Tuesday, September 01, 2009

"They told me of your victories, but not of the price you paid."

For Glenn, who knows my taste too well...but then perhaps, so does the entire film blogosphere at this point.

The Siren will be back shortly.


X. Trapnel said...

Too mentally wilted at the moment to attempt to log in to Glenn Kenny's site, but I'm guessing the Robbe-Grillet film in question is Glissements Progressifs du Plaisir. Has anyone here ever seen it?

I recall an anecdote of two British soldiers spotting Olivier in the mess hall (some time during the latter's Fleet Air Arm time). One says, "Look! There's the chap who played Nelson!" The other looks and says, "Nonsense; doesn't look a bit like Nelson."

Actually James Mason looked a lot like Nelson.

Vanwall said...

"Kiss me, Hardy!"

Oops, wrong scene.

Yojimboen said...

"...but I'm guessing the Robbe-Grillet film in question is Glissements Progressifs du Plaisir. Has anyone here ever seen it?"

I watch it at least once a week.
But that's just me.

X. Trapnel said...

I haven't seen Lady Hamilton in ages. Does it include Emma doing her "Attitudes"? (I always thought this frightfully funny; why didn't they just rent a movie?)Does George Romney (the painter, not the progenitor of MITT) put in an appearance?

Y, I'm impressed. I've always thought of GPdP as more rumor than fact; is this the one with all the nuns, red paint, and other, more interesting properties?

Goose said...

That Hamilton Woman is very underrated. It is liitle noted for its place as a High Romantic film. Leigh and Olivier generate tremendous ardor (no surprise) and the photography by Rudolph Mate is voluptuously sensual.

I look forward to seeing it again.

Yojimboen said...

Yep, that one.

I've never been quite able to tell whether Robbe-Grillet is a towering intellectual or a dirty old man. Or both.

I need to look at his films a few more times to decide. Can I get back to you?

X. Trapnel said...

Y, yes, but don't overdo it; and please do leave us a spoonful of Mlle. Alvina.

The Siren said...

Goose, I agree completely. I loved Olivier as Nelson, even if he didn't look a thing like him (:D). And Vivien Leigh was at the very peak of her beauty, even more so than as Scarlett. It's out from Criterion so I presume that's why Glenn is teasing me with it.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Welcome back. Hope you had a good time in Paris with the family.

Karen said...

"Now I have kissed you in two centuries."

"There is no then; there is no after."


I LOVE this movie.

This past weekend, an old friend was visiting me from out of town and I took her to the Frick. We spent a good bit of time in front of the portrait of Emma, so that I could tell her the entire story--most of my knowledge of which is based on That Hamilton Woman. I did buy a biography of Nelson once, but learning that Emma was rather vulgar and that Nelson's vanity in insisting on wearing all his cheesy orders on deck may well have led to his getting shot at Trafalgar rather dimmed my movie-induced glow. So I gave it away.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen, Nelson was my boyhood hero; there was a lot more to him than vanity. He was the Keats of admirals. And we must be cautious about the word "vulgar" in early 19th century usage.


Viscount Nelson's lavish funeral,
While the mob milled and yelled about St Paul's,
A General chatted with an Admiral:

'One of your Colleagues, Sir, remarked today
That Nelson's exit, though to be lamented,
Falls not inopportunely, in its way.'

'He was a thorn in our flesh,' came the reply---
'The most bird-witted, unaccountable,
Odd little runt that ever I did spy.

'One arm, one peeper, vain as Pretty Poll,
A meddler, too, in foreign politics
And gave his heart in pawn to a plain moll.

'He would dare lecture us Sea Lords, and then
Would treat his ratings as though men of honour
And play at leap-frog with his midshipmen!

'We tried to box him down, but up he popped,
And when he'd banged Napoleon at the Nile
Became too much the hero to be dropped.

'You've heard that Copenhagen "blind eye" story?
We'd tied him to Nurse Parker's apron-strings---
By G---d, he snipped them through and snatched the glory!'

'Yet,' cried the General, 'six-and-twenty sail
Captured or sunk by him off Trafalgar--
That writes a handsome finis to the tale.'

'Handsome enough. The seas are England's now.
That fellow's foibles need no longer plague us.
He died most creditably, I'll allow.'

'And, Sir, the secret of his victories?'
'By his unServicelike, familiar ways, Sir,
He made the whole Fleet love him, damn his eyes!'

--Robert Graves

DavidEhrenstein said...

"And what ame then? And what came after?"

"There was no then. There was no after"

The Perfect Ending to Winston Churchill's favoirte movie.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Glissements is a masterpiece.

Yojimboen said...

(First, welcome back, dear lady, we missed you.)

Thanks for the Graves, X, hadn’t read it in donkeys.

Growing up Brit gives one a slightly different slant on things Nelsonian – the only popular mystery being how the hell he got up there on that column. (Sorry.)

That Hamilton Woman – the “doxy of doxies” – was a somewhat sad case, a natural beauty of humble birth passed around among the gentry as a pretty plaything until she lucked into an aging peer who married her. When she fell in love with Nelson he was missing an arm, an eye, most of his teeth and was probably tubercular – hardly the stuff of romance.

The reputation and success of the film owed as much to the scandal of Nelson and Emma living openly in sin as to the lead actors having done the same (inspired casting by Alex Korda).

Lastly, Graves’s line “And play at leap-frog with his midshipmen!” is a not-so-sly dig at certain ‘unnatural practices’ aboard ships of the line. So let’s not even discuss “Kiss me, Hardy.”

The Siren said...

Y., what little I have read about Hamilton & Nelson serves to confirm your sketch. I have to say that Emma is one of the few old-time beauties who still strikes one as dazzling when viewed in the old portraits--Romney did her proud.

I am fine with the liberties taken in That Hamilton Woman (or Lady Hamilton as I guess you Brits call it!) especially since they are taken in the name of such high romance. Olivier and Leigh cast a pure-gold glow even at this distance in time.

But it's always an interesting question as to where you draw the line with a movie's historical revisions. And we all do have a point where we throw up our hands and screech "Oh come ON now." The Tarantino now in theaters seems to have pushed the line to the snapping point, which is part of why I want to see it.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I didn't pick that up about leap frog (though I did get the bit about rear admirals in Mansfield Park).

Herewith some favorite lines from Louis MacNeice, though the Nelson pillar here is the Dublin one the IRA nasties blew up:

Grey brick upon brick,
Declamatory bronze
On sombre pedestals--
O'Connell, Grattan, Moore--
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
and the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, welcome back. My favorite Emma by Romney is the one with her at the spinning wheel. Methinks it is like Lovely Joan.

Yojimboen said...

I'd never seen these.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I've seen them but said nothing as I fear the images on the right might put painters out of business.

Actually Romney's not that good. Now, if only Gainsborough...

The Siren said...

XT, I know Romney isn't in the same league as Gainsborough but the Emma portraits are, in my mind, all about the sitter.

I've seen the Leigh/Romney shots too and have to agree with you though...Vivien's beauty was not of this world. When she was being born in India the midwife told her mother to turn toward Kachenjunga Mtn. just before the birth to ensure her child's perfection of face. Of course we are above such silly superstitions but it is hard to argue with results like that.

X. Trapnel said...

No question Emma inspired Romney to outdo himself. I think his protraits of her are superior to those of Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun (the better painter of the two). If I recall rightly hers represented some of the Attitudes:

Sir William: "The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes..." (flourish on the clavichord. Emma strikes pose.)
Guests(mumuring): "Exquisite" "Charment"

Karen said...

Oh, the Romney/Leigh pairs are magnificent! I didn't know of them, so thanks so much for linking to them, Yojimboen. And, yes, X, Vivien Leigh's beauty was such to drive men far madder even than Emma's.

That Flickr set also includes a shot from one of my favorite scenes, Emma and Nelson in the tavern, even though it does include the rather hammily-delivered line, "And this is Nelson...in love." Still, just to see those two together at the height of their beauty! Yes, Yojimboen, it was inspired casting.

I've always preferred Olivier in melodramas/romances such as this, or comedies such as The Divorce of Lady X (his comic timing was superb), as opposed to his Shakespeare, which tends to seem over the top to me. Perhaps I am merely a modern creature, however, who prefers her Shakespeare spoken rather than declaimed.

X. Trapnel said...

Olivier's Shakespeare was very modern in its day but that's the way it always is with Mr. W.S. I wish Olivier had done some of the comedies and a Henry IV pt. 1 with Richardson as Falstaff. I wonder if the Jonathan miller-directed Merchant of Venice has ever made it to DVD (perhaps it could be part of a Jewish set with Boys from Brzail and The Jazz Singer. Oy).

Vanwall said...

Royal Navy = "Rum, buggery, and the lash," so sayeth Sir Winston, but then again, he did a stint as First Lord of the Admiralty, furthering Lightning Jackie's ideas until a real shooting war broke out, so he's a collateral Jolly Jack Tar, and mebbe knew a thing or two about wooden ships and iron men. If you ever get a chance to see the actual HMS Victory, Nelson's fatal command, do so - it's a frikkin' awesomely gigantic wooden thing. Easy to imagine those deadly 6 ft splinters peeling off from a carronade hit, brrrr.

Olivier never seemed like he had sea legs, a bit of a dry-side walk to 'im, as they say on the Bonny Dick. It was a quintessential wartime historical propaganda film, but one of the best, just for the leads. Costume dramas and Olivier seem to have been made for each other, and I like the clothes in this one, as both he and Viv could wear them and not look like moderns.

Ended better than Monty Python's version, too.

Yojimboen said...

"I wonder if the Jonathan Miller-directed Merchant of Venice has ever made it to DVD..."

Sorry, I don't have this one, X., but, like anything or anybody, it can be bought. Here.

X. Trapnel said...

V, don't you think Jacky Fisher looked a bit like Peter Lorre?

Vanwall said...

M. X - Most certainly, except for hair. A man of extremes, much like Nelson, altho he went to Outrageous lengths, to say nothing of Uproarious, or even Spurious.

X. Trapnel said...

One thing I like about Fisher was his requirement that officers be good dancers. Can't imagine old Tirpitz of the two-pronged beard insisting on that.

Vanwall said...

All British officers back then were of the gentlemanly class, and like Nelson, were expected to travel the globe and be adaptable for all situations. From Raffles to a dive in Tierra del Fuego - the Royal Navy was the class act. The Kreigsmarine was more of a German Pond puddle ducks navy, not really made for long voyages and lengthy tours, except for the WWI cruiser Korvettenkapitäns, like the SMS Emden's von Müller, who would sail to hell & back, and in a gentlemanly fashion.

Nelson was not a conventional person in important ways, and was one of the early popular culture celebrities, bigger than life and charismatic to more than the swabbies - "the breakdown of society" was feared, but who else could get away a very public affair? If there'd been films back then, I daresay he'd've been using that medium as well.

X. Trapnel said...

V, you must admit that Felix Count von Luckner, for all his being Kriegsmarine, was a pretty classy guy. I once saw a photo of him standing next to George Gershwin of all people. I would love to hear your thoughts regarding the doomed expedition (1905) of the Russian fleet and its destruction in the straits of Tsushima, but I fear that would be drifting (or sailing) too far off topic. It would make a great movie for sure.

Buttermilk Sky said...

"We're an unhappy breed,
And very bored indeed
When reminded of something that
Nelson said,
So while the press and the politicians nag, nag, nag,
We'll wait until we drop down dead."

--Noel Coward, "There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner"

Vanwall said...

There was only one von Luckner - he'd be worth a movie all by hisself. Few people have lived such a full life.

The Russo-Japanese war was nicely done in "Reilly, Ace of Spies", but I'm surprised the Japanese haven't done a Tsushima film already. All that model work experience, or hell, the Mikasa, Togo's old warhorse, is still around! I'll just say the Imperial Japanese navy was effectively an arm of the Royal Navy, trained & equipped by the Brits, pretty much, so Fleet Actions were like the life's blood of the RN and it's progeny, while the Russians were as much a floating Potemkin Village as they were a battle fleet.

X. Trapnel said...

Luckner was also an accomplished magician

Gloria said...

"Kiss me, Hardy"

"And now you, Laurel"

Karen: "...who prefers her Shakespeare spoken rather than declaimed"

Charles Laughton, who personally found the declamatory style a bit too nineteenth-centuryish for its own good, attempted to do the verse in a more "spoken" manner in the Shakespeare plays he did during his 1933-34 Old Vic season. Such attack against tradition wasn't gently treated by most critics, as well as those who were stuffy about "A Hollywood Star" "invading" a sacred ground (even if CL, at that time, had only been in a few American films, and only in the lead in part of them). So...

...Don't I larf and larf when I read about Kevin Spacey treading the aforementioned sacred grounds nowadays. In this sense, I guess that times have changed for the better.

Vanvall: ".All British officers back then were of the gentlemanly class"

William Bligh was one of the exceptions... I wonder if the bum rap he's got through the time lies in the fact that he didn't pertain to the gentry (Hum... Did his arguments with the gentleman Christian start when Fletcher objected to the way Bligh sipped his soup?)

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

Gloria, I shaded my comments some when I spoke of gentlemenly officers - Bligh was most certainly gentrified, tho, and even if not of the London upper class model, he was a gentleman boy sailor, middy, and on through the ranks, actually on a fast track as promising commander. It's not like he was press-ganged out of a penny-hang in a Cornwall mudhole, and rose thru his skills. He was astern of Nelson at Copenhagen, prolly the lightning-rod action of Nelson's reputation, and had the guts of a burgler - to say nothing of his nav skills, the man was a compleat sailor. He lacked Nelson's unconventional thought, and most certainly his charisma. It's ironic, after the Breeze at Spithead, and Nore, where Bligh was a commander, he was beloved by his crew. A stickler for form, too bad he prolly corrected Christian's manners once too often at the captain's table.

I have a feeling Laughton could've done by Bligh much better than the scripting allowed for.

Yojimboen said...

I thought Hopkins did Bligh proud in the Robert Bolt/Roger Donaldson version.

Gloria said...

Still, I've read that Cook's death kept him from rising more quickly in rank: Cook was aware of Bligh talents and had he survived his visit to Hawaii, Bligh would have become a lieutenant sooner than he did.

As for Laughton's 1936 performance, I feel people tends to forget his scenes in the boat to Timor, where he showed the other side of Bligh.His Bligh in this part of the story seems more strong-willed and capable of leader ship. the 1936 Bligh is a man capable of beating the Elements, while in the 1984 version you have the impression that Bligh's really, really lucky to find Timor in his wandering.

Considering that CL had a very short time to shoot his scenes & work on the character (he was due to return to Britain in a short time to work with Korda), I think his was a pretty good job (but then I admit I'm quite partial in this regard, he)

The Siren said...

I love Laughton's Bligh. The 1984 version was was probably truer to the historical record, darker, longer, had more consistent performances from the supporting cast AND it was about 1/10 as much fun. Hopkins was good, quite good, but I missed the hell out of Laughton.

"You're sending me to my doom, eh? Well, you're wrong, Christian! I'll take this boat, as she floats, to England if I must. I'll live to see ye - all of ye - hanging from the highest yardarm in the British fleet!"

I guess I share Gloria's partiality. :D

Vanwall said...

Oh, agreed about Laughton's Bligh being the more interesting of any of them. The movie was a Clark Gable vehicle, no arguments, and was written so that Laughton must've worked hard to put more into that character than they intended - the film is certainly more remembered for Laughton, than Gable - a nifty triumph.

Gloria said...

Vanvall, yes, I believe that Gable was meant to be the star from the beginning, as Laughton was the second (or third) actor considered to play Bligh, Wallace Beery being the first choice.

Beery as Bligh suggests that Thalberg may have been planning to repeat the success of China Seas, and I wonder what film could it have been with Beery... Probably a good film as well, but, you know... different.

At any rate, Jean Harlow Would have been one helluva midshipwoman

The Siren said...

Gloria, I think Beery would have tilted the whole movie too far in the direction of the States. Gable was about as British as the Dallas Cowboys, but Laughton kept the Englishness plausible. Beery, though he was great at playing heavies, wouldn't have had the same effect at all.

Given the attitude toward casting Pacific Islanders that prevailed for years--just throw a sarong on Gene Tierney and have her talk gibberish--I am rather surprised no one tried to cast Jean Harlow as Maimiti: "I've told you a million times not to talk to me when I'm doing my lashes."

Vanwall said...

Speaking of prevailing attitudes, not then but almost now!!! - that ultimately detestable ending to "Joe Versus the Volcano" from 1990, has an excruciatingly bad version of that kind of outrageously stupid Pacific Islander shtick - I couldn't hardly stand it in the theater. It's too bad they hung such an odious premise for the plot, the movie should've had some other kind of ultimate peril if those involved had any sensibilities. If that had been another minority, there would've been riots.

Yojimboen said...

With the utmost respect, dear lady, the “1/10th as much fun” is clearly a distaff analysis. The view from over here in the corner with the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers is that that fraction is undercut, not to say directly reversed, by a mathematical formula based solely on the totality of square inches of dusky-maiden skin revealed. In that light, the 1984 version wins the Palm d’Coconut by a country kilometer.

Your analogy of a sarong-clad Gene Tierney (“and what’s sa-rong with that?”) is perfectly taken – but where would the careers of the Misses Crawford, Tierney, Del Rio, Lamour, and even Loy be without those sultrily pouting parts?

(Semi-famous story: Up there on the stage a Joan Crawford wannabe says for the umpteenth time, “Tandalaya love Bwana… Tandalaya stay! Meanwhile in the darkened theater Robert Benchley quietly vacates his aisle seat and, as he tip-toes toward the exit, is heard to mutter, “Tandalaya stay? Bobby go.”)

Lastly, where are the props for the 1916 version; and Errol Flynn’s 1933 portrayal of his (ironically enough) direct forebear Fletcher Christian? And how about Lewis Milestone’s 1962 effort?
Yes, how about that? Second thoughts, forget I asked.

Vanwall said...

Wasn't it Hedy Lamarr was Tondelayo?

Yojimboen said...

"That's Hedley Lamarr! Hedley!!"

gmoke said...

I also remember Nelson as a character in the Tyrone Power vehicle "Lloyds of London>"

The Siren said...

Gmoke, Julian Barnes has a wonderful little exegesis of "Lloyd's of London" in "The Deficit Millionaires," his brilliant essay on the Lloyd's meltdown of the early 1990s. As I recall, as a boy hero and his pal, Horatio (eyebrows rise--yes, that Horatio) come upon a plot to scuttle a ship. Freddie Bartholomew goes off to warn the gents at the coffee house but Horatio has to go off to naval school and then of course it's a straight shot to Emma and the column in Trafalgar...
'Sokay though, Freddie grows into Tyrone Power which is reward enough.

And George Sanders is wonderful in the movie. :)

X. Trapnel said...

V, since you're the authority around here on naval ordnance and related matters, what's all this business about Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil (Bad Boy of Music) inventing a radio-guided torpedo?

Julian Barnes is also a Gene Tierney fan, bless him.

Karen said...

While Laughton IS the reason folks remember the 1936 Bounty, despite it being a Gable vehicle, I've got to say that Gable is TREMENDOUS as Fletcher Christian. He was still really tearing up the screen back then, and not so much cruising on his charm and reputation. (Or, perhaps, not yet in long-term mourning for Lombard; whatever, I love him but he lost his spark in later years.)

X. Trapnel said...

No question Gable of all the great 30s stars was the first to go into sad and steady decline; some of the blame must go to MGM. Gable's natural home was Warner Bros. Mutiny on the Bounty is an enjoyable enough film, but imagine it with Curtiz at the helm. It's a shame that by the time Gable got together with Raoul Walsh they were both pretty much clapped out.

Vanwall said...

A coupla observations:

Mutiny on the Bounty

The Laughton version, (yes, I think of it that way!!), among others, is based on Nordhoff and Hall's fictionalized version of the mutiny, and it's much less nuanced than the actual events - Bligh was more villainized in the book, and Christian more of a hero than the actual happenings suggest.
Laughton was playing the book's Bligh to the hilt, and Gable was the noble sufferer, unfortunately not as memorably. It's useless to set the record straight, for historical, or Gable purposes - Laughton defined the Mutiny as his own.

As to Hedy Lamarr -

(I knew M. Yo couldn't resist that Hedley line!) She learned much at her Nazi-loving husband's elbow, everyone assuming she was just a piece of meat that ran around naked onscreen. She and Antheil came up with novel frequency-hopping code division idea for making it harder to jam radio-guided torpedoes, patented it, and gave it to the U.S. Navy for free, never making a dime on it. There's some dispute over whether her patent lead to anything, the Navy working on multiple similar systems, but I have read that the basics were indeed incorporated in some secret tech, and it's curious that the process speeded up after the Navy declassified a lot of that stuff. I like to think she had some impact on cell-phone technology, no matter how ephemeral, 'cause even if the mathematics may be elegant there, nothing compared to the elegance that was Hedy.

gmoke said...


"By the 1950's, the patent on the device had expired when engineers at Sylvania "re-discovered" frequency-hopping. They called it "spread spectrum." These electronic devices were designed for use during the Cuban Missile crisis in the sixties. Hedy's film career was winding down. She had turned down the lead in Casablanca and made a few other bad career decisions. In one interview, she estimated that she went through about 30 million dollars. She never made a dime on her and Antheil's invention.

"Today, spread spectrum devices using micro-chips, make pagers, cellular phones, and, yes, communication on the internet possible. Many units can operate at once using the same frequencies. Most important, spread spectrum is the key element in anti-jamming devices used in the government's 25 billion Milstar system. Milstar controls all the intercontinental missiles in U.S. weapons arsenal."

Hedy Lamarr was not just another pretty face.