Sunday, March 28, 2010

Short Cuts 1

Merrily We Live. 1938. Directed by Norman McLeod.
Hal Roach Studios.

I hope they had as much fun making this as they seemed to be having on screen. Well above standard thirties fare with a rich family intruded on by a well-to-do man in the guise of a tramp. The men in these movies (unless William Powell is on hand) usually pale in comparison to the women. This is no exception.

Constance Bennett looks especially appealing in slacks. I am not usually an admirer, preferring her sister, but here Constance is a very stimulating presence. Her sleek and sophisticated cocktail is laced with just the right trace of madness. Billie Burke does her Billie Burke imitation while eating cantaloupe with a wooden spoon. But what did they do to Ann Dvorak? I love this actress but the left profile shots make her look ghastly. The exuberant Bonita Granville is terrific. Her father brings a live rabbit to the breakfast table and asks her “Is this yours?” To which Bonita responds “What color is it?” A line can make the game worth the candle. And did I mention Patsy Kelly?

Clarence Kolb does quite well trying to be Eugene Pallette and Brian Ahearne does a proper job but is no Melvyn Douglas. Tom Brown as the young man in the family looks like someone stole his coloring book and speaks like an errant metronome. Alan Mowbray always helps. Willie Best does Willie Best best. Two dogs brighten the mix, not always looking at the trainer. One is named “Off the Rug.” And there is a parrot in the entourage.

A role is reversed. A few slapstick routines ensue. And all comes out all right. There is some business at the end when a character thought deceased returns and everyone in sight faints, falls down or gets knocked down. I succumbed.

Pick of the litter: Bonita Granville.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mirror Images 17

For an actress to be a success, she must have the face of a Venus, the brains of a Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of a MaCaulay, the figure of Juno, and the hide of a rhinoceros ... Ethel Barrymore

Ethel Barrymore once said that her brother Lionel was the greatest of the Barrymores. Au contraire -- no Barrymore was greater than Ethel. She needed only to peer into her mirror to see the very best that the Barrymores had to offer.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mirror Images 16

An image is an imitation, representation, or similitude of any person, thing, or act, sculptured, drawn, painted, or otherwise made perceptible to the sight; a visible presentation; a copy; a likeness; an effigy; a picture; a semblance. A triptych is a work consisting of three painted or carved panels that are hinged together. A mirror triptych is a mirror in the shape and form of a triptych.

A mirror image of images in a triptych shows images that have their parts arranged with a reversal of right and left, as they would appear if seen in a mirror.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Persons from Porlock 1

"Buddy (DeSylva), returning from an absence from the studio, looked at the rushes of Hail the Conquering Hero and demanded that Ella Raines, cast opposite Eddie Bracken, be thrown off the picture. She didn't look like a small-town girl to him, and he found her acting wooden. I refused absolutely."
... Preston Sturges

Friday, March 19, 2010

Like Unto 5

The woman in the stands

Glenn Close was born this day in 1947. To me she will always be “the woman in the stands.” I first saw her on Broadway in The Crucifer of Blood in late 1978 or early 1979. I did not know of her then nor can I recall her performance now. I remember only an impressive piece of stagecraft showing a fierce storm and little else. Those were my Holmesian days, now somewhat past.

I am of a generation in which baseball was close to being a religion and the game remains important to me. The Natural is a film I have always embraced, because it is more about the myth of baseball than baseball itself. The Natural’s mythic imagery casts long shadows.

Robert Redford is Roy Hobbs, a potential great. Kim Basinger is Memo Paris, the sort of woman who will lead a man to ruin. Glenn Close is Iris Gaines, a love from Roy’s past and an angelic presence in the stands -- the lady with the wide hat -- who inspires Roy Hobbs at a dark moment.

But was there ever a more striking character that that of Barbara Hershey as Harriet Bird? She wants to know from Roy if he will be the best there ever was – and once so assured -– shoots him, then crashes to her death from a hotel window. A shattered body on a sidewalk; a bleeding, wounded, would be great player lying on a hotel room floor. A career in ruins. (The incident is based on the Eddie Waitkus shooting. I saw Waitkus play.)

So Glenn Close is 63 today. To others she is remembered as the crazed Alex Forrest of Fatal Attraction or better known for her television and stage work. But Glenn Close will always be to me “the woman in the stands,” the woman who rises up at a crucial moment to help Roy Hobbs be the best that he can be -- if no longer -- the best there ever was.

The painting

The painting is The First Night Game, which I have seen at Cooperstown. The artist is listed as J.M. Mott-Smith. I have not read anywhere that Barry Levinson based the idea of the Glenn Close shot on the Mott-Smith painting, but one wonders.

Looking into the career of one “J.M. Mott-Smith” produces little result. I suspect the artist might be H.M. Mott-Smith (1872-1948), an American painter about whom slightly more information is available. I will send an enquiry to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and perhaps, to Mr. Levinson.


The image of Harriet Bird can be seen in Words and Images 17 (January)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Miss Otis Regrets 4

She's unable to lunch today ... Madam ...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Off the Lot 2

Bring Kateen-beug and Maurya Jude
To dance in Beg-Innish,
And when the lads (they're in Dunquin)
Have sold their crabs and fish,
Wave fawny shawls and call them in,
And call the little girls who spin,
And seven weavers from Dunquin,
To dance in Beg-Innish.

I'll play you jigs, and Maurice Kean,
Where nets are laid to dry,
I've silken strings would draw a dance
From girls are lame or shy;
Four strings I've brought from Spain and France
To make your long men skip and prance,
Till stars look out to see the dance
Where nets are laid to dry.

We'll have no priest or peeler in
To dance in Beg-Innish;
But we'll have drink from M'riarty Jim
Rowed round while gannets fish,
A keg with porter to the brim,
That every lad may have his whim,
Till we up sails with M'riarty Jim
And sail from Beg-Innish.

(Beg-Innish ……. J.M. Synge)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Like Unto 4

The woman with the pearls lost $200,000 in jewelry.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

From a Personal Film Library 6


He was one of those hard boiled writers who were invariably in our back pockets. The paperback revolution of the late thirties brought edification and entertainment at an affordable price. And it brought us Cornell Woolrich, W.R. Burnett, and James M. Cain.

We were working class boys and we knew about Woolrich long before Truffaut did, and about Burnett long before the academics. And when we talked about Cain it was about The Moth, or The Butterfly, about Double Indemnity, or the offbeat Serenade. And, of course, we read about that postman who always rang twice: Cain’s oblique take on the Appointment in Samarra theme. Postman was published the year I was born.

“They threw me off the hay truck about noon” has led to four filmed manifestations; I have seen three. The Visconti, Garnett and Rafelson versions are well known. Segments of Pierre Chenal’s elusive Le Dernier Tournant (1939) appear on You Tube, but without subtitles. In 1936, Postman rang once on Broadway, ran for 72 performances and left town. (Richard Barthelmess as Frank Chambers could not have helped.)

But Cain wore other hats, one of which was that of a human interest writer for The New York World. He contributed to diverse publications throughout his life and wrote about people, about animals and about food. The James M. Cain Cookbook provides a sampling. I guess you could say he taught Mildred Pierce how to cook.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The View from the Street 10

The Postman Always Rings Twice

”They threw me off the hay truck about noon. I had swung on the night before, down at the border, and as soon as I got up there under the canvas, I went to sleep. I needed plenty of that, after three weeks in Tia Juana, and I was still getting it when they pulled off to one side to let the engine cool. Then they saw a foot sticking out and threw me off. I tried some comical stuff, but all I got was a dead pan, so that gag was out. They gave me a cigarette, though, and I hiked down the road to find something to eat.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Words and Images 22

“The lady’s mother has been dead for some time” ... Stanton Carlisle

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Appreciating an award

The portrait is Edward Hopper’s evocative New York Movie. I post it as a thank you to Matthew Coniam for awarding the Creative Blogger Award to Laszlo’s on Lex. If you are a regular reader of Movietone News you will see Hopper’s masterwork prominently placed, and a recurring presence. Matthew has written to me about the artist sayng: “Everything that draws me to cinema, and to the culture of the twenties and thirties, is there, in perfection, in his work.”

New York Movie reminds me of a time when films were movies, when theatres looked as Hopper depicted them, and when young women, dressed in attractive uniforms, guided us across dark slanting slopes to far away regions. Afterward, one might lean her face against a hand perhaps, reflecting pensively on the world outside of her world within.

The original painting is housed in The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The usherette was created into full womanhood in 1939, a year the world went to war. She has remained ageless through seventy years. In a way, she might be some reverse version of Jennie Appleton, remaining the same while we change each time we see her.

New York Movie. Long ago and far away. A thank you to Matthew becomes a remembrance of Hopper. I suspect Matthew would not object. And I appreciate his award and his guidance through waters I had not previously traveled.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Words and Images 21

The exceptional Mary Astor artwork is by Kate Gabrielle.