Thursday, April 28, 2011

More Link Love

Available to be read in full at Fandor's Keyframe blog, my list of highlights from the Illuminating the Shadows conference at Northwestern University's Block Museum. Below, the moment that may interest my readers the most; should it prompt a comment urge, the splendid Fandor editor Kevin Lee would love to hear from you over there.

3. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, co-host of Ebert Presents At the Movies with Christy Lemire, mischievously remarked during the panel on the art of writing that he considered Jean-Claude Van Damme to be a movie artist on the level of Buster Keaton. Or near the level of Buster Keaton. Worthy to be mentioned in the same declarative sentence with Keaton, anyway. I don't remember the precise phrasing; I was on stage next to him for the same panel, and PTSD caused me to lose track of my pen. Despite my own appreciation for Van Damme (perhaps one day Fandor will hire me to write up Universal Soldier), I believe I gave Vishnevetsky what is usually referred to as the "side-eye."

At Nomad Wide Screen, my two most recent Retro-Fit columns. First, a piece on Raoul Walsh's fabulous pre-Code, Sailor's Luck, which was screened at the Block conference by the great Dave Kehr.

In a March 6 [New York Times] column about distributors and viewers’ move away from DVDs toward Blu-ray discs and streaming video, Kehr acknowledged the lack of enthusiasm many old-movie hounds feel for yet another shift in format. We greet these shifts, he wrote, with “a mixed sense of hope and fear. Hope, to the degree that the new distribution strategies may make it economically feasible for a broader range of movies to enter the marketplace; fear, grounded in past experience that suggests format changes invariably leave legions of once widely available titles in limbo.” Last week, at a conference held by Northwestern University’s Block Cinema, Kehr introduced a screening of a brilliant movie that is stuck in that very limbo.

The film, Sailor’s Luck from 1933, was directed by acknowledged master Raoul Walsh during the freewheeling era before the Production Code was implemented.


Since it’s a Pre-Code feature, there are elements in Sailor’s Luck that would disappear just a year or so later, including Sally Eilers putting on her underwear and Esther Muir leaning over a crystal ball and giving Walsh a chance to point the camera more or less directly between her breasts (albeit from a tactful distance). Enormous hip flasks are brought out at intervals. Jimmy [James Dunn] climbs in a car with possibly the drunkest driver in all of 1930s cinema — giving Walsh an excuse to demonstrate just how good early rear-projection could be, the camera whirling around for queasy-making views of walls, the curb, lampposts, unwary pedestrians.

A scene between Dunn and Eilers dwells on the possibility that they might sleep together; it’s played quietly, in her furnished room, and blocked with enthralling precision, as Eilers sits in a chair across the room, Dunn plops on the bed, Dunn invites her to the bed, she moves only to a closer chair, Dunn lowers the window shades, she raises them. Also startlingly frank is the way the movie deals with the physical peril Eilers finds herself in when she encounters overeager men; confronting Baron Portola (Victor Jory, in the first role of what would be a career full of such parts), she opens the door that he just closed with a mixture of sass and uneasiness.

Next up at Nomad, another postcard from another conference, a film-noir fest at Manhattan's New School that was hosted by celebrated director Guy Maddin and the fine film writer and all-around goddess Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun. Guy presented The Chase, from 1946, starring a not-bad-at-all Robert Cummings (stop giggling); and Kim gave a loving introduction to Wicked Woman from 1953, starring the mesmerizing Beverly Michaels:

Morgan is a huge partisan of this work, calling it a “Poverty Row masterpiece,” and the film lived up to its introduction. Wicked Woman has a naturalistic feel, its low-rent atmosphere giving it a sense of realism that you don’t get from most higher-budget studio films of the era. Morgan particularly loves the movie for its star, whose character Morgan described as a woman “overcompensating for being in a man’s world"...Her character, Billie Nash, steps off a bus in a one-horse town early in the film, and just watching her lounge into the station and ask where she can find a cheap room is enthralling. The maintenance routines of a down-at-the-heels blonde are right up front, with Michaels rummaging around for something to wear and touching up her platinum roots with a slight grimace over the burning bleach. The movie constantly uses Michaels’ height (she was five-foot-nine, but looks taller), as she folds her limbs into a cheap chair that’s too small or stretches out a lanky arm to grab something from the fridge. (“I could watch her open a beer all day,” says Morgan.) Michaels’ stature gives a piquant flavor to her interactions with neighbor Charlie Borg (Percy Helton), one of the oiliest lechers I’ve ever seen—as Morgan put it, “every sleazy man who ever hit on a woman rolled into one.” Helton is so short that his bald head is level with Michaels’ collarbone, and his conversations with Michaels find him mostly talking to her breasts.

Raymond De Felitta, the Siren's email correspondent below, has put part one of his George Stevens musings online at Movies Til Dawn. The Siren has an abiding love for anyone working to resurrect a neglected or downtrodden reputation in classic film, and this promises to be a great effort. The Siren herself has a high opinion of Stevens, especially Shane, A Place in the Sun, Giant, Gunga Din, Swing Time, The Talk of the Town, Penny Serenade, Vivacious Lady and The Diary of Anne Frank. She loves Raymond's contention that Stevens' "sense of time and space within an individual scene became increasingly abstract and--paradoxically--more emotional as his work went on after the Second World War." Worth reading even if Stevens has not been a personal favorite--perhaps particularly if that's the case. The Siren also realized, looking at Stevens' filmography, that pre-1935 and Alice Adams (another good film), his credits are a viewing black hole. So if anyone has a recommendation for early Stevens, let us know, by all means. Update: "There is nothing about this that even vaguely resembles what was then considered 'normal' directorial staging": Part Two is up, with a close look at scenes from A Place in the Sun and The More the Merrier.

Libertas, the Website run by Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, has undergone a remake over the past year. Once marked by a hectoring tone that was not to the Siren's taste, Libertas is still very much an explicitly conservative film site--which would appeal to some of the Siren's readers, and not to others. But Apuzzo and Murty have worked to turn it into a place that's focused on pointing out films they love, rather than decrying films they can't stand. In terms of the Siren's own cinematic inclinations, she has long been a fan of Jennifer Baldwin, who has commented here from time to time as The Derelict and has her own blog at Dereliction Row. She's a good writer who covers classic film with a passion anyone here can identify with, and the Siren recommends her essays to one and all. The Siren, a Fritz Lang freak from way back, was especially smitten with Jennifer's post about Human Desire; she focuses on the great Gloria Grahame.

At Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, another pre-Code that ties in neatly to a couple of things I screened recently: Made on Broadway, from 1933. Haven't seen it. Sounds nifty. It stars Sally Eilers, so fresh and adorable in Sailor's Luck, and Laura says it has overtones of Chicago.


Ladybug said...

Totally off-topic, but I sincerely hope all is well with your loved ones in Alabama.

Laura said...

Many thanks for the link -- hope you get to catch this film sometime soon.

I love your Hedy Lamarr header photo!!

Best wishes,

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

X. Trapnel said...

Alert to all Walshians: The first full-length bio, Raoul Walsh: The True Story of Hollywood's Legendary Director (never judge a book by its [dumb] subtitle), due out this July.

alsolikelife said...

Your report on the conference was the next best thing to being there.

I just saw Ignatiy here at Ebertfest - he still stands firm by his assertion that JCVD is the Great Stone Face of our age.

And to tie together three separate strands in your post, Jennifer Baldwin submitted her own appreciation of Raoul Walsh for Fandor:

The Siren said...

Nora, thank you so much; you are sweet! Most of my family is up in the North which didn't get hit as hard as central Alabama, but my cousin's wife said they're without power; a feature of a Southern storm that I don't miss one bit.

Laura, it really intrigued me. What the heck happened to Sally Eilers? She was charming. Must look that up.

XT, I have Walsh's autobiography which is exactly what you would expect--lively, obstreperous, meandering, proudly refusing to pick a tone or a structure or a topic and stick with, always drawing you to some fabulous corner of his brain. Kehr is a big Walsh partisan; I have always liked him immensely but seeing that even his relatively unseen work is so good is an amazing experience.

Kevin, I liked Ignatiy very much, but ... I'm not seeing this comparison, let's put it that way. I'm gonna need more than "they both give great deadpan." Pamela Anderson gives good blonde, and so does Bardot, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna go to the mat for Barb Wire vs. Contempt. I will check out Jennifer's Walsh post!

Ned said...

So, Jean Claude Van Damme and Buster Keaton, equals in film history, is that the idea? Okay. Some friends and I used to play a game in which we would take a primary character from one play or film or book and substitute them for a similarly important character from another text to see what might happen.

For instance, let's switch Othello and Hamlet. Up in Denmark, as soon as Othello even suspects that Claudius might have killed his father and is now sleeping with his mother, he would run the bastard through. End of play.

Meanwhile, back on Cyprus, Hamlet, confronted by Iago with the possibility that his wife has been cheating on him wouldn't know what to do and would dither forever. Play runs at least 34 acts and nothing happens.

So let's switch Van Damme and Buster in, say, The General.

Van Damme lines up to join the confederate army, they take one look at his pects, sign him up and send him to the front. Movie over.

How about The Navigator? He realizes he's adrift at sea, hops overboard with a rope in his mouth and personally tows the boat into safe harbor. Movie over. (maybe that was Chuck Norris I was thinking of there...)

And the final straw in the Van Damme=Keaton concept:

Van Damme would look stupid in a pork pie hat.

X. Trapnel said...


Ah, lucky you; Walsh's autobiog is out of print and prohibitively expensive (I can't bear the thought of reading a library copy).

The Siren said...

Ned: LOL. That is all.

XT, I think I got mine pretty cheap at the Strand, one of those places that makes NYC worthwhile.

Ned said...

Ahh...the Strand. Many hours (and dollars) spent there. Although not as many dollars as I would have spent at one of the uptown bookstores, Rizzoli, eg.

Does anyone here know, off the top of their library card, how many films in which the Strand has made an appearance? At least six or seven Woody Allen movies alone, I bet.

Every time I spot someone walking by the Strand or going in or coming out, in a film, I think I ought to start a count. Maybe someday.

The Siren said...

Ned, I don't remember the Strand in Allen movies, although I'm sure it's there. I always get a pang for the late lamented Pageant Books in Hannah and Her Sisters, though.

VP81955 said...

I did an entry on the lovely Ms. Eilers back in January 2010:

X. Trapnel said...


THANK YOU for the reveille with Beverly! And the sages at IMDB tell us she was one of the Hugo Haas Players! Seems I have much pleasant homework to do.

[NOT TO BE READ BY OUR HOSTESS]Woody Allen gives bookstores (and books) a bad name.

Arthur S. said...

Raoul Walsh's really great pre-Code works is ME AND MY GAL and THE BOWERY(which I wrote for the first For the Love of Film Blog-A-Thon).

Although he's not as consistent and has made maybe fewer great films, I prefer Walsh over Hawks. The main reason for that is the direction of actors, Walsh got more variety and emotion out of his cast. THE BOWERY is an incredible film in that it has Wallace Beery and George Raft at their very best, having a rivalry that is sort of Hawksian but has an edge missing in his works.

Ned said...

X, I almost ended Woody Allen's bookstore (and film) career after backing up and nearly falling over him in a bookstore. It wasn't the Strand though, it was the Wilentz Eighth Street Bookstore which, sadly, is no longer there. It was the philosophy section. I was looking at Hume, not sure what he was reading.

Ned said...

Siren, I can't recall exactly where I've seen the Strand and in what pictures. I'll have to pay closer attention in the future.

Speaking of interesting NYC bookstores, is Cinemabilia still there? I looked for it on 12th street last time I was in the city. I don't know if it's moved or simply gone out of business.

X. Trapnel said...

Ned, don't feel to badly that you didn't succeed; at least you tried. Since I've been going on a lot about George Antheil's contemporaries I'll mention here the great Howard Hanson's bumping into Hitler in a revolving door in pre-1933 Berlin and his regrets (there are always regrets) about what he might have done. (No, I am not comparing WA to AH).

X. Trapnel said...

Ned, not "what he was reading," but what he was pretending to read. You were probably the intended audience, silently charged with the duty of spreading the word that Woody Allen's been reading Dreckfresser.

Ned said...

X, for all I know he could have been reading Ayn Rand. But now that I think of it, back in those days she wasn't considered much of a philosopher and I know I wasn't in the Really Bad Fiction aisle.

X. Trapnel said...

Chain bookstores are pretty liberal in their definition of philosophy and factoring in the democracy of alphabetial order reminds me of an instance of seeing a book by Dale Evans cozily wedged between (probably) Erasmus and Fichte.

I would put Ayn Rand among multipurpose household goods (propping up a short table leg etc., insulation against squirrels).

Ned said...

Erasmus, Dale Evans, and Fichte. I suppose that combination would offer a utopia for cowboy idealists.

Either that or an invitation to a psychotic break. I hope Dale Evans is easier to read than Fichte. She probably leaves all the quibbling arguments with Kant to Roy.

X. Trapnel said...

In today's chain stores Dale's book would likely be shelved under "Christian Inspiration." Kantwise, though I like to think of Roy and Dale at home on the range, contemplating the starry heavens above, the moral law within and not a discouraging word from Nietzsche.

Casey said...

Thanks for the tip on the Walsh film. I have mixed feelings about him, but his best work is excellent. Your description of the movie reminded me of another pre-code flick I really like. Have you seen Safe in Hell, directed by William Wellman? It's really sleazy, and really interesting. I think it's one of the most daring films from that time, which is saying a lot.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Dale Evans was in some really sexy B progammers in the 40's. Then she found Roy, God and Trigger -- in that order.

Just looking at George Steven's The Second Greatest Story Ever Told (aka.The Only Game in Town) on FOX movie channel. It's really quite lovely. Though set in Vegas it was hot entirely in Paris so Elizabeth could be near Richard who was shootig Staircase at the saem time.

Her co-star? Warren Beatty.

(Long and exceptionally pregnant pause.)

Now as we all know Warren kisses and never telss. but still. . .

DavidEhrenstein said...

Jean-Claude Van Damme is closer to Jodie McCrea than Buster Keaton.

The Siren said...

David, I loved the Huntz Hall comparison at Fandor too...

Casey, I have seen Safe in Hell and it's a honey. Now there's another mystery I never checked out. Dorothy Mackaill. Marvelous. WTH happened? Wellman, like Walsh, is a director I like more and more.

I am zipping my lip on Rand, it's like uttering "Beetlejuice"...

Ned said...

Didn't want to go too long without commenting on Human Desire (never pass up a chance to talk about Lang). I've no idea why this film never seemed to take on the cachet of The Big Heat. Grahame is stupendous in the earlier film (it's a tribute to her particular screen charisma that one of the most memorable moments in a film packed with them, is the funny little bit she does where she, cognizant of the psychological pecking order of the mob she's involved with, disses crime boss Lagana right to his face "Up Vince, up Larry, up Debbie..." But she's even better in Human Desire (but WHERE did she get that bra? It looks deadly).

As much of a Renoir fan as I am, what might his Bete Humaine have been with Grahame in place of Simon Simone? I do love Simone in Cat People. She's by turns pathetic and creepy. That's tough to do. But Grahame has the animal magnetism that Zola must have been dreaming of when he wrote his story.

By the way, David, re-thinking the original story, it's even more apparent why you recently called James M. Cain "Zola in greasy overalls".

Ned said...

Speaking of Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Friedrich Nietzsche (oh boy, I think that's the first and only time in my life I could make that list!), what if Gabby Hayes, under all that muttering, was really spouting Nietzschean aphorisms?

Roy: Gabby, we got to go to town. Some bad things goin' on there and we got to get to the bottom of it.

Gabby: Roy! (mumble, mumble) There are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena (mumble, mumble).

X. Trapnel said...

My, ah, firm belief is that those fifties bras were intended as a subliminal warning to the Soviets.

Ned said...

X, good point (ouch).

I think Richard Widmark could have used a couple of those things on the USS Bedford. It might have been quite a different type of incident.

X. Trapnel said...

Ned, perhaps I was too smug and careless in my assumptions as to the philosophical ambitions of Dale Evans that I didn't bother to look at the book in question which might well have been titled Physik oder Metaphysik: Grundlagen und Propylaean, published by the the Evans Gesellschaft. As I've noted on previous occasions Jack Carson was keen on philosophy so perhaps they formed a Kreis:
"Say, Dale, dontcha think that empirical principles are well suited to serve as the basis of moral laws, huh?"
"In a firecat's ear, Jack, if the basis of universality by which... [enter Wittgenstein] Why, howdy, Ludwig!"
"Kusse die Hand!" [bows to Evans nods toward Carson with some distaste].
"Hiya, Luddy, how ya been keepin? Like a fish on ice, ha, ha. Got any propositions on ya or maybe a cigar?"
"Yes, Herr Carson, in fact (everything that is the case) I do. I am told that you know Fraulein Hutton and was wondering whether it might be possible to arrange..."

Ned said...

I'm wondering about Wittgenstein's intended (or at least implied) possible proposition to Betty Hutton.

Do you think he wanted to see if she could understand the sense of the propositional sign without having it explained to her (she was pretty savvy) OR do you think he was more interested in her, ahhh, acrobatic abilities? There are some pretty big back flips between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations. Maybe he thought he had found a kindred spirit.

And Jack Carson? He was probably lucky there were no pokers in the room.

As for Dale Evans, if she played her cards right, W. might have built her and Roy a new house. I wonder if he ever designed any bunkhouses during his architect phase?

X. Trapnel said...

I think LW's enthralldom to Betty Hutton (synthesis of the Doris Day-Klaus Kinski dialetic) was one of those things of which we cannot speak.

Ned said...

...and therefore must be silent.

X. Trapnel said...

You said it; not me. Better keep an eye out for a tie-less poker wielding chap.

Karen said...

Comparing Buster Keaton to Jean-Claude van Damme rated only a "side eye"? I applaud your restraint, Siren; really I do.

A stone-face as craft, and a stone-face as default are two very different things.

About early George Stevens: I just looked him up in IMDb and it looks like the vast majority of his pre-Alice Adams work was short-subjects. I never remember short subjects by name, alas, so I don't know if TCM has ever screened one as a filler feature.

As for his earlier feature films, it looks like he did four: two of which were Wheeler and Woolsey films (blech), a film with Gloria Stuart and John Beal and another with Stuart Erwin and Pert Kelton. I'm not sure how he even GOT the Alice Adams gig, frankly.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh we can speak of Betty Hutton and Wittgenstein quite easily. After slaving away at the "Tractus Philosophicus" all day he liked nothing better than a nice evening of total nonsense.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ludwig's Delight!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Or as Shelldrake said to Joe Gillis
"Do you see it as a Betty Hutton? We could always use a Betty Hutton. It Happened in the Bull-Pin: The Story of a Woman"

Yojimboen said...

As a public service for a so far uninteresting Friday, (and because I don’t take no truck with folks dissin’ Percy Helton): Wicked Woman in six easy to digest parts.

Percy and Beverly also appeared together in Crashout but in that one, poor Perce and Big Bev don’t get a chance to go toe-to-toe with each other, so to speak.


Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six


If Pert Kelton married Percy Helton and got then got divorced and married Red Skelton, she’d be Pert Kelton-Helton-Skelton (then if she had a son and named him Elton…)

Karen said...

Regarding how Stevens got Alice Adams, from the indispensable AFI Catalog:

Modern sources give the following information about the production: Producer Pandro Berman had two directors in mind for the film--George Stevens and William Wyler. One modern source states that Hepburn preferred Wyler and pushed Berman to choose him. Another says that Hepburn's friend and collaborator, director George Cukor, advised her to push for the relatively unknown Wyler, but that Berman felt that Wyler's European background was inappropriate for the small town American setting. Still another source states that Hepburn and Berman, unable to express their preference for Stevens, who had only a handful of undistinguished feature films to his credit, flipped a coin until Stevens came out the winner.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'll be the coin flip did it.

My favorite Percy Helton performance is in Kiss Me Deadly

X. Trapnel said...

In the spirit of Helton, Shelton et cie.; I've been recalling the philosophy HUT Wittgenstein built in Norway and the possibility of a HUTton-Wittgenstein duet of the HUT-sut song. Or a trio with Grady Sutton.

What the hell, let's throw in Rondo Hatton

AndrewBW said...

How about George S. Patton?

"Human Desire" is also on YouTube right now, for who knows how long.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

I've never seen either this or "Wicked Woman" so I'm going to try and give them a watch over the weekend. Thanks for the recommendations.

DavidEhrenstein said...

OK I've got the best Wicked Woman story EVAH.
My friend the late great filmcritic and publicist Rafe Blasi said that back in the day he interviewed director Russell Rouse. "Whatever hapened to that great slut Beverly Michaels," Rafe asked semi-innocently.

"I married her," Rouse replied.

The Derelict said...

Siren, thanks for the link-y love. You are too kind. :)

And by the way, saw The Constant Nymph today at the TCM film fest! Absolutely wonderful and now I have a new favorite Joan Fontaine performance. Robert Osborne introduced the film and said it would be showing on TCM in the near future, so yay! Set those DVRs, people! :D

Edward Copeland said...

As mentioning in the Kehr article the risk of titles lost in another format change, these switches always piss me off because not only will titles not be put out in the new format, it also doesn't take into consideration the sheer economic considerations that not everyone in the world can afford to constantly buy the latest devices and try to replace libraries. It's just like the plan of automobile manufacturers: planned absolescence. They could care less about the history of film: It's all about money. That's what makes all the constant remaking of good movies even more dangerous. Except for film buff such as ourselves, fewer and fewer people probably even know that there was an original movie called The Thin Man so when Johnny Depp wants to feed his ego because he wasn't alive in the 1930s to play Nick Charles, which version do you think will more likely end up on a new format? The one starring the person people have heard of now or the classic that fewer and fewer still know about starring an actor even fewer recognize. Average people won't even read classic books and it's a hard sell to convince the elite that classic films should be treated with the same reverence and the populace will just get dumbed down further and further all in the name of corporate profit and star and filmmakers' egos. Sorry that you weren't making films in 1939 Bob Zemeckis, that doesn't mean we need to see a new Wizard of Oz to fufill your wish fulfillment.

The Siren said...

Edward, I so hear you. This sort of thing isn't new, either, sadly. When Fox released its really atrocious Stagecoach remake in 1966, they withdrew Ford's peerless original from circulation and took out a full-page ad in Variety warning that anyone screening the Ford would be "vigorously prosecuted." I don't know how long that kept the 39 film out of people's hands; but it was a while.

Yojimboen said...

From my own experience a hundred years ago at film school in London, Anthony Asquith came to lecture and showed his personal print of Pygmalion which Jack Warner had taken out of circulation a few years prior to and many years after the production of My Fair Lady. Asquith lamented – in a gentlemanly way – that he saw no participation monies from the remake, even though everyone admitted George Cukor had a 16mm print of Pygmalion loaded on a Moviola on the Fair Lady set throughout production. If one takes the time to screen the two films side-by-side – as I have – there are long stretches where Asquith’s film is copied shot for shot, angle for angle, cut for cut.
Not Mr. Cukor’s best day IMO.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Then there was the ban MGM placed on Thorold Dickinson's Gaslight when they made Cukor's. They're both teriffic filsm -- but the British one stars Anton Walbrook.

X. Trapnel said...

Charles Boyer's not exactly chopped pate de...

The Siren said...

I vastly prefer Pygmalion to My Fair Lady (oh dear Y., tsk tsk to my beloved Cukor) and the remake of Gaslight to the original, despite my Walbrook love, which isn't equal to David's (but then, whose IS?) but is strong nonetheless. Either way, taking a film out of circulation is the dirtiest of dirty pool. If Johnny Depp's production takes the original Thin Man out of circ (which I highly doubt, given its ubiquity) then I will write another letter to the Times. No, I shall join the RAF, and rise above the Times...

The Siren said...

By the way Y., which stretches are we talking about? Inquiring Shavian minds want to know.

Vanwall said...

Seen an official release of "Secret of the Incas" lately? The Indy juggernaut will prolly keep that buried, and even when Heston died, it was a no-show.

Yojimboen said...

Top of my head, the opening sequence – the Covent Garden meeting of Higgins, Eliza, Pickering et al, is particularly disappointing – then when Rex Harrison goes into his dance of “Why Can’t the English…?” you realize that Alan Jay Lerner didn’t work too hard either. Easily 90% of his lyrics for that song come straight from Shaw’s text.

But sadly for me, apart from about ten minutes of sublime Harrison songspiel the musical version is a waste of celluloid.
Easily, easily Cukor's worst film.
I accept a lot of my distaste for the film is due to my borderline psychotic intolerance for tinny accents – I used to agree with the general consensus/condemnation of A Hepburn accepting the role J Andrews had a right to, I mean heaven knows Ms Hepburn’s ‘cockney’ Eliza is fingernails-on-a-blackboard awful.

J Warner’s decision not to let Hepburn sing was also a bonehead play of stupefying proportions (Marni Nixon was as good as she was in her other 50s/60s dub jobs, but she had her limits), but just one of a thousand missteps in the production. Recently I listened to J Andrews’ recording of the piece and recognized in hindsight that her cockney wasn’t that much better than Hepburn’s. So it’s square one.
Hey, we’ll always have Pygmalion.

Jad said...

I don't know if it's his worst; I don't remember Rich and Famous all that well, but I remember thinking that I liked Old Acquaintance much better. But MFL is not good. Although it has its defenders, which I discovered at Glenn's place recently. There are certain songs I can't resist though.

I just think the Asquith Pygmalion is *wonderful*, Hiller is believable in every minute, and Leslie Howard gave his best performance. <--flogging very dead horse but still true.

Yojimboen said...

A while back I posted the nugget I got from someone who’d been on the crew of Rich and Famous that more than once Cukor nodded off during a take. The actors didn’t wake him but somehow got the job done (he had rehearsed them well) and produced not too bad a film IMO.

The moral I presented then as now is that Cukor was a better director asleep than many others were awake.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Jackie Bisset says Mr. Cukor DID actually fall asleep while directing Rich and Famous. When roused he'd shout out "Don't think I haven't been paying attention!"

X. Trapnel said...

Cukor is admittedly my least favorite of the major studio-era directors (with Wilder and Huston in there slugging it out for second place), so for me the competition for worst Cukor is pretty fierce. There's Keeper of the Flame ("Have you ever looked across the breakfast table and seen the face of fascism?"); Edward My Son, which gives dankness a bad name (and makes Arch of Triumph seem like His Girl Friday); and Adam's Rib, the attempted murder of romantic comedy. The Philadelphia Story is in a, uh, class by itself as exceedingly well made and exceedingly offensive, not only for its antifeminism, but its message that the lower orders put themselves in yarness for greater ease and handling on the part of their betters. (Of course this is mainly Philip Barry and naturally the studio is MGM.) Still the one that finally takes first prize at the Gitmo Film Festival is that sharp stick in the eye called A Star is Born. I think Cukor was at his best when he turned back to the Victorian/Edwardian world.

Yojimboen said...

I’m neither as anti-Cukor as X nor pro-Cukor as DE but A Star is Born is liken unto me as the face of Jesus on a chocolate chip cookie. Well-meaning folks will travel untold distances to bear witness to the miracle of the blessed pastry but, I just can’t see it myself. I love Garland, like Mason us much as the next guy; I am a lately-come (but nonetheless fanatic) convert to the church of Jack Carson and have more than a passing passion for Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin but, I don’t see it.

I think Mason was miscast, and Judy G twenty years too old.
And why does Tommy Noonan (as he did throughout his odd career) look as if he was suffering from painful hemorrhoids?

ASIB never gets off the ground for me. It’s seems to careen from one tragedy to the next – JG sings “Born in a Trunk” as if on the very night Vaudeville died; her signing by Charles Bickford, and handling by press agent Carson seem to ignore the palpable atmosphere that the major studios that day were ending the star system; and the scene where JG accepts her Oscar®? I swear I saw Stephen Boyd out there in the audience. No, no heavier-than-air machine could help this movie rise above its times.

As my sister used to say when it cropped up unexpectedly on teevee, “Oo, a Star is Born… Hello everybody. 'This is Mrs. Norman Maine, and I’d like to know who do I have to fuck to get out of this picture?'”

X. Trapnel said...

I am a fan of both Ira G. and Harold A. but the MWGA is the all time worst "great" song ever. That thudding, plodding melody! I want to give it two aspirins and an ice bag.

Yojimboen said...

The night is bitter,
The stars have lost their glitter;
The winds grow colder
And suddenly you're older

Well, don’t get me wrong, Ira, I mean I like it, it’s just maybe a little, you know…
You got something lighter?

Okay, how ‘bout this:

They're writing songs of love, but not for me.
A lucky star's above, but not for me.
With love to lead the way
I've found more clouds of grey
than any Russian play could guarantee.

We’ll let you know…

X. Trapnel said...

The printed page (and the computer screen) can be cruel to a song lyric. Check this out:

One day he'll come along,
The man I love,
And he'll be big and strong,
the man I love,
And when he comes my way,
I'll do my best to make him stay.

The rest, as you know, doesn't get any better ("And though it seems absurd / I know we both won't say a word.")

Kinda makes McGonagall sound like Keats. Does it matter? Probably not.

Noel Vera said...


"Van Damme lines up to join the confederate army, they take one look at his pects, sign him up and send him to the front. "

Conversely, Keaton in Bloodsport actually sounds like a terrific idea. He'd win and still be funny.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Have you ever looked across the breakfast table and seen the face of fascism?"

Ideal dialogue for The Roy Cohn Story (a tale of his chauffeur Ken Burdick)

DavidEhrenstein said...

X and Yojimb -- youre indifference-cum-hostility to A Star is Born is cearly indicative of The Tragedy of Heterosexuality.

Remidial Sondheim Classes might help, but I doubt it.

For me Mr. Cukor is central to any study of Hollywood. By that I don't mean he's an auteur or had any of the sort of control over his projects that Hitchcock did. Rather he understood the system and how it works and his films are filled with all manner of inventive -- but extremely subtle -- things. There aren't any "tour de Force" bits in any of them (though a case might be made for the way he shot "The Man That Got Away" in ASIB)

But I'm just on my morning coffee and Cukor takes all day.

The Siren said...

I like Keeper of the Flame and the breakfast-table line is CLASSIC. Good grief, how many wives are saying that to themselves at this very moment across this great land of ours? And the Cukor Star is Born--oh Y., Judy is freaking brilliant in that. To name just one, I love the crying scene where she's cracking up over all the criticism of her looks that she's being getting all day and James Mason just gently undoes all the studio people's "fixes"; it's intensely romantic and the way he does it is so sexy. From that moment forward, despite his drinking, you completely get why she's staying with him.

Noel, that Keaton could do Van Damme was never in doubt--I think young Keaton could have done Kickboxer if the impulse struck. It's the other way round that I doubt.

Without backup--real backup--the comparison is meaningless. As one of my friends was saying, did JCVD revolutionize comedy? create a body of work as an auteur? discover and/or perfect a whole technique and vocabulary? discover and/or nurture other talented individuals? has he been a formative influence on generations of later filmmakers and actors? are those later people themselves any good? Does he have a substantial number of films that are still watchable as art and/or real entertainment, not nostalgia or camp? Hey, there could be a case to be made for JCVD on those scores. But if you're not actually able to take a JCVD movie and construct an argument for its being as good as Seven Chances or Sherlock Jr--let alone The Navigator or The General--then you're just making a throwaway shock quip. That's fine--cute line, no offense taken. But probably not worthy of my best side-eye.

(Incidentally, "Jad" above is not the Siren's husband, but rather the Siren herself commenting and forgetting to sign him out of Google...)

X. Trapnel said...

The Sondheim cure will only make things worse, but then hopelessness is the essence of tragedy.

Roy Cohn a fascist? I'll bet Alger Hiss never invited the workers to his breakfast table.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Roy Cohn (via Al Pacino and Tony Kushner)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's Roy with the limo Ken Burdick drove for him.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Sondheim is neither "hopeless" nor "tragic".

Ned said...

Just thinking about a remake of The Thin Man with Johnny Depp as Nick Charles is enough to trigger a serious gag reflex.

Abominable remakes are inflicted on the film going public with alarming regularity.

Recrafting TV shows into films is one thing, and remaking mildly pleasant older films like Arthur is bad enough but when producers entirely bereft of original ideas begin cannibalizing classics like The Thin Man, nothing is sacred.

What's next?

Citizen Kane (renamed Killer Kane) with Lady Gaga as the second Mrs. Kane and Nicolas Cage as Kane (instead of shadow animals, he shows her his private collection of pre-war Japanese bondage pix on his iPad), set in a bright pastel and neon Miami Beach. Kane is an international arms dealer who also owns a Fox-like media empire. The scandal that ruins his presidential bid is not, of course, infidelity, but a Wikileaks distribution of an e-mail sent to Osama Bin Laden wishing him a happy birthday and reminding him that the special on de-commissioned Soviet ICBMs was about to expire. The story of the girl with a white parasol, told by Cage's factotum, played by Steve Buscemi, is about a pole dancer he once ogled in a strip club. Kane doesn't die a natural death. He is poisoned by his old friend Jen Leland, played by Sharon Stone. And in an attempt to make a claim on the first Kane's source material, Rosebud is what it originally referred to. Just not Marion Davies's.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well then you should rework your casting on that one, cause we saw Sharon Stone's "Rosebud" in Basic Instinct.

Johnny Depp as Nick Carles? OK, then who will play Nor? Not Agelina jolie apparently.

How about Vera Farmiga?

Cocktails are too tame for this generation, so Nick would have to pop Vicotin.

And "Asta" would be an iguana.

Aubyn said...

Johnny Depp as Nick Charles? Did somebody look at the whole "Why is the rum gone?" joke from Pirates and think, "Now there's an idea."

Personally I think the Johnny Depp of the last few years could be a strong contender for a follow-up edition of The Most Taxing People in Film. Or just combine him and Tim Burton into a single entity and slap them both on the wrist.

That aside, I think the whole Rob Marshall as director might be a greater cause for concern.

X. Trapnel said...

I have the sense that Johnny Depp is contemporary Hollywood's idea of ars gratia artis. Give me Andy Hardy.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Give me Lon McAllister.

Ned said...

The most portentous Thin Man remake rumor, at least for me, is the indication that Hammett’s detective couple will receive the full “Guy Ritchie” treatment a la the recent Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes.

A less appealing prospect I can’t imagine. Now couple that with Rob Marshall and Johnny Depp and you’ve got the possibility of a Nick Charles who is addicted to crank, tap dances during interrogations, and kick boxes his way out of a collection of grimy hoods bent on his destruction, complete with super slow motion, bullet-time effects drenched in flying blood and spittle.

I shudder to think of what they’ll do for (and to) Nora. As David mentioned, Jolie is out. But Nora will no doubt be made over as a slinky femme fatale who studies martial arts or witchcraft, or both, on the side.

And forget the witty repartee. Can you imagine Depp saying “They never came anywhere near my tabloids”?

This is not to degrade Johnny Depp. He’s done some interesting things in the past. His work in Ed Wood and Donnie Brasco was much better than expected.

It’s just if you’re going to take a classic like The Thin Man and perform a heart transplant, why not just make a completely new film?

If your writers are clever enough (these things almost always have a corps of writers, credited or not) they can sprinkle some droll asides (that is, if drollery is a quality to which re-makers aspire--a dubious assumption at best) that reference the original text; those in the know can ‘nudge, nudge’ and everyone else will munch their popcorn.

If you can’t do it better, or if you have nothing more to say other than “see how cool Nick Charles looks wearing Ray Bans, a panama hat, and a silk scarf”, then hands off.

Even great directors have a hard time getting remakes right. Is Scorcese’s Cape Fear better--or even as good--as the original? Absolutely not. DeNiro’s Max Cady is too baroquely cartoonish to be as quietly and disturbingly menacing as Bob Mitchum (remember the jolt he gets out of cracking that egg on Polly Bergen?). Even Scorsese’s Departed, as entertaining as it is, doesn’t come up to Internal Affairs, largely because of the surprise, culturally determined ending of the Chinese original.

So if remakes are problematic for Marty Scorsese, how will a Rob Marshall-channeling-Guy Ritchie thing work out? Bleak? Risible? Insipid? All three?

X. Trapnel said...

Heck, if it's that easy give me Danielle Darrieux.

DavidEhrenstein said...


X. Trapnel said...

Milles mercis, M. David. Madame DD's birthday was yesterday; I observed it with a double bill of Battement de Coeur and (what else) The Rage of Paris.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And that's not to mention. . . .

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks again David. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality is that I can't climb into this clip, sock Vittorio D in the jaw (with polite expressions of regret of course) and waltz off with DD.

gmoke said...

DD is absolutely ravishing doing her little magic trick in Rage of Paris.

X. Trapnel said...

These tricks were already in her repertoire (so was that untranscibable sound she makes [the language of paradise is my guess] before her "showair") and Henry Koster wisely let her use them. I sense there's a lot of improvisation in R of P.

Yojimboen said...

X – Did your indifference and hostility to Wendell Corey begin with his romantic pursuit of DD in Rich, Young, and Pretty?

Karen said...

That untranscribable sound DD makes in The Rage of Paris is, to me, one of the most ineffable moments in cinema. One can't even imagine it was scripted.

Actually her delivery of, and physical business throughout, the ordering of breakfast that precedes the sound is also pretty sublime. I can't honestly think of another actress who would have combined that dialogue with bedtop acrobatics that end with falling on her bum.

She turns a film that might have been ordinary and rote into something very, very good.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, it's not hostility precisely so much as the unease devoid of interest he projects.
The concave eyes, the peculiar set of the mouth and the aggresive earlobes also suggest a failure in Martian intelligence gathering. I think he's being kept alive for study in a secure undisclosed location (Colorado most likely).

I've never actually seen RYAP, but the thought of DD playing second banana to Jane Powell (was June Allyson unavailable?) somewhat offends.

X. Trapnel said...

DD is the true auteur of Rage of Paris, but Koster deserves some credit. The long climactic scene at Fairbanks' country home is extremely well done and superbly paced, building steadily from knockabout comedy (mostly provided by chere Danielle; note her mimicking of Fairbanks' walk and gestures which suggest growing affection rather than mockery) to lights-out romantic intensity.

DD studied the cello at the Paris Conservatory and Mischa Auer, grandson of the great violinist and teacher Leopold Auer (pupils you ask? Heifetz, Milstein, Elman, Zimbalist) could get around the violin capably. Now if Helen Broderick were a pianist...

Ned said...

With that kind of impressive heritage I suppose Mischa Auer could say, with some authority, that "...the Monte Carlo Ballet steeeenks".

X. Trapnel said...

Yes, indeed; When Leopold Auer emigrated to Russia from Hungary (Gyorgy Ligeti was a grandnephew) he started out as a violinist in the major ballet orchestras in St. Petersburg. Very fitting in that Mischa A. is a creature out of Gogol and Nabokov.

VP81955 said...

Or as Shelldrake said to Joe Gillis, "Do you see it as a Betty Hutton? We could always use a Betty Hutton. It Happened in the Bull-Pin: The Story of a Woman"

Which invariably reminds me of the scene in "The Player" where it's proposed Goldie Hawn star in a movie where her character goes to Africa and meets a tribe of pygmies who have never seen a normal-sized person before, much less a white woman, and they thus view her as a giant goddess.

As for a "Thin Man" remake, I fear we will have a pit bull instead of a wire Asta with attitude.

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