Friday, June 19, 2009

10 Books From a Cinephile's Past: From Reverence to Rape


From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, by Molly Haskell.

This book gets its own entry, in first person, and its own set of personal digressions.

The digressions begin with Mrs G., my favorite high-school teacher. She taught Psychology, a class available only to seniors and full of jocks convinced it was an easy way to boost your GPA. In truth Mrs. G. was not a hard grader; nose-to-the-grindstone was not her style and not what she was after. The discussions and the mental workout were the point of her class.

The big spring feature of Psychology was a senior project. You had half a class to present it and were supposed to spend most of a six-week unit working on it. One conservative, deeply religious girl did prison reform, I remember--asking the class to reconsider whether a purely punitive attitude towards corrections was good for the prisoners or good for society, talking about the effects of putting a low-level offender in with hardened cons. She had started her research with a "lock 'em up" attitude. That was Mrs. G.'s class for you, turning expectations on their head.

The project was loosely defined, and I found out just how loose when I got permission for my class project, an in-depth feminist analysis of movies focused on Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape. Psychology, you ask? Maybe not. More just Mrs. G.

I had discovered this book in the town library, and I probably took it off the shelf because the title struck me as promisingly salacious. I was only 18. But what I got between those baby-pink covers (the wit of that choice only struck me later) was a brain-rearranging look at the movies I had spent my childhood and adolescence watching while other kids were developing, well, a social life. Here was a fiercely intellectual critic who not only liked all the movies that I liked, but liked them for the same reasons. As much as I had been devouring Kael in the New Yorker, I couldn't say the same for her.

Haskell saw what I saw in the women's pictures:

...There is a third category, one to which the better women's films aspire: It is the fiction of the 'ordinary woman who becomes extraordinary,' the woman who begins as a victim of discriminatory circumstances and rises, through pain, obsession, or defiance, to become mistress of her fate. Between the suds of soap opera we watch her scale the heights of Stendhalian romance. [Haskell had me running to the Reader's Encyclopedia a great deal, too. -C.] Her ascent is given stature and conviction not through a discreet contempt for the female sensibility, but through an all-out belief in it, through the faith, expressed in directorial sympathy and style, that the swirling river of a woman's emotions is as important as anything on earth.


She understood why I disliked violence against women in modern films, why I rolled my eyes over women characters in action movies:

With the substitution of violence and sexuality (a poor second) for romance, there was less need for exciting and interesting women: any bouncing nymphet whose curves looked good in catsup would do.


She knew why I loved Bette Davis...

As Rosa Moline [in Beyond the Forest], Davis creates her own norms, and is driven by motives not likely to appeal to the average audience. She is ready and eager to give up husband, position, security, children (most easily, children), even lover; for what? Not for anything so noble as 'independence' in terms of a job, profession, or higher calling, but to be rich and fancy in Chicago! And here is Davis, not beautiful, not sexy, not even young, convincing us that she is all these things--by the vividness of her own self-image, by the vision of herself she projects so fiercely that we have no choice but to accept it...She says it for all smart dames when David Brian tells her he no longer loves her, that he's found the 'pure' woman of his dreams. 'She's a book with none of the pages cut,' he says. 'Yeah,' Davis replies, 'and nothing on them!'


and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday...

Russell does not become an imitation male; she remains true to the two sides--feminine and professional--of her nature, and as such promises to exert a healthy influence on the hard-boiled, all-male world of criminal reporting. It is as a newspaper reporter, rather than as wife and mother, that she discovers her true 'womanliness,' which is to say, simply, herself.


and Stage Door...

[Andrea] Leeds is the actress of phenomenal talent, Hepburn the brash and thoughtless upstart, but neither, contrary to the usual convention, is pictured as neurotic simply because of her determination. Nor do the life choices of the others--marriage, an affair, return home, den mother--appear as compromises but rather logical steps in each girl's evolution.


and Haskell also understood why I could look past certain aspects of the old movies and still love them.

The fact that I consider myself a film critic first and a feminist second means that I feel an obligation to the wholeness and complexity of film history. It means that art will always take precedence over sociology, the unique over the general.


Andrew Sarris is a very great critic, but my heart belongs to Molly.

So for half an hour I talked about this book, and the movies, in Mrs. G.'s class, and I can still remember the expressions on the faces of my fellow students when I began with a discussion of the virgin/whore dichotomy. I was loud, confident and well-prepared so I don't think they were bored. They just had no idea what the hell I was talking about. One football player (actually a nice guy) explained patiently to me that it was unreasonable to expect, for example, Indiana Jones to untie Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark because she was going to get hurt. I don't remember what he said when I responded that Allen had taken quite good care of herself to that point, and that in the old movies, women got hurt all the time--but in different ways.

Another football player (not such a nice guy) announced during discussion time, with a pointed look at me, that the only women espousing this kind of stuff were ugly ones who couldn't get a date. And my favorite part of the whole presentation was the look on his face when I held up the book to reveal the back-jacket photo of glowing, blonde, gorgeous Molly. Take that, Greg. Bet you're paunchy now. Haskell is still gorgeous.

Anyway, my stubborn decision to go with this subject matter goes some way toward explaining why I did not date in Alabama, but instead had to wait to land in New York, where some men looked at a fair-skinned feminist with a copy of the New Yorker under her arm and, when she brightly announced that Double Indemnity was at Theatre 80 St. Marks, said "Cool. What time?"

But Mrs. G. (who gave me an A, by the way) saw different things in me. The last day of school, just for fun, she went around the class giving predictions of where we would be in five years. She looked at me and said, to the sound of suppressed giggles, "C. will be in New York City living with a rock musician." And you know what? She was right.

Here's to Molly Haskell, Mrs. G., and all the other women, and men, who see things that others don't.

141 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

I've always been jealous of Andrew Sarris for marrying Molly Haskell. And yes, she is still hot.

One additional point, though. Since much of the film criticism available is on Hollywood or western films, I would hope you find the time to see some Asian films where there is a more consistent use of women as action heroes, especially Hong Kong films. I would like to know your thoughts. Might I suggest Come Drink with Me as a place to start.

Campaspe said...

Peter, would The Five Lady Venoms do? I have a copy of that one, don't ask why.

Tony Dayoub said...

I enjoyed this piece so much, I started out reading an excerpt to my wife in the car (we're travelling right now) and ended up reading her the whole thing.

She connected to your framing story very much because we're in Naples, Florida this weekend for her 20th High School reunion.

Gareth said...

Oddly enough, I read Haskell's book for the first time last weekend (I know, I know), and was absolutely bowled over by it. I love the way you capture the sense of encountering something life-altering; there's also something very vivid (cinematic?) about the account of the high school presentation!

One of the sentences that most stuck in my mind was one you quoted (with that reference to catsup at the end; I believe Ann-Margret was one of the names mentioned in that connection).

Classic Maiden said...

I really loved this post and really responded to it, especially the more personal angle.

What I connected to the most, was this bit from the book:

"The fact that I consider myself a film critic first and a feminist second means that I feel an obligation to the wholeness and complexity of film history. It means that art will always take precedence over sociology, the unique over the general."


- Sebina

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ncie post, especially the kicker about the dust-jacket photo.
Sarris and Haskell went together for a great many years before marrying. Much of her book still holds up, but I'm sure she'd want to alter and/or expand upon the points she was making then today..

Off-topic: saw Making The Boys last night, in which I make my motion picture debut.

Don't miss it.

Marilyn said...

I wish she would publish a second edition of this book. It needs to be a "new" book for new generations to enjoy.

One quibble - I absolutely love A New Leaf, which she roundly thrashes for its humiliation of women. I, for one, don't see the women in it putting themselves down, like in the insufferable Avanti!. They are who they are, and I just don't see that as sexist.

Campaspe said...

Marilyn, my edition is the 2nd edition from 1987, which updated things through the 80s. The one I reported on back in Mrs G's class was the 1974 edition, which I wish I still had. I like to keep a copy of the originals on hand, which is why I have an old version of A Biographical Dictionary of Film.

I haven't seen A New Leaf. As time went on I too developed some disagreements with her over particular movies that I thought she was too hard on (I rarely find her overpraising anything), but the book had an enormous impact on me and re-reading bits this week, it still does.

David, I am supposed to see Cheri next week. And now what I really want is a double feature of Making the Boys with Glenn Kenny in The Girlfriend Experience.

X. Trapnel said...

Great post, Siren; I love reading about someone's personal history with a book (fiction, poetry, non-fiction) that flash of discovery and then the calmer, longer illumination. My reverence for FRTR just got a boost from Haskell's essay in the Criterion Madame de in which she declares it the greatest film of all time. Fighting words, but I'll come in on Mh's side any time.

Campaspe said...

Sebina, thanks for stopping by! In her intro to the 2nd edition Haskell says drily that the quote was one even the dimmest talk-show host could wrap his head around, but the fact is, it's beautifully expressed and a rallying cry for a whole swathe of women who write about film.

Yojimboen said...

XT - Two days ago when I added Molly Haskell's name to your list of preferred critics, it was a speculative lob, I felt sure I was (as usual) in the minority.
Imagine how delighted I am to find others who appreciate her singular intellect.

I hadn't read her Criterion quote on Madame de, but needless to say in la cause DD, I'll join you and Molly at any barricade.

Vanwall said...

I sure wish I was a few years less aged in the bottle sometimes - it works great for Talisker and The Macallan, but for me, it meant a lot of damn interesting film writing came after my HS/College years. Playing catch-up was hard work - Haskell's was one that was worth it tho, as it was so refreshing when it came out, as it was diametrically opposed in premise to a lot of film writing that had gone on before, regardless of anyone previous who'd claimed to view women's roles in any serious manner. I read it again about 10 years ago, and it seemed to be telling that not a lot has changed for the better, or with more permanence. Actresses had not just the usual hurdles of interpretation, the acting had to bring out more than just the writing. One of the things that kind of sticks in my craw, was the expectation of more script writing for women in general in major productions, to get away from the Studio era of shaping the way women are portrayed from smoke-filled-room-lads' ideas of what women should want or need, that were forged between stiff drinks by the pool, in conference rooms with swell guys and coffee, or cheap rye in fly-specked residential walk-ups. Now they're drunken frat boys, it seems, so plus ca change, sadly.

I had a Humanities teacher who let us roam far afield, and I wish I had been less guarded in my interest in film, I might've enjoyed doing a class project on that subject, but the chance to perform unbowdlerized English Drinking songs was calling me.

This was one helluvan entry, Siren, I've sent the link to people I know who'll be nodding their heads and smiling as they read it.

Campaspe said...

Y., I didn't say anything about Haskell because I was marinating this post! The book has a lot of meaning for me, as you can see.

Vanwall -- unbowdlerized English drinking songs? That has its own charms. I hope your classmates appreciated them. Thanks for the high compliment of sending on the link, I am flattered.

Campaspe said...

Tony, I am also extremely flattered that your read this out loud. I haven't been to any class reunions but it's tempting.

Gareth, reading this for the first time is a kick, isn't it? The book is still unique, and Marilyn is right, it deserves another edition. I would love to hear Haskell expound on the last 20 years. I should pick up her GWTW book, too.

Campaspe said...

XT, I think Sarris also cited Madame de... as the greatest of all time. It certainly has a claim.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm not familiar with Five Lady Venoms and couldn't find much info on it. I thought you might find Come Drink with Me of interest as it is one of the first films to establish Cheng Pei-Pei as an action star, back in 1966, plus it is directed by King Hu, who could be considered to Hong Kong action films something like John Ford to westerns.

kassy said...

Excellent post! I'm going to re-read my copy starting right now.

Dan Callahan said...

I love "From Reverence to Rape," and I'd like to see another updated edition. I also very much like Marjorie Rosen's "Popcorn Venus," which came out in 1973, a year before Haskell's book. It focuses a bit more on the socioeconomic realities for women in the 30's and 40's.

May I just reiterate what a previous poster said about John Kobal's "People Will Talk." That's a book that you come back to again and again; it's stuffed with useful info and colorful opinions. He interviewed so many interesting people, both famous (Tallulah, Crawford, Ingrid Bergman) and obscure (Camilla Horn, Baclanova, Evelyn Brent and a very bitter Anna Sten). It also boasts the best Joel McCrea interview anywhere, a terrific Ann Sheridan interview, ditto Louise Brooks, and on and on.

Vanwall said...

Kobal's book is almost as much about the people who talked, as it is about Kobal himself. His sojourn with Dietrich that starts off his adventures is a marvel of descriptive brilliance, and he had a knack for not only making his subjects seem individually real - Joel McCrea's words come across with his voice and cadences - but he also was incredibly likable himself, Louise Brooks taking him almost as a family member, and their last parting is movingly poignant. The interviews with peripheral Hollywood players: dancers, designers, and the glamor photogs, like Willinger, are important historically. Great book.

mndean said...

This is one book that I can say I never read. And yet I don't even feel guilty about it. Why? I'd internalized the difference in how women were treated in film through the years long ago when I was a kid. To me, it was just too obvious not to be noticed. When the nadir hit during the '80s, I really got tired of watching young women acting as silly (don't go there, you'll be killed!) murder victims. Most of those films I was taken to by a girlfriend who loved horror movies. Go figure. Action films were the worst because they mostly didn't have women except as objects of action, rarely actors. Well, that or they'd make a nice nude corpse for the camera. I remember Kael complaining way back during the early '70s of action films becoming "jolts for jocks". She wasn't wrong on that score. What I don't understand is why women even go on dates to see these movies, let alone go by themselves. I used to see them there, though. As much as it may be an illuminating subject, it's really a depressing one, too.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"If Sam Goldwyn can
with great conviction
intruct Anna Sten in diction
then Anna shows --
Anything Goes!"

X. Trapnel said...

The absolute nadir in its depiction of women as in so much else was The Towering Inferno; see especially the scene in which the hysteria/cowardice of a bevy of ladies causes a presumably male-piloted rescue helicopter to crash. Also watch the camera gloat over the trapped Jennifer Jones (her adulterous companion escapes, no doubt to become a better husband and father).

mndean said...

Well, there was one time when I wanted something bad to happen to a woman who was trying to help - in Airport '75, when Karen Black was attempting to copilot a jet with a big hole in the cockpit, and I kept saying, "What's keeping her in that damn seat? Auric Goldfinger weighed three times as much and got sucked out a tiny window!" It was the only time I was depressed about a plucky woman triumphing (with help, of course. She couldn't do it alone. Oh, no). The rest of the film being terrible didn't help.

Karen said...

LOVE the new banner photo, Siren! It almost entirely wipes clean the memory of Olivier in the horrifying Westward Passage....

VP81955 said...

Both Haskell's book and "Popcorn Venus" got a lot of us to think about women's roles in film -- and I think it explains why so many of us now love that 1929-1941 era when women were allowed to shine on screen...not merely as beautiful objects of desire, but intelligent, multi-dimensional characters. Then of course came World War II, and once the war was won, we tried to recapture those days -- and found out we had forgotten how to do it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well it takes two to tango.. Women may have "fogotten" but the films that were being made didn't invite them to 'remember."

There's a world of difference between Jane Wyman in All That Heaven Allows and Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven -- even though they're essentially telling the same story.

As for comic lightness that won't return to the cinema until a stake is driven through Judd Apatow's heart.

Providing someone can actually find said heart.

Yojimboen said...

Hear, hear, on the new banner photo; what a lovely image. I don’t remember ever having seen Merle Oberon look so young and fresh and happy. And Larry O. doesn’t even seem that displeased at being so dazzlingly upstaged.
Well done, Madame Sirène; a perfect choice.

X. Trapnel said...

Not upstaged at all,Y, perfect complementarity. It is in the nature of things that Woman out-radiates Man, but you knew that.

Campaspe said...

I'm so glad everyone else likes the banner. That was my planned banner image for a redesign for a long time; don't know why I felt like using it now but it just seemed apt. I wish it were a sharper image; one of these days I have to figure out the whole screen cap thing. I do fine with the few computer skills I have but I am lazy about learning new ones.

IA said...

I think Sarris said that Lola Montes was the greatest film of all time, rather than Haskell's pick, The Earrings of Madame De...Thankfully that irreconcilable difference did not imperil their marriage. I'd personally go for Earrings--Lola is more technically more stunning but less deeply felt.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I find Lola Montes much more deeply felt than Madame de. . -- which covers familiar romantic territory. It does so elegantly but Lola Montes is about matters far more epic and profound than romantic love.


Sarris hailed Lola Montes back inn 1963, but in later years chickened out and traded it in for Madame de. . .

Campaspe said...

IA, you are correct! thanks for prodding my memory. I can't pick between them, I honestly can't. I find Madame de... has more to say about the emotional lives of women, so it isn't surprising to me that Haskell prefers it. But as David might argue, Lola Montes has a number of additional themes--history, memory, life as spectacle--that Madame de... doesn't.

Campaspe said...

By the way, the Siren is happy to see that Stewart Granger is July's Star of the month. She may not have much company though. :D

DavidEhrenstein said...

Madame de. . centers on a very straigthfowardly drawn, natirualistic character. Lola Montes is about an iconic figure whose emotional characteristics, such as they are, get deliberately shuffled to the margins of the mise en scene.

She tells Oscar Werner's student that she "loved" the King. Well who doesn't love Anton Walbrook. That's no Ophuls concern at all. In fact on the very minor sub-thematic level of interpersonal interchange her sado-masochistic relationship with Ustinov's ringmaster (who in the film's last moments confesses that he is her slave)counts for a lot more. But we only get little glancing glimpses of that. "Ne bouge pas", he tells her.

X. Trapnel said...

With all due respect to Lola Montes, it deals with a sideshow of history in an epic and purposefully two-dimensional way (if indeed the subject is the projection of desire and emotion on to a blank image or living tabula rasa; the charactrizations in LM are hardly as rounded as those in Mme de). Even though it works on a smaller canvas Madame de does not deal with romantic love alone (which in itself encompasses some pretty fearful depths and exalted heights), but issues of society and class, authenticity and hypocrisy, masculine and feminine role playing, the tragicomedy of emotional miscommunication, and most important how experience changes human beings. In all of this Ophuls is the greatest cinematic inheritor of the nineteenth-century realist novel. The Red and the Black, Anna Karenina, and Madame Bovary are also about romantic love

Campaspe said...

Well, I agree with David on Lola AND XT on Madamde de, which is why I am a weasel who just wants BOTH movies thankyouverymuch. Really the only Ophuls I didn't swoon over was La Signora di Tutti and even that had some marvelous bits.

IA said...

Well said X. Trapnel.
While we're on an Ophuls kick, here's Laura Mulvey on Madame de...
http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/pdfplus/10.1525/fq.2009.62.4.16?cookieSet=1

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks IA.

They seem to be offering only the first page of the Mulvey article, cut off just when things were starting to get interesting...

Classic Maiden said...

Indeed it is, Campaspe :)

IA said...

That's odd about the first page. I can see the other pages, so perhaps I provided a wrong link. You can see all of the article by going to www.filmquarterly.org, clicking on "Current Issue, Summer 2009" and then clicking on the Mulvey article to download the pdf. Hope that will work for you.

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks; that worked.

A good article but it stopped short at explaining an enigma (or flaw; only Allah is perfect). I've always thought it highly implausible that a duel would be allowed to take place between a general and an ambassador from a friendly (or, for that matter unfriendly) country. Why does the General invent an insult to the army as a pretext rather than challange his opponent as a point of honor (as Stauffer does in Letter From an Unknown Woman)? My own understanding has been that Boyer (who has customarily masked his emotions with irony) uses the military pretext to cover not so much the humiliation of cuckoldry(manifest since Louise fainted at the hunt) as a deeper pain that Louise does not love him. My suggestion is that the emotions of the film run much deeper than the social conventions it depicts.

Yojimboen said...

Chère Madame – Peter Wollen, the film essayist, lecturer, Director and Screenwriter (Antonioni’s The Passenger) has said he considers La Signora di Tutti the greatest film in the history of cinema.

(Seems that Ophüls guy was pretty good.)

Personally I’d rank his top ten thusly:

1 Madame de...
2 Letter from an Unknown Woman
3 La Ronde
4 Mayerling
5 Le Plaisir
6 Montparnasse 19
7 La signora di tutti
8 The Reckless Moment
9 Caught
10 Lola Montès

Campaspe said...

**the Siren throws down her white kid gauntlet**

Y., while there were some wonderful images in it, there is no way in hell La Signora ranks above Reckless Moment, Caught and Lola Montes. Isa Miranda alone sinks it below those three.

and ... what, no love for Liebelei?

X. Trapnel said...

Y, how much of Ophuls is actually in Montparnasse 19? I was under the impression that Becker had inherited the project before any filming was done.

Personally, I'd place Le Plaisir higher than From Mayerling to Sarajevo, but until Liebelei can be wrested from the barbarians (Cavafy was wrong; they wear suits now) all rankings are provisional.

DavidEhrenstein said...

He did. Ophuls died during pre-production. It's Becker's film -- and a very good one too.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My ranking would be

1. Lola Montes
2. La Ronde
3. The Reckless Moment
4. Letter From an Unknown Woman
5. Madame de. .
6. Le Plaisir
7. La Signora di Tutti
8. Caught
9. The Exile
10. Liebelei


Ophuls didn't direct Mayerling. He made a from called From Mayerling to Sarajhevo -- which is quite a different affair.

X. Trapnel said...

My ranking of what I've seen

Madame de
Letter From an Unknown Woman
La Ronde
Le Plaisir
Lola Montes
The Reckless Moment
Caught

Both Arthur Schnitzler and Stefan Zweig (the recipient of the Letter is nameless in the story. Ophuls invented the name Stefan Brand [zweig=BRANch]) were intensely interested in and supportive of film versions of their work. Sadly neither lived long enough to see Ophuls' masterpieces.

Yojimboen said...

Well, that woke everybody up.

X – I read somewhere years ago there was quite a lot of Max in Montparnasse; I may be wrong (it has happened once or twice in my life), but you’re right in that all rankings are provisional.
Coincidentally I just took delivery this morning (my sainted Paris contact) of several Ophuls hitherto unseen. Viz:

Komedie om Geld
Liebelei
La Tendre Ennemie
Werther
The Reckless Moment (French vers)


I’ll try to get through them by the weekend and yes, Madame, I suspect my list will change, but not, I fear, to Lola’s benefit.
I have no wish to stir the Lola Montes pot again. Suffice to say I saw it on its initial release, have seen it a few more times over the years (including at least one “restoration”) and have found nothing to alter my view that it is a profoundly flawed film.
(One man’s opinion.)

another man’s opinion:

P.S. I believe the correct title of the film directed by Ophuls was De Mayerling à Sarajevo, which is of course the film I was referring to. Dreadfully sorry if my abbreviation caused any confusion; it apparently played under several titles around the world (including “Mayerling”); I myself saw it in the UK under the title “Sarajevo”. The 1968 Mayerling starring Sharif and Deneuve, I also quite like, but not as much as the Ophuls. The 1936 Mayerling starring Boyer and Darrieux, I like more than the Ophuls.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, my Parisian contact is the Devil (of laziness) herself. Since my own cajoling has proven useless, I've invented a character (partly based on you) who needs the goods by a certain date.

Modigliani led an alarmingly filmable life, so I'm hoping that M19 will break the cursed nature of the artist biopic (something like the baseball biopic--Pride of the Yankees excepted).

Karen said...

By the way, the Siren is happy to see that Stewart Granger is July's Star of the month. She may not have much company though. :D

Gack. You ain't lyin', sister.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen, don't say Stewart Granger's being has not enriched and enlivened life on our planet:

The Prisoner of Zenda

at the end a
"The Prisoner of Zenda"
the king being out of danger,
STEWART GRANGER
(As Rudolph Rassendyll),
Must swallow a bitter pill,
By renouncing his co-star
Deborah Kerr.

It would be poor behavia
In him and in Princess Flavia
Were they to put their own
Concerns before those of the Throne.
Deborah Kerr must wed
The King instead.

Rassendyll turns to go.
Must it be so?
Why can't they have their cake
And eat it, for heaven's sake?
Please let them have it both ways,
The audience prays.
And yet it is hard to quarrel
With a plot so moral.

One redeeming factor,
However, is that the actor
Who plays the once-dissolute King
(Who has learned through suffering
Not to drink or be mean
To his future Queen),
Far from being a stranger,
is also STEWART GRANGER.

--Richard Wilbur

Yojimboen said...

C’mon, Karen, what’s not to love about this?

You got Stewart G., Mel Ferrer, Janet Leigh, Eleanor Parker – a veritable cornucopia of Metro’s B team, in one of the lamest swordfights ever put on film (plus the whole thing seems to be umpired by Andy Hardy’s dad).

It’s sheerly, magically awful, and I WANT those tights!

X. Trapnel said...

Nice score by the sorely underrated Victor Young.

X. Trapnel said...

"'Mel Ferrer's the better bet,' screeched the demented TV septet."--from Georges Perec's novel The Exeter Text in which the only vowel to appear is "e"

IA said...

Scaramouche is a lovely semi-spoof of the vanishing swashbucker genre--it represents the form in decadence. And Granger is perfect in the role; he fully captures the hale and ironic qualities of the hero. The final swordfight is tamely cut by today's standards, but it's commonly regarded as one of the best in classical Hollywood film--hardly one of the lamest.
Has anyone here seen the silent version starring Ramon Navarro and directed by Rex Ingram? It's a good deal more serious and closer to the book. It's a fine movie but a stately one, and lacks the zest of the 50s version.

Vanwall said...

M Yo - Speaking as a college fencer, Scaramouche's swordstrokes swapped twixt champagne flutes is the apogee of the H'wood form, and nonpareil in that "art". It's absurdly fun to watch, and beats a Looney Toon all to hell in that aspect. "Lame" is a lame appreciation of a lost art - it's effing hard to do it so well. Besides, I happen to know Mr. Hardy, who's sympathies were decidedly with Mr Peckinpah in these things, was tied up and stuffed in the vampire, and his place was taken by drunken Blind Pew.

hamletta said...

Miss Campaspe,

I, for one, share your enthusiasm for Mr. Granger, if only because he's up there with Howard Keel among the Men Who Should Be In Tights, Always.

If you do not love Scaramouche, I do not want to know you. Granger, Ferrer, and the lovely Miss Eleanor are having such a grand time in that movie, anyone who doesn't enjoy it must be pictured in the dictionary next to the word "tedious."

He also starred with our beloved George in The Light Touch. Also.

Yojimboen said...

Dear me, Messrs X. & VW, I’m reminded of Mort Sahl’s old line: “Is there anybody here I haven’t offended yet?”
I adore Stewart Granger – one of my boyhood heroes. I also adore Scaramouche - why else post the Youtube clip? I can boast proudly of having paid to see that film – in theatres– at least a dozen times. Anyone here match that? Seriously, the important thing is not to take these things too seriously. Something can be “lame” and still be adorable & fondly remembered.
(Think of any 50s sitcom.)

I will respectfully take small issue with the swordfight being “…tamely cut by today's standards…” Granted, but it’s also rather tamely cut and choreographed by contemporary standards.

Compare it to this swordfight shot three years earlier by the same director, George Sidney.

True, neither Granger nor Ferrer was as spry as Gene Kelly, (and the reportedly best swordsman in H’Wood, Basil Rathbone, was over at Warners), so they did their yeoman best, and quite nice it was too.

I thought it was a lovely film when I was a kid, I still think it is, but we do mature, and things we loved as kids inevitably appear less great than before. I don’t believe I ever disliked Stewart Granger in any film (he was a landsmann and married to the world’s most beautiful woman – how bad could he be?)
Mel Ferrer I didn’t always like (he was married to the world’s most desirable – but unattainable woman – so he was easy to resent).
Eleanor Parker, sorry, never did a thing for me – I grouped her with Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming – decorative but utterly unsexy.

I have seen the Ramon Novarro silent version – it’s terrific. Plus, it also bears a neat little piece of trivia: Andy Hardy’s dad – Lewis Stone – appears in both versions, 1923 and 1952.

Campaspe said...

Hamletta, you remind me of a great line from David Shipman, discussing "The Light Touch" in his essay on George Sanders: "He alone had it." :D (There, Karen should appreciate the Granger dis there.)

However, I love me some Stewart Granger and his autobiography beats My Wicked Wicked Ways all hollow, even if Granger was not the equal of Flynn on film. Granger had a sense of humor; I can't remember if it's in his memoirs or later that he said dryly "I'm a very good actor. I played all those love scenes with Phyllis Calvert and I didn't like her very much."

Y., I am glad you love Scaramouche but that swordfight is SO NOT LAME, I adore every minute of it. And I also love Scaramouche, as indeed I love all swashbucklers, the left-wing alternative to the essentially conservative genre of the Western. Scorsese devotes a nice chunk of discussion to the Scaramouche fight in his American film doc.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My favorite Stewart Granger is Lang's sublime Moonfleet

Campaspe said...

David, Moonfleet is yet another one we're all waiting for on DVD (or anything else). I have no idea what the holdup is there because it was MGM (and how) and usually the Turner/TW group is better with releasing things by well-known auteurs. When I saw it on TCM a few years ago the print looked fine to me. Maybe a weird rights issue? It's a great film.

Campaspe said...

Adding -- looked it up and apparently it's on Region 2 as it's highly regarded in France. But no Region 1. DVDBeaver says that because Moonfleet isn't well known in the US we shouldn't expect a release soon. I understand what they're saying but if freaking Fritz Lang isn't enough of a reason I just give up.

So I have decided that when we go to Paris in August I am going to Take One for the Team and buy Moonfleet in Region 2. As with Bigger Than Life and (purportedly) Make Way for Tomorrow, this almost guarantees an imminent Region 1 release. No thanks necessary ....

mndean said...

Siren,
You won't believe the stuff that's out on Region 2 that's not on Region 1. Kinda takes the stuffing out of the studio's arguments that they can't release a lot of these films. I have a region-free player (hee hee, easiest things in the world, did it myself), but it's still NTSC, so I'd still need a PAL-NTSC converte or something. Besides, that stuff is expensive to ship over here.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Before shooting his deleriously insnae female pirate flick Noroit, Jacques Rivette screened Moonfleet for the entire cast.

I used to have it on laserdisc. Remember laserdisc?

Granger is great in it as are Vivica Lindfors, Joan Greenwood, George Sanders, and Lilianne Montevechhi.

Vanwall said...

Hmmm. The Stewart ouvre on telly...this means an Old Surehand evening! Bring on the brats and kraut!

surly hack said...

Siren, Haskel's name name keeps coming up around a current series on the American films of Max Ophuls. Your piece makes me even more curious about her take on the films, especially Caught.(Spoiler warning) My companions found the happy ending--which included a miscarriage--both startling and abrupt. Many films of the golden age of reasonable running times end abruptly, with the 'happy' part of the ending seeming far too easy, but Caught's is especially startling, and because it is it makes you think about what the film is about. I think it is about romance, the real opposed to the fancifully imagined. I understood my friends' reaction, but I had to ask them, would they have wanted a half hour of post-partum depression at the end of the film?

X. Trapnel said...

SH, I've often wondered whether there was some post-Ophuls editing at the end of Caught; my (hazy) memory has Frank Fergusson noting the death of the baby, cut to Barbara B-G with odd Mason voiceover, cut back to Mason and Fergusson in a casual, "now we can get on with our lives" mood.

surly hack said...

Immediately after the miscarriage Mason pretty much says "Look on the bright side, there's nothing standing between us now." The End.

surly hack said...

Btw, Fergusson is great in the film, and the handling of his character is extremely deft (not a surprise in ophils, I know). We are introduced to him briefly rushing into and out of the office, and he leaves the impression of a fully formed supporting character with a very full life off-screen.

X. Trapnel said...

Another Frank Fergusson fan! I also like him in On Dangerous Ground. He always seems very real.

Yojimboen said...

Per your subtle coaxing, Madame Sirène, I finally caught up with Liebelei last night – you’re right of course, it is a joy; it goes straight on to my list at number 3 or 4 (at the expense of she who shall be nameless, sorry).

XT. – searching carefully I found three sources that have Ophuls as ‘co-writer’ of the Montparnasse screenplay; two sources which have him dying “during” production (Wiki included) as opposed to “before”, and several sources which name him as “uncredited” co-director; but all that’s iffy and ultimately academic; his script co-authorship is enough for me to keep the film on my Ophuls list.

Thanks for making me do the homework.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, do you actually dislike Lola M? I can think of several "classics" that might serve for Movie Nite at Guantanamo, but LM is not in that class. Unlike, say...

Yojimboen said...

X., contrary to appearances I really don’t set out capriciously to trash the favorite movies of my fellow-posters. I genuinely derive no pleasure from hurting the feelings of people whose opinions and voices, by and large, I respect and enjoy. But once in a while, we all come slap-bang up against that realization that someone you may like has an opinion about this or that film or actor or filmmaker with which you strongly disagree. That’s all.

I suppose I could write a fairly lengthy monograph slash diatribe on why I think Lola Montes fails as a film, but it would convince no one who hasn’t arrived at the same conclusion spontaneously. I’m learning there are certain sacred cows in film forums such as this one; here, besides LM, they seem to include Messrs Eastwood, Scorcese and others whom I may or may not particularly care for. The sole difference appears to be that I don’t take it personally when someone expresses an opinion differing from mine.
No big whoop.

Re Saturday matinees at Gitmo? Mrs Doubtfire would be my first choice. I don’t just think it’s an awful film; no, I think it’s so bad everybody connected with it should go to prison – including the children – with the possible exception of Pierce Brosnan, who at least had the grace to look faintly embarrassed by the proceedings.
But that’s just me.

P.S. Please don’t ask me about Moonfleet.

mndean said...

Yojimboen,
I doubt you need the comfort, but on Mr. Eastwood, I agree with you wholeheartedly. As for Mr. Scorsese, he's made many good movies, only not lately. Lola Montes I don't bring up as it's something I saw so long ago on bad VHS that I don't remember much of it. It certainly didn't linger om my mind like La Ronde did, which was the first Ophuls I saw.

There almost seemed to be two kinds of directors in the old studio days, those that did any kind of film without thinking much of what to do except shoot it by the script, and those who did the films their own way, and often limited their choice of material to what they were comfortable with. There were some exceptions then of course, but nowadays every filmmaker wants to be an artist and a hack.

BTW, who needs Guantanamo to be tortured? When I had jury duty the first time, I was forced to watch Jumanji, the group pick. The second time forced to watch Fox News. I pulled a couple of strings and now have a permanent excuse from jury duty.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I never thought for a moment that your cinematic refusals were conceived in malice. I'm not ready to give up on Lola. Most of the time I just smile and shrug when my favorites are questioned (tho I am a bit thin-skinned on Ophuls) or when some film that causes me boredom, irritation, incomprehension, pain, anguish, dizzyness, slurred speech is held to be so great as to be a guage of one's human worthiness. The inverse of this latter can only apply to a certain kind of bad film (I'll get to Mrs. Doubtfire in a moment). Badness used to be morally neutral; we even reserve a certain affection for bad movies and in good, slightly drunk company any Stanley Kramer movie (I'll bet Juror 8 liked them) or 60s sexcapade can yield genuine pleasure. Why, then, is the characteristic badness of Mrs. Doubtfire impossible to enjoy even ironically? Why is it a moral debacle, an incitement to rage, an invitation to an unlawful wounding should any of the luckless principals cross our path? Gitmo? Hell, I want to see Robin williams at the end of Pvt. L. England's leash.

My word verification is "pulping." Good.

Campaspe said...

Yojimboen, I find that as I get older I take it less and personally when someone dislikes what I love, and find people who react like wounded bears to any dissing of their idols to be more and more tiresome. I still remember the unbridled, quite personal nastiness of a commenter at Scanners when I trashed Se7en (which is a lousy movie by my lights, and I offer no apologies for saying so). I haven't made a comment there since, although Jim Emerson is a great blogger and I love reading his posts. I just can't cope with the fanboy "love me, love my movies" thing.

Here at the Siren's, it okay to dislike anything and to be quite acerbic about it. (Except Citizen Kane. That's the one house rule.) I would be much more irked at a personally insulting response to someone here who really hated Lola Montes. Thank goodness, I see none.

And hey, even if you didn't like the very great Goodfellas, you loved Liebelei. Isn't Maria Schneider's last scene incredible? And ever since I saw it, I have been trying find someone who can tell me what song she sings at the audition. Anyone? XT?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mrs. Doubtfire is a piece of crap, but it doesn't annoy me as much as "gimp"-fests (Manny Farber's term) like Basic Instinct or neo-fascist parade floats (Manny again) like Forrest Gump.

Lola Montes cuts directly against the grain of what most people want in movies. It's "heartless" in that it has a heroine we're never allowed "emotoional access" to, and it has no interest in conventional romantic love whatsoever. It's about the audience -- who Ophuls relentlessly bitch-slaps with the most delicate velvet glove I've ever seen.

In short it's positively diabolical.

No way to win fans when you treat the spectators like the loathesome idiots they mainly are.

Marty gets a lot of ink (and pixels) because he raised the bar and has had a difficult time keeping up with his own high standards. That he is still allowed to make films at all is rather remarkable in an industry dominated by cartoons. But after you've made the likes of Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, New York New York, After Hours, The Last Temptation of Christ and Casino it seems almost churlish to ask for more.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, I'm pretty good at the Viennese version of Name That Tune; if I could just get my trembling hands on Liebelei...

X. Trapnel said...

David, I like your take on Lola Montes and will keep it in mind for my next re-see. I think though that Madame de in a different way denies the audience conventional movie pleasures; the emotional situation becomes more and more excruciating as the film moves relentlessly to its tragic ending; the last scene in the empty church is devastating and there is no warmly romantic afterglow.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Possibly, X. But then this also lines up with romantic tragedy and the way it invites us to enjoy a herine's suffring. Darrieux in de is right up there with Garbo -- who as I trust you know Ophuls wanted to bring back to the screen in a film of Balzac;s The Duchess of Langeias. James Wong Howe shot screen tests of the goddes (they're available on a new Garbo set) but no one was interested in investing. So Garbo went back into retirement and Ophuls left the U.S. for France -- where he made Madame de. . .

As for The Duchess of Langeias, Rivette made a teriffic film out of it two years ago -- Don't Touch the Axe with Jeanne Balibar and the beautiful, doomed Guillaume Depardieu.

X. Trapnel said...

David, here I must disagree; I believe there's a steely core of realism in Ophuls (which perhaps is given greater play in Lola Montes) that does not prettify (even when its DD) or exalt suffering for the audience to warm its hands over (a small example: I can't imagine a Garbo-type romance that would include the bleak comedy of Louise's enforced exile with the General's awful relatives). Ophuls never forsakes beauty (or pleasure: "Pleasure is the only law"--Claude Debussy) but it's at the service of tragedy (there is nothing tragic about Camille, which is kitsch, though of the highest grade).

Campaspe said...

XT, I worry about Liebelei -- I saw it at the BAM Ophuls festival last year and the print they had was in really bad shape--jumps, sporadic fading, spots, you name it. I thought, "if this is the best BAM can do, this poor movie is in trouble."

Y., how was the version you saw?

Yojimboen said...

It's actually quite good - I'll send it along to you if you want.

Magda Schneider’s very sweet and very sad audition song is Schwesterlein, Schwesterlein (subtitled as ‘Little sister, little sister…’) and is identified as “Brahms, No.15 from Deutsche Volkslieder, book III”.

Here's a sample link.

Personally for me, just looking at Magda's face makes the loss of Romy that much more poignant.

Campaspe said...

Y., THANK YOU!! Yes, that is it, I recognize it. So lovely. I had no idea it's Brahms. As used in the film it's heartbreaking.

DavidEhrenstein said...

X, I'm not talking about what Ophusl does so much as what audiences almost invariably do with romantic tragedy. Madame de. . . is preferred by many to Lola Montes for numerous (sometimes perfectly valid) reasons. But I've always found the chief one to be that we can "fell" for Darrieux in ways that we can't for Carol.

We are dogged by sentimentality

DavidEhrenstein said...

I feel the loss of Romy most keenly while watching Visconti's episode of Bocaccio '70

X. Trapnel said...

No disagreement on Romy in Boccaccio '70. Hell, she (and the Bradbury Building) add a glow of undeserved splendour to Good Nabor Sam.

surly hack said...

X, A form of Ophuls' "steely realism" extends to The Exile, which I just saw last night for the first time. The usual swashbuckling and romance of the genre is is given a layer of melancholy, and death by duel has a genuine gravity, something quite rare in this typically lighthearted action genre.

X. Trapnel said...

SH, I had the idea that The Exile was done under duress or out of desparation for work (or is that Vendetta?) My curiosity is aroused. It certainly has a good cast.

surly hack said...

X, Here's a very good writeup of The Exile:

http://archive.sensesofcinema.com
/contents/cteq/06/39/exile.html

Campaspe said...

Surly, I neglected to welcome you back and say how glad I am to see you around. The Exile was one I missed at BAM to my deep chagrin.

I have no idea if it was Ophuls who decided on the ending of Caught, but I loved it because the scene had such a dry, logical, unsentimental attitude toward what the baby was actually going to mean to Bel Geddes's life, as opposed to our usual notions of maternal instinct. I tend to think either Ophuls was fine with the way it is structured, or he made the very best of the dialogue. Because the ambulance scene is Ophuls at his steeliest, to borrow XT's phrase. And yet there is real empathy and relief there, too, particularly for Mason.

I can't think of a single filmmaker who would have the nerve to film a scene like that in a contemporary movie -- and mean it.

surly hack said...

Thanks, Siren. And I can't think of a contemporary filmmaker who could pull off Ophuls' opulent reserve.
And Ophul's "realism" is tempered by a general lack of passing judgement on his characters. I've only seen a few of his thirties films, but the villains that appear in his forties American films disappear in the fifties French and European films.

mndean said...

Good Neighbor Sam? Please do not mention that movie around me again. A horrifying experience except for seeing Romy (absolutely inexplicable what she's doing in the film) in full color. Having her in the film was like plopping an art piece in sewage, not even to make a artistic point, but just to show you can do it. If anyone wants to show how ugly suburban life really is, just show this. That it's supposed to be funny is the worst part of all.

As for Marty, nobody has mentioned a single one of his disappointments, which is something. I was not pleased with Gangs of New York, having studied the subject many years before the movie was made. Jacob Riis is just the appetizer for a story of squalor and misery that I really thought he could make something of. The source material is vast and fascinating. I was wrong about Marty and the subject.

Strange personal Romy bit: once at the old video store I haunted nearly daily worked a young woman who was at least 6'2" and facially resembled both Romy and Pamela Franklin (depending on the angle you looked at her, it was an odd combination but it worked). I was smitten. She of course had to be 15 years younger than me and had no interest in old Hollywood films. I think she watched practically nothing but foreign films, usually Japanese and NOT Kurosawa.

X. Trapnel said...

"Op[h]ulent reserve"--perfect, SH. Another instance may be the way the camera dwells lovingly over the Maison Tellier, but won't let us see past the windows and those ?&@%#&%!& blinds.

X. Trapnel said...

Sorry to bring up GNS, mnd, but it was my first (mesmerized) view of Romy (later as an adolescent reading The Magic Mountain, I cast her as Clavdia Chauchat [which I still think is perfect]). I can only guess that her presence in the aforementioned abomination was an attempt at a Hollywood career (amazingly few continental Europeans have done it. I attribute this to the sexual panic of the average American male. Just watch Jack Lemmon do his Porky Pig jibber-jabber when he stumbles into Romy's bedroom).

Yojimboen said...

Madame Sirène, for me the most striking (and frankly astonishing) thing about Christl/Magda’s final scene is its pristine timelessness. There is no demand on the viewer, no need to judge it in the context of when it was shot (1933: sound movies were about 20 minutes old!), it could have been shot yesterday. The beauty/truth, truth/beauty of her speech – done in a single take close-up – shatters the heart in a million pieces.

There are three distinct places in Liebelei when Ophuls deliberately conceals the action from us.

The first is during the sleigh ride, and the lovers’ first kiss; Ophuls cuts away, decorously and discreetly; not forcing us to, but rather inviting us to join him in averting our eyes from this tender and private moment.

SPOILER ALERT: If haven’t seen Liebelei, read no further.

The second is the duel, which he places off-screen, the outcome made clear by the distant single pistol shot. In no way coy or artificial, we sense Ophuls is protecting us (as we are represented by Mizzi) from the horror.

The third is Christl’s suicide. In an act of singular grace and decency, Ophuls cuts away again, protecting us one last time, but more importantly, according the heart-broken girl her dignity and privacy.

I think Max Ophuls’ Liebelei is an unalloyed masterpiece.

P.S. I’ve had on my shelf for the longest time a copy of Christine, the 1958 remake with Romy taking the role her mother made famous (and Alain Delon as her lover). I held off looking at it - no easy task given my adoration of Romy - until I’d seen the original. Now I’m afraid to look at it.

P.P.S. Much as I admire David Shipman, I’ve always found his appraisals of the Schneiders mere et fille to be strangely unkind and condescending.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I was working as an usher at the Baronet/Coronet theaters on Third Ave in new York when Good Neighbor Sam premiered and as a result saw it some 70 times.

Vendetta was begun by Preston Sturges. Ophuls took over for a few days before it went inot other hands. It was finally signed by Mel Ferrer. And all this insanity was brought to you by Howard Hughes in his failed attempt to turn Faith Domergue inot the Next Big Thing.

More desperation for Ophuls when he was assigned Siren of Atlantis starring Maria Montez (who he directed so delightfully in The Exile) For one reason or another hewas off that picture as well. Gore vidal deals with it in depth in Myron (his great sequel to Myra Breckinridge(

DavidEhrenstein said...

The IMDB doesn't mention Ophuls, but he was in there too -- most likely more in pre-production

mndean said...

I can verify that I've read Ophuls being part of Vendetta. If I remember what I read correctly, Sturges wrote first screenplay and wanted Ophuls to direct the film, Hughes was rather nasty about Max, insulting his talent rather heavily. Sturges dropped out (I'm not sure Max was ever hired) and the whole mess landed in Ferrer's lap. Sturges and Ophuls were friends, but Hollywood wasn't Max's place and Sturges couldn't or didn't fight for Max to stay on the film. Same old Hollywood game. I may have some errors in the above, it came from a Sturges book I read years ago.

Campaspe said...

Am I the only one who has seen Vendetta? Sweet Saint Francis of Assisi it is bad. Ophuls was well shed of that one. Domergue was exquisite but had zero acting ability; hell, Vera Hruba Ralston could have blown her off the screen. Now can you imagine being Max Ophuls and your last leading lady was Edwige Feuillere and now you have...(drum roll) Domergue?

All the same, that big gap in Ophuls' filmography where he was cooling his heels in Hollywood could break your heart.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, I'm sure you must know Lutz Bacher's Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios; an excruciating tale of frustrated genius and it's a bloody miracle or a testament to MO's will that we have the films we do. Among the projects scotched during the out-of-work period were a remake of Liebelei, Schnitzler's great novella Berta Garlan, and a version of Fanny (we had to wait for Josh Logan for that). Ophuls hoped to make an American comeback in the 50s with a film on Degas and--I wail and gnash my teeth as I write this--a film of Buddenbrooks. I would happily trade Lola Montes for any of these.

mndean said...

Siren,
I think you may be the only one brave enough to admit seeing Vendetta.

Yojimboen said...

X. Actually there was another version of Fanny between Pagnol’s and the dread Mr. Logan’s. James Whale in 1938 directed Port of Seven Seas using only the first 2/3rds of the trilogy. Scripted by Preston Sturges, no less, and starring Wallace Beery as Cesar and Frank Morgan as Panisse.

They dropped the character name “Fanny” (presumably considered too silly/giggly a word in Americanese) in favor of “Madelon”, here played by the gorgeous Maureen O’Sullivan.

I’ve seen it. Beery devours every piece of scenery not nailed down and Jerry Colonna has an uncredited cameo as an arab rug dealer.
Need I say more?

X. Trapnel said...

Y, some people are oblivious to the instability of language. We've all heard of "Joshua Logan's Fanny," but I recall as well a music critic noting that "Jacques Ibert was justly famed for his Little White Ass." That's "Le Petit Ane Blanc" or, if you prefer "The Little White Donkey."

Kevin Deany said...

I too saw "The Exile" this week for the first time and blogged about it, though the emphasis is more on star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. than Max Ophuls. It makes sense in the context of the blog.

I feel a little embarassed to promote it, as I think my scribblings can't hold a candle to the witty and erudite people who post here. But if anyone is interseted, I invite you to stop by.

I thought I noticed that Max's name was misspelled in the credits of "The Exile." It read, I think, Opuls. Does anyone know if he was trying to Americanize his name for his American film debut? Or was it a missprint?

Yojimboen said...

Not a misspelling; he also spelled it "Opuls" on Letter From an Unknown Woman; Caught & Reckless Moment.

An attempt perhaps at 'The Americanization of Max'?

It's not a big leap to presume some studio underling pointed out that phonetically 'Ophuls' would be read as 'Awfuls' by the film-going hoi polloi.

X. Trapnel said...

The name is Max's invention and it's possible that the h would be silent in German (as in Hofmannsthal) and pronounced Opuls. He could have spelled it Opfuls. Just speculation.

Yojimboen said...

The elevator door opened and there she stood, all hair, tan and teeth, waiting to board. On a dingy night in 1978 in the always dingy MagnoSound building on Broadway, Farrah Fawcett looked as though she was lit from within.
I had just dropped off some tapes for transfer and on the way down the elevator stopped at the Screening Room floor and opened upon this glowing creature.
(Jeff Bridges and another man were also there, but who cares – or cared.)

I later assumed they had been looking at dailies of Someone Killed Her Husband, her first starring role, but again, who cares.

It was almost a physical blow; I actually staggered back a step as this girl grinned her foot-wide Texas smile at me (alone in the elevator), said ‘Hi’, then stepped in.
I think I croaked ‘Hi’ in return, but I can’t swear to it.

They resumed their conversation as I stood now behind her back, her blonde mane about 12 inches from my nose. I could have bent slightly forward and buried my face in it – but didn’t.

That’s all. I never saw her again in person.

One of the news show commenters last night mentioned that when she was a teenager in Corpus Christi, kids from other high schools (and complete strangers) would drive by her house, just hoping for a glimpse… I can relate.

Like most toilers in this silly business, we get to see stars aplenty at functions or at screening Q&As, but nothing for me will ever compare to that primal encounter – seeing up close that magnificent animal in the prime of her splendid beauty.

J.A. Morris said...

Thanks for posting about Haskell. I stumbled on this recently, Haskell & Sarris' joint review of 'Nashville':

http://www.villagevoice.com/content/printVersion/206505

surly hack said...

Yo--

I once saw Monica Lewinsky at LAX--no such reaction. ;)

mndean said...

surly hack,
You didn't even have the urge to say, "Have a cigar?".

DavidEhrenstein said...

Lola Monttes smokes cigars. "El Caballero Dorado -- delicieux"

X. Trapnel said...

Some years back I was attending a Kafka evening at Town Hall (speakers included S. Sontag, D.F. Wallace, P. Auster--and Christopher Plummer doing Nabokov's Kafka lecture). The following conversation passed in the row behind me:

"Monica is furious at me."
"Lewinsky?"
"Yeah, because of what I wrote."
(conversation lowers into inaudible whispering. Drat).

mndean said...

I never realized that Lola Montez (who the story was patterned after) had a local connection to my area. She married a newspaperman in Grass Valley and lived there awhile.

Arthur S. said...

With 'Madame de...' and 'Lola Montes', I've felt differently than David E. feels. That film is quite objecive and cutting in dealing with Louise's sentimentality and her superficiality. It has less to do with Louise de Vilmorin(who despised the film) and everything to do with one of Ophuls' favourite writers and key influences - Marie-Henri Beyle a.k.a. Stendhal.

Stendhal's De l'Amour is an objective examination on how human beings behave when they are in love, likening it to a state of getting a disease. And in 'Madame de...' that's what happens to Louise but it also happens to Charles Boyer whose jealousy arouses his own sense of love and leads him to act differently than he usually does. He's a respected army general but he's cultured and refined and not at all bellicose but he becomes a conventional wronged husband as the film goes by.

With 'Lola Montes', I felt that the story was more accessible because unlike with MADAME DE... where the situation becomes ambivalent because all the characters are fully realized adults, Lola is a child and so her tragedy while earning empathy is also conventional and more sentimental. More so than MADAME DE... which is at it's core a harsh film.

Arthur S. said...

I personally think that aside from Lola and Madame de..., Ophuls best films were the three English language films he made in the USA. And of the three what makes CAUGHT(which Godard declared - Max's best American film) so interesting is that's it's a cutting portrait of the masochism at the heart of 20th Century urban culture and it's quite critical of the heroine's participation in her own subjugation.

It's perhaps Ophuls' most feminist film in that the suffering that Barbara Bel Geddes undergoes isn't glorified in the least nor is it qualified by ambiguous promises of romantic love and fulfillment as in say MADAME DE..., Robert Ryan's insane neurosis makes him at once a tortured victim and at the other a monster out of a Grimm's fairy tale. And James Mason gives one of his low intensity performances as the pragmatic knight in shining armour.

That and it's the nastiest and most elegant of all poisoned pen curses hurled by a wronged European exile towards vulgar psycho businessman...aka Howard Hughes. What makes it so scary is that you can get a sense of how women can get involved with someone like that businessman.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Your points on Made de. . . are wel-taken up to a point, Arthur. And that point is your description of Lola Montes as a "story" -- which it most ceertainly is not. Lola Montes is a sweries of narrative Digressions. It's a commentary on a story that is never actually told. It's quite Nabokovian in this respect. Kind of like "Pale Fire" without either a Shade or a Kinbote.

I like Caught quite a bit. Ophuls and Arthur Laurents compliment each other well (though Arthur, as per usual, bitches about the whole thing.) Neverthless I prefer The Reckless Moment. Perhaps for personal reasons, a sFrances Williams was a friend of mine. And in that capacity she told me quite a lot of interest about Ophuls -- who rewrote the story because he liked her, and in the process defied the structures of Jim Crow. Black servants weren't suppsoed to be taken seriously by their mistresses (GWTW aside), and she's Joan Bennett's only real friend in the film.

This character wasn't reconfigured in the remake -- simple eliminated.

Campaspe said...

David, as a sidelight to that, one of the things that struck me about Caught was the casually multi-racial crowd at the nightclub. I don't know that there is a comparable scene in a film of the era.

X. Trapnel said...

I agree with Arthur S. on Ophuls and Stendhal (I'd also add Arthur Schnitzler, admired and feared by Freud as a diagnostician of love). When I wrote that Ophuls had a core (coeur?) of steel I wasn't sure of the latter's tensile qualities, so let me just qualify it by saying that Ophuls is resilient under the pressure of reality but doesn't break (as would that stick the nasty Vilmorin lady is waving around in the Criterion interview). Stendhal once wrote that a man incapable of making a fool of himself for love could never understand art, an observation that cuts deeply into the nature of creativity and romantic love linked as they are by imagination and daring and a necessary element of illusion. Ophuls does not glorify Lisa's or Louisa's love for unworthy men (recall that Donati coldly drops her when he feels his honor has been compromised [Andre, by contrast, sees through "honor" and (self) destructively though he acts is driven by authentic love--which, of course, Ophuls does not idealize [thank god for parentheses and brackets]). Similarly, Louisa's authentic love blinds her to Donati's shallowness. Ophuls told Darrieux that she must play (at the outset) an utterly empty woman. By the end she has gained a soul and lost her life, signalled by the hollow tolling of the church bells above the fragile melody we hear Louise humming at the beginning of the film.

Yojimboen said...

"Stendhal once wrote that a man incapable of making a fool of himself for love could never understand art..."

He really said that X.? What a maroon! (a mix of red & black, hold the chartreuse)
I've been a fool for love a million times and I still don't know shit about Art.
Hell, most days I don't even know what I like.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Now that's a Sondheim cue if I ever heard one!

X. Trapnel said...

Y, you do yourself a grave injustice; from what I've seen here your aesthetic judgment is impeccable. Are you hiding something from us? Are your walls festooned with card-playing dogs? Your roof raised by the sounds of Alma Cogan? Jerry Vale? Barry Manilow? Do you read from the oeuvre of Robert James Waller by lava lamplight? What, then?

mndean said...

At least I'm upfront about my bad taste, none of which I apologize for. Far too many people who claim "bad taste" really just mean something moderately transgressive that's not really in very bad taste at all.

Of course, that doesn't mean I use one of those vile red vending machines that spits out current movies at the supermarket (give me some credit here), either. I call those "mental junk food machines". I envision one day those garbage dispensers will have a "classics" section, both '80s films.

surly hack said...

mdean-

Not to get too serious about it, but this was at the height of the scandal, and I felt sorry for her. All I did was give her a nod and attempt a friendly smile. She was dressed so as not to be recognized, and was quickly shuffled away.

mndean said...

Ah, you didn't say she was trying not to be noticed. That makes a big difference. I only nod at celebrities I encounter, and even then, only the ones I like. I've spoken to a few, but it was in after being introduced to them.

surly hack said...

A former girlfriend would embarrass me to no end by fawning over actors, generally making everyone involved uncomfortable. She once almost knocked down Sammy Davis Jr. by rushing into Gucci's on Rodeo Drive for the sole purpose of just such an encounter with a star.

I'm probably stating the obvious here, but there's something undignified about fussing over a celebrity--especially the modern, famous for being famous sort. I live in Chicago, so blessedly low on celebrities that every time friends and ex-New Yorkers would see a limo they'd say "Look, it's Oprah!"

mndean said...

I don't know why people do it. I used to see celebrities now and again and never had a desire to talk to them about anything. If I got introduced, I'd ask them about acting/music/whatever they were celebrities for. I got introduced to a few actors and all I did was talk shop with them, but since I was introduced by other actors, it didn't seem out of line. I didn't know them personally, after all. I mean, how does "How's the wife and kids?" sound from someone you don't know from Adam? Pretty presumptuous if you ask me.

surlyh said...

And, speaking of Gangs of New York, as Mdean was ages ago, I agree that that film was a big disappointment. I'm sure all of you are familiar with Raoul Walsh's The Bowery, which I always recommend for an earlier take on the era. It includes a disturbing level of racist humor pushed a bit further than was common even then (using the Chinese in danger of burning alive as a gag), but is otherwise a fun romp.

mndean said...

Surly,
I will never in my life call a movie a "romp". Bah, it sounds like something Peter Travers would have written.

surly hack said...

:) Maybe "brawl" would have been better, but turn the violence of "Gangs" into the action of "Bowery" and "romp" just about says it. Be happy I didn't call it "The feel-good flick of '33."

mndean said...

That's good, I was getting worried for a second.

Since we had a conversation about Mae Clarke not so long ago, I should alert everyone that TCM is having a Mae Clarke morning of movies on July 10. No Cagneys or anything like that, but films like Three Wise Girls among others. For those carping that it lasts into the midafternoon, it's going to be morning in my part of the country :)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Just in from a luncheon party at the French Consulate here in L.A. for Agnes Varda (who now sport two-tone hair) Got a chance to chat with one of my favorite actresses there -- Rosanna Arquette. She's just finished shooting a few new things.

mndean said...

*GASP* David, are you...namedropping? Lording it over us peons who only met character actors like Victor Wong or Philip Baker Hall? [Yosemite Sam voice] Ah hate you [/Yosemite Sam voice].

DavidEhrenstein said...

Philip Baker Hall is scarcely chopped liver. LOVE his turn in The Talented Mr. Ripley

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ken Russell is 82 today, and he's in production on a new version of Moll Flanders.

mndean said...

Yeah, but when I met him, he was just a guy who did a small film for Altman as Nixon, some character parts, and had just done Bookman on Seinfeld, which I saw almost right after I met him. Missed opportunity, he stole every scene. Any other bigger stars were just sightings or talks at a theater (where I never seemed to get a question in).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Being a journalist I've gotten to talk to a lot of stars over the years. Most impressive: Anne Bancroft. Least impressive: Kevin Spacey. Biggest Fraud: Errol Morris.

mndean said...

That's odd you should mention that about Errol Morris. His films are strange but never stay with me. I'm not saying they're vapid, but they're just not very interesting takes on weird subjects. His films have always given me the "Meh" syndrome.

DavidEhrenstein said...

He's a Phoebe.

mndean said...

David,
Sometimes you're just too inside-baseball for me. Even a slang dictionary couldn't make up its mind what a Phoebe was. I get ten definitions, most having to do with being sexy or desirable. I Don't Think That's What You Meant.

DavidEhrenstein said...

All About Eve, last scene.

(Back in the day the waiters at Max's Kansas City were referred to as "The Phoebes.")