Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Pictorial History of Film Cowboys & Their Wonder Horses, Part One

William S. Hart & Fritz

Buster Crabbe & Falcon

Ken Maynard & Tarzan

Film Director Alfred S. Rogell hitches a ride with Ken Maynard & Tarzan

Lash LaRue & Black Diamond

Tom Mix & Tony

Rex the Wonder Horse

Cuban cigarette cards for Rex the Wonder Horse

Gary Cooper, Betty Jewel & Flash the Wonder Horse in Arizona Bound (John Waters, 1927)

Photographs by Eugene Robert Richee.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Into the Green Hell of the Amazon!" -- John Bromfield & Beverly Garland in Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (Curt Siodmak, 1956)

"This Particular Kind of Thirsty Man" - Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945)

I don't see how the drunkard's first experience of the d. t.'s could be improved on by any means except possibly a dragging-out and brutalization of its climax. Frank Faylen's performance as a male nurse is fully as right and powerful; so is a shrieking free-for-all in an alcoholic ward—which is fought, however, by an incredibly mistaken use of "background" music. Ray Milland's performance as the alcoholic Don Birnam is debatable at first, but so absorbed and persuasive as the picture moves along that he all but wins the picture and the doubters over. There are also some first-rate re-creations of place and atmosphere—a soft-leather, soft-noised cocktail lounge, and a perfect setting of the Birnam apartment, and some shots of New York streets and times of day. At best there is a purity of tone and an acuteness about a city and the people in it which belong high in the movies' great classical strain of unforced, naturalistic poetry. While you watch it, it entirely holds you.

Thinking it over, though, there are curious and disappointing things about the picture. Good as he is, Milland is too robust for the best interests of his role; and in the earlier reels, when he is still sober enough to be assessed as a normal human being, it seems clear that neither he nor the director happens to know very much about the particular kind of provincially born, genteelly bred failed artist Milland is supposed to be playing. None of the other players seem thoroughly at home, either, in the commonplace yet extremely specialized kind of apartment they use, though Philip Terry's gentle performance as the brother is of itself good, and Jane Wyman is knowingly cast as a Time researcher. Howard de Silva plays the ambiguous bartender well and with force, but the force and his face, in this context, turn it into ambiguity for little tots. The players miscast as Miss Wyman's ultra-bourgeois parents are probably not to blame, but they turn a sequence where intelligence and restraint would have been particularly gratifying into heavy caricature.

The causes of Don Birnam's alcoholism were not thoroughly controlled or understood, I thought, in the novel. In the movie they hardly exist. It may have been the better part of valor not to try to tackle them, and not to dabble in streams of consciousness, but when you add to this the fact that Mr. Milland cannot convincingly put before you this particular kind of thirsty man, you can see that the picture is bound to lack certain important kinds of depth, warmth, and intensity, not to mention plain dramatic interest. It becomes, too much of the time, just a virtuoso piece about a handsome, practically unidentified maniac. In one or two scenes you get with some force the terrible humiliation which is one of the drunkard's experiences; but considering the over-all quality of the film, it is remarkable how much you seem to have been given, and how little you actually get. There is very little appreciation, for instance, of the many and subtle moods possible in drunkenness; almost no registration of the workings of the several minds inside a drinker's brain; hardly a trace of the narcissism arid self-deceit which are so indispensable or of the self-loathing and self-pity which are so invariable; hardly a hint, except through abrupt action, of the desperation of thirst; no hint at all of the many colorings possible in the desperation. The hangovers lack the weakness, sickness, and horrible distortions of time-sense which they need.

-- James Agee, On Film (1958)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Between Things - Cary Grant by Otto Dyar, 1935

I have no plans to write an autobiography, I will leave that to others. I'm sure they will turn me into a homosexual or a Nazi spy or something else. - Cary Grant

The constant, persistent dual identities, though, all synched up to the Grant onscreen, who consistently straddled plains. When he began making films in 1932, Paramount thought him a conventional romantic lead and plugged him into films accordingly to woo women as disparate as Sylvia Sidney, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West, but it didn't work. Grant seems adrift in his earlier movies partly and paradoxically because the studio kept tossing him lovely life rafts. Yet his best moment in the series's opening film, 1932's Thirty Day Princess (July 9), isn't his last romantic embrace with Sidney, but rather the tiny little moment at a frothy, fancy club. She asks him if someone broke his heart, and he practically throws away the answer, "Someone is going to," then shifts his face.

The standard clinch and kiss didn't suit Grant; he looked much more comfortable moving away from or between women, simultaneously stiff and impotent, a man apart. This distance, in fact, is what made him desirable. Bisexual may not be the right word for him so much as bilateral—he literally kept moving, and the camera raced to keep up with him alongside the women. Manny Farber singled out Grant's His Girl Friday performance as an example of how, arms and legs akimbo, ducking and diving, an actor can literally dictate a film's space. And the way that Grant dictated space, more often than not, was sexual. - Aaron Cutler, Slant Magazine, July 2010

Cinema is that which is between things - Jean-Luc Godard

Myrna Loy, Aviatrix -- Wings in the Dark (James Flood, 1935)

With an assist from co-pilot Cary Grant.