young ones are utterly wholesome, humorless and uninteresting.

Gerard Jones said...

aapoggie!

Yojimboen said...

CC, DD, BB - all French. CC less adorable than the others, perhaps because of her insistence on left profile only - figuratively and literally we only ever got to see one side of Claudette.

"wincell"

(Add an 'h' and you get 'Winchell'. Spooky.)

X. Trapnel said...

Yojimboen! How could you have left of the true and only MM! (not our plastic blow up doll)

MICHELLE MORGAN

Sulnedol. Isn't that the stuff that's supposed to make the sun blow up in Plan 9?

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