I imagined a widescreen stop-motion puppet Midsummer from the creator of The Hand would be magical. It turns out if you remove all the language from a Shakespeare play, reducing it to plot action with explanatory voiceover, you don’t even reach feature length without some padding in the form of dance scenes and overlong rehearsals of the play-within-the-play. Sticking it out, there is some beautiful puppetry and effects, particularly whenever Puck casts a transformation spell.

After The Story of Three Loves, the second movie I watched for a Rosenbaum lecture. So soon (for me and for him) after Run For Cover I’m feeling shaky about Ray, but at least he made the great Bigger Than Life in between. Turned out pretty well for a big-ego war adventure story.

Looks more like a Bob Hope movie at this point:

Major Curd Jürgens (he played the Emil Jannings role in the Blue Angel remake) is supposed to lead a desert rescue operation, then Captain Richard Burton is put in charge instead. Rivalry ensues – Curd chokes when he’s supposed to knife a guard, and his wife used to date Burton, so they try to get each other killed until Burton finally dies in a sandstorm.

“Wilkies, wonderwall” – whoa, this was a real term… is it a britishization of the German wunderbar? I’m not gonna research this. It’s also the most times I’ve heard the name Benghazi in a movie. Sgt. Christopher Lee doesn’t make a strong impression – this was the same year he played Frankenstein’s monster, the year before his Dracula. Safecracker Wilkins is Nigel Green of Masque of the Red Death, sort of a low-rent Timothy Carey.

JR: “They’re both assholes… they become prisoners of their own macho self-images,” JR pulling no punches. “I see it as an attack on macho.” “The desire to have war sometimes exceeds any justification.” This was Ray’s attempt to go indie and break from Hollywood, though he didn’t have much control – the novelist retained script approval, the producers controlled casting.

I heard about a Jonathan Rosenbaum lecture series on 1950’s cinema, and thought it’d be fun to catch a couple nights, using it as an excuse to watch the titles on the schedule I hadn’t seen before (this and Bitter Victory). We watched the movies on our own, then met for the discussion. I sat in bed with a beer, imagining joining hundreds of others watching a J.Ro performance from a stage or lecture hall somewhere, but whoops, there were only ten of us for a cameras-on small-classroom situation.

It’s an anthology feature, the first and third segments (and I think the framing pieces on a cruise ship) by Reinhardt (a former Lubitsch protege). Part one is about Moira Shearer doing what Moira Shearer does best – but the wrinkle is she has a heart condition and can’t dance or she’ll die. But she says she can’t live without dancing – so, very Red Shoes, but also brings to mind Le Plaisir, an anthology film from two years earlier which also opened with a dancer collapsing. Shearer sneaks away from her keeper Agnes Moorehead and meets theater director James Mason, who is writing a whole new dance around her style, and this all ends in tragedy but it’s fun while it lasts.

Upsetting my auteurist preconceptions, the Minnelli segment in the middle was my least favorite – in part because it’s starring and narrated by an obnoxious little boy (oh no, this is 12-year-old Ricky Nelson, only 6 years before Rio Bravo). He detests his governess Leslie Caron (soon after debuting in An American in Paris) who reads mushy French poetry all day, so a witch (late-career Ethel Barrymore) agrees to make him grown-up for one night so he can experience independence. But when he’s grown-ass Farley Granger, he suddenly develops a taste for French poetry and for Leslie Caron.

Ricky and the witch:

Granger in the best scene, not with Caron but with… Zsa Zsa Gabor!

In the final story, disgraced acrobat Kirk Douglas rescues suicidal bridge jumper Pier Angeli, then since he needs a new trapeze accomplice and since she has nothing to lose, he trains her for his next big act. Most of the rest of the movie is these two being impossibly fit, doing legit aerial stunts. I don’t buy a single thing in this segment, but it has a good ending and it’s great fun. The Reinhardt segments really shine by showcasing talented people exercising their skills.

Aside from the movie – after all the books and articles I’ve read by Rosenbaum, finally I’m seeing him live, in an underlit room on a Zoom meeting, talking about orgasms. As to whether the film seemed hokey, “it’s the kind of hokiness I’d like to take a bath in.” Reinhardt and the actors were discussed, and the stories and why/whether they succeeded, and realism. The part that got me was his talk about existentialism, which apparently does not mean what I’d assumed it meant, the stories being all about the present tense. “The fact that you exist is more important than why you exist.”

The rare studio-compromised movie with sloppy enough edits that you can witness the butchery. Who knows what this movie, which the director and star both said was good before the editors got hold of it, could’ve been in its original form, the same year Ray made Rebel Without a Cause. But all we’ve got is what we’ve got, and it ain’t much. MVP the soft-spoken town doctor (Welles regular Gus Schilling), runner-up a grinning Ernest Borgnine, who arrives late as a bank robber, and third place townsperson Squinty McGee, aka Jack Lambert of the same year’s Kiss Me Deadly.

Squinty pulls a knife:

Per Filipe Furtado: “Cagney’s perseverance in front of a life of disappointments is the best use of the actor’s mature strengths in any of his post war roles.” Playing a twice-falsely-accused man, Cagney becomes sheriff of a nowhere town, falls for a Swedish woman (Viveca Lindfors, star of Swedish cinema in the 40’s with a long successful Hollywood run ending in Stargate). Cagney spends most of his time trying to rehabilitate 20-year-old lost soul John Derek (Scandal Sheet), who is simply too handsome for common morality and ends up joining Borgnine in the robbery that leaves Cagney’s new father-in-law dead. The Swede’s dad was probably fourth place – actually Danish, Jean Hersholt had costarred in Greed. Cagney kills the kid, better late than never.

The law of the land, wielding a carved wood gun:

Haven’t seen this in a long time – it’s the snowy one about the guys left behind when the larger army moves out, ordered to act as if they’re the entire army to fool the enemy into staying put as long as possible. Our dudes get picked off until paranoid Richard Basehart is the highest rank. The whole drama of whether Basehart will be able to lead effectively if he’s in charge is overblown, because he’s only in charge for the last ten minutes and he leads just fine. For me the real drama was the nighttime conversation between him and Gene Evans. Evans is a gruff, down-to-earth character actor and Basehart a tormented over-enunciating drama-school type, and it’s a relief that they manage to inhabit the same scene without it seeming ridiculous.

Rare, cool wasteland-set movie, a whole methodically-posed headfuck art-feature a half decade before Marienbad. Vague reverb-affected announcements echo on the soundtrack as a truck drives over gravel and desert. I’m happy to see there are still flocks of birds after the German apocalypse. Driver drags passenger’s luggage to an abandoned-looking town where he finds a kid among drum-and-bass soundtrack jazz. The man loses his shit, pulls a gun on the kid (covered in ants) for not speaking, the woman spills her drink on purpose. Everything from the editing to the focus and music and sound takes turns messing with your head.

A monologue about Sisyphus as the moody driver lies under the truck covered in oil. I can’t tell if the movie is a time loop or if we spent some time in a flashback. Eventually the man finds a cute girl and shoots her dead – biggest surprise is when the cops show up and bust him, in what I’d assumed was a lawless wasteland. After the Goalie, I programmed an accidental double-feature of German stories of motiveless murder.

The credits claim participation by Hans Richter (according to a Richter interview, not true) and commentary by Albert Camus. Played Locarno ’55 alongside a couple of Jiri Trnka features and a Karel Zeman, a lot of nazi movies, and the latest prestige dramas from the US, UK, Germany and France

Vogel’s descriptions are off to a shaky start. “In a desolate, destroyed landscape – bearing now irrelevant traces of technological society – a man and a boy try to find their way under a
fierce sun.” There’s cars, oil, money and cops, all still relevant, and the boy isn’t trying to find his way anyplace.


More of Vogel’s Subversives…

Blue Moses (1962, Stan Brakhage)

Melies motion/edit tricks in a flickering cave. Sync sound! Clean dialogue, no music/fx, of a rich-voiced Wellesian actor, or maybe Charlton Hestonian per the film title. He seems to be riffing in a field, unsure what to say, Brakhage holding still on the actor but going into jitter-mode whenever the camera looks away at the scenery. The actor goes through a range of looks, sometimes wearing so much makeup he looks like a cartoon. Repetition of the credits (drawn in chalk on the rocks). In the last section the actor’s words and a projector beam with Stan’s shadow draw our attention to the filmmaking process. I’m out of the habit of watching Brakhage films – this is from the Dog Star Man years and is very good. Actor Robert Benson, a fellow Colorado resident, had also appeared in Desistfilm.


Canyon (1970, Jon Jost)

Full-day time-lapse looking over the Grand Canyon… shooting a few seconds at a time, lap dissolving the segments. I’d only seen narrative(ish) work by Jost, wasn’t aware of the shorts. Silent, so I played El Ten Eleven’s “Growing Shorter,” which worked great.

Mouseover to move the sun:
image

The couple years between Buñuel’s two Mexican bus films were productive, and this is a good one – better than Illusions Travel by Streetcar, anyway.

El Bruto is an exploited slaughterhouse worker, mocked by coworkers despite his strength, hired by a local landlord to terrorize the organizing tenants into leaving an apartment complex so it can be redeveloped. I wasn’t intending to watch two collectivist worker films in a row, just a happy accident.

While fleeing from the law after terrorizing the locals, a tragic chicken murder occurs. Then Bruto busts in on Meche, the woman whose chicken (and father) he killed, falls for her and attempts to manufacture a happy ending, but his wife Maria interferes.

Bruto had major roles in a couple John Ford movies and a James Bond. The landlord’s girl Maria Juado had a good Hollywood run in at least three major westerns and Under The Volcano. Wife Maria was better known as a ballet dancer, and Meche was in The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy.

Bruto getting his orders from the landlord:

Bruto’s excuse for everything:

Bruto’s ex is enraged that he’s got a new girl:

Things end as they must, in a hail of gunfire:

Pre-Body Snatchers Kevin McCarthy and his cheesehead buddy Jack Kelly (Forbidden Planet) scout Mickey Rooney at an auto race, clocking him as a capable driver without a big ego, and schmooze him for half the movie before even revealing that they’re planning a heist and need a driver. They hook him up with lovely Dianne Foster and he falls hard, while in private the beautiful people call him “a little ugly guy.” She has the decency(?) to tell Mickey they used him at the end, and cornered, he kills both of the heist guys. My first Richard Quine movie, and I have to keep reminding myself he’s the guy from television, not from the Voidoids (or Television).

I’ve seen this – and the remake! – before, but long enough ago that I only had a few images and plot points in my memory. The twist is so good because the cover story is so believable – boarding school principal Michel is married to Christina, having an affair with Nicole, and is a real piece of shit to everybody, the two of them included, so they team up to murder him. Of course, why wouldn’t they? But the real plot is to get the nervous wife out of the way and collect her inheritance. After the murder plot goes wrong in various nerve-wracking ways, she’s finally scared to death by his apparent resurrection.

The happy trio:

Allegedly, Hitchcock wanted to make this before Clouzot bought the rights, so it’s salting the wound that the private detective is named Alfred. He hangs around the morgue looking for cases to investigate, and latches onto this one without anyone asking him to, then busts the two lovers in the last scene. The staging in this is so lovely. I’d have to rewatch Wages of Fear to see which I like better, but should probably rewatch that anyway just for the pleasure of it.

Alfred is Charles Vanel of Wooden Crosses and To Catch a Thief. The nervous wife was played by the director’s nervous wife Véra Clouzot, who did die of a heart attack a few years later. Costars Simone Signoret and Paul Meurisse would reunite much later in Army of Shadows.