Friday, August 26, 2011

The Sunset Gun/Siren Simulcast: Leave Her to Heaven (1945)




The Siren was on the phone with a fellow writer last year, and the subject of Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven came up. Quoth the lady (and she is a lady): “I kind of sympathize with her.” Respondeth the Siren: “So do I, so do I.”

Let it be said that neither the Siren nor her friend condones, approves of nor has any plans for drowning crippled children, indulging in do-it-yourself miscarriages or committing suicide in hopes our significant others subsequently will be executed for murder. One has certain moral limits.

Yet we were both serious. Tierney's character isn’t unsympathetic to either one of us. “She just wants to be left the hell alone with her man,” remarked the lady. “I get that way sometimes, too,” admitted the Siren.

And we do have company, albeit tongue-in-cheek company. The Siren's idol, James Agee, saw what was billed in 1945 as a tale of an evil woman's obsessive love and remarked, "Audiences will probably side with the murderess, who spends all of the early reels trying to manage five minutes alone with her husband. Just as it looks possible, she picks up a pair of binoculars and sees his brother, her mother, her adopted cousin and the caretaker approaching by motorboat."

Now it can be told: Ellen's other contemporary admirer was Kim Morgan of the exceptional film site (she hates the word blog) Sunset Gun. For her love of John M. Stahl's masterpiece, and considering her kinship with the Siren, Kim agreed to chat via email about our beloved Ellen Berent Harland. Kim has cross-posted at her place, with her own introduction, which you should check out.





*****

Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun Speaks:


Oh Gene. Or rather, misunderstood Ellen. A woman trapped in her obsession, of course, in her obsession with her father, but then, also trapped within the un-permissiveness of the times. Permission for Ellen to do…what would Ellen do? Perhaps that's the problem. This is a time when one is not allowed the strength of being… Ellen. I'm not sure when anyone is allowed to be Ellen, exactly, but she is certainly trapped by some force beyond mere psychopathology. Maybe born so impeccable, that unfaltering, that she even frightens herself? She's not normal. Well, she wants to be normal. A woman who yearns for marriage (to Cornel Wilde, though we're never sure why, maybe because he seems normal), a private honeymoon, some damn solace, a few less tedious family gatherings and…then… just maybe the desire to NOT procreate (albeit, she changes her mind a bit late in the game).

I know I'm giving Ellen a big break (maybe she should have remained single) but her superiority is a large part of the problem. You could call that pure narcissism, but that's not what's going on. She never boasts so much as arrives, right? All she needs to do is walk into a room with those startlingly beautiful blue eyes, flop on a couch and eat a sandwich with that perfect overbite. But it's not that she appears a mere mortal trapped in some super-human, celestial cage, she's both sensitive and smart. Maybe a tortured genius. I think this is a woman who suspects that her husband isn't such a great writer after all (I bet you she's got five better novels in her than he does).

She knows men desire her, how can they not? (I love seeing the film on the big screen because always, always, you hear an audible gasp when Tierney first appears -- she's so staggeringly beautiful). But anyway -- men -- they must have her, they yearn for this woman, this is the ultimate trophy (gorgeous, smart, strong, knows her way with a horse and an urn), but in the end, what they really want is 'the girl with the hoe.' Right?

Which then leads me to what you stated when we began this discussion. Of course -- no (I can't believe I have to say this), but I don't endorse the drowning of little brothers (but with those sunglasses? And that lipstick? Oh never mind... ), but what I certainly don't endorse are book dedications from your husband to your adopted sister who's, well, secretly in love with your husband. And vice versa! Come on! To hell with Jeanne Crain. We all saw this coming just as Ellen did.

But, as everyone prattles on like Ellen is the troubled one (and yes… she let the kid drown, but let's try to put that aside for a moment because no one actually knows that for sure, except us, which yes, yes, makes us complicit if we sympathize with Ellen. I'll take that up with Michael Haneke later…). But, returning to the point, it takes Vincent Price to sort all of the obvious 'girl with the hoe' triangle out? And posthumously, in court? Well, thank god for Vincent Price. But, like the pregnancy, he came a bit late into the picture (unlike Dana Andrews who fell for her at death, and in a painting…actually, art connoisseur Price and Andrews have a lot more in common than they think, but that's a whole other movie/story). But this all makes me ponder fantasy scenarios like, where the hell was Eve Arden when Ellen needed her? Or Thelma Ritter? Ellen may have left that delicate slipper on her foot had Thelma been fluffing the pillows. Eve and Thelma would've been on to little Jeanne for the Ann Blyth/Veda Pierce she really is. Christ. But Ellen would never hang around these women. What are they going to talk about? Normal things?

And yet, a woman can't have Vincent Price as her only best GIRLfriend -- I think. Well, after death anyway. Though that would be pretty damn great in life. Come to think of it, maybe she needed Conrad Veidt while living.

But again, Gene/Ellen is a modern type of woman, a poetic, ingenious woman, and I always get the sense that her inner struggle to express whatever power or talent she has, well beyond her beauty is pure torture. Many may look in her eyes and see cold orbs of hate, but I see… Wagner's entire Ring Cycle, and beautiful, damnable Richard W. seems especially appropriate since, for some crazy reason, he also managed to write, in 'Lohengrin,' 'Here Comes the Bride' amidst his Götterdämmerung.
Is this an excuse for her dastardly acts? No, but she does serve to symbolize every trapped, powerful woman flapping around her white picket fenced-in bird cage. That war raging inside her twists into a a full-scale blitzkrieg on the… normal people. Her revenge is her final work of art! Her masterpiece!

So of course Vincent Price is the one left in her corner. He's probably the only person who could conduct an intelligent, lively conversation with her about things like… music, paintings and stylish ways to throw oneself down a staircase. He would appreciate the Keats in her -- 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' -- 'The Beautiful Lady Without Pity.' He liked what he knew. And he was usually right. Oh Ellen… She can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black...




*****

The Siren Speaks:


You're so right--Ellen is about sublimation. If she could focus that fierce intelligence on art or a career, she might be able to stay away from rowboats.

I love the idea of Vincent Price as the one person who understands her to any degree. His character, Russell, tells Ellen he'll always love her, and he would have made a much better life partner for her than Richard (Wilde). Ellen could have been Jill Hennessy to Russell's Sam Waterston. Or even just friends, gleefully prosecuting death-penalty cases and critiquing opposing counsel’s wardrobe.

Amen--a husband who dedicates the book he’s been obsessing over from day one to your freaking sister has got to expect some payback, although we can agree Ellen’s reaction is a wee bit disproportionate. And Ruth's (Crain) love for her sister’s husband is never presented as conniving, but the little minx winds up with just what she wants.

Yet Ellen is memorialized as a monster--”leave her to heaven,” the line from Hamlet about Gertrude. That's ironic to me in a way that probably wasn't intentional, since I always thought Gertrude got a raw deal from her male creator. She’s another woman who's ceaselessly nagged because she wants a man of her own and some peace and quiet.

The movie shows Ellen’s father fixation, and I guess that's something. Usually a femme fatale springs fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, puckering a lipsticked mouth around a cigarette, prepared to pull the wings off men and watch them flop around in a mason jar. But, beautiful as Ellen is pouring her father's ashes out of the urn while riding that horse, don't you feel this one stab at psychology is pat? Half the women I know describe themselves as Daddy's girls. What's this telling us--men want a woman who's never loved another man, including Dad? Now really, who's the one with the jealousy problem?

I always wait for that staircase, for Gene hurling herself down it after carefully leaving one slipper on the top step, like a psychopathic Cinderella. It's a wicked act, but she tells Ruth just before she does it, "sometimes the truth IS wicked." Along with Mildred Pierce, Leave Her to Heaven dares to go down some dark maternal byways, into things some may feel, but no one wants to admit--in this case, pregnancy as a cage, one that's about to slam shut for oh, about 21 years. Ellen's on bedrest, its own kind of "Yellow Wallpaper" hell. (Those insipid posies on Ellen's dressing-room wallpaper could drive a lot of women to the brink.) Look at what she's doing beforehand. She's talking to her own sister about the stroll the girl just took with her husband. Couldn't Richard be upstairs talking to his wife? Making sure she isn't bored and terrified, instead of taking it for granted for that she's rubbing her belly and practicing lullabies? So she grabs her most beautiful robe, and re-applies her lipstick, and she even puts on perfume--because she's about to go back to Ellen, the beauty, and leave behind Ellen, the terrarium.

For me, the poignant aspect to Ellen isn't that she's, well, crazy. It's that she's got a face for the ages, but if she isn't willing to play along, if she insists on being the most important thing in her man's life, that face avails her nothing. She still loses her husband to a girl who uses niceness the same way Ellen used those sunglasses in the rowboat: as a cover for the schemes churning inside. And nobody will be on her side, except James Agee, bless him, and Vincent Price, and you, and the Siren, and whoever else is crazy enough to say, "I kind of sympathize with her."


182 comments:

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Y'know, I used to empathize with her when I was younger. Then I acquired a stalker of my own and my empathy for Ellen kind of vanished. It's still a movie I love to pieces, though.

Ned said...

"...like a psychopathic Cinderella"; a great observation of a character using yet another staircase to great dramatic effect.

Funny that Vincent Price plays yet another spurned suitor to a Gene Tierney character. At least in this one he's not quite so simpering and the Gene Tierney character is quite a bit more, shall we say, urgent in pursuing her desires.

One other thing I've always enjoyed about this film is the photography of Leon Shamroy, the master of technicolor processes.

His shots have a carefully composed and lit(look at the web of shadows in this clip) quality that give this film of dark psychological urges a smooth finish and a soft rotogravure like sheen.

It makes the psycho stuff seem almost...okay.

Karen said...

A woman trapped in her obsession, of course, in her obsession with her father, but then, also trapped within the un-permissiveness of the times. Permission for Ellen to do…what would Ellen do? Perhaps that's the problem. This is a time when one is not allowed the strength of being… Ellen. I'm not sure when anyone is allowed to be Ellen, exactly, but she is certainly trapped by some force beyond mere psychopathology.

Interesting to read this so soon after the Siren's piece on Harriet Craig--tho' Harriet and Ellen don't necessarily want the same thing, both films deal with the fallout from women not being allowed to pursue what they actually want.

The "psychopathic Cinderella" but also hearkens back to our recent staircase discussion--so here is yet another focal staircase scene that is crucial to its film (not unlike Scarlett O'Hara Butler falling down her staircase).

I do love how everything on this blog...er, film site is so wonderfully connected.

The Derelict said...

I'm sympathetic towards Ellen too, thinking of her not so much as a villain but as a tragic figure.

In fact, Shamroy's composition in the final shot, where Richard and Ruth are together at last, seems to suggest that their future together might not be all that great. It's a shot filled with dark grays and bleak clouds, whereas all of the scenes with Ellen are filled with sharp blues, greens, reds, and a weird amber glow. Life with Ellen was more fun! ;)

Also, if ever there was justifiable homicide, it would apply to that annoying little twerp, Danny! Kid was totally interfering with newlyweds' sexytiem!

Trish said...

What a read! I wonder how much impact the slipper/fall sequence had on the minds of young women when the film was first released. What about women who weren't so willing to give up their factory jobs as the war ended? And what about those who took up with other men while their husbands were overseas? Did any of them find themselves as desperate as Gene? All I know is, tumbling down the stairs doesn't always do the job...

Laura said...

What makes Wilde's character dedicating his probably (most definitely) sappy, trashy, self-indulgent novel to Ruth particularly brutal is that he does it so soon after Ellen's miscarriage--yeah, yeah, Ellen threw herself down the stairs, but hubby didn't know that at the time. I mean, excuse me? Wanna pay tribute to the fact your wife almost flipping died? Definitely a jerk move if ever there was one, even taking into account all the crap that went down later.

I love seeing the film on the big screen because always, always, you hear an audible gasp when Tierney first appears -- she's so staggeringly beautiful. That is exactly what happened in a film class I took in college. We were studying Film Noir, as one does in an elective called something like "Film Genres". We were watching a documentary featuring all sorts of classic clips, and suddenly up popped that great shot of the lights in the interrogation room in Laura shining on and highlighting her face. The hipster boys in the audience took notice! Some faces are timeless, and can always be counted upon to make men (and women if it's a guy) salivate like a Tex Avery wolf.

Rachel said...

I'm with the Derelict. I always feel a little homicidal myself when Danny interrupts them with his "gosh-golly-gee-whiz" obliviousness. When I watch the drowning scene, I'm transfixed by the sheer ruthlessness, not by grief over Danny.

I remember being a little surprised by the movie's insistence that Jeanne Crain's character was the warm-hearted girl next door, she always seemed rather cold and smirking to me. Jeanne does look gorgeous though, even if she's overshadowed by Gene.

I wish Vincent Price was around for more of the movie. He and Tierney were an interesting screen team, not much sexual heat, but nicely fizzing chemistry. I remember feeling oddly happy when they got a passionate kiss in Dragonwyck.

Come to think of it, Gene Tierney often seemed to be at her best when she was paired with the scene-stealers. Vincent Price, Clifton Webb, George Sanders, Rex Harrison...

Laura said...

A random P.S. to my previous comment: do you think Gene Tierney could get away with having an overbite today? Don't you think modern orthodontists would have corrected it while she was a young girl? Do you think her image would still have the desired impact without it? Obviously a lot of her allure had to do with the style of the time and all, so maybe the question's irrelevent. But I do wonder. What would she have looked like? Maybe even more like model Carolyn Murphy, who everybody keeps calling the blonde Gene?-->http://images.askmen.com/photos/carolyn-murphy/84049.jpg

Yojimboen said...

Alert: Salty language ahead; but since it’s enclosed in quotes I take no blame.

The thing is, you have to have lived with an Ellen to understand her. You have to have survived an Ellen, to have surfaced safely and gained the other bank to be able to look back, sadly, and realize there is no heaven to leave her to.

It’s the phenomenon Richard Pryor once described as the agony of “…bein’ in love with a bitch you can’t stand.”

The same girl he described at the beginning of their affair as “…woman was beautiful ! Woman was so goddam beautiful I wanted to suck her daddy’s cock!”

A decorous side-step to a story by Mike Nichols I remember from the NYT Magazine; Nichols told how Sigourney Weaver approached him, asking for guidance in her role (he was directing her in “Hurly-Burly”) as an insanely jealous person.

To help her understand better, Nichols recounted his own life experience (for six years IIRC) living with an insanely jealous partner. “Put it this way, when we went to the movies and a pretty girl came on the screen, I had to sit very still.”

Speaking as someone who spent a goodly number of years sitting very still in movie theaters (maybe ‘goodly’ is not the best choice of adjectives here), bein’ madly in love with a bitch I couldn’t stand, trust me, there are more Ellens out there than you suspect, and heaven isn’t nearly big enough to hold them all.

Ned said...

Laura,

I kind of like that little overbite. But it's clear that she was aware of it. If you do a quick Google image search for "Gene Tierney" you'll be lucky to find more than one or two pictures of her with her mouth open.

But it clearly didn't hurt her. As you previously mentioned, her face still brings out the Tex Avery wolves. I think the kind of perfection available today through a variety of surgical techniques is a little creepy. As beautiful as she was, that little overbite gives her a touch of humanity.

Just my opinion.

Rachel said...

(Courtesy of M*A*S*H)

Henry: Cornel Wilde just kissed Gene Tierney.
Hawkeye: On the teeth?
Trapper: Right smack on.
Hawkeye: If he straightens out that overbite, I'll kill him.

X. Trapnel said...

Brilliant post, Siren, but two small objections: the girl with the hoe is Jeanne Crain who some of us might kill for and it is really Waldo, not Shelby, who is McPherson's secret sharer. The difference between these two characters is the difference between the artist (Andrews) and the collector (Webb). Waldo's notion that Laura is his creation is a delusion.

Tierney's dilemma in LHTH is not unlike that of Joan Bennett in The Reckless Moment, the overbearing and cheerfully oblivious family. a pity that in the end LHTH lacks the courage of its own strangeness by absolving the dead father from any psychological entanglement with his daughter. He becomes just another silver-haired authority figure.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Never sympathized with her for a nanosecond. Just a cold psychotic bitch -- albeit with a great sense of style. Whether she's downing Darryl Huckman, or aborting her unborn child (and don't you just know that Republica "Pro-liferers" LOVE Leave Her To Heaven she looks absolutely smashing.

But that's the point. Women can get away with anything ias long as they look lovely.

I am happy to say that Darryl Hickman retains his startling beauty to this very day.

DavidEhrenstein said...

One can mount an argument for Ellen's defense if you argue that her psychotic state is the result of her being raped by her father.

Does that sound tempting?

Trish said...

Generally I react badly to Gene Tierney. A great beauty, yes. But beyond that she's like Betty Draper on Mad Men -- like the rough side of velcro, and that includes Laura, too. Always thought Dana Andrews was a dope for being hooked on her.

DavidEhrenstein said...

True Trish. I kept expecting Betty to pull out a pistol and plug Don.

Dave said...

Two things:

1) Scorsese talks about his relationship with the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATfhKmkM-rE I think I share that half-awake dreamy perspective.

2) Which is helped and set up by the credits and opening, which may be the creepiest I can think of: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7GbyK0nGEo. The tympani, the seeming atonaltity of the strings, the pose of the woman on the book cover, and the general weirdness as the boat pulls up to the dock just tell you that this is not going to end well, but that you won't be able to look away.

That said, I'm still a sucker for any movie that opens with pages turning, or handkerchiefs with credits being pulled away.

Yojimboen said...

First time I saw this poster – sometime in the 60s – I remember thinking uh-oh, Jeanne Crain was about to get squashed by a giant book.

X. Trapnel said...

It does seem to be taking the idea of large print editions rather too far.

gmoke said...

In "The Baron of Arizona," Vincent Price gets to be a ladies man (and a monk no less). "I've been with many women but you, you scare me...."

Works every time.

Operator_99 said...

...when Tierney first appears -- she's so staggeringly beautiful)... That scene on the train is what Technicolor was invented for, staggering is right. Great post on one of my favorite films.

X. Trapnel said...

"Women can get away with anything ias long as they look lovely."

There's probably some deep evolutionary cause at work here. You might say it's in our Genes.

Arthur S. said...

The thing about LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN is that Ellen becomes more and more beautiful the more deranged she gets. Love the scene where after her abortion you cut to her at the beach in the red swimsuit.

I always felt that in the film Gene Tierney was less a person than a figure out of some myth. She is "La belle dame sans merci!" As such you can't hate her.

A film which really tests your identification is BEYOND THE FOREST where Bette Davis' Rosa Moline is a genuine piece of work and a really complex character and somehow Vidor really makes you sympathize with her.

The Siren said...

Arthur, you must click through and see Kim's intro - she brings up Beyond the Forest in hilarious fashion! That is a great Vidor. It always warms my heart that you're such a partisan for him.

I am deep in hurricane prep chez Siren and was working all day, so I am down on the job with comments, but I'm loving them all the same. I'm glad some others see what Kim and I see in Ellen, and those who don't, well...I see your point, too. But I still say Jeanne Crain is worse. And I rather love Jeanne Crain (who's seen Margie?).

Rachel said...

Stay well and safe, Siren. And all the rest of you on the East Coast.

Laura said...

I echo Rachel! keep safe, Siren family!

I've seen Margie. For various reasons I find it a very puzzling little film, but you know what? I still like it. More than I feel I should. And Jeanne Crain is beyond endearing in it.

The Derelict said...

Jeanne Crain's Ruth is WAY worse! You can almost see her plotting some way to interfere btw Ellen and Richard as soon as they get off the train!

Frankly, I think Ellen's sociopathic ways probably come from having to grow up with smirky, passive aggressive, fake-sister Ruth.

Vanwall said...
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Vanwall said...
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X. Trapnel said...

"Howinhellinwhatjurisprudence does Price become her avenger?"

Better to regard the whole thing as a dream. Or to admire Price's vengeful passion in overcoming the coruscating legal brilliance of Ray Collins' wily defense strategy
of noting things down on a pad.

Vanwall said...

Isabel Bradley and Ellen Berent - beautiful and willful both, women with a vain streak so wide and long you could land a fleet of 747s on it, two more dangerous women you would be hard pressed to meet, and Tierney is achingly lovely as both, which makes it even worse. Intelligent and manipulative only reinforced the scary part of her performances, for me. I am fascinated by Ellen Berent, which is as she would want.

The rowboat scene always reminds me of Goya's portrayal of madness extreme: "Saturn Devouring His Children", a finality in it that matches Ellen's ravenous will, but the horror is in the stillness of her face, the blankness in her soul, the calm assessment of murder. She might as well have eaten Danny in cold blood.

The weak point, for me, is the rest of film after she’s dead. Even the movie itself feels different.

Howinhellinwhatjurisprudence does Price become her avenger? I wondered about this stuff the first time I saw it; it was on a B&W TV in the mid-1960s, and I'd seen enough Perry Masons already to wonder what the hell was goin' on in that prosecution.

It may have been instructive to have seen it that way first - I later saw it in color, and the entire movie changed values regarding Ellen - I can't remember a film that so depended on color to emphasize the depth of beauty as a lure to another, a trap, a way of dying.

The beginning and the ending is one of the few scenarios that seems to get the disjointed and partially dead feel of an ex-con going home - the between worlds state that any sort of isolation marks them with. When I see Wilde's portrayal of hesitation and insecurity, it's his best work in the film. Had a pal get out of the joint, so I stopped by after he called, just to see how he was handling the Outside, and he had that same wounded look as Wilde. He'd been in far longer than Harland, and his disconnect with society and its changes was profound. I answered his continuous queries the entire time I was there, and as I left, he apologized for asking so many questions, and said it would prolly be best if I never saw him again - not just for the outside-looking-in feeling he had, but I reminded him of better times, and he had a long way to go to start anew. He just closed the screen door walked off, but in my mind's eye I could see him paddling a canoe away.

Vanwall said...

Sorry for the switch-up, M X, hadda edit the comment a bit.

Shamus said...

X.T.,

Re Laura, I've watched that movie many many times over but I still don't understand: all you need, apparently, is about five or so characters, one very beautiful girl/woman, some confused sexuality and you have a web of relationships so complicated, they start murdering each other to try and figure out just who gets to fuck whom.

Now I watch the film purely for the lighting choices, Preminger's dolly shots and his balletic staging, Raksin's score: they never disappoint.

I think Angel Face is a more credible as a character study, even if Laura is the better film. Or maybe that's because (speaking of murderous-attractive) I prefer murderous Jean to murderous Gene, but that's just me.

Trish said...

Oh my!

Here I am, getting ready for a birthday trip to New York City -- my first -- and now there are hurricane and tornado threats. I read the Wall Street Journal today and was traumatized by the description of what could happen on various waterfronts. Best wishes to all who cannot make it out of the city, and stay out of rooms with windows...

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

I'm baffled by your bafflement. I don't think the story/plot in Laura is terribly complicated (I mean, it's not The Big Sleep). For me the theme of Laura is how a man falls in love with the idea or image of woman as though he had been waiting for her all his life. By contrast, Angel Face and its sister film The Dark Angel are conventional femme fatale stuff. Laura is sheer poetry with Dante smiling down from Paradiso and Baudelaire grimacing up from l'enfer; or just listen to Johnny Mercer's lyrics.

Shamus said...

X.T.,

Its not a question of plot: relationships are so much trickier. Its just that the characters in the film seem to be able to switch their sexuality at a moment's notice. Okay, so Waldo is almost certainly gay. And he falls in love with a woman. But is Shelby gay? Or is he in love with Laura's aunt? Is McPherson?

Everyone seems to be in love with Laura, but Laura does not exist: McPherson falls in love with a woman: she is a head of an advertising agency for god's sake, so you expect a Ruth Chatterton in Female type. But Tierney seems almost like a girl (complicating matters WAY too much), so the image that McPherson falls in love with is not real.

I love the scene when MM has to haul off Laura to Police HQ: he is in essence trying to interrogate his own obsession, but he is unsuccessful in trying to dispel it. But who is he really in love with?

Shamus said...

"For me the theme of Laura is how a man falls in love with the idea or image of woman as though he had been waiting for her all his life"

I can understand that (Pallette: "Just Plain Eve. You're just the kind of woman I've been waiting for all my life.") but I'm not sure if that is the case here.

Please understand, I'm not trying to knock Laura: I love the movie (my second favorite Preminger noir). I just don't understand it and I doubt if it is the acute character study you argue it is.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

I find the notion that Waldo is gay too facile (he's not really the same as Webb's Elliot Templeton, rather more like Cathart in the Dark Corner). First, he never shows nothing like desire, only jealousy and resentment toward the other male characters pointing more towards impotence and sexual inferiority (all underscored at Ann Treadwell's party of bizarre and nondescript characters wherein Laura must fetch him a glass of milk, and see also the way Preminger sets up the shot [Laura and Shelby in close up looking down at a miniature Waldo] in which Waldo threatens to "run amok" unless Laura leaves the party with him). His, shall we say, self-display to McPherson in the bathtub is a sign of his social contempt for the latter, just as in Madame de (ok, it wasn't long before I got back to that) Charles Boyer's general continues his washing up in the presence of the jeweler (the theme of social class is everywhere in the film). Dandyism and effeteness do not equal gayness, nor does Shelby's weakness of character and ingratiating manner. With Ann Treadwell he's unambiguously after money softened somewhat by the fact that she "knows what he is." And she couldn't be clearer about what she wants from Shelby.
I'm not sure what you mean that Laura is not "real" when she becomes just that at the film's middle.

"Someday man shall awake from his dreams to find that his dreams are still there and that nothing has gone save his sleep."--Jean Paul Richter

X. Trapnel said...

Aaarrrggghhh: "...never shows ANYTHING like desire..."

I must add that in making this argument I am not saying that Laura deals in "character studies"; that would be a different kind of film or narrative altogether. It is about the romantic/sexual imagination using character types from the mystery genre only to use them in the exploration of themes and archetypes (Waldo/Pygmalion [in his own mind] Mark/Orpheus [unwittingly]) associated with high art.

Shamus said...

X.T.,
We may disagree on this less than we think. The reason you give for Waldo's self-display is the most persuasive I've read: class is clearly one of the sticking point between MM and Waldo: how outraged Waldo is when MM calls Laura "a dame".

I doubt that Waldo or anyone's sexuality is clearly indicated in the movie but that's my point: the movie gets away more by suggestion and innuendo rather than sticking to any concrete fact: it is part of the film's construction (and chief pleasures): its not something which bears close analysis. ANY director who brings in Price, Anderson and Webb into the same frame have a very odd sense of humor.

Angel Face, by contrast, speaks of a very specific terror, and Jean Simmons wrapped up in Mitchum's coat in the empty house is very suggestive and poignant: the movie cannot be discarded simply as a femme fatale noir (though I see nothing wrong with that as such).

Shamus said...

You've gotta love Vincent Price: but as wimpy as he is here, his cuckolded husband in While the City Sleeps takes the goddamn cake. He also rewards Dana Andrews for insulting him with astounding accuracy in, of all places, a bar (in the same movie). And as for Judith Anderson, well...

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

It may just be that to me Gene Tierney is a goddess and to you, if I recall rightly, The Thing From Outer Brooklyn.

Excuse me now while I pour myself a double Black Pony and gaze at her portrait.

Hannah said...

I always side with the villain in most films, but how could anyone not side with Ellen?

Shamus said...

X.T.,
You recall correctly. This never came up before but also Gloria Grahame, somewhere close by (I'm pretty predictable, huh?).

Gene Tierney's emotions are generally so distanced, I assumed that her admirers would have only distanced passion towards her. Boy, this post surprised the @#%$*! out of me. (Shamus McPherson, late to the scene of the crime...)

Anyway, Happy Hallucinating, friend.

Karen said...

I've never thought of Gene Tierney as someone with "distanced emotions," perhaps because the first film I ever saw her in was The Ghost and Mrs Muir, where her emotions are all on display.

I did always find her absurdly beautiful, however. I can't imagine how one could not! Although she has peculiarities of diction that I can't describe, and which always have been something of a gnat in the ointment for me.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Dandyism and effeteness DO equal gayness in the 40's. Especially as Clifton Webb has been cast in the pivotal role.

Webb was huge musical comedy star whose career everyone thought was pretty much over. Laura gave him a humungous Third Act. American moviegoers fell madly in love with the Power Sissy.

Tierny's beauty is still in devestating effect in Advise and Conset. Preminger cannily brought her out of retirement to cast her as a Washington D.C. hostess. Needless to say she was Perfection.

X. Trapnel said...

Webb was not yet known to film audiences when he appeared in Laura. There's really nothing in the film itself (i.e., what is actually in the film not what is projected on to it) to support the notion that Waldo is gay. His murderous jealousy goes well beyond and is thematically outside of any stereotypical representations of homo- or heterosexuality.

Shamus said...

David, X.T.,

Damn it all, leaving aside the dandyness for a moment, can someone explain to me why the hell Waldo tries to, you know, kill Laura. Like, twice. Is he in love with her or not? Or are we just making too much (too much) of a character in a movie where the mise-en-scene is of most interest anyway?

[Re my post (3.01am) what I meant by "suggestion and innuendo" was the presence of weak suggestion that is later retracted as per the demands of the plot. Like David says, it seems ridiculous to suggest that 40s films could openly acknowledge alternate sexuality.]

Shamus said...

X.T.,
Posts got crossed. But any further explanations would still be welcome. In any case, Preminger exceeded himself in Whirlpool: it makes Laura seem perfectly sane and plaicdly normal by contrast. And I haven't even got to Skidoo yet...

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

Why does Waldo try to kill Laura? The very common motive of jealousy expressing itself in the form of "if I can't have her nobody will." Recall also that Hitchcock had gone much further in suggesting alternate sexuality in Mrs. Danvers and that Rope came only a few years after Laura.

Let us draw a discreet veil over Preminger's later career.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Waldo wants to BE Laura. He can't. She's about to (ever so politely) show him the door -- so he kills her.

And I wouldn't draw a discreet veil over Skidoo, if I were you.

DavidEhrenstein said...

a fortiori

Shamus said...

X.T.,

Jealously of course but is it sexual jealousy? To what end does his "ownership" of her (which is how he perceives it) suggest to you?

Purely rhetorical questions, so I apologize for that. (Unless of course you were Waldo in some previous dream-life, seated at the telephone, spider-like, making plans intent on possessing Ms. Tierney. In which case I want to hear ALL the sordid details.)

X. Trapnel said...

How about an elephant blanket then, large enough to cover Rosebud as well.

If Waldo wanted to "be" Laura I would think he'd get a vicarious thrill from her disgustingly earthy trysts with Jacoby, Shelby, and Associates, maybe even Lancaster Corey ("There were others, of course").

Shamus said...

David,
Hilarious! But Waldo would still have a long way to go before he can star in Leave Her to Heaven because he says "I would be very sorry if my neighbor's children were devoured by wolves." And I do believe him.

X. Trapnel said...

I was never Waldo, neither in a previous life nor in my worst nightmares. I don't think he would risk self-annihilation over mere a possession. Vera Caspery's play version (I haven't read the novel) makes it plain that impotence is the spur. That's not necessarily relevant to the film except for Waldo's wielding of walking stick and shotgun. Back to Leave Her to Heaven. I was once tempted to read the novel but a sampling of the prose told me that life is too short.

DavidEhrenstein said...

There was a walking stick in Gilda too, I'm sure we all recall.

Had he been in Leave Her to Heaven Waldo would most definitely have preferred Darryl Hickman.

Shamus said...

X.T.,
Well, Mark M. then, but he is clearly less interesting, (though Andrews is often an interesting, strangely underrated actor: in Preminger, Tourneur and other films). Wasn't Caspary's novel filled with more narratives than just Waldo's: I think it was trimmed down for the movie. T'is odd but Caspary is credited for the story in Easy Living. THAT has to be some kind of record.

Shamus said...

More Waldo-fun.

Heaven Can Wait (that Tierney, always with the Heaven): Picture him now saying: "I don't want to be an old maid. Not in KANSAS" Could this be the same Waldo who could go "Next, he'll provide you with photographic evidence of his dreams"?

(BTW, Det. McP. is not a savage that Waldo makes him out to be: how many detectives could tell their Sibelius from their Mozart and Bach?)

X. Trapnel said...

On the contrary, McPherson is a far more interesting, intelligent, and subtle character than WL; the fancy folk can't read him at all except for Laura ("He isn't like that"). And some of Waldo's witticsms are duds, e.g., Betsy Ross taught him the polka. Huh? Why her and not Dolly Madison or Abigail Adams? Or, as seems more likely, generals Pulaski and Kosziusko?

Shamus said...

A good deal of Waldo's witticisms went over my head: contemporary references in the 40s maybe but not in 2011. And Mark McP. is a good deal less ambiguous than Waldo is what I meant: his motives at least remain on the surface and they do not include a desire to become a woman.

Now if Waldo was sleeping with Pidgeon in Advise and Consent, it might have made Pidg. seem slightly more interesting. But only slightly. It would also fit into the general scheme of the film not to mention the overall paranoia of the late 50s ("The Government has been infiltrated by communists and homosexuals").

DavidEhrenstein said...

Cole Porter wrote a song about Shelby. It's from "Wake Up and Dream" but was sung most devestatingly by the great William Hickey in Ben Bagley's "The Decline and Fall fo the Entire World As Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter."

"I should like you all to know,
I'm a famous gigolo.
And of lavender, my nature's got just a dash in it.
As I'm slightly undersexed,
You will always find me next
To some dowager who's wealthy rather than passionate.
Go to one of those night club places
And you'll find me stretching my braces
Pushing ladies with lifted faces 'round the floor.
But I must confess to you
There are moments when I'm blue.
And I ask myself whatever I do it for.

I'm a flower that blooms in the winter,
Sinking deeper and deeper in snow.
I'm a baby who has
No mother but jazz,
I'm a gigolo.
Ev'ry morning, when labor is over,
To my sweet-scented lodgings I go,
Take the glass from the shelf
And look at myself,
I'm a gigolo.
I get stocks and bonds
From faded blondes
Ev'ry twenty-fifth of December.
Still I'm just a pet
That men forget
And only tailors remember.
Yet when I see the way all the ladies
Treat their husbands who put up the dough,
You cannot think me odd
If then I thank God
I'm a gigolo!"

Yojimboen said...

And in Lady From Shanghai Everett Sloane has two walking sticks. And Hank Quinlan has a walking stick PLUS a big cigar (which for some of us is just that, a cigar. I’m just sayin’)…
Help me out here, VW?

Yojimboen said...

Ooh, I almost forgot, Quinlan also plants those fat phallic sticks of dynamite and we all know what that means…

Vanwall said...

Sticks in movies are like tricked out-SUVs with huge tires - substitutes for shortcomings. Sword-canes excepted.

Vanwall said...

OT - Watching the delicious "Blackbeard the Pirate", and all three high points have been reached - Robert Newton's scenery chewing pirate lingo; counting the amazing scars on Skelton Knaggs face, a few added just for this film; and Keith Andes disrobing Linda Darnell, slowly and with care! Jayzus watta a dame! It was unplayable by any other woman, Darnell was another kind of beauty compared to Tierney's, but all her own, by damn.

gmoke said...

Were Ellen and Waldo made for each other or would they recognize each other as alpha predators, mark their territories, and carefully stalk away from that other dangerous person?

Shamus said...

A cigar's a cigar, a bedpost's a bedpost but you gotta draw the line when someone hides very large shortcomings in a clock they present to their girlfriends (?)... Waldo's got problems.

rcocean said...

I think you've all misunderstood Laura. Here is the correct interpretation:

Mark = Communist party
Waldo = Bourgeois (Liberal Fascism)
Shelby = Trotskyities (Wreckers)
Laura = Workers and Peasants

Its quite simple.

rcocean said...

BTW, you can thank Zanuck for much of Laura's quality. He demanded rewrites of the script, and constantly wanted Waldo to have as many funny/insulting lines as possible. He also nixed the idea of having Mark and Laura Voice-overs (!)

Of course, Zanuck was Gay as a French Horn, so that explains it.

X. Trapnel said...

Comrade rcocean, you have made a serious error:

Laura=kulaks
Bessie=workers and peasants
Ann Treadwell=Social Democrats in cahoots with Trotskyite wreckers

The committee shall review your case and make recommendations to the appropriate authorities.

Yojimboen said...

@ rcocean "Of course, Zanuck was Gay as a French Horn, so that explains it.

Zanuck?? A three-dollar bill?? I never knew that. So Bella Darvi, Juliette Greco and Lise Bourdin were all beards? What about the time (late ’54) our Darryl left wife Virginia to chase Bella D to Monte Carlo, only to ditch her on learning she was bi-sexual? [Sorry, that’s not a good enough reason to ditch any woman.]

Meanwhile, to round it all out, did you know Bella was Gene Tierney’s main competition with Aly Khan? I’m not making any of this up! I swear!

rcocean said...

You speak strange words Comrade X. Laura, a Kulak, an exploiter of the Peasants (Bessie)?

No so. To Bessie, Laura was a beloved friend of the workers and peasants. Of course, Laura was mislead by the Capitalist Roaders and Social Fascists till Comrade Mike convinced her of the right path. So, perhaps she was petite bourgeois at times.

And while we must remain Vigilant against counter-revolutionary thought your analysis seems misguided. Perhaps the committee *should* hear about this.

rcocean said...

Clfiton webb singing

X. Trapnel said...

Comrade rcocean,

Comrade Bessie was a victim of false consciousness (you seem to be have not read your Marxist classics). Class enemy Hunt was also known to receive foreign currency in exchange for goods properly belonging to the people from one Lancaster Corey and other reactionary elements.
It is the finding of this committee that you have betrayed the people and its hopes. Comrade Berent will transport you to your place of exile.

X. Trapnel said...

seem not to have read your Marxist classics.

Wreckers have been at work.

cee said...

this guy writes beautifully & obsessively--key phrase is: "cruel sugar"--it has stayed with me always; btw--i read somewhere she was quite aware of the power of the overbite & had it written into her contracts that the studios could never force her to correct it


http://gene-tierney.com/gene_tierney_essay.htm

rcocean said...

Comrade X,

Fortunately Comrade Stalin is known for his forgiveness and understanding. I've sent in my appeal. I'm sure it will granted after all my service to the Revolution.

X. Trapnel said...

Rest assured, Comrade rcocean, you shall be posthumously rehabilitated.

cgeye said...

A girl doesn't psychopathically fixate on a parent when she's three or four unless a trauma happened -- the horror of this horror movie (which I see Ellen as the real Bride of Frankenstein) is that no one questions why a mother essentially stepped back, adopted and nurtured another daughter, *because she was lonely*. For her preteen daughter no longer noticing her.

That wasn't a healthy situation -- and her mother and sister imposing on newlyweds, on top of her husband's brother? It wasn't just that Ellen wanted to be alone with her man, it was she wanted her family out of her life, and they refused to go, even though her coldness was as obvious as a neon sign. Frankly, I'm surprised she didn't off her mom and sister, too, before taking her man on a worldwide cruise.

The final injustice was Ellen being a magnificent bitch, but the first was that unspoken crime that made her one in the first place. So, like others said, except I'm willing to assume emotional incest can be just as damaging as actual rape.

cgeye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cgeye said...

"Of course, Zanuck was Gay as a French Horn, so that explains it."

ex-SQUEEZE me?

Well, that does explain the fierceness of BABY FACE, a story he supposedly wrote.... he climbed his way to the top, man by man and SIN BY SIN...

X. Trapnel said...

Read the first paragraph of the Gene T. essay and almost lost consciousness, but will hang on for dear life to complete it.

This after Irene entered my second floor window. However, I was waiting for her with my Waldo Lydecker-endorsed shotgun...

cgeye said...

... and this lil' tidbit -- it's a shame Miss Stanwyck didn't work more for the studio whose performance she spawned:

"When the Hays organization ordered portions of Baby Face changed, it caused one of the studio rows between Darryl Zanuck and Harry Warner as a result of which Zanuck quit Warners, formed a new company called Twentieth Century Pictures, Inc."
—TIME Magazine, Jul. 3, 1933

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1953094_1953142_1953297,00.html

Shamus said...

For Cgeye:

http://artforum.com/film/id=25942

Ned said...

Someone earlier in the string pointed out the interesting back-to-back conjunction of the Harriet Craig and LHTH posts. One other (quite a bit more obvious) connection is the fact that Gene Tierney, in her only Oscar nod for BA lost out in 1945 to Crawford (HER only oscar) who played quite a different sort of mother in Mildred Pierce.

And as for RC and X, tovarisches, in order to achieve status as Homo Sovieticus, you must think Bolshevik as well as speak Bolshevik (and not think too much about anything else...). Re-education may be in order if Uncle Joe so decrees. That is, when we can wake him up. (Too much Wodka at last night's screening of Alexander Nevsky. Frozen lakes give him nightmares.)

cgeye said...

Shamus, we barely know each other, and yet you know me too well... I've yet to see The Furies... *snif*

And I swear La Sirene was the one who tipped to the marvelousness that is In Name Only, but dear Lord, it was so good... and Miss Francis, so deeply, irrevocably bad..

CanadianKen said...

So glad to stumble onto the Tierney/ Leave Her to Heaven conversation. I've always been onboard the "I kind of sympathize with Ellen" train. Just a few months ago I was saying to a friend, "For the love of mike, she just wants to be left the hell alone with her man!" It's galling that the commentary for the Fox DVD features a basically uninterested Richard Schickel and an annoying Darryl Hickman, dissing Tierney's performance non-stop. The Academy definitely had it right when they nominated her that year. I've always found the movie completely loses its momentum once Tierney leaves for her heavenly accounting.

Shamus said...

Cgeye,
I really only wanted to direct you to the opening sentence. Wow. I wish I had that much chutzpah. Now I'm not saying I disagree with her, exactly...

Shamus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shamus said...

Incidentally, I stumbled onto further very odd connections between Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb, here:

http://www.rouge.com.au/13/secret.html

Go to the photograph of Miss T- truly, Webb is a strange strange collector of objects. And I wonder what he put into that particular statue. Any guesses?

Karen said...

Shamus, what an odd and obsessive, but fascinating, essay! Great photos, too.

I'm stunned he didn't mention the prop that may be the only re-use I've ever notice: the portrait of the sainted Mr Callahan in 1939's Destry Rides Again shows up two years later as the portrait of the late Mr Kornheiser, husband of the frisky widow who hires Sullivan for odd jobs in Sullivan's Travels in 1941.

One wonders if the man in the portrait ever got to play anyone who was alive.

Ned said...

Shamus,

Wonderful article. Over the years similarly inclined friends and I have turned spotting repeated use of set elements into a sort of parlor game. Sometimes, depending on the camera placement, movement, and lighting, one can't always be sure of the exact bit of bric a brac, statuary, door or window frames, but it's fun to guess.

The re-use of set elements (in a way, also, the re-use of human elements--leads, seconds, extras) prompts the kind of question Stanley Cavell raises in his essay "What Becomes of Things on Film".

His specific interest has to do with an observation by Heidegger concerning the conspicuousness, obtrusiveness, and obstinacy of things in the world, especially the images/imaging of those things. This gets into a much longer discussion of epistemology but it's worth pointing out the unique nature of each use of these elements (human and non) as they live in film. Have you ever seen a color production still of a film you know well in black and white? Shocking, isn't it? That world exists, at least in that film, only in black and white.

A similar observation is noted in the article you sent along regarding the famous Laura portrait and its later presentation in technicolor.

Anyway, this sort of discussion can take us far afield, but it's one of the fun things about this blog that such tangential conversations are elicited by almost every post.

Speaking of this blog, I hope the Siren and all her sirenistas in the Northeast are hale and hearty post hurricane/tropical storm Irene.

Trish said...

Vanwall, re: Linda Darnell. I completely agree. I re-acquainted myself with "A Letter to Three Wives" the other night, and now have the itch for something gloriously cheesy, like "Forever Amber". I'll take Darnell's earthy fallen angels to Tierney's passive aggressive divas anyday...

Ned said...

Darnell is indeed outstanding in Letter to Three Wives, as she is in My Darling Clementine, where, she loses in a head to head with the mousy Cathy Downs for the favors of Victor Mature's Doc Holliday, a clear sign that Holliday was either too sick or too drunk.

Karen said...

I watched A Letter to Three Wives the other night again, too! It's so nice to know we were having a communal moment.

I was taken aback in the intro, however, when Alec Baldwin rhapsodized over Jeanne Crain's beauty ("possibly the most beautiful woman in Hollywood") in a movie that has LINDA freakin' DARNELL. I mean, I get that au chacun son gout, and all that, but I was always put off by Crain's prominent nostrils, myself.

What a marvelous film, by the way! Celeste Holm's delicious voice-over--the slipperiest, most musical laugh in Hollywood?--is worth the price of admission alone. But I also kinda love the Darnell-Douglas relationship, and its denouement...

gmoke said...

Ah, Celeste Holm's laugh! "Champagne for Caesar" indeed (with a side order of Vincent Price).

Vanwall said...

That whole Linda Darnell Day, followed by a whole Carol Lombard Day, whew! Whatta weekend!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Gore Vidla, who loves Mankiewicz, prefers A Letter To Three Wives to All About Eve. While the latter is of course Beyod Teriffic, the former zeroes in on hogh-end suburbia just as it was getting its act together -- in ways Gore finds fascianting.

The chelf source of fascination is Darnell and Paul Douglas. This is what marriage is about for a great many women. She's pimping herself out to the boss -- by denying him nookie. He wants it bad, and she makes sure he knows the only way he'll get it is by marrying her. And by marrying him she's out of the shack by the railroad tracks for good. But best of all, when they get married they really fall in love. Addie Ross is the snake in the garder -- reminding Porter (Douglas) of the freewheeling sexual thrills he'd forsaken for Laura Mae (Darnell). But at the last he doesn't run off with her -- and we know why.

Brilliant, brilliant film. It deservedly won the triple crown -- Best Picture, Director and Screenplay. And the next year wiht All About Eve Mankiewicz won the triple crown again.

WE ARE NOT WORTHY!!!!!

Vanwall said...

I love Paul Douglas, the guy was a natural onscreen. I'll watch anything he's in.

As for the Soyuz Sovietskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, on a cold Moskva evening, one old surviving kulak says to another as they hobble in ancient, rag-wrapped valenki through the wet snow thrown up by a Montecristo-puffing apparatchik in a long black Zil, his gleaming sable coat wrapped around a sloe-eyed soon-to-be whore, fresh from a far Eastern komsomol:

"Yes, Fyodor Ivanovich, in Capitalism, man exploits man," he coughs from the ever-present smogski, "But in Communism, is other way 'round!"

X. Trapnel said...

Paul Douglas or William Bendix?

Vanwall said...

Both!

X. Trapnel said...

Plenty of overlap; both are adept at playing Sarge or Ya Big Lug, but Douglas sometimes played executive types. Did Bendix ever have a chance to wear a suit in a film? I think his finest performance was in Detective Story.

Vanwall said...

Bendix had a few police detective roles, where he had a suit on, but no exec roles, I think. I loved him as Jeff in "The Glass Key", he was spot on for the Hammett character. Bendix got some crackerjack heavy roles, tho - hell, even his hair was tough.

Shamus said...

Ned,
This applies is not just to objects recorded on film: we often think about the past, or at least I do and others I know, in term of the photographs we find and since most of the photos of the past generally tend to be in b&w...In other words, our recollection or re-creations of the past is in some intrinsic way confined to representations of them we find: its hard to think of those years having taken place in color. Mind you, I'm not talking about 400 years into the past: I'm talking about 75-80 years ago, the era where we have footage of the past existing, which is in b&w. So, for instance, after seeing Hawks' Scarface, it comes as a shock to see Nick Ray's Party Girl, which is in Technicolor but both recreate the same years (late 20s). But we may get used to this: lavish color is used so often to portray the past, as in say Scorsese's The Aviator that this surprise, this shock may diminish.

Re Darnell: nobody mentioned Preminger's Fallen Angel, so I will: my favorite of his noir. Darnell playing "Slowly" for Bickford...

Shamus said...

And Karen, I love how Sturges uses the portrait in Sullivan's. But that prop is central to the joke: Rappaport is mostly alluding to objects we scarcely notice while they're present (which is what makes the article so astonishing).

Speaking of portraits (this is bound to happen anyway) what about the one in Remember the Night which reappears in the Totten Foundation in Ball of Fire? (Though I think this was discussed here sometime back.)

Ned said...

"...even his hair was tough"...good one. Made me laugh out loud.

Bill Bendix surely was a great psycho in that version of the Glass Key. He was so happy that Alan Ladd could take a licking and keep on ticking.

I think he wore a suit (of sorts) in the Blue Dahlia but he was kind of psycho in that movie too. I guess it was all that hanging around with the Beaver's dad. At least he wasn't beating on Alan Ladd in that one (don't you love the scene where Ladd tells him to "Light it up, Buzz"?).

Speaking of Paul Douglas, he did get to play an executive in the appropriately named Executive Suite (that cast!!) but I've always loved him in It Happens Every Spring. Great art it ain't, but I loved it as a kid and if it came on today, I'd still watch it for the scene where Douglas puts Ray Milland's secret formula on his hair.

Another great Douglas film: Fourteen Hours, a film that had a flock of young actors ready to explode. I think it was Grace Kelly's first role; John Cassavetes, Ossie Davis, Brian Keith, Janice Rule, and a young Richard Basehart.

Wonder what the film version of Born Yesterday would have been like with Douglas. Broderick Crawford was more Neanderthal but Douglas could be just as imposing.

Ned said...

Shamus,

Quite true about our recollections (if old enough) or knowledge of the past being affected by the photographic record. It's easier to think of events and people in ancient Rome taking place in color (and everyone speaking in a British accent) than it is to imagine the Civil War in color.

Even events in WWII seem more authentic in B&W. Have you ever seen those 16MM films of the Pacific theater shot by John Ford's crew? They look fake!

I think one reason the producers of Band of Brothers and later Clint Eastwood in his two Iwo Jima efforts desaturated the color in those films had to do with this phenomenon. Highly saturated color doesn't seem to work as well in terms of establishing authenticity in the eye of the public.

Terence Malick's Thin Red Line is an exception largely, I think, because it seems more of a literary/cinematic meditation on war than a record or attempt at recreating a specific battle.

Shamus said...

Ned,

Our imagination of Rome and possibly the Elizabethan era is influenced by paintings so this might explain why they are naturally brimming with color at least in my head (bringing back the discussion on Barry Lyndon we'd had). Also, some of the most lavish studio productions I can think of are in color, so this too might have some part in our picturing them.

But maybe I brought the years too close: after all rudimentary color processes had already been invented in the 20's: but try picturing the 1890s in film: I now have a very ugly guy pointing gun pointing a gun to your head in a sagging, muddy print. Hard to imagine the Great Train Robbery in (or being shot in) color .

Re de-saturation, I'm afraid this is over used: in war films not to mention horror or apocalyptic films and other movies of the soul-sucking variety. Frankly, I don't see why filmmakers today do not use b&w more often (apart from obvious reasons): in many many cases, color is simply unnecessary and greatly intrudes on the visual appreciation of the film. De-sat. is a piss poor substitute for b&w. Think of the most beautiful instances in My Darling Clementine...

Shamus said...

" some of the most lavish studio productions I can think of are in color..."

Of period films, I mean.

Ned said...

Shamus,

I get what you mean about the use of color manipulation in certain genre films. I think what happens there is a pushing of the contrasts along with a certain color processing that brings out blues and greens.

The trick is (and don't you know that the tech geeks in the industry love this stuff), as anyone who has ever tried to do simple color adjustments in Photoshop realizes, increasing color density in a specific spectrum without a deleterious impact on other color ranges.

Thus upping the blues across the board means skin tones suffer. It gets tricky. But there you have to ask yourself to what effect is this being done.

Tony Scott has been doing this sort of thing for a while. His experiments in things like hand cranking, high saturation, high contrast, color manipulation, mixing hi-def video with film shot at 6 fps, etc, can be very interesting (Man on Fire) or completely out of control and annoyingly intrusive(Domino).

That's a long-ass way of saying that I agree. These sorts of things have to be done with the end result in mind and used intelligently.

Color manipulation in certain films has become so predictable as to be worthless now. It's a joke.

And not a funny one.

You mentioned our view of Rome and pre-photographic centuries being influenced by paintings. Quite so. In fact, I was thinking of the way Roman and Etruscan mosaics have 'colored' our impressions of those eras; same with films like Barry Lyndon influenced by 18th century imagery in glorious color--(just imagine a film based on paintings from later eras, by Turner, for instance!!--or for that matter, Kandinsky. Yikes!).

Goose said...

A lot of topics going.

William Bendix wore a suit from the Wallace Ford Collection (sweat stains at no extra charge) in The Dark Corner - his charactwer is often referred to as "Whire Suit."

G. Tierney's Laura portrait can be seen in "On the Riviera." The film is in color, but the portrait I think is in B&W.

Paul Douglas originally was supposed to play Mr. Sheldrake in The Apartment, but died early in shooting, I believe. He had a very limited range, but was very likable. Although he made his name as an actor on stage in Born Yesterday, I can't see him as mean enough for the part, or as Mr. Sheldrake. He was especially good as Ginger Rogers' amicable ex-husband in Foerever Female.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The producer who turns down Joe Gillis's script "Bases Loaded" in Sunset Boulevard is also named Shelldrake. He was played by Fred Clark who at the close of his long career appeared in Skidoo

Yojimboen said...

Film Psychology 101 has always held that B&W is more believable and effective for bloody dramas: the actually of newspaper crime photos connects subconsciously (or did, when newspapers didn’t look like comic-books as they do now), and blood in B&W appears more real and gruesome as a result. The last filmmaker I recall who admitted to choosing B&W for that reason was Richard Brooks with In Cold Blood.

When the majors kicked up the war movie budgets, it was commonsense to hedge their bets with CinemaScope and Technicolor: Battle Cry; The Naked and the Dead etc. and realism gave way to spectacle.

A lovely piece of H’Wood lore recounts how John Huston, at the end of every take on The Red Badge of Courage (shot of course in B&W), would query his cameraman, Harold Rosson, with “How was it, Hal, good for you?” To which Rosson would ritualistically reply, “A Brady, John… A Brady! [As in Mathew.]

Terry said...

There was some discussion of Gene's overbite in previous comments.

She explains in this 1985 interview that her father refused to have it corrected, fearing it might somehow alter her look ...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN5QzpzZ0Uk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyVxl5fCRQ4

Ned said...

Y, great story about Rosson and Huston. "A Brady, John." I love it.

And your reference to B&W newspaper photos is right on the money. Just think of pictures of mob hits. There's a B&W shot of Carmine Galante from above, his blood running dark gray down a patio drain. Scorsese couldn't have set it up better. And can you picture any of Weegee's 30s and 40s pictures in color?

Trish said...

At the risk of repeating myself (my last post disappeared)... Bendix is great as the psycho in "The Glass Key", but is a bit more blue collar than Paul Douglas. I enjoy Paul Douglas in just about anything -- I especially enjoy him with Judy Holliday in "The Solid Gold Cadillac" a movie I like as much for its stars as for its mid-century office design.
"Fourteen Hours" is wonderful, especially the performance of Martin Gabel as the breathless psychiatrist, for whom it appears psychiatry is better than sex. And Douglas has that great, corny speech where he dares Basehart to jump. He's terrific.

Dave said...

Re, color: Didn't Welles say that no great performance had been given in a color movie? For me, most of the disconnect between real life color and movie color is that the latter is either two-tone cyan and red or oversaturated three strip (which is lovely; don't get me wrong; it's just too intense for reality).

Re, Bendix. He did play an executive of sorts in the WTF? "Taxi, Mister," which shows up on TCM now and then. He runs a cab company in exactly the manner you'd expect a cab company headed by Bendix to run.

And speaking of inappropriate accents, let's not forget his turn as Sir Sagramore (from London via 33rd St.) in Crosby's "Connecticut Yankee."

Ned said...

Dave,

Connecticut Yankee...I had forgotten to mention that as a palliative for Bendix from his more, shall we say athletic roles earlier in his career. Although Sir Sagramore was pretty athletic on his steed. He just didn't cut much of a noble figure. But the trio of Bendix, Cedric Hardwicke, and Der Bingle, tramping the outskirts of Camelot on an ill adivised walkabout singing to Jimmy Van Heusen's Busy Doing Nothing put them on display in as fine a number of that sort of set piece as your likely to find, even with Bendix's Broolkynese--and maybe because of it!

CYIKAC is an unexpected place to find Bendix but that was probably the idea. The film, like one of Bing's slicres never lands on Twain's fairway and thus there is little attempt made to follow where Twain led through tangles of saracasm, pathos, social commentary, and civil war and the desturction of Camelot and may of its knights., brought on by the Boss's 'improvements'.

Twain didn't do "high concept" He planted an idea and he watered it, nurtured, it, pruned it, and let it grow to its natural length and height and width no matter where it took him.

One element I missed from the Book is the importance of daily newspapers reporting on events in the realm. A late edition headline reports on a baseball game between the Boss's team and Merlins. The headline trumpeted something along the lines of "BOSS SCORES 6 IN THE NINTH, MERLIN GETS LEFT!"

It's really not a version of Twain's book, it's a vehicle for Cosby and crew and it doesn't disappoint. perhaps the success of The Court Jestsr helped get this produced. And you won't find a stranger variety of accents on parade in many other films. Especially films about medieval England.

This may have helped pave the way for The Life of Riley, demonstrating that Bendix could do light-heated as well as life-threatening.

What a revoltin' development THAT was!

Ned said...

Editors note:

"..that sort of set piece as YOU'RE likely to find,"$U&^$&^***()@@!!!'''

Damn typos.

Karen said...

Ned, have you ever seen the Will Rogers version, A Connecticut Yankee? It was made in 1931, and it capitalizes on Rogers' persona as the new Twain, although he was never as angry as Twain who, I'm sure, met plenty of men he didn't like.

The Rogers version hews much closer to the themes of the book, but preserves a warm amusement, rather than a despair at humanity's inevitable tendency towards death and destruction matched only, perhaps, by Saki's short story, "The Toys of Peace."

Ned said...

Karen,

Thank you kindly for directing my attention towards this additional filmed version of the Twain book. Twain wasn't all darkness, he does take pains to note the exceptional, even kindly and caring demeanor Arthur takes towards some his very badly off subjects. He does however look askance at human nature and your reference to the Saki story was quite apropos.

One might have thought that the Boss' printing presses and bicycles, etc, were "toys for peace" but it was the gun factory and improved armaments and various other skill sets that Aruthur's contemporaries found most compelling. Seems the toys didn't come with instructions.

The boys in Toys for Peace like Aruthur's knights, and the boys in Lord of the Flies, all have no idea how thin is the veneer of civilization.

Twain did.

But I'm looking forward to catching the Will Rogers entry, if for no other reason than seeing Myrna Loy playing Morgan La Faye. With Maureen O'Sullivan as well. Sounds....magical.

Vanwall said...

One more note about the lush color on this film - there have been times when I've been up near a high lake, - more like Back O' Deer Camp sometimes, admittedly - and they have that same super-saturated look for a few moments as this film seems to have in every frame. A fascinating phenomenon - it looks unreal for a heartbeat, because it looks like Natalie Kalmus just waved a wand at it.

Tierney fits right in to Technicolor, her face was made for film and she has the right shapes to her face that makes color, even over-saturated, look like sensual flesh rather than slabs of pancake put on with a trowel that so many TC faces look like to me. That's what makes TC, and Ellen Berent, so fascinating for me - every once in while an actor will transcend the medium, a tall task for Technicolor acting, and be so much more than just color, they seem like they're in the room with you, they don't seem supersaturated.

This leads me into TCM's recent showing of "Nothing Sacred" during CaroleFestDay, their Lombard celebration, (and, damn, no one ever deserves a celebration more than Carole Lombard, and hell, more of them!!) and its sadly washed out Technicolor - I cannot believe it was the MOMA restored version. Jaysus, I'd love to see it in FULL damned color - and she has absolutely the face to die for in TC, even in as weak a print as was shown. Did anyone ever look so real on TC film? Her loss is even more keenly felt.

Dave said...

Ned: I don't think anyone has ever done ACYIKAC justice. It's always "modern inventions and smart-assery in Medieval times." I still toy withe the idea of a stage adaptation of the real book.

Vanwall: "Nothing Scared" is the most frustrating of movies for me. A million dollar script and ten cent visuals. That's one movie I'd consider using some sort of computer correction on, if such a thing were possible. It's like 1.75 strip Technicolor.

Vanwall said...

Dave -

As I understand it, the MOMA restoration is gorgeous, it just isn't on any home medium. If TCM's print was from MOMA, what a bummer. It's PD, and no one wants to spend dough on it, commercially. I don't think I've seen a good version of it ever, even when I was a kid. Sometimes stills pop up on the net that look great, makes me wonder.

Yojimboen said...

M VW:

Comme ca, ca, et ca?

Shamus said...

(One Last Final Concluding Footnote)

Ned, I haven't seen it but Godard made a movie called Éloge de l'amour (trans: The French are a Funny Race), a sort of diptych where the past is shot in color and the present in b&w: just the sort of monkeying around you expect from Jean-Luc.

Karen said...

Ned, I was going to say that perhaps, if Saki had survived the First World War, his outlook would have lost its edge, but then I remembered he was in his 40s when he was killed, so perhaps NOT. Nice to find another Saki fan, though!

Shamus, it may not be as inventive as a B&W present and a color past, but I've always loved Powell & Pressburger for making earth Technicolor and heaven black and white in A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven).

Ned said...

Karen,

I don't know about him losing his edge, which was razor sharp before the war. He likely would have, and probably did, see the war as yet another savage outcome to the ineffectual blandishments of effete civilization.

I don't know why more of his stuff has not made the silver or LCD screen. His stories are eminently cinematic. I suppose it's the fatwah against short stories that has done him in. Although I heard somewhere that there was a BBC production of several of stories including the deliciously gruesome revenge tale "Sredni Vashtar" (maybe my favorite Saki, along with the Interlopers and The Lumber Room).

He wrote about children and animals with the ease of inside knowledge and it's a testament to our ability to cling to the trappings of civilization that some of his endings, which take the mickey out of civilized anything, are still stunning in their feral ferocity.

Someone would do themselves a great favor by dramatizing a few of his best as a kind of omnibus approach. This is where we really miss such platforms as Playhouse 90.

Vanwall said...

M Yo -
Thanks for Caroles, I'm not so sure about the Brunhilde. Yet those are the exceptions in the broadcast I saw - I wondered for a moment if I'd fallen into two-strip land. I would've put much of it down to uncharacteristic subtlety, but it was obvious the colors were muted from the originals, and mutable in hue.

Vanwall said...

Mmmm - a bowl of filboid studge.

X. Trapnel said...

The little Dutch girl on horseback is surely not Carole L, but one of the Great Ladies of History. Frank Fay's historiographic methodology has always mystified me particularly in what dotty sense Catherine the Great "saved her country (and she could do it too)." Carole the Great, on the other hand...

Mark T Lancaster said...

Off topic here, but I'm trying to identify the fourth man in the picture at the top of your blog. I'm reasonably sure of Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, and Rock Hudson. Please identify the fourth man, it's been bugging me for days!

Karen said...

Mark, that's Gregory Peck.

Dave said...

Mark: It's Marlon Brando.

X. Trapnel said...

I say it's Roman Bohnen and I say to hell with it.

Yojimboen said...

Fie, X, you think I would confuse Carole and the legendary Jinx Falkenburg, who played “Katinka, who saved Holland by putting her finger in the dyke… Show 'em the finger, babe...”?

On this Public Domain print, Frank Fay gets rolling at 31:15.

Yojimboen said...

Understandable mistake, X; it’s not Roman Bohnen, but Brando had rented Roman’s moustache for the shot.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, you make a mistake? Unthinkable. Though M. V, normally as dependable as Frank Lovejoy, seemed to think the Falkenburg chippy was Carole L. On the other hand, I (as dependable as Dan Duryea) may have misread him.

Vanwall said...

Beg pardon, M Y und M X - I knew it wasn't Carole: I was unsure as to the thanking, not the thinking. An infusion of la Falkenburg in a perfectly lovely pair of Lombards is more of an intrusion, altho welcome at other times - I do admit, having seen the cockeyed braids and bows, for a second there, I had flashbacks to the main number from "Springtime for Hitler".

Karen said...

Oh, geez, sorry, Mark! You'd think I might actually READ your entire comment before responding to it, wouldn't you? That's a technique I should look into.

My brain just saw, "Who's the fourth man?" and I looked at the fourth guy left to right.

When everyone KNOWS that the fourth man is Jeroen Krabbe!

cgeye said...

""Nothing Scared" is the most frustrating of movies for me. A million dollar script and ten cent visuals. That's one movie I'd consider using some sort of computer correction on, if such a thing were possible. It's like 1.75 strip Technicolor."

I, too, have never seen a good print of it, and shrugged it off as an example of the more primitive Technicolor, except that it was too close to GTTW for anyone to say they did not know how to make things lush.

It was so bad that I thought Ted Turner (pre-TCM penitence) used NS as a guide for colorization, as the bare minimum he could get away with....

Mark T Lancaster said...

Thanks Karen. Could you educate me? When was Jeroen Krabbé on a set with those other guys? Hudson died in '85, and I don't see any film in Krabbé's bio up to that point that point with those three mega-stars. Or perhaps these folks were just at someone's party or something. The Siren knows...

Yojimboen said...

For myself, I love how these Silken Sirène Streams meander; how psychopathic Cinderellas with absurdly beautiful overbites in B&W portraits dissolve to Technicolor and Markie-Mark McPherson frowns in fear and loathing – and a distinct unease - at a) being book-ended by Power Sissy Waldo and ‘there’s something about’ Shelby and b) Waldo’s accusation that MM is in love with a dead woman.

(McPherson’s protestations that they’re not even in this movie fall on deaf ears and force Plan B: “Then I guess that's it, Lydecker. I don’t see her anymore. I'll put that in the form of a guarantee. I won't see her anymore.”)

And how did MM not notice Mrs. Danvers as he morphed, through William Bendix in the library with a Rope, to Homo Sovieticus? (And here we shall draw a discreet veil over Preminger's later career. Ed.)

A brief pause along the trail for a lecture on how Walking Sticks are actually symbols of Impotence. Everett Sloan wins first prize for his two walking sticks multiplied exponentially in an orgasm of 10,000 climactic mirror shards, while “some kind of a man” Hank Quinlan takes runner-up for his bed-post throttling of Uncle Joe Grande (clearly a symbolic rape of Janet Leigh lying on the bed three feet below; 36 inches being the exact length of Quinlan’s walking stick which, of course, spent thing that it is, he now leaves behind.)

Enter Linda Darnell to be stripped far more than the babe with the overbite ever was, intimating at adult pirate movies to come, while Robert Newton bestows H’Wood’s first ‘ARRR’ Rating. (ouch!)

As the ace reporter of the Jewish Daily Forward (written in Hebrew) used to shout as he ran into the copy room, “Stop the presses! Hold the back page!”
Studio Head Darryl Zanuck is a Sodomite!
(Nu? What d’y’expect? He’s the only Goyishe Studio head!)

Which led us through Stanwyck’s performance in Zanuck’s story Baby Face, and the speculation as to who was playing who’s life here anyway? We’ll get back to that.
(The pre-code tag-line for the movie was: "She had IT and made IT pay.")


TCM transported us from Linda Darnell to Carole Lombard and, really, isn’t that enough for one post? The small step to Nothing Sacred (and the cameo by the tragic Frank Fay - hold that thought) and the lamentable quality of the two-strip Technicolor re-release prints of same, leads us to MOMA, who have reportedly restored to their original three-strip beauty both Public Domain movies N.S. and the Frederic March/Janet Gaynor A Star is Born; and here it all comes together. Frank Fay, you see, once a legend in 20s/early 30s Vaudeville – in company with W.C Fields, the highest paid performer on the boards – was the first husband of guess who, that’s right, Barbara Stanwyck. He married her when she was a relative unknown, which state didn’t last long. The parallels of Our Babs’s career and the upward path of Baby Face were, shall we say, noticed at the time. Also noticed were the reverse arcs of Stanwyck’s rocketing trajectory and Frank Fay’s slide as Vaudeville died under his feet and he became the template for Norman Maine. And guess who Vicky Lester was.

Frank Fay’s final appearance of any worth was as the M.C. in N.S.; that the restored movie now sits cheek-by-jowl on a museum shelf with another restored movie depicting his life, is a H’Wood irony not quite beyond words.
Apparently, you can write this stuff

Dave said...

I wouldn't call NS Fay's "last appearance of any note." Seven years after that, he originated the part of Elwood P. Dowd in Mary Chase's "Harvey."

Trish said...

Yojimboen: you are quite the beat poet. That was simply awesome!

Yojimboen said...

You’re right, Dave, but I was thinking film, not Broadway. One can only imagine the crippling blow it was for him when they took away Elwood P. Dowd and gave it to Jimmy Stewart.

Dave said...

I'd imagine there were more than a few people who had schadenfreude over that crippling blow.

Yojimboen said...

Kind of you Trish.
Praise indeed.

Re schadenfreude, I've always had a fondness for the Vidal version: "Whenever a friend succeeds a little something in me dies."

Karen said...

Mark, you must forgive the byzantine perambulations of my thought processes! No, Jeroen Krabbe was never ever in a film with any of these men; in his DREAMS he'd be. I was rather referring to THIS fourth man.

X. Trapnel said...

The original formulation, of course, was Rochefoucauld: "There is something in the misfortunes of our friends that does not entirely displease us." My favorite variant comes from E.M. Cioran: "Apres moi le deluge is the motto of every man, for if we grant that others will survive us it is in the hope that they will be punished for it."

Still dazzled by Y's epic post (Beat poet? Nay, he bids well to be our Virgil), but must point out that the Forward (to whose Eng. edition I was once a sporadic contributor) was written in Yiddish, also read back to front.

Yojimboen said...

The hunger for applause is the source of all conscious literature...
My favorite Rochefoucauld.

X. Trapnel said...

"Fame is the spur"--Milton

"Sheer egotism"--Geo. Orwell on why he writes

Trish said...

As we mostly on the subject of 20th Century Fox stars, what about Laird Cregar as opposed to Vincent Price?

gmoke said...

Fame Is the Spur - 1947 starring Michael Redgrave, directed by Roy Boulting
"Hamer Radshaw rises from a Manchester slum to an important post in the British Cabinet but, along the way, his strong socialist beliefs undergo modifications to the extent that, while maintaining them in principle, he diametrically opposes them in practice. His 'spur' for prosperity and social status causes him to sacrifice his ideals and friends, including allowing his wife, a fighter for women's rights, to be jailed."

Ned said...

As a heavy, Cregar in his immensity, has it all over Price. Price, in general seemed more self-aware. Even at his most villainous in later roles, he never seemed bereft of a sense of irony and humor. Cregar, on the other hand played his roles as if the hound of hell was on his trail, just around the corner, and gaining. Even when apparently in control, he was a cauldron of undiluted desires and half understood obsessions. If we only had just The Lodger and This Gun for Hire, he would have been remembered. It's almost as if Price played psychos for fun. Cregar WAS a psycho. And there wasn't much fun involved no matter how he sliced it (or them).

X. Trapnel said...

Fame is the Spur is from a roman a clef by Howard Spring, the clef being--wait for it--RAMSAY MACDONALD! Whets the appetite for a Stanley Baldwin biopic, doesn't it? And now we can have sex scenes.

Shamus said...

Awesome post, Yojimboen. Let me add that Wellman, who directed and scripted Star is Born also directed Stanwyck in several movies in the early 30's (Purchase Price and Night Nurse)- they grew close and Wellman drew the nearest approximation to a lifetime contract at that time (or not).

As for that convergence of two parallel lines at Baby Face, I have no idea if they were Stanwyck's, shall we say, working methods (for instance, observe: "I work so hard, I have to go to bed early every night") but she was already a star by 1931: top-billed in all of her pre-code movies. And Cgeye, Zanuck was not the only one with the finger in the story: Stanwyck added that part about Lily being pimped by her father since she was 14 (!). Another auto-detail?

Shamus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shamus said...

"Waldo is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death." - Prescient Saki; source: another Saki fan.

By the way, Saki also wrote a short story called Laura(no relation), and it is my favorite of his short stories, along with the Reginald sketches.

cgeye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cgeye said...

As I recall, Shamus, Miss Stanwyck was a knockabout girl, mostly without parents; in one of her bios, the author mentioned her work as a Ziegfeld Girl working buck-nekkid before she was of age. I trust she had stories to tell, but chose her characters to speak for her.

As for her getting personal with her directors, wouldn't that go against her legendary rapport with crews, who usually don't truck with actresses who take that shortcut?

There are a lot of things we'll never know, about her or Messrs Wellman or Zanuck, and I think they'd be fine with that, too.

verif: croell -- the French word for those massive folk on Altair 4, dramatized by them pottymouths Nielsen and Pidgeon....

Shamus said...

Cgeye,

I agree- Stanwyck was the most enigmatic of actresses and I've read many bios? appreciations? sketches? of Stanwyck where the writers have struggled to say concrete something about her as opposed to the character she played. Both Anthony Lane and James Harvey compare her with Garbo actually, but there is still a huge difference between Garbo's rarefied and deliberate mystery and Stanwyck's unknowability which (seemingly) did not seek out such effects (certainly, Davis and Hepburn and Crawford are far more easy to figure out).

Possibly this is the reason why she is so endlessly watchable. I particularly love it when the writers and filmmakers use her enigma to make all the characters around her wonder what she is really thinking... it makes her the ideal femme fatale. But enough for now.

Karen said...

Stanwyck in her Ziegfeld days, in a photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston. Most of Johnston's Ziegfeld Girls photos show a lot more skin than this one, but he did have certain props he favored, such as that spangled black chiffon drapery.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here she is with my boyfriend!

Ned said...

Shamus,

Saki's short story "Laura" brings up some interesting connections to this multi-threaded conversational free-for-all, (so why not go even further afield?). Saki's Laura, unlike Preminger's fills other vessels with her essence, first her own body, then an otter, then a small Nubian boy, all retaining the essential and essentially misanthropic qualities of Laura Prime (there have may have been earlier incarnations but we are only given to understand these three).

Preminger's Laura, in contrast, is an empty vessel who is filled with the precatory aspirations of nearly all the other main characters. She herself is somewhat of a cipher.

So it it might be with some great actors and actresses whose smooth, enigmatic surfaces are filled by us rather than by them, or who require a script to live, rather like Anthony John in a Double Life who is a colossal bore when offstage without a role to give his life substance and meaning and depth.

Perhaps the best actresses and actors tend to be somewhat empty creatures who can then be filled and possessed, like the creatures inhabited by the Laura of Saki's story, with the life force of something from without.

Who knows what evil (or anything else, for that matter) lurks....as the question goes?

A subject for a much longer discussion, no doubt.

Ned said...

One example I forgot to include: the famous final shot of Queen Christina in which the camera dollies in on Garbo's face, which seems to express the inexpressible longings of her soul.

Asked later what she was thinking, she replied "Nothing". Mamoulien had suggested that she just clear her mind of all thoughts and think deeply about nothing. The audience fills in the rest.

Ned said...

X, if we're going to go for a Stanley Baldwin biopic, we might as well do something with Lord Salisbury. Maybe we could call it "Bob's Almost Your Uncle."

Shamus said...

Ned,

You do know your Saki I see: its strange since we were talking about Waldo's reincarnation and that blasted Saki goes and writes a story about Laura's avatars.

I completely agree with you about Preminger's Laura, an empty vessel into which McMark pours his fevered imaginations, so when does later appear, she is thoroughly a surprise. (In fact, some have even called this twist "Godardian"; not me but there are people.)

Are great actors empty vessels a la Laura? I have no idea but I doubt it. I have heard of that Garbo story you've mentioned but the fact that she is not thinking of anything in particular in that scene does not mean that she is incapable of profound thoughts: I think you are mistaking articulate with intelligent: there are a lot of writers who are very unimpressive in their interviews but are marvelous on page and it frequently works the other way around (unfortunately).

I think it was Robert Ryan who said something to the effect that great actors essentially bring their personalities to the screen, so if the actor is a moron or an uninteresting bore (the movies abound with this kind of actor), I sincerely doubt that they could be great actors: think of Cagney, Grant, Keaton. Could Bogart have brought such torment and anguish to In a Lonely Place, if he were not an alcoholic himself? Or Ryan if he had not lived such a curious life? Stanwyck could project emotions astonishing in their range and power and with an unmistakable intelligence behind them: it would be miraculous if she were a bland bore in life. But I don't want to test this theory...I might be disappointed.

Then again I don't know whether acting is the art of lying or the art of telling the truth (good authorities on either side), and the fact that people disagree so much about actors and acting means that we still never know what the actor is bringing to the screen.

Ned said...

Shamus,

I don't think I meant all actors. It was just a passing thought about how some actors seem so malleable. I can't imagine Bette Davis, or Kate Hepburn, or Cagney as empty vessels. Just a passing conceit with that Saki story on my mind.

(I think Y's expansive meditation on the nature of this post prompted a more baroque exposition than I had initially intended. Damn him!)

And while we're back to that, for a moment, I wanted to comment on your reference that some people consider the problem in Laura (Preminger's). It seems more like a Gordian Knot rather than a Godardian Twist.

But it might be a Chubby Checker Twist...

Trish said...

Karen, those photos are stunning.

Shamus said...

Ned,

Now you've made me look ridiculous: my Elizabethan post with Gothic trimmings. So to flip you off here is:

The Perils of Meeting your Idols: a Tragedy in One Act

Marlene Dietrich is a great fan of Greta Garbo and had never met her. She arranges to have Welles take her to meet aforementioned Garbo. Marlene is excited on the drive there and she is excited all through the time she is waiting for Garbo to turn up. Which takes about an hour. Then, Garbo shows up, and they are introduced: Garb drifts away after a vague greeting. Die is crushed and she remians silent. Silent all through the drive back with Orson. Then, after a long time, she says, "Well, her feet aren't that large..."

By the way, that is a very funny photo, David. And I'd already seen the wonderful image Karen posted but its still good to be reminded...

Shamus said...

(Googles "Chubby Checker Twist"; laughs)

Ned said...

Shamus,

Great story about Dietrich and Garbo. I've read a story about Cukor leading Garbo to his pool to meet Hepburn who was swimming in the altogether (and in the pool as well). She was a bit flummoxed. It's funny to see how Garbo could bring such high voltage stars as Dietrich and Hepburn almost to their knees (Hepburn curtsied) in her presence. But Dietrich's meeting with the great lady is surprising because I distinctly recall reading elsewhere Dietrich claiming that they had never met. Although I suppose a meeting so lackluster would cry out for denial so I'm not surprised.

Big feet or not.

Karen said...

Trish, there is an AMAZING book of Johnston's Ziegfeld Girl photos, all of which are so beautiful as to bring tears. This is one of my favorites, using that same damn black spangled fabric.

I bought this book of Johnston's Ziegfeld photos, and it is a CORKER.

Yojimboen said...

There are several thousand such nude “studies’ by A.C. Johnston – most of them very beautiful - I’ve been collecting them since I was a dirty young man. Reportedly Ziegfeld would sign the girl, then send her over to Johnston’s studio for some ‘art’ studies (for Flo’s private collection, which he would sometimes share with backers).

There are countless such images of Louise Brooks, Gloria Swanson, Norma Shearer, Carole Lombard et al, like this one of a teenage Paulette Goddard. (Scroll down 3 pix.)

And this one of the nude Ms B. Stanwyck (scroll to bottom of page).

Trish said...

Still waters run deep: Johnson resembled a stuffy banker in his own photo. And he had this beautiful work inside him? Thank you for the link to the book, Karen!

Yojimboen said...

Here’s a larger version of B. Stanwyck by A.C. Johnston.

To my eye she doesn’t seem to be taking it too seriously.


The kicker: After poring through my ACJ collection, I wind up with the Word Verication, 'eystrin'.

X. Trapnel said...

Eystrin? Relief for sore, parching eyes I'd say.

What a subject, Trish, artists who do or don't "resemble" their work. How would that go with directors? Long ago I was startled by a photo of bald Peter Lorre who turned out to be Max Ophuls.

Shamus said...

Yojimboen,

(trying to suppress sobs) Thank you. I...I mean, really...(shedding hot Nabokov tears)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Dietrich and Garbo are Two Absolute Goddesses of the Cinema --and polar opposites.

Dietrich is all about giving out. She throws her fabulousness right in our faces and encourages us to enjoy it right along with her.

Garbo is all about holding back. She's not going to move an inch if she doesn't absolutely have to. And the camera allows her an infinite number of reaons not to. We have to come to her -- not vice versa.

Dietrich was a wildly sophsiticated woman who very much enjoyed her fame. Garbo was Nico avant la lettre (and without heroin) She's in constant retreat from her beauty -- even while supremely aware of it. Christopher Isherwood recalled an afternoon he spent with her and others at the beach in Santa Monica as "It was being like someone who was wanted for murder."

Christine Erikson (aka Justina) said...

"A woman who yearns for marriage (to Cornel Wilde, though we're never sure why, maybe because he seems normal), "

what do you mean, "we're never sure why"? it is VERY CLEAR WHY. The guy strongly resembles her father when he was younger, her father she was obsessed with and possessive of, in other words, this marriage was based on an
incestuous passion (whether it was ever physical with her father or not) and an acting out of her secret desires regarding her father, but with a man who was a lookalike to him.