Verboten!

Warner Home Video has started doing some remastering on the Archive Collection (and charging a tidy premium for it — the list for the remastered titles is $24.95, as opposed to $19.95 for the untouched titles). The highlight of the first batch of three is unquestionably Samuel Fuller’s 1959 “Verboten!”, reputedly the last film produced by RKO (the studio closed before the film could be released, so it went out initially through Columbia); the other two are Mervyn LeRoy’s tight and tawdry newspaper drama “Five Star Final” (1931), with Edward G. Robinson as a conscience stricken city editor, and William Conrad’s “Two on a Guillotine” (1965), a turgid horror film that suggests William Castle on Quaaludes and stars the terminally bland Connie Stevens and Dean Jones.

“Verboten!”, with its extensive documentary and didactic material attached to a love story between an American GI (James Best) and a German Fraulein (Susan Cummings) at the end of World War II, finds many echoes in the recent work of Jean-Luc Godard: an audaciously open form, heavy use of archive footage, boldly stated contradictions and a thematic focus on the Holocaust. Here’s hoping that Warners remasters Fuller’s other great RKO film, the 1957 “Run of the Arrow” — a masterpiece in its own right and one of the most pronounced influences (yes, even more than “Ferngully”) on James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

My New York Times column is here.

93 comments to Verboten!

  • Barry Putterman

    Alright, now that I, and countless others, are thoroughly depressed about missing THE BLACK BOOK and SO DARK THE NIGHT on TCM, can anybody give us any hope that they will be on DVD sometime soon? Or even a second chance on TCM? Or is our inquiry verboten?

    jbryant, no offence to Connie Stevens, but I wouldn’t have bothered to audition her for Eliza Doolittle either. Or Tony Martin for Henry Higgins had he expressed any interest. I’m afraid that the desperation would have been all too obvious in the performance. However, even actresses of finer qualities and more suited to their dream roles received equally short shift. Maureen O’Hara yearned to play Anna in the film version of THE KING AND I. Supposedly, Richard Rodgers’ out of hand dismissal was that he wasn’t going to have the part played by a pirate queen.

    Daniel, I would imagine that Hitchcock not only saw SO DARK THE NIGHT, but also remembered everything that happened in it down to the smallest detail.

  • Vivian,
    SO DARK THE NIGHT seemed richly detailed in both story telling and visual style. The hero’s search for truth in the second half is moving and impressive. The Search for Truth is a major theme in Joseph H. Lewis. His detective heroes struggle hard, often working through false ideas, difficult searches and partial truths, till they finally get to the answer. It’s a portrait of reason as very hard work, requiring thinking, effort and that key Lewis virtue mentioned in so many films, an open mind. In Lewis, these films are usually detective stories, but they can serve as metaphors for scientific research, or any thinking-based search for new ideas.

    It’s a mild SPOILER: The search ends tragically in SO DARK THE NIGHT. But Lewis would go on to make films where the detective succeeds and benefits society: the Detective Trilogy of UNDERCOVER MAN, THE BIG COMBO and THE FAT MAN, and the Rifleman episode SURVEYORS are some of the best.

    Police sketch artists and art will return in Lewis’ A LADY WITHOUT PASSPORT and his episode of The Detectives TV show THE HIDING PLACE. Pictures of people are everywhere in Lewis films: portraits, police sketches, photographs, wanted posters, even statues. In CRY OF THE HUNTED not one, but two different photos of the hunted man play a role in the plot.

  • nicolas saada

    I would not be that certain about this Barry. Remember that SO DARK THE NIGHT was released a year after SPELLBOUND which has a lot of psychoanalysis issues (to say the least). Hitchcock had already made his name as a master of red herrings (take the bold structure of SUSPICION for instance, or the way he reveals the discovery of Rebecca’s body in REBECCA). Lewis was working on a canvas which was also explored at the same time in films that are today partly forgotten: Irving Reis intriguing CRACK UP, Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE, Siodmak’s THE DARK MIRROR… Interestingly, one of the writers of SO DARK THE NIGHT also worked on an interesting “psychoanalysis” melodrama, Alfred Werker’s SCHOCK.
    I saw the complete print of BLACK BOOK at the cinematheque and I remember vividly the image of Basehart shot in the face. Similar graphic images are to be found in GONE WITH THE WIND, THE TALL T… It’s always strange to watch or “rewatch” films that are supposedly “classic”, therefore “harmless” in the eyes of the “new cinephiles” (“Man that Fulci gore scene just rocks”) and realize that they also have very disturbing images (the scissors in DIAL M FOR MURDER comes also to mind. I had the pleasure to watch the film in 3D at the Cinematheque last december and the audience, quite young, just yelled with awe at this image).

  • Barry Putterman

    Nicolas, I believe that the odds are good that Hitchcock also saw CRACK UP, A DOUBLE LIFE and THE DARK MIRROR and remembered them vividly as well. The point being that, while he never empahsized the fact for many obvious reasons, Hitchcock was a cinephile (watching for pleasure) as well as an auteur (on alert for inspiration). My guess is that SO DARK THE NIGHT offered him both. Although the gore scenes don’t rock, alas.

  • Joe

    Wow. The names of Sam Fuller, Anthony Mann, Joseph H. Lewis and Connie Stevens invoked in one thread. Only on Dave Kehr’s blog. I’d like to thank jbryant for referencing my post on Stevens a while back. While I am definitely an enthusiast, unapologetically so, I do agree with Dave on her “terminally bland” performance in Conrad’s “Two on a Guillotine.” That film was the unfortunate consolation prize that Jack Warner bestowed on Stevens after refusing to test her for Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” a year earlier. As Dave said to me privately, “But what a consolation prize for losing ‘My Fair Lady’ – Dean Jones and that script!” Anyway, her lack of interest in both the material and project are fairly transparent. (Incidentally, the post to which jbryant refers includes an incredibily interesting comment by Daryl Chin detailing at some length Warners’ destructive treatment of its contract players, one of whom was Stevens.) While I appreciate Barry Putterman’s reservations about casting someone like Stevens in “My Fair Lady,” I personally don’t find it inconceivable and it certainly would have been more adventurous casting. In short, I think she could have pulled it off. Delmer Daves, for example, coaxed a truly impressive performance out of her in “Susan Slade.” I would never try to convert anyone, least of Dave and his readers, toward any movie or filmmaker – the exception being “At Long Last Love.” Which has become something of a mission. (That film must be reconsidered. It must!) One more thing: Connie Stevens is now 72, not 70.

  • jbryant

    Barry: I can’t imagine that Connie Stevens would have made a good Eliza either, but I’m sure many an audition has transcended someone’s failure of imagination. The pre-My Fair Lady work of Audrey Hepburn suggests that even she was only half-right for the role. :)

    Glad I recorded SO DARK THE NIGHT (seen long ago, but dimly remembered) and CRY OF THE HUNTED. Bummed that I didn’t know THE BLACK BOOK was a superior print to the one I saw a few years ago–would’ve definitely recorded it.

  • Daniel,

    Trying to interpret the motives of the two men in CRY OF THE HUNTED is going to be hard. You suggest Hawksian professionalism and friendship, Robert Keser in his Lewis Senses of Cinema article speaks of their “moral equivalance” and “emotional bonds”, the IMDB user Ale Fish talks of the two men’s similar “personal codes of honor”. These are all intelligent suggestions. And they ALL might be true – they are not mutually exclusive. But as far as I can see, the film does not really make explicit the men’s motives or feelings. We can try to guess – but it seems unexplicit. I’m really grateful for your ideas. They are much better than anything I came up with while watching the film.
    Lewis films are chock full of male bonding. But it is typically between Good Guys. One of the men in CRY OF THE HUNTED is a criminal, although one of the gentlest and least sinister criminals in film history.
    ***
    Lewis films from THE SPY RING (1937) on have as a subject “people refusing to speak up and tell what they know”. A subsidiary subject: interrogation of such people by the police. Lewis’ political point of view on interrogation evolves over the years. Early films like THE SPY RING and THE UNDERCOVER MAN play for laughs (morally dubious) scare tactics used by the authorities to get info. Later Lewis films pay attention to limits on interrogation in a democratic society. CRY OF THE HUNTED is right at the midpoint of this evolution, with a “serious, realistic” treatment at the center of the plot.

  • Vivian

    Thanks, Daniel and Mike,for your comments on the Lewis films.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I remember vividly the image of Basehart shot in the face. Similar graphic images are to be found in GONE WITH THE WIND, THE TALL T…’

    Mentioning Hitchcock, there is scene in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT like that.

  • Connie Stevens may not have auditioned for “My Fair Lady,” but she certainly seems to have ended up acting on its recycled sets, if you look at “Two on a Guillotine” closely.

  • Daniel,
    I agree with you that there is some good nature photography in DESPERATE SEARCH. Lewis really loved trees, and there are many beautiful shots of them in many of his films.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    My sense is that most of the nature photography in The Desperate Search was backlot MGM or rear projection. There looked to be a few brief scenes shot on location in Louisiana (although it could have also been the further reaches of the LA metro area.)

    The amazing location work though was one of the best downtown LA Angels’ Flight scenes ever.

    Don’t disagree about your point on trees with Lewis, just didn’t want people to think MGM did anything unusual on this basically B-budget movie.

  • Rick K.

    Dave K … I share your curiosity about who controls (or controlled, if PD) the rights to Mann’s BLACK BOOK, but note that Sony has already released two other Mann/Eagle Lions (T-MEN and RAW DEAL) via their “Sony Wonder” line, which is primarily animation and kids stuff. Those two DVDs (under the heading “Classic Crime Collection”, which includes such titles as Sam Wood’s LET ‘EM HAVE IT and Roger Corman’s I MOBSTER) co-credit Classic Media (in association with Sony Wonder), which likewise specializes in children’s releases, so I don’t know if that company somehow acquired the rights, or what the story is. Always figured BLACK BOOK was one of those public domain loopholes by virtue of having two release titles (aka REIGN OF TERROR), but certainly have shared the frustration of other cinephiles over the poor quality prints which have been circulating through the years. Whatever the case, the new Sony 35mm is great news.

    Not to enter the Connie Stevens debate, but I was assuming interest in TWO ON A GUILLOTINE from the Warner Archive line (as a premium “remastered” entry, no less) was in completing the trilogy of William Conrad-directed thrillers, supplementing the already-released BRAINSTORM and MY BLOOD RUNS COLD, all from ’65, and all looking very handsome in pristine b/w-scope anamorphic transfers. Apparently GUILLOTINE ranks somewhat high among horror enthusiasts, though perhaps a reputation earned partially via absentia, being rather hard-to-see in recent years. However, BRAINSTORM is (for me anyway) the one true gem of the trio, a paranoia noir cross between Fuller’s SHOCK CORRIDOR and DOUBLE INDEMNITY providing a labyrinth of entrapment for the hero (Jeff Hunter), replete with enticing femme fatale (Anne Francis, by far the most satisfying of Conrad’s trio of 60’s heroines, which also included Joey Heatherton). Unlike GUILLOTINE, Conrad keeps the narrative moving forward at an efficient pace, running through a myriad of themes, from doomed romance, obsession and incrimination, to psychotic behavior and homicide, so despite its substantial 104 min. length, there is very little time or footage wasted in the film. Nice too, that a one-time noir heavy icon (lest we forget sharing the title role in Siodmak’s THE KILLERS) ends up helming a late noir of the classic cycle (if one designates POINT BLANK as the header of the neo-noir phase), a nice summation of familiar noir themes, if not quite the equal of the films which may have inspired it (one can almost imagine Cornel Wilde, Gene Tierney and Vincent Price going through similar paces in an imaginary BRAINSTORM of the 40s).

  • When seen years ago, the TV movie CALL HER MOM (Jerry Paris, 1972) with Connie Stevens was a fun comedy. Will it stand the test of time?
    I’ve never seen her HAWAIIAN EYE series. She’s pleasant as the leading lady of a MAVERICK episode, TWO TICKETS TO TEN STRIKE (Douglas Heyes).

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Again, the Sony 35mm print of THE BLACK BOOK is not new; as noted in an earlier post, I saw it seven or eight years ago. What would be new is Sony’s doing something to make this superior edition of a brilliantly designed, directed, and photographed film more widely accessible, via 35mm bookings and on DVD.

    Dave K, U.S. prints of THE BLACK BOOK have borne the signoff “The End of the Reign of Terror” for decades. At least, that’s what was on both the Budget Films 16mm rental I showed to film classes in the Seventies and the private print that eventually turned to vinegar in my closet in the Eighties. This despite the upfront title being THE BLACK BOOK (which was also the title under which I first saw the film on TV while playing hookey one rainy afternoon in the Fifties). And of course the phrase “The End of the Reign of Terror” makes sense even if one has never known the film had the alternate title REIGN OF TERROR. It may even have been a deliberate last glint of the film’s black humor, given Fouchet’s brush with a certain Corsican whose name he will try to remember, and whose silhouette looms in the foreground of the final shot as the reunited lovers walk off oblivious.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Not to change the subject from Mann, Lewis and Connie Stevens, but Dave, I’ve been wondering all week about that other review you published last Sunday, of CHICAGO. In it you attribute the authorship of Frank Urson’s CHICAGO to producer C. B. DeMille. Is there anything beyond what you describe as the film’s attention to detail, and its “rigorous, unbroken chain of cause and effect” that lead you to make that attribution? I haven’t read the recent DeMille biography by Simon Louvish, but perhaps there or in another source there’s production information you have access to. My viewing experience of DeMille in the 1920s is limited to THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and THE GODLESS GIRL, both of which lack the lightness of touch exhibited in CHICAGO (an excellent film, by the by, the best version of the three films made from this material, with a particularly outstanding performance by Phyllis Haver as Roxie Hart). Urson drowned shortly after this film came out so judging his possible authorship is difficult. His career trajectory is interesting: as a Paramount cinematographer in the teens he shot Wallace Reid vehicles (I recently saw his 1919 HAWTHORNE OF THE USA in a sparkling 35mm print that showcased Urson’s extremely attractive work as D.P.). Directing from 1921-7, his work includes a couple of Raymond Griffith films; Griffith was an urbane sort perfect for the atmosphere Urson conjures up in CHICAGO. The Griffith vehicle THE NIGHT CLUB (1925), which is drawn from a DeMille play, exists, but I haven’t seen it. In the mid-20s Urson began assistant directing for the mighty DeMille, including work on KING OF KINGS and THE GODLESS GIRL, while continuing to direct between A.D. work.

    Was DeMille CHICAGO’s ghost director (i.e., Urson only his front)? What would explain the film’s wit, so lacking in the two heavy-handed 1920s DeMille silents I’ve seen? (I’ve also seen DeMille’s unsubtle sex comedy of 1919, MALE AND FEMALE, and his bizarre early talkie, MADAME SATAN, both of which again lack CHICAGO’s light touch.) DeMille also produced an all-out slapstick adventure, 1926’s THE CRUISE OF THE JASPER B, hiring James W. Horne (future director of Buster Keaton and Laurel & Hardy) to direct his protégé Rod LaRocque, so he was definitely capable of standing back. But let’s compare DeMille to another powerful producer-director who has also produced some films that seem to carry his influence. Is DeMille-Urson comparable to the team of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper on POLTERGEIST? It’s commonly acknowledged that Spielberg pushed Hooper aside on this and the film does look like “Spielberg unplugged”: without worrying about ratifying his newly won status as America’s favorite family filmmaker he could let his id run wild in a dark family horror film. (Perhaps letting Urson front on CHICAGO allowed DeMille license to thrill, without worrying about his moralistic reputation from TEN COMMANDMENTS and the just completed KING OF KINGS.) Or is the comparison closer to Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis on BACK TO THE FUTURE? The two men’s visions are comparable but complementary, the film bringing out the best in both. (This would be my theory about DeMille and Urson on CHICAGO.) A third possibility, that Urson was like Joe Dante on GREMLINS, making a Joe Dante film that couldn’t possibly be confused with a Spielberg film, can’t be proven one way or another at this point.

    I will add that I’m quite evidently not a DeMille fan (with all due respect to THE CHEAT and THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE, which I do appreciate.) To prove my point I’ll cite my experience at a Blanche Sweet series in NYC in 1992. MOMA ran four of her mid-teen Lasky productions made right after she’d left D.W. Griffith. DeMille’s THE HOWARDS OF VIRGINIA and THE CAPTIVE (both 1915) were tedious, but the two Lasky films starring Sweet directed by George Melford (research tells me they must be 1915’s STOLEN GOODS and 1917’s THE EVIL EYE) were both excellent. I’ve liked the other Melfords I’ve seen as well (THE SHEIK and MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY; still to come, his “Spanish DRACULA” of 1931). The wrong directors become immortal.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Revisiting SO DARK THE NIGHT I remembered I had discussed the film at length in AMERICAN DIRECTORS. Here is an exerpt that I think is still valid (please note, there are SPOILERS if you haven’t seen the film):

    “Whereas in JULIA ROSS certain conventions were rather passively accepted as necessary evils, in SO DARK THE NIGHT Lewis worked both against and with the elements at his disposal, managing to create a convincing composite, not at the level of surface realism …. but through stylistic unity. While both the script and the direction may seem erratic and cranky in the film’s first half or so, all the elements come together after the young girl has been found murdered, and Geray takes charge of the investigation. Far from becoming a straight whodunit from this point, the film proceeds with the same moody quirkiness of detail, but a purpose for it begins to emerge, and much of what seemed arbitrarily eccentric in the first part becomes illuminated in the process. The quaint directorial flourishes of the early scenes manifested Lewis’s deliberate choice of an expressionistic rather than straighforward stylistic approach; later on, this is revealed to be more than a mere formal option, the only really valid way of dealing with the story’s thematic content.”

    I described the amazing tracking shot that follows Geray as he enters the inn for the first time:

    “The camera moves across the courtyard, reaches the corner of the house, and continues tracking inside the inn’s main room without a cut, as though it had moved in right through an invisible wall. By removing the fourth wall — in deliberate disregard of realism — Lewis suggests that, together with the protagonist, , we are entering a stage upon which a drama will soon be enacted…”

    Of the Oedipus connotations (Geray’s feet are a clue to his identity): “the climactic scene in which the the protagonist eradicates both his reflection and the recalled image of his former self by smashing the window in a gesture of revulsion [recalls] Oedipus’ blinding of himself after finding out the truth.”

  • Shawn Stone

    Gregg,

    Urson’s THE NIGHT CLUB is a mostly knockabout comedy that doesn’t play to Raymond Griffith’s strengths. The extant comedy Urson co-directed with Paul Iribe, CHANGING HUSBANDS (1924, Leatrice Joy, Victor Varconi, Griffith) has a great reputation but I haven’t seen it. (They did another with Griffith, FORTY WINKS, but it’s lost.)

    Many of the films DeMille produced at his own studio for Pathe release , after he left Paramount and took much of his stock company with him,(including CHICAGO) are entertaining: FIGHTING LOVE (1927, directed by Nils Olaf Chrisander) and WHITE GOLD (1927, William K. Howard) both starring Jetta Goudal; Paul Sloan’s improbable comedy TURKISH DELIGHT (1927, with May Robson as a female sultan); William C. deMille’s FOR ALIMONY ONLY and Sloan’s THE CLINGING VINE, both starring Leatrice Joy.

    With C.B. in the 10s and early 20s, I agree the plots are heavy-handed, but the filmmaking often is not. I like THE CHEAT, too, and OLD WIVES FOR NEW, SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT, THE GOLDEN CHANCE.

    Then again, I quite enjoy WE’RE NOT DRESSING, so your mileage may vary.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg. it is a bit surprising to me that you haven’t seen more De Mille. It would probably be advisable to catch a few more of his films along the lines of WHY CHANGE YOUR HUSBAND before making any further evaluations of his approach to comedy.

    I’m also a bit miffed about why this version of the story is being rated so highly. I saw the film at the Museum of Modern Art many years ago and was very disappointed in how De Mille moralistic the tone was, indicting Roxie as pretty much an unambiguous floozy and throwing the audience sympathy to the sappy upright husband. The Wellman film had to deal with all kinds of Production Code limitations which didn’t affect CHICAGO, but still at least managed to capture the tone of the material. In any event, for me, none of the official versions of the Watkins play are up to the Claude Binyon/Wesley Ruggles version of the story, TRUE CONFESSION. Or, for that matter, to the Watkins scripted/William A. Seiter directed PROFESSIONAL SWEETHEART.

    By the way, I’m sure that you meant to cite De Mille’s THE WHISPERING CHOURS rather than THE AVENGING CONSCIOUS, which of course is Griffith.

  • Jean-Pierre’s whole article on Lewis in AMERICAN DIRECTORS is terrific.
    His linking of the mystery plot in SO DARK THE NIGHT to the Oedipus myth is profound.
    As he makes clear, there is nothing in SO DARK THE NIGHT about Oedipal conflicts; instead, the linkage is to the first great detective story in literature, the tale recounted in Sophocles’ OEDIPUS THE KING. Oedipus’ attempt to solve the mysteries of Thebes form a model for Geray’s detective work in SO DARK THE NIGHT.
    Lewis, like Rossellini, is one of the great Rationalists of film. Lewis’ subject is often human reason, and we see his characters working selflessly towards truth.

    The earliest Lewis film in which a camera seems to move through a wall is THE SPY RING (1938). This shot is perhaps modeled on the opening camera movement of SCARFACE (Hawks, 1932), which also goes through a wall.
    Lewis early B movies are full of through-the-wall movements: The Spy Ring, Blazing Six Shooters, The Man from Tumbleweeds, The Return of Wild Bill, Invisible Ghost, Arizona Cyclone, Bombs Over Burma, The Silver Bullet, My Name Is Julia Ross, So Dark the Night.
    Then this trope disappears. It returns over a decade later in three of Lewis’ episodes of The Rifleman: The Hangman, The Actress, The Wyoming Story.
    Lewis is a deeply camera movement oriented director. I suspect that Lewis’ textbook for film technique is SUNRISE (Murnau, 1927). The 20 year old Lewis was already in Hollywood working as a minor assistant in 1927.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Shawn and Barry, thanks for the comments. Shawn, you have seen an enviable number of films. Barry is quite correct of course about THE WHISPERING CHORUS and not THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE as a major DeMille film. There are indeed a lot of DeMille silents available on DVD, and while I would certainly do this homework before publishing an essay on him, my experience with his work (including his to me largely unwatchable talkies) is overall so pain-laden there are any number of less famous films that I shall watch first.

    It’s been some years as well since I saw Urson’s CHICAGO. My memory of it is that Haver’s performance was so charismatic it overrode the nominal moralism of the story. The Wellman is too cute and knowing, in my opinion. It would have been interesting to see the Fosse version on stage, as the film musical of CHICAGO is so badly directed it is hard to judge it on its merits. Barry is correct in reminding us of TRUE CONFESSION’s virtues; hooray for Wesley Ruggles (and Carole Lombard).

  • Gregg, Robert S. Birchard’s 2004 “Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood” contains a detailed argument on behalf of DeMille’s direct participation in “Chicago,” based on contemporary newspaper accounts, production records and correspondence. It does feel like a DeMille film to me, constructed with the rigorous linearity that was his trademark and, of course, his somewhat less appealing moralism (as Barry says). The general assumption is that DeMille restricted his credit to “supervision by” on “Chicago” because he had “King of Kings” in the marketplace at the same time and didn’t want his Biblical epic tainted by association with the racy “Chicago.”

    I’d urge you to see more silent DeMille. I don’t care for “The Howards of Virginia” or “The Captive” much myself, but the sex comedies are quite enjoyable (and even progressive in their way) and sometimes a bit more than that (“The Affairs of Anatol,” for example, is a graceful, bittersweet adaptation of an Arthur Schnitzler play), while the melodramas (“Manslaughter,” “The Golden Bed”) have amazing momentum and some truly delirious sensuality (the “candy ball” sequence in the latter is perhaps even more demented than the party in “Madame Satan”).

  • Gregg Rickman

    Dave, thanks for the information. Birchard is an excellent historian and I would definitely follow his lead. My Spielberg-Hooper model seems to be correct about why DeMille used Urson as a front. Yes, I guess we all need to see more DeMille. Do you agree with me about Melford?

  • Shawn Stone

    Melford’s YOUNG ROMANCE (1915) is charming.

  • Connor Kilpatrick

    Richard T. Jameson,

    “Dave K, U.S. prints of THE BLACK BOOK have borne the signoff “The End of the Reign of Terror” for decades.”

    If anyone’s curious, that’s how it appeared at Tues night’s Film Forum screening.

    What a great film. The audience had a blast too. Whatever print they were using looked immaculate.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Gregg, I would urge you to watch such silent DeMilles as DON’T CHANGE YOUR HUSBAND, WHY CHANGE YOUR WIFE? (what a nice double bill those two would make!), OLD WIVES FOR NEW (make that a triple bill!) and especially THE AFFAIRS OF ANATOL. I bet your experience won’t be pain-laden at all!

  • nicolas saada

    Talking about silent films (gosh what an oxymoron ! ), let’s'not forget the future release of sternberg’s'classics on CRITERION at the end of august. De Mille is a fascinating and challenging subject: he’s'the Puccini of film directors.His sweeping sense of “mise en scene” is rooted in the xixth century. His seriousness characterizes his style. I find heirs of De Mille’s'vision in honk-kong directors like tsui hark and more over king hu.

  • carlye

    Hate the interrupt the flow of the conversatin here, but where on earth is Kent Jones these days? I haven’t seen either his name or his opinions here in ages. Did I miss something?

    Re Connie Stevens vs Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, I don’t know if Stevens would have been “more adventurous” casting, but she certainly would have been less predictable casting.

  • Barry Putterman

    Caryle, my understanding is that Kent is deeply involved in the editing process of his Elia Kazan film presently. Indeed, we all mss hearing from him. But we’ve missed hearing from you as well.

  • Steve Elworth

    I think Barry is right. Jonathan Rosenbaum put up on Facebook From Oberhausen a picture of Kent and David Bordwell. So our friends do get around and Barry aren’t you in London? It is going up to 96 in NY so it is good movie going weather.

  • carlye

    Thanks, Barry, but I enjoy being a passive observer and just sitting back and reading what you guys have to say. (My thoughts always seem so puny in comparison.) I had to weigh in today because the really do find the idea of Connie Stevens as Eliza Doolittle provocative and (pardon the pun) do-able.

  • Mike Grost

    Carlye,
    Good to hear from you!
    A tip: no one can sound “puny” writing about Joseph H. Lewis – because the Big Names of criticism have largely not written about him! Everyone has a clear field to write. And what do YOU think about him?
    *
    One wishes there were dozens of versions of MY FAIR LADY to see. Would love to see Minnelli’s proposed film…

    Some Broadaway musicals exist as Alternate Versions in made-for-TV films. Fielder Cook did a 1966 BRIGADOON that has its moments. “I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean” is staged inside, as the singers move dynamically down corridors as the camera hurtles along with them. It’s pretty good. And so different from Minnelli’s version that one wonders if Cook ever saw the 1954 Minnelli film.
    *
    George Melford’s YOUNG ROMANCE (1915) is a fun romantic comedy. It’s on the same DVD as the great REGENERATION (Raoul Walsh, 1915). And THE CLINGING VINE (Paul Sloan) has a good performance from Leatrice Joy, a feminist icon of the 1920′s who should be better known. She’s a delight. Haven’t seen much else of these director’s films; no auteurist insights…

  • Steve Elworth

    Carlye, Your thoughts are far from Puny. I have been mulling over the Connie-Eliza idea and it is quite interesting as long as she could sing cockney and the high-class Eliza. One of the problems with Audrey in the film is that she is Marni Nixonized and her real voice is used only for cockney setting up a separation between her body and voice. Audrey’s own voice was great for singing Gershwin in FUNNY FACE and singing “Moon River” but not considered good enough for MY FAIR LADY. What a mistake!!!

  • carlye

    Steve- I’ve a hunch that, aside from it being a terrific role and a chance to advance her career, Connie saw Eliza as a kindred spirit. Just guessing here. But I would like to think that she related to how Eliza is underestimated, patronized and condescended to by an authoritian man – Henry Higgins, yes, but also a studio head (read: Jack Warner). We know she can sing. But those songs, who knows? And as was said earlier here, Daves got some good work out of her in “Susan Slade.” I’d like to think her potential was never fulfilled by the studio system, but actually supressed.

  • Joe

    Steve Elwood wrote: ” One of the problems with Audrey in the film is that she is Marni Nixonized.”

    Steve, nothing is worse for me than hearing Marni Nixon’s soulless soprano coming out of the mouths of Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood. It worked in “The King and I” because she was able to approximate Deborah Kerr’s brogue, but it was a disaster in the case of Wood and Hepburn, the latter especially, given her singular speaking voice. Hepburn and Wood sung in other films and I preferred hearing their real voices, even if they do hit an occasion flat note.

    Mike Grost wrote: “Fielder Cook did a 1966 BRIGADOON that has its moments.” I have fond memories of that show and would like to see it again. Even more so, the TV version of “Damn Yankees” with Lee Remick and Phil Silvers.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Steve and Joe: Audrey’s singing “How Long Has This Been Going On?” in FUNNY FACE is one of the most sublime moments in the history of film musicals. She was wonderful too in her duet with Kay Thompson (“On How to Be Lovely”). Of course the songs from MY FAIR LADY were much more demanding, but even a somewhat amateurish voice, being Audrey’s, would have been much better than the generic Marnie Nixon butting in every time Eliza opens her mouth to sing. I love Cukor’s MY FAIR LADY but I cringe every time that happens (in a few of the songs Audrey sings the first few bars before she is brutally replaced by Nixon, and that makes things even worse). Jack Warner’s stupidity was the cause that Hepburn didn’t get a deserved Oscar and actually wasn’t even nominated.

    Of course, for countless millions who saw the film dubbed into their own language, the point is absolutely moot.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Mike and Joe -

    Rob Marshall’s Annie, his first film (made for TV) is vastly superior to the John Huston/Ray Stark directed version, for me is his best film, and makes the musical actually fairly enjoyable.

    The Glenn Close-starring TV version of South Pacific (don’t remember the director off hand) is vastly superior to Joshua Logan’s disastrous version.

    There are reports that Carey Mulligan (can she sing) is slated for a remake of My Fair Lady, possibly directed by Danny Boyle (although Nine’s huge flop may make any expensive new musicals unlikely for a while).

  • Gregg Rickman

    The last I’ve heard is that Carey Mulligan is to play the Lisbeth Salander role in the American version of the Swedish GIRL WHO… series, which does have its Eliza Higgins-like possibilities but otherwise doesn’t seem a good match. Fincher to direct (I know he has his fans here).

    Re-speaking of silents, I spent most of this past weekend at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, where one highlight was Wyler’s THE SHAKEDOWN (1928), with which its lively direction of programmer material (cf Capra’s early Columbias) and its theme of a conman’s reformation and public confession, would actually seem more like a Capra film than a Wyler, but for some wonderful deep focus shots of activity in several planes at once. This points to a) the prevalence of deep focus cinematography in the later 1920s, b) Wyler’s interest in deep space staging many years before his work with Gregg Toland.

    I also couldn’t place the film’s intense man-boy love story (there’s more intensity to James Murray’s relationship with the orphan Jack Hanlon than with ingenue Barbara Kent) in any context of Wyler’s other films. I’ll add that Murray, liberated from playing a loser in Vidor’s THE CROWD, is wonderfully charming and charismatic — too bad his personal problems kept him from sustaining a career.

    Also of note at SFSFFF, the Norma Shearer vehicle THE WOMAN DISPUTED (Henry King and Sam Taylor, 1928). I was reminded while watching it of Dave’s recent column on Shearer, and also the recent STAGECOACH-related thread here on Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif.” It’s a late silent spectacle along the lines of MGM’s Gilbert and/or Garbo vehicles (Gilbert Roland is made up and haircut to look like Gilbert in MERRY WIDOW mode). In his spoken introduction to the film Kevin Brownlow, if I didn’t mishear him, attributed the film’s scenes with elaborate (and very well done) tracking shots to Taylor, who was brought in to finish the film after King left (couldn’t get along with Shearer, according to Brownlow). People here who’ve seen more King films than I, did he use tracking shots very much in his other films? As for Taylor, he codirected some of Harold Lloyd’s best films, and then a batch of prestige late films of stars like Shearer and Pickford, and then… complete career collapse by 1935. Lloyd, generally thought of as the real director of his films, used tracking shots very well… can we say Taylor got them from him?

  • Joe

    Tom- If I may respectfully disagree, I think Huston’s “Annie” is a terrific film musical that’s improved with age. Except for some of the casting, Marshall’s watered-down version was a thudding disappointment and, for me, not well-directed at all. Both “South Pacifics” are disasters. That’s one show that needs its book completely rewritten for the screen. Sometimes fidelity to the source isn’t a good thing. But that’s just me.

  • brubaker

    Richard Pearce directed the Glenn Close version of “SP,” Tom. My problem with it is Close herself who, at age 54, seemed to be a tad too old to play an optimistic young thing named Nellie Forbush. Pearce’s film is as modestly dull as Logan’s was blindingly excessive.

  • Jim Gerow

    I’m very late in catching up with this thread after returning to New York from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Just wanted to correct Gregg Rickman’s post about THE WOMAN DISPUTED, which starred the glorious Norma Talmadge, not Norma Shearer. Now I need to check out those Talmadge DVDs that Dave reviewed recently.

    Also, Mario Camerini’s ROTAIE was the best of the films I saw at the festival, as it was for programmer Anita Monga, who compared it favorably with SUNRISE.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Jim, you’re correct, it was the Norma named Talmadge, not the one named Shearer. Dave did do a recent column on Talmadge, so I hope the reference was clear.

    As I mentioned, THE WOMAN DISPUTED is much like other late silent romantic star vehicles (Gilbert, Garbo, alone and in combination). I was in particular reminded of the surviving fragment of Sjostrom’s THE DIVINE WOMAN, as well as FLESH AND THE DEVIL. On the other hand, though, in its subject matter (spies on the Eastern front) it’s so close to Sternberg’s DISHONORED that the two could be twins. Yet, Dietrich’s performance is completely tongue in cheek, yet completely sincere, while Talmadge is “merely” completely sincere (which, granted, is hard to do considering the extreme contrivances of the narrative). That may be the difference — more than sound — why DISHONORED seems perpetually fresh, and THE WOMAN DISPUTED did not (to me).

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Gregg

    Mulligan’s name is being bandied around, but Amy Pascal of Sony, who with David Fincher will choose who will play the role in the Girl remake, is apparently casting a wide net (as they did for the new Spider-Man) and are considering some virtual unknowns as well as other actresses with a bit more fame like Mulligan.