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Archive for the ‘Cecil Parker’ Category

The Ladykillers

26 Aug

The Ladykillers – directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Gangster Comedy. 91 minutes Color 1955.

★★★★★

You gather your friends about you, and you set them up with some shortbread and whisky or a spot of brandy or something convivial, and you watch this gooseberry pie of a comedy together, for you don’t want your neighbors to hear you guffaw alone. It stars Katie Johnson, a tiny little actress who steals every scene she appears in with Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Jack Warner, Peter Sellers, and Alex Guinness. They don’t have a chance, because she keeps everything she does as small as toast and jam. If you watch her analytically, you see a performance of such subtlety, experience, and skill that it forces you to eat out its hand handily. She’d been acting since 1894. She is 77 years old and pretty and her cheeks are pink as a rose teacup. She is well spoken and has beautiful manners. She presents her character as perfectly intelligent and considerate to a fault. But she is more than beautifully cast. She plays the part as a miniature Napoleon hiding in a rose. Not one of these gangsters dare disobey her. The story is beautifully set up by the writer and director with scenes in her local police station, whose chief pacifies her reports of a friend’s sightings of alien invaders, and she goes back to her lopsided house and rents out one of its rooms to a weird lodger played by Alec Guinness, who is clearly doing an imitation of Alastair Sim. This is disconcertingly funny at first because of the match of Sim’s buck teeth, watery eyes, sleazy hair, and drooling, delirious starvation, but Guinness’s performance fades somewhat as the film progresses because it is an imposture facing off against the real thing, Katie Johnson’s Mrs Wilberforce. The same is true of the others, who tend toward the cartoon. They are all entertaining, of course, except perhaps for Peter Sellers, an actor who was not inherently funny, whose comedy depended upon prop gags. You’d rather watch Katie Johnson sleep than watch him fumble with a gun. The only one who matches Johnson shot for shot is Danny Green as One-Round, the ignorant palooka strongman, because what he is doing as an actor is real. The look on Katie Johnson’s face as it dawns with the truth of what these bums are up to in her house is a sight to rejoice in. So gather your friends around like a tea cozy. You will all be pleased to be pleased. This film is vacation from the crude, a recess from the explicit. And when it is over you will have a discussion on what the word “entertainment” actually means. Although, of course, you don’t have to, because as with this film, entertainment frees us for a time into Liberty Hall, where, as Sean Kelly once told me, nothing is forbidden and nothing is required.

 

 

 

Under Capricorn

11 Jul

Under Capricorn – Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Costume Melodrama. An early 19th Century rake from Ireland is sent to Australia where he cleans up the marriage of a childhood friend and noblewoman now married to a rich peasant landholder. 117 minutes Color 1949.

* * * *

Not a suspense story, but rather one more along the lines of Rebecca, the story of a marriage threatened by a dark past, it is a film which rewards study. It was filmed, as was Rope, in long takes, looping through rooms and circling around and around, and it also involved the longest monologues you’ve ever heard, and it is good to hear them. The great Jack Cardiff filmed it, so it is velvet in motion. Looking wonderful in Regency costumes, Michael Wilding plays the playboy younger son out to make his fortune if he does not have to raise a sweat to do so. His long face moves so curiously that it’s rather hard to understand his craft as an actor, particularly when so many of his lines are rushed, as is the way with English actors of that era. It has five principal roles, three English, one Swedish, one American. Cecil Parker, Margaret Leighton, Wilding, Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman as his drunken wife. And it becomes obvious what is wrong with that mélange. Joseph Cotton is what is wrong, and it throws the entire film. He is miscast. He is supposed to be an ex-Irish stable boy who has married a milady, Bergman, well above his station. In the film, he is the one who suffers most, because of this class difference. But we never believe for a minute that he is a peasant. His opening moment is wonderful, as he enters a bank with a well-earned ruthlessness that has given him character. But he looses that thereafter, and ends up being just a middle-class American. Neither he nor Bergman tries for an Irish accent. Bergman always felt the public liked her Swedish accent, and she was right, they did. And Cotton just speaks American. Class accents are enormously important in distinguishing caste; Margaret Leighton is the only one who knows this. But the problem is that Burt Lancaster is not playing the part. (Of course there were no Michael Caines or Sean Connerys at that time.) Bergman plays her usual put-upon dame. She has no fight, she has no moxie. She never evinces the dash attributed to her. Being a victim was also what she figured her public wanted. She brings her peerless complexion to the character and a world-class charm in scenes with Cecil Parker. But the rest of the time she is making pastry. She brings a steady emotionalism of the role to bear, but was she ever deeply engaged emotionally in any part she ever played? In a way, I’ve got to hand it to her. There was something in her limited artistic imagination that allowed her audiences’ imaginations to fill in the blank. However, I found the film fascinating as a study of Hitchcock’s story-telling devices. Under Capricorn has been much maligned: notorious for not being Notorious. Instead, think of Rebecca and enjoy.

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