Losey in Love

This week’s NYT column is mainly about Joseph Losey’s “The Romantic Englishwoman,” which has returned to distribution after a long absence in a handsome new Blu-ray (and standard DVD) from Kino-Lorber.

But the poster for “Night Flight” is so much better! It’s a 1932 Clarence Brown film, very loosely based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, that’s been out of legal distribution since the 40s, when MGM’s rights to the novel lapsed. Warner Home Video has resecured the title and the film is now available as a handsome, full-fledged (not Warner Archive) DVD. It may not be a major rediscovery but it’s a good picture, perhaps chiefly of interest for the way Howard Hawks clearly plundered it for his much superior “Only Angels Have Wings” (the same way he helped himself to “Underworld” for “Scarface” and “Casablanca” for “To Have and Have Not”). The art of the steal . . .

78 comments to Losey in Love

  • Tim Bodzioney

    Dave,

    Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl is available through MGM’s MOD program.

  • Thanks, Tim. I just found it on Netflex, too, along with “Captain John Smith,” “The Cruel Tower,” “Hot Rod Gang” and “Davy Crockett, Indian Scout.”

    Alex, that is what we in the trade call a “spoiler.”

  • Barry Putterman

    Does the Landers hunt include all of his “Topper,” “Tales of the Texas Rangers” and “Highway Patrol” episodes as well? And I speak of the mere tip of the TV iceberg here. Unlike the countless other mid to lower level studio directors from Robert Florey on down, Landers not only seems to have produced literally hundreds of TV episodes in the 50s, but still had time left over for history lessons regarding Captain John Smith, Captain Kidd and Davy Crockett. Is it any wonder that Landers was selected to direct episodes of “I Led 3 Lives.”

  • Random viewings of Lew Landers over the years left pleasant memories of The Man Who Found Himself, They Wanted to Marry, Double Danger, Sky Giant, Murder in Times Square, The Power of the Whistler, Under the Tonto Rim, The Magic Carpet.
    And of such TV episodes as Maverick: Easy Mark, Cheyenne: Riot at Arroyo Seco, Bat Masterson: Dead Men Don’t Pay Debts.

    Finding auteurist consistency in all this has so far eluded me. But then, have not really given it the old college try yet, either.
    Double Danger and Maverick: Easy Mark feature good natured rogues and have a pleasant comic sparkle.
    ***
    Among George Archainbaud features, enjoyed Shooting Straight, Framed, The Silver Horde, The Penguin Pool Murder, The Lost Squadron, Three Who Loved, Keep Em Rolling, Last of the Pony Riders.

    He also directed a lot of the Gene Autry TV show.

  • jbryant

    I would think the sheer volume of Landers’ output would make it difficult for him to leave an auteurist mark. Did these productions afford him time to develop the material or put much thought into a visual plan? Pure instinct must take over at some point — set it up, make the shot, move on to the next. If his instincts were sharp, that was probably sufficient, but I’d be interested to know if he managed to develop a style other than “perfunctory.”

  • Robert Garrick

    Landers’s best films are way better than “perfunctory,” but obviously when you crank ‘em out like he did, much of the work will be ordinary. Still, when you compare him to people like Jean Yarbrough or William Beaudine, he looks awfully good. Sometimes it’s possible to do a pile of TV work and still keep an edge–John Brahm did it.

    Another Landers film that I’ve seen a few times, though not for 35 years, is “The Boogie Man Will Get You” (1942). It was an attempt to play off the popularity of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and while “Boogie Man” is no masterpiece, I do enjoy it more than the Capra film. My impression is that Landers always tried to add a few touches to his films, while working within tight budgets and schedules, and often with lame scripts.

    He made “The Raven” in about two weeks. That’s astonishing, given the visual pyrotechnics in that film and the rapid-fire editing. At one point Karloff shoots out a circular roomful of mirrors after he sees his “ugly” face. Did Orson Welles use that idea for the finale of “Lady from Shanghai”? (It seems clear enough that Bogdanovich took the ending of “Targets,” also involving Karloff, from “Shanghai.”)

  • There is even a Finnish connection in the oeuvre of Lew Landers. He directed Ski Patrol (1940) on the Finnish Winter War, but its most entertaining aspect may be its distance from reality, and it was never shown in Finland. Tomorrow it’s time for Bologna with a Howard Hawks retrospective: finally I’ll get to see (what remains of) Cradle Snatchers and Trent’s Last Case.

  • Shawn Stone

    Robert,

    THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU is available in a Sony Icons of Horror Karloff set. It it fun, and is a lot less heavy than ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Alas, everything remains of Trent’s Last Case. At one of its rare screenings Hawks stormed the projection booth, hoping to seize the print and consign it to oblivion. In terms of style and narrative intelligence, the film is akin to that reel-long scene in the pre-release version of The Big Sleep where Marlowe discusses who-did-what with the D.A. and the cops. A woefully misconceived movie.
    No, I’m not endorsing the idea that this or any film should be consigned to oblivion. But seeing this long-thought-lost film at AMMI about a decade-and-a-half ago was sorely depressing. (Great series, though, affording the opportunity to see the likewise-thought-lost Fazil and The Cradle Snatchers.)

  • Did they find the ending of “Trent’s Last Case,” Richard? When I saw it at the Library of Congress many years ago, the last reel (shot with sound, apparently) was missing, which left the resolution of the mystery completely up in the air. I do have a spectacular one-sheet from it, which I’ll post if I can find the time.

    Would love to see “The Cradle Snatchers” again, which I recall as an anticipation of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” — smart women manipulating childlike males.

  • Barry Putterman

    While no great fan of TRENT’S LAST CASE (in whatever state of completion I saw it in at it’s showing at AMMI), no film with Raymond Griffith in it should be consigned to oblivion. There is little enough left surviving of his work as it is.

    FAZIL was never considered “lost” to anybody who was in the general proximity of William K. Everson. He showed his print both on request and at The New School.

  • Robert Garrick

    Everson had a 16mm print of “Fazil” that he used to show around town in the 1970s. I’d love to see it again, though. I saw most of the early Hawks films at Doc films circa 1978–that’s Mr. Kehr’s influence, though he was gone by then. But they didn’t show (and I still haven’t seen) “The Dawn Patrol.”

    I am fascinated by our host’s publicity collection–are those actual posters (or inserts or 22x28s) heading these threads? I have quite a bit too–I bought most of it in the 1970s from Canton and Memphis, and a little bit from Larry Edmunds (and elsewhere). But money was tight then and I have many regrets. I once turned down a perfect complete lobby card set (8 cards) from “Citizen Kane” because I couldn’t afford it, circa 1975. The price was $17/card. (The seller also had a complete set from “Ambersons,” which I also turned down, but I broke the set by buying one card.)

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Looking over the work of Peter Falk (RIP), it is notable that he is one of the last actors who worked with directors as varied as Nick Ray, Capra, Aldrich, Blake Edwards, Cassavetes, Elaine May, Gordon Douglas, then throw in more recent ones like William Friedkin and Wim Wenders. Not only a great actor, but someone not willing to let his fame and fortune from TV define him alone.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Regarding Clarence Brown: as we know, Brown was a protégé of Maurice Tourneur, and a number of his films employ interesting long take staging in depth perhaps traceable to that influence. To list three examples: 1) the tracking shot of Louise Dresser walking toward the camera down the country road in THE GOOSE WOMAN (1925), accompanied by her goose. 2) Joan Crawford watching as a train passes by her, each open window giving her a glimpse of a luxurious life hitherto unknown to her, in POSSESSED (1931). 3) The climatic scene in THE RAINS CAME (1939) when Myrna Loy, nursing during a plague, serves a sick patient some water. Tired, she sits down, and pours herself some water, accidentally using the contaminated glass instead of a clean one. She drinks, and then realizes she has poisoned herself. All of this is done in a single take with some fluid, unobtrusive camera movement; and there is no accenting of her crucial mistake by any sort of dolly in or other movement. Almost any other director, I think, even in the classical era (let alone now) would have called attention to her mistake with, at least, a cut-in. It’s a tribute to Brown’s reputation, I think, that producers at the three different studios that released these three different films let Brown shoot these scenes in these striking ways.

    Are there any scenes in NIGHT FLIGHT with some similar quality? Perhaps there were but the pre-release panic might have sacrificed them. As an additional query, while looking at Brown’s credits on IMDB just now, I noticed that Brown is listed as “uncredited” as director of POSSESSED. Was any director credited? I wonder what happened here, as POSSESSED, unlike the multi-directed I TAKE THIS WOMAN, wasn’t filmed by many directors so far as I know.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Brown was the credited director of Possessed. IMDb isn’t perfect, and one of the weird things they do some time is list films as having no credited directors.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, as far as I’ve ever known, Brown was the one and only director of POSSESSED. It has been a long time since I’ve seen it, so I’m not certain whether his name somehow got left off of the pictures in those cavalier days of film credits or Imdb is simply up a tree here.

    Of course, Thalberg’s Metro was the king of post-preview re-takes. And, quite often, they used whoever was immediately available for the re-takes if the director was too deeply into another project to return for them. So, there is actually all kinds of “uncredited” work up and down MGM’s core of contract directors. But the objective here was to make the new footage blend seamlessly with the style of the rest of the film, rather than place your individual stamp on it.

  • jbryant

    The opening credits of POSSESSED state “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Joan Crawford in Clarence Brown’s production POSSESSED.” There’s no separate directorial credit. You see this a lot in early 30s films, and it always flummoxes the imdb folk.

    Youtube has the scene from POSSESSED with Crawford and the train, as Gregg described above: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7ztycKWFqE

    In fact, the whole movie is there, in 10- to 15-minute sections, but perhaps I shouldn’t post the links here. If you search “Possessed 1931″ it comes right up.

    There’s a great bit right before the train scene with Crawford and Wallace Ford walking home after work, the camera tracking with them. In the background, you see a row of homes that reveal the domestic life Crawford wants to escape, most prominently a woman trying to keep her drunken husband from leaving. It’s a clever set-up to the train scene, which gives Crawford a series of windows into the life she wants (this time with the camera stationary and the b.g. moving).

  • Barry Putterman

    The other thing about Thalberg’s MGM was that he didn’t allow his staff producers to take screen credits. So “A Clarence Brown Production” indicates that he served both functions rather than “Directed by Clarence Brown” where he would be working for another uncredited producer,

    Imdb is invaluable, but computer literal mindedness sometimes causes unnecessary complications.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Thanks for explaining that Barry – I’ve always wondered why this happens.

    Two other IMDb examples are Flesh/John Ford and The Criminal Code/Howard Hawks.

    My biggest complaint is that they invert the order of names to make them always given name first, family name last, not only for those where it has become common practice contrary to their native countries (Japan, Hungary, West Africa) but also where previously the correct way was written (China, Korea). Go there and you find Yun-Fat Chow, Tse-Tung Mao and Ki-Duk Kim. Unfortunately, with it being such a commonly used tool, the wrong order is now becoming commonplace, and when it’s pointed out, others accuse you of being crazy and difficult.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    George Sherman alert:

    Encore Western is showing (for the first time) two of his Universal westerns tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon/evening – Black Bart (referred to here a couple threads back) and Border River.

    Check your local listings….

  • Blake Lucas

    Also Sherman’s Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (on which the director is credited for the story). Though I didn’t see any promotionals I believe this is actually a Yvonne De Carlo tribute–a nice idea, as these Western channel tributes are usually reserved for male stars. They are also showing The Gal Who Took the West (Frederick de Cordova)–Barry Putterman take note. And much later movie produced by Batjac–McLintock! (Andrew McLaglen), in which De Carlo is a co-star (though I guess this will be pan and scan). When I looked it was two rounds through the day for most if not all of these.

    Kind of sorry they are not showing Sherman’s River Lady and Tomahawk too, the last-named title probably his best with De Carlo in the cast but I like all of his she is in.

  • Barry Putterman

    Thank you Blake. Note has been taken.

    And while on the subject of Universal westerns leading ladies, I will return the favor by mentioning that I received the mailing for this year’s Cinecon today, and one of the announced in person guest stars is Julie Adams.

  • Gregg,
    That is a fascinating note on visual style in Clarence Brown.
    POSSESSED has that great opening. Will be looking for other examples in Brown.
    Brown has made many above average films. But have always had a hard time pinning down a specific style for him – or subjects.
    *
    TRENT”S LAST CASE, the 1913 novel, has often been cited as the first “modern mystery novel”, one that paved the way for later mysteries. It’s likely a lot more complex than that. But the 1910′s are just as key a transition period for mysteries, as they are for film or modern painting.
    Have never had a chance to see Hawks’ film version.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Thanks all for the input on POSSESSED. A close look at all of Brown’s films might produce some “themes” but I think the best we can hope for from examinng his style is an appreciation for the way he hangs back and observes. That’s a specific quality in a director too, watchfulness. A lot of filmmakers are interested in showing and telling (or pointing and yelling) instead. And of course Brown was handicapped by his long stay at Metro, perhaps the studio most antithetical to personal expression of any of them, at least until some point in the mid-1940s.

    If Dave weren’t a William Seiter fan I wouldn’t mention this, but today I saw his THE FAMILY SECRET (1924), down in Niles, California, with its star, 92-year-old Baby Peggy Montgomery/ Diana Serra Cary present. You dont get too many opportunities like this. The source material is a melodrama based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “Editha’s Burglar” which I instantly recognized thanks to a parody by Robert Benchley with illustrations by Gluyas Williams I’d grown up reading in an Williams anthology on the family bookshelf. Seiter downplayed the maudlin aspects of the material with a fairly light style, filming a lot of the piece in long shots that explored the big empty rooms the characters are trapped in, and waiting until a key melodramatic scene to unleash any close ups. I’ve also seen Baby Peggy’s antics more indulged by other directors; her moues and didoes weren’t the whole show, as they are in some of her short films. A few years earlier and Mary Pickford could have done this material; a decade later and the more knowing Shirley Temple could have. Baby Peggy was in fact actually a baby, so score a few more points for relative “reality.” (I hope all readers know that Cary has actually become a good writer and historian, with several useful books to her credit.)

  • When in Rome (Clarence Brown, 1952) has an oddly similar structure to Brown’s Chained (1934). They are set up as journeys by two characters. Visually detailed travelogues appear in the background, while the characters get to know each other and interact in the foreground. Chained is a romantic melodrama, while When in Rome is a comedy about two men. Still, their formal similarity is striking.

    When in Rome has a delightful sequence, in which the con man suddenly has a mental vision of the monastery as having a different kind of architecture. Hitchcock employed a similar mental vision at the end of Young and Innocent, when the killer has a vision of a witness in different clothes. This sort of mental imagery perhaps goes back to Murnau. Both directors show reality being transformed.

  • Greetings from Bologna (Italy)! Today I got to see The Cradle Snatchers. Two reels are missing in the middle and there are nitrate damage marks here and there. But the racy comedy made us laugh out loud especially towards the end. Three frustrated wives see their husbands dating young women and hire three students to pretend to be their escorts. Then the pretense turns into reality… Then called cradle snatchers, today they would be known as puma ladies. Tomorrow Nicholas Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades is being shown, which happens to include Peter Falk’s first cinema appearance.

  • Barry Putterman

    A few TCM programming notes before we head off to the next thread. The August “Now Playing” arrived in the office today. It is, of course, the yearly “Summer Under the Stars” month which is is usually just a convenient excuse to trot out all of the old standard favorites. However, this year features some adventursone programming.

    There is a Ralph Bellamy day in which all Anne Shirley fans in good standing will have a shot at Brahm’s GIRLS SCHOOL. There is a Jean Gabin day which will include two Gremillons (GUEULE D’AMOUR and REMORQUES) and two Duviviers (MARIA CHAPDELAINE and LA BANDERA). Actually three Duviviers, but I’m not counting PEPE LE MOKO as big news. Also a Conrad Veidt day which will include Weine’s THE HANDS OF ORLAC.

    Other days are devoted to the likes of Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak and Anne Francis. So, all systems are go and stand by for action.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    August is actually a standout month for them – they are showing 18 films I haven’t seen before, which is likely the most for a month for me in several years. Their choice of stars to showcase is very diverse and atypical, accounting for most of the rareties.