Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anecdote of the Week: "Trust Me--I'm an Actor," Plus Links

The Siren just got through reading about the hard times ahead for critics. She also read this piece at Jim Emerson's place and that pointed her to this piece, about how critics are irrelevant in the first place but super-duper-extra-tall-grande irrelevant if they don't like The Dark Knight (got that, Keith)? The Siren must be worse than irrelevant because she never saw the blasted thing and, let's face it, The Dark Knight is not a film she is likely to clutch to her bosom. However, two can play at this game, damn it. In tune with Jim's first commenter, the Siren plans to start an "Ignore Max Ophuls at Your Own Peril" campaign right after, well, right after she gets done with some other stuff. However, let it not be said that the Siren refuses all opportunities to expand her viewing horizons. The Siren watched Profondo Rosso some time back. Yes, she did. And she kind of liked it. She didn't like it in the way that might, for example, prompt her to watch it again--ever--but you could say she respected it. So, pending the last of the Constance Bennett thoughts, from another era and continent altogether, the Siren is bringing Profondo Rosso star David Hemmings onstage to cheer us up as we contemplate a world where film critics must love Batman, or suffer the consequences. This one is for Glenn Kenny, who wrote a splendid piece that touched on an encounter with the indefatigable Hemmings in Toronto on 9/11, and for Belvoir, because redheads ARE sex symbols, too. Here, in his posthumously published Blow-Up and Other Exaggerations, Hemmings discusses the ways in which actors whiled away their free time in Swingin' London.
...I was invited to join the Bang Club, which involved most of Alvaro's regulars of a Saturday lunchtime and whose principal purpose, as devised by Ian [McShane], was to make friends look foolish. Once a month, a person was elected 'victim,' and the remainder had to hunt him down, preferably in circumstances that would cause maximum embarrassment. The hunters would then point their index finger with thumb raised and three fingers curled and say, or mouth, 'Bang!', at which point the 'victim' had to die in the most atrocious way possible--in a second. No hesitation was allowed, or procrastination. They had to die on the spot, no matter who the witness or how great the damage. [Screenwriter Ian] La Frenais took out an entire dessert trolley at the White Elephant, having been 'Banged,' and several tables along with it. Few have topped this, and there can't be much more stimulating than to destroy someone's lunch by careering into their table, sprawled across a desert trolley like one of Clint Eastwood's victims across the back of his trusty steed. Of this you can be sure. Trust me--I'm an actor. McShane suffered an invidious fate, though, at the hands of the Bang Club. As he was being presented, almost on bended knee, to Princess Margaret at the Empire, Leicester Square, at some premiere or other, from behind the silken ropes the rest of us stood up and, over a rampart of black-tied shoulders, as one we pointed fingers and mouthed 'Bang!' Ian was caught, dead to rights, between the eyes. Eastwood would have been proud. Theoretically Ian should have fallen on the hapless princess, rolled her down a couple of staircases, taken Richard Attenborough and Judi Dench out with him and generally put the proceedings in peril and confusion. But he chickened out and disaster was, sadly, averted. There is, however, a sort of satisfactory conclusion to this short story. At the far end of the line, waiting patiently, was Vanessa Redgrave. She had not an inkling of the Bang Club, but being sightless, assumed the guns--merely fingers, you realize--were the real thing. She clutched the person next to her...and fainted dead away on the podium. All guns were then turned on Vanessa, as if she had been the target all along. But she revived in moments, as Redgraves will, to curtsy elegantly in front of HRH.
"As Redgraves will"--love it. At one point in his book the actor remarks, "They say Hemmings gives good yarn," and he certainly does. Highly recommended, if you can locate a copy. Hemmings has much to say about location work and the vagaries of an actor's career. Also contains the priceless story of how Michelangelo Antonioni kept shaking his head from side to side during each take on Blow-Up. Hemmings was almost prostrate from performance anxiety until he realized that what he thought were emphatic "no good" signals were in fact Antonioni's tremors from a physical condition.
The links to the 20 Actress meme are piling up even as we speak: David Cairns eschews mere physical beauty and gives Spring Byington her due. (By the by, David, who is this alleged MP who usurps your rightful place at the top of a "David Cairns" Google search?) Feta at Terminal Sigma comes up with splendid photos of some silent actresses. Operator_99 of Allure gives some love to number 21 and has a great picture of a very young Ida Lupino. Marilyn of Ferdy on Film picks Wendy Hiller. Will the Siren's omissions never cease to haunt her? Flickhead does indeed get very Continental on us. Laura plumps for the ravishing Hedy Lamarr. J.C. Loophole demonstrates impeccable taste. Jacqueline had an equally hard time as the Siren but all is forgiven because she named Teresa Wright. Sheila O'Malley ties one hand behind her back and picks favorite performances as well. Show-off. Brad Wrolsted wins a link by naming Harriet Andersson. Hazel at Let's Fold Scarves impressed the Siren no end by also naming performances, and including a Bette Davis film that the Siren actually hasn't seen. Well played, ma'am. Careful, you may get tagged next time. Just ask J.C. MovieMan0283 does a version with clips. Jon Swift identifies an important new school of film criticism, derrièrism. Surely criticism cannot be dead when brilliant new schools of thought keep emerging. Take that, Cahiers. And John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows also does his bit for the critical lexicon, writing up the non-Sirk thrillers of Ross Hunter as Fashion Noir, an inspired term the Siren is adopting as of this very minute. Part one, on Portrait in Black, ends with a touching tribute to the Siren's beloved, doomed Sandra Dee. Part two, on Midnight Lace, ends with a vignette of a Hollywood-dream contest in Texas that will haunt you for days. Roy Edroso of Alicublog evidently moonlights as some sort of medium, achieving whole-mind psychic melding with Jonah Goldberg. Don't take these sorts of risks for us, Roy. It's only blogging. Tonio, who has been saying Easy Living is fluff? Send 'em to the Siren, she'll straighten them out. Easy Living is manna from heaven, that's what it is. (Top, David Hemmings demonstrates the apparent future of critics who do not worship The Dark Knight. Middle picture of David Hemmings on set with Dario Argento is blatantly lifted from Cinebeats. Third picture of David Hemmings with Jane Birkin in background chosen as a lagniappe for David Ehrenstein and Yojimboen. Bottom picture of Lana Turner and Lloyd Nolan in Portrait in Black chosen by the Siren for her own amusement.)


Peter Nellhaus said...

And thanks for telling us about Quixotando.

I can get behind the Ophuls campaign. He should be seen by everyone who claims Kubrick as a favorite director. The newest restoration of Lola Montes will be in Denver at the end of the month.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Re. Max Ophuls. . .

The Siren said...

Peter, it's a great blog. It is in Portuguese, right? I don't understand a word but what taste in pictures.

David, I love that movie and it boggles my mind that it wasn't well-received upon release. Well, maybe not ... every time I look up an old movie and I find a Bosley Crowther review I marvel at what a prosy old bore he was, taste like a retired kindergarten teacher. And he was supposed to be the reigning monarch of American movie critics.

X. Trapnel said...


I will drop everything and join a cavalry charge on behalf of Max Ophuls at your signal.

DavidEhrenstein said...

A lot of it had to do with Martine Carol. Andrew Sarris once said that the recption Lola Montes got was understandable "if you can imagine what would have happened to an audience in the 1940's sitting down to watch a Betty Grable musical and finding Citizen Kane instead."

Martine Carol was known for a balcony you could do Shakespeare from. Everyone from Able Gance to Christian Jacques put her bodacious ta-ta's on display. Not only does Ophuls not do so, he makes light of the entire practice in the "needle and thread" scene.

D Cairns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D Cairns said...

Yes, there's a Scottish MP with my name, and also an author of books on Berlioz. I don't mind him so much because the BBC once sent me a cheque intended for him. I sent it back though, since I'm honest, and anyway it was a small cheque.

The Siren said...

David C., you're a sterling fellow, especially since if there is one career that might conceivably be less lucrative than film blogging, it is writing books about Berlioz.

David E., what a fantastic Sarris quote. I know that he (along with David Thomson) has championed Ophuls for many years. I think Carol works well as Montes, in the same way that Novak's limitations meld well with Vertigo. In both cases they have no trouble playing characters that other people project their dreams onto.

X. Trapnel, aux barricades!

David Cairns said...

Er, I am the David Cairns (real MP, not alleged) who usurps other David Cairns(s) at the top of a Google search. Sorry about that, nothing to do with me, honest. If it makes it any better I get at least three times the Google alerts about him than I do for myself and I've learned a lot about film along the way. Neither I am the author of any books about Berlioz, but if David C gets any cheques intended for me then just send them on please. lol.

Laura said...

Thanks for the link -- these lists have provided a great diversion over the past few days! It's especially fun comparing how each of the lists vary from one another.

Best wishes,

The Siren said...

David Cairns MP -- Welcome! We're honored, sir. I believe you must be the first government official of any country to find my corner of the web. Though it's possible that others visit under pseudonyms, no doubt to avoid attack ads whispering that they "consort with Sirens" come the next close election. I am certainly glad you're reading Shadowplay, as it is one of the best film blogs around. If you ask nicely, your Google-doppelganger might even send you a copy of La Fin du Jour.

Laura, I don't know if it was Nathaniel's intent when he started this meme, but it's provided an interesting snapshot of Who's Hot and Who's Not, not just for modern actresses but also long-dead ones. All film reputations go in cycles. As X. Trapnel noted, Myrna Loy is very much in, Marilyn apparently out.

X. Trapnel said...

The other David Cairn's Berlioz made a considerable dent in my wallet; I like to think that I'm keeping him in wild haggis and single-malt scotch. I intend to consult it to see if HB ever encountered Lola Montes.

I must confess I still find Martine Carol a problem (as I do Barbara Bel Geddes). Yes, she's beautiful, and as Belles des Nuits, shows she could be charming in an undemanding part. But the multidimensional portrayal--or laying bare--of a woman's soul is so central to the Ophulsian vision that Lola Montes can seem an elaborate and beautifully wrought cartouche with nothing at the center.

A real loss I feel keenly is that Ophuls did not live to do his film on Modigliani, the artist who made me want to paint.

X. Trapnel said...

Crikes! Barbara Bel Geddes in Caught.

Yojimboen said...

Ah, critics. Aren't they the ones who dance backwards and in high-heels? Or the ones who can read a road-map but can’t quite pass the driving test? Or are they simply the guys who sit up on the hillside watching the battle below and when it’s over climb down to shoot the wounded?

Agreed, Madame – Bosley Crowther was probably the most humorless prat ever to put poison pen to paper. But he did end one famous review thusly:
‘For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? See "Citizen Kane" for details.’
Even a blind pig, etc.

The Siren said...

I like the lead actresses in both Caught and Lola Montes, but when I saw La Signora di Tutti, Isa Miranda struck me as a large detriment. Bel Geddes I found quite good, in fact. But Miranda was just false in all respects to me. The look of the thing was marvelous though.

The Siren said...

Yojimboen, in Pictures at a Revolution Mark Harris describes Crowther as a nice guy who was well-liked by his colleagues, but his relentlessly unadventurous taste just got stodgier over the years until, of course, Bonnie and Clyde undid him. I am sure I would find some decent reviews of him if I looked hard, however. I just Googled his Ophuls commentaries and he liked Le Plaisir. But then I read him on "The Reckless Moment" and got disgusted all over again.

Yojimboen said...

Not to belabour things, but when Renata Adler climbed aboard the masthead she made Crowther read like S.J. Perelman.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The projection of dreams is the whole point of the film. Ophuls said he was inspired not by the hisotircal Lola but by three stars whose travails had been much in the news: Judy Garland, Edith Piaf and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Critics have complained that Martine Carol isn't Danielle Darrieux. But that's missing the point. We're not supposed to e enraptured by the star but rather the mise en scene. In some ways Ustinov -- playing Ophuls' surrogate -- is the real star of the film.

X. Trapnel said...

Not to second guess Ophuls, but mesdames Garland, Piaf, and Gabor (whatever their talents) are hardly such stuff as dreams are made on, not romantic/erotic dreams anyway. I'd be curious to see Ophuls comment in context and would be grateful if anyone could direct me to the source. I still think a better actress could have conveyed the all things to all men quality and remain hidden/blank/absent. My problem with Carol is that she's more bland than blank. For that matter, I'd rather see Anton Walbrook in the Ustinov part.
Siren, I agree about Isa Miranda; she's the weak link in La Ronde. David Thomson thinks otherwise.

Gloria said...

Count me in to go over the top if I must on behalf of Herr Phuls, ma'am. Anytime.

Campaspe, I must say I just found myself nodding over your comment on Bosley Crowther (maybe because he targeted my boy Charles more than once... and I am relentless unforgiving in those matters -the mediterranean way-)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Had he been younger Walbrook would have played the Ustinov part -- as it has clear echoes with his role in La Ronde.

Try the BRI Max Ophuls booklet (from a great many years back) for the quote. Garland, Piaf and Gabor were referenced not for their personal appeal but for their fame. Lola Montes is a key film about the media and the way it creates "truth." or what Stephen Colbert more accurately calls "truthiness." Other films that intersect with what it's doing include Sweet Smell of Success and The King of Comedy.

The Siren said...

David, now that would be an interesting three-way comparison essay--Lola, Sweet Smell and King. If you ever write it do let me know.

Gloria, I am down on Crowther at the moment because I just saw The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami and it's quite wonderful. But Crowther's review is just so smug and dismissive, and he has less sense of the visual than just about any major film critic I have ever read. It's all story for him, nothing else. And if something isn't "realistic" then it must be bad. Blargle.

Of course if you follow the link to Jon Swift's place you'll find that attitude is alive and well.

X. Trapnel, I love Walbrook but I want no one but Ustinov in the ringmaster part, even if he later confessed to not really getting what Ophuls was trying to do. I still think it's his best work.

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks for the reference, David; my local university library is notably poor in its Ophuls holdings (all the money seems to go to buy new books on Woody Allen), but I will seek this out. I take your point about the theme. Perhaps this is why I find it a colder or more emotionally diffuse film than Letter, Madame de, or La Ronde.
Is there any sighting of a Liebelei DVD?

X. Trapnel said...

Walbrook could do immaculate elegance and seedy or fake elegance (see his performance as Esterhazy in an otherwise mediocre film about the Dreyfus Affair, whose title escapes me). For me Ustinov just never projects on screen. He seems like an incompletely deflated Charles Laughton

The Siren said...

X Trapnel, I never find Ophuls entirely cold, but there is definitely something more removed about Lola Montes.

I should add that Ustinov said he didn't think he was making a masterpiece during filming--he understood the finished product all right. He has a description of filming in Dear Me that is quite funny, if not an altogether flattering picture of what Ophuls was like to work under.

Karen said...

David Hemmings was DEAD sexy. If you asked me to tell you why, I won't know what on earth I'd say, but he was just Dead Fucking Sexy.

This evidence of his writing style, however, has taken him into the stratosphere.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The film you're thinking of is J'Accuse with Jose Ferrer. And as I recall Gore Vidal had a hand in the script.

Walrok is my all-time favorite actor. And here's why.

Yojimboen said...

Catchall: Thanks ever-so for the links to the Meme-of-the Month-Club. If anything emerges from morning rounds, it’s that I find myself – perhaps not unexpectedly - in joyous agreement with the choice of every single lady on every single list (always excepting one or two stars who have been discussed quite enough thank you). The unexpected reward of the tour is the collections of superb – and mostly new to me - images of said goddesses.

Re which, the mere mention of Mr. Hemmings brings the images of Ms Birkin (and Gillian Hills and Veruschka, lest we forget) rushing back to the vestigial teenage mind.
Thanks due for that also.

Derrièrisme - aka the Impatience of the Gluteus - is hardly new. (If memory serves it was Harry Cohn). I always go back to the music critic who reviewed Parsifal thusly: “The opera started promptly at six. Two hours later I sneaked a look at my watch; it said six-twenty.”

Which is how I felt watching The Dark Knight . (Something akin to the feeling I had watching last year’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. I mean I don’t mind watching the life of Jesse James, but preferably not in real time.)

Dark Knight just isn’t remotely fun.
Nuff said? No.
“Another piece of scenery Mr. Ledger?”
“Thanks!” (Kerunch!)
(Yes, I know. We’re supposed to say nice things because they’re dead, but I paid money.)

Repeat: Dark Knight just isn’t fun. Batman Returns was. Iron Man is.

Ross Hunter without Sirk? Except for Pillow Talk, Hardy without Laurel.
(Sandra Dee? Whisper her name.
She was the one.)

Who haven’t I offended yet? Kindly put, Lola Montes was not Ophuls' best work. There were geniuses aplenty in front of and behind the camera on that shoot, but somehow they didn’t mesh. Sad.
It coulda been a contender.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Not sure what you were expecting Yojimboen. Lola Montes is an avant-garde film made on the largest possible scale.

Love Marat/Sade

The Siren said...

Ah Karen, I knew YOU would get it. I could watch Blow-Up, which maddens so many people, a gazillion times and it's all for Hemmings at the peak of his what-exactly-has-he-GOTness. He has the sexiest slouch ever, but I think what it really is, is the eyes. They are Bette Davis eyes transferred to a male, and when they are turned to the camera you start imagining all sorts of very British depravity.

The memoirs had a co-writer but given what I have read of his interviews (and Glenn's eyewitness account--well worth reading) I would say the ghost guy was more doing clean-up and organizing than he was altering the Hemmings voice.

Yojimboen, it isn't who you piss off, but how stylishly you do it. Extremely funny comment. Although I also liked Marat/Sade and have to take Ehrenstein's side on Lola Montes. I admit, though, that you're far from the only one who sees Lola as a flawed swan song. No names come to mind, but they're out there.

One thing I did read was that Andrew Sarris used to say Lola Montes was the greatest movie of all time but now he says it's Madame de...

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

As for Betty Grable and "Citizen Kane" ...

I believe there's a well-known anecdote about Carol Burnett, when she met Welles, telling him that she was taken to "Citizen Kane" as a child and spent her time inside the theater wishing it would turn into a Betty Grable musical.

Welles' reply, supposedly, was that there were a lot of people in Hollywood at that time wishing he would turn into Betty Grable.

Those who know the anecdote better than I will surely correct me. I can't, in any case, imagine Welles in platform heels.

Joel Bocko said...

The Dark Knight had a compelling (if not especially subtle) screenplay but was indifferently directed. It certainly was not a great movie, but I enjoyed it - even if the tasteless extremists often make me wish I hadn't just so I could fight fire with fire.

I always felt a little sorry for Crowther, a tendency which Harris' book reinforced, because he became such a punching bag for hipper critics in later years. But the truth is he did plenty to earn it, pathetic and pitiable a figure as he might cut post-60s.

I'd love to resurrect that shooting game. If any of you see a stranger walking down the street, and he points his finger at you like a gun...you know what to do. (No, not call the cops...)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Crowther "lost it" in 1967. Repeatedly dissing Bonnie and Clyde AND actively trying to prevent the U.S. release of Chimes at Midnight in the same year. Truly disgraceful.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Really couldn't abide The Dark Knight. Amazed it's being taken seriouesly.

Or at least what passes for "seriously" these days.

The Siren said...

MrsHWV, one of the many things I love about Welles is that for a man who was so well known for his ego, he had a real ability to take a joke.

MovieMan, I keep reading about the Dark Knight and I just am not running into anything that really makes me want to see it. And the extremists you mention really make me want to sit in the corner and say nyah-nyah-nyah you can't make me.

I also felt very sorry for Crowther in Harris's book, for the reasons you state. One of the things that made the book such a pleasure was Harris's refusal to be patronizing or hipper-than-thou about the old guard. They get respect--not more than they deserve, but they are not figures just being set up for mockery.

To resurrect that shooting game you need willing victims, and I am afraid I am not going to sprawl over a dessert cart. Unless Benoit Magimel or Denzel Washington is standing next to it.

David, going back and reading Crowther does make me appreciate Manohla Dargis and Dave Kehr just that much more.

Karen said...

Definitely the slouch--nicely captured in that third photo--and definitely the eyes. And yet some might think he looks merely like an overgrown public-school boy with a thyroid condition.

And yet--they would be WRONG.

Tonio Kruger said...

I don't suppose Easy Living can qualify as both fluff and manna from heaven?

* Tonio dodges brickbats *

After all, it did more to convert me to the Official Church of Jean Arthur, Our Lady of the Squeaky Voice, than even Sheila's beloved Only Angels Have Wings. (And no, I'm not suggesting that OAHW counts as fluff, either.)

Anyway, I meant to pay the film a compliment. No doubt many moviegoers today would argue that such a film has no relevance to today's audience because it says nothing at all about dark knights, iron men, magic rings, bad santas, wedding crashers and world police.

But since I find it increasingly hard to find a modern movie that doesn't want to make me go all "Bah! Humbug," I must confess that I find such arguments to be just silly.

And if that means I'll end up being visited by three spirits this upcoming Christmas Eve, well, I'll take that hit.

Provided the Ghost of Christmas Past resembles Ms. Arthur, of course.

But if the Netherworld can't get her, I'll settle for Ginger. ;-)

Yojimboen said...

David – If I sounded dismissive about Lola Montes (and thus your regard for it), please accept my apology. Though much of what I write may list heavily toward the sardonic, (wtf, call it ‘snotty’), none of what I write is casual, hasty or ill-considered.

The curse of the jaundiced eye is one of the drawbacks of living on the Left Coast where all computer keyboards come equipped with an extra (default) control key marked “glib”. Sometimes I go half a day before I remember to disengage mine.

I once owned a 35mm anamorphic print of Lola Montes; original CinemaScope perforations and all – very rare. I had intended to keep that print forever and then pass it on to my children. “The best-laid schemes…” (Don’t ask – I had to sell it – last I heard it was in Poland somewhere.) The point is I take Herr Ophuls very, very seriously.

I didn’t say I don’t like the film; I never would. Lola Montes is a masterpiece – pas question – but it’s not perfect. You’ve touched on what the problems may have been: Martine Carol was not Danielle Darrieux. I think you’re right. Who knows, perhaps the comparison was even simpler. This was 1955 and both Carol and Darrieux had a young blonde named Bardot breathing down their necks.

Every movie we see depends to some degree on our suspension of disbelief. Finally, after years of reflection, and having viewed the film 20 or more times, I tend to agree with you that Anton Walbrook is in a class by himself, and Ustinov doesn’t put a foot wrong, but…
I just don’t believe Carol as Lola.

Re your question, what was I expecting? I guess the short answer is ‘more’.

Karen said...

And, Siren, I'm not finding the splendid photo of the very young Ida Lupino at the Terminal Sigma site--although she does have a splendid photo of a very young Myrna Loy. What am I missing??

Karen said...

Ah, got it--but it's on Operator 99's post at Allure, not at Terminal Sigma.

The Siren said...

ah, you are right! I got lost in the thicket of faces. Will fix.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You were expecting "More" but what you got was "None of the Above."

Carol is a star but the film treats her as an object. This is quite clear from the first circus scene where she appears to be introducing the miniature replicas of herself rather than the other way around.

Had Lola been played by Darrieux an entirely different kind of film would be required. One far more conventionally "about" a particular woman.

Lola Montes is about an idea.

Vanwall said...

For the impressionable lad in the late '60s, there wasn't a much better choice of cool than David Hemmings, who defined the genre back then for me. I woulda killed for his Rolls Royce in "Blow Up", to say nothing of the crumpets.

Vanwall said...

Oh, and Siren, that last pic isn't just for your own amusement! ;-)

mndean said...

X. Trapnel -
Well, I'd rather watch Zenobia than Air-Raid Wardens. So there.

mndean said...

I really don't feel qualified to talk about Lola Montes, as it's been so many years since I last saw it. IIRC, David's view of the film can be justified, but I also remember being disappointed by Martine Carol. Maybe it was that I saw it after La Ronde and my expectations were colored by that. It's funny, twenty years ago I watched practically nothing but foreign films, now it's rare I watch anything but old Hollywood films.

X. Trapnel said...


Oh yeah? Well I'll take The Lovesick Maidens of Cuddleton over In the Clutches of a Vapor Bath any ol' time. You wanna take this outside?

mndean said...

X. Trapnel,
So, you have a thing for Kate Price, eh? Verrry interesting. Please do not tell me more.

X. Trapnel said...

Hah! Do I love what others love?

Yojimboen said...

Aha, X.T, I almost missed your lament:
"...For me Ustinov just never projects on screen..."

What luck, it gives me a chance to change your mind and yet another opportunity to recommend We're No Angels to all and sundry.
(Did I mention this was my favorite Xmas movie?)

Ustinov, in a lovely bit 'o symmetry made Angels just before popping over to start Lola M.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I saw We're No Angels when it came out and fell in love with Ustinov as a result. He used to pop up on talk shows back in the day when people who talked (Oscar Levant, Alexander King, et. al.) actually had something to say that was worth listenting to.

In 1968 when the New York Film Festival reprised Lola Montes Ustinov was there to inroduce it. he was touched and surprised by the audience's enthusiastic embrace of the film.

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks, Yojimboen! I just popped over to IMDB (not that I didn't trust you) to check out We're No Angels, and now I can't wait to see it. I had the idea it was one of those late Bogie pictures (Battle Circus, Left Hand of God) customarily dismissed as "tired" (one of these days I shall adumbrate my theory of Tired Film [Cinema Fatigue, accent aigu).

Vanwall said...

M. X.T. - "We're No Angels" is a minor gem and a nice fit for this Holiday.

The Siren said...

Dearly though I love Yojimboen (and DAMN I am impressed that he used to own an actual print of Lola Montes--fwiw Martin Scorsese owns a beautiful print of The Red Shoes)--I have to side with Ehrenstein's views on Carol. But I think David and I are part of a minority, most people do find her a flaw.

On the other hand, what a pleasure to agree that Ustinov is great. Anyone else love Billy Budd?

I cannot for the life of me remember if I have seen We're No Angels but clearly I need to. My own favorite Christmas movie is The Shop Around the Corner.

Mndean, if you spent such a long time watching foreign films, do you have an opinion on Deep Red? I still can't believe I made it through, now I guess I have to watch Suspiria for Joan and Alida.

D Cairns said...

Mmm, I like We're No Angels a lot -- a Christmas movie that's warm and sweet and also mean as hell. A strange combination, but an exciting one. The Bogart-Ustinov-Ray triple act is utterly misguided but fascinating to watch: they're not just in different films, but different WORLDS. I kind of like that.

I don't think it matters a damn if you believe Martine Carol as Lola Montes. If credibility mattered in that film, knowing that Lola Montes never worked in a circus in her life would hurt the movie. It doesn't, because the movie is unreal, theatrical, artificial in every way, and poetically truthful to the core. Any idea that "every movie depends to some degree on our suspension of disbelief" is only going to get in the way when you come to that film. Every film depends to some degree on your ability to open up to it and let it do what it's going to do, without imposing such a principle on it, however sound it may seem in general.

(Packs up lectern, shuffles off into night.)

mndean said...

I wish I could, but Suspiria was the only Argento that my home VHS store (the late, lamented Tower Video) stocked for rental. I was more into French, Japanese, and German films then (that was from the mid-80s through the mid '90s), with a smattering of older Italian classics. I watched a lot of then-current films (Foreign and American), and finally they started getting more decent older Hollywood titles (like the Forbidden Hollywood collection), and I drifted away from foreign films. Partly it was from being surfeited, partly frustration of the titles that weren't available.

Belvoir said...

Sigh. I just adore you, Siren!~

Sorry for my redhead-rights speech, lol.

Delighted to hear you are on the team.And I wouldn't change it, really. We are special.
Thank you, love.

X. Trapnel said...

The Shop Around the Corner is just about my favorite movie 364 days a year, but for Christmas I prefer Detour.

Yojimboen said...

(Apologies for the brevity of the communiqué – busy day.)

Call this the rough and the smooth:

Link one: Transcript of a lecture early this year at the Pacific Film Archive on the Lola Montes restoration, coupled with a fairly detailed history of the production; not completely flattering, but very educational and well worth reading.


Link two: A French fansite with the first 8 1/2 minutes of the restoration.
Tiny Screen – Breathtaking quality.

(If I’d seen this four decades ago we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. :D)



X. Trapnel said...


I'm feeling the first stirrings of conversion...

DavidEhrenstein said...

As you can see from that clip the restoration is spectacularly beautiful.

It also proves my point about the position of Carol in the film. Ustinov's introduction (done in a way that recalls religious invocation) is more important than Lola herself.

Bill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yojimboen said...

If Cato had been a film critic, he would've ended every review with Death To Smoochy!

mndean said...

404 Not Found. Redo your link.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Since no one else has followed up on the lead, I'll remark that when I last saw "Deep Red" -- in the theater, in a botched American version called "Hatchet Murders" -- I found it fascinating, in a gorgeous and appalling sort of way. The operative phrase, to borrow from Stanwyck in "Stella Dallas," was "stacks of style."

What my memory tells me of "Suspiria" is that it uses Valli better than it does Joan Bennett.

Bill said...

Sorry for the bad link. I deleted the comment and will try this again ...

On the subject of critics and hard times, Roger Ebert had an engaging piece on this:

Death to film critics! Hail to the CelebCult!

In part, he says, "The celebrity culture is infantilizing us. We are being trained not to think. It is not about the disappearance of film critics. We are the canaries. It is about the death of an intelligent and curious, readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically."

mndean said...

Thanks, Bill. Interesting comment by Ebert - I stopped reading newspaper criticism some years back. They did occasionally have a syndicated Ebert review locally, but the local reviewers around here were never very good, and I preferred the SF critics. Now I just go online.

Joel Bocko said...

On the subject of Crowther, I just came across this piece by Andrew Sarris which I thought I'd share - probably somewhat familiar but I hadn't read it before. (It's from his review of Chimes at Midnight):

"In a letter to the Times the producer of Dutchman whined that Crowther had seemed to encourage the project at a preproduction dinner. The producer in question is not the first person in the industry to learn that Crowther cannot be had for a free meal. Ill say that much for Bos. He is not corruptible in the vulgar way most of his detractors suspect. He is affable, urbane, polite, genial, and easy to misunderstand in personal relationships. The industry is full of glad-handers and promoters who claim to have Crowther's ear but who only get the back of his hand when the early editions of The Times hit the stands. This kind of unpredictability is all to Crowther's credit."


Yojimboen said...

While recognizing that Roger Ebert is among the best of contemporary US critics (and we sincerely wish him nothing but good health), his lament IMHO does seem more than a touch disingenuous. Serious film criticism took a steep nose-dive the day he and Gene Siskel inked the deal to put their movie reviews on TV; and agreed, in effect, to distill their own astute analyses, not to a 500-word limit, but to a two-word limit:
“Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down”.

(Curse the darkness by all means, Mr. Ebert, but accept that you played a big part in dousing the candle.)

mndean said...

I don't know that would be totally fair, Yojimboen. The talk shows that critics were on back in the '70s had pretty much died out when Siskel & Ebert came on the air, and it is (and was) a different form than print media. Still it is disingenuous of him to think he didn't have an influence on other media by that style of reviewing.

I blamed such shows as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and other similar pieces of offal for beginning the trend on television toward the worship of celebrity in all parts of culture.

It was interesting in the '60s and '70s to see people on talk shows that were there just because they were interesting and not to hawk a book or film. The people and form died out on TV by the early '80s, killed by celebrity worship. So Ebert's right and wrong both.

The Siren said...

Mrs HWV, you express my feelings about Deep Red perfectly. It is very high-styled. I am not convinced that there was much underneath but somehow it did work for me.

As for Ebert, all I have to do is go back to some of his reviews of the greats to be filled with love for him all over again. What strikes me is that while other critics I read seem to have grown tired of movies, no doubt ground down by all the drek, Ebert somehow still loves them. It endears him to me no end.

mndean said...

Since this post brought up Dieterle (although only as a link), I went and rewatched Jewel Robbery and while doing so realized something. Hollywood never made a really good Arséne Lupin movie, but Jewel Robbery is what a Lupin movie should have looked like (although Powell even then was a little old for Lupin, I can ignore that). The other Lupin movies are okay to mediocre (John Barrymore is fine but again a little old, but it has that Mona Lisa howler and Lionel's Guerchard isn't the sort of man I see in the book, plus the story was altered a great deal IIRC - it's been a number of years since I saw it. The second has to deal with the production code (although there are good Lupin stories that could have been done during the code era, this one isn't very good) and Melvyn Douglas as Lupin is a bad choice - if he and Warren William swapped places it might have been more plausible, as William fits Lupin better physically, but it still wouldn't have made it a good Lupin film. It's more a standard detective cat-and-mouse film with the Lupin name tacked on.