Monday, May 31, 2010

Anecdote of the Week: "Dark, you idiot! We're photographing in black and white."



All those critics grinding Sex and the City 2 into the sidewalk with their heels made the Siren think of another movie shot in Morocco--or rather, Morocco, Warner Brothers, which was probably more fun. Such were the Siren's thought processes. So here, from his autobiography Ladies' Man, is Paul Henreid describing a day on the set of that movie he made with Michael Curtiz and Humphrey Bogart.

At one point we were supposed to be shooting in a Moroccan street filled with vendors, a cart, a donkey and a crowd of people. Curtiz reviewed the set before we started and said, 'It's very nice, but I want a poodle.'

The prop man was upset. 'Mike, you never told me that. We don't have one.'

'Well, get one,' Curtiz snapped.

'All right.' Nervous now, the prop man said, 'What size?'

'What size? A big one, a big one!' Curtiz turned away in annoyance.

'What color?' the prop man persisted.

Curtiz threw his hands up. 'Dark, you idiot! We're photographing in black and white.'

'It's going to take about half an hour.'

Curtiz rolled his eyes. 'You think time is nothing? All right, all right!'

We went back to our dressing-rooms, and Mike and I started a game of chess while Bogey kibitzed. In half an hour the prop man poked his head in happily. 'I have it now, Mr. Curtiz. Will you come and look?'

'Pauli, don't touch the pieces. I think I have you mate in three moves.' And Mike went out. We went with him so he wouldn't accuse us of cheating, and there on the set was a beautiful black standard poodle. Mike looked bewildered. 'What do I want with a dog?'

'You said you wanted a poodle.'

'I wanted a poodle in the street,' Curtiz shouted. 'A poodle, a poodle of water!'

'Oh my god, you mean a puddle!'

'Right. A poodle, a puddle, that's what I want, not a goddamn dog!'

All in all I found Mike Curtiz a charming man...


Meanwhile, links of interest:

David Cairns posts something he must have known I would have to link to.

Glenn Kenny writes up Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road with his signature panache, at Mubi. (I guess I need to change that name on my sidebar, but I'm resisting.)

Gorgeous Lawrence Harvey could no more portray sweet or warmhearted than he could sing Tosca, but give him a snake-eyed assassin or soul-dead careerist to play and he was more than equal to the task. Kimberly Lindbergs takes a look at his first role--a greed-crazed villain in House of Darkness--at Movie Morlocks.

The Siren has never much cared for Grace Kelly's Oscar-winning role in The Country Girl; doesn't like the script, doesn't like the movie, doesn't like Kelly in the movie. But, at Another Old Movie Blog, Jacqueline T. Lynch makes a good case for all three--and brings up the too-little-acknowledged fact that "nearsighted people are almost always glamorous and elegant," which made the Siren smooth down her skirt and squint even more closely at her computer screen.

If you want a corrective to the Siren's lack of enthusiasm for The Fall of the Roman Empire, start right here at Ferdy on Films.

Finally, in her anniversary post, the Siren shamefully neglected to thank Stephen Whitty, who has pointed his New Jersey Star-Ledger and Newhouse News readers her way more than once. Stephen shares the Siren's regard for women's pictures. And yesterday, in a witty and pointed article, he also lamented the lack of modern movies aimed at women: "Every summer, studio execs act like Guy Pearce in Memento, unable to form new memories. Hey, women go to the movies! Women go to the movies to see other women on screen! We should make more movies like ... wait. What?"

53 comments:

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you for the link. Myopics need to stick together in this blurry world.

Arthur S. said...

They should have put that black poodle into the movie...makes a whole lot more sense than a puddle that's for sure.

Along with ''Land of the Pharoahs'', ''The Fall of the Roman Empire'' is the greatest Hollywood epic on the Ancient world and a film of amazing sophistication. Although I don't see it having too much to do with ''The Devils'' as opposed to say ''Casino''. After all at the end of the film, the movie puts the Roman Empire on auction.

The Siren said...

Jacqueline, you're welcome!

Arthur, I thought of that too--a puddle? in a desert? I haven't tried to spot it in the market scene yet.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Morlocks is a neat site. I've added comments on their threads on Laurence Harvey and Raymond Burr.

Miss Tinky said...

I love this story. But I won't tell Truffle, my half poodle, about it. She would be too sad that her relative didn't get to be a movie star!

The Siren said...

Mary, Signor Ferrari almost seems like the type to have a poodle...

Noel Vera said...

I'll subscribe to the greatness of Land of the Pharaohs--the principle of hydraulics explained onscreen, and the chance to whip Joan Collins!--and Fall of the Roman Empire, which Diddley Squat purloined wholesale to make his mediocre Gladiator.

Yojimboen said...

I second NV’s praise of Pharaohs for the reasons stated; the most impressive thing for me was the mechanics of the tomb sealing. Joan Collins, ehh, I could whip her or not. But she was at the peak of her beauty then (if not the peak of her acting abilities – still waiting for that).

Fall of the Roman Empire is an entirely different tin of sardines; depressing as terminal cancer from start to finish.
It opens in freezing winter, everybody’s dressed in dead animals, and it goes downhill from there.

It’s the title. There was – and is – a good deal of common sense to the old H’Wood philosophy of avoiding movie titles containing the word ‘death’. (viz the rejected A Matter of life and Death.)

Likewise any word connoting misery, defeat or the ‘fall’ of anything.
Susan Lenox, her Fall and Rise squeaked by because it leaves room for hope. (Of course there are exceptions – not the point.)

It was stupid to name the film thusly – if you’re basing it on Gibbons, say so! Decline and Fall would at least have provided an underpinning of classical history.

Plus, the basics: There’s nobody in the movie to root for.

Excerpts from our friend Bosley Crowther in his 1964 NYT review:

”A MAMMOTH and murky accumulation of Holly-wooden heroics and history…

…you're likely to have the feeling after sitting through its more than three hours […] that the Roman Empire has fallen on you.

Meanwhile, Alec Guinness is pompous and full of hot air […] Sophia Loren is ornamental, without intelligence or sex […] John Ireland looks like an unkempt Beatle as the leader of the northern tribes.”


(And this for XT):
“There is also something commanding about Dmitri Tiomkin's musical score, which keeps banging away through the picture like a battering ram trying to knock down the door…”

Personally (and here I’m deliberately asking for trouble) I never found Sophia Loren remotely ornamental in anything.

At the end of the movie the suitably-reverbed narrator returns with a final message: "This was the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire."

No shit, Sherlock, add the fall of Samuel Bronston and Anthony Mann to that and let’s all go home.

Vanwall said...

I have astigmatism, too, so either that cancels out elegant, or, as I prefer, I'm so beyond it, I'm in the vasty realm of Vanwall-ness.

I heard about the poodle problem with Curtiz before - I understand his accent was an adjunct to deliberate obtuseness at times, but also a source of endless amusement, which I think he fostered to a degree. He was a real inside turned out kinda guy, having re-made himself into a Murican, a contented, somewhat self-satisfied one to judge by his films made here. In his other life, it would've been interesting to have seen him mature there instead of here, I think.

"Black Jack" was a nice link, thanks, I hadn't thought about that film in years, and it's genesis was a something new to me. Wonder about those almost deliberately buried films - who's doin' the burials, and why?

I kinda like "The Country Girl", Kelly's gal is thankfully portrayed at least as intelligent, something not always seen in films even today, but I could never buy her in this film as frumpy or plain - she radiated beauty regardless, for me. Made it hard to sell the premise, but also made it intriguing - the dependence factor of alcoholism isn't the only addiction here, certain kinds of beauty can be be as hard to kcik, and I liked that aspect when I first saw it.

Long ago, I read Talbot Mundy's "Ceasar Dies", a wonderful little noir-ish take on the end of Commodus, and much later saw "The Fall of the Roman Empire", which while vastly more intelligent than most epics, and gave Stephen Boyd a wonderful role - he had to carry the film, while Plummer runs around hamming it up in his sly-looking way - the film lacked the dark undertones of a story like Mundy's, it's a film of brightness and color and spectacle, while Mundy's work was the deeds done in the dead of night. I like to view my Rome, the aggregation of many mean streets, as that kinda place.

Dave said...

My new favorite thing about "Casablanca" is knowing Jack Benny is in it.

Yojimboen said...

M VW - odd that you remember TFOTRE as having “brightness and color” – my takeaway from it was ‘dark and dank’.
Subtext: Thanks, pal, now I have to watch the effing thing again?!

Rozsaphile said...

Stephen Boyd, so virile and vivid in Ben-Hur and so wooden in Fall. I recall gales of audience laughter during his scenes with Loren, who looked lost in this film. Both of these films started out with unsatisfactory scripts -- a curious, but not uncommon Hollywood practice. But Wyler found the human, key to his story, whereas Mann lost his way amid the (often magnificent) spectacle.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Stephen Boyd is at his best in The Best of Everything

Noel Vera said...

Boyd was fun in Ben Hur, not so fun here--but compared to Russell Crowe, he was a barrelful of monkeys.

I really like it for the way Mann used the widescreen (actually liked Cimarron for that same reason) and the crackling terrific action sequences. Didn't he and not Kubrick do the gladiator duels in Spartacus?

Loren's good in comedies.

Noel Vera said...

"But Wyler found the human, key to his story"

With the help of Gore Vidal, he unlocked the inner Boyd!

Mann probably needed a Vidal himself.

Yojimboen said...

Word in the trade is that Ridley Scott spent mucho dollars on Robin Hood for special CGI to thin down Mr. Crowe’s ballooning waistline.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I will second you on this. Sophia L., a likeable personality for sure, is just too much of a good thing, more a caricature of sexiness (like "Marilyn") than the real thing. Well, that's the 50s. (I believe it was gmoke several posts back who pointed out the vulgarity of the word "sexy" and proposed "allure" as a substitute. I agree, though for me it's more a matter of euphony, getting rid of that awful "ks" sound.)

Trish said...

I absolutely agree with David about Stephen Boyd in The Best of Everything. His surly rants are among the many pleasures in this film.

Yojimboen said...

Oh, too true.
Enough can be too much
Of buttocks and breastworks
Beefsteaks and benchmarks
He thinks, as he backtracks through
Ballparks of summers gone
Chicks in hammocks
Vexed by hulks and hunks
Chipmunks and apparatchiks
Tugging forelocks
In foreign bailiwicks
In knapsacks and kneesocks
He balks, gadzooks!

(I agree, them soft konsonants is much sexier.)


WV - Squess

X. Trapnel said...

My ears! My poor ears! They yearn for heavenly labials in a world of gutturals. Thinknk I'll cranknk up The Rage of Paris--and change my initial

Karen said...

That poodle anecdote will still have me laughing next October.

The Siren said...

Karen, I came across the Casablance poodle again recently and was LMFAO. I think it's fairly well known but seemed well worth repeating, along with Curtiz's immortal line about a hapless set flunky, "Next time I send some sonofabitch to get me a Coca-Cola, I do it myself." But he doesn't seem to have been a difficult director to work for, though, especially compared with some others.

Glad to see that I am not the only one left cold by the Mann; Yojimboen's impressions are very much mine. It's big and beautifully composed but the gloom is incredible.

Lack of attraction to Sophia Loren is madness, though.

And I like the word sexy, "x" sound and all. You need the rough and the smooth. (did I really just type that? It must be the lingering effects of Son of Fury.)

I wrote before about my problems with Stephen Boyd but indeed he is very well cast in The Best of Everything, which I'd rank along with Ben-Hur as his best effort. In fact, in Ben-Hur Boyd's one of the few things I do like, along with the horses, who are the most beautiful things in the movie.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Lack of attraction to Sophia Loren is utterly mystifying.

I never saw her as a "sex bomb," really. True she was more than fetching in next to nothing in Boy on a Dolphin, but as a whole she's always projected her sexuality as a part of her overall charm oofensive. She spoofs sexiness in Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, which is why it was one of her biggest hits.

Personally I've always found her romantic, especially in Houseboat which sealed the deal for me back when it was first released.

X. Trapnel said...

David, I know that you don't need to be told that "these things are subjective," but for me Sophia L. has little in the way of mystery and poetry. Certainly she has humor (though spoofing sexxkkxiness is bore. You can't spoof allure) and an endearing good nature, but there's a blatancy about her screen persona that fits in all too well with late 50s gigantism and cinematic consumerism (the ectomorphic equivalent being Audrey Hepburn as the prize of middle-aged rich men).

WV: nomidxqg. Now there's a word that sings.

Flickhead said...

I wouldn't kick her out of bed.

X. Trapnel said...

Uh, neither would I, but since we're entirely within the realm of fantasy I could think of four score and seven screen ladies I'd rather have warming my bed etc. before I got to Sophia. She's way ahead of Mary Treen, though.

Yojimboen said...

“50s – and 60s - gigantism” is part of it, the other part is Fellini’s famous quote: “In Italy a woman can have a face like a train wreck, as long as she’s blonde and has big tits.”

Viz: Anita Ekberg oozing from the billboard in Boccaccio 70, or just oozing in Dolce Vita; Jayne Mansfield’s subtle dairy products in TGCHI; or Sophia L in just about anything.

As my learnèd colleague said, it’s all subjective; perhaps pure romanticism demands a little more mystery than a tightly packed - and overflowing - bodice; such displays are generous offers to some (an offer to be grabbed with both hands; hey, some people will always laugh at fart-bladder and slap-stick comedy - and jokes about big tits), but to others, the display is undignified, degrading and somewhat cheap. All too often in movies pneumaticism is mis-taken for beauty and (imagined) talent.

I’ll admit there may be a touch of intellectual snobbery in preferring Vitti to Loren, Lollobrigida or Mangano but, them’s my two cents.

(Now, just don’t get me started on Neo-Realism.)

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I fully expect that you will dismantle neo-realism like a defective coffee machine and I for one can scarcely wait, but I must get in a smack at Signor Fellini for whom women are sexual grotesques, asexual clown/waifs, bitch goddesses, or white-clad symbols of innocence and purity.

Yojimboen said...

But to pollute my own argument, (Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes):
I insist Saraghina is one of cinema’s greatest creations.

Trish said...

I like Sophia Loren much better in comedy roles. She's simply too histrionic as a dramatic actress. That goes double for Gina Lollobrigida. Do not emote ladies, because I'm not buying it. Anna Magnani is absolutely intolerable. I realize she is (or was) considered a great actress, but I would rather have my finger nails pulled out one by one than watch "The Fugitive Kind" again. The 60's child in me loves Virna Lisi and Claudia Cardinale, each of them delightful, and fashion icons.

Yojimboen said...

You’re braver than I am, Trish, I was afraid to mention Magnani. Did I read somewhere that on Fugitive Kind she became murderously angry at Brando because he refused to sleep with her?

Vanwall said...

Ge'mans, I must say, my tastes in ladies, and their...performances, seem somewhat more catholic, in the original meaning, than what's playin' out here. Sad, sad.

Trish said...

Yikes, Yojimboen! I believe you when you say she became "murderously angry". That's the way she presents herself in all of her films....

Yojimboen said...

Found it (From the TCM blurb on Fugitive Kind):

“Magnani also had problems with Brando. Early on, [Tennessee] Williams had warned the actor that his leading lady had a crush on him. From their first meeting, she insisted that they needed to get together in private to discuss the film. He finally agreed to meet with her, at which point she put the moves on him. When she refused to stop kissing him, even biting his lip painfully to keep him close, he had to squeeze her nose to make her let go.”

Karen said...

"Biting his lip painfully to keep him close"?

Honey, you're doing it wrong.

The Siren said...

Tennessee Williams said Magnani had the most beautiful skin he'd ever seen. I always loved Magnani for the story about how, when Rossellini was busy abandoning her for Ingrid Bergman, she made him dinner and carefully seasoned his spaghetti, sweetly inquiring whether it had enough oregano etc. And when he told her yes, it was perfect now, she dumped the whole thing into his lap. Or maybe it was over his head.

A volatile woman, almost too much for life to contain, let alone the screen. And she's unforgettable in Open City and The Golden Coach. I would like to see Bellissima.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I never think of Sophia in "mystery and poetry" terms, X. She's that lovely Italain girl the man dwon the block brought home from WWII.

Magnani hated Brando because he wouldn't Last Tango with her?

HAH!

OH to have been on the set of The Fugitive Kind and watch Mrlon "defend his honor."

Trish said...

I love Brando, but when I watch him I normally feel sorry for the other actors, because I know how difficult he could be. But in TFK I feel sorry for him. To be fair, this is just a bad film. I'm a huge fan of Tenessee Williams, stage and screen, but not this one.

X. Trapnel said...

Good point, David, and a nice comparison. Again a matter of taste.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh I LOVE The Fugitive Kind, Trish. It's a Major Guilty Pleasure -- especially for Joanne Woodward (who's basically playing me as a teenager.)

Trish said...

I'm glad you enjoy it, David. Where would film fandom be if we all didn't have our guilty pleasures! Joanne is the best thing about TFK. She's always convincing when she plays trash. But morose Magnani makes the film a drag for me, in more ways than one. ;)

DavidEhrenstein said...

As for mystery and poetry, HERE!

X. Trapnel said...

L'enfer? Mais non! C'est la paradis!

Trish said...

Lovely hair and eyes. Thanks for these links. My cultural currency so lacks in foreign film. I can only offer this one, where she pops out of the shower at about 42 seconds in...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIpUdueq78M&feature=related

DavidEhrenstein said...

Bill Reed remembers Mr. Adams & Eve

DavidEhrenstein said...

I was working as an usher at the Baronet/Cornet theaters in New York back in 1964 and as a result I saw Good Neighbor Sam 72 times.

Trish said...

David - is there anything you haven't done? Wow! You amaze me with your accomplishments. I'm sure you can recite the dialogue from Good Neighbour Sam, along with many other films.

DavidEhrenstein said...

There's a very long list of things I haven't done.

The Siren said...

Hmmm...I'll believe in that long list when I see it!

Vanwall said...

David is the Arthur Dietrich of our little world. Hats off.

Tom Carson said...

As I recall, Boyd is also very good (or enjoyable, always his Scylla and Charybdis) as the Irishman spying for the Nazis in The Man Who Never Was. As I'm currently reading the lowdown on the real story -- Operation Mincemeat, in which his character does not appear -- I find myself missing him even by proxy.

The Siren said...

Tom, I saw The Man Who Never Was and recall Boyd being all right, but not much more. Suspect that the book must be much better, even without Boyd's square jaw and strangled vowels; it's a very interesting topic.

Roderick Heath said...

So this is where my comment threads are...