Sturges at Sunset

One of the true curiosities of the cinema, Gerd Oswald’s 1958 “Paris Holiday” has finally turned up in an acceptable widescreen transfer as part of Shout! Factory’s hit-or-miss set “The Bob Hope Collection, Vol. 2.”

Oswald, the elegant, German-trained director of such thrillers as “A Kiss before Dying” (1956) and westerns like “Fury at Sundown” (1957), seems like an odd choice to direct this functionally bilingual comedy starring Bob Hope and Fernandel, both playing slightly abstracted versions of themselves in a trumped up chase comedy — maybe it was because he got a coherent performance out of Anita Ekberg, appearing here as the femme fatale counterpart to Martha Hyer’s good girl, in the noirish western “Valerie.”

But Oswald negotiates the minimal plot with his usual care and concision, and creates an appropriately hushed, respectful atmosphere around an unexpected bit player — Preston Sturges, then dangling from the end of his rope as an exile in Paris, after his Hollywood career had evaporated. This would be Sturges’ last contact with the cinema, and in his brief appearance he projects a wonderfully dignified, amused presence — a sly old lion in winter.

Also in this week’s New York Times column, a quick look at William Dieterle’s 1949 “Rope of Sand,” one of the latest Paramount titles from Olive Films.

63 comments to Sturges at Sunset

  • Blake Lucas

    I know about the Joe Jackson score for “Mike’s Murder” but never saw that version. I believe I knew someone who did but they are no longer with us.

    It must have been a very different kind of score, but I will say this. Although he is no particular favorite of mine, I thought John Barry was at his very best with his score and served the film beautifully.

  • Thanks for the TCM tips. These searches are supposed to get easier, not harder…

  • Gerd Oswald’s films are full of ominous subjects:

    Sinister, evil institutions.
    People who deliberately try to harm or kill other people.
    The desire for success leading people into becoming pawns of evil institutions.
    Technology that controls people in evil ways.
    Bad technological “advances”.
    Men at the end of their ropes, who try to plead their cases.

    Andrew Sarris suggests that some of the above is “anti-Nazi symbolism”. Certainly the Nazis did many of the above things.
    But Oswald is also plainly worried about our modern world, and the future.

    Haven’t seen PARIS HOLIDAY.
    But the picture in the Times is suggestive of some of the above.
    Bob Hope has been forced into a straight jacket. (Evil technology that controls people.)
    Two men who seem to be from a phony mental asylum are doing it (evil institutions.)

    The bad guys are in uniform. In Oswald, it is easy to find the good guy: he is the one in the most “civilian” clothes, such as a suit. See good guy Peter Breck in O.B.I.T., in suit and tie. (For once Breck gets to play the Voice of Reason. He must have loved this!)

    I second Blake’s recommendation of THE FORMS OF THINGS UNKNOWN, a poetic fantasy, that however tragic, is actually one of Oswald’s more cheerful pictures.
    What seems to be Oswald’s first film, a 45 minute TV version of THE OXBOW INCIDENT, is also very good.
    I really liked 80 STEPS TO JONAH, seen on the Late Show decades ago.
    BUNNY O’HARE is OK, but not as skillful.

  • Ethel Lina White’s short story “An Unlocked Window” is well known to mystery fans.
    Best available source: Thomas Godfrey’s anthology ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSE MURDERS.
    Had no idea this story had ever been filmed!

    The short story is clearly related to White’s novel SOME MUST WATCH (1934), filmed by Robert Siodmak as THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. But no one seems to known when “An Unlocked Window” was written, before or after the novel. It was already in anthologies by the late 1930′s.

    White was Welsh. She also wrote the source novel of THE LADY VANISHES.

  • I wonder if the White short story similar to the Hitchcock adaptation. That is, about two nurses trapped in a dark and stormy night? I am wondering if the full length movie version, When Night Falls is an accurate adaptation, since it is set in the past, unlike the Newman-Bridges adaptation.

  • Ethel Lina White’s short story “An Unlocked Window” is about two nurses caring for an invalid, in a lonely country house on a dark and stormy night, with a serial killer stalking nurses on the loose.
    It was “contemporary” in the 1930′s, when apparently first published.
    Haven’t seen any of the film versions.

  • Blake, among the changes Bridges and editor Jeff Gourson made after a very poor preview screening was to replace the Joe Jackson songs with John Barry’s wonderful score. By this point, Dede Allen had left the picture, so Gourson – who also edited SEPTEMBER 30, 1955 and PERFECT for Bridges – finished the film. All detailed in my book – hope everyone interested in Bridges will check it out next month!

  • Robert Garrick

    Mike Grost, I have thought for years that “An Unlocked Window” had much in common with “The Spiral Staircase,” but I never knew that both were adapted from works by the same author. A similar author is Mary Roberts Rinehart, whose most famous novel is called “The Circular Staircase.”

    Well, Lotte Eisner, years ago, wrote that shadows and stairs were hallmarks of noir (and of Fritz Lang’s work).

    Also excellent insights on Gerd Oswald.

  • Robert,
    I agree with you about the Mary Roberts Rinehart connection to “An Unlocked Window”.
    *
    It is great to see all the enthusiasm for THE MAN FROM TUMBLEWEEDS (Joseph H. Lewis).
    It is a fascinating picture with strong visuals, story and social comment.

    Checked out the Netflix streaming version. It looked decent – except in one part.
    When the convicts are introduced, Lewis has them in Expressionist shadows. On Netflix, I thought it was hard to see the men’s faces. On the Western Channel (cable TV) version, the faces were in shadow, but were still highly visible.
    It is important to see their faces – they are 1) characters 2) there is a comic effect about how awful and tough they all look. Where did Lewis get these actors – from the Scum Of the Earth Casting Agency? They are really convincing as a rough lot.

    This difference could just be an artifact of my tech set-up: the Netflix print streamed to my computer (smaller screen), and watched the Western Channel on my beloved 4/3 aspect TV – long may it survive!

  • “An Unlocked Window” was done beautifully for the Hitchcock series and again by Fred Walton for the NEW AH series. Walton is a fine director, but his “UW” falls short of the original because it fails to get away with the twist. On the other hand, his tv remake of Castle’s “I Saw What You Did” is even better than the original.

    Re: the Tourneur discussion. I’ve always assumed that he’s in the brief sequence in Castle’s “Hollywood Story” where the lead visits Joel McCrea on the set of “Stars in My Crown.” Did that make it into the TCM film on Lewton?

    The Tourneur section of MS’s Personal Journey, which I’ve heard was Michael Henry Wilson’s particular responsibility, is really good.

  • Jacques Tourneur completists may be interested in knowing that volume 2 of The Barbara Stanwyck Show DVD includes five episodes directed by him (out of a dozen, on two discs). At least a couple of these are scripted by A.I. Bezzerides.

  • Nice to see Bill Krohn here! Been a while – hope you stick around.

    Mike, I watched TUMBLEWEEDS through my Nintendo Wii gaming console, and I recall that scene as being as dark as you describe. So that may be a drawback. Still, I think I took from the scene what I was meant to take. The closeups are suggestive, but so are the names and tones of voice. My advice to Wild Bill is this: when you’re hand-picking men from prison to form a law-enforcement posse (an early prototype for THE DIRTY DOZEN!), you may want to let alone the one named “Shifty.”

    Peter, I don’t know if I can claim credit for all of the intelligent remarks and thoughts you attribute to me – for one thing, I didn’t discuss suspense in any way in my post. What I wanted to get to was the concept of “viewer states” and how great or bad films may get us there. The content itself I think is value-neutral: it remains a *possibility* that tarnished goods can be made new by good artists. What concerns me, however, is what occurs in practice – not as nice a picture. The TV program “24″ did little else besides ruin the viewer for suspense, last-minute rescues, and surprise about-faces, among other things.

  • Creedmoor

    If I remember correctly “The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell,” “How to Commit Marriage,” and “Cancel My Reservation” were all shot soft matte 1.85:1. There’s enough headroom to park another feature, but no panning and scanning. Just enlarge the 1.33:1 image to fit the screen and you should have no problem…other than suffering through these monumental dogs.