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Archive for the ‘Laird Cregar’ Category

I Wake Up Screaming

18 Mar

I Wake Up Screaming – directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. Who-Dun-It. 82 minutes Black And White 1941.

★★★★

The Story: A young waitress is fostered by a promoter, and she rises into café society until she is murdered, leaving her sister to find out who did it.

~

Gary Giddens of The New York Sun called I Wake Up Screaming one of the most beautiful black-and-white films ever made. The photographer is Edward Cronjager, perhaps the most prominent member of a family of Hollywood cinemaphotographers (Seven academy Award Nominations). At this stage of his long career he is at Fox, and this is one of the first film noirs ever made, and, if you are to judge by its photography, it would be a film noir, with its strong use of dark lighting, angles for dramatic effect, rich shadows, and so on.

But I do not define film noir solely by the way a picture is filmed. My definition of film noir includes that but also must include certain subjects and two sorts of character must be in them. Either a leading male character, who is so troubled and angry he must move outside or beneath the law to realize his destiny. Or a leading female character who is disempowered and must also move outside or beneath the law. And it must be in black and white.

These films emerge from 1941 through just after The War until 1951 or so. In the case of the male character, think of them as written for returning soldiers who have seen in the war a life that lay outside all law. It has made them cynical, hard, pessimistic, bitter, cold, and almost ruthless. The same is true for the female character. She has been on the home front in power to run businesses, work in factories, or mastermind all aspects the home. At The War’s end, all this is stripped from her. She moves into something for which the word crime is a euphemism.

Very few films fill these strictures for content, characters, and filmed treatment. One of them is Murder, My Sweet starring Dick Powell one of the two seminal film noir actors, the other being Alan Ladd in, say, This Gun For Hire, The Glass Key, The Blue Dahlia. These men engage in relationships (sexually highly charged because of their coldness) with un-marriageable blonds, such as Lizabeth Scott, Veronica Lake, and the great Claire Trevor.

Few people will agree with this careful view of the matter. Actually I am the only person who has to agree with it and I do. And it has nothing to do with I Wake Up Screaming which is noir only in its remarkable photography.

Betty Grable’s career started two films before this, both  musicals, both in color. But this year, 1941, she was to make one color musical, and two black and white films – one a comedy, A Yank In The RAF with Tyrone Power, and Wake Up Screaming, a drama.

I mention all this not just because she was to become the biggest grossing female star of her era and one justly loved by audiences all her life, but because, having made these two black and white films, Zanuck, the head of Fox, said, because of her Technicolor coloring, he would never put her in a black and white film again, and he never did,. But he wanted to. He wanted her to appear as the tart in The Razor’s Edge, a part Anne Baxter won an Oscar for. Grable refused on the grounds that she didn’t have the acting chops for drama and that the public would only accept her in sequins with her legs showing.

It’s a great example of actor-folly in believing that what the fans wanted should rule. Carole Lombard had the same failing. She never made another serious film after George Stevens’ Vigil In The Night, in which she is very good. Grable also fouled up on getting to play Miss Adelaide in the film of Guys And Dolls, a part she was subsequently to do a number of times on the stage. Grable is perfectly fine in I Wake Up Screaming. She’s responsive, game – a good dramatic actress. And she’s Betty Grable, which means she is sympathetic and you immediately care about her.

Grable is top-billed but the story is really that of the Victor Mature character, and the focus falls rightly on him. People dismissed him for years as a hunky lower-class Italian, which he may have been, but boy is he vivid when he shows up, and he has no trouble carrying the film. He is actually an excellent actor, particularly playing lightweight scalawags. He’s alive, susceptible, and full of fun. Look at his eyes. Delightful performance.

To help him we have no less than Allan Mobray, Allyn Joslyn, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Carole Landis. But supporting them all is the remarkable Laird Cregar as a sicko detective. He is an actor worth seeking out wherever you can find him – Hangover Square, Blood And Sand, Heaven Can Wait, This Gun For Hire, and Charley’s Aunt. Very few parts but remarkable. Dead at 26.

So this is a particularly rich collection of talent, and the story because of them is worth digesting. These are the days before Elmore Leonard. But this is the sort of thing he would do, particularly as regard the Laird Cregar character. Dwight Taylor (Laurette Taylor’s son) adapted the novel for the screen. I say see it. It’s beautiful in its way, and, when you do see it, tell me, why does it have that title?

 

 

 

Blood And Sand [1941]

22 Dec

Blood And Sand [1941] — directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Sports Drama. 125 minutes Color 1941.

★★★★★

The Story: A poor illiterate boy from Seville becomes Spain’s greatest matador, marries his beautiful childhood sweetheart, and then meets Rita Hayworth.

~

The lipstick on her mouth is the slash of death. As soon as she appears in purple, you know Tyrone Power is in Dutch. Anyone would be.

She’s 22 but she plays a woman of marked sophistication and massively confident sexual greed. She is never dressed down but always up and never less than to kill. Like gold coins, men move through what her choreographer Hermes Pan called the most beautiful fingers in the world. The part made her a star.

Even here, you can see what a good actress she is, her gift dependent upon her responsiveness. Just watch her in the big confrontation scene with Linda Darnell; watch how everything Darnell says to her hits her and what Hayworth does with it.  She has a natural inbred Meisner technique.

There are many attributes that made Hayworth a star, but let’s just notice one of them: her beautiful carriage. You’d have to wait until Cyd Charisse to meet her match. Look how the shoulders and hands are carried as she dances. She has three dances here, one sitting down playing a guitar in which she moves only her shoulders, one where she turns Power into a bull of her bidding, and one in full upright fornication which she does with Anthony Quinn.

Quinn, when young, is sexier than Power. His eyes burn with the hatred of an Italian whore; nothing could be hotter. And then we have Linda Darnell who is 17 years old here and unutterably touching. These film stars have such natural gifts. Darnell has the power to inhale with her eyes. It’s not a trick. She simply does it as an attribute of what she is. To witness such things is to cause wonder.

The weak link in all of this is Power himself who never has a hardon as the matador. He never investigates the character; he misses the eager brash guttersnipe of that scampering scamp of a boy he began as. You never feel his love of the sport, upon which the story depends. Of course, as in all bullfight movies, you cannot show the actor actually fighting the bull. If it were football, it would be different.

Blood And Sand is renowned for its color scheme of gold, ice blue, and blood red which the director imposed on it, and its Special Features contains a commentary by a modern cameraman Richard Crudo, a tutorial on the cumbersome challenge of Technicolor, which here is thick, rich, and saturated.

Mamoulian paints with film, right from the start with an all-but-naked adolescent boy racing through a blue moonlit countryside. He spray- paints Hayworth’s banquet flowers black. He spray paints John Carradine’s deathbed sheets grey. Darnell’s dresses are always white, black, or true blue. And Mamoulian dyed Hayworth’s hair auburn, which it remained for the rest of her career.

The backstage work of bullfighting is arresting, and we are treated to a supporting cast of considerable strength: Carradine as Power’s faithful friend, J. Carroll Naish as a wise fellow matador; Laird Cregar as louche journalist full of himself; as Power’s mother, storied actress Ala Nazimova. The movie is a lot of different sorts of fun: its camera work, color schemes, bright casting, two gorgeous young women. Although, as a whole, as you will see to your amusement and forgiveness, lead does not add weight to melodrama.

 

 

Blood And Sand [1941]

27 Jan

Blood And Sand — directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Sports Drama. 125 minutes Color 1941.

★★★★★

The Story: A poor illiterate boy from Seville becomes Spain’s greatest matador, marries his beautiful childhood sweetheart, and then meets Rita Hayworth.

~

The lipstick on her mouth is the slash of death. As soon as she appears in purple, you know Tyrone Power is in Dutch. Anyone would be.

She’s 22 but she plays a woman of marked sophistication and massively confident sexual greed. She is never dressed down but always up and never less than to kill. Like gold coins, men move through what Hermes Pan her choreographer called the most beautiful fingers in the world. The part made her a star.

Even here, you can see what a good actress she is, her gift dependent upon her responsiveness. Just watch her in the big confrontation scene with Linda Darnell; watch how everything Darnell says to her hits her and what she does with it.  She has a natural inbred Meisner technique.

There are many attributes that made Hayworth a star, but let’s just notice one of them: she has the most beautiful carriage. You’d have to wait until Cyd Charisse to meet her match. Look how the shoulders and hands are carried as she dances. She has three of these, one sitting down playing a guitar in which she moves only her shoulders, one where she subjects Power into a bull of her bidding, and one of full upright fornication which she does with Anthony Quinn.

Quinn, when young, is sexier than Power. His eyes burn with the hatred of an Italian whore; nothing could be hotter. And then we have Linda Darnell who is 17 years old here and unutterably touching. These film stars have such natural gifts. Darnell has the power to inhale with her eyes. It’s not a trick. She simply does it as an attribute of what she is. To witness such things is to cause wonder in us.

The weak link in all of this is Power himself who never has a hardon as the matador. He never investigates the character; he misses the eager brash guttersnipe of that scampering scamp of a boy he began as. You never feel his love of the sport, upon which the story depends. Of course, as in all bullfight movies, you cannot show the actor actually fighting the bull. If it were football, it would be different.

Blood And Sand is renowned for its color scheme of gold, ice blue, and blood red which the director imposed on it, and its Special Features contains a commentary by a modern cameraman Richard Crudo, a tutorial on the cumbersome challenge of Technicolor, which here is thick, rich, and saturated. Mamoulian paints with film, right from the start with an all-but-naked adolescent boy racing through a blue moonlit countryside. He spray paints Hayworth’s banquet flowers black. He spray paints John Carradine’s deathbed sheets grey. Darnell’s dresses are always white, black, or true blue. And Mamoulian dyed Hayworth’s hair auburn, which it remained for the rest of her career.

The backstage work of bullfighting is arresting, and we are treated to a supporting cast of considerable strength: John Carradine as Power’s faithful friend, J. Carroll Naish as a wise fellow matador; Laird Cregar as louche journalist full of himself; as Power’s mother, storied actress Ala Nazimova. The movie is a lot of different sorts of fun: its camera work, color schemes, bright casting, two gorgeous young women, although, as you will see to your amusement and forgiveness, lead does not add weight to melodrama.

 

 

Charley’s Aunt

21 Feb

Charley’s Aunt –– directed by Archie Mayo –– an 1892 comedy in which two Oxonians inveigle a pal to impersonate their aunt as chaperone for a visit from their girlfriends. 80 minutes black and white 1941.

* * * * *

Randy Skretvedt on the Special Features gives a nifty rundown of the lives and careers of every single person in the cast and crew. From this we learn oodles about Jack Benny, Kay Francis, Edmund Gwenn (whose deathbed words were, “Comedy is hardest”), Anne Baxter, Reginald Owen, Alfred Newman who did the music, Archie Mayo who directed it, and George Seaton who brilliantly adapted it for the screen. We are give such tidbit-info as that Laird Cregar was 24 when he played Sir Francis Chesney, the father of one of the 30 year old Oxonians. Cregar came on the set and announced to one and all, “To dispel any question about my preferences, yes, I am homosexual!” This in 1941; pretty good wouldn’t you say? I once played the part and I wish I had thought of his business with the cane. Watch for it. The play is unfailingly funny. It is the most popular English comedy ever written, and justly so. Jack Benny skedaddles around as the aunt, and his performance is on the level of Robin Williams as Mrs Doubtfire or Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie; that is to say nobody would be convinced that this is a female for one instant –– which in this case, unlike theirs, is part of the fun, since here everyone’s life depends on being convinced of it. Mayo’s direction is tip-top as he keeps things moving from brisk scene to scene, and Peverell Marly has filmed it exactly right to glamorize the women and deglamorize the men. Among the Special Features is a promotional short worth seeing, with Tyrone Power, just brilliant, coming on to have lunch with Benny, joined by a highly energized Randolph Scott (two of the most notable bisexual actors of  film). We’ve all seen Charley’s Aunt in the theatre, and we can now see it over again in our parlour, and over and over again. Good family fun, I should say, wot?

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