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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spring blades

A knife cutting through a pocket. Fans of "The Night of the Hunter" are familiar with the image, arent they?

... Wait, I don't recall this frame from the film... What's wrong?

Quite simply, this hand isn't Robert Mitchum's but Lon Chaney's, and this frame doesn't belong to Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" (1955), but to Wallace Worsley's "The Penalty" (1920), which David Cairns commented upon on a post at Shadowplay. It was Mr. Cairns who mentioned the scene in the comments, and I was duly intrigued.

When he posted me the screen capture seen above, I was truly awed, but let's recap and go back to "The Night of the Hunter"

Well, we have Preacher Powell attending a Burlesque show... Not that he likes it, in fact, he seems to find it rather disgusting.

So he clutches his left "Hate" fist, hides it inside the pocket and... "Snikt!"

Mr. Cairns believes that the scene in "The Penalty" might have inspired this one from "The Night of the Hunter", and it doesn't seem unlikely... Didn't the gardener tell Brecht "I steal from all places"?

Such a scene, by the way, is not in Davis Grubb's original novel, the most similar situation there being a scene prior to preacher's detention, in which he is ready to loosen the blade of his knife as a prostitute proposes to him in a brothel... One imagines that the whorehouse was transformed in the film into the -no less sleazy- Burlesque show to avoid censorship, but it is striking that the censor didn't object to the gleaming, phallic knife cutting through the clothes. The scene follows faithfully the definitive version of the script, and, from pictorial evidence, Laughton took great care in directing Mitchum's hands there.

Good direction is in the tiny details

Back to "The Penalty" , the knife cutting through Chaney's pocket is suggestively menacing, though it lacks the connection between Eros and Thanatos so strongly stated in Laughton's film. At any rate, this scenes reminds us of how "The Night of the Hunter" recovered the powerful storyteluing of silent movies, a power which was gone with the sound.

We could conclude that there might be a Worsley & Chaney connection with Laughton beyond "Notre-Dame de Paris"

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Here's looking at you

Charles Laughton is often referred to as an insecure fellow. I'd like that those thinking this way would take this image into consideration. He stares at you with a confident stance, it could be said, in fact, that he's challenging the viewer.

The image is from 1932, and quite likely (from the haircut) near the time he was working in "Island of Lost Souls". At this moment, he's the newbie who's holding Hollywood in awe. He doesn't hesitate to hold for his vision of the character he's playing, even if he has to hold it against a Hollywood big fish like Cecil B. de Mille, and he's only been in town for a few months.

He had arrived to California with an agreement with Paramount to work in a couple of films a year, so film work didn't keep him from working at the British stage. When he returned to London some months afterwards, he had shot six pictures. For Paramount, but also for Universal and Metro-Goldwin-Mayer. By the time he was about to work in his fourth film, his wife Elsa Lanchester (often referred as his bolder better half) had returned to London in a seizure of homesickness. Of course, she was also understatably frustrated about Hollywood's myopia, who back then perceived her just as the new employée's wife. Elsa had a protective attitude towards Charles, though it is evident that he did reasonably well when he was left alone in the Tinseltown wilderness for the months he was without her. He returned to London able to say he had made it.

You should know that, a mere seven years ago, one of 1932 Hollywood sensations had -finally- convinced with his family of hoteliers to allow him to give a try at becoming a professional actor. They, of course, believed that Charles would return from his foolish adventure soon enough, tail between legs, to assume his destiny as an hotel manager. But Charles would never again be an hotelier, and his mother and brothers would gape in disbelief when he not only eventually became a professional actor, but got to play leads in the West End.

What was he thinking when the photographer shot this image? Maybe "And tou thought I wouldn't make it, eh"?

I'd like to think he was thinking "Here's looking at you!"

Insecure you said?

...Right, this was again the Charlie Birthday Special, and I'd like to finish it with a few goodies for you all.

I generally bookmark CL-related links for when I have to deal with an specific film or play in the -near or far- future, but I have a couple of Laughton celebrations in the blogosphere which I'd like to bring to your attention: one is by Matthew Coniam at Movietone News , a celebration of the actor focusing in his pre-code films, and the other is by Joseph "Jon" Lanthier at Bright Lights After Dark, asking the oil painters of the world to unite. Both post will be treat to any Laughtonian.

Talking about treats, I'd like to mention Criterion's recent DVD release of David Lean's "Hobson's Choice" (Zone 1), coming, like every DVD release should, with appetizing extras. If that weren't enough, Criterion's website provides a number of very readable articles on Laughton and the film: Graham Fuller's "Charles Laughton: Size matters" , Armond's White"Hobson's Choice: Custom-Made" , and links to press notes.

Also, Criterion's kid sister company, Eclipse, has released a special boxset, "Alexander Korda's Private Lives" which includes "The Private Life of Henry VIII" and "Rembrandt". Again, a Zone 1 release, though, as usual in Eclipse's releases, without extras. Again, we have at their website an interesting article about this release as Michael Koreski's. There are nice external reviews, too, such as Jon Lanthier's here and here ("Korda cudgel"... XD), Dave Kehr's at the New York Times (these and some other comments on the subject can be found linked by David Hudson at IFC.com

And that's not all! In the last months, a couple of interesting books new books about "The Night of The Hunter", one is "La Nuit du chasseur - Une esthétique cinématographique" by Damien Ziegler, and the other "The Night of the Hunter: A Biography of a Film" by Jeffrey Couchman. I'll post about them in the near future, promise.

Now you may blow the candles.