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Monday, February 21, 2011

The Case of the Lost Paradine scenes

Ann Todd and Charles relax between takes

Many of you may have probably read Hitchcok being quoted (ad nauseam) about his work with Laughton in Jamaica Inn. Such quotes have been historically used to berate Laughton and his work. Many people seem to forget that Hitchcock worked again with the "difficult" actor in The Paradine Case: Have you come across any complaint by Hitchcock about his work with Laughton in that film? Well, neither have I (so far). In the light of this, I guess that Hitchcock wasn't after all, that uncomfortable with Charles. This time things between the two Englishmen seemed to go smooth enough. Laughton was, as a matter of fact, the least of Hitchcock's concerns during the filming of The Paradine Case.

Hitchcock had trouble enough with the producer: David O'Selznick was writing (and re-writing) the script and was responsible for the final cut of the film, much to the director's chagrin. Also, he didn't like the casting for the leading parts: for the roles played by Gregory Peck, Alida Valli and Louis Jourdan, he actually wanted (but couldn't have) Laurence Olivier, Greta Garbo and Robert Newton... I, for one, think that we can only theorise about what a Garbo-Newton pairing could have been like, and believe that Jourdan suggested (better than Newton could have) the sexual ambiguity lurking under the valet's protestations of faithfulness to his deceased master. Peck is usually regarded by critics as a lesser counselor than the hypothetical performance by Olivier could have been, which reminds me of one critic's comment of how good Hellzapoppin could have been the Marx brothers starred in it (conveniently forgetting that Olsen and Johnson originated the show in Broadway).

The Paradine Case was the last film Hitchcock would do for Selznick, and not a fulfilling piece of work for him. It's no wonder that it wasn't among his favourites, and he would dismiss it on interviews. I personally think it's far from a bad film (a second rate Hitchcock is still more interesting than some other directors' first rate output) and can boast a handsome (and appropiately cold and somber) cinematography by Lee Garmes, an evocative score by Franz Waxman and engaging performances by the secondary players: Laughton in particular delineates a merciless portrait of stern justice with a touch of perversion (Lord Horfield's blunt flirtatiousness to Gay Keane -Ann Todd- seems to be a wink to the director's own obsessions)

Deleted scene: The defender and the judge in the art gallery

Hitchcock, and an unidentified crew member, prepare the scene with Gregory Peck and Laughton

The Barrymore nomination mystery
Since this post is meant to be part of a Blogathon devoted to film preservation, I'd like to to mention that some of the scenes deleted from the film's final cut have not been lost, the bad news being that there aren't any plans (to the best of my knowledge) for that footage to be used in a restoration or re-release of the film. Any discerning reader will have probably reached the conclusion that there was a lot of Laughton there (Yep, there is!)

These scenes also explain something that puzzled Calum Reed here: How Ethel Barrymore could have received an Oscar nomination for the film, having only a few scenes with little dialogue? Well, because she had originally more screen time.

Steven De Rosa sheds further light here, providing us with the script of those scenes, which deepen in the relationship and personality of Lord Horfield and his wife, and could have contributed to make a more rounded film. The fascinating thing about them is that the Horfields relationship seems to offer a dark mirror to the Keanes' marriage. Horfield dislikes Keane's passionate defence of his customers, maybe because that remembers him of a (long-gone) time when he still regarded criminals as human beings, and from his wife we gather that he used to be a more empathic man in the past (and one must assume a past in which poor Sophy's spirit had not been yet suffocated by years of marriage).

"Have you noticed how much the nuts resemble the human brain, Sophy? Which reminds me... What about comitting you to the nut house, darling?"

Horfield reveals to Anthony Keane that he fears his wife is losing her mind, even though it's obvious that Sophie's concerns about her husband's disquieting satisfaction after sending someone to the gallows hint that she thinks that "Tommy" is not very sane himself: Is she really loosing her mind, or is she just a meek wife who's frightened stiff of the heartless monster her husband has become? Judge Horfield's is possibly more insane than his wife, but his insanity serves the system, while poor Sophie's compassion may be regarded by everyone else as an undesirable sign of weakness.

Here's hoping that some day these scenes leave the vaults. Is there enough Paradine love for a new, restored DVD release?

A handful of Paradine Links
(all in English, unless otherwise stated):
:: David Cairns analyzes the Paradine syndrome
:: Voiceover’s Blog reviews the film (Spanish)
:: Two pieces ar Rouge.com: Douglas Pye writes In and Around The Paradine Case, while Mark Rappaport writes on the director's viewpoint
:: Olivier Eyquem writes on The Paradine Case here and here (French)
:: Atikus writes on two courtroom films with Charles (Spanish)
:: Jennythenipper has a case against The Paradine Case
:: William Martell gives us another review
:: Nick Zegarac reviews the last DVD release of the film

This post was written to support the For The Love Of Film Noir Blogathon.

Blogathon links
:: More information at Ferdy on Films
:: More information at The Self-Styled Siren
:: The blogaton's own home blog
:: The blogathon's facebook page
:: The website of the Film Noir foundation which will restore this year's film.
:: If you want to contribute with some money, here's the donation link

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Isn't it romantic?

Ah, Maurice, you lucky rascal! (and Charles seems to be enjoying every bit of it!)

Valentine day approaches, girls and boys, and we're not above lovebirds, so let's do something romantic, such as displaying our love... for film.

As last year, the For the Love of Film - Film Preservation Blogathon strives to raise awareness and funds for old movies in danger of being lost forever.

You can join by posting an entry related to film noir in your blog from february 14th to february 21st and/or giving a donation which will help rescue and restore an old film for future viewers.

For further information, I refer you to the following links:
:: More information at Ferdy on Films
:: More information at The Self-Styled Siren
:: The blogaton's own home blog
:: The blogathon's facebook page
:: The website of the Film Noir foundation which will restore this year's film.
:: If you want to contribute with some money, here's the donation link (Don't forget to include it in your own blogathon post!)
:: You can also check Greg's blog Cinema Styles, where you can find graphics you can use for the blogathon, and a terrific blogathon trailer:

Thy'n truly will try to post summat next week

Friday, December 31, 2010

A few Laughtonian tips for New Year celebrations

Wishing you a happy New 2011 from the Cub Room, where -you know- the elite meet

I'd like to excuse myself with this blog's readership about the scarcity of posts and lateness of comment replies. Things have not been going well as far as work issues are concerned and I haven't been in the proper mood to update properly. I intended to make, at least, a big post saying how much I had liked the recent Criterion release of Night of the Hunter, but by (dis)courtesy of Barnes and Noble, I'm not expected to have my copy before I get my Valentines (By the way, If any of you has reviewed this release or knows of a dandy link about it, feel free to send it as I'll love to include it in the links section of that upcoming post).

Still, we'll be celebrating a new year tonight (which will be hopefully better that the year we're leaving behind), so let's drink and be merry for tomorrow we lie (with a hangover), and to this end we'll be giving some wise Laughtonian advice. Underage visitors are kindly discouraged to keep on reading: nothing for you here, kids, nothing for you...

We might start with Charles and Elsa's first trip to America, in which Charles played "Payment Deferred" in New York and Chicago. The couple had fond memories of his time by Lake Michigan, although Charles was surprised to find that local mobsters were not as colourful as he had portrayed them in Edgar Wallace's 1930 stage hit On The Spot: "I spent three weeks there without seeing a machine gun or hearing a gun shot" Charles would later reminisce.

Tony Perelli, or Capone according to Laughton

Elsa had some other anecdotes of the Prohibition era. On the occasion of a lone Transatlantic travel (Charles was left working in California), she entertained a couple of high society fellow travellers with stories such as the one about a little shop in Times Square which was...
(...) Just a hole in a wall with room for a narrow door. It sold only one thing –apparently reddish-purplish house bricks. Actually, they were dried pressed grapes, and round each brick was a label that read: "DO NOT put this in three quarts of water at a temperature of 76 degrees and leave uncovered for three weeks, then strain and over and leave for six more weeks, as it will become alcoholic AND THIS IS AGAINST THE LAW!"

She thought that New Yorkers had all "furry tongues and bad breath from drinking bathtub gin, which made plain tap water taste horrible", to which her rich acquaintance replied "Tap water, tap water, what does it taste like?

We have a useful tip by Charles' younger brother. When Charles, who was the elder son, relinquished his first-born right to direct the Pavilion Hotel of Scarborough in order to become an actor, his younger brother Tom was more than keen to take the post. As it turned, Tom may not been originally chosen by his parents for the job, but filled Charles' shoes quite efficiently, and possibly became a better (and more enthusiastic) hotelier than Charles would eventually have.

Tom left a book of memoirs in which he talks a bit about his famous brother, and mostly about his family's trade: his remarks on food and drink are quite worth reading, for he was as much a gourmet as his brother was, though of course he had by trade to oversee its quality on a daily basis to serve an important number of customers, so he was much more the pro in this regard.

Tom was keen on listening to the advice of those who worked for him, as in one occasion when he had to attend a party, and feared that the social obligation of drinking might obliterate his ability to attend the guests properly throughout the soirée (a situation in which many of us may find ourselves tonight). A butler gave him the advice of swallowing two desert spoonfuls of olive oil before drinking. This worked splendidly, though it must be said, much to Tom's regret:
(The party) was gay from the start, and still gayer as the party progressed, except for me. The butler's recipe was only too successful. For once in my life my capacity to take in alcohol was unlimited; it was passing through my stomach lined with with olive oil without getting into my blood stream. On the way home the roads were a sheet of ice, cars were skidding, and the car I was in did a double spin. What terrific fun for everyone, everyone except me –the only sobre one in the party. I have never taken precautions before going to a party since.

Anyway, whether your drinks are made from pressed grape bricks or not, and regardless of whether you take a spoonful of olive oil or none, celebrate and have fun tonight but drink wisely. And of course, don't drive drunk as the car might spin more than twice.

Be the soul of the party! Charles and Dean Martin on the sax, Dorothy Lamour plays the clarinet and Jerry Lewis slaps the bass

Notes on sources:
Charles is quoted from an interview in The Observer in 1932. Elsa's anecdotes are as told in her 1983 autobiography "Elsa Lanchester Herself", and Thomas Laughton memoirs Pavilions By The Sea

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Miracle Can Happen

Today I was feeling like Félicie, the heroine of Eric Rohmer's Conte D'Hiver , because, you know, I found out that it's worth waiting for miracles to happen, even if the chances are seemingly infinitesimal.

What happened, then? Well, you may remember that a couple of years ago there was talk about a new DVD release of The Night of The Hunter. The project seemed shelved shortly after its announcement, and I crossed my fingers in case that cancellation was for the better.

And then today, Professional Tourist most kindly e-mailed me the news. Well, fasten your seatbelts!:

Night of the Hunter will be released in november in a two-disk DVD and Blu-Ray edition. By Criterion. With loads of extras.

I will confess that a NOTH edition by Criterion was the ultimate dream of many film-lovers. Personally, the actual release comes very near to my wildest cinephile dreams :

:: New, restored high-definition digital transfer (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
:: Audio commentary featuring assistant director Terry Sanders, film critic F. X. Feeney, archivist Robert Gitt, and author Preston Neal Jones
:: Charles Laughton Directs “The Night of the Hunter,” a two-and-a-half-hour archival treasure trove of outtakes from the film
:: New documentary featuring interviews with producer Paul Gregory, Sanders, Jones, and author Jeffrey Couchman
:: New video interview with Simon Callow, author of Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor
:: Clip from the The Ed Sullivan Show, in which cast members perform live a scene that was deleted from the film
F:: ifteen-minute episode of the BBC show Moving Pictures about the film
:: Archival interview with cinematographer Stanley Cortez
:: Gallery of sketches by author Davis Grubb
:: New video conversation between Gitt and film critic Leonard Maltin about Charles Laughton Directs “The Night of the Hunter”
:: Original theatrical trailer
:: PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critics Terrence Rafferty and Michael Sragow

You see, the extras are substantial in amount and quality: One the most welcome features are Robert Gitt's documentary Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter, containing precious outtakes of the film, and the comments, interviews and contributions by first-rate Laughtonians and people who participated in the making of the film.

One still would have wished a few more items: I feel that Simon Callow's 1987 documentary about Charles Laughton would have been a fine addition to the luxuriant list of extras, and hopes that the interview can make up for it. I'd also liked that there was an extra disk containing the original soundtrack... Still, this upcoming release sounds like near perfection, and will certainly be welcomed by most.

I'd like to thank anyone who ever spread the love for this film, and particularly, those who joined this blog's campaign, which I hope helped at least to send the right vibes for the thing to happen, also to a few choice entities who have obviously been very thankful for their wax candles. And thanks indeed to the guys of Criterion, for taking the challenge and making a dream come true!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Of looks and millinery

Elsa Lanchester:
Before any production, Charles would play with his new props–putting on a hat and taking it off, hanging it up, putting it down, at home, in his dressing room, or in the producer's office. This was a time of fun for Charles and any audience around him. He could look at you from under a hat brim like nobody else could. He knew he could captivate and mesmerize.

There's so much talk, and ink on paper, on the topic of "Charles not standing his face in the mirror", that I often wonder if this was really so, all of the time. Laughton may have been, in Simon Callow's deft definition "A disappointed narcissist", but, personally, I don't think he was as emo about his looks as Higham depicts him (often bordering the caricature), in fact, I'd go with Callow when he writes that "(Charles') ugliness, one might say, was a technique, rather than a condition". And Elsa's above quote underlines Charles' knowledge about his own power to charm people, in short, a Charles who was well aware of his attractiveness.

Charlie as a lad of twelve, in an early rehearsal of his under-the-brim bussiness, and not yet looking too bad, in his own opinion

So, he could look himself into a mirror (otherwise, the daily shaving would have been quite a chore). There's in fact, an interesting quote by Peter Bogdanovich:
When I was sixteen or seventeen, my parents used some connections they had to arrange for me to go backstage and meet Charles Laughton, who I believe was playing in Shaw's Don Juan In Hell (which he also directed). He was quite heavy and awfully nice in a slightly gruff yet self-deprecating way. When I told him I wanted to be an actor he said, "Well, you should have no trouble–you're a good-looking boy. I've looked like the hind end of an elephant since I was twenty-one."

So, at least, up to being 21 of age, Charles seemingly didn't consider himself ugly-looking. One ponders if it was merely a manner of speaking, or whether something happened to him around that age which made him look into the mirror in a different way for ever more...

Well... Happy belated 111th birthday, Charles! (because your birthday was on July 1st... Today, of course, is Tura Satana's birthday)

Simon Callow's Charles Laughton, A Difficult Actor; Elsa Lanchester's Elsa Lanchester Herself; Peter Bogdavich's Who the Hell's in It: Conversations with Hollywood's Legendary Actors

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Buddy, buddy

From left to right: Gary Cooper, Laughton, Jobyna Ralston, Jack Haley and Richard Arlen (circa 1933)

In the above picture, Gary Cooper smirks to the camera and leans over Charles in a chummy manner, and Charles looks quite happy. If you are interested in some background about this image, keep on reading.

1932. Charles and Elsa arrive to Hollywood after he's reached a suitable agreement with Paramount: A three year contract, two films a year, which will allow Laughton to combine film and stage work. Charles rightly expects that thanks to Paramount's money he will be able to afford non-commercial theatrical ventures (1), but is a bit surprised that, in spite of Paramount's pressing demands for him to hurry to the West Coast, he is left to wait in California with little to do.

While his friend Benn Levy works in the script of The Devil And The Deep (the film devised by Paramount to be his Hollywod debut), Charles and Elsa wander around Hollywood: it's a curious place, but both feel a bit homesick, specially her (2). Charles finds an occupation in snooping around and investigating about Hollywood studios' working systems, so different from his previous and fleeting film experience in Britain. And the difference between stage and screen acting! Charles realises that he must work hard in order to adapt his style to suit the camera, so he welcomes the opportunity of playing a small role in a film directed by his friend James Whale at Universal, The Old Dark House, which will be his first actual Hollywood film (if not officially).

Useful as his experience under Whale's direction is, he now faces the challenge of playing a lead role, pitted against one of Hollywood's more popular stars, Gary Cooper: a bit of tension would have been expected, all the more when the female lead was played by Tallullah Bankhead, who didn't precisely warm on Laughton (3). Miss Bankhead seemed to ignore the man who was to play her husband onscreen: her only declared interest in her Hollywood foray had been to meet Gary Cooper, with whom she expected to be able to strike up a friendship, if not, hum, more. However, if you think this is a landscape with a storm brewing, you're wrong.

Charles was, in fact, struck by a revelation when he saw Gary Cooper casually light a cigarette on the set:
I knew then that he’d got something I should never have, I went across the set and asked him to tell me how he did it. He looked shy and bewildered and said that I ought to know better than he did. I was from the stage and he was just a ham movie actor

... If you're reading between lines, it's evident that, well, Charles got a bit of a crush on Cooper, but his reasoning nevertheless contains a great truth: we might say that he realised what a film star's power was about, as opposed to character -or craft- acting. Some time later he would elaborate further his thoughts on the differences between Cooper's style and his own:
We act in opposite ways. His is presentational acting. Mine is representational. I get at a part from the outside. He gets at it from the inside, from his own clear way of looking at life. His is the right way, if you can do it. I could learn to do it, but it would take me a year to do what he can do instinctively, and I haven’t the time…

Laughton would in fact, take a stance in defending film acting such as Cooper's. Laughton's sincere praise wasn't an usual move at a time when it was fashionable among theatrical people to look down upon film actors, a practice that he would emphatically criticise in an interview in 1934:
Why must the so-called high-brows vilify them? For every popular screen personality there’s a sound, underlying reason… and a very good reason. Actors and actresses don’t just become stars because a producer puts them in a picture, or because they are beautiful. There’s a reason for their success. Each one has some unique something, important enough for the public, in large droves, to pay money to see. The public in general doesn’t analyse this appeal; they realise it subsconsciously

But back to 1932 and The Devil and The Deep: However bitter their enmity was onscreen, offscreen Charles and Coop became the best of pals. Richard Schickel describes the situation:
Worse than the silly (4) scenario were the working conditions. Cooper, in the midst of a salary squabble with the studio, was uncharactheristically sulky and, despite his reputation as one of Hollywood's leading studs, impervious to Bankhead's determined advances. She, in turn, took an intense dislike to laughton who, completing an unlikely triangle, was smitten by the gorgeous Cooper. Not that any overt homosexual advances were made, but laughton, envying him his easy naturalism, would go to his grave proclaiming Cooper one of the best actors he had ever worked with

It's fun to bear this in mind when you thing that in the film, Lieutenant Sempter (Cooper) is Diana Sturm's (Bankhead) lover, and that Mrs. Sturm still has a bit of love left for the overjealous husband who mistreats her, and Captain Sturm (Laughton) hates both intensely: In real life, is not unlikely that it was Tallullah the one that got crossed while Coop taught Charles how to smoke for the camera and, in spite of Charles' admission that he wouldn't have time to catch up with Coop's manner onscreen, he would soon prove his ability to incorporate into his own work some of what he admired in the Montanan's acting: just a few months later, in Island of Lost Souls, Laughton would show that he could have his way with cigarettes in front of a camera.

While discussing Laughton's early difficulties at working with Clark Gable a few years after in Mutiny On The Bounty, Simon Callow points at other factor that may have drawn Charles to admire Cooper:
(...)Gary Cooper's perhaps even greater beauty had not disturbed laughton in the least: he had frankly admired him, both as an actor and in physical terms. perhaps the key word, here, however, is 'beauty'. Cooper, with his ravishing androginy, full of lip, luxuriant of eyelash, gentle of manner, had -at least in his performing personality- found a perfect balance between his mascuine and feminine elements, which was no threat to Laughton. It was exactly the balance that he longed to achieve himself but which for most of his life resolved itself into a battle, rather than a blend

Unfortunately, Laughton and Cooper wouldn't work together in another film: while they both act in If I Had A Million, they do so in different episodes of this anthology film. A chance to do so came close when Charles considered Cooper to play Preacher Powell in The Night Of The Hunter, a role which was eventually -and memorably so- played by Robert Mitchum. Mitchum owned the role in such way that it is difficult to imagine any other actor playing Preacher... One still wonders, though, how Cooper would have fared in the same part.

Some links:
:: Girl Friday reviews the film
:: at Another review at Greenbriar Picture Show
:: Fictional Film Club makes an interesting -and entertaining speculation- about what a new collaboration between Laughton and Cooper could have been: The Trascendentalist

Simon Callow's "Charles Laughton, A Difficult Actor", Elsa Lanchester's "Elsa Lanchester Herself", Preston Neal Jones' "Heaven and Hell To Play With", Richard Schickel's "Matinee Idylls" and a 1934 interview to laughton at PictureGoer

1) In fact, this first stint at Paramount will help Charles afford to materialize an old dream: spend a season playing Shakespeare at the Old Vic (in 1933-34).
2) Elsa would recall, by the time they reached California "Charles was a nobody, and I was the wife of as nobody". Not long after she would return to London, leaving Charles alone: MGM shoot a film adaptation of "Payment Deferred", which Charles and Elsa had played on London and Broadway, but Maureen O'Sullivan was cast in the part Elsa had played in Broadway, which to the homesick Elsa proved to be the last straw: she swiftly returned to London, leaving Charles in California.
3) Curiously enough, for Miss bankhead was a good friend of Elsa... or maybe precisely because of that?
4) While the odd combination of a love triangle, mad jealousy, exotic settings and submarines may seem a bit contrived, the truth is that The Devil And The Deep mixes those elements with a certain charm... A contemporary film with the same ingredients (plus a few explosions to give the recipe a zeitgeisty zest), would probably give far more silly results.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The last of Ben Harper

"I'm going now, children... Goodbye"

While most obituaries about the recently deceased Peter Graves remember his work in the TV series "mission impossible", many of you may also remember him as Ben Harper, the good man whose only day of dishonesty takes him to the gallows, a short but relevant role in The Night of the Hunter...
I was working with John Ford in a picture. One day I started to say: "About this scene. This part I'm playing. I think that–" Ford snapped me shut. "Don't think in my picture, " he growled. Moving from Ford to Charles was like moving from hell to heaven

So stated Graves when asked about his memories of The Night of the Hunter. Laughton is sometimes pointed as a "difficult" actor by some directors, but Peter Graves' comment makes evident that even actors without a feisty reputation on the sets resented being treated by directors as if they were objects. It should be no surprise that, when Laughton was behind the camera, wouldn't forget what it felt like to be in front, and in consequence, be considerate towards them, to the point that he wouldn't interrupt takes with a "Cut!", and keep the camera rolling, in order to preserve his actors' concentration (this curious proceeding, by the way, left a remarkable lengtht of precious celluloid).

Laughton directs Preacher trying to convince Ben Harper about making a substantial donation to his holy cause

I'll give you again a link to a recent interview with Peter Graves .

Plus a few homages in the blogosphere: Plumas de Caballo , Bright Lights after dark , Screensavers , Edward Copeland on Film.

...And in the online press: The Guardian , The New Yorker , The Times , The New York Times , Los Angeles Times , El Pais.