It's been a slow couple of viewing weeks chez Siren. She's had a hard time finding quiet periods to watch things, for one. And for another, what she has seen hasn't exactly brought the Muse sashaying over to her computer keyboard. There were a couple of John Garfield movies, Out of the Fog and Saturday's Children. Out of the Fog had Garfield in delicious bad-guy mode, Ida Lupino looking glorious and James Wong Howe making Sheepshead Bay look the way it should look but undoubtedly never did. Still, no inspiration. Saturday's Children had some lovely, delicate moments in the early scenes but slipped later.
There was The Hucksters, deeply disappointing to the Siren, although Sydney Greenstreet hauling off and spitting on a conference table was an unexpected fillip. But Greenstreet, despite the Siren's deep love for the man, was woefully miscast, Gable failed to charm and Ava Gardner's hairstylist must have had it in for her. Deborah Kerr looked ravishing but her part was wan. The movie looked pretty good but was ultimately toothless; maybe if the Siren watches Mad Men again she will now appreciate it more.
Saw Nightfall at the Film Forum, and a good thing too, since its ravishing beauty (via Jacques Tourneur and Burnett Guffey) needed a big screen. But the plot was preposterous in ways both big and small. Saw Cyrus (oh look! a new movie!) and it had some funny moments, but Marisa Tomei's character was frustratingly underdeveloped and the out-of-nowhere constant zooming made the Siren want to gently take the directors' hands off the camera and hand them some worry beads.
Then there was a Frank Borzage night at the home of some dear friends, where we saw Doctors' Wives, an intermittently interesting early work that the Siren has little to say about, and Young as You Feel, a ghastly relic that the Siren cannot recommend even to ardent Borzage completists. There were three shots where she thought she spotted Borzage; otherwise the only sustaining moments came when the Siren's couchmate (He Knows Who He Is) dissolved into inadequately suppressed giggles every time Will Rogers described himself as "an old meat-packer." That sent the Siren into fits as well and she ended the evening with her Serious Classic Movie Viewer cred in tatters.
Hence the radio silence.
Some weeks back we held a belated house-warming and the Siren shut the door to the hall closet where we had piled all the things we didn't know what to do with, like toolboxes and an old bureau and papers to shred and all the pictures we haven't hung because we don't want to face the inevitable debates: "I hate that one." "I hate THAT one more." "Hey, that was a gift." "Oh, a gift, huh. From who? a sworn enemy?" The door to the closet is right next to the bathroom and during the party the Siren kept one eye peeled to make sure no one opened the wrong door and discovered the secret of our Potemkin housekeeping. Since then, the Siren opens the door from time to time, looks in and says to herself, "I ain't touching this shit," and shuts the door, suddenly gripped with the strong desire for a stiff Scotch.
Well, it's only 9:30 am right now and besides, the housewarming guests drank up all the Scotch and it hasn't been replaced. (That isn't a reproach, guys; we had fun doing it.) So the Siren brewed a cup of nicely smoky lapsang souchong and decided to clean out her computer files instead. The Siren wouldn't show you that hall closet's interior if you came over with an armful of gardenias, a sonnet to her left eyebrow and a large bottle of 30-year-old Talisker. But herewith, because her Scots-Irish ancestral blood deplores waste of any kind, and because otherwise the cupboard is bare, a glance at some of the unfinished fragments that have been lurking on the Siren's hard drive.
Here we have the notes for Siren's abortive stab at a comparison between Criss Cross and Touchez Pas au Grisbi, two movies that she saw back-to-back and that still strike her as complementary.
Oddly, it was the French film that ultimately had a less cynical outlook, holding out the possibility of loyalty and even love. Yvonne DeCarlo speaks for the Americans when she snaps at Burt Lancaster: "Love, love! You've got to watch out for yourself."
Criss Cross is even better than The Killers, one of its predecessors, at least in part because of DeCarlo. Her beauty is just lights-out, on a level with the earlier film's Ava Gardner. Unlike Gardner, however, DeCarlo really acts in this movie. She is very good as Anna, Lancaster's ex-wife, showing us a woman who may have some good qualities deep down, but meanwhile is out for herself. Burt Lancaster's magnificent looks help his portrayal of Steve who is, it must be acknowledged, a bit of a drip. Steve takes up a lot of his narration blaming fate, when we can see he's the author of his own misfortunes.
Both of the movies flip sex roles--Steve the drippy romantic, Anna the practical hustler; Gabin the loyal mate, his partner the feckless damsel-in-distress.
Jeanne Moreau really, really, really cannot dance. DeCarlo, on the other hand, tears up the floor.
The opening graf of a planned post on the splendid The Late George Apley. If this one pops up on TCM, by all means watch it.
It has a dry, witty script by Philip Dunne and a wonderfully funny performance from Ronald Colman whom, as her readers know, usually hits the Siren like a big ol' dose of Nyquil. Mr. Siren, who was in the same room trying to beat an external hard drive into submission, at one point looked up and remarked with mild irritation, "You're laughing a LOT at this one." He would have had a much better time just watching it with me.
This is an excellent example of a post the Siren abandoned because she was being entirely too pissy. And no, she won't tell you who it was who aroused her ire, and there are no prizes for a correct guess, either.
Dude ... Stage Door?
There are I-don't-know-how-many actresses and films out there to illustrate your thesis that everything was so much better without feminism, and you choose--Katharine Hepburn in Stage Door?
Okay, don't let me stop you. Maybe next week you'll follow up with how things in Hollywood were a lot better before they invented panchromatic film. I want to be sympathetic here, because I happen to prefer old movies myself. Hence my blogging about old movies. And of course it is a truism that you are entitled to your opinion. But thematic evaluations are supposed to be rooted in something, preferably something connected to the movie. You can't just watch Bringing Up Baby and decide it's all a metaphor for the Boer War.
Yes, we are all better off without that one. It was only going to get worse from there.
Here, to close out this collection of unrelated fragments, are the Siren's notes on My Last Breath, as her British edition titles Luis Buñuel's autobiography.
The book is, surprisingly, in rough chronological order but Buñuel still meanders from topic to topic, detouring for a while and then swerving back onto the road. He was born in the Aragon region of Spain in 1900, at a time when the area was poor and the peasants still lived in much the same way they had for centuries. His father was relatively well-to-do, however, and Buñuel received a good Jesuit education, right up to the day he was expelled, much to the Siren's relief. (Come on, this is Buñuel. You don't want to hear about him being a complete altar boy, do you?) He went to Madrid in the 1920s to be educated at the university, and there Buñuel seems to have met everyone who was anyone in Spain at the time, from the young Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali to King Alfonse.
He started out studying insects and claims he could recognize and give Latin names for many well into his old age. Eventually he switched to philosophy, but then he moved to Paris. There he made the revolutionary Un chien andalou and L'Âge d'Or, the latter film distinguishing itself by being the first Buñuel to be banned (for about fifty years, as a matter of fact).
In the same way that Buñuel's films can focus on seemingly extraneous details (in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, people going on and on about their dreams, as Bunuel does here) and exclude the information you are dying to know (what, exactly, happened to Don Jaime's wife in Viridiana?) the director gives one chapter apiece to his most prolific years as a filmmaker, in Mexico and in France. He is happy to give you a recipe for a Buñueloni (the Siren would love to order one of these at her next blogger outing) but doesn't want to tell you much about, say, Gerard Philippe.
So now we've used up some leftovers. There's about a half-dozen more lurking around, but the Siren promises she won't drag those out until the next time she's just seen a Will Rogers movie and is stumped for material.
If you've seen anything brilliant lately, by all means, tell.
Update: In a nice coincidence prompted by TV5's showing Grisbi last night (Mr. S watched too), James Wolcott posts about the Becker film. The dancing amused him too. Even funnier: Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough, which may well be playing on a double bill with The Oscar in some midnight-camp-palace of the afterlife.
And the in-depth take on Nightfall that the movie deserves, from Kim Morgan, at Noir of the Week. The Siren was still not keen on the woozy plotting, but Kim points out all the brilliance that made the Siren pretty much love the thing anyway. And Simon Abrams at Slant Magazine liked the movie less than either Kim or me, but makes his case very well (Simon has particular problems with the ending).