RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Peter Lorre’ Category

The Constant Nymph

02 May

The Constant Nymph – directed by Edmund Goulding. Romance. 112 minutes Black And White 1943

★★★★

The Story: An adolescent girl has a crush on a classical composer who is a friend of the family.

~

She was a licensed pilot, and, after a flight from their grape ranch in Indio, she and her husband Brian Aherne were tired and decided to eat out before going home. They stopped at Romanoff’s.

In a nearby booth was Edmund Goulding, who had directed Grand Hotel, Dark Victory, The Great Lie, and knew Brian Aherne who was also English. Since Aherne had played the lead in The Constant Nymph in 1934, Goulding thought that Aherne might help with the casting of the female lead in the remake. Joan Leslie and others had been considered. He wandered over to their table.

“Sit down and join us, old boy,” said Aherne. “And, er, this is my wife.”

“Jack Warner wants a star, but she has to be consumptive, flat-chested, anemic, and fourteen,” said Goulding. “It’s impossible.”

“How about me?” said Aherne’s wife.

“Who are you?” asked Goulding.

“Joan Fontaine.”

“Oh my god, absolutely right!” Goulding ran to the nearest phone to call Jack Warner, and Fontaine was confirmed the next morning.

Fontaine had played Rebecca and Suspicion (the only Oscar winning performance in any Hitchcock film), and she would be nominated for The Constant Nymph.

Goulding was generally considered to be a genius director, and that is never more apparent than in his direction of this film. He rewrote a lot of the script to its advantage. His sense of the mis-en-scene, especially in the first half, is remarkable. The frocks on Joan Fontaine are by Sears-Roebuck, which is right, and the gowns on Alexis Smith are by Orry-Kelly and are  royal – indeed, one of them looks made from a bolt-end of Bette Davis’s metallic dress in Elizabeth And Essex. The lighting and camerawork Tony Gaudio did for him, the production by Henry Blanke and Hal Wallis which guaranteed Warner’s top talent, the sets, all make for a first class entertainment. As supporting actors, we have Peter Lorre, Alexis Smith, Dame May Whitty  and Charles Coburn — whose mere appearance in any picture is a comic situation in and of  itself.

But his handling of Joan Fontaine is what is most remarkable. For she is here as she had never been before and would never be again. She had generally played and would go on to play wan heroines and milksops, a series of vapid Rowenas. But in this film she is a lively teenager, tearing around the house with her sister, with her hair anywhichway. I could not believe this tedious and strained actress could act this charming, vivacious, spontaneous jeune fille. The picture is a wonder because of her. She always said it was her favorite film. It is the best thing she ever did.

With complete authority, Charles Boyer carries the part of the composer which he is probably too short, fat, and old to play. But he is entirely seductive, as usual, with his wonderful eyes and sensual mouth and deep and resplendent voice. Boyer is a great actor and enormously popular in his day – which, in this case, means an actor backed up by great internal vitality – such as, for instance, Tom Cruise.

Boyer’s score is by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, but the music side of the story does not work because it is gauche. But this is overridden by Goulding’s direction. His sense of setting and decor. And his handling of actors.

Aside from Fontaine, notice his handling of Alexis Smith, a cold actor, whom Goulding makes sure we see a different side of here. The same is true of Lorre and Coburn. Both are at first obnoxious and both we eventually root for. Indeed, we come to side with all these characters – he has written and directed them in the round — a great feat for a director.

Yes, everyone in Hollywood thought of Goulding as great director. But his Bette Davis movies, for instance, are not great as movies.  So where are his great movies?

Here’s one.

Perhaps one’s enough.

 

 

M

12 Oct

M – Directed by Fritz Lang. Satirical Drama. A child murderer is hunted by the police and also by the criminal populace itself. 117 minutes Black and White 1931.

* * * * *

Peter Lorre was a great actor and that is plain in this picture. Being Jewish he had to flee immediately to America, where he was cast in sillier and sillier roles, so much so that he was thought to be a silly actor, but it was not so. There is never a time now or later when you cannot identify with the terror of the worms he played as they were about to be stepped on by sadists.  Think of how, in his paranoia and degradation, he is always terrifying to behold. Think of him as an astounding piece of humanity revealed raw. His acting was so good we kept thinking it wasn’t acting. It is a mark of his genius and of acting genius itself that he was able to engage our participation so openly. Think of him in Casablanca in his frenzy as the Gestapo come for him. And see him here. Fritz Lang was half Jewish and had to flee to America soon after, where of course he had a big career also. Their instruments are well matched here in one of the most famous movies ever made – a completely contemporary and extremely humorous satire of the officiousness of Germans tracking down a serial killer. It’s so funny you won’t even laugh. It could have been made yesterday – except it wouldn’t have been this good. A masterpiece. Don’t miss it.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

 

 

Casablanca

07 Jun

Casablanca – Directed by Michael Curtiz. Escape Drama. A husband and wife seeking to escape fall into the hands of the wife’s former lover. 102 minutes Black and White 1942.

* * * * *

As everyone knows, none of the stars wanted to do it. There was no script when it started. Paul Henreid turned it down; his pal Bette Davis had to convinced him to perform it. When Bogart and Bergman met for a meal, they didn’t like one another. The director had a violent temper. The set was afire with arguments with the writers. They did not know how to end it, and so wrote two endings, shot the first, and when they saw it, knew it was right, and threw away the other one. The movie is a masterpiece of the balance of forces, particularly in the handling and placement of the supporting players. And it is also a masterpiece of Warner Brothers professionalism. Max Steiner wrote a big score which is fortunately suppressed by the inclusion of a good many songs. The lighting and photography by Arthur Edeson and the editing by Owen Marks are first class. But Bogart’s apparent character, sharp tongued and defiant, is countermanded by the affection and respect of his staff and what others will put up from him, how Peter Lorre sees him, how Sydney Greenstreet sees him, how S.J. Skall sees him, how Dooley Wilson and how Claude Raines see him. They create half of Bogey’s character. The drama is carried by these relations, all created by the dialogue, which won an Oscar, and not by the acting, which is plain, flat, direct, Hollywood crisp. All this gives Bogart a center from which his terrified eyes seek danger and give him a latitude wider than his staff, his night club, Casablanca itself. He seethes with supressed power. He is not a good actor, but he is a most effective one. Knocked over glasses prevail throughout the film as over and over again life threatens to be empty of wine. Bogart is introduced playing chess without a partner. Ingrid Bergman walks in with a partner, and Bogart does not resume the chess. Bergman is a good actor and brings variety and roundness and liquidity to balance Bogey’s Easter Island visage and Henreid’s Teutonic stone. Set off against them all is the glittering Conrad Veidt determined to eliminate them all. All these forces are held in perfect suspense as the escape works itself out. As we wait to see who will be on that plane and who will not. Nothing could be better.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

 

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button