Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ten Random Thoughts on the Tenth: April

--- After watching Frankenstein last week, I still cannot rid myself of an image I have long had of an assistant director on the back lot shouting at the extras to turn in their instruments and pick up their torches.

--- It is likely that Paul Douglas’s underlying vulnerability makes me invariably enjoy his screen persona, whereas the more blustery style of Broderick Crawford wears thin.

--- I suspect Joseph Cotten has been in more great films than almost any other featured player.

--- I am tired of seeing and hearing the over-anthologized grapefruit scene in Public Enemy -- Mae Clarke deserves better.

--- I am not sure if I was ever taken with Wuthering Heights, but in recent years if it shows up on the same day as Cobra Woman, I’ll opt for Montez.

-- I think it was on Turner Classic Movies that I heard the following: Cagney performances were never real but always true.

--- I revisited Antonioni’s Il Grido on Netflix Instant last week, after last seeing it a half century ago, and enjoyed it immensely.

--- I like Mamet-speak.

--- I have a friend in Gravesend (Kent) who has an excellent collection of Laurel and Hardy materials but is also a Luddite -- he attends no cinemas, has no personal computer, no television, no DVD or VCR player.

--- In 2004, I was on a French tour of Normandy D-Day sites where the French guide likely used the term “liberators” a few hundred times -- while I heard the following three words only once: American, British, Canadian -- each in connection with a cemetery.

Note: “Random thoughts” pieces bring to mind the great Jimmy Cannon, whose “Nobody Asked Me, But” set the form. Any similarity stops there.


  1. "Paul Douglas’s underlying vulnerability"

    I noticed it only after having watched A Letter To Three Wives several times and exhausted myself on everyone else's fine performance. He plays a brute who occasionally shows tenderness [or vice versa].

    It's those gentle moments of his - like when Laura Mae refuses a date and he offers a corsage and whispers "why not?"- that I enjoy very much.
    "Cagney performances were never real but always true."


  2. I'm with you on many of these points. Your thoughts on Paul Douglas make a lot of sense. I've never thought of it, but I believe that is why I prefer him as well.

    And I am with you *all the way* about Maria Montez.

  3. Gerald, I enjoyed reading your Ten Random Thoughts on the Tenth. Thank you for mentioning the Antonioni film; I've never seen it but I've now added it to my queue thanks to your recommendation. I also attended the American Cemetary at Normandy in 2004; if your visit occured during the third week of June it's possible we were both there on the same day (I'd have to go back and check to be sure the exact day, though).

    Your mention of your acquaintance in Kent begs the question: how did he become interested in Laurel and Hardy to begin with? I'm imagining that at one time he had at least a black-and-white television (with rabbit ears). Does he collect any other memorabilia or antiques?


  4. Java Bean:
    I share your admiration for “A Letter to Three Wives.” And I believe the Linda Darnell / Paul Douglas pairing was perfect. It is difficult – isn’t it -- to assess any actor’s (e.g., Paul Douglas’s) role in a film when we take into account that specific role, why that actor was cast, screen persona and then (much of it unknown) -- off screen persona. If Mankiewicz was responsible, throwing away the automobile cigarette lighter was certainly a cinematic moment from one known more for his words.

    I think David Thomson is very good at writing about actors and their extended screen personas, as is Andrew Sarris. Matthew Coniam accomplishes this skill very artfully also.
    Given my boyhood family background, I was always enthralled and comfortable with the three queens hand of Thelma Ritter, Linda Darnell and Connie Gilchrist. And the ear of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. (He shares a birthdate and birthplace [Wilkes Barre] with my wife.) And I have yet to mention Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain, Florence Bates and Barbara Lawrence.

    On Cagney, I wish I could recall the original source of the real/true quote. The years encroach. It is an enigma – I thought it conversation-provoking at the time and do now. As I interpret it, the person who said it meant it to be that Cagney was always Cagney -- so we might not quite accept him as the character he played. But he was so true in the way he played the character that his performance was right on the mark. Alas, my definition sounds still more like an enigma than an explanation. So, I do not really know --- but the remark resonated with me enough to remember it. Thank you. Gerald.

  5. Thank you KC. When I hit the enter key on the Montez entry, I did so tentatively suspecting an immediate broadside. That was not my intent – like all of these entries they are snippets from conversations I have had with my wife from a recent viewing, or anecdotes captured from a book that could not find their way into a posting, or a moment of pique or relishment. Disagreements are fine but you and I seem to be on common ground more than not.

    On another front and from another day, I
    finished Elia Kazan’s book. It was heavy treading. But it has some gems. I think you might hold off for some time, given what I imagine is your reading schedule. But if you want to invest sixteen or so pages (304-316), I found his description of making “The Sea of Grass” riveting. I disliked the film; Kazan hated it. But for Hollywood vs. Theatre approaches – the write-up is beyond enlightening and I found it very funny. Best. Gerald.

  6. Thank for the response, Gerald.
    - Java

  7. Hello Tom and thank you.

    Gravesend is one of my favorite places in England, which to their chagrin I have told my English friends often. Not Gravesend! Alas yes – because of its quiet charm and because one of my favorite persons (Charles George Gordon) in history served there quietly between bouts of fame in China and Africa.

    My current friend (I hope) is still there, deeper into his disaffection with the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

    He lived what you and I would call a regular life once but decided to abandon it when the changes of modernity were more than he could accommodate. So he went his own way. (If visiting relatives and a television is on, or turned on, he will leave immediately.) I am sure you are quite knowledgeable about English films in which are depicted Englishmen who march to their own rhythms.

    Once found, he is a good host and I love his company. He is knowledgeable about our shared interest in his town’s history and the life of Gordon. He is a great collector of Gordon iconography and has what is likely one of the great collections in the world.

    He is a bit difficult to visit as any initial plans must be transmitted by regular mail and changes in plans (which occur when one travels 3000 miles for two months) must go the same way. When one arrives at Gravesend how does one contact him? It is bad form to drop in. And how does one leave a contact point in a hotel if he will not telephone? Some years I have missed him. And I am not without an inventive idea or two.

    As to the Laurel and Hardy material which seemed at least a roomful – I suppose memory serves the day for him.

    Normandy. My wife and I were there in late April 2004 for one day only – so you and we missed each other by about a month and a half. The experience was profound. The random thought about the guide came from fury -- since reduced to a lingering reminder that no great deed goes unremembered or unappreciated.
    Best. Gerald.