Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Verdict (1946), With Thoughts on the Eternal Nature of Greenstreet & Lorre



So last week the Siren finally caught up with The Verdict. (Warm thanks to the fellow blogger who sent it.) No, not the Paul Newman film, although that one is great, but rather Don Siegel's debut movie, the last costarring outing of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. The stars and director alone would recommend it, but it's also a good mystery-thriller with an ending that the Siren didn't see coming. (That doesn't necessarily mean you won't, however. The Siren has great suspension of disbelief and she falls so hard for red herrings you'd think she was a cartoon cat.)

Roderick Heath at Ferdy on Film has a great write-up of this movie, in which he astutely points out that it straddles two traditions, the "crisp, quaint" detective stories of the late 30s and early 40s, and noir. He also does a bang-up job discussing Siegel's visual style, which was well-formed already, with lots of shots angled from above and below. The opening, as the bell tolls for a prisoner being executed at Newgate, is particularly striking. There is enough fog around to supply a whole season of Dark Shadows and what were probably cramped, low-end sets are used to great effect to suggest the narrow streets and close quarters of 19th-century London. It isn't so much an Old Dark House movie as an Old Dark Neighborhood movie. It is similar to John Brahm's Hangover Square in that much of the action takes place in a single house of flats, and the square it faces. Greenstreet's apartment is on the ground floor and the Siren took great pleasure in several shots where someone raps on his window and he sticks his head out to see what fresh crime summons him now. That's the kind of actor Greenstreet was--so damn entrancing he gives a thrill just opening a sash window and talking to someone.

In The Verdict, Lorre is cast somewhat against type as louche playboy Victor, best friend to Greenstreet's Inspector Grodman of Scotland Yard. The inspector views the execution that opens the movie with wintry detachment, but that soon changes when he returns to the Yard only to find that his rival has uncovered an unshakeable alibi witness, a clergyman no less. Grodman's policework has sent an innocent man to the gallows. Not only that, but the victim was the aunt of a neighbor and friend. He's forced into retirement, with nothing but memoir-writing and Victor's champagne and bonhomie to while away the days. No matter though--there is soon another murder to occupy Grodman, and naturally this is where he sees a chance for redemption.

Roderick complains about the musical number shoved in at one point, but this is one of those old-movie things the Siren usually digs, like big florid scores, the hiss of the soundtrack, intertitles and nice lengthy establishing shots. In The Verdict, the music-hall number is about one-third of the way through. It serves to give some relief from tension and also to soften Joan Lorring's trampy character, who up to that point had seemed hard as nails, admittedly in part because it was Joan Lorring. (Lorring usually did play tramps. Her turn as Bessie in The Corn is Green always gives the Siren a little shiver of delight. She has one scene in that movie that she almost steals from Davis, and how many actresses could claim that?) It also goes to the character development for Greenstreet and Lorre. Up to that point Greenstreet has seemed rather formal and stuffy, but it is clear that he isn't perturbed by what passes for London lowlife entertainment, in 1890 anyway. And Victor is half-aroused, half-bored, as Lorre balances the ambiguities of his character to the end.



How well these two always managed to flesh out relationships that were somewhat superficial on paper. In The Maltese Falcon their more-than-business association is startlingly plain, but it's all in the playing. When Lorre attacks Greenstreet, yelling "You, you imbecile! You bloated idiot! You stupid fathead!" we hear not just a criminal sidekick but also a frustrated ex-lover. If it weren't for the year it was made, you would expect Lorre to follow with recriminations about Greenstreet's lack of libido or how he got too flirtatious with last night's waiter. Three Strangers has them playing two characters who, for once, have no history as a couple nor any potential in that way, but the wary way they size each other up suggests all manner of unspoken perceptions. In The Mask of Dimitrios, where Lorre plays a Holly Martins-type writer drawn into Greenstreet's intrigues, Lorre gives hints that his fascination with Greenstreet may have to do with aspects of the big man's lifestyle that aren't being spelled out on screen. "He was my friend!" Lorre protests at the end of the movie. "Well, he wasn't my friend, but he was a nice man. Compared to you he was..." It could be the epigraph for their whole eight-movie association.

They had very different approaches to acting, as Don Siegel once noted. Lorre was modern, seemingly casual (although no actor as good as Lorre is ever truly that), prone to be dismissive of his parts and (this is the Siren guessing) an actor who strove to keep things fresh in part by doing his preparation on the fly. Greenstreet, born in 1879, was a man of the theatre for many years before making his astonishing debut as Kaspar Gutman. His preparation was meticulous, his adherence to the script absolute. Both of them made a career primarily playing villains, but such was their charisma that, with the mind-blowing exception of M, their characters worm their way into our affections, sometimes more so than the hero.

You frequently find Lorre to one side of a scene, but you always find him and stay with him. Is he chewing on his cane, watching the bubbles in his drink, sizing up the dance-hall girl? Whatever it is, Lorre sidles up to an audience from the margins, he doesn't push himself forward. Lorre understood that the mouse in the center may turn frantic somersaults, but the audience will be watching the cat, because that's where the drama is coming from, sooner or later. Like George Sanders, Lorre had that European knack for seeming too smart for the situation even when he is the lowest player in the game. Unlike Sanders, Lorre's air is not of princely detachment, but proletarian resignation.



Greenstreet always played a man who enjoys every minute spent acquiring his heft and finds it an advantage, not a hindrance. In theatrical parlance, he takes the stage. Watch Greenstreet in The Verdict, gliding to stand near his rival (George Colouris) when first informed of his horrible mistake, letting his bigness speak for the character's imposing career and experience. He is the furthest thing from an apologetic or buffoonish fat man imaginable. Even in Three Strangers, where Greenstreet's role is that of a lonely, venal Monsieur Verdoux manqué, his character is ready to go upstairs with Geraldine Fitzgerald and follow the events wherever they may lead. His villains are never so blackhearted that you recoil, because they have the spirit of romance and adventure in them, even some vestigial chivalry: "I am moved to make one more suggestion. Why, I do not know, because it cannot possibly profit me." (Lorre and Greenstreet have no scenes together in Casablanca, but the Siren always assumed Ugarte and Ferrari did, shall we say, comfortable business together.)

Greenstreet and Lorre are deeply loved, actors who can bring the Siren together with old sparring partners--a while back John Nolte named them as one of the five all-time great screen teams. (I can't find the link, just trust me, I remember it well.) The Siren agrees completely, but here's the thing. She has now seen three of their best outings together; in order of preference, The Mask of Dimitrios, Three Strangers, and The Verdict. The Siren's preference for one over another is not huge--they are all entertaining. The Mask of Dimitrios could even be called great. Not one is on DVD. The Siren offers a marketing suggestion to whoever the hell owns the rights: Put out a boxed set of those three movies. Add The Woman in White, in which Greenstreet plays the Count Fosco of your dreams, and the Lorre vehicle The Face Behind the Mask, a grippingly dark B-thriller directed by the unjustly forgotten Robert Florey. That set would surely sell to a great deal more than the nostalgia market, which seems to be where many worthy old movies get pastured.

Greenstreet retired in 1952. He suffered from kidney disease and had spent eight years making 24 movies, beginning at an age when many healthy men contemplate slowing down. Still, he yearned to play full-out comedy and hadn't had many chances to do it, aside from his delightful boss in Christmas in Connecticut and Pillow to Post with Ida Lupino, which the Siren hasn't seen. (Karen?) According to David Shipman, Greenstreet hinted that he might re-emerge if someone offered a good funny part, but none came, and he died in 1954. Lorre, as Dan Callahan has written, suffered from a career that went from Brecht to all-purpose bogeyman. (Dan relates that when asked how he got through the Mr. Moto series, Lorre replied, "I took dope.") There were some bright spots, certainly, but Hollywood offered precious little worthwhile for this intelligent man after about the mid-50s, until a stroke finally killed him in 1964.

Both Lorre and Greenstreet remain two of the truest pleasures an old-movie lover can have, so much so that when she clicks off the TV the Siren always has to remind herself that they're both dead. So too does David Thomson. Of Greenstreet, Thomson writes: "It is difficult not to believe that he is still in search of the Falcon -- 'Ah yes, sir, the falcon!'" And of Lorre: "He hardly seems dead, just as it is difficult to believe he was ever clinically alive...He must be somewhere still, pattering around Sydney Greenstreet and doing what he can to dodge Bogart's laughter."

175 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

" Not one is on DVD."

On the optimistic side, Warner Brothers has been pretty good about releasing older titles from the vaults. Not as good, but better than nothing, is if the films find their way to the Warner Archives collection.

X. Trapnel said...

"Greenstreet always played a man who enjoys every minute spent acquiring his heft and finds it an advantage, not a hindrance."

Brilliant, Siren. Greenstreet floats (he was supposed to have been an excellent dancer).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Wow. Haven't seen this one and it shoots to the very top of my list of "want-sees."

Sounds quite unusual for Siegel, but not Greenstreet and Lorre, as it lines up with the cinematic world they ha inhavited thoughout the late 30's and all of the 40's

Karen said...

No Pillow to Post, alas, Siren. I grieve to let you down on this one.

I loved The Verdict when I saw it last month. I loved the notion of Lorre as a "louche playboy"--a perfect characterization (and how I love the word louche!); I found it completely believable, despite his failure ever to play a role even remotely like it. It made me pine for lost opportunities. (A German Bertie Wooster...?)

And yes--Greenstreet's weight was used as an acting technique, wasn't it? In The Verdict, one is both aware and unaware of it. It is incidental to the character, but he uses it cannily.

I did love the notion of a respectable Scotland Yard inspector constantly sticking his head out the window while still in his nightshirt.

A very nice little film, and a nice curiosity, too.

Yojimboen said...

I’ve always wondered why Huston didn’t go the extra mile on Across the Pacific. The film is full of sly digs at Maltese Falcon; it’s also full of Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet but instead of finding a way to shoe-horn Peter Lorre into the adventure, he gives us… Charles Halton. Why, John? Why?

Vanwall said...

Greenstreet and Lorre were two of the reasons I watched old movies when I was a kid - I might not've remembered the leads, but no one could forget those two.

Greenstreet wasn't, to me at least, simply a fat man - no, he was a large man, large in presence, large in the low timbre and menace of his voice, large in that gliding, almost dancing, Arbuckle way of movement across the floor, large in what was surely one of the best, most robust laughs ever - it radiated joy even when pitched as a a villainous one. God, I would've loved to see him onstage - he was in musical comedies, what an image that brings to mind!

Lorre was my favorite human lamprey onscreen - he would suck the blood out of other actor's performances while in the same scenes with them - and they couldn't do a damn thing about it. His Joel Cairo was a defining performance for obsequious menace that has never been equalled, IMHO, and the two of these together in "The Mask of Dimitrios" was a perfect thing.

"The Verdict" was such a nice Victorian Noir - I half expected an old dark house to jump in the picture while chased by Sterling Hayden on a pennyfarthing, and it has a quirky sense of humor, too.

mndean said...

Across The Pacific had all sorts of production problems (I can imagine Jack Warner yelling, "The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?!? Dammit, how much is this going to cost us in reshooting?"), and Charles Halton is someone you want when you want a mildly recognizable nobody. They would have had to write Lorre into a larger part. Japanese spy Kentaro Moto? No, I'm not serious, but I don't think that Huston was too happy with the project anyway, considering how much time he spent burlesquing his own hit.

Operator_99 said...

Yes, the perfect couple, never a miss in that pairing. I would also give high marks to Lorre's early career: M of course, but also Mad Love and Crime and Punishment, both done in 1935. That must have been an interesting year for Peter, playing two highly disturbed characters.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And leave us not forget the film Lorre directed and starred in Der Verlorene.

It's aone-off masterpiece.

Campaspe said...

David, I haven't seen Der Verlorene!! I want to, badly. I think you would like The Verdict. And Operator, I haven't seen Crime and Punishment either but I would love to.

Karen, I should have mentioned the scene where Greenstreet gets dressed to run over for a murder, and how much I loved watching him put on his suspenders (braces, I guess the Brits call them). It's **just** this side of deliberate slapstick, but never becomes completely ludicrous, and wondrous to behold.

XT, thanks so much. Greenstreet moved beautifully, he was a lot more physical than some far more beefcake-ish actors.

Y., John Huston's autobiography is in the possession of some larcenous ex-boyfriend but I seem to remember that Huston just couldn't get Lorre for whatever reason. I am laughing at M's suggestion of how Warner reacted to Pearl Harbor, because it's probably TRUE.

Vanwall is right too that Greenstreet's uniquely purring, ever-so-slightly effeminate, but still quite deep voice was a major part of his appeal. Lorre's voice was of course something else but it had its own weird beauty, and of course it's one of the most instantly recognizable voices in the history of cinema, outside of John Wayne.

Campaspe said...

Peter, I would totally settle for these things being on the Archive collection. Without hesitation I will tell you The Verdict is worth $22.50 and I paid a lot more than that for a VHS of The Mask of Dimitrios.

Campaspe said...

Oh, and an aside to Karen: After reading about Greenstreet's desire to play comedy I started a mental exercise of casting him in certain Charles Coburn roles. I cannot BEAR to think of changing one thing about The Lady Eve, but I think Greenstreet could have played the hell out of Coburn's part in The More the Merrier. Whether audiences would have accepted him is another matter.

Karen said...

Now there's an interesting exercise! You know, I could see Greenstreet in The Lady Eve; there's such a darkly comic undertone to his villainy that he could have wrought wonders with the Colonel.

Ah, well. A girl can dream.

X. Trapnel said...

I've always thought Coburn (a fine villain) too obviously Republican to be sympathetic in comedy roles and had always wanted Edward Arnold (R in real life, but it doesn't show) in The More the Merrier. I would never have dared to think of Greenstreet, but whyever not,

G. was in the original stage production of Roberta and sang and danced.

Campaspe said...

Obviously Republican? really? like, how? I had no idea what his politics were until KAREN had me looking him up on Wikipedia to defend his acting and then I discovered that there are reports he was on one of those ghastly White Citizens Councils and now I have to make an EFFORT to forget that for about the first five minutes of Lady Eve. After that I'm okay. Not that I BLAME her or anything.

X. Trapnel said...

Something about his expression as he squints up at the Farragut monument in TMTM; sorry I can't do better but he seems the embodiment of every right winger who ever pissed on a redwood at Bohemian Grove.

It all comes out in Kings Row

Edward Arnold spoke out against the blacklist

mndean said...

Egads, those are the sorts of things that make me NOT want to find out about an actor's private life. Happily, I can put them aside. Dead people can lynch no more.

You know, it wasn't just the studios that kept the black actors from eating in the studio cafeteria, a lot of the white studio personnel woulda rebelled had they been let in. Unless of course they were wearing crisp white uniforms and saying yes'm a lot as they took their orders. I don't know how men like Clarence Muse put up with all that bullshit.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Coburn is charming beyond measure in Sirk's Has Anybody Seen My Gal wiht Rock Hudson, Piper Laurie and very briefly James Dean.

Had Struges cast Coburn he would have rewritten the part to suit his style. Sturges worked fast and as is obviosu was supremely sensitive to his actors -- always showign them at their best.

Bob Westal said...

I always rather liked Charles Coburn...I guess my reaction is the same as Campaspe's to his apparent racism (well, above-average racism, let's say, considering his times). Right now, I'm trying to imagine Peter Lorre as Sir "Piggy" Beekman in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Now that casting would have put a different light on things.

Anyhow, I really, really want to see "The Verdict" now. Really lovely piece, Campaspe, even by your usual high standards.

mndean said...

Edward Arnold was much better. Just look at him after he fails to get Jean Arthur to understand compound interest. He's gets a fresh idea, raises his finger, opens his mouth, then collapses with a sour look on his face, defeated for the moment. I remember Kael calling him "a little loud" which really misses the point. Most of the characters he played were meant to be brash and loud, especially in the '30s. When he needed to, he toned it down. I liked his Porfiry of Crime and Punishment the second time around. He's not the Porfiry of my dreams (I think I mentioned that I thought Vladimir Sokoloff would have been perfect), but he's better than I gave him credit for before.

X. Trapnel said...

For what its worth Erich Korngold on at least one occasion joined the black actors for lunch in protest

Campaspe said...

David, you mean had Sturges cast Greenstreet, yes? You're right, Sturges was great with actors. I do believe Greenstreet could have done more than he did, but he started so late that in the end he didn't have time. In The Verdict he's the lead, he carries the whole movie and it's quite a complex part. He's equally fine in The Mask of Dimitrios, which allows him to bring in so many of the elements that made him great--his comic timing, his amazing ability to convey menace with charm.

I can't remember who referred to Greenstreet as the gatekeeper to heaven in Between Two Worlds (Vanwall, was it you?) but the commenter said something like it would be a splendid thing to have Greenstreet as your escort to eternity. Indeed it would be.

X. Trapnel said...

Edward Arnold loud? I think of him as precise, soft spoken, keenly intelligent. Like Greenstreet, he carries his weight with lightness.
I can see him as Porfiry (Sokoloff as Captain Snegiryov in The Bros. K); what I can't see is Peter Lorre as Raskolnikov.

X. Trapnel said...

Indeed, Greenstreet would be a delightful escort to heaven (ideally) or hell (if need be), but he's a stern gatekeeper in Between Two Worlds. After W.C. Fields, S.G. would be my ideal for Zeus.

Karen said...

Oh, dear, Siren, I've scarred you for life on Coburn, haven't I? I'm so sorry! Let me hasten to assure the multitudes that my distaste for the man has nothing to do with his [admittedly odious] politics; I just feel a physical revulsion at the sight of his face and the sound of his voice. I am perfectly willing to concede that the flaw is in my own character, however.

But yes--Greenstreet or Arnold, in a heartbeat! In any of Coburn's roles--although I'm not sure I would want to see either of them in the ridiculous position of Piggy in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I wouldn't mind seeing either of them in The Devil and Miss Jones, however. Oops! Here comes Bob Cummings again!!

Vanwall said...

Siren - Alas, but twas not my Charon choice, altho Greenstreet would be at the top of the list, I admit. I have never seen a more suited actor to a role than Greenstreet's Kasper Gutman - the book's description is like a detailed photograph of Greenstreet, with a film clip thrown in so's you get the chills from his voice at the same time.

mndean said...

Trapnel,
Physically, Lorre isn't even remotely like Raskolnikov, but he does get the tormented murderer who is the more and more paranoid mouse to Porfiry's cat. Sokoloff could do Porfiry I thought since he has a streak of deviousness in some of his parts that would work well for the inspector. He would not have ever been hired, though, since Arnold had the boxoffice appeal then. As for Arnold's quietness, it wasn't there early in his career. He spent a lot of time being a gangster in the early '30s, and if he'd been stuck in those parts he would have been remembered as a heavy (okay, okay, pun noted).

He really would have been great in The Devil and Miss Jones (was Cummings in that? I didn't even notice).

As for Greenstreet, it was too bad he couldn't have been in Beat the Devil as well, he might have leant a little more sinister fun to the part than Robert Morley did. I like Morley, but he did clown it up a bit much there (okay, so did practically everyone else, but it needed some gravitas). It would have been more humorous to have Greenstreet talking about his healthful habits, and he would have been more frightening when on the ship. I doubt he was in good health by then, though.

X. Trapnel said...

From Dostoevsky's description, I imagine Raskolnikov to look like Helmut Dantine. It's a pity Hollywood rarely gave younger European actors the chance to be leading men (Francis Lederer had a few good roles: has anyone here seen One Rainy Afternoon? Karen?) otherwise we might have been spared S.A. Brugh in Three Comrades or Don Ameche in Mignight.

Gerard Jones said...

The idea of popping Greenstreet into Coburn roles is intriguing, but to me it would bring a complete change to the characters, not just an intensification. Coburn usually had an appealing quality of being in over his head, blustering and cranky precisely because he couldn't really master the situation as much as he pretended he could. He was halfway to Eugene Pallette. Greenstreet never seemed in over his head but rather always in command of the space he occupied and the lives around him.

Gerard Jones said...

Karen's comment about the German Bertie Wooster makes me realize that there is sort of a perverse Jeeves-and-Wooster quality to Greenstreet and Lorre.

I'm sure desperate to see The Verdict now. Do I thank you for that, Campaspe, or curse you?

Karen said...

MND, I literally only know that Cummings was in The Devil and Miss Jones because I looked it up on IMDb; I have absolutely no memory of him whatsoever.

X., you're absolutely right about how few young European actors got featured in Hollywood, and it's a shame (that is, if we excise the UK from Europe). I've not seen One Rainy Afternoon (yikes, I'm 0 for 2 in viewing appeals on this thread!), but I enjoyed Lederer enormously in Midnight and The Gay Deception and Romance in Manhattan, and I also loved Jean-Pierre Aumont in Heartbeat. I see by IMDb that Lederer actually made 8 romantic comedies in 4 years, in the late '30s, before getting stuck in wartime Nazi roles. Or victim-of-Nazi roles. I also see that Thalberg planned to make him "the biggest star in Hollywood" but then Thalberg died.

I wonder if it was the studios or the moviegoers that had problems with these continental chaps in leading roles? Even Chevalier didn't get much of a flutter after his initial success with Lubitsch...

Campaspe said...

Exiled -- I have taken the liberty of deleting your comment and am reposting with a bigger spoiler warning, since many here haven't seen The Verdict yet. I read right over your warning the first time and figured better safe than sorry -- hence spoiler warning, Large Print Edition. :)

From Exiled in New Jersey

SPOILER WARNING****
The Verdict is taken from Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery, which according to Julian Symons, was a novelette, and dates from 1892! [spoiler warning] Symons notes that it was a parody, since the detective committed the murder.
/END SPOILER****


The film is another of those that were on tape, I believe, for I recall seeing it years ago when wife and I would scour the Movies Unlimited store in Drexel Hill, PA for titles unknown to us.

Another from those years that has disappeared was Stranger on the Third Floor, 64 minutes long, with Lorre given top billing despite little dialogue and screen time. I recall wife wondering where he was, but looking that the cast now, I see Elisha Cook played the victim and there is Charles Halton again!


I love to watch Greenstreet move quickly. His legs and girth remind me so much of the two ducks that inhabit the yard in back of our house, when our dog makes an appearance [dog got himself a groundhog on Monday]. And I don't mean he waddles, for ducks do not waddle but rather almost mince with these short steps, moving their legs very fast, like some Hanna-Barbera cartoon character.

Putting Greenstreet into Coburn's role in Heaven Can Wait would surely make that a heavyweight production with both he and Eugene Pallette, but would ruin the irony of Clarence Muse being the smartest man in the film.

Reading Dimitrios, I would never consider pairing Lorre and Greenstreet, since the writer is SO British, but it works. That is one tape I keep under lock and key.

[end Exiled's comment]

And here I add that yes, I would not put Greenstreet in Heaven Can Wait either. I do quite fancy Greenstreet in The More the Merrier though, I have to say.

I mentioned my love for Eric Ambler's novel before. The movie is pretty faithful to it except in the matter of casting, but as you say it works. Even Zachary Scott works.

Gerard Jones said...

Campaspe, I love your musings on the ability of L&G to suggest unspoken dimensions to their relationships. One wonders how much of that was mutually worked out and how much was simply the effect of two great actors with a special chemistry.

I also appreciated your praise of The Face Behind the Mask. My son and I saw that at the Noir City festival a while back and we were both caught up in and left haunted for quite a while after. Given just its script and budget, it's a movie that could have been pretty awful, but Lorre's performance (and the evocative directing and photography) lift it to that nightmare quality that B movies sometimes attained.

And this is stunningly put: "You frequently find Lorre to one side of a scene, but you always find him and stay with him. Is he chewing on his cane, watching the bubbles in his drink, sizing up the dance-hall girl? Whatever it is, Lorre sidles up to an audience from the margins, he doesn't push himself forward. Lorre understood that the mouse in the center may turn frantic somersaults, but the audience will be watching the cat, because that's where the drama is coming from, sooner or later."

Kevin Deany said...

Siren, Another wonderful piece, and I second your call for a box set of these films. May I suggest a slight juggling of its contents?

"The Face Behind the Mask" is owned by Sony, so could not be part of a Warnes collection. Supposedly this title will be coming out as part of an "Icons of Horror: Peter Lorre" collection, along with von Sternberg's "Crime and Punishment" (1935) (Hooray!) and the B-level "Island of Doomed Men." (1940). Sony has been releasing their Icons of Horror collections around Halloween, hopefully we'll be seeing it in a few months.

In place of "Face Behind the Mask" our proposed box set can include the remaining WB Lorre/Greenstreet flick "Background to Danger" from 1943.

Sure we have to put up with George Raft, but its one of the fastest paced movies you'll ever see. Raoul Walsh directs from an Eric Ambler story. It's been years since I've seen it, so I can't remember any bits of business contributed by Lorre or Greenstreet. I just remember how fast the thing moved.

mndean said...

Stranger on the Third Floor has shown up on TCM in the past year so it isn't quite disappeared. It's another Columbia (Sony-owned) film. They could put out a number of Peter Lorre films.

If you've noticed, the Warner Archives stuff is really (how to put it?) a bizarre and motley collection. Good films, unknown films, classics (including silents), and '70s films, all lumped together. Most of the classics are MGM stuff from what I can see. But the oddities! I mean has anyone here ever heard of The Church Mouse? I want to buy it just to see WTF it is. I liked Laura LaPlante in Man of the Moment, so it might not be a total wash. There are other unexpected surprises in the collection, like Peter Brook's The Beggar's Opera. A weird bunch of films, and The Verdict would fit in nicely.

Gerard Jones said...

Re Devil & Miss Jones: that's the least obnoxious I've ever seen Our Bob, as if he was holding all his Cummingsness in check until he'd secured his place in the industry.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You're thinking of Laird Creagar in Heaven Can Wait.

Iconographically speaking he's Sidney's really gay younger brother.

Karen said...

"Cummingsness" -- oh, dear.

DavidEhrenstein said...

David Carradine has been found dead in a Bangkok hotel. He apparently hung himself but it's not clear whether it was suicide or auto-erotic asphyxiation

X. Trapnel said...

I'm sure somebody here will second my nomination for Greenstreet as Mr. Potter. While the latter was probably Lionel B's best performance, Greenstreet would have suggested depths of malignancy that would have sucked the stars from the heavens. Pottersville forever! No wings for Clarence.

Gerard Jones said...

Laird Creager was a loss. He's the one thing I really like about I Wake Up Screaming, and I like him enough to have watched it twice. (The original novel's a blast, BTW, if anyone's looking for fun hardboiled Hollywood fiction written by a studio insider.)

I very much second Sidney for Mr. Potter! Good heavens! Except I wouldn't be able to relax at the conclusion, just because I'd know he was Still Out There.

Gerard Jones said...

Which reminds me: anyone remember the Saturday Night Live (I think it was) bit about the "ending they left off It's Wonderful Life"? Where the citizens of Bedford Falls storm the Potter mansion and kick him to death? In itself it was just amusing but it was a sharp comment on the difference between what constituted a satisfactory ending in the olden days (the people we like are happy, and what else matters?) and what's been required since the '80s, when bad people must be punished and every loose end must be tied up.

Exiled in NJ said...

It tells us something about the studios that a month after Greenstreet appeared for the first time as Caspar Gutman, They Died With their Boots On opened with a large, whiskered Greenstreet as General Winfield Scott.

There is a nasty, vindictive side to Barrymore's Mr. Potter that I don't see in Greenstreet.

Gerard Jones said...

Yes, Greenstreet's Mr. Potter would have been driven by simple, robust, almost admirable self-interest. And perhaps a love of playing with George as a cat might a mouse. Imagine him laughing off the line, "Well, you're a warped, frustrated old man, Mr. Potter!"

X. Trapnel said...

Speaking of novels, Vera Caspary's Waldo is more like Cregar than Clifton Webb, but never tamper with perfection. Cregar would have been a blast as the gay villain in James M. Cain's Serenade, but it could not have been filmed as written then or now (except perhaps as instant camp).

rudyfan1926 said...

Oh, Laird Cregar, such a sad loss. He was delightful in Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait (and pretty much everyone else, too) He was delightfully intense in Hangover Square and The Lodger. Back to his comic timing, I adored him in Charley's Aunt and really need to see if I can find that. It is a Kay Francis title I'm missing. He's so smarmy in This Gun for Hire. Such a sad loss, so young.

I will watch Greenstreet in anything and feel that Greenstreet and Lorre were one of the great film partnerships. Mask of Dimetrios and I loved The Verdict which was new to me. Like the Siren, it took me a while to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Goose said...

Mndean, respectfully I must correct some information on The Stranger on the Third Floor. It was an RKO production. Elisha Cook was more schmo than victim. Hopefully it will pop up on Warner Archive. By the way, Boris Ingster directed only this and two other films. Most of his time appears to have been in story development, and later produced numerous episodes of Wagon Train and the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

In light of the slow pace of DVD of older titles from Warner this year, the likelihood of this film, or of a Greenstreet-Lorre box set, is pretty slim. Such a box, by the way, would have to include The Conspirators, too, an entertaining thriller, with Syd and Pete as members of an anti-Nazi group.

Some of our participants seem to be overstating Greenstreet’s malignancy. Is he not too jolly for that? He seems to be enjoying himself so much, in any villainy, whether pursuing the a gold statuette, running criminal enterprises in French North Africa, or trying to swindle a fortune from widows in The Three Strangers or Woman in White. (He actually states that he abhors violence in that one, a sign he is evil, to be sure.) He likes what he wants, and wants what he likes, but his mindless of his victims. Nevertheless, he is defeated a good deal of the time.

What Lionel nails so successfully in Wonderful Life is the joylessness. Mr. Potter is a sadistic man, with nothing else to do but to destroy the Building & Loan and have townspeople live in squalor, even if he already owns everything else. All of this has brought him no happiness.

But truly it is such a shame that Sydney did not get even more parts, and particularly in comedy.

Charles Coburn is yet another actor I enjoy, with loathsome politics. It seems that Walter Brennan was way way out there on the far right with racial sentiments, too. He was a Wallace supporter in 1968. (Eaagh!)

Among sharply dressed, self-made tycoons in film, Edward Arnold was a Republican who, as head of SAG, resisted loyalty oaths, Adolphe Menjou supported the blacklist and HUAC (although a friendly witness, did he name names?), and Eugene Palette ended up in a bunker in Oregon waiting to get his hands on the invading Reds.

Gerard Jones said...

I love the image of Eugene Pallette battling a horde of invading Commies. That calls for a CGI movie if anything does.

tdraicer said...

Wonderful post-I've always loved L&G and have fond memories of The Verdict from seeing it in the 60s (when Hollywood films of the 30s, 40s, and 50s were standard local tv fare) but don't quite remember the twist at the end. (Don't tell me! I'll catch it again some day.)

Lorre may not have had the career he deserved but he inevitably elevated anything he was in. He was moving in Hotel Berlin, loveable in 20,000 Leagues, and very funny in The Raven and Comedy of Terrors (and Arsenic and Old Lace).

I agree that his role in M is in a class by itself.

Yojimboen said...

Re SG as Mr. Potter: is it just me or does it seem likely that Greenstreet would have intimidated the hell out of Capra? I suspect some actors just frightened some directors - probably for the same reason that everybody frightened our last deer-caught-in-headlights president.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Adolph Menjou was a screaming Red-baiter but he knew no one.

You must rememebr HUAC had a list of all the known CP members in Hollywood -- all of whom had left the party eons before. The "investigation" was a show trial (quite like the ones Stalin was staging at the same time) to force them to "confess." This is why the Hollywood Ten took the stance they did. The hearings had no legal legitimacy and should enever have taken place.

Needless to say Law depnds entirely on who's in power and so the ten went to jail. Fates every bit as awful greeted others who were never called -- and never party members. Just leftists -- like Lee Grant.

Abe Polonsky worked with a "front" (eg. Odds Against Tomorrow, originally credited to Nelson Gidding) and did TV (The Goldbergs).

Joe Losey was set to direct a little potboiler called High Noon but elected to get out of Dodge instead. It was a wise move.
There was no way he could have continued making films as utterly uncompromising as M and The Big Night.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Menjou was perfectly cast in Paths of Glory.

I doubt he suspected how well cast.

Yojimboen said...

Sorry.
P.S. Thank you, Karen.
Praise indeed.

X. Trapnel said...

Interesting the Eugene Palette does such a magnificent caricature of the right-wing maniac in The Male Animal.

The rotund tycoons and local poobahs of the thirties and even into forties were comic figures, ripe for figurative or literal pratfalls. Louis Calhern, Minor Watson, and Sidney Blackmer marked a transition to solidified, authoritative, and rather humorless bulk (consider the difference between a "tycoon" and an "executive"). Of course, Calhern subverted the type in The Asphalt Jungle.

Greenstreet was a continent unto himself.

Gerard Jones said...

Excellent historical context, David. Only small correction: Stalin had already worked through his show trials before HUAC picked them up. Not impossible that that's exactly where our right-wing Congressmen got the idea.

"There are going to be fewer but better filmmakers."

X. Trapnel said...

Y, Greenstreet was just too damned exotic for Capra (Gen. Yen not withstanding). How natural he looks in a tropical suit and a fez or pith helmet.

X. Trapnel said...

Ok, but "histroical context" demands the acknowledgement that none of the Hollywood Ten were taken into the basement of the FBI building and shot in the back of the neck.

X. Trapnel said...

According to IMDB Adolphe Menjou was a cousin of--wait for it--JAMES JOYCE! Now that I think of it, that moustache...

mndean said...

Trapnel,
I'm not sure that's much of a defense, a democracy not doing what a psychotic megalomaniac would do.

What was funny was that the studios still wanted to use the writers (and I mean that in a pejorative way: "We'll take your work, pay you, you'll just never get public credit for it", and they meant never because they didn't foresee how things rebounded in the '60s). It took a while for guys like Lionel Stander to make a comeback. Some didn't. That's one thing we have the '60s to thank for, that ridiculous witch hunt became shameful to the industry. Of course the government and studios should have made a public apology and restitution to those targeted and blacklisted, since it was thoroughly illegal.

X. Trapnel said...

Not intended as a defense. The violence and repression of Bolshevism was thoroughly systemic from Lenin onwards (millions had been killed before the show trials). Stalin's alleged insanity dovetailed nicely with the insanity of the Soviet system.

Gerard Jones said...

I'm not equating HUAC with Stalin. But the public tribunal as a means to enforce political purity was a piece of theater used by both sides. I agree I'd choose J. Parnell Thomas over Uncle Joe if I had to make a choice.

surly hack said...

Siren, great post. You made me think of Der Verlorene, Lorre's film made in Germany. It is a very good film made with great intelligence, and shows that Lorre hadn't forgotten M.

X. Trapnel said...

Gerard, I never thought for a moment that you were, but the Moscow show trials were about eliminating rivals, not enforcing purity. They all believed the same rubbish. By comparison try to imganine J. Parnell Thomas prosecuting S.A. Brugh for sabotaging (or in Soviet parlance "wrecking") Above and Beyond.

surly hack said...

Gerard: Laird Creager was a loss. He's the one thing I really like about I Wake Up Screaming, and I like him enough to have watched it twice. (The original novel's a blast, BTW, if anyone's looking for fun hardboiled Hollywood fiction written by a studio insider.)

I second Gerard on both Cregar and Steve Fisher's novel.Cregar was great in everything.

mndean said...

Trapnel,
I don't get your point unless you're intending to refight the cold war here. I mean, you brought up the Stalinist show trial body count, which was so far beside the point, I don't get your analogy. Russia has never had what you could call a good government, not under the Czarist starvation system, not under the maniacal Stalinist system, not under the spoils system running today. Revolutions don't happen for nothing.

It's ridiculous to claim "Aw HUAC wasn't so bad". Yes. It. Was. Ask John Garfield. If you spend your life at a trade you love only to find you are shut out for doing nothing illegal, then maybe you can talk.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Better still LOOK at John Garfield in He Ran All the Way. He's dying -- literally --right before your eyes.

Don't think for a moment that if they could have taken them to the basement and shot them in the back of the head they wouldn't have done so.

And don't forget teh strikers slaughtered by the cops.

L.A. has a rich history of "legal" criminality. Clint Eastwood's highly underrated Changeling evokes it perfectly.

Gerard Jones said...

One could make an argument that HUAC was about eliminating rivals too. The Communist threat was largely just a way to smear the FDR administration and its supporters, undermine Truman and fire up the right wing. The same way NeoCons who don't give a damn about moral purity use the Christian right.

But I must say, I do like the idea of Congressional hearings into who wrecked movies. Bob Cummings would have fried.

Verification word: funduck

Gerard Jones said...

Harriet Hilliard should do some time for an act of sabotage on Follow the Fleet, too.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd, my point is not to say that HUAC was not bad, but to say there are no grounds whatever for comparing it in nature or magnitude to Soviet tyranny (multiply John Garfield by 30 million). Certainly Russia had no tradition of good government (though by the late 19th century there was a powerful reformist legal system and liberal democratic representation in the parliament) but don't forgot that Lenin destroyed that chance when he overthrew the Provisional Govt. In the October Coup. And no I see no reason whatever to think that blustering demagogues like Thomas would have or could have ever come near the lever of power to order executions on the Soviet scale (one area where the production quota was always met and exceeded). What I do believe is that the Red hysteria was a rear-guard action of a dying movement to turn back the New Deal and that the fifties were in fact a decade of change and liberal ascendancy that left Thomas, McCarthy etc. in the backwash.

mndean said...

Gerard.
Tee hee, Harriet was such a wet blanket, Randy's ardor seemed grotesquely misplaced. It's one of the two Astaire/Rogers of the "classic" era that I don't watch very often.

David,
One thing I learned was that Hollywood and LA weren't very nice places for great swaths of the populace back then. It's also notable HUAC-wise that a number of liberal Jews were targeted in those hearings. I wonder how Lionel Stander (among others) felt having to restart his career all over again. He didn't work in film for 12 years. That's a big hunk out of a working man's life. The embarrassment about the HUAC affair by the '60s changed a lot of things for the better.

Sometimes I think we'd do better to put ourselves in their place when this all started - Hitler takes over German, then starts sweeping over Europe, the America Firsters and the Bunds doing their damnedest to keep us from interfering with Hitler. So what do you do if you find all this abhorrent? Overreaction is a common thing in such a situation, and they probably thought being an idealistic Communist would be a way of showing that there was a different, better approach. What can you charge those people with - political naivete? They may have been foolish, but not remotely criminal, unless of course you thing that the right of choosing your own politics isn't in the Constitution. I didn't see any America Firsters getting hauled up to Capitol Hill to explain their tacit endorsement of Hitler's policies.

mndean said...

For chrissakes, Trapnel, drop it. I did not make the analogy, you did, and you keep pushing it. This is not an either/or unless you actually believe there was a Communist fifth column ready to take over America and pledge fealty to nearly-dead Joe Stalin. There was no such thing in this country, just as there wasn't a Japanese conspiracy to destroy the West Coast during the war. Harp on the dead Russians all you like, we backed Pol Pot just because we disliked Hun Sen's Vietnam-backed government. I'm sure all the dead Cambodians can see the subtlety of your argument. My mother lived under Nazi occupation, and the communist government that they got after the war (the only one not to be under Stalin's thumb in Europe, by the way) was a damn sight better. I'll be happy to let you talk to her about the Gestapo and the SS soldiers if she lives through her cancer treatments.

Second, the fifties weren't a time of liberal ascendancy until the very end. What hurt conservative politics was something far more prosaic, the serious recession of the late '50s. Nobody was terribly embarrassed by HUAC until it was shoved in their faces and powerful people in Hollywood took a stand, and that didn't really take hold until the '60s.

Gerard Jones said...

And Victor Moore for sedition against Swing Time. Fingered by Edward Everett Horton.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd, nobody here (certainly not I) ever said that American communists were criminals. Some were misguided idealists, some were bloody-minded fanatics happy to endorse the Soviet line unto the Hitler-Stalin Pact (thanx for explaining it so well Amb. Davies) and vent their fury against the non-communist (including socialist and anarchist) left.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd (for chrissakes) ascendency means rising from one point to another higher one, so yes, the fifties were a gradual disenthrallment from reactionary ideology with many sources contributing including the fact that right-wing economic nostrums don't work. Cultural change comes from the bottom up and the prosperity for much of the fifties contributed to more liberal/ameliorative attitudes; likewise a growing liberal climate in the 50s (not all trembling in the bomb shelter) brought about the realization that racial discrimination could no longer be ignored or put off.

I never suggested that the Hollywood ten represented a fifth column or that there was any legitimacy for the hearings. Nor did I mention American policy in Southeast Asia but will now to reiterate the obvious fact that it was a moral and strategic debacle like the criminal misadventure in Iraq. Proving what? I'm glad your mother's life was easier under the post-war communist regime (and wish her well with her treatment; I've had my own first hand experience like yours), but "postwar" makes all the difference cf. the wave of rape and murder by the Red Army against Polish and German women as they moved westward.

Yojimboen said...

No matter how many years I live in this lovely country of your'n, folks, I don't ever expect to hear anything more hideously creative, more poisonously concocted than that magically tortured phrase (in the language of Shakespeare and Keats no less... my language, goddamn it!): "prematurely anti-fascist".

X. Trapnel said...

Hey, Y, if yuh don't like the way we talk here yuh kin go back to commie Scotland.

By the way, English is also the language of Stephen ("never to allow gradually the traffic to smother") Spender. They can't all be gems.

Gerard Jones said...

Never misunderestimate what an American politician can do to the language.

X. Trapnel said...

And American academics, pundits (I mean you, Mr. so-called "Dean"), advertising sloganeers and so on. American English was once the language of Twain, Lincoln, Whitman, Frost...

I just read a "critique" of Obama's Cairo speech by the egregious David Frum and am duly nauseated. Let's get back to Greenstreet.

"Yes, sir. Let's"

mndean said...

I was going to say just that, I don't want to pursue this anymore. You hear the stories I heard (from a witness) about occupied Europe, and you have a different perspective than a typical American (not that I'm saying you're an American, I have no clue). When they say history rhymes, I believe it. History rhymes everywhere, just the actors are different.

Gerard,
Hey, I like Victor Moore there. Something bumptiously endearing about him. Horton would have had to have that role rewritten to be in the film.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd, I hope it was clear that my reference to "so-called Mr. Dean" was to D. Broder, not to you or David Farrar.

I do agree that Victor Moore is just fine in Swingtime.

Gerard Jones said...

mnd, I like Moore in the early going, but he wears on me. Too much of that nasal whine, too many little stammers and mannerisms. He slows the scenes down in way I don't care for. Which makes me said, because otherwise that would be, to me, the apotheosis of the Fred & Ginger movies. Kern and Fields and Stevens added to the glories already there, and one of the great New York fantasies of '30s movies. As it is, it's still there with Top Hat and Gay Divorce among my favorites, but...I want to wish Victor Moore away.

But you're right, the role wouldn't be right for Horton. And perhaps we have enough Horton in the other movies. I'm not sure who I'd like there instead. Raymond Walburn? Or just Moore directed away from his shtick?

Gerard Jones said...

Maybe Peter Lorre...

X. Trapnel said...

Granted, Astaire without Horton is like Flynn without Alan Hale--but not so fatal as without Olivia de Havilland (Brenda Marshall, forsooth!). I still think Swingtime is the most magical of the nine.

Gerard Jones said...

The great moments of Swing Time are the greatest of the greatest of the great. George Stevens could do more with Ginger than a Chinese herbalist. And as much as I enjoy the Porter and Berlin movies, that whole sensibility was really made for Kern. Then there's the penthouse night club with the snow coming down...

But when it asks me to chuckle at Victor Moore hitting on Helen Broderick...oh, hell. Maybe I just shouldn't think about those scenes and return my imagination to Ginger with the shampoo in her hair...

A perfect verification word for Fred & Ginger: topfun!

X. Trapnel said...

Christ, is that what he, Moore, was doing? My attention must have wandered. You've made your case, Gerard. Let's not forget the snowy enchantment of "A Fine Romance."

X. Trapnel said...

Maybe Stevens intended a visual rhyme between the snow and Ginger's sudsy head.

Yojimboen said...

To finish with the lingual carp, this land of erstwhile promise has gone from "And this too shall pass away" through "Eat lead, John Law!" through "prematurely anti-fascist" all the way to the current national credo: "But wait, there's more!"

I do fear for you lovelies.

But back to biz:
Agreed, V. Moore: no
Swingtime: yep

Gerard Jones said...

A Fine Romance! The snow on the windshield wiper. "Flap your arms. It'll restore circulation." Even Victor Moore throwing a snowball can't ruin that scene.

And Never Gonna Dance! I think my favorite of all Fred's duets with Ginger, maybe my favorite of all Fred's love duets period. Complete with those surreal lyrics.

And the interweaving Fine Romance and The Way you Look Tonight in the climax...yes, it is magic. I can't imagine gross, earthbound human animals even making such a thing...

X. Trapnel said...

Here's chance for further verbal fisticuffs. Yes, "Never Gonna Dance" is without doubt the greatest dance ever put on film, something to show the Martians, but the song itself? Rather droopy if you ask me (you haven't) with Fine Romance and ultra-sublime The Way You Look Tonight propping it up as heavenward trees might sustain a clinging vine.

Gerard Jones said...

Yojimboen: give us a little credit! For the first time in a while we have a president who can turn a decent phrase. Sure, those speeches might sound even better with a Scots accent, but he's not bad.

Gerard Jones said...

Yes indeed, X. Note that I praise the dance and the odd lyrics but not the tune. I suspect Dot F sillied up the words in part to distract us from a thin melody.

mndean said...

I've already mentioned that for pure story, I prefer Shall We Dance, even if it doesn't have enough numbers. Swing Time is often slow, we have to put up with Betty Furness, her family and Lucky's "pals". The music and dancing is fine, it's the story around it that's not so hot to me. It starts so promising, but it just stalls after awhile and starts grinding. If I have one problem with Stevens, it's that he sometimes just doesn't get to the damn point. I just go "here's where he fell asleep in the director's chair, and he decided to use the footage anyway".

As far as Victor Moore's "shtick" he certainly didn't have to rely so heavily on it with the right material.

X. Trapnel said...

Yes, Yojimboen grant us a little spark of hope or I'll post some more than usually noxious, morally repugnant, aesthetically nugatory,
cloth-eared bits of Hugh MacDiarmid.

Do people still say "but wait, there's more"? I had hoped I'd heard the last of that along with "How **** is that?"

We did produce "Try and get some sleep." Suck on that, Shakespeare.

Gerard Jones said...

Swing Time is certainly one to be appreciated for its peaks rather than its over all. The story is minimal indeed, and some of the humor (like the picket signs) is strictly from hunger. I'm inclined to blame the script more than the director, although I suppose one can always say that a director shouldn't allow bad script elements to make it to the screen.

For stories and comedy I like Gay Divorce, Top Hat and Shall We Dance best, of which the last is probably the most dramatically interesting. "They Can't Take That Away from Me" is not only a gorgeous number, it hits just right dramatically and has some good screenwriting before and after.

I think I like the silly comedy of the other two best. As cornball as Erik Rhodes's Italians are, he gives so much to them that I have fun watching them. And I always love watching Horton and Blore play off each other.

Below those four there's quite a drop down.

Gerard Jones said...

Oh, but for some strange reason I do like the "no cuffs" gag in Swing Time. I don't know why. I just do.

X. Trapnel said...

Best to face the music and concede that no Astaire/Rogers film is close to perfect and it's not only the script, but sometimes the music itself. Top Hat ends with that ghastly Piccowhatever, and there's "The Yam" (is it?) right after "Change Partners." Does it matter with such a plentitude of highs?

Gerard Jones said...

"The Yam" has the distinction of being not only obnoxious in the movie but uniquely obnoxious on the commercial recordings as well. Mostly those musical settings are very nice, and even things like the Piccolino sound better. But for "The Yam" they cooked up some comedic patter for Fred and Ray Noble...

Just goes to show, I guess, that people don't necessarily understand what makes their own work great.

X. Trapnel said...

an interesting project might be to produce not merely the worst, but the most evil musical imaginable, starting with June Allyson and Dan Dailey doing The Yam scored for 100banjos.

Gerard Jones said...

This reminds me: because I've mostly avoided June Allyson, I don't really know her body of work well. Did she ever play a true, stone-cold bitch? Especially one with a honey exterior? She'd have done it well, I'll bet.

X. Trapnel said...

Yes, she did once in The Shrike, and very convincing she was.

Gerard Jones said...

I've just added The Shrike to my must-watch list!

Karen said...

::shiver::

Victor Moore in Swing Time...I can see how it's possible to find him endearing, but I'm with Gerard here: I think the film slows down every time he's on screen.

I'm also with Gerard on "Never Gonna Dance," although I protest the dissing of the tune. Perhaps it's just that I love the orchestration, I dunno. But I've played and re-played that number more, I think, than any other A&R number.

Karen said...

That being said, I do like Moore in Make Way for Tomorrow.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh I like Harriet a lot. As a mater of fact I cited her performance in my recent tribute to Fleet Week.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Towards the very end of her career at the dying MGM under the James T. Aubrey regime June played a lesbian psychopath in a litle potboiler called The Only Kill Their Masters.

Happy darling?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Pick Yourself Up

Campaspe said...

Whew! I was obviously offline for most of yesterday so I am quite glad that I didn't have to step in and blow the whistle. Henceforth, the Siren declares that all political disagreements will be nipped in the bud with discussions of Astaire and Rogers movies. Even if we have to bring up Harriet Hilliard AND Gene Raymond.

I generally prefer Swing Time to Shall We Dance, which pretty much tosses away the greatest number Astaire ever sang, "They Can't Take That Away From Me." They had to wait until Barkleys of Broadway to give that song its due. Fight over THAT if you want, gentlemen. :D

David, I could not possibly agree more about Menjou in Paths of Glory. It is one hell of a performance, whether or not he appreciated the irony. But for Heaven Can Wait, the communication wires got crossed somewhere -- I was thinking of Greenstreet in the Coburn part, which does rather work for me. Substituting Greenstreet for Cregar also works, in that movie alone, although you would lose the Devil's air of chic. I don't know if anyone else could sub for most of Cregar's other roles. He was sui generis, an amazingly layered character actor.

Rudyfan, isn't it a pity that Cregar essentially killed himself in (according to most sources) a quixotic quest to play romantic leads? His oddball face structure meant that would probably never happen no matter how much he slimmed down. At the same time no leading-man actor in Hollywood could have played I Wake Up Screaming with quite the same air of depravity. Lorre could have done it but he was a completely different physical type and at some point he began to suffer from the fact that the audience expected him to be creepy the moment he showed up. With Cregar you don't know what the hell you are dealing with.

As for June Allyson, The Shrike is the only film of hers that is on my "wanna see" list. I have heard that she's indeed pretty good. David, I could swear I saw They Only Kill Their Masters but all I remember is that it left me with a lasting nervousness around Dobermans.

Campaspe said...

Kevin Deany, thanks for the heads-up on the ownership situation. I am glad to hear that Face Behind the Mask is coming out although I am not sure it belongs in the horror category, although it has horror elements. One of the things I liked about it was the way it crossed genres--noir, horror, social drama, romance. It also flouts several Code requisites; the ex-Voice critic who introduced the movie at BAM (my brain will not produce his name this morning) said that he thought the Breen Office often didn't bother policing Bs too thoroughly.

Surly, it is always such a pleasure to see you and I am tickled to death that you liked the post. Clearly I need to see Der Verlorene.

Exiled, I agree about Potter and Goose makes essentially the same point--Potter has absolutely no joie de vivre which Greenstreet almost always displays. But in Three Strangers he plays something not as far from Potter, and does it quite well. I must also be one of the only people who enjoys him as Winfield Scott. I gather the objection is that he's nothing like the historical Scott but hell, nothing in that movie bears any resemblance to history anyway.

Goose, what a splendidly interesting post. As you and Kevin both point out I could have included a lot of other films, The Conspirators and Background to Danger certainly. The Conspirators I don't believe I have ever seen; I did see Background to Danger but would eagerly re-watch as it's been years, too long ago for me to mention in this post with any coherence. I had read about Pallette but I just don't care, he cracks me up in movie after movie. That's one hell of an image though, Friar Tuck in a bunker. I agree about Greenstreet's general lack of true malevolence, although he comes the closest in Three Strangers.

TDraicer, you're right that Lorre still managed to gleam in some late movies. As a kid I was crazy about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He seems to have been very, very contemptuous of his jobs at that point in his career but Lorre was too genuine a talent not to give us something even in dross.

Campaspe said...

I didn't finish my thought with Goose and Kevin Deany, which was that I made it a small boxed set to keep costs down and in the forlorn hope that it would make the rights less chancey. I agree, so far the Warner Archives appear to have been selected by the same gremlins who do the programming at Fox Movie Channel. There are some definite gems in there but so far nothing that has made me defrost my credit card. I am sure I will cave sooner or later.

mndean said...

I don't get what the Warner Archives is trying to accomplish, that's my trouble with it. It's like "Here's a bunch of films that have nothing to do with each other, ready for release. What do we do withe them? I know, let's call it an Archive!" The Gable/Loy films could be put in a box by themselves, Garbos too (didn't they already do that?) and some of the others like the '70s films could be in a different series. It's not coherent at all.

subpremi: a loan that you pay back with your kneecaps.

Kevin Deany said...

I guess I like the idea of the Warner Archive, since it allows us to films that would otherwise not see the light of day, but I can't help thinking its a step or two back to the VHS days.

For those of us who love muscials, one of the glories of DVDs is the ability to skip directly to the numbers. If the musicals released by the Archive follow the pattern of other Archive titles, it does not allow this. The only chapter stops are 10-minute intervals. I guess it's a little better than fast forwarding a VHS tape, but not much.

Gerard Jones said...

Karen, I'm with you on the orchestration of "Never Gonna Dance." I've played that track of my soundtrack CD many times. Dancing, acting, set, lighting, orchestration, drama all are glorious in that set piece. Don't even need to think too much about the tune.

And Campaspe, I love the use of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" in Shall We Dance. Too short, yes, but that's part of what makes it stab. Beautifully placed and executed, I think. I also like it in Barkleys of Broadway, but feel there's a little too much muchness. In general the strident aesthetic of that movie bothers me. Maybe it would have matched Judy better, but it suffers by inevitably evoking the black-and-white dreams of the decade before.

Gerard Jones said...

David, I like Harriet Hilliard in the same way I like Ruby Keeler. She seems like a sweet girl and I'm happy she got the chance to be in a movie. I just wish it were a movie I didn't actually want to watch.

X. Trapnel said...

Gerard, please correct or confirm my memory (it's been ages since I've seen Shall We Dance). Does Fred sing "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (I dream of a John Garfield rendition, emphasis on "They") to Ginger on the ferry? I remember a vaguely shimmering Manhattan skyline, simple but utterly magical.

Gerard Jones said...

Precisely, X! They've gone to New Jersey either for a quickie marriage so they can get a quickie divorce or for the quickie divorce itself. But by then they've fallen in love, which Pete/Fred acknowledges too late with that song on their sad way home. It's a gorgeous moment.

Gerard Jones said...

That would have been a good title for a Garfield movie. THEY CAN'T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME!

Karen said...

Yes, Gerard, the staging of "Never Gonna Dance" adds to its glory. I remember when Saturday Night Fever first came out, some NYC critic (was it Pauline Kael?) objected to the kiss at the end of the big disco dance number. It was superfluous, the critic argued; look at those Astaire/Rogers numbers where the discovery, courtship, and consummation are all contained in the dance itself.

I tend to agree with that characterization, and I think that "Never Gonna Dance" is its best example. By the time the music builds to the crescendo...and then slides back to pianissimo, I'm completely wiped out and my knees are shaking.

mndean said...

Gerard,
That's what I mean about the story in Shall We Dance? being better, it moves along briskly and makes its points. BTW, They Can't Take That Away From Me is after they got married and are going back to New York so they can end their "marriage" formally, and they're not looking forward to it.

luxegin: The brand you buy at the drugstore (64oz., comes with its own handle) when you want to get drunk and don't care how bad you'll feel in the morning. Like those vodkas with phony Russian names.

X. Trapnel said...

And Ginger's exiting whirl, Fred crestfallen. Miraculous

Yojimboen said...

Here it is in all its glory.

X. Trapnel said...

Better than my fogbound memory and then some: Ginger's irridescent changes of expression and doesn't Fred look great in that hat? Let no one say again he was peculiar looking.

Yojimboen said...

10 minutes of heaven...

6 1/2 minutes of they yam what they Yam.

Gerard Jones said...

Love the Spanish subtitles. "It will hit the spot" = "No te equivocarás."

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

I'll try to keep this brief. "Swing Time" and "Top Hat" have pretty much equal footing, in my patheon, as The Best Astaire & Rogers Musicals. "Top Hat" with slightly better material, "Swing Time" functioning better *as a film* (read: with Stevens' direction in evidence).

One visual pun which I don't *believe* anyone mentioned -- I skimmed portions of this conversation -- is the way, at the end, the fragments of Lucky's torn-up tickets blend with the falling snow.

As for "Never Gonna Dance" ... I will not stand for anyone, at any time, dissing any aspect of that song. Were I to possess a kingdom, which is not likely, that would be reason for Immediate Execution.

The number is, to borrow a phrase from Porter, "The best ... the crest ... the works ..."

Gerard Jones said...

Sorry, Portuguese!

Campaspe said...

Amen Mrs HWV! although, I do quite love The Gay Divorce, which has some of the best comic set-pieces. "Your wife is safe with Tonetti! He prefers spaghetti!"

"Fate is a foolish thing with which to take chances!"
"So are you."

Karen said...

Nice, Yojimboen! I love Ginger's sidelong, quizzical glance in response to "The way you sing off key."

Another example of her terrific ability to act through reaction. She never just stood there.

Authentication: "breporys" -- I think that's how they belch in Wales.

Exiled in NJ said...

Imagine sitting in the Bijou in some small town in 1933....no Internet, television, only radio and maybe a few Hollywood magazines, and here's this skinny guy with a big forehead and this redhead, but of course you do not see her in color, watching and then doing the Carioca. What a revelation it must have been! For that reason, I enjoy that number the most:

"What's this business about the forehead?"

"Mental telepathy."

"I can tell what they are thinking about from here."

I guess I am getting whumsical.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Harriet's true metier was television, where she shined of Ozzie and Harriet -- or as Dennis Cooper and I prefer to refer to it, Ozu and Harriet.

Campaspe said...

Exiled, the Carioca is one of my all-time favorites too. It's one of a select number of movie moments where you can actually, literally see someone become a star--in this case two someones.

shahn said...

Hello! I've tagged to you participate in the 10 Favorite Film Books meme, hosted by the Dancing Image:
http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2009/05/reading-movies.html

Exiled in NJ said...

'With thoughts on the Eternal Nature of Fred & Ginger.'

Gerard Jones said...

I'm much more fond of Flying Down to Rio in general than I would expect to be. I finally saw it on the big screen last year (Stanford Theater) and was struck by what an odd movie it is, but how much life and variety it has, and how visually interesting it is. Funny but not surprising that it was made by many of the same people who gave us King Kong the same year.

Fred and Ginger were charming as the smart-alec second leads before we even saw them dance together. Even the Gene Raymond-Dolores Del Rio romance, with its singular lack of chemistry, was pretty fun. And I'm always a sucker for '30s visions of tropical resorts.

The Carioca is a blast. As is The Continental, long as it is. Too bad that those called forth The Piccolino. Talk about going to the well once too often.

Gerard Jones said...

Harriet certainly lasted a long time on TV. But did she shine? Glimmered a little bit, maybe...

Gerard Jones said...

Oh, and if anyone is ever in the Bay Area, I highly recommend going to the Stanford Theater even if it's out of your way. There are other old theaters sometimes showing old movies, but most of them show the old stuff in festivals or as special events. None of them have the quiet, reassuring, quotidian quality of the Stanford, nor its quiet elegance. I think it's the closest you can come to reexperiencing that Bijou of 1933.

mndean said...

I used to go to the Bay Area for film festivals and the odd revivals and I liked the Stanford (it was certainly better than our local Crest theater when it was a revival house), but any film fest is too much of a luxury now. Any trip to the Bay Area is rather a luxury since early last year. Taking care of an ailing parent doesn't allow it when you take unpaid leave and then have to quit because treatment is taking much longer than planned. So if I seem stuck commenting on what's on TCM, it's because I don't have any choice.

mndean said...

Oh, and BTW, thanks to whomever it was mentioned that Stranger on the Third Floor was an RKO title. I have mistakes in my database, but it's getting harder to manage. I try to list them correctly, but I found listed three copies of Show People (I know I only have two), and three of My Favorite Wife (again, I only have two). 800+ entries, plenty of mistakes. Worst thing I did was try to split off First National stuff from Warner and Cosmopolitan titles from MGM and Warner. A lot of work, since I didn't care about any FN titles made after Zanuck left, but there's a lot of movies credited to First National afterward. Keeping the database is a PITA, but it keeps me from wasting disks most of the time, and it reminds me about some movies I need to rerecord due to technical problems.

Oh, and Trapnel, don't worry about the so-called Mr. Dean. My name ain't Dean or anything close to it :) Just a nom de internet I've used since Usenet in the '80s. I'm not even the only one who uses it. Everyone used to ask me if I was located in Minnesota!

Gerard Jones said...

On Dancing Image, the log by which Siren was tagged above, it's nice to see Arlene Croce's Astaire & Rogers Book. You could call it dated now, as so much more has been learned and written, but it's still a wonderful celebration of them and it has that wholeness and freshness that only the first few books on a subject can really have. And it's an interesting look back at the way movie books had to be written in the days before VCRs and the internet. So much had to be remembered and pieced together.

Lou Lumenick said...

Great post. The Verdict actually is legally available on DVD. It's an Amazon exclusive, at a whopping $28.98, in an unadvertised new program that's apparently an adjunct to the Warner Archive (burned rather than pressed discs with virtually identical packaging). Other titles available there include "20,000 Years in Sing Sing,'' "The Strawberry Blonde'' and "Bordertown.'' As for Lorre's wonderful "The Stranger on the Third Floor,'' Warner's George Feltenstein has confirmed it as an upcoming Warner Archive title, with no date yet announced (ditto for, my heart be still, Curtiz' "Mission to Moscow'' and Dieterle's "The Last Flight''). Another Lorre title, "You'll Find Out'' (1940), a musical (!) with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Kay Kyser, is getting a regular DVD release as part of a horror set for Halloween.

mndean said...

Whoa, Kay Kyser! He's too scary even for me. Anyone who saw That's Right - You're Wrong would know exactly what I mean. And people carp about the dross put out in the '30s. At least it was amusing to see Ned Sparks play a saxophone.

Lou Lumenick said...

Plus E.E. Horton and Hobart Canavangh as screenwriting "partners''! I dunno, I sorta enjoy the meta plot of "That's Right, You're Wrong'' -- a studio signs Kay Kyser, tries to figure out what to do with him -- plus any movie that's got Adolph Menjou as the studio head, Lucille Ball as a movie star and May Robson as Kyser's grandmother can't be all bad. Actually it's probably Kyser's best, which I know isn't saying much when you've got "Around the World'' on your resume. "Swing Fever'' was supposedly made strictly because L.B. Mayer wanted to get his mitts on Ginny Sims.

mndean said...

I found a few positives from the film - 1) It explained a lot of '40 Warner cartoon catchphrases, 2) It showed me that Ish Kabibble looked like the spawn of Lurch and Herman Munster, which is actually cool for a musician, 3) Okay, I can take Horton and Cavanaugh in pretty much anything, but I still see why RKO didn't want to put Lucille Ball up as a star in her own picture.

As for Kyser's shtick, a very little goes a long way. It's cute, but for radio personality films, I liked Breakfast In Hollywood better. At least we got a couple of numbers by the King Cole Trio before Nat turned crooner, a couple of numbers by Spike Jones, Ray Walburn as a guy who can't catch a break, and of course, Zasu Pitts, who drives the perfect car for someone like her to drive. Neither film is what you'd want in the annals of history.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Speaking of Geraldine Fitzgerald

Lou Lumenick said...

Never saw Breakfast in Hollywood, mndean. Always assumed it was sorta like Pot O'Gold without Jimmy Stewart, but you've got me intrigued. I figure this dubious genre hit bottom with Duffy's Tavern (even with half the Paramount contract list on hand). I do believe old Kay was the only orchestra leader to play himself as the nominal lead in a series of movies. Exactly what that says about American culture of the time I've never been able to quite figure out.

mndean said...

The whole of Breakfast In Hollywood can be explained by Tom Breneman's radio show of the same name. It's basically about a group of women (it's a show for women) who go to Breneman's to be on his show. There are a lot of recognizable people, from Pitts to Beaulah Bondi (overdoing her old-lady act), Billie Burke (as Walburn's wife), Hedda Hopper as herself (with a bunch of movie star's mothers in tow), and for romantic interest Bonita Granville. It's not much as a movie, but it does give a view into forties pop culture. And hearing Nat when he was jazzy and Spike Jones is worth the rest of the movie.

X. Trapnel said...

While we're on the dire subject of Kay Kayser, the sight of him and the ineffable Ishkabibble circling around the barely twitching Barrymore in Playmates is as close as we have to a thirties snuff film.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

A friend of mine and I went to a local production of "Bye Bye Birdie" around a half-year back. Not terrific, but it had historical interest in that one could hear remnants of the orignal script. I mean ... how often, nowadays, does one hear references to Abbe Lane?

What causes me to mention it here is that, at one point, misbehaving teenager Kim is said to be out seeing a movie. (Cf. Sandra Dee and Troy Donahaue in "A Summer Place.") And the double-bill which keeps her out of the house for so terribly long? Albert, improvising an alibi, says "Flying Down To Rio" and "Greed."

Lou Lumenick said...

Ah yes, I forgot about Playmates, that's probably Kyser's worst. And speaking of female-skewing radio-show movies, has anyone seen the Elsa Maxwell's Hotel for Women or the 1951 film of Queen for a Day (intriguingly co-written by Dorothy Parker, with an early appearance by Leonard Nimoy)?

mndean said...

If there's one thing that can be said for RKO, it's that they had to be a desperate studio to have Kyser star in a group of films. His shtick was good for one movie at most. The guy was PRC material acting-wise (and I've seen better PRC movies than what Kyser put out). No wonder they gave Welles that fat contract, they needed some prestige badly.

mndean said...

In a way, Kyser reminds me of Johnny "Scat" Davis. He could sing, but he mugged so aggressively that he could have made a good living in Central Park. He wouldn't even have had to touch his victims, they'd have handed over their wallets and purses just to have him go away.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh I LOVE Johnny "Scat" Davis!!!!! His rendition of "Hooray For Hollywood" right at the top of Hollywood Hotel (and played at the close of The Long Goodbye) is Beyond Sublime. Those skyscraper high tones of his coupled with that big ear-to-ear shit-eating grin make him the Adam Lambert of his day.

And the Tiny Tim as well.

mndean said...

I don't mind his singing at all (and his Hooray For Hollywood number, backed by the Benny Goodman Band in Hollywood Hotel is one of the best things in that movie), but dammit, the man acts by mugging his way through scene after scene. Like with Kyser, a little goes a loooong way.

metho: the toothpaste for tweakers, designed to keep what few teeth you have left.

Karen said...

While we're on the dire subject of Kay Kayser, the sight of him and the ineffable Ishkabibble circling around the barely twitching Barrymore in Playmates is as close as we have to a thirties snuff film.


I think I may have done a spit-take when I read that, X. Genius.

And bless you, Lou Lumenick and Amazon! My copy of The Strawberry Blonde is already winging its way to me!

About Kay Kyser, however, the less said the better.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Be that as it may, Karen he DID make one film of enduring queasy fascination.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Of potential interest to readers of this blog, my Latest FaBlog: Newt Gingrich Has Collapsed

mndean said...

Hey, you know, maybe we haven't heard from Siren for awhile because we found the one thing she can't stand discussion of for any reason - Kay Kyser! It would be like saying Rumpelstiltskin.

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks, Karen! Praise from she who knows all and has seen (almost) all is praise indeed (thanks also for a chance to correct myself: Playmates is 1941, not the thirties).

mnd, I'm sure our hostess is homeopathically sturdy (you get that way from years of film watching) or as the Freudians say, well defended enough to withstand the K man.

Lisa said...

I appreciate your observation on the persistence of Greenstreet and Lorre. They have a heft which does not give way to current ideas of celebrity.

One is unconcerned with their offscreen; they both fully inhabited their roles, so that was quite enough. Celluloid persona became totality.

I feel part of the reason for all of the technological distractions today is that we attempt to cobble together a whole. Lorre and Greenstreet projected a whole, in each.

Roderick Heath said...

Sorry, but musical numbers like Lorring's here are, for me, the best reason for the fast-forward button having been invented.

MovieMan0283 said...

Campaspe, I see you have already been tagged but let me add some fuel to the fire (ahem):

I am making the rounds to remind everyone about the "Reading the Movies" exercise I started. I'm going to compile everyone's lists into one master list in a week or two, so jump in! The original post can be found here:

http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2009/05/reading-movies.html#links

Thanks.

mndean said...

This dead thread reminds me of a line I'll paraphrase, "Kill! Kill for the love of Kyser! Kill!".

Campaspe said...

Hello, all! I don't remember being particularly bothered by Kyser in Stage Door Canteen or Thousands Cheer, but neither have I sought him out. Certain nostalgia things I just don't get. And XT, I am not all that sturdy at the moment, alas--my allergies are absolutely kicking my ass this week. Working on some other stuff meanwhile, including MovieMan's tag (and Tony Dayoub's) and shahn's.

Lisa, welcome and thanks for the comment. I think you are on to something. With some character actors, like Lorre and Greenstreet, you build a concept of them from movie to movie, no matter how different the role, and the picture becomes so complete that you don't need to know more.

Um, Roderick, you did notice the other two grafs where I was praising your review, yes? Not just the bit where I disagreed about seemingly extraneous musical numbers?

surlyh said...

Siren, RE: I Wake Up Screaming
It's interesting that you say Lorre might have been good in Cregar's part--I agree--as the character in the book was visually patterned after Cornell Woolrich, the writer who pretty much created the 'noir cop' type. Cregar was brilliant all right, but Lorre would have made an interesting choice just because he was physically much closer to Woolrich. Imagine a smaller, equally creepy and intimidating presence.

Lisa said...

Thank you, Campaspe. Yes, there was more of a willing suspension of disbelief then, and a confidence existed, even in the most loathsome character.

Today, while our Bond maybe brute, he is a bit insecure, too, hence his brutality. We are not as willing to project culture, because we're not sure in what or where our culture lies.

Daniel Craig is a man for our time: Brute, can be dressed up in suave clothing, but immature, with a way to go.

DavidEhrenstein said...

It's Robert Cummings' birthday today.

Also Judy Garland's.

And turning out attention to the living, Vincent Perez is 46.

Noel Vera said...

Lorre doesn't fit Dostoevsky's description of Raskolnikov but I do think he gives a great performance in Sternberg's film.

It could have been more stylized; they could have given Sternberg the money and freedom to hit it out of the ballpark it was so squarely in his area of speciality. But at the very least Sternberg and Lucien Ballard managed some strikingly beautiful images, proving again and again that Lorre's head is a great camera subject, a pomaded sculpture that cuts bulbous, buglike shadows on the surrounding walls.

And it was so remarkably funny. Sternberg transforms the game of wits between Porfiry and Raskolinikov into a game of wit, and it was a real pleasure to see Arnold and Lorre go at each other with scalpels, so to speak. Wonderful movie, much underrated.

And David, I hear you on Carradine. It's an odd career--he's been in a few great projects, particularly Larry Cohen's great Q: The Winged Serpent, but Carradine himself really stands out in maybe a handful of other films: Bound for Glory (not a big fan, but Carradine, much like Lorre, is gorgeously lit), and the original Death Race 2000. Bartel lives, and his film runs endless looping tire burns around the monotonously loud and unwitty remake.

Operator_99 said...

Soup is good on cold evenings.

Gerard Jones said...

A belated happy birthday to Our Bob! He'd have been 99 years old if he lived so fast and hard.

(Thanks for alerting us, D.E.)

Gerard Jones said...

Say. Should we contacting our local revival theaters now to make sure they're getting ready for next year's Bob Cummings centennial retrospectives?

X. Trapnel said...

Personally, I feel that Bob Cummings' birthday has become too commercialized and we've lost touch with its true meaning.

Yojimboen said...

I know, I agree X., and things like this just break my heart! Clearly they left room for Bob's cousin e e, but the cemetery was restricted - no lower-case people allowed.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Always glad to see someone put in a good word for "Q: The Winged Serpent" and Larry Cohen. Thank you, Noel Vera.

Noel Vera said...

Any time, sir. Don't you think Michael Moriarity gave a great performance in that film?

X. Trapnel said...

"how do you like your bluebox boy
Mister Death"--(not) e.e. cummings

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Moriarity's performance in "Q" is one of my favorite exmples of his, um, work.