"Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.”
- Oscar Wilde
This post is for the The Silent Cinema Blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
October is my favorite month of the year. Not just for the changing foliage, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin beer, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin pie. But also for the last day of the month, Halloween. I don’t know why, but I have always loved this holiday. As a child my family did not celebrate Halloween. No passing out of candy, no going around to stranger’s houses, and certainly no scary movies. Yet I was always drawn to it, the atmosphere of it.
Maybe the biggest aspect of this holiday, if not for scaring people, is dressing up. What are you going to be for Halloween? is the question starts to pop up around the beginning of the month. I don’t typically dress up for Halloween, but I have friends that do it every year, even if they’re the only person dressed up. The basic premise is that you can be anything you want on Halloween. It's the one night of the year where is it not frowned upon to dress up like a vampire hooker, or a disco zombie. This raises a question, why do we love to be someone we are not?
I think this relates, fittingly, to our fear. Our fear of who we are. Our identity. Being someone you’re not has its benefits. We all act unlike ourselves at different points in our lives, whether it’s to impress your girlfriend’s father, or to get into a club underage. But in the end you can’t escape who you are. Being your true self is one of the biggest fears we will face as humans. And it doesn’t matter how you dress yourself up, eventually your true nature will be revealed.
This brings me to the film I would like to talk about, The Unholy Three of 1925. Not to be confused the its later remake, made in 1930, starring two of the same main actors Lon Chaney and Harry Earles. The Unholy Three (1925) is the story of three, obviously, sideshow performers who become burglars. Directed by Tod Browning, The Unholy Three marks the beginning of a series of films made with the dynamic duo of Browning and Chaney. A pairing that would lead to such great silent era films as The Unknown (1927), The Blackbird (1926), and West of Zanzibar (1926).
The film opens at a side show. A backdrop Browning would visit later in his masterpiece Freaks (1932). The sideshow boss is leading the crowd around introducing them to each performer with copious amounts of alliteration, after which they perform. This introduction not only gives us a backdrop for each individual character, but also gives us a glimpse into the nature of each character. Their perceived identity and their actual one, which is a theme that will carry forward as the film progresses.
Professor Echo, the ventriloquist and his figure Nemo perform an act then attempt to sell some joke booklets. The very nature of Echo’s act is about deception. The skill of putting a voice into an inanimate object is one that will be very useful later in the film. But we also get a glimpse into the other side business Echo has as skill performer, charming women. While he performs, his girlfriend Rosie picks the pockets of the customers. When they meet up after the performance there is a sense that Echo is merely in the relationship for financial gain. He likes control, which can lead to jealousy. A flaw that will cause trouble later. Hercules the strong man is introduced bending a horseshoe. He does his act and sells something to a boy This scene also has one of the best visual gags in the film. A young boy, who idolizes Hercules, is told that if he doesn’t smoke he will grow up big and strong like Hercules. Who in turn lights a cigarette, unbenounced to them as the mother and son walk away. It makes me laugh every time I watch it. Tweedledee, the little person is introduced as “Twenty inches - Twenty years - Twenty pounds - The twentieth century curiosity!” After some berating by some women and a young boy. Tweedledee begins to get angry. Eventually kicking the little boy in the face, which brings on a riot involving Hercules among others. With the side show shut down the three men must come up with another way to make money. They name themselves the Unholy Three.
Fast forward to sometime in the near future. The three men set up a bird shop selling parrots that don’t talk, at least not for anyone except “Granny” O’Grady. Using customer information from the store, the men gain access rich people’s homes. No one would suspect an old lady and a small child to be casing a home. But when a burglary goes bad and a man is murdered things start to go south for the group. Luckily for them, they have the perfect scapegoat, Hector. Hector works for Mrs. O’Grady, Echo in disguise, as a clerk in the bird shop. He helps keep the shop in working order. In addition to this, he makes deliveries for the shop. He is also in love with Rosie. Little does he know that Granny O’Grady is unwilling to share Rosie. Echo’s jealousy will inevitably lead to the collapse of the unholy three, the trial of Hector, and some unfortunate incidences with an ape.
After Hector taken away by the police for murder, the unholy three, Rosie, and Echo’s pet ape retreat to a cabin outside of the city. There Rosie pleads with Echo to help get Hector released, telling him that she will stay if he does this for her. So Echo goes to the trial. Meanwhile, Hercules just happens to also be into Rosie. He tries to get her to leave with him, and the loot of course. Tweedledee doesn’t like this one bit. He releases the ape in an attempt to kill Hercules. The ape gets Hercules, but not before he kills Tweedledee. Back at the trial Echo comes forward with the truth after some distressful decision making in the courtroom. Both he and Hector are set free. Echo returns to the sideshow, telling Rosie to be with Hector.
Each of the three men construct multiple identities to deceive others of their true nature. Echo’ complex identity is built around thought and planning. He is the brains of the unholy three. His act is predicated on control. This control spreads into his interaction with others. When speaking to Rosie he is more manipulative than loving. We get the sense that maybe he doesn’t actually love her, he just wants to control her. This control makes Echo very jealous and leads to animosity within the group of men. His attempt to control Rosie by forbidding her from spending time with Hector only leads her to do it more. This jealously also won’t let him leave the two of them alone, which leads to the other men venturing out on their own. Echo does not reveal his true self until he is forced, by confessing in the courtroom. Showing his true love for Rosie by freeing Hector. He is the only member of the unholy three who seems to have a conscience and is not driven by greed entirely. Just as he tells the crowd “That’s all there is in life, friends - a little laughter - a little tear.” Echo is the only person who escapes the consequences of their unholy actions. By having a change of heart and revealing to the world his true nature he is redeemed.
Both Hercules and Tweedledee’s identities are tied to their own physical attributes. While one attempts to make up for his size, the other confronts any attempt to belittle his strength. A very similar theme Browning would also employ in Freaks (1932). Hercules is introduced to the audience at the sideshow as “The mighty... marvelous... mastodonic model of muscular masculinity!” This phrase epitomizes Hercules’ entire identity. He is the only character of the three who character in the bird shop is not drastically different than his sideshow persona. He is simply the son-in-law. His job is to be the muscle, the heavy. Hercules’ identity is in his strength. When Tweedledee threatens this strength by calling him a coward, he reacts by leaving Echo behind. This action leads to the death of the homeowner, which later causes downfall of the unholy three. Hercules even attempts to take Rosie away from Echo.
Tweedledee or Little Willie has a complex about his size. While his diminutive stature is directly related to his job, it is also a part of his identity. He doesn’t want to identified as little, or inferior, or a child. Ironically, he plays a small child when the group moves into the bird shop. He defends his size with violence or the threat of violence, not afraid to kick a small child in the face or threaten violence to Rosie if she talks stating “If you tip the bulls off to who we are, I'll lay some lilies under your chin.” Which is probably the greatest line to ever come from a small man dressed up as baby in film history. The animosity felt by Tweedledee about his size also makes him aggressive verbally. He taunts Hercules, manipulating him to get the results he wants. This behavior ultimately leads to his death. Because let’s face it, a twenty inch tall man can only push people around for so long before they push back.
The Unholy Three (1925) is a story of identity, deception and redemption. It is a story of both perceived and true identity. A story of how people can use perceived identity to deceive others, but in the end true identity will always show through. Through this, it shows us the consequences of deception. And lastly it shows us why you should never have an ape as a pet, even if it is actually just a small chimp and some forced perspective. It will mess you up.
"That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun."
This post is for the They Remade What? Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.
Photocopy machines puzzle me. How can this machine use light to make an exact copy of my document so quickly? And how is it that the same machine can possibly get jammed 14 times in one day? This makes me think about the photocopies themselves. If you make a photocopy of a copy, then a copy of that copy, etc. etc. and so on and so forth. Eventually whatever you’re copying will begin to fade. Because a copy is just that, a copy. It is not the original. While it may have traits of the original, it will never be the original.
Innovation is driven by copying ideas and improving them. It’s what led the Egyptians to build pyramids and cars to have more horsepower. On the other hand, art doesn’t exactly work the same way. Creativity isn’t cultivated by imitation. It’s often frowned upon. Which brings me to the topic at hand, film remakes. Let me first say that while I understand that remakes have been occurring since film began and even before this in literature, the recent rash of remakes in the last decade makes it seem as though we are running out of ideas . But has there really been anything new in a long time?
In his book, 36 Dramatic Situations, Georges Polti designates that all stories or performances in human history can be boiled down to only 36 situations. Whether this is true or not can be argued, however, it does simplify matters and point out that perhaps we are all looking for the same ideals or concepts no matter what the plot of the story or who wrote it. If this is true, it is inevitable we would retell stories from the past. Even Polti himself states he is continuing the work of Carlo Gozzi, who created a list of 36 tragic situations, therefore expanding upon something that already exists.
Now I know that this post is for a blogathon titled They Remade What? And this should be an attack on all things remake. Let’s get one thing straight. For the most part, I dislike remakes. Especially now, when we are remaking films from my childhood. You can call it a reimagining, or a retelling. It won’t change what you are doing, copying. That being said, the films I wanted to look at are The Mummy (1932) and The Mummy (1999). I think that this represents a good way to remake a film.
The original Mummy (1932) starring Boris Karloff was part of Universal Pictures monster series which began with Dracula in 1931. With the popularity of the next film, Frankenstein, Universal realized that they had something. What makes The Mummy interesting is it contains two elements from those previous films, a similar structure to Dracula,and Frankenstein’s star, Boris Karloff. With the popularity of Egypt in full swing after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1926, Universal took full advantage of the popularity of all things Egypt. It paid off. Although there was no such find in 1999, Universal decided it was time to remake a film they had made some 60 years earlier. This time giving the plot and theme a little more action adventure rather than horror.
In reality, The Mummy (1932) isn’t horror film either. While containing horrific elements, it is a love story. It’s your typical boy meets girl, boy is buried alive, girl dies, boy is resurrected and tries to resurrect dead girl story. We’ve seen it so many times before. But whereas Imhotep in the original is a rather sympathetic character, in the remake he is simply a creature of unspeakable power.
Both films draw some of their sympathy from this idea that perhaps the Imhotep is the victim of circumstance. He can’t help that he has some gifts, like the ability to kill people either through sucking them dry or choking them telepathically. Are we to blame him for using his knowledge of Egyptian magical practices to bring back his true love, wouldn’t you do the same?
This shift in the construction of Imhotep’s character from the first film to the remake is directly related to the thematic elements of the two films. The original film’s Imhotep if more menacing. He walks with rigidity. His movement and speak are slow, as if he is still coming out of his mummified state. His power over others if primarily mental. Once it has been discovered that he, Ardeth Bay, is actually Imhotep it is not as if he can immediately be destroyed, for he possesses unseen powers. The remake constructs the character of Imhotep as someone or something with overt unspeakable power. He can mesmerize people, move sand, vomit locusts Exorcist style, and of course, suck people dry. This type of character correlates well to the type of action in the film. This Imhotep is fast, getting immediately to the point as soon as he is resurrected.
One of the key differences in the remake and the original characterization of Imhotep how they are resurrected and later introduced to the other characters. Both are brought back to life through the reading of a scroll, but the original Imhotep escapes only to appear ten years later. The curse that was read on the box did not have immediate consequences. Whereas with the Imhotep from the remake, the audience gets to participate in his restoration. Perhaps that is what he was doing for those ten years, sucking a bunch of people dry and stealing their eyeballs. Taking the audience along for the restoration in the remake creates an Imhotep that we as the viewer can not relate to as much. He is truly a monster and we bare witness to this truth.
An interesting change from the original to the remake is the character of Ardeth Bay. In the original film he is the alter ego of Imhotep. In the remake he is a completely different character, the protector of the creature’s final resting place and aides in destroying him. The only element other than the name that remains constant in both films is their knowledge. Both characters possess a knowledge of past, one first hand and the other passed down through generations. Part of this is because of the construction of the character Imhotep. He doesn’t need an alter ego when he’s running around in the dark ripping eyes and tongues out. Whether the use of this name in the remake is simply an homage to the original, or something more, is unknown.
The women in both films are looking for something. While Helen is looking for something outside the world she is embedded in, longing for a connection to something greater, Evelyn is searching for recognition in a field that is dominated by men. Helen is transformed by Imhotep’s words because she is connected to a past life she doesn’t remember. Evelyn’s transformation comes through her own initiative and through the actions of other major characters, primarily Rick.
Both The Mummy (1932) and The Mummy (1999) tell the story of love lost and an attempt to find it once more. The way in which they tell this story varies. While I hate to admit this, the 1999 remake of The Mummy is a good stand alone film. I am not saying that I agree with the remaking of classic films. But, I think that we have to come to an understanding that we as humans tend to repeat ourselves. And that one story can be told in multiple ways. One man's Cupid and Psyche is another man's Romeo and Juliet, Under Pressure to Ice Ice Baby, or Ghostbusters to Ghostbusters. No, that last one doesn't make sense, but anyway, let's not knock all remakes. Just most of them.
“Comedy is the summit of logic.”
This post is part of the See You In The Fall Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog.
Physical comedy in film is a funny thing. Yes, I did just write that sentence. Please keep reading. What I am trying to say is that physical comedy works like no other form of comedy. It is easily accessible, giving it the ability to cross language barriers and age differences. This is because physical comedy is visual. No one is telling a joke, and there are no one liners. There are, in a sense, no explicit cultural standards that have be understood in order to appreciate it. This is why it works so well in film, a visual medium. At the same time it can contain depth. It can tell us more than what it showing us on the surface of the gag. Whether that is philosophical or ideological, it can be grounded in some deeper meaning.
Physical comedy characterized by the visual gag. The gag is the comic effect or joke being conveyed. In some cases the gag can span the whole film. While seemly simply in its design, the physical comedy gag is intricate in its set up. It is this intricacy and regard for detail that made me think of Jacques Tati as a subject for a post on physical comedy.
The films of Jacques Tati are not overtly slapstick. His comedy is more subvert, but still within the vein of physical comedy. I chose PlayTime (1967), because it is his tour de force, the work that took him years to complete, was a financial failure, and is considered a masterpiece today. PlayTime is one of four films featuring the character of Monsieur Hulot, played by Tati himself. Much has been sad about this film, its use of space, sound, set design, mise-en-scene, color, and movement. What I would like to focus on are just two scenes in the film that really show Tati’s ability to use subtle physical comedy. Particularly the use of sound and space. PlayTime is a critique of modernity, its built environments, and how people are effects by those environments. Therefore it uses those built environments to visually tell the audience something. It is interesting to note that Tati always shot his films without sound. Inserting the soundtrack in afterwards in post production. PlayTime is very effective visually. But it is the addition of sound heightens this effect dramatically. PlayTime takes sound design to a whole other level, integrating it into every visual aspect of the film.
Monsieur Hulot meet Monsieur Giffard, in a minute. After we are introduced to a group of American tourists, a very important old man, and a faux Monsieur Hulot, we finally meet the real M. Hulot stepping awkwardly off a bus. We already get the sense that he is out of place. This awkwardness relating to the trappings of the modern world is nothing new to M. Hulot. As this is demonstrated in the previous Hulot film, Mon Oncle (1958). He makes his way to an office building where he shows the porter a slip of paper. After some finagling with a large switchboard, the porter arranges for M. Giffard to meet M. Hulot. Using forced perspective, we see M. Giffard approaching. Hulot does not. The clip clap of Giffard's shoes on the floor tell us he is near, Hulot stands and is told to sit back down by the porter, who in turn sneaks another drag from his cigar. There is a complete disassociation between what we are hearing and what we are seeing. Hulot doesn't know what the audience knows in regard to Giffard's distance from him because the sound of his shoes are telling him that M. Geffard is close. It takes a long time for Giffard to reach Hulot. This reminds me of a scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail (1975) where Lancelot is storming the castle after his horse is shot by an arrow. The guards see him come up over the rise repeatedly. The shot is played over ad nauseum until, bam! He's at the gate. I get the sense that Tati is attempting to give the audience the same type of feeling. How could Geffard possibly be that far away? And perhaps something deeper is being said here, that modern buildings misuse space.
M. Giffard is a busy man, as the film progresses we see how busy. So he has M. Hulot wait in a sparse, glass waiting area. It is here that Hulot encounters a reoccurring set piece, the black chair. The chairs in the waiting area have the ability to bounce back after being sat in, or pushed down. Something Hulot finds very curious, and later learns is a selling point for the chair. As he moves around the waiting area initially, the sound we hear is the outside noises of the street. Almost as if Hulot is a museum exhibit. An exhibit that no one looks at. As we move inside with Hulot the sound of the interior is static, humming. Tati desired it to sound as if it was a vault. The chairs make a funny, fart like, noise when they retake their form. Hulot finally finds a spot to sit. M. Lacs is escorted into the room and sits on the opposite side of the door from Hulot. M. Lacs is robotic in his movements, each of which have a sound effect. These sounds in turn make his almost ritualistic movements comical, giving them rhythm. We, along with Hulot, can only stare at M. Lacs.
M. Lacs brings a one man band of sounds into this sterile soundless environment. His movements are exaggerated by the soundtrack placed on them. He is a product of the modern work space. Making sure his pants are clean, his nose is properly moisturized, and his papers are in order. Like that of M. Geffard, M. Lacs actions are exaggerated for comedic effect. The introduction of this character to the waiting area only further indicates Hulot's unfamiliarity with modernity. This misplaced feeling is apparent in the next scene I would like to discuss. The farting chair and M. Geffard reoccur in it as well, tying the two scenes together both plot and thematic elements.
Once Hulot finally leaves the building, unable to find M. Geffard, he gets back on a bus. Getting off there is someone yelling his name. It is an old friend from the war, who invites Hulot into his apartment for a drink. However the camera doesn't go with Hulot, but stays outside of the apartment. Sounds heard are that of the street outside. Much like that of the earlier scene when Hulot first enters the waiting room. The wide angle shots during this scene give us a view of the entire apartment, which has a floor to ceiling window much like that of a store front. As the camera pans both adjacent apartments come into view. They are mirror images of each other, sharing a common walls, which houses a television. This camera movement gives the viewer the ability to see what is going on in both apartments simultaneously. Tati uses this effect to bring some visual comedy into play.
What Hulot doesn't know is that Geffard is actually in the apartment adjacent to the one he is in. He is shown all the amenities of the apartment, the lamp with the cigarette holder hidden inside, those farting chairs, and the television. The comedy comes from the way in which Tati lets the viewer create the story. As Hulot is inside, the camera never goes inside, so we never hear a word they are saying. We are forced to make up in our minds what is happening. Meanwhile, Tati letting us in on joke as if the camera is showing something funny to the audience it noticed while being forced to wait outside for Hulot.
One of the best uses of the camera to do this is after Hulot has left, and Geffard has been forced to take the family dog for a walk, each apartment is left with only one person in it. Hulot's firend, who is watching television while changing. And Geffard's wife, who is also watching television. As the camera pans to the middle of the two apartments the dividing wall between the them visually becomes less apparent. Thereby making it seem as though the woman is watching the man strip. Brilliantly funny use of a simple camera move.
Tati is also continuing the theme of transparency that began in the office building. That the modern world offers no privacy. And therefore we in turn lose a bit of self with this loss. Of course he does this through a visual satire of the modern world.
While PlayTime is does not have a slapstick of a Stooges skit, it does have elements of a great physical comedy. Timing, well thought out visual gags, and depth. Because sometimes a pie in the face is more than just a pie in the face. Or as Napoleon put it "Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu'un long discours" (A good sketch is better than a long speech).
If you have not seen this film, I encourage you to check it out. It contains so much more than the two scenes I talked about in this post. Also, take a look at other films by Tati. You won't be disappointed. Want to know more about the genius of PlayTime? Check out this video essay by David Cairns done for Criterion
“With fingernails that shine like justice
And a voice that is dark like tinted glass
She is fast and thorough
And sharp as a tack...”
-Cake, Short Skirt, Long Jacket
This post is for the Lauren Bacall Blogathon, hosted by In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood click here to see all of the other posts celebrating the life and work of this stunning actress.
“You know how to whistle. You just put your lips together and blow.” A famous line from a film. How famous and what film, I didn’t know when I first heard it. The film I was watching when I heard that line was Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989). At the time I thought it was a pretty good line. Good dialogue is good dialogue. But how, by whom and when it is said can change it. Which begs the question, how much of the value of dialogue lies in the delivery of it? A question that came to mind when watching To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946). Could anyone else have said that dialogue as good as Lauren Bacall? Maybe, but I am glad we didn’t have to find out.
I didn’t know who Lauren Bacall was when I was 11 years old watching the adventures of shrunken kids, but I knew her counterpart Bogie. He was the guy from The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942), two of my favorite movies at the time. The guy who made the 11 year old me think “man, smoking is so cool”, and wonder if my grandparents had time to do anything besides drink scotch and roll cigarettes. Oh, and fight Nazis.
I eventually learned that Bogie had a better half, Bacall. They’re names roll off your tongue, as if they were meant to be said together. This kismet is felt by not only Bogie and Bacall but by everyone else who sees them together on the screen. But given that this is a post about Bacall, I should probably focus more on her. I chose To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946) because they have two important people who played a role the work of Lauren Bacall, Howard Hawks and Humphrey Bogart.
Howard Hawks directed both To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, seemingly one right on top of the other. However, the studio held back on the release of The Big Sleep, and some changes were made to the original film. Changes that were good for Lauren Bacall, but perhaps bad for the confusing plot line of the film. What stands out for me in both films is the use of dialogue. That Hawks knew how to use dialogue is apparent in both films. The quintessential example of Hawks' mastery of this is His Girl Friday (1940). It is one of the greatest dialogue-driven films ever made. The dialogue existed on the page, but it was Hawks who insisted on overlapping it. This gave a realism to the way the characters spoke. This realism is something that can be seen in To Have and Have Not. This is in part from the delivery of dialogue by the two main characters, but also by chemistry between them that is visible on the screen.
Bogart was already famous when he started working on To Have and Have Not. He took newbie Bacall under his wing, eventually he was taken under her spell. In the film it all starts with a light.
“Anybody got a match?”
A line delivered in Bacall’s rasp, but more is said in the silence before and after the match strike than any one line. Harry the character, Bogie the actor, as well as the audience are hooked. Later over another cigarette, this time lite by Harry, the two share a moment. Before being interrupted. Events from this interruption lead to the need for a drink. The drink that never happens brings the characters together further. The drink itself, a bottle, is passed from one room to the other lending itself to Slim’s backstory and ultimately Harry’s agreement to help the free French. The sexual tension is building, bottled up just like the liquor. Until Slim plops herself down in Harry’s lap.
“Sometimes I know exactly what you’re going to say. The other times, you’re just a stinker.”
(She kisses him)
“What’d you do that for?”
“Wondering if I’d like it.”
“What’s the decision?”
“I don’t know yet.” (They kiss a second time) ”It’s even better when you help.”
Bacall lets the lines come out of her mouth with a trail at the end, almost as if to let them linger in the air for a moment. After kissing him, she gets up and makes her way towards the door. Slim seems to always be leaving Harry right when things are about the get good, and it’s as if she does this intentionally. He won’t take her money, but he will take her lips. Something far more valuable. Then comes the most famous set of dialogue in the film:
“You know you don’t have to act with me Steve. You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Oh, except maybe just whistle.”
“You do know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
Bacall again let’s the last words linger in the air as she shuts the door on Bogie, who in turn gives a slow whistle.
It is obvious that Bacall has been given the best lines in the film. That scene sets up the relationship dynamic between Steve and Slim for the rest of the film and in a way determines how we view Bogie and Bacall's relationship, both on screen and in real life. Something that can't be matched in any other film they did together after that.
In an attempt to capture “lightning in a bottle”, as they say, again on the screen Bogie and Bacall were paired up in The Big Sleep (1946). The title sequence tells everyone exactly what the studio was selling, not a Raymond Chandler novel, but a Hollywood romance. What I love about the title sequence and the end credits is the use of the cigarettes pairing together. It is almost as if they want us to remember To Have and Have Not by placing a visual cue reminding us of it, and the actors first scene on screen together. Or maybe I am just reading too much into a cigarette. But unfortunately the film doesn't work as well as the first one.
Firstly, Bacall is not given the best dialogue in this film, Bogie is. Second, the relationship dynamic in the film is not the same as To Have and Have Not. Although it was shot almost immediately after To Have and Have Not in 1944, release of the film was held off until 1946. This gave time for Hawks to re-shoot some scenes with Bacall and Bogie that were not as good as they could be. While this helped ultimately with Bacall's appearance on screen, some of the plot of the film was lost.
Though she doesn't have the lines she had in To Have and Have Not, Bacall is still able to hold her own in scenes with him. There is still some air of chemistry between the two present on the screen.
"How'd you happen to pick out this place?"
"Maybe I wanted to hold your hand"
"Oh, that can be arranged."
Again the tension is high. Both characters don't seem to like each other but can't help the fact that maybe they are falling for each other.
Driving back from Eddie Mars' casino.
"Remember I told you I was beginning to like another one of the Sternwoods?"
"I wish you'd show it."
"That should be awful easy." (He kisses her)
"I liked that. I'd like more. (They kiss a second time) That's even better."
"All right, now that's settled. What's Eddie Mars got on you?"
"So that's the way..."
This dialogue mimics the kissing scene in To Have and Have Not down to Bacall's assessment of the second kiss. Much like that of the first scene, her words linger in an exhalation of approval. Unlike the previous film, it is Marlowe who puts an end to the fun and games.
In both To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep Lauren Bacall gives us enduring lines of dialogue delivered to us in a way no other actress could have done.
“Picasso had his pink period and his blue period. I’m in my blonde period.”
-- Hugh Hefner
I had two things when I was kid, blonde hair, and an affinity for all things British. The blonde hair came from my mother. The love of the Britons from my father, who had lived there for a few months on a mission trip. I wrote poems about England, informed my fiends of their driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and played the British version of Monopoly. So much so that I didn’t know the names of the properties on the original Monopoly board. It was all Fleet Street and Mayfair in my eyes. But it wasn’t until I went to grad school in GB that I discovered one of my British loves, Hammer.
Although my love of all things Python may be greater, Hammer holds a special place in my heart. Gothic horror in general being one of my favorite genres, the films of Hammer Studios speak to me.
Having watched and rewatched, for the most part, all of Hammer’s films I began to notice similarities. No, not that they have the same actors, or set pieces. Other similarities, one of which I would like to talk about here.
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight, Dracula is a lover, not a fighter. He loves women, but mostly he loves the chase. He reminds us to not hate the player, hate the game. Also, Dracula loves blondes. Sure he will definitely chomp on a brunnette and has been known to neck with a redhead or two, but blondes are his main course.
In five Dracula films produced by Hammer from 1966 to 1972; Dracula Prince of Darkness(1966), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula(1970), Scars of Dracula (1970) and Dracula A.D.1972 (1972) we see Dracula’s love for fair haired beauties come in many forms. Although this list does not cover the entire Hammer Dracula series, nor does it delve into the vampire offshoots such as the Carmilla trilogy or Vampire Circus (1972). These five films cover the height of Dracula canon produced by Hammer after it’s attempt to break away from the normal Dracula plot lines in Brides of Dracula (1960) and before its complete demise with Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Although Horror of Dracula does feature a a blonde Mina, and would perhaps fit the criteria I am describing below I have omitted it from this list given it's chronological distance to the other films and its stricter adherence to the Stoker novel.
Blonde hair is sometimes associated with innocence. Many people have blonde hair as children, eventually developing darker shades as they grow older. This can also be a reflection of purity. White is pure, therefore, blonde is pure. Or some would have us to believe. Alfred Hitchcock once stated “Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” He is speaking to a blonde’s visual purity. Something psychological that the audience subconsciously picks up on and the director knows. Innocence is what every good victim in a horror film has. It’s what needs to be corrupted. And who better to corrupt it than the “Prince” of darkness, Dracula. This innocence is what separates the blonde in these films from the other women.
Blondes are also associated with having low intelligence. A “blonde” moment, a ditsy blonde, and bimbo carry connotations of stupidity with lighter hair. The first "dumb blonde" is thought to be an blonde French prostitute named Rosalie Duthé who had a reputation of being beautiful but dumb inspired a play about her called Les Curiosites de la Foire (Paris 1775). Again, who makes the best victim, stupid people. So it would be logical that Dracula would want someone docile who he could control as his main squeeze. Granted he seems to have no trouble controlling anyone with his mesmerizing stare.
Oddly enough, it has been noted that gentlemen do in fact prefer blondes as title of the book, play and films suggest. Scientific studies have delved into this theory. Placing evolutionary biology for one of the possible causes of this phenomenon. Or simply is it, as Clairol put it, blondes just have more fun? A subject Darwin actually was known to have studied at some point during the the 1860’s. As we shall see, perhaps deep down Dracula is just a normal guy like the rest of us. Just undead.
In 1966 Hammer was attempting to bring back a formula that had previously worked for them so well. The duo of Cushing and Lee. Cushing’s intelligent, but flawed Van Helsing paired well to Lee’s silent but sensual Dracula. Skipping the previous film, Brides of Dracula, as a one off this new film picks up where Horror of Dracula left off. Once again Drac is terrorizing a group of individuals who just wanted to stay in a warm castle for free over night, maybe a few nights, or a week, while they were in Eastern Europe on holiday. As with the many other Dracula movies that follow this, a trusty servant aids in Dracula’s rebirth. Prince of Darkness also follows the idea set forth in Horror of Dracula, with one woman initially being bitten giving Drac access to the second woman in the group who also falls under Dracula's spell. As with most of the films this has something to do with revenge. Dracula may be a lover, but he can hold a grudge. Unlike forthcoming films, which often portray a more sinful woman juxtapositional to the pure woman, Prince of Darkness has two lead women who are both pure in nature. One who is almost prudish, Helen, who is corrupted by Dracula to become something of a vixen. And the other who is good hearted, has her husband make a lot of decisions for her, and blonde; becomes the object of Drac's desire. Diana posses qualities all of the main women in these films have in common. Flaxen hair, beauty, and perhaps a nativity of the outside world.
He did it again, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) brings the lover of the dark back from the dead Encino Man (1992) style. And he is pissed that someone put a cross on the front door of his castle. This leads him to the home of the perpetrator, the Monsignor. To get his revenge Drac will have the help of a priest, and a red haired bar maid. Eventually though he disposes of his first girl for the Monsignor's niece Maria. Maria is a good girl. Raised by her uncle and her mother after her father died, she is much different from Zena the bar maid. And Paul her boyfriend knows it. Given a choice he chooses Maria, even when in a drunken super after his "meet the parents" dinner didn't go so well. While Dracula is really just out for revenge, he can easily appreciate the beauty and purity of Maria. A purity he attempts to corrupt. But alas, he is thwarted again. At least this time he didn't fall in some thin ice.
In Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) the prince of darkness is brought back to life in doing just that, tasting his blood. Well, only one person had the guts to do it, the other three chickened out and therefore had to die. It's just how it works. How best to get this revenge? By praying on the relatives of those men. Alice is a young woman in love. She doesn't quite yet understand the way the world works. You can't marry someone below your station. Unfortunately for her father, it is the man she loves, Paul, who will be her savior. Alice is convinced to take a shovel to her father's head by Dracula. He uses Alice to lure Lucy, her father, and the others to the abandoned chapel where they are killed. Unfortunately for Dracula he discards Alice just before his is about to win, claiming he has no more use for her. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn Drac. You should have just kept her hanging a little longer playa.
Alice is not the brightest bulb in the lamp. Her father's tight grip on her has left her without a knowledge of how the world outside works. She has a childlike innocence to her, even when killing. She is corrupted by Dracula, into killing her father, dooming her best friend, and almost killing the man she loves.
In the same year as Taste, Hammer produced Scars of Dracula (1970). This may be the best reanimation of Drac in the series of films I am writing about. If only blood would stop mixing with the ashes of Dracula the world would be a better place. And if only villagers could kill Dracula, well, then this movie wouldn't exist so. Sarah is having a birthday, but the one person she wants to be at the party isn't there. Paul is to busy being picked up by a driver's coach. Are you catching on that all these guys are named Paul? Anyway, after Paul has gone missing Sarah and his brother Simon decide to try and find him. This is of course after an entire village population is decimated by bats, but never mind that.
Sarah and Simon meet Dracula, who is unfortunately having trouble finding good help. Klove is in love with Sarah. She is so beautiful that her picture alone makes men fall for her. He is punished this, and Dracula must now have her for his own. Unfortunately for him, he forgot the cardinal rule of playing out in a thunderstorm. Never raise your metal spike in the air. Always, always, play with the spike on the ground. Sarah is like that of Alice and Maria. She posses a nativity of the world around her. She also has a purity that the other women posses. Unlike Tania who jumps right into bed with Paul. Granted she tries to kill him after.
The final film in our look at Dracula's blonde obsession is Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). Set in the 19th century at the beginning of the film, it jumps forward to the year 1972. Hence the title. Much like that of Taste the Blood of Dracula, the arrival of Dracula is due to a ritual gone bad. This time its with a group of swinging kids. One of which is the great, great granddaughter of the famous Van Helsing. She is just a buxom blonde looking to have a good time. She is lured into the hands of Drac by her boyfriend, who has been turned. All her girlfriends are pretty much dead. If not for her anthropologist grandfather, who knows all about vampire lore, she would have been Drac's bride for sure. Like the other women in these films, in the end she is saved by a man. In this case it is her grandpa, who has set up a jungle style booby trap for Dracula outside of the church.
Blondes are synonymous with being dumb, naive, oblivious to the world around them, and lots of fun. We see in these films blondes represented as naive, simple, and pure. Perhaps Dracula was looking for a good time, and not knowing the area, he went for what he assumed was the closest available source of fun. Kill the barmaid, the prude, or the slutty eager girl. They don't know how to have a good time. Keep the good girl, she’s blonde. Or perhaps Dracula was pinning throughout all of these films for his first blonde love, Mina. Trying to replace her with new women and getting his heart broke every time.
“I'm nobody's friend. The man with no place.” -Lucky Gagin
This post is for the 1947 Blogathon hosted by Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy. Check out both of their pages for a recap of this blogathon and all the posts regarding this amazing year in film!
Carousels are interesting. While I am not a fan of roller coasters, I get them. Carousels I do not. Granted I am no longer a child, the main customer of the carousel. What is interesting to me about the carousel is that you can be simultaneously moving yet stationary. Moving around a fixed point, you eventually come back to the point where you began. Unless of course you’re riding with Mary Poppins. Riding a carousel can also give the illusion that you are stationary and that those outside of the carousel are moving. It is only when ou reach your starting point that you regain your bearings.
Many things in life, such as karma, are said to have a spherical effect. “What goes around, comes around” is a phrase we say to others when trying bestow the karmic effects of their poor decisions. This usually relates to revenge. That those who have wronged us in some way will inevitably get theirs. Be it through our doing, fate, or the universe’s. And that balance will somehow be restored. For the most part, we want this to be from our own doing. The best revenge in living well, as I have often been told. And in Ride the Pink Horse (1947), Lucky Gagin is trying to do just that.
In 1947, two years after World War II, Robert Montgomery directed and starred in two films; Lady in the Lake and Ride the Pink Horse. Having stepped behind the camera for the first time with Lady in the Lake, giving the audience a film almost entirely shot in first person POV. He now turned the camera back around and on himself in Ride the Pink Horse. Released in October of 1947, Ride the Pink Horse is somewhat lesser known than Lady. But it stands out as one of the best noir films of that year. A year that gave us, Out of the Past, Lady from Shanghai, and Nightmare Alley. With it long takes, inventive camera angles, unusual staging, atypical settings and dramatic acting Ride the Pink Horse has a unique look within the noir canon.
The film begins as the camera following a bus in what could be a commercial for Greyhound, talk about product placement. The bus pulls in the the station at San Pablo. Among those departing the bus is Lucky Gagin. He makes his way into the station, past natives selling trinkets, to a seat in the terminal. He pulls out a gun and a check. Two forms of paying someone back. He takes the check and tosses it into a locker. Then gets some gum, chews it, and uses it to stick the locker key to the back of a large map situated in the terminal. His movements are slow. The camera mimics his movements, with its slow tracking of him from the bus to his exit with no cuts.
The La Fonda Hotel is difficult to find, at least for Lucky it is. Whether it is bad directions, fate or happen change, Lucky stumbles across Pancho’s carousel and three senoritas. One of these young ladies can’t stop staring at him. Pila knows the way to the La Fonda. It’s on the other side of town, a much different looking area than where they are. Before parting ways she gives him a small idol of the Mayan goddess for his protection. Apparently she knows something bad is going to happen to him. The hotel has no vacancies due to the fiesta that starting. But that’s ok, it still serves Lucky’s purpose. At room 315 the man he is looking for isn’t in. He meets Jonathan
“You his barber?
“I’m Mr. Hugo’s private secretary”
“To bad, I was going to ask you for a shave.”
After punching Jonathan in the stomach he meet miss Marjorie . She explains she's about to have dinner with Mr. Hugo. She’s a little eager to help Lucky. Lucky needs a place to crash for the night until Hugo returns. The bellboy informs him of a local place that might be able to put him up. He heads there and outside runs into Pila once again. She’s waiting for her girlfriends who are inside meeting muchachos. Something of which she has no interest. Lucky goes in, the music stops. He is not a regular apparently. Inquiring for a place to sleep leads to tequila and currency that can’t be changed. Tequila leads to making some new friends, it almost always does. Immediately befriended by Pancho. Lucky finds himself back where he started, at the carousel. Pila has been waiting and follows him intently. Even though Pancho insists she is too skinny and that there will be much nicer girls tomorrow at the fiesta. Pila gets her first ride on the carousel per Lucky’s choice, “the pink one”. They even get a nice visit from Retz, Lucky’s other fan. The next morning Pila gets a lesson in what it takes to look like a human. Lucky gets a lesson in the fortune of finding a new bucket. And Pancho doesn’t have a hangover.
Lucky finally gets to meet Mr. Hugo in his room to discuss a proposition he has for him. A proposition Hugo has heard before, from Lucky’s late friend Shorty. Hugo doesn’t seem to mind that Lucky wants to raise the price from $15,000 to 30,000 for the check he wants. Because they are one in the same, the same type of person. They agree to meet at the Tip Top Cafe at 7. During lunch in the hotel, Pila and Lucky are interrupted before they can even eat their fruit salad. Marjorie has a proposition for Lucky. They use this situation to set themselves up for life, milking money out of Hugo. Lucky doesn’t like this dead fish of a plan.
At the Tip Top things are not as the cafe name implies. The money hasn’t arrived. So Lucky is forced to wait, dance a little, light a cigarette, and get stabbed. To the demise of the men who attacked him. Pila finds Lucky and returns him to Pancho. They patch him up slightly bu only to have to move again. Pancho is questioned by a couple of men, in what may be my favorite scene in the film. The camera fixed on the children as they pass on the carousel. Giving the audience only glimpses of Pancho's attack. They are pursued through the cantina, finally making it to the bus to leave San Pablo. It turns out the fiesta has brought everyone out to party. Including the ticket salesman. Lucky is left on the bus. In a stupor, he gets up and retracts his footsteps back to the La Fonda. There Hugo and his men try to get the missing check from Lucky and eventually Pila. Retz steps in at the last moment before both of them are killed. Lucky regains coherency enough to give the check to Retz. It is all over except for the goodbyes.
San Pablo is busy. All the hotels are booked with tourists visiting. The La Fonda gift shop is bustling. Everyone is there to enjoy the native fiesta. The burning of Zozorbra, who brings bad luck, is a symbol all those at the fiesta can get behind. All members of the town are in attendance with even outsiders coming in to the town. In anthropology this type of event is leveling mechanism. A leveling mechanism is a cultural event which is intended to lessen economic differences between groups within the society. Whereas, all members come together and share in distribution and exchange. The backdrop for the story is also this fiesta. And like that in a cultural sense, it also brings the characters together. Those that would not normally speak to each other or interact with each other do. Pila has come to San Pablo for the fiesta. The increased number of people in town lead Lucky to meet Pancho.
Gagin is also attempting to even out some economics between himself and Hugo. He is the poster boy for existential noir characters. He has no place, no friends. He is alienated by the world around him. Returning home from the war, he is unable to find a place in the post war America. He returns from abroad to an America he doesn’t recognize. The people don’t speak the same language as him even though this is his country. The film brings the audience into that alienation. Spanish spoken in the film has no subtitles. We are left to wonder, like Lucky, what the characters are saying. This puts us in Lucky’s place. Unless of course you speak Spanish. Lucky doesn’t care for anything or anyone, except his singular purpose, revenge. That and money.
Whereas Lucky is concerned only with money, Pancho does not concern himself whatsoever with it. In a way Pancho has more freedom than Lucky. He does not alienate himself from others, but welcomes them into his home. Only needing a place to sleep and a good friend to keep him happy. Lucky offers Pancho $5,000 of his cut after he takes a beating for him. Money is the only way he can bring restitution. Pancho doesn’t see it this way. He embraces their friendship from the beginning and all the bad things that may come of it. He is wiser than Lucky, knowing that money can’t fix your problems. “When you're young, everybody sticks knife in you.” he tells Lucky. Implying that when you’re young you make mistakes in seeking things that aren’t really important. And maybe on occasion you get stabbed in the back a few times.
These two characters are polar opposites of the same independent man. One who sees the world where he has no place and another who sees it as all his place.
The name of the film implies the importance of the carousel. It ties Pancho, Pila and Lucky to each other. Returning to it often. It is a place where childhood memories are made. Where children are free to imagine. It can also be a place of entrapment. Children are forced to watch in circular repetition as Pancho is beaten by Hugo’s men who are looking for Gagin. It remains stationary while the characters move around it.
The pink horse is more than just a random suggestion. It is a metaphor for a childhood Pila has missed out on. Lucky asks if she’s ever ridden on a carousel before. When she says she hasn’t he wakes up Pancho from his tequila slumber to give her one go around. It is in a sense Pila’s right of passage into modernity by way of a 19th century amusement ride. To participate in childhood for a brief moment. But all good things must come to an end. And once the rotation is complete she must return to the normalcy of the hear and now.
Lucky’s journey is cyclical like the carousel. Beginning almost a repetition of another man’s journey, Lucky is trying to do the same thing to the same man that his friend did. Picking up where Shorty left off in the cycle. Although Lucky has determined himself to be on his own, friendless and therefore in a sense a free man, he is not. Like that of the children who were caught on the carousel, Lucky is trapped. In loop which is doomed to return him to where it began, death. This cycling plays out visually toward the climax of the film. After being stabbed and put on the bus by Pila he exists the bus and retraces his steps in an almost robotic fashion. Repeating almost everything he we saw him do in the day. Essentially going through the motions. Like that of the carousel he is beholding to a fixed pattern. Though in the end he breaks the cycle. Only through intervention of others does he do this.
Ride the Pink Horse gives us a view of a changing American landscape outside of the city. It is about alienation, revenge, and the circular nature of life. So are we on a fixed pattern or are we free? I will leave that up to you to decide. But the only way to find out is to get on the carousel. But you can choose the color of your horse.
I watched the Criterion Blu-Ray of this film. Check it out here. Also, check out the book and others written by Hughes.
This post is for the "...And Scene!" Blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid. Click here to read all the other memorable scenes covered in this blogathon.
I did yoga once. A friend of mine convinced me to take this introduction to yoga course through one of those extended learning programs. It was good, however, when it came to the meditation time at the end of the session I always fell asleep. Meditation didn’t suit me. Okay, meditation laying on my back in a dark room that is air conditioned after a long day at work didn’t suit me. But meditation doesn’t always have to involve lying on a yoga mat and breathing deeply. Meditation is really a focused state. To meditate is to engage in contemplation or reflection. To focus one’s thoughts on; reflect or ponder over.
So what does this have to do with one of my favorite scenes in film? I chose the heist scene from Jules Dassin’s criminal masterpiece Rififi (1955). In watching this scene multiple times I began to notice some things. Both in the nature of the characters and the direction, as well as what the scene can mean for the audience, i.e. me.
The scene takes place approximately a ⅓ of the way through the film. Therefore we have already been introduced to the characters who make up the group. Tony, Jo, Mario, and the new comer Cesar.
Additionally, this has already given the audience time to learn about some of the planning that went into the job. As the case with any heist film, planning is essential. This gives the audience a bit of insight as to what is going to happen during the actual heist. Like most heist films, each character has a job to do. Usually a safe guy, bag man, fence, and brains of the operation, etc. Also, there is always one of those crew members that messes up the job for everyone. Rififi is no different. In this scene we get to see all the members performing at their peak. Each person has a job and they do it or the heist doesn’t happen.
After stealing a car, Tony picks up the other three men and they make there way to an alley near the jewelry store Mappin and Webb. Carrying two suitcases and an umbrella, they make their way to an adjacent entrance near the store. The soundtrack plays as they gag and blindfold the concierge and his wife. They make their way up the elevator, not saying a word. There is this beautiful shot of the elevator rising in the darkness. The light from the box making shadows dance along the walls. They enter a room on the second floor. Once the door shuts, the score also cuts out. The only sound the audience hears is that of breathing and movement. The camera follows the light of the flashlight as it scans the dark room, letting the audience get a layout of the room. They bring the two into a room and tie them to chairs. Blocking out the windows with blankets, they can now turn on the lights and begin to make their way through the floor. Everything is on a schedule, timed, and planned out. Each move is as if it was planned. Tony moves the rug as the other three pick up the piano. Jo pulls out the handle to the crowbar, and Mario inserts the proper piece. While Jo and Mario break away the floorboards, Tony and Cesar break out the tools. Tools which have all been packaged in the suitcase related to the respective uses. The rope pre-knotted lies in wait. A hammer comes out along with a sock to cover it. Jo begins to chisel at the floor, the camera pulls in tight on this action. After cutting the re-bar in the floor, Jo breaches the ceiling of Mappin & Webb. There is excitement.
Cesar uses that umbrella from earlier in a rather clever way. Doesn’t he know it’s bad luck to open an umbrella inside? Foreshadowing, maybe. As they break open more of the floor, shots cut from above the men to below them. With some editing we fast forward a little. They’ve created a man size hole. Now that rope can be put to use. Tony is the first to go down, disabling the alarm system. This gives the others clearance to come down.
Lowering the safe onto a block of wood allows Cesar to work his cutting contraption. Drilling and cutting slowly away at the back of the safe they finally break through. Outside, the police have spotted the car Tony stole earlier. As they inspect the car, Tony waits. Eventually knocking one of the police out and making off with the car. They get away and Tony ditches the car. The musical score picks up as Tony arrives at Mario’s apartment. It is much faster paced than previously as the men are poised with anticipation. It is not until Tony dumps open the bag that anyone talks. They are all taken aback by the score.
Focus is the key to this scene. Each character must remain focused throughout the scene or the job won’t go as planned. Dassin stages the scene so that each shot reveals the preparation and focus that went into the job. It is almost as if he is trying to show us how to rob a jewelry store. Each set of tools is carefully shown as it’s pulled out of the suitcase. Including the alternate “soft” pairs of shoes for each one of the thieves. I like the ballet slippers the best. As there is no dialogue, the characters communicate non verbally. Everything has an order to it. This puts the viewer in with them, pounding away at the floor, grinding the safe back, or even waiting.. Sometimes when viewing this scene I find myself holding my breath. Not wanting to make a sound either. Even shushing anyone else who dares to speak.
What is created in this scene is a meditation on the art of cinema. A reflection on showing rather than telling. At 30+ minutes in length, Dassin doesn’t really leave much to the imagination of the audience. He is telling us everything we need to know about the heist through visual descriptiveness. From the way in which he shoots each action, to the items he chooses to place in the frame. The lack of a musical score in the scene adds an elongated element to it,almost as if we are watching it in real time. Everything about this scene puts the audience right there with the men involved. Focused on the story. Which is exactly what film should do.
This is the scene I tell people to shut up when watching. To silence their phones, and stop crunching chips. If you haven't seen this scene or the others that go with it to make up Rififi, I would highly recommend it.
I watched this scene on Criterion's Blu-Ray of Rfifi. As always, they do an amazing job putting this together. Check it out here.
“Do you play?”
This post is part of the SEX! (Now that I have your attention) Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog. Click here to read all the other salacious, sultry, and sexy posts of other participants.
What is sexy? A very personal and subjective question. While historical context plays a huge role in what we determine to be sexy, whether it’s gap teeth or doe eyes, etc. Somethings, I think, will always be sexy. Like that of sexual tension. There is something to be said about the buildup that comes with pursuit that is downright sexy. And The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) gives us a prime example of it.
While subvert sexuality in film under the Hay’s Code was on its way out by the time The Thomas Crown Affair hit theaters in June of 1968, we had not reached the complete break away of the 1970’s yet. This plays well into the nature of the film itself. The characters are playing a game. A game that is played not out in the open, but through subtlety.
Everyone who has ever seen The Thomas Crown Affair can recall the chess scene. But I would like to make a case for the film’s sexiness as a whole. This is not to say that the chess scene is not one of the sexiest ever filmed outside of that match between Antonious Block and the Devil, just kidding. It is to say that the film as a whole is a crescendo of subvert sexuality and tension climaxing (pun intended) with that infamous chess match. The film constructs a characterization of the two main characters as almost archetypes of men and women in the modern world. The immature male unwilling to let his guard down for fear his masculinity may be put to the test; and the career centered woman, at war with older societal sensibilities and her need for emotional fulfillment.
Bored millionaire Thomas Crown devises a bank heist. Using an alias and some very bright lights, Tommy contracts multiple men to pull off the heist. Each man not knowing the next, only knowing their particular part in the job. The heist is a success, netting Crown a cool 2 million dollars. He then deposits the money in a series of trips to Switzerland. The police are baffled.
Then comes insurance investigator Vicki Anderson. She for some reason immediately identifies Crown as the mastermind behind the heist. So she begins to follow this lead. Apparently Mr. Crown has made several trips to Switzerland recently. Not an odd thing, I make about five a year. This is suspect in Miss Anderson’s book. And let the game of cat and mouse begin. Not only is the overlying pursuit of Crown as the main suspect, there is also the underlying instant attraction between the two. Which eventually leads to a relationship, complicating matters for both parties. Tommy finally is forced to see how much Vicki actually loves him by telling her his plans for another heist. When his Rolls-Royce arrives at the cemetery for the pick up he is not in it. Tommy has given her an ultimatum, which she tears up. We see him flying away on a jet. Ah the love that could never be.
Modernity is stylistically evident throughout this film. There is nothing more mod than split screen storytelling. A stylistic element that attempts to break away from the narrative, giving the viewer an opportunity to see multiple actions as if they are happening simultaneously. Given the film a faster paced feel. Or in the case of this film, make the viewer believe there is more going on than actually is. Modern style is evident in the two main characters as well. Both dress very stylishly. They keep up with style. They are both jet setters every sense of the word.
Thomas Crown is a millionaire investment banker. He also plays polo, flies gliders, rides in dune buggies, and occasionally plans bank heists. He has grown bored with the everyday life of investment banking, polo matches, and gliding. He longs for excitement. And he gets it when meets Vicki Anderson. He is immature in the sense that all modern men are. Seeking vanity over substance. Attempting to fill a void with objects and experiences rather than depth. This immaturity is linked to his sense of trust. He never lets anyone too close. While this works out well when planning and executing bank robbery, it does not bode well for relationships.
Steve McQueen appears to be mildly out of place in a three piece suit. Not what we as the audience are used to seeing him in as well. In the same sense, Thomas Crown is out of place in the world he occupies. Although he is obviously very good at investment banking, he is searching for something more. Something outside the constraints of the banking world, outside of that three piece suit. This feeling is almost unconsciously sensed through Steve McQueen’s actions.
Vicki Anderson is the modern woman. Career driven, not held down by older societal norms of women. This is the swinging 60’s, remember. Her attire suggests she knows the value of materials. Vicki is being pulled in two directions. On the one hand she is a sophisticated, stylish, manipulative career woman. On the other, she is possibly falling in love, subject to emotional and perhaps biological needs that come with it. She is falling for a suspect that could make her a lot of money. It is this internal fight that drives her character development. Will she act on love or money? The opposed of Tommy, who is struggling with issues of trust and in a sense maturity. In the end it seems she goes for the money route, opting to remain a single career woman. While leaving Tommy Crown to travel the world alone.
Sexual tension mounting on both sides culminates in the chess match. A metaphor for the cat and mouse game the two characters have been playing since the beginning of the film. Tommy boy has had most of the control up until this point, leading Vicki along. It is not until the he invites her to play a game of chess that his guard is finally let down. Vicki’s coy looks, lip pulls, and chess piece fondling do him in.
Through quick cuts we see her sexual innuendos played out. First subversively through eye fluttering and arm rubbing. Becoming more overt, lip tugging and piece stroking. Cuts back to Crown show him at first mindful of the game. Vicki’s play is at first innocent, mimicking Crown’s, pawn and then knight. Becoming more aggressive as her distractions become more visible. He then begins to mimic her hand movements as he becomes further distracted. She touches his leg with hers, he flinches. He puts his hand on the side to rest, she touches it. He has lost the match before it even began. Even the lighting of each character is designed to lead the audience on the route of seduction. Dunaway is lite softly, giving her features a glow. While McQueen is also lite from one side, his lighting is much harsher and realistic. Then growing ever distracted by his competitor, he is easily forces into check. Something he is not used to he stands up “let’s play something else”, pulling her to him.
They come together in a kiss. Cutting from multiple angles the camera still lingers on the two, getting tighter and more frequently with cuts. Until the camera spins out of control around the two characters, melting into a colorful blur of light.
They end up spending a lot of time together. Riding in the dune buggy, going to his beach house deck thing, and having a nice time. But eventually they both must come to terms with their own inner complications and the roles they've established with each other from the very beginning.
Unfortunately for these two, it was not meant to be. We are left with the sense that the modern romance is a matter of choice. That we can’t have both love and money. Trust and freedom. These entities do not co-mingle in the modern romance. Although, we the audience know that this is possible.
Getting back to the topic at hand, what is sexy. Whether you're in a new relationship, just met someone, or married for 40 years. Even in the modern age pursuit is still sexy. So pursue, flirt, be subvert, play chess, and make that other person want to pursue you back. Because like The Thomas Crown Affair shows us, there is nothing sexier than a game of cat and mouse. And maybe a dune buggy ride.
And just in case you haven't seen the chess match here it is for your viewing pleasure.
The Distracted Blogger
I watch movies. I write about them here. I watch more movies. I get nothing else done.
Sergio Leone And The Infield Fly Rule
Wright On Film
Coffee Coffee and More Coffee
The Nitrate Diva
She Blogged By Night
These Violent Delights
Classic Film and TV Cafe
Shadows And Satin
Girls Do Film
CineMavin's: Essays from the Couch
A Shroud of Thoughts
In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
Outspoken and Freckled
B Noir Detour
Journeys in Darkness and Light
The Talk Film Society
Daughters of Darkness
The Projection Booth
Blogathons I've done.