Does anyone else fend themselves regressing to the comforts of childhood at this time? After a day of marking, I could have re-seen the Clouzot films on MUBI that I love — Le corbeau (1943)and Qaui des orfèvres (1947) — but I just couldn´t think anymore and found myself subscribing to the Universal channel, where I saw Stanley Donen´s Arabesque (1966), with Sofia Loren and a stiff Gregory Peck. The film´s a bit leaden but charming and as evocative of sixties glamour as anything I´ve seen, Sofia wearing Dior throughout, and Donen filming everything in an imaginative and colourful way, with a pop sensibility one associates with Swinging Sixties. Each shot is playful if not exactly meaningful. A film that doesn´t quite work but that remains a lot of fun.
I also saw Operation Petticoat (Blake Edwards, 1959) which made me understand the whispers around Blake Edward´s sexuality — all those half-naked sailers on the submarine and, despite all the talk, such a subdued look at the nurses –and where Tony Curtis is so good he outshines Cary Grant (yes, it´s possible). I ended the evening with The Black Shield of Falsworth (Rudolph Maté, 1954), where Curtis is not good. You can see he does many of his own stunts but without the grace of movement someone like Lancaster would have brought to them — every move´s an effort for Tony. but Janet Leigh is at her most beautiful, Herbert Marshall is recognisable only by his voice but that´s enough, and the whole thing is a lighthearted silly medieval adventure that looks quite good. These are films that were on rotation on tv channels when I was young and I found a certain comfort in the re-visit.
I´m a great admirer of Anthony Mann. He´s not only the director of some of the greatest Westerns ever but a kind of celebrity in Spanish pop culture as he married Sara Montiel, the reigning diva of Spanish Cinema of the late fifties to Mid-sixties. The producer Samuel Bronston, is also an important figure, bringing in to Spain big-budget runway productions such as El Cid (1961)and 55 Days at Peking (1963)and, along with them, lots of money and employment. I somehow missed The Fall of the Roman Empire. I enjoyed it very much but would have to see it again to offer more valuable observations.
The one thing that led ,me to write the post is that I was idly watching the film and thought, ‘oh those hills look just like the ones of the area in Spain I was born into’. Then I search in wiki and realise the film was indeed shot there. And it was weird to see *my* landscape figured by all those blond blue-eyed faces: Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, John Ireland, Christopher Plummer, Mel Ferrer. Even Omar Shariff, Sofia Loren and James Mason, though darker and more plausible, didn´t quite fit in.
It was a kind of blondfacing of landscape, a cultural erasure where the world belongs to some types of faces — at home in and ruling all kinds of landscapes — and not to others. Of course I grew up watching this kind of thing in Canada, where Montreal and Toronto stand-in for New York and British Columbia stands in for Colorado or whatever. But this felt different somehow, the landscape of the Sierra de Guadarrama standing in for an ancient Rome peopled by lbondes (at least the red hair of the invading German Barbarians was motivated by the plot). A thought, though one probably not worth very much as millions of Syrians are denied safety in Turkey and in Europe.
Has any director loved actors more than George Cukor or done better by them? Heller in Pink Tights is his ode to performers and performing. The story takes place in a Western setting. There are places called Bonanza, and covered wagons, and Indians and shoot-outs but it would be a stretch to call it a Western; none are as light or as pretty; and the only sensation this film wants to elicit is a sigh at the gorgeousness of costume against landscape, at the romance, at the delicacy of feeling even vaunting ambition can’t spoil.
There’s a plot about gambling and Sofia’s virtue but who cares about plot when you can look at Sofia at her most glamorous or at Anthony Quinn, very touching in a rare restrained performance. Cukor not only directs his actors to advantage but presents them beautifully. Loren gets a magnificent star entrance (see clip above); and Quinn, finally filmed by a connoisseur of male beauty, is shown to to have eyelashes that in their own way are as luscious and startling as Gary Cooper’s. The mise-en-scene here is not only the orquestration of cinematic elements around actors with the goal of exploring performance but is itself a tour-de-force of gorgeous performativity. George Hoyningen-Huene is credited with the marvellous use of colour. It’s a joy to see Eileen Heckart in her prime, a declining Ramon Novarro as an ageing villain, and an attempt at an adult role by Margaret O’Brien. A minor gem.