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Archive for the ‘GOTHIC ROMANCE’ Category

The Lost Moment

14 Aug

The Lost Moment – directed by Martin Gabel. Turgid Melodrama. 83 minutes Black And White 1947.

★★

The Story: An American publisher inveigles his way into the lives of an ancient woman and her niece in order to make off with a literary treasure.

~

A curious inert version of Henry James’ The Aspern Papers, it holds one’s attention through its photography by Hal Mohr and the gothic atmosphere of a haunted palazzo in Hollywood’s version of Venice.

The script collapses around its own improbabilities, but it might have worked if the story had started later in the telling than it does. The romance needs to begin in the first reel, not the fourth. The publisher needs to be already inside the house. Who he is and what he is doing there should also be a mystery.

It also has two actors destined not to work opposite one another, born to clash.

Robert Cummings is too mealy-mouthed to play a ruthless and mendacious publisher sneaking into an old woman’s house to filch her love letters from a famous dead poet. As an actor he is not insensitive, but he is also nothing else.

Opposite him is the redoubtable Susan Hayward. Her stride is martial. Her voice deep. Her air draconian. She is an actor feasting on tension. Never a relaxed or spontaneous moment comes near her. All is calculated. One wonders she gives herself permission to breathe.

Agnes Moorhead is so covered with latex, her face never actually appears before us. She is evidently 105. And her voice never claims our ears with Morehead’s belovèd hysteria. She speaks with an English accent, so all is lost.

Almost from the start one is tempted with rewriting this film into a workable version. The story appeals to the writer in one, because it is about a priceless relic, such as every writer ambitions to leave behind to confirm his immortality.

Perhaps it has to remain the novella James made of it.

 

 

Mirror, Mirror

23 Apr

Mirror, Mirror — directed by Tarsem Singh. Fractured Fairy Tale. 105 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

The Story: The Wicked Stepmother seizes the spotlight and Prince Charming as well.

~        

Of all the actresses ambitioned to play Scarlet in Gone With The Wind there were only two who would not have been ridiculous, Bette Davis and Vivien Leigh, and for the same reason: they both possessed the temperament of hellcats, and they alone had in their skill kits a sense of period.

Exactly what that is, is hard to declare, except its absence is notably present in the performance of Julia Roberts as the Wicked Queen, for she seems to have no sense of the genre in which she is performing, a costume drama at the least. She dismays by adopting the cracked ice of condescension, an amateur choice which wrecks the role at the outset by giving it no place to go.

Julia Roberts – no one can say they knew her after she was a pretty woman, because, now of a certain age, she is still one. But for years she coasted along on the white sailboat of her smile. To do that all she needed to do was be a gal. But that won’t wash any more, and she is now cast in character parts while having no actual skill at playing a character. All these years I waited for the genius of her brother, Eric Roberts, to break through – a mistake on my part to be sure. Now I want his sister to discover her craft.

Less harm can be done to the film by her, because the style of Mirror, Mirror begins in Fairyland Camp, and somewhere along the line shifts across into Bullwinkle Land. That is to say, it becomes dialogue-dependent rather than style-dependent, and the dialogue is vernacular. So, when the prince appears, one soon sees that the actor does not have a prince in him and does not have the pronunciation of one either: the word “adieu” is, by Princes, pronounced “adyou” not “a-do,” so the poor actor fails in his opening sequence. Fortunately the character he plays is a jerk, so it does not matter much, except that it too defies the necessary tone and doesn’t create one of its own.

And in a piece like this, tone is essential. Because without it you can’t really buy into the enchantment. Moreover, the written style and the acting style are in rash countermand to the visual style, which is glorious. The sets, the costumes, the wigs are lavish — imaginative and surprising and fun — as are the narrative conceits. Visually, it has the right tone.

As do the animation and the special effects, particularly that of The Beast – a terrific griffon. Snow White is right for the part, a lovely young actress, Lily Collins, and she is assisted by Nathan Lane as a pusillanimous courtier and by seven sexy dwarfs, all of whom are jolly good and all of whom survive the mishmash nicely.

Of course you want the Queen to be thwarted, and you want Snow White to save herself with her magic dagger. And you love Snow White floating through the snowy woods in a billowing May dress, and the Prince in his floor-length coat swashbuckling about is a treat that never palls. You root more for the visual effects than the characters, but you are let down that, despite the film’s stated promise, nothing new about that wicked queen has been revealed, either by one mirror or by two.

 
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Posted in FAIRY TALE, Fractured Fairy Tale, GOTHIC ROMANCE, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane

 

Dragonwyck

26 Sep

 

Filmed by the great Arthur Miller. Dragonwyck – Written and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Gothic Melodrama. A farm girl comes to live in a mansion whose married Byronic owner rolls his eyes at her. 103 minutes Black and White 1946.

* * *

Gene Tierney – a farm girl? – never. She’s too snooty. Look at the tricksy way she has of lowering her eyelids. Of course, the girl is a dreamer which is what sets her off to leave the sheep herd of her father, played by Walter Huston in one of his Duel In The Sun–Sadie Thompson religious fanatic roles. Anne Revere, an actress I do not admire much, plays the stalwart mother, also once again. The first thing you notice about them is that their aprons look just-off-the-rack, and that disease prevails throughout. The sets are brilliant but they are suborned by the film being over-costumed as though the things were built for one of Betty Grable’s musicals there at Fox. When no expense has been spared, vulgarity is usually the consequence. Connie Marshall does a fine job, in this her last film, as the food-addict wife; Spring Byington is interestingly cast against type as the cracked housekeeper; Jessica Tandy shows up just great as a gimpy maid, and Harry Morgan in one of his 130 film roles does fine by a rabble-rouser. Glenn Langan, a leading man I had never seen before, is lovely, chosen perhaps for his height, 6’5”. For the real lead in the film is that six foot four of toad, Vincent Price. I remember when the film first came out and how attracted I was by its grandiose title: Dragonwyck. But I declined to go, because I knew, even then, that Gene Tierney was an actress of imperceptible interest and that Vincent Price had no authentic authoriity. And besides people always said Vincent Price was a terrible ham. Well, why did they say that? When you look at this performance, you see an actor who is razor thin, with very long legs that look super in the straight trou of the 1840s and especially in that floor-length dressing gown. In execution of the part, Price never gesticulates, he scarcely moves, except to walk, so he is not throwing himself about. He is not of the bent wrist school of acting, the pre-Pickford silent screen school of acting. His voice is barely modulated, hardly any outward emotion is expressed on his face, and, as was the custom in Hollywood acting of his era, no subtext at all is perceptible. Why is he a ham then? A ham is someone who is overdoing it. A ham is someone who is pigging out as though all scenes were his. Is Price really doing that? Nope. And yet he is a ham. It is part the fault of his use of his voice. Vincent Price’s voice is cobalt velvet upon which a raw egg has been broken. And with it he overacts incontestably, not because he is extravagant with it but because he is the reverse. He overacts by overacting underacting. He overacts by maximizing minimization. He always makes less more. He reminds me of Orson Welles who was always and in everything a radio actor, an actor vain about his voice and in slavery to it. He, like Price, makes everything he does, macabre – which is to say humanly hollow. Price went on to make many pictures, but Dragonwyck is Price’s favorite of all. And he actually has scenes of genuine romantic attraction and a death scene that is quite touching. Filmed by the great Arthur Miller, it is Mankiewicz’s first directorial effort, to be followed by All About Eve, Suddenly Last Summer, Cleopatra. His writing style is canny; his directorial style is plain, but the film is goulash. Leave it to heaven.

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Jane Eyre

01 May

Jane Eyre – Directed by Cary Fukunaga. Gothic Melodrama. A governess is duped by the lord of the manor. 120 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

All the nighttime interiors are filmed like de la Tour: candles both glamorize and mortify the faces. Outdoors the sun never seems to shine. And this captures the lugubrious inner climate of Victorian fiction, with the doom of death, which we find in Dickens, in Tennyson, and here, where a wedding is the next best thing to a funeral, the first being the white prelude to the black childbirth demise of the second. All this the director has realized. And so has the costumer Michael O’Connor, and so has everyone on the technical side, with one exception, the casting director. For it is perfectly clear in the novel and it is perfectly clear in the screenplay that Jane and Rochester are homely people, yet they have been cast with handsome people. ‘Do you find me handsome?” asks Rochester at one point, and when Jane says “No,” we must suppose that she is, for the first time, lying, or that she is as blind as Rochester will one day become. The novel has the great advantage over films of this story in that we never see these two. But films of this story lie to us over and over, in version after version. Joan Fontaine, even in her wan drab stage was pretty, and Orson Welles was infernally magnificent. Without their being homely, the entire story is baffling nonsense, for the entire story is that of honesty cutting through all levels of fine and proper appearance: of wealth, of religion, of position, of gender, of face, of figure, of sexuality and even of physical deformity, since Rochester ends up blind. As it is, all you’re left with in this version is that you have got to be blind to get married. I prefer Rebecca, which is its most famous duplicate. Or I prefer the 1998 Masterpiece Theatre television version. This one is a movie; it’s too short. This one leaves out how much Jane enjoyed running the school she founded; it even leaves out that Rochester’s ward is infuriating and is actually his illegitimate child. It leaves out how come Jane starts out as a girl of high temperament and becomes a teenager of no temperament whatsoever. The 1998 TV version also has at least an unusual looking Jane. This one, however, has Judi Dench, quite fine as Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper, and it has the great Sally Hawkins as the wicked witch Mrs Reed, and it has our own Billy Elliot, Jamie Bell, as St. John. In the TV version the characters are more fully rounded, St. John, for instance, because the material is a big Victorian novel, and two hours cannot compass the long vital surgery it performs, the first layer of which is the meaning and meaninglessness of the want of beauty in its principals.

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