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Race Cars and Reindeer

Strange bedfellows in this week’s New York Times column, thanks to the vagaries of the DVD release schedule. On the one hand, here’s a stunning new Blu-ray edition of John Frankenheimer’s dramatically inert Cinerama spectacular “Grand Prix” (with extended passages directed by Saul Bass, who also designed the little-seen poster above); and on the other, “Laila,” a 1929 Norwegian film from Flicker Alley that imagines a Romeo-and-Juliet romance between a pious young merchant and the wild-child daughter of a nomadic reindeer herder. Directed by George Schnéevoigt, who was Carl Dreyer’s cameraman during his great burst of creativity in the early 20s (from “The Parson’s Widow” to “Master of the House”), it’s a magnificent landscape film that at times seems to anticipate the Murnau of “City Girl” and “Tabu.”

It’s with great sadness that I note the passing of Don Krim, who touched the lives of countless cinephiles through his stewardship of Kino International. Don was one of the rare distributors who cared as passionately about silent film as the latest indie productions and foreign imports, and he never for a minute seemed to be in it for the money. I’m sure the company he built will carry on his spirit, but I will miss him tremendously.

84 comments to Race Cars and Reindeer

  • That Wikipedia article on film formats is astonishing.

    Pop quiz: without consulting the IMDb or Wikipedia, can anyone tell me the name of the western I just finished watching?

    Its top-billed star plays Lola Montez, but the title character is played by Dan Duryea, who is billed second.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jeffrey Lynn.

  • Jaime,

    I had to look up the title.
    I saw part of this film, channel surfing a few months ago. It’s delightful, and keep hoping that it will be rerun so can see the whole thing, and write about it for my web site.

    I very much enjoyed your article on HELL’s HALF ACRE.

  • jbryant

    Barry wrote: “And I came to Haines through the back door.”

    Ironically, that would be a great set-up line in a comedy for a “straight man.”

    I thought Haines was pleasant enough in Jack Conway’s JUST A GIGOLO, if not the most convincing womanizer in the world. The pre-Code frankness is more naughty than prurient, but it’s fun as a curio. Fred Niblo’s WAY OUT WEST is certainly one to see, with Haines becoming, in effect, a slave to some cowboys he swindled (with plenty of gay subtext and in-jokes).

  • jbryant

    Has anyone noticed that this forum eats the spaces between commas and, occasionally, quotation marks? When did that start happening? Are evil hackers hoarding spaces for some nefarious purpose? There should be an investigation.

    Jaime, I, too, enjoyed your HELL’S HALF ACRE article, and am now two-thirds of the way through that fascinating film. Also watched THE MAN FROM TUMBLEWEEDS last night and, as usual, greatly enjoyed watching Lewis energize standard material.

  • Alex


    My guess (without Wikipeeking) is 1930 THE BIF TRAIL because of its 70MM version with that 2.2 to 1 aspect ratio.

    A kick and pastime!

    Not exactly the 1927 triptych 70mm NAPOLEON, but the closest thing to that innovation toi come out of the USA, no?)

  • Barry Putterman

    Oh, and since nobody (including me) has bothered to mention the actual title of the George Sherman directed, William Bowers scripted western to which Jaime refers, it is BLACK BART. A later Bowers scripted Universal western which also plays around with western history and legend in comicly entertaining ways is THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST (which Blake tells me the western channel has also started showing.) Favorite moment from BLACK BART; Lynn complimenting Duryea on starting a successful horse ranch and Duryea responding “It’s easy. Just get two romantically inclined horses and they do the rest.” Footnotes; BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID directly took it’s now famous ending from BLACK BART, and Universal did a cheapjack remake of it in the 60s called THE RIDE TO HANGMAN’S TREE.

    jbryant, I mentioned to Dave about the spacing problem and he seemed properly alarmed and said he was looking into it. Also, I WAS aware of who I was talking about when I used that back door line.

  • A kewpie doll for Barry! I knew you got it the first time, but…you know, I couldn’t make it TOO easy.

    Thanks for the compliments, all, and hope Mr. K doesn’t mind the linkage to my work on my site. This is one of the few places on the net trafficked by auteurists, that hasn’t self-destructed. You go where your audience goes, I guess.

    I wrote briefly about BLACK BART here:

    If Dave is writing about Auer for Film Comment, I hope we can also look forward to a piece on Sherman, too. I’m intrigued, to say the least.

    Mike Grost, BLACK BART is on Netflix Instant, which you mentioned you have, if I’m not mistaken. The print is okay, I guess – not amazing, but I’ve seen worse from their Starz collection.

    There are lots of Sherman films on Instant, although I’m not sure what to do when they say list the running time for a movie as being less than 60 minutes. Does that _necessarily_ mean it’s been cut for TV, or weren’t a lot of B-movies that short?

  • jbryant

    Barry: Oh, I knew your “back door” line was intentional. I was just trying to, um, piggyback on it with my “straight man” gag. I guess we’re no Wheeler and Woolsey.

    I recused myself from the BLACK BART guessing game, having seen the answer on Jaime’s Facebook page (I wouldn’t have known it otherwise). Sounds like another one for Instant Watch (the prints for THE MAN FROM TUMBLEWEEDS and HELL’S HALF ACRE looked quite good to me, though I watched them on my PC rather than my HD-TV).

  • Barry Putterman

    jbryant, I doubt that we’re even George K. Arthur & Karl Dane.

  • Folks, I’m afraid we’re having some software issues here as regards the vanishing spaces after commas and quotation marks. It looks like a bug that was introduced in the last version of Atahualpa, the generally well engineered theme that I’ve been using with WordPress to power this site; for the moment, it looks like all I can do is wait for the developers to catch it and issue an update. So I beg your patience.

  • Many of Joseph H. Lewis’ early B-movie Westerns are just 60 minutes long, or even shorter.
    Don ‘t know anything about the typical length of George Sherman’s B’s.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Dave, while we’re waiting I suggest we all watch Mizoguchi’s MY LOVE HAS BEEN KERNING.
    Whilst we listen to “Memo from Kerner.”

  • Well, I found the problem with the software — like a fool, I had my CSS set to “compress”! Hey, we all make mistakes! It looks like the kerning issue is gone now, so please, no more keening.

  • Just watched the opening title sequence of GRAND PRIX, presumably Saul Bass’ work.

    It is full of circles: especially car equipment, clocks, round mirrors.
    Also loudspeakers, camera lenses of photographers covering the race.

    Bass’ logos for products often tend to be based on circles.
    Not to mention those spirals in VERTIGO.
    And the round capitol dome for ADVISE AND CONSENT.

    PS Speaking of designers:
    Enjoyed LOOS ORNAMENTAL (Heinz Emigholz, 2008), a documentary look at 27 buildings by Vienna architect Adolf Loos. Very minimalistic in film technique. But loaded with certain kinds of visual style.

  • On the subject of Saul Bass, Alexandre Tylski at Positif (N. 601) recently wrote about the guy. There is supposedly going to be a book dedicated to the works of Bass and his wife/collaborator Elaine with text by Pat Kirham and it will include 300 pictures (a lot of them unseen) that will be organized by their daughter Jennifer, coming out sometime this year by Laurence King Publishing. ‘Phase IV’, which is described as his most celebrated film, sounds interesting; I see it is available on DVD. And the Bass graphic design/posters for Preminger and Hitchcock in ‘Art of the Modern Movies’ are especially well-done, single color backgrounds with the outlines of objects or people that symbolically capture the essence of the films.

  • Alex

    David K.

    I was hoping the bug could indeed be traced to the appearance of Atahualpa, since that seemed to suggest yet another mysterious facet of the films of the Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

  • Correction: The Saul Bass posters can be found in the book ‘Art of the Modern Movie Poster: International Postwar Style and Design’ whose notes are written by Dave Kehr.

  • jbryant

    Since I’m the one who blew the whistle on the kerning issue, do I need to watch my back? Did I inadvertently muck up a secret government plan to manipulate the media? More importantly, will there be a market for the rights to my account of the events, KERN AFTER READING?

  • Robert Garrick

    Mike, you’re right about Saul Bass and his love of circles, but there are exceptions, notably the opening and closing credits for “Psycho.” Bass was also a designer for the film, which is defined by the tall house and adjacent flat motel.

    As for “Phase IV,” I believe it is the only full-length film directed by Bass. I saw it when it first came out in 1974, and thought it was interesting but a little disappointing given Bass’s reputation. (It has to do with army ants taking over the world, and it was mocked in an episode of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000.” But so were lots of other good films. I am not a fan of that show, or of hecklers of films in general. When I find myself watching MST3000–generally by accident–I always want the guys in front to quiet down so I can concentrate on the film.)

  • Saul Bass also liked “repeating straight lines”.
    The PSYCHO credits are built on them.
    You can also see them in the poster above.

    Bass often combined the circles and repeating lines: see his logos for AT&T, or airlines.

    Bass also liked “multiple copies of images”. See his Girl Scouts logo.
    The poster for GRAND PRIX has two race cars.
    And split screen effects in the GRAND PRIX credits sometimes create multiple identical copies of images.

  • Bill Sorochan

    “Phase IV” is a terrific film! If memory serves correct, the opening 10 minutes are completely silent and the entire film has a disturbing momentum that works in a very mysterious manner. The ending was truncated and compromised by the Studio, but if you go to youtube and watch the trailer you can see snippets of the original ending-which really is a mind-expander!

    Having not seen “Grand Prix”-does Francoise Hardy sing in the film-perhaps the opening theme?

  • Blake Lucas

    “it was mocked in an episode of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000.” But so were lots of other good films. I am not a fan of that show…”

    You said it. The movie used for the MST feature was THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955, Joseph Newman), one of the most beautiful and moving of all science-fiction film. How can people arbitrarily mock something like this when there isn’t a hope they could ever do something remotely as good themselves?

  • Robert Garrick

    Indeed, Blake. On several occasions I’ve tried to watch the MST feature, just to catch a few snippets of “This Island Earth,” which is a film I love.

    I remember driving fifty miles to La Jolla, California, back in the late 1970s, to see “I Walked With a Zombie” at a midnight screening. (Back then, the film was not easy to see.) The theatre was full of beautiful people, the children of the extremely wealthy, and they laughed from the first minute of the film until the last.

    It still makes me mad to think about it, and I’ve had many similar experiences and so have all of you, I’m sure. Back in New York City, at the Cine Club, laughing at movies was not allowed. (Unless, of course, it was a comedy.) That was a good rule.

  • Is it copyright or cowardice which prevents MST3K from targetting far more recent, profligate and worthy turkeys such as The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Mars Needs Moms ?

  • On a completely different matter, a new book called Area 51, about the Nevada military testing area, in part charts the influence of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast on American – and Soviet – thinking about the susceptibility of the American public to panic reactions. The claims in the final part of the book come only from one source, but the Welles thread is interesting and supported with recently declassified documents.

    The book at Amazon:

    About the author:

    A preview of the book’s content from the L. A. Times:,0,786384.story

    Fresh Air interview with the author:

    The crazy part comes at the end.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    It’s not just copyright – it’s that no studio is going to turn over recent films with active creative people to a program that ridicules them.

    And honestly, I don’t care how bad a film is, whether recent or older, in being offended by the whole concept.

  • jbryant

    I’m not sure I should pry further at the lid of this can of worms, but I generally enjoy MST3K. True, it’s a shame when an actual good film such as THIS ISLAND EARTH gets pulled into their net, but I think that’s fairly rare (though I admit I’ve seen only a fraction of their nearly 200 episodes). Some films, such as MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, would probably be unwatchable WITHOUT the Satellite of Love crew weighing in.

    Oliver C: One thing keeping the show from targeting more recent fare is the fact that it stopped production in 1999. However, the MST3K alums still ply their trade in live screenings and a service called RiffTrax. As I understand it, they record commentary for films that are available on DVD. The consumer then syncs the commentary to the DVD playback. In this way, they can indeed riff on more recent or current fare, including the TWILIGHT and LORD OF THE RINGS films, thereby avoiding issues of legality, if not good taste. I just checked out their site, and PLUTO NASH is there, but it’s mocked by an affiliate group called Movie Masochists.

  • Robert Garrick

    The oddest film ever screened for the MST crew was probably “Kitten With a Whip.” Most of the films shown were indeed bad, and marginal, though there are a few auteur entries, like “It Conquered the World” (Roger Corman), “The Amazing Transparent Man” (Edgar G. Ulmer), and “Teenage Crime Wave” (Fred F. Sears). Hey, Sears is an auteur, isn’t he? The show had a particular fondness for the works of Bert I. Gordon. You can find the complete list on Wikipedia.

    I’ve got nothing against nasty humor. I grew up on the MAD Magazine parodies of popular films (the one for “Grand Prix” was called “Grim Pix”) and I firmly believe that SCTV is the greatest TV show ever. The problem with MST and with the notion of “camp” in general is that it promotes the idea that things that are old and unfamiliar are to be dismissed without further consideration.

    When I was growing up in Los Angeles, old movies were on TV constantly. I remember watching “Disraeli” (1929) when I was maybe ten years old, because I wanted to see what a film made in 1929 looked like. Kids today (these kids today!) live in the radical present. They aren’t exposed to old music, old films, or old TV shows, and they’re not curious about them. That’s a problem, and it’s going to be a bigger problem when they get older, because they will be responsible for preserving all of the old media.

  • “How can people arbitrarily mock something like this when there isn’t a hope they could ever do something remotely as good themselves?”

    How indeed.

    It seems to me that this mockery started in the 1950s with the rise of the horror movie host (or hostess.) In the New York City and Philadelphia TV markets John Zacherle (aka Zacherle) inserted himself via superimposition into the movie he was showing as well as making jokes during commercial breaks. This practice was followed by other horror movie hosts down to the most successful in recent years, Elvira in her syndicated “Movie Macabre”.

    I never liked even as a child. Truly lamentable

  • I’m a big admirer of THIS ISLAND EARTH in particular, and Joseph M. Newman in general. Newman is one of the most science-oriented of classical Hollywood directors. The science researcher hero of THIS ISLAND EARTH is a good example.

    Newman’s reputation benefits, when one looks not just at his feature films, but his early work in short films, and his later television work. Much of this cinema seems personal, reflecting his themes and approaches.
    Am looking forward to seeing LAILA, a film that is new to me.

    A film grounded in Sami culture I liked very much:
    THE CUCKOO (Alexander Rogozhkin, 2002).

    This Russian film has three characters: a Finnish and a Russian man, and a Sami woman. The finale takes a memorable turn into Sami mythology.

    I am not an expert in Sami culture, and cannot evaluate how good or bad the film is in representing Sami culture.
    But the film is certainly an absorbing story telling experience.

  • Mike, if you get the chance to revisit BLACK BART, I wonder if you’ll agree that Dan Duryea’s stick-up costume resembles that of Feuillade’s Judex.

  • Jaime,
    That is a fascinating idea.
    Will watch for it.

    George Sherman loved to have his characters dressed up to the nines – something that is consistent with Hollywood Norms, to be sure.

    So far, my favorite Sherman mysteries are MYSTERY BROADCAST and THE CRIME DOCTOR’S COURAGE, and favorite Western is REPRISAL!

  • I write mystery short stories.
    My detective Jake writes scenarios in silent era Hollywood.
    Here are Jake and his friends arriving at an Old Dark House to solve a mystery, in the midst of a torrential thunderstorm:

    “The butler took their slickers, and the tall top hats the men wore. The long shiny black coats were in the shape of opera capes, and stretched from their necks to their ankles. They had kept the four men’s white tie and tails underneath perfectly dry. The cape-shaped slickers, made to be worn over evening wear, were an innovation of Ambrosio Perlucci, the Mammoth-Art men’s designer. They looked splendid, dressy, but utterly unique. They reminded Jake a little bit of the cloak worn by Judex, the heroic avenger in Louis Feuillade’s movie crime serial. The capes were fastened at the throat by a silver chain. Perlucci had put a mysterious, abstract design based on a silver bird there, on the chain’s clasp. The design hinted tantalizingly of some hidden significance, one that seemed to fascinate everyone who saw it. Jake and his friends also carried ebony evening sticks, whose silver heads also contained the bird-like design.”

    This is from “The Tree of Life” (2004). No relation to the current Terrence Malick film.