Danger Ahead

March 21, 2007 § Leave a comment

Danger Ahead (1935)

Sub-par B fare but with very good fighting (long silent fighting sequences) and a very good number by Fuzzy Knight at the piano. Something funny happens after the first 15 minutes. To all purposes the film is as good as over — but then it just has to fill another 45 minutes of screen time. So more nonsense and changes of hand of “that dough” — but wait ! Fuzzy Knight gets going at the piano in a pretty funny act.

The goings-on are quite erratic but those B-films are what you’d get if Hollywood went cheap and realistic on you: filming in the streets with non-star quality material in the leads, and very simple shooting techniques (for once we see the dolly tracks as the dolly pulls back — but they’re motivated as railway tracks along the docks !). No rhetorics. Very straighforward drama. Sounds like the Danish Dogme 95 ? Apart from that bit in the Danish contract about the drama being born of the situations and characters themselves, it could almost be. (except that Dogme 95 films are not opposed, in practice, to a lot of rhetorical effects, high angle shots, parallel editing, and so on)

Funny thing about that basic Hollywood realism: it’s never very disturbing. The plot is foolish and naively sunny enough to fend off any nastiness.

A Bride for Henry (1937)

March 19, 2007 § Leave a comment

A Bride for Henry (1937)

An interesting Monogram B program picture. If only for its funky Architectural art deco titles
monogram pictures

The film itself is like an aborted “comedy of remarriage” à la Stanley Cavell, since the girl does marry the wrong man but does not remarry the right one in the end — rather, the wrong man reveals himself to be quite the playboy (hey, he’s a lawyer!) and to be the right one after all.

Was this really made in 1937 ? It looked more like 1931 to me: the social-cultural background of big honeymoon hotel in some very fake , do-nothing American gentry, very awkward frontal staging at all times
awkward frontal stagingit just doesn’t look like Gone with the wind is a mere 2 years away ! The only 1937 element I can identify for sure is the Ginger Rogers-like performance of Anne Nagel as a vivacious, messed-up, but deep-down good minx.

The most interesting element is the absolute lack of any non-diegetic music. Even in the titles: the organ playing the wedding march is linked to the very first scene (the bride waiting for her bridedgroom). The only exception is in the closing title where the same wedding march is heard with no diegetic justification. But otherwise,, this takes place in eery silence, and every time music plays in the background, someone is sure to remark that the orchestra plays beautifully, or “did you hear this music” — in other words, they make double sure that we don’t think the music comes from anywhere else. Such emphasis seems rare to me — and it can’t be just a way to save money from Monogram (even their B westerns from that period have background, non-diegetic music).

Rhetorical punctuation and noir films

February 13, 2007 § Leave a comment

Detour (1945)

A gripping noir film, talkative at times and a bit unconvincing in the depiction of Roberts’ emprisonment by Vera, but gripping nonetheless. Noir films replace love or power as the driving forces of tragedy, and replace it with the more democratic force of money. Instead of kings, bums and outcasts. Instead of Fate, greenbacks. But the tragic incapacity of its characters to break through, “to crash” as High Sierra‘s Roy Earle say it, is more poignant and just as powerful. Bums who want money, can’t think of nothing else, and will never get it, we’re sure. Their tragic flaw ? Some kind of naive sentimentality, some sort of belief that there is love, that with or without money the world will be theirs someday. That maddening belief, a romantic left-over, pushes them deeper into situation where money would be required, and the more they need it, the less they’ll have it. And thus popular, down-to-earth objects, a car, a telephone, a cigarette or an empty liquor bottle, a hat, a shrunken overcoat, a drugstore, those familiar objects of America, are transformed into tragic signs, figures of a fate bigger than the hero. Detour in its simple straighforward way gives a good example of this modern, regular tragedy.
a coffee mug ’twas all because of a coffee mug !
a juke-box detour4.png
detour5.png or a car…

But because familiar objects are so overpowering on the screen, doesn’t mean that a little rhetorical punctuation is not in order here and there, as in this change of light:

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