Monday, April 13, 2009

10 Favorite Heretofore Unmentioned Movie Characters

The Siren has been feeling glum. Unable to gather thoughts on dear George. Aweary, aweary. All day within the dreamy house, the doors upon their hinges creak'd (and then slamm'd as the kids stomped in and out) and the Siren said, I got nothin' today. And then over she went to Flickhead's site and found she had been tagged. A meme! Reason to live! Reason to post!

Thanks, Flickhead.

So here's the idea, via The Film Doctor: 10 Favorite Movie Characters. Clearly this is impossible to do in any complete sense--who can do a definitive 10 favorite movies, let alone characters? But you can pick 10 that you particularly love. And so the Siren did.

And for kicks, the Siren decided to borrow a conceit from the spectacular If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Lot of Dead Copycats: The Heretofore Unmentioned. So the Siren is picking characters who have gotten, at most, a mere glancing reference in her posts before. That makes it a bit more sporting.

Here we go. Yodel-ay-ee-hoo, on the comeback trail.

1. Lenore (Eleanor Parker), Scaramouche
Lenore, the smart, resourceful actress, is so much more enjoyable--and beautiful--than simpering Aline (Janet Leigh) that it absolutely kills the Siren when Stewart Granger makes the wrong choice. Wrong, wrong, wrong choice, do you hear me? But Lenore, she'll be all right, as the filmmakers show clearly with a delicious fadeout. Not tonight, Josephine! (The above picture blatantly stolen from Bob Westal's wonderful piece on Scaramouche, and Lenore, at Forward to Yesterday.)

2. Annabella Bonheur (Martha Raye), Monsieur Verdoux. A brief stroll around the Web reveals this is still a love-hate movie. You may put the Siren squarely in the "love" category. She thinks it's a masterpiece. (She has excellent company.) And how very, very sad it is that Martha Raye rings a bell more for her commercial-making, producer-suing, somewhat dotty old age than for this performance. Annabella is a remarkable creation, a character so annoying you start guiltily rooting for the homicidal Verdoux, and yet you also can't get enough of her. One of the few occasions when anyone stole a scene from Charlie Chaplin. Scene, hell, the indestructible Annabella almost walks off with the movie.

3. Laura Partridge (Judy Holliday), The Solid Gold Cadillac. A still-relevant movie about accidental activist Laura Partridge, played by Judy Holliday at her funniest. There aren't many actresses who can send the Siren into fits of giggles just by raising a hand at a shareholder meeting. While this isn't the best movie Holliday made, Laura gets the Siren's vote for Holliday's most "relatable" character, with more native intelligence than Billie Dawn, far more gumption than Gladys Glover and a great deal more feminist edge than husband-shooter Doris Attinger in Adam's Rib. "You're scared of girls," she tells Paul Douglas--how many men in high places still need to be told that?

4. Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell), A Letter to Three Wives. Darnell was usually (mis)cast as a femme fatale, but she never seemed to bare her fangs enough to tear into the type. Despite her fiercely sensual looks, her good-girl qualities remained visible around the edges. So she was perfect casting for this comedy of manners, as a siren from the slums who is seeking not just fortune, but love and ladylike treatment from a boor. In all the many celluloid sex-battles, there are few things as satisfying as watching Darnell count out the beats that will force Paul Douglas to open that car door for her.

5. Mary Smith (Jean Arthur) Easy Living. A character name so dull it could only belong to one of the most appealing screwball heroines ever. Mea culpa, Tonio and others. There isn't enough Jean Arthur on this site. How the Siren treasures this movie, and her favorite moment is pure Jean, delivered in that unforgettable voice: "Now wait just a minute, Santa Claus!"

6. Baines (Ralph Richardson) The Fallen Idol. Richardson is sometimes described as an uneven screen actor, but this performance is absolutely flawless, as is the character of Baines, married to a harridan, in love with Michèle Morgan (but who isn't) and spinning out stories for the lonely little boy in the embassy: "Some lies are just kindness."

7. Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed) The Assassination Bureau, Ltd. An offbeat, flawed movie that is one of the Siren's great guilty pleasures, largely due to Reed's silky performance as the gentleman assassin. Dragomiloff is essentially a Russian James Bond, sexier than Connery in the Siren's heretical opinion, and demonstrating that the Bond role really should have gone to Reed at some point. Dragomiloff is a professional killer, but one with a conscience, a practical nature and great wit. Asked by Diana Rigg to explain why he wants to prevent war, Ivan responds, "How can we charge our sort of prices with everybody happily killing each other for a shilling a day?"

8. Josef Tura (Jack Benny) To Be or Not to Be. If Addison DeWitt is the ultimate critic, surely Joseph Tura is the ultimate actor.

Josef Tura: Someone walked out on me. Tell me, Maria, am I losing my grip?
Maria Tura: Oh, of course not, darling. I'm so sorry.
Josef: But he walked out on me.
Maria: Maybe he didn't feel well. Maybe he had to leave. Maybe he had a sudden heart attack.
Josef: I hope so.
Maria: If he stayed he might have died.
Josef: Maybe he's dead already! Oh, darling, you're so comforting.

9. Max (Jean Gabin) Touchez Pas au Grisbi. Max has an attachment to his criminal buddies that far outstrips any love for a mere woman, even one played by an unbelievably young Jeanne Moreau. Here's when the Siren fell hard for Max: Before an urgently needed talk with Riton, his longtime partner, Max carefully lays out a midnight supper complete with wine, pate and a baguette. Both men tear into the elaborate snack before a word is spoken, making the scene a marvelous little capsule of things to love about the French. They're about to get hammered by a rival gang, but that doesn't mean you can't have wine with dinner.

10. Kasper Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet) The Maltese Falcon. The Siren has seen this movie--well, as many times as most people have, and with each viewing she's more and more convinced that Gutman is the real hero. He's the sex-magnet (Elisha Cook Jr. and Lorre), the real wit ("I distrust a man who says 'when.' If he's got to be careful not to drink too much, it's because he's not to be trusted when he does."), and the real thwarted romantic--ah, Greenstreet's expression as he chips away at lead is the sum total of every man who ever found a cherished love object to be dross. And Gutman is the real knight-errant as well, ready to ride anew at the end: "Well, sir, what do you suggest? We stand here and shed tears and call each other names--or shall we go to Istanbul?" Is the Siren the only one who would far rather know what happens in Istanbul than whether Sam waits for Brigid?


Uncle Gustav said...

Thank you for participating, m'lady.

Eleanor Parker... oh, my, yes. A personal lust issue there...

You may be the first blogger to give props to The Assassination Bureau... bravo!

(Though Reed as Bond would've been disasterous for MI6... I mean, think about it... ~ hic! ~)

And Kaspar is an inspired choice.

Thanx for visiting my blog to find your very reason to live! Glad to be of service!

Greg said...

Great list of characters. I just watched Ralph Richardson in The Fallen Idol on TCM a couple of weeks ago and he was terrific. It was the first time I had seen it and I was more than impressed.

And Kasper Gutman - Great call! He has always been my favorite character in that movie, without a doubt. He's wonderful and I wish Sam hadn't told the cops to pick them up around the corner at the end so there could have been a movie made about Kasper's further adventures seeking out the falcon. Of course, I'm not supposed to encourage sequels to classics as a card-carrying cinephile, but Greenstreet and Lorre globetrotting in a search for the falcon? I would have loved to have seen that.

The Siren said...

Flickhead, I might have known you of all people would be cool enough to appreciate The Assassination Bureau. (If I recall, Kimberly of Cinebeats also likes it.) And if you think about it, Bond is already quite the imbiber...Reed would just dial it up a notch.

Greg, I always assumed that the group got away, once they were past the flatfoots (and the Breen office). The marvelous "Mask of Dimitrios" almost feels a bit like a Falcon sequel, with an Istanbul setting and with Zachary Scott replacing the bird. Wish they'd do a Greenstreet/Lorre boxed set. Even my perennial sparring partner at Big Hollywood, John Nolte, cites them as a favorite all-time screen couple.

X. Trapnel said...


I haven't seen a number of the films here, but yes, Yes , YES to Ralph Richardson's Baines. What I find so affecting in his portrayal is his goodness, that he never betrays his affection and regard for the boy even when his last chance (and what a chance!) at happiness is at stake.

Easy Living is my favorite Jean Arthur film/performance (The More the Merrier is spoiled by the last 20 minutes or so. And by the bulky, charmless, all-too-Republican C. Coburn. It should have been Edward Arnold who had a lightness and precision to his playing that worked wonderfully in comedy. The real romance in Easy Living is between him and Jean A.

The Siren said...

XT, I find The Fallen Idol as great a movie as The Third Man. The expression on Richardson's face when he's admitting to the police chief that the stories he has told little Bobby Henrey are all lies, the lovers meeting in the cafe with an oblivious Henrey, the last scene with Henrey trying to get the policeman's attention...just a beautiful piece of filmmaking with emotional resonance that never leaves you once you've seen it. All three of Reed's great movie (those two, plus Odd Man Out) have that quality.

The Siren said...

Wonderful piece on The Fallen Idol here, from the Guardian.

Yojimboen said...

One of the very few Olly Reeds on my shelf is Assassination Bureau, but it’s not there for him, it’s there for Ms Rigg of course. The fact that my shelves hold copies of all today’s listed titles make me either an incisive cineaste or a pathetic completist who should get out more. A lot more.
Sexier than Sean?? Shay it ain’t sho, Shelf-Shtyled Shiren!

I suppose one either loves Eleanor Parker or doesn’t. To my eye, she was always in that ‘almost’ category with Rhonda Fleming & Arlene Dahl; slightly more interesting than the Gabors, but not by much.
(Not the hair colour, I swear; first girl I loved was a redhead.)
Eleanor was decorative, certainly, but the acting chops virtually negligible; whenever she tries to emote, Detective Story, Interrupted Melody, I have to work hard to stifle a yawn.
“Thank you, we’ll let you know.”

Martha Raye – the only woman in H’wood history with a bigger mouth than Julia Roberts.

Them aside, a superb list!

The Siren said...

I don't know why, but while I certainly like him in certain movies (the previously mentioned Great Train Robbery, the Bonds, The Man Who Would Be King) I never lust for Sean on screen. Maybe it's the speech thing you bring up so, um, delicately. Oliver Reed had a supremely sexy voice.

Y, you don't even like our Eleanor in Caged? And yes to Martha's mouth, but it was a perfect marriage of actress and role. And she was a good egg, performing tirelessly for the troops. She sued the producers of For the Boys claiming it was her life they lifted for the plot.

The Siren said...

Oh, and btw Yojimboen--having seen all ten of these movies is admirable, but not that unusual by the very high standards of my distinguished commenters. But to OWN all of them? The Solid Gold Cadillac AND Touchez pas au grisbi? That's truly remarkable.

Although it wouldn't surprise me if there's more than one here who claim this distinction...

X. Trapnel said...

Yes, literaly, three cheers for Carol Reed. Anyone who imagines that The Third Man is somehow Welles' film (I've heard it said) are not paying attention.


I know what you mean by the "almost" category (I'd include Jennifer Jones). Try Eleanor P. in Of Human Bondage where she gives a good idea of what Ida Lupino (the ideal Mildred) might have been like. But you may feel she's trying too hard.

As far as "big" mouths go, shape and contour are everything. Lilli Palmer's very wide mouth, closed or open, is exquisite.

Yojimboen said...

It gets worse. I was at the producers’ NY screening of For the Boys - when the lights went up at the end, you never saw so many people avoiding each other’s eyes. Fox knew they were in serious trouble well before Martha Raye called her lawyers.
Personally I believe Mark Rydell, Bette Midler and James Caan should each have done about six months hard time for that malodorous insult (not just to American cinematic art, but also) to the USO and the thousands of entertainers who have served throughout the years.

P.S. Doesn't everybody own a copy of Touchez Pas au Grisbi?

P.P.S. Solid Gold Cadillac is my favourite Judy H.

Karen said...

Oh, my love for The Assassination Bureau knows almost no bounds. It is on MY shelf for both Reed AND Rigg.

I'm not sure Our Oliver would have had the legs for Bond in the long-term--think how...portly he'd become by, say, Tommy. But in his day, he fulminated with lust. Tell me that anyone who watches Oliver! can't understand why Nancy stays with her nasty, murderous brute....

So, while I agree with all of your choices, O Siren, I especially agree with that one.

Other characters I love: Marlene Dietrich's Frenchy in Destry Rides Again; Diana Lynn as Rita Wilson's little sister in The Major and the Minor; Jane Russell's Dorothy Shaw in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, because she really gets all the good lines; Penelope Dudley-Ward as the somewhat ditzy but very English daughter in The Demi-Paradise; Laurence Olivier as the very put-upon barrister in The Divorce of Lady X (where Ralph Richardson gets special marks for one of the few drunkard performances I've ever found funny); and, if I may come this far into the modern era, Thuy An Luu as the quirky young Vietnamese thief in Diva.

Oh, and every character ever played by Eve Arden and Roland Young.

Yojimboen said...

And the prize goes to Karen for bringing us full circle with such dazzling subtlety - I'm agog: the above-mentioned Penelope Dudley-Ward, cute as an English button rosebud, retired way too early to marry, wait for it... The director of Third Man and the uncle of Oliver Reed: Sir Carol Reed.
Repeat, I'm agog.

Karen said...

Ooo! I won a prize!!

The Siren said...

Karen, I might have known that you too would appreciate TAB. Telly Savalas is the film's big caveat, in my view--he's too genuinely creepy. Not scary, mind you, creepy. And not to mention the fact that he's about European as Dick Armey.
And Diana Lynn!!! So marvelous in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, too. That woman deserved a bigger career. She was beautiful as well as funny. I wish they would re-release Our Hearts Were Young and Gay and the other one she did with poor Gail Russell.

Y., despite my love for Bette Midler I admit that For the Boys was indeed really, really bad and now that I think about it, the fact that Raye sued at the very thought that someone would associate it with her proved she wasn't really all that dotty.

P.S. Solid Gold Cadillac -- me too. The direction isn't much but she's so, so funny in it and she is a better match with Douglas than with Broderick Crawford. And I saw Pfffft recently and liked Judy in that very much too. For once she wasn't playing dumb or even slightly dim...or dotty.

X. Trapnel said...

"For what shall it profit a woman, if she shall gain her own soul, and lose the whole world"--Max 16:26

It stands to reason that my favorite actress in my favorite film by my favorite director should be my favorite character.
And so--Mme Louise de, for me the most beautiful and heartrending effloresence of a character, of a woman's soul in film. So finely shaded and deepened is Danielle Darrieux's performance, from the lovely wordless opening (pure cinema, and an example of what Truffaut meant when he called Ophuls "the accomplice of women." We are as pleased with her reflection as she is) to the shattering ending in which her presence seems to fill the empty church (more pure cinema, the tolling church bells above the exquisite theme music--did Hitch remember this for the ending of Vertigo?).

Vanwall said...

Excellent list! And bravo! An Assasination Bureau lover, too - I read the book, a rather morbid affair as may be expected, but then I saw Reed's performance and I can't see Dragomiloff any other way. And Ms. Reed, too, a double-dip sundae for me, yay! - and Curd Jürgens, for good measure.

Eleanor Parker gets my votes for alot of her work, but Scaramouche was special - she's a technicolor masterpiece all by herself, and she's the perfect crafty gal out for the main chance, who doesn't let her heart get in the way. It helps that Scaramouche has lottsa sworfights. ;-)

Martha Raye was an excellent thief in a number of roles - Chaplin must've known that - he was giving her a chance, so she took it.

Gabin seemed like he inhabited that part in Touchez Pas au Grisbi, rather than just acted it, and isn't it wonderful that all those French gang and caper films have a bit of the apache about them, and a some wine or food involved? It's like a trip to the bad old Montmartre days on the cheap.

Kasper Gutman - was there ever a more fitting portrayal? - and never a better first role for anyone. Hammett's Fat Man was a huge figure with a slight breathlessness to his voice, gutterally hellish and cozening at the same time. Greenstreet WAS that man - a man who liked to talk to a man who liked to talk, and would throw out his lovers and family for a piece of lead.

Bob Westal said...

Hey, Campuspe -- thanks so much for the shout out and the admission on the picture, which really was my own screencap (a courtesy I rarely extend myself, btw -- though I try not to steal pics from from anyone I know anything about!).

I do have to say that I disagree about Aline being simpering. She's got even more than the usual Janet Leigh spunk/sense of humor...but, then again, everyone is simpering when compared to Lenore, so OK, then.

And Joseph Tura, yes, absolutely.

I saw part of the "The Assasination Bureau" on TV as a teenager and loved...and then I saw the whole thing in a movie theater several years back, and it struck me as a much better idea for a movie, than an actual movie. Too sloppy and unfocused. On the other hand, the acting and characterization of both Reed and Rigg's parts were pretty great. I'd be game for someone good taking another shot at that material (some kind of weird collaboration between Tarentino and Soderbergh would be just about right for it).

I really do need to see "The Fallen Idol"....

And, finally, Yojimboean -- No "love" for the writers of "For the Boys"? I don''t think I've seen more than a minute of it, but I actually knew them in school. One was my TA in a key film school class and, when I asked her to listen to different takes I'd recorded for a narration to see which she thought was funnier, she said to me words to the effect of, "Oh, Bob, don't you know by now I have no sense of humor." Trust me when I say I had no comeback.

Jesús Cortés said...

Ten so good that come now to my mind:
- Barry Fitzgerald in "The quiet man"
- Anthony Quinn in "High wind in Jamaica"
- Paulette Goddard in "Reap the wild wind"
- Kanemon Nakamura in "Ninjo kami fusen"
- (2) Michel(s) Simon(s) in "La vie d´un honnete hômme"
- Aldo Fabrizi in "Vita da cani"
- Margaret O´Sullivan in "The tall T"
- Peter Falk in "Mickey and Nicky"
- Robert Newton in "This happy breed"
- Una O´Connor in "Cluny Brown"

Karen said...

Oh, nice! I would add Charles Boyer in Cluny Brown as well. That may be one of his most engaging performances ever.

Gloria said...

I agree Stewart Granger makes the wrong choice, but Eleanor parker's got one helluva replacement by the end!

Lora Mae is my favourite of the three wives... And I find something strangely endearing in Paul Douglas as the local tycoon, when he tells Linda darnell that their marriage is going to start where other couples need years to get you must admit he's got a point.

Martha Raye... My own favourite moment is her relentless chase of Mischa Auer in Hellzapoppin'

Jesús:"Una O´Connor in "Cluny Brown"
Hum, hurm, hu-hum, hurm, ahem, hum!! ;D

X. Trapnel said...

Robert Newton as Lukey in Odd Man Out. Some have suggested he, shall we say, overplays, or that this episode breaks the mood of the film. Not so; it/he is like a scherzo in a tragic symphony and my favorite portrayal of a failed artist. Just look at the paintings; so bad but so intense and Newton frantically scanning his attempt at greatness and tossing it aside in despair shows all the soul beneath the bluster.

Vanwall said...

Oliver Reed as Jonathan Lute in "I'll Never Forget What's'isname", prolly my favorite of his next to "The Jokers", as it's a film filled with character parts.

Let's face it, Robert Newton's Long John Silver re-defined a whole class of popular character for just about everyone on earth, whether you liked it or not. "AAAARRRHH", that's big boots to fill.

X. Trapnel said...

Philip Vandamm. If not the greates of Hitchcock villains, certainly the most amusing and charming. And Mason makes the most of it, actually stealing scenes from Cary Grant. Impoossible you say?

RT: Suppose I told you I know the exact time and place of your departure.

PV: Would you care to cary my bags?

DavidEhrenstein said...

My favorite movie tough-guy is "Lila" in The Bad and the Beautiful played to perfection and beyond by the immortal Elaine Stewart. Who can forget her decimation of Lana Turner?

You're business. I'm company. . .Oh I saw your picture, Georgia. You were just swell. . ."

She's also fabulous in Don Weis' The Adventures of Haji Baba where she plays the betrothed of shiek who falls for chic thief Jon Derek amidst lush Hoyneguen-Huene art direction while Nat King Cole croons the title tune: "Haji Baba, Haji Baba - always in love, always in love. . ."A true Mac-Mahonist delight!

Karen said...

I'm going to follow up David E's comment by repeating the recognition I posted in the Ioway thread this afternoon--congratulations on your notice in the Grey Lady!

The Siren said...

Jesus, welcome and what an original, eclectic list. I liked A High Wind in Jamaica a lot; come to find out one of the kids was none other than Martin Amis. I also think Ms Goddard is due for a revival. And Cluny Brown -- delicious, and yes Karen, Charles Boyer is also incredibly appealing in it.

Vanwall, hooray for TAB love! And you remind me that Maltese Falcon was Greenstreet's screen debut. He was so good that he was worked as much as possible until his health gave out just a few years later. He makes every film richer for me.

Gloria, indeed I truly believe that the filmmakers just couldn't bear to leave Lenore all damp-eyed and alone. As Bob points out, she will undoubtedly have a much livelier future than Granger with his Aline.

Bob, Leigh is one of those actresses I generally don't much get, although lovely she was. I think you'd love The Fallen Idol.

David, I echo Karen's congratulations! The post-Neal Patrick Harris era -- I like it. Your appearance was a treat although the very need, or even perceived need, for the discussion was dispiriting.

XT, I wanted to have a Mason character and at the moment I can't tell you why I don't. He is my favorite thing in that Hitchcock, even better than Martin Landau, Jessie Royce Landis or Eva Marie Saint's suits.

Tonio Kruger said...

Thanks for the link, Campaspe.

I must confess I'm a fan of The Assassination Bureau, too (I even have the DVD)--though I must admit that I, like Yojimoboen, love it more for Ms. Rigg than for Mr. Reed. (What can I say? The tastes one develops as a teenager tend to die hard.)

And yes, the original To Be or Not to Be was quite good. And not just because it's one of the few American films set in Poland that resists the inevitable cliche of the Polish joke. However, now I'm unable to think of a way to describe the lead character Joseph Tura in a way that would be as poetically apt as your description.

Oh, well.

Anyway, my mind does shudder at the thought of what would be done with the same concept nowadays...

Yojimboen said...

Ah, Jessie Royce Landis... Played Cary Grant's (likely) mother-in-law in To Catch a Thief and his mother in North By Northwest while barely seven years older than him.

It's occurring to me that most of the actors cited above fit that wonderfully unique phenomenon: when they play a part, it stays played; and it becomes virtually impossible to imagine anyone else in that role. viz, Robert Newton or Margaret Rutherford in anything.

(And yes, Eva-Marie Saint's suits were like the Werewolf of London's hair: Perfect.)

X. Trapnel said...


I suggest that one reason you don't have a Mason character is because of the distinction between character and performance. Mason is superb in Odd Man Out, but Johnny McQueen, while sympathetic, is not a terribly interesting character. Likewise, Mason is bigger than his character in Bigger Than Life. Humbert Humbert should have Mason's chance of a lifetime, but the director was such a klutz.
The stern Boyer countenance breaking into mirth is always one of the great sights of cinema, so yes, Adam Belinski in Cluny Brown. And the smile dying can be terrifying or heartbreaking: General Andre de... so much of the greatness of the film lies in how Boyer and Darrieux change and develop under emotional stress, and tragically never make contact.

Karen said...

Speaking of Danielle Darrieux, I would add to my favorite characters list her naive golddigger in The Rage of Paris/

X. Trapnel said...

Oh Karen, Karen! I've been trying to restrain myself on that one: Mlle DD ordering breakfast! Showing up for work at D. Fairbanx' office! Stuck in the window! I am dizzy with adoration, utterly discomposed.

Must I leave this earth without seeing Battement de Coeur? Why do I think that the same self-pleased idiot is sitting on that one as well as The Constant Nymph?

X. Trapnel said...

Tiens! I just spotted Charles Lane in The Rage of Paris!

Yojimboen said...

XT. Let's not start that again!
The other day I high-speeded through a couple of old faves, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife & The Music Man...

Charles Halton and Percy Helton!
They're everywhere, I tell you...

Jesús Cortés said...

Another shot of something: Walter Matthau in the underrated but crazy and magnificent "Goodbye Charlie", Minnelli´s last great piece of comedy. I loved that dialogue when he said "Well...they insited". I remember few movies so funny and "unstoppable"

Karen said...

Oh my gosh, the breakfast ordering scene! Sheer delight. Also, her rush of French as she first greets Louis Hayward.

She was simply delicious in that film.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Merci Karen and Campaspe! Though actually comment and/or analysis IS needed at this point. If only for a minute or two. In ligh of our recent discussions of Billy Wilder, NPH is in many ways an heir to the Jack Lemmon tradition of harried urban male (though he plays a winner rather than a loser.)

I saw Goodbye Charlie on stage with Lauren Bacall. Debbie was game, and Minelli (as usual) was lush, but the edge in Axelrod's play got lost in the translation to the screen. It suggest why he decided to become a director himself.

Arthur S. said...

Judy Holliday has always been one of my favourite actresses, actually the first time I identified with women characters was when I saw BELLS ARE RINGING, an important step for any male teenager in a very macho world. It's her final film and only film in colour and her very best performance and I was totally won over by her wit, her charisma and her unpredictability(there's one scene where she roars and then goes and makes out with Dean Martin that's unbelievable). It's amazing how criminally underrated she is today, especially when she is an incredible talent and a phenomenal actress. And her characters certainly do go unmentioned especially someone as moving and alive as Ella Peterson. By the way, it's the last musical produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Minnelli, essentially the end of the MGM musicals.

Leo McCarey's films are quite unmentioned nowadays except for the ones with Cary Grant(who modelled his elegant persona on McCarey) but his films are filled with rich characters. Charles Laughton in the title role of RUGGLES OF RED GAP, an English butler in the Wild West. And even less well known, GOOD SAM, which is my favourite Christmas film(which is also an anti-Christmas film). Gary Cooper and Ann Sheridan are terrific as Sam and Lucille Clayton perfectly showing the contradictions and the compromises that take place even in "happy marriages" but another great character is William Frawley as my favourite Irish bartender of all time.

THE FALLEN IDOL is a masterpiece by the way, and actually goes further than RASHOMON in conveying the vulnerable nature of human subjectivity, in the way how Ralph Richardson gets cleared for the murder that he's innocent of and how Bobby Henrey nearly gets him into jail because of his well-intentioned but limited testimony.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Judy Holliday was someone very special in the 50's. She scored big in movies but was an enormous Boraday star before that. She is forever linked to Comden & Green as they all wroekd together early on in a nightclub act they called "The Revuers." Bells Are Ringing is their final, and most thorough, collaboration.

Mr. Cukor adored Judy Holliday. In Gavin Lambert's interview book "On Cukor" he cites her special wit with extrmeely subtle physical comedy.

She was Jewish. She was left-wing.And by today's insnae standards she was "fat."

And she was a star.

A whole generation of Americna women looked at her (particularly in The Marrying Kind) and saw themselves.

X. Trapnel said...


Judging by his filmography, Henry Koster (director of R of P) does not seem to have been an overly bright fellow. Even so, it seems he had the good sense to step back and let Danielle happen. The picture never catches up with her. Did American audiences not take to her (COCHONS!) or did she not like Hollywood? I've ordered a copy of her memoirs from France.

M. Yojim,

The Helton/Halton creatures will be the only survivors of a nuclear holocaust and start a new civilization.

Arthur S. said...

A pox on all those who consider this stunningly attractive person(as opposed to the fourth order semiological systems that passes for supermodels today) "fat".

Judy Holliday along with Marilyn Monroe is one of Catherine Deneuve's favourite actresses. Not surprising because they share a slight resemblance especially the shape of their eyes.

George Cukor of course was Scorsese to her DeNiro(and I think she's just as powerful a presence as he) and THE MARRYING KIND is a masterpiece. I think Cukor got better results from her than any other actor he worked with, possible exceptions being Hepburn in SYLVIA SCARLETT and Ronald Colman in A DOUBLE LIFE and also the leads of A STAR IS BORN. And their three films are among Cukor's richest films. My favourite of their collaborations is IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU, which also has Jack Lemmon's debut(he disliked the film because he felt it had a bad title!!!).

Jesús Cortés said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DavidEhrenstein said...

The title that Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin gave it was A Name For Herself. But Harry Cohen changed it.

It's a wonderful, wonderful ovie.

Jesús Cortés said...

Ok with Arthur S. "The marrying kind" is one of Cukor´s masterpieces and Judy was great on it.
I´m a fan (happy few; but happy) of two Cukor´s final features: "Rich and famous" and the marvellous "Love among the ruins", wich is for me one of the most beautiful romantic films of all times.

The Siren said...

Arthur and David, I adore Judy as well and think she's quite stunningly attractive. Nevertheless even back in the supposedly curve-worshipping 50s she occasionally got flak from the studios for her girth--when she was proposed for the play version of Born Yesterday (to replace a balky Jean Arthur), Garson Kanin claims producer Max Gordon responded "That fat Jewish girl from the Revuers?" And the ever-charming Harry Cohn was the one who persistently described the luscious, Czech-blooded Kim Novak as "that fat Polack." No wonder Cohn was so beloved by all. Anyway, impossible female body standards imposed by trollish-looking men have always been part of Hollywood, alas.

Who mentioned Battement de Couer? I yearn for that one as well.

XT & Karen, re: Henry Koster--did either of you ever read The Studio by John Gregory Dunne? Koster makes a heartbreaking cameo in that one, pitching a hopelessly retro Durbin-ish idea to an incredulous Dick Zanuck. In the intro to my edition Dunne confesses that he wished he'd been a little more compassionate in the way he wrote up the incident. But as it stands it's a grim example of Hollywood's attitude toward the formerly successful.

BTW Arthur, McCarey's reputation is very much on the upswing. Dave Kehr, for example, has championed him a great deal, even some later McCarey movies that I am not so crazy about myself.

Arthur S. said...

A NAME FOR HERSELF is indeed a better title than IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU(which I treasure for it's unusual quality). Truffaut wrote a beautiful piece on that film, noting how the film fits in with the American comedy's obsession with what he calls "sanctity" and how her character is an innocent, in that she's innocent of her own materialism and her flaws. We don't approve of all she does and acts but her intents and motives are harmless as opposed to the people who want to use her. That film seems to have influenced the New Wave a lot.

I have always wanted to see LOVE AMONG THE RUINS, Jesus...Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier. But it's made for TV and I don't know if it'll ever come on HOME VIDEO. Gavin Lambert speaks very highly for that in one piece he wrote on Cukor.

DavidEhrenstein said...

TheStudio is a teriffic book. Dunne spent a year at Fox as it was dismantling itsef -- a fact no one was reallyy aware of at the time. The studio system was truly over -- a fact signalled y the making of Hello Dolly! -- the Cleopatra of musicals.

Gene Kelly directed -- r rather co-directed as Streisand got whatever she wanted. Ernest Lehman ( yes that Ernest Lehman) was producer. Roger Edens line producer (it was his very last credit.) And now, thanks to WALL-E -- it's back.

Here's my FaBlog post about it.

X. Trapnel said...


I am he who longs for Battement de Coeur. I have scraped together bits of soundtrack (music by the great Paul Misraki, with two ravishing songs for Danielle to sing [cannot/don't want to get "Au Vent Leger" out of my head]. French film music; It's not just Georges Delerue) and as many stills as I can find. My favorite has DD in pickpocket school (Julien Carette at the next desk!) with a Botticelli smile. I'm planning a series of paintings based on it.

Please, please Criterion people...

Arthur S. said...

But Dave Kehr is part of an older generation who has likely seen his films in the first-run. McCarey's lot is still ignored among younger critics. McCarey has always been a controversial auteurist point-of-contention because of his political stands(which I totally disagree with) but his films are among the richest and most sophisticated you'll ever find in American cinema. So much so that, even a Marxist critic like Robin Wood is a confessed fan.

The other issue I suppose is that he made very few films, certainly odd for someone working in the studio(though today, Woody Allen's super-prolificacy comes off as maddening).

Even if he was conservative, McCarey's films are quite satirical and pointed. Like GOOD SAM is about the impossibility of do-gooding in a consumerist society. Sam Clayton is a good Samaritan, who loves his neighbour but that causes strains in his marriage, his work and even the people he saves despises him. And they all do so for quite understandable reasons. And the ending is worthy of Nathanael West in it's brutality. Good Sam who's a teetotaler all his life, ends up drunk, in bum's clothes and has to be paraded home by the Salvation Army. And all on Christmas!!!

McCarey's MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW is of course legendary - it's admirers include Ford, Welles, Renoir and it was remade as TOKYO MONOGATARI by Yasujiro Ozu. It's out on DVD in France(as is Ruggles) and while it's deeply sad, it's also a subtle comedy and much of the film is indeed hilarious, though the ending is a punch in the gut.

I have yet to see McCarey's most controversial film - MY SON JOHN.

The Siren said...

Oh my David, I had never heard about poor Danny Lockin. I'm speechless. Somehow it all goes back in my mind to your Sunday Styles piece--so much progress, so much further to go...

Hello Dolly is used beautifully in Wall*E. It's a perfect choice, since even when it was made it was like an artifact from another time. I adored Wall*E, it was my favorite movie from last year. I say that as someone who has seen it about 7 times since because her son fell in love with the little robot.

The Siren said...

Hey! Kehr's not that old -- I tried to look up his birthday and apparently he doesn't publish it (the Siren understands that perfectly, Mr. Kehr) but he was in college in the early 70s so I don't think he's old enough to have seen most McCarey in first release. Probably not any, in fact, except maybe Affair to Remember, Rally Round the Flag and Satan Never Sleeps, in which case Kehr's sophisticated viewing tastes started early. Which wouldn't surprise me.

I read somewhere that Ruggles is coming out on Region 1 this summer. Make Way for Tomorrow is still unscheduled but I have hope, because I bought it at a high price in Paris last summer and this usually signals an imminent Region 1 release at a reasonable price point. :D

Anyway, Glenn Kenny also champions McCarey as do a number of other bloggers. Patience, Arthur, I see a revival on the horizon, truly I do.

Jesús Cortés said...

Arthur, there is a DVD for "Love among the ruins". You can find it easily, check this link (double billed with "The African Queen"):

It´s an aussie site, dunno if could play on any DVD player

Arthur S. said...

I hope so, Siren.

Believe it or not, I haven't seen WALL-E in the theatre. I just couldn't make it when it hit theatres in the radius of my habitat. I like some of the PIXAR stuff and I felt RATATOUILLE was unfairly underrated(never in my life did I think I'd see a Proust reference in a children's cartoon).

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'm working on an idea for a book about Los Angeles and the Hollywood that lives within and without it. A major chapter will be about Hello Dolly! whose enormous set dominated the entrance to 20th Century-Fox for years.

I love Michael Kidd's choreogrphy, especially in the "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" number where he inegrates the sky-high Tommy Tune right into the ensemble.

Arthur S. said...

I hope it gets a publisher, David. Books about LA film culture are dime a dozen but they are fascinating when it's done by a real film buff whose interest isn't vulgar gossip.

I came across your piece on LA's British expat community and it was terrific and insightful. Would that be expanded for your book?

Yojimboen said...

I had a friend who worked crew on Cukor’s last film, Rich and Famous. She told me that Cukor had a tendency to doze off on the set, often while the camera was rolling (understandably, the man was 82). When that happened, Candice Bergen and Jacqui Bissett – and the cameraman – didn’t wake George, they just quietly got on with the job.

But Cukor had rehearsed them all very well, so the film turned out okay. Which only proves that George Cukor was a better director asleep than most current ones are awake.

The Siren said...

Y., I loooove that anecdote. I saw Rich and Famous in theaters and at the time I liked it. Worth revisiting, I think.

Gloria said...

Isuspect McCarey's case (and the lack of releases of his films) is a case of the copyright owners keeping their valuable stuff in the vaults (and making it die by forgetfulness). Sometimes I'd like a lot of films to be in the public domain (or sort of) so they could be in the hands of people who loves them and just doesn't think of films as a property.

It is interesting that those DVD releases are Zone-2, French ones: there are old titles owned by Universal which are released in Zone 2 but not in zone 1... Copyright laws must have something to do with it?

The Siren said...

Gloria, Universal is a just a general PITA when it comes to releasing things. Film buffs have been jumping and down and hollering over their miserliness with pre-48 Paramount stuff for ages. They are finally releasing things bit by bit by perhaps the new WB online store will prove the wave of the future, I hope so.

X. Trapnel said...

A question: Do zone 2 DVDs come with English subtitles as a matter of course? (Une Jolie Si Petite Plage with Gerard Philipe has finally come out in France.)

The Siren said...

XT, that would be an emphatic NO, unfortunately. You have to check each disc, in my experience. And the French also don't believe in close-captioning for the hearing impaired, at least not enough to add it very frequently. My French is basically lousy and being able to read captions would help a lot, but no dice, usually.

X. Trapnel said...

Sigh. Why do the French keep testing our love?

Operator_99 said...

I tapped my nose and said "You are tagged." So here is my list of 10 favorite movie characters - in no particular order and missing some 100 or so others. And to go against my "character" I picked all males. :-)

1. Charles Laughton - Sir Wilfrid Robarts in Witness for the Prosecution.

2.John Gielgud - Hobson in Arthur.

3. W.C. Fields - Micawber in David Copperfield.

4. Alastair Sim - Millicent Fritton / Clarence Fritton in The Belles of Saint Trinian's.

5. Dustin Hoffman - Ratso in Midnight Cowboy.

6. Warner Oland - Charlie Chan in all his Chan films.

7. Zero Mostel - Max Bialystock in The Producers.

8. Jimmy Finlayson - the hapless homeowner in Big Business.

9. Louis Calhern - Alonzo D. Emmerich in The Asphalt Jungle.

10. John Garfield - Nick Robey in He Ran All The Way.

Everyone's pick are great.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

When the comments here start cuumulating, my eyes start go glaze over. Forgive me if I've ignored someone else's bon mot ...

"I'm strange, all right! I'll show you just how strange I am!"
-- Oliver Reed to Viveca Linfors in THESE ARE THE DAMNED.

Questions of weight notwithstanding, I think that part of the difference between Reed's appeal and Sean Connery's is that Reed-the-sometimes-werewolf (see his Hammer career) projected "rough trade" and the possibility of anger/violence. An, ahem, specialized taste. (Say no more, say no more.)

I do have fond memories of Rigg in ASSASSINATION BUREAU got up in dressy black and Reed telling her that she looks like she's preparing to seduce a pope.

I also have a special love for the Paul Douglas/Linda Darnell relationship in LETTER TO THREE WIVES. The scene where she gives him the "Thanks for nothing!" reaction to his marriage proposal, his poignant not-knowing-what-do-say "Let's dance!" at the end -- I tell you, is there a more appropriate way to end a comedy? -- it's all gorgeous. Filled, too, with psychological complexity.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

A Passing McCarey Thought.

We all have words that make us grind our teeth in annoyance. For some, it's ersatz critical terms like "bromance." For me, for long stretches of time, it's that goddam word "romcom." (Isn't there a linguistic equivalent to Gresham's Law," whereby bad language drives out good language? If so .. those are two words I'd gladly blame.)

In any case, ther ewas a period when the slightest provocation had me repeating "Every time you use the word 'romcom,' a tear trickles down Leo McCarey's cheek."

Count me as a McCarey fan, please. Anyone responsible for that AWFUL TRUTH scene where Irene Dunne performs "(My Dreams Are) Gone With The Wind" can be forgiven an awful lot.

Karen said...

Apropos of the Siren's cri de coeur on the dearth of pre-'48 Universal material...I just bought TCM's pre-Code box set, which is all Universal. It's a VERY mixed bag: my favorite disk was the 2nd, with Hot Saturday and Torch Singer (sue me, but Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Ricardo Cortez, and David Manners keep Karen a very happy girl indeed).

The first disk had the very curious 1931 remake of The Cheat, with Tallulah Bankhead trailing bits of scenery from her bicuspids (I actually mean that as a compliment; she was magnificent) while Irving Pichel comes through with a truly creepy Japanophile (in a role that was played by genuine Asian Sessua Hayakawa in the original), as well as an odd little film called Merrily We Go to Hell with Frederic March and Sylvia Sidney, who could not save an incredibly unpleasant story.

And, finally, on the third disk, Murder at the Vanities (the only one of the six I'd seen before), which is memorable for its production numbers and the truly staggering level of nakedness in its chorines, and the truly abysmalSearch for Beauty, which is notable for little else than a nice scene in which naked Olympic athletes towel-snap each others' butts in the locker room. Dear lord, the movie's dreadful, though.

Anyway, just a brief report to say that the embargo appears to be lifting--though the sunny spots appear to be quite random, and not based on what most needs to be released...

mndean said...

I saw that Universal set just a week ago and was surprised at what a hodgepodge it was, just from the titles. I'll end up buying it, very reluctantly. The current Universal management just doesn't have the knack to start big in selling their precode wares. Their offerings are almost apologetic in their modesty and lack of either promotion or knack in picking good movies. Think of Forbidden Hollywood, then look at this set and see if there isn't a huge difference in approach. Warner at least picked films that may be light on salacious content but are good films. The problem with Laemmle-era Universal is it wasn't known for precodes unlike Warner, Paramount, and MGM. It's a lot like RKO in that way. If I was them, I would have picked the best and most provocative precodes I owned, but this bunch of clowns had other ideas. In a way, it makes me feel like they're robbing me rather than giving me a good choice.

Yojimboen said...

X. - Just spoke to my Paris conection to start the hunt for Battement; he informs me the last month in Paris, the two main movie channels have run complete festivals of a) Powell and Pressburger, b) Douglas Sirk (incl the German films) and c) Mlle Darrieux her own sweet self (incl Battement de Coeur)!

We're just living in the wrong country is all.

Karen said...

In a way, it makes me feel like they're robbing me rather than giving me a good choice.Well put, mndean. I've been buying the Forbidden Hollywood collections, and have been pleased by the mix of interesting unknowns and the notorious. The Universal collection seems not to have a plan; it's just random. And Search for Beauty? Not even salacious! And I did NOT sign up for Buster Crabbe with my pre-Code, my friends.

mndean said...

Makes me wonder if Universal isn't going the well-trod path of "see, we tried!" when they complain about disappointing sales (because this group of films doesn't deserve good sales). Like putting their "Glamour Collection" films on flippies after flippies were out for anything but cheapo PD collections (and darn few of those, too), then discontinuing them. I smell a setup. Even the Universal-owned films TCM has gotten appear as through an eyedropper. AMC (when they were a real movie station) used to run them all the time.

X. Trapnel said...

Some wag once observed that all of Keats could be boiled down to the idea that though world is full of nice things, it doesn't produce them in sufficient quantity. As a Keatsian, I have learned to grab ("this living hand, now warm and capable of earnest grasping")nice things even when embedded in kitsch and crap, or stuff I don't want: CDs with only 10 minutes of good music, boxed sets with unnecessary duplications or unwanted crud, bad translations of otherwise unavailable literature. Whatever the world arbitrarily provides. Eventually the dross falls away, as Old Ez says it must; one good pre-Code movie outweighs ten bad ones (or as Casper Gutman says "With a dollar of this you can but ten dollars worth of talk"). As for the dollars, its best to follow the wisdom of M. Auer in My Man Godfrey ("Oh, money, money, money...") and live on ketchup for a week.

Yojimboen, thanks for the encouraging news from the Battement front. It seems Rage of Paris is the only (not even Mayerling!) early DD available anywhere. Truth to tell, its not much of a movie, but what a joy to watch La Belle Danielle rev this clanking vehicle up and gaily drive it to Paradise while Koster and Fairbanks cower in the back seat.

Gloria said...

The best DVDition of an Universal film I've seen (Spartacus)... was done by Criterion *Nuff Said*

P.S.: Ironically enough, this was later released in Zone 2 as an "Universal" DVD, Criterion remaining conspucuously unmentioned... A case of getting medals from anyone else's work?

Yojimboen said...

X. – Of the early-to-middle DDs I have Mayerling; and Mauvaise Graine (Bad Seed - 1933) directed by Billy Wilder of all people; The Red and the Black; Chabrol’s Landru; Mankiewicz’s Five Fingers, all the Ophuls of course, and the annoying (but for DD and Dalio) Rich Young and Pretty.
Except for the last one, they’re all – unfortunately – on copy-proof VHS (not that I’d be comfortable even trying to dupe them), so we still have to wait for technology to catch up.
Of the later, I just got Greengage Summer off the shelf for a quick re-view. Mein Gott! At age 44 (lit by Freddie Young) she’s a absolute knockout!

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I'd love to hear your opinion of The Red and the Black which I've been leery of. Stendhal conjured up Darrieux and Philipe in 1830 but he meant them to be directed by the Incomparable Max, not Autant-Lara. Is it the staid Masterpiece Theater excercise I fear?

Greengage Summer, isn't that with Kenneth More? Definitely a guy you want to have around if you're invading Normandy, but otherwise kind of dull. But I'm pledged to watch anything with DD even if her leading man were Bob Cummings, Charles Halton, S.A. Brugh, John Lund, Josef Tura...

Yojimboen said...

Yes, sadly, the Stendahl isn't sparkling, but DD & GP are just both so goddamn pretty to look at, you can watch it with the sound off.

Sondheim's Fredrik Egerman, in A Little Night Music, pondering the best method to seduce his reluctant young bride, puts it best:

Which leaves the suggestive,
But how to proceed?
Although she gets restive,
Perhaps I could read.
In view of her penchant
For something romantic,
De Sade is to trenchant
And Dickens too frantic,
And Stendhal would ruin
The plan of attack,
As there isn't much blue in "The Red and the Black."

X. Trapnel said...

I dunno; I always brush up on Stendhal on the eve of battle. It worked (in the long run) for Daniel Gelin.

Yojimboen said...

P.S. Greengage Summer had a 19-yr-old Susannah York.

X. Trapnel said...

The hell with K. More. I'd invade Normandy with Susannah York anytime and then liberate Danielle.

D Cairns said...

Ollie Reed as Bond, now there's a thought. Instead of Lazenby, paired in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE with Diana Rigg? He would certainly be the most dangerous Bond ever. I mean, stuntmen would wind up in traction. On THE THREE MUSKETEERS his improvisational approach to fighting with real blades (he felt rehearsing would be unmanly) resulted in Christopher Lee getting a rapier in the thigh and Reed himself having his hand pierced. By the end of the shoot only one stuntman would fence with Reed, so it's the same guy in every fight, wearing different beards and wigs.

So, if the producers dismissed Lazenby for being difficult, I can't imagine Reed would have been back for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.

It's a wonderful dream...

Vanwall said...

M Cairns - see "The Jokers" for a quasi-Bond performance from Reed.

Brian Doan said...

Thanks for mentioning Linda Darnell, one of my favorite 30s/40s stars-- it's been awhile since I've seen LETTER TO THREE WIVES, but I smiled at the scene in the car that you described.

And if I didn't already love your blog, your mention of Gabin and TOUCHEZ would've done the trick-- one of my favorite French films! How many gangster films let us see the lead brush his teeth?

Arthur S. said...

I personally think James Fox would be a better replacement. Consider his work in PERFORMANCE, he's tough, likes rough sex and he can be elegant if needed.

I am not at all sure if a tough James Bond is needed. The new one is super tough and as Wim Wenders noted, looks a lot like Vladimir Putin.

And besides Oliver Reed is too working class to pass as an Eton graduate like Bond.

Arthur S. said...

TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI is really a film about growing old, as was Melville's BOB LE FLAMBEUR but the difference was that the Melville film was about going ahead by looking back(nostalgia for Pre-War France is a key undercurrent there) whereas Becker's film is about the loneliness of the days that's left.

It's a deeply sad film. Max realizes as the film goes on that in all his life, he's never had anything that's lasted and his final chance to get out goes up in smoke. He's still alive but that means only a slow steady climb into the big end.

It's considered a special film in France, because the usual complaint about French policiers is that their characters are based more on bad guys in American films rather than how French criminals actually are. Becker's film is about French gangster life.

Gerard Jones said...

So now I have to see The Assassination Bureau....

(Why haven't I, I ask myself? As a lad I was insanely in love with Diana Rigg, and I found Reed frightening and compelling. But those were the days when something had to come on TV at just the right time for me to catch it. By the time movies became a rental and purchasable commodity I suppose I was telling myself I'd "outgrown" my Diana Rigg thing. Silly boy.)

Wonderful list, Campaspe and others. I second Karen on Eve Arden and Roland Young. And very nice to see a vote for McCarey's Awful Truth. The Dunne character in that is without doubt one of my very favorite movie characters. Would probably make a Top 5 if I were that kind of list-maker. And the Bellamy character is close behind. And then there's one of my favorite Grant characters, too, just a tiny bit less fascinating at a character level than his wife and his rival.

X. Trapnel said...

I was always perplexed by the very peculiar (childish-hysterical) gangsters in Quai des Brumes. Do they correspond to any certifiable reality? Figments of Carne's/Prevert's imagination?

Gerard Jones said...

I want to second all recommendations of Dunne's The Studio! His antennae were full a-quiver and his selection of details was better than any I've seen in Hollywood journalism. You can really feel the studio system ending as you read it, not in reflective melancholy (big businesses never die in reflective melancholy) but in a frantic, grinning, back-slapping urgency to believe that Everything Is Going to Be Great.

The hunger to believe that Dr. Dolittle was a great film and would be a giant hit. The desperate fawning over Leslie Bricusse. A great moment with Sonny & Cher being zeroed in on representatives of hip youth. Gene Kelly in a meeting explaining that a movie needs more "pizzazz," then turning to Dunne and patiently explaining, "That's a show business word."

Epic cluelessness, all devoted to driving en masse straight over a cliff. And yet Dunne never has to announce it. He just lines it all up for us to see.

Arthur S. said...

Carne/Prevert's LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS does go into detail in describing street life with a fair deal of authenticity...though I don't think that film is wholly successful at all. Greatly prefer CASQUE D'OR, which deals with French gangsters in the Belle Epoque(and was Renoir's favourite Becker film). Less weighty but not as pretentious as some sections of Carne's film. And it's ten times sadder.

Melville's films are highly stylized in their perspective on criminal life. On one hand the characters and the sensibility of the actors is French but the films are full of references to American films. BOB LE FLAMBEUR is the closest to the real milieu although the plot parodies THE ASPHALT JUNGLE(which for Melville was the best film ever made).

Rivette mentioned in an interview how difficult it was to make films about French cops because they invariably came a cropper against American cops in films which have shaped the media imagery of police world-wide. He said the lone exception was Tavernier in L.627(perhaps the greatest film ever made about police life).

This was at the heart of many New Wave crime films, like Belmondo playing Bogart in BREATHLESS or the two deadly but silly killers in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER. The gangsters were American or American-inspired whether they liked it or not.

Yojimboen said...

I’ve always viewed Trauffaut’s villains in Tirez sur le Pianiste - besides as very funny – as a gentle spoof on Quai des Brumes; a wry and sly nose-thumbing to the masters Carné/Prévert.

I screened Touchez pas au Grisbi last night just for grins. Amazingly, Gabin looks better 16 years older in the 2nd film; completely at ease with himself, secure in his skin. Though I know zip about Jacques Becker’s private life, I swear he’s madly in love with Gabin here. He sets up countless shots where Gabin just walks - through the nightclub, in his apartment, the street - clearly for the joy of simply watching Gabin move.

He walks a lot like Duke Wayne, but infinitely silkier and sexier (at one such walking shot my wife muttered, “Merde! Look at him…”).
Goddam but Grisbi is a helluva movie. Merci, yet again, Madame Sirène, for reminding us all.

Gerard Jones said...

David, I'm VERY much looking forward to your book. For all the books about Hollywood and LA, there aren't enough good ones. Your passion and life experience will bring some real substance to this one.

I first went onto the Fox lot in late '89 or early '90. Had a project in development with one of the executives who'd done Die Hard, which was at that moment sort of Fox's definitive success. (At least around her office it was.) I was struck at how instantly and completely I was immersed in the Hello Dolly set. The parking lot was right up against it and I had to twist along its streets to get to my appointment. And it wasn't just that the structures were still there: the surfaces were painted and maintained as though Dolly had just wrapped. Kept expecting Tommy Tune to go scissoring by.

In one way I liked it: resources devoted to studio continuity, to visual fun over utilitarianism. But there was something eerily sad about it too. Over 20 years later, Fox still didn't want to leave that moment when it had last looked forward to triumph and prosperity. A bit of Miss Haversham.

Arthur S. said...

According to Renoir's autobiography, Becker was a wealthy bon-vivant who loved jazz and fast cars. He was crazy about Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker. Jazz which was a key influence on his films. Renoir said that Becker became interested in films when he saw LA CHIENNE after which he immediately asked Renoir to make him an assistant(Renoir ever eager to employ friends to cut costs, gladly complied). He has a cameo in BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING as a guy who waxes poetry on a park bench. His regular editor was Marguerite Houle(who was Renoir's ex-fiance and editor on his 30s work).

Gabin is indeed splendid in TOUCHEZ..., although my favourite Late Gabin is his turn in FRENCH CANCAN. Little known fact about him is that he was actually a music-hall song-and-dance man before he turned to acting where he invariably played gangsters and tough guys. Not unlike James Cagney. So CANCAN is his FOOTLIGHT PARADE + YANKEE DOODLE DANDY + LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, only better.

Especially that final scene where after doing everything hook and crook to get the show off track he sits in the backstage and hears it in the bliss of solitude. The opposite of a way. That's about the sadness, this is about the private happiness.

The Siren said...

Arthur, aside from being wrongwrongwrong about Les Enfants (I say that with all due affection) I am loving your comments on Grisbi and Gabin; yes, it is a very melancholy movie. There aren't many gangster films you can genuinely describe as "elegiac" but Grisbi and Casque d'Or both qualify, to my mind.

And this discussion makes me realize my really big omission was Louis Jouvet in Quai des Orfevres. To me, an extremely French cop and one of the most lovable ever, due to his beautifully portrayed affection for his small son. Dadgum it.

Arthur S. said...

Forgot about Quai des Orfevres!!! That's a really splendid film. Perhaps Clouzot's best(alongside Le Corbeau) and Louis Jouvet is stunning. I got to see Chabrol's AU COEUR DE MENSONGE last week and that has a similar role to Jouvet's, only here it's a lady inspecter played by Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi. She's a devoted single mother who is very compassionate but also tough as nails in her work and deeply committed to her job despite the messiness that is de rigeur of policework. And she plays it wholly not seperating into neat blocks. A very distinct and totally French policewoman.

The gangster film has a tradition of dealing with old-age. Think of Cagney in THE ROARING TWENTIES but the key film that started was HIGH SIERRA by Raoul Walsh, with Bogart playing the part of Roy Earle(or Roi Leare, ergo King Lear) complete with gray hairs and that discussion with his old partner in crime on his death bed, there's a strong note of elegy in that film, though Earle gets a tragic death that is beyond the drab reality of Max's. Then Huston's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE(with Calhern and Sam Jaffe).

There must be many others that others can catalogue. Other later examples is POINT BLANK, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYNE(coming soon on Criterion), MIKEY AND NICKY.

X. Trapnel said...

Arthur, thanks for mentioning that great scene in High Sierra. There are similar scenes of quiet emotional or domestic exchange/ subtle wordless looks throughout Raoul Walsh's work. This from the greatest [IMO] action director of all time.

Yojimboen said...

I once met an old wrangler who’d worked with them all, Hawks, Ford, Walsh et al; he said Walsh was the strangest of the dozens of directors he’d known. Raoul would get the camera rolling, call ‘action’ then, often as not, turn and walk away and light a cigarette. When the AD called ‘cut’, Walsh would come back, ask the DP and the actors if the take was ok. If they said yes, Walsh would say fine then move on to the next set-up.
You get the feeling old Raoul would tell you in no uncertain terms where to stuff your video playback?

(P.S. How RW affected my private life: I had a girlfriend once who was a little huffy at times, stand-offish. In hommage to Raoul I used to call her ‘My Distant Strumpet’.) Sorry.

D Cairns said...

To harp on about Oliver Reed as Bond -- he wasn't exactly working class, being the nephew of Carol Reed. He could PLAY working class, but his true accent is quite middle.

As for The Jokers, I saw it years ago and quite enjoyed it. The pairing with Michael Crawford (circling back to Hello Dolly!) is odd but interesting. Yet every Michael Winner film has some moment/s when the director's obnoxiousness intrudes.

Yojimboen said...

"...every Michael Winner film has some moment/s when the director's obnoxiousness intrudes."

Hear hear. Winner never made any effort to conceal his pride at being called 'Der Fuhrer' by film crews on both sides of the Atlantic.

Gerard Jones said...

Special prize to X for spotting Charles Lane. When I was a kid we used to yell "beetle" whenever we'd see a Volkswagen. Should be something to yell for CL spottings. "Levison" maybe.

Crime movies were especially effective at dealing with age as it revealed the ephemerality of success and power. A lot of stories about gangsters and criminals, not necessarily physically old but of a previous generation, going away to the big house and coming back to find the game changed, their turf usurped. Or the variant that The Killers and Out of the Past explore: it looks as though everyone has moved on, settled down, or at least should have. But there's something unsettled, and they are unable to let it go, and it destroys them. A bit of Lear in that, the inability of the ever-weakening individual either to attain what's most wanted or to endure the strain of trying to get it.

I suspect it was a theme that spoke very strongly to the writers, directors, producers and executives who had risen in the ferocious competition of the '20s and '30s and found themselves in power but no securely so, the young turks rising to supplant them. I think the end of World War II, the generation that had been safely locked up in the military suddenly being released back into the work world, must have stirred up a lot of those fears.

Gerard Jones said...

Just thought of another terrific list we should do: the ten greatest characters played by Bob Cummings.

Yojimboen said...

Dan Pierce in The Carpetbaggers is about all that springs to mind. It is the weasliest of the weasels which seemed to be his stock in trade.

I think I first saw our Bob in Lucky Me where he was the romantic lead opposite Doris Day (also I think my first view of Cinemascope).
I remember being very confused (this was in the UK), and wondering what the secret was that I wasn't in on. I mean clearly the man had no appeal whatsoever; not really handsome, no evident skills at either drama or comedy and yet, and yet, he was an American movie star.

It was a great mystery in my youth; sort of like Nicolas Cage today.

(If someone could explain either of these two people to me, I'd be enormously grateful. Seriously.)

But a list? I'll wager if any of the group can even recall ten roles by Bob Cummings (sans the use of IMDb), I'll eat my head.

mndean said...

I can't remember ANY Bob Cummings performance in a movie. Not even Saboteur. Maybe my mind is protecting itself from madness. It's sort of like Eddie Fisher. I know he was in movies I've seen, but I'll be damned if I can remember him being in them.

Apropos of nothing, I'm beginning to think Ann Sothern was a pod person. Every movie I see her in (after RKO, where she seemed pretty and engaging but lacking something), she seems to mimic other actresses (even apart from Maisie/Blondell). Her gift is that she does it quite well, but it is a strange gift indeed.

Gerard Jones said...

My favorite Bob Cummings role is when he plays that oily guy who's supposed to be know, that guy everybody else reacts to as if he were funny and lovable, but he's really nothing but a smarmy grin...and he's way too old for the know the one I mean...

A character who astonished me when I first saw him and who I still can't believe is as vivid and fascinating as he is: Warren William's role, the department store boss, in Employees Entrance. In some ways he's a lot like other hard-bitten bosses in early '30s movies, but strange wrinkles keep showing up. His tenderness with Loretta that never quite overcomes his predatory drive. And the scene when he challenges that guy to shoot him! Oh, but they were bold for a while there.

rudyfan1926 said...

The Assasination Bureau, guilty pleasure or not, it is a top 20 film for me (and residing clearing in the first 10 for me). A delightful film, flawed or not. Brava for mentioning it.

X. Trapnel said...

Gerard, thank you, thank you so much, thank you--for this wonderful (pause). First I'd like to thank my family...
Actually, it was a virtuoso spotting 1. Because Danielle Darrieux (won't somebody please stop me) or her afterimage (I'll take what I can get) was in the frame, and 2. CL is seen very briefly and dimly in the background with a lot of other people. IMDB confirmed his presence.

Memorable/sympathetic Bob Cummings? As tall an order as m/s Warner Baxter, John Boles, S.A. Brugh, or George Brent. Nevertheless I submit he was perfectly acceptable in a Twilight Zone episode (no laff track) in which he plays the only survivor of a B-25 bomber that's crashed in the desert (the TZ shtick is that there's no sign of the crew dead or alive.)

Joel McCrea should have been in Saboteur and Kings Row.

Warren William, he was really good (especially in Lady for a Day). I wonder why he faded after the early 30s.

Goose said...

This is my first entry, kindly indulge me.

XT, Joel McCrea would be ideal for Sabateur. I'm not so sure about Kings Row - he could have pulled it off, but his forthrightness could make the character too forceful. I like the idea of Sam Wood's first choice, Henry Fonda.

The role McCrea really should have done was Shane. In addition to his strength in the physical end of things, he would have great chemistry with Jean Arthur and Brandon DeWilde.

Yojimboen said...

...Because Danielle Darrieux (won't somebody please stop me)...

How's this: DD in BdC is found. Crappy image, no titles, but watchable.

Okay, you can stop now. We'll talk.

X. Trapnel said...

Goose, I had no idea about Fonda. Yes, he would have been splendid.

Yojimboen, you ain't funnin' me, now are you?

mndean said...

Re: Warren William - because being a bastard does not a career make, and he wasn't lovable like William Powell? I don't think I dislike WW in anything I see, even when he overdoes it in Satan Met A Lady. In any case I'd rather watch him than George Brent anytime. Seeing George Brent being romantic, I wonder why ladies in the audience weren't checking their watches. He may have been something IRL, but it sure doesn't transfer to the screen.

Yojimboen said...

X - Nope.

Email our hostess.

X. Trapnel said...

Well then, by gad sir, let's talk. I'll tell you right off I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.

Vanwall said...

M X - I bet you couldn't say that out loud without doing your best Greenstreet.

X. Trapnel said...

Fact is, despite being a thin, elongated Mischa Auer type, I do an excellent Greenstreet. My specialty, though, is Charles Boyer's eyebrows.

Gloria said...

Relating DD, I just learned she's been in a recent France2/TVC co-production... as it happens, you can watch it here ( the first chapter, the second one is available, too ). For what I see, she plays a fashion designer, formerly a (Spanish) war refugee (sorry, dubbed version with no subtitles).

Relating old Paramounts and DVD, I just got this on an online discussion over the impending Criterion release of "Benjamin Button" "That said, it's entirely possible that the Button release could be a contractual thing with Paramount that Criterion has agreed to in exchange for rights to some archive titles. They've put out some other Par titles over the last year or so, and I'm guessing they've got a deal going on with Criterion the way Universal has done in the past... Hum I hope this guy is right about this... Old Paramounts released by Criterion: that would be one dream come true!

X. Trapnel said...

Gloria, thanks so much the DD (she looks amazing) link.